October 17, 2014

I had no idea what to do to celebrate my 30th birthday. Friends and I discussed being ridiculous and doing some sort of 80s-themed roller-skating party. I also considered just taking the day off and going apple picking. I'd been dreading the day and I kind of just wanted to curl up and hide for those 24 hours, but I knew that would just make it worse because I’d lie around, be mopey, and dwell on it. 

So in the end, I didn’t do anything on my birthday. I went to work, had kind of a crappy day (although kind gestures from some of my coworkers helped – more on that below) and came home where the boyfriend made lobster and corn for dinner. I also put a giant bow on Penny's head, just because. She didn't have a care in the world. 

My coworkers do nice things for me like giant tubs of cheesy poofs and Baking Bad shirts. BAKING BAD.
If you watch Arrested Development, you'll get the joke. 
In lieu of a birthday celebration, I took a half-day the next day to go apple picking and picked up a batch of apple cider donuts from Honey Pot Hill orchard down the road (so. freaking. good.) as well as some of their cider so that I can make my own donuts at home (remember these?). 

I also made plans with a small group of girls from work to do a painting party at Paint Misbehavin’ in Hudson the following week that benefitted CaRMaH (Cat Rescue of Marlborough and Hudson). I’m very much a dog person, but I can’t say no to events that benefit any kind of animal. 

photo by Val D'Aquila
Much to the delight of my friends, the group brought in three cats that were up for adoption to keep everyone entertained and melt people’s hearts: Fame, Fortune and Bernard. Fame and Fortune were tiny little kittens, and Bernard was mostly blind and purred like crazy. 

Bernard was one of the more talkative cats I’ve ever met – if I made a sound signaling him to come over and hang out, he’s talked at me the whole way over. It was adorable – just wish I knew what he was saying. I bet it was super interesting, so I was probably missing out.

photo by Val D'Aquila
photo by Val D'Aquila
photo by Val D'Aquila
photo by Val D'Aquila


This event proved I'm still not very good at art (and Presh -- in the glasses with the amazing dog portrait -- IS)... or at following instructions. The goal was to paint a cat, but Presh and I went off the reservation and painted dogs while Val and Emily took their cats in their own adorable directions.

I learned it from watching Penny. (photo by Val D'Aquila)
So far, 30 isn't very exciting. It has not made me any more adult. I don't suddenly have wrinkles and my metabolism hasn't tanked (yet). Nothing has really changed at all, other than writing a scary new number and having people say more than ever, "You're not getting any younger." Yes, thank you. I'm aware of how time works. Here's to hoping that what they say is true - that your 30s are the best years of your life. Fingers crossed.

Apple Strudel Monkey Bread

October 13, 2014

Monkey bread has never really been my thing. Don't get me wrong - it tastes delicious, it's filling and smells amazing. But... it's messy. And I have a thing about messy food. I'm just not a big fan of my hands being all sticky, because then I try to pick up a glass of milk and now my glass is sticky. Then I pick up a napkin to clean my hands and my glass, and now my hands are stuck to the napkin and it starts falling apart and it's glued to my fingers. And then I need to go wash my hands and I decide to grab a fork to eat the rest of it so that I don't get messy again and start to worry that people will judge me for eating it with silverware instead of with my hands like an animal. And by the time I get back someone has stolen the rest of my monkey bread because I took too long to decide how much other people's perceptions of my breakfast consumption mattered.

[deep breath]

And that's why monkey bread has never really been my thing. 

Apple strudel on the other hand is very much my thing. And it occurred to me while I was writing this post that I've never posted my apple strudel recipe. I need to get on that.

Anyway. I eat apple strudel with a fork or spoon - mostly because I consume massive portions in one sitting and it always has to be accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Eating ice cream with my hands would be difficult and awkward. So, silverware it is. 

I started thinking that if I combined apple strudel with monkey bread, it would give me an excuse to eat it with a fork and not be judged. I also thought that if I made it in a loaf pan instead of a tube pan it would be easier to break apart since they'd just be slices and not little cubes you have to fanangle to break apart. And since I didn't have a recipe on hand for monkey bread, I decided to cheat a little and take the easy route. I just grabbed a can of biscuits and the ingredients for the filling of my apple strudel. And my strudel isn't complete until it's topped with an icing glaze, so obviously that happened.

