Coming Soon August 2014...

...Baby BOY Cheung! Yep, he's made it loud and clear, make no mistake about that. This guy is not very shy. He revealed all this last week at our 18 week ultrasound appointment and let us know that he's healthy and strong (insert sigh of relief here). Momma Cheung (that would be me) is still experiencing nausea and other fun things, but is now pleasantly distracted by baby boy names and thrilled that she doesn't have to deal with people buying Baby Cheung a bunch of pink stuff. Phew! Maybe next time, folks. Bring on the grays, blues and greens!

Enjoy the pics and videos below! (Password for Vimeo: nicolio)

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What keeps my heart beating these days

Well, I fell off the face of the social media planet a few months ago and am just now slowly emerging back into what I guess people call "normal everyday life", and I'm having a rough time. I have zero desire to check Facebook, scrolling through my Instagram feed just makes me nauseous (literally) and my email inbox is so incredibly overflowing with junk, I can't stand the sight of it. It just doesn't have any charm to it these days. I've made some big changes this week in terms of setting priorities for myself and none of it involves social media. Maybe that says something. It probably has to do with the fact that I'm very limited in what I'm actually capable of doing right now, thus life has turned suddenly simple and pleasant. 

NEWS FLASH: Did I mention I'm pregnant? That's supposed to be the main point of this post, so I should probably just come right out and say it before I get off tangent again. I'm pregnant! Wahoo! Yippee! Hooray! To be completely honest, I am excited. But it's been an excitement that has come on gradually, in small doses of sweet moments of triumph and relief. I haven't exactly found it easy or natural to feel that thrilling and overwhelming happiness usually found in most mothers-to-be out there. Those who struggle with infertility or long for a child may think I'm a horrible person, but it isn't that simple. This pregnancy has been far from a walk in the park and came with it's own set of fears and struggles.   

This week marks 15 weeks of conquered pregnancy, and yes, I mean it when I say conquered. Every day has been a hard-fought battle. When I was finally diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum (aka severe morning sickness that only 1-2% of pregnant women experience) it was a huge relief for me. For weeks, I had unknowingly been battling dehydration, experimenting with half a dozen different nausea meds and still trying to carry on like a normal person. I even forced myself to fly to Denver for my younger brother's wedding after Christmas (which I don't regret), but I threw up all along the way and came home with a cough on top of the morning sickness, which only made me throw up more and lose more weight. I look back at that and laugh. What was I thinking? In the end, I lost 15 pounds I didn't have to lose and ended up checking into the hospital for hydration therapy off and on for several weeks.

My little brother Mitchell and me at his wedding in Denver. I don't regret dragging myself there. Crazy? Yes. But totally worth it.

My little brother Mitchell and me at his wedding in Denver. I don't regret dragging myself there. Crazy? Yes. But totally worth it.

Thankfully, our precious Kate Middleton has brought this rare condition into more of a spotlight in recent years and let's just say, there is nothing royal about it. On many occasions, I remember telling Alex I just wanted to die. I was probably drugged and in a half-zombie state, but oh did I mean it. Every smell, every movement, every light and every particle of food was repulsive. I had every possible symptom of pregnancy X 10, including Pytalism (excessive salivation that forces me to spit every minute or so). Anything and everything was a trigger to something unpleasant - even Alex. I couldn't stand the smell of him (yes, my heightened senses made it so I could smell the very oil on his skin) and yet I needed him to take care of me. Poor guy...:(

I spent a few weeks at my parents home, lying down on the couch next to my dear Dadio (who is starting his 3rd year battling liver cancer). We'd each take turns throwing up and when we were done, we'd look at the other person and say, "Your turn." It was actually pretty funny and sweet most days. I told him I just wanted to keep him company. He made me realize that my condition, though it appeared equally grueling, was, unlike his, temporary and that he was my hero in more ways than I had already thought him to be. I'll never forget one Sunday while everyone was gone to church. I started vomiting uncontrollably and nobody was home to help. My feeble Dad raised his frail body from the couch, shuffled to my chair, helped me empty my bowl and got me a nice, cool rag for my head. The sick taking care of the sick. Priceless.

