Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Book Review: "The Woman In Black"

Okay, here's a quick book review for ya. I'll admit, the reason I wanted to read this book is because the movie comes out soon . . . The reason I was interested in the movie in the first place (since I'm really not a fan of scary movies) is that Daniel Radcliffe (aka Harry Potter) is starring in it, and I wanted to see how he does. Anyway, aside from my possible nerdiness, I think the book is well worth reading.

The Woman In Black by Susan Hill is really quite a harrowing tale. Hill sets an ominous tone right from the start, and while there are lighter parts to the book, the undertone remains the same. While some of the back-story could have been fleshed out a little more, I easily connected with the main character, and found him likable and someone with whom I could commiserate.
As a young man trying to earn/gain more responsibility from his employer, Arthur Kipps eagerly agrees to make a trip to small village out in the country to settle the affairs of a deceased, elderly woman. It quickly becomes apparent that people in the village dislike discussing the woman, her estate, or anything concerning her house out past the marshes. Kipps discovers why, and his journey will make your heart beat faster, to say the least.

I'm not much for ghost stories, but Hill's style of writing, combined with flawed, yet appealing, characters made this 130+ p. book a fast, enjoyable, and thrilling read. If you get a chance, check it out!

On a Side Note: I can't find my camera-charging cord anywhere. It is driving me insane. I am 99% sure of when and where I last used it, but can't seem to find it. SO, I may have to see if I can get a new one, otherwise I can't take any pictures . . . of anything. It's very annoying; I rely on my camera almost on a daily basis! Maybe The Borrowers are roaming around our house . . .

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Peanut Butter Nutella Cookies

It's National Peanut Butter Day! I didn't know that until this morning, so lucky me, I had these pictures from about a week ago of these delicious little cookies that I hadn't posted yet. They're all over Pinterest, so I knew I had to try them, and chocolate and peanut butter are pretty much the favorite combo around here. I was destined to post this recipe today, I guess. :)

If you're unfamiliar with Nutella, it's basically a (delicious) chocolate hazelnut spread, so if you have people with nut allergies in your house, beware! These little gems have a really nice crumb texture, but are not crumbly. If you're like me, that's a good thing. The Nutella adds a really nice, lighter chocolate flavor in comparison to just adding chocolate chips. If you don't do the crosshatch on top of the cookies with the fork, they might be chewier if you like that . . . I like how it looks, though. The original recipe can be found here.

Peanut Butter Nutella Cookies
1/2 c. softened butter
3/4 c. creamy peanut butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 tsp. baking soda (I accidentally used 1 tsp. because I wasn't paying attention, but they turned out fine)
1/4 tsp. salt (don't be tempted to use more since PB adds saltiness, too)
1 3/4 c. flour
1/3 c. Nutella
1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease or line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Beat butter, peanut butter, sugars, egg, vanilla, soda, and salt until very well combined - about 2 minutes.
3. Stir in flour until just combined.
4. Drizzle Nutella over dough, and use a butter knife to swirl it through the dough. Don't overdo it, though; you want to see thick ribbons of the Nutella when you're done.
5. Chill dough for 15 minutes, then drop by Tbls. onto prepared baking sheet. Use a fork to make the crosshatch and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned.

On a Side Note: Aiden has become a picky, stubborn little eater. He literally will not eat any vegetables - I've tried masking them in pieces of bread or other things, but somehow he manages to spit out the vegetable and eat whatever else I put in there. It makes for very frustrating meals. I'd love to hear tips from you, or how you handle this!

P.S. If you ever have a question about a method, ingredient, or substitution, please feel free to email me, or leave a comment below.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Funfetti Sandwich Cookies

Aiden's 1-year birthday party was this past Saturday, and it was so fun to see family, especially after our wild illnesses to start the year! Aiden loved opening all his gifts, and was so excited to have so many people around.

I made these super easy cookies the morning of the party because at the last minute I thought it would be nice to offer something in addition to cupcakes. For his cake I made a "cupcake cake," which was really fun, and I'll post on that soon. But, if you like Funfetti cake, you need to try this recipe! Everyone loves these cookies, and they are simple, fun, and totally cute.

Funfetti Sandwich Cookies
1 box Funfetti cake mix
1/3 c. oil or melted butter
2 eggs
1/4 c. sprinkles, optional
1. Preheat oven to 350, and line a baking pan with parchment paper.
2. Mix all ingredients by hand until just combined. Don't overmix.
3. Drop by Tbls. onto prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, until cookies are set, and bottoms are lightly browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before frosting.

To frost:
I used Rainbow Chip frosting because despite the fact that it's store bought, it's a family favorite (myself included!).
Using a butter knife, frost the bottom of one cookie with desired amount of frosting, and top with another cookie. You can roll the edges in sprinkles to make them even cuter, but I didn't. Now, eat 'em up! These go faaaast so you might want to snag one before you put them out.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Butterfinger Toffee Blondies

Our little Aiden turned one yesterday! I can't believe how fast that year went by. People are not exaggerating when they say the years go by faster and faster as you get older. (Funnily, I had my own age wrong the other day: Dusty, my parents and I were talking about my younger sister's age, and I said "No, she's 23, not 24! She's 3 years younger than I am . . .Wait, how old am I? Oh yeah, 27.") We had a great, low-key day, and both Aiden and Asher enjoyed his presents and birthday cake, and Aiden loved listening to family on speaker phone singing and telling him "Happy Birthday."

