muffin monday: carrot cake muffins

One of my new “things” this fall is “Muffin Monday” – every Monday morning, I’m hoping to make a batch of muffins to have with our family breakfast. I’m also going to attempt to chronicle this muffin journey here, so that I can reference back to different recipes I’ve used.

Last Monday was our first Muffin Monday, and since it was Ian’s birthday week (40!!), I asked him to choose our selection for the week. He ended up choosing carrot cake muffins (aka cupcakes for breakfast). I used this recipe, and they came out great. The only modification I made was using a little less sugar, and I’d probably use about 1/2 cup next time, because they were plenty sweet. Oh, and Ian went with pecans over walnuts for the topping.

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The cream cheese frosting definitely made these a fun birthday week cupcake, though I hope the kids won’t expect frosted muffins for every Muffin Monday. I frosted about half of them, and the unfrosted ones were just as well received.

These muffins were a huge hit, and all 24 mini muffins were completely gone by lunch time on Wednesday. Because they are a sweet treat, I’m not sure the next time I’ll make them, but the recipe is definitely a keeper.

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The look Luke had when he realized he was about to enjoy a muffin that is basically a cupcake.

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entering into summer

Things are in full summer mode in our house now (well, except the weather, which is drizzly and overcast today). We’ve been busy working and playing outside, keeping up with Luke, and embracing summertime fun.

IMG_6589We added another raised vegetable bed and a couple wine barrels to our garden so we have more veggies this year. As always, we probably started a little later than we should have, so hopefully everything still works out okay. Luke loved using the new garden bed as his own personal play space for a couple days. Then he helped Ian plant seeds, which he loved. Almost every time we are outside he “plants seeds!” by moving around dirt or whatnot with his shovel. He will also walk around the yard asking what different plants are called – definitely his father’s son.

IMG_6597_2The kiddo also takes after his dad in his love for smoothies. He’s also mastered a pretty awesome “cheese” face.

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And he turned 2! We had a family bbq at my parent’s house, which worked out well since they are on the south side of the Skagit River bridge, which wasn’t fixed at the time, and Ian’s family all lives south of there. Luke loved seeing all his family, getting lots of attention, food, and some great play time with his older cousin Isabel.

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On Fathers Day we headed over to a local berry farm for their Strawberry Festival. We enjoyed free strawberry sundaes and Luke enjoyed a few turns on the tractor train. He is kind of obsessed with driving lately – he recently realized that he always has to sit in the back seat of the car, and now every trip involves his loud protests to “drive!” or at least sit in the “front!” Well, this little tractor train was perfect – if you ask him about it, he usually says “drive!” It may have been the best day of his life so far.

It is so fun to see his personality emerge. The minute we got out of the car and he saw the train, he hustled over to it and wanted to get on. So in he went, and a minute later he was headed out into a field with a bunch of kids he didn’t know and a man driving a tractor to who knows where. We waved as he rounded the corner and he was just happy as a clam, even though he probably had no real idea of where he was going. I had to laugh, because I was the exact opposite as a child – I would have had to watch the train go around at least five times or more, so I would know what would happen. And if there were too many other kids I didn’t know, I probably would have had no part in it. To Luke, it’s all an adventure and every kid is a potential friend. It’s been awesome to get to parent this brave, extroverted little guy.

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A few days later we headed out to another berry farm to pick strawberries. We picked 18 lbs of yummy berry goodness – well, I use the term “we” pretty loosely. I picked a couple pounds while Luke ate a few, then I spent the rest of the time running around with Luke while Ian picked, we all had a great time. We spent the next few nights putting up 17 pints of jam and a few pints of strawberry syrup. Luke got pretty creative in finding ways to nab a berry or two…

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So that’s what we’ve been up to lately! I hope your summer is off to a great start as well!

12 days of crafting: vanilla-infused english breakfast tea

12 days of crafting handmade christmas gifts handmade christmas decorFrom December 1-12, I’ll be blogging about some fun ideas to create a handmade Christmas. Hopefully you will be inspired to craft some Christmas gifts or decor for your own home!

Day 2: Vanilla-Infused English Breakfast Tea

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I know, it’s not 100% crafted; you will have to step into the kitchen briefly for this one. But even I could handle it.

