Wednesday, December 15, 2010

This Year's Gingerbread Creation

Jason and his friend, N, have worked together on a gingerbread creation to enter into our homeschool group's Gingerbread House Contest for the last 4 years.  This year, they decided to build a Lighthouse!  Day 1 involved looking at internet pictures of gingerbread lighthouses and coming up with a design.  Day 2 was spent making the dough and cutting out and baking the pieces.  Day 3 was for construction and beginning the decorating, and Day 4 was for finishing the decorating.  Tammy and I helped out a bit, but the boys did the majority of the work themselves!

The base is an 18 in. x 18in. drawing board, wrapped in parchment paper.  Cocoa Pebbles Krispy treats formed the land.

trees were made from ice cream cones covered with green decorator icing.

The water was made by cutting a piece of parchment in the shape needed, then placing blue Hall's lozenges on the paper and melting them in a 350 degree oven. They needed to be flattened and spread with the back of a spoon, but that actually helped make the water look wavy and realistic!  We laid the melted hard candy over a layer of blue decorator icing.

Time to add the stripes to the lighthouse -  chocolate chips and white baking chips.  This was painstaking work for this pair of active 12-year-olds.  I was very proud of them and the effort they put into their work.

TA DA!   Good job, guys.

Here are the previous year's creations.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

The cupcake mood continues. Fortunately, we are going to a potluck picnic this afternoon, so I'll get to indulge in one and the rest will be polished off by the hungry hoards. This recipes comes from Smitten Kitchen.

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

1 stick ( 1/2 cup ) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 cups cake flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tsp. vanilla

1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin puree

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. line a cupcake pan with 18 liners.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugars together on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 min. Add the eggs, one at time, scraping down the sides after each addition.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Add vanilla to the buttermilk. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat in the pumpkin until smooth. Do not overbeat. Scoop the batter into the cupcake liners, filling about 3/4 full. Rap the filled pan on the counter once to release any air bubbles. Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Cool the cupcakes completely on a rack.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

2 8-oz. pkgs cream cheese, softened

1 stick butter, room temperature

2 cups sifted confectioners sugar

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 tsp maple extract

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth. Scrape down sides of bowl and add the sugar and mix in slowly, then beat until smooth. Scrape sides and beat in the maple syrup, and for a stronger maple flavor, the extract. Spoon into pastry bag fitted with large opening tip, and pipe frosting onto the cooled cupcakes. Chill for 30 minutes to firm up the frosting.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Raising Real Men

The 1st Tuesday of November = Election Day.   I am pleased with the results, as I truly believe our government was making very bad decisions regarding the economy and many other issues.  I do believe in individual liberty and responsibility -  I'm a homeschooler, after all - and that smaller is better when it comes to the federal government!  So I'm hoping that the newly elected GOP members of Congress have heard the Tea Party message loud and clear and will take it to heart!

The 1st Tuesday of November, or of any month, is also our Lighthouse homeschool support group meeting night.   Last night we had a great turnout - probably close to 100 people - to hear our guest speakers, Hal & Melanie Young, talk about "Raising Real Men".   Hal & Melanie are homeschool parents of 8 children - 6 boys & 2 girls - and have written a book called "Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching, and Appreciating Boys".

Together, often finishing each other's sentences, Hal & Melanie shared wonderful insight into appreciating the qualities that God has seen fit to pour into our male children -  ambition, competition, aggressiveness, adventure, boldness.  These are traits that we don't want to squelch, as we want to see our young men grow up to be strong, bold, adventurous leaders - of their nation, community, church, and family!   Even the most quiet, mild-mannered boy will someday grow up to lead a household - and he should be encouraged to develop the skills and qualities that will enable him to do that with excellence!   Now, if misdirected or left unchecked, these traits can lead to some common sins, such as anger, laziness, and lust, and as parents, we need to be diligent to make our boys aware of these pitfalls and to steer them away into more positive, constructive habits. 

They talked about boys & heroes.   When you look around at the heroes embraced by a majority of young men today, it can make you cringe.  Athletes, actors, singers, and other celebrities are typically the object of adulation, and very rarely could they be considered desirable role models!  As parents, it is our job to teach our boys about REAL heroes, who exemplify real virtues like courage, honor, integrity, leadership, determination, humility, kindness, and self-control. We also must teach our boys that REAL heroes, real men, make mistakes too.  George Washington, Martin Luther, William Carey,  William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln  - these were not perfect men. But they were men of strong, Godly character, courage,  and conviction.
It is also vital that fathers understand their role as Hero.   A boy will look to his dad as his first hero, and that position carries a huge responsibility!

