Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Up North

I love "up north". I love the trees, cool breeze, ample lakes, and relaxed atmosphere. We were able to spend some time with AJ's sister Sam, her husband Jamie, and their two boys Jakob and Seth last weekend. Coincidentally, they live "up north".

This is the view from Sam & Jamie's deck. It was also the view from our bedroom. What a wonderful way to wake up each morning.
We took a trip to Madeline Island, part of the Apostle Islands, in northern WI. If you're ever in that part of the country I recommend you check it out.

Jakob, Seth, and Sidney

Miss Sidney

Tom's Burned Down Cafe. VERY cool, eclectic place!

Tom's has several of these signs hanging all over the place. This one was my favorite.

A beach on Madeline Island. Sidney is trying to put a feather in the water.

I found this little guy walking down to Sam & Jamie's dock.

Thanks for the wonderful weekend Shaw family! We had a great time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where's Missy

We know all about the Where's Waldo books. Here's a spin off of that....

I was taking some pictures of a bouquet of roses when I noticed something in the background. Let's see if you can see it.

Yep, that's a cat and apparently she likes roses too.

Ahhh, they smell so good.

And they're pretty too.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tiny Bubbles....Big Fun

Wouldn't it be wonderful to be three years old again?

A jar of bubbles + a little wind = a lot of fun

It's moments like these that makes me love being a mom.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Great Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've been making chocolate chip cookies forever. I've tried dozens of recipes that have been good but I could never find that one special recipe that produced the perfect cookie. I like my cookies a little chewy, a little puffy, and chock full of oatmeal.

While I am a daring cook, I'm not very daring when it comes to baking. Baking is more science than art and sometimes over tweaking a recipe can yield unwanted results. That being said, I've tweaked and worked this cookie recipe until I found just the right combination of ingredients. It's really become my go to recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies. Bake a batch today you won't regret it.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened (3 sticks)
  • 1/4 c. peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsp. hot water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 3/4 c. old fashioned oatmeal (yes, that 3 and 3/4 cups) (not instant or quick cooking oatmeal)
  • 1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 - 1 cup bittersweet/dark chocolate chips (alternately you could use white chocolate or peanut butter chips)
1. Stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium size bowl and set aside.
2. Cream together the sugars, butter, and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
3. With mixer running stir in vanilla, hot water, flour mixture and oatmeal and mix until combined.
4. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by spoonful on to an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes until the middle is set and the edges start to brown.

Let rest on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Store in an airtight container. These keep well for about 4 days and the freeze very well.

Makes 6-7 dozen.

Note: I like to pull these out just before they are completely baked, they finish baking on the pan while they are resting for a minute or two.

Another note: I use medium sized dough scoop instead of a spoon. If you have one, it works really nice because the cookies are roughly all the same size and there's no mess getting the dough off the spoon.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Banana Bread

There is something about Banana Bread that makes the world a better place. I don't know if it's the simplicity, the aroma of it baking, or the nostalgia of it but I love this bread.

I love because it's my Grandma's recipe and I loved her crazy. I love it because it reminds me of her. I love it because when I'm thinking of her and would give anything to have a moment with her all I have to do is make this bread and I feel like she's right there with me.

My Grandma was a great cook and she made amazing quick breads; banana, apple, strawberry, rhubarb, and many others. I miss her everyday but am so thankful that I have wonderful memories that I can reflect upon and great recipes that I can make that remind me of her.

Ingredients: Flour, Baking Soda, Salt, Butter, Sugar, Eggs, Vanilla, Bananas, and Nuts

Combine the dry ingredients.

Cream the butter, add the sugar, and cream the butter and sugar together.

Add the eggs and vanilla and combine. Mash the bananas.

Stir in the bananas. Fold in the dry ingredients and nuts. Pour in to a greased bread loaf pan.

Sprinkle with vanilla sugar and bake.
Let cool for about 15 minutes and then remove from pan to continue cooling.

That's it, really simple and VERY delicious! Make a loaf today.

Mary Ann Eng's Banana Bread
(with a little bit of me thrown in)

2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3-4 large, VERY ripe, bananas; mashed
1 c. walnuts (optional)
Vanilla Sugar for sprinkling (optional)*

Mix flour, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Set aside dry ingredients. Cream butter. Add sugar. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and combine until thoroughly mixed. Stir in mashed bananas. Fold in dry ingredients and nuts.

Pour in to a well greased (I used the butter wrapper) 9x5x3 loaf pan and sprinkle with vanilla sugar (if using).

Bake in a 340 degree oven for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool in pan for about 15 - 20 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

*Here's my "spin" on this recipe. Once the batter in neatly in the pan I like to sprinkle the top with a little vanilla sugar. It gives the bread a wonderful, sweet crust. I'm sure there are several recipes on the Internet on how to make your own but I find it easiest to use already made. If your looking for some really good pre-made vanilla sugar check out Penzey's. They have LOTS of fun things!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Vanilla Cupcakes...AKA Cupcakes Baby


I love easy recipes.
I really love easy recipes that are quick.
I really really love easy, quick recipes that also taste great.

