Friday Five: Mile Marker 0.5

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

We’ve reached the half-way marker on our 2014 resolutions journey. This is where we grab a Dixie Cup and gear up for the final push of the race. Except instead of icy water, I want my Dixie Cup to be full of a mojito or some kind of summer sangria. That would help, don’t you agree?

Since we are standing at this critical juncture, I thought I should revisit those resolutions I put into print in January to see where things stand and where I could do better.

5. Momentum

I feel like my momentum is still plugging along. Here are the sub-category breakdowns:

Writing/Blogging: I’m holding myself to my two-post a week rule (if not more) and have been doing more contract writing, so this continues to be a huge piece of the pie that is my life.

Books: I have loved keeping track of books as I finish them. It’s nice to reference them all in one place and know when I read them. Things start to all meld together after a while.

Cooking: We continue to try new recipes all the time. I would like to do better about using my cookbooks. I find a lot of recipes online, but I need to find time to A) go through my collection and mark recipes I want to try and B) organize the stack of magazine clippings I’ve pulled over the last year. And…maybe…C) throw out old clippings and donate unused cookbooks. Maybe.

Photography: My photography interests have shifted slightly toward food photography lately, but I did take all of the staff head-shots for my office’s new website, which was fun. But food doesn’t move. Food doesn’t get impatient while you mess with your camera. Plus, you get to eat it after you capture your perfect shot. Sorry, but food wins every single time.

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4. Good Better Housekeeping

Hmmmm. Do you hear that? It’s either radio static or crickets. Either way, there’s not much to report. This is a struggle for me and I usually end up deep-cleaning our house when I know someone’s coming over. #cleaningconfessional I did manage to clean our master bathroom last week on my own, without a nudge from the calendar. Just a nudge from the grime. #ew Why is this so hard for me?

3. Be More Girly

I have managed to curl my hair and style it more, but after I cut it short I’ve been a bit limited in options. I do like it shorter, though, and will do a better job at keeping appointment lapses to a minimum. As a curly-haired person, I can’t stand the fact that I have to first straighten it and then re-curl it again to “style” it, even if it looks better that way.

2. Give Back

I haven’t been volunteering yet, but I do have a job! We continue to meet fun, new people and are way more social here than we ever were in Virginia. I’m tempted to head out to the humane society to help, but that also means I’ll be tempted to empty the cages into our guest room. What’s the definition of a pet hoarder?? Exactly how much is too much?

1. Dream Big

My Etsy shop opened in February and has been so. much. fun. I don’t know why it took me so long to jump in the water, but I’m practically part fish now. I’ve also been able to do good with it by donating one of my custom alphabet prints to an auction my friend is holding to raise money for her family’s adoption of a domestic baby. (I’ll let you know when the auction is, if you’re interested in bidding.) I didn’t exactly dream I’d be designing prints and selling them on Etsy, but I’m glad I kept my mind open to the possibilites. Who knows what might be next.

So, three out of five isn’t so bad, right? The morale of the story is more dusting, less (hair) scrunching. I’ve got six more months to work on it. Until then…

# julisa’s lemon mousse

Most of my favorite recipes are ones passed down from family and friends, tried-and-true dishes that someone loved enough to capture and share. Whether I actually know them or not is inconsequential, it’s just comforting to see a name before the recipe title. It sits there claiming ownership, assuring success, and welcoming us into their kitchen over and over again. Forever immortalized alongside their dish, forever together.

I have a lot of those recipes in my arsenal…Gee Gee’s Chicks-N-Dunks, Paula’s Cinnamon Rolls, Ron’s Salsa, Pam’s Cranberry Orange Cookies, Bobbie’s Guinness Cake, Mimi’s Snack Mix, MeMaw’s Fudge, Dick’s Peanut Brittle, Beatty’s Chocolate Cake…the list goes on and on.

To me, those names add a lot more than original possession of a recipe. It’s a background context, it’s memories from as far back as I can remember, or it’s one exact point/party/meal in time, it’s knowing they did it and I can too, it’s a kitchen cheerleader. It’s comfort.

And that’s important to me.

When I pass on recipes my friends might not necessarily know who Paula, Ron, Pam, Mimi, MeMaw, Dick or Bobbie are…but they know it’s going to taste incredible. But the stories always help.

So, I could just share Tuesday’s potluck dessert recipe with you and you could be left wondering who Julisa is and where this recipe came from, or I could tell you about one of the funniest people to ever grace my life and let you think of her each time you make it yourself.

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I first met Julisa in 2008. We worked at the New World Symphony together and quickly bonded over our shared love of sarcasm, food and pop culture.

She’s the yin to my yang and with us it was all sarcasm, all the time. I don’t remember when our nicknames exactly started, but at some point I made up a jingle…”J to the U to the L, JULISA!” that over time got shortened to “J to the U.”

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We even had an “Office Face” that we shared no less than 10 times a day over any workplace frustrations or disbelief. She made me a GIF of it before I left for Virginia. I still watch it to lift my spirits or laugh at my desk.

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I have so many favorite memories of her, it’s hard to know where to begin…

One slow, summer day, Julisa offered to clean out a storage closet that happened to be located right across from my office. I watched her make a couple of trips with a dolly full of boxes when I told her she should wheel me down the hall past everyone’s office windows like Hannibal Lecter in his straitjacket. We were an unstoppable riot on our floor. Well, at least to ourselves.

She let me in on a fun game she’d play with her mom called “Guess Who Died?!” To play, you call someone up as soon as you hear someone in the pop culture realm has died and make them play Twenty Questions until they guess the right person. Morbid, yet hilarious. That pretty much describes us.

We were two peas in a Frank Gehry-designed pod. Bitching like mad during our 90-100+ hour work weeks when it was being built and crying like babies when it opened.

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We still (goth) Skype for hours, but it will never be an adequate solution to the distance gap. There’s no one like J to the U and I miss her like crazy.

