Thursday, December 20, 2007


This seems to be making its way around the web, but I couldn't help and post it here (especially so I can watch it repeatedly).

One group's very clever version of "The 12 Days of Christmas"...

I've been a little slack posting here (especially pictures of what we've been up to) so I'm thinking the next few days will be good for focusing (read: getting a LOT of other things down) and re-energizing for another year in Kara's Kitchen.

Here's wishing all of you a very Merry and Blessed Christmas - see you in 2008!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Not a Comedian...

But I tried to improvise (a recipe) tonight... so not a big deal, right? True... in cooking, I often use a recipe as my base idea and then add/omit as I desire, or as my refrigerator and pantry dictate. But baking... improvise in baking? Except for the fact that I threw some Christmas colored M&Ms that weren't called for into my blondies last week, this may have been a first for me.

So they say to always cook (or bake!) with ingredients that you love, right? *don't quote me, I may have made that up but it's worked out for me! It all began last Christmas season, when I had my first taste of my now favorite version of Hershey's Kisses... and on the back of the bag was this recipe beckoning me to call her home.

The problem was that I didn't want to make an entire cheesecake for us - both of us do enjoy cheesecake and having sweets anywhere within arms reach these days is just not good news. So my thought... mini-cheesecakes without having to go to a kitchen store to buy individual springform pans.

I took a risk... I fully admit that, and while the result IS tasty (and my greatest fear, that the mini-cheesecakes wouldn't come out of the muffin tins cleanly, was all for naught!), it's just not cute... and really not even picture-worthy, though sadly, it does depict the dessert as it stands. I do like to say that I live and learn... and for sure now I know some things I'd do a bit differently should I repeat this recipe using my altered version. Maybe one day I'll do a "Live and Learn" post and record my second attempt.

While I can assure you that these little treats taste FAR better than their picture would indicate, I would definitely tweak my recipe a bit and hope that I am suddenly blessed with better photographic skills. One general comment about cheesecakes... after having now made a few using either a food processor or a mixer, I stand proudly on the food processor side of the aisle, it just makes a much smoother batter.

Individual Candy Cane Swirl Cheesecakes
makes approximately 6 cakes

Cookie Crumb Crust
3/4 cup vanilla wafer cookie crumbs (about 23 cookies)
1/2 TBSP sugar
1/8 c melted butter or margarine

1 1/2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
3/8 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
about 1 1/2 eggs
about 20-22 HERSHEY'S KISSES Candy Cane Mint candies
1/2 TBSP milk
fresh, sweetened whipped cream, optional

Make the crusts: Heat oven to 350°F. Stir together vanilla wafer cookie crumbs and sugar in medium bowl; blend in melted butter or margarine. Press mixture onto bottom and up the side of about 6 greased muffin tins. Bake about 4-5 minutes; cool.

After preparing the crusts, beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla in large bowl until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Set aside 1/4 cup batter; spread about 2 TBSP of remaining batter in each of the prepared crusts. *adjust the amount of batter in each tin as you need - should be about 2/3 of the way up the side of the tin

Place candies and milk in medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at medium about 30 seconds; stir. If necessary, microwave at medium another 10-15 seconds, stirring after each heating, until candies are melted and mixture is well blended when stirred. Gradually blend reserved cheesecake batter into candy mixture. Drop candy mixture by tablespoonfuls onto vanilla batter. Gently swirl with knife for marbled effect.

Bake 20 to 22 minutes or until center is almost set. Remove from oven to wire rack. With knife, loosen cakes from side of pan. Cool completely; remove cakes onto a flat surface. Cover; refrigerate until chilled. Garnish with optional whipped cream.

The way I see it... at least I conquered my fear of altering a recipe?! I just need to do a better job about proportions and other teeny, tiny, insignificant (right?) details.

On the flip side, I did get to finally make a recipe that I've been looking forward to. Course, that's just one of many... I have a whole host of recipes that I've bookmarked or earmarked, just waiting for me to try my hand at them... at risk of this sounding like a recipe-exchange, I'd love to know what tops your list as the next new recipe to try?

And if you don't have enough cookies on that 'list' of yours, check out the just released Washington Post 2007 cookie guide!

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Hero Among the Rest

Just when you thought (or at least I did) that there was no hope for pro athletes... along comes someone like LaDainian Tomlinson... and on a day like today when we are reminded of some of the most horrific acts "gotten away with" if only for a little while by a fellow/former NFL star, this story about L.T. was just what the doctor ordered.

I readily admit, in the past year or so, I'd heard all the stories about L.T. averaging x-number of touchdowns a game but I chalked it up to "just another NFL star". Thanks to 60 Minutes on Sunday evening, I take back any comment I may have made or ever thought about L.T. being "just another" ANYthing.