Trying not to die while waiting to take photographs during my brother's wedding. Luckily, my mom was watching out for me and I made it through the whole day without throwing up. Looks like God was watching out for me, too..:)

Trying not to die while waiting to take photographs during my brother's wedding. Luckily, my mom was watching out for me and I made it through the whole day without throwing up. Looks like God was watching out for me, too..:)

All that being said, it's easy to see why my excitement at being pregnant has been more of a process than a natural response that I share with glee and giddiness. There simply wasn't time or space in my sickly body to feel that excitement most days. Small moments provided relief, an ultrasound of a healthy little fetus made me cry, gifts and visits from friends were a godsend and prayers and blessings kept me afloat. To the point that I can now say I am truly excited to be a mother-to-be.

So back to life now being simple and pleasant. It's simple because I'm still pretty much confined to my apartment and pleasant because I am no longer throwing up everything I put in my stomach. That's right, baby! I am eating REAL FOOD again! I practically cried when I bit into an egg salad sandwich---it just tasted soooo good! (Only those who have eaten small bites of toast and yogurt for months on end know what I'm talking about, but whatever.) After being bedridden for several months, I have learned to celebrate the small things in life -- like not throwing up anymore. I'm still taking meds and still battling all sorts of unpleasant symptoms, but how grateful I am that I didn't give in and die like I wanted to while in the thick of it all. 

So, my priorities now consist of the following:

  1. Enduring incredibly cheesy prenatal yoga tutorials each morning (Do they have to use that ridiculously soothing voice and phrases like, "connect with your little bundle" ???).
  2. Going for a walk outside for as long as my weak and atrophied body can handle.
  3. Reading lots of books.
  4. Accomplishing one work project that hopefully doesn't require too much time on my laptop (screens and scrolling make me nauseous).
  5. Eating approximately 8 times a day, which btw, is really hard work!
  6. Sleeping 12 hours a day, which when you count the fact that my medication makes me half-sleepy and I wake up at least 6 times during the night, it's more like 6 hours a day.
  7. Writing in my journal about everyday small accomplishments like, "Today I reconciled our bank accounts for the business. Go me! I am actually useful as a human being!"
  8. Studying the scriptures (specifically The Book of Mormon) so I can at least pretend to keep up with the seminary class that I am no longer teaching...yes, Alex is doing it all now.
  9. Praying for a speedy and complete recovery from morning sickness (I know there are saintly women out there who battle this for all 9 months, and I don't want to be one of them).

That about sums up a day in the life of pregnant Nicole. Oh yea, except the most important part. The part that keeps my heart beating. Ok, well, food and sleep kind of do that too, but I guess I'm referring to what motivated me to endure the last three months and what continues to motivate me for the next six - Baby Cheung. That's right, although I haven't exactly enjoyed my pregnancy experience thus far, the fact that the little thing the size of a large navel orange growing in my belly is still alive and kicking is a beautiful blessing to me. My secret nickname for it is actually "Killer Bunny," because it likes to suck the life out of me while at the same time being incredibly endearing. How do babies do that? You know those small moments I was talking about that keep me going? Well, last week we heard Killer Bunny's heartbeat for the first time and let's just say, it definitely sounds like there's a warrior in there. What's it doing, running a marathon? I like this baby already! Supposedly 100-160 bpm is a normal fetal heart rate, but it still sounds crazy fast to me. Listen for yourself below! (Yes, Alex recorded it and I listen to it daily as motivation. I am that crazy pregnant lady.) Every time I hear it, I can't help but feel grateful.

The reason Killer Bunny's heartbeat keeps my own going these days is because this is something I never got to hear the last time I was pregnant. Yep, you read correctly, I wrote "the last time I was pregnant." Turns out this is actually Baby Cheung #2 in my book. Last summer, a few months before moving to Seattle, Alex and I found out we were pregnant with Baby Cheung #1, who only survived for about 8 weeks. The miscarriage and all that is a blog post for another day, but the loss of Baby Cheung #1 made the pregnancy of Baby Cheung #2 not only riddled with the fear of enduring the pain and sickness all over again for nothing, but the horror of yet another loss. Now that I'm safely into my 2nd trimester, the risk of miscarriage is dramatically decreased at this point, and I'm breathing a little easier.

