# tony grove

Two weekends ago I took a rare Sunday morning solo trek up into Logan canyon to check out Tony Grove. After being a social butterfly all summer, it was weird but nice to just jump in my car, turn up the music and head into the land of no cell phone reception. I had never been to Tony Grove before, but our friends had all recommended it for this time of year because all of the wildflowers are blooming around the lake.

The drive was pretty smooth, albeit its winding up to a whopping 8,000 feet. Lots of families were there hiking, kayaking and picnicking. I did my best to lay low and enjoy the scenery, which was pretty magnificent. Can you believe this is less than an hour from my front door??

DSC_8253
DSC_8261
DSC_8305
DSC_8312

Inside the Grove:

DSC_8318
DSC_8323

As promised, the wildflowers were lovely.

DSC_8235
DSC_8236
DSC_8241
DSC_8245
DSC_8248
DSC_8270
DSC_8278
DSC_8285
DSC_8294
DSC_8357
DSC_8349

People, you seriously need to come visit!

# pioneer day banana pudding

Yesterday was Utah’s Pioneer Day—a state-wide holiday celebrating Mormons’ independence and arrival into Salt Lake City after being shunned/banned/forced from their previous home in Illinois.

I mentioned it last year, but this is a BIG. DEAL. around here. Much bigger than, say, our nation’s independence celebration earlier this month, which felt a tad ho-hum in these parts.

Non-LDS folk like us lovingly refer to the day off as “Pie and Beer Day.” It looks like the entire nation is picking up on this, though. At least the Today Show is trying to capitalize on it. #weird

Like last year, we slept through all of our city’s festivities. Well, not really. Joe played a show and I did work at home, but we did sleep in.

And…like last year, we headed over to Chris and Chilali’s place to not only gather with friends, but to also celebrate their house turning the big 1-0-0. Houses totally deserve birthday parties too.

And…like last year, I made my favorite banana pudding for the party, but UNLIKE last year, I remembered to take photos.

DSC_8381

DSC_8384

God bless Paula Deen.

Did you know Paula hardly ever used a stand mixer on her show, opting for a hand-held most of the time? When asked about it, she said “I do what I know.” So, of course, I use a hand-held mixer when making her recipes. Do what you know, people.

DSC_8394

Decadent!

DSC_8400

Paula uses Chessmen cookies in hers—which are buttery and delicious and all purty when lined up, but I’m an old fashioned girl at heart and love using Nilla Wafers. It doesn’t really matter what you use though, because the pudding totally steals the entire show.

DSC_8414

This would be equally gorgeous as layers piled high in a trifle dish. You could even pair this pudding with other fruit and pieces of pound cake. #gearsturning

I know I’ve claimed that several desserts are my favorite summer treat (ice cream…yes, lemon mousse….done, anything that doesn’t require an oven….absolutely), but this one wins for nostalgic and southern factors alone.

Here’s the recipe again for those that missed it last time.

Banana Pudding

Paula Deen’s Pioneer Day Banana Pudding

2 bags Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies (or one box Nilla Wafers)
6 to 8 medium bananas, sliced
2 cups milk
1 (5-ounce) box instant French vanilla pudding (make sure you don’t grab just one 3.4 oz box!)
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping thawed, or equal amount sweetened whipped cream

Line the bottom of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch dish with cookies and layer bananas on top.

In a bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix and blend well using a handheld electric mixer. Using another bowl, combine the cream cheese and condensed milk together and mix until smooth. Fold the whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture. Add the cream cheese mixture to the pudding mixture and stir until well blended. Pour the mixture over the cookies and bananas and cover with the remaining cookies. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Friday Five: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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

I have a special treat coming your way in a few, but in honor of the Mormon holiday yesterday, I thought I’d share some enlightening and interesting news stories about my neighbors for today’s Friday Five. Take off your shoes and put on your sweater…this ain’t Mr. Rogers’ hood!

5. The Role of Women in the LDS Church

Barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen isn’t too far off. We wear boots.

4. Oops! Google calls Mormonism a Cult

Apology not accepted, says Utah.

3. Brigham Young’s ABCs

Dust off your composition books.

2. A Day in the Life of an LDS Missionary

Doorbells and Name Tags and Bikes, oh my!

1. Lessons from the LDS Language Boot Camp

Como se dice Brigham Young’s the shizzy?

(Click on the headers to read the actual stories.)

# cookie dough pretzel bites

I bet those that follow me on Instagram knew this post was coming. Our Saturday Fatterday was just destined to include these adorable bites as soon as I spotted them.

