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Monster First Birthday Party

21 Apr

Even though our little guy has been toddling about for a couple of months now, we officially said goodbye to infant days when Levi turned one earlier this month {sniff sniff}. Adam and I both love that our kids were early walkers because it opens up so many new activities at the park, etc., but a little part of me was definitely sad to be done with the sweet baby phase! Here are my favorite things about Levi’s first birthday party.

  1. Theme/Invitation: I went with a monsters theme for this party after some Pinterest perusal. I was drawn to the bright colors and thought it would be easy enough to add googly eyes to everything in the house! I ordered a digital invitation from JCO Invitations and used Paperless Post for online tracking. I struggled to find an invitation that featured monsters that did not refer to the honoree as “our little monster.” For some reason, that seems like an extension of “boys will be boys” and just wasn’t the route I wanted to go.levifront2
  2. Decorations: I used the lime green, orange, and blue from the invitation as my general color palette {it really was just a happy coincidence that we had just painted an orange accent wall in our dining room}. Then I rounded up all of the monster toys we had around the house to use as table decorations and added googly eyes to anything that wasn’t moving :)20170408_160320.jpgimg_20170419_120339_723.jpgimg_20170419_121249_985.jpgimg_20170419_120645_615.jpg
  3. Fun for the kids: We were expecting quite a crowd, so I tried to set up a couple of activity stations around the house, in addition to the usual play areas. We had a Make Your Own Monster station and Pin the Eye on the Monster. We also had favor bags with monster face play dough, tattoos, stickers, and a bendable monster.img_20170419_120842_712.jpgimg_20170419_120603_280.jpgimg_20170331_170741_476.jpgimg_20170331_114651_472.jpg
  4. Sweet treats: I tried my hand at blue monster fur buttercream frosting atop chocolate cupcakes. I also made Jell-O Sugar Cookies {with the help of my favorite sous chef} and they were a surprise hit. I mostly thought they would be fun for the kids, but I saw several adults heading back for seconds as well :) Levi was a bit apprehensive when it came time to eat his first cupcake, but I think he finally finished it after 15 minutes or so!diptic-153613105.jpgimg_20170419_120446_634.jpgimg_20170419_121328_724.jpg20170408_111511.jpg
  5. Birthday boy photos: One of my favorite things that I did with both kiddos in their first year was to track growth each month using a Snuggly Swaddle doll from Designs by M Susan. It’s hard to believe how big the doll looks next to Levi in the one month photo now!1492634055969.jpg

As usual, the best part of the whole thing, was being surrounded by friends and family who came from as close as next door and as far as South Florida. Our little boy sure is well-loved {as is our whole family}.img_20170401_222551_217.jpg


It’s his party and he’ll cry if he wants to…


Healing Pie {Caramel Apple Cherry Pie}

11 Nov

Sometimes you just need to bake a pie – even if you don’t really know how to make one. So was the case with me a couple of weeks ago. After suffering one of the biggest disappointments of my life to date {which probably speaks more to the charmed nature of my life, rather than to the gravity of the situation}, I had been spending more than my fair share of time on the couch. And even though I knew I needed that time to rest {or at least my mom said I did}, I was getting a little antsy by the end of a couple of days!

Thank goodness my new Better Homes and Gardens came somewhere in that time period and I got inspired to make the delicious-looking Caramel Apple Cherry Pie featured on the cover. The act of baking this pie would become symbolic of so many things in my life right now, not the least of which is the promise of the beautiful baby that Adam and I will someday hold in our arms even though this time around ended in miscarriage.

Please note, I did NOT make this beautiful creation :)

So mere hours after having received the magazine in the mail, my sweet husband was picking up the ingredients to make a caramel apple cherry pie. The act of pulling out all of my beloved baking ingredients and dishes felt like therapy.  It reminded me of all the things I love about baking that I had been missing lately, as work and life got in the way. Turning up my favorite music in the kitchen {it was most likely The Weepies on this and most days}. Enjoying time to just be alone with my thoughts while still feeling productive. The anticipation that comes with trying something new. Filling the house with sweet smells and anxiously awaiting the return of my favorite taste-tester.

The makings of a pie crust.

Just by nature of the fact that I was up and in the kitchen, I could feel myself returning to normal. And the simple act of doing these familiar things continued me right along the path to healing.

