Thursday, April 28, 2011

Clark's Preschool Easter Party

The Thursday before Easter was Clark's class Easter party.  His group started the party by potting up some little plants in cute containers to make "fairy" gardens.  Amazingly less messy than I would have thought.  Little gardener that Clark is he had no problem tucking in the plants.


 After the garden fun it was snack time.  Clark's teacher asked if Grant wanted to join in.  Grant felt like such a BIG boy being able to sit at the table with the big kids and have a snack.

Better picture of Grant and Clark eating snack.  

After snack the kids lined up and waited for the parents to "hide" the eggs in the lawn.  After hiding eggs I went to look for Grant and couldn't find him over on the edge of the lawn where I had left him.  After a brief moment of panic I saw him sitting right next to Clark on the sidewalk with the other preschoolers waiting for the hunt to begin!  It was hard explaining to Grant that he didn't get to hunt for eggs with Clark this time around.

All the pretty eggs in the yard outside the church.

Children out gathering the eggs.  Each child was to bring an egg carton full of a dozen eggs.  The kids then hunted with their egg cartons and once they were full of eggs they were done and could help other friends fill their egg cartons.

Finally, we went inside to play a game before being dismissed.  I'm glad Alan, Grant and I were all able to share the special day with Clark and his preschool friends.

Test Kitchen Thursday - Orange Cake

  • The following is a recipe I remember fondly from my youth.  My mom would make this cake on occasion.  It's a  yummy spring cake.  I decided to do an easy dessert for Easter dinner and this fit the bill.  And yes, this fits in the ISF category of cake mix fix-ups.  Although this cake has been around for awhile so I don't 
  • know that it would be something the judges consider original enough.

Mandarin Orange Cake

  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package orange cake mix (I use Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Orange Cake Mix)
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 (3.5 ounce) packages instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 (15 ounce) can mandarin orange segments
  • 1 (12 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained

  1. Combine cake mix, eggs, 1 package of pudding, vegetable oil, and mandarin oranges and beat well for about 3 minutes.
  2. Bake in a 9 x 13 inch greased and floured pan for 30-35 minutes in a pre-heated 350 degree F (175 degrees C) oven.
  3. To Make Frosting: Fold pudding and pineapple into whipped topping and frost cake. Keep refrigerated.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Coloring Eggs

Eggs in . . .

checking .  . .
checking . . .
eggs out . . .

more eggs out . . .

sticker fun . . .

pretty Easter eggs all done!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Family Day

Since most of February and March (and much of April) are driven by work for Alan and myself we decided to take a day off today and spend it with the boys.

Our first stop was the Iowa Science Center.  Grandma took them last week and they enjoyed it - so we decided to go as a family.  Alan had never actually been to the Science Center so this was his first visit.  I will admit we're rather spoiled - having visited the Indianapolis Children's Museum everything else pales in comparison.

Clark enjoyed making his own Star show.

Blocks were also popular.  Both boys spend lots of time building with various materials.

After an early lunch we went to a movie together.  We've never done this as a foursome before!  Yep - Grant's first movie!  He really enjoyed "Rio."  We couldn't believe how well he sat for the whole thing.  In fact, he sat better than Clark (although Clark was pretty good too).

Finally (after shopping for shoes for Clark's ever growing feet), we stopped for some Coldstone Creamery ice cream.  Clark opted for the Cotton Candy with sprinkles.  He enjoys trying new flavors.

Grant stuck to his tried and true Chocolate - but it had to have sprinkles.  He's a big fan of sprinkles.

Both boys slept all the way home - allowing Alan and I some time to catch up too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Iowa FFA Convention

Ahh April - you bring us such joy and misery. From beautiful weather and enjoying our first picnic last week to snow and slush hitting the ground today.  "sigh"  Oh well - at least it hasn't actually frozen any of my little plants (yet).  April also brings the Iowa FFA State Leadership Conference (or SLC or Convention).  Which means I get to bring out the boys' ever so adorable Official Dress.

