Monday, June 30, 2014

Recipe | Farmer's Market (Liege) Belgian Waffles

In the spirit of the World Cup (which I've barely watched, but it is all the talk lately, no?) and the upcoming Belgium vs USA game, I thought sharing this recipe was particularly timely!  As many of you know, I was born in Belgium and while I've spent the majority of my life in the US, I'm still a Belgian citizen and think of it as my mother country, the US is definitely my home though.

I grew up eating many traditional Belgian foods, but waffles were never really one of them.  My Mum never made them nor did my Nana and I don't remember eating them all that much when we visited.  Ironically, my fondness for the Belgian waffle really developed in the US!  For many years now, one of our favorite and first stops at the farmer's market on weekend mornings is the Taste of Belgium stand for one of their fresh, warm waffles.  They are yeasty and dense with caramelized edges and a sweet, fluffy interior.  They are known as Liege style waffles and are very different from the light, thin waffles, most of us are accustomed to eating.  Apparently, this style is not the type of waffle made in my region of Belgium, even though you can still find them in stores.  They are best eaten alone or topped with whipped cream and berries.  No syrup needed! And the bonus is they keep really well, no soggy waffles here.  Just place in an air tight container or cover with plastic wrap.  I was intrigued to try recreate our favorite version at home and after testing several recipes, I've found a winner.  (Voted on by my faithful recipe testers! Let's just say they LOVE when Mama is trying new recipes that involve lots of butter + sugar :))  I've made the dough and let it sit in the fridge over night and I've made the dough fresh in the morning, both ways produce great results.  But it's nice to know you can do a lot of the prep, which is really more waiting than anything else, ahead of time if you so choose.

^^ the caramelized edges are thanks to Belgian pearl sugar that is incorporated into the risen dough right before cooking the waffles ^^ 

^^ If you are local, you can find Belgian pearl sugar at Jungle Jim's, or order it online here. The Lars brand does have larger sugar crystals than what you traditionally find in Belgium (or the type pictured above), but I've tried them and they work perfectly. ^^

^^ this is the batter after rising for 1 hour and 45 min, before adding the sugar.  I fold the sugar in very gently (it will deflate the dough a bit), also the sugar does not incorporate all the way, you'll see the crystals in the dough. ^^

^^ Getting the temperature right takes a bit of trial and error (not sure I've nailed it yet),  I actually over cooked the first batch on the day I took these pics.  I keep the setting on my iron right around 3, in the middle.  I do not pre-oil or butter the grates and I don't have any trouble with sticking. I use an ice cream scoop to portion the dough.  ^^  

Recipe | Liege Belgian Waffles
(adapted from here)

  1. Ingredients:
  2. 1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  3. 1 packet of active dry yeast
  4. 1/3 cup lukewarm water, 100-110 degrees
  5. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  6. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  7. 3 large eggs
  8. 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  9. 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted (about 1 cup)
  10. 1 cup Belgian pearl sugar 
  1. In a small bowl, whisk the brown sugar and yeast into the lukewarm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, mix the flour with the salt. Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the yeast mixture. Mix at medium speed until shaggy, about 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing between each addition. Whisk the vanilla with the 1 cup of melted butter. With the mixer at medium-low, gradually mix in the butter until smooth; the batter will be thick and very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the batter rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. (you can refrigerate dough, over night, at this stage if you wish)
  2. Fold the pearl sugar into the risen batter. Cover again and let rest for 15 minutes, while you heat up the waffle iron.
  3.  Using an ice cream sized scoop of batter for each, cook the waffles until they are golden and crisp; (brush the waffle iron with melted butter if needed, I do not find this necessary.  Note that the butter will burn at higher temps, so be careful if you do use it to switch to a low enough heat on your waffle iron). Transfer the waffles to plates, then serve.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Photos from Our Weekend in Chicago

One summer tradition that my children really look forward to is going to visit their cousins in Chicago.  My brother and his family live in a beautiful home in Wilmette, IL, one of the northern suburbs of Chicago along Lake Michigan.  Last weekend we made our way up there for a quick, fun filled visit.  This year was extra special because it was the first time we met our newest family member, my nephew, Miles Tucker.  It was nice to snuggle a newborn baby again, but it did not make me wistful for those days.  I adored the newborn phase of mothering (yes, I'm one of those), especially the second time around because I had a better handle on what I was doing and C was a very content and easy baby, but I also really like the stage we are in now and I'm content to just enjoy babyhood again from afar. :)   The boys hadn't seen each other in a year but wasted no time picking up right where they left off.  They are all very close and get along incredibly well, it brings me such happiness to sit back and watch them interact.  Hopefully, one year we can vacation together longer somewhere close to the sea.  Here are a few highlights of the weekend caught on film...

