A decade old!

In February, Marica turned 10. TEN?? How does a decade go by so fast? Marica is growing up — both taller and also growing in maturity little by little. Or maybe not so little! Her independence in the kitchen is growing, and she’s becoming quite the cook and baker. It’s beautiful to see her help out her younger sisters and play with them in a kind way (most of the time), especially with Laurelin; and to start taking on more responsibilities and duties without so many complaints. She’s still a voracious reader, is getting really good at playing the piano and doing her schoolwork diligently, she can do some pretty impressive gymnastics moves, and loves our homeschool co-op. She’s also been trying her hand at sewing, much to my delight, though I see a problem brewing on the horizon — having to share my sewing machine when I want to use it!

This year Marica wanted a purple themed party. It was probably the biggest party she’s had yet (in number of kids). The kids made their own pizzas, baked brownies, played good old fashioned games, and ate ice cream cake. There seems to be a strong food-related theme going here! She got some really neat gifts — people clearly were thoughtful in getting their gifts for her, which was special. She had requested an ice cream crunch cake, which turned out very yummy.  All in all a lovely day for a lovely girl!

Advent

Advent is such a great time of the year. It’s filled with the anticipation of Christmas, warm kitchens overflowing with delicious smells, Christmas crafts, Christmas music playing in the background, parties, friends… (and it’s unfortunately also filled with busyness, usually mostly my own doing!).

Our Advent and Christmas celebrations started early in December with a lot of baking and preparations for the annual co-op entrepreneurial fair, where Marica and Esther both sold things. Marica sold gingerbread men, popcorn and marshmallows with chocolate and brownies. She made everything herself, but I helped a bit with the gingerbread men. Esther sold cards that she had made, and a few that the rest of us had made. They were very pretty! Both girls did quite well out of it.

We also had our usual tradition of giving the girls an Advent gift on each Sunday leading up to Christmas. We do it with our Sunday night dinner, which is usually a pretty simple affair after a busy day at church. But even simple food is fun with candles, right?

One of the cuter highlights of the month of December was the concert Laurelin’s preschool put on. The kids went up the front and sang a few songs — simple but cute. It was a little hard to get good photos, as you can see. We were at the back and I had a hard time shooting through the parent paparazzi. I took a photo of them to humour you guys.

I love Christmas parties… except the fact that they always seem to happen during the busiest month of the year, ha! I’m so glad I went to my friends Sonya and Shannon’s Christmas party this year — she hosted an ugly sweater party — and we all had a blast. Great food, company, a fun gift game all in a warm and beautiful apartment. Lovely!

The weather has been pretty mild here in January, but we had a couple of really cold weeks in December. We got snow a couple of times (never more than about 3 inches, though), and the water that accumulated on our little sandpit cover froze over, much to Marica’s delight.

The Sunday before Christmas there was a beautiful presentation put on by some of the children and the choir. Marica and Esther did a reading each (and did very well!), and Marica sang in the choir as well. Shannon, who is our music director at church, did a fantastic job coordinating it all and everyone involved did a great job.

It was a little difficult getting a good Christmas photo this year. The one that everyone turned out best  in didn’t have a great background, but this was a fun alternative, even if we all look goofy. Which, in reality, is still an improvement on our everyday selves.

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Christmas Eve is when we usually do most of our celebrations of gift giving and remembering, reading, and singing about the birth of Christ, all enjoyed over a lovely finger food snacky dinner.

 

Christmas Day started with sleepy eyed children delightedly digging into their stockings. Then it was off to church, and then home for a Christmas dinner of roast beef and a bunch of other stuff I don’t remember (oops). I remember the roast beef because it turned out baaad. Pity big roasts aren’t more affordable so I can practice making them more. The flaming Christmas pudding made up for it, I think. I was pretty nervous because although I have imbibed the stuff plenty of times, I’ve never set alcohol on fire before. I think I might start making a habit of it. We hosted three lovely girls from our church who made for a great evening of visiting, laughing and eating far too much.