Just a few of the highlights, though you really should take a few minutes to watch the video clips in their entirety.
  • Two days before Thanksgiving, he gives 2,000 families enough food to make Thanksgiving dinners.
  • He has his own charity golf tournament, gives $1,000 college scholarships to seniors at his old high school, and hands out dozens of bikes and hundreds of shoes to underprivileged kids in San Diego.
  • Since he couldn't afford to go to NFL games as a child, he buys tickets for 21 kids to every home game. Twenty-one is his jersey number. And again, he gives them his time. After the game he comes back on the field to greet each of them, sign autographs, and pose for pictures.

Let's hope that L.T. isn't just inspiring little kids out there... we big kids need just as much help!

*Has my blog taken a turn into the world of the emotional side of sports "writing"?? I will be back with some tasty treats, I promise.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Will He Stay or Will He Go?

Ahh... so this is what it feels like to have a somewhat decent football program... especially one that came out of a "nothing" program only a mere two years ago. At the conclusion of the past two seasons, Deacon fans around the globe have been rudely awaken to press that our beloved Coach Grobe will be leaving for a bigger school, "better" (depending on your definition) program, more money, etc. I stand proudly among the Deacs and admit freely that my morning consisted of chasing down articles all over the Internet trying to figure out if we have a coach or would the Meineke Car Care Bowl (doesn't have quite the same ring to it as the Orange Bowl did last year) be his last day as a Deacon...

First this...

And then after we all recovered from our minor heart-attacks, things started to look up...

So it seems, at least for now, that *knock on wood - lest I be the one to jinx us! we still have a coach and a great one at that (but really, someone, please let me know when this is a sure-thing!). It is a compliment to be so highly sought after, that's for sure - it just makes for a panic-filled morning.

But, this begs the question... what is the real draw for college football coaches and what truly defines their success? Are they all in it to make it to the "big" football schools or is there just a point where they become tapped out (speaking of, another school close to my heart... USNA... rumors abound whether Paul Johnson will remain)? Is quality of life and job security enough to stay? If so, I say that both Grobe and Johnson will be back at their schools for many years to come.

Here's hoping!!

*Uh oh - Paul Johnson's a goner.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

First Time's a...

Well, now that I'm officially in the holiday spirit (as if I wasn't before - HA - like Susan, I start listening to Christmas music WAY before any social "norm" calls for), it's time to get back in the kitchen. I actually HAVE been baking... not a ton but I did manage a few things for my recent out of town visitors.

Even though I have resolved to let this holiday season pass me by, especially given the fact that we passed the t-minus 3 month mark and realized just how much we have left to do, I couldn't pass up making just a few things to bring with us to holiday parties, and let's be honest... to munch on ourselves.

Also, I've been dying to participate in Susan's "Eat Christmas Cookies" event; even though I usually shy away from these online foodie "events" - I think it was the cute logo and the Christmas cookie theme that lured me in.

So for my first-ever entry, I have prepared one of my Christmas staples... Layered Peppermint Crunch Bark.

I follow the Bon Appetit recipe pretty much exactly... my only comment being that as you start to layer warm chocolate on the previously chilled and firm layer, work very quickly and don't play with the chocolate too much or you will get a swirly-brown-looking mess. The great thing is that regardless of how they look, they ALWAYS taste great! Plus, how can you beat delicious "cookies" that require few ingredients (remember Trader Joe's for chunks of white and semi-sweet chocolate) and come together fairly quickly and easily - seems like a perfect recipe to me, or at least one for the abbreviated Christmas I'm having this year.

I'm tempted to say that I will be back with a second cookie, but that might be getting a little ambitious so only time will tell! In the meantime, check out all of the other submissions... but consider yourself warned - there are a ton of delicious-looking cookies just begging to be baked!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

High Flyin'

Army-Navy 2007 was our typical family affair, with an added spin. Okay, a couple of added spins...

#1 This was the first time since 2000 that the Army-Navy game was hosted in Baltimore... most years, the game is hosted in Philly.

#2 Thanks to #1, my family was able to celebrate the entire weekend together!

My parents, Chris and I all met up at my brother's house (with brand-new, self-installed, beautiful hardwoods, throughout the main level) in Columbia, MD, for the weekend. What a great time, complete with some serious bonding between Granddad and Charlie while taking care of various home improvement projects. Charlie is quite the little fix-it-upper and is quick to correct you should you accidentally call a tool by its incorrect name. Saturday morning, the guys and I were quite the urbanites, taking the light rail into Baltimore for the big game.

#3 The game didn't disappoint (though even though I'm a die-hard Navy fan, I do wish Army's program would at least give Navy a run for their money one of these days) especially the fan-fare surrounding the game including the march-on by both schools (as usual, Army's marching abilities embarrassed Navy), Army and Navy's parachute teams, and last but not least, the fly-over. The Cadet and Midshipmen "spots" were a little subpar this year, though happily, I was able to track down the only one worth showing again... here for your viewing pleasure.

