Peanut Butter Balls

I am continuing the recipe theme again today, with another family favourite- Peanut Butter Balls! My mom always made these at Christmas, and they are fantastic. My mom got the recipe from her lifelong friend, and my godmother, Nancy. Sadly, Nancy is no longer with us either, but I think she and my mom would be so happy to share this recipe with everyone.

Peanut Butter Balls

1 cup peanut butter

2 tbsp butter

1 cup icing sugar

3/4 cup finely chopped raisins

1 cup finely chopped peanuts

Chocolate Coating

6 squares semi-sweet chocolate (alternatively, one bag semi-sweet chocolate chips)

1/2 inch square of paraffin wax

2 tbsp butter

Cream peanut butter and butter. Add icing sugar and cream thoroughly. Stir in raisins and peanuts. Mix well. Dampen hands and shape mixture into 1 inch balls. Chill (or freeze) on wax paper lined cookie sheet (freezing makes the chocolate dipping process easier). Melt chocolate, wax, and butter on top of double boiler over simmering water. Using a fork or spoon, dip balls into melted chocolate and coat. Hold over pot and let excess drip off. Place on wax paper to set and cool. Store in airtight container in fridge. Makes about 4 dozen treats. Try not to eat them all at once!

Ready to chill in the freezer

Ready to chill in the freezer

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The finished product!

What are your favourite holiday treats? Please feel free to share recipes in the comments! Happy baking!

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Baking Success

After Thursday’s peanut butter square fiasco, I had all but given up on making those treats. After getting some advice from my aunt Gail, though, I decided to give it one more try. And I am so glad I did, because I finally succeeded in making an edible batch! My problem with the previous batches had to do with my interpretation of the instructions. The recipe calls for two cups of crushed cornflakes, and so I had been crushing up a bunch of cornflakes and then measuring out two cups. What I should have done is measured out two cups of cornflakes, crushed them, and then add them to the mixture. This makes a huge difference: two cups of cornflakes, crushed, adds up to about 1/4-1/2 cup of crushed cornflakes. No wonder my previous batches were so dense.

I’m so happy with this success that I want to share this recipe with all of you:

Peanut Butter Squares

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp peanut butter

1/2 cup corn syrup

2 cups cornflakes

1 cup Rice Krispies

Crush the cornflakes and set aside. Combine brown sugar and corn syrup on stove over medium heat. Stir until combined. Add peanut butter. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in corn flakes and Rice Krispies. Pack tightly into 8 inch pan. Ice with brown sugar icing.

Brown Sugar Icing

2 tbsp butter

4 tbsp cream

1/2 cup brown sugar

Melt butter over medium heat. Add 3 tbsp cream and brown sugar.Combine. Boil vigorously for two minutes. Remove from heat. Beat in 1/2 cup icing sugar. Cool slightly. Add 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/2 cup icing sugar and 1 tbsp cream. Beat until fluffy. Spread over squares. (NOTE: this icing can be finicky- you may need to add another tbsp of cream at the end. As well, these quantities provide sufficient icing to cover the squares, but if you want ample icing, then you could try either doubling or multiplying quantities by 1.5).

Enjoy!

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High off the success of the peanut butter squares, Charlotte and I whipped up a batch of sugar cookies on Sunday. It was messy, but a lot of fun. This is by far the most baking I have done in years, and I am loving it.

Decorating her cookies

Decorating her cookies

Stealing a taste of frosting

Stealing a taste of frosting

The finished product

The finished product

I will probably be sweeping up sprinkles for the next several days, but it was totally worth it.

Baking Fail

I have been doing some more baking this Christmas season than I have in the past couple years. I love it- my mom would always do so much baking this time of year, and it makes me feel close to her when I am trying to recreate her delicious treats. For the most part, I have been pretty successful- until yesterday.

My mom gave me a recipe for her peanut butter squares many years ago. Since then, whenever I have tried to make them, they have not turned out once. I blamed the recipe for a long time- obviously, she must have written it down wrong, right? So when I decided to give these squares another try this year, I got a recipe from my aunt, Judy, who is a master baker. I was confident that this time, they would turn out.

WRONG.

Yes, that super sharp knife could not cut through these squares

Yes, that super sharp knife could not cut through these squares

If anyone is doing a home reno and needs bricks, I've got some here for you

If anyone is doing a home reno and needs bricks, I’ve got some here for you

As a reward for my hard work, I got to scrub out all the sticky remnants from this pot

As a reward for my hard work, I got to scrub out all the sticky remnants from this pot

They are basically inedible. They are so dense that I can’t even cut them. I managed to hack off a couple pieces and Mark tried one and almost broke a tooth. I was so frustrated that I almost threw a butcher knife across the room but stopped myself before this turned into even more of a fiasco. I vowed never to make them again, but Mark has convinced me to give it another shot. So I will see if Judy can tell me what I am doing wrong, because I have no idea. I’m no Martha Stewart, but I can follow a recipe, and I can’t understand why I cannot get this to work. Ideally, I would like to be able to produce something that doesn’t requires a hatchet to slice. If I still can’t get it right after getting advice from my aunt, then I will officially give up.

