Goodbye Summer

One of my favorite things to do as a mom is walk my daughter to school. Walking feels almost like a remnant of a bygone time, so I treasure it. Her school is a couple blocks, and one big grassy park away, and only takes us fifteen minutes to get there. Sometimes if the weather is really awful we’ll drive, but I try to walk as much as we can. We watch for our neighborhood family of roadrunners on the way. We say good morning to the dogs. Today we met Stella and Luna, very good dogs indeed.

The walk is calm until we get to the park. Once there you can hear the crossing guard’s whistle, and kids yelling to their friends. Sometimes they’ll yell at my daughter and we’ll walk the rest of the way with friends. The girls walking in front, talking, the grown ups and my son following close behind. It’s loud, and energetic and joyful.

And then the bell rings. Kids go to class, parents go to work. My son and I walk home. The once bustling park is now quiet and empty with the exception of a few joggers and retirees. It’s a completely different place. We listen to the wind in the trees, and watch out for robins and sparrows. It’s peaceful.

Today was my daughter’s first day of third grade. It also marked the end of my first summer as a stay at home mom. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous about this summer. I mean, I love my kids, but spending all day every day with them? I don’t love anyone that much. But, we survived! We all still love each other, and we even had fun! Of course we didn’t accomplish everything we wanted to. My daughter wanted to go to the beach and that didn’t happen. My house is not as clean as I was hoping to get it, and I didn’t write as much as I meant to. My kids watched way more television than I had wanted. But we had fun. And I got through it.

And we had adventures! There was the girls weekend my daughter and I took with my mom at Tamaya Resort, where we spent all day at the pool and ordered room service. We spent two weeks outside of Durango at the family cabin. We had family friends come stay with us, marking my daughter’s very first sleepover. It was a summer of firsts and also the familiar. And I don’t think I would’ve changed a minute of it.

Advertisements

Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberry Mousse

My birthday was a few weeks ago so naturally, I used the occasion as an excuse to make some delicious cupcakes. I like to go all out for birthday desserts (i.e. my husband’s birthday cake) and my birthday is no exception. I’ve been making some iteration of this recipe for more than ten years. I had a similar cake at a local bakery and fell in love with it. When I went back for more a few months later, it was no longer on the menu. So I had to make my own. It’s taken me awhile to get it to where I’m really proud of it.

IMG_0044_16
My birthday cake from 2010. We all have to start somewhere.

Now, there are a lot of components to this recipe, but all of the components are easy to do, I promise. Because of all the components, and because it takes a while for the mousse to set, and the cupcakes to cool, I tend to make the mousse and cupcakes the day before I want to serve them and then put everything together the day of. It can totally be done in one day though. I just tend to get antsy waiting for the mousse to set completely. Also, I use a cake mix to make my chocolate cupcakes. Don’t hate me.

Ingredients

For the strawberry mousse

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 cups cut up fresh strawberries
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup whipping cream

For the cupcakes

  • 1 Devil’s Food cake mix
  • whatever ingredients cake mix calls for

For the ganache

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream

For the whipped cream

  • 1/2 cup whipping cream

Directions

For the strawberry mousse

  1. Sprinkle the gelatin on top of the 1/4 cup of water. Let it sit for five minutes while you get your strawberries going.
  2. Put your strawberries and the sugar into a food processor and blend until smooth.
  3. Move your strawberry and sugar mixture to a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the gelatin mixture until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
  5. Chill in the refrigerator until cool and the consistency of egg whites.
  6. Once your strawberry mixture is cool, start to beat your cream into whipped cream. Start at a low speed until foamy, and then increase your speed to medium/medium-high. Beat until peaks form. You’ll know it’s done when you can tilt the bowl on it’s side (slowly, otherwise, uh-oh) and the whipped cream holds its shape instead of sloshing all over.
  7. Gently fold in your strawberry mixture until fully incorporated. And I mean gently. You don’t want to lose all that air you just beat into your whipped cream, so be gentle and sweet to your mousse. 😉
  8. Let chill for at least 30 minutes. You want your mousse to be nice and firm.

    IMG_2770
    Mmmm. Perfectly set mousse.

For the cupcakes

  1. Prepare your cupcakes according to the box, or use your favorite chocolate cake recipe. Honestly, after getting the mousse just right, you’ve earned the right to make the cupcakes as easy as possible.
  2. Let them cool COMPLETELY.

