My Birthday!

December is a busy month for us–my birthday, winter break, Christmas, New Year’s Eve….lots of chances for spending time with family, lots of yummy food and bubbly drinking. I had a great time this year, I’m so thankful for everyone in my life.

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Baked Sunday Mornings: Going Rogue

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I wanted so badly to make this week’s recipe: Wintermint Cake. I bought all of the ingredients, but life got in the way. Friday was my birthday and I really should have known that if I didn’t make it before Thursday it wasn’t going to happen. I’m still bummed and so are my kids, who LOVE chocolate and mint together.

I have to admit: I don’t usually like mint and chocolate together. But guess what I LOVE together? Chocolate and peanut butter. When I was invited to my first cookie swap of the season that one was a no-brainer. They turned out perfectly, even though I was worried they were going to spread out they baked up beautifully.

My mom baked these a lot when I was a kid so I loved the nostalgia factor as well.

My friend has a cool embroidery machine so I asked her to make myself and my mother in law a couple of presents:

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Of course I got mine dirty already 😉 Even my cute aprons are put to work in my kitchen!

Go see how everyone else’s cakes turned out!

Next Up: Hair of the Dog Cake!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Date Squares

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I can’t say I was excited about this recipe. I think the name reminded me of my least favorite Baked recipe, Bale Bars. But, cookies are my favorite thing to make and this recipe sounded like a breeze.

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They were super easy to put together, and the only dates I found at my local store were already chopped into small pieces, making things go even quicker.

I had two small issues: the first was that my crumb mixture was too dry. It really did need more butter and I considered adding more, but in the end I just went with the original recipe. That made them more messy and I lost a lot of the crumbs, but there was a cohesive bar in there that cut nicely and came out of the pan easily, even without using parchment. (how could I be out of parchment?!)

My other issue was that I read the instructions wrong. It said to rotate halfway through baking, about thirty minutes and for some reason I took that to mean rotate thirty minutes in, then bake another thirty. I realized my mistake about five minutes after rotating so luckily I didn’t ruin my bars.

I have to say, the bars are really tasty and were nothing like my sad bale bar failure. My kid-testers enjoyed them too even though one of them was really disappointed that there was no chocolate involved. He thought ‘date squares’ were cookie bars you made for a date, and would naturally contain chocolate.

Go see what everyone else thought!

Next up: Wintermint Cake!! This cake is due the same weekend as my birthday, so I think I know what kind of cake I’ll have for my birthday this year!!!

Mug Cake: AKA Desperation Cake

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I had avoided making mug cakes because gross, the microwave, it’s not real baking. But tonight I decided I wanted an excuse to torch something so I threw some stuff into a bowl, whisked it up, scooped it into a couple of mugs, tossed some chocolate chips in there for good measure and popped it into the microwave.

Lighting a handful of marshmallows on fire via a butane torch also seemed like a good idea.

How did it taste? Like cake. I think I nuked it for about 15 seconds too long, and I don’t think this will be a regular deal, but on nights where one of my boys asks if we have dessert and we really don’t I will remember that I can have a totally kid-pleasing dessert in front of them in five minutes. And bonus: no eggs or butter so I won’t dip into my “real” baking supplies.

The Edge of 37

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Well, here we are in my birth month, ending my 37th year. 38 isn’t really a milestone birthday per se, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I am leaving behind.

I had six and a half childbearing years. I was pregnant with my big boys at age 28 and gave birth to my last baby a few months before my 35th birthday. My goal was to not have children past 35, and really having one more was a big (pleasant) surprise.

Getting the IUD that would end my baby-having (it’s removal will be at the very end of my 40’s) was both a huge deal and completely uneventful. The decision felt big and yet once it was all said and done it felt a bit anticlimactic.

There was a finality with the birth of G that I didn’t necessarily feel with his brothers. I did think for a long time that I was through with having kids, that “getting it over with” in one shot–two for the price of one–was the way to go, but it was such a gift to be able to have one more. To experience pregnancy and parenting with someone whose worldview and life goals meshed with mine.

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I loved being pregnant (as much as you can love Texas summer pregnancies) I loved the sweet infant phase. I love watching my boys get bigger and grow and change and become more of who they are. It’s surreal to think I have three babies. It’s surreal to realize I haven’t been a carefree single lady in a really long time.

The biggest thing to get used to about growing up and being a parent is just the loss of freedom and spontaneity. My life is not set up to hop on a plane or spend a bunch of money on things that have nothing to do with kids or food or necessities. I didn’t realize how much autonomy I had in my twenties. I read over my journals and marvel at how small and manageable my stresses were. I only had myself to care for. It felt huge and confusing then, but I had no idea how different things would be in the decade to come.

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I wonder what the next phase of my life will be like. I look at my boys and I wish desperately to slow things down, to hold on to life with small children as long as I can. I am acutely aware of how time flies. I can feel their childhoods slipping through my fingers.

