WHOOOO can make an Owl baby mobile? You can!

Guess what? It's a guest blog about a sewing project! This comes from my dear friend Andrea over at The Strategic Homemaker. Andrea and I met very soon after both of us moved to southwest Virginia - we moved from across the state line, whereas she and her husband moved from across the world after a year of teaching English in Asia! Our friendship has grown over such things as picking cherries and berries, cookbooks, being handy and thrifty around the house, becoming next door neighbors, and especially sewing! I'm excited that she's sharing her expertise here.
PS. She very politely refers to folks who are frightened of applique. That was me ... until she taught me how! Thanks, Strategic and Helpful Homemaker!

Several years ago, Mrs. Rhymes with Smile taught me how to sew. I have advanced beyond that first t-shirt quilt, so I am very excited to be guest posting here about a recent sewing project.

I had talked about making a sailboat baby mobile on my own blog here, but here is another idea, and, really, your options for baby mobiles are limited to your imagination.  

This sweet girl’s mama had planned her nursery and displayed this mood board on her family blog. 

Seeing the little owl pillow on the board, I was like, “Hey, an owl mobile would fit right in.” Owls may seem a bit on the creepy side, especially if you watch Youtube videos of owls spinning their heads more than 360 degrees, but this little girl’s room had a lot of Dr. Seuss books, so the owls fit right in with the various characters, and I think they turned out pretty cute.

I designed them to match the pillow. I drew a boxy rectangle pattern with a hint of ears on a piece of paper, and used this pattern to cut out ten fabric pieces to the same shape. Then I decorated five of these pieces with applique to look like owls. 

Some people I know are intimidated by applique. DO NOT BE! You just iron this stuff called Wonder under onto the wrong side of your fabric, and then you cut it into whatever shape you want, basically making your own iron-on stickers for fabric. I usually blanket stitch in a matching colored thread around the ironed-on fabric to give it a finished look, but some of the pieces I used for these owls were small, so I just used a straight stitch a couple of millimeters inside the edge of the fabric.  This ended up looking really good too.

Another reason I like applique is that is uses really small pieces of fabric, so I get to use my scraps, and I hardly ever need to buy any fabric.

Anyway, once you finish decorating the owl fronts, you place your two sides right sides together and sew around the edge, leaving a gap of a couple inches on the bottom. Turn the owls right side out through the gap. Stuff them, and hand stitch the gap closed. Then you knot some thin ribbon and hand stitch the knot to the top of your owl.  Now you can hang your mobile on whatever you want. I used an upside-down plant basket.

Here is the finished product!

I was hoping to have a picture of it hanging up in the baby’s room, but  alas, the family is moving to a new state in a month, and will save it to hang there. 

Let me know if you make one of these, or if you design your own baby mobile to make!


The Mister and Me

1 dog
2 daughters
3 states
4 gardens
5 houses
6 jobs
7 years

Happy anniversary, Mr. Rhymeswithsmile!


Ginger Crinkles

Yay!  Another guest post - and this one is from my sweetwonderfulfunnyawesomelovely Cousin Becky!  She lives in DC and saves babies on her day (night) job, and does rockin' things like visit the White House, rock climb, and visit me on her time off.  Not only am I thankful to call this girl family (which means she's stuck with the likes of me), I'm so pleased that she sent me this recipe to share!  I have to say though, I'm a little afraid that with all these wonderful guest posts that you've been getting, you're going to stop reading rhymeswithsmile once the holidays are over and we're back to crock pot meals and soup.  
I mean, really.
Who wouldn't want to try a recipe on a guest post by this gal?
Ginger Crinkles 
A recipe from the White House Pastry Kitchen
8 oz (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 whole eggs
1/3 cup molasses
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp dried ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup granulated sugar (for dipping)

1. Preheat over to 350 degrees
2. Beat butter and brown sugar in large mixing bowl until creamy.
3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Add molasses and fresh ginger.
5. Combine flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, and salt in a small mixing bowl.
6. Add the flour mixture to large mixing bowl, and stir until combined.
7. Use a small spoon to scoop cookies into small balls, dip in 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, and place on parchment lined baking sheet sugar side up.
8. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes or less if you like them chewy.
9. Remove from oven and allow cookies to rest for 2 minutes before removing from cookie sheet.
Yields 30-36 cookies.

