Friday, January 30, 2015

Gallery Wall, Again

Our house is finally starting to feel like a home. Months after moving in, we starting putting some art on the walls. While I appreciate the clean look of magazine homes, I am happiest when my walls are filled with memories of friends, family and travels.

I already had all the supplies I needed to create a gallery wall of pictures from our travels. Not only did I have the frames and pictures, but I even had the placement figured out from when we hung the same gallery in our England house. All I needed was the right wall. 

Dan has said that he feels slightly claustrophobic when there are too many things hung on walls. I understand what he means and have tried to respect his thoughts on the matter. With fifteen frames, this display could be slightly overwhelming if put in a high-traffic or small area. That's why the stairs leading to the bedrooms is the perfect place. I get to see it every day, but it isn't so in-your-face. 

I took a slightly different approach for the placement and hanging of the frames than I did last time. This was a little bit more time consuming, but a lot easier. I simply traced each frame onto paper* and cut them out. Then, once I figured out my arrangement, I hung each paper frame on the wall. It took Dan less than twenty minutes to hang all fifteen frames using the paper frames as guides.




And, here they are! I LOVE it! It makes me so happy to see these fun travel memories on my way to bed each night. Why did I wait so long??



* I used both craft paper and regular printer paper for my frames. The printer paper was easier to work with because it stayed crisp and hung flat on the wall. I used the craft paper for the larger frames that wouldn't fit on the printer paper. If you plan on hanging the frames fairly soon after hanging the paper ones, either paper will work fine. The craft paper tends to fall off the wall sooner than the printer paper though.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Dear Zahara: 19 Months

Dear Zahara,

Happy 19-month birthday! You are now closer to two than to one, and it shows! There is almost no "baby" left in you--you are all toddler. Your energy is infectious and you experience emotions in a big way. When you're happy, there is nothing better in the world. Your giggle will stop people in their tracks. When you're sad or mad though...yikes. Luckily, you're a pretty happy kid most of the time (bedtime not withstanding).

Your vocabulary continues to astound us. You are learning new words every day and are starting to put them into simple two-word sentences. My favorite words and phrases of yours are "come" which you will say with a hand gesture as you demand mummy or daddy's presence; and "have it" when you want us to hand you something (usually food). You repeat everything and remember everything. Just last night you were insistent that we bring down the menorahs, saying "menorah" and "candle" over and over.


You are getting really creative. One of our favorite games right now is hide and seek. If you're hiding, you'll usually walk away from us and then run right back up to us with a huge grin. When seeking, you'll stand with your hands over your eyes and then run around the house trying to find us. You are pretty good at finding us, even when we hide in closets or behind doors. Daddy was too good the other day when he was behind the couch. You looked everywhere but couldn't see him. Daddy had to start making ridiculous sounds to try and clue you in to his whereabouts. I was doubled-over with laughter.


You've also started to sing along with some songs. Current favorites; "I'm a Little Teapot;" "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes;" "Wheels on the Bus;" "Ring Around the Rosy;" and anything with Elmo.


We have no idea where this came from, but you are now moonwalking like Michael Jackson. You will just start walking backwards with a hilarious look on your face. It cracks us up every time.

Zahara, every month with you is more fun than the last. We love your big personality and how generous with hugs and kisses you are. Happy 19-months!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Creamy Non-Dairy Coconut Ice Cream

When I was in Denver a few weeks ago, Sarah and I were at the grocery store grabbing ingredients to make dinner that night. Sarah had an ice cream machine that she wanted to take for a spin, and she got absolutely no objections from me. The tricky part was that Kyle has a milk allergy. After a quick Internet search I found this recipe for a non-dairy coconut ice cream. Sarah already had most of the ingredients and the directions seemed pretty simple, so we gave it a try. I am so glad we did.

This ice cream is delicious. And not just delicious compared to other non-dairy ice creams. It is creamy, rich and very coconut-y. It isn't a compromise.

This recipe is so easy; don't be fooled by the number of steps. Hands on time is only around 15 minutes. I have a feeling this will be a staple in our house.


Creamy Coconut Ice Cream
Recipe modified slightly from here

Ingredients:
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces shredded coconut
  • 3 ounces non-dairy bittersweet chocolate

Directions:
At least 24 hours before making your ice cream, put the ice cream machine bowl in the freezer and freeze until solid.
  • Shake the cans of coconut milk and set aside 1/2 cup of milk. Pour the remaining coconut milk into a 2-quart sauce pan. Add honey and salt to the pan.
  • Warm the coconut milk over medium-low heat until the honey has completely dissolved, 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the cornstarch to the reserved coconut milk, whisking thoroughly until the cornstarch is completely dissolved. Pour the mixture into the warm coconut milk while whisking gently.
  • Increase the heat to medium and continue cooking the base until it has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon (see picture below), 6-8 minutes. Do not let the mixture come to a boil (though mine did and it still turned out OK).
  • Remove the base from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  • Pour the base into a shallow container and cool in the refrigerator for at least a few hours or up to 3 days.
  • While the base is cooling, turn your oven to 400 degrees. Spread your coconut flakes in a shallow layer on a baking sheet and toast until slightly browned, 5-8 minutes. Check the flakes frequently to prevent burning.
  • Chop your chocolate into small, bite-sized pieces.
  • Remove ice cream base from the refrigerator and pour into your ice cream maker. Churn for 15 minutes. Add coconut flakes and chocolate. Continue churning for another 10 minutes.*
  • You now have soft serve ice cream. Eat immediately, or store in an airtight container in the freezer.





