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Mummies and Spiders and Eyes, Oh My!

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I made some Halloween cupcakes today, for no real reason or purpose, other than it’s almost Halloween and I felt like being creative. I baked up two dozen apple caramel cupcakes, which, although quite tasty, kinda reminded me of that apple cinnamon oatmeal from the pouch I used to eat as a kid. In this case, the cupcakes were to serve more as a canvas anyway, so I wasn’t too concerned, and besides, I liked that oatmeal. I decided to do four different Halloween-ish designs.

Design #1: Pumpkin.

the obvious choice.

the obvious choice.

I had recently made these same cupcakes for a wedding, and I still had some of the candy corn pumpkins left over, and I wanted to put them to some good use. So I did.

Design #2: Mummies.

mummy is so yummy.

mummy is so yummy.

A friend had posted a pic of similar cupcake mummies to my facebook page, and I thought they were just so darn cute, I had to try them myself.

Design #3: Spiders.

is that a spider on your cupcake?

is that a spider on your cupcake?

I had done these a few years ago, but with mini Oreos. All I had were a bunch of regular Oreos in the cabinet, so I opted to try these using those this time, instead. Plus, I had a tub of cookies and cream frosting leftover from that same wedding a couple weeks ago (I made Oreo cupcakes for it as well), so I busted it out,slathered it on, and slapped a giant killer Oreo Spider on top.

Design #4: Eyeballs.

Eat with your eyes...

eat with your eyes…

I was thinking of these the other day when I was telling a friend I made eyeball cupcakes like 6 years ago, using a green lifesaver for the retina. I had no lifesavers, but I did have a ton of light purple icing…so that happened.

All in all, I think they turned out pretty cute, and I think I’ll bring them in to work to share with my coworkers on Halloween. Let’s just hope they all liked that cinnamon oatmeal in the pouch as much as I did growing up….

taste like...oatmeal?

tastes like…oatmeal?

 

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My iPhone Died; I Lived.

Last week, my coveted iPhone 5C fell out of my purse, complete in its trendy little phone pouch. It apparently landed near the front door of my car in the parking lot of my gym, and remained there for some time, in the rain, until a good Samaritan spotted said abandoned trendy pouch, and brought it to the front desk inside the gym. I didn’t realize it was even missing until my workout was over an hour later, and it was nowhere to be found. I searched my purse, my locker, my car, around my car, my gym bag, but to no avail. I began tossing things frantically around inside the car, and then thought I’d check the front desk, just in case. Sure enough, it was there, still in the pouch! Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers!

this photo is only a representation and not my actual phone.

this photo is only a representation and not my actual phone.

But alas, upon further investigation, the pouch was utterly soaked, and the phone….well it was non-functional. The screen sort of lit up, but nothing was happening. I walked back to my car, busted phone and soaked pouch in hand, completely dejected. The second the car door closed behind me, I began uncontrollably sobbing. So much so, that I could barely breathe and I could barely see, and I’m not sure how I made it home. I walked in the door, hysterical by this point, and my fiance quickly snatched the phone and threw it into a bag of rice. He then informed me that I’d be without my phone for – at the very least – the next 48 hours.

48 HOURS!!! WITH NO PHONE! The world had officially ended. The rest of the night was ruined and I just sat there sulking, thinking about how stupid I was to let the phone fall out of my purse, and how much it was going to cost me to buy a new one. Not to mention I would not be able to communicate with the outside world or do anything until I had a phone again. Life, as I knew it, had ceased. I’d never be happy until I had the phone back.

Oh how very wrong I was.

The next day, I woke up, and thought, hmmm..maybe I can find a replacement phone on ebay. I also realized that I could sell my old phone and make up some of the costs for a new one. So I listed it right then. As the day went on, and I was phoneless, I started slowly realizing that I didn’t need the phone as much as I thought I did. Losing the phone was NOT the end of the world – in fact, it was just the beginning.

