Monday, September 30, 2013

The One With the Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Cookies

I'm just going to come out and say it. I don't usually like pumpkin things. I know, I know. All you fall lovers are gasping in horror. I feel that my general disdain for the festive gourd can be traced back to an incident in which pumpkin got between me and some chocolate at a Thanksgiving at my grandfather's house. My six-year-old self chose some pumpkin pie from the dessert table in an attempt to be traditional, but when I didn't like it, my dad told me I couldn't have anything else (namely, a magnificent chocolate pie) because I had already taken the pumpkin one. Ever since then I had sworn it off, so as to never again be in a situation where I am deprived of chocolate on its behalf.

I had sworn it off, that is, until a few months ago when my friend Betsy brought me some pumpkin cookies. I'm not going to lie. I ate the whole container before Steve got home from work that day. They were amazing. And they opened my heart to a whole realm of pumpkin deliciousness. (Since then I have also discovered the wonder that is Pumpkin Waffles thanks to Melissa.)

Anyway, I guess that I have some sort of deficiency from years of pumpkin neglect, because I can't stop eating these bad boys. As a result, I've done lots of experimenting to perfect this recipe. Seriously, so, so good. And, because they have chocolate with them, there's no chance of the whole pumpkin v. chocolate debacle. And, since they're made without butter, you can obviously eat a lot of them.

Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 15 oz. can (or a little less than 2 cups) pumpkin 
  • 3/4 cup cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg (or 2 teaspoons baking powder and 1 Tablespoon olive oil for dairy-free)
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 12 (2 cups) ounces milk chocolate chips (or semi-sweet for dairy free)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and pumpkin spice in small bowl. Set aside. In a medium bowl combine sugars and pumpkin. Add oil, egg, and vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips. The mixture will be pretty gooey, as these cookies are very cake-like. Spoon by teaspoonful onto prepared baking sheet. (They should hold their form once on the cookie sheet. If they seem too runny, add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time until you reach a thick cake-batter consistency.)  Bake for 12-14 minutes, until a fork inserted into the middle of one comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and store in the refrigerator for optimum deliciousness.

It's really easy to make these dairy-free if necessary. But the milk chocolate chips are awesome with the pumpkin, so use them if you can. These freeze really well in a ziplock bag. Just set them out at room temperature a few hours before serving.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The One With The Things I Love About Ellie (4 Years)

My dear, sweet Ellie. It's hard to believe she is four years old now. Words cannot describe how much I love the girl she is. We have our rough moments, maybe even our rough days. But more often than not, my heart swells with pride to be her mama. I have such admiration for the girl she is becoming.

Here are a few of my favorite things about her this past year:
1. She loves her sister. Like really, really loves her. Do they fight? Yes. Do they steal each other's toys and make each other mad? Oh, for sure. But they're still actual best friends. We moved the carseats around so that Ellie and Olivia sit together in the back row of the van. And on long road trips they spend hours talking to each other and coloring and telling jokes and singing songs. And trying to calm Henry down when he is upset (which is less helpful than one might think). They wake up in the morning and have the cutest conversations over breakfast. E: "I'm going to preschool today." O: "Oh, that's so fun, Ellie." // O: "Is it a scary monster?" E: "No, it's a tickle monster."

2. She is confident. She spent the first few years of her life being fairly timid and shy. She still likes to warm up to situations gradually, but when she does, she knows who she is and what she likes and she isn't afraid to tell anyone. Just ask any number of the unsuspecting solicitors who have nervously knocked on our door trying to sell magazines and got stuck with an earful of detailed information about princess. Or ponies. Or rainboots.  A while back she paused beside a mirror and said, "Hang on. I need to see how beautiful I am." And at bath time, "I can get in the bath by myself because I have big legs."

3. She is learning to piece things together and make sense of the world. It is fun hearing her try to figure out how to use big words that she hears. "Eventually I am going to eat dinner now."

4. She loves to adventure with us. We have all sorts of conversations that start with, "Let's go home and get my blankie and my backpack and then get in the car and go to an adventure. I can take a nap in the car." And this summer when I told them we were going to grandma's house, but I made the mistake of telling them too early and she spent an entire week standing by the door with her backpack, all packed full of all the toys she needed for her trip. And when I say, "We're going tomorrow." and she always replies, "Is tomorrow today?"

