real life test kitchen: gingerbread men


I have yet to find any time for holiday baking, but our friend Elizabeth and her daughter Sophie dropped by some yummy and extremely cute gingerbread men the other day. Naturally I coaxed her to share her recipe with us! Here’s her take:

I made it from scratch from a recipe in my favorite baking cookbook: the King Arthur Flour’s Baking Companion. This is the first time I’ve made them. Sophie was sick on Monday and couldn’t go to school, but I didn’t want her to miss out on making gingerbread men (which her classmates did that day). So, I turned to my trusty cookbook, and we baked. Sophie loved spreading the flour, rolling the dough, cutting the cookie shapes, and making the eyes and buttons with red-hots. As for tips, I prepared the dough Sunday night and let it sit in the fridge overnight. The recipe gives a range for the baking time — I found it really hard to judge when they were done since the dough is so dark. I baked them on the shorter side, and they were pretty soft. If you prefer crisper cookies, just bake them a bit longer if your first dozen are too soft for your taste.

Hopefully I’ll find some time for baking this weekend, when I’ll be pulling out a few of my old favorites as well. What about you, have you baked any holiday cookies yet? Please tell us! — Angela M.

Click through to the next page for the recipe. (more…)

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the puppy files: what to look for in a breeder

Hint: They drill you as much as you drill them!


After deciding that we were ready for a puppy and that we wanted to get a Labradoodle, we began reseplaceing dog breeders. I heard lots of cautionary tales — and horror stories — about puppy mills and unsafe breeding practices. I followed my gut on a lot of things. I was not about to order a puppy online. I wouldn’t get a dog from a breeder who wouldn’t let us visit. And, though I know lots of people do this, I couldn’t imagine picking a dog up from an airport. I want to be able to see the puppy’s birthplace, and hopefully mom and dad. But there were a few things I learned very quickly that I wasn’t expecting.

The best breeders are few and far between — and have waiting lists! Once we narrowed our sights on a breed, we quickly discovered that there weren’t that many breeders who specialized in Labradoodles in our area. There’s Hudson Doodles upstate which we have heard good things about. But we gravitated towards Eden Valley Labradoodles in Maryland. Always a sucker for packaging, we instantly fell in love with their site and gorgeous pix of happy pets romping with lovely girls. And best of all, they were expecting a couple of litters towards the end of the year, which seemed like perfect timing to us.

Breeders won’t sell their dogs to just anyone. I was amazed at how extensive the puppy application form was — questions about our lifestyle, home, and level of commitment were asked. It forced us to ask ourselves a lot of questions and do even more reseplace on the breed. We learned about grooming needs, crate training, and immediately decided we needed a fence around our backyard. We completed the form, sent in a deposit for a puppy that was just a pea in its mommy’s belly, and waited for news.

Be suspicious of any breeder who won’t supply references of previous clients or allow visits. Because a dog’s early development is crucial, you need to know how a puppy is being raised in its first few weeks of life. How often are the dams mated? When does early training and socialization begin? What are the puppies fed?

Ask for a health certificate for the pup’s sire and dam. Make sure they have been tested for any common problems the breed may be susceptible to. Here’s our future’s puppy’s dad, and its mom, Lady Godiva (shown above).

Be prepared to pay! The price was a bit of a shock to us. But it is so important to make sure that a puppy comes from a good breeder — with clean facilities, high quality food and expert medical care – that it is worth it.

Another shock is that we couldn’t pick out which puppy would be ours. The breeder is deciding which dog we will get. We don’t know if it will be a boy or a girl, but we are putting our faith in Pam at Eden Valley to match us with the puppy that best fits our family. She has years and years of experience doing this.

A good breeder will be your guide through the new puppy process.
I can’t believe how much I have already learned from Pam on how to prepare for a puppy (more on that next time).

There is more to know about picking a breeder — this is a great reference article at — but those were the big factors for us. Our puppy was born on October 26th and after eight weeks of waiting we’ll be picking him or her up next weekend! I will try to write a couple of more posts about how to prepare your home for a puppy in next week. Then — let the cuteness begin! — Angela M.

Previously on the Puppy Files
After Losing Our Dear Cat, We Ask: Is It Time For a Dog?

Chosing the Perfect Breed

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the puppy files: chosing the perfect breed


Thanks so much for all your encouraging comments from the first post in The Puppy Files (Are We Ready?). It is amazingly exciting to be getting ready for our new family member. I know this is going to cause some controversy — and disappoint some of you — so let me get it out of the way. After a great deal of deliberation and debate, we have decided to get our puppy from a breeder, not a shelter. I know a great many friends who have found awesome pets through shelters, and I have personally supported many through the years. But knowing that we were looking for a “forever” pet and that we had a toddler in the house lead us towards this decision.

First, we did a ton of reseplace on dog breeds that are recommended for families. A few good resources I found were: Martha Stewart’s Dog Breeds: Good With Children and WebMd’s Choosing The Best Dog Breed For Your Family.

Secondly, we came up with a wish list of traits.
1. Smallish. Or rather, bigger than a cat but smaller than our daughter (who currently about 35 lbs).
2. Non-shedding. I have been known to sneeze a bit too much after hugging furry animal, and admittedly, we don’t vacuum as much as we should.
3. Smart, social and hopefully, easy going. We have lots of little people around our house, all the time. Shy won’t work.
4. Under 6 months old. Like humans, much of a dog’s personality is determined by his early development. Plus, the whole puppy experience is one we don’t want to miss out on.

