Monday, November 17, 2008

Family Photoshoot with Beckie

A few weeks ago we had the privilege of being photographed by a very talented photographer, Beckie Woodfield. It had been about 5 years since we had a family portrait done, and with Drew being a senior in high school, it was time. She took us out to Pasadena's City Hall, and surrounding buildings where there is spectacular architecture. Hop on over to Beckie's site if you would like to see the rest of our photos.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Way Delicious Wednesdays - Cinnamon Rolls

First, last week we had a canning day at my house - with some of my favorite people! From left to right: Donna Shannon, Emma, Aimee Alvord, Lori Britten, me and (kneeling) Deidre Johnson and baby Maddie! We made 3 batches of Apricot Plum (from frozen summer fruit) and 4 batches of Hot Pepper Jelly. It was so much fun fellowshipping with these wonderful ladies!

And, now, if you'll let me indulge my deep, nagging desire for cinnamon and bread together - today's Way Delicious Wednesday features homemade cinnamon rolls. Try not to lick the screen, OK?

Yes, I know there are 3 rolls missing from this pan. I only ate
1 1/2 of them though.

I've been at a loss for making cinnamon rolls since my old bread machine died. I used to make them all the time and it was the only real reason I continued to keep that beast of a machine in my kitchen. Then, it all ended.

But, alas, I turned to my beautiful, sleek, black Kitchenaid mixer and wondered if it could bring about the same delectable result. I wondered if it could produce the tall, doughy, cinnamony result I so craved. So I tried a new recipe last night, designed specifically for the Kitchenaid mixer, and it delivered! I am so excited. And scared.

So, here's the recipe. I'm sorry if you don't have a Kitchenaid. I mean, really sorry. I don't know how people live without one. Maybe you could tell your hubby that you could make these wonderful rolls if you only had a Kitchenaid.


Cinnamon Rolls for Kitchenaid

Basic Sweet Dough:
3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter
2 packages active dry yeast (or 4 1/2 tsp.)
1/3 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
3 eggs, room temp.
5 1/2- 6 cups all purpose flour

Place milk, sugar, salt, and butter in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat until butter melts and sugar dissolves. Cool to lukewarm.

Dissolve yeast in the warm water in mixer bowl.
Add lukewarm milk mixture, eggs, and 5 cups flour.

Attach dough hook and mix about 2 minutes on Speed 2.

If dough clings to hook and clean sides of bowl, you do not need to add any more flour. But if it still sticking, add more, a little at a time, until you get that result.

Knead on Speed 2 for 2 more minutes.

Place dough in a greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled. (I turn on the oven for 3 minutes, then turn off and put the bowl in the oven to rise.)

While dough rises, prepare Cinnamon filling.

Cinnamon Filling:
In mixer bowl combine the following:

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 Tbsp. cinnamon

Beat on low speed until well combined.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface (I put the dough directly on a clean countertop). Roll dough into a 10 x 24" rectangle. Spread cinnamon filling evenly over. Roll dough tightly from long side to form 24" roll, pinching seams together. Trim ends. Cut into 16 rolls. Put the smallest 8 rolls in a greased 7 x 11 pan, and put the 8 largest rolls in a greased 9 x 13 pan. Cover again and let rise in warm place for 1 hour.

Bake at 350 degrees 15-20 minutes. Do not overbake - they dry out easily.

While they bake prepare frosting.

In mixer bowl combine the following:

4 Tbsp. softened butter
4 Tbsp. softened cream cheese
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
Powdered sugar to desired consistency (I like my frosting thick)

Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.

Frost hot cinnamon rolls with frosting. Serve warm.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A bit of nostalgia

I love nostalgic things. Old time candy, 50's diners, cool old cars (especially Mustang convertibles and T-birds), and I also love things that don't ever change. There is something comforting about that - especially when it involves a good value.

I went downtown yesterday to have a lunch date with Rich, and on the way home I needed to stop for gas. You don't want to stop in downtown L.A....and I remembered a place my mom used to go to in Eagle Rock right off the 2 freeway near my old high school. It was a car wash/gas station called "Glen rock" (assumingly because it was on the border of Glendale and Eagle Rock) and they offered full-serve gas at self-serve prices. My mom ALWAYS got her gas there, I don't think she ever pumped gas in her whole life! She went out of her way to go there, as it was one of the only full-serve places left. Another thing- she always filled her car up when her tank got to half empty! I don't know why she did that, but you can know one thing: she never, never, and I mean never ran out of gas. (Neither have I, actually, but I let it dip pretty low before resorting to filling my tank at these prices nowadays!)

