I made these delicious maple donuts on a snowy day in January, using the Babycakes Covers the Classics plain cake donut recipe with a little tweak. I added one teaspoon of maple extract into the 1/4 cup vanilla, giving the donuts a slight maple flavor. For a stronger maple flavor, two teaspoons of maple extract would probably do the job.
To ease us through the doldrums of January, we hosted a Trolls themed party for eight four-year-olds. The highlights of the party were a make-your-own troll hair headband craft, strawberry cupcakes, and dancing to music from the Trolls movie.
For the troll hair headbands, I mostly followed the instructions I found here. I figured it would be more fun – and less work for me – for the kids to make their own headband (with help from a parent) during the party. So I just did a little preparation by cutting lots of strips of the tulle (roughly 5″x22″) in advance. Then I laid out the tulle, headbands, ribbon, and decorations on a table so everyone could make their troll hair headbands whenever they wanted to. Pretty soon there were a lot of Poppy-inspired trolls running around our house, and a few more unique trolls as well!
We also printed out some Trolls coloring sheets to provide another party activity for the kids, and handed out Trolls goody bags as the guests headed home.
I realize that pumpkin is a fall food for many people, but I really enjoy it during every season. This baked pumpkin oatmeal recipe turned out great.
The only modifications I made were a substitution of walnuts for pecans, and I baked it in a 9″x9″ pan. This would be a great dish to make for a breakfast or brunch party!
We visited the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado on a warmish January afternoon. It was amazing to see the lions, tigers, coyotes, wolves, bears, and other animals roaming freely in their large habitats.
It was a pleasant surprise to see two bald eagles visiting the sanctuary as well.
Bright Nights in Springfield, MA is a great holiday activity for a cold night. Since we went a few days after Christmas, it wasn’t super busy – we arrived about five minutes before it opened for the evening and only had a few cars ahead of us waiting to get in. The last time we came to Bright Nights was about three years ago, and it seemed to have grown considerably since then. We were able to drive steadily at our own pace, and spent about 30 minutes enjoying the many detailed light displays.
If it hadn’t been such a brutally cold night, it would have been nice to take advantage of the place to park, get out of the car, and ride a carousel and enjoy warm drinks. Maybe next year!
On a cold winter New England day, a warm, humid butterfly house is just the place for me.
The Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens, in South Deerfield MA, is a great change of scenery and climate during the winter. You’ll find yourself immersed in beautiful flowers and greenery, with butterflies flitting all around you (and sometimes even landing on you).
In the main butterfly room you’ll also see uncaged birds (including a hummingbird and parrot), a tortoise in a large open pen, and a small koi pond. An adjoining room contains numerous terrariums housing many species of amphibians, reptiles, and insects.
On our Christmas vacation, we visited the Springfield Museums. This museum complex includes five museums and a sculpture garden, so you could definitely spend the whole day exploring (if you can handle that much museum time in one day). The Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden has been here since the 1990s. In 2017, it was joined by the newest museum in the complex, the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss.
Housed in a beautiful old home, the first floor of this museum includes many rooms with interactive kid-friendly exhibits and lively, colorful representations of characters and scenes from popular Seuss books such as The Lorax, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, and Horton Hears a Who!.
The upstairs of the museum has more adult-oriented biographical and historical information about Seuss himself, and the basement offered some hands-on craft opportunities for children.
Like I did last year, I’ve tried to capture the essence of each of the books I read this year in as few words as possible.
- Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (non-fiction, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik): a girl nicknamed “Kiki” grows into an activist supreme court judge and feminist icon
- All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood (non-fiction, by Jennifer Senior): sociological studies show how kids affect parents
- The Old Man and the Sea (fiction, Ernest Hemingway): an epic showdown between a tough old fisherman and the potential catch of his life
- The Cow in the Doorway: Love and Loss in the Time of Pot and Protest (fiction, Gino B. Bardi): a young man’s incredible yet relatable freshman year at Cornell during the Vietnam War
- Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (non-fiction, Trevor Noah): funny stories interspersed with profound observations from the experience of growing up mixed-race as apartheid ended
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (fiction, by Junot Diaz): a geeky Dominican-American boy struggles with life and love, probably thanks to a generations-long curse on his family from an evil dictator(!)
