Birthday fudge!

I’m in my PJs by seven o’clock and, if possible, in bed by nine o’clock; I prefer the taste of coffee over the taste of wine; I find myself jumping to the worst case scenario or believing crazy conspiracy theories; and, I catch myself singing song lyrics incorrectly and in a odd singing voice.

So, I must ask myself the question that I have been terrified to say aloud:

When did I become my mother? 

Mom Outside

I suppose my fate was inevitable and becoming my mother isn’t the worst thing in the world; not only is she incredibly generous, but she is one of the strongest people I have ever known.  Caring for our family is no easy feat (as this household is packed with personality), and every day, she does so with ease.  Although my mom and I may bump heads (a lot), I think it’s because our personalities are the perfect blend of too similar and too different.  And as far-fetched as some of her life lessons may be, she has taught me some valuable ones, ones that help me thicken my skin when the world acts petty.

So today, while many are going out to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, we are celebrating my mother’s birthday. Well, that is IF it’s not down pouring outside (her request, not mine).

Mom and Watson

Being in the full swing of pre-Adoptathon-Bakeathon, I had to make sure my mom received a special treat of her own.

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One of my mom’s favorite snacks is pistachio nuts; I knew that if I was going to make her anything, I wanted to incorporate this.  Let me tell you, there is nothing more fun than unshelling 3/4 cups of pistachio nuts, only to find out that you could have bought them unshelled.  For my mom, though, it was well worth it!

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My mom is not the biggest fan of sweets, always preferring to go for a salty and savory snack instead; I thought a combination of the two would be the perfect birthday treat.  Attempting to double boil 20oz of white chocolate, 3 tablespoons of butter and 14oz of sweet and condensed milk in my tiny double boiler proved interesting.  However, I was lucky enough to get through this feat without any spills or drips.

I was pleased by the result: a sweet and savory craisin and pistachio, white chocolate fudge. My mom was happy too, quickly packing up half of the fudge to take with her to work.  It’s funny, it reminded me of when we were kids and used to bring treats in for our elementary school class.  Oh, to be young at heart. Happy Birthday Mom!   

Mom and Nanny Crazy

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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.

Courtney

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). 

I hate sugar cookies

Okay, maybe hate is a strong word.  But sugar cookies and I? We have beef.

When I first started playing around with cookie cutters and new recipes, I was excited to dabble in this venture; however, I am slowly learning that sugar cookies and I are currently intertwined in quite the love/hate relationship.  Or, maybe I am just grumpy from this week’s baking escapades.  Or, maybe I’m just grumpy in general? It could really be either option. 

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On a random side note: I swear, I will go bankrupt from buying butter – but I digress!

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Tomorrow, my manager and I have our Annual Volunteer Appreciation Brunch; although the event is catered, staff have the chance to bake dessert to help show our appreciation for all of the work our volunteers do.  Naturally, I was walking into this week excited to bake my brains out!  This year’s theme for Volunteer Appreciation Month is Volunteers Make the World a Brighter Place, and a reoccurring symbol within our brunch is a butterfly.  My plan was set: I was determined to make butterfly shaped cookies.  Unfortunately, this feat did not go as well as I had hoped.

All week, I had three trays of cookie dough chilling in our fridge.  The first tray was great, chilled to perfection and ready for cutting.  The second tray did not mix well at all.  Sometimes when I double my batch of sugar cookies, the dough at the very bottom of my mixer fails to blend completely, leaving behind a wet and sticky dough.  This tray did not work out.  The third dough had chilled well; however, our refrigerator had dripped water onto the pan, which seeped through the parchment paper spoiling the dough.  Luckily, I was able to salvage the first tray and I began to brainstorm other dessert options.

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I quickly whipped together a chocolate chip cookie cake, and as long as I am able to successfully transport it, it should be brunch ready!  Although this week’s baking adventures did not go as well as I had anticipated, I am still happy about the cookies I was able to salvage and I hope our volunteers enjoy them as well!

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!

Dad and baby Watson

(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!

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.

Jac 3

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.

Jac 2

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!”