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Archive for the ‘Deliciousness’ Category

Last week included one night during which Carla had a bout of stomach virus (why must barfing inevitably happen at night?) and I slept a total of 2 hours and 20 minutes, one night during which I spent NO JOKE $9 (NINE) American dollars on mangoes because three of them were rotten on the inside and yet it was my anniversary and I had a beautiful piece of fish and I REFUSED to make something different than the recipe I’d planned (yes, I know it’s probably my own fault for buying non-local, not-in-season produce but I need my fresh fruits and veg, people!), and a night where a (tiny, non-threatening, and probably very cold) caterpillar crawled out of a green pepper and made my dinner very one-sided, pepper wise (I like to have an equal amount of red and green peppers).

So I think you will empathize with me when I say that I feel really crabby about making dinner (and just in general). Despite the crabbiness, dinner doesn’t make itself.

One day this week we are going out to dinner with friends, and another day we are going to an afternoon football game so I’m not sure if we will eat at the stadium or not. Either way, I’m not going to want to make a Real Dinner when we get home, so I am planning something that will easily meld into future weeks if we decide not to cook it.

Oh and look at that: this takes us right up to Christmas Eve, so I will need to figure out what I am serving for dinner on the 24th, 25th, and 26th. Sounds like a separate shopping trip, if you ask me!

Meals for the week of December 18 to December 24

  • Tacos

Note: I think tacos are my favorite food.

 

Note: I may end up swapping the zucchini noodles with the side for a different meal… the flavor profiles might be way too different for this to be a good pairing.

Note: This is one of my three favorite stir fry recipes. SO GOOD. As with literally all stir fries, I make it with red and green bell peppers. I also throw in some broccoli and some zucchini if I’m feeling fancy.  I also like to throw in some peas, but my husband is not crazy about them so I usually leave them out. By the way, you can make this without kaffir lime leaves — just squeeze some lime in at the end. I can get them at a local Asian supermarket, and I love the subtle citrusy essence they add to this meal.

 

Note: Over time, I have HEAVILY adapted this recipe. I use boneless skinless chicken breasts. I put in a whole head of garlic, and I sauté the garlic and onion before adding them to slow cooker. For the liquid, I use 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1/2 cup wine, and I also deglaze the onion/garlic sauté pan with an additional 1/4 cup of wine and 1/2 cup chicken stock. The sauce is pretty yummy and I usually like to sop it up with some couscous, per the Martha Stewart recipe linked above (although all that link says about the couscous is to “prepare it per the package instructions.” Gee, thanks.).

We will also be making zimtsterne over the weekend, which are delicious almond-y (and gluten free, if that matters to you!) cookies that my husband discovered last year. Santa gets hungry, yo.

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Aha! My favorite/least favorite day of the week: Meal planning day! Let’s get to it.

A couple of commenters kindly mentioned recently being impressed with the variety of recipes I post and cook for my family each week. First of all, *blush*. Secondly, these first couple of weeks are giving you a false impression of my typical cooking style. Well, maybe not TRULY false. But I promise there will come a day when my meal plan looks like “tacos, spaghetti, soup, chicken paprikas, stir fry” for several weeks in a row.

For now, this “posting about my dinners” is novel and it’s inspiring me to be a bit more creative in my meal planning. Also, my husband and I are trying to watch what we eat in a way we hadn’t been for a few months, and that forces me to be more thoughtful and creative in what I cook. (I could – and probably will, at some point when the novelty wears off – just do some variation on “chicken + vegetable” every day. But that gets tiresome quickly.) Also also, I get SO BORED of Our Regular Fare that sometimes the boredom alone is enough to spur me to choose more varied options.

I totally get that meal planning doesn’t work for everyone. For me, it is purely an efficiency thing: going to the grocery store is a huge time suck and I hate it. But I do admit, there are days when NONE of the meals on my list sound appetizing and I have to come up with something else on the fly. Last week, there was a day I didn’t feel like cooking, so I scrounged around for something in the fridge and my husband got Panera.

That means that I have a meal from last week to carry over to this week. Also this week are a) my husband’s work holiday party and b) our TENTH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY, for which we are going out to dinner, so I have fewer meals to plan for. Woo hoo!

Meals for the Week of December 11-17

Note: This is the holdover from last week, which means I still have all the ingredients at home. I hope the parmesan is holding up okay (it is… many weeks old).

