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World Cup Cake.

soccer ball cake

No, not a World Cupcake. a World Cup Cake. As in that thing you see every time you turn on any TV station or look at any social media site. The World Cup is omnipresent these days. And if you live in my house, you’d have to be dead in order to avoid it, as my fiance is absolutely-ridiculously-bordering-on-unhealthily OBSESSED with all things soccer, and that’s during the three off years between tournaments. So you can imagine what I’m dealing with here right now.

After about the 1 million trillionth conversation about “football” (a real soccer geek refers to it by it’s REAL name I’ve come to learn), I just couldn’t take it anymore. So I went off and did the one thing that would help restore my sanity and bring some normalcy back into my life: I baked a cake.

shapes of cake.

shapes of cake.

Now this was not just any cake. Not by a long shot. Yes, it was a classic vanilla, and separated into two layers. But these layers were different. One was a half-sphere, while the other almost pancake-like.

I began assembling the layers as I envisioned the finished cake in my mind, and coated them with a layer of the almond butter cream I had leftover from my dad’s failed cake-turned-cake sandwich.

the base coat.

the base coat.

Next, I busted out my giant tub of fondant, and started rolling a large piece to cover this mystery dome. Once I carefully placed the fondant atop the cake, I cut out my smaller pieces, and carefully began putting them in place.

there's really no escape.

there’s really no escape.

Once it was fully detailed and smoothed over, I added the finishing touch – a field to play on.

we've come full circle.

we’ve come full circle.

Once it was complete, I cleaned up, and left it conspicuously in the center of the kitchen table, so when my fiance arrived home just a few short minutes later, it was the first thing he saw upon entering the kitchen.

And that, my friends, is true love; no matter what part of the world you’re playing in. :).

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2014 in cake, confections, Indulgences

 

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Two Cookie Cakes, One Recipe.

I’m all about saving time and reducing waste. So last week, when I realized I had to make not one, but two cakes for two entirely separate events, I started thinking of ways I could somehow lessen the work and the waste, while still pleasing both cake recipients. Event #1 was my anniversary; the recipient of this cake being my boyfriend. Now at first I thought maybe I would just make him a batch of cookies – he absolutely adores my chocolate chip cookies. Event #2 was my dad’s birthday; the recipient of this cake being (obviously) my dad. My dad is not a dessert fan, but he does have a few things he enjoys – gingerbread, lady fingers, cookies.. COOKIES! There was the common thread. But I had really wanted to make my dad an actual cake that I could write on….COOKIE CAKES! And so it was written.

My standard chocolate chip cookie recipe made two cookie cakes – one 10″  and one 8″. As they cooled, I started mixing up some colors for the decorating portion of tonight’s show.

the colors of the wind (or icing).

the colors of the wind (or icing).

I decided to use the larger cake for the anniversary, for two reasons: 1. like I said, my dad doesn’t eat too many sweets, and 2. I wanted to eat some too. I went with the blue theme for this one.

i guess that's why they call it the blues.

i guess that’s why they call it the blues.

I went with a complimentary dark purple for accents and writing.

complimentary.

complimentary.

Don’t for a second think that I wasn’t thinking ahead here. For my dad’s cake, I chose light yellow.

they call me mellow yellow.

they call me mellow yellow.

Which also looks great with a dark purple.

purple planning.

purple planning.

Both cakes were a hit! My boyfriend liked his so much, he ate a piece for breakfast.

the breakfast of champions.

the breakfast of champions.

And then asked me to marry him. :)

must've been something in the cake...

must’ve been something in the cake…

I guess it’s true what the say about the way to a man’s heart. ;)

 

 

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Go Team Pizza!

pizza slice

I was off yesterday (I love having Monday off – just saying), so in between laundry, yoga, and cleaning, I decided to make pizza dough. I hadn’t make pizza at home in a long time – probably not since pastry school, I reckon. So I thought I’d give it whirl. I used my favorite recipe from bread making class (which was also my favorite class). I had all the ingredients on hand luckily, including dry yeast. So, I made the dough, and put it aside to let it proof for about an hour, while I (reluctantly) finished my chores. When I came back to check on it, it had risen rather nicely.

perfectly proofed.

perfectly proofed.

At this point, my boyfriend arrived home, and I shared with him the joy of the proofed pizza dough. We had a (slightly heated) debate about what to put on top, and it was at that point I realized I wasn’t very good at making sauce, while he apparently was. So, while he made the sauce, I rolled the dough onto the pizza stone.

just roll with it.

just roll with it.

We always have an assortment of cheese in the house, but we really didn’t have any traditional pizza topping cheese. We did have a whole wheel of mild cheddar. So, he shredded some up, we put it in the oven, and then hovered around, hoping for the best.

pretty as a pizza.

pretty as a pizza.

