Monday, January 26, 2015

Mama's Test Kitchen: (Birthday) Lemon Square Bars

lemon square bars
For Luke's birthday, instead of cake, I decided to make one of his favorite desserts -- lemon bars. I rarely make anything from scratch anymore, but these bars came together so easily and you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry. They turned out professional-looking and tasted so so good. A total indulgence. Luke said they were the best lemon bars he has ever had :)

The kids liked it too! Definitely a winner!

I hope you enjoy it as much as as we do!

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(Birthday) Lemon Square Bars

Crust
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
2 sticks butter, melted (I used 1 stick)

Filling
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 fresh lemon, juiced
5/8 cup lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, blend together melted butter, 2 cups flour and 1/2 cup sugar. Press into the bottom of an ungreased 9x13 inch pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until firm and golden.

2. In a bowl, beat eggs until light. In another bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups white sugar and 1/2 cup flour. Add in the beaten eggs and lemon juice. Pour over the baked crust.

3. Bake for additional 25 minutes in the oven. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

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A review on (Birthday) Lemon Square Bars (adapted from here and here):
Result: 4 out of 4 stars
Will I make it again: Yes, this is going to be my go-to dessert for any Luke-related celebrations :)
Chef's Notes: The original recipes call for 2 sticks of butter. I accidentally halved it and the dough still came together without problems. However, the crust turned out crunchy cookie-like, instead of soft and buttery. I personally prefer soft and buttery and if you do too, I suggest going all out and use 2 sticks. I know I will next time.

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

the children, winter 2015

It's time for another edition of Anna and Will update. These posts take a while to write, but they are also my favorite ones to read over, again and again. In 2015, I hope to write more posts on the kids to help me remember this stage of our lives. I am shooting for once a quarter. If I post frequent enough, I won't feel that I need to write a novel each time.
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T H E  B R O :: The most notable thing since my last update is that Will no longer climbs into our bed in the middle of the night. I can’t even remember when he started doing it because he did it for so long, but the habit was actually pretty easy to break. One night after books, we just told him, “Will, you stay in your bed tonight. No more coming over to Mama bed.”

And, guess what? He listened.

Sometimes I do miss his little body curled up against mine, but both Luke and I are getting a much better sleep and I know Will is too.

Other than than, Will is pretty much still the same cool kid. He drives us crazy sometime and is a constant pest to his sister, but I guess that's the job of a little brother. He doesn't always like being told what to do, but using skittles as bribe does the trick. Hehe.
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T H E  S I S :: Since I just did a post on Anna last month, there isn't much else to add. She continues to love love love school. I don’t know how those teachers managed to turn her around, but I am forever grateful. She’s also getting good at reading and can sound out any 3-letter combinations. On average, she reads a Primary Phonics book to me every night. It used to be painful reading with her, but now I am amazed at her ability. I remember her teachers telling me that their goal is for students to be reading at first grade level by the end of school year. I hope that happens for her!

Anna is very curious and asks tons of questions. On Monday, she said, "Can you tell me about Dr. King?" And then we had a conversation about MLK and the impact he made to the country. Last week, on the way to school, she asked, "How come the moon is still up in the morning?" That time I had to refer her to Luke because honestly? I have no clue :p

She's a sponge and knows a lot. This morning, Will commented, "The trees are bare because of winter." And she responded, "Except for evergreens!"

Personality-wise, one of her teachers told me that Anna has a great sense of humor and loves to have fun. Both very good things.

S I B L I N G  L O V E :: Most of the time, Anna and Will play together very well. We just had a very cold and rainy weekend and they spent most of it at home. Sure we watched two movies - Bolt and Wall-E - but for the rest of the time, they interacted so well and hardly argued. It's so great that they have each other as playmates and leave us the parents in peace.

They make up lots of silly jokes that aren't really funny but hilarious to them ("Hey Will, lets pretend we are bad eaters!" "OK! HAHAHAHAHA!!"). Most of the time, they are best friends and say that they are going to marry one another when they grow up, but they do get into daily squabbles. Luckily both of them are quick to forgive and after a "sorry" all is forgotten. I just love listening in on their conversations and watching their relationship blossom. It's one of the best things about being a parent.
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D A I L Y  S C H E D U L E:: Now that both kids sleep and STAY in their own bed at night, as soon as their toddler clock turns green at 6:30, they bounce over and hop in bed with me, one on each side. I think they really enjoy the morning snuggles so even if I do wake up early, I stay in bed and wait for them :) We cuddle and chit-chat before getting up for the day. Then we all get dressed, cook and eat breakfast, and they get a morning show.

At around 8:20ish, Luke helps the kids get ready and loads them into the car. We drive away at around 8:30. I drop off Will first at curbside -- so easy and convenient. Next is Anna’s school, which I have to walk her in, but it’s not bad since it’s just me and her. Finally, 30 minutes after we all left home, I arrive at the office. I am thankful that all the places I need to go on a daily basis is all within a couple of miles of home.

