Monday, January 26, 2009

the famous double chocolate chip cookies

For anyone who has had these frozen little nuggets of deliciousness, you know just how amazing these cookies are. They were first discovered by my brother Garrett, probably over 10 years ago, and they have quickly risen in popularity. When I bake cookies, I almost always bake these double chocolate chip wonders. So here is the recipe to make everyone's day brighter:

Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 c butter, softened
1 c brown sugar
3/4 c white sugar
1 t vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/2 c flour
1/2 c cocoa
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 bag semi sweet chocolate chips

Beat butter, sugars, and vanilla until mixture is well mixed. Add eggs and mix until it becomes lighter in color. (You will notice that if you let is mix 1-2 minutes more than just "combined" the mixture gets lighter in color, which is good.) Add the dry ingredients and stir in completely. Mix in the chocolate chips by hand. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

I prefer to make my cookies softer, rather than crispy on the bottom, so I don't bake them over 10 minutes. I have also found that they taste best when frozen (both because it keeps them from drying out and frozen chocolate is amazing). Try the cookies frozen; I dare you.

adventures in south korea

Sometimes my brother goes to South Korea to renew his visa. Sometimes he visits the DMZ while he is in Korea, watching the soldiers walk around with guns, seeing the dividing line between the two countries, and also having fun with the other missionaries while they wait for their paperwork to be processed.
The dividing line between South and North Korea, with a soldier standing guard.
Garrett standing close, but not too close, to a guard. He doesn't want to get in trouble.

This is just to prove how awesome his new pea coat is. Apparently the good part about leaving your mission for two weeks to visit another country is that you get to spend your days serving in the temple and also buy pea coats for a fraction of the cost.

Sometimes they get to go bowling as an activity. Notice the rad tie.
The group of missionaries in Korea. I'm not sure why Garrett is kicking his foot up. I'm mainly sad he doesn't have on a huge fur hat right now.

Garrett, I hope you survive the rest of Russia's winter. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

kabob palace

For anyone who has lived in Pentagon City, you know just how good the Kabob Palace is. Yes, it is scary and filled with cab drivers at night, but you just can't beat their kabobs. As I was scanning our pantry on Sunday morning deciding what to make for dinner before heading off to church, I noticed some Indian seasonings that I haven't touched in awhile. Of course I had chick peas, tomatoes, and onions, so I was good to go. I got the chick peas cooking and then started rummaging around the kitchen for something to go with the chick peas.

I flipped through the Betty Crocker Indian cookbook that I got as a gift a few years back and found this fantastic recipe for ground lamb kabobs. I obviously don't keep ground lamb in the freezer, so I substituted ground beef and in a few minutes had that marinating in the fridge to grill after church. Next up, I found a great recipe for naan. I was pretty excited about how the meal was turning out, all from random ingredients in my kitchen.

After church, Ben and I finished cooking the chick peas, grilled the beef, and made naan, which was incredible. I brushed the naan with butter once it came off the pan and sprinkled it with sea salt. Since Kabob Palace is famous for its sauce, I put together the closest imitation using cumin and cayenne to make it spicy. It wasn't the same, but it had the same effect of making the meat and naan more flavorful. Overall, it was an incredible meal.
Below are the recipes so that everyone can enjoy the goodness.
Seekh Kabob
1 lb ground beef (or lamb)
1/2 c finely chopped onion
1 t salt
1 t ground cardamom
1 t ground cumin
3/4 t ground black pepper
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Mix all ingredients together. (I let the meat and spices marinate in the fridge for a few hours before grilling.) Divide the meat into 12 parts and press around a skewer so that half of the skewer is covered. Grill 12-15 minutes on medium high heat, turning occassionally so that meat browns evenly. (I broiled the kabobs in the oven.) Serve with cutney or fresh lime.
3 c flour
1 T sugar
1 t salt
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 c milk, slightly warmed
2 T oil
1/4 c water, warmed
melted butter for brushing
Mix together the dry ingredients. Mix milk and oil; stir into flour mixture (it will be crumbly). Stir in water. Dough should form a ball, but not be sticky or dry. (I added a little more than 1/4 c.) Knead dough 2-3 minutes or until dough becomes smooth and pliable. Brush with butter, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 30 minutes. Divide dough into 4 equal parts. Shape into a ball and let sit for another 30 minutes. Roll out each piece of dough into a circle, 1/4 inch thick, on a lightly floured surface. Cook on a HOT frying pan (no oil) for 1-2 minutes each side. The pan needs to be hot so that the bread gets air bubbles while cooking. Once cooked, immediately brush with butter and sprinkle with salt.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Christmas presents for the kids

This year Ben had the brilliant idea to make animal towels for the nieces and nephews for Christmas. I loved this idea since the kids get plenty of toys from their grandparents, parents, and aunts, so I thought it would be nice to get the kids something that they could actually use but would also find fun. Ben and I looked at lots of pictures of the towel animals online to select our favorites and then went to work.