It looked real nice. That was a good start. But how would it taste? I let him do the honors of slicing it. We each took a piece, and proceeded to chow down.

a little slice of love.

a little slice of love.

We ate the entire thing – the two of us. Let’s just say the teamwork paid off. And all we had to do was add one extra ingredient that we always have around the house – love.

Next time, we’ll share it, I promise. ;)

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2014 in bread, dinner, Indulgences, pizza

 

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Gotta be the Shoes.

shoes

So, every so often, I write about something other than baking, and it’s usually one of three things: travelling, music, or running. And this just so happens to be one of those posts (surprise!).

I’ve been running now for a while – but I started actually racing back in 2011, when I ran my first ever official race around this time that year. It was a 10k, I was nervous as heck, cried on the way there, ran the thing anyway, and felt like a different person when it was over. I had done it – and I had done it on my own.

A year later, around this time in 2012, I ran the same race - and remarked on what a difference a year can make. I again cried on the way there, but this time, it was tears of joy – of accomplishment. I was again going to the race by myself, however I no longer felt alone, I no longer had any fear. I felt awake and alive, and was grateful for everything that came and went in that past year.

This year, I was going to run the same race, as kind of an homage to my racing beginnings. However, due to a very exciting turn of events, I won’t be racing this year. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not still running, and more importantly, reflecting.

Had someone asked me where I thought I’d be this time next year at last year’s race, I would have never imagined it would be where I actually am. It’s been a truly AMAZING year – I couldn’t be more grateful for all the wonderful things and people that have come into my life (or been there along) and just keep making it more and more fabulous to be alive. And by the way, it’s true what they say – sometimes the very thing you’re looking for is right in front of you – you just might have to be a little patient until it’s right. You can’t run a marathon without the proper training, right? ;)

Anyway, this post was originally going to be solely about my new running shoes, and how I couldn’t tell if it was the shoes or my mind that was making me run faster. But in the end, I’ve realized, it’s both. You can have the fanciest gear in the world, but your head’s got to be in it. If you really want something, you’ll always find a way to make it happen, even with old beat up shoes. The right shoes just make it that much easier.

And so it is, with life. It’s not the shoes that matter – it’s how you use them.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in life, running

 

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Eat, Write, Retreat – Renew.

ewr1

Over this past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Eat, Write, Retreat! conference, which just so happened to take place this year in my home city of Philadelphia. In addition to the conference being amazing and totally inspiring, I had the opportunity to see the city I grew up in through the eyes of a tourist. Many of the people I met at the conference were not from around here – some of them had never even been to Philly before. There’s something to be said for looking at a place you know better than any other through new eyes – its like John Lennon said, “All these memories lose their meaning, when I think of love as something new.”

Indeed.

The conference started on Friday afternoon, and even as I made my way down the oh-so-familiar street known around these parts affectionately as “Broad Street” (heck, I even ran 10 miles down this street on foot – twice!) it for some reason, seemed entirely new. So, I began snapping photos, as any good tourist would do.

all these places i remember...

all these places i remember…

I can’t really quite explain how all of a sudden, old familiar scenes were being graced with such newness and seemed to come alive – but I’ll take it.

The conference itself was a truly wonderful experience as well. I was beginning to lose faith in my dream of writing/baking/traveling/photographing; I was questioning my “purpose” and if I was still on the right path. Eat, Write, Retreat and all the fabulous folks I had the luck of crossing paths with put those fears to rest. I believe again. Maybe it had something to do with all the watermelon we ate. I do love me some watermelon.

a spiritual experience?

a spiritual experience?

Seriously, although the watermelon was delicious, it was the people that I met that gave me confidence again – through their various presentations, to off-the-cuff sharing of tips and knowledge, to nothing-to-do-with-blogging-at-all friendly walking and talking around the city.

Philly's very own Magic Garden.

Philly’s very own Magic Garden.

Meeting new people has always been one of my favorite things to do – I dare say I even thrive on it. Halfway through the conference, I had already had so many great conversations and connections, I wasn’t sure if it could get any better — but it did. And not only because there was cheese (although it certainly didn’t hurt).

everything's better with cheese.

everything’s better with cheese.

The very last thing we did was called “Pitch to the Pros,” in which we had a chance to sit with more established bloggers and ask them anything we wanted. I was rather nervous – I had nothing planned and didn’t even begin to know what to ask…I considered bailing out of fear and lack of preparedness; but I knew that would be the worst thing I could do. So onward I trudged, deciding to do my best just winging it.

It was those conversations that wound up restoring my faith the most – reminding me why I’m doing this to begin with. I love writing. I love baking. I love taking pictures. And as much as I love traveling, I can find all of these in my very own hometown, if I just look around once in a while.

who knew mushrooms could look this cool?

who knew mushrooms could look this cool?