In the evening, we are all home by 5:15, earlier if Luke does the pick ups and I just head straight home after work. In the three precious hours we have together before bedtime, we squeeze in lots of activities. The most stressful/annoying time is getting dinner on the table and eating. But after clean up, my patience level goes up a notch. Right now, I make an effort to sit down with Anna for her to read to me. And after bath, I make sure that we read at least one or two stories before they are off to bed. The kids are usually in bed by 8 and then the adults have the rest of the night free.

That's it for this edition....until next time!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mama's Test Kitchen: Slow Cooker Beef & Sausage Chili

beefandsauage chili
I made chili for the first time in my life this weekend. I followed this recipe, but made some minor adjustments. It was super easy and the result was some yummy and hearty chili right at home!

Here is how I did it:

1. Brown beef (3/4 pound) and sausage (1/2 pound) in a skillet over medium heat.
2. Dump all ingredients -- meat, 1 (29 ounce) can tomato sauce, 1/2 (28 ounce) can diced tomato, 2 (15 ounce) red kidney beans, 1 (15 ounce) Great Northern beans, 1 chopped onion, 2 Tbs chili powder, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1/2 Tbs garlic powder, 1/2 Tbs ground cumin, 1 pinch black pepper, and salt to taste -- in the slow cooker. Mix well.
3. Set it (low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours) and forget it!
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That's it! Serve with tortilla chips or corn bread.

Luke's only suggestion for improvement is more meat next time so if you are making it, considering adding more meat. I will definitely make it again and freeze it if we don't eat it all at once next time.

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This picture has nothing to do with chili, but these two played together so well on this mostly indoor weekend. All smiles and hardly any arguments. They brighten up these cold dreary January days :)
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[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Oh I thought the museum was in the sky!"

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The kids have been fascinated with everything space lately so a visit to the National Air and Space Museum made perfect sense. So yesterday, after the usual morning routine, we rounded up the kids and took a little trip into DC. We got there just before 10 and found a prime parking spot right in front of the entrance. It was funny because all the early visitors had little kids in tow just like us.

As we walked past the information desk, a nice man told us about a free showing of One World, One Sky (starring Big Bird and Elmo) at the planetarium. We had seen the show twice already at the Maryland Science Center, but since it was free, why not? Here is a tip for the locals. If you are interested in the program, it is only available at 10:30 on Friday and Sunday, plus the first Saturday of each month. So plan accordingly! We had no idea about this, but lucked out on our timing.

Other than that, the kids just had fun running around, pointing to various things. Not sure if anything was learned, but it was a great way to spend a cold winter Sunday morning!
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Family selfie on the National Mall:
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On another note, it sure has been quiet around here lately. We are all doing just fine. But after the holidays, it’s back to the regular grind of work and school so not much to report. Here is a cute picture of Anna though. She was in the middle of a puzzle and I said, "Do a Will smile!"
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I think she nailed it ;)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 - A Review

Truthfully, 2014 wasn't all happy all the time for our little family, but reflecting back it was still a great year. Yes, the family went through some growing pains when we unexpectedly lost grandma-care and I went back to work full-time, but we came out of the other end mostly unscathed, and, dare I say, older and wiser.

We spent January trapped inside the house, first due to snow and then due to sickness.
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In February, we ushered in the Year of the Horse and had a snowy Valentine's Day at home. Anna and I made these awesome glow stick Valentines.
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Anna turned 4 in March! We hosted a family birthday party at home to celebrate our favorite girl and her beloved bear. After the celebration ended, we faced the two biggest changes of the year -- the kids started daycare and I went back to work full-time.
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After a very long winter, we welcomed April with open arms. We took the kids to a number of places -- from digging up dinosaur bones to hunting for eggs to viewing cherry trees to going on our first family hike!
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In May, we watched Anna sing and dance as the cutest cowgirl and over the Memorial Day weekend, we took a little trip to Willamsburg.
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(click here for picture comparison)

June was mostly spent vacationing. In the beginning of the month, Luke and I escaped to Aruba. Then we took a week of family vacation to (you guessed it!) Williamsburg. We went with friends and had a wonderful time soaking up some sun. In between those two trips, Anna finished up her second year of preschool.
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Summer 2014 (July and August) was pale in comparison to Summer 2013. In 2013, I had a 4-day weekend every weekend and took the kids on lots of adventures. This year, they just went to daycare. I wrote about our daily summer schedule (morning and evening). Some of our summer highlights were: POTTY TRAINING, Baltimore, playgrounds and parks and creeks, carnival, and the Washington Monument. We also mulled over this tough decision all summer before finally deciding that it was a no-go.
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September brought on the usual -- going back to school. Some of our fall fun included, Kings Dominiona wedding, pumpkins, apples, and zoo.
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In October, we carved pumpkins. But then the whole house got hit with a stomach virus. At least we were all better by Halloween.
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We went to Disney World in November for Will's 3rd birthday. Luke and I were both ridiculously sick all through it, but the kids had a wonderful, wonderful time. Then we had a very low-key Thanksgiving at home, just the 5 (dog included) of us.
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Anna gave me the best present in December -- she finally decided that school wasn't bad after all! The year ended with Santa coming to our house and we hosting a warm and cozy Christmas at home.
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Cheers to 2015!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Friday, December 26, 2014

“hey, he didn’t finish the cookie!”