    * I use a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker (non-affiliate link). Follow your maker's instructions.

    Friday, January 23, 2015

    I Ain't No Challah Back Girl

    Happy Friday, everyone! Friday is a special day in Judaism where we celebrate Shabbat (Sabbath). For as long as I can remember, every Friday night my family would gather for a home-cooked dinner, and my dad always made a delicious challah.

    Though challah is as well-known to me as Coca-Cola, I know some people may not be as familiar with this delicious, slightly-sweet egg bread. When done right, it is among my most favorite things in the world. And it makes the absolute best French toast the next day.

    I've been experimenting with a lot of different challah recipes through the years. This is the one I'm currently using--originally from Joan Nathan. It's got a great texture that is light and fluffy and pulls apart slightly. But, I want it a bit sweeter. Another recipe I've previously used called for honey rather than sugar, but it made the dough very sticky and difficult to work with. If any bakers out there know how to get a fluffy texture with a honey flavor, I am all ears! Please let me know. In the meantime, this suits quite well. The best part is, you can make it all in your mixer!

    Challah
    Original recipe from here

    Ingredients:
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast (1 1/2 packages)
    • 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
    • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
    • 5 large eggs
    • 1 tablespoon salt
    • 8 to 8 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
    • Poppy seeds (optional)

    Directions:
    • In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar in the water. I use the bowl from my Kitchenaid mixer.
    • Mix the oil into the yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with the remaining sugar and salt. Add the flour one cup at a time until it holds together. Knead the dough for several minutes until smooth. If using the mixer, use the dough hook for both mixing and kneading. 
    • Take the dough out of the bowl, grease the bowl with oil or cooking spray, then return the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and let rise in a warm place for an hour, until almost doubled in size.
    • After an hour, punch the dough down, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
    • Take the dough out of the bowl. To make two challahs, separate dough in two, then again in three.* You will have six pieces. Roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Pinch the tops of three strands together, then braid the dough. Tuck the ends under the loaf. Repeat for the second loaf.
    • Place the braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least two inches in between.
    • Beat remaining egg and brush it on the loaves. Either freeze the braids or let rise another hour in the refrigerator.** 
    • To bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again with the egg wash. Then sprinkle the top with poppy seeds. 
    • Bake in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack.

    * I made two smaller challahs and one bigger challah. To do this, split the dough in half, then split one of the pieces in half again. Then follow the directions above.
    ** Freezing instructions: Place loaves in freezer and leave until slightly hardened. Then, wrap tightly in foil and place in zipped freezer bag. When you are ready to cook the bread, defrost on the counter for several hours (5ish). Add egg wash and poppy seeds and cook as above.









    Sunday, January 18, 2015

    Quick Trip to Denver

    We kicked off 2015 with a quick trip to visit our good friends Kyle, Sarah and their beautiful daughter Pearl.


    Pearl and Zahara are only a few weeks apart and have played together several times already (in three states and two countries!). Unfortunately, Zahara is going through a hitting phase. Poor Pearl just wanted to love Zoey, but Zoey was getting territorial and jealous of my attention. It's a tough time because she can also be really sweet, freely giving hugs and kisses. We're working on it. Hitting aside, we had a great time. We were only there a short time, but I really enjoyed Denver. It is such a family-friendly, beautiful city. I love the mountain views, the good food, and the friendly people.

    Kyle and Sarah were great hosts and had a bunch of activities planned for us. We went to the Children's Museum of Denver, which was great fun. I wish we had something like this closer to us. The museum isn't huge, but it has a bunch of different themed rooms. Zahara's favorite was the farmer's market and kitchen. Dan loved the bubble room where you could create smoke bubbles and bubbles big enough to encase you.





    My cousin Larin also lives in Colorado and we were able to spend an afternoon with her and her husband Taylor. I rarely get to spend time with her, so it was really nice.



    One of the best parts of the trip was our ski day! Kyle and Sarah arranged for a friend to watch our girls while we were on Keystone mountain all day. I had been looking forward to this day for months! Dan and I went skiing a couple of years ago, but honestly, it didn't compare to my memories of Colorado skiing from when I was a kid. I haven't found better snow, trails or atmosphere than the slopes of Colorado and Utah.


    We borrowed most of the clothes from Sarah and Kyle's friends, and we found a Groupon for rental equipment. If you're in the area, rent from NoriSki. They were awesome.

    The day was perfect. We basically spent all day going up and down one 3.5 mile run called School Marm. There were lots of other runs we could do, but this one was just so fun. The mountain was mostly empty and we didn't really have to wait for the lifts. It was awesome.