PS.  If it looks like Charlie is wearing the same clothes all weekend that's because he pretty much is...  It was the first time I didn't pack extra clothes since we never need them and it was the first time we had both car sickness and major spills on the way down.  Lesson learned. :)

^^ hi Miles Tucker, so nice to meet you little love muffin, you! ^^

^^ racing to get to their cousins ^^

^^ at their awesome pool, my kids refer to it as a waterpark ^^

^^ ages 4, 5, 6 and 11 ^^

^^ An Uncle Kevin pile on ^^

^^ back from farmer's market with piping hot fresh doughnuts ^^

^^ trying to wake up after night one in the hotel which resulted in very little sleep ^^

^^ Minecraft convention ^^

^^ Gilson Beach.  I asked them to hold hands ;) ^^

^^ Muuuuuch too cold for swimming this time ^^

^^ I mean. Just look at that face! Mmmmwah!! ^^

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Last Day of School

A few weeks ago Charlie graduated from preschool.  Walking out of the building for the last time was such an emotional and symbolic moment for me.  For 12 years I've had a little shadow each day during the week, it feels surreal that those days are behind me and both boys will be in school all day next year.  I'm so grateful that his preschool years were such good ones, he made so many friends and many happy memories.  I can only hope he loves Kindergarten just as much.

 ^^ first day on left, last day on right ^^

^^ We need to work a bit on graduation day attire.  I had nothing to do with his ensemble.^^

Friday was Andrew's last day of 5th grade.  I'm now the mom of a 6th grader!!  Thankfully, 6th grade is still elementary in our district so he will be able to watch out for his little brother next year.  Andrew said a tearful goodbye to his favorite teacher, after she showered him with some of the greatest compliments you could ever hope to hear from a teacher.  I was thankful I was wearing sunglasses because I couldn't help but tear up as my heart swelled with pride.  There are many good teachers but every now and then you get a truly exceptional one that not only recognizes but appreciates and elevates your child's creativity and talents in a way that leaves a permanent impact. 

   ^^ first day on left, last day on right ^^

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Our Home | A Freshened Up Patio for Summer

A few weeks ago I blogged about my plans to freshen things up on our patio with a white and green garden for summer.  Well, it's mostly just a green garden at the moment but I thought I'd give you some progress pictures.  I gave myself a budget of about $500 (probably spent closer to $600) so I
didn't go too crazy.  The previous owners of our home (Hi Linda + Bruce, if you are reading!!) were avid gardeners and lived here for almost 20 years.  Thanks to them, our garden is full of gorgeous plantings, lush beds of ivy, charming moss covered stone walls, lilac bushes, white azaleas in the spring and huge lace cap hydrangea bushes that are as big as trees, so I'm starting from an already pretty base.  By sheer luck, I've managed not to destroy all their hard work, but I've had a few casualties here and there. (Though the beautiful vine covered trellis that was struck by lightening was truly out of my control!)  A gardener, I am not, but I'm trying. (To the right is a BEFORE shot)

Now that the boys are older and more independent it is easier for me to find time to spend in the garden.  As I've mentioned before, there isn't really much consistent sunlight out back.  It flutters
about in patches throughout the day, as it peeks through the canopy of trees that cover the backyard.  A stone path winds around leading to the back patio as you can see in the above picture.  This is where I added four new hydrangea bushes to replace the mysteriously missing hostas that I might have accidentally removed one year thinking they were weeds. (oops, baby steps all, baby steps)  I added two Incrediball Hydrangeas (such an unfortunate name, no?) and two Little Limelights.  The Incrediballs are supposed to be a hardier version of the Annabelle Hydrangeas (which I couldn't find anywhere).  They have more than doubled in size since I planted them a few weeks ago and
are FULL of buds.  They should be in full bloom in about a week.

