30. November 2011 · Comments Off on Holiday Surprise Cookies: Revisit of 2008 Post · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Instead of recreating a blog post about one of our favorite cookie recipes, I’ve “repurposed” my November 2008 post.  Many of the commercial links from 2008 had to be changed, so I’ve updated the links to the recipe, some of the ingredients I like and the cookie-making equipment I recommend.

Similar to 2008, this will be the first cookies we make for the season, and I the kids once again have to deal with unwrapping about 150 Hershey Kisses.

What I will do differently this year is bake and store the cookies in batches according to the filling.  In years past I’ve jumbled everything together: Timmy doesn’t like milk chocolate, Jacob doesn’t like dark chocolate!



The first batch of cookies: Holiday Surprise Cookies, courtesy of the Quaker Oats company. Hit the hyperlink to go to the recipe straight from the horse’s, er, Quaker’s, mouth.

I gave Dave the camera tonight and asked him to document our experience so I’d have some nice pictures with which to blog. He told me, “Okay, I’m going to be like Maryann!”. He did a great job, he took almost all the photos…

So, to start, we have to come up with a filling…this is the “surprise” in the cookie. In years past, we’d used Wilbur Buds, a Lancaster County, PA staple. In fact, the first time I made this recipe was to keep Dave and me from eating an entire bag of Wilbur Buds we’d gotten for Christmas in one sitting, I think. It was either 1999 or 2000…I can’t remember. The beauty of Wilbur Buds is (a) you can buy a combo pack of milk AND dark chocolate together and (b) the buds aren’t indivually wrapped.

If I’d had the foresight to order the Wilbur Buds ahead of time I would have. But it was much easier to pick up some assorted flavored Hershey’s Kisses from my local mega mart. As can be seen in this photo, we had a lot of unwrapping to do.

From 2008 11 14 HolidaySurpriseCookies

As the boys were unwrapping about 100 Kisses, in 3 flavors shown here, I was preparing the dough. It’s essentially a sugar cookie dough replacing about 40% of the flour with oatmeal.

From 2008 11 14 HolidaySurpriseCookies
From 2008 11 14 HolidaySurpriseCookies

Look at those oats — your cholesterol is lowering just looking at it, right? Don’t worry…won’t happen: there’s 2 sticks of butter in the basic recipe…and I doubled it tonight!

Once the chocolates were unwrapped and the dough was ready, I set up the assembly line in the dining room. The boys were great — Jake stuffed the chocolate in the dough, and Timmy rolled the little ball of dough in the colored sugar and placed the ready-to-bake cookie on the baking stone. My job was quality control — I pre-measured wads of dough for Jake to stuff so they’d be uniform in side, and I made sure the cookies were properly spaced on the stone.

From 2008 11 14 HolidaySurpriseCookies
From 2008 11 14 HolidaySurpriseCookies
From 2008 11 14 HolidaySurpriseCookies

Does that look holiday or what?

From 2008 11 14 HolidaySurpriseCookies

We tested the cookies, of course, and everyone in the Vollmer clan gave them a thumbs up!

30. November 2011 · 1 comment · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Took this picture yesterday at the Commissary.  I’ll let the picture speak for itself.  The subtitle below says “Creamy taste and texture of pumpkin pie flavored with natural cinnamon & ginger”.

I don’t know what to say about this pie-ish product.  Many times you guys have known me to whine about processed foods.  That’s not to say I keep my house free of them.  Depending on how busy our lives are, I’ve been known to stash a tray of frozen chicken enchiladas in the freezer or Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in the pantry.

You’ve also known me to buy some of these crazier foods and do taste tests with my kids comparing it to a homemade version.

But I couldn’t bring myself to buy this.  Heck, I’m even somewhat uncomfortable buying canned pumpkin for pie, although according to the can there’s nothing in the can except pumpkin, right?  Mashed steamed pumpkin makes the pie SO good!

That’s all I have to say ’bout that…

Dave goes back to work tomorrow.  He’s in really good shape to return and is ready to get back to society.  Not 100% pain free, but most of his day he’s pretty comfortable.  He’s tapered off his meds enough that I think he’ll be okay, so long as he takes it easy physically.  I think mentally he’s definitely good to go for returning to work!

And then I can get my house back!  And clean things up some!  It’s been utter chaos…Dave has traditionally helped with SOME of the housework — whether it’s folding laundry or washing dishes a few times per week.  I’ve been able to keep the house clean…i.e., free of dirt, but it’s been cluttery beyond even MY personal standards!

Also, tomorrow’s the last day of NaBloPoMo.  I didn’t succeed in the full challenge, but I am proud for having blogged every day in the month of November so far, except for the 20th.  Where I simply had a brain fart, I guess.

