Tuesday, August 28, 2012

P is for Parties!

These past few days had been so busy.  Busy with baking, small parties, and with the most anticipated time of the year: back to school day! Most anticipated for parents but for the kids, back to school is probably at the bottom of their list. Way below Christmas, birthday, Halloween, Easter, summer vacation, breaks, etc...yeah, I think it's way down there! But I was very glad that Logan was actually excited to be back to school.  He even asked for an alarm clock to put in his room to make sure he gets up on time for school.

I can't believe that I now have a first grader! He's growing up so fast. He's becoming a more confident, independent, and responsible little boy. Sometimes, I can't wait to see what he grows up to be.  Then I get emotional and wish that he'll just stay little as he is now and never grow up.  I feel like this is a really fun and awesome stage and I don't want it to change.  But then again, I still don't know what's ahead of me.  Maybe it's even better. I think I just think too much!

First day of First Grade. His teacher is Ms. Steuber. He was a bit bummed that his friend Mason from his class last year (and fellow cub scout!) is not in the same class as his. But excited that Elisha, also from his class last year, is, and so is his friend David, who was also in his swim team.  All three of them ride the same bus too!

While Logan was in school, Izzie and I planned a little "First Day of School" party for him when he got home.  Actually, I think this is becoming a tradition now.  We thew him a party too last year, on his first day of Kindergarten.  Look at the picture below.

Logan's first day of Kindergarten party. Aug. 29, 2011. We had pretzels, cake pops, cookies, and lemonade.

Some might think it's a little excessive but the way I look at it, it's something that he will remember when he gets older.  He will remember that first day of school is always fun and exciting and something to celebrate for.  I know a lot of families have their own first day of school traditions.  Well, for us, this is how we do it. Our own little private party :)

This year, this is what we had:

A for apple pie

B for Baby Cupcakes

C for Chunky Chocolate Chip cookies

F for Fortune cookies. I know, I know, we jumped from C to F! But I didn't really want to make a lot of stuff since the party is really just for Logan, Izzie, and I.  But I did want to make something a little more special this year.  I just wanted to let him know that it will be an awesome year and I want him to be really excited about it.  And what better way to express it than having him read it as his "fortune"? The most exciting part of it too (for me at least) is that he is able to read most of the messages now! By the way, making fortune cookies from scratch is not as hard as I thought it would be.  I'll give you the recipe next time.  Actually, I just found it online :)
We had our "party" on the deck this year.  We also had watermelon and lemonade
Izzie serving us some lemonade :)
Very impressed that with all the sweets on the table, the first thing he grabbed was the watermelon! That's my boy!
This was actually very cool.  I wished that he would pick this "fortune" first and he actually did! I swear I mixed up the cookies and he grabbed this first.  How cool is that?
The "fortunes".  So awesome he actually read all of them by himself, except for the big words independent, respectful, responsible. He'll get there :) Our goal this year is to learn to read well.

All those baking and planning really pays off when you see a big smile on his face and says afterwards that he "really liked all of it". 
So that was Monday.  This past Saturday, my brother turned 23! We celebrated his birthday with Sushi and Chinese food at Jasmine's in Leesburg. I made him "23" cupcakes...why have I not done this before?  So much easier than making a cake :)
See? Nice and simple :)

Well, I actually would have made him an actual cake if I didn't have to make this in the morning. Yeah, priorities, right? 

I made this for a friend of mine for her sister's birthday.  Her sister loves to run so I attempted to make a girl running but couldn't get one of the legs to raise a little higher since it wouldn't have much support to stand up.  But I'm happy to report that my friend called me the day after to tell me that they really enjoyed the cake.  The figure and the decorations were made of modeling chocolate.


On Friday, I made a little dessert table for a friend of mine who was having a Stella and Dot trunk show and a jewelry swap.  I tried to match Stella and Dot's blue, I think I got pretty close.  I didn't get to take a lot of pictures for this event and the ones I took were mostly taken from my iPod.
The menu
Mini chocolate cheesecake topped with whipped cream (yes, it's from scratch too) and shaved chocolate.  I'm liking this using individual cups.
Mini chocolate cupcakes with rosette frosting
Chocolate chip cookies! These were so good especially when still warm! Notice the upper right corner? I tested that one :)
When you break this cookie, there's more chocolate than dough! Thanks Jacques Torres for the recipe!
Vanilla macarons
On my way to deliver the goodies, I realized I didn't bring any of my cameras! But luckily, my friend snapped a few pictures after set up.