I have to say, that in addition to the conference, there have been some wonderful and amazing things going on in my personal life recently that I believe I owe a large portion of this new perspective to, as well. May you all find someone who awakens that light within – who makes everything exciting and new again – even good old Broad Street.

in my life, i love you more.

in my life, i love you more.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2013 in events, Indulgences, life, travel

 

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Ye Olde Beer and Cake.

So, I have this thing with combining baking and alcoholic beverages. For a while, I was into making cupcakes that represented various cocktails, such as the mojito, or the piña colada. When I discovered an old prohibition-era recipe for bourbon cookies, I got into making said cookies with other hard liquors (see Honey Whiskey Balls). But now I have a brand new idea, that actually stemmed from a pretty old one. I decided that I was going to make chocolate beer cupcakes this weekend for a Memorial Day Party I was attending. I made similar cupcakes once before, but this time I used a different beer (Harpoon Chocolate Stout) and my standard chocolate cake recipe.

the not-so-secret ingredient.

the not-so-secret ingredient.

The cupcakes turned out great – just as I had envisioned. The beer toned down the sweetness, and the cream cheese glaze icing gave it that little something fabulous. Together, they made the perfect combination.

beer + cake = tlf.

beer + cake = tlf.

However, this is merely the beginning. The success of these cupcakes spawned a discussion – it would appear that beer and cake seem to go together. They’re like, MFEO. And at that moment, I realized what I needed to do: open up a tavern/bakery that features the pairing of the two. And I shall call it: Ye Olde Beer and Cake.

let them eat cake (and drink beer).

let them eat cake (and drink beer).

Now this tavern/bakery (tavernakery?) would specialize in selecting beers and cakes that are the perfect match – flavors and styles that go together like bread and butter.  It’d be like…heaven.

heaven is a cake on earth.

heaven is a cake on earth.

So anyway, there you have it. Keep an eye out for Ye Olde Beer and Cake, coming soon to a town near you. And just think, you can say you knew me when…

 
 

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Half Moons (aka Chocolate Covered Chocolate Chip Cookies).

chocs

One of my favorite things to use my baking ability for is supporting a good cause. Last night, I did just that. I participated in an event called “Chocolate”, hosted by local public television station, WHYY. Not only has WHYY been around since I was kid, but it was on this very station where I faithfully watched Sesame Street everyday, and still could to this day, if I so desired. A childhood without Sesame Street is like a cake without icing. Or, a cookie without chocolate. Sure, a chocolate chip cookie can be an amazing snack on its own – but have you ever had one dipped in chocolate? I decided to give back to the community by offering up this very thing. I started with my very own dream cookie recipe.

a dough to build a dream on.

a dough to build a dream on.

I made two varieties – the standard chocolate you see pictured here, and an alternate version with white chocolate chips. I baked them into cookies.

what comes is better than what came before.

what comes is better than what came before.

Now here’s where I was alone, I took a right, I didn’t know what I would find there. I cut all of the cookies in half while they were still a little warm and let them cool. Next, I took each of the “half moons” and dipped it entirely into melted chocolate. Milk chocolate for the milk chocolate chips….

it's getting better all the time.

it’s getting better all the time.

…and white chocolate (colored pink in honor of Valentine’s Day) for the white chocolate chips.

pink, pink, pink, pink moon.

pink, pink, pink, pink moon.

I did some in plain white as well, for the sake of variety. I put them on display and left it up to the people to decide their fate.

The results: two days of baking, cutting and dipping over 400 half moons – all vanished in less than two hours. Cutting them in half way key – a full-sized dipped cookie would have just been too big and too rich. But a half? Now THAT’S the perfect Small Indulgence.

 

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Recipe Wednesday: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cookies.

DSC_0999

 

So before I get into the Chocolate Shop Tour of Brussels, I really wanted to share this recipe for the cookies I made last night, not only because they turned out so good, but also because I feel I’ve been neglecting the kitchen lately, having not baked anything for almost 3 weeks, and neglecting the kitchen means neglecting sharing recipes; and as we all know sharing is caring. So because I care, I made Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cookies.

The only problem was that I couldn’t decide if i should use regular Reese’s cups or the Reese’s hearts. Valentine’s Day is not so far off, so the hearts seemed appropriate, however, I wanted to make sure that upon first glance, one could tell these were peanut butter cup cookies. So, when in doubt, use both and just make more cookies.

When all was said and done, I had about half of them that were the classic “cup”…

the cup we all know and love.

the cup we all know and love.

….and half that were a chocolate and peanut butter homage to love.

melt my heart.

melt my heart.