Remember when I went to Europe a couple of summers ago?  It was with this gal.  Read about it here, if you like ... 


Gram's Secret

Many thanks to Cammy for her willingness to guest post today!  I can't wait to try this tip out (as soon as I start cooking again ... maybe next month.)

Secrets.  80+ years of secrets.  My grandmother has had many years to figure out tricks and secrets in life that just work.  It has been a well know fact, in my family, that somehow when Grandma makes a dish with chicken in it, it is so full of flavor, and what she does changes the flavor of an entire dish!  Gram will say that the way you cook the chicken is the key to the whole dish.  Family members have asked for her "secret".  Humbly she shrugs and says, "Oh, I just brown it in a pan."  Well let's just say those directions have never yielded good results for me ... every time my chicken tastes ... well ... not like Grandma's. Several months ago family was together to celebrate the arrival of my nephew.  One night as Gram was making dinner the ladies hovered over her to see what her idea of "browning" is.... and so we got it!  I've done this since then and wow ...

So here is what she does:

This applies to all kinds of chicken (boneless and skinless), and is done even when the chicken will have some sort of a sauce in a dish.
Take whatever chicken pieces and put them into some sort of a large pot.

Add in several cloves of fresh chopped garlic and at least half an onion coarsely chopped.

Add enough oil so that there is somewhere between 1/4 to 1/2" of oil in the pan. The idea is  not to have the chicken covered in oil/deep fried, but much more than just lightly pan fried.  (I have only ever used coconut oil, but I'm sure any other oil you would use to pan fry chicken would work as well). 

Turn the heat to medium high and cover. Allow chicken to cook like this for around 15-20 minutes, flipping after one side has some brown areas on it.  

Note: It should look similar to the picture but if the chicken is going to go in another dish and continue to cook then you don't have to worry about it being cooked all the way though.

So there it is ... the secret -well, her secret - on adding flavor to all of her dishes. I'm sure I would have figured this out one day on my own, but most likely not for another 50 years. I'm so thankful for Gram's secrets and tricks of the trade.


Holiday Sweets 5: Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies

Creamy peppermint buttercream sandwiched between chocolate shortbread-like cookies: Oh. My. Truly divine. Plus, they are so pretty rolled in the crushed candy canes. Requires a splurge on time (and butter!) but you will be so glad you did. Try to save a few to share with others. ~Mary

Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies

Yield: Makes about 18 sandwich cookies

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 drops (or more) red food coloring

1/2 cup crushed red-and-white-striped candy canes or hard peppermint candies (about 4 ounces) FYI: I prefer the candy canes crushed a little finer than shown in the photo

For cookies:
Whisk flour, cocoa, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Beat in egg. Add dry ingredients; beat until blended. Refrigerate dough 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop out dough by level tablespoonfuls, then roll into smooth balls. Place balls on prepared baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Using bottom of glass or hands, flatten each ball to 2-inch round (edges will crack). Bake until cookies no longer look wet and small indentation appears when tops of cookies are lightly touched with fingers, about 11 minutes (do not overbake or cookies will become too crisp). Cool on sheet 5 minutes. Transfer chocolate cookies to racks and cool completely.

For filling:
Using electric mixer, beat powdered sugar and butter in medium bowl until well blended. Add peppermint extract and 2 drops food coloring. Beat until light pink and well blended, adding more food coloring by dropfuls if darker pink color is desired. Spread 2 generous teaspoons filling evenly over flat side of 1 cookie to edges; top with another cookie, flat side down, pressing gently to adhere. Repeat with remaining cookies and peppermint filling.

Place crushed candy canes on plate. Roll edges of cookie sandwiches in crushed candies (candies will adhere to filling). Cookie sandwiches can be made ahead. Store in single layer in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days or freeze up to 2 weeks.


The Birth Story

First off, I recognize that not everyone is going to want to read a birth story ... so I'll give you some quick escapes if you need them:

(1) a sweet reminder from my friend Amber who guest posted for me last week.  While this is particularly relevant for parents, it can also be meaningful for anyone who is trying to remain balanced and focused on the things that are most important in life.