I wasn’t constantly looking for updates. Instead, I was talking to people to find out what was going on with them. I noticed things in the house that I could work on, instead of having my head down staring at a little screen. I stopped feeling stressed about social media – who “likes” me and who doesn’t. WHO CARES??! I actually wound up putting off doing anything about the phone for a whole week because, frankly, I was enjoying the freedom of not living under it’s iron (or plastic) thumb.

I did however realize that I needed some sort of device where I could be reached by my family and my job at the very least, so a week to the day later, I took the still-broken-but-making-some-noises iPhone to a repair shop called Steve’s iPhone Repair, and had it fixed in under 30 minutes and for only about $100. If you live anywhere close to South Jersey and have a busted iPhone, you should definitely pay him a visit.

44 texts and 4 phone calls. That’s what I missed. But no one was upset, my life wasn’t over, the internet didn’t stop without me, and my life certainly didn’t stop without it. My work and my family had alternate ways to reach me if it was an emergency, and everything else, well, it really could wait. I didn’t get lost driving around without WAZE, I just planned ahead. I didn’t need the camera to take pictures – I used my real camera which takes better pictures anyway.

the "real" camera actually works better. who'd 'a thunk?!

the “real” camera actually works better. who’d ‘a thunk?!

The week without a phone reminded me of all the possibilities, beauty, and fulfillment that is out there all around us every single day, if we just…look up. I promised myself that once the phone was fixed, I would not become a slave to it’s tiny screen, offering instant gratification and momentary pick-me-ups ever again. The good stuff is out here, not in there.

My phone may have died, but I am more alive then I’ve been in quite some time. And I’m so grateful for that.

 

 

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Recipe: Pumpkin Pumpkin Cake.

pumpkin small

I really wanted to use the rest of the can of pumpkin that I opened for the Soft and Chewy Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip Cookies before it went bad, so I just had to make another pumpkin dessert, stat. Also, while on the hunt for pumpkin cider, we stumbled across this, and I had to make it mine:

have your pumpkin and drink it, too.

have your pumpkin and drink it, too.

As if these weren’t signs enough, the universe was truly speaking to me, when I came across this perfect pan:

perfect pumpkin pan.

perfect pumpkin pan.

Now that all the pumpkin planets were aligned, I went to work. First, I started brainstorming (while drinking Pumpkin Cider for inspiration) until I came up with a new pumpkin cake recipe that pleased me. (Note: the cider is NOT in the recipe, but does make an enjoyable accompanying refreshment).

Pumpkin Cider not included.

Pumpkin Cider not included.

Next, I baked the cake. I was concerned that due to the shape of the pan, the cake would stick, so I really really greased it. (Like REALLY greased it).

greased up.

greased up.

The over-greasing worked, and the cake popped out perfectly – no breaks, no uneven parts. I then went ahead whipped up some pumpkin buttercream using the liqueur, and proceeded to create some art.

still life with pumpkin.

still life with pumpkin.

I shared it with friends, and it was a big hit! And you can make it, too! Here’s how.

Pumpkin Shaped Pumpkin Cake.

What you’ll need:

1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

1 egg

1 tblsp canola oil

1 tblsp baking powder

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup pumpkin liqueur

1/4 cup pumpkin puree

What you’ll do:

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, egg, and oil. In a separate bowl, whisk together the baking powder and flour. Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Add the liqueur and pumpkin puree, and mix until smooth. Pour into a very well greased pumpkin shaped pan. Bake for 18 – 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Pumpkin Liqueur Buttercream.

What you’ll need:

1/2 cup shortening

1 lb confectioners sugar

1/4 cup pumpkin puree

2 tblsp pumpkin liqueur

What you’ll do:

In a large bowl, cream together the shortening sugar and pumpkin puree. Add the liqueur, a little at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.