- The Blue Castle (fiction, by L.M. Montgomery): in the 1920s, a single young woman leaves fear and convention behind
- Jane Steele (fiction, by Lyndsay Faye): a young woman’s journey as a murderer/hero in 19th century England
- Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (non-fiction, by Jon Krakauer): systemic issues in Missoula, Montana led to controversy over the number of uncharged rapes occurring at the University of Montana
- Ways to Disappear (fiction, by Idra Novey): a literature translator finds adventure in Brazil when her author suddenly disappears
- Feminist Fight Club (non-fiction, by Jessica Bennett): a cheeky, fact-based guide to working while female
- The Dead (fiction, by James Joyce): an Irish dinner party followed by revelations about love and death
- Heart of Darkness (fiction, by Joseph Conrad): an English captain’s mission on the Congo River in the 19th century
- Valley of the Dolls (fiction, by Jacqueline Susann): following three women through friendship, love, fame, and self-destruction in the 1940s-1960s
- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (fiction, by Ransom Riggs): peculiar children are living in a time loop managed by a bird-woman, but none of that seems so crazy when you’re reading the book
- Dear Emma (fiction, by Katie Heaney): a very loose recapitulation of Emma in the age of social media, with a college advice columnist as the protagonist
- Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (nonfiction, by Claude M. Steele): an examination of how stereotype threat can affect anyone in specific conditions, and some evidence-based advice to mitigate this effect
- Anatomy of a Misfit (fiction, by Andrea Portes): the third-most-popular girl at a cliquey high school makes decisions that could ostracize her from high school society, or upgrade her to the most popular girl in school
- At Fault (fiction, by Kate Chopin): questionable romantic choices are made by several parties on a Louisiana plantation
- The Virgin Suicides (fiction, by Jeffrey Eugenides): five teenaged sisters in 1970s suburban Detroit commit suicide, as their community watches and tries to understand why
Some books on deck for 2018 are The Book Thief (by Markus Zusak), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (by Fredrik Backman), Notes from a Feminist Killjoy (by Erin Wunker), My Heart and Other Black Holes (by Jasmine Warga), and The Hate U Give (by Angie Thomas). Do you have any book recommendations?
For our annual Thanksgiving potluck dinner with friends, I brought these mini meatless meatloaves. They were really tasty and filling, and went well with the stuffing and roasted vegetables and other typical Thanksgiving foods.
I used this recipe, but doubled it to make 15 muffin-sized “meatloaves.” I followed the recipe, and for the open-ended parts of the recipe I used one can of black beans and one can of canellini beans, a mixture of zucchini and carrots, and Glutino gluten-free breadcrumbs. I used a food processor rather than chopping everything super-finely and mashing it all together. One major difference from the recipe was that I had to bake these for more than 30 minutes, but I’m not sure if that was due to altitude or imprecise measurements on my part.
These mini meatless meatloaves are great for bringing to a potluck, as they will work for many dietary restrictions, and are easy to serve since they are already in individual portions. I highly recommend labeling them though, because it’s not obvious what kind of food they are when you look at them. I think some people may assume they are a dessert food since they look muffin-like, and it could be an unpleasant surprise to bite into one of these when you’re expecting a sweet muffin flavor. If you’re expecting something savory, though, these are awesome!
On the weekend before Thanksgiving, we went to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery Lights in Fort Collins. This is a great free activity for families, anyone who likes Christmas lights, or people who like Anheuser-Busch beer. We really enjoyed the Christmas tree maze and riding the little train that went through a snowman tunnel and past many of the lights.
The train ride costs $1 per person, but entry is free and there is free beer as well. Other food and drink were available for purchase.