5. She loves purses like other people like to breathe. I can't think of a time in the last year we have left the house without a purse or container of some sort full of her little things. Often they are things that you wouldn't really think to take out of the house. Like a few wooden cookies. Or the doll clothes, but not the doll. She takes a backpack full of toys with her to preschool. She never opens the backpack and takes them out, she just wants to have them there. Her teacher has had to send her paperwork folder home separately because it doesn't fit in her backpack. Her teacher probably thinks we are really weird.

6. She likes to make dramatic statements about the world. She has become quite the little aphorist lately. I feel I should enlighten you with some of her pearls of wisdom. "Fishes don't go in compost or toilets. They go in water and they go in tanks." // "Octopuses don't hold children. Only mamas hold children." // "Daddy, you are so big. You are so high up in the sky. You can sit down if you want." // "When I was a baby I walked like a cat. But now I am big and I walk like a human."

7. She reminds me of my sister. Sometimes she actually looks a lot like Candace did when she was little. And sometimes she just brings her up in every day conversation. A few weeks ago she told me, "For my birthday I want angel wings so I can fly up to heaven and see Candace!" Olivia responded with, "I want purple Lightning McQueen wings!"

8. She thinks her various body parts are responsible for themselves. "I can't blow this {pinwheel} because my mouth doesn't know how to blow it." // "My legs are hungry." // "I can't hold Olivia's hand. My hands are busy."

9. She loves princesses and dress up like no other. It's fun to see her so entranced by the wonder of childhood imagination. She will have to be big and responsible for so much of her life; I love letting her get to be the girliest of little girls right now.

10. She is so happy to see me at the end of preschool. Like runs excitedly and hugs me every day. It is just the best feeling. She is always happy to go and always happy to come home. I hope that part never changes.

11. She teaches me important things about life. A few weeks ago her grandma mentioned that it would be fun to take all the girl cousins to the princess dress-up parlor at Disneyland. The next day she asked, "Can we go see grandma and go to the princess dress-up store?" I replied, "Yeah, we can go there someday." She answered back, "No. Today! Today is someday." Today is someday. I want to engrave that on my heart.

12. She loves to help in the kitchen. I have a hard time relinquishing control in the kitchen, but I've been trying to let her participate. Even if it does mean that sometimes things get spilled. But she's getting better and better about stirring things slowly and carefully so they don't end up flying all over the place. And, of course, her most important culinary duty is taste testing. "Hey, mom. Guess what?" "What?" "I need something to lick."

13. One of the things I truly enjoy most is that I can actually have conversations with her. Real conversations. Like about how it is good to be little and enjoy being little. And about helping the family and be a hard worker. It's fun to have a kid at the stage where I can actually see myself teaching her things and see her brain trying to figure things out.

14. She is my little mirror. Sometimes this a good thing. Sometimes it is not so pleasant to see my reflection in the way she talks. Last night she asked me to go get her blankie. When I came back sans the blanket on account of forgetfulness, she said in a very sing-songy voice, while stroking my cheek, "What did I told you to get me?" Or quite frequently she reminds me to be careful, or, "Don't get too much, mom." I hear the things I say to her come out of her mouth quite often. And it reminds me to say good things to her.

15. She was a real little person at her birthday party. Whenever the doorbell rang she ran to answer it and see who had come to see her. And when it was time for cake and blowing out the candles, she wasn't surprised to be the center of attention. She stood and basked in her moment of being adored so much by everyone there. It was almost strange how much of big kid she was there.

16. The other night she asked me to snuggle with her after we had read all the stories. She wrapped her skinny little arms so tightly around my neck and held me so close. I told her much I love her while running my fingers through her hair. She rearranged herself so she could run her fingers through my hair. She laid her head on my chest. "Can you hear my heart?" I asked her. "Yeah. I'm in your heart, mama." I think that moment made up for all the tantrums she's ever thrown. But she could say it again just to be sure.

Dear Ellie,

It has been a wonderful four years with you. It has certainly changed almost everything in my life to be your mom... it has changed my perspective, my expectations, my goals and my time management. It has been challenging and rewarding and terribly worrisome and absolutely wonderful. I very much enjoy this life that I have because of you.

