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: 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?

Baked Sunday Mornings: Velvet Chocolate Walnut Fudge with Olive Oil and Fleur de Sel

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I love fudge, my grandmother used to make it a lot during the holidays. I had all of the ingredients on hand except for the walnuts, but I *did* have the perfect amount of pecans available, leftover from Thanksgiving so I decided to use those and not worry about the walnuts.

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I made the marshmallow cream first one afternoon. I was pressed for time and shouldn’t have started it when I did but it turned out well regardless of my time crunch. I was thrilled to see the perfect, fluffy marshmallow cloud that magically appeared in my mixer bowl. I have never even thought about homemade marshmallow fluff, and have never used marshmallows in fudge so the whole process was new and exciting for me.

The one problem I had was the fact that I didn’t have a candy thermometer. I have lots of regular/meat thermometers but I had forgotten that my one candy thermometer broke at some point. I used one of the thermometers I had on hand, but it didn’t go up as high as I needed so I was nervous kind of winging/guessing at the correct time/temperature.

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As usual I had a kid underfoot great helper so that made me feel a bit distracted/disorganized. I was stirring, stirring, stirring and trying to keep him from getting burned when I realized I hadn’t cut/toasted the nuts that I would very shortly need. I set the oven to 400 and threw them in before the oven was even up to temp. I wasn’t exactly sure what “toasted extra dark” meant, but I felt like I was on the right track when I smelled the nuts close to burning. I yanked them out of the oven, threw them into the food processor right as I was finishing up the other steps. My pan was a 9″ so I folded up one side of foil so I could rig it into the proper 8″ size I needed. I poured the fudge in to cool and the foil barrier worked just fine.

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I have to admit: the “X” thing confused me. I just couldn’t picture the final product. I did try to cut the Xs before it was fully set, but I had the pieces planned to be WAY TOO big for fudge. The only blog post that I saw that featured this recipe skipped the Xs AND the olive oil so I guess I wasn’t the only one that didn’t quite get it.

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I tried the fudge after it set, but before the addition of olive oil or fleur de sel and it was amazing. Really strong and beautiful contrasting flavors: deep chocolate, toasty pecans (they were perfectly done, luckily!) and the sweet hint of fluffy marshmallows. I didn’t see how the fudge could get better. But it did. I found that the backside of a knife created a good, deep X in the fudge squares. I think that the regular knife edge wouldn’t allow for the olive oil to sit on top of the fudge properly. The fruitiness of the olive oil worked perfectly with the other flavors and I love salt on chocolate anytime. It was seriously mind-blowing.

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My husband reminded me of the dessert he had on his menu when he was the executive chef for a French restaurant: dark chocolate tart with fleur de sel and olive oil gelato. This fudge was an exact replica of those flavors. This is definitely my go-to fudge recipe from now on.

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And the fudge is already gone. 🙂

Go see how everyone else liked this delicious fudge!

Next up: Chocolate-Chip Orange Panettone. Yay, perfect for Christmas!!

Thanksgiving Wrap Up

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20131207-180948.jpg Beulah Pearl Tanner

This year for Thanksgiving we went to my in-law’s house in Southeast Texas. I volunteered to make the pies and this year I chose a Chocolate Ginger Chess Pie, a Roasted Pumpkin Pie and a classic Pecan Pie. The pecan pie was right off of the Karo syrup label my Grandmother’s secret recipe. She was well-known for that pie and this is the first holiday she is not with us, so I decided to use that recipe in honor of my sweet Grandma, Beulah Pearl.

I thought they all turned out well (despite my pumpkin pie cracking on top) AND I was finally able to figure out how to prevent my pie crusts from slipping. (hint: it’s all about the crimping)

This year we are spending our Christmas at home. (for the very first time!) We are looking forward to building our family traditions and just hanging out: cooking, eating, etc. I can’t wait!

What are YOU doing for Christmas?

Baked Sunday Mornings: Antique Caramel Cake

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I really, really love caramel and I wanted to make this cake, but I wasn’t able to line up a dinner party play date for my family so I didn’t want to make a full cake and have it go to waste. Plus, I was able to get some cute, boy-friendly cupcake decorations that I wanted to try out for my guys, so I opted to make a batch of cupcakes instead.

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The batter was quick and easy to make although I was wondering how caramel-y it would end up tasting.

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It used a bit of vinegar at the end and it made me laugh to realize the brand was “Lady’s Choice”–should I be offended?

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I had lots of help from my little cupcake-loving guys. G “helped” fill the cupcake liners and M helped me make the frosting. I forgot to whisk in the heavy cream at the right time, so I added it at the end. Luckily it didn’t mess anything up. Sometimes it’s hard to focus when baking with 3 little boys running around. I *did* add a tablespoon of vanilla extract to the frosting. I don’t think I’m capable of making a cake (or cupcakes) without vanilla in some form.

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I ended up doing spooky red sparkes/knives for the big boys, rainbow sugar sprinkles for baby G, pink sprinkles for me and crystal salt flakes for my sweet man. I ended up “testing” two before I even frosted them, they made about 17 cupcakes, but I did overfill a few of them so they probably should have made closer to 20.

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I was happy with the way they turned out–very rich and caramel-y without being too sweet. I didn’t add any more caramel on top, but I did sprinkle a bit of kosher salt on them to contrast with the sweet caramel. Everyone in my family also gave them two thumbs up.

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I had to take a work call when I had five minutes left on the timer and forgot all about the cupcakes for about 8 minutes. I yanked them out in a panic, afraid I had ruined them. Even though they were a bit darker on the tops than I would normally allow, the finished cupcake was fine, not dry at all.

I will definitely make these again, both as cupcakes and as a layer cake. Go see how the recipe turned out for my fellow bakers!

Next up: Chocolate Velvet Walnut Fudge with Olive Oil and Fleur de Sel.