So, I pulled in, and guess what? It's still full-serve at the self-serve price. In fact, I paid $2.52 a gallon for my full-serve gas! It was just so cool. There were several uniformed men working the dozen or so pumps, and it's just as I remembered full serve stations so many years ago. You pull in, roll down your window, say what kind of gas you want and the question is "fill 'er up?" Then, to pay you give them your credit card and they bring it back with your slip on one of those royal blue plastic thingys with your credit card sticking up on top. Sadly, it didn't have the two-part with the carbon sheet in between (the old credit slips). But, boy, that brought back memories. Way back when Dad paid for my gas, I always got full serve - but once I had to pay for it myself, it was self-serve, baby. So it's been at least 22 years since I've pulled up to a full-serve pump.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. Watching the men pleasantly interacting with customers (mostly old people), seeing their cool uniforms - you know the ones with embroidered names on the shirts- and being brought back to a simpler, more service-oriented time. The man who helped me was so nice and cordial and clean cut. I just couldn't help smile and feel like I went back in time.

Now, if I had only had a stick of clove gum, it would have been perfect.

Friday, November 7, 2008


With Christmas just around the corner, I have been asked to put on a candlemaking demonstration for some collegiate ladies from church. I first became interested in making my own candles about 8 years ago. I suffered from a terrible addiction to Yankee candles but couldn't justify their price. So, I spent some time gathering information online, purchased supplies, and one evening made Rich stand by with a fire extinguisher as I embarked on my first batch.

It was so much fun! Not only could I very economically fill my house with yummy candles, I could give them as gifts! People loved them, and let me tell you it makes you look like one talented little cookie to give someone a homemade candle. It pretty much puts you in the same category as Martha Stewart! Candles are so great for all those little gifts you need - hostess gifts, gifts for kids' Sunday School teachers, bible study leaders, neighbors, etc. I love having a nice stash I can draw from as needed (and take one for myself every so often). So, in the fall, I make about 8 batches in preparation for the upcoming holiday season.
One fall many years ago, my kids (mostly Brady) urged me to sell my candles at the local farmer's market. So, we rented a booth, table and easy-up, and set up 8 different scents of candles in jars, votives and tealight forms. We actually had a lot of interest and did well. I think we only netted about $100 after all the overhead, but the kids were absolutely delighted interacting with the customers and they sure got a little lesson in small business. Most importantly, it made me feel like one of those "give your kids real life experiences for learning" types of homeschooling mothers. Well, at least I can say I felt like that one time in my home schooling career. I'm going to pause right now and relish that moment. Ahhh. I'm such a good mother.

So, since I'm whipping up a couple batches today, I thought I'd walk you through the process. Perhaps you are looking for a unique gift idea for this Christmas but are desperately uncreative and untalented like myself. I promise you, if I can do this, anyone can.

The trickiest part is rounding up the supplies. I get the wax locally, in North Hollywood, at General Wax. The rest of my supplies I get online at Bitter Creek Candle Supply. You can get the wax at Bitter Creek as well, but you are going to pay exhorbitant shipping charges due to its weight. Better to find a local supplier if you can. Later in the post I will give you more information regarding specifics on the supplies.

Today I am making one container candle and some votives. You can make a container candle in pretty much anything that is made of strong glass. I often just use canning jars that you can pick up at any grocery store. For votives, I use disposable 3 oz. size dixie cups rather than metal molds. That way, you can make a lot of them and all you have to do is peel the paper off when they are set. Each batch yields approximately 48 ozs. of wax, so you just do the math to figure out your containers/votives. The jar I am using today is 12 oz., which leaves me with 36 ozs. more wax. Since the votives are 3 ozs. each, so I can do 12 of them with what I have left.

Last year, I switched over from paraffin to soy wax. Soy wax burns cleaner and has many other benefits. For one, it requires only one "pour". With paraffin, the wax shrinks as it cools, leaving a huge crater down the center of the candle. You then need to melt more wax and pour it into the cavity. With the soy, there is minimal shrinkage, which allows the candle to be finished after one pour.

Soy is actually easier to deal with as well. Paraffin comes in block form (14 lb. blocks) and must be cut up. It is messy and requires herculean strength. Soy wax comes in flake form and is ready to go. And, the price of soy is cheaper. Paraffin is a by product of petroleum, and the price fluctuates with the market. I have paid anywhere from $8-15 a slab for paraffin, depending on the market. The soy wax that I buy is about $1 pound.

You basically melt the wax in a double boiler fashion. So, the first thing you need to do is find a good pot to make the candles in. I "sacrificed" an old Revereware pot from early on in our marriage- you might try the thrift store if you don't want to make any sacrifices out of your current pot arsenal. I have placed a metal trivet in the bottom of the pot. The wax goes into a candle pot with a spout (which you can purchase at my online supplier) and is placed on top of the trivet. This gives the candle pot a flat secure surface to sit on and keeps it from bobbing around.

