Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Finding My Direction...


  A good friend of mine recently sent me a sincere and uplifting email. She wrote to tell me that as she was performing the mundane task of grocery shopping, she was thinking about me. About how much she admired me.

 "ME? "I thought? How can that be?

  She is an accomplished mom of two energetic and talented young boys. She has the kindest heart and an energetic love of life. Surely she can't be serious.

  As I read on, I realized that often times we just go through our daily routines barely pausing long enough to even take a deep breath. Every once in a while though, someone manages to give us reason to stop and take that breath.

This is what she wrote;

"As I was doing my groceries this morning I was thinking of you and how much I admire you! Many people wish to follow their dreams, and you were living one of yours, then poof it was yanked away! You found your strength amidst many personal and family issues and in your quiet way you rewrote your life! You are truly an inspiration and the fact that you are being followed and read by a fellow author I think really captures this moment for you. I am grateful to have such a person as yourself in my life and to be able to call her a friend. Have fun celebrating your moments!"

   Not only did this email make me pause, it made me smile.  Indeed I am re-writing my life. One word at a time.  It's been a long journey, but I am re-gaining my balance and finding my direction.  With the help of truly wonderful, caring friends and family I am forging a new path.  I thank my friend for making me remember that I truly have many moments to celebrate.

    Ironically, we just celebrated my daughter's twelfth birthday with a One Direction themed party. I had such fun helping to create her fabulous cake, decorate the house and welcome her giddy girlfriends.  Moments such as these are special, and if we pause to take the time to notice them, we will realize that they are many.  Where we are going may not always be clear, but unlike the name of the boy band, in life there is more than just one direction.

Thanks to Sweet Revenge Bake Shop for helping me create this spectacular cake!

Monday, January 27, 2014

How Lucky We Are...

     It's no secret that I love to read. Combine reading with baking, and I am in my glory.  People often fantasize about their ideal "Me Day."  Mine would involve a great book, a fantastic recipe, pyjamas and an endless cup of tea (or possibly glass of wine, but that may impede my reading ability!). 
     I recently picked up How Lucky You Are by Kristyn Kusek Lewis. It's a novel that not only inspired me to be more thankful of my own life, but also introduced me to the doughnut muffin.  How lucky I am indeed! Not only did I enjoy the book, these muffins are fantastic!  Even more delicious is the fact that I have found a new author, something I am always on the look out for. Her next book doesn't hit the shelves until January 2015, but as we all know, good things come to those who wait.
Doughnut Muffins
*This recipe makes 12 muffins
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour
You will need:
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups milk, 2%
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted   
~ Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
~ In a large bowl, cream butter and both sugars until light and fluffy
~ Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition
~ Gradually beat in milk and vanilla
~ In another bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and baking soda
~ Add to creamed mixture and stir until just moistened, batter will be thick
~ Fill paper lined muffin cups and bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean
~ Cool 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack
~ As the muffins are cooling, prepare the coating by combining the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and melt the butter
~ Dip the tops of warm muffins in melted butter then roll in cinnamon sugar to coat

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Too much of a good thing?


  Sometimes there is no reason to bake other than to use up ingredients that are going to go bad. In this case, it's holiday chocolates.  We have so many boxes of chocolates left over from the holidays! Perhaps this is due to the fact that my family now has a taste for fresh baked sweets.  For this, I cannot fault them. Whatever the reason, these chocolates have to go... they are taking up too much room in my cupboard! 

  I highly recommend these cupcakes. They are sinfully delicious. If you happen to have a box of Ferrero Rocher taking up space in your cupboard (or three as in my case),  I suggest you bake up a batch. They sure don't last long in cupcake form!

*PS- if anyone out there has recipe ideas for Quality Street or Pot of Gold chocolates I'm all ears!

Ferrero Rocher Cupcakes
This recipe yields 2 dozen standard sized cupcakes
*Adapted from Julie Wilson*
For the cupcakes you will need:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup melted butter, cooled
  • 1 cup milk, room temperature
  • 1 cup strong black coffee (I used 1 cup hot water + 2 Tbsp instant coffee, vanilla hazelnut flavour)
  • 24 Ferrero Rocher chocolates, unwrapped


~ Preheat oven to 350*F
~ Mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt
~ In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, vanilla and butter
~ Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and fill it with the egg mixture
~ As you stir, slowly add in the milk and coffee (the batter will be soupy!)
~ Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full and bake at 350* F for 17-20 minutes
~ Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean
~ Allow cupcakes to cool before frosting 

For the icing you will need:
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup Nutella
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp of instant coffee dissolved in 2 tablespoons warm milk
 ~ Blend Nutella and butter using a mixer until creamy and fluffy~ Add sugar 1 cup at a time, alternating with a few drops of the milk/coffee mixture and mix until        well combined
~ Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes
~ Garnish with unwrapped Ferrero Rocher chocolates 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

They're Real and They're Spectacular...