(2) My theme song for the next three months:

(3) If you haven't yet had the chance to check out the series of guest posts from Mary, you'll want to.  She's a fabulous cook, and has shared some great recipes in the "Holiday Sweets" series.  Check out the Pumpkin Cupcakes, Skillet Apple Crisp, Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars, and Holiday Biscotti.  There's one more post from her coming soon - check back next week for some festive cookies!

(4) Baby Girl was born the day after my four-year blogiversary.  Just for fun, here's a link to the first-ever rhymeswithsmile blog post: Russian Apple Pancakes.

And now, the birth story.

I'd been having contractions for the entire month of November.  Sometimes they were strong and regularly timed (like the night I was up for 2-3 hours with powerful ones every 6-8 minutes), and other days they'd come and go with mealtimes, rests, water breaks, exercise, and toddler playtime.  Everyone - doctors, friends, the internet - told me that since my first was born right on time, the second one would probably come early.  Yes!  I was ready.  Mom flew in the week before the due date, and we scurried around making preparations, cooking, cleaning, and running errands like mad so that we'd have everything ready for November 16th.

But then the 16th came and went.  I was so disappointed and even a little weepy.  Not only was I physically uncomfortable and huge, I just wanted to meet our child!  But, I figured we could wait another day.  Besides, Mom and I had projects to do, and recipes to try.

But that day turned into another one, and another one ... and finally, another whole week had passed, and there was no baby (and the doctor told me I was about 2 centimeters dilated - I think maybe he was just having pity on a woman a week past her due date).  Family came into town for Thanksgiving - and instead of having a beautiful child to share with them, I showed them how awkward it is for a 41-week-pregnant woman to stand up from the couch and how much food could actually be stuffed into a pregnant belly.  Then, they left.  I resigned myself to the fact that I'd always be pregnant, and would never be able to go more than 1 hour at night without having to get up to pee, and would always grunt and look ridiculous whenever I had to go from sitting to standing.  I felt frustrated, sad, cranky with my body, and just plain upset.  Of course, my logical self knew that the end was in sight and I'd get my body back eventually ... but my oh-I'm-so-over-it self kept stuffing that self in the back of the closet with the pre-maternity skinny jeans.  (It's easy for me to have some perspective on this right now, looking across the living room at my sleeping newborn.  But this time two weeks ago, I was a mess, and not very pleasant to be around.)

So, the visiting family members left on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Mom stayed here - bless her preciousness.  We went for a moderate walk that morning on a trail by a reservoir, and that really tired me out.  I had some contractions, but nothing regular or too painful.  I was, after all, always going to be pregnant, so contractions didn't really mean a whole lot to me anymore.

Saturday night was uneventful.  I went to bed, woke up multiple times during the night to pee, and slept in between.

Sunday morning at 6 o'clock, I woke up with contractions.  They didn't necessarily feel any different than previous contractions, but they were coming regularly at 6-7 minutes so I laid in bed for about half an hour, timing them and paying attention to them.  By the time I got up, I decided I should eat something - because, if these really were meaningful contractions, I would need energy ... and if they weren't meaningful contractions then I still wanted food.  Through breakfast, they started coming about 5-6 minutes apart, then 4-5 minutes.  I realized something was up when Mom asked me a question and I couldn't answer her until the contraction had passed.

Not wanting to rush to the hospital and be told that I was still at 2 centimeters (or worse, that I wasn't even really in labor), I decided to stall.  Why not take a walk?  The dog needed to get out, and it was a pretty Sunday morning.  Mom got Little Girl ready to go, and I said I'd join them.  But then all of a sudden, I couldn't.  The contractions were coming 3-4 minutes apart, for about a minute.  The last thing I wanted to do was walk through the neighborhood , stopping at every other driveway to huff and puff my way through a contraction.  So, we sent them on, and the Mr. and I got ready to go to the hospital.  He loaded things in the car, we called the hospital, and then we were off (after a somewhat weepy goodbye to the Little Girl and Mom).  I was scared - mostly of being turned away from the hospital with a pity pat on the back - but excited too.  Maybe we'd really get to meet our new child soon.  I sure hoped so.

