Monday, February 21, 2011

A Muddled Family Vacation: A Guide To Help You Save Your (remaining shred of) Sanity

Our first family vacation in over 5yrs and we (the hubs & I) decide that 6hrs (of driving) in a car with TT and C-McC would be a most excellent idea.  It really and truly sounded brilliant when I came up with it but I will be totally honest, I was sharting bricks in the days leading up to our 'adventure'. 

Here is what I have learned:

Pack the car the night before and pack plenty.  Pack like you're on a trek to the arctic and there aren't stores for thousands of miles... we stuffed the trunk full (I don't think you could have fit a toothpick in there).
Snow pants, skates, extra outfits for C-McC (because he takes great joy in pooping/puking all over his outfits... he's awesome like that), food... etc.  Even if you think you might not use it... pack it.  What's the worse that could happen, you don't use it?  Or you could be like me and seriously underestimate how many diapers your 2.5 year old wears and then have to send your husband out in the evening to find diapers... whereby he finds the world's smallest drug store (apparently it was twice the size of our hotel room) which only has one pack (of any kind) of size 6 diapers.
 
Start your journey early.  Get.up.at.the.crack.of.stupid.  We got C-McC up... gave him a good dose of boob.  Changed his bum.  Woke up TT.  Changed his bum and before they could figure out why on earth we were up so early... we were out the door!  TT was quiet as a mouse (of course he was also scowling at everything) until we reached pit stop #1. 

Pre-plan your route, right down to your stops (and be sure to include alternate stops because heavens knows that your darling children aren't going to necessarily be ready for your chosen pit stops).  We google mapped our route (and spoke to a friend that travels it a couple times a year), we checked to see what was offered at our preferred stops and what was close to it (in case we had to stop before or after).  We also tried to make our stops 'worth it'.  We tried to plan them around a meal time, so that we could get out and stretch our legs for a bit... this undoubtedly added to our arrival time but happy children are definitely worth extending the drive!

Portable DVD players are.amazing
.  Seriously, if you don't have one.  Get one.  And if you have one (that you've never used)... use it!  Right now!  Suddenly, driving is a wonderful thing again!  TT totally flaked out.  It.was.wonderful. 

Snacks.  Lots & lots of snacks (and water... because if they spill it... they'll just be wet... not some fruity colour [as well as their seat and the car] and wet).  I made up some packs of trail mix, various muffins and packed some grapes.  As TT needed I passed them back... he was happy & we were happy!

If you can, find a hotel that has a kitchen.  You may not use it to it's full potential (I know I didn't) but it is nice to have a full fridge, and to have space to store your road snacks.  The more your hotel room is like home, the better. 

Don't over plan your days - we had so much that we wanted to do, TT just wasn't up for it all!  Next year, we're planning on one activity per day (i.e. a full afternoon doing one thing) and then the rest as 'free time'. 

When your wife suggests that you bring along the 'wire bag' (cell phone charger, Kobo charger... etc), listen to her... sometimes she's just right.

Have fun and take lots of pictures! 

We had an amazing time.  The weather was perfect for our visit and we are definitely planning a return trip next year... my boys pleasantly surprised me with how wonderful they were.  The brief pit stops were welcomed and the rest of the ride was spent napping or quietly chatting... it was a great way to spend some time together as a family!

If you are ever in Ottawa for a family trip and you have a little boy who luuuuuuuuuurves air planes, I strongly suggest you check out Canada Aviation & Space Museum hours and hours of fun!  Albert at Bay Suite Hotel  is a fabulously, family friendly place to stay.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mama's Kitchen: Open 24/7, Food Critic always on site...

You know when you make something that isn't a part of your daily menu... something that is a little more time consuming but oh.so.freaking.good.?

Well, that was me today...

Normally, I'm not a very big breakfast person... I do not have the patience required to create the perfect omelette (I tend to crank the heat in hopes that it will cook faster... and thus my omelette's become scrambled eggs) and I don't know if you've noticed but breakfast is really messy (spattered bacon grease, toast crumbs, egg goo... [well, you get my point]).

We had a hankering for cinnamon french toast, berries and I whipped up some whip cream (I'll allow you a moment to savour my awesomeness... "whipped up some whip cream"... hee hee).  I even warmed up the maple syrup. 

It looked good and tasted good too (not so much on the "good for you" scale though).  The hubs lovingly placed TT's portion in front of him.  And he promptly pushed it away.  "No, siddick [sandwich] peez [please]" (at least he's polite, even whilst displaying his contempt for my mad culinary skillz). 

There was no way in hell I was throwing that delicious portion out, but the hubs & I didn't have room for it either... in a burst of inspiration, I decided to make his french toast a sandwich. 

Stroke.of.freaking.brilliance.!