I've used several, more fussy, vanilla cupcake recipes and while they're great sometimes you need quick and fabulous instead of fussy and fabulous. This recipe is just that. It's quick, easy, and the cupcakes are dense, moist, and delicious.

Vanilla Cupcakes: adapted from The Cupcake Deck by Elinor Klivans


  • 1 1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce *
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. non-fat plain yogurt **

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 18 muffin tin cups with paper liners or spray with non-stick spray.

  1. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the egg, egg yolk, and sugar until thickened and lightened, about 3 minutes.
  3. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed during mixing. On low speed, mix in the applesauce and vanilla. Stir in the yogurt until no white streaks remain. Mix in the flour mixture until the batter is smooth. Do not over mix.
  4. Fill each liner with a scant 1/4 c. batter, to about 1/2 inch below the top of the liner. Bake just until the top feels firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 23 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Remove the cupcakes from the pan onto a wire rack and let cool completely.

* The original recipe calls for 1/2 c. oil. I find that applesauce works great and it saves a lot of fat and calories.

** The original recipe calls for 1/2 c. sour cream. I didn't have any so I used yogurt. Using the fat free or light version of either plain yogurt or sour cream is another great way to save fat and calories.


  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temp.
  • 3 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp. milk
  1. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until creamy.
  2. Reduce mixer speed to low, add the powdered sugar, and vanilla together with 3 tbsp. milk and mix to combine, adding the additional tbsp. of milk if needed.
  3. Increase speed to medium and beat to form a creamy, spreadable frosting.

Frost cupcakes as desired using a spatula or piping bag. Sprinkle the frosting with colored sugar, nonpareils, sprinkles, candies, or whatever tickles your fancy.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My Replacements

Part 1: Lola
Until the age of 14 1/2 my family consisted of my parents, my two younger sisters, and me. My parents referred to my sisters and me as "the girls". They'd "take the girls to the mall", or "pick up the girls", or "buy the girls" this and that. After my brother was born that changed and we all became "the kids."

Having 4 children, each 5 years apart, means that my parents had kids in the house for a very long time. My brother graduated from high school a couple years ago, headed off to college, and left my parents with an "empty nest". Around that same time my parents beloved dog Millie died. Good ole Mildred, she was a sweet dog. Her passing really brought a sense of emptiness to the house.

Enter Lola. Lola became the new house Princess. She's spoiled rotten and completely and utterly adores my mom and dad. And speaking of my dad, he thinks Lola's pretty okay too. AKA, it's his fault she thinks she's the princess.

Part 2: Lexi
My friend Turtle got a real bad case of empty nest syndrome when her last birdie "flew the coop" and she decided that she'd get an inside dog for the first time. Having only had outside dogs Turtle soon came to realize having a small dog was a completely different story. Long story short she came to the very difficult conclusion that she'd have to find a new home for the dog; she just didn't have the time necessary to give it all of the attention it needed.

I mentioned this to my parents and they offered to give this dog a home. Lola would benefit from a friend and hey, what's one more?

Enter Lexi.
Now I mentioned before that Lola is the princess but let's get one thing clear; every princess has a queen and the queen, my friends, is Lexi.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to Lola and Lexi, otherwise referred by my parents as "the girls". (Hmmm, seems like I've heard that somewhere before)

Lola and Lexi; the house queen and princess, the dynamic duo.
My replacements.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I Dare You

It's not my nature/want/desire to make this blog a place to post random links, videos, etc. Frankly, I find too much of that annoying. So, it's my promise to you that I'll only post video or picture links when I really think it's worth checking out.

Now that we have all of that "legal" disclaimer out of the way I present to you a dare. I dare you to make it through this video without cracking a smile; without having to pause to wipe the tears from your eyes; without having to rewind it 4 or 5 times because you're laughing so hard that you can't see or hear it. I even dare you not to forward it to everyone you know that needs a good belly laugh.

Go on now; I dare you.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Starting Early

I love to take pictures. My first camera was a Canon Snappy Shot that I got for Christmas when I was in high school and now I use a Canon Rebel XSi. I've used several cameras in between including a Samsung point and shoot.

Recently, while taking shots of cupcakes for a blog post, Cookie decided that she wanted to take pictures too. Not wanting to hand over my Canon I remembered the neglected Samsung that's taken up residence in my closet. I charged up the batteries and let her have at it.

I gave her my best advice on how to look at the "picture" on the screen instead of the subject; instructed her on how to hold the camera so that she didn't keep taking pictures of her fingers and finally how to hold real still when taking a picture so they weren't blurry. My "class" with her lasted about 38 seconds and she was off photographing anything and everything.

Stay tuned for "Photos by Cookie". It's sure to be a bestseller!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Saturday mornings

For as long as I can remember I've always spent my Saturday mornings cleaning. When I was little my mom made a "cleaning list" that had small tasks my sisters and I had to complete before we could play. That routine has carried through in to my adult life. On weekends that we're home, we get up and start picking up and cleaning. We're usually done by lunch and then we have the rest of the weekend to do whatever we want.