When it's served warm, it smells exactly like apple strudel and tastes like it, too! Ooey, gooey apples covered in cinnamon sugar and vanilla glaze. So. Good. You won't even miss the typical crisp strudel pastry crust, I promise. Go ahead - grab another slice before you let others dive in. I won't tell. Oh, hell - grab the whole plate and lock yourself in the pantry and finish it off. I'm sure you deserve it. 

Apple Strudel Monkey Bread

A German take on the classic monkey bread - soft biscuits oozing with diced apples, sugar and cinnamon and topped with a sweet icing glaze.

[Makes 16 pieces, torn from loaf]
Bread + Filling:
1 can homestyle or buttermilk biscuits (8 large biscuits)
2 large apples, diced (try using Cortland)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 cup raisins, chopped (optional)

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon milk (more if needed)
Bread + Filling:
1) Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray 9x5 loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

2) Cut each biscuit in half to double the amount of biscuit discs. Press each between the palms of your hand to flatten and stretch them out a bit. The goal is to get them wide enough to fit the width of your loaf pan. Set aside.

3) In a medium bowl, toss your diced apples in the lemon juice - this will keep them from turning brown (and adds a little zing). Add brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, ginger and raisins (if desired). Stir to combine.

4) Pour your filling mixture into a large saucepan and warm over medium heat. Stir occasionally until apples are soft and sauce starts to thicken. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

5) Hold loaf pan in one hand vertically and at a slight angle, and place one of your biscuits at the bottom (flat against the side). Spoon about a tablespoon of the filling mixture on top of the biscuit, as much in the center as possible. Top with another biscuit and press the bottom and sides against the biscuit below it to help seal the filling and prevent it from leaking out the sides. Spoon another tablespoon of filling on top and continue this process until you've used all the filling and biscuits, finishing with a biscuit. 

6) Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until top of the loaf is browned. Let set in pan for 5-10 minutes, then remove from pan and place on a platter to finish cooling. 

1) In a small bowl, combine confectioners' sugar, vanilla, butter and milk and stir briskly to combine. You want to be able to pour the glaze, so add more milk  to thin it out if necessary.

2) Pour glaze over top of loaf in whatever way your little heart desires. Serve slices warmed and enjoy!

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Frosting

October 3, 2014

Disclaimer: If you don't like pumpkin, you're not going to like these.

Okay - now that I've stated the obvious, let me explain why the disclaimer is necessary. I like to think that I can make just about anything and still be able to at least taste test it, even if it's not my favorite thing. This recipe right here.... big fat nope. Nopenopenope. I hate pumpkin. Hate. The smell of these while they were baking made me want to die. I actually went outside until they were done so I didn't have to inhale their scent for an extended period of time. After they were done, I lit approximately 5348567297 apple-scented candles around the house to cover up the pumpkin-ness that was wafting around. 

I'm really selling you on these, aren't I? 

Well, the good news is if you do like pumpkin, you're going to love these. They scream Fall. My friends went nuts for these things and more than one person told me it was the best pumpkin-flavored baked good they'd ever had. Per Val of The Slacker Gourmet, "They tasted like pumpkiny goodness." She's a true wordsmith. 

Now enough about the cupcakes. Let's talk about the frosting. Ohmygod... the frosting. It's one of the best buttercream frostings I've ever made. Growing up, I was obsessed with making cinnamon sugar toast. It was one of my favorite things (and frankly, still is). And this tastes like that - except it's frosting. It's smooth, creamy, and chock full of cinnamon. And sugar. And deliciousness.

All credit for the cupcake recipe goes to Sally of Sally's Baking Addiction - she's a genius! I made a few changes in that I used 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, and I used canola oil instead of vegetable oil. I noticed she also has a very similar frosting recipe, so it makes me feel good to know I share a train of thought with her. She's adorable and magical in the kitchen - I strive to be like her someday. Some kids want to be a firefighter or Batman, and I just want to be Sally and make delicious treats that everyone loves.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Frosting

As described by SallySuper-moist spiced pumpkin cupcakes that double as muffins!