   Last week my kids returned to school after an extended winter break.  Greeting them when they returned home was a plateful of fresh baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  At first they were delighted... then they became skeptical. 
"Why don't they look like regular oatmeal cookies?" my oldest asked.  
That one time I put spinach in a batch of brownies has scarred him for life.  He now lives in fear that I am trying to sneak something healthy into my kitchen creations.
   My easy going middle child didn't think twice about digging in, but he too, questioned the look of my 'oatmeal' cookies.  My daughter, the baking prodigy that she is, wanted to know what I did to the oatmeal to make them look like 'regular' chocolate chip cookies.  My kids, I love them to death, but honestly... THEY ARE COOKIES!
     Yesterday, in my ongoing attempt to be Mother of the Year (my friends know that I qualify for this honour regularly, but most often in the sarcastic sense), I decided to bake up a batch of 'real' oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  Just your standard, mainstream recipe. Blender not required.  No fancy culinary tricks involved.  Unlike my other batch, this one is your classic oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.  They are real and they are spectacular. You're welcome.
"Real" Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

*This recipe makes approx. 2 dozen cookies

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 butter, softened
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups quick oats
1 cup chocolate chips (*you may also substitute raisins if you prefer)

  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
  • In a medium sized bowl, blend together both sugars and butter until light and fluffy
  • Add eggs and vanilla, mix thoroughly
  • In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon
  • Stir dry mixture into wet mixture
  • Add oatmeal and chocolate chips and stir until combined
  • Drop by rounded tablespoon onto parchment lined cookie sheets
  • Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown
  • Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute before moving to wire cooling racks

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Spicing things up...


     I've known my husband since we were 18 years old. We met, fell in love and got married 5 years later. Since then, we've had 3 kids, adopted a cat, and have gone through many changes, both good and bad.  As we celebrated our 20th anniversary back in August we both marvelled at the fact that we've been through so much togehter and have been by each other's side for more than half our lives.

     In 2014 my husband and I have decided  to make some changes in our relationship. We all know that long term unions often get stale and become stagnant, thus, after all of these years together, we have decided to...

... switch sides on our bed.

Dramatic, I know. That's how we roll.

     Now, you may think that this is a simple change. Believe me, it is not.  It's been less than a week and already I am feeling the dire side effects of sleep deprivation. I cannot get used to sleeping on the other side of the bed. 

     The change was not a sudden one. Like all committed, loving couples, we talked about this change at length. We discussed the pros and cons. We talked about the ramifications of swtiching our night stands.  I expressed my concerns about finding my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  My husband wasn't sure the cat would comprehend the change and jump up to snuggle with him instead of me (this was a major issue as my husband is not a lover of cats).

     In the end, we decided to go for it. A new year means new changes, and we were ready to try something new! Also, my husband's previously injured collar bone could no longer take the strain of of him laying on it night after night.  Thanks to my night owl reading habits he is forced to lay on his bad side to sheild his eyes from the glare of my lamp.

     I love my husband, even after all of these years, and I am willing to do anything to make him happy.  This however, may be pushing the envelope. No matter how hard I try, I just can not get comfortable. Everything is different! Our alarm clock, because of my poor eyesight, has moved with me and as a result I now look at a tissue box instead of the time. My favourite sleeping position now has me facing towards the window, arms hanging over the side of the bed. I can no longer shut off my lamp with my dominant right hand without involving some advanced yoga moves.

     For the sake of our marriage, and my husband's aching shoulder, I will persevere. For better or for worse, I am determined to make this work. In order to do so, I've resorted to working out my frustrations in the kitchen.  To ease my morning grumpiness due to a fitful night's sleep I decided to bake up a batch of these blueberry muffins. I may not sleep well again tonight, but at least I'll have something delicious to enjoy tomorrow morning while I over caffinate myself  to get through the day.

