Robert’s 27th Birthday Party

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This past week, Robert officially joined the “late twenties” club. To celebrate we had a group of friends over for homemade pizza, final four basketball (still sad the Buckeyes weren’t there), and birthday cake. The menu was pretty simple and highlighted some of Robert’s favorite foods- pizza (with sriracha sauce and jalapenos), chips and salsa, caramelized onion dip, Jess’s German potato salad, chocolate chip cookies, and dark chocolate cake with dark chocolate buttercream frosting. I noticed that the parties we throw tend to encourage heartburn. Sorry, friends. I think a vegetable party is on the agenda for this summer.

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As usual, the company was the best part of the night; but I unfortunately got swept away in the fun (and wine) and didn’t get a chance to take many pictures. We are truly so thankful for the wonderful people we call our friends.  Our lives are enriched because of with whom we have the honor of sharing life’s experiences.

Jonah and Kate- lovebirds.

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Athena was in heaven with all of the loving Chelsea was giving her.  DSC_8381

Alex and Catie- two of the smartest people we know. Just look at them being so intelligent.

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And then there’s Greg. A father-to-be!

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Athena was exhausted from her late night of partying.

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**Sap-filled paragraph warning**

And, of course, I can’t go without mentioning the birthday boy himself. Robert and I have been married for over 5 years and together for more than a decade. There is no one I love or respect greater. Sure, we drive each other crazy sometimes. Like when he doesn’t make the bed or when I drive a freshly-washed and waxed car in the rain; but with each passing year, I grow to love him even more. He’s loyal, genuine, kind, and driven. While I can be riding high on an emotional roller coaster from day to day,  he is always calm and level-headed. I’m honored to call him my life’s companion. I just pray that he doesn’t wake up one of these days and realize he got the raw end of the deal. Happy birthday, Robert. I love you. Here’s to many more chocolate-filled years.

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Jack’s Funfetti 2nd Birthday Cake

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I can’t believe it’s been 2 years since I got an early morning phone call from my sister telling me her water had broken and she was at the UVA hospital. She was 5 days overdue and we were all anxiously awaiting the baby’s arrival. After I hung up from the call, I was so excited I could barely sleep. It was going to take me 6 hours to get to Virginia and I contemplated just leaving then. Robert eventually convinced me to go back to sleep, but I only lasted until 5am. I made record-breaking time (whoops!) and rolled into Virginia before noon. Little did I know, Selby’s labor would go several more hours. We waited. And waited. And waited. And finally, the physicians made the decision to perform a C-section after Selby had been in labor for 24 hours and developed a low-grade fever. I was lucky enough to get to go into the operating room and see the whole procedure… errr- make that some of the procedure. I stayed behind the curtain after I saw just what was happening to my sister’s lower abdomen. My sister and Kevin designated me to be the one to shout out the gender; and, after a few long minutes, the doctors exclaimed “here’s your baby!” They pulled out little plump ball of pink, we heard loud baby cries, and I peeked around the corner to reveal, “IT’S A BOY!!!” Selby cried. Kevin cried. I cried. It was such an incredible experience and one that I will never forget. What a beautiful St. Patrick’s Day it was.

This past week,  we were so excited that my sister, brother-in-law, and Jack were able to drive up from Virginia and spend a few days with us to celebrate Jack’s 2nd birthday. In honor of this little firecracker turning into a full-blown toddler, I made homemade pizza and a funfetti cake  decorated in Buzz Lightyear colors (one of Jack’s favorites).

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I had an awful time making my normal swiss meringue buttercream frosting the day I was assembling the cake. After a few frustrating hours, I ended up “calling it,” as Kevin so aptly described, and made a regular buttercream that tasted and looked much better . Oh well. When the time came for the birthday boy to blow out his candles, he got a little shy and seemed to be hypnotized by the firery glow. His mom and dad helped him and then he was able to dive right into his cake. The cake was a tasty hit and I sent the leftovers home with the happy family.

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It’s amazing how much love I have for my little 2 year old nephew. I am looking forward to celebrating many more birthdays with my favorite lucky charm.

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Funfetti Cake

Printable version

Yield: Two 9-inch round cakes

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 4 egg whites from large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk, divided
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1/3 cup multi-colored sprinkles

For the icing:

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk or cream

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans.  In a small bowl mix the egg whites, 1/4 cup milk, vanilla and almond extract. Set aside. In a medium-sized bowl,  whisk together  the cake flour,  baking powder, and salt. Mix for 30 seconds or until well-combined.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low, alternately add in the flour mixture and 3/4 cup of buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides to ensure batter is evenly mixed. Gradually pour in the egg white mixture, mixing for 30 seconds after each addition. Mix for one more minute. Gently fold in the multi-colored sprinkles.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cake springs back after being gently pressed on.