Oh - and did I mention the Lee Greenwood sang "God Bless the U.S.A." at half-time? (why am I so excited? have you HEARD that song... though my music tastes are somewhat varied... remember how excited I was to see and hear Taylor Hicks at last year's Orange Bowl?)
#4 Back to that flyover... no big deal, right? As it turns out, these happen so often nowadays that there's even an official government form that must be filled out in order to request the "Aerial Event Support". But has one of your old friends ever piloted a F/A-18 Super Hornet in the Army-Navy game flyover? My friend, Colin "Farva" Price, stationed in Lemoore, CA, was one of the 4 pilots chosen to perform before this year's game - and as he says (in true fighter pilot fashion), they were treated like royalty all weekend. We got a glimpse of this when a random woman approached him and asked if he would take a picture with her.

What a great way to get to see an old friend! It doesn't get much better than that!

#5 Not a new spin but part of the weekend nonetheless, Navy takes home the Commander-in-Chief's trophy once again as they emerged victorious over USMA for the 7th (or so) time in a row.

#6 After a cold but thankfully not freezing afternoon watching the greatest rivalry in college sports, we headed to Little Italy for a delicious and warm meal at Sabbatino's!

And to wrap up a packed day, we shared a variety of Vaccaro's desserts and warm drinks while driving through the Columbia neighborhood light display!

I feel like a broken record saying this but once again, Sunday afternoon came too quickly - my parents headed on their way back down to Atlanta, my brother's family went off on their merry way to chop down their Christmas tree, and Chris and I were back to Virginia. Each year, this weekend feels like the kick-off (albeit a late one) to my Christmas season, so I guess there's no turning back now!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

More Hours in the Day?

In my (very un)professional opinion, it seems that everyone experiences increased levels of stress (ones I am currently facing, as well) brought on by the holidays. This bothers me, though, on a number of fronts; a. I am 100% positive that this was not the original purpose of "The Season" and b. it's the holidays! Can't we just enjoy them?

With that said, I'm calling in the troops, i.e. the many, MANY people out there who have lives so busy that I can't even imagine. I see people like this everyday... ones living incredibly insane lives but all the while, they somehow manage to get their Christmas shopping done, Christmas cards well-written and out the door, and without ruffling a feather, still find time to create adorable little homemade gifts (things for neighbors, kids' teachers - not that I have kids, etc.).

But HOW!?!

I keep getting emails tempting me to "private shopping events" such as this one at Pottery Barn and I wonder... is this how they do it? They get invited to a couple of these special events and get to the malls before they open to take advantage of them thus freeing up the rest of their day? Do they manage to still bargain shop or just give up on shopping around in the name of saving time?

I can make it to the mall after work, no problem... but on those nights, I find myself getting home around 10:30pm, scrounging for something to eat (hence the lack of yummy dishes appearing here), and finally... oh right, sleep... that happens around 12:30 or 1am, if that early. This just can't be normal. Am I just not productive enough in the time I have? There must be a better way.

I really want to stay in the holiday spirit but it's getting harder and harder.

For my friends who are loyal readers... Christmas cards ARE coming out this year, but I hate to say there will be no cute picture collage with recipe or long hand-written note as in years past... rest-assured, I will be back next year, though!

By the way, it's still not too late to send thanks to the (the real) troops!

*An update, already... though, is that picture for real?

**Ask and you shall receive, apparently!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In Less Than 5 Minutes...

Yes, you've probably seen something like this before... I'm sure this isn't the only one of its kind... so if you don't like this one for whatever reason, that's okay - just go and SAY THANKS somewhere, somehow. Truth be told, don't just do this tonight or tomorrow because it's Thanksgiving, or in a month because it's Christmas... do it once (or twice), and then come back next week, and do it again!

And while you're at it, say a quick prayer that our troops know just how thankful we all are for them each and everyday.

For the rest of you all, THANKS for all of the tips and recipes over this past year of being in the blogging world. It's been a fun distraction and I look forward to more where that came from. Now I'm off to finish baking for tomorrow... pumpkin and Tollhouse pie, anyone?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

So Generous

I have been overwhelmed by the amount of generosity around me this weekend... I attribute this in some small way to the fact that it's the holidays but more so, I think I'm just lucky to know a lot of people who are willing to donate their hard-earned money when a great cause is at stake.

First, I lead a group of 13 Provisionals ("new members") in the Junior League of Northern Virginia (insert all your jokes about the Jr. League here - we're used to it) and for our annual fundraiser, we are expected to host a tree in the "forest". This year, the group selected the theme of a "baby tree" (or two, as it may be); last night, before the entire event kicked off, we met and decorated our tree... and I was absolutely overwhelmed by the level of giving of each of the women. We covered not one, but 2 trees (and had fun while we were at it!) that will be auctioned off (that ARE being auctioned off - as we speak!) with all proceeds going to our focus area, preparing children for success. Now we just need some equally generous donors to bid on and buy our tree(s) so that the League can use the money in our community.