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One day they will be gone from my home. No more making lunches. No more rides to school. No more tiny voices filling my house. No more little boy giggles and squeals and snuggles.

I dread the day when my littles don’t snuggle in my lap or cover my face in kisses. I think back to all the freedom I didn’t appreciate and I miss that time…but mostly I am sad that I didn’t fully understand how much I should savor it. I am fully aware now and trying to be present and thankful and enjoy this experience–I know that none of this is forever. Each stage of life brings different challenges and joys and stresses and pleasures.

As I get closer to the next decade of my life I think fondly of the ones that have passed. I look forward to a time of travel and exploration with my kids and with my partner. I look forward to sharing the joys of my children’s accomplishments and milestones. I embrace 38 and welcome this new year.

I have no regrets.

Thanksgiving 2014

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We had a fantastic holiday. We had stretchy pants, good friends, booze, great food, and weather mild enough to allow us to eat outside.

I am so grateful to have so many things to be thankful for. The only thing missing was my big boys, but they had a good time with the other half of their family.

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Baked Occasions: Sweet Potato Tart with Gingersnap Crust and Heavenly Meringue

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I was excited to have a big holiday to bake something from the new cookbook. I chose the tart immediately and bought the ingredients.

Later I read through the whole recipe and my heart sunk. Not only would I be making a meringue for the first time (for some reason meringue has seemed intimidating and I’ve avoided making recipes that have it) but I needed a torch.

I don’t have a torch. I went to buy a torch at Bed Bath and Beyond and left empty-handed. I didn’t want to spend that much money for one recipe.

My husband went to Harbor Freight for something else and noticed that they carried very cheap mini torches. I went back and bought one ($7) and grabbed some butane from Lowe’s. ($5)

I made the crust, which was a breeze, although I always manage to extend my crust up too high which makes the edges too tall and jagged. I need to work on that.

Next up was the filling. This part was tricky because I was using a 10″ springform instead of the 9″ it called for so I wanted to make a bit more filling. I added a bit more of everything including an extra egg and crossed my fingers that it would set. (it did)

I put it in the fridge overnight and on Thanksgiving morning I made the meringue. It came together so much easier and quicker than I was anticipating. It was beautiful: bright white and glossy and it was fun to swirl it over the tart. The only thing left to do (besides unmold it) was to torch it.

I started to very tentatively brown the tops of the swirls and my husband was standing next to me trying to control the urge to grab it from me. I handed it over willingly and he perfectly browned the meringue for me.

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I took it in my lap to our friend’s house and removed the springform ring there. It came off perfectly and everyone ended up loving the tart. Of course I was making mental notes about what I would do better/differently next time but that’s what happens with a self-critical baker. 🙂

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The next-day leftovers (there was hardly any left!) were perfect and delicious although I don’t think I’d keep this tart any longer than that. I will happily add this to my regular holiday rotation.

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What did you bake for Thanksgiving?

Cold Weather Survival Tips: Cherry Pillow

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Winter weather can wreak havoc on your skin and hair. When night falls and the temperature dips in your house, it’s tempting to crank up the heater. But once you are asleep you body temperature should stabilize. There’s nothing worse than waking up parched and sweating in the middle of the night because you overestimated your heating needs.

Overnight is when your skin regenerates and regulates oil production. If you lose surface moisture, that will cause your skin to pump out more oil, and excess heat will dry your skin, leading to clogged pores and overall congestion.

I love hot water bottles and have two that I like to put under my blankets before I get into bed: one at the foot of the bed and one at the head. I have covers on them so they don’t get clammy when they cool down. I do get nervous at the idea of falling asleep with them, so I try to kick them out of bed before I fall asleep. I’ve always been paranoid that I will roll over and somehow puncture one, flooding my bed. (hasn’t happened yet, thankfully!)

I’m always happy for it to be cool enough to pull out my cherry pillow.

The cover is made from organic cotton and it is filled with cherry pits leftover from making cherry liqueur. Three minutes in the microwave gives me the perfect amount of heat to warm up and fall asleep. I also like putting it in my lap when I’m feeling chilly but no one else is–when I am messing around online, or watching a movie or reading a book.

I’ve had my pillow for thirteen years and it still looks great, and I love the way the cherry pits smell when they heat up.

I’ll Show You Mine…

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…Kitchen work space that is. I love that I have a corner of my kitchen that is separate from where my husband cooks, so we can both do our thing and not be in each others’ way. Behind my baking table is our bookshelf where we keep all of our cookbooks. Be sure to check out my favorites!

Your turn! I want to see pictures of your kitchen! Show me your favorite tools, favorite apron, favorite cookbooks!

Like my apron? Get your custom apron, skirt, dress or other clothing item here!