So that all sounds great, right?  Well, here’s the thing – this pie is a lot of work! And it didn’t exactly turn out like the pictures. I had a lot of trouble with the crust, which kept wanting to sadly sink down into itself {metaphor for my life much?}.

The crust is still looking pretty promising at this point.

When Adam left for a movie, I was desperately trying to salvage the pie crust while stirring what felt like 17 pots and pans on the stove … there was the cranberry/cherry compote, the apple mixture … okay, I guess that’s only two, but with all of the prep bowls, pots, and pans; there was quite a bit of clean-up to be done.

Starting the cranberry/cherry compote.

Yummy pie filling!

When it was all said and done, I had a finished pie. It wasn’t pretty {even Instagram couldn’t hide its flaws!}, but it was tasty. I think I will have a better technique the next time I make a pie crust, which may or may not include buying a ready-made crust at the grocery store! I probably won’t make this particular pie again {yumminess to effort ratio was not quite high enough}, but at the end of the day, I was sharing the fruits of my afternoon with the one I love.

And all of this reminded me that, no matter how much you plan, or how hard you work; life doesn’t always turn out like the picture you have in your head. But you just have to keep going, love people well, and believe in the promise of what’s to come. And some days that promise is that of a much more successful day in the kitchen than this one; and others, it is the promise that one day Adam and I will have the beautiful baby we had already started to picture in our arms.

Yep – sad-looking pie!

Why I Love To Bake {Happy Father’s Day!}

15 Jun

We recently had some unexpected house guests, and I found myself in need of a quick and easy dessert recipe. Normally I would hit the baking blogs at this point, but this time I found myself reaching for an old, trusted friend instead – the chocolate chip cookie recipe from my KitchenAid mixer cookbook. There’s nothing too special about this recipe on the surface. It’s so simple that I should really know it by heart. The cookies are delicious {especially with a glass of milk}, but not that different from any other basic chocolate chip cookie.

What makes these cookies so dear to me are the memories I have of helping my mom bake them using her KitchenAid mixer more years ago than I care to count at the moment. I know what you’re thinking – “This sounds more like a Mother’s Day post – what gives??”  – but just give me a minute, I’ll get there!

Anyway, on this particular occasion a few weeks ago, as I mixed up the familiar ingredients, I had a bit of an epiphany. I had always traced my love of baking back to my days working at a lovely little B&B in Charleston, South Carolina, but I now know that experience only helped to strengthen what was already there. That’s right, the humble beginnings of my love for baking can be found in this very chocolate chip cookie recipe.

In the discovery that my linear, little mind thrived on the precision and following of instructions that baking demands. In the patience of my mother as she let me use more flour than should ever be used as I rolled out each cookie by hand {still my preference to this day, as I never seemed to have mastered the art of dropping rounded teaspoonfuls}. In the wisdom passed down from my grandmother that, even though the recipe calls for a greased baking sheet and I wanted to follow it to a T, “a good cookie greases itself!”  I know, I know. Still sounding very much like a Mother’s Day post, but I would be remiss to leave out my mother’s hand in this!

What made these cookies so very special to me is what happened after they filled the house with the heavenly aroma of freshly-baked cookies – my dad would pour himself a glass of cold milk and dig in … always insisting that they were the best he had ever had and that no one could make them the way I could. Now, I have a sneaking suspicion that my mom could in fact follow this recipe with the same result, but my ten-year-old self believed that I really was creating some kind of culinary masterpiece each time I whipped up a batch.

All of that reminiscing got me thinking about how dads have a unique way of instilling this kind of belief in their little girls. And about how lucky I am to have a dad who has never stopped encouraging me in this way. Whether it be the latest cupcake recipe I’m trying out or a project I’m tackling at work, I know my dad will be one of my biggest cheerleaders and a great source of encouragement.

So thanks, Dad, for making this little girl believe that she can make the world a sweeter place  … one chocolate chip cookie at a time! Happy Father’s Day!

Countdown to Summer! {Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes}

22 May

It definitely feels like summer is on the way this week! The number of meals eaten outside is steadily increasing, summer hours were just announced at work {woo hoo!}, Memorial Day is just around the corner, and our neighbors gathered last weekend for the annual neighborhood block party! One of my favorite flavors of summer has to be fresh strawberries, so I decided on the occasion of the block party, I would try out a new recipe for strawberry cupcakes!

