Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holiday baking - a retrospective

I did a ton of holiday baking this year.  A ton.  So I thought I'd share all my projects with you & recipes.  Overall, I'm pleased with how everything turned out.  However, I don't think I'll do so many baked good gifts next year.  I usually wait until the last minute to make sure everything is as fresh as possible, but that meant that I was in the kitchen baking all day on Christmas.  Literally, all day!

This year, I gave a few batches of my favorite new recipe, homemade granola.  I never thought of giving granola as a gift, but then I saw this post on SouleMama's blog & it seemed like a great idea!  I discovered this recipe sometime this Fall & eat a bowl of granola with wild blueberries & almond milk for breakfast almost every day.  It is sooo good!  Here's the link to the recipe - thanks, Martha!  I omit the dried blueberries & add wild blueberries instead.  I also add a handful of chopped walnuts.  It's so good & pretty healthy, too!

Another great idea courtesy of SouleMama is the peppermint bark we made.  Here is the link to her blog post about the peppermint bark.  This recipe is so great - and so easy to gobble up!  I had to try very hard to forget all about the peppermint bark sitting in the fridge.  In fact, my daughter's teacher e-mailed me the day we gave her some peppermint bark & fudge in a tin for a teacher's gift & said she NEEDS (her caps, not mine) that recipe!  Here is the original recipe, in case you don't go through SouleMama's blog to get it.  One thing about it: I found the easiest way to crush the peppermints (pulverize, actually) is to use a big 'ol hammer from DH's collection.  I think it worked better than the can crusher.  Anyway, here's a pic:

Yes, you heard me mention fudge.  I made a few different batches of one of our favorite fudge recipes & put it in tins with the peppermint bark.  This is a marshmallow fudge, so it's pretty hard to mess up.  I like traditional fudge a bit better, but I hate all the frantic stirring & I always botch it anyway!  I got my recipe from Martha Stewart, & it goes fast!  See......

And finally, I made peanut brittle.  This recipe is finicky - when it turns out, it's irresistible, but when it doesn't, it's just meh.  I've made this quite a bit & I think the amount of stirring you do has something to do with the final outcome.  I've also read that you shouldn't make candy on a humid day!  I still haven't figured out all the perfect conditions for this brittle, but even when I get a meh batch, it's still good.  Buttery & sweet with a touch of salty.  Yum!

In addition to making these goodies for pre-Christmas gifts (teacher gifts, neighbor gifts, my Aunts & cousin we visited with at a family party), I also made all these recipes on Christmas day, in addition to breakfast for everyone, pumpkin pie, homemade whipped cream & mashed potatoes.....and cheesecake.  It was brutal!  Maybe next year's gifts will be knitterly - at least then, I can be off my feet while I do the last minute gift-crunch!

Did you do a lot of baking this holiday season?  How did everything turn out?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Nook - A Perfectly Kept House....

If ever there was a book that appealed to me on title alone, it's this one:  A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life, written by Mary Randolph Carter.  The title comes from a doormat the author found once while shopping.  She bought 9 of them for each of her siblings and herself & one for her parents.  I need to know where that store is so that I can get one for each of my entries - a forewarning to all those who enter!

The book is set up with 9 case studies - people the author knows (or knows of) with photographs & a write up about their house & how they live in them.  The author's own home is the last case study.  Each of these case studies focuses on a main area of the homeowner's life.  There is a study on a photographer & how he melds his work space & his home space; a study on a family of 7 & how they cope with lots of people in a small space.  There is a study on an artist living outside of Paris & how she keeps her studio.  The study on the author deals with her love of junk.  I liked these little glimpses into others' lives and homes & appreciated their honesty & openness.  The couple living in London, for instance, obviously didn't try to tidy up before their photo shoot!  But really, that's the whole purpose of the book - to show real people & their real living spaces.

In between the case study chapters, Carter (as she is known) has chapters on topics like comfort, ambience, the unmade bed, the purposeless room, etc.  She discusses these topics using the case study "subjects."  It just gives you a further understanding of the case study participants & how they live their lives.  I liked the chapters with these random topics, & I love her description of her own purposeless room - "our happy, lazy room."  I want one of those!

