Friday, December 31, 2010

Year end reflections

2010 was an amazing year. One I think we'll always remember. Here's some highlights:

January - We took our honeymoon to San Pedro, Belize. We snorkeled, swam, slept on the beach, cave tubed, ziplined, and visited ancient Mayan ruins. It was gorgeous and perfect and I want to go back everyday.

March - I chopped off all my hair, for the first time since grad school! It was about a foot, but I've loved how easy the new 'do is.

May - We attended a session at the Houston Temple. This was our first time to go to any other temple than the San Antonio one, and we loved it! It made us want to visit every temple in the world. For the second year in a row, we have attended the temple every single month (sometimes a couple times in a month). It's amazing the blessings you can see in your lives from regular temple attendance. If you have a recommend, I strongly urge you to make it a point in 2011 to visit the temple each month. If you don't have one, work to obtain one. Your life will be blessed in ways you cannot imagine.

June - We closed on our first house!! What an incredible blessing this has been. We love having a place to call our own, a place to put down roots. We are so thankful for all the circumstances that fell into the right places to allow us to take this huge step this year. And, of course, we've had so much fun fixing it up, and we're not done yet!

Also June - My little brother left to serve a two-year mission in Bangkok, Thailand! We are so proud of him and the amazing work that he's doing and look forward to his weekly letters. It's amazing to see how much he's grown already, and while we miss him terribly, we're so proud of all that he's doing.

July - My "other" brother, Aaron, married his beautiful sweetheart Karina in the Salt Lake City temple! They are such a cute couple and so in love. I'm so glad he found such a wonderful woman to share his life with. And Hans and I are so thankful that we were able to attend their wedding! Not only was the wedding perfect, but it was great to visit the Salt Lake temple and to visit with our family in the area (including my awesome Grammy!)
August - We were blessed to help out in the wedding of our good friends Tom and Molly. It was a lot of fun and we're so happy those two crazies finally tied the knot.
Also August - After two years, I left the Austin American-Statesman to take a new job in the nonprofit sectors. I miss a lot of things about the newspaper (especially the people), but I'm loving the flexibility of the new job and feeling like I got my life back.

October - My old roommate Liz left on her mission to Kirtland, Ohio! We miss her everyday (I think Oliver's still in withdrawal), but we are so happy for her and this wonderful experience she's having.

As we look back at the past year, I'm almost embarrassed at the richness and fullness of the blessings we've received. It has truly been an amazing year, in large part to the wonderful friends and family we are blessed with. Our Heavenly Father has truly been good to us, far more than we deserve, and we can only hope to return his goodness with increased diligence and obedience.

As 2010 ends, I pray that each of you are well and that you, too, may find an embarrassment of riches in 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Taste test

Our wedding cake was probably one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted. Mmmm.... so good. We didn't save the top layer - our baker told us it didn't keep well and she had a program where she would make a mini version of our cake for our anniversary. We were so excited and then... she closed down shop and moved out of state. *Tear*

So I'm on a hunt to find a recipe that tastes like her spice cake. Only thing is - they're all so different! It's hard to find one that replicates hers well.

Last night I test drove two different recipes, both with some odd ingredients. Any guesses what?
The one on the left actually has Campbell's tomato soup in it. The one on the right has whipped egg whites and sour cream.

First, the tomato-y soup one. I'll be honest, you couldn't taste the tomato soup. At all. But I was thinking about it so I kept imagining that I could taste it. Ack, mind games, this one. The recipe's from Domestic Goddess Adventures and hers looks much prettier than mine. It cooked quickly on the outside but stayed pretty wiggly inside. And the center caved in. Taste wise, it was certainly very moist and dense, but the crumb didn't hold together well (which was surprising, given how moist it was). The taste was just so-so. I thought it was a little boring and oddly, tasted like some kind of gingerbread cake. There wasn't a ton of ginger, nor was their any molasses, but nevertheless - this was the taste. I suspect it's from the large amount of allspice. On the pro side, this cake was very easy to prepare (could be done with one bowl) and quick. Good for last minute or a lazy weeknight.

Cake number two (Recipe from Epicurious) was definitely the fav for both Hans and I. It's pretty close to our wedding cake and with some tweaks, I might be able to get it there. While the other one caved in in the middle, this one actually rose in the middle and cooked evenly throughout. It ended up with an outside that was just barely crunchy and an inside that was soft and light. When I ate one of the cupcakes today, it felt springy! You whip the egg whites until they are stiff, but not dry, and I think that's what gives this cake it's lift. The flavor was tasty, but no overpowering. Didn't have the molassas-y gingery hint the other one did. Other reviewers of this recipe have recommended adding an extra egg and subbing applesauce for the sour cream to increase moist-ness. I think I'll try that next time. The downside of this recipe was that it took considerably longer, more dishes, and more paying attention. I think I use three bowls, two sets of beaters, and three prep bowls (for separating and beating the eggs).

If you know of any other Spice Cake recipes, let me know! I'm still searching for that perfect one.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Welcome Christmas Morning

Hans and I both revert to childhood on Christmas morning. We wake up early and can't wait to get into the gifts. Except, I think it's more about watching the other person open our gifts than actually being excited about what we're getting. We reeeeaaaalllly like to spoil each other.

