Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree

I'd like to start by saying that we're in the process of learning in the Olsen house. New Christmas "toys" are very interesting! We've discovered, though, that these balls don't bounce. "Uh oh," as Ella says.

The day after Thanksgiving presented itself as the perfect day to "deck the halls" of the Olsen house. This is one fun place to decorate! We put our tree in the living room, right in front of a window that can be seen from the street. It makes the house look quite festive. It's little and lovely and just the right size for our growing ornament collection, which includes these three playful ornaments. They were on my Grandma Johnson's tree while I was growing up.

You can see that Miss Ella is quite fond of the lights, but I can't seem to convince her that she won't be able to blow them out.

This year we feel extra festive with TWO Christmas trees. We've had one for a couple years and put it in the corner of the dinning room. It's entirely red and gold with a couple sparkly white and gold ornaments that look a bit like snowballs.

And this is our main tree. It's warm and bright in the evening. We've already enjoyed many hours sitting near it while reading or playing. I'm not sure I'm going to want to take it down after the new year.

Happy beginning to an exciting Christmas season!

(You can see one of the new curtains I made in the picture above. I still have one to make, but the other two are up. I'm quite pleased with how they turned out. They go up and down like roman shades and provide a bit of rich color to the room. I'm procrastinating on the last one since I'm having far more fun working on Christmas gifts!)

Friday, November 26, 2010


Such a Thanksgiving! Pete was on call until 8am on the big day, so we decided to celebrate here in Duluth. It was quite convenient since Jake, Becky and Malena also live here. Here are a few pictures to cover our day.

We Skyped in the morning with Grandma & Grandpa Olsen and Auntie Kristin. So much better than a phone call! (In the evening we Skyped with Auntie Kathryn, too.)

Then I set the table.

When I was growing up and my mom would make pies, she would cut up the extra dough, sprinkle them with cinnamon & sugar, and bake them like cookies. I did the same this year for each place setting.

The turkey was a success! I honestly didn't know how it would go since Pete does the cooking around here while I do the baking. He was working, though, so it was up to me this time. I made a rosemary roasted turkey, classic sage & parsley stuffing and cranberries along with Mama's Perfect Apple Pie. Grandma Scott and Mama Bex added to the spread, which equaled a crazy amount of food. It seems inevitable, doesn't it? Pete used his amazing surgery skills to beautifully carve the bird.

A bit blurry, but this was our meal!

My clean-up helper.

Dinner was followed by naps all around. (Uncle Jake & Malena)

And play time with Grandma's shoes.

When our food had somewhat settled, we pulled out the desserts.

And that's all we could handle. Ella & her baby expressed it for all of us.

I think the classic Thanksgiving meal must have been designed so that the leftovers would taste just as good as the original meal. Today's meals were delish!

I do hope you all had a very happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Trance

This pic pretty much sums it up for the Olsen family. After all the turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and grape Jello jigglers (in fun fall shapes!) we were all pretty wiped. Ella is now tucked in bed and Pete & I are sitting in the quietness of the living room listening to the fire. Just one thought remains on my mind...

Shopping, anyone?

Just kidding. No one's pulling me out of the warmth of my bed at the wee hours of the morning for a trip outside. Instead, we'll be hauling boxes of decorations out of the attic to dress this place for Christmas. Now that's something that might get me out of bed at an early hour!

More pictures & recipes from our day to come...

Happy Thanksgiving to you, my friends!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gobbles & Glasses

When I sat down at the computer, I had every intention of sharing the best Thanksgiving dessert recipe I know, but then I made a quick phone call to my mom. That led to my realization that the big holiday is only three days away and I haven't yet bought a turkey. No turkey on Thanksgiving is a no-no in this house, especially since this is the first one we'll host, and I'm not setting out a frozen bird. Therefore, I'm quickly posting these fun pics we took a few days ago on a snowy afternoon at the mall. Then I'm going to run to the grocery store and start thawing the turkey. I'm determined to make this a successful Thanksgiving meal!

Dear readers, do you have any turkey tips? I'd love to hear them!

at the mall
strike a pose
mama & baby
yes, this is the man I married

make a wish

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Recipe: Swirl Cheesecake

The very first time I attempted to make a cheesecake was two years ago right after I told a friend I would make one for her wedding. Maybe I should have made sure I was capable of pulling off such a feat before committing to it. Alas, Martha stepped in to guide me along the journey. I was provided a recipe by the bride, but all the how-to's came from this handy video on Martha Stewart's website. Whenever I'm in doubt, I go straight to Martha. She's helped me out of many a hole.