Note: My husband and I pair this with basmati rice and caramelized onions, and he also adds sundried tomatoes and feta cheese to his plate. Nothing green on this plate, but you could add a quick side salad if you were so inclined.

My notes from the last time we ate this said to use lettuce instead of cabbage. I am also going to omit the avocado from the salad and the half and half from the crèma; I found it was liquidy enough with just the addition of the lime juice.

Also, I will tell you a secret: Using chipotles in adobo sauce is one of my favorite ways to add kick to meals. But I hate the texture of the chipotle chiles. So I puree a can or two of in the blender and then spoon a tablespoon of the puree into ice cube trays. Then I have a plastic baggie of chipotle ice cubes I can add to ANYTHING – chile or crema or chicken marinade. Super easy and delicious.

Follow Up: My husband says this is too spicy. I don’t know what to do with that information.

Note: This recipe is new to me. I am a little wary of the big chunks of celery (outside of tomatoes in all forms, there is almost nothing worse than slimy cooked celery) but otherwise it sounds good.

Note: This is a Regular Stand By. My husband and I also add one each of a red and green pepper, and I chop up a jalapeno on mine.

Note: My notes from the last time we made this say, “This was pretty good. Husband liked it more than I did.” So. Hmm. I am not sure what to do with that. Maybe I will use regular paprika instead of smoked? I can tell you one thing, and that’s that I will definitely be omitting the parsley, which I hate. I also have baby Brussels sprouts leftover from last week, so I will be roasting those little guys with a couple of shallots.

Follow Up: I did indeed replace the smoked paprika with regular, and liked this much better. It was quite salty, made saltier because I think I over salted the Brussels sprouts as well (and burnt the everloving souls out of the poor things). Also, the whole meal desperately needed acid. Next time, I should make this with lemon broccoli, and/or maybe just squeeze a lemon over the chicken when it comes out of the oven. Oh, I also used thyme instead of oregano because I went to three grocery stores and there was NO OREGANO and it worked just fine with the thyme.

All right, off to the grocery store! Hope your dinner plans this week are tasty!

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One of the little things I find so pleasing about Thanksgiving is learning what everybody likes to eat on Thanksgiving. (This applies to all holidays, honestly.) Because I can’t stand ANYTHING besides the mashed potatoes and gravy, I am so charmed to hear people wax poetic about the dressing or express deep-seated passion for corn casserole.

It’s so fun and delightful to learn about how other people do the Very Same Things you do, isn’t it? I just love that.

That delight extends to everyday food, too. I am so curious to know what other people make for themselves/their families. There are so many different things to make! Just for dinner! And I find it rather marvelous that my husband and I have our Old Standbys and preferred flavor/ingredient combinations… while you might – probably, in fact! – have totally different things that you turn to every week.

To make what may seem like a change of subject but is closely linked in my brain: I felt so heartened by the suggestions on my most recent meal planning postthat I have soldiered on for many months. I downloaded a recipe/shopping list app that I still haven’t really gotten the hang of, but aside from that, I’ve just been going on as before: long lists of recipes on my phone and on my computer; an unwieldy email chain chronicling my week-over-week meal plans; not infrequent despair that my family’s desire to eat regular meals – much like dishwashing and laundry – never ends.

Well, now I am going to try something new: posting my meal plans on this here blog. New to me, that is; I enjoy many blogs that regularly post their weekly meal plans and have been reading them and getting inspiration from them for years.

Perhaps you will find this wildly boring; in which case, perhaps ignore Tuesday posts (I go shopping on Tuesdays). Or you could probably just wait a few weeks until I grow weary of this particular project.

But perhaps you will find inspiration among my meals. Or at the very least, a little frisson of delight that we are so similar or so very different.

Meals for the Week of November 27 through December 3

  • Pre-packaged marinated pork chops with broccoli

Follow Up: We have another package of these pork chops, so I will have to eat them again. They weren’t bad, just a bit bland.

Follow Up: This continues to be delicious. I think next time I will do an extra onion.

Follow Up: A good, easy dish. I roasted everything at the same time for about 30 minutes, and then broiled the pork for another five. I added garlic cloves to the root vegetables and my husband did not like them — he said they overpower the subtle flavor of the parsnips.