I really hope I can get it right, though, because I am seriously craving these peanut butter squares right now. I am very close to packing the girls into the car and driving up to Pembroke to get some from Judy. And since I will be on my own with the girls for the next several days while Mark is away on his “guys weekend” I could definitely use some treats to help me make it through.

Christmas Countdown

I really do love this time of year. There is something about the Christmas season that is so magical. Charlotte is old enough now to be excited about Christmas, and that makes it even more special. Over the past few weeks, we have been doing a few holiday-related activities- going to Christmas parties, visiting with family, baking, making gingerbread houses, and going to the Nutcracker. Here are some highlights:

The Christmas tree Charlotte made at school

The Christmas tree Charlotte made at school

Making gingerbread houses with her cousins

Making gingerbread houses with her cousins

Penelope is taste-testing her new orthotics

Penelope is taste-testing her new orthotics

I made Hello Dolly squares like my mom used to make, and they were delicious!

I made Hello Dolly squares like my mom used to make, and they were delicious!

Linda got Charlotte a ticket to the Nutcracker for Christmas, and we had a great time!

Linda got Charlotte a ticket to the Nutcracker for Christmas, and we had a great time!

Charlotte explains how the elevator works at the ballet

Charlotte explains how the elevator works at the ballet

Penelope is having some fun on the beautiful blanket Linda's mom made for her

Penelope is having some fun on the beautiful blanket Linda’s mom made for her

We are so lucky to have such wonderful family and friends with whom to enjoy this holiday season. It is shaping up to be the best Christmas yet! And there are still more memories to be made- we are visiting the Christmas Market in the Distillery District today to see Santa. Christmastime with little kids- it doesn’t get much better than this.

The Decision

I started my maternity leave on July 5, 2013. When I left, I fully expected to return to work after the leave expired in a year. A lot happened over the course of that year, though, and as the year drew to a close, I knew I was not yet ready to go back. I am very fortunate to have an employer that was more than willing to accommodate an extension on my leave. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to go back.

There have been a lot of ups and downs in the five months since I extended my leave. Penelope had her G-tube inserted, and is really turning into a sweet and happy baby. She is now at a point where I feel like I can leave her to go back to work. I miss my job, and I know I have a lot to offer as a nurse after everything we have dealt with since Penelope’s birth. I looked into many different daycare options and chose an arrangement that I feel will work best for Penelope and our family right now. I will return to my part-time position in pediatrics on January 5, 2015 (exactly 18 months after I started my maternity leave) and we will have a nanny here part-time to care for Penelope. I regretfully had to leave my position in the Genetics department because juggling two jobs is just not feasible right now.

I am excited and nervous about this upcoming change in our lives. I hope I have made the right decision. I am vowing to be flexible about it- if it doesn’t seem like it’s working out for any reason, I will re-evaluate the situation and find a different solution.

Over these next few weeks I will be soaking up my last moments on leave. I will prepare for this change as best I can. Oh, and I guess I should start digging out those scrubs I have packed away…somewhere. It may take me a good chunk of my remaining time off to find them, because of course, I did not label the box they are in, thinking, “I will totally remember where I put them!” I never learn, do I?

Big changes ahead, but she doesn't seem too worried about it

Big changes ahead, but she doesn’t seem too worried about it

Second-Guessing

Well, last week was quite a week. My aunt, Barbara, was staying with us, and her visit couldn’t have happened at a better time. After Penelope had that reaction to her antibiotics, I was feeling a bit… on edge. It reminded me that unexpected things will continue to pop up with Penelope’s health. We don’t know what the future holds for her, and I wasn’t too pleased to have that brought to my attention again. Especially since, on Tuesday, she became feverish and irritable again, and I was afraid that her strep throat had come back. I was terrified that I would be forced to make a difficult decision: do I put her on a different antibiotic and just hope she doesn’t react or develop Stevens-Johnson syndrome? Or do leave the strep untreated, causing her to feel unwell for a prolonged period of time and risking rheumatic fever? It felt like it would be an impossible choice to make, and that I would be second-guessing myself no matter what I decided.