I don’t remember where I came up with this idea, but somehow I got it in my head last year that I wanted to make some vanilla-infused tea for a bunch of people. So I did.

Tea is such a fun gift, I think – I love relaxing with a warm cup o’ tea, and I love having a good stash of flavors to choose from. The vanilla added a subtle hint of  sweetness to my tea, but you could probably make people just as happy by giving them a regular tea flavor – the presentation is a large part of what makes a gift great!

Want to make a batch to give out this Christmas? Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What kind of tea will the majority of my gift recipients enjoy? Traditional black tea? Fruity? Spicy? Herbal? I knew that a good number of my recipients would really only drink black tea, so that’s what I went with. But there are tons of great teas out there!
  • Do I want to infuse the tea or make a mixture of tea flavors? Since I wanted to infuse my tea, I knew I had to start on it a few weeks in advance so that the vanilla had a chance to sit and infuse the tea leaves. If you aren’t altering the tea, it’s just a matter of assembling your gifts.
  • How will they want to make their tea? Do they have infusers? Will they drink it at work? I knew that a bunch of my people either didn’t have infusers, wouldn’t want to bother with them, or would be drinking the tea at work – so a tea bag was going to meet their needs best.
  • How much do I want to make and how will I package it? A small jar of loose tea per person? A dozen tea bags in a tin? I had a guess (10-12) but made my final decision based on how many tea bags fit into the tins I purchased.

Hopefully those questions will help you form a game plan.

The next step is to research, especially if you’ll be making a large quantity. I looked online and ending up purchasing the tea leaves from an herb store, the vanilla beans from a spice shop (so much cheaper in bulk!), the tea bags from Teavana, and the tins from a bottle company. So do your research based on your needs!

In the mean time, if you are altering your tea in any way, I highly recommend a test run! I just got a small amount of loose tea and a vanilla bean and tried it out for a few days, to make sure it even tasted okay (it did)!

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Are you interested in how I made my tea?

Basically, I just sliced open a bunch of vanilla beans, scraped out the yummy stuff, and mixed both parts into the loose tea. I think I even chopped up some of the beans for good measure, so that it would stay in the tea while it was brewed. If I had to guess the ratio of tea to vanilla beans, it was probably around one bean for every cup of loose tea. Then I let the deliciousness sit, covered, in a cupboard for a few weeks. I gave it a stir a few times, but I’m not sure that was even necessary.

After the tea was infused with yumminess, it was time for the fun, crafty part!

I cut lengths of thick white cotton thread and some little rectangles of cardstock to attach to the tea bag. The Teavana tea bags worked great – I’d scoop the tea in, then fold the top down. I’d fold the corners in…

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I tucked one end of the thread under one of the flaps down the middle…

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Then I folded the top down to form a triangle…

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Then I positioned the string back over the flap so that it was somewhat centered on the top – I held it down on the other side as well, so that when it got stapled, the staple would secure it on both sides…

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Next, I stapled it, making sure the thread got stapled on both sides…

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After that, I folded the cardstock tag over the other end of the string and stapled it.

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And that’s all it takes to make a cute tea bag!

I packaged them all together in little metal tins. I made up some labels that I put on the top and attached a gift tag with some raffia. They seemed to have been well received, and I’ve even had refill requests from a few people. Don’t forget to make some for yourself!

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Again, you could take this idea  a million different ways! I think it would be lovely to put some loose tea in a cute glass jar… the possibilities are endless!

Now go make yourself a cup of tea and think about what kind of tea you’d like to make for people!

In case you missed it…
Day 1: Christmas Kissing Ball

crockpot yogurt

crockpot yogurtI feel like I should write some sort of disclaimer for this post… I have a feeling that people might get the impression that I’m either super domestic and make homemade everything, or that I’m all into natural foods. The truth is that neither of those is true – I’m just kinda funny about things that interest me, and for whatever reason, I got interested in making yogurt! I’ve thought about it for years, and when baby boy started eating whole milk yogurt, I decided it was time to try my hand at making it.

Here’s the deal – there are TONS of crockpot yogurt blog posts all over the internet, so you should feel free to look around if you’re interested in making some of your own. I did, and it definitely helped. I found that in the end, you just have to experiment and learn how your particular crockpot works. I wanted crockpot yogurt to be pretty hands off, so I’ve learned the specific amounts of time my crockpot needs for each stage, so I don’t have to be constantly monitoring it.