And then... in an extreme case of generosity, someone has decided to take my little gingerbread house home! I found this on my house last night!!!

Friday, November 16, 2007

They Said So!

Someone (way) smarter than me came up with this list of foods to keep you young... and well, I couldn't agree more (though after you see the list, you'll understand it's for very different, non-scientific, reasons). It is timely, though, to find something like this when I'd just been thinking - the next time fish is on sale, it's mine!

Of course, coupled with a list like this is the ever-ready mantra... "all things in moderation", right? Does that "all things" apply to numbers 4 and 6?

*I plan on taking full advantage of a lot of #4 this weekend... a batch of JFBs and maybe Abby's no-bake bars coming your way!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A New Twist

The subject "up there" is a bit of a misnomer... simply because I don't think the intention of this recipe was to become your new pumpkin pie, but in my house (another misnomer!) - looks like we might have a contender.

I went searching for a new quick & easy recipe using pumpkin last week because there was a chance we were going to walk up to our friends' house Sunday afternoon (only 7 houses away... LOVE having neighbors!) to watch some football and try Andrea's version of Polly Bergen's chili (really REALLY good, by the way)... and well, I always like to be prepared.

I must note that I believe I may have discovered a new measure by which recipes should be rated... two factors, actually; first, I initially whipped this up Friday evening and put it in the oven after which I promptly fell asleep watching TV and woke up approximately 2 hours later to a nice charred (thank goodness the condo was still standing) pumpkin cake-ish-something-or-other. The test was that even at this point, Chris ate quite a bit of it and pronounced it still good even grossly over-baked. Second, not including the first failed attempt, I have now made this same recipe twice in 4 days - this second time was for Chris' work pot-luck (my idea was something a little fancier but he wouldn't have it).

As for the dessert, I'm definitely not sold on having this on my Thanksgiving table instead of original pumpkin pie, but I'd have it on my table any other day (which means both that it's that easy that you COULD and it's also that good).

This also brings up a question... I know there are certain things that just 'make' my Thanksgiving (though I've been tolerant of others' traditions in the past few years celebrating with friends) - but when Turkey Day rolls around, what can't you live without?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

We Can Be Friends!

It's no secret that it wasn't the best weekend for my Deacs... though before anyone accuses me of looking for a new team the second my team falters, I must make a stand and say that this is very much NOT the case. I have friends that will vouch for me that Maryland has always been my second favorite ACC team (hey, they aren't Duke or Carolina... not to mention my mom's an alum!) and really, let's be honest, I'm just trying to keep the peace with my soon-to-be husband (an alum and life-long Terp).

But above all, who can turn down tickets to a great football game... sure, it might have been 40 (or so) degrees outside and Maryland was by all accounts supposed to lose the game, but still... college football! I miss those days.

In the end, though, we were pleasantly surprised... we brought blankets, gloves and hats, and two jackets each and only needed them for the walk back to the car (great warm-up for the upcoming Army-Navy game)... and Maryland upset the Boston College Eagles (what's better than watching your second favorite team sack the Heisman Trophy hopeful, Matt Ryan?!).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

So... it's officially well-past Halloween, AND Thanksgiving is looming around the corner... I believe I can now declare the holidays in full swing. And with that, I had no qualms (admittedly, it wasn't even close, I've been listening to Christmas music on the internet for weeks already) spending this morning decorating a gingerbread house for my Jr. League's upcoming annual fundraiser, The Enchanted Forest (quick plug - come join us THIS weekend at the Westin Arlington Gateway).

I believe, much to my mom and my pleasure, that I have finally figured out how to use a lot of candy while the house still resembles, well... a house (!) but might also (the key!) be appealing to the eye.

The real test will be how much it will go for in the auction (you'll recognize my little house in the amateur division, obviously... begging to be sold)... which brings me to another, related issue: in the past, my house hasn't necessarily been the first to go; the more familiar scene is my house sitting by its lonesome hours after the gingerbread house village is closed up for yet another year. I finally realized this year that I think the families who decorated their houses in the workshops go back to The Enchanted Forest and bid on and buy their own houses back! So... to save face, should I do the same? Or, leave the fate of my house in someone else's hands?

Friday, November 09, 2007

New Adventures

In my experience, it seems that things in life do not happen in isolated instances... but instead, most often in groups. I would assume (though I claim to have done no research on this) that this is the genesis of the phrase "when it rains, it pours"; yet, this time, it's not quite pouring, but just a steady rain.

