Easter Sunday Kitchen Custody

What do you get when you mix three Italians, preparing three different meals and one kitchen?

World War III 

Okay, maybe it’s not that drastic, but it isn’t pretty!

This weekend, we had a Saturday and Sunday full of familia festivities.  Despite my mom purchasing desserts of her own, I was determined to contribute to our Easter Sunday gathering.  I cannot cook to save my life. I can barely microwave a steam-able bag of vegetables without burning them; therefore, baking is my go-to.  Baking for others is important to me, and I was excited to share this with my family.  However, trying to reserve time in the kitchen while my mom and grandma were preparing their Easter dishes proved challenging.

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On Saturday, my brother and sister-in-law visited with Peanut. Although I wasn’t baking for their visit, trying to bake while Peanut napped proved to be an interesting feat.  My lemon bars were easy enough to prepare, but the real challenge was my caramel stuffed cookie bars.  When it comes to our oven, baking can be a little tricky.  If I try to bake cookies at 350 degrees, within six minutes the bottoms burn and the middle is left raw.  Anytime I bake, I have to reduce the heat and cook it for longer.  Heading into this recipe, I knew a thirty minute cookie bar wasn’t going to be a thirty minute cookie bar.  My reserved time slot in the kitchen was ending, and I felt bad that I was missing out on Peanut time.  Hoping for the best, I removed the caramel bars from the oven.

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Unfortunately, as good as the caramel bars looked, upon cutting them, the entire top-half came pouring out.  Frustrated is only one of the emotions I was feeling, but I wasn’t going to give up, especially with Easter just a day away.  There was only one problem: I was completely out of caramel (and there was no way I was running out to the grocery store the day before Easter)!

Early Sunday afternoon, I made sure to reserve my spot in the kitchen.  My mom and I came to an agreement: if I was going to bake another dessert for Easter, I needed to be out of the kitchen by 2pm.  Walking into this challenge, I figured I would make a chocolate chip cookie cake: it was quick, simple and I had all of the ingredients.  But then, I had an idea! Maybe I couldn’t stuff my cookie bars with caramel, but I could stuff it with cheesecake!

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I had never made cheesecake cookie bars before, and with time against me, I did not want to make the same mistakes as the caramel bars.  As the clock continued to tick, my anxiety grew as I removed the cookie bars from the oven and found the middle still jiggly.  The only thing I could hope for was that it would settle after chilling.

A few hours of chilling and a very messy cutting session later, the cheesecake cookie bars were ready to serve (and they were edible)!  All of the stress was completely worth it.  I have never had the chance to contribute to any holiday meals; being able to be apart of our Easter preparations, even if it was just for dessert, truly meant a lot to me.  Perhaps I’m one step closer to hosting a holiday of my own.  Almost. Maybe? One day! 

Aw, nuts

They say it’s your birthday!

Well, no – not my birthday but it was my dad’s birthday!

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(Aw, look at baby Watson)

But yes, before we head into Easter egg nation, we needed to celebrate my padre’s birthday.  My dad is an easy going guy, who has taught me everything I need to know about the Beatles.  However, when it comes to gifts, he can be just as difficult as it is easy to purchase for.  If you ask him what he wants, he says, “nothing, save your money!”  Naturally, we default to the usual Beatles t-shirts, Miami Dolphins paraphernalia or a gag gift of sorts.  This year, I wanted to do something different.

My dad is one of my many faithful taste-testers, often going for seconds or thirds and I am forced to chase him away with my spatula.  More often than naught, he finds himself frustrated that I give all my treats away.

I can’t have any of these?” is a question I normally hear every time I am baking.

For his birthday, I wanted my dad to have a baked treat of his very own.  His request, after much deliberation, was a chocolate and banana walnut bundt cake.

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Sounds easy enough, right?  That’s what I thought as well; however, after following each step of the recipe, there was just one little problem: the cake would not come out of the pan!

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According to my dad, the cake tasted great; the banana and chocolate flavors mixed quite nicely, and the cake was soft and moist.  Maybe too moist, as crumbs desperately clung to the metal bundt pan.  After much confusion, my mom had a possible theory: perhaps the chopped walnuts stuck to the pan.