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In the baking realm, no one at NWS did it better. I think they may have revised her job description to include it in her duties. Together, we founded NWS’ Cupcake Fridays (RIP) during the summer months, after Julisa introduced me to Ming’s cupcakes.

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We had pierogi parties with our friend Michelle to prepare for Oktoberfest.

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Julisa brings in several huge tupperware filled to the brim with homemade peppermint bark every December for the entire organization as a ‘thanks for all you do.’ I fell in love with that recipe too and now make it every December for Joe’s band (and me). And when his students ask me for the recipe, they get “Julisa’s Peppermint Bark” delivered to their inbox.

She once made me a vegan chocolate cake with avocado frosting for my birthday. And it was awesome.

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She went vegetarian while I was living in Miami and we bonded over her black bean hummus.

She would bring in samples of whatever homemade ice cream she made the night before. My favorite? Bangkok Peanut.

And she was so generous with her baking genius, always offering to help, share or teach until we got it right. She’s the epitome of “awesomesauce”–one of our favorite words.

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I’ve learned a lot of things from Julisa, but her Lemon Mousse may be one of the best. She first made it for a summer birthday office celebration–a delicious detour from our regular cupcake parties–and after one bite I was a total goner, begging her like an idiot for the recipe. It was so refreshing and light, yet somehow also rich and decadent. In that bite I was slung up on the lemon bandwagon so fast I almost lost sight of the peanut butter wagon I’ve been nestled on my entire life. Lemon desserts don’t have to be cloyingly sweet? They don’t have to be drenched in powdered sugar? They don’t have to make my mumps hurt?…as my mom would say. Game On. (Or, depending on how you look at it, Game Over.)

In choosing the “new” recipe to try for this week’s potluck, this one immediately came to mind. I thought of all of us NWS friends gathered around the table, swooning over it and her. Despite the many times as we had enjoyed it together and Julisa giving me the recipe after she first made it, I had never tried it on my own. It seemed daunting and the perfection of Julisa’s efforts may have been a bit intimidating. But, that couldn’t hold me back forever.

Even when it called for a candy thermometer, which hasn’t exactly been my friend in the past.

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Julisa would serve it in dainty individual glasses, each piled high with fruit and mousse with a dab of whipped cream and a sprig of mint. It was seriously gorgeous every time. For ease of transport, I made mine in a trifle dish so everyone could serve themselves, which was still a pretty option for a party. You could even throw pieces of pound cake in there and make it a real trifle.

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You can choose whatever fruit you prefer, but I went with ripe summer berries.

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The mousse is like a down comforter, draping over the berries with a definite weight that’s in no way overbearing. It’s as delicious as it is gorgeous. Even more so, actually.

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So, here’s to Julisa. Thanks for everything, but especially for this recipe. Love you, girl.

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Julisa’s Lemon Mousse with Berries

adapted from Bon Appétit, 1999

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
6 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
11/2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
1 12-ounce basket strawberries, hulled, halved (or quartered if large)
1 6-ounce basket fresh blueberries
1 6-ounce basket fresh raspberries
1 6-ounce basket fresh blackberries
2 cups chilled whipping cream
8 whole strawberries (for garnish)
Fresh mint sprigs

Combine 1 cup sugar, lemon juice, 6 egg yolks, 2 whole eggs and grated lemon peel in large metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water (do not allow bowl to touch water). Whisk until mixture thickens and thermometer inserted into mixture registers 160°F. Transfer lemon curd to another large bowl by passing through a fine-mesh sieve. Chill for a few hours, or overnight.

Toss halved strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in another large bowl.

Using electric mixer, beat 11/2 cups cream in medium bowl until medium-firm peaks form. Remove chilled lemon curd and stir a bit to reincorporate it. Fold 1/3 of whipped cream into lemon curd to lighten, then fold in remaining whipped cream. (For a more lemony mousse, use less whipped cream.)

Divide berry mixture among 8 dessert bowls or wineglasses. Spoon lemon mousse over berries. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Using electric mixer, beat remaining 1/2 cup cream in medium bowl until stiff peaks form. Spoon whipped cream atop desserts. Garnish with whole strawberries and mint sprigs.

# potluck perfect

Last night we sat on a cool, grassy lawn under the shady protection of a large tree with friends and ate and talked and ate and talked. It was perfection. When Tim and Sara sent out the invite, their reasoning behind having a potluck gathering stemmed from their Midwest roots. I love that. Joe would tell you Oklahoma’s in the South, but anyone who knows Oklahoma knows it’s a Midwest way of life out there. In fact, everyone that came yesterday has spent time as a Midwestener at some point in their lives. We all got it.

Remember my severe recipe anxiety? It wasn’t completely unfounded. These friends of ours are also major foodies and alongside our shared love of cooking, baking and eating also comes a variety of restrictions. Meat free (yes, please), Dairy free and Gluten free. That’s a lot to consider, but we all pitched in so everyone had something to eat at every stage of the meal. What are friends for?

Here are some highlights of the night:

Meet Miriam. Adorable daughter of our awesome hosts. She’s got the cutest little voice, repeats anything and everything you say in said voice, strawberry blonde curls and electric blue eyes. She’s got it all.
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She knows her fruits and vegetables thanks to a huge garden in their backyard, where she called for “KALE!” and “RASPBERRIES!” until her dad helped her find them.
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Here’s Chris holding down the blanket fort with cat Nadia. Check out the garden in the background.
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Denise prepares her salad while Tim looks on with a skeptical eye…
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Chris and Chilali’s homemade dal:
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Which contained a drumstick root that lends its spice, but is otherwise inedible minus the gelatinous center that you suck out. It was surprisingly delicious, despite how disgusting that last sentence sounds.
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The dessert spread….more on that lovely on the left tomorrow…
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Gluten-free brownies with rose buttercream frosting….made from roses in Sara’s garden. (OMG — these people mean business)
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Food coma time
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So much good food and good conversation.