The ice your cake and decorate it as you see fit! The icing will already be orange from the pumpkin puree, so there’s that. :)

 

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2014 in cake, Halloween, Indulgences, recipes

 

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Recipe: Soft and Chewy Pumpkin Cinnamon Chip Cookies.

pumpkin cookies3

I love pumpkin. I love the fact that everything has a seasonal “pumpkin” or “pumpkin spice” flavor. I want to buy it all and hoard it for the rest of year. But I fear that if I do, I will be poor and hungry, since I’d grow sick of eating nothing but pumpkin. So for now, I’ll just continue to love it in the fall.

Because it’s such a small window of time, I try and take full advantage, making as many pumpkin desserts as I possibly can. This will be number 2 so far this season. Since the last thing I made was a Pumpkin Almond Spice Cake, I wanted to do cookies for this next round. I thought I’d made pumpkin cookies before, but I found no record of such a thing in my binder, so I started from scratch and began a search for a recipe to use as a foundation. I found this one, and it sounded like a perfect platform from which to jump right in and create.

there's something pumpkin going on.

there’s something pumpkin going on.

I mixed up the recipe, pretty much as it was written, but I didn’t like the glaze idea, so I decided instead to add two cups of one of my absolute favorite baking accoutrements, Cinnamon Chips.

it's beginning to look a lot like pumpkin.

it’s beginning to look a lot like pumpkin.

I used my trusty mini ice cream scoop, which is perfectly cookie-sized, and scooped them out onto parchment paper-covered cookie sheets.

here's the scoop.

here’s the scoop.

I baked them at 350 for about 15 minutes, and they were perfect. Seriously. They were not burned, yet were cooked all the way through, and remained soft and chewy and delicious throughout their entire lifespan.

soft. chewy. cinnamon chip-y.

soft. chewy. cinnamon chip-y.

The recipe made a lot of them, too. I had baked 3 trays of 15 cookies each, and had to stop because someone was nagging me about using the oven. In his defense, it was dinner time. So I wrapped the rest of the dough and put it in the fridge and plan to bake it off this week!

 

 

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90 Years of Cake.

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This past weekend, I attended a birthday party for my Aunt, who is turning 90 (how awesome is that???). I was tasked with baking her a cake. As you know, I love baking cakes, so I was thrilled to get a chance to do it. At the same time, I was a little nervous. Here was a woman who in her prime was an amazing baker herself (she’s the one that gave me all the baking pans, including the infamous Lamb Pan), and she has had 89 other cakes to compare this one to. I had two pieces of knowledge that could give me an edge over at least some of the previous cakes – I knew she loved chocolate, and that her favorite color was purple. So, I went with that, and here’s what happened.

90th cake

Because the cake was for a party, it was kind of big (a half sheet cake). We had to clear out the entire bottom row of our fridge to make a space for it!

that's one big cake.

that’s one big cake.

I did have a lot of fun making all the flowers though. First, I mixed the icing until I came up with the perfect shade of purple.

and it was all...purple.

and it was all…purple.

Then, I started piping flowers. As I went along, I mixed in some plain white, so they wound up being varying shades.

shady.

shady.

My aunt loved it. I really don’t know how it stood against the 89 other cakes, but really, that doesn’t matter. She loved this one, and she was happy on that day. And that’s really what life’s all about, whether you’re 90, or 38. :)

 

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23.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m being stalked by the number 23. It started about 3 years ago, when I started seeing it everywhere. When I’d pull up behind a car and the license plate would have “23” in it. When I’d happen to be walking by someone in conversation and they’d randomly say “23” at the very moment I passed within ear shot. When I’d be about to pay for something, and the bill would be $23. Some days (like today), it’s around much more than others, and those days are usually the ones also happen to be filled with contemplative thoughts about my life – where I am, how I got here, where I’m going,  and how to be better. Those days, I seem to be practically slapped in the face with it. And being that 3 years ago was when I really began the crusade to live responsibly, it makes sense that it started appearing then.

