Sunday, December 20, 2009

Baking....sweet baking

Christmas baking in our house is a big event. BIG. I learned somewhere along the way about a 6 day baking process which we have cut down to 4 days, which works really well for us. We make about 100 dozen cookies, many of which will proudly have their pictures displayed here in a few short days. Here's our 'sane way to holiday baking' breakdown. First of all. TAKE NOTES! It's important to know how many cookies you made last year, what kind, what worked and what didn't. We always make the tried and true favorites, and then we always add a few new varieties to the bunch. Some of the new ones stick around, and some...well, let's just say they're not so lucky!

This year, the tried and true varieties making their returns are corn flake wreaths, cranberry/orange/walnut cookies, peanut butter blossoms, Russian tea cakes, raspberry thumbprint cookies, and strawberry jelly sandwich cookies. The cranberry, thumbprint, and jelly sandwich cookies, were all new once but now have become Christmas staples. The cranberry are our favorite cookies of all! After I've started the baking, I'll share some recipes with you. Perhaps they'll be 'new' at your house next year!

OK, this year for 'new' cookies I'm making peanut butter balls (I found a recipe without rice krispies, even though my husband insists they should have them...yuck!), chocolate Swedish spritz cookies (because I am the proud owner of a new cookie press compliments of my daughter :), carrot cake sandwich cookies (oh my gosh, I'm drooling just thinking about these...more on that later) and finally kisses chocolate chip cookies. These are chocolate chip balls with a kiss inside, drizzled with chocolate. We might call them 'death by chocolate' instead!

Now, back to the carrot cake sandwich cookies. A few weeks ago I toured an inner city Chicago School when I was at the school board convention. This school had an award winning culinary program. They gave us these MOST delicious carrot cake sandwich cookies AND the recipe. The cookies had almonds, pineapple, carrots, and coconut. They were filled with cream cheese frosting. Simply delicious! Sadly, I promptly proceeded to lose the recipe. Soooooo....I had to find the school, contact them, feel foolish, and ask them if I could please have another copy of the recipe. They did indeed fax me a copy. I searched google high and low and there were no recipes similar to that one. I cannot wait to make a wonderful batch of those. I know that they will not be on the 'new' list for long.

Enough about that, now on to the system. Now that you know to take impeccable notes...the next part is easy. I keep a 'cookie folder' in my cook book cabinet, where all my cookie notes go. When it's time, all my recipes and information are safely stored in one spot. Here is our 4 day process.

Day 1: review notes, recipes, yields, decide what you'll be baking, add a few new recipes. Make a list of what you'll be baking. Make a list of recipients (if you give cookies for gifts as I do) Figure out how many dozen will be required.

Day 2: create your shopping list. I make a list of all ingredients, i.e. butter, flour, eggs, sugar, etc., and then stroke tally how many cups of each I'll need. I convert this into my shipping list and shop. Don't forget things like cookie tins, parchment paper, and any tools that need replacing. For example, last year we broke the 1 tsp. cookie scoop. I got a terrific new one at Walmart this year. They now carry Wilton...(I have a tremendous crush on all things Wilton by the way)

Day 3: make all of your dough. Most dough performs better if it has been refrigerated. Roll it up in plastic wrap and label the outside with temp and cooking times with a sharpie marker.

Day 4: BAKE!

Optional Day 5. Day 5 may be required if you have cookies that need to be decorated. In years past when I made gingerbread men or cut out cookies, we would decorate on a separate day, when we were fresh and not tired from baking. This year we're using the cookie press instead of cut out no day 5 for us!

At the Ruchus, we have day 1 and 2 complete. Tomorrow is baking day. Here's the real kicker. Every year about this time I remember I only have one oven rack. Every year I swear I'm going to remember to order another. Every year I don't. So....baking is truly an all day thing here, with my one lone oven rack. We will start by locking the pets in a room and scrubbing the kitchen...I despise pet hair in the cookies personally...If we have lots of energy, we may begin baking tomorrow.

