Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Not-So-Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

So, things have been a little out of sorts lately, and I haven't been able to get my mess of a brain together much in the last few weeks. Hence, the lack of blog posts.

In my defense, I do have a monster of a toddler who keeps life extremely interesting (to say the least), and a five-month-old baby who is teething - both of which have been extremely high maintenance of late - not to mention my now 12-year-old and her 6th grade drama, AND the fact that (counting this weekend) my husband has had three concerts with The Las Vegas Philharmonic in the last month. I have thereby basically been left to my own devices in trying to maintain control of my sanity. I simply can't stress enough how thankful I am that I have managed to keep it together well enough to ensure that my my poor children have been bathed and fed properly. ;)

Anyway, I digress. Tomorrow is Halloween, and with my husband's crazy schedule, he wasn't able to join us for Family Home Evening (FHE) last night (he had to do a make-up lab class that he usually has on Thursday night, which he can't make this week due to a rehearsal with the Phil).

I realized yesterday morning that we still hadn't carved pumpkins, so I picked up a few at the grocery store so that the kids and I could carve them for our FHE activity. Also, I had decided that for dessert, I would make Zachary's favorite fall treat (chocolate pecan pie) and would have it ready early so that he could eat it with us when he woke up before going off to school.

For dinner, we had homemade Zuppa Toscana soup, which turned out super yummy (I've made it several times before and it's one of our family faves). Everything was going as planned. My family was fed and dessert was a hit.

After my husband left for school, the kids and I busted out the pumpkins and chose the pattern we wanted to carve from the kit I bought at the store. Madison chose one that says "Eek" and I chose a pattern that said "Wicked." I know that neither of those patterns seem too ambitious, and Madison and I were both talking about how awesome our carved pumpkins were going to look once we were finished and the candles were lit inside.

In hindsight, I am realizing that there must be some sort of Halloween amnesia that kicks in as soon as I get the idea to carve pumpkins. There I was with all of these ideas of grandeur, but once I started in on the cutting process, I was quickly reminded of the reality of how horrible I am at carving pumpkins.

Usually, Zach is there to help us with the really difficult sections, but since he was at school, I had to really focus hard on not cutting the letters too closely, or pushing the wrong part of the words through the pumpkin.


This is how my pumpkin was supposed to look:

A pic I took of the sample on the carving kit.

Cool, right? Yeah...

This is how MY pumpkin turned out:

Haha. As you can see, it does NOT say "Wicked." I got so frustrated after pushing both the "i" and the "c" through the pumpkin on accident that I turned the pumpkin to the backside and just carved out a simple face (which I drew on first with a black marker. haha). I know. Epic fail.

The night wasn't a complete bust, though. There was enough Zuppa Toscana soup left over to freeze for another night's dinner, AND the chocolate pecan pie was super yummy. And Madison and I did have a ton of fun carving the pumpkins, even though she ended up following suit and carving a face in the back of her pumpkin as well. Haha.

This just goes to show how valuable Dad is in our pumpkin carving endeavors. Hehe.

This debacle does put me in the mood to watch The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown though. Oh, how I LOVE this time of year! ;)

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes with Butterscotch Cream Cheese Frosting

Okay, so I think that I have found a new favorite pumpkin recipe - at least in the cupcake department. I was fooling around online recently looking for fun, new pumpkin recipes (since it's officially fall) and stumbled upon this recipe for pumpkin ginger cupcakes on allrecipes.com (one of my favorite websites).

I could tell just by looking at the ingredients that these cupcakes were going to be amazing, for they combined the typical pumpkin related ingredients (cinnamon, clove, allspice, etc.) with butterscotch flavored pudding. Can I just say that I am seriously a fan of butterscotch anything! A couple of Christmases ago, I discovered this butterscotch gingerbread cookie recipe, and they are to die for, so when it came to butterscotch and pumpkin, I was sold.

The cupcakes also use candied/crystalized ginger, which we happened to have on hand since my husband had bought some for my nausea when I was pregnant with our 5-month-old daughter. It was a fluke that truly paid off. ;)

I never want to make up a bunch of cupcakes to just have lying around the house; though (my husband and I are still on a mission to lose weight), but I knew that I had some visiting teaching appointments scheduled this week, so I thought it'd be the perfect opportunity to experiment with this new recipe - since I had the excuse to give some away. :)

The only problem with the recipe was that it didn't have any info on what type of frosting to use, so I improvised - cue (once again) the butterscotch! I immediately thought that butterscotch cream cheese frosting would really complement the pumpkin cupcakes, since they were being made with butterscotch pudding, but I had never made it before, so I was going to have to do some more improvising.

