Sunday, November 30, 2008
This was my first time making my own video, and it was totally fun! For more on the Gingerbread tradition, head over to Annette's blog.
Friday, November 28, 2008
And oh, we had fun. Crazy, messy, busy, sticky fun. We're talking kids running all over, covered in frosting, adults getting political (more on that later), and even a gingerbread demise. And then my mom was unable to finish since my dad ate her roofing material. I'll post pictures soon, I promise.
But before I do, I'd like to dedicate a post to classic Decorating Fixin's. By this I mean various food/candy items to use for roofs, siding, sidewalks, shutters, etc for your gingerbread creation.
-plain old graham crackers or gingerbread
-sticks of gum
-cereal like Frosted Mini-Wheats or Chex
-mini Nilla Wafers
-candy! Smartees, licorice, gum drops, etc.
Other Ideas for the House
-layered wafer cookies for shutters, doors
-regular or mini M&Ms
-sugar cones turned upside down and plastered with green frosting
-Chicklets or other flat candy for a path or sidewalk
-Rice Krispies died green and molded into shrubbery
-coconut (makes for great-looking snow!)
Is there anything I'm missing? Leave it here! We're always looking for new ideas.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Christina & her creation, 1997-ish
A six-pack container makes an excellent base, and pretzels make for a cute log cabin look.
Don't fall over... don't fall over. Me (middle school aged) with what I think was supposed to be a church.
I usually went with Wolverine-inspired designs when I was in college. Not sure why my brother Ben didn't want to smile for this picture.
To get everyone in one place, we set up long folding tables set up in the middle of my parents' living room. I think this was somewhere around 2003.
Someone is always mixing frosting!
Gingerbread fun for big and small - Derek & Mirabella.
Rachel and Emma at last year's event.
Uncle Dan working on a carosel.
My brother Ben last year.
Okay, family - I KNOW you have more pictures! Send 'em to me and I'll post more!
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Windows, Frosting, and Construction.
As a bonus, my mom, the gingerbread queen, has graciously agreed to guest post on the delicate art of construction.
But first, the Windows.
If you want to continue down the road of hardcore gingerbread house making, you can actually add window panes to your house. The process is actually super easy, and you can find the directions right here.
If you do windows, you can light up the house from the inside and the whole thing glows. All you have to do is dump a string of white lights into the center of the structure as you're putting it together, leaving the plug outside. A very nice effect, but not at all essential to the process.
Next, the Frosting.
The right frosting is key to the entire process, because it is literally the glue that holds the entire project together. The tubs of frosting that you can buy in the bakery aisle are okay, but they aren't usually sticky or sturdy enough to work well. We go with this option:
3 T Wilton Meringue Powder (found at Michaels, look for 40% off coupon)
4 C powdered sugar
6 T warm water
Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks (5-7 minutes at low speed with a heavy duty mixer, 10-12 minutes at high speed with a hand-held mixer). It will need to flow fairly easily out of a decorating bag, so if it seems too stiff, add 1 TBS more of warm water.
While you can purchase special piping bags from craft stores, we've found that spooning a bunch of frosting into cheap sandwich baggies works quite well. Just cut a tiny bit off of one corner and always hold onto it from the back.
And, direct from my mom (in green), some basics on Gingerbread House Construction:
This does require quite a bit of patience and lots of water bottles to hold up your pieces, due to the fact that we do only have 2 hands!
Take a piece of wood and cover with a piece of tin foil.
Start by placing the front piece and attach a side piece with a fair amount of royal frosting (see above for recipe) to the seam. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE STORE BOUGHT FROSTING TUBS. Royal frosting is like cement and you want to use the frosting with the most heft. Make sure you position these first two pieces towards the back of your wooden base, so you can add trees, landscaping and perhaps an ice skating rink to your front yard. Place full water bottles on each side of the pieces to hold it together. Run a pipe of frosting on the inside seam as well as the base of the pieces.
Now add your back piece and then the other side piece, using water bottles to hold these pieces in place, and add additional frosting to the inside and outside seams.
This is the time to QUIT for the night!!!!! DO NOT TRY TO ADJUST PIECES!!!!