Follow Up: I did in fact serve these with black beans on the side. These turned out to be pretty tasty, although the chunky nature of the canned chiles is not appealing to me. Also, this was WAY more complicated than it should have been: I needed three separate pots to cook everything, plus the roasting dish, plus the bowl in which I blended the second can of chiles — and that doesn’t even count the sheet pan on which I baked the chicken. If I can find a way to modify it so that it’s not so multi-steppy, maybe I’ll do it again… I wonder if it would be good if I simply mixed the chicken and white beans together in a bowl and used that alone as a filling? If I only had to make the sauce, I might do this again.

Follow Up: Delicious. I used some zucchini noodles instead of bean sprouts, which was pretty good.

Follow Up: This continues to be easy and delicious. The worst part is trying to time the beans to be done at the same time as the salmon.

Follow Up: Somehow I totally screwed up the spice level. This time, I used three tablespoons of each spice (except salt — 1 tsp, and cardamon — scant 1 tbsp) and it was WAY too overpowering. My husband and I couldn’t even finish it. And it was really salty. Maybe do 1 to 2 tablespoons of each spice next time, a half tablespoon of cardamom, and a half teaspoon of salt?

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Halloween is not even a week in the rear-view and I’m already dashing headlong into Thanksgiving preparations! It’s coming up in two weeks, people! This is not a drill!

This morning in a fit of… something, probably lack of desire to exercise… I took down and put away all the Halloween decorations and replaced them with my meager Thanksgiving decorations.

I love decorating for the season, and I really enjoy Fall Décor specifically, but I have a very hard time paying $25 for a wooden pumpkin, even if it’s handpainted, and even if I really like the pumpkin and pine for it each year at this time. Oh well. I keep it in my Etsy shopping cart for annual admiration, hoping each year that the shop will have a massive sale and I’ll be able to get it for $10.

You know who has surprisingly good seasonal décor? Michael’s, that’s who. I usually spend a morning in early fall, or, as seasonal buying seems to begin earlier and earlier each year, in early summer, wandering through Michael’s, admiring the stuffed scarecrows and fabric owls and tabletop gourds. Would my life be vastly improved by tabletops gourds? Probably not, but I imagine them in my life just the same.

(photos from Michaels.com; although they are all on DRASTIC sale they are not available online and very possibly not available in store either; cute nonetheless)

I don’t really know what more I NEED, by way of fall decorations. I have a plain orange pumpkin that I use to bridge the decorating gap between Halloween and fall. I have a table runner with leaves. I have a small wooden pumpkin. I have a small wooden “gratitude tree” from which Carla hangs little paper leaves on which she’s written things she is thankful for. I have a wooden welcome sign for my front door in the shape of a leaf. I removed the jack-o-lantern faces from the pumpkins, so they are sitting on the front stoop, pretending like they were meant to be fall pumpkins and not Halloween pumpkins. I have two or three ceramic leaf bowls that I can never really figure out how to incorporate; they are not quite deep enough to be candy dishes, so I think I generally use them to hold cashews or pistachios when we have Thanksgiving guests. I have a plastic Thanksgiving plate and bowl for Carla, although she may be too big for them. I saved the fall window clings from last year. I have some small wooden leaves that I don’t know how to use – but I’ll find a way, mark my words; I used small wooden pumpkins on all the windows for Halloween and they are fall-ish enough to stay through Thanksgiving.  I have a couple of fall hand towels.

It sounds like more than it is.

Oh! I also have a handful of colorful cloth leaves that I usually toss onto the Thanksgiving table. But this year, I used putty to stick them to my kitchen walls.

I don’t know if I love it; give me a day or so to think about it. (Who am I kidding? Now that they are up they aren’t coming down unless the putty gives up and they fall off themselves.)

What else could I possibly want, right? Especially because I am picky about decorations. I don’t like anything that’s made out of that scratchy material – what is it, sisal? I don’t like anything with words (my “welcome” door sign notwithstanding). I don’t generally like turkeys or pilgrims. Really, I’m a leaf and pumpkin girl, and I tend toward wood. And there are only so many wooden leaves and pumpkins a person can scatter about her house without feeling like they’re closing in.