I have had this recipe for white chocolate peppermint cream cheese frosting that I put on red velvet cupcakes at Christmas time (another recipe that is to die for) and it uses white chocolate chips that you melt and add to cream cheese frosting that is made with peppermint extract. I immediately thought of this heavenly frosting and decided that I would do something similar with these cupcakes, only that I'd melt butterscotch chips and add them to the cream cheese frosting instead (while also replacing the peppermint extract with vanilla, like more traditional cream cheese frostings).

What can I say? They were seriously amazing! After trying one, I asked my husband what he thought and he said that they were just okay - that he'd have to have a second one to form a more accurate opinion. Ha! Right! He did have a second one, and then said something along the lines of, "You are officially the queen of making fatty-maker food that is irresistible." Hehe. I am totally going to take that as a compliment. ;)

Anyway, here is my frosting recipe:

Butterscotch Cream Cheese Frosting

1 1/2 cups butterscotch chips, finely chopped (this helps with the melting process)
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla
4 - 5 cups powdered sugar

1. Place the butterscotch in a small bowl in the microwave on high for one minute. Remove the bowl from the microwave and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until it is smooth. Set the butterscotch aside to cool.

2. Place the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on low until well combined (30 seconds). Stop the machine. Add the melted butterscotch on low speed until just combined, 30 seconds. Add the vanilla and 2 cups of powdered sugar and blend on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, 30 seconds more. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the frosting is fluffy, 1 minute more, adding the rest of the powdered sugar until you reach the desired consistency.

I piped my cupcakes with a ziploc bag (a little trick I learned a while back for when you are in a jam and don't have a piping bag), then decorated them with candy corns and Halloween sprinkles.

And there you have it - the most amazing pumpkin cupcakes EVER - and just in time for fall baking. Yay! :)

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Confrontation.

We are getting closer to that magical day when "Les Mes" is released in theaters - woot! - and all we can do in suspense of that greatly-anticipated event is continue to celebrate the music. ;)

Who knew that Doogie Howser, M.D. had just an awesome voice? Hehe.

Happy Friday, my friends - and don't forget to be frivolous! ;)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Road Less Traveled?

I know that we have all heard of the phrase "to take the road less traveled," and usually, we think of that term as encouragement to stand out - to dare to be different. Well, a recent experience has my mind focusing on this phrase in a whole new light.

One bright and sunny day, my husband and I decided to take the kids for a day-trip to Mt. Charleston. We thought it'd be fun to pack some snacks and drinks and get some fresh air - maybe have a picnic lunch. While on our outing, we discovered an awesome hiking trail and decided to take the kids on a little hike.

At the trail head, there was a large map that showed a few options for different destinations on the trail, along with the distance to each destination. The shortest hike was to a place called Little Falls, and was stated to be about a 20-minute trek each way. We knew it would probably take us a little longer since we had the kids with us, but decided that it would probably be the best route for us to take.

One thing we were still unsure of upon departing on the hike was its level of difficulty. We just figured that if the kids started getting tired (or when I started running out of steam - as I was carrying the baby in a front-carrier), we'd just turn around and head back in the direction we had come. Whether we made it to the end of the trail or not, it'd be a fun, little adventure - and we would be getting some good exercise, so what did we have to lose, right?

At the very beginning of the hike, the trail led up a pretty steep incline, so we thought it was going to be pretty difficult. Still, we pressed forward, telling ourselves that we can do hard things - and finally, we got to a point in the trail where the terrain leveled out and the course seemed to be getting a bit easier, so we continued on.

A short while later on the hike, we came to a fork in the trail. The path that continued straight seemed to  maintain that same level of ease that we had been on for some time, but the path that curved to the right appeared to be rockier and turned upward as though the inclination in the hike was about to increase again.

Trail --->

I don't know if you can read the sign on the post or not, but it says "Trail" and then has an arrow that points to the right. It was apparent from reading the sign that to stay on the trail, we were to take the path to the right (the more difficult path in appearance). I found myself wishing; though, that I could take the road to the left, as it was the road less traveled - and also was obviously the much easier road.

By this point in our little adventure, my legs were beginning to burn pretty badly from the initial inclined section of the hike, and the shoulder straps of the baby carrier were beginning to cause my shoulders to ache from the weight of the baby. But I knew that to take that less difficult route, we'd be risking the chance of running into a dead end, or getting lost, and it would obviously deter us from reaching our intended destination.

We could have chosen to turn back at that point, but decided to continue on the trail, as the scenery was beautiful and everyone was having a good time.

As the sign on the post indicated, we continued on the trail by taking the path to the right, and almost immediately realized that the trail did, in fact, incline dramatically again (not to mention the enormous amount of loose rocks that made up the trail, causing it to present more treacherous walking conditions).

 My husband had to hold our son's hand so he didn't slip.
And yes, those are flip flops my husband is wearing. Haha.