4. Remove from the oven and place the pans on baking racks to cool for about 10 minutes. Turn the pans over onto the rack. Flip the cake layers over and let them cool completely before icing.

5. Make the icing: in the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed until smooth and light, about 3 minutes. Carefully mix in the powdered sugar, about 1 cup at a time, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add in the extracts and salt, followed by the milk or cream and mix until well-combined. Tint with desired food coloring and decorate away.*

*To decorate with the “cloud” method:

Frost the cake with a thing layer of icing. This is the crumb coat. Put the cake in the fridge and allow to chill for 20-30 minutes until the buttercream has hardened. Meanwhile, place icing in a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (I used a Wilton #12). Pipe large dots in a vertical row.

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Using a small cake spatula, carefully smear the dot to the right. Pipe more dots to overlap the smeared dot and repeat until the cake is covered.

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Source: Cake-  Adapted from The Kitchn; Frosting- Lolly’s Sweet & Savory Treats

Selby’s 30th Birthday Cake

Today is my sister, Selby’s, 30th birthday. It’s the beginning of a new era in her life as she closes the chapter on her twenties and embarks on the exciting adventure that her thirties will bring. Although she has been dreading this new number, her future looks very bright. She has an adorable 16 month old boy and her husband, Kevin, is over half-way done with his anesthesia residency.

To ring in this big milestone, we celebrated a few weeks early when my sister and her family were in town at the beginning of the month. My sister is a serious lemon-lover and she requested the same cake I made her last year: lemon curd cake with lemon Swiss meringue buttercream frosting.

The only difference from this year compared to last is that I made my own lemon curd for the cake batter and to sandwich between the layers this time around. I followed this helpful YouTube video and the resulting curd was scrumptiously tart and addictive.

The cake didn’t make it through the weekend and the birthday girl gave it great reviews.

Happy 30th birthday, Selby. I love you!

Selby’s beautiful family

I can’t believe how big this boy has gotten compared to this photo from one year ago…

Butter-Nut Whole Wheat Blondies

Last week was one of my very best friend’s, Jamie’s, birthday. Jamie has been my partner in crime since junior high. Even though we live 2 hours apart and don’t get to see each other as often as I would like, Jamie will always hold a supreme spot in my heart.

I don’t think anyone has made me laugh as much as Jamie has. She has a special spark that causes people to gravitate towards her. Very few days go by that I don’t think about the fun memories we have had together. Outgoing, kind-hearted, generous, hard working, and accepting, Jamie has blossomed into a wonderful adult whom I feel honored to call my friend for life.

I made these blondies to drop off at her family store when Robert and I were in town a few weekends ago. The butterscotch and butter rum extracts come through and pair well with the salty walnuts and I think they would be a great treat with a morning cup of coffee.

Happy belated birthday, Jamie! I love you dearly.

Happy Monday, everyone!

Butter-Nut Whole Wheat Blondies

Yield: 2 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups (15 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon butter rum extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon butterscotch extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (5 5/8 ounces) chopped walnuts

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9×13 inch pan (lining it with tin foil makes for super easy clean-up and serving).

2. Melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Add in the sugar and mix well until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and allow it to cool slightly.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each egg. Mix in the vinegar, vanilla, butter rum, butterscotch, baking powder, and salt. Gently fold in the flour and nuts.

4. Spread the batter into the pan. Bake about 26-28 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center comes out with sticky crumbs, but not wet batter. Remove from the oven and run a knife around the edge of the pan. Allow to cool completely before cutting. For an extra smooth texture, allow the blondies to cool for 24 hours before cutting to allow the bran in the whole wheat to soften.

Source: King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking

My 26th Birthday Cake

Yesterday was my 26th birthday. On my way to work, I was thinking about my past celebrations. I used to get so excited the night before my birthday I could barely fall asleep. Now, I don’t get nearly as jazzed up for my day of birth and I am starting to feel a little, well… a little old. Twenty six. Is that still considered mid twenties? I’m saying it is, because there is no doubt that next December, I will be a woman in my late twenties. ;)

Jess, my good pal from PT school, generously made my birthday cake this year. She and her husband, Greg, dropped off the delightful treat at our house last night. Jess baked me a chocolate cake with espresso buttercream frosting and cherry filling. It was a glorious twist on a black forest cake and it was delicious. I froze the leftovers so we can stretch out the time we get to savor the dessert. Thanks so much, Jess- the cake was beautiful!