It’s not just the decor that has me in a frenzy; it’s the food. Thanksgiving is so early this year! My parents arrive a week from Friday, which is very exciting but also makes me feel a little panicked. I need to come up a meal plan for while they’re here. The one thing I know for sure is that we’ll have this chicken, mushroom, and wild rice soup for dinner the night before The Big Day. At least I have already ordered my turkey – which reminds me, I need to call and request that my turkey arrive a day earlier; DONE. – and I have dusted off my Thanksgiving Timeline. That helps a teeny little bit. I can’t really do much more until my first round of Thanksgiving shopping.

I am feeling a little bit devil-may-care this year about the food. If you know me at all, you know that I am a Huge Kitchen Control Freak and do not like anyone else in the kitchen with me. But I am also realizing that I don’t actually like any of the food on Thanksgiving – except for the garlic goat cheese mashed potatoes and gravy, which I make by the bucketful – so why should I care so much about working myself to exhaustion while insisting on making the entire meal without ANY help from my family lovingly preparing it all on my own? My mother and father both like to help. Why not let them? Such a novel idea! However, jury’s still out on whether I will actually be able to turn over the reins.

While I am throwing Thanksgiving caution to the wind, I am also contemplating doing things differently. Perhaps if I made a pie I actually like – apple, maybe! or a fall version of this plum torte that I have been dreaming about since I made it this summer – I would enjoy pie! Maybe if I made some sort of wonderful Brussels sprout recipe or a delicious mushroomy mac and cheese, I would be able to fill my plate with more than my traditional pile of mashed potatoes and a slim slice of turkey!

This is not new; I have contemplated doing things differently in the past and then stuck with our family traditions. Therein lies the problem, of course: our traditions are so ingrained beloved that we’re not going to change them. Which means that I wouldn’t be lessening the cooking load at all. I am still going to have to make dressing, because it’s my husband’s favorite. I am still going to have to make pumpkin bars, because people want something pumpkin-y at Thanksgiving. And I don’t know that I have enough bandwidth – not to mention enough oven space – to add something else to the mix.

So probably all this wild and reckless and altogether deviant thinking won’t go anywhere, and I’ll do what I’ve always done. It’s fun to think about, though.

The one shake-up I am contemplating that stands the best chance of actually happening is the gravy. I love gravy so very much. And the last time I made it, it was amazing. It was this deep mahogany elixir of the gods that I would have been happy to drink by itself. But it’s finite, you know. And you have to share it with the other people at your Thanksgiving table.

So I’m wondering if I might try to make some gravy in advance. I keep seeing suggestions for doing this, and it doesn’t look terribly hard. I mean, you have to procure chicken or turkey parts/carcass in advance, which troubles me a little. But I could probably buy some chicken wings or legs for not too much money and roast them for the gravy. And I would still make gravy on Thanksgiving Day, don’t you worry. This plan is designed to produce EXTRA gravy, not less work. I want to be eating mashed potatoes and gravy well into December, is what I’m telling you.

Well, I have a little time left to fit it into my Thanksgiving Timeline. If it works out, I’ll let you know.

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In April, I gave up sugar. Well, added sugar. I wasn’t super strict about it. If we’re being specific, I really gave up sweets. Anyway, among the things that were on the Off Limits list was diet soda, for which I have deep affection.

After the no-sugar month ended, I returned to diet soda. But lightly. It’s no longer an every-day necessity.

And I’ve been won over to La Croix, which I previously found revolting. My favorite flavor is mango, which has a nice mango-ness essence to it. My least favorite flavor is tangerine, which tastes like licking someone’s hand after they’ve peeled an orange.

In May, I gave up carbs. But, as with sugar, I don’t mean CARBS. I mean, I was back on sugar after all. I was not turning down the occasional scoop of ice cream, that’s for sure. What I mean when I say “carbs” is the biggies. You know. Rice. Pasta. Bread. Potatoes. Oh, and I also gave up beans and legumes.

And I wasn’t even THAT strict. Sometimes I would have corn on my salads. One day I was sick with a stomach bug and so I ate a bagel. I still drank alcohol.

Even though I cringe a little bit at saying this, because it sounds like I am being glib about something that is very serious for some people, I wasn’t going low-carb because I had to; I was doing it for entertainment. So I could bend the rules here and there.

