Pre-Adoptathon Bakeathon

What a blur. This past weekend was our Annual Global Pet Adoptathon at North Shore Animal League America; hundreds of puppies, dogs, kittens and cats were rescued and brought to our adoption center in hopes of finding a potential home.  This weekend is the biggest and busiest adoption event of the year.

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Beginning at 9am on Saturday, May 6th, our adoption center was open for 36 hours straight as we hoped to find homes for our puppies, dogs, kittens and cats.

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People lined up all throughout our campus for the chance to adopt one of these little guys.  Naturally, on a busy weekend like this one, we wanted to be on our A-game.  At our adoption center our kennel associates and managers work diligently to make sure our animals are going home to the right match; on a weekend like Adoptathon, that rule is not any different.

If we were going to make it through the weekend, I thought that the volunteers and associates could use some sustenance.

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Enter Bakeathon.

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I hoped that a few batches of chocolate chip cookies and Nutella brownies would help boost morale.

36 hours later, we are happy to announce that over 440 puppies, dogs, kittens and cats found a home during our Adoptathon weekend.  It was an incredibly busy weekend, but certainly a wonderful one as well.

Icing on your nose

It is crazy to look back and see how fast time flies!  This past Tuesday, my cousin, Courtney, celebrated her 18th birthday. To think that she will be going off to college in the Fall, I am truly at a loss for words.

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I am incredibly proud of who Courtney has become; not only is she a funny and intelligent individual, but she is a genuinely kind-hearted person as well.  I cannot believe that I can sit with her and converse with her like an adult when it feels like just yesterday that she was a toddler, that she had found herself climbing atop of a treadmill, and after I lifted her off of it, she bit me.

Needless to say, I wanted to bake my cousin something extremely special for her birthday; I wanted to combine two of her favorite desserts: cannolis and brownies.

IMG_1495 I had researched a recipe for a cannoli cheesecake and quickly decided to add a nutella brownie bottom.  The result?  Well, seeing as it was a no-bake cheesecake, it did not come out as planned.  In fact, it was more of a whipped cannoli cream pie on top of nutella brownies.  Courtney did not seem to mind though!  I am glad that Courtney enjoyed both her birthday, as well as her cannoli, brownie pie.  Although I still cannot believe that Courtney is now an adult, I know that some things will never change, such as one very important life lesson: when you are presented with a birthday cake, you must smear off your name and put the frosting on your nose (always). 

Mellow Monday

This weekend has certainly been a whirlwind.  As I have mentioned in my previous post, this past Saturday was  our Volunteer Appreciation Brunch.  Months of compiling slideshow photos, planning all of the decorations and crafting the center pieces, my manager, our committee and I could finally sit back and watch our volunteers enjoy their afternoon.  It was certainly worth it; I love the Volunteer Brunch because it is a fun way to honor all of the volunteers who care for our animals.  Even a little Saturday drizzle couldn’t damper our day.

The fun didn’t stop there: on Sunday, (after an early morning yoga session) my family and I attended my cousin’s baby shower (who is currently expecting twins!)  The baby shower was held at The Inn located in New Hyde Park, NY.  The room was beautiful! I wish I took more photos, but I was a little preoccupied enjoying some delightful champagne and the company of my cousins and my cousin’s girlfriend, Steph.  The four of us had an afternoon full of laughs, twin trivia and brunch (which is always a win). 

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After such a busy weekend, my brain was a little fried (but in a good way).  After conking out at 7pm and sleeping for nine hours, I awoke this morning feeling a little foggy yet experimental.  For a while, I have been wanting to make another berry crumble, but I was curious to see if I could make it a little more portable.  After searching for berry bar recipes, I played around with the ingredients, hoping to use the same flavors that I use for my crumble.

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The result did not go as expected; instead of a soft and chewy bar, I had actually created a moist and squishy cake!  Although this wasn’t my intended goal, I am not too disappointed with the outcome.  Not only will I have another chance to try and execute the berry bars, but now I can say that I created my own recipe. Not bad for a mellow Monday.

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! 

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.

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!” 

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.