Now...I'm going to share my final trick. Listen closely...I do not like crisp or crunchy cookies. Yuck! I know some of you do...I do not. So, you know the easiest way to keep your cookies chewy until delivery day? Store them in zip lock bags with a slice of cheap white bread in each bag. I don't remember where I learned that tip from, but it works like magic. Truly!

So, there you have it....the Ruchus baking system. Stay tuned for pictures and recipes...and if you're lucky enough to be on the list....yummy cookies!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Let the competition season begin...

My big girl has begun her dance competition season. Yesterday, after finishing class I headed to Schaumburg to watch her compete. They ended up getting second in pom (I missed that one so no pictures) and second in hip hop. They were 1/2 point from qualifying for state, but they have 4 competitions to go to qualify. It was such fun watching them! My big girl is on the far right.
Except for this pic where she's second from the right...
It's nice to see that all those years of dance lessons paid off! Bust it!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winter wonderland and other beauties...

The first real snowfall arrived today. I walked out my front door to a winter wonderland...
How beautiful is that? I actually had left the house, realized I forgot my camera, decided to go on without it, but then realized I had forgotten my snow scraper, and there was no way I was heading anywhere without that! So...back home I went to get the snowscraper and the camera :) I often wonder if my neighbors think I'm stalking them...especially when I stop the car, roll down the window, and take pictures! The roads were actually very clear and I was able to do the speed limit all the way to work. The only hazard was the large mounds of snow left by the plows often in the intersections, oh...and...the hazard to the mailboxes. Ours didn't fare too well... I actually consider this a small price to pay, since it took my husband a looooong time at 4 AM to get the drive and walks shoveled and snowblowed. He even scraped my car and put it in the garage to warm up when he was done. What a lovely bonus that was!
Other very beautiful things I have had the joy to experience lately are 1) more time with this little one...

who is just getting bigger and sweeter every time I see her.
Time with this little one...
who was so excited to get her first advent calendar from her Grammie!
And then there's these two...
Finally, a good picture of them together...teasing and poking fun at each other (as usual). My big girl and her Gramma.
I'm off to study for finals finish a few school projects and then enjoy a month off school and two weeks off work. Only 7 days to go!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tis the season...

For Christmas Concerts! My precious one had her choir concert on Tuesday...
The house was packed! They did a great job and I was SO impressed with the singing and solos from this group of young people. They did one number that recognized a variety of celebrations and cultures. My precious one was a Svenska Flicka... or....little Swedish Girl...for you non Swedish speaking folks :) I whipped up this Saint Lucia dress on Monday night for her. Her Gramma Bee and Poppy would have been so proud!
Thursday night it was band time...
I am so glad to see such interest in the music programs. Our district does a good job promoting the arts and my artsy fartsy kids are living proof! Kristina plays the trombone...that's her down the second seat.
Next week is filled with High School Christmas activities...stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Do you ever pray for clarity? Are you ever grateful for clarity? I read Kelly Epperson's column in a very small local paper in my town. She is wonderfully known as a spreader of joy and I went to high school with her. I recall reading one of her articles recently that reminded me to list things everyday that I am grateful for. It has been a tough few years...grad school, tanked economy, j-o-b challenges, raising adolescents, finances, yada yada the list goes on and on. After reading Kelly's article I was driving down the road the other day (where most of my thinking takes place) and I began my gratitude list...I'm grateful for the blessings and challenges that are my children, I'm grateful for medication that makes MRI's a little less daunting, I'm grateful that my husband is there...and knows me...and knows when I need support...and lets it be ok that I don't wanna talk...and just a whole host of other things, including being my best friend. I am grateful for my own and my mother in law; what an awesome example of motherhood they give me...I'm grateful for talk to one, and to be one...I'm grateful for having the most wonderful job...two of them actually...and as I was listing all of my gratitudes...the word clarity came to mind. I am grateful that in the midst of it all, God sends me clarity so I can see things in a light of gratitude. I have friends battling chronic illness, terminal illness, loss of their husband, loss of their child...UGH! I am grateful to have the problems I have...the children challenges, the stress, the craziness, and most importantly the blessings...of which I have an abundance.