Sunday, December 15, 2013

Biscuit Cake! (Recipe)

I was talking to my grandmother and sister, working out the Christmas menu, and my sister said "I don't care what else you make, but I want biscuit cake." I've had several other people ask for the recipe, and I'm happy to oblige!  

The original recipe can be found here.  While this biscuit cake was still not exactly what we had on our trip to Bulgaria last October, it was the closest I could find, and adding Nutella to a recipe is never a bad thing, right?  I also modified the recipe to exclude the alcoholic Bailey's Irish Cream because, well, I was serving it to my kids and it's a no-bake recipe.  I also doubled the recipe to fill the trifle bowl. 

Trifle bowl
2 packages of biscuits (I used a specialty brand I found at Kroger, on the cookie aisle)
2 packages mascarpone cheese (with the specialty cheese)
8 oz. heavy whipping cream8 oz. milk4 oz. Bailey's Irish Cream-flavored coffee creamer1 3/4 c. confectioner's sugar1 tsp. pure vanilla extract1 jar NutellaChocolate (grated for garnish)
Chocolate roses (optional, added for Viktorya's birthday to represent Bulgaria)

1. Whip the heavy cream in a large bowl.  Add mascarpone cheese, vanilla extract, and 1 c. of confectioner's sugar.  Mix well.

2. In another bowl, mix together the milk, Irish Creme-flavored creamer, and 3/4 c. sugar.  Dip cookies in the milk mixture, for 10-20 seconds, depending on the thickness of the cookies.  You don't want them to fall apart, but you do want them a little soft.

3. Place one layer of biscuits in the trifle bowl. Spread a layer of Nutella over them, followed by a layer of the mascarpone and cream mixture.

4. Repeat the steps until the biscuits and cream mixture are used up.  I had probably 4-5 layers. 

5. Garnish with shredded chocolate.

6. Place in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.  Serve cool.

7. Enjoy!

Ayden's BIG Surprise!!!

It's no secret that Ayden has been incredibly selfless and helpful since our two newest kids came home.  She has really stepped up with what she does around the house, has taken some initiative with school work, chores, and anything else I might need done.

She's turning 10 next week, just a few days before Christmas, which can be difficult for planning purposes, since most of her friends' families are traveling to spend time with their families.  You only turn 10 once, so I wanted to make it a big celebration!

Her favorite animator is Hayao Miyazaki, who made some wonderful movies, like My Neighbor Totoro, Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service... the list goes on, and we own all but a couple of his films.

I began brainstorming on Pinterest months ago, and kept everything very hush-hush, and more than once had to quickly close an internet tab so she wouldn't see.  Here's a glimpse at the party, which was so much fun to plan and even more fun to see Ayden and her friends enjoy!

The cake was inspired by "My Neighbor Totoro"

In "Howl's Moving Castle" Sophie finds a scarecrow with his head stuck in the ground. He's nicknamed "Turnip Head."

Cotton candy "Clouds of Lapuda" from the movie "Castle in the Sky"

Oversized flowers, as well as plates that look like buttons, inspired by "The Secret World of Arietty"

The whole tablescape, with string lights to represent "Spirited Away" and glass tiles to represent the symbolism of water in every movie.

"Sushi" made from rice krispy treats, Swedish fish, and Fruit by the Foot.

I ordered konpeito, a Japanese candy similar to rock candy, and shown in "Spirited Away"

Goldfish to represent Ponyo and all her sisters.

Cake pops made to look like soot sprites, from "Spirited Away" and "My Neighbor Totoro"

The birthday girl loved her cake!

I thought I had pictures of all the food, but I missed the "Ohm Eyes," which were cordial cherry M&Ms, to represent "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" and "Calcifers," which were the meatballs in the crock pot to represent "Howl's Moving Castle."