You will be covering most of it in frosting and decorations so if your sides aren’t exactly plum, it doesn’t matter.
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ADD ADDITIONAL PIECES OR TO PUT THE ROOF ON!!!!! It would be a disaster and will spoil your gingerbread house fun from now and forever more!
The next day (no, not 4 hours later, I mean at least 10 -12 hours later), you can add your roof pieces, very carefully and tenderly. You could enlist someone to hold a roof piece in place while you attach the second roof side. A patient husband who is not clumsy would work, but probably not your 4 year old child.
Once your roof is on, you will need to wait another day for the real fun to begin….you know what that is…DECORATING NIGHT!!!! I promise you, it is all worth it!
Finally, a disclaimer about this fancy gingerbread process:
Do not feel like you need to go through all this trouble for pure gingerbread fun.
Our good friends Chris and DeeDee welcomed this darling little guy into their family on Sunday afternoon. Noah Christopher and his mom are doing great!
AND I'm totally geeked to drive to Ann Arbor this afternoon to meet him.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Loreta’s Favorite Gingerbread Dough
5 C flour
1 t salt
2 t ginger
2 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1 t cloves
1 C shortening
1 C sugar
1 ¼ C molasses
2 eggs, beaten
You'll also need a fair amount of aluminum foil
Melt shortening in a saucepan on the stove over low heat. While shortening is melting, mix flour, salt, and spices together in a separate bowl. If you have a stand mixer, this is the time to use it! Mix together eggs, sugar, and molasses, and then add the shortening (when melted) to it. Mix quickly so that the eggs don’t cook. Slowly add in flour mixture, and mix well. Dough will be soft. Roll into several baseball-sized balls and wrap individually in plastic wrap, then place them in the refrigerator until firm (we usually do overnight).
When dough is firm, remove from refrigerator and let sit until room temperature (about 1 hour). Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
When ready to roll out and bake, sprinkle water onto your counter top, and then cut a piece of aluminum foil off of the roll. Place the foil down over the water. The water on the counter will prevent the foil from slipping while the dough is being rolled out. Sprinkle foil with flour.
Take one ball (2 max for a large piece) and place it on the foil. Roll out with a rolling pin that has been also sprinkled with flour. If the dough is too stiff for rolling out, microwave it for 10-15 seconds to soften it.
Roll dough out to about 1/8 inch. Place gingerbread house pattern pieces onto dough that has been sprinkled with flour and use a knife or pizza cutter to cut around the mold. Don’t forget the windows. Remove excess dough, and lift entire piece of foil onto cookie sheet.
Bake 6-7 minutes for small pieces, and up to 14 for large pieces. Check often to prevent burning. Roof pieces can be baked for longer, until almost burnt. This can prevent sagging later on. If they come out a little bit warped, you can pat them into place while they're still hot.
Unused dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.
When dough pieces are done baking, remove baking sheet from oven. Quickly lift foil from making sheet and place on a flat area to cool. Let them cool overnight, and gently peel foil off of gingerbread pieces. Now you are ready to assemble, or add windows! More on that tomorrow!
A note on gingerbread cookies, as an add-on or alternative to the classic house:
We decided on Sunday to go ahead and whip up some gingerbread cookies, so that for those people who show up to the party without a pre-constructed house to work with can still get in on the decorating fun. We used a simple Betty Crocker recipe for the cookies, and they do taste much better. Other than the recipe and the final shapes, the method is 100% the same. Lots of flour, rolling pins, and foil. Oh, and cute cookie cutters help quite a bit.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
All About Gingerbreads
Today’s installment? Overview and History
What started as an activity for all the kids the day of Thanksgiving (I mean, what else is there to do on that day, besides eat a lot and watch the Lions lose?) has become an event that all of the cousins (not to mention aunts and uncles) look forward to every year. My mom thinks I was about 10 or 11 when we started this, and if that is the case we have around 15 years of experience making these guys.
Early on, we started planning this an event for the evening of Thanksgiving. This timing is crucial. My family is large, but most cousins eat the traditional meal with the other side of the family. But the evening of Thanksgiving is a time that everyone is free from other family commitments and doesn't generally have other plans. Everyone brings an already constructed house, as well as an assortment of candy for decorating. Then we sit around a big table for an hour or two and all decorate together. It is a BLAST. Not only do we all get to see each other, but we have a fun activity to work on. I love it.