The full spread (some not or barely pictured) included polenta-like bites made with chickpea flour and topped with a caramelized onion marmalade, boom boom sauce with chips and/or broccoli florets, garden salad with edible flowers and grilled chicken, dal, quinoa and cheese bites, sprout salad, tropical fruit salad, those delicious brownies and a soon-to-be-revealed dessert. Not too shabby, eh?

You might be asking yourself, “what the heck is Boom Boom Sauce?”

Good question. It’s just the easiest, most tasty sauce you’ll ever have. This is a knock-off recipe from Chuy’s–a tex-mex staple down in my parts–that’s similar to a jalapeno ranch sauce you can eat as a dip, or on top of tacos or enchiladas, or right out of a blender with a spoon…whatever floats your boat.

Make it early and the jalapenos will get hotter and hotter as it sits in the fridge, so be wary of that when prepping yours. Poor Miriam got a huge bite of “white soup” when we weren’t looking and was screaming bloody murder as it ran down her chin. But, then, like everyone does…she went back for more. It’s the nature of the Boom Boom.
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Boom Boom Sauce

Blend together:

1 1/3 c. mayonnaise
1/3 c. buttermilk
1 (4 oz.) can chopped jalapeno (use as much or as little as you like, or not at all)
1 (4.5 oz.) can chopped green chilies
1/3 c. cilantro, or to taste
1 (1 oz.) packet dry ranch mix

Chill before serving. Keep refrigerated.

Friday Five: Signs of Summer

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

We are now past the middle of June. “Summer” by school-calendar standards, by normal-people’s standards, started well over a month and a half ago, yet there was a fresh dusting of snow on the mountains this week, I wore my winter coat twice and ran my space heater in my office non-stop until today. This is what causes tears, people. And all-around grumpiness.

But, next week promises 90-degree forecasts, sunshine and merriment. All signs are pointing toward summer, and here’s why:

5. Are We There Yet?

Sean and Wallis, some of our favorite people in the entire world, get here on Sunday, which means we have pool therapy sessions (featuring Wallis’ famous giggle-swim), 80’s Movies nights, and many meals at Rancherito’s, Herm’s and Jimmy John’s in our immediate future. I hope all of my summers can involve extended visits with these besties.

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4. Eat, Drink and Be Merry

We have our first cook-out potluck dinner with some of our USU music faculty friends scheduled for this week. There’s something about eating on blankets in a backyard that feels 200% like summer. The only problem is that I suffer overwhelming paralysis when choosing what foods to bring to any potluck. I have a plethora of recipes pinned, magazine-torn and dog-eared that I feel guilty to make something already in my culinary arsenal. Should I try out a new recipe on my friends? Or should I go with my foolproof standbys, comforted with the knowledge that it’ll be delicious? What do you do? Too many recipes, not enough lifetimes. I completely get this from my mother, and I’ll never complain about it. #recipehoarder

3. Temples and Tacos

Each Father’s Day weekend, the greens around Logan’s Tabernacle transform to host the region’s biggest Arts Faire. (Add an ‘e’ and you’re fancy…Subtract an ‘e’ and you’re Marci.)  Since Joe was out of town, I tagged along with a few of our friends to look at hundreds of booths with paintings of Mormon temples. I mean, there was other stuff, but mostly temple paintings. I did get to sample a Navajo Taco that was made with fry bread and conveniently smothered in meat chili, despite me ordering the veggie version. Le sigh. Nothing a little Dole Whip couldn’t fix. (Also pictured: Chilali’s gourmet mac-and-cheese and Chris’ dutch oven dinner with “funeral potatoes” and cobbler.)

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2. The Tube

I imagine you can tell a lot about a person by looking at their DVR selections. Here’s what ours will be showing all summer: True Blood, The Bridge, Drunk History, Face Off, The Next Food Network Star and the perennial favorite, Barefoot Contessa. We also will finish the last two seasons of The Shield, True Detective and, time-permitting, God-willing, The Wire. So, what does that say about us?

1. Pretty in Coral

The easiest way to tell it’s Summer? My toes are painted in OPI’s Cajun Shrimp. It’s sassy. It’s fiery. It would complement tanned skin, if that’s something you’re blessed with. But I can also testify it looks just as nice on pasty whiteness. It’s my absolute fav for these summer months. But once it turns cold? Say, in late September? It’s all (dark) purple, all the time. This is what I’d call a limited release.

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# father’s day 2014

Let’s celebrate some men, shall we?!  Today I find myself far from all of the men I love. They are in Oklahoma, Texas and my fur-baby daddy is in Michigan, visiting his family. What a good dad he is to Bella. She loves him the most, which simultaneously breaks and swells my heart.

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I imagine one of life’s greatest gifts is being a father to a daughter. You are her first love, her protector, her example for all future men in her life.  It’s a tough job, but oh so rewarding. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you can almost always tell if a girl has a good relationship with her dad. It permeates her entire life.

So I feel pretty lucky.

I have a lot of incredible men whose examples have shaped my life for the better: the life-loving grandfather I miss, the grandfather who loves God, music and family, the step-dad who makes me laugh, the father-in-law I never got to hug but who raised Joe to be the amazing man he is, and, of course, my dad.

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I remember as a little girl being amazed that my dad knew so much. There wasn’t a question that didn’t have an answer. He was the smartest, the strongest and larger than life.

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There were high expectations of us, but who would the Jackson kids be if not over-achievers? We were encouraged to always be the very best we could possibly be and every day was an opportunity to learn, even when on vacation. #IhadWilliamBarretTravis,Bryan

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One of his greatest gifts he instilled in us was a sense of adventure. The need and desire to get out of Oklahoma and explore the world.

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And, when I started embarking on my own adventures, he would come visit to be a part of them.

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Whether it be a three-week road trip to Yellowstone, or a tour of America’s finest Civil War battlefields, we saw and learned so much every summer.

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And, all of those adventures started with a single treat.

