Saturday, November 30, 2013

Decorating our first Christmas tree with kids

We were thrilled to have our own Christmas tree this year since we would be home for Christmas. So excited that we bought it two days after Thanksgiving! We went to a local place in a parking lot and paid an arm and a leg for the tree, $90! We couldn't believe it. Ack! Oh well, lesson learned. It was a beautiful tree and lasted past Christmas.

The tree lot tied it up on top of our car and left a twine string hanging down. The guy told Macy she needed to hold onto it so the tree didn't fall off. She took this job very seriously! She accidentally let go before we left the parking lot and was very distressed until we handed it back to her. She held onto it with two hands the rest of the trip home.

 Anna decorating with ornaments and dried cranberries.

Macy was excited to put the star on top.

Ja did a good job of making sure the tree was straight.

Not only did we buy a tree and decorate it but we also took pictures in front of it that night too! I wanted to do a Christmas card this year so my family was kind to indulge me. The girls were already in pi's so we made it a pjs picture. Here are my favorites- most made it onto the card.

On the back of the card:
Jonathan- Director of Marketing at Blue Mango, The Amazing Jaybird on the side
Laura- Director of Househould, first time bike century finisher
Macy (almost 4!)- Director of Princess Affairs, attends preschool and ballet classes in her free time
Anna (16 months)- Director of Home Reorganization, fluent in babble and pointing

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Best Pumpkin Pie

I offered to bring pumpkin pie to Thanksgiving dinner 1) because it's a staple and 2) we still had little pumpkins from Halloween I wanted to cook up and use. This recipe calls for canned pumpkin but I used my real pumpkin. Again, I knew my Cooks Illustrated book would have the best recipe and once again they delivered! 

To make pumpkin puree:
Cut pumpkin in half and remove seeds, strings, and stem. Place cut side down on baking sheet and cover with foil. Bake at 375 degrees for an hour or until soft. Scoop out flesh and blend until smooth in the blender.

Pumpkin Pie
Makes one 9-inch pie

Too many pumpkin pie recipes result in a grainy custard in a soggy crust. For our pumpkin pie recipe, we avoided this outcome by drying out the pumpkin puree (and adding roasted yams for complex flavor) on the stovetop before whisking in dairy and eggs. The hot filling let the creamy custard firm up quickly in the oven, preventing it from soaking into the crust.
If candied yams are unavailable, regular canned yams can be substituted. The best way to judge doneness is with an instant-read thermometer. The center 2 inches of the pie should look firm but jiggle slightly. The pie finishes cooking with residual heat; to ensure that the filling sets, cool it at room temperature and not in the refrigerator. To ensure accurate cooking times and a crisp crust, the filling should be added to the prebaked crust when both the crust and filling are warm. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream.

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams from 15-ounce can (see note)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon table salt


1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove pie dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side. Working around circumference, ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Refrigerate 15 minutes.

2. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; folded edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Using thumb and forefinger, flute edge of dough. Refrigerate dough-lined plate until firm, about 15 minutes.

3. Remove pie pan from refrigerator, line crust with foil, and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate, and bake 5 to 10 additional minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove pie plate and baking sheet from oven.

4. For the Filling: While pie shell is baking, whisk cream, milk, eggs, yolks, and vanilla together in medium bowl. Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in large heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring to sputtering simmer over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes. Continue to simmer pumpkin mixture, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes.

5. Remove pan from heat and whisk in cream mixture until fully incorporated. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl, using back of ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer. Rewhisk mixture and transfer to warm prebaked pie shell. Return pie plate with baking sheet to oven and bake pie for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking until edges of pie are set (instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 175 degrees), 20 to 35 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

Ultimate Green Bean Casserole

When I was asked to bring green bean casserole to Thanksgiving dinner I wasn't thrilled. I'm not a fan of the mushy, soupy, slimy green beans. Then I thought if anyone can come up with a good recipe for green bean casserole it's America's Test Kitchen. If their recipe isn't good than green bean casserole is a lost cause. I was very pleasantly surprised! The beans were crisp, bright green, and had the perfect about of delicious sauce. I would like to drink the mushroom cream sauce or mop it up with a crusty bread. It was that good. I'll be using this recipe from now on!

