Four Year Anniversary

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This year (October 17) was our four year wedding anniversary. We decided to celebrate with one of our favorite musicians Ryan Adams. He came to town to play the Moody Theater October 22 (he did an ACL taping) and we saw him the next night on the 23rd.

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The show was perfect and amazing–it far surpassed any expectations I could have had. I saw DRA perform twice in support of Gold (the first album I bought of his–yes, even before Whiskeytown and Heartbreaker) in the early 00’s in San Francisco.

Those shows were great, but he was in a different place back then. (weren’t we all?) It was nice to get to share the experience with my husband–we’ve been listening to his records together for years and Ryan was in top form. He was warm and funny and goofy and the songs were performed flawlessly.

He didn’t play my favorite song from the new album (Feels like Fire) but he played so many of my other long-time favorites that it didn’t really matter.

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I Had the Time of My Life

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Back in August when my awesome boys were turning eight I found the perfect gift: a hearse limo tour of some of the haunted spots in Austin.

I was so super excited and I couldn’t wait to take them on it. But a few days before our scheduled tour, the original limo was in a car accident and totaled.

Heartbroken, I took the boys on a walking ghost tour instead. That was really fun and we had a great time together but I still couldn’t wait until Haunted ATX had a new limo that was ready to go. Recently I noticed an Amazon deal (a Groupon-style coupon) and I jumped at the chance to finally go on the tour.

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*photo from HauntedATX

The one downside to our tour was that it started at 11 PM. I had a long day at work and I was tired and the boys had been at school all day, but we were all so excited. I wasn’t sure if it would be able to stay up until 1 AM but somehow we made it. (even though they fell asleep in the car on the way home and slept until noon the next day)

First up on the tour was the Clay Pit Indian restaurant, haunted by the ghost of two young boys and a lady of the evening, all of whom died there many years ago.

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Our next stop was the Tavern, an old bar haunted by a ghost named Emily whose shoes are kept behind glass on a wall upstairs:

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After that we went to a spot covered on the walking tour: The famously haunted Driskill Hotel:

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Our last spot was a ride out to the Texas State Hospital, haunted by the ghosts of tortured souls institutionalized many years ago:

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So the tour was a big hit for my littles and we all had a great time munching on snacks from Whole Foods and waving at astonished drivers in cars behind us as we cruised around Austin in a hearse.

If you’re ever in the mood for some spooky fun, I highly recommend it.

Baby Shower

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Just two weeks after the craziness of the holidays I was in charge of throwing a baby shower for our friends T & K. It is their first baby and as a mom of 3 boys, it was kind of fun to throw a girly party.

We had lots of yummy food and I spent all night the night before decorating. Guests wrote funny messages on diapers and advice and well-wishes in a notebook for the parents. We had labor-predicting bracelets as favors and a onesie decorating station. I made squares of my favorite fabrics from my stash into iron-on patches so our guests could create a wearable masterpiece. I also put out fabric markers and paints. We got 16 onesies that were definitely cute enough for Baby Sophia to actually wear. I was really proud of how everything turned out and I think everyone had fun. The parents-to-be definitely got a lot of great presents!
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Baked Sunday Mornings: Going Rogue–The Great Brookster Experiment

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We were supposed to make a Simple Chocolate Whiskey Tart with Whiskey Whipped Cream over at Baked Sunday Mornings this time around. So I guess now is where I need to tell you that I don’t usually like mixing baked goods with alcohol. I like to keep dessert time and drinky time separate. 😉 I did make the Whiskey Peach Upside-Down Cake when it was assigned to us and tried hard to like it, but I just kept thinking that the whiskey was interfering with the delicate cake and juicy peaches.

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So I decided to take the plunge and attempt to make a recipe that I had wanted to try for a while: the Brookster. (cookie+brownie!) My fellow bakers tackled this recipe in September 2012, way before I joined.

Sometimes when I am going to make something new, especially if I think it might be difficult I like to google it so I can see photos from other bakers who have already made it and blogged about it. I have to say that may have not been a good idea in this case because it almost made me not want to attempt this recipe because the success rate seemed to be pretty low, and the people who DID succeed with it seemed to be meh about the outcome and prefer either a chocolate chip cookie OR a brownie separately.