My birthday wish for you this year is that you are
engulfed by all the beauty all around you.
Be filled with wonder.
Stand tall and see that the world is big
and you are small, but not unimportant.
There are endless possibilities.
A million million things you will never know.
Each new day holds something truly wonderful,
something big or small to be noticed and marveled at.
Something to be observed and admired and soaked in.
Take a step back and see the big picture you never noticed.
Creep in close and watch a detail you've never seen.
Ask, ponder, look, imagine.
Pretend, sing, dance.
Be silly. Be smart. Be whatever you want to be.
You only get to be four years old once.

I'm so excited to spend this next year learning alongside you, Ellie. You teach me so many important things.

I love you forever and a day.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

The One Where Henry is 6 Months Old

In my experience, babies are highly susceptible to being jinxed. Like last week when Steve and I stayed up for hours talking about how sweet and cute Ellie and Olivia were and the next day they just totally lost their cool and were screaming at each other all. day. long. 

Or when, a few months ago, I put it out on the ol' blogosphere that Henry was sleeping so wonderfully. There he was sleeping like a little angel and then I said it to all of your fine folks and just like magic, now he's a terrible sleeper. (By the way, I'm totally hoping this comment will reverse jinx him into being a great sleeper. Don't worry, whoever is in charge of jinxing can't read anything written inside parentheses.) Anyway, I'm soliciting helpful sleeping tips, so if you have some, I would love to hear them. 

What is a really good thing, probably a built-in survival technique equipping all non-sleepers, is that when he is awake and supposed to be awake, he is the sweetest thing. He is full of laughter. And he really likes books. And exploring. And being held by any unsuspecting sucker who will pick him up when he squeals. 

He's got a variety of movement patterns making their way towards full-blown crawling. He's got something that resembles a butterfly stroke, but on land. I call it the "Beached Butterfly." And then there's also the "Slip-n-Slide" where he creates a pool of his own drool on the wood floor and then slides around in it for a while. He usually gets kind of frustrated with this one pretty quickly. (Can you blame him? Am I a horrible mom for letting him do this at all?). But he can be pretty fast with his Butterfly when he wants to be. He likes to explore, but he doesn't seem super motivated to be going and doing yet. Which is fine with me. I know I'm going to spend a lot of time chasing after him, but that doesn't have to start for a few days. 
And good Lord, he is so precious. And just ridiculously adorable. He's got some gorgeous eyelashes. I know because I get to stare at them a lot while trying to get him to go to sleep. And his cheeks. I could stroke them all day long. They're so soft and smooth and nearly edible. Perfection.

And when I'm nursing him he always wiggles his hand free of the blankets and searches discontentedly until he finds my hand and is wrapped around my thumb and I am squeezing his chubby little hand as tightly as possible. It's the best. 

He's started to talk a little bit. Not real words obviously, but cooing in conversation. Trying to talk to us and say a few things. Especially in the morning. He is mostly trying to say things like, "I'm so cute, you couldn't possibly wish I was still asleep." And "I'm too lovable to be in my own bed." But when he looks up at me with those eyes full of mischevious adoration and makes little lovey squeals, even though my day is starting off much earlier than I'd like, at least it's starting off very well. 

Dear Henry, 

My boy. My son. Sometimes those phrases seem so new and almost strange. I just love getting to experience your boyness. Seeing your love of things that move and spherical objects. You love playing with balls like nothing else. Earlier this month we took you to OMSI and I put you in the ball pit for the first time. You were so excited you tried to cuddle with all the balls at once and when they kept slipping away from you, you laid down in the ball pit and just squealed with delight. 

And you are quite the little love bug. More and more you are only content in someone's arms. But you are simultaneously very wiggly, so it is hard to keep you there, where you want to be. It's a strange problem to have. 

And oh my, you love to be upside down. I don't know why. But you are always the very happiest when someone is holding you with your head lower than the rest of your body. But then said head starts to fill with too much blood and we must upright you so you don't pass out. I'm very sorry about this, but it's something that must be done. 

You are very funny. A little ball of wonder and excitement, newness and familiarity all rolled into one. And I just love you. 