The author also did all the photography in the book - and there are tons of photos!  She's a really good photographer & I think her visual style added a lot to the book.  Mary Randolph Carter seems to be quite an interesting person - I'd like to meet her!  There are a couple of photographs with blatant product placement - her other books are displayed a little too prominently.  But I think we can overlook that!  I also found the same blue bag pictured in two of her case studies - one in NYC & the other outside of Paris.  Could it be that these 2 families actually have the same (unusual & eclectic) canvas bag, or is it Carter's bag that crept into the shot?  I wonder!

Keep in mind that this is not really a hands-on instructive kind of book.  Carter is not trying to teach the reader how to tidy up, or how to hide your mess, or how to do anything for that matter.  Rather, I think she is trying to show us real people and some of the challenges they face.  This is a great coffee table book, one that is perfect for sitting & perusing through when you just don't feel like doing the dishes.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Hope you are having a wonderful Christmas day!  (Photo inspired by Lisa Leonard)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Our Winter Solstice

I know the official first day of Winter was a couple of days ago, but we just couldn't get to any fun activities to celebrate until today!  So, the Bach Family decided to celebrate our first (officially celebrated) Winter Solstice a couple of days late.

While I wanted to recognize the event, I also wanted to keep everything as simple & easy as possible.  We started our Solstice day by cutting out paper snowflakes and decorating the house with them:

Our house looks beautiful...but very snowy & cold!  We found a great website where you make your own online snowflake that you cut & design by clicking your computer mouse.  It's really cool - here's the link.  Of course, we also did some the old fashioned way!

After our morning craft, we went on a winter hike at Three Creeks Metro Park here in Columbus, OH.  It was a chilly day & there was still snow on the ground, but it wasn't too cold to keep us away.  I packed three big travel mugs with homemade hot chocolate - a definite must!  Here are a couple of pics of our excursion:

And finally, this evening we read a few Winter-related stories.  All of them were very sweet & perfect for our Wintery day.
Grandmother Winter
Lucia and the Light
The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice

I'm glad we were able to take a little time during this crazy holiday season to slow down just a little and have some Solstice-y fun!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Blow, North Wind, Blow
All the leaves are falling;
Cold, frost and snow
Winter comes a-calling.
Mother Nature sleeps now,
All the earth is bare;
Deep in the ground
She guards her treasures rare.
-Margaret Morgan

Happy Winter!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Nook - The Shortest Day

DH and I both come from families that celebrate Christmas and now that we have our own little family, we continue to celebrate the holiday.  But lately, we've been re-evaluating our traditions and have tried to incorporate things that are important to us.  One of those new traditions (for us, at least) that we are going to try to include in the season is the recognition and celebration of the Winter Solstice. 

The Shortest Day by Wendy Pfeffer is a great introduction to Winter Solstice.  The science behind the solstice is explained, as well as the history of many Solstice celebrations in different parts of the world.  The text informs without being too complex or lengthy for its intended audience - children being read a picture book.  There's a lot in here that grown-ups might not have known.  For example, I didn't know that the Incas of Peru used a reflective surface to light a fire from the rising Winter Solstice sun & kept it burning all year.  I also find it so interesting how we continue to hold onto some traditions - such as decorating with evergreens, putting lights on a tree - that are thousands of years old.  Interestingly, these traditions are associated with Christmas, but they're really a combination of different cultures all celebrating the same thing - a celebration of light and the joy of knowing that warmer, longer days are just ahead.

At the end of the story, there are a few pages with "Solstice facts" and activities.  These are really interesting, science-based observations and activities that kids can do.  I also love the pages on "have a Winter Solstice party" and "have a Winter Solstice party for the birds."  These are all great ideas for kids to explore the topic even further.  The pictures are lovely and colorful while at the same time invoking the subtle colors & soft light of Winter.

I've been thinking a lot about how our family can celebrate the solstice & what kinds of activities we might do.  It's really like a blank canvas & we can choose to celebrate it however is the best fit for the Bachs.  I'm sure it will take a little trial & error, but I really think it will be a lot of fun!  DH and I are true nature lovers & we are hoping to instill that into our children.  Solstice is a perfect celebration because it's all about nature and the rhythm and cycles of our world.

