Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Coffee Cake

I've done a lot of cooking in the last ten days (plus many other activities!), but very little recipe-sharing. So I thought I'd share this coffee cake recipe. It would work well for a New Year's Day brunch. I've made it several times in past years, but I forgot how spicy it is. The nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon make it perfect for the holidays. Recently my toddler helped me make it for a breakfast we put together for the teachers at her preschool. I made two - the prettier bundt version for the teachers and the rectangular one for home. It was a success!

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts (I use walnuts)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-cup tube pan, bundt pan, or a 12 X 8 glass pan.

Prepare the topping by combining all the ingredients and set aside. Stir together the flour, baking powder and baking soda; set aside. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Gradually beat flour mixture into batter until well blended.

Sprinkle one-fourth of topping into prepared pan. Spoon on one-third of the batter. Continue layering, ending with the topping mixture. Bake 50 to 60 minutes for the tube or bundt pan, or 35 to 40 minutes for the rectangular pan. The cake is ready when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan; remove from pan to a cooling rack. Serve warm. Makes 1 cake.

NOTE: I have also made this where I substituted wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour. That worked well, too.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Hint for Santa

Dearest Santa,

I know that you have a challenging night ahead of you. And I know that you probably have a challenging toy-prepping season behind you. So I really hope that my toddler's somewhat challenging gift requests didn't stump you too much.

Her first request, a princess doll, was probably an absolute breeze for you. But a yellow dress in December? That's a harder one, particularly since my toddler asked for a yellow dress just like one of the Bye Bye Birdie characters wore in the Thanksgiving Day parade. My toddler notices details, too. She wanted the cute sleeves, the white detailing, the works. And even though she's only 3 1/2, she's discriminating.

Her final request might have been the most challenging. She asked for a telescope. A real telescope. And I'm sure you can't afford to break the bank on an authentic scientific instrument with all the bells and whistles. Plus, my toddler would surely break it in a matter of days. Yet a more age-appropriate view finder toy just wouldn't do either. My toddler is planning to look at stars with this toy, afterall.

Santa, here's a little hint for you. When you get challenging gift requests like these there is just one answer. Well two, actually.

First, love the Internet. Get to know it, nurture it, love it. It can only help you if you give it a chance, though, so be sure to give it its due respect. You know - trust and all that.

Second, start early. That whole shipping thing can really create problems if you let it. So even if you ONLY tackle the most challenging gift requests early, before you've wrapped up other things like final exams and law school term papers, do it. And do it early.

I know that you're a smart guy, so you've probably figured all of this out already. You probably know that these items would be the perfect answer for my toddler's challenging gift requests:

Available here.

Available here.

Santa, thanks for being on top of things. My toddler will be thrilled. Happy sledding! (wink, wink)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

So much to wrap up

It's official. Christmas has landed at our house.

Although my semester isn't entirely wrapped up yet, suddenly there are lots of other things to wrap up around here! We got our tree early last week, decorating it a bit each evening. Then in the last few days we've attended TWO holiday parties. We've made lists, we've shopped, and we still plan to shop some more. And I'm back in the kitchen. I'll share a few of my kitchen highlights in my next few posts. For now I have to get back to wrapping . . . up that paper I have to finish to finally end the semester!

Happy wrapping!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lovely and Lovely

I just finished my last final - yippee! As I came out of my "finals haze" I was greeted by two of the loveliest things.

First, my good friend Une femme curieuse showed up in my exam room to congratulate me on finishing. She appropriately reminded me that, despite my head cold and the general sense of deflation that always follows a final exam, it is time for some serious celebration. MK, I'm doing my happy dance now. Can you see? It looks something like this . . .

Then upon arriving home I was greeted by my amaryllis, which finally started to open this morning.

Lovely and Lovely.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Go hot!

When I need to be reinvigorated, what I reach for most often is a cup of hot tea. I don't know why exactly, but there's something about hot drinks that energizes me and brings me to life. And I'm talking decaf, too.

If you're looking to "go hot" yourself, you might try the Black Currant tea from Peet's. Or, if you'd like to help somebody else "go hot" then you might give the tea alongside one of the many great tea brewing options out there. I love this option for brewing an individual cup.

Or this simple, but cute, teapot.