We stuck to our guns; though, and again pressed forward, telling ourselves that we had conquered the first incline, and we could conquer this one too. I am not going to lie - the rest of the hike was pretty difficult, and there were several times along the way that we had to stop in order to hydrate and take a breather. We also had our 11-year-old daughter whining about how tired she was and how she just could not go on any further (as if she were the one with a 15 lb. baby strapped to her front).

We thought at one point that maybe we should just turn back and head toward the car, but there happened to be some people coming back down the trail at that moment, so we asked them how much further it was to Little Falls. They said it was only another couple of minutes, so we decided to keep going, telling our daughter to push through the pain - that the reward would be worth her decision to endure (it might have actually been a little closer to "suck it up, kid," haha, but our intentions were that of the former statement. ::wink, wink::).

Finally, after we had been hiking for almost an hour (so much for 20 minutes. bahaha), we arrived at Little Falls. All of us were so excited. We had overcome so many obstacles and had finally reached our destination. We sat down with some water and granola bars and just kind of took the whole thing in - talking about what a great adventure it had been, and how much fun we'd had. We were all filled with an enormous sense of pride, and it was such a great feeling.

It's been several weeks since that trip to the mountains, and I find myself reflecting now on various ways that the experience applies to my life. Most prominently, I think of the fork in the road, and how I initially wanted to take "the road less traveled" because I thought it would be the easier road - and it probably would have been. It might have been a fun, little adventure to go off on that path, but would it have taken us to Little Falls? And what lesson would we have learned? By continuing on the designated trail, we had to overcome many obstacles - but by enduring to the end, we were rewarded greatly.

This reminds me of the path on which we travel in life. The right path isn't always the easier one, nor is it always the quickest, and sometimes we feel discouraged by our trials and find ourselves facing the temptation to take an easier path - or to give up all together.

But then something happens that lifts our spirits; we hear a talk in sacrament that seems to have been meant just for us, a friend calls with some words of encouragement, a Relief Society lesson hits close to home - or maybe we run into someone on the trail who tells us to keep going, that the end is just ahead - and suddenly, we have the strength we need to go on.

I don't know. Maybe this whole thought process is kinda cheesy - but sometimes, the cheesy things in life are the ones that make the greatest impact.

I personally am grateful for this experience and for how my testimony was strengthened by it. It is so amazing to me how the spirit reveals little truths to us through the simplest of things. And how a hike in the mountains with my family taught me the importance of staying the course and enduring to the end. :)

Monday, October 8, 2012

General Conference Cinnamon Rolls

Yummy! :-P
In honor of general conference this weekend, I decided to attempt Debby (my late mother-in-law)'s cinnamon rolls from the best white bread recipe yet written that she always used. I have made them once before with the assistance of my awesome sister-in-law, The Purple Lady, when she was here for the baby's blessing in July. It was really late when we made them; though, and I was really just watching as she worked her magic. I am a very visual learner, so even though I had previously been given the recipe, I still "needed" to see it done before I felt comfortable attempting it myself. But yeah - despite the demonstration that one time before, I was still pretty nervous attempting them on my own this weekend.

My husband holds everything that his mother did so dear to his heart (and I don't blame him since she is no longer with us), so I wanted to get them just right.

The only other time I have attempted cinnamon rolls on my own was last week when my 11-year-old came home from her activity days meeting with dough they had made at the meeting. They had only had time to make the dough and let it rise once, so she brought it home and I helped her roll it out into a flat rectangle, then proceeded to help her mix the butter/cinnamon/brown sugar filling.

The instructions she had brought home just said to mix the ingredients for the filling together in a bowl, but when I did that, the mixture just got really gooey and difficult to spread (it stuck together in lumps), so I tried to remember how my sister-in-law had applied the mixture when she was giving her demonstration a few months ago.

I thought I remembered her putting the mixture in the microwave to melt the butter, so I did that and then slathered the melted butter mixture over the top of the rolled-out dough. As I started to roll the dough into a jelly roll; though, the dough just started to push all of the melted butter mixture off toward the sides and end of the dough. Oops! Note to self: When in doubt, call the Purple Lady and ask questions - but DO NOT melt the butter! ::sigh::

I tried to pick up the dough as I was rolling it to trap some of the butter mixture inside the roll, but it was useless - and by the time I finished rolling the dough, the butter mixture was all over the counter around the jelly roll. I went ahead and cut the jelly roll into individual cinnamon rolls and placed them in the baking pan, then decided to just pour the melted butter mixture over the top of the rolls (since hardly any of it got inside of them), pushing as much of the mixture as I could between the crevices of each roll.

We then baked the rolls as directed and I just crossed my fingers that they would still turn out. I felt really bad because it was the first time Madison had tried making them, and I had totally botched her attempt. To my surprise; however, they actually turned out really well. So well; in fact, that they didn't last 24 hours. Hehe.

Back to my attempt this weekend; though; I had learned what NOT to do when applying the sugar/butter/cinnamon mixture to the dough, so I figured I already had a one-up going into this attempt.