I started with a recipe from The Hershey’s Cookbook for those peanut butter Hershey’s Kiss Cookies. I made a few minor adjustments, swapped the kiss with the cup (or heart), and created a cookie masterpiece for peanut butter cup lovers everywhere.  Beware: the dough is a little bit TOO good. I believe I may have eaten about 4 cookies worth of dough before I even started baking them. Hopefully, you’ll have a bit more restraint than I. :)

 

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

What you’ll need:

3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup shortening

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons half and half

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

48 mini Reese’s cups or Reese’s hearts (or some combo of the two totaling 48)

What you’ll do:

Preheat oven to 375. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the peanut butter and shortening. Add in the sugar and brown sugar, and beat until smooth and fluffy. Add egg, half and half, and vanilla, and mix well. In a  separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the peanut butter mixture, 1/3 at a time, beating well between each addition. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and using a small ice-cream scoop, scoop and shape the dough into one inch balls. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes, or until they start to brown around the edges. While they are baking unwrap your chocolates, so you have them on hand and ready to go. As soon as you remove the cookies from the oven, start pressing the cups/hearts into the cookies (they will crack around the edges – that’s ok). Remove them from the baking sheet, and let them cool completely.

DSC_1003

xoxo

 

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Living, Loving, and Giving Thanks.

Like many others, I was thinking tonight about all I am thankful for. There is much – very very much. More than ever before, I reckon. There are a number of reasons why this is so, from being more aware, to being more open, to giving more of myself – to name a few of the biggies. However, when I think about what I’m most thankful for, one thing comes to mind – and it may come as a surprise to many people. But if it were not for this, I would not be who I am today.

I am thankful for having my heart broken.

Since this fateful event a year and 8 months ago, I believe I have learned more about myself than I had in the 35 years leading up to that day. I learned that being alone is not the same as being lonely. In fact, the opposite is true – it took being thrust unexpectedly into being alone to finally free me of feeling lonely. It allowed me to let people in – really let them in – which was something I could never do before. Sure, I had lots of friends, and some of them I even considered close - but I often felt that they never really knew me. Thanks to my broken heart, I finally was able to share the “real” me with others. And it has made all the difference.

I made a conscious decision to never let my heart close again – to keep sharing, and growing, giving (and forgiving), learning, and most importantly, loving.

I’m thankful everyday for the pure joy of being alive; and for all the friends and loved ones I have the honor of sharing this with. You’re all in my life for a reason, and for that I’m eternally grateful and unquestionably lucky.

And even though in my old age I’ve become more of a Buddhist than a Catholic, I would like close this post with my favorite quote from the Bible – something that’s gotten me through many tough days, and maybe will do the same for some of you – good old Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone. My world is a better place because of you. :)

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in biography, Indulgences, life

 

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For the Love of Baking.

I was in the midst of making a cake today, and I was just about finishing up, and upon looking at my near-completed work, I started to smile. I couldn’t wait to present the finished product to the intended recipient. I then asked myself, “why do you love baking?” And I came up with a list of answers, from practical, to chemical, to emotional. I’ve shrunk it down to 5 main reasons and of course now I’m going to share the list with you.

The Top 5 Reasons I Love Baking (in no particular order):

1. Chemistry.

I have a little obsession with chemistry. I love experimenting, and seeing how things interact with other things. A little known fact about me – my original college major was, in fact, Chemistry. Eventually, the arts won out, but I never lost that love for all things chemical. And baking, in it’s most basic form, is pure chemistry.

you gotta have the right chemistry..

2. Art.

As I mentioned above, the arts eventually won me over and swayed me from becoming a full-blown chemist. Well, guess what, folks? Baking is equal parts chemistry AND art! I love creating, and the possibilities for crafting an artistic masterpiece are endless in the baking world – from an artisan bread to a fondant birthday cake.

the next Mona Lisa.

3. Fun.

Baking is fun. Kids love it. I mean, I remember begging my mom to help her bake cakes when I was a kid! Maybe it reminds us of our youth; maybe it’s all the sugar and sweetness; but whatever the reason, baking is not considered work for most people. It’s something you do in your leisure time. And something I do in the majority of that time. I crank up the stereo, and dance around the kitchen, mixing, folding, stirring…and even catching myself using my whisk as a faux microphone. (Did somebody say “youtube”?).

some fun now.

4. Delicious.

Baked goods taste good. A sugary sweet buttercream…a warm sourdough loaf…a simple pound cake…whatever it is, I want to eat it, and just writing this is making my mouth water.

resistance is futile.

5. Love.

There’s nothing better than seeing the look on someone’s face when you give them something you’ve hand-crafted in the kitchen yourself – whether it’s a surprise birthday cake, something someone specifically ordered, or something you just felt like making. Baking creates joy – for both the baker and the bake-ee. And that’s really what this life is all about. :)

you get what you give.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2012 in biography, cake, cookies, cupcakes, life

 

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