DSC_8186

I was innocently looking for a new recipe to take to a potluck on Sunday when I stumbled on this recipe and thought yep! it’s happening! (But not for the potluck…just for me! haha)

There’s not much better than a recipe that starts with safe-to-eat, easy-to-make cookie dough balls.

DSC_8168

You should probably have an accountability partner in the kitchen with you that will make sure you don’t eat half the dough in the making of the balls. Not an easy feat, I assure you.

DSC_8170

I seriously could have eaten the entire tray just like this, but let’s keep riding the train to Awesome Town.

DSC_8178

Sweet + Salty. Was there ever a better math equation on the planet? I don’t think so.

DSC_8180

Squish the dough into little pretzel sandwiches. And freeze, yes FREEZE, them for at least 20 minutes.

DSC_8190

They come out sturdy and firm and ready for their close-up. It’s time to 1-UP them to the next level of amazing.

DSC_8203

Oh. My. God. Did I just make your day, or what? You know what a perfect summertime dessert or snack looks like? It’s this. Something that comes together quickly, that doesn’t involve your oven pre-heating, that doesn’t require you to get out your stand mixer. The livin’ might be easy in Summertime, but so should the cookin’.

DSC_8228

Just be ready with your goodbyes when you start down the path of no return with these babies. You’ll be saying them before you know it. ‘Cause, you know, 20 bites equal a serving.

Or something like that.

The countdown to the next Saturday Fatterday starts now!

DSC_8210

Cookie Dough Pretzel Bites

Slightly adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 c. brown sugar (light or dark is fine)
1/4 c. granulated sugar
2 Tbs. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 and 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
generous pinch of salt (at least 1/6 tsp.)
1/2 c. mini chocolate chips
bag of mini pretzels
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (I used baking chocolate bars)
1 tsp. shortening, optional

Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

In a large bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the butter and two sugars together on medium speed until light and creamy. Add the milk and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Turn the mixer off and add the flour and salt. Mix on low speed at first, then turn the mixer up to medium speed and mix until combined. The dough will be thick and crumbly, just keep mixing until it comes together. Mix in mini chocolate chips by hand.

Roll the dough into small balls (use a mini pretzel to gauge the size you want). Sandwich balls between two mini pretzels and place on prepared baking sheet. Freeze for 20 minutes.

While the pretzel bites are chilling, break up the chocolate and melt with the shortening for about 1 minute in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds. Dip the pretzel bites halfway into the melted chocolate and place bites back on baking sheet. Refrigerate the dipped bites for at least 10 minutes to allow the chocolate to set. Cover and store pretzel bites in the refrigerator for up to five days—or two days, which is roughly how long they’ll last.

*But wait, there’s more: Sally makes a chocolate peanut butter version. Shut the front door!*

Friday Five: The Great Pretender

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

I’m one week into Anna Karenina. A book that is considered by most to be the best book EV-ER and one that has been haunting my to-read list for a very, very, very long time. I don’t know why I’ve been dragging my feet so long because I’m absolutely loving every page. (Russian writing, like Russian music, is simply gorgeous.) It shouldn’t seem as daunting to me as it did, but I suppose that’s what 800+ pages will do to you.

I’ve always loved classic literature, but there’s something about not being in high school anymore that makes me forget to pick one up now and again. And there are several I’ve never read (but really should have) that make me feel like a book-lovin’ fraud.

When I was in high school I took an American Lit class my sophomore year which would set us up for European Lit my junior year. But that junior year never came. I transferred to a different school where their junior AP Lit class focused on….American Lit. So I basically read all of the Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Twain, Lee and Steinbeck I ever wanted to (and most of it twice!), but I missed out on a lot of required reading otherwise.

Buzzfeed had this hilarious list of books people pretend to have read accompanied by a “what you think it’s about” and “why you should actually read it” for each one. Oh, how I laughed. Please read it yourself–you’ll love it and then you’ll spend about 45 minutes browsing BuzzFeed. Happens every. single. time.

I’ve mentioned here and there that I should dedicate a season of My Shelf Life to classics-I-need-to-read, but after spending my down time with Anna for a few days, I know that it’s best to spread them out. Say, one every four months? You appreciate them more that way. Show ‘em the love they deserve!

So, it’s time to come clean.

Here are my top five “oh yeah, I’ve read that” books that I’ve actually never read, illustrated by their Baby Lit companion covers. If babies are digging these stories, then we should too! (Plus it makes them a lot less scary this way.)

5. Frankenstein

Oh, Mary, how could I forget you and your monster? Friend Ica says it’s one of her favorite books, so I better get on this fast.

