Friday, December 31, 2010

Yeast Bread - The Third Time's The Charm?

Well, one can hope the third time is the charm. In the case, it ALMOST was.

I took time away from this yeast bread business to "back up and regroup". It must have been the right thing to do because my third attempt at high altitude yeast bread actually had much much better results.

I kept the same recipe as the last time (yes, the vortex recipe). I even made the 2 lb. loaf though I had considered making the 1 lb. loaf instead. I only increased the flour by a smidgen (2 tsp.). I also kept a close eye on it that last hour of rise time, going so far as to open the lid and poke the dough to keep it from rising over the sides of the pan again. This kept the air flowing throughout the bread machine.



This recipe tasted great, looked worlds better than the last couple of attempts and was gobbled up. I'd say it's a success, except I don't want to have to babysit the bread every time I make it. Next time it's a 1 pound loaf and I'll let it rise to it's heart's content! :)



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There's No Day Like A Snow Day!

As the year wound down to an end, the thermometer dropped drastically and storm fronts aligned to give us our first real snow of the season. It wasn't the whopping 10+ inches we were expecting (and hoping for), but after a month of nothing but a dusting, the 4 inches of powder that fell all day Thursday and into Friday was a welcome sight.

The "Pickles" had watched the weather reports and knew how cold it was expected to get so they stayed inside most of the morning watching the flakes float down.

The Girl made a "soft house" in a section of their room and held "voice lessons" for her stuffed animals.
The Boy occupied himself with his Legos.


The quiet time didn't last long. Before the ground was covered, the kids were out in the back yard sword fighting...


and trying out the sled Grandpop had brought them from North Carolina (the same sled Mr. LH had played with when he was a boy).

We even saw lot and lots of actual SNOWFLAKES! Not the blobs of frozen slush that we've gotten used to seeing in the east (though they get that here, too...the news people call THAT kind "Sierra Cement" and call THIS kind "champagne powder").

I tried to convince the kids to look at them through a magnifying glass, but they were lured away by the snow already covering the ground.

We had hoped for larger quantities since the snow was falling all night long, but by Friday morning, we had about three inches on the ground. The "Pickles" were up bright and early and ready to play in it.

The Boy made "fossils" in the snow...

to go with The Girl's snow angel.

Mr. LH piled snow into a heap to create a small hill for them to slide down.

He and I were just bemoaning the fact that we hadn't found a pair of snow pants for The Girl when our neighbor came over with a pair her daughter had outgrown. Wouldn't you know it, they fit perfectly! I'm sure she appreciated it as the day wore on...

The kids, along with a neighbor, spent the afternoon sledding down the driveway "snow ramp" into the empty snow-packed street. Of course, we were watching for cars.

At about 4:30 in the afternoon, we found out it was only 5 degrees outside! If this were NC, we would have gone inside long ago! But without the humidity, hardly any wind, and thick snow gear on, the kids were happy to play outside as long as we would let them.

When they finally trudged inside, their cheeks red from the cold, we warmed up with a round of hot cocoa and started a game of Scrabble.

The sun set on a perfectly wonderful day - the last day of 2010.

After a hot meal, we all settled in on the couch snuggled in blankets to await the new year.



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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Amish Friendship Bread

I spent the morning making a second batch of Amish Friendship Bread. The first batch was made on Christmas Day. That's the day my Bread Starter was ready. Not knowing what to expect, I followed the recipe exactly. The bread was good but really dense. I placed the rest of the starter in the refrigerator loosely covered.

This morning (5 days later), I pulled out the starter, gave it a stir, and made another batch but this time I added raisins and chopped nuts to the recipe. That was the only alteration. It smelled WONDERFUL (it actually woke up Elder Boy and brought him upstairs wondering what the smell was).


It rose beautifully, but once I pulled it from the oven, it fell. Figures. But the taste was SO GOOD! And it wasn't as dense as the first batch.


I'm wishing I had included this batch in some of the Christmas packages instead of the first batch. I'm also wondering what surprises the next batch will have in store for me. Maybe I should just let the starter "age" a bit before using it. I wonder if the altitude affects the starter process?



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Snow Day - Finally!