In the early years, we constructed our houses from graham crackers, often using a 6-pack carton (minus the beers, of course) as a base. Others simply bought a gingerbread kit from the store to decorate. Still others (namely, my uncle Dan) constructed forms out of wood and covered them with graham crackers. He’s made some VERY cool projects, including the Michigan Stadium and a battery-operated windmill. I hear that he is working on a “California-themed” project, as his daughter now lives there.
My mom has also gotten fancy in the last couple of years and has started to actually bake gingerbread. She starts out by searching the internet for a pattern, and then constructs a prototype out of cardboard. Once she works out the kinks of the design, she takes apart the prototype to use the pieces for cutting out the dough. You can see her creation from last year on the back - right. She has a new design picked out for this year, while I plan to use the cute Craftsman style she went with last year.
Tomorrow's installment will cover the dough. Stay tuned!
Friday, November 21, 2008
What I didn't know was that they also hold crafty workshops in a back room. Kendra found out about such a class to make Advent Calendars and invited me and a couple other friends along. I had no idea what to expect, beyond Kendra's assurance that they were VERY CUTE.
I was totally impressed. First, stepping into the back room at Lola Rue was like walking into crafty paradise. Glitter, paint, and ribbon galore -- MMM. The base of our craft, I soon realized, was simply a baking sheet painted white. We were also given a blank calendar and glue, as well as free reign on the workshop. We went to town, searching through stacks of paper, baskets of stickers, and boxes of stamps. We dug through boxes of little "treasures," finding buttons, old board game pieces, spools, and bells to use for numbers 1 - 25. Add some glue, magnets, paint, and glitter, and voila - a darling Advent calendar.
Here is my friend Tracy with her masterpiece:
And here is my art project! I'm totally excited to find a place to hang this up for the season!
Update! My friend Kendra sent me a picture of her creation. I love that they're all different and all extremely cute.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Yay! Another beautiful, healthy baby to report. Our friends Patrick and Erin welcomed Brody Jay into their family last week. I've already had the privilege of meeting this precious guy, and I can assure you he is perfect and darling.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
We all-but-froze to death, but got some great shots. We'll only use one for our card, but I'm glad we were able to capture some scenes from the beautiful IU campus before we're out of here.
I haven't included our "official" picture, but these are our runners-up:
Check out the "IU" in the bench.
We had a get a shot or two by one of the red clocks!
Quick let me take off my coat and you can shoot a picture of us in our Christmas-colored sweaters!
Friday, November 14, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
We’ve officially joined the ranks of the ever-growing, uber-passionate, extremely vocal mass of Mac owners. We’ve had one on our wish list for awhile now, especially since using our Dell laptop starting making us want to ram sharp objects into our eyes.
When your computer starts failing to recognize it when you plug in a USB, you’ve got problems.
I’ve been a Mac owner in the past. My college laptop, the one I named Julie, was a Mac. She was awesome, but after 4 faithful college years I had to let her go. She was slow and tired there toward the end. But she was cool, and Macs have just gotten cooler since then.
Most people in grad school have a running list of items they'd like to purchase after that special security blanket (the job offer) arrives. This could include golf clubs, iPhones, purses, or clothes. And usually a nice dinner or two at some of Bloomington's snazzy restaurants. For us, a computer! And maybe a nice dinner at some point, too. ;)
And because I can't resist posting one of these, enjoy. Every time a new one comes out Josh and I look at each other and say, "wow those are SO good."
Monday, November 10, 2008
What is fall in Bloomington without a traditional tailgate? Nevermind that 80% of tailgaters don't make it to the football game! We're there for the food, friends, and excuse to drink beer in 40 degree weather at 10:00 am. Well, not us, since neither of us care for beer, but you get the idea.
Some of our best friends in Bloomington:
Jim and Amber brought their adorable new puppy, appropriately named "Coco." She was a hit!
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Does anyone else watch that show HGTV?