Really, though, I stuck to it. I found a previously unknown love for zucchini noodles (I REFUSE to call them zoodles), which were a perfectly delicious alternative to rice in my favorite Instant Pot Panang Curry dish. I made basically the same meals that we always make, which includes a lot of chicken/pork and a veggie side. And sometimes I would make a side of rice or couscous for my husband, and sometimes we would both just eat veggies. I begrudgingly ate taco salads instead of tacos-in-shells. And it was all fine.

There were a couple of meals I just didn’t make in May. Pizza, obviously. (I toyed with the idea of getting one of those cauliflower crusts from Trader Joe’s but I didn’t end up trying it.) I didn’t make anything that required potatoes or pasta, like chicken paprikash or spaghetti. I did make more stir fries than I thought I would (since I usually eat stir fries with rice); I either substituted zucchini noodles or I just added extra veggies.

I thought it was going to be SO HARD. I love pasta. I love pizza. I love rice. I love potatoes. I love beans. And I wouldn’t be able to have ANY of those things! For a month!

But… it wasn’t that hard.

Maybe it’s because I had just come off a month of no-sugar, and that was SO UNBEARABLE at the beginning, that going low-carb felt easier. Maybe it’s because I was allowing a little bit of sugar/sweets back into my life, so I felt like I was getting TREATS. Maybe it’s because I eat fewer carbs than I think I do. Maybe it’s because it was only for a month, and I was high on the feeling of power that I got from giving up sugar for so long. If I had to do it full time, it would probably be a lot more unpleasant. It was so not-difficult that I kind of feel like I got away with something. Or I didn’t do it correctly, which is probably more likely.

As with the no-sugar month, I didn’t experience any of the supposed benefits of a low-carb lifestyle. No weight loss, for instance. No feelings of increased energy. Possibly, this is because I didn’t cut out sugar. Or because I didn’t cut out ALL carbs. Or because I didn’t do it long enough. It was an entertaining experiment, that was all.

In any case, I am back on carbs. I have enjoyed MUCH pizza and MANY chips since May ended. There has been no longterm effect of my month off. If anything, I may be OVERcarbing. So perhaps it was harder than I realized.

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Internet, I am so sick of all food and have no idea what to cook and yet I STILL feel obligated to feed my family.

Yes, I have been here before. But this rut ravine crevasse feels especially deep and wide and insurmountable.

Let’s list all the things that are contributing to these dark feelings:

  1. My grill is broken, so none of my summery “throw some meat and veg on the grill” options are available to me
  2. My in-laws are here, which means I feel (self-applied, only) extra pressure to cook Things That Are Special
  3. I have still not gotten accustomed to our summer schedule, so I feel off-kilter in general
  4. It’s hot and I don’t have any extra energy for cooking
  5. I used up every last store of Cooking Enthusiasm in June, when I baked two cakes and countless cupcakes and hosted my in-laws for multiple Special Meals

First, I tried to make meal planning more interesting by adding two or three Brand New Recipes to the weekly list of dinners. But that requires research and energy, and I am fresh out of both. Okay, I am not “fresh out” of research. I am fresh out of PATIENCE for research. DESIRE to research. And patience and desire for this line of sentencing.

Next, we have been eating lot of meals outside the home, which takes all the planning and cooking weight off of me. But eating out all the time is expensive and time consuming. And I tend not to make the healthiest choices when I go out to eat (if I’m going to spend money on a meal, it better be tasty and fancier than a SALAD is my line of thinking).

Finally, I have turned to cooking super easy things, like Crockpot BBQ Pork or Tacos or Burritos. But my husband is growing weary of all of those things, and they aren’t really the lightest fare, either. I love to eat foods that are smothered in cheese and sour cream, but there’s only so much of that you can eat before you start to feel like YOU are smothered in cheese and sour cream.

How in the world do you climb out of such a deep and overwhelming food chasm?

Probably what I need most is some fresh ideas. Which is difficult to ask for because a) I have a HUGE list of recipes I haven’t tried and b) I am super picky and so 90% of recipes people suggest never sound that great. Really makes you want to help me, doesn’t it?

What are your go-to meals, when you want something easy and delicious? Bonus points if you would serve it to guests.