I'll blog later this week about our first Solstice Celebration!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Book Nook - When It Starts to Snow

It is currently about 11 degrees here in Central Ohio, and we have a bunch of snow from yesterday's storm.  It was so pretty, but very cold, this morning & Little Dude and I just sat on the couch and watched the beautiful soft light of a mid-December sunrise.  Tiny snowflakes were gently falling & it was so cozy & wintry.  He & I were just chatting & he asked about "Crawly," his woolly bear.  Did I blog about our woolly bears?  I can't remember, but in case I didn't, we currently have 2 woolly bear caterpillars hibernating at our residence.  I explained to Little Dude that Crawly is hibernating, and I couldn't help but think of this week's Book Nook book.

When It Starts to Snow by Phillis Gershator is a sweet book about what various animals do when the snow starts to fall.  Throughout the book, there is a very catchy phrase that keeps repeating:  "what if it starts to snow?  What do you do?  Where do you go?"  And then each animal tells us how/where it hibernates.  Or maybe not - some animals (like the barnyard animals featured) just hang out in a warm place.  Did you know that turtles and frogs go deep into the mud to hibernate?  I didn't know that & had never really thought about what they do in the Winter.  Or how about stoats?  What's a stoat, you ask....check out this link.  There's lots of great information in this book, so even adults can learn a thing or two here - I did!

There is a little boy we catch glimpses of throughout the book & at the end, he gets a chance to tell us what he does when it snows.

I just love the illustrations, done by Martin Matje.  All of his animals are interesting to look at & cute, but not over-the-top cute.  I like the fact that there's a great deal of browns & grays, along with the white snow.  It feels just like a cold, snowy day.  Just like the one we experienced yesterday, as a matter of fact!

This is a very timely read about animals in the Winter.  I really like how the book approaches the subject - the rhyming words and variety of animals in it are just right for little ones.  Read it to your child on a cold, blustery day (while all the woolly bears snooze away)!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Snowy pics and a special gift

When I woke up this morning (around 9:30, an absolute treat), it was raining.  By noon, it was a complete blizzard!  I was amazed at how quickly it was coming down (the snow and the temperature).  I thought I'd share a few snowy pics from our winter wonderland:

Obviously, it was just starting to snow when I took the pic of the Christmas lights.  And then it just kept going and going and going!

I also wanted to share a very cool gift that I recently received.  My camera club gave me my Best of Show picture framed, with an engraved title.  It was such a thoughtful, completely unexpected gift and was so sweet!  Thanks again, Lens & Leaves - I love it!

I hope you are all staying warm & cozy on this cold, blizzard-like evening!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Buckeye Balls

Today, we made buckeye balls for a holiday potluck at my camera club meeting.  When I was rolling the buckeyes, Little Dude came into the kitchen and asked me if I was making a "yes-cipe."  He laughed, but if you think about it, if ever a food should be deemed a "yes-cipe," buckeye balls are indeed that food.  Oh yes!

It's been a long time since I made buckeyes, as I purposely do not want them lingering in my house (they don't linger too long - that's the problem).  Little Dude asked, "eye balls?"  No, buckeye balls!  He was so cute, I need to write his little quotes down on my "cute kid quotes" page I have hanging on the fridge.

Anyway, here are a few pics of the buckeye balls, in all their glory.  And, we have some extras, hanging out in the fridge.  Not for long, of course!

Do you have any yes-cipes?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Book Nook - The Best Recipe

I suspect that most people who cook homemade meals on a regular basis have some sort of tried & true cookbook that they refer to over & over for some of their favorite recipes.  Probaby more than one cookbook,  really.  I am no exception.  The following is one of my go-to cookbooks:

I love The Best Recipe because it provides tons of basic recipes that you're going to need if you cook regularly.  This would be the perfect gift to give someone just starting out on their own, or maybe a bride-to-be at her wedding shower (or, you could give it as a gift for the happy couple, along with a gift certificate to a cookware store).  But this book is not for newbies-only.  More established cooks would probably appreciate the book's take on all the standards.

When I say "take on all the standards," this is what I'm referring to: each recipe comes with a lengthy introduction that explains how the cookbook authors took a bunch of recipes for any given subject (say, mashed potatoes) and broke down what works, what doesn't work & why.  So, for mashed potatoes, they explain first of all which kind of potatoes work best for mashed potatoes (high starch potatoes) & the science behind this ("the full starch cells of high starch potatoes are most likely to maintain their integrity and stay separate when mashed").  They go on to explain the best methods to cook the potatoes & what happens when you don't follow those methods!  That's what makes this book so great: instead of just giving you a recipe, they provide a recipe with explanation - why this works best, why you should do this or not do that, etc.  They are arming the home cook with knowledge, so you'll know the hows & whys behind the recipe.  They do this all throughout the book, for every recipe!