Well, that will be us in another few months, Lord willing.
Josh will graduate from B-school in early May, and we'll be off to the next adventure. After 3+ years of apartment living, we'd like to purchase a place of our own at the next stop.
But wait, didn't we JUST move in? Our time in Bloomington has FLOWN by and I can hardly believe we're already nearing the home stretch. We've loved it here.
Anyway, now that a job offer is on the table (woo hoo!) it is time for us to start the process of learning about buying a house. Josh still has at least one interview to go, so we don't know for sure about a location. However, we should have a pretty good idea by Christmas, and we may as well start to learn about the process.
And let me just take this opportunity to say thank you Lord for a job offer, especially in this economic climate. It is a huge blessing that we know has come directly from the hand of God.
So, Internet, because I know most of you 1) own homes and 2) probably learned a thing or two doing it, what advice do you have for first-timers like us? Non-negotiable features (two full bathrooms ranks very high on my list)? Financing pitfalls? Any and all advice - leave it here.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Thursday, November 6, 2008
The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks - 'nuff said.
Cake Wrecks - "When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong" such as this one:
So tell me - which ones are we missing? I'm sure there are many, many more out there!
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
A couple of you asked about books, which is always a favorite subject of mine. It always has been! Not surprisingly, I was a huge bookworm as a kid. My parents consistently found ratty books all around the house, dumped upside-down on countertops so that the correct page could be found later. Just ask - it drove them crazy. I've always had a habit of re-reading favorite books and as a result they tend to look more than a bit careworn after awhile. Worn bindings, pages falling out, food/water stains, you name it. My copy of Anne's House of Dreams doesn't even have a cover anymore.
But I digress. Back to favorites.
I can't bring myself to choose just one favorite children's book, so you'll have to settle for a top ten. They're in age order, from my favorites as a young child to a teenager.
1. I had dozens of Berenstain Bears books as a kid, and loved them all. My brother and I poured over every one, learning simple lessons about table manners, strangers, and telling the truth. A personal favorite was the story of when the cubs had a case of the "galloping greedy gimmies." To this day I remember a multitude of very specific plot details and illustrations.
2. I have fond memories of my mom reading the Ramona books to us kids before bedtime. Ben and I would also check the audio books out of the library to take with us on road trips. Ramona, for me, was one of those characters with whom I could really relate. She was delightfully normal, with squeaky new shoes on her first day of school, parents struggling to make ends meet, and misunderstandings with teachers. She always wanted to do the right thing, but didn't always get there.
3. The Little House books were favorites of mine because they took me back to a completely different time in history. It was fascinating to read about Laura's life in a one room log cabin, with her "Pa" hunting bears and "Ma" making cheese and storing food for long winters. I followed this family through the entire series, from the Prairie to Plum Creek to the town they eventually helped to found. I thought about what it would be like to load up everything in a wagon and take off, hoping for a better life down the road. While she shared some things about their struggles, I realize now that Laura wrote her history through a rose-colored, and often fictional lens. In reality, things were pretty rough for that family, with poor crops, bouts of fever, a baby brother that died, and little money to go around. But Laura was an excellent storyteller, and I dearly loved almost every book in this series.
4. Okay, so this is where it gets embarassing. Were they time-honored books for children? No. Literary masterpieces? Not hardly. But no list of my favorite books growing up is complete without The Baby-sitter's Club series. I actually had some kind of subscription where I received a new one each month. I devoured them, and to this day I'm not sure why. The plots were 90% the same from book to book, with almost identical first chapters in each book where the author described the "Club" and its members. There was Kristy, the smart one, Mary Anne, the priss with the overprotective dad, and Claudia the "cool" Japanese artist, just to name a few. They liked to watch kids and most of their adventures revolved around their babysitting experiences. Sigh.
5. Moving on to good children's literature. I have always been intrigued by the stories of friendship and bravery during the terrible years of WW2. I love The Hiding Place and Anne Frank and several others, but my favorite as a kid was Number The Stars. It is the story of two young Danish girls, Annemarie and Ellen, whose lives are changed by the German occupation. As the story progresses, Annemarie's family hides and protects Ellen, who is Jewish, and eventually helps her and her family make it to Sweden, a safe zone for Jews. While it is fictional tale, it reflects countless true lives of Jews and resistance fighters in that time in history. And I love it that the story is told through the eyes of an ordinary 10 year-old who is worried about her best friend.