We made a dinosaur for Peter, ducks for Eleanor and Zari, and penguins (my personal favorite) for Theodore and Brooklyn. I was not able to be there when the kids opened their presents, but my sister Jocelyn recorded parts of Christmas morning for the rest of the family to enjoy. Here is a video of Peter and Eleanor opening their towel animals, and here is a picture of Zari in her duck, which she loves.

I am so happy that the kids like their towels so much. I am also thrilled to have married a man who (a) has brilliant ideas, (b) can sew, and (c) likes to join me in my projects.

Friday, January 09, 2009

elder spencer

I thought I would write a little tribute to my amazing and hilarious brother Garrett, who is serving a mission in Russia right now. For anyone that has heard stories or been lucky enough to meet him at Duck Beach, you know just how much I am proud of him. We were the last two kids at home for awhile, so we became very close. He is such a hard worker, has an incredible sense of style, loves to get involved in fun activities, and is one of the nicest people I know. Here are some recent pictures from his mission.

The members in his area had a Christmas party. Can you see Garrett's excitement over his Christmas goody bag? For anyone who has seen me excited, we practically have the exact same expression.

Garrett has also put his violin skills to good use, by performing several times while in Russia. It sounds like people with musical skill is rare, so it has been a great chance for him to use his talent. Garrett, aren't you glad all those years of practicing and getting nagged to practice more have paid off?

Garrett titled this one, "On the train. It was almost like I imagined Harry Potter, but not quite." You will also notice his rocking tie. He loves ties and has found quite a few great ones while on his mission.

Obviously Garrett is displaying his stellar cooking skills in this photo, with the big knife and deal animal next to him. Garrett, I think you are taking after dad with your love of big knives.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

proof that Ben and I will have adorable children

I've often stated that my sister's adorable kids are proof that I will have adorable children. Now to add to the evidence we have Ben's first niece, Brooklyn. She is one of the happiest babies I have ever met, and she was so fun to play with. Here are some pictures of Ben and Brooklyn from Christmas in Oregon.
Ben playing with Brooklyn.

Brooklyn LOVES all gadgets. It is something about pushing the buttons and watching the lights.

Brooklyn also loves to taste everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. I loved watching her crawl over to something and lick it. Here she is testing Ben's cell phone.

Ben enjoying being an uncle, with Melissa enjoying all the free babysitters vying for Brooklyn's time.

Brooklyn has a favorite elephant stuffed animal. It has a magical ability to usually get to to stop crying if you give it to her. Did I mention that Brooklyn is the happiest baby I have ever met?

Brooklyn playing with a volleyball in the Dawson living room.

When we weren't playing volleyball, relaxing, or laughing at stories, Ben was usually working on b-school admission essays.

If anyone hasn't seen the "Dawson look," here it is. I didn't realize it was the Dawson look until the wedding reception in Oregon when I met all of Ben's brothers and they demonstrated it for me.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

wadding caek

This is kind of what happens when I attend weddings. This all started years ago when my sister Diedra decided to make the wedding cake for one of her close friends. I was recruited as the person to help hold the cake while in transport and assist with decorating (mainly holding things for Diedra). But I was hooked on wedding cakes.

When my older sister Jocelyn got married, I decided to make her wedding cake. Since we had just been to France and seen some beautiful cakes in store windows, I made a triple chocolate cake with a butter cream frosting decorated with strips of white chocolate and raspberries on top. The cake was covered with white chocolate strips and then tied with a ribbon to hold them all in place. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Since then Diedra and I have done a few wedding cakes together (and a bridal shower cake for our friend Mel, which was so incredibly adorable). We figured out how to do fondant a few years back, which has been one of the funnest things to work with. I love how it makes the cakes look and how elegant it is.
The Parks-Sparks wedding cake.
Jocelyn actually baked the cake, since I arrived in California the day before the wedding.
I spent the morning whipping up a huge batch of frosting and then decorating the cake at her parent's home.