The best part this year though was playing with the boys at the end of the conference.  I run the Convention Office for my husband and that is where grandma or Whitney would bring the boys to play after nap time.  We had LOTS of left over apple boxes that the boys thought were oh so fun to play in on the last day!

Amber (one of our babysitters and Alan's FFA intern) helped them build towers.

Grandma and Amber put together tunnels that the boys crawled through.

I think their favorite part though was knocking the tower over (and starting over again).

Clark also built a road that he, Grant and Grandma ran through (it even came complete with a construction zone)!

Many, many thanks to Grandma, Whitney and Amber for helping care for the boys throughout the conference - it made a world of difference to not have to worry about the boys and their schedules!

In Iowa State Fair news - today while I watched the snow fly I downloaded the Entry books for some of the areas I'm considering entering this year.  P.S. - ISF I love the Butter Cow theme this year (and that it is carrying over into some of the entry classes)!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Easter Egg Hunt

On Sunday, we went to St. Paul Lutheran's (Clark's Preschool) Easter Egg Hunt.  It wasn't a perfect warm sunny Spring day but that didn't seem to matter to the kids.

Waiting for the hunt to begin.  Clark could actually put the basket over his head, down his body and step out of it when he got it down to his feet.  Mom wasn't too excited by the whole stunt but daddy laughing didn't help matters.

Waiting with his preschool and Sunday School friend Eliza.

Grant enjoyed picking up eggs.

He was proud of his little basket full!  All the kids were directed to find 15 eggs (empty) and then they could turn the eggs in for a bag of goodies.  Clark counted up the eggs in both his basket and Grant's to make sure they had the right number.

Clark's first taste of Nerds candy - he he!  He loved eating them but the look on his first taste was pretty funny!

It turned out to be a very busy Palm Sunday - but we had lots of fun.  We had to be at church pretty early for practices since I was playing in the bell choir and Clark was singing with the Sunday School children.  Although Clark didn't do a lot of singing.  That palm frond seemed to be quite a distraction.

May you all have a blessed Holy Week.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Test Kitchen Thursday - Hot Cross Buns

One a penny, two a penny hot cross buns!  Yummy - I always loved that my mom and grandma both would make hot cross buns this time of year.  These are definitely worth a try for Palm Sunday, Passion Week or Easter breakfast.

Here are some interesting sites regarding Hot Cross Buns and their traditions:
BBC News
Nursery Rhyme Lyrics

Last year I tried King Arthur Flour's recipe (before I had always stuck to grandma's recipe).  I have to say I really liked it.  Plus they have awesome photo instructions if you like that added help.  They also have a blog -Baker's Banter with even more photo details.

Here's my modified recipe that tastes so good!


1/4 C               rum
1/2 C               golden raisins
1/2 C               dried currents
1/4 C               dried cranberries - chopped
1/4 C               dried pineapple - chopped (optional)
1 1/4 C            milk, room temperature
3                      large eggs, 1 separated
6 T                   butter, room temperature
2 t                    instant yeast
1/4 C               light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 t                    ground cinnamon
1/4 t                 ground cloves
1/4 t                 ground nutmeg
1 t                    lemon zest
1 3/4 t              salt
1 T                   baking powder
4 1/2 C            all purpose flour


1 C      confectioner’s sugar
¼ C     milk
¼ t       butter, melted
(should make a very loose consistency spread)

Decorator’s Frosting (Crosses):

1 C      confectioner’s sugar
1 T       milk
1 t        lemon juice

(stiff enough to pipe/decorate with)

1) Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan.
2) Mix the rum  with the dried fruit in a bowl with a tight lid.  Mix/shake well.  Allow to sit overnight (this is my preferred method) or for a couple hours.  You can also use the microwave method used by KAF.
3) Mix together all of the dough ingredients in bread machine.  Set machine to dough cycle.  When machine beeps for add-ins put in the fruit and rum mixture - at this point more flour will probably be needed to absorb the extra moisture.  The dough will become puffy, though may not double in bulk.
If you are using a stand mixer - mix all ingredients except the fruit.  Knead in the fruit by hand (or mixer) you will need to add more flour (probably) due to the added liquid.
5) Divide the dough into billiard ball-sized pieces, about 3 3/4 ounces each. A heaped muffin scoop (about 1/3 cup) makes about the right portion. (I love the muffin scoop method) You'll make 12 to 14 buns. Use your greased hands to round them into balls. Arrange them in the prepared pan.
6) Cover the pan, and let the buns rise for 1 hour, or until they've puffed up and are touching one another. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.
7) Whisk together the reserved egg white and milk, and brush it over the buns.
8) Bake the buns for 20 minutes, until they're golden brown. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a rack to cool.
9) Mix together the glaze ingredients, and when the buns are slightly cool (don't let them cool down too much), brush glaze on top of buns.  It will be gooey - add more as needed.
9) Mix together the icing ingredients, and when the buns are completely cool, pipe it in a cross shape atop each bun.

I looked through lots of Hot Cross Bun recipes on-line this week and about the only thing they all have in common are a blend of spices and dried fruit (usually raisins or currents) and a cross.  There is a large difference between US buns and English buns.  Most UK recipes call for the cross to be cut into the top and they treat the buns more as a savory rather than sweet treat.  Whereas most US recipes call for a cross out of frosting.  The one and only time I exhibited hot cross buns at the ISF the judge recommended the cutting in of the cross before baking to help the frosted cross stick to the buns better.  I guess I stick to the method I'm most familiar with.
There are also lots of philosophies on when to eat hot cross buns.  Some people eat them all year long, some save the treat just for the Lenten or Easter season and some have very strict guidelines on the buns being for Good Friday only.  In the BBC article a Church of England spokesman discusses the symbolism of the buns.  I found this interesting since before reading the article I only saw the cross as symbolic.  However, the article states that the bread could represent the breaking of bread or communion and the spices represent the spices Jesus was wrapped in in the tomb.
Not that you may have wanted a brief history lesson with your recipe.  You'll have to indulge me on this one.  I enjoy learning the history behind foods - especially foods that have remained strong traditions in my family.  Which thinking about that makes me realize a lot of my family food traditions revolve around breads.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Thinking Pink

Today we found out our third baby is a little girl!

Now, she was a very sleepy little thing and did not want to cooperate at all with the ultrasound technician.  She lay there with her little hand at her mouth and her little legs wrapped up - all cute with little ankles crossed.  Her little side to us the whole time.  Honestly, other than a few little arm waves she wouldn't move.  One comfortable little sleepy baby.  She did move enough at one point that the ultrasound tech determined she was a girl.

It's not 100% but the ultrasound tech and the doctor are pretty confident we're having a baby girl.  But since she decided not to cooperate at my next appointment in 4 weeks I'll need to have another ultrasound.  Mainly because they couldn't get a good view of the spinal cord.  Everything else was normal and healthy - which is really all we cared about.

I'll admit I was in shock - I really did think I would have boy #3!  Clark was excited - although as he mentioned he told us God was going to give him a sister.  The boys were at the ultrasound too and Clark enjoyed being shown the different parts of the baby and seeing her arm and leg bones. He's very curious about skeletons and how bodies work right now.

This afternoon I spent time looking at some cute patterns on Etsy.  Picked out the baby calendar and baby book on  And have become motivated to once again clean out my sewing room (somehow this room has become the grand catch all room).  I don't know what it is about the thought of having a little girl but I have so many things I'd like to try to sew!  I've been collecting patterns for years that will finally have some use.  Plus, I have my gift from Aunt Sara that needs a workout too - the wonderful serger!

As my mom posted on Facebook today my husband is going to have to get used to hearing the word "cute" around here a lot more!  And as my friend Beth and I discussed today - since baby's due date is just after the Iowa State Fair I have dual motivation to sew some things for baby and get them entered in the fair.  That way I'll know they'll be done in time for baby's arrival.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Test Kitchen Thursday - Banana Bread

Mmmmm - banana bread!  The best way to use up those old bananas in my book.  And recently I've had lots of them.  I realize I have shared my banana bread recipe in my Champion Recipe Post but I thought a 2-time  Champion winner should have its own blog post.  (You may want to go to the link if you want the version without my family photos).