In the past few weeks, my job has taken some new turns, headed into waters yet undiscovered... which is both exciting but also a bit unnerving. I have a new Managing Director who is excited about making an impact on our organization which is fantastic, but as part of her team, I'm expected to be up to speed on everything she's attempting to implement. And well, I'm just not. Management Development Curriculum... Goal-Setting Courses (especially in a culture where goals generally aren't set)?! For good or bad, the new boss-woman is the type who subscribes to every professional association related to her field and is very well-read... but this means that recently, my inbox has taken on a new look as I can't possibly read (let alone grasp) everything she sends in a timely manner. I promise, I do like learning, it's just at a slightly slower speed...

Along those same lines, when I should be reading articles related to my job, I sometimes find myself reading things related more to my personal interests... not surprisingly, these are often about cooking, baking, and chef-ing (I think I just made that word up), and you'd be smart to assume part of that time is spent gazing at others' amazingly gorgeous pictures of their food. Most of the time, I'm not really one for reading poetic muses about cooking but this article discussing a new book (specifically the section on Recipes), The Elements of Cooking, by Michael Ruhlman, most recently seen as one of the judges on "The Next Iron Chef", really caught my attention.

The entire (short) article was worth a read (try this one too), but this was my favorite part quoted from the book...

How to use a good recipe: First read it and think about it. Cook it in your mind. Envision what it will look like when you serve it. Try to know the outcome before you begin. Read a recipe all the way through not only to understand it generally, but to make your work more efficient and to avoid making errors or taking unnecessary steps. Perhaps a dough needs to chill for an hour in the middle of a preparation, perhaps meat needs to be salted for twenty-four hours, or a liquid must be simmered, then cooled. The recipe suggests adding the flour, baking powder, and salt one at a time, but perhaps you can combine all the dry ingredients ahead of time while you’re waiting for the butter to get to room temperature so you can cream it with the eggs. Taking a few minutes to read a recipe, acting out each step in your mind as you do, will save you time and prevent errors.

In my own adventure with cooking, I have gone from one extreme to the other in terms of my use of recipes - my first bouts of cooking absolutely required a recipe and now, while I still use them with some frequency, I definitely alter some part of almost each one I find. His comment about "cook[ing] the recipe in your mind" just hit home... I definitely do that, and to be honest, if it doesn't "come out" in my head, then I usually find a new recipe.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Easy As Chili?

The only thing better than warm homemade soup or chili on a cool pre-winter evening is one that comes together in about 25 minutes (AND, my usual mantra - everything was already in my pantry!)! I know most of you out there are saying that a 25-minute meal can't possibly be called chili - isn't that supposed to sit on the stove for hours (not to mention, include some kind of ground beef)? But since I didn't name this dish, I take no credit or blame, as it may be. If I am permitted, though, to add my two cents, it seems that loosely defined, chili might just be pretty much anything, combined with chiles, used to make a delicious and hearty stew, so with that...

Chicken Chili Blanco
serves 4

6 oz skinless, boneless chicken breasts
nonstick cooking spray
1 lg onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 c sliced fresh mushrooms (optional)
1 (15 1/2 oz) can reduced-sodium kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (8 1/2 oz) can cream-style corn
1/2 c chopped red or green sweet pepper
1/2 c dry white wine
1 (4 oz) can diced green chilies, drained
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
dash salt

1/4 c snipped fresh parsley (optional)
freshly grated cheese (optional)

Spray a large saucepan with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat saucepan over medium heat.

Cut the chicken into 1-inch pieces. Add chicken, onion, and garlic. Cook about 2 minutes or till chicken is no longer pink. Stir in chicken broth, mushrooms, kidney beans, corn, chopped pepper, wine, chilies, cumin, oregano, and salt. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in parsley (if using); top with cheese (if using) just before serving.

*My quick notes: make sure to use generous amounts of the spices; I didn't have any mushrooms and still had a filling meal; and, I think I'll add a couple of drops of hot sauce next time!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Leave Well-Enough Alone

Go right ahead and call me a hypocrite, it's fine... I am usually the first person to turn my nose up at using a cake mix to make a "homemade" cake but I admit it... one of my go-to recipes has its humble beginnings in a yellow boxed (oh, the horrors) cake mix. I'm not outright proud of this, but one of the best cooks and bakers I know *thanks, mom once told me when you find a great recipe, you don't question it, whether it comes from a box, packet, etc.; sometimes they just aren't meant to be messed around with.

This Junior League of Northern Virginia recipe is as easy as they come and delivers a cake that has been a crowd-pleaser everytime. Plus, if you buy the cookbook, you'll be the proud owner of tons of other great recipes (I stand behind the Antipasto Squares) while having contributed to a great cause.

Black Russian Cake

1 18.25 oz pkg yellow cake mix
1 5.1 oz pkg chocolate pudding mix
4 large eggs
1 c vegetable oil
1/2 c vodka
1/2 c water
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c Kahlua, divided
1/2 c powdered sugar

Beat first 7 ingredients and 1/4 cup Kahlua at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth; pour into a greased and floured Bundt pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.