Assembling the cupcakes

  1. Once your mousse is set, and your cupcakes are cool, you’re ready to put them all together.
  2. To fill the cupcakes you’ll need a pastry bag (or large Ziploc or sandwich type bag) and a long, thin, pastry tip. Fill the pastry bag with your mousse, about half full (more than that and you’ll end up with strawberry mousse all over your hands like I did). Stick your pastry tip into the center of the cupcake about halfway. Pull out the tip a little bit and squeeze the mousse into the cupcake. At the risk of sounding like a big old weirdo, this step is a lot of fun! You can actually see the cupcakes getting filled with mousse. You’ll know it’s good when little cracks start to form in the top of the cupcake.
  3. Once all of the cupcakes are filled, it’s time to make the chocolate ganache to put on top. Melt the chocolate chips and cream in a saucepan on medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Nothing is worse than burned chocolate. Once the ganache is smooth and shiny, take it off the heat and top your cupcakes.
  4. I put the ganache on with a spoon, while holding the cupcake at an angle. I start at the edge of the cupcake, and let gravity do most of the work for me. I keep adding ganache on the edge, turning the cupcake as I go, and once I have enough on there (and a little goes a long way) I use the back of the spoon to smooth it out and cover the middle, where I filled the cupcake with mousse. Doing it this way cuts down on how much mousse mixes with the ganache and makes it look prettier. And if a little pink gets in your ganache, don’t worry, you can cover it up with whipped cream.
  5. I top my cupcakes with whipped cream and sliced strawberries right before I serve them. The whipped cream helps cut through all the richness and sweetness, also, everything is better with whipped cream. And the strawberries look cute. Make your whipped cream the same way you did with the strawberry mousse, start at a low speed, increase when it gets foamy. You can use another pastry bag and pastry tip for fun shapes, or just scoop a little dollop on top, you literally can’t go wrong when you’re adding whipped cream to things.

And there you have it! My favorite cupcake and my birthday tradition. I hope you enjoy!

 

 

Spiced Blueberry Pancakes with Butter Pecan Syrup

Anytime we go up to the family cabin outside of Durango, we always have to stop at Honeyville! We’ve been going there since it was a tiny shop, about the size of our living room, and before they expanded not only their location, but also their selection.

We love this place! Everything I’ve ever had there is delicious and everyone who works there is incredibly friendly. Even better? Samples! You can try their whipped honey, jams, syrups, and if you’re 21 or older, their wines and spirits.

When we were there last week I tried their butter pecan syrup and immediately knew I needed to bring some home. When I was purchasing it, the very sweet young woman saw what I was getting and got excited. “What are you going to put it on? I’m always looking for new ideas for that one!”

Hmmm, what was I going to put it on? Well first I put it on good old fashioned pancakes. And it was good, don’t get me wrong, but it was a lot of sweet. What it needed was something a little tart (blueberries?) and some warm spices (cinnamon and nutmeg?) to balance the delicious sweetness of the syrup.

So I added blueberries, cinnamon and nutmeg to my faithful pancake recipe and the results were…. soooooo good!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons cooled melted butter
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • Butter pecan syrup (might I recommend Honeyville’s?)

Directions

  1. Mix all of your dry ingredients together.
  2. Add your milk, egg and melted butter, and mix until incorporated.
  3. Gently stir in your blueberries.
  4. Cook on a hot griddle or frying pan.
  5. Top with butter pecan syrup and enjoy!

I hope you like these pancakes. And if you need some helpful hints on cooking a perfect pancake, start here.

Copycat Dole Whip!

Happy National Ice Cream Day! Let’s celebrate with one of my favorite treats! And while it’s technically not ice cream, it’s cold, creamy and refreshing. And a fairly decent replica of my absolute FAVORITE Disney Park treat. And lord knows I like a lot of Disney treats.

Now, for those who aren’t familiar, a Dole Whip is a pineapple soft serve treat. You can get them at Adventureland in Disneyland and The Magic Kingdom, as well as several other spots in Disney World. Some places you can get it swirled with vanilla ice cream, some places you can get it with a shot of coconut rum. My favorite way to have it is as a float. Pineapple soft serve with pineapple juice. It is sooooo refreshing after a hot day riding rollercoasters and getting your picture taken with Mickey.

