Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why I Love Fantasy

Well, I claim to be a readoholic, so I thought it was time I post something about literature. I LOVE THE FANTASY GENRE - I always have. When I was growing up, I was (and still am) in love with The Chronicles of Narnia, The Chronicles of Prydain, and I think I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was in middle school. Remember Disney's Beauty and the Beast? At the beginning Belle talks about her favorite book and how it has, "far-off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise!" Well, I focused on to that part of the movie and literally went to a book store with my mom to see if they had any books containing those things. As a youngster, I loved how easy it was to become attached to the characters, and that's kind of how I measure how much I like a series now that I'm older. For example, the Harry Potter series is one of my favorites - so much so that I wrote my Master's thesis on it. Every time I read the series, I almost feel depressed at the end because I miss the characters and wish I could keep reading about them. My dad is the one who introduced me to fantasy and I think I must get my love of reading and my taste in literature from him. Thanks, Dad!

My love of fantasy is something I've never been ashamed of. You know in high school when you're insecure about pretty much everything? (Well, I was at least.) I never cared if people thought I was a nerd for what I chose to read. And I read a lot. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of favorite books that aren't fantasy (Pride and Prejudice, The Kite Runner, and The Notebook, to name a few). But, honestly, fantasy is usually my go-to genre because it makes me feel good when I read it. I admit I read for pleasure and rarely for knowledge, but that doesn't mean I don't learn something every time I pick up a book. I just see it as an added bonus! To me, fantasy provides something that no other genre can - not just an escape, but a connection to characters who live in totally different worlds, but still experience similar trials and circumstances.

Currently, I'm reading A Storm of Swords from George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. It's excellent. It was crazy because I had been intending to read the series for a while, and right after I finished the first book, I found out that HBO was turning it into a TV series! I think they've done a great job with it so far. I can't wait to see how the rest of the season goes. Anyway, this series is definitely R-rated. Don't let your kiddos read it until you think they're ready for very graphic, adult content. I was excited to see that Martin finished the last book of the series and it comes out in July! Yay.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I Think "Terrible Twos" Should Be Considered False Advertising

Ok - when did my little sweetheart of a little boy turn into Mr. Attitude? Asher, almost 21 months, has really started testing the waters over the past couple months. If I tell him "no" he screams at me. If Dusty tells him "no" he screams at me . . . somehow that doesn't seem quite fair. Little stinker - I guess Mom has to be the bad guy even though Dad is just as much the disciplinarian. I'm really thankful that the disciplinarian role is pretty equal so Asher doesn't expect one of us to always give in. We'll leave that to the Grandmas and Grandpas - I don't think they mind. :) We've started putting Asher in timeout for 1 minute when he does things like screaming at us or hitting. He was on a hitting spree for a while there, but that seems to have calmed down for now. The screeching, on the other hand, is totally naughty . . . and unfortunately, funny. I think that's one of the hardest things of parenting a toddler - the things Asher does that are clearly naughty often tend to be the funniest because he's totally trying to assert himself. We mistakenly thought this phase wouldn't kick in until closer to his 2-year birthday; feels like we got the short end of the stick with that, but it seems as though it isn't all that uncommon for the "terrible twos" to hit early.

So far, this is definitely the hardest phase of parenting because we're stll trying to figure out how to stop Asher's bad behaviors. (I'm sure that doesn't ever end.) Also, Dusty and I have to make sure we're on the same page as far as how we react to his naughtiness. BUT, this is definitely the most fun we've had, too, because he picks up on things SO quickly and you never know what he will say or do next. For example, when we were taking Asher to get his haircut a couple weeks ago, Dusty sneezed and all of a sudden we heard "bless you" from the back seat. So precious. I also love that he calls the playground "wheeeee" because he loves the slide and that's what he says when he goes down it; and when we lay him in bed at night he whispers "night-night" and "love you" to us; and he'll bring a puzzle over and sit in our laps and put it together over and over again waiting and watching to see how proud of him we are. He's still my little sweetie-pie . . . with a "wheeee" bit of an edge. :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

PB Cream Cheese Brownies . . . Finally

So, I apologize for taking SOOO long to get this recipe posted. I actually made the brownies a while ago, but haven't had much of a chance to post the recipe yet. I'm sure you've all been waiting on pins and needles just dying to know . . . ;) Anyway, the brownies turned out really well - very tasty and moist. As far as my own preference goes, though, I think I prefer brownies with peanut butter frosting instead. However, this was a really nice change of pace.

Sidenote: the peanut butter/cream cheese filling makes a lot - I like a pretty even balance of chocolate and peanut butter, but if you prefer less, I think it would work beautifully to double the brownie portion and put it in a 10x15 pan instead of 9x13.