The week before the science fair we had a lot of ripe bananas to use up.  Needing a bit of a break the boys and I whipped up two batches.  It's really a quick recipe to put together.
Grant washed and dried his hands before helping.

Banana Bread
Yield: 1 Bundt (I always go with the bundt) OR 1 – 9x13” pan OR 2 – 7x3” loaves

1  C                 mashed banana (~3 medium)
1  C                 sour cream

¼ C                 butter
1 1/3 C            granulated sugar
2                     eggs
1 t                   Madagascar vanilla extract
2  C                 all purpose flour
1 t                   baking soda
1 t                   baking powder
¼ t                  salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour one Bundt pan (or 1 9x13” pan or 2 7x3” loaf pans). (I prefer the Bundt pan because it makes a pretty looking treat to take to events or share with friends).

2. Combine the banana and sour cream. Set mixture aside. 

Grant did a great job mixing the banana and sour cream mixture!

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla and the banana mixture. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; stir into the banana mixture. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan or pans.

3. Bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the bread comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn out bread and allow finishing cooling on wire rack.

For those of you saying to yourself she's nuts about the type of vanilla to use - well, during the banana bread review where the judge discusses the winning entries and announces winners the judge asked me specifically about the type of vanilla used and how she could taste the difference (she actually asked if it was Mexican vanilla - which the judge also believes makes a big difference in flavor even if we aren't supposed to use it - her words).  The type I use from KAF is more expensive but it is so worth it. (I also love their vanilla bean paste - yummy!)  If you can't get ahold of a high quality vanilla then at least use PURE vanilla extract rather than imitation.

This bread never fails me - it is an awesome recipe.  This is actually the second time this bread recipe has won the Overall Banana Bread at the ISF.  So even if I thought the first time was a fluke I am now pretty sure it is just a great recipe!

And yes, Clark helped with the process too but for some reason I didn't get any pictures of him helping.  He loves measuring out the flour and sugar.  A few weeks ago he was asked to draw a picture for preschool of what he liked doing best with mommy.  His response - "I like cooking with you, mommy!"  Aww- melts my heart!

Boy or Girl

In about 24 hours we'll know whether baby #3 is a little boy or a little girl.  Well, that is unless it's like it's brothers and refuses the ultrasound technician a front view.  My boys liked to show off their little bottoms on ultrasounds.

So, here is what the family thinks (we're evenly divided).

Alan - baby girl
Clark - baby girl
Grant - baby boy
Me - baby boy

At least half of the family will be right.  We've been asking the boys for a while now what they think the baby will be.  Clark and Grant have never wavered on their responses.  I think Grant just wants a little brother instead of being the little brother.  Clark thinks it would be cute to have a baby sister.

Anyway - we'll have to wait and see.  As far as names go we have lots of little girl choices.  If it's a little boy we may be making up the name in the hospital.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Rubber" Duckies

Welcome to our "rubber" duckies' house!

This morning the boys and I headed to the local farm store and picked up 8 Ancona ducklings and 13 Cornish chicks.  Yes, procrastinating on my yearly poultry order actually worked out for me this year.  Last night when I stopped in for feed I saw they had a new shipment of ducks and chicks in.  The price per bird was actually quite a bit less than what I usually pay when ordering birds.  Granted I had to take what they had in stock.  But I'm happy.  I didn't need any new laying hens this year so the Cornish chicks will be nice freezer birds for winter. When it comes to poultry I like rarer breeds or less common breeds and found the Ancona ducks are actually on the rare list as rated by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy.

The boys and I were outside most of the day today.  We spent a lot of time in the barn.  We made sure the new ducks and chicks were OK.  We cleaned out the hen house and refreshed the nesting boxes.  We combed the goats.  And we checked on the "rubber" duckies.  This is what Grant would say when he wanted to go peak in the brooder house.