And, as it turns out, it’s really easy to replicate it at home! So if getting to one of the parks isn’t in your foreseeable future, don’t be too sad, at least you can snack as if you were there.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups frozen pineapple chunks
  • 1/2 cup milk (any kind, I use almond)

Instructions

All you need to do is put your frozen pineapple chunks and milk into your food processor and turn it on. The hardest part is being patient while your food processor turns those frozen chunks into the perfect soft serve consistency, which usually takes me about five minutes and several breaks where I smush it down to get rid of all the chunks.

The only problem with these is that they don’t photograph well, but believe me, they taste yummy! And it’s a fairly healthy treat since it’s nothing but pineapple and milk. Let me know what you think!

Easy Carbonara

Wow! It’s been a busy week! I had a birthday, a party, and a trip to the family cabin. It was fun, but not super conducive to writing, so it’s kind of nice to be back home, and back in the groove of things. And the week has given me so many things to write about! Yay!

Whenever we get to the cabin, I like to plan our meals up there. Getting to the grocery store is kind of a pain when we’re up there, as is trying to take lots of leftovers home with us, so the more I plan, the better it is. Of course, on our last night there I didn’t really have a plan for dinner besides “eat a lot so we don’t have to pack it tomorrow”.

Using what we had leftover from the week, I whipped up an easy and yummy carbonara. That’s why I love this pasta dish. It can be made from basically scraps, but it’s delicious and rather impressive. I used the last of the pack of bacon, a few eggs, and a quarter onion left from taco night, and voila! Pasta carbonara!

Ingredients

  • 1 LB pasta
  • 5 slices bacon, cut up
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 white onion, diced

Instructions

  1. Get your pasta going.
  2. Start frying your bacon in a large frying pan on medium high heat.
  3. While you’re waiting for your pasta to cook, and your bacon to crisp, whisk together your eggs and cheese in a large bowl and set aside.
  4. Dice your onion and add it to your bacon when the bacon is almost done cooking. Turn the heat down to medium to medium low heat so your onions don’t burn. I season my bacon and onion with pepper and garlic powder to give it some extra flavor. Feel free to do the same, or not. Up to you.
  5. When your bacon is crispy, and your onion translucent, remove it from the heat and drain the grease.
  6. When your pasta is finished cooking, drain the water and add the noodles to your bacon and onion. Mix until your noodles are evenly covered.
  7. Here’s the only slightly tricky part. Add the pasta to your egg and cheese mixture and stir quickly. You want to make sure to stir it right away so that you get a nice, creamy sauce and not scrambled eggs. But as far as tricky parts go, this one is pretty easy.
  8. You’re done! Garnish with a little extra cheese or pepper and serve with a nice salad, and you’ve got a yummy dinner and a cleaner fridge.

Piñatas: Days Two, Three, and Four

Alright, after a break, and many alcoholic drinks, I was ready to finish my piñatas. The next step, decorating the piñatas, was actually much more enjoyable and easier than the papier måché, for one simple reason; I had my helper back! My daughter, who was grossed out by the papier måché and pretty much abandoned me early on, was totally into helping with the next step. And thank goodness, because it was a fairly time intensive step. Quick reminder, I was using this video as a point of reference when making our piñatas.

We laid down newspaper on her floor, and got to work. We mixed white school glue with just a little bit of water until the glue was thin enough to paint with. Since we broke up this part instead of doing it all at once, I tended to pour way more glue than I needed for each session. A little glue goes a long way. I now have an old Tupperware container I need to throw away because there’s no way I’m getting the unused glue out of it. We took turns, one of us cutting the streamers and one of us gluing them on.

Just like in the video, we folded the streamer into 3 inch strips to give it a little more weight. We made them smaller with each new circle we made, as it was easier to work with. Cutting streamers was no joke. The day we finished decorating them, I was convinced I had early arthritis.

We started with my daughter’s piñata, with me cutting strips and her gluing them on. Before we started decorating, we made sure to use a box cutter to cut a whole so we could later put candy inside. We didn’t have any issues with her’s, but when I cut a hole in my piñata and the balloon popped, all of the party hats I had lovingly and carefully attached just so with papier mÃ¥ché, sunk into my piñata. I get extra mom points for not cursing at it while my daughter was next to me. I read the comments on the original video and found this was a pretty common occurrence. I reattached them with glue and tape until they seemed firmly in place. Here’s hoping they don’t fall off when I fill the piñata.