We got to the hospital around 10:15 on Sunday morning.  Sure enough, I was in labor (I think I said "Praise Jesus!" when the nurse said they'd admit me), dilated about 6-7 centimeters.  I could've kissed that nurse.  I was so thankful that we were going to have our baby!

Contractions kept coming, but the nurse didn't check me again.  They monitored the baby's heart rate for a few minutes every 15 minutes or so, but didn't keep me hooked up to anything so that I could move around as I needed to.  After a couple of hours or so I started wondering how much I had progressed, and when I would know that I should start pushing.

And then it happened - the Mr. and I were alone in the room (my nurse had just stepped out for a few minutes).  I started to have a contraction, and then I had the sensation of a young elephant falling out of the sky onto my abdomen and had SUCH a strong urge to push.  There was so much pressure, and it was awful.  I don't remember whether I called the nurse or whether it was the Mr. who did it, but there was no doubt for either of us that this was it.

Apparently, my nurse also knew something was up from our tone of voice.  She rushed back in the room with a troop of other nurses and the doctor.  This was at about 12:20 PM.  The doctor barely had time to suit up (I heard her yell, "I don't care what size of gloves you give me - I'll take anything!  We're moving fast!") before another contraction came and I had to push.  My water broke then (exploded, really - the only gross fact I'll share).  But eleven minutes and four contractions later, our child was born!

And ... it's a GIRL (the Mr. got to announce it to me!)!  She weighed 8 pounds, 9 ounces - just half an ounce less than her big sister.  She's 20.75 inches long, with a head full of dark hair and beautiful rosy cheeks.  She is healthy, squirmy, newborny, tiny, and precious.  We are so excited to have TWO daughters - TWO DAUGHTERS!  I'm still in shock.  I love it.

This time around, I am thankful for so many things regarding the birth experience ...
- that it was only 6 1/2 hours long
- that I knew from prior experience that labor wasn't going to rip me in half
- that it was an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery
- that even though pushing a small human out of my body is probably the most painful and horrible experience in the world, it was SHORT
- that my kind, understanding, supportive husband was present and encouraging
- that my sweet Mom was able to spend a total of 3 1/2 weeks caring for me/us/Little Girl/Baby Girl
- that this Baby Girl is joining a family and community that have anticipated her with such joy, and welcome her with such excitement


Holiday Sweets 4: Holiday Biscotti

This biscotti is a fun, slightly fancy holiday treat. Making them has become a December tradition for me, often for a cookie exchange. Never made biscotti before? Try them! Perfect with a hot cup of coffee or tea. ~Mary

Holiday Biscotti

Yield: 12-18 cookies, depending on size you make the log and slices 

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2  teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup dried cranberries
12 ounces good-quality white chocolate, chopped
Red and green sugar crystals, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl to blend. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the flour mixture and beat just until blended. Stir in the pistachios and cranberries.

Form the dough into a 13-inch long, 3-inch wide log on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until light golden, about 40 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes.

Place the log on the cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2 to 3/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake the biscotti until they are pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer the biscotti to a rack and cool completely.

Stir the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until the chocolate melts. Dip half of the biscotti into the melted chocolate. Gently shake off the excess chocolate. Place the biscotti on the baking sheet for the chocolate to set (optional: cover baking sheet with wax paper). Sprinkle with the sugar crystals. Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm, about 35 minutes.

The biscotti can be made ahead. Store them in an airtight container up to 4 days, or wrap them in foil and freeze in resealable plastic bags up to 3 weeks.


She's Here! (New Baby Pancakes)

Multigrain Medallion Pancakes
From Runner's World, October 2012 *do not be fooled - I have not taken up running.  It should tell you something that the one piece of information that I gleaned from a running magazine is a pancake recipe.*
Makes 16 four-inch pancakes

