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December 27: relax

The word of the day for December 26 was “busy.” Apparently, I was too busy to take a picture. “Relax” is apt for the 27th, though. I saw off my parents and brother as they headed south to visit our other brother and grandmother. My kids were wired from three days of company, cookies, and stocking candy, so I sent them each to their rooms with a book and I sat down with a cup of tea.

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December 8: new

I’m playing a little catch-up here on the photo-a-day. Sunday was supposed to have been “dinner time” but that is the one day of the week when we don’t get to eat together as a family. Then yesterday was an anomaly because Mr. Gren had a meeting and the kids and I were off to (unsuccessfully) find the Santa fire truck. So tonight I will get my dinner time picture. In the meantime, we’ll get some other days covered.

New! I tried a new recipe for breakfast this morning. It was printed on the back of my bag of Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour. “Morning Glory Muffins” sound like the kind of thing you’d want to start your day. Unfortunately, even though I started on them at 6:40, they weren’t done in time for the kids to eat before I had to take them to school at 8:20, so I had to give them cereal instead. Hmph. I got to try the muffins after we got back and I think they’re pretty good, just labor intensive. Definitely a “make-ahead” recipe!

Whole wheat flour, carrots, apple, applesauce, pineapple, coconut and cinnamon!

Whole wheat flour, carrots, apple, applesauce, pineapple, coconut and cinnamon!

Baby Sprinkaan was also a fan.

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Om nom nom

Om nom nom

Supersnacks!

** Seriously, still not a food blog. But occasionally I impress myself with such aesthetically-pleasing culinary creations that I have to share. **

For the non-Americans out there, yesterday was the Super Bowl — the American football championship game. It’s an unofficial national holiday, and if you grew up in a football-loving family like I did, it’s a big deal. If your team is in it, it’s a really big deal. If TWO of your teams are in it, well, then that’s awesome and you can’t lose. Yesterday’s game was between the Denver Broncos (representing my childhood and family) and the Seattle Seahawks (representing my current life, married to a lifelong die-hard Seahawks fan). My dad and brothers have done their part to encourage my children to bleed orange by supplying them with Broncos gear throughout their short little lives; meanwhile, Mr. Gren extols the virtues of the blue and green. Basically, this means my children have dual loyalties — it’s kind of like dual citizenship, which isn’t really a problem until your two countries go to war. I couldn’t make them choose sides, so we celebrated both teams.

I grew up in Colorado during the Elway Era. John Elway led the Denver Broncos to three Super Bowls, only to lose in spectacularly heartbreaking fashion each time; they later went on to two more Superbowls and won, but my family had moved by that point and we didn’t get to celebrate the victories on “home turf” (hang with me, non-football fans; I’m getting to the relevant stuff). I can’t speak for their last three Super Bowl appearances, but for the three that I experienced in Colorado, a culinary phenomenon occurred: orange and blue Hostess Sno-balls sprung up in grocery stores and 7-11s all over the state. My siblings and I lived for these. Nothing said “Super Bowl Season in Denver” like artificially-dyed coconut-covered cream-filled chocolate cupcakes. Makes you want to run right out and find some, doesn’t it? For me, personally, I just couldn’t watch a Broncos Super Bowl without an orange Sno-ball. That’s like Thanksgiving without the turkey. I’m all about tradition and I wanted my kids to experience the same excitement as I did when I was little. Knowing that I wouldn’t find any orange and blue up here in Seahawks Land, I was going to have to make these treats myself. Luckily for me, other people have already done the legwork and figured out how to duplicate the recipe. Here are some thoughts on the process:

  • Making cupcakes: fairly straightforward. Mine, however, did not produce the nice fluffy cap on top, but instead spread out all over the top of the muffin pan. I don’t know why. It didn’t matter, as I just turned them upside down and then they were approximately the right shape.
  • Marshmallow making: Time intensive. I stood holding the mixer with one hand and eating my lunch with the other. Also, this may have been the swansong for my poor little mixer — it was overheating by the end of this process. Still, it’s pretty cool watching the transformation from a brown syrup into voluminous white fluff. But the sheer amount this recipe produces! I have so much left. It seems a shame to throw it out, but I don’t know what I’m going to do with it all. I could probably save it for when the bathtub needs caulking.
  • Cream filling: it’s taking all my willpower not to get out the piping bag that’s in the fridge and empty it directly into my mouth. Willpower may expire once the kids are in bed.
  • Coating process: wow, what a mess! My hands were glued to the piping bag by marshmallow fluff that had escaped. I was dubious that the stuff would set up enough for us to even be able to pick up our sno-balls, but time and the coconut both remedied that dilemma.
  • Coconut-tinting: fun! I never use artificial food coloring, but there was no way around it with this project. Besides, “health” had pretty much been thrown out the window by this time.
  • Coconut-sprinkling: more fun!

The verdict?

Tastes like childhood.

Tastes like childhood.

With the Broncos duly represented, I needed some kind of Seahawks snack counterpart, but the Hawks, being more or less Super Bowl novices with just one prior appearance (a loss), don’t have any kind of team snack tradition. I had to make a grocery run on Saturday and, whilst there, spotted a display of blue and green Jello. Ding ding ding! I think most people consume Jello in the form of vodka shots nowadays, but I was going to go old school with a layered salad (Jello plays pretty fast and loose with the definition of “salad”). I needed a little guidance, so I found a Jello-layering tutorial and set to work. Did I  mention that I was making this at the same time as the above sno-balls and another treat (which I’ll show in a bit), in addition to frequent interruptions by all children and periodically having to stop to feed the baby? I commented to Mr. Gren that I am overly ambitious. He laughed. Also, time management is not my forte. Additional thoughts:

  • The first layer took longer to cool and set than subsequent layers.
  • The white layers will taste like nothingness unless you add a little sugar.
  • Once again, more artificial coloring than I’ve eaten in years, but it’s a monumental occasion, so, eh.
  • Don’t do this while you’re working on two other multi-step recipes or else a 2 hour process will stretch into 6.
Now that just looks cool.

Now that just looks cool.

Last but not least were what my family dubbed “Super Bowl Brownies” because that was about the only time my mom made them for us. In actuality, they are called “butter fudge fingers” and I have no explanation for that, other than they use a lot of butter. But they are not fudge and do not resemble fingers of either the anatomical nor cookie variety. {shrug} As with the previous two recipes, this was the first time I had ever made them. I screwed up the chocolate glaze that goes on top and had to seek some Super Bowl Day help from my mom via my dad (where were you, Mom?) to find out where it went wrong. Because of the mess-up on Saturday and having to wait until the next day to correct it, the brownies got a bit hard and didn’t turn out as pretty as they should have. But they tasted just like I remembered. (Here is an online recipe that is pretty similar to my mom’s).

Even sloppy chocolate tastes good.

Even sloppy chocolate tastes good.

Headlines are calling the game “disappointing.” For Broncos fans, yes. For casual football fans who wanted to see more of a duel, yes. But for Seahawks fans and our little family? It was a great party.

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Christmas gifts: sweet tooth

Second in our little series of homemade Christmas gifts is some fancied-up candy for my little brother. Every Christmas morning, my siblings and I would meet in the hallway between our bedrooms to compare what we had gotten in our stockings. We oohed and ahhed over the little toys and took inventory of the candy. I could make my candy last for weeks; one year when Dad got us one of those giant peppermint sticks, I nearly made it to Easter. I also had some very weird dreams that year (Cars parked at the bottom of a shark-filled swimming pool? Giant nationwide network of tunnels accessed through our house’s crawl space? Weird, and memorable enough to have stuck with me lo, these many years). But my youngest brother was more, shall we say, epicurean and usually had his stocking candy finished by the end of the day. Clearly, the boy man — he’s a grown-up man (you’re still my baby, Bud) — would not turn down extra Christmas candy.