Incidentally, I have never actually owned any Black Currant tea myself, although I've tasted it and given it to others on several occasions. I sure wouldn't mind if it showed up in my stocking this year. (hint, hint) Hubby, are you reading?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Things are changing

Things are changing around here. We've pulled out our favorite Christmas music, like this upbeat one from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. It always gets us dancing.

My amaryllis is getting ready to bloom.

I have a festive tablecloth on the table. And with this vanilla cookie candle going, it at least smells like there are Christmas cookies baking in the oven.

My toddler has watched this Nutcracker Ballet DVD three days in a row. We love it, by the way, and it makes for a great gift for any toddler dreaming of becoming a ballerina.

And I'm busily studying for a law school final. That's part of the holidays, right? Thankfully, I know better. And it won't be a part of my holidays either after next Friday. Yippee!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Something Sweet

As I mentioned before, I think that December is a stressful month for a lot of people. So I look for creative ways to take time out from the hubbub. It doesn't take much for me to feel re-centered again, ready to tackle anything.

Here's an idea: Savor something sweet. Like these little sandwich cookies. (I buy them at Ikea, but I think you can also get them at Cost Plus World Market.)

These cookies instantly remind me of the sandwich cookies of my childhood. And the hazelnut filling is so much like Nutella that I think of the Nutella-filled crepes that I sampled on the streets of Paris.

So fun. So simple. So sweet.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Yesterday afternoon a surprise package arrived on my doorstep. It was a lovely gift from my father-in-law and his family. Any guesses what it is?

Here's another look.

Surely I can do better than that...

Ta-dah! Such a nice gift since so far there has been no sign of the holidays at my house. But that will all change Friday evening . . .

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Need a break?

There seem to be a lot of reasons to take a break these days. There are final exams and end-of-semester deadlines. There's the holiday-rat-race. And then there's the cold-weather-doldrums. My thought is that you just might need a break as much as I do.

So I thought I'd share a few of my favorite ways to take a break. My first favorite? High kicks.

We recorded the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade on our DVR, and my toddler has been watching a piece of it almost daily since Thanksgiving. She acts out certain parts of it, mimicking the trumpet players, the cheerleaders, and the Broadway characters. But whenever the Rockettes come on, she gets me involved. We do high kicks along with them, and it's loads of fun. You just might give it a try!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Did you hear?

I thought I was going to have to create my own winter wonderland this year with crafts like this from A Field Journal.

But no. It turns out it's supposed to SNOW tomorrow in Sacramento! Who would have ever guessed?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Crunchy Vegetables

Do you have any tricks for making sure that you "eat your vegetables" so to speak?

We've developed a trick at our house that's not half bad. My toddler has always been so-so at eating her veggies. She's always been fairly willing to try veggies, but in the past she didn't get much beyond licking the broccoli, nibbling the carrot, or eating a single sliced cucumber.

She's a changed girl now. One day I bit into a thick baby carrot at the dinner table. It made a huge noise that got everyone's attention. Next thing you know we were ALL crunching on carrots, trying to see who could crunch the loudest. My toddler has quite a sense of competition, so we've continued this game at nearly every meal since. We all love it, and I think we all eat more veggies as a result. We eat crunchy broccoli, crunchy celery, even crunchy lettuce. (In case you were wondering, Romaine is the crunchiest lettuce!)

So I challenge you to see if you can crunch your vegetables. You might even crunch louder than your neighbor!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Oh, the Symbolism

A couple of weeks ago I bought an amaryllis bulb and planted it with my toddler. It was a fun little project, and it's been exciting to watch it grow. What I didn't expect was how symbolic this little living thing would become.

For me this bulb represents both tradition and the passage of time. My mom had an amaryllis that grew in our yard each year at our home in Houston, and I always loved watching it shoot from the ground and grow into a beautiful winter flower. Now it reminds me of the coming holiday and my *much needed* break from school.

For my daughter, this plant represents responsibility. When we planted it we talked about how things grow, and specifically about how plants need soil, water, and light. It's so dark when we get home in the evenings, that she becomes concerned about there being no sunlight for the flower. So she sits there a while each night, helping it out a bit.

It seems to be working because the amaryllis is growing quickly.

quickly, in fact.

Which brings me to the plant's final meaning. You see, each time my hubby looks at this innocent little bulb he gets spooked. It seems to be growing right before our eyes. If you look away and look back, it's taller. So to my hubby, this seemingly harmless amaryllis represents....well, FEAR.

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