6. Another book from Lois Lowry - I love her. The Giver is about a 12 year-old boy named Jonas, who lives in a fictional future society that has seperated itself from all pain. Jonas, throughout the story, comes to learn that his community is not only seperated from suffering, violence, and injustice, but also from love, family, beauty, and joy. Not only that, he learns about a systemic deception whereby deviant, sick, and elderly people are killed by lethal injection. Along with his mentor, Jonas devises a plan to help his community and save the life of an innocent child.
7. I first learned about The Westing Game when my fifth grade teacher read it aloud my class each day after lunch. I promptly bought myself a copy and read it to pieces. It is an ingenious puzzle mystery about the heirs of a wealthy recluse, Sam Westing, who find themselves playing a game - complete with teams, clues, and prizes - to figure out who killed him. A great, fun read.
8. Anne of Green Gables! The entire series definitely makes my list. The first book is the fictional story of a precocious, red-haired girl, set in the 1800s in Prince Edward Island, Canada. After being adopted by an elderly brother/sister pair, she names the nearby pond "the Lake of Shining Waters," tries to dye her hair black but ends up turning it green, and breaks a school slate over the head of her arch-rival, Gilbert Blythe. The following 6 books chronicle Anne's adventures in adult life through college, "courtship" and ultimate marriage to Gilbert, and motherhood. They're classics - very old school, very clean, and, in my opinion, timeless.
9. The high school classic: To Kill a Mockingbird. Since they do a good job of it, I'll let Amazon describe it for you:
"Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird follows three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus--three years punctuated by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. Though her story explores big themes, Harper Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a child. The result is a tough and tender novel of race, class, justice, and the pain of growing up."
Scout Finch remains one of my all-time favorite characters in all of literature. So much that I'm tempted to use "Scout" as a middle name for one of my future children.
10. Harry Potter. Harry arrived on the scene when I was in high school, and I soon found myself caught up in the craze. I quickly devoured the first couple books, and then eagerly awaited each of the next releases. I participated in an all night release party at Barnes & Noble with some friends for #3 (age 17) - and again for #7 (age 23). To this day I often have the audio books on in the background while I get things done around the house.
Yes, those are glow-in-the-dark Harry glasses. And, incedentally, that is Matt and Erin, fellow Potter fans, with us in that picture.
For those who are anxiously awaiting more of the Josh + Jessica saga, I plan to write more right around the anniversary of our engagement in December. Are you looking for a first kiss story? Or the time Josh punched me in the mouth (by accident, of course)? All in good time.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Josh's parents flew in from Phoenix for the weekend and the four of us headed up to W. Lafayette on Saturday for the Michigan/Purdue game. The game was another debacle, but we managed to have fun anyway. I mean, 70 degrees on November 1st? Not too shabby.
1. Bad rap music pumped into a college football game is a little ridiculous. So are scenes from Jaws and Jurassic Park when shown on the main scoreboard to emphasize particular plays.
2. Michigan's team is really, really awful, and we're shaping up to be the embarrassment Notre Dame was last year. We made Purdue's third string QB look good.
3. Angry, unintelligent, belligerent fans - even those that are cheering for the same team you are - sour the entire experience when you find yourself sitting in front of them.
4. The slow little train making its way across the field while the players ran out at the start of the game made me laugh. Has anyone seen this phenomenon?
5. The Boilermakers need to choose a mascot and stick with it. Is it a train? The world's largest drum? Or guy in a plastic costume known as "Purdue Pete?"
6. Getting to catch up with old college friends is a delight! I was putting ketchup on my overpriced hot dog when I heard my name being called. When I looked up, I saw Emily (who I call "Emting") and Ashleigh, who were good friends of mine at Michigan and people I rarely get to see. I sat with them during the 4th quarter and loved hearing about what they're up to - campus ministry, an upcoming wedding, plans for the future, and the like. It was wonderful to see them - what an unexpected blessing!