FrankensteinBabyLit

4. Wuthering Heights

I feel like this is a book that comes up a lot in conversations and pop culture, but I honestly have no clue what it’s about. But I have a feeling that I’m going to be BFFs with these Brontë sisters someday. Which brings me to….

WutheringHeightsBabyLit

3. Jane Eyre

Now that Anna Karenina is under way, this has moved up in rank to the #1 Classic-I-Actually-Want-to-Read. My former boss said it was her favorite book of all time and continues to read it once a year, every year. That’s a pretty solid seal of approval.

JaneEyre

2. Great Expectations

I know this story’s basic characters and some of its plot, but that’s about it. I feel more inclined to read this before seeing Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham. Sorry, this is the only Dickens that has a Baby Lit! Close enough, right?

DickensBabyLit

1. Anything by Jane Austen that isn’t Pride and Prejudice

Talk about your pop culture references! When it comes to literature, Jane’s got them all beat. Too bad I’ve never read most of the original sources: Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park….

JaneAustin

Those are my top five, but I have to give honorable mentions to: Madame Bovary, Lolita, Middlemarch, War and Peace (yeah, sorry, not going to happen). Coincidentally there are no Baby Lit versions of those. HA!

But oh how I love those Baby Lit books. I want them all for myself, even though I already know my colors and numbers. They are my go-to baby gifts for mommas. #spoileralert #actsurprised #dontstealmyidea

And because it’s on my nightstand as I type…

AnnaKareninaBabyLit

Time for you to weigh in! What have you pretended to read? What classics are your favorites? You know what the worst part is about the books on my list? I’ve owned copies of them since I was in high school. No excuses, people, just confessions! Let’s get reading!

# s’mores in a jar

Since Joe’s last birthday treat is my most popular post to date (thanks, Pinterest), I would be amiss not to share what we did this year.

I think it’s important to pick your own birthday cake, whether you’re actually the one making it or not, and I always give Joe free reign of my cookbooks and Pinterest boards for scouring purposes. Side note: I get totally geeky when we have a pile of cookbooks on the couch with us—so many possibilities! God, I’m such a food nerd. Anyone the same way?

As we pored over options, I found myself only looking at cake recipes, being a birthday and all, but Joe kept his eyes open to anything and in doing so found his birthday treat of choice on my Pinterest dessert board. One of my earliest pins, no less.

At first I scoffed. …It’s a dessert in a JAR! This is not how I saw this playing out. I wanted him to have a multi-layered cake sitting pretty on a cake stand, not a weird concoction stuffed in glass. But the boy can’t look away from his s’mores. #whatcanyoudo? So I quickly shut-up about it, swallowed my cake dreams, and went out to buy some mason jars.

DSC_8019

This recipe comes from Jessica, the Queen of Sprinkles over at How Sweet Eats. Be sure to check her out – I love her decadent recipes and lovely photos. Bonus: She has a cookbook coming out. Double bonus: She just announced she’s pregnant! Fingers crossed for peanut butter cravings that hit the blog.

To have your s’mores-in-a-jar look like Jessica’s you should probably follow her directions and make them all at once and dig in as soon as they’re finished. But, who cooks like that? I certainly can’t. Not unless I want to be in my kitchen for a few hours after work on my husband’s birthday. Umnothanks.

DSC_8025

So, I made the crust and the cake, baked ‘em, and then we headed out for BBQ – birthdayboygetstochoose, birthdayboygetstochoose.

Not until after we had returned and slightly digested could we think about dessert, so I hit up the broiler, threw some huge marshmallows on top of the now cooled cake and was feeling pretty proud until Joe noticed that the top marshmallows were burning before the bottom ones could melt. Oops! Guess you need that residual heat from the cake to melt those babies.

DSC_8022

Oh well. This is what cooking and baking is all about: living and learning. …And eating. Good news is that they got warm enough to be gooey and messy, just not completely melted.

Of course these guys, our little friends from Bavarian Inn, joined us in the celebration. (Sorry, Lily, no sprinkles.)

DSC_8036

I did manage to have the forethought to half the recipe, since you have to eat these right away. But I completely ignored Jessica’s suggestion that they are rich and huge and could easily be shared by two people. Share a mason jar?! Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a cute cake carrier such as this? ***err, wrong***

Since it makes four jars, I put half of the batter in a cupcake pan, which made 9 cupcakes. So…if you’re good at math….that means 4.5 cupcakes-worth of batter are in each jar. Are you following me here?

DSC_8024

Needless and mathless to say, we were both miserably full. I won’t be making that mistake again.

In conclusion:

Yay: it’s pretty, it’s easy, no mixer needed, my husband loved it, eating from your own mason jar is pretty fun (banana pudding?! Yes!)