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Brownies
For the brownie batter, I used Nigella Lawson's "Everyday Brownie" recipe that I found on - you can find the recipe here. Feel free to use your favorite brownie recipe, or a box mix. I love Nigella's recipe because I always have the ingredients on hand, and they're really yummy.

*Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9x13 pan. Prepare favorite brownie batter and pour into greased pan.

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Filling
1 8 oz. pkg. softened cream cheese
3/4 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs

Beat cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth and creamy. Beat in sugar and eggs. Pour filling in 3 even lines lengthwise down the brownie batter in the pan. Use a knife to gently swirl the batter and filling widthwise so there's peanut butter and brownie in each bite. Bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes. Eat up!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Mom's Words of Wisdom

Before Dusty and I got married, I remember talking to my mom at one point about married life and other various things. One thing I remember her saying is "Don't expect anything and you'll never be disappointed." Now, you might be thinking that's a really negative way to look at things. BUT, don't think that. That's not how she meant it, and that's not how I took it. What she meant was that instead of focusing on how things didn't go the way you thought they would, just don't have any expectations to begin with of how you think things should be. Sometimes, that's hard for me to remember - I still find myself expecting a weekend to go a certain way, or a holiday, or even just chores around the house. But, when I remember those words it really helps me put things in perspective - I'm really blessed to have a husband who's attentive to me, a wonderful father, and always willing to help around the house. It's the times that I forget those words of my mom's that I start to feel a teeny bit (sometimes more) sorry for myself. I think it's great advice not just in marriage, but in all aspects of life.

Anyway, I thought others might benefit from those sage words from my mom. Becoming a mom myself really put things in perspective as to how great of a job she (and my dad, of course) did with me and my 5 siblings. I don't think there has been a day since I became a mom when I didn't feel inadequate at some point during the day; some days are definitely worse than others . . . that's usually when I call my mom and she reassures me in the way that only a mom can. It amazes me that she was able to do it with 6 kids and stilll be sane. :) I'm beyond grateful to have such a wonderful mom who works hard each and every day and strives to set a good, Christian example for her kids. Thanks, Mom!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Stuffed Crust = Stuffed Us

Saturdays have always been pizza day for my husband (Dusty) and I, and we've continued that tradition with Asher (20 months) now, too - I really look forward to it throughout the week . . . it's just fun to have something like that that we all enjoy as a family, even if it is just pizza (I'm sure once Aiden can eat food he'll enjoy it, too). Usually we order in from somewhere, but occasionally I'll make homemade pizza - yummy. I love homemade pizza crust, and the recipe I used this time is super convenient because you can mix the dry yeast in with the dry ingredients - no need to let it sit in water until it dissolves. I got the recipe from "The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook" which I got as a Christmas gift from my parents. It's a wonderful cookbook - definitely check it out. It's full of great tips and yummy recipes.

Also, I wanted to try to do stuffed crust this time - we love it from Pizza Hut so I figured why not give it a try? Turned out delicious! I just bought Sargento Mozzarella/Provolone cheese sticks and wrapped the outer crust around them. I also used the rest of the dough (about 1/3) to make cheese sticks - Dusty LOVES them . . . I think they're just okay. We figured the true test with the pizza would be whether or not Asher liked it because pizza is definitely his favorite food; he always says, "Pizza, mmmm, yum yum." :) He's so cute - you can see in the picture below that he's trying to give a "thumbs up" as he takes a bite. Apparently he liked it because he stuffed so much in his mouth that he gagged, but refused to let me take any out! Anyway - hope you get a chance to try the recipe sometime!

Pizza Dough

4 1/4 c. bread flour (I used AP flour because that's all I had on hand)
1 envelope (2 1/4 tsp.) instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbls. olive oil
1 1/2 c. warm water

Mix 4 cups of the flour, yeast, and salt in bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment. With mixer running, pour in the oil, then the water, and mix until it comes together. Switch to the dough hook attachment, and knead dough until smooth and elastic, appr. 5 minutes (or knead by hand for 10 minutes). Add in the remaining 1/4 c. of flour if necessary. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size, appr. 1-1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. Divide dough into desired portions depending on how many/how large of pizzas you want. Start from the center and press dough with fingertips from the center out to the edge. Then stretch dough to desired size. Transfer to pan, and top with desired sauce and toppings. Bake 13 minutes. (Next time I'd like to try to make my own sauce - supposedly it's pretty easy)

Cheese Sticks (in case you're interested)

Brush pizza dough with 1 Tbls. melted butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle with Italian seasoning, garlic salt, and parmesan cheese to taste. Sprinkle liberally with shredded monterey jack cheese and bake at 375 F for about 8 minutes. Enjoy!

Coming soon . . . the Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Brownies I promised you!