[Makes 12 cupcakes]
Use Sally's delicious pumpkin cupcake recipe and follow her instructions! I upped the cinnamon to 2 teaspoons, and used canola oil as a substitute for the vegetable oil.

Cinnamon Sugar Frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream 
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 candy pumpkins (optional, for garnish)

1) Prepare according to Sally's directions found on her blog

1) In a large bowl, beat butter on high speed until creamy. Add sugar, whipping cream, cinnamon and vanilla, beat on high until fully combined and creamy. 

2) Fit a piping bag with your tip of choice and pile the frosting high on top of your cooled cupcakes. Top with a little candy pumpkin and enjoy!

taking a breather.

September 12, 2014
To say it's been a rough couple of weeks is an understatement. Here's a rundown of what's been happening recently that's kept me out of the kitchen and off of the blog:

  • Still sick with this constant cough. It's been 6 weeks and I'm starting to lose my mind a little.
  • Been helping some friends through some really tough life transitions.
  • Getting Penny through her first heat is not something I want to do again. We're finally past it and she has an appointment next month to be spayed but.... good grief, Charlie Brown that was a pain in the ass. 
  • The first week of this month is when I lost two very important people in my life last year, and it still stings.
  • I'm turning 30 next week and the panic attacks have set in. Trying not to think about it too much, but... well, if you know me, you know that's not easy for me to do.
  • The Massachusetts Air Guard lost of of their own when one of their pilots crashed into the mountains of Virginia. Rest in peace, Moose.
  • Lost a coworker/friend who finally succumbed to a long battle with cancer - his funeral is this weekend. We miss you, Chris.
  • A good friend lost their eldest dog (a fellow "red dog"), who Penny adored. Losing pets are just as hard as losing people and it never gets easier. Penny and I are sending you puppy kisses, Kai!
  • Layoffs at my company this week eliminated about 75% of my work friends. 

So needless to say, I've been a bit distracted. Once I get my life back in order I'll be back, but I think I need a week or so to get back on track. For now, I'll leave you with this morning's sunrise over Lake Boon. Happy Friday!

Oreo Ice Cream

September 5, 2014

Summer might be coming to an end, but under no circumstances does that mean I can't keep making ice cream. I will make and eat ice cream year round and you can't stop me! Especially when it comes to Oreos. 

Oh... Oreos. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Actually, no counting. I'm tired. But plain and simple, I love Oreos. I'm not really into all these different flavors with all the crazy fillings and vanilla cookies and just... no. Stop it. Leave Oreos alone. They're perfect just the way they are.

This recipe is so simple. It's almost embarrassing how little effort is takes because it seems like a crime. How can something so delicious be so simple to make? I don't know, man, but it is. 

I accidentally made two quarts (oops) when I made this originally, so I cut the ingredients by about half so that you don't end up with an Oreo ice cream explosion in your kitchen like I did. Mind you... worse things could happen. 

Even Penny wanted in on it.

Oreo Ice Cream

Creamy, light vanilla ice cream made with coconut milk and packed with crushed Oreo pieces.

[Makes 1 quart]
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8-10 Oreos, crushed

1) In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except for the Oreos and stir until all sugar is dissolved and fully combined. 

3) Place bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour to let it thoroughly chill.

4) Place Oreos in a heavy-duty plastic baggie and crush with a rolling pin. Having bigger chunks isn't bad, you don't need it to be crushed to a fine powder. 

5) Pour batter into ice cream maker and prepare according to manufacturers directions (usually 25-30 minutes of churning). During the last 5 minutes, add in your crushed Oreos. Note: The Oreos really bulk things up, so keep an eye on it so it doesn't overflow on you!

6) Store in freezer-safe container and freeze for a couple hours if you want it to be soft-serve texture (or overnight, if you want to eat it after it's hardened). Scoop it into a bowl or a waffle cone and enjoy!

August's BarkBox: The Nautical Edition

August 28, 2014

This month's BarkBox was a home run. It was nautical themed, which - really, let's be honest here - is all I need to be sold on it. 