Later this week I’ll be dusting off my holiday cookie posts from years past.  I make a couple of fun, unique cookie recipes, along with the classic sugar cookies and spritz cookies.  I’ll just re-boot the older posts.  I don’t plan to change anything this year, I promise!

29. November 2011 · Comments Off on A Quick Holiday Craft Idea · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

I’ve been contemplating holiday crafts for Dave’s squadron’s Christmas party.  I’m helping to set it up.

(Oops, did I say “Christmas?”  I mean, um, “Holiday“.)

I recalled doing God’s Eyes in Girl Scouts and Sunday school when I was growing up.  With all these remnants of yarn hanging around from my HAP afghan rectangles, and a huge box of popsicle sticks in my craft drawer, this was an easy one for my kids!

With standard craft popsicle sticks, these are perfect size for the Christmas tree!

If you don’t have popsicle sticks on hand, just march out to the backyard and pick up two sticks!

It’s fun to see my kids grow in dexterity and pick up on more difficult crafts!

The kids “tested” out this craft with some multi-colored yarn, but I have a bunch of holiday colors for the party.

Timmy’s alway been my “craft” kid, and he did most of one of these with a smile!
This one is Jacob’s completed God’s eye.  Hanging on the tree!
28. November 2011 · Comments Off on Because I Got a Bit Busy Today…A Review of Disney Universe for Wii · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,
Disney Universe for Wii retails for $45-50.  Click this link to go straight to Amazon’s listing.

At the last minute, I decided to stamp/crop our family Christmas cards this year.

I’m tapping into a lot of the materials I have on hand to save a little money, and I used the Splitcoaststampers website gallery to search for design ideas for the Stampin’ Up sets I have on hand.  All I had to buy was some gold ribbon, clear envelopes and a gold pigment ink pad.

I guess I’ll need stamps, too.

Because I got a bit busy with the cards, for today’s daily post I’m just going to direct you to the Disney Universe for Wii video game review I did for GeekMom.com a week ago.  I was so pleased that the review got picked up by the BlogHer network for further sharing.  The week it was released, I wrote to Disney Interactive for a “review copy” of the game and I received one 5 days later!  Wow!

To summarize, the kids love the game, and I was a bit surprised at how twisted it is, considering it’s Disney.  It’s clear Disney was trying to replicate the incredibly popular LEGO video game style made popular by Travelers Tales games.

This week I’ll be working on another free-game we received for review: Cabela’s Adventure Camp for Wii.  I’m kinda liking this GeekMom gig 🙂

27. November 2011 · Comments Off on Holiday Lights! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

Today the family more or less was lazy around the house, every once in a while working on the holiday decorations.  I whipped together three recipes of sugar cookie dough for this coming week, and we finished decorating both Christmas trees.

This year, for the first time, we put up two Christmas trees.  We started to run out of room on the one tree we’d had for years with the kids’ craft ornaments.  Yes, how “first world problem” of us, right?

But since this house had the space, and last year right after Christmas we could get a 6 1/2′ pre-lit tree for about $10, we decided to give the kids a tree of their own.

Jacob chose the garland, star on top AND the bow on top!

If you look between the two tail pieces of the big bow at the top of the kids’ tree, you’ll see my new Pensacola Beach sign ornament, courtesy of my thoughtful husband.  He knows how much I love this sign!!!  This ornament connects to the light string and blinks similarly to the real thing.  The connection is compatible with the boys’ new little tree, not the grown up tree, unfortunately.

The “grown up” tree!

This afternoon we put up the outdoor lights.  And by “we”, this year it had to be “me”.  Dave was considering just wrapping the lights around our small bushes, but I really really like lights on the house, so I offered to do it this year.  There was no way Dave should have been doing this stuff!

I’ve been on roofs of two-story houses, no problem.  But for some reason, on this one-story house, I got myself in an awkward place when I first tried to climb up to the crevice between the upper and lower roofs on the left side.  Then I freaked out and had to come down for a little bit.  I hadn’t had fear like that in a really long time.  Strange…

I counted to 10 a few times, got a hug from Timmy, and went back to work.  I only actually had to be on the roof for the two transitions between the upper and lower roofs, but the rest of the time I was on assorted ladders underneath the soffit tucking the light’s wires up into part of the soffit moulding.

Here’s this year’s finished product, courtesy of Dave’s iPhone camera that worked better in the sunset than mine.  You can see the boys’ Christmas tree in the window just left of the front door.

26. November 2011 · Comments Off on Black Friday…Laid Back Style · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Happy Black Friday friends!

I occasionally have done the first-thing-in-the-morning thing on Black Friday.  Of course, that was back when Black Friday had a morning to it.  Now it’s more of a Black Thursday Night, since that’s when you have to get going to make it to the stores for the “doorbusters”.  I’m too old, too busy, and too fond of my sleep to go any earlier than about 5am.