And now it’s January. That strange month where you wake up somewhere during its second week and realise the valiant fight you just fought and won (making it through another year) suddenly counts for nothing as you stand before another year looming large. Am I the only person who finds Januarys daunting and dismal? Everyone else seems so excited about the new year and their resolutions and all the cool things they’ll do… I get around to that maybe around March or April. But for those of you who aren’t as Eeyore-ish about the new year as I am: Happy New Year!! If you vote for Pedro, all your wildest dreams will come true.

;-)

Beautiful autumn

Autumn this year was beautiful and mild and felt like a sort of nicer continuation of summer. We were, of course, back at doing school, but we tried to enjoy the nice weather as much as we could. Here’s a bit of a summary of the last 3 months or so.

One day, I took the girls and their friend, Elijah, to a nearby park and enjoyed my camera for a change. The light was so beautiful filtering through the trees, and the trees! —  so stunning.

A couple of years ago I started hosting some girls from church for a day of cooking and learning new recipes. I hosted it in 2014, and in 2015. This year, we made Indian food. Almost all of my recipes came from my good friend, Anne, who is married to an Indian guy (hi, Henry!) and whose mother-in-law taught her how to cook Indian food. So this is the real deal! It turned out delicious as usual. May the Fall Cooking Day long continue!

Esther celebrated her 7th birthday. How time flies — here she is on her first birthday

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And here, 6 years later. Her birthday celebrations stretched over the good part of a week with several events where there were opportunities for Happy Birthday being sung and goodies eaten.

When the weather turns colder, there’s nothing better than building a fort and eating a special morning tea in it, is there? And nothing gives you quite such cool static hair is a microfleece blanket, does it?

On the day of Esther’s birthday, she and Marica were in a CYT showcase. They had been attending this theater class for a couple of months and both loved it. Esther really surprised me by being confident, clear and loud up on stage — not a hint of being timid! I was super proud of them both.

When we go to the library, Marica usually gets a couple of cookbooks out. She decided she wanted to make a three course meal all by herself, and did a great job! We had Caprese Salad for appetizer, lamb stew with garlic bread for the main, and banana with a berry sauce for dessert. It was all delicious. Now, how to figure out to get her to cook more often…

A few random shots: a tree in front of our neighbor’s house that looks like it is on fire; Laurelin being silly in the boot — there’s something special about playing back there, apparently; Esther’s pretty masterful artwork with chalk pens on the window.

Thanksgiving in my mind sort of marks the end of autumn, and then when Advent starts it is the beginning of winter. Does anyone else think like this, or am I the only weirdo around here?

This year we hosted Uncle Sherwood and Aunt Sharon, along with cousin Jonathan and cousin Esther and her husband, Nate. It was a really nice relaxed weekend of visiting, resting, and eating. A lot. I was so glad we could spend the time with their family and get to know them all a bit better!

Banana Cake with chocolate cream cheese icing

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I built a cake earlier this week. I’m doing really well at blogging about it while the cake is still in existence on the kitchen counter! I’m still playing catch-up with blogging about news from the summer, but I wanted to share this before it died in my drafts folder like so many other recipes. Excuse the bad lighting in the photos, it starts getting dark around 4.30pm these days and I had run out of good daylight hours before I was done with the cake.

At our place we have dessert on days starting with T and S, so dessert days come around pretty frequently. Sometimes it’s a piece of chocolate or candy, sometimes it’s ice cream. Recently we went on a bit of an ice cream streak, especially after discovering Trader Joe’s Pumpkin ice cream. It’s like eggnog and pumpkin pie had a baby that turned into ice cream. So good! Anyway, after a while Ben suggested that maybe we should have some variety in the desserts around here. I had a look at my fruit bowl and saw a bunch of very sad looking bananas — perfect for banana cake/loaf. There really isn’t any difference between the two, one gets icing and the other you slice up and eat with butter) — and I concocted this banana cake with chocolate icing using a mishmash of various recipes online. Poor Ben, it wasn’t quite what he had in mind — he’s not a cake fan! — but it turned out delicious nonetheless, and even he thought it wasn’t too bad.

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Cake

(I got this recipe from my sister in law, Elrike, and have tweaked it just a very little bit. The key to getting a moist but light cake is to alternately add the wet banana mixture and the dry ingredients a little bit at a time. Say goodbye to dense or dry banana cakes, this will become your go-to recipe like it has for me!)

½ cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas
2 T plain yogurt or sour cream
2 cups flour
1 ½ t. baking powder
¼ t salt
½ t baking soda
1/2 to 1 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat thoroughly. Mash bananas; stir in yogurt/sour cream. Sift dry ingredients and add alternately to creamed mixture with banana mixture. Fold in nuts.

Spread in greased 9 ½ x 5 ¼ x 2 ¾ loaf pan or a 9″ cake pan . Bake at 350 degrees F for 45-60 min. Let stand 5 min.; turn onto  rack to cool.

Icing
(This makes enough icing to be able to cut the cake in half horizontally and to put a layer of icing in between the layers of cake as well as ice the outside.)

1 block of cream cheese
4 T butter
1 t vanilla essence
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3 cups icing sugar

Walnut topping

1/2 c walnuts, chopped finely
1 T butter
1 T brown sugar
1 t cinnamon

After icing the cake, cut a circle out of a piece of paper that leaves an edge of about 2 inches of icing exposed. Lightly wet the exposed icing in case it has started to dry out (this helps the nut mixture stick better), then put the nut mixture onto the piece of paper in the middle and spread it outwards until it is all off the paper and in a nice ring on the outside of your cake. Gently press the nut mix onto the cake, and ta-da!

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Co-op class pizza night

 

I teach a Narnia literature class at our homeschool co-op, which has been really fun. For me, anyway. Not quite sure what the kids think, seeing that it’s a discussion class and I make them talk. Which is such a hassle, don’t you think? :-)

In our class we’ve been reading all 7 chronicles and discussing them in light of Michael Ward’s book Planet Narnia. Actually, Planet Narnia is the adult version and is quite thick, we’ve been working through the simplified version called The Narnia Code. It’s a thoroughly Christian approach looking at (in a nutshell) how each chronicle is related to one of the medieval planets (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn). Lewis was fascinated with astronomy and with medieval cosmology (no, it’s not New Age, and no, it has nothing to do with the modern understanding of astrology). Basically, in medieval cosmology, each planet has a certain character and qualities that then forms the atmosphere for its associated chronicle. It’s a theory, and that’s how we’ve been studying it, but it seems pretty plausible to me. I’ve really enjoyed teaching it!

Earlier this spring I hosted a movie night of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at our house. The class is mostly made up of boys, so I decided that there’d have to be some sort of food magnet. What better food magnet for young teens than homemade pizza and ice cream sandwiches? They made their own pizzas. No surprise that the first topping to go was the bacon, right? I enjoyed hosting them — they’re a fun bunch!

A Spring Tea Party

In our living room stands a beautiful wooden display cabinet that has been in my family for 3 generations. It displays a selection of pretty tea cups, teapots, milk pitchers and sugar pots I have been given from my grandma, my mum, and Ben’s grandma Tschetter. I love them all, but they’re of course too pretty and special to use on a regular basis… with the end result that they never get used! This is a problem that needed a solution.

So I organized a tea party with some friends! And what better reason to get a bunch of girls together to drink tea out of pretty cups than springtime? The first weekend of April we got together over some lovely food (contributed by everyone), a vast selection of teas and tea pots (some people also brought theirs to share) and had a lovely, lovely time chatting and forgetting a bit about everything else.

I think we just started a new tradition!

Easter 2016

This year’s Easter was a busy but lovely one. We kept up the tradition of making hot cross buns and egg dying, which the kids always love,

 

and on Easter Sunday we hosted a large crowd of church folk for a yummy dinner, followed by some rousing hymn singing. It was such a great time with people enjoying each other’s company and having some great discussions, mainly on theology and life. It was so wonderful to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection with such a neat bunch of people!

Before the dinner we had an Easter egg hunt for the kids, which was of course full of excitement.

And while we were all dressed in our Easter finery, we asked a friend from church to take a long-overdue family photo of us. We had a little fun posing in the street with midtown Manhattan in the background. Unfortunately I didn’t realise I had my transition lenses on (stupidest invention ever), so that doesn’t look the greatest, but that’s okay.