Based on my house number and the rules of the potluck, I was really supposed to be making a side dish {which I did – Beer Baked White Beans}; but, as you know, it’s pretty hard for me to resist an opportunity to do some baking! I went to one of the most reliable sources I know to find a new recipe – Martha Stewart. The recipe I found is for Sprinkles’ Strawberry Cupcakes, and I am so happy with how these came out. They are a perfect consistency and so delightfully fresh and summery. Here is the original recipe as I made it.

{Sprinkles’ Strawberry Cupcakes}

source: Martha Stewart – makes about 40 mini cupcakes

  • 2/3 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature

Fresh strawberry puree … yum!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside. Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about 1/3 cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and strawberry puree; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended. With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.
Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes {10-12 minutes for mini cupcakes}. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.

 {Sprinkles’ Strawberry Frosting}
source: Martha Stewart – more than enough to frost 40 mini cupcakes
  • 3 tablespoons fresh strawberry puree {left over from cupcake batter}
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, firm and slightly cold
  • Pinch of coarse salt
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add confectioners’ sugar; beat until well combined. Add vanilla and 3 tablespoons strawberry puree; mix until just blended. Do not overmix or frosting will incorporate too much air. Frosting consistency should be dense and creamy, like ice cream.
If you’re using a pastry bag to frost your cupcakes, here’s a tip that may be common sense to everyone else, but that I found very helpful! Place the tip of your bag at the bottom of a tall glass and fold the excess over the sides, like so:
Now you have a stable base to scoop all of that delicious frosting into your bag using a spatula or spoon, like so:
I hope you will give this recipe a try and enjoy these little cupcakes as much as my neighbors and I did! Happy summer!

New Recipe! {Rose Petal Pound Cake}

17 Apr

The inspiration for this recipe came as I was planning our Storybook Baby Shower. I knew that I wanted to bake something sweet and, for some reason, that bottle of rose water in my kitchen was really speaking to me {hadn’t used it since the Pistachio Cupcakes with Rose Water Buttercream from last summer}.  I was even more determined to figure out some way to use the rose water when we settled on the storybook theme, and I started running through cute menu items that would fit with the theme {Ring around the Rosie. anyone?}. After a bit of googling {or is it google-ing?}, I decided that pound cake was the way to go. The recipe I ended up with was an adaptation of The Pioneer Woman’s Perfect Pound Cake. I simply substituted her lemony flavors with rose water and ginger ale.

I really love the consistency of this cake – it has that firm, yet moist consistency that is so delicious in a pound cake. I also really love the subtle rose flavor that comes through, especially when served with fresh whipped cream flavored with a hint of rose water. Just opening the bottle of rose water smells like summer romance!

I will say, this cake has been trickier to get out of the pan than most, and I would definitely recommend making sure your pan is well-greased. I would also really give it some time to cool in the pan before trying to get it out. Nothing is more defeating after all that time in the kitchen than a bundt cake that doesn’t cleanly come out of the pan {and that definitely happened to me on the first go-round with this one}!

Here is the recipe as I adapted it.  Enjoy!

All ready for the oven!

{Rose Petal Pound Cake}

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman’s Perfect Pound Cake ~ Makes one full-sized bundt

  • 3 sticks Butter
  • 3 cups Sugar
  • 5 whole Eggs
  • 1 tablespoon Rose Water
  • 3 cups All-purpose Flour
  • 1 cup Ginger Ale

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream butter. Add sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing after each addition. Add rose water and mix well. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add soft drink, then mix together until combined. Scrape sides of bowl, then mix briefly.

Pour into a greased Bundt pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes, until the cake is no longer jiggly and a toothpick comes out clean.

Remove cake from oven and let cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes. Gently shake the pan until the edges feel completely loosened from the sides of the pan.  Run a knife between the pan and the cake to free any stubborn spots. Invert on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Serve with rose water whipped cream {about 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped with a splash of rose water and sugar to taste}.

I wish I could make a whole cake of just these crunchy bits on the bottom ... yum!

Get your chocolate fix! {Triple Chocolate Cookies}

22 Jan

So, happy New Year, everyone!  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, and that you’re excited for what’s ahead in 2012!  If one of your resolutions happens to be to eat more rich chocolate, then you’re in luck! I found this recipe for triple chocolate cookies over at Brown Eyed Baker and thought they looked too delicious to pass up. As you may know, I have a pretty serious chocolate-lover in the house, and I thought these might satisfy even his cravings!

