Weekend in Charlottesville

Robert and I visited my sister (Selby), brother-in-law (Kevin), and the cutest ginger baby in the world (Jack) over the Labor Day weekend. They are currently living in the oh-so-charming  Charlottesville, Virginia; and, although we have visited them a few times before, we have never had the chance to really explore the city. My sister did a great job of planning the weekend and we had a fabulous time. I was truly touched at how she made a point to take me to so many wonderful culinary shops and bakeries. She is, admittedly, not as passionate about cooking and baking as I am and it meant so much that she was so considerate of what I love.

On Saturday morning, we woke up early and got to spend quality time with little Jack while Selby ran a four mile race and Kevin worked at the hospital. Seriously, folks, this child is such an angel- I hope our children are as good as he is (they won’t be).

After Selby got back, we got ready and headed to the downtown mall to check out the Saturday morning market. It was drizzling, but the weather didn’t keep the people or the vendors away. The market was full of beautiful produce, gorgeous flowers, and local made-from-scratch baked goods and food.

After the market we stopped at one of Selby and Kevin’s favorite sandwich shops, Baggby’s, for lunch. It was perfect. I had a grinder, Selby had a California wrap, Robert had a Philly cheesesteak, and Jack had a grilled cheese. Robert claims it was one of the best cheesesteak sandwiches he has ever had. It was nothing fancy- a cute little family-owned hole in the wall; but it was great (and each sandwich came with a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie).

Once our bellies were full, Selby took us all around the Charlottesville downtown mall. The best thing about the mall is that almost all of the shops are local boutiques. Very few of the stores were national chains and I couldn’t get over how charming each place was. I told Selby numerous times that I was in sensory overload- I almost couldn’t function because of the cuteness.

Later that evening, we left little Jack with a babysitter and headed to Devil’s Backbone Brewery Company for dinner and drinks. I didn’t take any pictures while we were there, but the beer and the food was tasty. I had the fried green tomato Caprese salad, Robert ordered the smokehouse burger, Selby got the Backbone salad, and Kevin enjoyed the fish and chips.

On Sunday, Robert and Kevin went golfing while Selby, Jack and I visited the Carter Mountain Orchard to take in the views and peruse the store. We got Jack and the boys fresh apple cider donuts. They were so good, Jack ate a whole one.

The weekend went by quickly and we had such a fun time visiting our family and exploring Charlottesville. Selby and Kevin were great hosts and we can’t wait to visit again. :)

Our Trip to Maui: Wedding Bells and Adventures

I have been absent from the blogging world for the past 2 weeks, but I have a good excuse. Besides the fact that temperature in Ohio has been over 100 for several days this month and our air conditioner is on its last leg (not conducive for baking), we went to Maui for my dear friend, Chelsea’s wedding. This was our first time visiting the Hawaiian Islands and we had a wonderful time (big props to Chelsea and Brian for picking the perfect wedding locale!).

We had plenty of time before the big day to take in the sights, tour, and enjoy delicious Hawaiian food. As always, the vacation went by very quickly, but we took around 1000 pictures documenting all of our fun.

Instead of boring you with every single detail (because I really could go on and on) and because it was such a fantastic trip, I decided to make a list of our top 10 favorite things from Maui.

Here it goes:

10. The Banana Bread- Our first morning at Maui I was sitting next to a young boy in a tour van and he pulled a small loaf of bread wrapped in plastic wrap. It wasn’t until he removed the plastic that the the warm and buttery smell wafted into my nose- the smell of fresh banana bread. My friend Chelsea, who should have been a travel agent, pointed out to me that she read in her travel books that there are several small shacks that are famous for their banana bread. My heart filled with delight.

We ended up stopping at place called Auntie Sandy’s along our trip on the road to Hana. The mini loaves had just been baked and even Robert, my banana-hating husband, enjoyed the treat. It was a beautiful moment. ;)

9. Iao Valley: The Iao Valley is a lush and beautiful area in Maui where 4 streams run together. The Iao Needle, standing over a thousand feet tall, was supposedly used as lookout point during wartime on the island in the 18th century. I wouldn’t want to be the one who drew the short straw on that task.