Hal & Melanie talked about teaching our boys responsibility and leadership bit by bit, first by giving them small tasks, and gradually increasing expectations as they prove faithful in the small things. There is a biblical example to follow here. A practical tip was to give a chore or responsibility to the youngest child capable of doing it - not the oldest, as we are prone to do ( because more training has occurred and that usually means the job gets done faster and better ).  We moms need to relinquish some of our desire for efficiency and perfection in order to allow for training and learning - THAT is our purpose, mamas.  Our home is a training ground!    This is something that I realize I have not done very successfully in my family. My youngest has been let off pretty easy, so some things need to change around here  - pronto. 

In discussing discord among brothers, the Youngs cautioned against calling something sin thatis not.  Wrestling, teasing, poking, jabbing - typical boy activities- are not necessarily sinful, but cross the line when someone is being hurt.  If no one is objecting, then it is probably okay to let it go. But if someone is being physically or emotionally hurt, then that has crossed the line.  Toy weapons are okay, as our boys are wired to be defenders and to do battle for their families and for God, but weapons shouldn't be aimed at another person.  Because "you don't aim unless you intend to shoot, and you don't shoot unless you intend to kill", said Hal.  So toy guns and bows & arrows are aimed at targets, or at imaginary bears, robbers, bad guys -  always good vs. evil.  Again, think in terms of what you are training your boys to be!

Finally, they briefly touched upon purity, and urged parents to not wait too long to engage your sons in discussions about purity and proper attitudes towards young ladies. The  "I don't want to introduce those thoughts into his mind" argument is naive at best.  Even if you don't have a TV in your house, you'd have to put blindfolds on your sons as you drove down the street or walked through any mall or even grocery store to avoid images of beautiful women selling just about any product a guy might buy.  Just about every TV show aimed at kids age 6 or older includes a boy/girl relationship of some kind. This is something that parent must confront head on, teaching what is right and good and true, and also why the attitudes portrayed and embraced by so much of society are damaging and destructive.

I bought Hal & Melanie's book last night and have just started reading it. I encourage you to do the same. The book has gotten great reviews and endorsements. You can find out more at their website,

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hummingbird Cupcakes

I have been in a baking mood lately.  Not just any baking - but CUPCAKES.  And I blame Food Network.  No box mixes and ready-made frosting here -  I'm talking scratch, homemade gourmet cupcakes. 
Last week I whipped up my favorite sour cream chocolate cake recipe into a batch of cupcakes, topped with a delicious chocolate cream cheese frosting.  Fortunately, our church has a potluck lunch every Sunday after service... so the majority were whisked off to church so as not to land on my hips.

This week I had some bananas that needed to be used up, and rather than make my mainstay banana bread, I decided to try Hummingbird Cupcakes!  Hummingbird Cake is a favorite Southern dessert, made with bananas, pineapple, and pecans. It is similar to a carrot cake, but without the carrots!  This recipe comes from Martha Stewart;  I made a couple of small changes - added applesauce, subbed oil for half the butter, and reduced the sugar a bit.  And instead of the cream cheese frosting, I substituted a creamy cinnamon buttercream. YUM!!!!

Hummingbird Cupcakes

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup melted butter ( 1 stick)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs - room temperature
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line cupcake pan with paper liners; set aside.  

Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and place in the preheated oven for 5-7 minutes, to toast. Set aside.  

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each before adding the next.  Beat at medium speed until mixture is pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. 

In another medium bowl, stir together the mashed banana, drained pineapple, applesauce, walnuts, and coconut. Add to the egg mixture, mixing until combined. Stir in the flour mixture, a little at a time, until just combined ( Do not overmix, or cake will be dry!) 

Fill cupcake cups about 3/4 full.  Bake until golden brown and cake tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes.  

Transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Frost with Cinnamon Buttercream.

Makes 24.

Cinnamon Buttercream 

3/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup butter, softened
6 cups sifted powdered confectioners sugar
1 Tbl. cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy cream
In a mixing bowl with whisk attachment, cream the butter and shortening until fluffy.  Add sugar and cinnamon, and continue creaming until well blended. 

Add salt, vanilla, and cream. Blend on low speed until moistened. Then beat on high speed for 5 minutes, until fluffy. 

A Look Back at our Halloweens

This is the year... the last of my children has "outgrown" Halloween.   Well, we haven't celebrated "Halloween" for a long time - yuck -  but we've always enjoyed the ART of carving pumpkins and the fun of dressing up and going to a fall festival and indulging in sweets. We have held a FEAR NOT party a couple of times, focusing on the fact that Jesus Christ conquered death and spiritual darkness; he is the LIGHT of the world, and therefore we have nothing to fear! I'm not one to shut off my lights and draw the curtains - I always have candy ready to hand out if anyone comes to my door, but they won't find any spiders (okay, a few real that insist of spinning webs around my doorway no matter how many times I sweep them away ) , ghosts, monsters, gravestones, or witches here.  Only lights, flowers, pumpkins, and maybe a smiling scarecrow.

Here is a look back at some past Halloweens...

Alex - 1988

Eric , age 2-  1991
Eric -  age 11?

Jason (5) & Amanda (10) -2003


Jason, age 10 -   2008