Combine remaining 1/4 cup Kahlua and powdered sugar, stirring until smooth. Let cake cool slightly. Remove cake from pan. Puncture cake surface with a large wooden pick and pour glaze over cake. Let harden.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How I Escape

I don't think you'll find a single (though I am not the authority on this) blog in which a cook or baker doesn't mention that the only downfall to cooking and baking is that you are subsequently left with a large amount of food. And, unless you have extreme will-power, you end up eating more of it than you'd have liked... followed by feeling gross and complaining about over-eating (as if it's someone else's fault!)... and then we vow off baking for a while... which, if you ask me, is just a bad idea in general!

So how to avoid this evil cycle? Bake for others! Though, an important, crucial really, caveat - only bake when you have a REASON to bake for others... if you make an extra 3 batches of cookies because "you're sure you'll be able to find someone to pawn them off on" - nope, never works... you end up stuck back in the "no will-power, eat more than you like and feel gross, etc" rotation.

This past weekend was an exercise in perfection in finding others to eat what I wanted to bake... Saturday night we celebrated one of our friend's birthdays (albeit early) so Peabody's (actually, Bon Appetit's, but Peabody pointed me in the right direction) Brownie Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting fit the bill. They were unbelievably easy to pull together and even better tasting - I might even use the brownie recipe on its own!

Two comments from the wannabe-baker: I will be sure and liberally add more whipping cream to the frosting next time, though since I did have to transport these, the thicker frosting (as is apparent from the picture) held up very well; and I would skip the cupcake liners and just grease or use cooking spray on your muffin pan so that you get a nice smooth edge on the brownies instead of the rippled edge of the liner.

And Sunday's family gathering was just the opportunity I needed to finally try a recipe I've been eyeing for a while... Pear Croustade with Lemon Pastry and Almonds. We were really pleasantly surprised (me for how easy it was to make and others for how much we loved eating it!); the recipe from Bon Appetit was pretty much right on, though having read some of the online reviews, I think it would be a great idea to substitute about 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour to give it a bit more rustic look and taste. I also think this could easily be made with apples, and I loved the hint of lemon in the crust, not to mention the smell that fills my kitchen after zesting lemon!

I knew my weekend of baking had been a success when I returned home with no cupcakes and a happy cousin asking to keep the last remaining sliver of pear croustade!

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Best Intentions

For the most part, finding new sources of inspiration are a good thing, right? But what about when they are new baking websites/food blogs that focus on all things delicious and beautiful but really, not the least bit healthy. Sometimes, you just can't help it - we all know it's no fun when there's no chocolate (or peanut butter, for that matter) involved.

Even though I decided that I don't have the baking/cooking skills or the camera (or 100% of the desire, truth be told) to enter the food-only blogging business, that hasn't stopped me from reading and drooling over everyone else's. Foodies and their blogs have really influenced the way that I search for recipes these days; (long) gone are the days of searching through cookbooks (okay, that's not entirely true), and (for me personally) even the days of searching in online recipe databases have given way to primarily using a few, reliable, food blogs, with amazing pictures and recipes. I find these even friendlier and easier to use then reader reviews on sites such as and

I have long been a reader and admirer of Confabulation in the Kitchen's; not only do I credit her with inspiring me in just about anything creative, but she (and her blogs) have also lead me to two of my new favorites (Peabody and Food Blogga). And so, last night, my journey began - attempting some of the recipes I've been reading about. I won't waste anyone's time telling you about my (somewhat major) mishap I stumbled upon but suffice it to say, once I pulled these Peanut Butter Blondies with White Chocolate and Pecans (originally by the famed Magnolia Bakery in NYC) out of the oven, I was a believer.

I think my only hope in the coming days and months is that I develop some kind of willpower because the only thing I love more than baking is eating.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What Now?

Well, we are homeowners!!! The closing process was reported to be the fastest and cleanest our real estate agent had witnessed, although truth be told, it'd been less than seamless until today. *might warrant a "Lessons Learned from Buying a House" post one of these days

*better pictures

Lucky Chris got to start moving in after he finished signing the papers - and while I will be sure he's putting his "stuff" in the right places, Annabelle and I won't make the new house our home until after the big day in March.

In the meantime, Chris will be doing everything "homeowner" (let the fun begin), and (when time allows) I will be testing out the new gas stove as much as possible... it's my first! Chris thinks I've been more excited to have gas to cook with than the rest of the cute home... he's not entirely right.

One house on the market, one house purchased... one wedding to go!

Monday, October 22, 2007

30 Minus 1

Chris turned almost 30 yesterday - and in honor of the big day, we celebrated with ice cream cupcakes!