The Purple Lady has always told me that when she makes cinnamon roll, she usually does it on a day that she is already making bread. The recipe that her mom used usually makes about 5 loaves of bread, so she will make 2-3 loaves instead, then will use the rest of the dough for cinnamon rolls (or pizza dough - but that's another story).

Anyway, after sticking the bread loaves into the oven, I started rolling out the dough for the first set of cinnamon rolls - this time refraining from melting the butter mixture. Haha. In this case, learning from my previous mistake was an invaluable lesson. ;)

After rolling the dough and cutting it into individual rolls with dental floss (a trick The Purple Lady showed me), I covered the rolls with a towel and let them rise again. By the time the bread was done baking, the cinnamon rolls were ready to go in.

A short while later, the cinnamon rolls were done - and just as I was taking them out of the oven, the doorbell rang. My daughter had spent the night at my mom's house the night before, so my mom had brought her home and was going to stay and watch conference with us. She said that the minute I opened the front door, she could smell the cinnamon rolls. I told her she'd have to wait a minute longer; though, since I still had to let them cool off a bit so I could frost them. ::evil grin::

After letting them cool down a bit, I frosted them with the "family recipe" butter cream frosting (recipe to come shortly), and then dished some out to everyone. They must have been a huge hit because everyone went back for seconds (and some). I told my mom that I am gonna have to make bread and cinnamon rolls a general conference tradition - maybe to give the kids something extra to look forward to come time for general conference. After experiencing how addicting they are; though, my husband and I decided that I am not allowed to make them anymore. Haha.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bad lip reading.

Okay, so this video is a little irreverent. But can I just say that it is probably the most hilarious thing I have ever seen?!? My husband's younger brother showed it to me on a recent trip to Vegas, and I was cracking up laughing so hysterically that I had tears streaming down my face and I literally could not catch my breath. :-P

Happy Friday! ::evil grin::

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Counting my blessings!

I found out earlier today that a family friend, who was only 23 years old, passed away of cancer yesterday. I knew that she was sick, but I thought she was doing better after a bone marrow transplant, so this news came as quite a shock to me.

It is just seriously so sad when someone so young is taken from this Earth. I know that Heavenly Father has a plan for her - one that is bigger than our human minds can possibly comprehend, and I know that she is in a better place where she is no longer suffering. Even so, my heart is still breaking for her mom, who has lost her oldest daughter, for her baby sister, and for her new husband. They are in my thoughts and prayers today, and I hope that at this time of sorrow, they will find comfort in the arms of our loving Savior.

I find myself reflecting tonight on how blessed I truly am to have such beautiful, healthy children, and I am reminded of how delicate life is. I am also reminded to stop dwelling on the silly, petty, imperfect things in life, to cherish every precious moment I have with the ones I love, and most importantly: to count my blessings.

I am grateful today for a loving husband who works hard to support his family. In addition to his extremely exhausting work schedule, he goes to school, performs with the Las Vegas Philharmonic, gives private lessons, and basically never gets a break or a proper amount of sleep - yet the man never complains. He is a man of integrity who honors his priesthood, serves the Lord faithfully, and loves his family unconditionally. He is so good to us, and I thank Heavenly Father for him every day.

I am also grateful for my children, who bless my life with such immense joy. Each of them is a valued member of our family, and I can't imagine life without them. I will give each of them a hug tonight and thank Heavenly Father for blessing me with another day to hold them in my arms.

Finally, I am grateful for the gospel in my life, and for the knowledge I possess that we have such a loving Heavenly Father who gave us his Plan of Happiness, and will guide and comfort us in our times of sorrow. It is such a blessing to know that because of His love, we are afforded the opportunity to be sealed to our families for time and all eternity - and it is times like these that remind me of how precious this blessing truly is. The gospel allows us to see things from an eternal perspective when me might otherwise be tempted to let these trials in life weigh us down.

So, to my friends: Thank you for the many amazing times you have been there for me - provided a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. I value your friendship and cherish your love and loyalty.

To my ward members: Thank you for always being there to uplift me and encourage me to be a better mother and disciple of Christ. They say that it takes a village to raise a child, and I am so grateful for the valuable examples that each of you has set for my children. You are all like family to me, and I treasure the ways that you all have enriched my life and blessed my family.

And to my family: I love you with all of my heart, and I thank Heavenly Father for each of you - and for the blessings you bring to my life. You have stood by my side through the good times and bad, and I am who I am today because of you.

I pray that each of us can take a moment today to reflect on the marvelous gift of life that we have so graciously been given, and for the ability we still possess to tell our family members and loved ones how much they are loved and appreciated. Life is precious - an amazing gift that should not be taken for granted. Let's all be grateful today for the time we do have left on this Earth as we honor the memory of one of our Heavenly Father's beloved children.

For my family! :)