This lovely cheesecake recipe isn't quite as intricate as that first one I made, which took a week - and three attempts - to perfect. But wasn't it pretty?

The original swirl cheesecake recipe came from the 2009 Martha Stewart Holiday Sweets magazine, but I've made just a few small changes to make it a bit easier and less time consuming.

First, you'll need the following ingredients:

1 cup finely ground graham crackers
2 tablesppons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup seedless fruit jam or jelly
2 pounds cream cheese, softened (4 8oz pkgs)
pinch of salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
boiling water

Preheat oven to 350.

Remove the bottom of your spring form pan and set the ring aside.

Stir together graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl. Press crumb mixture firmly into the bottom of pan. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool. Reduce oven to 325.

With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. (Be sure it is softened before you begin.) Reduce the mixer speed to low and add 1 1/2 cups of sugar in a slow, steady stream. Add the salt and vanilla and mix until ingredients are well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing each until just combined (don't over mix).

At this point, replace the ring on the pan. Wrap the sides and bottom with two large pieces of foil. Then pour the cream cheese mixture over the crust.

This is where I change the original recipe just a touch. Instead of making your own jam*, I save the time and use the real deal. So, in a small, microwave safe bowl or mug, warm the jam for about 45 seconds. I've used blackberry, raspberry, and strawberry jams, and all have turned out wonderfully delish. Just be sure it's seedless or the texture of your finished product won't be nearly as smooth. Using a small spoon, drop the jam on top of the cake. Then, with a skewer or toothpick, swirl the sauce into the filling. Use as much or as little as you would like. I tend to use the entire 1/3 cup plus some.

Now the cake is ready to bake, which isn't as scary as you may think. You'll need a large roasting pan. I don't currently have one, so I use a jelly roll pan, which works well, too. Carefully pour boiling water into the roasting pan until it is about halfway up the sides of the cheesecake or the jelly roll pan is full. It is possible to make the without the roasting pan, but the top may crack, which is what we're avoiding.

Bake until the cake is set but is still slightly wobbly in the center, about 70 minutes. The best way I've found to avoid cracks across the top of a cheesecake is to turn the oven off at this point and open the oven door a bit. Leave the cheesecake in the oven for another 30-60 minutes.

Transfer springform pan to a rack to cool completely. Refrigerate 6 hours or overnight before serving. And before you take the outside of the pan off, carefully run a knife all the way around the edges to avoid sticking.

*If you'd like to make your own fruit mixture for the cake, you'll need about 1 1/2 cups of fruit (cranberries, raspberries, blackberries) and 3 tablespoons sugar. Puree the berries in a food processor. Pass the puree through a fine sieve into a small bowl and discard the solids. Whisk in the sugar. Use this to drop into the cheesecake instead of the jam.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Recipe: Mama's Perfect Apple Pie

Before I post anything about a recipe, I really can't resist showing off this adorable picture of Ella and her friend Owen. It was taken yesterday at Owen's house while I was at school. Does this qualify as her first kiss? Even if it doesn't, I'm definitely pulling it out at her high school grad party. I love it.

Now, on to that apple pie.

Just as the no-fail pie crust recipe came from my very own mama, so does this simple apple pie recipe. If you've never tried making a fruit pie, this would be the one to start with. Follow these step-by-step instructions and you're sure to have success!

Gather these ingredients:

pastry for a 2-crust 9-inch pie (find the no-fail recipe here)
8-9 tart apples, peeled, cored & thinly sliced (equals at least 6 cups)
1 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
dash ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces
1 large egg, beaten

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Place the sliced apples in a large bowl and sprinkle the sugar mixture over the apples. Gently stir the apples until they are coated with the mixture. Set aside.

Line the bottom of a pie pan with one layer of pie crust. (Follow the no-fail crust recipe for the easiest way to do this.) Trim the edges of the crust. Pour the apple mixture in the pie pan. Place the pieces of butter over the apples. (Don't forget the butter. I've forgotten it so many times that I now keep a permanent sticky note stuck to my recipe card that automatically goes on the oven door as soon as I start baking.)