*Being the non-coffee enthusiast that Chris is... our version had vanilla bean ice cream instead of coffee and crushed up chocolate-covered toffee candies instead of chocolate-covered coffee beans.

It didn't deter us from chowing down, but these little guys were somewhat tough to dig in to... if anyone figures out how to eat them "nicely" pass along the secret! In the meantime...
Happy 29th, Chris!!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

To the Happy Couple!

It was back to Atlanta yet again this weekend... this time to celebrate the happy wedding of Jay Tienken and Mariah Doppel; I have known Jay for about as long as I can remember so it was a very exciting time getting to see him and his beautiful bride walk down the aisle.

All of our old family friends were in attendance so it also served as second weekend in a row of reunions. It's official: I don't necessarily miss living in Atlanta, per se, but I do often find myself missing "home" and all that comes along with that - old friends, familiar scenes...

As a sidenote, it was another opportunity to get some more wedding planning done, but for now, I am enjoying not thinking about upcoming decisions that need to be made but prefer, instead, to simply think about the culmination of months of Jay and Mariah's planning as we danced the night away celebrating the new couple!

*I do need some help - while my happiness for the couples is never muted, I have been finding that weddings are a bit ruined for me now that we're engaged; I notice every single detail and wonder who their vendor was for x, y, and z... how do I return to the normalcy of enjoying them as they are?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

All the Rage

I'm the last person in the world who thinks of herself as a real business (or otherwise) traveller but I just came across this fun article talking about where to get more than your usual fast-food in our airports; and, since I have been on the go the past 2 weekends (with another to come), it struck a chord. The thing is, I'm not one to arrive extra early at an airport just so I can sit down for a relaxed albeit tasty meal (tempting as the juicy steak at the top of the article is) - who are the people who have enough time to (let alone wanting to) do that?!

And while I'm on a roll discussing things that I'm not an expert in and truthfully, rarely take part in (but that I like reading and dreaming about), Washington Post food critic, Tom Sietsema, just released his 2007 Washington DC Dining Guide. It's my annual tradition to pull this out of the paper and save it for the twice-a-year DC Restaurant Week when it, for one quick week, becomes relevant for me.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Are You a Spartan?

We found ourselves back in Atlanta this past weekend - this time, the main event was my 10-year high school reunion (admittedly, packed in with some wedding planning... invitations and photographer, check!). I don't know if you all have been to your high school reunions but I must say that I approached it with some reservations - would enough people come, would it be fun regardless, who would talk to whom, would "he"/"she" show up, etc.

Saturday evening, though, I was VERY pleasantly surprised... before I go on, though, I must give major kudos to Anne Marie and Brad who put the whole show together - good thing our class President (Brad) married such a great party planner.

It was a wonderful evening spent celebrating the North Springs High School class of 1997. I must say that everyone has grown up wonderfully and it was a great time catching up with folks - most of whom have stayed in the Atlanta area. Even though I would guess that I was one of maybe 5 who returned from out of town for the reunion, it was worth the trip (it warrants saying here that most of the kids who went to my high school went on to UGA and then moved straight back to Atlanta).

Also in attendance was our class celebrity - Verron Haynes, running back formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, made an appearance to our delight... sadly he left the Super Bowl ring at home.

Now that we have weathered both my 5-year college reunion and my 10-year high school reunion, I just may be sold on reunions... they were both a blast! Don't miss yours'!!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Time for Soup!

It finally dipped below 90 degrees here in DC yesterday and I'm loving it (of course, give me a couple weeks of this and I'll be crying for the heat of summer).

To celebrate both the changing of the seasons AND the fact that I was able to prepare dinner at a normal hour, I pulled out the recipe for Italian Sausage Soup that I have been DYING to try even since it was recommended to me (thanks, Amy!).

The verdict... we thought it was absolutely delicious (though I do have a disclaimer - I am QUITE biased towards all products turkey... and this week, my favorite is hot italian turkey sausage so this fit the bill).

*Cook's notes - I only had whole grain penne pasta in the cupboard which worked well as a nice healthy substitution, and my can of diced tomatoes only had garlic and onion, so I added some dried oregano on my own

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Five Months

So we are planning a wedding (!!!) to take place in less than 5 months... though truth be told, it'll be over 6 months since we were engaged (on August 29). I've had friends do this in about the same amount of time (and they didn't even have access to my mother-extraordinaire!) so I know it's possible... but some days it feels less possible than others. Yesterday was one of those.

Not wanting to dwell on my pity-story (it won't be the only time I feel overwhelmed, I am well-aware)... I did want to start a (short) list of pros and cons of planning a wedding in a short amount of time... hoping that this will inspire some of YOUR thoughts, suggestions, and even warnings.