It was a great party, we played some fun games, like "Pop the Soot Sprites."  Ayden was genuinely surprised, and I'd consider it a huge success!  Happy (almost) 10th Birthday, Ayden!!!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Denny's New Chair

Denny has finally grown enough that he's exceeded the weight limit on his high chair.  I was checking out the new online pictures at my favorite local secondhand shop.  I saw a 50's chair/step stool that needed a little love, called the shop to put it on hold, and picked it up as soon as I could get kids loaded in the van.

That's a red crackled vinyl cover on the seat and back, with a nice tear on the top, accented by burnt orange steps.  I don't dislike the orange, but it doesn't go with my dining room, and anyone who knows me knows that just won't work.

I was taking the kids to play at a friend's house, and I was supposed to bring Christmas stocking fabric to work on while I was there.  I left the fabric sitting on the kitchen counter, so I carried the new chair inside instead.  Tonya is my "finisher."  If there's a project I need to work on, she's my girl.  If I've been putting off doing something, I tell her to hold me accountable, and she'll usually show up in her painting clothes to help me finish (because my projects almost always involve paint and she loves me that much).

Anyway, when she saw the chair and I told her what I wanted to do, she got out some fabrics, found a leather remnant, and we started taking the chair apart.  Within a couple of hours, we had all the old red covering off, the leather on, and I was on my way to the store for paint.

I took each painted metal piece off the chair, cleaned it, and spray painted it.  Spray painting is supposed to happen at or above 60*, but it's cold outside and I'm not patient enough to wait for spring.  Each piece went outside in a box, got a coat of paint, and came inside to dry in my living room.  After drying for a whole how-many-hours-did-the-can-say-? day, I put the chair back together.  Did I mention I'm not patient?

And here it is!  Denny's new step chair, which can also double as a step stool for reaching those hard-to-reach top shelves in my upper kitchen cabinets!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Party Time!

If our kids' birthdays fall during the week, we have a family meal, and then invite friends over for a small party over the weekend. Viki lucked out, and got to celebrate two days in a row!

As she saw me decorating this morning, she got more and more excited, realizing the party from last night wasn't over!  We went back to the cake shop to pick up her cupcakes, then came home and set everything out on the table, 11 red and white swirled cupcakes with a silver tapered candle in each one, and silver platters with dress-up accessories overflowing.

I had the camera ready, got lots of pictures of her blowing out the candles, lots of pictures of her opening gifts from her friends, and went to load them so I could share them.  Well, guess who forgot to put the memory card in the camera?  Yep, me!  Well, here's a picture I took before the party...

And here's a picture of one of the leftover cupcakes...

So, I'm the mom who messed up the party pictures, but I didn't mess up the birthday.  She knows she's loved, and she's had fun.  And we'll leave the decorations up for a few days.  I love seeing the dining room like this!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Viktorya's First Birthday (well, the first in our family....)

Last year, I remember longing for Viktorya to know we were coming, wishing she somehow knew that we would be there in just one short month.  I wrote a poem to her last year on her tenth birthday.

Today, she turned eleven, and she has been excited for weeks!  I wanted today to be special, a day to celebrate Viktorya!  I usually have colors in mind for each of my kids' birthdays, and for hers, it was red and white.

After getting a necklace, bracelet, and some fun crayon rings from a sweet friend, we went to do one thing Viki has requested for months... get her ears pierced!  Every morning, as I choose earrings, she grabs her ear lobe and asks, "Azh?" ("Me?")  She chose a pair of blue-jeweled earrings, which turned out to be the September birthstone!  She is so used to shots, so I explained that this was just two shots, very fast, but will hurt a little.

Well, one earring down, and time for the other.  "NE!  Bee-may!"  ("No! It hurts!")  After a moment of talking to her, asking if she wants me to hold her hand, she agrees and the second earring is done!

After that, we popped in to the new sweets shop uptown and requested some cupcakes for tomorrow, in red and white.  Because we don't just have one day of birthdays here!  We shopped for ingredients for today and decorations for tomorrow, and Viki was most excited about her balloons!  After that, it was "It's my Happy Birthday!" again and again!  Yes it is, sweet girl!