Here is the type of set up you will need.

Since I am making a container candle, I need to prepare my jar and get it warmed up. The reason you warm up the jar is because if you pour hot wax into a cold glass container, it could crack. This happened to me firsthand, but not when I was candlemaking. One winter morning, I had pulled a 9 x 13 glass pan of apple pancake out of the oven, and placed it directly on a very cold granite countertop and it shattered!

You must wick the jar before warming it. I use a hot glue gun and put a generous amount on the bottom of the wick's metal tab, and press it into center of the bottom of the jar. Then, I warm the jar in a 175 degree oven, on a foil-lined jelly roll pan. Note on wicks: it is important to get the right size wick so the candle will burn evenly across the container. I can help you with that- I have learned just the right sizes to use for what, from experience.

Now onto the wax. I use 2 1/2 lbs. of soy wax per batch. Since the bags I buy come in 5 lb. quantity, I simply measure out 2 1/2 lbs. using my kitchen scale. Whatever is left in the bag will make another batch. So, for $5, I am getting two batches of candles.

If you don't have a kitchen scale, you can get one for under $10.

I fill my spouted candle pot with the soy wax - it goes all the way to the top:

I do use one additive in my candle formula. It is called vybar, and is a chemical that helps whiten the wax and help the scent molecules bind to the wax molecules. If you do not use vybar, your scent will sink to the bottom of your candle. I use 3 tsp. of vybar 260.

Vybar looks like teeny tiny wax pellets.

Now fill the large pot a little more than half full with water. Remember the trivet is on the bottom, keeping the candle pot from being in direct contact with the flame. You want to get as much water in the pot as you can without causing the candle pot to float and/or bob. If it is doing that, take some of the water out. Be very careful not to let any water get in contact with the wax.

This is how you put the water in the pot! I knew you'd need help with that one.
Put the pot on the stove and use medium heat. Add a candy thermometer into the wax so you can monitor the temperature.

You do not want the wax getting above 175 degrees. Wax is flammable at higher temperatures. If your wax is getting too hot, turn the flame down. The process of the wax melting takes about 20 minutes and looks like this as it melts:
After about 10 minutes...

15 minutes...


Now that it's all melted, it's time to add the color. I'm making some yummy gingerbread scented candles today, so I want a nice brown color. I start by adding some "chocolate brown" color block. Color blocks are basically highly concentrated colored pieces of wax. I start with about this much and add it to the wax:

It's a good idea to put wax paper down on your cutting surface, to avoid stains.

The color goes in...

It takes about 5-10 minutes to fully melt and color the wax evenly. Once it is all melted, I stir it with a sacrificed metal spoon that is just for candlemaking.
I do a test of the color by pouring a small amount into a dixie cup. I want to see what the "dry" color will look like, so I speed up the drying process by refrigerating my little sample. Wax is much darker when it is melted, and you want to see what your end result will really look like.
Here is the colored wax wet...

And dry...

See how different it looks?

So, after my sample cools, I look at it and decide that it is too light. So I add the same amount again. I repeat the sample process of pouring some into a dixie cup and refrigerating until dry.

I am still not happy with the color - now it's a bit too caramelly for me. So, I add some regular "brown" color block to the wax. I repeat the sample process again...
Now it's perfectly gingerbread colored. Color is something you just have to play with, until you get it right. This is where my going to Art Center actually proves to have been relevant in my life.

Time to add the yummy scent!

I use a synthetic, highly scented oil. Remove the pot from the water pot and place on a paper towel on the counter (only if you have granite or tile - if not use a trivet). Now add 6 Tbsp. (2 ozs.) of the scent oil to each batch and stir very gently but thoroughly.

It's now time to pour!

Retrieve the warm container and tray from the oven. Count out the votive cups and place them on the pan.

The best deal on these dixie cups is at Smart & Final.

Stir the wax very gently again. Begin pouring the candles, very slowly. It helps to hold the votive cups in your hand or hold them down as you pour. I cannot stress that you need to pour slowly. You do not want to spill hot wax on yourself or anything else. Like the cordless phone, which I did today.

After you are done pouring, set the timer for 10 minutes. You are going to come back and drop your wicks into the votives. Since they are smaller in size this is my preferred method of wicking.

This picture makes me feel like the Pioneer Woman.

There should be some tackiness on the bottom of the votive which will help the wick tab stick.

Now, just put them in a safe place and wait for them to dry, which will be about 6 hours for containers and 3 hours for votives. I like to stop by periodically and make sure the wicks are centered, adjusting if necessary.

When dry, carefully peel away the paper of the votive cups. With a sharp scissor, trim the wicks to 1/4". Sometimes, if the centers are sunken, I use my little heat gun to smooth out the tops. But that's just because I'm a perfectionist. You probably aren't even sure what a heat gun is. It's one of those things us former rubber stamp people bought thinking they would use it for embossing. It sure does come in handy now though!