1 c. white flour
1/3 c. each: cornmeal, whole wheat flour, and old-fashioned rolled oats
4 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. milk or water
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, plus extra for brushing the griddle
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat a large skillet or griddle over low heat.  Mix flour, whole grains, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl.  Microwave buttermilk and milk for 30 seconds in a 2-cup measuring cup.  Whisk in eggs, oil, and vanilla.  Pour wet ingredients into dry; whisk until just mixed.  Return batter to measuring cup.  Increase heat to medium and brush skillet with oil.  When oil starts to spider, pour batter 1/4 cup at a time.  When pancake bottoms are golden brown and tops start to bubble, after about 2-3 minutes, flip pancakes; cook until golden brown on other side.  Repeat, brushing skillet or griddle with oil.  Serve hot.
Newest family member - welcome, sweet girl!
You may remember how passionate I am about pancakes - so much so that I announced being pregnant with Baby #2 at the end of a post about my favorite pancake recipe.  So, it only seems appropriate to share about the arrival of Baby #2 with another pancake recipe - coming full circle, if you will.  Just to get this out there - these are great pancakes.  Hearty, a little "meaty" with the whole grains, and nicely filling.  We ate them for dinner the night before Baby was born, so maybe - just maybe - this is what triggered her arrival!  She was born nine days past her due date - which started to wear on me a bit (ok, a lot) - but she knew when she needed to come and we're just so thankful that she's healthy and wonderful!
Welcome, sweet Mary Gatliff!
Exactly one day old - 12:31 PM

Getting some love from Diddie!
We're healthy, adjusting to each other, and working towards our "new normal" together.
Check back later for the birth story details, if you're interested at all.


This Is Your Work

I am again grateful for friends - and especially those who are willing to guest post for me!  This comes courtesy of my friend Amber, a sweet woman and mother of two little boys, whose positivity and kindness are a great encouragement to me.  And, I can't even begin to talk about her quiet level of energy - she gets up at 6 AM, gardens, helps run a preschool co-op, makes all her own bread ... oh, and did I mention she has TWO little boys?  

I once heard a religious educator share the following experience.  He was loaded down by stacks of paper work on his desk when a young woman came in, obviously in need of a listening ear and counsel.  Stressed about all the work he needed to get done, he felt an impression come to his mind as he remembered what was most important, "THIS is your work."

One day, I was on my hands and knees, talking to and smiling at my little baby Tyndale who was laying down on a blanket and cooing and smiling back. My two-year-old Ked had climbed up on top of me, ready to ride me like a horse. I kept thinking about how I needed to get back to work, when the phrase, "This is your work," came to my mind.

A little while later, I took Ked to the back window, hoping to find something to distract him after he'd been grumpy and crying ever since he awoke from his nap. Thankfully, a couple of squirrels were putting on a great show collecting walnuts. I pointed them out to Ked and explained what they were doing, and we watched for several minutes. Again, I kept thinking about my list of things to do and that I needed to get back to work. And again the phrase, "THIS is your work," came to my mind.

A while ago, I heard Julie B. Beck explain the differences between necessary and essential when it comes to raising families.  There are a lot of things I need to do that are necessary. But there are things that are too often given up that are essential!  "Maintenance parenting" lets go of that essential part.  I'm grateful to understand that the spiritual and emotional nurturing of these little boys is essential, as well as the physical and mental. Now I just need to remember that, and make it a part of my natural disposition!

My boys are clamoring for my attention as I write this. Gotta go!
Can you see the squirrel holding a nut in the tree? I took this a day or so after I wrote this post, when I noticed a rainbow out the same window where I took Ked to look outside.


The (Im)Patience Series: Blacksburg Enchiladas

Here's another recipe from the houseofthepassingduedate - Blacksburg Enchiladas.

I can't think of what else I'd call them - Creamy Green Enchiladas?  Creamy Chicken Taco Enchiladas?  The Green Enchiladas That Taste Awesome Even Though They Might Sound Questionable?

Feel free to offer your own suggestions.

We're enjoying all kinds of food here, while we I somewhat impatiently wait for Baby #2 to get here.


The (Im)Patience Series: Parmesan Chicken

I'm waiting - not very patiently.

C'mon, baby.

Here's another recipe that my dear sweet mom and I have recently tried - Dr. Jill Biden's Parmesan Chicken Recipe.  Even though we halved the recipe, we still ended up with a 9"x13" pan full of chicken, and ate on it for two nights and a lunch.  I'm usually too much of a frugalist to buy boneless skinless chicken breasts, but they were on sale for $1.79/lb, and I felt entitled.  Nine months of pregnancy and a passing due date will do that to a girl.