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my stalker.

Let me say that I believe in the Universe; that when you want something, it does in fact conspire in helping you achieve it; and that we are all a part of something bigger than us, I figured it had to be some kind of message. So, I started doing some research (and by research, I mean I googled “23”).  Some of the results included a movie called “23”, another movie called “The Number 23″,  Michael Jordan’s Jersey, and something called the “23 Enigma” which claimed that everything relates to the number 23.  That last one was the only that seemed like it could have something to do with why I was seeing the number everywhere (although I did have a short-lived dream of playing professional basketball when I was a kid), but even that seemed a bit far-fetched and it really had nothing I could relate to or apply to my own life. So those were out.

not gonna happen.

not gonna happen.

Then one afternoon after coming off of a very 23-heavy morning,  I stopped into a gas station at the last minute, even though I had no time and enough gas to get home. For some reason, I just decided I needed to get gas at that very moment. As I sat there waiting for the tank to fill, a truck pulled up to the stop light, and stopped right in front of my face. It was solid white, with nothing but one long line of black writing on the side, spanning the full length of the trailer, from left to right.  It said:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. “ ~ Psalm 23

Now let me just say that I’m not a very religious person. Like I mentioned, I believe in the Universe – a higher power that connects us all to one another – but this was clearly what the number meant; what the Universe had been trying to tell me all along.

Everything I need to make my life better I already have.

Sometimes it’s a hard thing to remember, what with social media, mass media, and pretty much any kind of media constantly throwing all these images and ads at you full of things that you absolutely must have in order to be “happy” and live a better life: a nicer car, a bigger house, the newest iPhone, this hot new diet, the latest album, and so on and so on and so on….

I’m not immune to these media blasts by any means. I look at social media and (more often then I’d like to admit) think about all the things I don’t have, and subsequently start to believe I immediately need to get all those things and then I’ll be as happy as everyone else, as the people in all the pictures. Then depression starts to set in, and the downward spiral into the “have-nots” and “why-nots” begins. .But without fail, before I’ve spun completely out of control, it appears, like a lighthouse guiding a lost ship through the darkness back home.

23…. 23…. 23….

You have everything you need. Remember that. And be thankful for it.

The lighthouse at Assateague. Taken on my vacation this past summer, enjoying everything I have.

The lighthouse at Assateague, taken while on vacation this past summer, enjoying the wonderful things I’m lucky to have in my life.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2014 in biography, life

 

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Pumpkin Almond Spice Cake.

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The other day, I discovered Pumpkin Pudding. It looks like this:

pudding

Being a lover of all things pumpkin, I was shocked to learn this was not a new item. It has existed for at least a year, possibly more. After recovering from the kick I gave to myself for not discovering this last year, I quickly snatched up 3 boxes, knowing I’d figure out something to do with them when I got home. And figure out something, I did.

I started out with a spice cake. I used this recipe (minus the caramel icing) which made two lovely 8″ layers.

hello, layers.

hello, layers.

While the layers lay cooling, I made the pudding and let that chill. Once the layers were cool and the pudding was chill, I put them together,  like so:

pudding in the middle.

pudding in the middle.

I put that in the fridge for a bit, and started contemplating what sort of icing to use that would enhance the overall eating experience. I had a little bit of the pudding left in the bowl, so I thought I’d try and make something that used up the rest of the pudding (there was no way I was letting THAT go to waste). So, I quickly wrote a Pumpkin Pudding Buttercream recipe. It went like this:

Pumpkin Pudding Buttercream.

What you’ll need:

8 oz butter, softened

3 TBSP pumpkin pudding (already made with milk)

4 cups confectioners sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 TBSP milk

What you’ll do:

In a large bowl, mix the butter and the pudding until there are no lumps. Add the confectioners sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and milk, and mix until smooth.

