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.
Anna
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.
Anna_Will
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!