Green Bean Casserole
Serves 8 to 10

The classic combination of green beans, condensed soup, and canned onions isn’t bad. But for a holiday centered on homemade food, shouldn’t every dish be great? We wanted to upgrade green bean casserole to give it fresh, homemade flavor. Our first tasting determined that we definitely needed to use fresh green beans rather than frozen or canned beans. A preliminary blanching and shocking prepared the beans to finish cooking perfectly in the casserole, enabling them to keep a consistent texture and retain their beautiful green color. For our sauce, we made a mushroom variation of the classic French velouté sauce (chicken broth thickened with a roux made from butter and flour, then finished with
heavy cream). Our biggest challenge was the onion topping. Ultimately we found that the canned onions couldn’t be entirely replaced without sacrificing the level of convenience we thought appropriate to the dish, but we masked their “commercial” flavor with freshly made buttered bread crumbs.

4 slices white sandwich bread (with crusts), each slice torn into quarters
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups canned fried onions (about 6 ounces)
Table salt

2 pounds green beans (fresh), ends trimmed, cut on the diagonal into 2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, minced
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 pound white button mushrooms, wiped clean, stems trimmed, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth (or homemade)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1. For the topping: Pulse bread, butter, salt, and pepper in workbowl of food processor fitted with metal blade until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about ten 1-second pulses. Transfer to large bowl and toss with onions; set aside.

2. For the beans: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in large pot. Add 2 tablespoons salt and beans. Cook until bright green and slightly crunchy, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain beans and plunge immediately into large bowl filled with ice water to stop cooking. Spread beans out onto paper towel lined baking sheet to drain.

3. Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until foaming subsides, about 1 minute. Add onion, garlic, button mushrooms, and cook until mushrooms release their moisture, about 2 minutes.  Add 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper and cook until all mushrooms are tender and liquid has reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 5 minutes. Add flour and cook for about 1 minute. Stir in stock and reduce heat to medium. Stir in cream and simmer gently until sauce has consistency of dense soup, about 15 minutes.

4. Arrange beans in 3-quart gratin dish (or 9X13 pan). Pour mushroom mixture over beans and mix to coat beans evenly. Sprinkle with bread crumb mixture and bake until

top is golden brown and sauce is bubbling around edges, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

All the components of this dish can be cooked ahead of time. The assembled casserole needs only 15 minutes in a 375-degree oven to warm through and brown.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Day 2013

Macy said the cutest thing today while watching the Macy's Day parade. We told her it was the Macy's parade and showed her on the TV where it said Macy (she recognizes her written name). Channel 7 was showing a different part of the parade the guide only said "The Thanksgiving Day Parade" so Macy asked, "is this the Anna parade?" 

I love her thought process that all the parades are named after our girls. And that she wanted Anna to have a parade too. 

On a different note- we took out our Elf on the shelf and read the book with Macy. She was very concerned that he can't talk to us. She asked me many times today why he can't talk. She stared at him a few times to see if he moved. The elf moved while we were gone for thanksgiving dinner and she shrieked with joy when she noticed. She ran around the house so excited. 

As I was reading her stories for bed she stopped me halfway and said, " mom I want Anna to go to bed first so I can see if the elf moved."

I think we will have fun with the elf this year!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Aunt Jill came to visit

Jill came to visit for for 9 days and we had a lot of fun. She was originally going to stay November 11th-18th but I talked her into staying a few extra days so she left on the 20th instead. Ja was gone in San Francisco so I greatly appreciated having Jill here for a few days while he was gone. Jill first visited Stacie in Colorado then came here because she leaves for her mission to Chihuahua Mexico January 8th and wanted to visit us all before leaving.

Jill had been to Virginia twice but only for a few days so we didn't have time to do much. We had lots of things to do this visit and we were not bored at all!

She came in on Monday evening. That night Macy took a long time to fall asleep because she was excited to have Aunt Jill with us. Every morning for the entire length of Jill's trip Macy would come wake me up and ask, "When is Aunt Jill going to wake up?" I'd let Jill sleep a little longer then at an acceptable hour we would walk out to the living room and Macy would ask again when Jill would wake up. Jill said she always woke up to Macy asking when she would wake up. Also, any time Macy would see Jill she would ask me, "Where's Aunt Jill?" Macy loved being around Jill to say the least!