Here are some of my favorites, recipes that I go to again & again: the mashed potatoes, (as previously mentioned) are great!  This is a really yummy, basic recipe that every cook should probably have up their sleeve. I know it sounds silly, but not everyone knows by instinct how to hardboil an egg!  I love the egg salad recipe because they give you the instructions on how to do it right.  I use the master recipe for pizza dough every time I make homemade pizza - it couldn't be easier!  The banana bread recipe is really sweet & yummy.  It's perfect for when you have a bunch of over-ripe bananas demanding your attention!  The Quiche Lorraine recipe is great & could easily be made vegetarian if one chooses.  The rich & creamy cheesecake is wonderful!!!  Beware if you make it, you won't be able to stop eating it.  I purposely don't make it very much because of this, but when I do make a plain cheesecake, this is the one I make (and devour)!  One of my favorite recipes here is the creme brulee recipe: it's my dorky little tradition to make "creme brulee on New Year's Day" every year!  So that's coming up & I'm really looking forward to it!  It's a very easy recipe & the authors give almost a whole spread of discussion on all their creme brulee trials - again, making it all the easier for the reader to learn from their mistakes!

There are more recipes that I've tried from the book, but these are the ones that I have post-it-notes marking the pages, or that pull open to that page easily from all the use it's gotten over the years.  I should mention that this version is the older one - the Cook's Illustrated people came out with an updated version a couple of years after I purchased my book.  I checked it out at the library once & there are lots more recipes in it.  The one for oatmeal is really good, I've used it so much that I don't need to refer to the actual recipe anymore!  But the older version is great in its own right (and it's cheaper now, I think)!  The only complaint I can give is that there aren't photos of the recipes.  But since many of them are standard recipes, you probably don't need a photo to know how it should look (like the mashed potatoes).  There are excellent black & white illustrations given when there's a technique that needs to be enhanced by a visual.

All in all, this is a really excellent cookbook.  I highly recommend it!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Best of Show!

I can't believe it's taken me so long to share my good news - but between our computer being down for a couple of weeks & then the craziness around Thanksgiving, it's been nutty.  So, here I am, finally sharing what is definitely the best news I've had in a long time:

I got Best of Show in the annual Columbus Metro Parks photo contest!

There were a record number of entries this year: 275 entries from 63 photographers.  I am thrilled that the judges chose my photo as their #1 pick out of 275!  The photo that won is a photo I took while we were at Hocking Hills in July.  We were hiking the lower trail of Conkle's Hollow and the light was beaming down from above.  I stopped to take a pic of a damselfly and right beside that area was a spider web, fairly horizontal.  My daughter actually pointed it out.  I hunched down to get a shot from underneath, capturing the light, the web & its resident (who had the coolest yellow body with green legs).  I tried to get a second shot (I usually take several, really), but the Bachsters had started walking ahead & I just couldn't get a good focus again.  I was pleased with the shot I got, so I moved on at that point.  The picture is SOOC (straight out of camera).  In fact, I don't even think I sharpened it!

Anyway, here it is, displayed at Blacklick Woods Metro Park in November, along with the other entries:

DH & the Bachsters were so sweet about my win that they told everybody: his boss, the girls' play friends, etc.  It really warmed my heart that they were so proud of their Mama!  My oldest made a homemade blue ribbon, that is proudly displayed with my other one (apparently, I dropped my placing, though - now I'm #10):

See her soccer trophy peeking out from behind?  How cute!

Anyway, I just wanted to share my good news!  I am so thrilled!  This win has really re-energized my desire to create the best nature photography I can.  And it also reaffirms my belief that you don't need the highest-end professional equipment to produce images that others appreciate.

I'll definitely be getting out there this Winter to get some shots (hopefully good ones), so you'll be seeing more nature photography from me in the near future.  Last year, I was lazy & didn't get out much when it was cold.  I'll make sure this season is a productive one! 

Take care!