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I decided to approach this from every possible angle. I knew that the recipe made almost double the amount of chocolate chip cookie dough as it did brownie batter, so I doubled the brownie recipe. I thought that would give me enough to work with so I could make muffin-size Brooksters, larger mini tart pan Brooksters, plus individual cookies and brownies for comparison. (to see if they were, in fact better separately)

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The recipe was straight forward: make the dough and batter and chill for 3 hours. But have you met me? I don’t chill for 3 hours. I’m cool with chilling overnight but if I want to make something same day I usually put it in the freezer to expedite the action. I chilled each in the freezer for an hour and a half. The cookie dough was still in the bowl, one muffin tin had cups half-filled with brownie batter and the remainder of the brownie batter was chilling in the bowl. I also half filled two mini tart pans with brownie batter to make Brooksters and filled 2 other 3/4 of the way full to make plain brownies.

I haven’t been this tense and nervous making anything since I screwed up a buttercream for a cake a few months ago. I was fully prepared for failure, at least for part of the experiment. Maybe the muffin tin Brooksters would be raw in the middle. Maybe the tart pan Brooksters would overflow and splatter all over my oven.

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After I pulled everything from the freezer I assembled the Brooksters. A circle of cookie dough roughly the size of a 50 cent piece was rolled and smooshed into a flat disc, then placed on top of the chilled brownies in the muffin tin. I pushed the discs into the batter slightly. I realized that my little cookie dough hats were fully covering the brownies so I made them a little smaller to see if that made any difference at all in comparison. (it didn’t)

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When the first pan of muffin-tin Brooksters were in the oven I scooped out a quarter sheet pan of plain chocolate chip cookies. I kept a close eye on the first Brookster batch as they cooked. Ten minutes on one side, pan rotated and timer set for ten more minutes. After twenty minutes I had to make a judgement call. If I was making regular cookies, I would have pulled them before they got as dark at the cookie part was on my Brooksters, but I had to remind myself that I usually underbake my cookies. I touched the tops and they seemed like they could safely bake a few more minutes so I set the timer for three more minutes.

I let them cool completely in the pan, except for one test Brookster that I broke in half. It was hard to tell when warm if the brownie was totally done but the cookie was definitely cooked through. I put one half in the fridge to cool for further observation. The plain cookies went in next and the mini tart pans went in after that. By that time the original batch had cooled enough for me to realize that I had achieved Brookster success! They were not raw or weird at all. I pulled the muffin liners off of that batch because they were really greasy and looked kind of gross. They peeled away easily and I set the Brooksters aside to further cool.

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The batch of cookies browned pretty quick and got a l lot darker than I would have liked before I had the chance to pull them. I was a little disappointed and just set them aside.

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By the time I decided to make a second batch of muffin tin Brooksters (since the first batch was fine) the tart-pan Brooksters were cooled and I took them out of their pans. I had been really worried about the tart-pan Brooksters because they were really buttery-bubbly. When I looked at them butter was oozing around them in the pan. It looked gross/weird and I was terrified that that meant certain failure. It turns out that by the time I pulled them the butter had burned off and by the time I took them out of the pan they were totally fine and not weird/greasy at all. Phew.

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I had originally thought: ok if the first batch of muffin Brooksters tanked then I could still take the second half of the brownie batter (chilled in a bowl, not a pan) and make plain brownies, and make regular cookies with the remaining cookie dough and all will not be lost. But since everything was going pretty well I just made a second Brookster batch. I was confident in baking times at that point and replicated the 10 on one side, 13 on the other and they were great.

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Amazingly enough, I still had enough leftover cookie dough to make 7 more cookies and this was after liberal raw-dough eating.
By the time everything was all said and done I had 24 muffin-sized Brooksters, 2 4″ tart Brooksters, 2 4″ brownies and 13 cookies. So obviously, I had plenty of product to work with to compare and choose a favorite. I have to say: I love warm cookies, but prefer brownies the second day, so after testing a couple of muffin Brooksters I put all the rest aside to rest overnight.

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I left the liners on the second batch of muffin-pan Brooksters and so the next morning I had half with and half without. The 4″ Brooksters unmolded from their pans with no problems at all.

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So here was my overall assessment: the muffin tin Brooksters were by far the crowd favorite. They were great in my boys’ lunches, they were perfect for a very satisfying dessert treat. Even though the cookie SEEMED too dark at first, it was not burned or overcooked. The brownie part was fudgy and dense and pretty much the best brownie on the planet. It didn’t rise, but the cookie did so the layers ended up being equals, which really surprised me because the disc seemed so small and thin and unsubstantial.