The Little Limelights are in front, bordered by mini boxwoods and a row of white Impatiens.  No flower buds on the Limelights yet, I believe they bloom later in the summer.  Thankfully they aren't growing as high as the Incrediballs, so when sitting on the patio, I should be able the enjoy both.

I added a pair of rattan and bamboo chairs from Ikea to the table.  I love mismatched chairs in dining rooms, so I'm not surprised how much I like the mismatched combo outside too!  They are not meant to be left outside in uncovered areas all the time, so we typically bring them in at night if rain is predicted in the forecast.  Our family room is right off the patio and they actually look fun and summery inside too, so I don't mind the small inconvenience.  The striped salmon colored pillows are from Target (also, not weather resistant, but conveniently match our family room colors too).

^^ wooden barrel planters from Home Depot ^^

I added a pair of grayish, weathered wood, planters flanking the back door.  I filled them with boxwood, white Lobelia and white Impatiens.  The Lobelia needs more sun than they are getting so they aren't flowering much anymore, just lots of green, but their leaves are pretty too and it still adds a little variety to the mix.  

^^ I scattered different sized terra-cotta pots in other places on the patio. The striped pillow above IS weather resistant, from Dash and Albert. ^^

^^ I had visions of a mass of roses spilling over this wrought iron fence but I don't think it will come to life.  I added a David Austen rose bush and I'm pretty sure it isn't getting enough sun.  It has had several blooms but they haven't opened all the way and then they've been knocked down by rain.^^
^^I planted three white knock-out rose bushes at the entrance to the stone path and fear there isn't enough sun for them either (cue the violins and my whining), but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. ^^

Overall, these small changes have made a big difference already. It feels more like an extension of our home rather than an after thought and I find all of us enjoying the space more often.  Though that might have more to do with the spectacular weather lately, but I'm going to pretend it is all about my comfy seating and pretty hydrangeas!  (PS.  In full disclosure: I did kill four lavender plants in this process.  So I'm trying them in a sunnier spot by the vegetable garden. I want some lavender by golly!  I'll post about the vegetable garden later.  When (if) it actually bears any vegetables!)  

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My Favorite Books to Read Aloud to Boys

Some of my favorite memories with my children are those made at the end of the each day, snuggling beside them to read a story.  I have always been a pretty avid reader and lover of great books and I'm thankful Andrew is the same.  I like to think part of his joy of reading stems from the hours I've spent making stories come alive for him.  I reread him all my favorites from when I was younger, almost every Judy Bloom and Beverly Clearly book (still as amazing now as they were then). Through books he was introduced to old classics like Kind Arthur, and modern classics like The Princess Bride.  We've often discussed why characters chose the course they did or what we anticipate will happen next.  We have laughed hysterically and cried a time or two as well.  Reading to them is something I truly look forward to just as much as they do (unless it is reading don't let the Pigeon Drive the Bus for the 100th time).   Now that Andrew is 11, I don't read to him every night like I used to during the school year  (I do still read to Charlie though!).  With homework and swim practice and reading of his own, it gets to be too much to squeeze in and keep a reasonable bedtime. Besides, he likes to end his days reading on his own.  But in the summer, it's game on.  I read to him most nights and we try to tackle one meaty novel or classic or I try introduce him to a new series or genre that he otherwise might have over looked.  I contemplated Charles Dickens this summer, thinking David Copperfield, but Dickens can be a bit dark and heavy (maybe best saved for High School English class), which I don't think summer is the best time for all that, so we choose to kick off our summer reading with The Giver instead.

I asked him to think back and name some of his all time favorite books that we've read together.  We started reading Judy Bloom type books in first grade (I read him every single Fudge book and then he reread each of them on his own!) and C.S. Lewis by third grade.   I can think of a many more that I would add to this list, The Princess Bride and James and The Giant Peach to name a couple, so we might need to publish a round two.  We choose to read the entire Narnia series in the order they were written (not the chronological order, though we debated the merits of each way) in case you are curious, but there is nothing quite like reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for the first time!  After reading the first Harry Potter book together, I couldn't keep up with him, he wanted to devour the rest at a pace faster than what we could read each night.  I used to be worried he would trip walking into school because his nose would be in the book till the last second before he had to pay attention in class.  Hope these spark some ideas for summer reading to the young boys in your life (or girls too, because I'm guessing many (most) of these would be equally loved by them!)  There is a good mix on here for ages 6 to 12.  What have been some of your favorites??