The (Im)Patience Series: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

What's a girl to do when all of the following are true:
(a) the pre-baby to-do list is complete (or shoved aside in favor of naps)
(b) the baby didn't arrive as anticipated ... what's the point of a due date anyway?
(c) the baby's grandma (aka "Diddie") is in town to shower us with all the awesomeness she possesses
(e) I have the appetite of a woman growing an extra person inside?

Answer: cook.  and eat.

So, here it is ... a short series of recipes we've been cooking and preparing.  Diddie understands the importance of feeding crowds, and has done a fantastic job of making food for us.  (In this context, "crowds" refers to Diddie herself, with an admirably modest appetite; the Mr., with his manly but conservative appetite; Little Girl, who eats well enough but let's be honest ... she's almost two, and has a two-year-old's appetite; and me ... the one who eats 2/3 of the presented dish, and leaves others to scrape the dish.  I'm eating for two/three/four these days).

Today's recipe: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls from Smitten Kitchen

(Did I mention that, along with the appetite of a circus elephant, I have the energy of a sloth?  So instead of writing the recipe here, I'll let you go find it at Smitten Kitchen.  There are great pictures over there, and a fantasticly engaging blog post.  I'll never compete.  So go over there, and then make yourself some cinnamon rolls.  Don't forget the icing.)


Holiday Sweets 3: Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

These bars allow you to enjoy a great combination of flavors and silky-smooth cheesecake texture with no fuss. Enjoy plain or top with a dollop of whipped cream. “A maple pumpkin cheesecake filling sits atop a gingersnap crust for a fantastic fall dessert.” Amen. ~Mary

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

For the Crust:42 gingersnap cookies (about 9 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the Filling:8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (about 2 cups)
2 eggs
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch ground cloves

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and line with parchment paper so that it extends over each long side of the pan.
2. Make the Crust: In a food processor, pulse together the gingersnaps and sugar until they become fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and pulse a few more times to incorporate. Press the crumbs evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.
3. Making the Filling: While crust is baking, prepare the pumpkin filling. Beat together the cream cheese and the brown sugar on medium speed until smooth and creamy, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed, about 3 minutes. Add the pumpkin and mix on low speed until completely incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well until fully incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add the evaporated milk, maple syrup and vanilla, and beat until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves and mix on low to incorporate.
4. Pour the filling over the prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Bake until the filling is set in the center, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and set on a wire rack to cool. Once the bars have cooled to room temperature, you can cut and serve them, or you can refrigerate them and serve them chilled.
5. Using the parchment paper overhangs, lift the bars from the pan and onto a cutting surface. Cut into squares and serve with whipped cream and candy corn, if desired. Store the bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.


Happy Due Date To Me!

Yes, I deserve to wear my bedroom slippers all day, thankyouverymuch.

This morning, before he left for work, the Mr. asked if I needed anything from him today (isn't he sweet).  Without hesitation, I requested a backrub.  Looking forward to THAT when he gets home, thankyouverymuch.

We went to Whole Foods for breakfast this morning.  My plate weighed in at 1.26 lb.  Every single ounce was delicous, thankyouverymuch.

I was down for my nap by 12:50 (thanks to my Mom for feeding the Little Girl her lunch and getting her in bed for her nap).  Awake at 2:30 ... thankyouverymuch.

Yeah, I think we're ready for this one to get here.


Holiday Sweets 2: Skillet Apple Crisp

Need an easy dessert for upcoming family time?  Check out another fabulous guest post from Mary!  

A delicious and faster alternative to apple pie. The crumble topping and rich apple filling are fantastic. Enjoy!  ~Mary

Skillet Apple Crisp
Recipe & photo from Cook's Illustrated, September 1, 2010
Serves 6 to 8.