Well, I don't know how long it will last or how much we will get, but by golly it started to snow today!

For a family that loves to play in the snow, November looked promising but December started to get aggravating as this year's snowfall lacked snow. While our previous hometown was getting pounded by snowstorm after snowstorm (and even a white Christmas to boot), we "enjoyed" mild weather here in Colorado.

We've noticed the weather here is very unpredictable, but sheesh! We're in Colorado for heaven's sake! We wanted to see piles and piles of snow! I'm sure at some point in April I'll be huddled in a corner saying "No more snow, please..." but for now, BRING IT ON!

Last night, we placed "bets" for how much snow we would get. We got guesses for anything from "nothing" to "2 feet" (The Girl's optimistic guess).


The Girl stopped playing her online games to have a seat in front of the window to watch the snow float down while I "whipped up" some Amish Friendship Bread.



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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dinosaur Ridge

One last day with Grandmom and Grandpop in town had us wanting to explore another of the many sights in the area.


We decided to go to Dinosaur Ridge where they had actual dinosaur footprints left from the time most of Colorado was covered under water and the Rocky Mountains were nothing but a beach area.


Dinosaur Ridge is a small museum with an incredibly knowledgable staff and many exhibits that the kids could read, touch and experiment with.


The museum is meant to go along with a tour outdoors that could be taken by bus or on foot up the side of the ridge. We opted to walk, though Grandmom and Grandpop (who had not had time to adjust to the increased altitude) might have enjoyed the bus tour better. The bottom of the ridge tour had an altitude of about 5900 ft. By the end of the day, Mr. LH, the "Pickles" and I had probably hiked up to about 6200 ft.

Halfway up the road (accessible to pedestrians, bicyclists and tour buses only), we stopped at the dinosaur tracksite. The footprints were going up the side of the mountain and were headed in every direction.


Further up the road, we decided to leave the main road and headed up the side of a mountain on a trail. The warm sun was shining at the top and I was sure the views would be better.

The trail was obviously a trail, but it was a bit treacherous in places. I was glad I was wearing my hiking boots (though that morning I had no idea I was going to need them). We were headed up to the crest of the Dakota Ridge.


The views from the top of the ridge were spectacular!


Though we were only in the foothills, it was incredible to see far off to the east and south along the edge of the Rockies.


I'm not sure, but I think we could even make out Pike's Peak in the distance.

We headed north along the crest stopping to take pictures over the ridge every now and then.


Eventually, we figured we need to turn around. We had no idea how far the trail would lead us but the sun was starting to go down and the last thing we wanted was to find ourselves on top of the mountain trying to pick our way down in the dark and the cold.


Grandmom and Grandpop were waiting for us at the bottom of the hill keeping warm. This is definitely a place we'll visit when the weather warms up!

Notes: The walking tour is free and is open until sundown. The bus charges $4 per person (winter hours of operation depend on demand) and museum admittance is $1 a person (they were open until 3:30pm).



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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Day

Christmas day came early as usual. The kids heard Mr. LH walking down the stairs at 6:30 am and thought the footprints were those of Santa...little did they know they were a few hours late to catch Santa! Still, our tradition of letting them open everything in their stockings without having adults awake gave me another 30 minutes to sleep in.

Mr. LH's parents were in town for the weekend but the plan was to have Christmas with just us in the wee hours of the morning and then continue the festivities when Grandmom and Grandpop came over from the hotel a couple hours later.


I decided to be "Santa" this year and hand out the presents so I could control how quickly things were opened. I always hate it when everything is opened, nothing is left but a sea of wrapping paper and no one knows who gave them what. I wanted the children to appreciate their gifts as they got them.


It didn't take long for the kids to tear through everything, but they seemed to have a wonderful time and showed their excitement for each and every gift.



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Friday, December 24, 2010

Lego Advent Calendar Finale

December 24th, the final day of the Lego Advent Calendar. The "Pickles" had taken turns opening up boxes every day of the month...mostly with no arguing about whose day it was to do it. Finally, Christmas Eve came and the final box was opened revealing a train engine with Santa driving it.