After we would all pile into the car, before we got to the highway, we would stop at Judy’s Daylight Doughnuts. Though sometimes we went inside with him, many times we’d stay put in the car and Dad would bring back a white sack for each of us. In mine was always a mini bottle of orange juice and a sprinkle cake doughnut, which we lovingly called “Judy Doughnuts.” The taste of that combination signals to my brain the start of something big and fun. It symbolizes family togetherness and comfort. Plus, it is just delicious. And I’m still pretty partial to sprinkle doughnuts, 30+ years later.

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That’s why when Joe gave me doughnut pans for our anniversary, Judy Doughnuts were the first thing that I wanted to make. Especially to celebrate the man who bought me numerous ones across the years. The man who has given me so many adventures.

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Here’s to many, many more. I love you, Dad.

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If you don’t own doughnut pans, fix that right now. They run a whopping $7.50 on Amazon and are my new favorite kitchen toy. I have a slew of doughnut recipes to try, but I had to start with this classic, which is a vanilla cake case with simple frosting. Doesn’t get much easier or delicious.

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When the dougnuts came out of the oven, the tops were a little soft and bumpy from where I hadn’t smoothed the batter down. I didn’t mind, though. That was the side I was going to dunk in the frosting, so it just a bonus that it would sink into all of those nooks and crannies.

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The bottoms were brown and firm. A perfect foundation to hold a load of sprinkles and glaze.

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I found this recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction (great site!) and she says the key to doughnut glaze, how to get that crispy bite, is to warm your frosting before you dunk the doughnuts. Then let it harden and set before eating. (Oh, and she also does a double dunk on each doughnut. Mmmmm.)

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Just look at that frosting! Gah!

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I would also add that you should dunk with your non-dominant hand so you can use your dominant hand to immediately add the sprinkles after that second dunk. I didn’t do that, which resulted in my left hand not able to properly balance the sprinkles around the dougnut. #sprinkleclumps

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I waited as long as I could, I promise, but I just had to try one. It took me right back. The cake was so tender and the glaze was warm and welcoming.

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The doughnuts only last a few days after you first make them, which was *awesome* since I’m home alone. I feel like it’s a mission, my responsibility, that they don’t go to waste…just to waist.

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Make these for your next adventure!

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Baked Vanilla Cake Doughnuts

Slightly adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
dash of salt
1/3 cup (65g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) milk*
1/4 cup (60g) Greek yogurt*
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, melted
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

GLAZE:
1/4 cup (60ml) milk*
2 cups (240g) confectioners’ (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt
sprinkles (for top only)

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Spray a donut pan with non-stick spray. Set aside.

For the doughnuts: whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, salt, and granulated sugar together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Whisk the milk, yogurt, and egg together until smooth. Add the melted butter and vanilla, whisking until fully combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter will be very thick.

Spoon the batter into the doughnut cups, filling 2/3 – 3 /4 of the way full.

Bake for 9–10 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Allow the donuts to cool completely before glazing.

For the glaze: combine the glaze ingredients in a medium saucepan over low heat. Whisk until the glaze is smooth. Remove from heat and immediately begin dunking the donuts, one by one, into the glaze with your non-dominant hand. I simply dropped each donut into the saucepan and moved it around to coat evenly. Transfer each donut to a wire rack over a baking sheet to catch the glaze drippings. Take each donut and dunk again if you have enough glaze leftover. Sprinkle with sprinkles immediately after each doughnut’s second glaze bath.

Donuts taste best eaten the same day, though they may be covered tightly and stored at room temperature for 2 days.

Notes from Sally:

*Skim milk, 1%, 2%, whole, almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, or rice milk is OK.

*Nonfat, low fat, vanilla, plain, Greek or regular yogurt is OK.

*You may make this recipe into muffins using a muffin pan. Bake at the same temperature for 18 minutes or until lightly browned. 

 

 

 

Friday Five: A Guest Post for Father’s Day

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

It’s Father’s Day weekend! I have a special Daddy’s Day post in the works for Sunday, but I couldn’t pass up another chance to visit with my sweet girl in anticipation of the holiday.

Back by popular demand, please welcome my favorite (and only) guest blogger, Lily. And just like last time, here’s the play-by-play of our conversation:

Me: Hey, Lil! I need your help again with my blog. Can you go where your mom can’t hear you?

Lily: Okay! What do I need to tell you?

Me: I need to know what you love most about your Dad.

Lily: Sure! Okay! Let me think….Oh! I know!

5. I get to work with him.

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Me: What kind of work?

Lily: I help hold the light bulbs.

4. Okay, this is my second one: He reads books with me.

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Me: Do you have a favorite book to read with him?

Lily: Mmmhmm. We’re reading The Wizard of Oz before we go to see the show.

3. He plays toys with me.

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Me: What’s your favorite game to play with your Dad?

Lily: Hold on….hold on one minute, NoNo…..Cranium. Do you know Cranium? It’s so fun.

Me: I love that game! Okay, you have two more to go.

Lily: (talking to herself) Okay, I did that one, did that one…..Well, I have a special one I’m saving for last.

Me: Okay, what’s one more you can add before your special one?

2. He helps me.

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Me: That’s a good one, how are you going to beat that?

1.  He loves me and I love him.

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And there you have it! A special tribute for a very special Daddy. Thanks for all you do, Tim, for three of my favorite people in the world. (You’re on that list, too!) And it doesn’t look like too much has changed since Linc came along!

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You might be the Timiny Cricket of the group, but you know I “love ya” for it, rain or shine. #3insidejokesin1sentence #StormyBaltimore Happy early Father’s Day!

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Today’s blog post comes from Lily

IMG_9841Lily is a sassy six-year-old, an amazing big sister, smarter than most and loved by all.

She likes to swim, read, play with her baby brother and shoot guns like a boss.

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Above sentiments also shared by brother, Linc:
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# the greatest gift

I’m lucky in that I have a good gift-giver as a husband. He knows that the path to my heart is paved with kitchen tools and cookbooks. For our recent anniversary he gave me doughnut pans (which will be making their debut this weekend) and I have been on Cloud 9 ever since.