That is why Killer's Bunny's heartbeat is music to my ears. It means there's still hope and a reason to keep on keepin' on. Yes, I would even endure the sickness all over again, if it meant that the baby would just make it through to the end. And yes, even if it means enduring overdramatic phrases from prenatal videos like, "Draw strength from the universal and historical power of birth." I have a startup business idea already; I call it, "Prenatal Yoga for Normal People." In the meantime, I didn't die, my heart is still beating, and so is Killer Bunny's. And that is reason enough to be excited!

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

These spring rolls were made a while ago, but I just can't help but post this because they were the best spring rolls I have ever had in my entire life. That's right. MY ENTIRE LIFE. They were made by hand and in the company of some of my favorite people, which makes a difference in how good the food tastes, I think..:) Enjoy the intense process below (yes, it was tedious) but it's a great date night or group activity where everyone can chip in and contribute. Ingredients are flexible, so experiment and have fun trying new flavors! Here is a list of everything we used:

  1. Egg roll wrappers (cut in half)
  2. Shrimp (w/ shells)
  3. Green onions (cut into 3-inch slices)
  4. Egg whites (for sealing egg roll wraps)
  5. Oil (for deep frying)
  6. Round rice paper (for wrapping)
  7. Ground pork (patties cut into slices)
  8. Cucumbers (slices)
  9. Granny Smith apple slices (slices)
  10. Romain lettuce
  11. Vermicelli rice noodles
  12. Cilantro
  13. Mint
  14. Basil
  15. Shrimp sauce
  16. Peanut sauce (from Out the Door)
  17. Vegetarian sauce (from Out the Door)
  18. Sriracha chili garlic sauce

How to Make Amazing Vietnamese Spring Rolls

We started by making yummy egg rolls to go inside the actual spring roll. (Yes, these are doubled up with deliciousness. The crunchy egg roll inside the fresh spring roll is an amazing combination.)

Cut the egg roll wrappers in half into triangles

Cut the egg roll wrappers in half into triangles

You need 1 shrimp for each egg roll (unless you're going vegetarian)

You need 1 shrimp for each egg roll (unless you're going vegetarian)

You'll need 2-3 green onion slices for each egg roll

You'll need 2-3 green onion slices for each egg roll

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After rolling about 100 of these egg rolls, we deep fried them in oil. Remember, you can leave the shrimp out and just do green onions to stay vegetarian if you need to. We had a few people allergic to seafood, so we did about 30 or so without shrimp. When I do these again, I will probably add carrot to the vegetarian egg rolls.

When they're all wrapped, deep fry all the rolls for a few minutes until golden and crispy. Don't forget to keep the vegetarian ones separated from the others!

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Meanwhile, the master chef (Sybil) was preparing everything else. She made an amazing shrimp sauce, cooked rice noodles, prepared loads of fresh vegetable ingredients and cooked the meat patties that were later cut into slices (see below).

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Don't forget to add a delicious drink to your meal!

Don't forget to add a delicious drink to your meal!

Add your favorite sauces for dipping!

Add your favorite sauces for dipping!

The green plastic trays above are great for separating the rice paper rounds and can be found at a local Asian grocery store. When everything is prepared, dip your rice paper in water until flexible, pile on the ingredients, wrap it all together, dip into your favorite sauce and experience true happiness. Ok, maybe not true happiness, but pretty darn close..:) Enjoy!

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All About Airbnb

It's a well known fact that I LOVE Airbnb. I can't stop telling people about it because it's pretty much the best idea since sliced cheese. If you haven't checked it out yet, go here and browse for just 10 minutes. You will find yourself creating a travel wish list that consists of staying in a tree house in Italy, a seashell in Mexico and maybe even a gypsy car in France. The possibilities seem endless and are all very affordable when you consider what you're getting in return. (Ok, maybe not the castles.)

I think it's safe to say I will never stay at a hotel ever again. Why would I do that when I can get a unique, local experience and an entire home to myself for cheaper?!  Also, if you need to make some extra cash, just take some pictures, list your place and you're on your way to making money when you leave out of town. It doesn't get any better than leaving on vacation knowing that you will come home cash positive.