The only downside is that I wish we had received this earlier in the summer, since Penny isn't going to get as much use out of one of the water toys they included as she could have if we'd received it sooner. 

First of all, it came with a "ruv note". Ruv note. I'm dying of cuteness.

This month's box included:

Not gonna lie - we haven't had a chance to thoroughly test it all out yet, but overall she seems pleased. BUT... guess which one is her favorite? She loves the floating lobster toy. Loves. She makes it her mission to save him when we chuck him into the lake. She swims twice her normal speed to get to him. You see the panic in her eyes.


Oh, right - yes, the lobster is a he. His name is Leonard. Get it? Leonard and Penny? Get it? Shut up, it's adorable.

Do you see how serious she is? Fetch is a serious business, my friends.
Another new toy we recently picked up is also nautical-themed, so apparently BarkBox was very in tune with Penny's current toy needs. We got her the Harry Barker Cotton Rope Tug and Toss Dog Toy from the Planet Dog company store in Portland, Maine. 

I highly recommend the toy as well as the store. Because... well, just look at this. It's a dog's dream come true.

If you look closely, you can see her Larry the Lobster toy in the middle of the picture (not to be confused with Leonard the Lobster).
Colorful, bright, and full of super exciting stuff for the pups. 

An entire wall of harnesses, leashes, collars - you name it!
Are you seeing this? A gourmet treat corner.  

They also have a store mascot who, at the time, was dressed like a shark for Shark Week. And it was adorable. How many times have I said adorable in this post? Probably too many. 

Do yourself a favor and go sign up for a BarkBox subscription - your furbaby will thank you!

Disclaimer: BarkBox has no idea who I am - I'm just writing about it because Penny loves it and wouldn't stop licking my face until I agreed to share it with all her furry friends!

Blueberry Muffins

August 21, 2014

Blueberries have never been my favorite fruit. I would never sit down and eat a handful of blueberries as a snack. When they're mixed in with other fruit in a bowl, or topping something as garnish (like a Watermelon Cupcake) I have no problem with them. In those situations, they're delightful. 

Another exception to the rule is muffins. I absolutely adore blueberry muffins. The more blueberries, the better. Well... I guess not really, because if you have too many they get soggy and no one wants a soggy muffin. That sounds vaguely dirty, doesn't it? Moving on.

There's something about the flavor of warm blueberries combined with a nice crisp muffin top that relaxes me. It's one of my comfort foods. It has to be a huge muffin - little ones don't make the cut. This is one food I do not want in mini form! Also, the perfect muffin top is essential to me. As a child, I was known to eat only the tops of muffins and give the rest of it away. And yes, I realize that sounds like an episode of Seinfeld - but it's true! I have a muffin top pan, but it's just not the same. I don't like to be wasteful, so as an adult I still eat the whole muffin... but I save the best for last. I peel off the top, set it to the side, and then place a little bit of butter on the inside and let it melt. It's just so good.

If you want to make these in a not gigantic way, you could certainly make them in normal sized muffin pans. But where's the fun in that?

Blueberry Muffins

Big, fluffy muffins stuffed with juicy blueberries and topped with a little sugar for good measure. 

[Makes 12 huge muffins]
6 cups all-purpose flour
8 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups milk 
1 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups fresh blueberries

1) Preheat oven to 425° F. Spray muffin tin(s) with non-stick spray. I don't recommend the jumbo muffin liners in this instance - just leave 'em naked.

2) In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Set aside. 
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar - don't overbeat! Mix until just combined.

3) Add milk, oil, and vanilla and whisk until just combined. You don't want to overmix, but just stir long enough that all the flour has been incorporated. Fold in blueberries and stir until just combined.

4) Pour batter into prepared muffin tins and fill to the top. If you want, you can add a little sugar to the tops of each muffin (and of course I do, because sugar). Now here's the real trick to getting these big and fluffy, and I wish I could remember who told me this so long ago! Bake at 425° F for 8 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 375
° F and continue to bake for 20 minutes. The tops of the muffins should be golden and should bounce back if pressed. Let them sit in the pan for a few minutes to cool and then enjoy!