This is me smirking at the wonderful dinner after the wedding.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Christmas traditions

I big part of growing up in the Spencer household were our family traditions, especially at Christmas. We always got to open new PJ's on Christmas Eve, even though each year the parents would say "you don't know they are pajamas." Yeah, we knew. Stockings were always full of nuts (usually the kind my dad likes . . . hmm, I wonder who filled the stockings) and oranges. We Christmas dinner was a fancy affair, where we dusted off our china and the "S" silverware from Germany to each a wonderful dinner of roladen, wild rice, and red cabbage, complete with Christmas crackers on each plate. When we were really young we acted out the nativity with costumes. And I'm serious when I say costumes. Some years we used my pet rabbit as Jesus in the manger, and one year we used Garrett, who was a new born baby. And yes, my dad even made a real manger out of wood. It is that intense.

The Spencer Family Christmas Craft started early in our lives, one Christmas at our cabin. I'm not sure what started the idea, but that Christmas my mom decided it would be fun to have her girls decorate teddy bears. This was actually a brilliant idea since we were at our cabin and in the middle of nowhere (and you can only ice skate so much each day before you are frozen). I still remember making these bears using a hot glue gun, lace, and some beads. They were probably pretty ugly, but we had a really fun time. From here the crafts only got more intense and serious. We've made just about everything: silk paintings, homemade soap, t-shirts, leather books and journals, cloth diapers (for my sister Joc's kids), fly fishing rods, fly rod cases, earrings, and Christmas ornaments.

Obviously, Christmas is a big deal in my house. For weeks leading up the holidays, I have been asking Ben what are his family's traditions, since ours are so ingrained in my memory (and such a huge part of why I love my home during the holidays). This year we got to spend a whole wonderful week with Ben's family in Oregon. I couldn't have asked for a better Christmas, complete with a Christmas Eve miracle of finally arriving in Oregon after 18 hours of trying to get there. We woke up to a white Christmas, played games, laughed and told stories, and most of all just enjoyed being around each other. Ben's family is incredibly fun and laid back, which I just love.

Although Ben claimed there weren't many, I did witness some Dawson family traditions:

1. Having the biggest Christmas tree I've ever seen. Although this year's tree was smaller than in previous years, it was still huge. Since their family room has a vaulted ceiling, they can easily get a 15-foot tree (although "easily" is arguable about getting it inside the house). Last year Ben and I got to help put up the tree, which took all the Dawson muscle to get it upright and secure. And taking down the tree requires some power tools to cut off the branches to get it out.

2. Playing volleyball. A lot. My family is more of the outdoorsy type. We go camping in Europe, down hill ski, go fishing, and make our own trails while hiking, but we aren't much into organized sports per say. So I was a little scared to see if I could hack it with Ben's incredibly talented sporty family. (I have almost no athletic natural ability. Any sort of accomplishment comes purely from trying my hardest.) But I had nothing to worry about since (a) everyone was incredibly helpful when it came to helping me get better, (b) the Dawsons are really fun to play games with, and (c) I have a dominating under hand serve. I can't overhand serve to save my life, so luckily my serve circa 1995 can stand its own ground. We played volleyball despite the foot of snow on the roads. Take that for hard core!

3. Dawson family dinner. The Dawsons are big on family dinners with all the extended family. Cousins, aunts, and uncles show up for a fun night of delicious food, games, and most definitely laughing. It was so nice to talk to a lot of the people that I met briefly at the wedding. This tradition also includes a white elephant gift exchange, ensuing a lot of hilarious and sometimes scandal. This year the hottest items were body glitter with a matching pink puff, cross-stitched Kleenex cover, thin mints, and chocolate bars, which were stuffed down a diaper to convince everyone else they didn't want to steal them. One of the funnest parts was getting to spend time with the Dawson women in the kitchen.

4. Spending time with the family. One thing I love about the Dawsons is how much they enjoy being together and just having a good time. I couldn't ask for better brothers and sisters in law. I love that he still has siblings in high school; they are a joy to be around and so much fun. It didn't matter if we were hanging around the kitchen eating chili, relaxing in the living room, or rolling in laughter while telling stories, Christmas was all about spending time with family. And just so you know Melissa, I say made-up words all the time. Sometimes over the pulpit at church. Just ask Ben.