He’s lucky in that I’m not a huge jewelry girl. That is, until last Fall, when I fell fast and hard for a necklace. Pinned it, talked about it, swooned over it–never thinking that it would become a reality.

But, Christmas called. And Santa delivered my most favorite gift since I received Bella for my birthday years ago.

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Can you tell what it is?

This, my friends, is a necklace made from a cast of Bella’s nose. And I am totally in love.

If you know me, if you’ve read just one post on this blog, you know how obsessed I am with my fur baby. The reality of her getting older is not completely lost on me, though I do a damn good job swimming in denial. Just the thought of having to be without her brings on an all-out ugly cry.

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See that nose? I nuzzle and kiss it no less than 100 times a day, I’m sure. And now I have it forever.

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The genius behind this piece of art is Jackie Kaufman. Once Joe placed his order, she sent us a packet of molds with crystal clear instructions. I was worried about both me messing it up and Bella absolutely hating her nose surrounded in putty, but it was as quick and painless as can be.

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Bella, the forever skeptic. “What IS this stuff?”

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Sorry, no photos of the process, since it took his hands to hold her and my hands to take the mold.

Our three molds! The one closest to the camera is the one she ended up using.

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Fast-forward a few months and it was here! The best part was Jackie returned the mold she used, which I’ll also keep forever.

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She also engraved the back with Bella’s name. Which made me tear up even more when I opened the box.

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Thank you Jackie and Joe, for this amazing gift, for preserving Bells’ symbol of curiosity and love that I will forever keep close to my heart.

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Obsessed with your own fur baby? Head over to Jackie’s Etsy shop to start your necklace today. Her gifts will quite literally rock your world.

Friday Five: Registry Regret

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

I have a confession to make. I’ve been known to plug a generic name into a store’s website to view random people’s wedding registries.

I know, I’m totally weird. But, it’s really fascinating! (And really creepy, but mostly fascinating.)  It’s an oddly personal glimpse into a stranger’s life. What do they want to fill their home? What’s most important to them? I think my fascination with registries started when I realized you could view celebrity registries…like Tony Romo’s Pottery Barn picks that were totally normal and Kim Kardashian’s “I-think-I-might-need-this-million-dollar-mirror” picks.

I read an article recently about registry trends and the surge in “registry regret.” Long gone are the days of fine china and ten different kinds of stemware. Brides and grooms of yesteryear who may have been a bit clicker-happy are suddenly swimming in boxes of unused, unwanted gifts–even years later. Couples are registering for the life they want, rather than the life they have.

This really struck me. Had I done that, too?

When Joe and I moved to China, we got rid of 90% of our belongings and stored the rest in various parent’s basements and storage units. When we returned, we used hand-me-down kitchen items and my towels from college, so registering for (and receiving) new items felt like a major graduation into adulthood. And because we lived in the teeniest of tiny apartments in Miami, most of the items we didn’t unpack or use until we moved into our house in Virginia, which felt like Christmas.

Maybe it’s because our anniversary just passed (and today is our dating anniversary! #nineyears), or maybe because the season of weddings is upon us, but I started to think–as best I could–of our registry and what our life looks like now. A lot of people went off our registry and surprised us with fabulous gifts, like furniture and plane tickets, and I was surprised that we did follow the article’s registry survival guide of timeless white dishes (not too formal, will go with any decor through the ages) and flatware. For the most part, we love our gifts and were/are grateful for them, but there are definitely a few regrets, a few what-were-we-thinkings, a few wish-I’d-thought-of-thats.

For today’s Friday Five, here are the things we couldn’t live without, the things we’ve been living without, and what we wish we’d thought to live with, along with some of YOUR loves and regrets. Let’s talk registries — readygo! (links to our exact products included if item still available)

5. Four years later, still swooning

*coffee mugs from Anthropologie — as non-coffee drinkers, we didn’t even register for any mugs, but our dear friend Ica went rogue and surprised us with a set of beautiful mugs that we use for cocoa, tea, soup and guest compliments. Everyone that visits us goes crazy for them! (Pardon the bad phone pic, but I had to show these off.)

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*pyrex bakeware set — use it every week for enchiladas, cakes, brownies, mixing bowls, you name it.

*these sheets — which will make you never get out of bed..coincidentally, not a bad gift for newlyweds (sorry)

*my pillow — side-sleepers should have side-sleeper pillows. This changed my life.

*noise-cancelling earbuds — a must for planes or when your husband is practicing and you’re trying to read

*ice-cream maker — my favorite only-does-one-thing appliance of all time. And thank you to all who voted in my poll last week….Coffee and Doughnuts Ice Cream for the win.

*these cake plates — they look like fragile glass, but so sturdy, and three sizes you can stack together or use individually. We used the small one for scones at Easter and the large one for Joe’s birthday cake last year. So pretty.

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*stand mixer — by far my favorite gift, this gets used constantly in our house. con-stant-ly. Here’s the day we received it from Memaw and Pops. I was skinnier back then. You can thank the stand mixer for that too.

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4. Collecting dust and taking up space

*huge decorative glass bowl — I had visions of this gorgeous bowl sitting on an entryway table. News flash — we don’t have an entryway table and we’re soooo not this fancy. It’s been sitting in a box ever since. Registering for the life you imagine? GUILTY.

*napkin rings — despite me picking napkin rings that look IDENTICAL to Joe’s wedding ring (before he picked it out, no less), their novelty stops there. I can’t imagine when we’d ever use them.

*nice beer glasses — we love beer! but we’re lazy and drink from the bottle. If we had more room, we’d put these out, but we don’t so in the attic they’ve stayed. <insert sad face here>

*bread maker — I would love to use this, but I’ve never had real counter space for it, and then I just forget we have it.

*mini food processor — something I thought I’d want someday, but turns out I’m okay with a knife (I’m sure by publishing this I am dooming myself to a severe cut this week).

*ice bucket — if we were throwing parties, I’m sure this would come in handy, but we’re not.

3. Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

*immersion blender — we received one a few years ago and use it almost every week. I absolutely love how versatile it is and how compact it is for storage

*Le Creuset dutch oven — I received one as a going-away gift when we moved from Florida and it’s the best pot I own, would have made an awesome wedding gift

*nice cutting board — Food Network shows have me swooning for those beautiful Boos wooden boards

*charity — a lot of people are now asking for donations to charities they love or that support research in passed loved ones’ honor. Such a wonderful idea. Would have loved to do this to honor Joe’s dad.

*honeymoon fund — another great idea. We went on a cruise, so it was pretty all-inclusive, but we could have listed a few excursions or something

2. Your Favorite Registry Gifts

Bryan and Robbi (married almost three months): electric kettle for french press on the weekends, TV Trays, throw blanket, plateware. We can’t wait to use our Kitchen Aid mixer and home brewing kit. (awesome gift!)

Kim and Grant (married 7 1/2 years): The thing I love and use the most has got to be our stand mixer.

Krista and Tim (married 14 years): silverware!!!!!!!! (she does have the best silverware), everyday dishes, bakeware, cooking stuffs/gadgets, and, of course, our stand mixer.

Amy and Bobby (married almost two months):  I love how easy it is, walk around the store with a scanner gun and scan anything that strikes your fancy! That part was fun! It is also fun to be able to register at places like Sears, where Bobby could register for the stuff he cared about (a drill, tools, leaf blower, etc), that definitely helped him be more invested in the process. He doesn’t care too much about towels or kitchen gadgets.  I also LOVED the honeymoon registry. Being able to offer it as an option in addition to Bed, Bath and Beyond and Sears made me feel like it was less “offensive” I guess, asking for honeymoon help but also offered a way for people to learn a little about where we were going and what we were doing there so they could feel included, that was really nice! And we were able to use that money to upgrade our room and go on fun excursions and make the trip extra special. (I agree, great idea!)

1. Your Registry Regrets

Bryan and Robbi: Hasn’t been out of the box: food processor, toaster oven, and wall clock. Wish we had asked for: a bigger kitchen (haha), a vacuum, rug and wall decor

Kim and Grant: The only thing I regret is that we didn’t ask for nicer dishes. I didn’t want china, so we asked for some everyday dishes, but the ones we asked for were really cheap.  I liked them a lot, but they were cracked, chipped, and broken pretty much beyond usefulness inside five years.

Krista and Tim: formal china – used 1 time in 14 years and stemware – we don’t drink

Amy and Bobby: I kind of regret being so plugged into it, checking it all the time to see what had been purchased and what was left. In some ways, you don’t have a choice,  you have to make sure you have enough stuff or have other options if you didn’t register for enough the first time, but I’m definitely an “open your gifts on Christmas morning” kind of girl, so it took the surprise out of gift opening at showers and after the wedding. I also found the registering process kind of overwhelming. Even though the scanner gun was fun, by the end of the 2 or 3 hours I didn’t care anymore which flatware I chose or whatever. I probably should have split it up over a couple trips to refresh. Though ultimately I’m happy with what we selected!  I checked the registries a lot on my phone and the mobile apps were lacking for certain.  Definitely not super user friendly, especially for deleting items.

What do you think? Stand mixers for the win? Did you feel obligated to register for something? Or have something sitting in a closet since your wedding? Any weddings to attend this summer? What will you be gifting them? Any registries you think I should stalk?

# popcorn + peanuts

And now for the much-anticipated (by me) follow-up to our anniversary. This would be the food part of the celebration. It’s impossible for me to not bake something special for our anniversary and this year took the cake…quite literally.

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But, before I knock you silly with the recipe, I need to tell you a story.

When Joe and I lived in Miami, we watched Food Network religiously. (I still do, but Joe has fully converted to ESPN and The Walking Dead.) One of their episodes of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” was highlighting desserts. For those not familiar with the show, they have food celebrities, chefs and critics weigh in on the best meals they’ve ever had and each episode features a different food category or style. This particular episode was called “Sweet Tooth,” and featured their favorite treats. I don’t remember how many people they interviewed, maybe 5 or 6? But three of them mentioned different desserts from the same restaurant. … In Miami. It’s called Michael’s Genuine.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE CLIP, IF NOT LOADING ABOVE. (This is a must to understand the importance of this post!!)

It blew my mind and I knew we had to get there ASAP.

Now, this was around the time that you had to start booking your reservations online through websites like opentable.com way in advance. I remember Michael’s first opening was weeks away, on a school night no less. I think brunch was booked months in advance.

So, we went. We ordered appetizers and, duh, dessert. We each tried one of the desserts they featured on the show and it was every bit of incredible as I knew it would be. EXCEPT! The service.

No, we weren’t buying alcohol. Nope, we passed on a big dinner. And our bill still was in the $60-70 range. Yet we caught our waiter complaining to the hostess about us and the money lost if only we had been his average Miami customer, I guess. It totally ruined the entire experience and I was fuming all the way home, where I had a lovely “How was it?!” email from opentable.com waiting for me.

So I did what any girl in Miami does on a daily basis. I let them have it. Not 20 minutes later, I had a personal email from the restaurant manager apologizing and inviting us back for a full, multi-course dinner (and dessert!) on them.

Well,…okay….fine. I wasn’t *that* mad!

So back we went and what a meal it was! We ordered the same desserts—why mess with perfection?—had alcohol, had dinner, had appetizers, had it all. I think our tab was probably in the $200-250 range. So we left a generous tip and said thankssomuch to Michael’s Genuine. That’s what amazing customer service looks like, America. #redemption

And now you’re probably trying to stay awake, wondering where this is going.

Well, that dessert goddess? Ms. Hedy? She came out with a cookbook and in it she shares all of those amazing concoctions she sells in Miami for $12 a pop.

So it was time to make some Popcorn and Peanuts. Well, half of it anyway. Michael’s Genuine no longer calls this dessert “Popcorn and Peanuts.” It’s just the candy bar and gelato, so that’s what I made.  And that’s now what I’ll forever dream is on my plate.