So here's the finished product! I top my jar with a cute stenciled screw-lid. I usually store like-scent votives in a large ziploc bag. Keep them away from light, so they don't fade.

So there you have it. If anyone is interested in having my detailed, step by step instructions for candlemaking in a word document file, just email me at I would be glad to email it to you. The document also includes buying information, wick sizing, color, scent, etc. I would be glad to answer any questions you might have as well.

Happy Candlemaking!
(I can't get rid of all this white space for some reason...)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I'm so proud of my boy!

He's in!

Drew got his acceptance letter to the Master's College today!

I have to say, it's a momentous moment for a mother who homeschooled her little boy from day one.

It made Drew smile really big when he opened it.

And it made me cry.

God is so good!!!

Way delicious Wednesdays - misc stuff

Before I begin, I wanted to update everyone on the shower fiasco last week. I had totally forgotten to follow up - sorry to keep the three of you who read my blog in such suspense!

Well, actually, it turned out to be nothing - well for now, anyways. When Rich got home that afternoon, he turned on the shower, and observed that it was indeed draining. He couldn't find any problems. So we said we'd just leave well enough alone, until it causes devasting damage that costs thousands of dollars! So for now, we're just standing by.

OK, on to more pleasant things - food! First of all, this week I have been trying to duplicate that wonderful oatmeal I had in Chicago at the Corner Bakery. I started with old fashioned oats. I usually make them with water, so I decided to substitute half milk for the water. I put 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup milk, and 1/3 cup oats in a large glass bowl and microwaved it for 5 minutes. Pretty good, but I think this calls for the good stuff.

So I got out my big bag of steel-cut outs. My friend Luci turned me on to "Coach's oats" at Costco, and I'm loving them. Same method as before - it turned out great. Not quite as rich as the one at Corner Bakery, but pretty close. Part of what makes this good is that the oatmeal is on the runny side, so you don't want to overcook it and evaporate all the liquid out. If you cook it just right, it seems like you stirred in half and half.

Yesterday, I did an experiment in the crock pot. I actually used my big roaster type crock pot - it's 3 times the size of a regular crock pot! It's a bear to store, but it comes in so handy. I put two whole chickens in the pot, seasoning them with lemon pepper and salt. Then, I cut up one stick of butter and threw the pieces all around, turned the crock pot to 200 degrees (probably the equivalent of "low" on a regular crock pot) and let it go for 6-7 hours. It was delicious, moist and tender like a rotisserie chicken. The only downfall was that the skin wasn't crispy - due to the moist heat cooking method. I suppose you could put the chickens in a 450 degree oven for a short time at the end to crisp the skin up if you like. But, the meat was so delicious I actually didn't miss the skin. This would be a great way to gather up a bunch of really tasty chicken meat for soup, enchiladas, etc. Try it sometime! I don't prefer to work with whole chickens, but sometimes they do go on sale for $.59/lb. - such a bargain. I think I paid roughly $5 for all the chicken I made - it served 10 people and I had tons of leftovers.

My sister's family and my dad came over last night to watch, I mean mourn, the election coverage. I have to say, I truly had a peace about Obama winning. I remember the sick feeling I had when Clinton won - it wasn't the same feeling for some reason this time. God has His perfect plan, and apparently that includes Barack Obama. As a believer, I know that my eternal future is secure, which is all that matters anyways. So, back to last night I made the above described chicken, my sister brought a delicious salad, and my dad brought some yummy chili. At the market yesterday, I thought it would be good to get a pie for dessert and being short on time I grabbed a frozen Claim Jumper berry pie. It was incredible! We served it fresh and warm out of the oven -it had a great crust, and the filling was delicious. Everyone loved it. Claim Jumper has a whole line of yummy looking pies - I think I'll try another one soon!

I'll leave you with a wonderful recipe Emma came up with that she is addicted to! It's a quesadilla - but how good does this sound... She takes a tortilla and spreads it with pesto, then layers on chopped roasted red bell peppers (jarred - TJ's) and a generous sprinkling of goat cheese. Top with a second tortilla and cook it up in a lightly buttered skillet. It is amazing. We do a lot of quesadillas around here - Drew likes chicken, refried beans, and cheese and Emma makes up any concoction that sounds good to her out of what she finds in the fridge! I think this one is a winner!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

One thing we know about today's election....

and that is....

Whoever God wants to be president today WILL BE president. Christians ought not to dismay, no matter the outcome. God is still on the throne and His purposes can never be thwarted!

But, needless to say, I'll be downing some celebratory Jones soda if McCain pulls it off....aren't these funny?