8. Macadamia Nut Pancakes from Gazebo Restaurant: As soon as we touched down in Maui, I had a hankering for macadamia nut pancakes. I did some research online and found consistent good reviews for the Gazebo Restaurant. I’m so glad I did. It’s a quaint, open air (literally a gazebo) place to eat and the service is very friendly. Even better, are their macadamia nut pancakes. Robert and I split an order of these fluffy delights and we gave the hotcakes two thumbs up. Topped with whipped cream and an extra sprinkling of macadamia nuts, my craving was fulfilled and my soul was happy. Food can do that to people (or is that just me?).

7. The Coffee: One of my favorite moments from Maui was getting up early and enjoying a cup of hot Hawaiian coffee on our balcony. Since Ohio is six hours ahead of Hawaii in the International Date Line, Robert and I got up between 5 and 6am while we were there. We didn’t mind, though. There is something so peaceful about getting up before the rest of the world-or island, rather- awakes. Watching the waves crash in and feeling that cool ocean breeze while sipping the smooth “cup of Kona” is my idea of heaven.

6. Seven Sacred Pools (on the road to Hana): The Seven Sacred Pools- or the ‘Ohe’o pools- is one of the last stops on the road to Hana. By the time we got to this spot, we were all pretty exhausted from a long day of traveling the winding road (it took us 12 hours round trip!). In retrospect, I wish we would have given ourselves more time for this spot. The part of the falls that we were able to see was so breathtakingly spectacular and it dumped into a beautiful cove of bright blue waters.

5.  Stillwell’s Bakery: Robert’s sweet gesture lead us to this scrumptious haven of sweetness. He’d read about Stillwell’s Bakery  and requested that we go there for breakfast before our trip to Iao Valley. He’d seen pictures of their pastries and he thought it would be the perfect place to take me. When we pulled into the driveway, we were a little apprehensive- it wasn’t in a great part of town and it looked a little outdated. Boy, were we wrong. We walked in to see a case of beautiful, handcrafted desserts- passionfruit cheesecakes, mango mousse, chocolate eclairs, cream horns, tarts, the list goes on and on.

I always love things that look pretty, but they don’t always taste as good as they look. This was absolutely not the case with Stillwell’s. After we ate breakfast there, we bought some things to bring back to our condo and share with our friends. Mr. Stillwell happened to be the one packaging up our treats and he proudly boasted about the fact that they make their food, including their chocolate mousse, from scratch. A good man, indeed.

It’s fine dining with Spam!

4. Snorkeling: The Pacific Ocean is so piercingly blue in Hawaii and there are lots of coral reefs, which makes for excellent snorkeling. The beach off of our hotel and the beach at Black Rock were hang out spots for several sea turtle and tropical fish. Chelsea had a special underwater case for her camera and got lots of great pictures- I will have to post some when the lovebirds get back from their honeymoon in Kauai.

That brown spot in the center of the picture is a sea turtle!

3.  The Fresh Fruit: Oh, baby. I have never tasted better pineapple, mango, passion fruit, and even watermelon. The fruit tastes like it was grown by gods in a magical garden. It’s so sweet and fresh. I don’t know if I will ever eat a pineapple from my grocery store again…okay, I will, but you get the idea. Delicious!

2. Black Sand Beach (on the road to Hana): The Black Sand Beach was one of the places I was looking forward to the most on our trip to Hana. Formed by liquid hot magma (Austin Powers, anyone?), the beach’s sand is full of charcoal-colored pebbles, lava holes, and a spectacular view. I’d seen this spot featured on the Travel channel before, but it was even better than I imagined.

1.  Mount Haleakala: Our favorite adventure from Maui has to be watching the sunrise on Mount Haleakala and then biking 25 miles down the once-active volcano. We scheduled our tour for the first morning we got there. We had to get up at 1:30am to make it to the bike shop by 3, but it wasn’t bad because it we were still on Ohio time.

After we got our gear, we made the 10,000 foot ascent in a fifteen passenger van while it was still dark. We finally made it to the top and stepped out to windy and very cold weather. The tour guides warned us to dress warmly and they weren’t lying. Our teeth were chattering and we had to huddle together to stay warm, but I think that really added to the experience, or at least that’s what I kept telling myself (a few children were crying- it was that bad).