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It’s hard for me to find words adequate enough to describe this dessert. As self-named peanut butter and chocolate experts, Joe and I were in love with this homemade candy bar after one bite.

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Next time I might go easy on the shower of cocoa powder at the end. In fact, we only used half of the amount, but we were still doing that awkward cough after taking a bite as all of the powder hits the back of your throat. You know what I’m talking about.

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The base layer of the candy bar calls for gaufrette cookie pieces, but you can substitute unsweetened rice cereal. Since we live in the middle-of-nowhere Utah, we used Rice Krispies and it was perfectly fine. We also can’t get the nice gianduja and Valrhona chocolate in our stores, but Ghirardelli has always worked for us. It’s hard to mess this up.

Hedy describes this concoction as the “grown up” version of her favorite childhood sweets: creamy milk chocolate bunnies, cream-filled Easter eggs and salty, peanuty candy bars…all combined in one decadent bite. She’s the queen of baked nostalgia! Marry me, Hedy!

Now, this bar is sweet and unapologetically rich, which I love. But something’s gotta give. And it’s not just going to be the top button on my pants. You need something with salt and a bit of kick to cut through the three layers of ridiculousness you just made.

Hedy’s brilliant answer to that is: <<insert Oprah voice>> BUTTERED. POPCORN. GELATOOOOOO!!!!!

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I’m the type of girl who always keeps her ice cream maker’s bowl in the freezer, ready at a craving’s notice. I’m also the type of girl who will start making a complicated gelato recipe at 9:00pm. Various levels of forethought and preparation = me.

By far the best gelato or ice cream I’ve ever made. It tastes like you’re drinking buttered popcorn at the movie theater. If you’re like me, that pretty much describes my perfect heaven, so you’re gonna love it. You’re going to use every bowl and spoon in your kitchen to make it, but you’re going to love it.

At Michael’s Genuine, they placed the scoop of gelato on top of a bed of homemade crackerjack (whose recipe is also included in the cookbook), but we opted for plain popcorn and salted peanuts.

I’m just going to step away and let you drool over this food porn for a minute.

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Incredible, isn’t it? I want you to make this – for your next anniversary, celebration, milestone, meal….anything. Just make it and rejoice that Hedy put into print what once was only found in South Florida. (And by rejoice, I mean, buy her cookbook!)

Now I’m determined to make the other famous dessert, the buttermilk doughnut with tangerine creamsicle pot de crème and blackberry-tarragon conserve. And then I’ll call my kitchen Marci’s Genuine. Who’s with me?

Until then, start with this…

Popcorn and Peanuts

Part One:

Milk Chocolate Candy Bar

Milk Chocolate Candy Bars

From Hedy Goldsmith’s Baking Out Loud

For the first layer:

12 oz. gianduja (Italian hazelnut milk chocolate) or milk chocolate (preferably Valrhona), chopped
2 tsp. canola oil
1/4 c. creamy peanut butter at room temperature (do not use natural)
3/4 c. gaufrette cookie pieces (or unsweetened puffed rice cereal)
2/3 c. salted peanuts

For the second layer:

5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (preferably Valrhona Caraibe 66%), chopped
1/2 c. heavy cream

For the third layer:

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (preferably Valrhona Caraibe 66%), chopped
1 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. (or way less) natural dark cocoa powder (preferably Valrhona), for serving

Line the bottom and sides of a loaf pan with parchment paper or foil and grease lightly with baking spray.

To make the first layer, in a medium heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt the milk chocolate or gianduja. Add the canola oil and the peanut butter. Stir until well blended and smooth. It’s important that this mixture be very hot (not burnt), or it won’t cut into nice slices. Add the crushed cookies or cereal and the peanuts, stir until blended.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared loaf pan, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly. Place plastic wrap directly onto the chocolate and press to smooth the top. Refrigerate or freeze for 1 to 3 hours, or until very cold.

Once the layer is cold, make the second layer. In a small heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt the bittersweet chocolate. Add the heavy cream and stir until well blended and smooth. Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

Remove the plastic wrap from the loaf pan and scrape the bittersweet mixture into the pan over the first layer. Using an offset spatula, spread it evenly. Place plastic wrap directly onto the chocolate and press to smooth the top. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, or until very cold.

Once the second layer is cold, make the third layer. In a small heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt the bittersweet chocolate. It’s extremely important to keep the chocolate very warm over the water. Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream on medium-high speed until soft peaks hold when the beater is lifted. Add the very warm chocolate and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute, or until well blended and very thick.

Remove the plastic from the loaf pan and scrape the chocolate-and-whipped-cream mixture into the pan over the second layer. Using an offset spatula, spread it evenly. Place plastic wrap directly onto the chocolate and press to smooth the top. Wrap the whole loaf pan in pastic and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours, or up to 2 to 3 days.

To serve, using the parchment paper or foil liner, transfer the candy to a work surface. Peel away paper or foil, and place the candy on a cutting board. Sift the cocoa powder evenly over the top. Using a large knife dipped in hot water and wiped dry, trim off the edges. Cut the candy (dipping the knife in hot water and wiping dry between cuts) into 3/4-inch slices. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.

Part Two:

Buttered Popcorn Gelato

 Buttered Popcorn Gelato

From Hedy Goldsmith’s Baking Out Loud

3 c. heavy cream, plus extra if needed
1 1/2 c. whole milk
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
14 c. freshly popped popcorn (do NOT use microwave popcorn)
4 extra-large egg yolks

In a very large saucepan, combine the heavy cream, milk, 1/3 c. sugar and the salt. Cook, whisking, over medium heat until just barely boiling and the sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Add the popcorn and stir until coated. Cover and set aside until cool, about 30 minutes.

Strain the cream through a fine-mesh strainer into four-cup measuring glass, firmly pressing on the popcorn with the back of a spoon to extract every last drop of flavor and cream. You should have about 3 cups of liquid. Add more cream, if needed, to come up to this amount. Pour mixture into a medium saucepan.