Cookie, however, has a different approach to Saturday mornings. She'd much rather lay in her bed with all of her toys and watch Tinker Bell. And now that the snow is gone and the weather is getting warmer she'd much rather get up and head out to the park instead of hanging out while I clean.

P.S., She's getting a "list" as soon as she can read. Cheers!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wooster Clock: A really great gift

My parents have never been easy to shop for. When asked what they need/want the response usually goes something like this; "We don't need anything" or "Why don't you all just come home for the weekend, that's all we need."

This year my siblings and I hit a brick wall for ideas as to what to get them for their anniversary. Funny thing is though that things always have a way of working themselves out.

There has been a clock that has hung in my parents dining room for as long as I can remember. Mr. Clock decided that he was done; not even fresh batteries could get him going. For a few months now his "spot" has been empty. I can't even begin to tell you what creatures of habit we are. Every time I'm at my parent's I find myself looking at that spot for the time. The anniversary gift was decided; we'd get them a new clock.

We had in our minds what we wanted. We wanted a nice quality clock that we could customize to include our family name and the year my parents were married and we didn't want to break the bank. We didn't think that was too much to ask but apparently reasonably priced, nice quality, customizable clocks are a rare find. I searched and searched the Internet trying to find exactly what we were looking for. My search lead to Wooster Clock Company.

We picked out a 17" round clock in the color khaki and when it arrived it surpassed my expectations. Great quality, very nice people, very responsive, reasonably priced etc. If you're looking for something special check them out.

The new clock

Friday, April 17, 2009

Road Trip

I love a good road trip. In my twenties it usually meant country roads and 12 packs while my New Mexico bound road trip with Chile involved mesas and cattle drives. Lately, road trips involve car seats and snack packs. None the less, I've always been a fan.
This past weekend we "road tripped" to my parent's house. My mom had told me about the great Co-op that Viroqua has and made me promise her that we'd stop. So instead of following the river home along Hwy 35 we snaked through Hwy 14/61 bound for Viroqua.

The co-op was wonderful. It was beyond what I expected. If you live within an hour or so drive from Viroqua, WI I recommend you go there. If not, get in the car and go on a road trip, you never know what you'll find!

Viroqua Food Co-op. Viroqua, WI

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Holidays come and go so fast. I've finally been able to sit down, go through pictures and prepare for many new blog posts. I have recipes to share, pictures to share, and so much more.

We spent the weekend at my parents in Wisconsin running amok as always. Thank goodness Mr. Bunny knows when we travel. Cookie was a little concerned that, even though we were taking her basket with us, he might not find her. Low and behold, he came through. Good ole Mr. Bunny.

Part 1: The peaceful morning. A basket full of bubbles, a new sun dress, and chocolate. What else do you need?

Part 2: The hunt and the meltdown.

My sister Moya and I decided that we'd put most of the kids chocolate in to plastic eggs and do a big egg hunt for them. We sat down Saturday night and did just that. When we were finished we put the eggs in to a bag, put that bag in to another canvas bag, zipped it shut and put it in the corner. Our plan was to have the "boys" hide the eggs Sunday after breakfast.

Sunday morning was great. Everyone was doing their own thing; some were helping make breakfast while others were enjoying the fact that Moya has a cosmetologist license and were getting a much wanted trim.

I ran down stairs to the extra refrigerator to grab the homemade bagels that were retarding overnight only to find that Cookie and her cousin Q had found the secret bag of eggs and had opened the majority of them. There were jelly beans and chocolate bars, peanut butter cups, and M&Ms EVERYWHERE. Cookie had about 2 peanut butter cups in her mouth and Q had about 3 mini chocolate bars in his. It was as if Mr. Wonka himself had been there and opened up his factory to them.

The chocolate was returned to the eggs. The eggs were hidden and the hunt was successful. Did the kids eat breakfast? Not so much. Did I have a mini meltdown/OMG moment when I saw them? Yes. Did my mother laugh at me and tell me that the kids would forever laugh about the time they found the eggs, opened them and proceeded to have a chocolate party? Yep.

Here's hoping your weekend was a hoppin' as mine!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Design On A...


No, Penny.

NO, For Free!

My sister Bub has good style. Too bad she couldn't host a show on how to decorate your home without breaking the bank because she'd be great at it. She's been wanting to makeover her bedroom for quite some time and decided to tackle that job this weekend. She enlisted my help with the mural and wow, did it turn out great.

Painting the walls and this mural cost $20. Yep, twenty bucks. The walls were painted an off-white a couple of years ago so this go round it was only the accent wall that was changed. She was going for a mocha color but ended up with a khaki/grey tone. At first she was a little concerned that the color had too much green and not enough brown but after it went on the wall it looked great.

Bub really wanted something fun as a wall accent. She searched the Internet high and low for the right print or picture but just couldn't find anything that called out to her. She found a wall cling of a bird on a branch and fell if love with it. Although she loved the design it was too small for her wall, was the wrong color, and was WAY over budget. The solution? Create your own! We blew up the image she had found, projected it on the wall, traced it with pencil and then set our paint brushes to work.

We did good Bub...we did good!

Wall before painting the mural, during and after.

This is after the first coat.

Bub finishing the third coat.