Chewy, rich, and oh so chocolate-y!

As I was chopping 16 ounces of chocolate, I thought it might just be overkill {not to mention the entire bag of chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of cocoa powder!}, but the finished cookies were melt-in-your-mouth delicious and will definitely satisfy even the most intense chocolate cravings.  Just be warned … they’re super rich and beyond chocolate-y. The sweet aroma was even enough to make my neighbor on the plane the next day reconsider his original decision to turn down my cookie offer. The next time he saw my carry-on make an appearance, he said, “I’ll actually take a couple of cookies if you don’t mind.  They just smelled too good.” That definitely made me smile!

Here’s Brown Eyed Baker’s recipe – it was easy to follow and I made no real changes.

{Triple Chocolate Cookies}

makes about 42 cookies

  • 2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup (1½ ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 16 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder
  • 10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
  • 1½ cups packed (10½ ounces) light brown sugar
  • ½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
  • 12 ounces (about 2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips

So much chocolate!

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl set over a pan of almost-simmering water, stirring once or twice, until smooth; remove from the heat. {I melted mine at 50% power in 30 second increments in the microwave.} In a small bowl, beat the eggs and vanilla lightly with a fork, sprinkle the coffee powder over to dissolve, and set aside.

Either by hand or with an electric mixer, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 5 seconds. Beat in the sugars until combined, about 45 seconds; the mixture will look granular. Reduce the speed to low and gradually beat in the egg mixture until incorporated, about 45 seconds. Add the chocolate in a steady stream and beat until combined, about 40 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the mixer at low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Do not over-beat. Fold in the chocolate chips. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until the consistency is scoopable and fudge-like, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper {I used my new silicone baking mat and the cookies slid off like a dream – thanks, Amy!}. Scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets with a 1¾-inch ice cream scoop, spacing the mounds of dough about 1½ inches apart.

Ready to bake {thanks for the Silpat, Amy!}

Bake until the edges of the cookies have just begun to set but the centers are still very soft, about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets about 10 minutes, slide the parchment with cookies onto wire racks, and cool to room temperature. Cover one cooled baking sheet with a new piece of parchment paper. Scoop the remaining dough onto the parchment-lined sheet, bake, and cool as directed. Remove cooled cookies from the parchment with a wide metal spatula.


More Holiday Baking! {Chai Spice Cookies}

19 Dec

At this point in the year, I think everyone is already a little overloaded on sugar. There are tasty treats everywhere you turn, and it’s really hard not to indulge and just give the “oh well, it’s the holidays” excuse! That being said, I decided to contribute to the sugar rush by baking chai spice cookies for a co-worker’s birthday.

The recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens, and while I found these cookies a little on the annoying side to make, the payoff in the end was certainly worth it. One of my co-workers described them as being like that last bite of pumpkin pie where you get crust with some of the filling still on it – crisp and buttery with all of those warm spice flavors.  I think that sums it up pretty well, so if that description has your mouth watering; these cookies are for you!

Perfect afternoon snack - chai tea with chai spice cookie {how very meta}

I guess I’ve grown pretty accustomed to making cookies that you can simply roll into balls by hand, so the concept of constantly flouring every surface and rolling out extremely sticky dough seemed a bit much {or maybe I just need some practice!}. Once I was over this initial frustration, I was able to appreciate how adorable little chai spice boys and girls can be!

Here’s the recipe as it reads on BHG with my only change being to roll the dough out a little thinner {yielding close to twice as many cookies as the recipe indicates with a little crispier consistency}. I also opted not to decorate mine with powdered sugar icing.

{Chai Spice Cookies}

  • 2 spiced chai-flavored tea bags
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons molasses

Remove tea bag contents (3 teaspoons); discard bags. In medium bowl combine tea, flour, and pumpkin pie spice; set aside.

In large mixing bowl beat butter on medium to high 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks and molasses. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can; stir in remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover and refrigerate about 3 hours or until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper. On lightly floured surface, roll half of the dough at a time until 1/4-inch thickness {mine was more like 1/8-inch thickness}. Cut dough with 4-inch gingerbread girl cutters {or whatever shapes you want!}.

Bake 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheets 2 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely. Makes 18 to 20 cookies {I’d say I had closer to 40 cookies when it was all said and done}.