Alex and I recently stayed in this architect cabin in Cazadero, CA for our anniversary. It was the PERFECT getaway from the city. The hospitality was fabulous, our host had everything immaculately prepared for us and we were free to help ourselves to the fridge and pantry full of all sorts of goodies and snacks. It was probably the best getaway we've had all year. We were thrilled to have no cell phone service and completely disconnect. Twenty-four hours was all we could spare from work, but we had the best 24 hours anyone has ever had! We cooked, ate, watercolored, read and explored. It was lovely. I even got to build a fire in the stove! (I promise I'm not a pyro, but this just made me so happy..:)  

The next time you are booking a hotel for your trip, save yourself a boring experience and take a peek at Airbnb. You won't regret it!

*Note: I was not paid to write this blog post. I wish!..:)

More Photos

Chinese Parties & Traditions

Chinese New Year Party

The Hancocks always hold a festive Chinese New Year dinner party at their home and I look forward to it every year. Everyone brings a tasty dish and the feast is superb. Afterwards, we play games and participate in Chinese traditions and activities. My favorite is the white elephant gift exchange, which is not really Chinese, but so much fun! This year we dabbled in Chinese calligraphy while learning to write Chinese new year greetings. As always, good times with good company.

Alex and I contributed Bear's Paw Tofu to the meal: Tofu, Chinese baby leeks, Shanghainese chili bean paste, canola oil, light soy sauce, garlic, and ginger

2013 is the year of the snake (baby dragon...:)

Grandma Gong - always smiling and always festively dressed.

Waiting in anticipation during our traditional white elephant gift exchange. Not necessarily Chinese, but so much fun!

Our delightful host, Marguerite.

My former roommate, Kelly.

The prized painting/stereo speaker that you couldn't turn off.

The mango coconut jelly got stolen several times in the course of the evening. 


All of us with our gifts. Quite the range if I do say so myself.

Red Egg & Ginger Party

When a new child is born into a Chinese family, they usually hold a party for them about 100 days after they're born. This comes from a tradition that goes way back. Basically, many children in China died before they reached 100 days old, so it wasn't until then that they named the baby and welcomed it to the family. By that time they knew the baby had a good chance of living. The ginger is for the mother, as it serves for healing and energy after giving birth.

Alex's birth father's family in Sacramento invited us to come to his cousin's red egg party, so we decided to make a weekend out of it. We had a fabulous time going to Tahoe, staying with Uncle Mel and Aunt Florence and visiting with family at the party. Alex and his siblings moved away from Sacramento when they were very young, so it was great to reconnect and learn more about their first dad, Allan. He died of cancer when Alex was only one year old, so this side of the family has always been sort of a mystery. There's nothing like a good party to bring people together and we really appreciated the hospitality and love we felt from the Nunn family during our visit.

Each guest can take home a red egg, which symbolizes a life change, as well as happiness and harmony.

Ginger

Jeremiah loved getting to play with family members his age. He was in heaven.

Mango pudding in the shape of a fish. Yum!

Uncle Melvin and Auntie Florence were our hosts in Sacramento and took such good care of us!

Escape to Tahoe

Alex's extended family invited us to Sacramento for a Red Egg party, so we decided to make a weekend out of it and take a little detour to Tahoe for some snowboarding. That's right, NOT skiing, snowboarding...:) Although I do have to say I'm more open minded about learning to ski these days, haha. Needless to say, it was a much needed retreat into the mountains. It was a beautifully sunny day with good snow and good company. All I can say is I sure hope there's snow in heaven!

My Design Resource List

Several people have been asking me about resources I've used to teach myself design and front-end web development. I have most of these resources listed in my Index under Design, but thought I'd do a post about it as well.

Below is a list of resources I recommend or have heard great things about. I've also included lists of fabulously helpful websites that I wish I had known about from the start. My husband, Alex, also wrote a post on this topic with a list of resources more programming centered that you can find here.

I love collaborating with aspiring entrepreneurs/designers, so let me know if you have any questions or resources to add to this list. Enjoy!