After finishing up everything we needed to do today, it was time for the fun stuff!  FOOD!!!  This part was really important to me; I wanted the dishes to be authentic.

Viktorya's birthday dessert was up first, because it was a cold dessert, so chilling it for several hours was ideal.  Back story:  On our first trip to Bulgaria, Scott and I ate at a small restaurant near our apartment several times.  One evening, we asked if they had dessert.  The gentleman replied (and put on your best East European accent here), "Ah, there is no menu.  We have, ah, yogurt, and ah, biscuit cake."  My thought was "Ah, yogurt is no dessert!" and my response was, "Um, we'll share the biscuit cake."  We'd never even heard of it, but our taste buds were in heaven!  I tried two other biscuit cakes on the second trip, and neither came even close to being that good.  SO, I wanted to make THE biscuit cake that we fell in love with on one of our first nights in Sofia.

I made it in a trifle, and doubled the recipe to make it tall enough.  All from scratch, and topped with fondant roses (okay, those were pre-packaged).  In case you didn't know, Bulgaria produces 70% of the world's perfume rose oil.

I quickly made a shopska salad, or as close to a shopska salad as one can get without having access to Bulgaria's cheese.  Feta would just have to suffice.

Dinner was the most tricky, because it was based on a meal we had while visiting Denny, and neither Scott or I could remember what it was called.  I don't think it's necessarily a traditional Bulgarian meal, but it incorporates lots of things Viktorya loves to eat, so it's a winner.

Bacon, green onions, tomatoes, and cheese sandwiched between the two halves of thinly sliced chicken breasts, and placed on top of mashed potatoes.  I don't care if you don't mix your food, this is ah-ma-zing!  Trust me.

All that was left was to sing 'Happy Birthday' and eat dessert!

She moves much faster than my phone's camera, so there's just smoke left in this picture!  There was no hesitation at all in blowing out eleven candles to get to her cake!  She was pretty much done with me taking pictures today, and just wanted to eat the cake, lick the candles, lick the plate clean....

We also gave her the play pizza I've been working on, and she's sleeping with it now!

This was definitely a hit, and Viktorya had a wonderful day.  I've got leftover biscuit cake, so someone needs to come over and help me eat it.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Birthday Planning

Birthdays around here are a big deal as it is, but when it's the FIRST birthday, that's cause for celebration!  Viktorya will be 11 soon, so it's not her first birthday, but it's her first with us!

I've been trying to decide what to get her.  When I asked her, she only asked for a baby.  Of course, the girls have about 10 babies, so I'm not sure they need any more babies piled in my old baby cradle.

I keep asking myself what she would enjoy, but isn't thinking to ask for.  This week, I figured it out!  My mom has been coming up every Monday this month to help get the week off to a good start, playing with the littles while I get the bigs started on school work.  This week, she stopped by a local (to her) pizza restaurant and bought kids' personal pizzas that have all the ingredients packaged, ready for the kids to put together.  They even came in little pizza boxes.  Since then, Viktorya has been putting the Melissa & Doug birthday cake in the pizza box, and calling it a pizza.  The kids have been taking orders in their Italian restaurant and making deliveries.

I searched on Etsy, and found a shop that sells patterns for felt food.  Sweet Emma Jean had the best looking pizza, with lots of yummy-looking toppings, and promises of very clear and detailed directions.  I purchased a set of patterns, and they are all easy to follow.  Now I can get a head start on Christmas with all these patterns, but this pizza set is coming soon for Miss V's 11th Birthday!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Words that Matter

A few days ago, we invited our social worker into our home, and she was able to meet Viktorya and Denny.  (She's Viktorya now, in case you're wondering.  She made the name change from Viki to Viktorya last week.  It's also easier for her to say, since Viki comes out 'ih-ti' and Viktorya comes out 'ih-torya'.)

We had a great visit, we just sat and talked about the kids, about our adjustment, the ups, the downs, the  thousands of twenty-something trips to the pediatrician, cardiologist, endocrinologist, ophthalmologist, labs for bloodwork, and beginning evaluations for therapy, and referrals for genetics.

