Sunday, October 19, 2014

almost two

Evie hit the 22-month milestone a few days ago. I can't believe we're so close to her birthday. We looked back at old pictures and videos today and I had felt some pangs of sadness that my baby is growing up. Her hair is so long now, kissing her shoulders and curling up on the ends. She's still round and soft, but she's bigger. And heavier.

Today at church one of the speakers said, "To quote Queen Elsa, 'Let it go!'" Evie immediately started singing the song "Let It Go," and we shushed her in between laughs. She sings spontaneously quite a bit. Often it is "Give Said the Little Stream," but she also favors us with "Rockabye and Don't You Cry," "Daisy, Daisy," "You Belong To Me," and various songs from the Frozen soundtrack. Her bedtime song of choice lately is "Once Upon A Dream" from Sleeping Beauty. She is particularly fascinated with the dragon in the movie. We picked up several dragon books from the library, which she's been enjoying, and we visit the inflatable dragon next door (part of our neighbor's Halloween display) almost daily.

 Evelyn loves what she calls "spooky things." It started as a way to get her to tolerate shopping. I'd say, "Let's see what spooky things we can find here," and we'd look at pumpkins, witches, skeletons, and various Halloween decorations as we shopped around. Now she notices spooky things (spooty fings) everywhere we go, and she loves it. I so wish we could take baby girl to Disneyland this month. We went once on Halloween as a couple, and it was so much fun. I think she would love all of the spooky things there, and it would be just the right amount of spook without being too much for a toddler. Someday we'll go to Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.

We visited a wonderful pumpkin patch for Family Night a few weeks ago, and the girl was in heaven. Every time she sees pumpkins now, usually at the grocery store, she exclaims, "Pumpkin patch!"

Evelyn talks so much. She'll tell you she's almost two, and the names of her parents. Andrew and I often find ourselves looking at each other in amazement at things she says. I'm sure it is a result of living with four grownups that talked to her all the time for the first 18 months of her life, in addition to reading stories together every day. But it is still so satisfying to have little conversations with her. She has picked up some phrases that I do not love to hear repeated back to me, and it has definitely made me reconsider what I say and how I say it.

Evie got scared at church a few weeks ago when a man came into nursery to take out the garbage. He pulled out a new garbage bag and snapped it to get it open. The sound terrified Evie, and even weeks later she tells me about how Eric snapped the garbage, scared her, and made her sad. One morning it was the first thing she told me when she woke up. I just love how her new-found verbal skills have given me this little window into what is going on in her busy little mind.

in the book nook with her beloved cousin

post-nap nap, after a bad night in a hotel with no crib.

we had to take pictures with this both times
we walked by.

the girl loves green ice cream, and is very
independent (Evie do it!).

cheesy smile reading before a wedding. she chose the dress
(green one).

ah, sad this is blurry! nighttime at the pumpkin patch.
she never holds still.

another pumpkin patch moment.

apple picking at grandma's.

she won't drink milk, but she loves hot chocolate.

every time we're in grandma's front yard,
she wants to sit on a rock and have a portrait taken.
I oblige. 

Pumpkin Muffins with Spiced Streusel Topping

Autumn is almost over. Is that even possible? It seems like the seasons always end too soon, and on our last drive up the canyon most of the leaves had already fallen. I'm trying not to be too disappointed about it, trying to savor what is left of this glorious season. And this morning, I was trying to use up the open can of pumpkin that's been staring at me every time I open the fridge for a week (do any recipes ever use a whole can?).

I've made pumpkin pancakes several times already this month, but I wanted something equally quick and easy this morning. I immediately thought to make muffins.

My mom is a muffin maker. She'll whip them up for breakfast (chocolate chip, blueberry, banana walnut), or to go alongside soup on a cold night (apple cinnamon, carrot, oatmeal raisin). They are wonderful: lightly sweet, soft, warm, and especially good smothered in butter or homemade jam.

Mom taught me one important thing about making muffins: don't overmix. If you mix too much, they will be tough and they won't dome up on top. The batter should be lumpy, and there may even be some small patches of dry flour. Another trick from mom: fill the empty cups in your muffin tin with water before baking. Just do it.