I do wish you'd sleep more, so I can get a few more things accomplished during the evening and be more free during the day to just love on you and your sisters. That would be nice of you. 

I love you forever. 


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The One With the Ultimate Crispy Rice Treats

Every summer we create a summer bucket list of things to do. I'm pretty happy to say we've accomplished lots on that list this year. We went to the lake house and to a drive-in movie. We saw a couple of concerts outdoors. We've explored some Portland neighborhoods. I painted my toenails mint green. 

These Ultimate Crispy Rice Treats always end up on that list. They're just a summer thing that must be done. I can't believe it wasn't until Labor Day that I actually made these for a barbecue. They're super scrumptious. 

The original recipe (from Mrs. Fields), is different in a few ways and is only half of this one. But you can only buy the ingredients in quantities that easily make a double batch. And they last pretty well in the fridge if they aren't consumed in a few hours (although that is highly unlikely). 

Ultimate Crispy Rice Treats
  • 1 10 ounce bag minus 6 or 7 jumbo marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup (8 ounces) butter
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 8 cups crispy rice cereal
For the Caramel Sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 ounces butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
For the Chocolate Layer
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Butter two 8x8" or one 9x13" glass pans and set aside.

Prepare your homemade caramel sauce: Measure out your butter and whipping cream and have them standing by, ready to use. In a heavy saucepan, combine the water and sugar over medium high heat. Allow the sugar and water to come to a boil, stirring very little, if at all. Allow the mixture to boil, undisturbed for 8-10 minutes. Watch the sugar as it melts. When the mixture becomes an amber color, quickly stir in the butter, being careful not to be splattered by the boiling. Remove from heat and count to five, then carefully stir in the whipping cream until mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool.

Make your crispy rice layer: In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the marshmallows and stir until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and then the crispy rice cereal, using a spatula to stir and coat the cereal evenly. Divide between the two pans and press until the crispy rice is condensed and has a flat top, but isn't packed too tightly. Pour your cooled caramel sauce over the crispy rice layer and allow it to soak in.

Melt your chocolate chips in the microwave or in a double boiler and then use a spatula to spread evenly over the crispy rice and caramel. Place in fridge to cool and solidify. Remove 10-20 minutes before serving so as to bring the treats to room temperature. 

One of the fun things about these is that they look pretty unassuming. Everyone thinks you've brought the average dessert, but once they take a bite, they will feel differently. And then they will probably eat the whole pan.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The One With the Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookies

According to this sad, little, neglected blog, I seem to have only two interests: my children and baking things with chocolate. Oh well. I guess those are pretty decent interests.

These little brownie cookies are so delicious. And they're made mostly of chocolate, so how can you go wrong? They're perfect for taking to your friend's house so girlfriends can have these with coffee while the children play on the bunk beds. Because bunk beds are almost as cool as these cookies are delicious. Almost.
I adapted this recipe to include more kinds of chocolate, because that's always a good idea. Oh, and also because I didn't read the original recipe all the way through and didn't come home with the correct ingredients from the store. So I had to use what was already in my cupboard.

Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookies
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon brewed espresso*
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

In a small bowl, mix together the flour (yes, it's only 1/4 of a cup) and baking powder and set aside. With an electric mixer, break up the eggs and then add the sugar, espresso* and vanilla extract and beat on high for fifteen minutes, until thick. All this beating gives the batter some substance despite having very little flour to hold it together.

While the egg mixture is doing its thing, place the butter, bittersweet and semisweet chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Heat until the butter and chocolate melt, then remove from heat and stir together until smooth.

Carefully fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture, without combining completely. Gently fold the flour mixture in and then fold in the chocolate chips, all the while using smooth, slow strokes so as not to overwork the batter. If the mixture seems really runny, place in the fridge for 5 minutes to let it thicken up. If it is thick enough to make little globs, dish it out by the teaspoonful to make small cookies on the prepared baking sheet. These cookies are very rich, so you don't need to make them very big. 

Bake for 8-9 minutes, until puffed and cracked. Cool on a wire rack before serving. 

*If you are uncool like me and don't own an espresso maker, you can brew your coffee and then pour it back into the water compartment of your coffee maker and brew it again to make it stronger like an espresso. 
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