The buttery, chewy cookie was a great compliment to the super dense over-the-top fudgy brownie, and I really did prefer them together. I love brownies but sometimes the fudginess is just TOO much. The texture and buttery flavor of the cookie and the little burst of semisweet chocolate chips really did enhance the brownie for me. The Brooksters that still had the liners turned out to be the better choice because the liners kept them from drying out. The ones with the liners removed were a bit dry after a couple of days.

The cookies were good and you know…just chocolate chip cookies. They could have used a sprinkle of salt on the tops, but they were great/fine and although the color was dark, they stayed chewy and soft even days later.

The giant brownie was tasty and perfect but….the giant Brookster for me tasted so much better. (even though that size is a bit insane and I can NEVER make a dessert that only yields 6 in a family of 5 )

Next time I think I will stick to the recipe as is and make 12 Brooksters and freeze the rest of the cookie dough either for more Brooksters later or an emergency batch of cookies. (cookie emergencies happen!) 24 Brooksters, as glorious as that is–is just too many to have on hand at once.

Don’t get me wrong, we ate them ALL, and after they were gone my boys were like ‘where are the Brooksters?’ They had them after school and in lunches a few days and they said that ALL of their friends wanted one, which is a huge compliment.

I have to say–I have not been more proud of a baking success in a LONG time. I was so happy and surprised with the way everything turned out and I really think the reason I was able to do so well was because I was able to see ahead of time what some of the potential problems could be. I think smooshing the dough discs pretty thin was the way to go, I can see how a thicker disc would not have gotten cooked through and I can definitely understand the inclination to want to add more cookie dough on top of that huge mound of brownie batter. But truly, the layers end up almost the same, which is awesome.

I hope that if any other would-be Brookster bakers read this it is helpful for their own successful batch. Truly, this dessert was so so so good and I can totally see why the Baked boys sell so many at their bakery.

Next up: Bale bars! (I have no idea what that is, I’m off to check out the recipe!)

Lemon Lime Champagne Granita

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Here’s a quick post for a quick recipe. I’m hosting a baby shower today and it’s chaos around here! But I did take a quick second to put together this granita last night.

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I had Prosecco (as close as we get to champagne around here) from NYE. My husband has been under the weather so we didn’t get the chance to toast properly, so we still had the unopened bottle. We did a quick toast last night in between baby shower prep and citrus zesting.

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Admittedly, I did not stir the granita every hour. I stirred it once after about an hour and a half and I stirred/fluffed this morning and that was fine. It’s fluffy and zingy and really yummy/refreshing. The husband thought it was a bit too chewy/zesty and wondered why I didn’t strain it out but that didn’t bother me.

Go over and see what everyone else thought!

Next Up:Simple Chocolate Whiskey Tart with Whiskey Whipped Cream!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Chocolate-Chip Orange Panettone

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Happy Almost-Christmas!! I just had a birthday (my twelfth twenty-fifth 😉 and I’ll write about that soon, but right now it’s the time of year when my boys are pacing the floors like madmen waiting impatiently for the morning they can rip open their presents. I’m feeling pretty much in the spirit–it’s our first Christmas in this house and for the first time in years we are staying home. Our presents are wrapped and ready to go and our beautiful tree (our biggest yet) is full to max capacity with all of our special ornaments.

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I felt a little weird/sad to not spend the holidays with our family like we normally do, so I was happy to hear that my in-laws were coming this weekend to drop off presents/hang out with us for Christmas. They are literally staying one day (not overnight) so I’m happy to be baking a special treat to share with them.

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I’ve never made panettone before, but I’ve eaten it store bought plenty of times. Whole Foods has a nice one that I used to get for the holidays pretty frequently. I had considered not making this since I waited so long to get the few ingredients I didn’t have on hand and I needed to clean the house, but when my husband came home this evening (at around 10pm) with paper molds and oranges and corn syrup (after my house was fully clean) I knew there was no turning back.

I was a little worried when I added the milk to the yeast/flour because I had a recipe (it’s been months but it still messed with my confidence…) that used yeast and didn’t rise properly so I’m still a little gun shy. The milk seemed a bit warmer than it was supposed to be and I was afraid I had killed my yeast.