After some exhaustive reseplace (including stopping nearly every dog walker we saw in our neighborhood and drilling them about their dog’s origins), we decided on a Labradoodle (an Australian Labradoodle mini, to be exact). A “designer” mixed breed that is not recognized by the American Kennel Club, Labradoodles were originally bred in the ‘80s in Australia to create service dogs for people with allergies. Their ancestors were poodles and Labradors, but now they are their own sophisticated breed, complete with traits, enthusiasts and breed snobs. (You may recall that Obamas were considering a Labradoodle before deciding on Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog.) They also kinda look like Benji, the dog of my childhood dreams. (I know Benji was probably a terrier mix.. but I digress.)

Once we narrowed our sights on the type of dog we wanted, we started seplaceing local shelters to see if similar ones ever came up. We scoured Petfinder. In our area (Southern New Jersey), puppies in shelters are rather rare –they go fast. Most of the dogs we saw were larger dogs (Labs, rottweilers, and pit bulls are the most common — all which could be awesome pets, but are not right for our home and small child).

Then, I thought I hit gold when I found a shelter in our area that specializes in placing homeless Labradoodles. Perhaps having a puppy didn’t matter so much after all and they could help us find a dog in a need of a home? After digging around on their site I discovered a showstopper: Unfortunately, the shelter doesn’t place dogs into homes with children under five years old. It’s understandable – having a young tot and a dog that may have special needs is not something many families can undertake. We were back to square one. Time to start reseplaceing breeders. — Angela M.

Do you have a dog breed you have a soft spot for? I’d love to hear about it!

Previously on the Puppy Files
After Losing Our Dear Cat, We Ask: Time For a Puppy?
Coming up next: What To Look For From A Dog Breeder

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the puppy files: after losing our dear cat, we ask, is it time for a dog?


This is the first in a series of personal posts chronicling the arrival of a new dog in our home. After doing some reseplace on living with pets and kids, I realized there wasn’t a ton of useful, honest information out there. I hope you’ll enjoy them and find them useful.

Farfalle was an exceptional cat. Everyone who met him agreed. Not one of those cats that hid from you, but rather, he was always close by – curled in laps, perched on shoulders, happily not squirming in our young daughter’s arms. Friends always remarked that his warm nature was more dog than cat like.

He died quite unexpectedly a few months ago from feline leukemia. It was a heartbreakingly sad process to go through. He was under a year old and was born with the illness, unbeknownst to us when we got him. Losing him left a big vacancy in our home.

Immediately we realized that our family was not complete without a pet. Shortly thereafter, the puppy pangs started. After being a cat owner for nearly 20 years (Prior to Farfalle, there was another great feline soul in my life, who lived to the ripe old age 17), I was suddenly wondering: Is it time for a dog? During my single, apartment-dwelling urban years, a cat was the natural companion. Now that I’m part of a suburban-living family unit, it seems time to make the transition from feline companion to dog parent.

Admittedly, it’s been many, many years since either my husband or I lived with a dog, so this is not a decision we’ve taken lightly. True, we grew up with dogs, but pet ownership has changed a lot in the past 20 years. Gone are the days when you train your puppy by covering your floor with newspaper or simply put the dog in the back yard to do his “business.” Now you are encouraged to crate train your puppy, socialize him with doggy playdates, and of course take him for long walks in rain or shine. We are ready to commit to all that, and more. Here are few of the things that helped us decided we were ready for a puppy.

1. We live in a house with a fenced in yard.

2. One of us has a flexible schedule, so the puppy wouldn’t be alone for long hours during the day.

3. Our daughter loves animals and we want to raise her to be respectful and kind to them.

4. We are active people. We like being outside, taking road trips and exploring nature. A dog will, too!

5. We’re responsible – emotionally and financially – and able to commit to caring for another living creature for the rest of its (hopefully long) life.

Once we decided that a dog was in our future, the next step was to do some reseplace on dog breeds to help us get a dog whose temperament would match ours.

— Angela M.

Coming up next in The Puppy Files: Finding The Perfect Breed For Our Family

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wrestling over wreaths: fresh, DIY or etsy?

We haven’t even consumed all of our Thanksgiving leftovers, and I’m already feeling like we’re behind in our holiday decorating. I think the first order of business is to find a wreath for our front door (which happens to be pale blue, fyi). I’m torn between buying a fresh one — there are a ton at Home Depot — or going a more crafty route. Someday, I’ll make my own wreath — I’ve seen a ton of great how-tos online — but this year I’m short on time. Etsy is calling my name.

Here are some that have caught my eye.
Maine wreath, $60. Covered in moss with a tiny moose. Reminds me of our summer vacation.

This is the one our nearly-4-year old wants. Quelle surprise. It’s made of peppermint sticks and lollipops. $70

Modern Felt Mistletoe, $80, is elegant.

Fresh Eucalyptus and noble, would look great on door. Would it smell nice? For $90, I’d hope so.

Do you have a wreath on your door? Any advice when buying a fresh one? Or hanging a crafty number? — Angela M.

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