So those were my busy past few days.  I think I'll take a little break for now...but I just received my cocoa powder order today.  Plus, Izzie is starting preschool next week.  She already informed me that she would love to have a party too on her first day of school.  Maybe I will post some pictures next week :) Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Second Time's a Charm?

I have finally successfully made macarons!!! I know, I know, it sounds a little silly but for bakers like me, it is such an accomplishment! I have attempted to make them a few months ago but didn't turn out.  It didn't rise well and didn't create those frilly "feet". And quite frankly, it didn't taste that good either.  I finally had the courage to try it again a couple of days ago. This time it turned out great.  It looked good and tasted good!  Who would have thought these little things were hard to make?  It required so much patience and a really watchful eye.  Those darn French, why do they always make beautiful and yummy desserts and make it look so easy to make?!

The first time I made macarons, the recipe came from a fancy, expensive cookbook.  Yeah, well you already know what happened.  Then a few weeks ago, while shopping at AC Moore, I ran into a $5 macaron cookbook. I bought it and decided to try it.  This time it's a success!  You know what they say, "Never judge a book by it's cover"!

This is where the successful recipe came from.  It didn't say who the author/writer is.  Just says its a 2012 edition published by Parragon Books

I didn't get to take a lot of pictures during the process because I didn't actually think that it would be a success this time.  Next time I make it, I'll snap pictures of each step.

This was taken during "sitting time",
about an hour before baking.  The recipe calls to let it sit for 30 minutes but I let mine sit a little longer to make sure I get the "crust"
After baking.  Mine took 15 minutes in my oven.  See those frilly "feet" (bottom)?  I got so excited as soon as I took it out of the oven!

I'm calling out big names here, I should get paid! Hahahaha! The recipe calls for a chocolate ganache filling but I didn't want to make some and a couple of days ago while shopping at Wegman's, I found these new products from Jif.  I love trying new products!  I know there are a lot of Nutella fans out there but I'm telling you, these Chocolate hazelnut spread is up to par!  And for those who like coffee, the mocha cappuccino is really, really good! You should try it. They cost about $3.24 a jar.

My oh so yummy chocolate macarons! Hard on the outside, soft and chewy and gooey in the center! Next time I'll try to make other flavors!

For those who want to try making these yummy goodies, here's the recipe:

Chocolate Macarons

3/4 cup ground almonds
scant 1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
2 extra large egg whites
1/4 cup superfine sugar

For the filling:
Jif Chocolate hazelnut spread and/or Jif Mocha Cappuccino hazelnut spread

Place ground almonds, confectioner's sugar, and cocoa in a food processor and process for 15 seconds.  Sift mixture into a bowl. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place egg whites in a large bowl and whip until soft peaks forms.  Gradually beat in the superfine sugar to make firm, glossy meringue.

Using spatula, fold the almond mixture into the meringue 1/3 at a time.  When all the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, continue to cut and fold the mixture until it forms a shiny batter with a thick, ribbonlike consistency.

Put batter in pastry bags with a 1/2 inch diameter tip.  Pipe 32 small circles into prepared sheets.  Gently tap bottom of baking sheets to remove air  bubbles.  Let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Bake at preheated 325 F oven for 10-15 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes. Carefully peel the macarons off the parchment paper and let cool completely.

Sandwich pairs of macarons together with desired filling.  Makes 16 cookies. Unfilled cookies will keep for 3-4 days in airtight container at room temperature, or freeze for up to a month.  Filled macarons will keep in fridge for 2-3 days.

Happy Baking!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Visiting the beach, the dunes, and the Wright Brothers

We had a blast last week! We headed down to Corolla, North Carolina and spent a few days there.  A very kind and generous invitation from a family friend got us there.  The kids were so happy and loved every moment of it.  They were so bummed to come home.  Hopefully we all behaved very well, that maybe we get invited again next year. Hahahaha!

I have never been to the Outerbanks before.  Such a nice place! Someday I'll have my beach house...someday...:) I think this was so far the only vacation I've had that I felt so relaxed.  By that I meant, I didn't get to watch my kids as much! Family and friends took over watching the kids and the whole time we were there, I was only at the beach one time for about an hour! And to the pool only a couple of times.  Don't get me wrong, I love the beach and the water! But last week, I just didn't feel like doing anything at all but hang around the house and read magazines (and my baking cookbooks!).