TT gobbled it up like a dog on a cat flavoured biscuit...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Smurf Cupcakes

January & February are busy birthday  months in my family... with three birthdays to celebrate (mine included), and two extremely co-operative children (one must capitalize on the co-operation of TT & C-McC) - I decided to get creative.

I came up with Smurf Cupcakes (my sister-in-law's favourite colour is blue... )

Smurf Cupcakes (makes 24 cupcakes)
Pre-heat oven to 350F

Cupcake Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature & cubed
1 1/3 cup granulated white sugar
6 large eggs
1 great big splash of vanilla
3 cups unbleached flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
blue food dye

Filling Ingredients:
1 block cream cheese, room temperature & cubed
1/4 cup Granulated white sugar
1 cup whipping cream
1 big splash of vanilla

Buttercream Icing Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature & cubed
Icing Sugar
1 big splash of vanilla
3/4 cup whipping cream
Blue sprinkles
Leftover filling

Cupcakes
* In one bowl:
* Cream the butter & granulated sugar together
* Slowly add in eggs to butter/sugar mixture

* In another bowl:
* Combine the flour, baking powder & salt

* Slowly add the dry ingedients to the wet
* Combine in the milk

* Divide the batter into two bowls
* Add varying amounts of food dye to each bowl (so one batter is tinted a much more [Smurf-like] vibrant blue)

* Spoon batter 'A' into your cupcake pans (half full)
* Spoon batter 'B' on top of batter 'A' (do not mix)

Freshly baked Smurf Cupcakes


Bake for ~20min








* Allow to cool & then slice a cone into your cupcakes (see picture)

(I used a long sharp knife to cut the top off on an angle... I then cut the bottom of the top off [so that there would be room under the 'lid' for the filling to go] and scooped extra bits of cupcake out with a small spoon)
 
Filling
* Combine cream cheese & sugar
* Add a splash of vanilla
* Whip in cream
* Whip mixture until it forms soft peaks

* Place in a plastic baggie and clip the end off
* Pipe filling into cupcakes



Icing

* Cream butter
* Slowly add icing sugar until evenly combined (a cup or so of icing sugar)
* Add a splash of vanilla
* Whip in cream
* Add in leftover filling (and extra icing sugar to reach desired consistency... should be light & fluffy)
* Add in desired amount of blue sprinkles

* Place in plastic bag that you used for filling (or you could use an actual piping bag *pshaw*) to pipe icing on cupcakes (or schmear it on with a butter knife)


Seriously yummy Smurf Cupcakes (I may have 'sampled' one)

I think they look like Smurfs (right down to the white fluffy hats).  Enjoy!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Closed Roads = Kitchen Creations

Being that I live in snowstorm city country errrr... county, we were locked up tight during 'Snowmageddon', 'Stormageddon', 'Thundersnow' (uhhh... what else did the media hype it up as..? )  Luckily for me, that means my daaaaah-ling husband was stuck at home to be an impromptu wild, monkey wrangler!

My-oh-my, what should I do with my free time? Putter around the kitchen of course (the house'll clean itself... right?)

Not my muffins...
First on the agenda: Coffee Cake Muffins 

Makes 12 jumbo muffins

     FOR THE STREUSEL TOPPING
    * 1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
    * 1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
    * 1/2 teaspoon salt
    * 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    * 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
     FOR THE MUFFINS
    * 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature plus more for pans
    * 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans
    * 2 teaspoons baking powder
    * 1 teaspoon baking soda
    * 1 cup sour cream
    * 1 cup granulated sugar
    * 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    * 2 large eggs
    * Confectioners' sugar, optional

Directions
   1. Prepare streusel topping: In a medium bowl, stir together brown sugar, flour, and salt. With a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles large coarse crumbs; refrigerate until ready to use.
   2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare muffins: Butter and flour a jumbo 12-cup muffin tin (or two 6-cup muffin tins). In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.
   3. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together butter, sour cream, granulated sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well combined. With mixer on low, beat flour mixture into butter mixture.
   4. Divide half the batter among prepared muffin cups. Top with half the streusel mixture, then remaining batter, and top with streusel. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired.

They were delicious... seriously... try this recipe.  Right now (did you get your baking supplies out yet?  Do it!)  I set aside one for each of us for after supper dessert... the rest went into freezer bags (because I couldn't trust myself to not eat them all.at.once).

Next up, figure out what to do with leftovers (a grilled chicken breast, couscous with currants and nuts and mixed veggies).  I came up with Lentil & Couscous stuffed roasted peppers & tomatoes and Sauteed scallops & shrimp with a lemon, cayenne sauce on a bed of leafy greens.  So, so, so, so YUM!

I wish I had pictures... but by the time I thought about it... well, we'd eaten it all up *whooops*

I love middle-of-the-week-family-time... it's a nice & very pleasant surprise to wake up and realize that we get the day together...