That was what Will said when he saw that Santa left a tiny piece of cookie on the plate. I told him that Santa was in a rush to get to other kids’ houses so couldn't finish.

He bought it.

Anyway, how was your Christmas day? Ours wasn't too bad! Shortly after 6:30a, Anna came bouncing to our bed. We snuggled for a bit, but she couldn’t wait any longer to go downstairs to check if Santa came to our house. I gave her the green night and she went running and was thrilled to find that Santa ate the cookie and left her an unicorn toy under the tree! Just what she asked for, haha. Will came down a few minutes later and was thoroughly confused by the commotion, but was happy that Santa brought him the robot he wanted.

By then since we were all gathered, we went ahead and tore into the presents!

Anna said Santa brought her the best toy. One little beanie baby made her soooo happy.
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Hubs’ favorite present were the nuts. It was either that or chips, haha.
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Will? TURTLES!
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As for me, I love love LOVE the 2015 calendar Anna made at school. It features 12 of her original artwork! We actually didn't have a calendar for the new year so this was perfect.
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The rest of the morning was spent playing with various new toys (including this very long board game), but the highlight was taking this new jeep out for a drive (my brother Andy specializes in giving the biggest toys). Anna is a pro already. Will needs more practice.
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And I also got a decent picture with me in it! And a couple of cute ones of the kiddos :)
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In the evening, we hosted both sides of our family for dinner. Earlier in the afternoon when both kids were napping, I went out to a Chinese restaurant (the only type of restaurant that’s open on Christmas day) and bought 4 huge trays of food. Then everyone else brought a dish or two to share. It was plenty of food for 16 people and we still have leftovers. This year Luke wanted to make the house as Christmas-y as possible for the gathering so he got poinsettias and even lit a balsam & cedar scented candle :) Oh, we also had a flower arrangement for the center of the table so we really had some holiday cheer!

After dinner and dessert, then the kids opened more presents. Books, art supplies, puzzles. They were pleased and wanted to play with everything all at once.
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I am most excited about Anna’s sticker maker. I am going to have so much fun with that.

So that was our Christmas day. There will be more get-togethers in the upcoming days as we still have family in town...so festivities continue on. Wishing your all a happy holiday season!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas Eve

santacookies
Last night we made cookies for Santa.

I definitely messed up somewhere along the way in the makings of these Chocolate Chip Amish Puff Cookies because they tasted nothing like the "lighter, buttery texture" description.

But either way, the kids had fun helping. And by that I meant licking the sugars off the countertop and, when that was gone, reaching in the bag for more. I will say that Will didn't contribute much, but Anna actually helped me roll the dough balls. She used to be crazy neurotic about getting her hands dirty, but no more. She actually asked to make sugar cookies so "we can decorate with icing and sprinkles." It sounded like disaster for a weeknight activity...maybe we will tackle that over the Christmas break. MAYBE.

Will was so cute. As he was eating the leftover M&Ms (I altered the recipe and used M&Ms in addition to chocolate chips. Maybe that was why the cookies didn't turn out?), he said, "I hope Santa Claus likes the cookies." Oh buddy :) We actually didn't make it to see Santa this year. We had it all planned, but then Santa went to Anna's school and we knew that Will wouldn't have cared anyway (we asked to double check) so we skipped it and saved $20. Here is a picture of Anna's picture from school though, just for the 2014 record:
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Also, last night after the kids gone to bed, I finished wrapping all the presents. I kept it all very simple without pretty bows and ribbons, but I am calling it a win because it's done. The kids' eyes grew even wider when the came downstairs and saw more presents under the tree this morning. Tonight the kids will wear their new Christmas pjs and watch Frosty the Snowman. We will put cookies and milk out for Santa (and carrots for his reindeers) and read a Christmas story or two.

Then tomorrow the countdown will finally be done!

[+/-] Extra Sugar!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Teacher's Holiday Gifts

'Tis the Season for Giving!

And because of that, this is what we are giving to the teachers in our lives this holiday season – a mason jar filled with Hershey's Kisses and an Amazon gift card.
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Like all my projects, this was very easy to assemble once I laid out all the supplies. The hardest job was finding those mason jars, which fell on hubs again. He went to 3 stores before finding them at Michael’s at the best price ever. A dozen for $10! I only needed 4 for the project, but I love mason jar so I know I can definitely find a use for them eventually.
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Anyway, the assembly. I put paper crinkle on the bottom and the kids filled the jars with chocolates. I didn't do a good job of quality control, but each jar had about 8 Hershey's Kisses, plus or minus a couple. For the final packaging, the "Hugs & Kisses" label was found here and I just trimmed a holiday-y scrapbook paper to size and tied it around the jar with baker's twine. Anna wrote "From Anna" on the back of hers and I wrote it for Will.

They are excited to hand these out tomorrow at school!
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I have read it over and over again that teacher's gifts aren't necessary (a heartfelt note is most appreciated, which I am including), but I am so happy with both Anna and Will’s teachers that I don’t mind spending a little to show my gratitude :)

PS. See other ways to give gift cards (1, 2, 3)

[+/-] Extra Sugar!