The kids really enjoyed being there. Logan especially enjoyed hanging out at the pool.  Ever since he joined our local swim team and learned to swim, he could not get enough of the pool.  He really is a good and confident swimmer now. I really don't worry about him being in the deep end anymore or jumping off the diving board.  It's awesome!  This was the kid who refused, I mean really refused to take swim lessons, to the point that I had to drag him to the pool while whining about it. Then after six weeks of swim practices, he learned to swim freestyle and backstroke in a 25-meter pool for under a minute. So very proud of him. He asked me if our next house will have a pool.  I better start playing the lottery!

Future Michael Phelps :)

We've been trying to teach him how to properly dive. During his meets, when the buzzer goes off, he gets in the pool with feet first. Glad I got to snap this so he can see that when he dives in, his feet should be the last part to touch the water, not first

Izzie on the other hand, enjoyed the beach and the sand more. She likes the pool, but not as much as Logan does.  I figured maybe because she doesn't really know how to swim yet. But I should give her credit since she did learn to thread the water while there! Proud of her too! But for now, she's good with her sand and sea shells.  She has her own little world building her sand castles! After dinner she would always ask if she could go out again and play in the sand.  Apparently she hadn't had enough even after playing in it all day. 

Making her sand castle

One more thing that is really cool about our visit at the Outerbanks is that we were able to go to Kill Devil Hills, the birthplace of aviation! My airplane-loving son really, really enjoyed this.  You know those articles that's been going around the web about places you should take your kids to before they turn 12 or something like that?  Well, I think Kill Devil Hills should be in it.  And so is the Jockey Ridge State Park, where I'm so glad that they preserved a "patch" of the dunes! You can just imagine how the Wright Brothers flew the first plane in there. Awesome. Just "plane" awesome :)

Replica of the flyer the Wright brothers built in 1902

Full scale (and functioning) replica of the Flyer the Wright Brothers built in 1903. This was the "successful" flyer

Standing next to the Wright Brothers :)

The marker where they took off

First 3 markers where the Flyer landed.  I didn't get to snap the 4th one...it was pretty far compared to these three

Heading to the Memorial with Uncle Andrew...or I should say attempted to walk up the Memorial with Uncle Andrew.  Yeah, they didn't make it.  Only Andrew and I did.

The top of the hill

I liked how the Memorial is shaped like a plane's tail

A sculpture on the other side of the memorial hill.  They liked climbing on the flyer.

To the dunes! Jockey Ridge State Park.  This place is about 4 miles (not sure what direction! I think south)from the Wright Brothers Memorial.  The memorial (where the actual first flight took place) is now covered with grass, but back then, this is what it looked like.  The Wright Brothers were looking for a windy place and a soft landing to test their flyer.

There were people trying to fly their gliders when we got there

This was my attempt to have a picture of them at the dunes.  They were not too thrilled with this place, not yet, I'm hoping.  They said it was too hot! This place was awesome and I've never seen anything like it before.  Maybe in a couple more years I'll bring them back here and see if they can appreciate it more.

It got really cloudy and felt like the storm is coming.  It was perfect for me! I loved the breeze!

This is my brother Andrew.  We actually went to the dunes the day before we took the kids.  It was more enjoyable to see it without the kids whining and complaining about how far it was and how hot it was!

My sister Maria (yes, she's Maria too, in fact we have another sister who is also "Maria". Long story!). She said she wanted a picture then laid on the sand then goes "hurry up, the sand is so hot!"

Don't know how the water got there. Rain??

Now scroll down below to see more pictures from our trip. Too bad, I didn't get to take pictures of them playing miniature golf and Logan's first ride on a bumper car. This is what happens when you always forget to bring your camera...I guess this is what smart phones are for right? Only if mine had juice!

This was Logan's first order of business as soon as we got there.  He said "I want to be burried in the sand!"

Dig, dig, digging!

Somebody was wiped out

Walking to the beach

The gang at dusk flying kites

One of the kites

Logan, flying a kite.

Izzie, flying a kite.

See the gap in front? He lost that tooth a while back and the new one is still not out.

Our last day there.  It wasn't too hard to leave since it started raining on and off since the morning!