Golden Delicious apples are Cook’s Illustrated’s favorite for this recipe, but any sweet, crisp apple such as Honeycrisp or Braeburn can be substituted; they do not recommend Granny Smith apples for this recipe. If your skillet is not ovensafe, prepare the recipe through step 3 and then transfer the filling to a 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Top the filling as directed and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Serve the apple crisp warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

¾ cup (3 ¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup pecans, chopped fine
¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats 
½ cup (3 1/2 ounces) packed light brown sugar
¼ cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

3 pounds Golden Delicious apples (about 7 medium), peeled, cored, halved, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (see note above)
¼ cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup apple cider
2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. FOR THE TOPPING: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Combine flour, pecans, oats, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt in medium bowl. Stir in butter until mixture is thoroughly moistened and crumbly. Set aside while preparing fruit filling.
2. FOR THE FILLING: Toss apples, granulated sugar, and cinnamon (if using) together in large bowl; set aside. Bring cider to simmer in 12-inch ovensafe skillet over medium heat; cook until reduced to ½ cup, about 5 minutes. Transfer reduced cider to bowl or liquid measuring cup; stir in lemon juice and set aside.
3. Heat butter in now-empty skillet over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add apple mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until apples begin to soften and become translucent, 12 to 14 minutes. (Do not fully cook apples.) Remove pan from heat and gently stir in cider mixture until apples are coated.
4. Sprinkle topping evenly over fruit, breaking up any large chunks. Place skillet on baking sheet and bake until fruit is tender and topping is deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on wire rack until warm, at least 15 minutes, and serve.


A Meal Planning Tidbit

I've been wondering recently about how to stretch out produce when I'm shopping only two or three times a month.  With all the intentionality of planning meals, sometimes I don't stop to think about what the lettuce is really going to look like on Day 9, and if we will actually want to eat it or not.  Yikes.  I'm trying to get better about it.

Lucky for me, I found some great suggestions here on the Passionate Homemaking blog.  It makes so much sense - eat the more perishable stuff first ... the hardier stuff later.

I'll blame it on my momnesia/baby brain that I wasn't able to come up with that on my own.


Holiday Sweets 1: Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple-Cream Cheese Frosting

Special treat: guest posts!  I've asked some friends to help me in the coming weeks by sharing favorite recipes, projects, and/or personal insights.  Mary has been kind enough to share FIVE (yes, FIVE!) delicious holiday treats - all in the "Holiday Sweets" category.  (To be completely honest, we are all hoping that one day Mary will open up her own bakery and dessert catering business.  She knows her stuff, and does such a beautiful job not only of preparing food but also presenting it.  Until that time, we are more than happy to be her guinea pigs and give her feedback on any and all recipes she needs an audience for.)  

"I love the food of the holidays. I love the traditional fare of turkey and stuffing, pumpkin and apple pies. But I also love exploring less common expressions of common flavors. I'm excited to share a few of my favorites with you over the next few weeks while Katherine is enjoying her first busy and blessed holiday season as mama of two."  ~Mary

Pumpkin Cupcakes With Maple–Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe & photo from Smitten Kitchen
Yield: 17 to 18 cupcakes

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing pans
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin

1 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/8-1/4 cup pure maple syrup

Make the cupcakes:
1. Preheat the oven to 350° (175°C). Line a cupcake pan with 18 liners.
2. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper into a medium bowl.
3. Add the eggs 1 at a time to the mixer, scraping down the sides after each addition. Alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat in the pumpkin until smooth. Scoop the batter among the cupcake liners — you’re looking to get them 3/4 full. Rap the filled pans once on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on racks completely.

Make the frosting:
In a stand mixer beat all the ingredients on medium until fluffy. Frost cupcakes. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to set up frosting.


Slowing Down

October was a busy month ... the "get as much done as possible before the baby comes" month, if you will.  November has started out ... well ... slow.  I remember getting to this point when I was pregnant with Little Girl - the point when folks stop expecting me to make firm plans, and when I have a valid excuse for just about anything.  What?  You're showing up to a potluck with hotdogs and a can of sliced pears?  Sorry.  I just needed a 2 1/2 hour nap this afternoon.  It's nice, and refreshing, and liberating ... and slow.

Just what I need.

I think I'm going to suspend some of the things on my to-do list.  Most of the important stuff is done, anyway.  I still would like to start a quilt, and have all the Christmas and birthday presents taken care of and wrapped, but I'm going to let it go.  I NEED to let it go.  I have this cuteness to soak in, after all ...