For Learning:

Inspiredology

1. www.codeacademy.com: Free! I used this when I first started learning HTML and CSS. Free and fabulous. Very user friendly and a good place to start, but once you've got the hang of it, move on and make something of your own! That's the best way to learn.

2. www.teamtreehouse.com: This costs money, but it's great as a step-by-step help. Very thorough and great if you're looking for a more course-like approach to learning over time. Not so great if you need to learn something specific very quickly.

3. www.udemy.com: This costs money, but delves into topics more in depth like an actual course. 

4. www.udacity.com: Free interactive college classes. I haven't personally used this, but I've heard great things!

For Getting Inspired:

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

1. www.startupsthisishowdesignworks.com: Great introduction to startups making design a priority.

2. www.dribbble.com: A place to browse and get ideas. It's invite only, but a fabulous community of designers if you can get one of the precious spots.

3. www.behance.net: Another place to browse that's open to anyone.

4. www.theheadsofstate.com: I just really love these guys! Their designs make me think differently.

5. www.jessicahische.is/awesome: Can't say much more, she's awesome.

6. www.imjustcreative.com: Another inspiration of mine. Best logos ever!

7. www.yaronschoen.com: So simple and yet so amazing. Helps me keep things clean.

For Help:

Stack Overflow

1. www.stackoverflow.com: This place is the bomb. It has the answers to all of your questions.

2. www.w3schools.com: I use this as a CSS reference a lot.

3. www.colorschemedesigner.com: Fabulous for when you're stuck and need some good color combos.

4. www.css-tricks.com: This is a button maker, but lots of other good tricks too!

For Following:

Code Academy

I Love Typography

1. www.fontsinuse.com: A site showing fonts being used on the web and other places. Great for context and ideas.

2. www.ilovetypography.com: FOLLOW THIS TOO!

3. www.dailydropcap.com: A letter project. So creative and good for ideas outside the box.

4. www.fontshop.com: Great fonts, but you have to pay for them.

For Downloading:

The Noun Project

1. www.subtlepatterns.com: Great backgrounds for blogs or websites. 

2. www.thenounproject.com: Fabulous icons and more.

3. www.creativemarket.com: If you want to be unique and pay for it, this is a great place to browse.

Christmas Memories: O Holy Night

Thanks to my younger brother Matt's recent return from the Middle East, we had some very authentic costumes for our traditional Christmas Eve nativity program. We also had special guest performances for the baby Jesus and angel. It was truly a beautiful sight.

The true Christmas story never gets old. We perform it every year and every year I feel the love of our Heavenly Father through the gift of his son. Almost a month later, I can still remember the peace I felt that night as I reflect back on this simple yet priceless tradition.

Christmas Memories: Cook, Bake, Decorate!

Alex and I were in charge of food over the holidays. Thanks to all the helping hands, it wasn't too stressful. We used some of our tried and true recipes, ventured out on a limb with some new ones and went crazy with the gingerbread making. Overall, it was quite the success! Check out our creations and recipes below!

Cook: Some delicious favorites

Pea and Mint Soup 

Probably my favorite soup ever. Thank you Jamie Oliver. This is one of our go to favorites when we need a good vegetarian soup option. It's thick and creamy and super healthy. Also a quick make if you don't have a lot of time.

Ingredients

  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 3/4 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
  • Olive oil
  • 5 1/2 cups of frozen peas
  • Fresh mint
  • Feta cheese
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  • Peel and roughly slice carrots
  • Slice the celery
  • Peel and roughly chop the onions
  • Peel and slice garlic
  • Heat broth in a saucepan until boiling
  • Put 2 tbsp of olive in oil in a separate large saucepan on medium heat
  • Add all chopped and sliced ingredients and mix together with olive oil
  • Cook for 10 minutes with the lid askew until the carrots are soft and the onion is slightly golden
  • Add the boiling broth to the vegetables
  • Add the peas
  • Give the soup a good stir and bring to a boil
  • Simmer 10 minutes
  • Remove from heat and season with sea salt and pepper
  • Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth
  • Top with feta cheese and mint leaves

Gourmet Mac & Cheese

Obviously, this is not the most healthy recipe, but I am such a sucker for cheese. Alex made this for me on Valentine's day two years ago and I died and went to heaven. We made it again for everyone over the holidays and it was definitely a winner when it comes to feeding 15 people. Gourmet and delicious, but fairly simple and still yummy in large quantities.