In an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and the remaining 2/3 cup sugar on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is pale and thick and forms a ribbon when the beater is lifted.

Over medium heat, bring the cream mixture back to a simmer. With the mixer on medium-low speed, slowly pour the mixture into the egg yolks until well blended. Pour the whole mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula–making sure you get the sides and bottom of the saucepan–until the custard is thick enough to coat the spatula and to hold a line drawn through it with your finger, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Pour the custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. This custard needs to be cooled at room temperature! Because of the oil (from the popcorn popping), it will harden if refrigerated, and the churned gelato won’t have a smooth texture but will be more like over-whipped heavy cream and have a granular texture.

To churn, pour the custard into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serve immediately, or for a firmer gelato, scrape into a chilled bowl, cover, and freeze until firm, or for up to 3 days.

Hedy for President!

# cowboy & cowgirl

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to find ways to celebrate that don’t revolve around food. Momentous days call for momentous meals. Celebrations call for cake. And comfort calls for calories. It’s the philosophy of Marci.

I definitely have a keen awareness of food’s role in my life, though I’m still trying to find a balance. Which is why we HAD to have a nice dinner on our actual anniversary. I did say *still* trying.

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Do we look like we’ve been married four years?

It was too dark to take photos of what we actually ate without illuminating everyone with my flash, so you’ll have to settle for this horrible pic of our desserts.

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I chose a passion fruit cheesecake with coconut sorbet. It was like the Caribbean was melting on my tongue with every bite. Rich, yet refreshing. Joe opted for a molten chocolate soufflé, whose menu disclaimer warned it needed at least 30 minutes to prepare. Just rich, not refreshing. But totally worth it.

But this was just the beginning of our anniversary celebration.

In the weeks leading up to the big day, I racked my brain for fun things we could do to commemorate. Go to a movie? Errrr. Joe and I prefer to watch movies at home for free. Take a trip? Not enough time right now. I needed something we could do in a day’s span, preferably the weekend after my 5k so I wouldn’t have to juggle both.

And then one evening, as we took a walk past a farm with horses, Joe mentioned he hadn’t been on a horse since he was a kid. Bam. Done. My mission was clear.

The next morning I was booking our first horseback riding adventure in the mountains for the following weekend.  It was supposed to be a surprise for Joe, but I didn’t know how I could pull it off, so he ended up being in on it with me. I figured I couldn’t just drive him up in the mountains, throw him on a horse for three hours and expect him to not question some of the vows we were celebrating.

We’ve driven by the Beaver Creek Lodge many times on our way to Bear Lake, but never bothered to stop or check out its offerings.  The lodge itself is typically booked all summer for large, Mormon-scale family reunions, but they do offer horseback tours separately. It’s close enough to Logan to be an easy afternoon activity, but far enough away to still feel like an adventure.

We arrived early and had a bit of time before our tour started, so we hung out with the horses. Aren’t they gorgeous creatures?

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I was paired with a beautiful chestnut quarter horse named Jax and Joe was put on Atlas at first, but we hadn’t been gone two minutes when Atlas started limping and tried to turn Joe around for the stables. Our guide, Terry, thought he had a rock stuck in his shoe from another tour that morning. So we went back and Joe got on Patriot instead, a hybrid…the “mutt” of horses, but still quite the looker thanks to a little painter horse in him.

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Since there’s still snow (!) on the mountains, Terry took us on two different 1.5 hour rides instead of their typical 3-hour tour. “…a threeeeee hour toooooour.” We ended up appreciating it even more because we really went off the beaten path as you’ll see in the pictures. We were tromping through forests and ducking under thick tree branches. We even crossed Beaver Creek, which thanks to the snow cap melting felt like we were crossing a raging river in places.

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Turns out, it’s hard to take pictures while riding a horse. I ended up having to put my camera on auto-mode (for shame!) and just click-and-pray. We didn’t spend a lot of time stopping for photo ops, since that would have been every few minutes, but I hope you enjoy what we were able to capture.

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I loved this part of the tour with the tall Aspens.

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Joe’s view was a lot of this…me bouncing around and trying to take pictures. It’s a miracle I didn’t fall off at any point.

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We did stop at a scenic point for our guide to take some pictures of us together. Love the sky and the views.

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What amazed me most was how fragrant the woods were. I guess that’s to be expected when you’re surrounded by fur trees, but I couldn’t get enough. Add to that the woodsy smell of the leather saddle? It was heavenly.

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Here’s some of the snow we encountered on the trail.

Baby snow:
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4-foot deep snow:
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9-foot+ deep snow ridge:
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This is the only part of the tour that had me scared. These high bushes are fruit bushes and what brings bears more than fruit?…other than humans? Since the brush was so tall, I was concerned we’d either surprise one, or he’d surprise us, but no bears were spotted.

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Other wildlife Terry HAD seen on the trails over the last 25 years includes a mountain lion (singular), lots of moose—which can be even more dangerous than bears when babies are involved, and garden snakes. You better believe I asked about snakes before we even left the stable. Luckily, the elevation here is too high for rattlesnakes. That whooshing sound you just heard was my sigh of relief.

We really had a great time and felt so lucky to have had a personal tour of the area, feeling like we were exploring places never before seen by other humans. It was so quiet and peaceful. A perfect anniversary.

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And then because we were already thisclose to Bear Lake, we headed down for one of their famous raspberry shakes.

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Total no-brainer.

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Raspberries are becoming my favorite fruit. Thanks, Utah.

But that wasn’t the only dessert we had. (I’m seriously failing at this celebrate-without-food business, can you tell?)

After our day in the dust and sun, we continued the party with one of the best desserts I have ever made/eaten/beheld. You’re just not going to believe it. Details soon! Go take a walk to offset the oncoming calories.

Anyone else prefer to celebrate with food? Who wants to come visit and ride horses with us? I call Jax.