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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cookie Balls

I'm always on the hunt for new Christmas treats to make for the holidays. Some of them become tradition (like buckeyes, NomNomNomNom) and others are just nice once in awhile. One of my Facebook friends posted a picture of Cookie Balls and I knew I would have to get the recipe so The Girl and I could make them (They had sprinkles and The Girl just LOVES sprinkles). Recipe below

When we first started rolling the balls, many of them looked like lumps of coal. The Girl isn't nearly the perfectionist I am (yet) and didn't quite understand that I HAVE to have round balls...not knobby squished blobs...but...


As I dipped the cookie balls in the almond bark, The Girl's job (of course) was to add the sprinkles. With horror, the other day I realized I had gotten rid of ALL my sprinkles during the move so while I was at the grocery store, I bought a multi-pack of them thinking they would be used in the near future. I was right. The Girl opened every one of the containers (there were 6 different ones plus the sprinkles from the Santa Cookies) and alternated them on the cookie balls.


This recipe was quick and easy and fun. The Girl loved it, didn't get bored with it, and a few minutes after we finished, the ones that had been dipped first were ready to eat! (She was even able to eat the "dough" without me worrying about raw egg).


Cookie Balls Recipe

1-18oz. pkg Oreo cookies (regular size, 3 rows of cookies)
1-8oz. pkg cream cheese block, softened
4 oz white chocolate almond bark (I used considerably more - melted down an entire package of almond bark)

Directions
  1. Add oreos to food processor and blend until fine.
  2. Add cream cheese to oreo crumbs and blend until dough-like.
  3. Chill mixture for 15 minutes then roll into bite-size balls. Chill balls for 15 minutes.
  4. Melt almond bark in microwave or in double boiler according to package directions.
  5. Dip chilled oreo balls in melted chocolate using fork so chocolate can "drip off".
  6. Set covered cookie balls onto waxed paper and let set aprox. 30 minutes. If using sprinkles or decorative sugars do so before chocolate sets.



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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Santa's Cookies

Of course, part of our Christmas holiday tradition is making sure there is a special treat for Santa Claus. I never understood if this was to bribe him to leave more stuff or to just give him nourishment for his long night, but it is a tradition and traditions must be kept.

Winter break had just started and the kids were already getting used to running around in their pajamas all day. It doesn't take long for kids to suddenly get bored from having "nothing to do".

Elder Boy had his girlfriend over and The Girl absolutely would not leave the two of them alone so I suggested she help me make cookies for Santa. Just plain sugar cookies topped with icing (left over from The Boy's birthday cake) and sprinkled with the only sprinkles I had in the house (luckily, they were Christmas themed).


I did the vanilla and The Girl did the chocolate iced cookies. We had to have a lesson about sprinkles..."You just SPRINKLE them on the cookies...that's why they're called Sprinkles." I guess she figured the more, the merrier.


The cookies turned out to be really tasty and after everyone tried one, it was decided that Santa needed to lose some weight anyway. Two cookies would be plenty for him - one chocolate and one vanilla. I hope Santa likes his cookies. But if he doesn't, I'm sure Mrs. Claus will enjoy them. ;)



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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Time Marches On - Birthday #11

The Boy's birthday was the first birthday party for us in Colorado. Sure, I had my birthday here in October, but I mean cake, ice cream, presents...basically, the first party I could prepare for...

It wasn't going to be a big affair with lots of guests. Basically, we didn't really know anyone to invite. The Boy had new friends in school, but nobody really close. Still, that didn't seem to bother him at all. The thought of a small "family only" party actually seemed to please him.


I love the kid's birthdays and for years now have been making special birthday cakes for them. The Boy requested a Lego Mini-figure birthday cake. He had actually been talked down to that from a Lego Death Star cake. "That won't be too hard," I thought.

Well...it really wasn't a difficult cake until I started over-thinking it. I'm bad about that. It's got to be proportional. It can't just be flat...more 3-D. It has to actually LOOK like a mini-figure. I scoured online for photos of other cakes. Lego makes a mini-figure cake mold but it wasn't available for purchase in the US. The Boy gave me a mini-figure to use as a model (a 1 1/2 inch high model for a 12" long cake...). Well, he got his cake. I loved it. He loved it. All was well.