PRO: you're forced to make decisions so there's no time to dwell on each of the hundreds of options (and there are HUNDREDS)

CON: you DO have to make decisions quickly... and when you're like me and you want to explore EVERY option to make sure you're getting the most and best for your money, that's against every bone in my body

PRO: if the vendors you're hoping to work with do happen to still be available, they are usually willing to "work with you" since you're probably their last hope for a job that particular date

CON: occasionally (I've been relatively lucky so far - keep your fingers crossed!) the vendors who've been referred to you and the ones you REALLY want will already be booked

With our very limited time these days, I pretty easily resisted (I do admit, I considered it!) the urge to start a whole new blog devoted to the pitfalls and successes of my wedding planning experience, but I do welcome any and all of your advice. This serves as notice to expect a few "wedding-y" posts here and there throughout the next few months... but please, at ANY point, feel free to send me your suggestions, both solicited and otherwise.

OH... tonight's activity to take my mind off being overwhelmed? Annabelle and I went on a short walk and I was able to put aside my annoyances at the temperature being around 80 degrees at 8pm in mid-October and enjoy it! Plus, even though it won't be until '08, I day-dreamed about celebrating Christmas (cookies, warm drinks, a TREE!!!) with my to-be-husband in our to-be-house! *speaking of which, we close 10/26 - prayers, please!

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Feeble Attempt

I know I'm not the only one short on time these days... but somehow, all of you out there still seem to be able to come up with delicious-sounding, healthy and creative meals (how do you do it??). In my opinion, my recent attempts have produced less than notable results (though when most of your meals consist of egg-white omelets or buckwheat pancakes and turkey bacon, it doesn't leave much room for creativity). I guess I did achieve one of my goals last night - and that was the healthy part (1 out of 3 isn't TOO bad?)... but I'm just not inspired! Help!!

As for the meal... after finding my go-to fish (I agree, Carolyn!), tilapia, on sale, I dreamt up this menu and at best it was "eh" - I think I owe it another try and this time, I will pump up the amount of seasonings I use.

It was completely edible, for sure, but could have used some "kick" - my tilapia was lightly breaded in seasoned bread crumbs mixed with about 1 tsp of Old Bay seasoning and then grilled; I boiled the thinly sliced sweet potatoes and then finished them off also on my grill pan, and my spinach was simply sauteed with some sliced onions and garlic powder.

*I have, however, decided to buck the trend in my office to bring in ONLY delicious baked goods for "Sweet Treat Wednesday" and have committed this week (it's my turn!) to bring in sliced apples and a sweet dip! I'll keep you posted on the reaction of my co-workers.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Lucky in Love

My first (and probably only) trip down to my alma mater's hometown this fall was not your usual tailgating, football game-watching, Dixie Classic fair-going weekend... but what better reason to visit than to celebrate the nuptials of my dearest former DC-er, Mary Claire, and her wonderful (now) husband, David.

We drove down Thursday afternoon and after dropping Chris off at our gracious hosts' home in Kernersville, I met the rest of the girls at Foothills Brewery for dinner (if this sounds familiar, it should... we dined here during my 5-year reunion as well as a previous visit with Jayne and Jason), followed by time well-spent at a super cute wine bar, 6th and Vine. The weekend was certainly off to a great start... and our bride-to-be was as relaxed as ever.

Friday, we were treated to a fun afternoon at Tranquility Day Spa which included either a relaxing manicure or pedicure and a full brunch, complete with mimosas!

Thanks to Mr. Hsu's delicious turkey roll-ups and Fresh Market's yummy desserts and fruit and cheese platter, we were well-fed. Mary Claire emerged with a new hair-do that we all absolutely loved, ready for a fun Texas BBQ evening!

After a bit of downtime back at the hotel and greeting some of the arriving guests, we set off for Reynolda Presbyterian and then ultimately, the Barn at Tanglewood - the scene for MC and David's rehearsal dinner.

It was a beautiful night - perfect for a casual evening complete with yummy barbeque, cole slaw, homemade apple and cherry pies, and cool vanilla ice cream. We were treated to a number of toasts to the happy couple and finished the night off with some authentic Texas line-dancing.

After such a fun evening, we all turned in so we'd be ready for the main event. Saturday morning we all convened at the Zevely House downtown for an amazing brunch - complete (again!) with mimosas, delicious grilled vegetables, fresh fruit salad, and some yummy breakfast casseroles. In the afternoon, I tagged along with the bride as she prepared to walk down the aisle; MC was tolerant enough to allow me to follow her around, as long as I promised to be her minion.

The wedding Saturday evening could not have been more beautiful - the weather was perfect and the bride and groom were in high spirits. The church was elegantly decorated with fall colors and Graylyn Conference Center could not have been a more beautiful setting for the reception.

After we waved goodbye to the newest Halls and they headed off to their luxurious retreat in upstate New York, we were lucky enough to still have some time to spend with our friends and hosts. But as always, Sunday early afternoon quickly came and went and we were back on I-95 with the rest of the world, heading back to DC.

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