Tuesday morning Macy had preschool. After preschool and Anna's nap we headed over to Rebounderz- the indoor trampoline place in Sterling. Macy had never been there before and still is timid on the trampoline. She doesn't like having another person other than her size on with her. We found out the rules at Rebounderz say you can't jump on the same trampoline square as someone else so it worked perfectly for Macy's preference. She was a little timid and shy at first and didn't want to jump right away. Jill picked her up and showed Macy around and jumped while holding her for a minute then Macy was fine jumping alone. Jill even had Macy doing "circle jumps" as they called them (180 degree jumps). They also played catch with some balls. Macy hardly jumped higher than 5 inches the whole time but she had a big grin the entire time. She was having a blast. Anna really wanted to get on too but I didn't think she could so I tried distracting her with pushing buttons on the arcade games.

Macy and Jill are equally silly

As soon as we got home Macy was asking to go to the trampoline place again. We were going to wait a week since they had a good deal on Tuesdays. 

Wednesday morning we headed to downtown DC to go to the building museum. My phone directions had us go a really crazy way and I made a few wrong turns to we got there later than we wanted. The museum was not crowded at all so that didn't matter. I dropped off Jill and Macy which ended up being a good thing because Anna and I had to drive around for almost 40 minutes to find a parking spot.

The building museum has two exhibits for kids. One is called "Play work build" and it's full of blue blocks. Some are little and can be built on this lit up table.
Other blocks are huge and made to be built into forts and things. The cool thing is you can also build them into the walls.
The other exhibit is one we've went to a long time ago and it's called "The building zone." This has big lego type blocks to build with, smaller magnetic blocks, puzzles, puppets, and a little house to play in. The girls loved both exhibits. I guess I should say Jill like them too.

The best part happened when I left to get the car. Jill watched Anna pick up a small rectangular block and carry it over to a display case. Anna pushed it right up to the case, stepped onto it, peered into the case and said, "Woww!" Then she carried the block to another case and did the same thing. I wish I could have seen it! Jill said the employee there said, "You should take a picture of that. That's the cutest thing I've ever seen!" Jill said no one else was doing that so it was all Anna's idea!

We rushed home, put Anna down for a nap, then drove to my hair cut appointment. We still had time before Anna woke up so we indulged in some Nielsen's frozen custard. It was delicious as always.

That night Jill, Macy, and I went to the mall to find Jill some sister missionary clothes and some clothes for me too. Macy was great and was very entertained by a bouncy ball Jill got for her at Old Navy. It was the best 25 cents ever spent. Macy played with it the whole time I friend on clothes at New York & Co.

Thursday Macy had preschool again. Jill and I decided to take the metro down to Ben's Chili Bowl in DC. That was the one place Jill remembered going from her previous visits. I decided to take the metro after the previous day's trouble of finding parking. It was a terrible decision because I was late picking up Macy from preschool and I had a nervous stomachache the whole trip. Not something you want while eating a half smoke chili dog. It was quite the adventure though and Jill enjoyed riding the metro. It was her first time on a metro so at least that was fun.

That afternoon we hung out at home and painted. Anna painted with water. Jill would paint the outline of something and Macy would color it in.

Ja had to pick up a new Elder that would be serving in our ward. Jill tagged along and saw her first missionary transfer. She said it was crazy seeing all those missionaries together. They were so happy to be all together and running around to visit with each other.

That evening Jill and I went to the DC temple together. Since Jill has only been endowed a month it was obviously my first time going with her. It was a fun time and nice to spend time in the temple with my sister.

Every night that week Macy went to bed easily because she was so exhausted from our days. The girls also slept in most mornings which meant we could have nice relaxing mornings.

On Friday we headed over to Target to find Jill some winter clothes for her mission. She found some great sweaters, scarf, and hat.