It’s fun when you’re with a friend and you can just chat it up while waiting in the long lines.

But this year, with much of the shopping about 30 minutes away, and the beginning of the Best Buy and Kohl’s sales were too early, I decided to do Black Friday on MY time this year.

After lunchtime, Jacob and I went out and spent an insane amount of money.  Jacob had some more of his birthday gift cards to spend, and I’m so proud of how he got the Electronic Monopoly at the Black Friday price (under $20) with his $20 gift card!  He also chose some Pokemon cards and the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid DVD.

There were no crowds to speak of this afternoon, which was great!  You could see the remnants of the mobs from this morning at Walmart and Old Navy, but there was plenty of whatever we were looking for.

I misbehaved the most at the Hallmark Store.  I have quite the collection of singing snowmen (called the “Jingle Pals”), and today I got the 2011 version.  I didn’t get the 2010 version (I couldn’t find it in this area last year), but maybe I should find one at eBay or something.  I marched right into the store with my arsenal of extra Gold Crown points coupons, 20% coupon and reward dollars.

Jacob saw ads for Hallmark’s “Jingle the Husky Dog” and begged and begged for one.  Jacob has such a soft spot for Siberian huskies, so I gave in.  We got the stuffed dog home just in time for the companion TV show tonight on the Hallmark Channel.  If you turned on the dog and sat him near the TV speakers, he’d react to some of the lines of the show (same as the book he came with).

While Jacob and I were out, Dave and Timmy worked with some of the holiday decorations at the house.  The boys have been a great help so far this year (knock wood!).

25. November 2011 · 5 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,
Pecan pie anyone?  This one is extra special!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Today the family headed over to the Yurack Family’s house.  Jim and Amy are friends from my dorm at Penn State way back when.  Amy lived across the hall my freshman year!  20 years ago!  The Yuracks have three kids, and let me tell you, when our two boys get together with the Yurack kids, happiness seems to abound.  They really do get along well, it’s nice to see the kids play good old fashioned games like hide and seek and tag.

Amy’s family enjoys a gluten-free and dairy-free diet, so when we accepted her invitation to join her and her extended family for Thanksgiving, she and I discussed some gluten-free variations on classic Thanksgiving dishes.

If you think about it, you can get away with quite a bit of the Thanksgiving dinner WITHOUT gluten or dairy, right?  Turkey, check.  Cranberry sauce, check.  Sweet potato casserole and mashed potatoes, can be check if you easily substitute soy milk or non-dairy creamer.  Amy made GF cornbread from scratch, which she made into the dressing, check!  Easy easy!

Cooks all over have experimented and perfected other GF and dairy-free variations on Thanksgiving classics, such as this version of green bean casserole that sounds really yummy!

So I offered to try out a gluten-free/dairy free pecan pie.

Geeky fact: Did you know the pecan pie is one of a culinary class of pies called chess pies?  A Lancaster County, PA classic, the shoo-fly pie, also falls into this class.  So does the Derby pie.

It was very yummy!  The crust is to DIE FOR!  BUT:

  1. I wish I made more than the basic recipe for the crust.  
  2. I wish I used more pecans so they didn’t all float to the top.
  3. I wish I had taken the pie out of the oven sooner.

I should have taken it from the oven about 10 minutes sooner.  However, the critical flavors were exactly as they should have been: pie crust, pecans and syrup-y tastes abounded!

I’ll walk you through the steps…

First, the pie crust.  I had some Gluten-Free Bisquick on hand, and a simple Google search yielded an easy recipe (I only used the crust part of this recipe).  I pulsed the GF Bisquick with Earth Balance (Gluten free) Buttery Spread and ice water in the Cuisinart.  Lard or shortening would work for the fat, too.  Ball it up in a zip-top bag and chill for 3+ hours.

Here is the cast of characters for the filling.  This is from a basic pecan pie recipe on the Karo syrup label.  I used the Earth Balance spread in place of the butter.  Otherwise, everything else is the same.

The recipe doesn’t specify one way or the other, so I chop 1/2 of the pecans and leave the other half of them whole….well, halves…you know what I mean!

As for the crust, I had to work VERY carefully to keep it together, I might have needed more water to hold it together, so I used the zip-top bag to keep pressing it together while I rolled it out.

I cut open the bag, peeled back the top of the plastic, and then flipped it into the pie pan.

Like so!

I think I needed more crust.  I did the best I could to press the crust up the sides the best I could.

Whisk together the filling ingredients (except for the pecans).

Toss the pecans into the crust and pour the filling on top.  But I noticed a couple things when I did this.  (1) These pecans floated to the top and (2) I wish I had more crust.

It baked up really nicely in the oven!  Smelled SO GOOD!