 

After I made the icing, I iced the cake, but I still felt it needed something. So I got a bag of slivered almonds, and covered the sides of the cake with them, like this:

a side of almonds.

a side of almonds.

After that, we ate it, and said a little thanks to the gods of autumn for making it the season with all the best flavors.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2014 in cake, confections, Indulgences, nuts, recipes

 

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Short and Sweet Recipe: Mini Strawberry Shortcake.

strawberry shortcake3

Last week, my fiance and I were invited to another couple’s place for a game night. Being that we never like to show up anywhere empty handed, I decided to make a little dessert to bring along with us. I wanted something relatively simple, relatively summery, and relatively small, since it was going to be a small gathering. After much contemplation, I settled on the queen of summer desserts herself: Strawberry Shortcake. I already had some really nice-looking strawberries that had I literally just purchased the day before, so it would appear that the stars had aligned just right. (Except for that one star that I’ll call “heavy cream” – I had to send my fiance out to get that at the last minute).

But otherwise, I had all the ingredients to make a tasty vanilla cake, whipped cream frosting, and fresh strawberry filling between layers and adornments for the top.

top that.

top that.

Again, since it was for small gathering, I decided to make it a 6″ cake, instead of the traditional 8″. Not only would it be a more appropriate amount of dessert, but it also looked so darn cute. Like the puppy version of a cake.

baby cake.

baby cake.

And even with making it smaller, there were leftovers. Not that I’m complaining.

Wanna make your own for that Labor Day gathering you were invited to this weekend? Here’s how!

Mini Strawberry Shortcake.

For the Cake:

What you’ll need:

1 cup water

1/4 cup + 2 tblsp canola oil

1 tblsp white vinegar

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups sifted flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

(Plus 1 cup of chopped strawberries for filling and 5 additional whole strawberries for decorating)

What you’ll do:

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine the water, canola oil, vinegar, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sifted flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix until smooth. Grease two 6″ round pans, and evenly divide the batter between the two. Bake for approx. 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

For the Whipped Cream Frosting:

What you’ll need:

2 cups heavy cream

3 tblsp sugar

1 tsp vanilla

What you’ll do:

In a pre-chilled mixing bowl, whip the cream with the whisk attachment until it forms soft peaks. Add the sugar and vanilla, and continue whipping until stiff peaks form.

Frost the top of one of the layers of the cake with the whipped cream, and using a decorating bag fitted with the star tip, pipe a border around the edge, Fill the center with the chopped strawberries, and place the second layer on top. Cover both layers entirely with a smooth coating of the whipped cream. Using the same star tip, pipe a shell border around the base of the cake, and 8 rosettes around the top. Cut the 5 large strawberries in half, and place one half on top of each of the rosettes. Pipe a dollop of whipped cream onto on of the remaining two halves, and make a little strawberry and cream sandwich for the center.

 

 

 

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Recipe: Cookies and Cream Coffee Cheesecake.

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July 30th was National Cheesecake Day. I happened to be off from work, and I was browsing the internet, like ya do, and I came across this bit of wonderful news. I wanted to bake something I hadn’t made in a while, and a cheesecake was one such thing. It was clearly a sign from the universe that I had to make a cheesecake that very day.

I wasn’t sure which kind I wanted to make. My first thought was peanut butter or maybe almond butter….but then I started thinking my fiance really likes coffee and coffee-flavored stuff…and I have all these leftover faux-reos from the Cookies and Cream Cupcakes I just made…so I found a pretty simple recipe for a coffee cheesecake, made a few of my own tweaks and additions, and the Cookies and Cream Coffee Cheesecake with Coffee Whipped Cream and Dark Chocolate Drizzle was born. Pretty long name for a cheesecake, but it earned it.

longest. name. ever.

longest. name. ever.

My fiance loved it, and so did my co-workers (it was too good not to share!). So now, I’ll share the recipe with you, so you can share it with your family and friends. It’s the circle of life (or cheesecake).