I originally planned to teach a new member lesson to a newly baptized member Friday night. I was excited to have Jill come teach with me. Unfortunately the woman cancelled on me so we had an open friday night. We decided to head to Baltimore to the famous aquarium there. They have half price tickets Friday nights. We braved through some horrendous traffic and made it there by 5:30. It took us nearly 2 hours when it should only be 45 minutes! We still had plenty of time at the aquarium though.
They had a dolphin show that was fun and we sat in the "splash zone" although I'm the only one who really got wet. The whole show Macy kept asking me when we were going to get wet. When the dolphins did splash us she hid her head behind me so she wouldn't get wet.

For some reason, Macy was very excited to see the jellyfish. She begged and begged us to see them. 

There is a section called Black fin reef that has a lot of sharks, sting rays, and other types of fish. It was very neat and I was amazed by the amount of sharks the aquarium had.

We accidentally parked far away from the aquarium but the night was on the warmer side so it wasn't a bad walk. We walked to a Five Guys for dinner then had a very quick drive home.

Ja had three magic shows and a baptism on Saturday so us girls were on our own for a large part of the day. Ja, Trevor, and Greg played on a rec basketball team for the past few months and made it to the championship game. They lost that, but celebrated with smoked pork sandwiches on saturday and invited the team and family members to go. We ate Trevor's mouth-watering smoked pork for lunch.
Anna riding the horse at Trevor's
After dinner we headed to the mall again for one last look for Jill's mission attire. She really needed skirts and we found a great one at L.L. Bean for only $40. I had to take a picture of her because she looked so much like a sister missionary!
We enjoyed church on Sunday. Macy gave her first primary talk! The topic for the month was "I thank God in all things." I let her choose all the things she was thankful for. She listed her mouth, eyes, ears, nose, Anna, and friends. She said why she was thankful for those things and held up pictures. I am so proud of her because she went up there like a champ! She wasn't nervous or shy at all. I ended up teaching the new member lesson Sunday, without Jill. Ja left for San Francisco that afternoon also so Jill stayed home with Anna. We enjoyed a dinner at Trevor and Heather's that night.

Macy had preschool again Monday the 18th. I was telling Jill about homemade spaghetti so I decided to make some so Jill could experience the flavor of fresh homemade pasta.

Macy dressed herself for school.

Silly pasta makers

Macy had ballet that day. I dropped her off and Jill and I rushed to the post office. She had to mail clothes home because her suitcase was too heavy.

Jill had one more full day with us, Tuesday. She had only one more thing she wanted to do- see the White House. It was pretty cold that day because of the wind but we bundled up and walked out in the cold. We got a great parking spot by the White House so the day started off well!

Macy was not one for pictures that day

the sun was really bright

Macy was worried about her hat blowing off in the wind

I wanted to take Jill over to Good Stuff Eatery for lunch so we headed over there and scored another great parking spot!

Anna took a nap in the car on our way over to Rebounderz. Macy literally asked to go there every day  for the last week. We decided to send Jill off with a bang! Macy wasn't as thrilled to jump this time and really wanted me to go. We already paid for her and Jill to jump so I wasn't going to pay for me too. Besides, someone had to stay with Anna. Anna really wanted to go on the trampoline this time and I was having a harder time keeping her off. I found out that as long as the child walks they can jump and under 2 years jump free! I quickly signed a waiver for Anna so Jill could take her on. We couldn't stop laughing about Anna's helmet. 

She never complained about it and seemed to accept the fact that she had to wear it if she wanted to jump.  Anna would walk a few steps then fall down. She had a great 10 minutes of "jump" time!

Macy really wanted to play the arcade games but I didn't have any tokens. She then said she just wanted to push the buttons so we did that for a little bit after jumping.

The next day, Wednesday, Jill had to go home. I wish she could have stayed longer but she'd been gone from home for 2 1/2 weeks and wanted to get back. Hopefully one day we'll have a guest bedroom (or least bed) for our guests so they can be more comfortable.

We took Macy to preschool then it was off to the airport to say farewell. We will see Jill again before her mission but it was still sad to say goodbye. When I picked Macy up for preschool she of course asked for aunt Jill. She had a look of genuine sadness when I told her Jill was on an airplane going home. We loved our time with Aunt Jill!!