So with my heart set on pumpkin muffins, I opened up my good-old Betty Crocker cookbook and found a basic pumpkin muffin recipe. Betty calls for raisins in hers, while other recipes I looked at online include chocolate chips or pecans. I decided to skip the raisins and instead top mine with streusel (we're big streusel fans at our house). I also subbed pumpkin pie spice in a few places to give it that extra autumn flavor.

Betty is notorious for dump recipes, meaning you just dump in all the ingredients and mix it up. This is great for easy, one-bowl baking, but can sometimes lead to problems. This method, in combination with attempts not to overmix, can yield muffins with pockets of flavor like an extra salty bite, or in the pumpkin muffin recipe, some unmixed lumps of pumpkin puree. To avoid these problems, I like to mix all my dry ingredients together, and all my wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Then add the wet to the dry, and mix until just combined and still lumpy. Problem solved, and only one extra bowl to wash.

Now to the point, here's the recipe.

Pumpkin Muffins with Spiced Streusel Topping

Makes 12 muffins

For topping:

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3 tablespoons butter, chilled

Mix all ingredients until well combined and crumbly. You can use a pastry blender, two knives, your fingers, or a food processor. I used my mini prep processor, which I love.

For the muffins:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (you can use all white flour too)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (canned)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare muffin pan by spraying with cooking spray. Mix all dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together all wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry, until just combined. I like to use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Do not overmix (see commentary above). Batter should be lumpy.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full (I like to use a scoop). Sprinkle generously with streusel topping (you should have enough topping to make 2 or 3 batches of muffins). Bake 18 to 20 minutes. Immediately remove from pan. These muffins are best served warm, but can be kept for a few days in an airtight container or plastic bag (be sure they are completely cool before storing).

Don't skimp on the streusel.

Eat them while they're hot, you won't regret it.

Topping adapted from Betty Crocker's Favorite Coffee Cake. Muffins adapted from Betty Crocker's Pumpkin Muffins.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Birthday Cake Ice Cream

Andrew is a cake batter ice cream fan. So when I saw a no-churn recipe for cake batter ice cream on Studio 5, I just had to give it a try. Their recipe combines whipped cream, sweetened condensed milk, cake mix, and melted butter. The flavor was spot on, but the texture was lacking. I'd even call it weird. It didn't melt like normal ice cream, but instead turned sticky and gooey and gross.

But I didn't give up on homemade cake batter ice cream. Next I tried making Ben & Jerry's sweet cream base, stirring in 1 cup cake mix and 2 tablespoons melted butter. I churned it in my little countertop ice cream maker, and it was delicious! It did have some little lumps of cake mix, which Andrew claimed he liked.

But I knew I could do better. I switched up the order of the ingredients, and the lumps disappeared. It turned out perfectly smooth and creamy and delicious. So here it is, the ultimate homemade cake batter ice cream recipe with an optional birthday cake upgrade, which I made for Andrew's birthday last Sunday.

The Ultimate Cake Batter Ice Cream Recipe

1 egg
3/4 cups sugar
2 T butter, melted
1 cup yellow cake mix*
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk (I used 2%)

In a large bowl, beat egg until light and fluffy. Slowly add sugar, and continue mixing until well combined. Add melted butter and cake mix. Mix well, eliminating all lumps. Add heavy cream and milk, stirring until combined.

Freeze ice cream according to your ice cream maker's instructions. Try not to eat too much straight out of the machine, which will be difficult, because it will be amazingly smooth and delicious and irresistible.

Birthday Cake Upgrade

1 cake mix, plus ingredients needed to bake
colorful sprinkles (if you use the sprinkles from the ice cream isle, the color won't bleed)

Bake cake mix as directed on box. I used a yellow cake mix, and baked cupcakes to decrease baking time. You could certainly bake a from-scratch cake. I'm pro-from scratch cake, but not anti-cake mix.

Break up 6-12 cupcakes. I used two forks to achieve a small-medium crumb. When ice cream is finished freezing and churning, scoop enough into a tupperware to cover the bottom of the container. Layer some of your crumbled cake over the ice cream, and sprinkles if you want (I only put sprinkles on the top of mine). Continue to layer ice cream and cake, finishing with cake and sprinkles on the top. I froze mine overnight, and it was reminiscent of ice cream cake (yum!). And, the husband approved.

*I found that one cake mix is enough to make this recipe 4 times (4 cups of mix/box).
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