Thankfully, our pediatrician agreed to see us that day. This is not something that would normally happen. Appointments with him are usually booked weeks, if not months, in advance. I left a message with the office nurse, asking for advice and about the possibility of Penelope getting seen that day. I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but I got a call back, asking if I could bring her in right away, and our doctor would see her. I was incredibly grateful for this, because I trust this doctor, and I knew he would help me make the right treatment decision for her. In the end, he felt that it was just a virus this time around, and so we did not need to even consider antibiotic treatment. As well, he is going to arrange for allergy testing to be done, so at least we can find out if she is at risk for an anaphylactic reaction to any medications.

I also made some decisions last week about going back to work and about Penelope’s child care arrangements, which I will get into detail about later this week. Suffice it to say, though, that I did a lot of second-guessing about that, and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

This parenting gig is a tough one. I am not the most decisive person to begin with, and when it comes to making decisions about my family’s future, well, my feelings of uncertainty and doubt are about tripled. I know all I can do is make the best choice based on the information I have right now, and then be flexible in the future if things aren’t working out the way I thought they would. Though, I don’t know, maybe that’s not all I can do. Maybe there’s a better way. Or maybe not. I don’t know, I can’t decide.

It was pretty easy to decide to post this photo, because she is so cute!

It was pretty easy to decide to post this photo, because she is so cute!

It’s Always Something

My wish for a peaceful December does not seem to be coming true. First, I burned my foot last week when I dropped a kettle filled with boiling water on the floor. Luckily, I acted fast and was able to minimize the damage, but it was still a headache I could have done without. And then, a new opportunity for worry presented itself.

You may recall that three out of four members of the Steel household came down with strep throat recently. Penelope was the last one to fall victim to it, and she was prescribed a ten-day course of amoxicillin to treat it. She has been on antibiotics before, so I wasn’t too concerned about her taking them again. The first couple of days she was taking it, she had a bit of a rash on her bum, which I expected as she was having some loose stool thanks to the medication. That cleared up within a few days, though, and I figured we were in the clear as far as side effects went. And then one morning, I opened up her diaper, and I discovered the skin on her bum was peeling off, like it does after a sunburn. I thought it was bizarre, but given everything we have dealt with, I didn’t get too worked up over it. I mentioned it to my sister, who has a medical degree, and she recalled that peeling skin could be a side effect of amoxicillin.

I decided to ask our pharmacist about it. He was somewhat alarmed to hear about the peeling skin, and by then, it had spread to her neck as well. He recommended that I hold the amoxicillin and get in touch with her doctor to decide on what the best course of action would be. Satisfied, I planned to call her doctor the next morning to discuss the matter.

Awhile later, though, my phone rang- it was the pharmacist, and he had gone from “somewhat alarmed” to “full-blown panic.” After I left, he decided to research peeling skin associated with amoxicillin usage, and he was quite concerned about what he had discovered. Apparently, there is a condition called Stevens-Johnson syndrome, and it is a pretty severe dermatological reaction to certain antibiotics and requires hospitalization. Peeling skin is one of the symptoms. Fortunately, Penelope did not have any of the other symptoms (swollen mucous membranes, lesions on the tongue, painful skin- the list goes on and on) and so I felt that it was safe to contact her doctor in the morning as planned.

Now, even though logically, I knew it was extremely unlikely that she had this Stevens-Johnson syndrome, it was tough sleeping that night. I couldn’t help but worry. And with Penelope, knowing that something is “extremely unlikely” isn’t all that reassuring- so many things about her are “extremely unlikely.”

I brought Penelope in to see the doctor on Saturday morning, and she agreed that it was not Stevens-Johnson syndrome. It does seem to be an atypical reaction to amoxicillin, though. And so what does that mean? So far, it is pretty unclear. I have a few questions that need to be answered; like, will she react to other antibiotics now? Is she more likely to have an anaphylactic reaction to penicillins now that she has had this dermatological reaction? Does this predispose her to developing Stevens-Johnson syndrome in the future? Luckily, we have an appointment with her pediatrician next week, and I know that he will either answer these questions, or find someone who can.

So, fingers crossed she doesn’t need antibiotics in the next eight days, because until those questions are answered, I am not comfortable with giving her that kind of medication outside of a hospital setting where she could be monitored closely. For now, she remains happy and healthy, so I will try to focus on that. And even though part of me (a very large part of me) wants to give up on my vow of positivity and just hibernate until the spring, I will not. It is December and it is Christmas and I have a wonderful family with two beautiful daughters and I am going to enjoy the holiday season, damnit! I’m thinking a little Christmas baking is in order today to get my spirits back on track. There’s nothing like the scent of freshly baked goodies to put one in a good mood, am I right?

Happy girl; blissfully unaware of any worry or stress

Happy girl; blissfully unaware of any worry or stress