Grant thought the little chicks and ducks were sooo soft (see his little hand - so gentle).  Luckily it was a nice warm day and the chicks seemed fine being handled outside the cage.  I have to say I am excited for grasshopper season this year now that our acreage is once again stocked with ducks.  Ducks are the only thing that have ever kept the grasshopper and cricket populations down.  I remember days when the ducks would waddle to the pen at night with their crops nearly touching the ground.  Such good little bug hunters!  I'm usually a fan of Rouens but we'll give these Ancona's a try.  We'll just have to do a better job at protecting them from bobcats and neighbor dogs.  I think I'm better prepared this time around.

While cleaning up the barn we found more sandbox trucks and toys.  Of course we had to use them.  Clark made a lovely sand cake with grass filling (his words) that we had to try.  (Of course it was absolutely delicious).

After nap time we went back out and did some planting.  Well, technically seed starting.  I am using my handy seed/plant starter guide that I received from Park Seed last year.  I'm a bit behind.  According to the guide my tomatoes and peppers should have been started last week.  Oh well!  Using my handy old wash basin with lid we set out the seeds and soil and started tomatoes, peppers, eggplant (mainly used as a border bug trap), marigolds (lots of marigolds), basil and rosemary.  Park Seed has a great book I use for seed starting - "Success with Seed."  The book recommends always watering from the bottom.  It worked last year so that's my new method.  This is why I started everything outside - to make sure I had no leaks in my bottom containers.

The boys helped with the process too!  I would pour the seed in their hands and then pick out the seeds for planting.  They thought this was great fun.  We brought the seeds inside and set them on our big trunk in the East window of the living room on a heat mat.  I had great success with seed in this location last year so hopefully will have success again!  So much cheaper to start from seed than to buy plants (as long as it is successful).

Finally, we topped off the planting day by putting in our radish bed.  This old bottomless drawer seemed to make a nice planting area to house little things like radishes (as long as the cats don't think it's their new personal litter box!).  Clark claims he loves radishes - I'm not sure he's ever really had one.  Although knowing my son he really will love radishes.  Other than green beans there's not a vegetable he won't eat.  In fact, the odder the vegetable the more he seems to love it.  He was even eating raw potatoes one day and loving them while Alan chopped them for supper.  Which is how my dad eats them so I guess he comes by it naturally.  But wait - I can top the raw potato.  One night while chopping onion he asked to try the raw onion.  Alan and I never say no when it comes to our kids trying new food.  Expecting him to spit it out at first bite he made our jaws drop by asking for more!  Ughh - I still haven't developed a taste for raw onion.  Which reminds me - I may need to go plant more onions.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sunny Day

I couldn't resist taking a picture of my pretty little crocuses poking up out of the ashes.  Amazing how even with such destruction my little flowers still decided to poke through and bloom.  These little flowers are part of my garden that sat next to the old well house that burned to the ground due to faulty wiring in January.  There are some tulips coming up too - so it seems the bulbs made it.

Our daffodils also seemed to enjoy the sunny day.  They were almost open Sunday, then rebelled against the cold and wind yesterday only to open to the warm sun today.

Today I get to count as my first official day of gardening!  The boys and I planted onions in the backyard flower/herb garden.  We planted lots of onions but didn't seem to make a dent in our bag we picked up at Holub's on Sunday.  That's OK, my plan is to plant some every couple of weeks to spread the harvest season out.

My garden plan is a bit different this year.  Rather than putting everything in the large plot we are going to plant a kitchen garden around the house.  I want to work things like tomatoes, peppers, herbs, lettuce, onions, etc. throughout the flower beds by the house.  Being pregnant and due in August it sounds nice to just step out the door to care for my high need veggies.  Of course, the corn, potatoes, etc. will still go in the big plot.  While exploring the big garden I noticed the strawberry plants I put in last year are green and growing!

Since the day was so nice we treated the boys to ice cream cones.  It is so great to be able to eat outside again!  Grant enjoyed his cone with sprinkles - he found it an especially special treat.

Ahh - the Science Fair is over!  It was a great event!  However, I am also happy to have a little more time to get back to blogging.  Banana Bread is on the list for this week's Test Kitchen Thursday and since I had a very special request I'll share my Hot Cross Bun recipe next week (just in time for Palm Sunday).