Amazingly, we still had some candy left from Halloween (yes, I realize it's 2 1/2 months old now) and I was craving something sweet and was determined to use it up! We had fun size Butterfinger, Heath, and Almond Joy. That's probably why they were still sitting in the cupboard - I like them all (except Butterfinger because it gets stuck in my teeth), but none are favorites. Initially, I thought I would just make some Blondies with Butterfingers because it sounded like a good match, but I overestimated how many we had left, so I used up the Heath, too. They worked really well together, and I would definitely make these again - chewy, a little gooey (although you can bake them longer if don't like that), a nice crunch from the candy, and a slight chocolatey-ness. I left out the Almond Joy because, really, I'm not that adventurous and it didn't sound appealing with the other two . . .

Butterfinger Toffee Blondies
3/4 c. butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. flour
5 fun size Butterfingers, chopped
6 fun size Heath, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350, and grease a 9x13 pan.
2. Mix butter and brown sugar with a whisk until smooth.
3. Whisk in eggs, vanilla, salt, and baking powder until thoroughly combined.
4. Stir in flour with a spoon or spatula, just until combined. Stir in candy, or whatever other mix-ins you like.
5. Bake for 22-25 minutes, and allow to cool before cutting.

On a Side Note: I'll post recipes and pics of Aiden's bday cakes soon - we're having his party on Saturday, so it'll probably be after that. I'm also reading The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story, so hopefully I'll be able to post on that soon, too!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rollin' With the Punches . . . and Rolling, and Rolling, and Rolling . . .

Happy New Year to you all! I hope you were able to ring in the new year with a little more fun and relaxation than we were. Our Christmas and New Year were less than ideal, to say the least. Don't get me wrong, there was definitely wonderful time spent with family, but it was heavily seasoned with sickness and hospital bills . . .

Here's a quick break-down (or as quick as I can make it because my stories are usually looooong . . . just ask Dusty)

Dec. 22 - We headed back to my parents' house, Aiden had a cough.
Dec. 23 - Aiden's cough was worse, and he was breathing pretty hard while being active
Dec. 24 (Christmas Eve) - Aiden was up at 3 a.m. crying, with no shot of getting back to sleep. Dusty left at 3:30 a.m. to drive 3 hours back to Cedar Rapids to bring him to Urgent Care . . . That's the glory of our less than stellar health insurance: ER visits out of town are not covered unless deemed "life threatening." Aiden was diagnosed with croup, and Dusty picked up a prescription then drove back to my parents' house in time for the Christmas Eve service at 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 25-27 - Healthy and happy, and headed to Dusty's parents' on the 27th and spent a wonderful evening there . . .
Dec. 28 - Dusty's mom woke up with a horrible headache and went to rest in her room. Soon, she was throwing up. Not being sure if it was due to a migraine or possible stomach flu, we debated, then decided to head home to avoid getting the stomach flu. Aiden threw up an hour after we got home, and about every 15 minutes for 2 hours. We put him to bed early and he made it through the night with no vomiting.
Dec. 29 - We gave Aiden formula, Pedialyte, and food as he would take it, as directed by the nurse, but he threw up shortly after each.
Dec. 30 - Asher woke up crying at 1:30 a.m., and we knew why. Despite my frantic cleaning and disinfecting, he got sick. I spent the rest of that night laying on the floor with him in his room, while Dusty kept an eye on Aiden, who was still throwing up occasionally. Asher threw up 5 times in one hour, and then had a little reprieve, although neither of us got much sleep - Asher because he couldn't get comfortable, and I because I was paranoid every time he moved that he was going to vomit again. I brought Aiden to see his pediatrician, and we were told he was on the edge of dehydration. She prescribed an anti-nausea medication, and said if he couldn't keep anything down he would have to be hospitalized for 1-2 days and receive IV fluids.
Dec. 31 - Aiden was able to keep down fluids and was feeling somewhat better (prayer of thanks!), Asher was slowly mending, but Dusty secluded himself at about 4 p.m. feeling ill. He came down later that evening feeling somewhat better, but with a lingering feeling of nausea.
Jan. 1 - Everyone was feeling better in the morning, and the day looked promising. Dusty secluded himself again in the evening, feeling worse than the day before, positive that the flu was coming this time.
Jan. 2 - I got up with Aiden at 6 a.m., Asher was up at 6:15, and Dusty came down to say he had had no relief and was feeling worse than ever. We went to the ER at 6:30 a.m., and discovered Dusty had appendicitis and would have surgery later that day. Surgery went well and Dusty came home that night.
Jan. 3 - Recovery for Dusty
Jan. 4 - Aiden started running a fever that wouldn't go away. He was really fussy and inconsolable.
Jan. 6 - Fever hadn't quit so I took him to the doctor again . . . just a virus, but noticed all 4(!) of his top teeth were coming in. We prepared for lots of fussiness, and were not disappointed.
Jan 16 - Two weeks after Dusty's surgery and he was given the okay to lift more than 10 lbs. HALLELUJAH!! Doing all the holding, bed times, grocery carrying, garbage, and early morning wake-ups starts to wear on me, apparently. :)
Although both boys have colds right now, I'm hoping for some fair weather for a few weeks here . . .

Things I Learned:
* I am so, so, thankful for our families - without their support and help in driving down spur-of-the-moment, I might have had a mental breakdown (okay, I may have had a few tearful phone conversations with my mom, but I could have been worse!)
* Trying to keep an almost 1-yr-old from crawling around on the ER floor is nearly impossible and incredibly frustrating
* It is possible to function on little to no sleep (at least for a period of time), no matter how daunting it seems at the time . . . but it's really crappy
* To "power through" times like that, I found that my technique is to literally not think about how bad it is (financially, emotionally, physically). I can't dwell on it, or I won't make it through and keep my sanity.

Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers during all of our illness - they were much appreciated, and won't be forgotten! I fervently hope all of you are having a healthy, happy, new year thus far.
Christmas Eve