    Wednesday, January 7, 2015

    New Year, New Bed

    After ten years, four moves, and one child it was finally time for a new bed. Dan and I had been falling out of love with our mattress for a few years, but we wanted to wait until we were back in America to buy a new one. Mattress sizes aren't the same in England, so we weren't sure if we would even be able to replace our American king-size bed.

    Fun fact, in England, what they call king is what Americans call queen. Brits have a size called super king that is a hair smaller than an American king. Other fun fact, IKEA uses Swedish sizing, which is not the same as American or British. Their mattresses are just different enough so that sheets bought anywhere other than IKEA don't fit perfectly.

    Dan was off work during the holidays, so we used the opportunity while Zahara was at daycare to start shopping. We did a lot of research in advance, including taking several online quizzes to determine our likely best fits. That didn't really get us anywhere when we realized that Dan and I sleep completely differently and therefore have different needs.

    We found the best way to buy a bed is the old-fashioned way. Going in to stores and trying each bed was the only way we were able to determine what worked for us. Dan read a great tip online that recommended we bring our own pillows to the store. I highly recommend that as it allowed us to feel comfortable  laying on our sides and stomachs as if we really were at home.

    Note: the following paragraphs will make it seem like I'm an infomercial saleswoman. I promise I'm not. No one has paid me to say any of the statements below.

    Initially we thought we would go with a traditional coil mattress. We ended up with a Tempurpedic though. We tried dozens of different mattresses and kept coming back to the Tempurpedic Cloud Supreme. It was extremely comfortable and surprisingly cool. The company has undergone significant changes in their design since it first came out. My parents actually bought one of the early mattresses and returned it 30 days later because it was way too hot at night. Our bed comes with a cooling layer and a less dense foam that should hopefully solve that problem.


    The salesman at Mattress Discounters was great. He was helpful and informative without being overbearing. It is awkward to test mattresses, I think, but he made himself scarce while we did our thing and then reappeared at the right moment.

    He also managed to talk us into the adjustable base. I know. Dan and I are now officially old people. Trust me, I never thought I would get the base and I told the salesman that right away. We don't have a TV in our room and have never had a problem reading in bed with just pillows. What sold us in the end was when he put us in the zero gravity position and my backache completely disappeared.


    Before we settled on the Tempurpedic though, we wanted to check out a furniture store that advertises Tempurpedic knock-offs. The store is called Bob's Discount Furniture and the bed is, ridiculously, called a Bob-urpedic. So silly. Anyway, people love the bed and it is nearly half the cost, but we weren't sold. I didn't find it nearly as comfortable and it didn't have the cooling layer like the one we ended up with. But, the salesman is someone I'll never forget.

    Charles*  was a lovely, flamboyant gay man who really wanted to get us into the right mattress. He told us about how he bought a Bob-urpedic first but wasn't happy with it. He and his husband are "young and athletic" and require a certain amount of "bounce." He switched to another type of bed that Bob carries and is much happier now.

    Since my parents read this blog, I won't comment on the accuracy of his report, but I will say that so far I'm pretty happy with the bed. I'm only a few days in, so I'll let you know if anything changes.

    * Name has been changed

    Tuesday, January 6, 2015

    Happy New Year!

    Happy New Year! This year I was so happy to resurrect an old tradition with one of my best friends from college. Dina and I have spent nearly every New Year's together since 2004. We have alternated between Washington, DC (where I've lived), and New York/New Jersey (where she lived). Last year we did a pseudo New Year's when she and Ed came to visit us in England in January.


    Times have certainly changed. Whereas previously we have stayed up all night drinking champagne, dancing to loud music, and nursing our hangovers in the morning, now we enjoyed a quiet night in playing Trivial Pursuit and thanking the Heavens that our children were asleep in the other room. But we still had champagne!



    The whole trip was such a breath of fresh air. Dina and Ed are two of the most laid-back people I've ever met. Their new little guy, Charlie, has inherited the family trait and is just as sweet as can be. I think he may have cried once, but I wouldn't swear to it. Zahara was so sweet with him (most of the time). I loved seeing her kiss his little head or bring him a toy.

    Dina, Ed and Charlie on their first family outing!

    Dan and Charlie

    We mostly did what we do best--ate and laughed. We had some delicious diner food--YES to cherry pie!--and even made our own pizza one night. It was definitely the best  to start the new year off right.


    What about you? Do you have any New Year's traditions? I'd love to hear them!

    Monday, January 5, 2015

    Things I Love: Chocolate Covered Chips

    I realize that a lot of people make new years resolutions this time of year and swear to be healthier. Everything in moderation, I say. Even if I were the resolution-making type, my resolve would crumble when faced with these: chocolate covered potato chips. 

    [source]



    They are extremely decadent--and they should be since a serving size is only three chips!! They are the perfect combination of salty, crunchy and sweet. The chips have a decent amount of chocolate on them, so each chip feels like a mini-candy bar. This could be dangerous.