Ugh: it’s high-maintenance in terms of time, you feel like you’re going to die if you eat the whole thing, no leftovers (Who doesn’t wake up after their birthday and want a cold piece of cake to relive the magic?)

We ended the night chasing our s’mores with Tums and Bella giving Joe the best birthday gift ever: unlimited snuggles.

DSC_8048

And now bear with me as I figure out what to do with 12 mason jars.

DSC_8029

S’mores in a Jar

From: How Sweet Eats

Yields: 4 (16-ounce) mason jar cakes

Crust:

1/2 stick butter
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
pinch of salt

Cake:

1 egg
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. + 1 Tbs. heavy cream
1/2 c. butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbs. sour cream
1 1/8 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. dark cocoa powder
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Topping:

1 bag of large marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust: Melt butter and mix in graham crumbs and salt. Mix until moistened. Spray mason jars with non-stick spray and press graham crust into jars. (Add a tablespoon of mixture to each jar, repeating until graham crumbs are gone. (When out of crumbs, I pressed them down with the flat end of a whisk to flatten.)

For the cake: In a bowl, whisk egg and sugar until smooth and no lumps remain. Add milk, cream, butter and vanilla, and mix until combined. Stir in sour cream. Sift remaining dry ingredients together and add to wet mixture. Mix until batter is smooth. Using a 1/4 cup measure, add batter to mason jars one scoop at a time, only filling them halfway — this halfway mark is IMPORTANT! Place mason jars in a baking dish and add about 1 1/2 cups of water to the bottom. Bake for 30 minutes, or until cake is set. (Leftover batter? Throw it in a greased muffin tin for extra cupcakes.)

Remove cake from the oven and press 3-5 large marshmallows down on top. Heat the broiler on your oven and watching carefully, brown marshmallows for about 1-2 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Suggestions:

** Let two people share each jar – cute doule-date night dessert

** Use smaller mason jars and make several for a fun party or gathering (use mini marshmallows in this instance)

Friday Five: Work Mules

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

It hasn’t felt like much of a summer so far. Maybe it has in its desserts and trips to the pool, but it seems like we’ve been jumping from one huge project to the next with little to no relief in sight. Luckily, our projects have dovetailed one another so we haven’t (yet) been stressed wrecks at the same time. That’s a very good thing for all involved.

As you can imagine, our already-wanting housekeeping has fallen to absolute disarray. There may or may not be dishes that have been sitting next to the sink for a week (rinsed, at least). There may or may not be a stack of laundry that reaches halfway up our dresser. Where’s Heloise when you need her? Forget Heloise, give me Mary Poppins or a magic wand. Send in the reinforcements!

Here are the top five things that have us turning us into total asses (work mules and otherwise) lately:

5. NWS

I still do contract work for my former employer. This season they asked me to write all of the concert descriptions for next season to use on their web, brochures, ads, you name it. I was flattered until they gave me two weeks to do it, and then I was panicked. Every free moment when I wasn’t working my real job or sleeping was spent writing. I think the word count came out to around 3500 altogether. #whew

4. Opera Festival

Joe (and Sean and Wallis) have been up to their ears in rehearsals for all of the festival’s operas/musicals this summer. There’s hardly been a day when all four of us have been free, which makes me sad. Luckily it’s about to be a bit calmer as the shows are now opening, but rehearsals gear up soon for all of the orchestral events, where yours truly will get to join them for a concert.

3. Retreat

Yesterday was my office’s annual retreat and I was a part of the planning committee. Like any group project, some always end up pulling more weight than others…which is why I abhor group projects. It all went well, but I was there 13 hours…five hours of which I won’t be compensated for, not to mention all of the other off-the-clock hours I spent planning. The worst part was that the facility we rented didn’t have A/C which was news to us upon arriving. Misery doesn’t even describe the hell I was in running around all day. I’m so glad it’s over.

2. Drill

Drill-writing has once again become a daily task for Joe, who started writing his high school shows this week. Drill writing to him is like blurb writing (#5) is to me. It’s all-encompassing. There’s room for little else in your brain or on your clock. You just have to put your head down and power through. Which is what he’s doing all day, every day.

1. Birthday

We had a brief reprieve mid-week with Joe’s birthday. The day was spent writing drill (#2) and making Sam’s runs in crazy heat (#3), but we decided to order a ceasefire come 5:00 to just relax.

You need those ceasefires to stay sane, which is why I’ll be spending a girl’s night with Wallis tonight. You know, to let Joe work.

Psst! In book news, for those who have been reading since last year, I started Anna Karenina today. #finally