At this point, cover the top of the pie with the second crust. This can be tricky, but is a lot easier if you roll the crust between two pieces of plastic wrap, peel one layer of wrap off and quickly flip the crust over the pie. Lift the edges of the plastic to trim the excess with a sharp knife. Then replace the plastic and pinch the edges to make them pretty. With the plastic on it, your fingers won't stick to the crust. It's much faster.

Cut a few slits in the top of the crust to release steam while baking. To further decorate the crust, use a small cookie cutter to create pieces from your extra pie dough. Set the pieces on top of the pie. Then, using a pastry brush, brush the beaten egg over the top of the entire pie and sprinkle it with sugar. Bake for 45-50 minutes with the oven rack in the center or lower of your oven. Check the pie 30 minutes into the baking time. If it's getting pretty brown, cover the pie with a big piece of foil. That way the pie won't get overly dark.

And there you have it! Your pie can be served warm or cold, with whipped cream or ice cream, for dessert or breakfast.

Check back tomorrow for another dessert recipe. I'm going to try to post a new one each day leading up to Thanksgiving. We'll see how we do!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Recipe: No-Fail Pie Crust

I give all the credit of this recipe to my mom and her junior high home economics class. As the story goes, she was in a group with three boys who were awesome in small motors class but couldn't do a whole lot in the kitchen. This recipe was given to them so they could successfully complete their pie assignment. Years later, it's still working its magic!

Here's what you'll need:

3 cups flour
1 1/4 cups shortening
1 large egg, beaten
5 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt

Using a pastry cutter or a fork, cut together the flour and shortening. (You can use butter instead of shortening, but I recommend the shortening.) Add the egg, water, and salt and continue to cut the ingredients together.

And that's it! You'll have enough dough to make two crusts, which is perfect for an apple pie or something with a top layer of crust. Divide the dough in two, shape them into discs, wrap them in plastic, and place them in the fridge or freezer until you decide to use them.

Once you're ready to use your dough, let it thaw if it's been in the freezer. If it's only been in the fridge, you'll be good to go. It actually helps if it's just a little cold. Unwrap a disc and place it between two big pieces of plastic wrap to roll it out. This way nothing will stick to the counter or the rolling pin. You may have to press your belly up to the counter to hold down the plastic wrap. It'll slide a lot.

Once your pie dough is at least as big as your pie pan, uncover just the top of your dough. Set your pan upside down on top of the dough.

Slide your hand underneath the dough and flip the whole thing over. With the plastic still on, press the dough into the pie pan. Then peel the plastic off.

Using a sharp knife, trim off the excess crust around the edges. You can now make pretty sides around your pie crust if you want.

And you're finished! I recommend filling the pie crust with something truly delish. This crust goes well with lots of fillings, so fill to your heart's content.

If it's apple pie you desire, check in tomorrow when I'll be posting my Mama's Apple Pie recipe. Yum.


Here's an update (Feb 1, 2011) in case you want to bake your crust without filling it first. This will be the case if you make a cold pie filling like French silk or Blackberry Custard.

Once the crust is in the pie pan, poke holes in it with a fork and freeze it for 15 minutes. Then cover it with parchment paper or foil and fill at least half of the pan (on top of the foil) with pie weights or dried beans. Bake it at 375 for 25-30 minutes until the edges start to turn golden. Then remove the foil and beans or weights and bake the crust another 10-15 minutes. Let the crust cool completely before pouring in your filling.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Bug in the Snow

Last night was the first time our little bug actually played in the snow. She was too little to care about the white stuff last year. She's pretty hesitant about walking in it, but once we bust out the goods for making a world class snowman, I'm sure she'll forget all about that. We've got lots of sledding & hot chocolate adventures ahead!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Handmade Shopping

I've been somewhat crazy about Etsy in the past few weeks. If you haven't browsed through the incredible handmade shops lately, you really must. Beautifully knit baby hats, engraved arm bands, pie plates, painted pottery, antique jewelry. Just lovely.

Is it possible to resist this adorable hat from BallOfYarnToo?

Enjoy exploring!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Now that the snow is falling, I thought it would be a great time to post these pictures of Ella playing in the lovely fall leaves. We had a beautiful, red tree in front of our house that created perfect piles for jumping. One afternoon the three of us took the rake and set out for some fun.

A little help from Daddy.

Wait, Daddy! Too high!

And now we're ready for the snow!


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