We finished the first side and then left it to dry. Maybe because we were so new at the process, but just one side took over an hour to complete with two people working on it. Even so, my daughter and I were having fun, and maybe halfway through we were seriously considering making more piñatas to sell at local farmer’s markets. Maybe we could, if she’s willing to help with the papier mÃ¥ché.

After decorating each side, it was time to cover up the area between the party hats. This was basically the same process as the main sides, only in reverse (you will go under your original layer) and with more shoving. When that was done, we cut long (twelve inches) strips of streamers and stapled them onto the ends of the party hats. And that was it! Totally easy. 😉

And while they’re not perfect, I’m pretty pleased with how they came out. They look good enough to shake a stick at, at least. My daughter is proud too. She was getting a little gloomy towards the end of making them, knowing that soon all of our hard work will be destroyed by those we love, but I’m hoping she’ll perk up once the candy is in there. After all, we did spring for the mix that included Blow Pops.

IMG_2702
Finished piñata and my husband’s arm

Now, in case you are wondering why we made two piñatas, let me tell you. My daughter’s piñata will be filled with candy (including Blow Pops) and will be for the kids at the party to take a whack at. The piñata I was in charge of will be for the adults. It will have yummy Godiva chocolates in it, and….. IMG_2623

Happy birthday to me!

Piñatas: Day One

My birthday is coming up in a few weeks so I decided to have a big party to celebrate. A couple weeks ago I was talking about it with my mom and brother and we all came up with some fun party ideas. After opening the second jug of margaritas, we had some pretty good ideas. My brother suggested a bouncy house, I thought piñatas would be fun, and my mom suggested we have alcohol.

I decided it would be even more fun to make the piñatas myself. I blame the margaritas. Here’s the thing with me and crafting, I always go in with more confidence than I probably should. I research online, watch a ten minute video, and convince myself that it’ll be easy, fun, and done within a day. I am almost always wrong.

But I found this video here, figured it would be a fun and easy project my eight year old daughter could help me with, and I set out to make piñatas.

First step; gathering supplies. I went to Party City to get some more streamers, party hats, and balloons. Word of advice; when buying Mylar balloons that you don’t want inflated with helium, be prepared to explain it at least three times. Another tip; buy a darker color balloon. I got white and it became a little difficult to see where I needed to add more papier-mâché because of the light color.

Second step; get everything ready. I cut up strips of newspaper (about eight inches long, one to two inches wide), prepared my flour mixture (I used two cups flour, two and a half cups water and one tablespoon salt), blew up the balloons (I didn’t have a balloon pump so I used a straw), and taped on the party hats. So far, easy peasy.

Third step; watch your world dissolve into chaos when you attempt papier-mâché for the first time in thirty years. Ok, I made several mistakes during this step. One, I tried doing it inside. I’m still cleaning up the mess. Two, I was banking on my daughter helping AND ENJOYING this step. This was not the case. As soon as her hands touched the paste mixture she started complaining how gross it was. Three, after completing the first side, I attempted to put the piñata in progress in a jar, the way she does in the video. This did not work at all for me. The piñata started to sink into the jar, wrinkling the part we had already completed. I ended up having my daughter just hold the piñata while I covered the other side. Given her feelings on how gross the papier-mâché was, this did not go well for either of us.

Step four; let the first layer dry. I had been planning on letting it dry in the jar, but that wasn’t going to work. And I definitely wasn’t going to have my daughter hold it the whole time (it can take up to six hours for each layer to dry), I was at a loss and super frustrated. Piñatas were proving to be much harder than all the diys I had found online. I felt lied to. Luckily my husband saved the day by making make shift drying racks out of old wire garden fencing. After the fact, I’m thinking over turned tomato cages would also work.

Step five; repeat steps three and four two or three more times. Whoever said you needed to let the layers dry for six hours, obviously wasn’t making piñatas in 100 degree New Mexican heat. Mine was dry and hard after an hour in the sun. However, the heat also caused the balloon to expand and my papier-mâché to crack. So we let them dry in the shade from then on.

The other layers were easier. I did them outside and I did them by myself. By the third layer on the second piñata however, I had lost all my shade. It was one in the afternoon and 103. I was dripping sweat. It was running into my eyes which stung so I kept alternating which eye I had open. It was not enjoyable. By the end of day one, I hated piñatas.