Finally, after about 20 minutes of waiting, the sun peaked up through the horizon and we got to see one of the most amazing views I have ever witnessed. Thousands of miles away from a worry in the world and above the clouds, it was incredible. I would definitely do it again.

Congratulations, Chelsea and Brian. Thank you so much for inviting us along on a wonderful Hawaiian adventure!

Copper Mountain, Colorado

No new recipes for today. Things have been pretty simple in the meal department the past two weeks, but I wanted to share a few pictures from our ski trip to Copper Mountain, Colorado. My dad has been planning this family vacation out west for several years now. I remember he was even talking about it when I was still in high school. It’s been a long time coming. Finally, we were all able to make it happen. The trip was set in stone for over a year and, I must say, it lived up to the hype.

Having never been to Colorado before, I was taken back by the beautiful scenery. I can’t imagine living with a view of evergreen-studded, snow cap mountains through my back window. Simply amazing.

The altitude was a big adjustment for us Ohio folk. The first day we got in, we walked down to the village to get helmets and we could barely talk because we were so out of breath. Luckily, though, we were feeling better after a few days and none of us got too sick from the high elevation.

Robert and I were also able to meet up with Jeff, one of my friends from PT school, as well as one of his fellow engineering friends from college. I am a bit envious they get to live in Colorado year round, but I won’t hold it against them.

Another thing I noticed- everyone’s in good shape. I barely saw any overweight people. In fact, I think I may have been the plumpest one around. It turns out, Colorado is the thinnest state in the nation. Can’t say that about Ohio. :)

Aside from my mom’s injury on the last day, we had a wonderful time in Colorado. I can’t wait to go back again!

Oh, and how could I forget… we got to spend lots of quality time with this little leprechaun…

 

Snow Skiing and Ho Ho Cake

This past weekend, Robert and I went skiing with a group of friends in Hidden Valley, Pennsylvania. We stayed in a house on the resort and spent 2 days skiing and enjoying being snowed in. The weather was cold. And since we have had a freakishly warm winter thus far, it took a little getting used to. Luckily, we packed enough clothes and we had tons of fun skiing, even if we could barely walk by the end of the trip. When we weren’t skiing, we played games, watched movies, and ate (skiing burns a lot of calories, right?).

It also happened to be Stacy’s 25th birthday and I made a ho ho cake to help celebrate. A ho ho cake is pretty much just like it sounds- chocolate cake, cream filling, and chocolate glaze. I added chocolate ganache and fresh raspberries for a simple and feminine decoration. The end result was very rich and decadent dessert that isn’t appropriate for non-chocolate lovers. :)

We had a really fun weekend and I can’t wait to go skiing again. I guess I’ll go ahead and say it, bring on the snow!

This masked man also happens to be my husband

A beautifully sunny day for skiing

This picture was captured after they were all forced to hug

Warming his tootsies

Token “hot chocolate by the fire” shot

Ho Ho Cake

Ingredients

For the glaze:

  • 1/2 cup butter, cubed
  • 1/2 cup baking cocoa
  • 1 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons milk

For the filling:

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt

For the ganache:

  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

Directions

For the glaze:

For glaze, melt butter and cocoa in a small saucepan. Whisk in confectioners’ sugar and enough milk to achieve a drizzling consistency. Drizzle over top of cake, allowing some to drape down the sides.

For the filling:

In a small saucepan, combine flour and milk until smooth; stir in 1/3 cup sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Transfer to a large bowl; cool. Beat in the butter, vanilla, salt and remaining sugar until smooth. Spread between cake layers.

For the ganache:

Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl.  Heat the cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Immediately remove from the heat and pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate.  Let stand 1-2 minutes, then whisk together until a smooth, thick ganache is formed.  Whisk in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time until completely incorporated.  Let the ganache sit to thicken a bit so that it is suitable for spreading and piping.

Carefully cut each 9 inch round in half. Spread the filling between each layer. Top with glaze. Let harden and then pipe on ganache. Top with raspberries if desired.

Source: Filling and glaze- adapted from Taste of Home; Ganache- Annie’s Eats