*Warning: Cheese Alert* As I reflect on another trip around the sun, I’m very grateful for the life I have. I’m surrounded by wonderful people and I have so much for which I am very thankful. My hope is that, in my 27th year, I will take each day one day at a time. I often get caught up in wishing for tomorrow, for the next vacation, to lose those x amount of pounds, for my “dream” house. The list goes on and on and before I know it, I’ve wished away the day. Life is too short to not live in the present. After all, I’ve only got a few years left before I’m officially an old lady, right? ;)

A Happy Birthday Post: Pumpkin Cake with Vanilla Buttercream and Cream Cheese Filling

Today is my baby brother Jack’s 22nd birthday. I guess I can’t really call him my baby brother anymore. He is living on his own and almost finished with his aviation mechanics degree and is also in the process of getting his small pilot’s license. Still, I find it hard to not imagine him as a little blonde-haired boy who I used to be able to pick and throw over my shoulders. Hmm… nostalgia. :)

Jack is an outdoorsman through and through and I imagine it had to be a little tricky growing up with two older sisters. He’s always been a pretty good sport about it, though; and while I don’t know much about the intricacies of fishing and hunting, I do know that Jack loves pumpkin. At the wee age of five, he single-handedly scarfed down an entire pumpkin pie. Not surprisingly it really wasn’t tough to decide what kind of cake I would make Jack this year.

I used my favorite pumpkin cake recipe and then filled the layers with a cream cheese frosting and topped it all off with a vanilla buttercream frosting. The frosting choice changed at the last minute after an extremely frustrating attempt at making cream cheese swiss meringue buttercream. I’ve made swiss meringue a couple of times before and I’ve never had a problem, but the stars did not align on this attempt. I tried and I tried to revive this temperamental icing, but time was not on my side and I had to throw in the towel after nearly two hours. The end result was still a great cake of which Jack gave his 22 year old seal of approval. I sent the leftovers home with him and I think he and his roommate will be enjoying it all week.

Happy birthday, Jack! I love you. :)

The birthday boy and his cake (apparently it’s “no shave November” and that’s why Jack is sporting a crustache)



Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Filling and Vanilla Buttercream Icing

Printable Version

Yield: 16 slices

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 can (15oz) solid-pack pumpkin
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

For the Frosting

  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 5 cups powdered sugar
  • 5-6 Tbsp half and half

For the Cream Cheese Filling

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 3-4 Tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2- 9″ cake pans with parchment paper and spray oil. Combine eggs, sugar, oil, pumpkin. In another bowl combine flour, soda, salt, powder, and cinnamon. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture. Do not overmix. Pour evenly into the cake pans. Bake for 30 mins. Remove from the oven and let cool. Invert and carefully cut each round in half. Place on parchment paper to prevent the cake from sticking to a surface.

For the filling, beat together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and milk. Spread a layer of the filling on top of one of the halves of cake. Top with half and repeat until the full cake is assembled.

To make the frosting, beat together the butter, shortening and extracts. Gradually add the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time and mixing well after each addition. With the mixer on low, add the half and half one tablespoon at a time until the frosting is combined. Spread a thin layer over the entire cake. This is your crumb layer. Let the cake chill slightly in the fridge (about 10 minutes). Remove from the fridge and spread another layer on top until the icing is evenly dispersed. Decorate as desired. Enjoy!

Source: Cake- adapted from Taste of Home, Frosting- I can’t remember! :(

A Happy Birthday Post: Dark Chocolate Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

Tomorrow is my father-in-law’s, Robert Sr’s,  51st birthday. Last year was a big celebration complete with a surprise party to ring in the big 5-0. However, this year was much more low key, which is right up his alley

To help wish Robert a very happy birthday, I made him a chocolate cake with brown sugar frosting. If there’s one thing I know about my father-in-law it’s that once he finds something he likes, he’s pretty content. This brown sugar frosting has been a staple in the family for quite some time. It’s rich, fudgy, and absolutely delicious. It’s no wonder it’s such a favorite.  To sass it up a bit, I baked my favorite chocolate cake in 8 inch rounds and then spread the frosting between the cakes for an extra layer of goodness. I assembled the cake at my parents’ place, but I didn’t have my pastry equipment with me. As a result, I just melted chocolate chips and piped out decorations on parchment paper with a sandwich bag and then let it harden in the fridge.

I was trying to go for a more manly-looking cake, but it ended up looking like cheetah print. The good news- it still tasted the same, cheetah or not. ;)

Happy birthday, Robert Sr! You are one of the most genuine, hard-working, and kind people I know.

Dark Chocolate Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

Printable Version

Yield: 16 servings

Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cups cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 Tbsp milk or heavy cream
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Directions

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

For the frosting:

Melt the butter in the saucepan; add the brown sugar and whisk together until smooth. Heat for two minutes, whisking constantly. Stir in the milk. Bring to a boil, continuing to stir constantly. Remove from heat and cool until lukewarm. Place the mixture in a bowl of an electric mixer. Gradually add the powdered sugar and beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add in milk if it’s too thick.

Source: Cake- barely adapted from Ina Garten; Frosting- Old Thyme Cooking