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 lb elbow macaroni or cavatappi
  • 1 quart milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces Gruyere, grated (4 cups)
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (4 small)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.

Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

This recipe comes from my mom. Don't worry, it's as delicious as it is aesthetic. We love squash at our house, so this one is definitely a keeper. Especially for small dinner parties or get-togethers. You can mix in different kinds of veggies with this recipe, depending on what's in your fridge. We made ours more of a southwest mix with corn, beans and paprika, so the picture doesn't look exactly like the recipe. It's a great use of leftovers though, so feel free to experiment and get creative!

Ingredients

  • 2 medium acorn squash
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrot, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 3/4 cup long grain brown rice, cooked without salt
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • Cut each squash in half crosswise.
  • Scoop out and discard seeds and strings.
  • If necessary, trim bottom for squash to set level, and place on a rimmed baking sheet with cut side up.
  • Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp nutmeg.
  • Cover with foil and bake squash just until moist and tender about 45- 50 minutes.
  • Cook brown rice without salt
  • Meanwhile, in a large skillet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray over medium-high heat, add olive oil.
  • When heated, add onion and garlic, if using, and celery.
  • Cook 2 minutes and add carrots.
  • Cover and cook 3 minutes.
  • Add cranberries, sage, thyme, chopped pecans, and 1/2 tsp salt.
  • Add cooked brown rice and mix well.
  • Remove from heat and fill center of each acorn squash half.
  • Return foil over top and return to oven for 15 minutes.
  • Top with chopped fresh parsley and grated parmesan, to serve.

British Beef & Onion Pot Pie

"B" is actually for Bird, but I guess in this case it could also be for British beef pie...:) This was a new recipe for us (also by Jamie Oliver). My dad LOVES pot pies, so it was worth all the effort in the end. Seriously, so tasty. We didn't have the marmite or mustard and it still tasted amazing. It did take a while to thicken, so we used some of the broth and flour to create a thickening mixture to speed up the process. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 3 medium onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • Olive oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 lb good quality ground beef
  • 1 tsp English mustard
  • 1 tsp marmite
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart beef broth
  • 2 nine inch pie crusts
  • 1 large egg

Directions

Beef filling:

  • Peel and roughly chop your onion, carrots, and celery
  • Remove rosemary leaves from the woody stalks and chop finely
  • Place a large casserole-type pan on high heat
  • Add 2 lugs of olive oil, all the vegetables, rosemary and bay leaves
  • Stir every minute for 10 minutes or until veggies have softened
  • Stir in the ground beef
  • Add mustard, marmite, worcestershire sauce and 2 tsp of flour
  • Add beef broth and bring to a boil
  • Turn the heat down and simmer with the lid slightly askew for about an hour, stirring every now and again

Pie

  • Fill a large baking dish with the beef filling and allow it to cool down
  • Remove the pastry from the refrigerator 10 minutes before you need to roll it out
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  • Dust a clean work surface and your rolling pin with flour
  • Lay the pie crusts one on top of the other, then fold in half and roll out the pastry to 1/4 inch think
  • When large enough to cover your serving dish, wind the pastry around the rolling pin and unroll it over the baking dish
  • Run a knife around the edge of the dish to trim off any excess pastry
  • Using a fork, press down around the edge of the pastry to "crimp" it
  • Make a hole in the middle of the pastry using the top of a knife
  • Brush the top of the pastry with beaten egg
  • Bake on bottom shelf of the preheated over for 40 minutes or until pastry is golden and crisp

Bake: Flaky Fortune Rolls

I found this awesome recipe at one of my new favorite food blogs. Check it out here. I then rolled up slips of paper with scripture verses on them inside the rolls before baking. They're great for an added dinner surprise or any special occasion. I had my family give me their favorite scriptures about Christ and we read them during our Christmas Eve dinner. Priceless. Start early on the baking though, as it takes a few hours.

