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.

Baked Sunday Mornings: Bale Bars

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*Sigh* This was not a sexy recipe. The name, the color of the ingredients, the finished product…just–no.

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I LOVED the Good Morning Sunshine Bars and I was hoping that these would be a lighter, blonder version of those perfect no-bake yummies. But–nope.

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The recipe was very straightforward and easy. Melt the butter, add sugar and cream…eventually finishing up with Fleur de Sel, vanilla, white chocolate and peanut butter. The gooey stuff gets poured over peanuts and crushed pretzels and is supposed to chill into a delicious bar.

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I had a bit of an issue early on–I went to put the pretzels in the food processor to chop them up and…nothing. It didn’t start. It was plugged in, everything seemed ok but nothing happened. I panicked thinking my new(ish) giant, beloved food processor was kaput.

Feeling cranky, I put the pretzels in a baggie and crushed them with a rolling pin. I felt like Wilma Flintstone…I love my gadgets. After I crushed the pretzels by hand I realized that part of the top was on backwards. Once I flipped it around, it sprung to life. I had already added the peanuts so I moved on.

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I did get to use a new toy–my kitchen scale, a Christmas present from my honey. I hadn’t tried it out yet and I loved it. It’s amazing how completely wrong my estimates turned out to be when trying to eyeball amounts. It was fun to measure out the ingredients exactly, and I thought that my bars would be pretty spot on. The only thing I did differently was use creamy peanut butter. I never buy chunky and I didn’t think as I grabbed a jar for the recipe. I didn’t want to make my own–I was glad to have a simple recipe that didn’t require much effort this time around. I don’t think that substitution mattered much, though.

I finished up last night and covered the pan with plastic wrap to chill overnight. I was looking forward to having one with coffee this morning. They didn’t cut very nicely…the bars were pretty crumbly. I thought that maybe I didn’t coat the mixture evenly enough before pressing into the pan. If I hadn’t have measured everything out exactly I would have thought that my amounts were off. But nevertheless, the bars were pretty disappointing. The color did nothing to make me want to eat them. I thought about drizzling something on top: caramel or white chocolate or even milk or dark chocolate, but they kind of felt like a lost cause.

I tried to use a cookie cutter to cut out a cute heart shape for my picture but got a mound of crumbs instead, so I grabbed the ends of the parchment and tossed the whole thing in the trash. Maybe not getting the pretzels pulverized as much by hand as I would have by machine was part of the problem. Whatever the cause, they just didn’t work out for me.

I left the plate of squares out for my boys and even they weren’t interested. It was surprising that an easy recipe was a bust. Ah, well. Maybe some of my fellow bakers had better luck.

Next up: Lime Angel Food Cake with Lime Glaze. Awesome, I’ve always wanted to make an angel food cake! My boys won’t love the lime, but that’s ok–more for me!

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!

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!!

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.

Spooky Saturday Night

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It was hard to narrow down what to do over the weekend to celebrate the Halloween season. Haunted hay ride? Zoo trip? Museum event? Pumpkin patch? I had a few ideas, then a friend on Facebook let me know that R.L Stine, one of my boys’ favorite authors was speaking at the Texas State Cemetery after dark.

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I am eternally grateful to R.L Stine and authors like him for creating books that capture my boys’ imagination. When they were learning to read, all of the early readers were boooooring to them and I was worried that they would not learn to love books the way I do. I spent hours googling early readers, graphic novels and chapter books that were more on the gory exciting side for them. Of course R.L Stine came up.

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Before R.L (“Bob”) went on, a man named James Preller read from one of his newer books. I’ll definitely add him to our list of spooky, boy-friendly authors.

After the reading Mr. Stine walked past me and I said hi. He told me that Griffin was cute. I wanted to thank him for helping my boys become book lovers, but all I managed was a smile. I think he got it. Authors have always made me far more starstruck than movie stars. The line for autographs was super long, and most of the people there were adults, oddly enough. My boys didn’t have the patience to wait, the three of them wanted to shine their flashlights at the headstones instead.

What spooky things have YOU done so far for Halloween?