The verdict?  The crust was WONDERFUL!  Think about it — no gluten means the crust has no choice but to be flaky, right?  I just wish I made more.  As for the filling, those pecans really truly did float to the top and the rest of the filling baked into a cakey-textured filling.  It was tasty, but I wish I had more pecans, more crust, and had taken the pie out of the oven about 10 minutes sooner.

24. November 2011 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Let me start with a Dave Update: Dave’s days are doing pretty well.  He’s in a bit of a conundrum because as his leg muscles tighten up overnight, he awakens every morning with VERY uncomfortable leg and glute pains.  Within a few minutes of awakening, he’s much improved.  But he says that the morning pains are pretty bad.  He keeps meeting more and more people who have had variations on the spinal fusion he’s had and they all assure him that by 6 months he’ll “feel like a new man” or he’ll “feel like a million bucks” or he “won’t believe how much better things will be”.  My fingers are crossed!

As I’d mentioned in yesterday’s post, I made the sweet potato casserole I’d referenced.  This ended up being a very yummy, but plain, sweet potato casserole.  I made the recipe with six pounds of sweet potatoes and it filled up a disposable paper baking dish amply for Dave’s squadron Thanksgiving pot luck today.

I diced and steamed the tubers last night and mashed them ahead of time.  The steaming technique is faster than baking; I learned about this from Alton Brown’s sweet potato episode of Good Eats.  This morning, I just stuck everything in the stand mixer and let ‘er rip with the other ingredients.

It was then that I noticed that this recipe didn’t have any cinnamon or cloves.  This was a first for the few times I’ve made sweet potato casserole, but it turned out really good just the same.  I guess it’s more child-friendly that way?

Tomorrow we’ll be spending Thanksgiving with a family who lives near Eglin Air Force Base, right up the road from us.  We all lived in Irvin Hall at Penn State back in the day.  And now we’re practically neighbors!  Hubby’s in Afghanistan for the holidays, and wifey has a house full of relatives visiting and she’s doing a classic Thanksgiving get-together tomorrow.  The kids are looking forward to seeing each other, and Jacob has asked to bring his new Apples to Apples game to play.  I offered to bring several vegetable dishes and a pecan pie.  I’ll write about the pie tomorrow — it’s special and I don’t want to write about it until I can offer the thumbs-up or thumbs-down verdict.

The paper baking pans are great!  These are by Hefty.

I know not everyone likes it this way, but I like the mini-marshmallows on top.  Because there simply isn’t enough sugar in this recipe, right?

There were two casseroles at the pot luck and this was all that was left of either of them after about 50 people went through the line.

23. November 2011 · Comments Off on Sweet Potatoes — Veggie or Not Veggie? Take My Poll! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

I recently fell in love with sweet potatoes.  I wrote about it in 2009.

Incidentally, Dave had a similar epiphany in 1997 with onions.  He went from hating them to loving them.  I tolerate them, but certainly don’t love them.  He doesn’t love sweet potatoes, so I guess we’re even.

Anyway, since there’s no point in my making sweet potatoes for holiday meals at home, I often take advantage of pot lucks to make it!  No pictures of my own recipes this time around (I’m actually making it tomorrow morning), but I wanted to share the classic recipe I plan to be using for Dave’s squadron Thanksgiving pot luck tomorrow.  Except no cornflake/pecan topping, just lots and lots of marshmallow.  Because I like it that way.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Stay tuned as I start sharing this year’s suite of holiday cookies that we’ll be making starting this weekend.  I can’t wait!

So please complete the poll in the upper right corner of the main blog page.

22. November 2011 · Comments Off on Getting in the Holiday Spirit… · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

It’s been hard this year.  The media has been inundating us with holiday-related retail commercials and the radio stations are already playing Christmas music.  I guess it started the same week as Halloween, which seemed pretty crazy to me.  Has it always been this early?

Don’t get me wrong…my family and I LOVE Christmas, we have a wonderful time discussing the story of Jesus’ birth, and celebrating the many holiday traditions we have.

However, we Vollmers have a strict policy: no holiday decorations until Thanksgiving Day.  No big holiday shopping till after Thanksgiving.  Really, all we do on Thanksgiving Day itself is drag the dozen-or-so plastic Rubbermaid bins from the shed, and we use the rest of the weekend to break out everything and get it displayed: tree(s), lights, etc.

Later this week I will start planning my cookie baking, gift shopping and Christmas card designs.

But today we couldn’t help ourselves.  I picked up two Wilton Pre-Baked Gingerbread House Kits from A.C. Moore after the holidays last year (2 for $5? I think) and we broke out one of them this afternoon.  Timmy chose the design on the box to copy and we went to work.  I remained in charge of the icing (could you imagine Timmy with the icing????) and Timmy placed the candies.

Jacob was our photographer today.  Enjoy!