You can do the same, it might just take a few tries (it did for me!). Just be sure and write down how long each step takes in your crockpot. After a few times, you’ll have a good idea of what the average lengths are.

Here is the basic premise of making yogurt:

  • Heat milk to 180 degrees in order to kill the competing bacteria.
  • Cool milk to 115 degrees and add yogurt starter (if it’s 115 degrees or cooler, it won’t kill off the good yogurt-making bacteria).
  • Let milk & yogurt mixture continue to cool as slowly as possible, giving the good bacteria a perfect environment to thrive and multiply!

That’s all there is to it! Once I understood those parameters, I was able to figure out my specific method better. When I first tried making yogurt, I just went off of instructions based on time – the yogurt didn’t turn out, probably because it never got hot or cool enough at the crucial points.

Okay, so here’s how I do it…

Ingredients:
– 1/2 gallon of whole milk
– about 1 cup of plain yogurt

A note on milk: The people on the world wide web say that you can use a lower fat milk than whole, but obviously I want Luke on whole milk yogurt right now. I also don’t have a problem with Ian and I eating whole milk yogurt, but we’ll probably switch to 1% when Luke isn’t cruising through tons of whole milk anymore. Supposedly you can thicken the yogurt with powdered instant milk too.

A note on the starter yogurt: you really can use any kind of yogurt, just remember that whether you use plain yogurt or vanilla yogurt, you will make plain yogurt. It’s the bacteria that multiply, not the flavor! It doesn’t matter if you use whole or nonfat or greek or whatever – it all works! Once you make your own yogurt, you can use some of it as a starter for your next batch.

Step 1: Pour 1/2 gallon of milk into crockpot. Cover and turn the crockpot on high.

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Step 2: Once milk temperature reaches 180 degrees, turn off the crockpot. Usually it takes my crockpot 2 hours and 15 minutes to heat to 180 – again, the key here is to watch the temperature!

Step 3: Let sit for 1 hour, then remove the pot from the outer heating pot so it can cool a little faster.

Step 4: When milk temperature reaches 115 degrees (usually it takes my crockpot a total of 2-2.5 hours to cool to 115 – 1 hour in the outer heating pot, 1 hour set aside), take out about 2 cups of the heated milk into a separate bowl or measuring cup. Gently whisk in yogurt starter. Pour mixture back into crockpot and gently stir it in.

Step 5: Replace the lid and wrap the whole pot in a beach towel or two. I use two towels, each folded in half. Then take the whole bundle and place it inside of your cool oven. Leave it overnight or about 8 hours.

crockpot yogurtStep 6: Remove from oven, unwrap and reveal your wonderful yogurt!

Step 7: Depending on how much time I have, I either divide it up into smaller containers or just stick the whole thing in the fridge. I usually pour off a little of the excess whey (the watery part – it sits on top and can be quickly poured off). The key to keeping it thick is to just scoop it out – if you stir it, it will get more runny. It does continue to thicken a little more once it’s in the fridge. The texture is actually pretty good – it’s not identical to store-bought yogurt, because the main brands usually add pectin or other ingredients to make it a little more solid. It’s more like Greek yogurt, or yogurt from local farms.

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Step 8: Eat! Our favorite mix-ins are honey, lemon or lime juice, raspberries, raspberry jam, and shredded coconut.


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So that’s how I do it – it’s not actually all that hard! You just need to make sure you start it on time – usually I plan to do it on evenings I’ll be home by 5pm, so I’m not dealing with it too late in the evening. Right now I’m making a batch about every week or week and half.

PS, I’ve recently been super into using a dry erase marker to label plastic lids! Since Luke doesn’t eat all his yogurt in one sitting, I label his jar so Ian and I don’t accidentally grab a half empty one for ourselves.

So that’s my story on crockpot yogurt. It’s not for everybody, but it works for us right now! The worst part for me to get used to was the smell while it’s cooking – it obviously smells like warm milk, and I am not  a milk drinker (blech!). It doesn’t fill the whole house, or even the kitchen, but nevertheless I know it’s there… Other than that, I find the yogurt to be delicious and easy.

If you’re interested, give it a try!