I was trying to get a good picture of the giant curl just over her right ear.
It was a perfect curl.  And it just happened!
She's amazing.
We did get one special thing taken care of this weekend: family date on Saturday!  The Mr., Little Girl, and I ate Saturday morning breakfast at a diner just down the street (an 80-year-old-establishment with exactly 6 tiny booths, 15 counter stools, a short order cook, and a handful of big-haired waitresses that would make any southern roadside food establishment proud).

With the exception of the one that fell on the floor,
This is my child.  I'm so proud.
I fully embraced the "eating for two" mentality with the 2-2-2 breakfast - 2 eggs, 2 sausage links, 2 giant pancakes (the size of the plate above, to be more precise), and a generous serving of home fries.  I won't let on how much little was left over.  Let's be reasonable ... this 38-week baby inside has the appetite of a bear coming out of winter hibernation.  I am starving all the time.

After our breakfast we went to a town park that is a farm - Little Girl is really into animals (and animal sounds) these days.  We all had a blast, and it must've really done her in because she took a 3 1/2 hour nap once we got home, after almost falling asleep over her lunch (which she's never done before).

This week is very low-key.  My mom comes on Sunday.  Friends are on backup duty for Little Girl and Dog if the baby decides to come early.  Grocery shopping has been done.  Auctions are listed on ebay. This week, I'm spending time with those I love, doing what I need to do, and preparing - anticipating, really! - labor and delivery, because it means we get to meet our second child!

 Until then, this is my to-do list ...


Rhymeswithsmile Nursery

Today, I finished the nursery!  Since we moved in, it's been the holding space for pretty much everything in the house that didn't have any other place to go.  But today, it's a finished baby space - and ready for the little one's arrival sometime in the next 2ish weeks.  Just thought I'd show a few little things and link up to the tutorials.

Hanging over the crib is fabric in different sizes of embroidery hoops.  I originally had these hanging over my sewing table, but needed something for a wall that I would be seeing more frequently than the sewing nook for the coming weeks.  And it'll be so easy to change out when my mood/the nursery space/the season changes.  I've seen lots of embroidery hoops in second-hand stores, on craigslist, and on freecycle, so this kind of art collection would be easy to put together on a budget.

The set of five pictures over the rocking chair was inspired by the collection of ideas for upcycling toddler art that I saw here.  I felt like I wanted Little Girl to contribute something personal to the new baby's room, but wasn't really sure what that could look like.  Looking around on Pinterest got me thinking that it wouldn't be a Bad Mom Move of me to cut up some of her art ... so, we delved into painting:
 ... and ended up with lots of painted half-sheets of paper (and paint all over the kiddo herself) ...
 ... then I found free clipart silhouettes of animals online, traced them onto the painted parts of the paper, and cut them out (because of some of the white space below, you can't really tell what the animals are - but there is a pig, a duck, a rabbit, a cow, and a turtle) ...
... I replaced the pictures that were in these 8"x10" frames with Little Girl's artwork, taped onto cardstock.  If you look closely, it's definitely homemade.  But whatever.  The new baby won't care, and the Mr. and I are pleased with Little Girl's contribution to the room.

Believe me, it's REALLY REALLY easy to make
a crib sheet out of a couple yards of fabric.
I'm not just saying that.  It really is.
I made my own crib sheet using this tutorial.  We got the fabric at Ikea (the Torva collection) to coordinate with the curtains in the room.  Fun fact: my cousin saw the fabric and said, "You would make a crib sheet out of that.  It's all garden and green and family and vegetables."  Yes, yes I would.  And I did.  I love it.

Tucked away next to the crib is a crate full of fun toys for Little Girl herself.  I'm so thankful for friends with experience in this keep-the-older-sibling-occupied thing - we've received some fun and interactive gadgets to keep her entertained while I've got my hands full.  Thanks, friends!

Awesome chair from the side of the road ... that was a surprise blessing!  I am so excited to have a fully functional, curb pickup, good condition, glider/rocker for the nursery ... partly because I know I'll be sitting in it a lot, and partly because it means we get to keep the other rocking chair in the living room.  Yippee!
And last but not least, a Craigslist find for $15.  We just needed a plain, sturdy changing table - nothing fancy really.  This one is solid wood, but it was somewhat dinged up so I repainted it white (with paint I got off my local freecycle network).

So, we're ready!  Come on, little one!