She toured the kids' rooms, interacted with Denny, tried to interact with Viktorya, and 2.5 hours later, was heading home.  Today, our post-placement report came, and it reads differently than our life feels.  I mean, everything in the report is accurate, it's just different.  In the end, the words that matter most, out of the three pages detailing each child, are the words, "It is this agency's assessment that this is an excellent placement for (Viktorya/Denny)."  

Those are the words that matter.  On the tough days, it's easy to forget to stop and thank God for blessing our family with these two kids.  But every day, they are a blessing.  In the middle of a kicking, screaming tantrum, I'm reminded that I do the same thing.  Maybe not physically, but emotionally, spiritually, I can throw just as big a tantrum as Viktorya.  On the days when Denny acts as if he doesn't have any idea that we've ever used sign language, or that he mastered "eat" weeks ago, and I gently put my hand over his to help him, I see how patient God is with me.  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Our New Normal: In the Kitchen

One of the biggest adjustments our family has made over the past four months (aside from getting to know two new people, their likes and dislikes, personalities, and wants/needs) has been in the kitchen.  I seriously feel like I've lived the majority of the last several months in that one room, either preparing food or cleaning up from preparing food, feeding kids, or washing dishes.

For one, we knew Viki was coming to us with a relatively new diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes, though the survival that was the first two weeks (one week in Bulgaria, followed by one week at home, until the appointment with the endocrinologist) was COMPLETELY different than the detailed plan we have now.  I explained to the endocrinologist the day we walked in that I will work any plan I have, but I need a plan.

I got a plan, that's for sure!  I have a kitchen cabinet dedicated to her supplies of lancets, glucose test strips, needles, ketone test strips, a spare blood meter, spare insulin pens, and a shelf in the refrigerator with her supplies of insulin.  I have a 3" notebook FULL of sick day protocol, ketone protocol, snacks that have certain amounts of carbs, suppliers' information ranging from medical bracelets to cooler pouches for insulin, and so on.  I can rattle off her baseline, carb:insulin ratio, and insulin sensitivity factor.

Now that we're four months in, I know how much extra insulin she needs for a piece of cake (above her standard carb dose) and which dinners will have her lower than her overnight goal, so to plan on her having a snack in bed.

On top of learning the ropes of diabetes management, Sadie was having tummy trouble before I left to pick up the kids, and we weren't able to figure out the source.  Once we were home and getting settled, it was time to schedule her to meet with a GI specialist, to test for less common causes.  All the blood work was done, and we were still without answers.  Her symptoms look like celiac, but they aren't.

She was put on a low-FODMAP diet, which eliminates lactose, fructose, fructans, galactans, and sugar alcohols.  My first thought was, "What CAN she eat?!"  As it turns out, a lot.  It's essentially a paleo diet, just a stricter one than we had been following.  And it's hard, because fixing pb&j for the kids just isn't an option anymore.  I'm now grilling chicken for lunch, as a base, then adding sides according to which child has which restriction.

My most commonly used statement with Sadie is, "The doctor says you can't have that."  And she's okay with the doctor saying she can't have something.  Grocery shopping is a new adventure, and our recipes have been adapted to work with our new restrictions.  And Sadie was able to enjoy lactose-free chocolate ice cream, so that made up for many "the doctor says no" answers about food.

Denny has gone from not being able to even drink from a bottle, to getting smoothies packed with yummy goodness, and now he's moved on to solid foods, even chewing now, instead of just swallowing it down.  He can pack away three adult portions of oatmeal at breakfast, then act ravenous by snack time.  Just this week, he picked up bite-size pieces of food from his tray and fed himself!  Woohoo!!!

All five kids are growing like weeds, so my grocery budget is through the roof.  We're approaching the $800 mark, and there's not a coupon to help us, unless you have coupons for meat and veggies, and in that case, gimme!

If you have any yummy paleo recipes, please pass them along!  We're always looking to try new recipes, so we don't risk eating the same 10 meals again and again!