Ingredients

  • 1 (1/4th oz) package dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water (about 100 degrees) + 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk, scalded and cooled slightly (should be about 100 degrees too---not too hot, not too cold. To scald milk, heat on medium high heat until bubbles form around the edges of pot. Be careful--milk can easily burn!)
  • 1 egg, beaten with a fork
  • 1 tbsp shortening
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • for laminating: 6 tbsp butter, softened
  • for baking: 1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp warm water for egg wash

Directions

Combine the yeast and the warm water/sugar in a glass measuring cup or small bowl. Mix with your finger until combined (no yeast clumps) and let sit for about five minutes until foamy and creamy.

Meanwhile, combine the beaten egg, the milk, the shortening, the sugar and the salt in a large bowl. Add the flour and the yeast and mix for about six minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. If using a Kitchen Aid, use your paddle or dough hook attachment and mix on medium high speed until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. It will seem sticky at first, but keep mixing (or kneading by hand) and it will become smooth.

Place dough ball in a greased bowl, cover with a dishcloth or plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove dough from fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface to a large rectangle that's about 1/4th inch thick. Spread your softened butter all over dough, leaving an inch around the sides of the rectangle, being careful not to break through dough with butter.

Fold one half of the rectangle towards the center and fold the other half over as well on top of the first layer so you have three dough layers (see above photo). Fold in half one more time, cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge for 30 minutes.

Roll out dough again to a long rectangle (being careful of the butter---roll gently) and fold dough again into thirds like a book. Place back in fridge for 30 more minutes. Repeat this process two more times.

At this point, you can either proceed with the directions or you can wrap your dough tightly with plastic wrap and place in the fridge overnight.

To proceed, roll dough out to 1/8th inch thick. Slice into triangles like above photo. Roll each triangle up, starting with wide end and tuck the "tail" underneath the roll. Place rolls on a lined baking sheet, cover with a dishcloth or more plastic wrap and let rise 1-1.5 hours until double in size.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine egg yolk and warm water and brush on each roll. Bake rolls for 12 minutes until golden brown.

Time: about 3 hours

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Decorate: Crazy Gingerbread Creations

Every Christmas we make something ridiculous out of gingerbread. So ridiculous in fact, that it rarely looks like it was made of gingerbread at all. I'm not quite sure why this is always the case, but some of our favorites so far include: an exact replica of my parent's home and property, Bilbo Baggins' home of Bag End, the Dome of the Rock and now this year, Smaug the Dragon (also from The Hobbit). There have been other creations, but it's certainly getting harder to top them each year.  The key is to start with a good idea. We usually draw from current events or interests, hence the LOTR/Hobbit theme. Here's how it went down this year. (Click to enlarge photos.)

Christmas Memories: Nativities & Trees

***Christmas 2012 was spent in the company of my dear family in Washington. With six of my eight siblings, all their spouses and children merrily running around, the last thing I wanted to do was sit on my computer blogging. So even though Christmas is over, I refuse to let those delightful weeks at home go undocumented. Especially when writing about each memory helps me to reflect more on what I need to focus on in the coming year - family. This will be the first post of my Christmas Memories series. Think of it as a little after Christmas shopping at Target for those great deals on stuff for next year...:) Enjoy!

Christmas nativity made by my Grandma Bird and given to mom many years ago.

For the first time in a long time, the Bird family children had the privilege of helping out with much of the Christmas festivities and decorations. With my dad’s health and harsher than normal chemo side effects, my mom needed us to help do much of the set up when we arrived. We were more than willing and eager to help. 

The nativity Michael brought back from his church mission in Chile.

Usually everything is ready to go when we come for the holidays, but I had forgotten how much fun it is to set up each nativity with my mom, search for that perfect Christmas tree and stand back as the lights are turned on for the first time. It brought back so many lovely memories of all of us growing up together and helping to bring the Christmas spirit into our home with each meaningful symbol of the season. What made it even more memorable was that Alex was spending his first Christmas in Washington with my family, and experiencing all the traditions (and snow) for the first time. 

The nativity Mitchell brought back from his church mission in Honduras.

Hunt for the Perfect Christmas Tree!

(Click on the pics for a larger view with captions)