Streusel Topped Blueberry Muffins
courtesy of A Cook's Quest

*This recipe makes about 15 muffins

~ Preheat oven to 425 with rack in the middle

Streusel Topping:

3 Tablespoons white sugar
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
4 Tablespoons melted butter

  • Combine both sugars and flour
  • Slowly pour in the butter *Note: you may or may not need all of it
  • Slowly combine with a fork until ingredients come together in a crumbly mixture
  • Set the topping aside


2 cups fresh blueberries
1 1/8 cups sugar, plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon water
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk (*see my "Tips" page for recipes to make your own)
2 teaspoons vanilla

  • Place 1 cup of the blueberries into a small sauce pan
  • Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and the water
  • Heat over med. high heat, stirring frequently
  • Cook until mixture reduces and thickens ~about 6 minutes 
  • Mash berries with a fork or potato masher
  • Set aside

~ In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, set aside
~ Whisk sugar and eggs together in a separate bowl with mixer

Slowly mix in butter and oil until combined
~ Add in buttermilk and vanilla
~ Using a spatula, carefully fold egg mixture and remaining cup of blueberries into the flour mixture until the batter is just moistened

~ The batter will be lumpy, don't worry that is how it supposed to look!

~ Line your muffin pans with paper liners
~ Fill up each muffin cup so much that it mounds up

~ Next, grab the blueberry sauce you made earlier on the stove. Dollup about a teaspoon in the middle of every muffin. Then swirl it through with a toothpick.

~ Generously top each muffin with the streusel topping
~ Bake muffins at 400 degrees for 17-19 minutes until tops are golden brown
~ Cool muffins for about 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack and let them cool slightly longer before serving.  (That is if you can wait that slightly longer!)

Friday, January 10, 2014

Back to School, Back to Baking...

         After a three day polar vortex extension,  the Christmas break is officially over and my kids are back to school.  I must admit, I was sad to see them go. We enjoyed some good times over the holidays and as they get older and 'wiser' I am afraid that they won't want to partake in my cheesy holiday traditions much longer.
         Each year as I take down the tree and pack away all of our special ornaments I contemplate what lies ahead in the year to come. It's a melancholy endeavour.  When my kids were still little, I started the yearly tradition of giving each of them a special ornament to call their own. They  are allowed to open it on the day we decorate our tree and hang it next to the ones they have come to treasure.  Come January, as I remove the decorations, I put the kid's ornaments away in their own individual boxes.  One day, when they grow up and move on, they'll have their own box of Christmas memories to help them begin their own traditions.       
         I'm sure you now have a better understanding as to why this time of year makes me a little blue. And if you are a follower of this blog, you know what I do when I'm feeling down... I bake.  Can you guess what was waiting for my brood when they arrived home from their first day back at school? Cookies, hugs and a teary mom.
        I may not know what the future holds, but what I do know is that my past if full of happy Christmas memories. Memories that I will continue to make as long as my kids will let me. The tree is down and the boxes have been stored away. Our living room, no longer festive, looks empty, but my heart is full.

  • 2 1/2 cups oatmeal, blended
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
~ Preheat oven to 375
~ Measure oatmeal and blend in a blender to a fine powder
~ Cream butter and both sugars
~ Add eggs and vanilla and mix until combined
~ In a separate bowl, mix together oatmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda
~ Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and mix until just combined
~ Stir in chocolate chips
~ Roll into balls and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet
~ Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown
~ Allow cookies to cool 1 minute on cookie sheet before moving to a wire cooling rack


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Reflection and Resolve

     As the New Year is upon us, I can't help but become reflective. When I first sat down to write this, my intention was to give a half hearted post giving everyone my best wishes for a wonderful year ahead. A funny thing happened though, as I put the proverbial pen to paper; I started writing again... and it felt great! 

     I'm the first to admit that I haven't found the time to devote to my blog as of late. While I love to write, I often feel that I don’t have anything worthy to write about. Stephen King wrote that a writer's job isn't to find ideas, but to recognize them when they show up. I've come to realize that this is true in more ways than one.

   A new year offers up a fresh start full of possibilities. I'm not making resolutions this year, but I do intend to show more gratitude and focus more on being happy with what I have; become more mindful of things as they show up. After all, the joy is in the journey and my journey is leading me down a new path. I need to take some time each day to focus on what I have and realize that while every day may not be good, there is something good to be found in every day.

     After spending a few years trying to regain my balance I can now honestly say that I believe I have found my footing again. For that, I am truly grateful. As I think back on what these past twelve months have offered me, all I can say is that I am truly blessed.  Allison Winn Scotch said it best;
"There is the before. And then there is the after. Happiness is what you choose, what you follow, not what follows you. These are the things I have seen, these are the things I now know, these are the things I will carry with me as I go."
       Cheers to a great year everyone... and stay tuned for a year full of recipes and musings. I hope to encourage some of you to try my recipes, find inspiration in my musings and if nothing else, bring a smile you your day.