Enter: The giant peppermint stick. Ok, so these are fun as-is because giant candy is always fun. Bonus: weird dreams. But I thought we should probably dress them up a little bit, as shown here, to make them more festive. Because if giant peppermint sticks are fun, giant peppermint sticks dipped in chocolate and rolled in sprinkles has to be at least 2x as fun. Our grocery store was severely lacking in the sprinkles department. I searched for plain white or heck, even Christmas colors, but all I got was the typical multi-colored batch, more suited to birthday cake than candy canes. And, I love my brother, but not enough to pick through a bottle of tiny sprinkles to pull out all the white ones. Sometimes we have to make compromises.

Granota got a kick out of this project because, for a 6 year old, being allowed to get anywhere near the stove is a big day indeed. First, we melted chocolate chips in my pseudo-double boiler. If I had had any prior candy-making experience, I should have tempered the melting chocolate so that once it hardened again, it would keep that deep, chocolatey color instead of developing a whitish bloom. The color change doesn’t affect the taste of the end product; it just doesn’t look as pretty. But, I didn’t know about tempering until after the fact. Hm. Welp. When it came time for dipping, I tilted the hot pan and Granota carefully took the peppermint stick and rolled one end through the melted chocolate. She let any extra drip off into the pan, and then she rolled the chocolate-covered end in a plate of sprinkles and set the finished candy on a sheet of wax paper to harden. It actually doesn’t take that long for the chocolate to cool and harden, so we had to be fairly efficient with our production line. Her: dipping and rolling; me: tilting the pan and refilling the sprinkle plate.

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We had four sticks to do and were doing pretty well until the last one. This particular stick apparently had a more sensitive constitution than the others and suffered thermal shock when Granota dipped it into the hot chocolate. I fished out the broken end with a fork and Granota begged me to please-oh-please let her have that one, y’know, to test, just to be sure, please? please?

Ok, fine. From what I hear, it was pretty good.

Again, they didn’t turn out “perfect,” but Granota put her little 6 year old heart into them and my brother was sweet (ha!) enough to send her a message on Christmas day thanking her. I hope they both feel special.

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Christmas gifts: Cookie jar

We’re going to rewind here a little bit, back to November/early December, pre-Christmas and even pre-baby, but post-move. Dang, moving is expensive. So, finding ourselves cinching the ol’ belt even tighter those months meant that we had to get creative with Christmas gifts. I scoured the internet for nice DIY projects that could make suitable gifts for the people on our lists (our families draw names). For the next few posts, we’ll look at what I came up with! The kids each had two gifts to make and I let them take the lead on the projects as much as possible so that the gifts were truly from them and not just a Jen project from start-to-finish. All three kids really enjoyed the creation process; Rana enthusiastically declared, “This is way better than just buying stuff!” I like that attitude.

Granota was the first to do her projects because it was easiest to get time alone with her without the other two clamoring for attention or wanting to “help.” The first thing Granota made was a cookie-mix-in-a-jar. This is great for her age group (she’s 6) because there is so much she can do herself with just a little guidance. Plus, playing in the kitchen is always exciting! The recipe we used called for Rice Krispies and M&Ms, neither of which we had on hand. Instead, we substituted cranberries and chocolate chips. Also, because we use cane sugar instead of white sugar, there is not a lot of color difference between that and the brown sugar. The beauty of these mixes in a jar is the different colored strata, so we divided the flour and put it between the sugars and then on top of the brown sugar to give the jar that nice striped effect. Granota did pretty well in the kitchen and had a blast measuring the ingredients and pouring them into the jar. I… did quite well biting my tongue when she dumped half a cup of flour on the counter and made other little 6 year old messes. That’s huge for me, people.

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Then, to make the jar pretty, I let Granota choose from my stash of old Christmas cards that I save for crafty purposes. You just never know. She used the jar lid as a template, chose the picture she wanted and cut it out. For the instruction tag, she used the back of the card and chose a clipart tree that I printed out for her which she glued on to cover the brand name. It’s a little jaggedy and not “picture perfect,” but she was one proud little girl to have made this “all by herself.” And I was proud of myself for giving her the opportunity to shine.

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