The following night, we had reservations for a special dinner. We had kept the destination a secret from the kids but right before we left, Mr. LH and I were going over the directions to the place again. I said, "Take 25 to exit 211...the parking lot is on the left and the museum is on the right...". All of a sudden, the kids cried out (sounding somewhat disappointed), "We're going to a MUSEUM???" We didn't elaborate but there is also a museum in the area.

When we pulled up to the parking area, they understood. The Boy immediately saw the sign for the Downtown Aquarium. They have a restaurant inside that has huge fish tanks along one wall with sharks and all sorts of fish (I think they said 44 different species). The "Pickles" love aquariums and The Boy LOVES seafood so it seemed like the perfect place (kind of weird eating seafood while watching fish swim around).


The "Pickles" seemed to really enjoy themselves and we left the Aquarium sufficiently stuffed. It was just one more little excursion...one more opportunity to adventure out into our new city and discover what it has to offer.

My little boy is eleven years old. He is starting on his 2nd decade of life. He grows out of his jeans faster than I can buy them for him. He can no longer order off the children's menu in most restaurants (which thrills him to no end!). I'm wondering how long he will put up with me treating him like my little boy...




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Friday, December 17, 2010

Gingerbread Houses

This year, the only gingerbread houses in the house were the ones the kids made at school out of graham crackers, frosting and candy. They were so proud of their houses (The Girl even took pictures of her house so everyone could see it)!

I think The Girl was more interested in her landscaping than finishing the walls of her house...


The Boy's A-Frame turned out really nice...


...though I worry about the gummy bear attacking another gummy bear...


...and then there is the gummy bear in the fire...


Heh...imagination...gotta love it...



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Monday, December 13, 2010

CCA Holiday Party

Mr. LH called from work to say the Community College was having a "Holiday Party" and asked if I wanted to go. Apparently the flyer said "Fun Games and Good Food" and we could take the kids. "Sure!" I told him. It was a free meal and we could get the kids out of the house.

When we got there, he directed us to the area where the party was supposed to be taking place. There were lots of people, but I didn't think it looked like a party was going on. The Girl didn't think so, either. She said, "There's nobody dancing!"

There was one game going on - Trivia...about people at the school we knew nothing about. Still, it was a nice affair and they did have great food. A buffet line served up fresh veggies and pasta with your choice of sauces and your choice of meat, huge bowls of salad, crusty bread and...gigantic trays of cannoli!!! YUM!

It was crowded in the room and we had to split up in order for all of us to have a seat. Mr. LH and I sat together while The "Pickles" and Elder Boy shared one end of a large (already somewhat occupied) table.

The "Pickles" got to taste cannoli for the first time and gave it a thumbs up!

After service awards were handed out, it was announced that anyone sitting at a chair with a red tag hidden under it would get the poinsettia on their table. Can you believe, The Girl and I both won one?


While the evening wasn't quite what we had in mind, we did get a great meal, showed our faces at a faculty function, and left with full bellies and 2 pretty plants (and I didn't have to do dishes that night).



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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Santa's Wonderland

For weeks, we received an ad in the paper and in the mail advertising Bass Pro Shop's Santa Wonderland with games, crafts and pictures with Santa. For those same weeks, Mr. LH would mention it, push it, talk it up (and he never HAD to...he just DID). Of course we would go. The kids would enjoy the Christmas activities going on and I do have a rather outdoorsy side (as long as there is a comfortable bathroom nearby and I don't have to catch and clean my own food) so I would enjoy seeing what exactly Bass Pro Shops had to offer.


Well...what a place! It was HUGE! They actually had a rock climbing wall! And a gigantic fish tank with gigantic trout in it (I could imagine my dad sneaking off with a fishing pole to catch a few of them).

Santa's Wonderland...


the kids had snowball fights with foam snow balls...


tested their aim at the shooting range (laser...not real BB's)...


ran RC races and slot car races...


and (of course) The Girl colored pictures of Santa.


The kids had a good time in Santa's wonderland, but I think they enjoyed the rest of the store more! The fish...the ducks...


Especially when they were being chased down by buffalo...




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