Thursday, December 26, 2013

Making Gingerbread Men - A Winter Tradition

One of my favorite things to do during the winter months when the fire is crackling, and hot chocolate is my drink of choice ... is make gingerbread men!  I used to love making gingerbread cookies with my Grandma, and my Mama.  There's just something wholesome and nostalgic about rolling out dough and choosing special shapes to make little creations all your own.  And, of course, taking a snitch now and then of the yummy dough.  And, now, I get to have so much fun making new memories with my own children. 

I was going to be babysitting 3 of my nieces and nephews on Saturday, and thought, "Hey, I'll be watching 10 children (10 and under)!  Why not do something massively creative, messy, a huge process, and exhausting ... like make Gingerbread Men???!!"
:-) :-)
Really, who cares about the mess, or the extra fuss ... let's have some fun!  There are memories to be made!  

 Making the dough:  My dear sisters-in-law are very serious about avoiding refined sugars in their food.  I try to substitute honey for sugar, and succeed regularly, but I'm still more lenient than I should be.  Confession.  I have room to grow!  

Having an added reason to be more healthy, however, I searched for the perfect recipe (below) that included molasses (a MUST) and HONEY (instead of white or brown sugar).  We used a deliciously simple Cream Cheese Frosting for the icing, and sprinkled shredded coconut (non-sweetened) for added flair.   I will use this recipe from now on since it was AMAZING and the dough was very easy to work with ... and it is healthy!  I had another brilliant idea of coloring the coconut naturally using beets, carrots, rasperries, spinach, and blueberries ... but I ran out of time -- and desire to go the extra mile.

[Note:  I buy this shredded coconut from Azure Standard by the 5lb bag for something crazy like $9!!  Love this score.  I use this non-sweetened shredded coconut on oatmeal, in granola, in smoothies, etc.  Great buy!) 

It was so much fun to pull out the cookie cutters that have been used for generations.  The old white "tupperware" rolling pin, the tiny little kid-sized rolling pin.  The special little red cookie cutter that are so difficult to use (see mangled little bear - right).   And, of course, the gingerbread men cookie cutters.  I believe we have over 10 different sizes of little men.  My Grandma's favorite thing to do would be to cut out a little gingerbread man, and then transfer it to the cookie sheet where she would re-shape its arms and legs to make it look like it were running or dancing (below).

After the cookies were done, we had fun decorating.  I used us some left-over red-hots and sprinkles from last year, with some bits of candy cane.    Too much fun!  Decorated cookies were placed on lunch size paper plates with their names on them and then put in plastic bags so they won't dry out.  I've been rationing them at 1 per day so we won't be overloaded. :-)

 We only had one casualty ... Wyatt thought he needed to help decorate Vienna!  She got flour dumped all over her hair from his vantage point above her.  I think she thought it was great fun and would have loved for him to continue his play.  Youth!  I would never think to dump flour on someone, or laugh if it was dumped on me.  Oh to delight in randomness!!!

Here's the awesome recipes!  Have fun...

Honey Gingerbread Men

Honey Cream Cheese Icing

1 8 oz pkg  cream cheese
1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup honey

Mix well.  Cut the tip of a sandwich ziplock, add a spoonful of icing, and zip.  Gently squeeze the icing through the tip to decorate.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Field Trip to Brian's Cabinets

Super fun day, today!

Field Trip to Brian's Cabinets - a locally owned custom cabinet-making shop here in Bend.  Dwight met the owner, Todd Hakala, at a football game, and it was the start of a friendship.  Todd offered to give a tour of the business - which is why we were there today.

We showed up at 10AM and were greeted in their cool showroom.  After everyone was given goggles, we started on the amazing tour.
 This 33,000 sq ft warehouse is full of equipment, processes, and helpers who offer a large variety of custom cabinets - all the way from kitchens, to bathrooms, closets, and garages.  Amazing!
 Our first stop was to see a genuine CNC - computer controlled robotic thing.  It takes full sheets of wood and cuts out the cabinet panels, drills holes to spec, cuts grooves, etc.  We were all blown away!
 This cool machine has 4 saw blades.  A board is lined up and there are laser lights that show where the blades will be cutting.
 This sanding machine has 3 belts - 1st rough, 2nd medium, 3rd fine.  A board goes through and is sanded by all three.
 Wyatt, you're hired, man!
Dwight was like a kid in a candy shop.  He was blown away by all the equipment and what they can do with it.  Here, Todd is showing us the custom crown molding they make here using one of the machines with multiple bits.  One pass and the whole piece is perfectly shaped.
 Quint was quite impressed with this knotty alder set of cabinets.  This is bucks up cabinetry here.
We all thanked Todd for the tour and he kindly gave the boys some scrap wood and the goggles to use in their own "shop."  These boys have definitely been inspired.

Thank you so much Brian's Cabinets!  We think you guys rock!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Bend's first snow

It finally happened!!

SNOW ... and lots of it!

And, freezing cold temperatures ... but we can handle that. :-)  Break out the sleds, folks!

We have the privilege of living on this awesome property here in Bend where there is this huge grass hill out back.  When covered in snow it makes the PERFECT SLEDDING HILL!  Yahooooooo!

We got a dusting the first day - but that didn't stop anyone from bundling up and taking to the "slopes."

All 7 of our snow bunnies.

Loading up the sled for a faster ride

I loved to eat snow when I was young.  How's that taste, Wyatt?

Orin's moving (aka hauling).  Adrenaline junky - just like Daddy

Oh, yeah ... and there's a big metal building at the bottom of part of the hill. :-)  
Oooh, ouch!  How's your head, Orin?

Vienna's first time out in the snow.  She's 10 months old now and loving life.

The boys spent hours sledding yesterday and again HOURS and hours sledding today.  Such fun, such memories.

And then, we tried out the pond.  It was slicker than slick.

Family Project - splitting and stacking wood

Frozen fingers and toes are no fun.  But, when you have to go out in the freezing cold to do a farm chore, that's even more of a bummer.  It is often unavoidable, in this northwestern land that we live.  But when it isn't necessary, I'm all about finding a way around it.

So it seems, with most Novembers, we tromp out into the forest to hack down and bring back several cords of wood for our winter needs.  We often make several loads from the wood pile but never quite seem to finish off the pile.  So, we find ourselves going out to the woodpile in the middle of the winter and splitting more wood.  Sometimes you have to brush off the snow and break the log free from its frozen position in order to split it.   Why do we do it this way?

This year, I was determined to get the wood split during our latest warm spell - which lasted all the way into December.  

Our goal:  get it ALL split and stacked before the cold rain and snow hit.  We had 4 cords to split, many helpers, and beautiful days.  We could do it!

Everyone helped - from Daddy on down to Wyatt.  I was so impressed!  The big boys rocked the splitter, taking turns until Daddy took over.  They also took turns loading the golf cart, driving it up, and stacking.  What a crew!

 Timing was critical to our success.  The splitter had to work fast enough to stay ahead of the loaders.  Then, when a load was taken up, the wood was pushed off and dumped for the stackers - who hurried to get their pile stacked before the golf cart came back with another load.  At one point, Orin and Ty got a bit behind in their stacking.  We thought they might need help, but when we came up with the next load, they were standing there, looking bored, with every piece stacked!  We were amazed at their haste.  I guess Orin just decided to inspire the both of them to "bust it out" before the next load arrived.  What determination!

Burnell holding a gopher that he "took care of"

Goal accomplished!  It took us several days, but we kept at it and filled that shed. The rain and then snow came the very next day.