Cookies and Cream Coffee Cheesecake.

What you’ll need for the crust:

16 Oreos or faux-reos

2 tblsp butter

What you’ll do for the crust:

Preheat oven to 350. Combine the cookies and butter in a food processor until finely crumbled. Press on the bottom and up the sides of a 9 in disposable pie pan, like so:

DSC_0313

the crust of it.

Bake for 10 minutes Let cool completely. Leave the oven on at 350 for the cheesecake.

What you’ll need for the cheesecake:

2  8 oz packages of cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup of sugar

2 eggs

1/3 cup of very strong freshly brewed coffee at room temperature (I used Gevalia Crème Brulee  flavored)

What you’ll do for the cheesecake:

In a large bowl, cream together the cream cheese and sugar until well mixed. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, and add them, along with the coffee to the cream cheese and sugar. Mix until smooth (this should be less than a minute). Pour into cooled crust and bake for approximately 35 minutes, or until set. You can tell it’s set by lightly touching the center and it not sticking to your finger. It should look something like this:

all set.

all set.

Let it cool completely, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

What you’ll need for the coffee whipped cream:

1 cup chilled heavy cream

1/4 cup confectioners sugar

1 tblsp very strong coffee at room temperature (I used the same coffee as in the cheesecake)

What you’ll do for the coffee whipped cream:

In a chilled bowl (cream whips best when the bowl is cold), whip the heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. Add the sugar and the coffee, and continue to whip until stiff peaks are formed. Using a star tip, pipe a shell border of  whipped cream around the edge of the chilled cheesecake, and a single rosette in the center, like so:

pipe it good.

pipe it good.

Finally, in a small saucepan, combine 2 ounces of GOOD dark chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger Unsweetened Fine Artisan Dark Chocolate) and a tablespoon of butter over low heat, stirring continuously until completely melted. Pour chocolate into a plastic decorating bag BEFORE cutting the tip off. Hold the bag directly over the chilled cheesecake, then snip the tip, and drizzle the chocolate back and forth until you’ve reached drizzling nirvana.

enlightenment.

enlightenment.

Chill it again for about 30 minutes, then cut, serve, and devour….err…I mean, enjoy. :)

gone in 60 seconds.

gone in 60 seconds.

 

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The Cupcakes of Summer.

I love summer. I always have. It’s my favorite season. Knowing this, I’m not sure why I remain in the Northeast, where there’s that season-that-shall-not-be-named, full of snow, ice and misery. I believe my love of summer stems from my love of being outdoors. So for the majority of summer, I’m out there more than in here. Thus the reason I have posted anything in over a month.

biker chic.

biker chic.

I have, however been doing a lot of baking recently. so I figured the time has come to share it with the universe. Last week, I made two different kinds of cupcakes for a post-wedding celebration. The first of the two was Cookies and Cream. I made up the batter and mixed in crushed fake oreos (faux-reos).

batter up.

batter up.

Next, I baked them (obviously).

coolin'.

coolin’.

Then, I decorated them with cookies and cream frosting, and half a faux-reo on top.

topped off.

topped off.

The other type of cupcake was Chocolate with Cream Cheese Frosting.

I baked those as well (duh). They rose rather nicely.

on the rise.

on the rise.

Next, I topped them with a large dollop of cream cheese frosting.

like snow capped cupcake mountains.

like snow capped cupcake mountains.

Finally, I sprinkled them with shaved chocolate.

after shave.

after shave.

I took super close up shots of them both, because I’m obsessed with super close up shots of food.

cookies and cream super close up.

cookies and cream super close up.

and…

Chocolate and Cream Cheese super close up.

chocolate and cream cheese super close up.

It was fun making these. It made me want to make more cupcakes again. So I think I just might. But first, an oreo coffee cheesecake for National Cheesecake Day. It’s cooling RIGHT NOW!  Stay tuned for more details…. :)

 

 
 

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