I couldn’t remember what size it was before after I let it rise the first time so I’m not sure if it was doing it’s thing or not. It’s now 1am and I am waiting for my sugar to turn to syrup on the stove with my orange peels. My dough is in the mixer bowl and the chocolate chips are in the measuring cup on the counter, waiting patiently for their turn.

Once my peels are ready I am going to take a shower while they cool. After I get my dough in the paper mold I am hitting the hay and hoping that an overnight rise will be fine. (did I mention they will be here at 8am-ish?!)

I am minutes away from taking the peels off the heat, so I am going to leave you here. I will update in the morning after my panettone is baked (and we try a bit of it) and let you know what the verdict was.

Good Night!!!

Update:

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I woke up to perfectly risen panettone, much to my delight. I got the oven fired up and the panettone baking. My in-laws texted and let us know that they were going to be here a couple of hours later than we had originally thought so we made coffee and went back to bed. A few How I Met Your Mother episodes later and my panettone was complete.

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I meant to put foil on the top but I lost track of time. Luckily it seemed ok, not too dark.

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I set it out to cool and went back to bed. My in-laws are here now and the panettone was perfect for cutting. We just had a couple of sample slices and it was great. The orange-chocolate combo was perfect and the texture was great–lighter than bread but more chewy than cake. I definitely think this one was a winner!

**Note: I didn’t realize the recipe called for bread flour so I used A/P. I was worried, but it didn’t seem to hurt the texture. Also, my husband brought home milk chocolate chips so it a pretty mellow chocolate flavor as opposed to what it would have been with semi-sweet chips.

Go see what everyone else thought!

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Next up: Lemon lime champagne granita!

Family Traditions

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I love December–it’s my birthday month and I do enjoy Christmas. (although Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday)

I grew up with a mom who liked Christmas–her mom died the day before my 9th birthday and they played the Christmas song Winter Wonderland for her because she loved it so much. But my dad HATED Christmas. Hated it. He would miss family dinners and pretty much hide out until it was over, which wasn’t fun for my brothers and I.

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Of course, I grew up and married someone who hates Christmas. So the boys stay with me for Christmas each year and spend Thanksgiving with their dad. But my sweet husband likes celebrating. He also prefers Thanksgiving but loves doing fun things together and loves making my birthday special and loves seeing the boys’ faces on Christmas morning.

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For years we’ve gone to his parents’ house, but its five hours away. We have a great time and it’s good to get some Grandparent time in, but this is our first winter in this house and we love it here. We want to create special memories here and start to find out special traditions that work for our little family. So this year we are staying home.

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Last night was my big boy’s Winter music program and baby G and I went to cheer them on. In other years they were shy but not this year. They sang and danced and Peachy played the bell (Monkey was on bell duty last year) They were adorable and so proud of themselves.

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Afterwards I offered to take them to dinner. It’s been a while and they love dinners out. They couldn’t decide where they wanted to go and each one vetoed every idea the other had. I was driving in the general direction of home when I saw an option: IHOP.

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I am kind of a food snob and usually would NOT consider IHOP a viable option, but the boys have never been and what kid doesn’t like pancakes for dinner?! So we went and of course they LOVED it. We all had pancakes and bacon and eggs and hashbrowns and hot cocoa and it was a blast.

On the way home we blasted the AC/DC Pandora station and were enjoying it so much we drove around our neighborhood and the one next to ours and checked out all the cool Christmas lights. Some houses really went all out! When we got home we kept the party going and turned off all the lights and turned on the Christmas tree lights and danced around our living room to an old Iron Maiden record. As I spun around under the twinkly rainbow lights with my 3 sweet boys dancing beside me I was the happiest Mama ever.

Our lives are so hurried–rush to school, rush to finish homework and get in bed…it’s nice to just stop for a minute and enjoy each others’ company and do something different just for fun.

We still plan on baking Christmas cookies–both for us and for the children’s shelter nearby. We plan on making ornaments to add to our already-full tree. (I love unpacking each ornament from the years before) We plan on have a big Christmas Eve dinner–and we can each open one small present and a huge Christmas Day brunch and gift extravaganza.

I’m so grateful for the chance to give my babies experiences they will always remember. I still to this day dancing around under our tree with my mom and two brothers. It was Wham! and not Iron Maiden, but the feeling is the same and I know these moments are fleeting.

What traditions have YOU created with your special people?