When it comes to certain recipes, such as crumbles or cakes, it is often said that you need to flour your toppings before adding them to the recipe (to prevent them from sinking).  I seemed to have forgotten this helpful hint.  Luckily, my dad isn’t too picky.  Knowing him, this will be a great excuse for him to dig into his cake spoon first (with a heaping scoop of ice cream on top).

Happy Birthday Dad!

Spring days were made for classic rock and road trips to no where

Winded after reading that title?  That is certainly how I felt after this weekend! After a long Sunday of baking, I was excited to wake up to this quiet, sunny day.  This past Sunday, we were expecting company over for Palm Sunday dinner; being that this was the first family dinner that I was being asked to bake for, the pressure was on.

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Prepping my rainbow cookies this time around was much different than the first.  The first time I made these, I was extremely nervous, taking every step cautiously.  This time around, I flew through the steps with ease; I didn’t even freak out when the cake cracked or piled unevenly.  I just simply shrugged it off, and fixed my mistakes when it came time to trim the cake.  I guess practice truly does make perfect.

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The next dessert on the docket was my mint oreo and cream cheese truffles.  I love these truffles because they are so simple to make but so worth it!  For these though, the smaller the truffle, the better as they are RICH! IMG_1237

With Palm Sunday desserts out of the way, I couldn’t stop there.  I quickly prepped “red” chocolate chip cookies for work; my friend’s grandson is a huge fan of my baking, always looking for my trusty cookie-container every time he visits the studio.  I learned that his birthday was a few days ago, and he had a special request for red cookies (as red is his favorite color).  Clearly, I had to oblige; anything for my biggest fan!

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The last thing on my baking to-do list was a batch of lemon bars.  I had never made lemon bars before and was a little confused when I received conflicting directions from two different recipes, but in the end, it was completely worth it to see my friend smile.

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With all of my baking out of the way, what was a girl to do on this sunny Monday?

Enjoy the morning, of course!  I met with my younger cousin for coffee to celebrate her admission into college; after dropping her off, I decided to go for a drive.  I made a pit-stop at the beach, but sadly, the sight and sound of a bulldozer rolling across the sand quickly shortened my relaxing escape.

So, I got in my car and I kept driving.  One of my favorite things to do during the spring season is to roll my windows down, turn up the music and adventure on a road trip to no where.  Today, it was the songs of classic rock that filled my speakers, as I danced alone in my car while munching on a bag of dried apple chips.  Sometimes, you just need to get out and wander – no destination in mind,  no end point – you just need to be free.  It is often during these trips that the best discoveries are made; however, even if nothing is found, something as simple as singing and dancing in your car makes the whole trip worth it.  Today was definitely a much needed and enjoyable change of pace.

When life hands you lemons, eat peanut butter

I have to admit, it was a quiet week on the western front, one where I was simply trying to keep my head low and get through the week.  Motivation has been hard to come by, often feeling stuck and scattered instead of secure and inspired.  I guess this is where I need to take a step back and tell myself it’s okay to stand still, to stay rooted where I am and strive for growth.  An overwhelming feeling of impulsiveness and anxiousness does not help that though.  In times like these, it is no surprise that I turn to my baking to ease my troubles, unless of course I am baking with the one ingredient that causes me to throw all forms of common sense out of the window: peanut butter. 

This week, my attempt to bake treats for others did not go according to plan.  Normally, I am pretty good at abstaining from tasting my baked treats; however, all bets are off when peanut butter is involved.  As much as I enjoy experimenting with different recipes, and attempting to make “healthy” treats, that is when I begin to bargain with myself and convince myself that it is okay to try them: Oh, it’s peanut butter, there’s no added sugar or flour, this recipe is healthy!  And more often than not, once I try one that is when I eat half of the tray (as I have absolutely zero self-control when it comes to all things peanut butter).

IMG_1230  Although these make look odd, and similar to last week’s PB banana treats, these came out so much butter than I could have imagined!  In addition to peanut butter and bananas, these squares also contained mini chocolate chips, chopped walnuts, oats and shredded coconut. (Almost healthy!)