Monday, July 15, 2013

A BIG, BIG Catch-Up Post... Pictures, Too!!!

Wow... I haven't been away awhile or anything!  In the busyness of post-adoption life, I just now took a look at my blog to see when I last posted.  The day before I left for Bulgaria to pick up the kids!  Yikes!

So, as a peace offering to anyone who may still be following along, here are some pictures from Bulgaria!

Leaving Denny's orphanage... the best feeling in the world!  And in true American form (at least, as far as my dad believes), he's wearing his first pair of Chuck Taylor's!

Denny was so overwhelmed, and wanted desperately to hold my hands the entire drive.  He did so well, all things considered.

Viki ran straight to me, calling "Mama!"  There were many happy tears that day!

You can't see it in the picture, but the kids and I left Viki's orphanage by walking through water that was poured out on the stairs.  The director, a beautiful woman with a kind heart, told us it is a Bulgarian tradition, signifying a new beginning.

I realize now how tall Denny looks in this picture, but these are 2T clothes.  At 6 years old.

Viki decided she loved the camera after all!

Some of our first snuggles!

If we were in the apartment, she wanted to color.  I was glad I brought three books, because she used them all up!

My sweet little man... he wasn't a fan of anything loud or exciting, and this spot on the couch, scratching his nails against the pillow, settled him.
And a glimpse of the first three months home...

Viki loved swinging at the playground near her orphanage, so it was no surprise that she wanted to swing at our house, too!  If we're outside, this is where you'll find her!

Denny had resigned himself to rough sisterly love...


Both kids went to a pediatric ophthalmologist, and we discovered that Denny needed glasses!  He wasn't thrilled about wearing them at first, but the whole drive home, he kept looking around, like he was seeing everything for the first time!

Our cat, Hardy, loves to climb into Denny's lap.  And Hardy isn't a very social cat.

All five of my loves... HOME!

We joined a pool for the summer, and Denny loves to sit at the spout and splash!

Viki loves it, too!

After dinner, toes are the best dessert!

Viki drew a picture of herself, and a smaller picture of Denny.  We adopted spiders, FYI. :)

Storytime for the littles happens in Sadie's room, and she is THRILLED that Denny gets to share that time with her!

Viki is quite the artist!

Okay, so no hard feelings that I've been MIA?  Life has been busy, and not only from having the two newest kiddos home.  We've had appointment after appointment for them, between the pediatrician, ophthalmologist, cardiologist, endocrinologist, dentist, the list goes on.  That's just part of the process.  We needed to make sure we had all the health stuff out of the way first thing, especially with Viki having Type 1 diabetes.

Learning how to manage Viki's diabetes hasn't been the easiest thing, but I've got a workable plan, with the endocrinologist a phone call away, night or day.  I've figured out how much extra insulin she needs if we're having cake at a birthday party, and I know that 12 animal crackers will keep her glucose levels stable overnight if she's low before bedtime.  We just attended a JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) event, and learned more about the technological advances coming out in the future.  Viki will need eye surgery, to correct some damage caused by diabetes, but the ophthalmologist wants us to settle in, adjust, and then we'll talk surgery.  

When I picked Denny up from the orphanage, he had no idea how to suck from a bottle.  The food just ran down, and he sounded like he was aspirating.  By the time we flew home, he had great tongue thrust, and was eating more than what ended up on his clothes.  Once we were home, and I had access to a blender, he started getting some jam-packed nutritious smoothies, and gained four pounds.  After a month, he graduated from bottle to silicone sippy cups, and would clap when I brought out the blender.  He was loving this food thing!  During the second and third month, we really worked with Denny on eating solids, and it was a slow process.  Last week, he grabbed a fry and shoved it in his mouth!  To say he's come a long way in three months is a gross understatement.  He still has so far to come, in terms of communication, but we're seeing more and more personality from our little guy!  Oh, and he's in a 4T now, and those Chuck Taylor's are too small!

Okay, there's a catch-up post, and I hope to be back to blogging a little more regularly now!