And spoiled we sure are.


Power tools?!

It even has a holster!!
Hans' haul included: Call of Duty Black Ops, Halo Reach, scarves, suspenders, a bowtie, a J. Crew sweater, Walking Dead book, another book, and a golf set for his office.

My loot included: Some Willow Tree figurines, the Pres. Monson biography, a book on Emma Smith, a cute book about love, the first season of Glee, a new can opener (what? I've been wanting one! I hate my old one), a spiral-bound hymn book and.... a piano! I think that'll get it's own blog post later on, when I can take better pics.

We are so grateful for the thoughtfulness of my family, the Krutsingers, and the Powells. You truly made us feel loved and special and that was the best part of our Christmas.

Post-open mess

Tons of stocking candy

Gingerbread houses

Some of you may remember from last year, but every year for as long as I can remember, our family has decorated gingerbread houses on Christmas Eve.
Hans' house
Erika's house
Here's how purdy our houses turned out this year! I think it's a Christmas miracle that mine didn't collapse... my pieces weren't interlocking very well this year :( We've always used the same types of candy every year, so this time I decided to get some different stuff. I went to the Big Top on South Congress (if you haven't been there, it's so much fun!) and got sixlets, dark chocolate covered peanuts, peppermint nuggets, watermelon sour belts, some other sour candy I couldn't even identify, jelly beans, red hots and who knows what else. It was a little pricier than usual, but at least we're actually eating the stuff instead of just throwing it away.
Hans' snowman before he face planted. He kinda looks like a Russian, alien bug.

Hans added a hot tub (with a slide) ..... I don't even know what to say about that one.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Today, I am thankful for so many things - wonderful family and friends, my amazing husband, a warm home, good food and great presents, the peace and happiness that surrounds us. But most of all, I am grateful for the birth of my savior, Jesus Christ, and the unspeakable gift from our Heavenly Father. May we remember Christ today, and always. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Friday, December 24, 2010

It's beginning to look at a lot like Christmas

This year, we had a lot more halls to deck than last year!
Thanks to a great black friday deal, I was able to add a creche to my willow tree nativity set this year!

Added a few more sprigs of red to last year's homemade Christmas wreath.

I love having a fireplace to decorate!

Garlands and bows for the stairway

Cutest table runner ever (Target)

I like having these guys to look at while I do dishes (Hobby Lobby)

Snowman stocking holder (Target)

Reindeer stocking holder (Target)

Pre-decorated garland for the fireplace (HomeGoods)

A Christmas miracle!

I actually finished a craft!

I started this one a couple weeks before Thanksgiving and only recently finished it.
The various themed fabrics came from Hancock's - all on sale, woot! They were cut into 12 in. by 12 in. squares. I then cut 3 inch strips of solid red fabric. Ironing really helped on this one. I ironed back all edges about .5 inch. This made it a lot easier when I sewed the red strips to the decorative blocks.

I did a three by three pattern. Surprisingly, this took a long time! Then I used flat sheets of batting and attached a solid red piece to the back.

Now it hangs from the banister!

Pretty easy and if you're not craft ADD like me, probably won't take too long.

Another family tradition

My parents started this one years ago, and it was always one of my favorites. Every year, we'd go to Hallmark and each kid got to pick out a keepsake ornament. We started this when I was maybe 9 or 10, so it's been a yearly tradition for some time.

Hans went with Jack Skellington - one of his favorite movies.
I went with a cute little snowman dude.
This is our third year to do this, so we're getting a nice little collection!

Thou tree most fair and lovely

I love our Christmas tree this year. It's so full!!

The guy at Home Depot was even surprised when he picked it up to load it in our car. And it has made our house smell so great. Always real Christmas trees in this house!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A different holiday cookie

Chocolate Eggnog Cookies from Serious Eats
I was looking for something different to hand out to co-workers, something they wouldn't have tried before. I found this recipe from Serious Eats and thought I'd give it a try. What could go wrong, right? Chocolate? Goooood. Eggnog? Gooood. Cookies? Gooooood.

Pretty easy to make.

Preheat oven to 300° F. Heat butter and semisweet chips together to soften and melt the chips. DO NOT MELT THE BUTTER. The instructions I followed were kind of vague and I thought I was supposed to completely melt this. False. Just make the butter softened. The chips probably won't look melty.
In a medium bowl combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and cocoa.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Add eggnog, vanilla and egg yolks and beat until smooth.

Add the flour mixture gradually and beat at low speed until just combined.
Drop into rounded spoonfuls on ungreased baking sheets, for 23-25 minutes. It's hard to tell when they're done because they don't brown the way some cookies do. Don't over bake these! At 22 minutes they were just right, still moist and soft in the middle, but I could easily see the potential for these to become crispy and crunchy. Ew.

I think it could use some more chocolate. And the flavor of the eggnog only barely peeked through. But they were still yummy and different. Definitely not going down as one of my favs, but not bad if you're looking to mix things up.

2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg, or to taste
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
2 tablespoon baking cocoa
1 ¼ cups white sugar
1 cup salted butter, softened*
¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup eggnog
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large egg yolks