Waking up this morning, I could definitely feel the after effects of my peanut butter tray binge, but sometimes, I guess you need to fall off of the wagon in order to jump back on with a new vigor.

This weekend, I have quite a bit of baking to do to; luckily, all of my upcoming treats will be peanut butter free (and temptation free)!

 

Light it up blue

For my family, April 2nd is a very special day; together, we light it up blue in celebration for World Autism Awareness Day.  Previously, I have talked about my older brother (and his daughter, Peanut); however, today’s post, and our LIUB celebration, is in dedication to my younger sister, Jac. Jac 4

Jac was diagnosed with autism at a very young age; growing up, there were times where she would remain silent or softly sing to herself, times where loud noises or certain phrases would upset her, times where her emotions would overcome her, and times where she would repeat herself until you spoke the intended responses just right — to some, these instances may seem burdensome, but to us, she was normal.

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There were difficult days though;  there are always difficult days in any family situation.  As a child, there were some days where my frustrations got the better of me, not having enough maturity to fully understand.  Or maybe, it was not having enough knowledge?  Growing up, autism wasn’t a disorder to me; my sister was just my sister.  Even as an adult though, I know I can be better, having moments where I am not as sympathetic as I should be.  But at the end of the day, we are still sisters and I will always love her.

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Despite being high-functioning, there are still so many things that Jac may not be able to fully experience.  Although this does sadden me, sometimes I wonder if she is the lucky one.  Jac is so incredibly fearless, never second guessing herself.  Some may say this is due to the disorder’s inability to properly process a situation, but I say, this is her superpower.  For example, my sister loves to dance.  At every family gathering, every wedding or sweet sixteen, if there is music playing, she is on that dance floor and she is tearing it up!  There is no inhibition, there is no self-consciousness, and there is no need for liquid courage; she is simply enjoying the moment.

IMG_1227  For April 2nd, I wanted to do something special for her.  Whenever I bake, my sister is always the first person ready and happy to taste my creations.  As soon as my mixer goes off, I hear her inquiring about what I am baking.  She is very honest, often responding with a witty retort if she does not approve of my recipe.  For her though, I knew a simple sugar cookie, cut into a puzzle piece and topped with blue frosting would receive her approval.

After the cookies were made, we also went out for a special afternoon (just us); something that sadly, we do not get to do too often.  We went to see the new Power Rangers movie, rocking out to 90’s television theme songs the entire ride to the theater.  If there is one thing I love most about my sister, it’s glancing over at her during certain songs, movies or shows and watching the sight of pure joy beam from her.  At the end of our drive home, I thanked Jac for such a fun afternoon, and she replied with a very happy and giggly, “you’re welcome!” 

; my story is not over yet

Everyone always asks me, “why do you bake so much?”  Baking can be time consuming, costly and a situation on the hips; so why do I do it?

Well, why does anyone take part in any hobby?  It makes me happy. It’s that simple.  Why do I practice hot yoga so much? It makes me happy.  Why do I wander around taking photographs? It makes me happy.  Baking takes me out of my head.  When I find myself slumped, baking helps pull me out of it.

This week, I was on a health(y-ish) kick.  As a lover of all things peanut butter, I was determined to bake something with my favorite indulgence.

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After a quick search, I settled on a recipe that only called for three ingredients; what could be better than that?  Peanut butter, (gluten free) oats and bananas.  Healthy(ish), quick and simple.  I threw some mini chocolate chips and peanut butter chips on top (because: why not?) and called it a day; at the root of it all though, this recipe was created with good intentions.

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Finding hobbies that make us happy are so incredibly important.  They take us away from the negativity, even if just for a moment.  However, in times where we are truly struggling, hobbies may not be enough.  Anxiety and depression can be so painful, so debilitating, that it can feel as though nothing will pull us out of the downward spiral.  Sometimes, it is not easy for someone to open up about what he or she may be feeling; therefore, it is important for us to be kind, sympathetic and brave enough to listen, to help he or she feel safe and accepted.

The most heartbreaking news I could have heard all week was that Amy Bleuel, the founder of Project Semicolon, passed away.  Although I did not know her personally, as a school counseling student and someone who has dealt with their own feelings of depression and anxiety, I found Project Semicolon to be extremely moving and inspiring.

(To learn more about Project Semicolon, please visit: https://projectsemicolon.com)

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Amy’s passing in no way lessens this beautiful movement, or all the work she has done to serve as an advocate within the mental health community.  The semicolon will always remain as a symbol of hope for anyone who may be struggling, who has struggled or who has lost someone.  We must keep striving forward and keep spreading hope; our story is not over.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

The Perfect Game

No.  Not today.

This was the mantra that was running through my head as I drove to my Sunday yoga class.  For the past few weeks, I have been letting irrational thoughts or emotions interrupt my practice (let alone my life): taking the words or attitudes of others more personally than I should, imagining negative scenarios that have not even happened, and on the flip side, forgetting my place, believing that words or actions mean more than they do and letting my daydreams get ahead of me.  Regardless, nothing was going to interrupt me this morning: no emotions, no thoughts – I was heading to my practice prepared to focus and challenge myself to a task that I had never attempted before.

I wanted to go for a perfect game.

What is a perfect game in the yoga world?  I am not even sure if it’s a coined term in the world of yoga, but there were four classes scheduled for that Sunday: three traditional hot yoga practices and a YIN class.  My plan was to take all four of them.  This was going to be the hardest challenge of my life; I have completed double classes before, but never a triple with a YIN on top.  I have been wanting to deepen my practice for a while and gain strength in my postures, but completing this challenge meant more than that:  I wanted to prove to my mind that I was in control.

Walking into my first class, I held my plan close, deciding not to reveal it just yet.  I was afraid that saying it out loud would cause it to dissipate.  Nevertheless, I entered the room and began my practice.  Trying to pace myself throughout the class, I felt that I was sloppy and not as smooth as I had hoped.  Leaving the room though, I felt okay and was ready to face the second class.  I certainly felt the drain of the first class, as I was a little more wobbly on my feet during the standing series.  However, after we hit the ground for the floor series, I thought I was getting my stride back.  That is until I stood back up.  Despite drinking water and refueling with fruit, my hands were jittery; I had experienced this feeling once before, and I did not take class that day.

It was then that I revealed my plan to Stephanie and Tommy (another instructor and the General Manager of HY4Y).  Maybe I jinxed myself in that moment (as the first rule of a perfect game is not to talk about a perfect game), but  Stephanie had mastered the art of the trio classes, and she could see that I was fading fast.  She expressed the importance of knowing restraint, and how pushing forward may not yield the practice I had hoped for.  Although my mind and spirit were still on board with my plan, my body giving in.  Ultimately, I conceded to sit out of the third round of the traditional practice and save my energy for the YIN class.  Although a slower and gentler practice, the YIN class is my biggest challenge, forcing me to remain trapped with my thoughts for longer periods of time.  This YIN class, though, ran the smoothest it ever has for me, despite gecko posture feeling like an eternity.

Although I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t achieve my perfect game, I do have something to be proud of: I completed my first triple! And sometimes, knowing when to restrain yourself and protect yourself can be just as powerful as pushing yourself through a challenge.

Now, I have something to work towards, something to focus on, something to help push me further into my practice and help keep everything else out.

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Similar to the events at my yoga class, these cookies proved to be a test for me.  With Spring upon us, I wanted to make a lemon thumbprint cookie with raspberry-blackberry middle for my fam at the yoga studio.

The first batch, though? They were horrible.  The dough had mixed for way too long, creating a cake-like cookie that grew staler by the minute.  I accidentally added too much water to my jam, creating a runny consistency.  I could not bring myself to bring this batch to my friends.  I realize that mistakes are a part of the learning process, but I was disappointed.  Within the next few days, I knew that I would have the opportunity to try again.
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With a slight tweak to the recipe, I stepped up to my mixer with a new determination; I had to believe that I could do this. I am glad that I was forced to remake the recipe; it reinforced that I am not always going to succeed on the first shot, and that is okay.  We always need to keep trying, to keep learning; failures and setbacks give us something to strive for.  And similar to pulling off these cookies, in the terms of my yoga practice and my perfect game, I believe I can – so one day, I will.