(Where does this come from, this need to do Something Special for guests? If a food is good enough to serve to my family, why doesn’t that make it good enough to serve to other people? And yet there are MANY things that my husband and I eat all the time – and LOVE! – that I have never thought twice about serving to others. Some of them are pretty spicy, so maybe that’s part of it… we like a spice level that wouldn’t be comfortable to many other people. Some of them seem… plain, I guess? Like the Crockpot BBQ Pork, which is just a pork tenderloin and an onion dumped into the crock pot with some BBQ sauce [and sriracha]. I usually eat it with a baked potato and some green beans. I LOVE it. But I wouldn’t consider serving it to friends because… I don’t know! It seems too homely somehow? It seems like a B-Team Meal, and when you have people over, it seems like you should be serving them only A-Team foods? It’s too easy to make, and you should put in Real Effort when you entertain? I have no idea. Is this Foods-Suitable-for-Guests thing unique to me and my husband?)

In exchange, I will give you my FAVORITE recipe of late. It is so good. So good that I refrain from making it too often, lest I get sick of it.

(And I cook the chicken in the oven – 425F for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is 165F – so it doesn’t matter that our grill is broken.)

It’s called Honey Chipotle Chicken Bowls from How Sweet Eats but I think of it as a big, delicious salad. I use lots of mixed greens for the base, and I cut some fresh corn and bell peppers and carrots and avocado and add those to the salad. And then I top everything with a mixture of the lime dressing the recipe recommends and a generous drizzle of the cooked marinade from the chicken.  I was really suspicious of putting quinoa on a salad, but it adds a very pleasant texture that I love. We served this to my in-laws recently, and they loved it.

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You may be wondering why you haven’t seen my annual Mooning Over the Passage of  Time or CakeRelated Therapy posts.

You know. The ones where I get all misty-eyed and sentimental about my child’s birthday and try to self-medicate with complicated baking projects.

Maybe you think I’ve gotten it over it! Outgrown it! Filled my life with better and more interesting things to think about!

Or, if you are a longtime reader of this blog, and/or A Realist, you may assume you just missed it.

Well, you haven’t missed it, per se. I’ve written it. Oh, I’ve written it. (I have, in fact, written – let me check here… —  2,349 words on the topic.) I just haven’t posted anything because… well, I am making my own eyes roll is really the best reason I can give you.

But I did have the annual mooning. And I did make some cakes.

fifth-birthday-4.jpg

Unicorns in their carrying case at the party, waiting for eager five- and six-year-olds to gobble them down!

Carla wanted to have a unicorn birthday party, so I made unicorn cupcakes for the party. We invited fifteen of her friends. They played on an indoor playground. They ate pizza. They ate unicorn cupcakes. I turned one of her getting-sort-of-grubby dresses into a Unicorn Dress via the magic of iron-on unicorn and stars appliques.

Fifth birthday 7

Baking Secret: I made so many cupcakes that I had… many left over. And I didn’t take this picture until many… weeks had passed. One can only think that the cupcakes would have photographed better had they been FRESHER. These have survived a birthday party, being in a hot car while the birthday girl ate a post-party lunch (she did not eat pizza AT her party), then being in my fridge for weeks. Of course, one might also choose to blame poor photography skills. One has many choices, is what one should know.

For her family birthday party, we went to Carla’s favorite restaurant for tacos. After dinner, we had cake. Carla had requested a purple cake with chocolate frosting. Last year, she wanted a purple cake with black  frosting, a concept I was more amenable to this year. But I went with chocolate.

(Disclaimer: I went with chocolate. But then I tried, briefly, to dye it black. But I only had regular black dye, which turned the chocolate frosting a disturbing shade of grey. [Apparently you need to use some sort of extra-dark cocoa powder AND extra-black black dye to get a truly black frosting.] [Do you think I didn’t check at our local Joann fabric and local baking stores to see if they had these items in stock? If you think I did not, you don’t know me at all.] So then I had to use ALL of the brown dye I own, which was a lot, to get the chocolate to be a nice, dark chocolatey color.)

My husband was very skeptical that that cake would be aesthetically pleasing. I was more optimistic, and plus I had A Plan. A Plan that involved gold and sparkles, which Carla loves.

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Baking secret: The only way I could get these sprinkles to stick to the frosting was by throwing handfuls of them at the cake. There are STILL tiny white sprinkles on my floor.

I think it turned out rather cute, right?

Fifth birthday 2

Why yes, the cake IS a little crooked, thank you for noticing! I tried to compensate for the lean by taking an off-center photo which is, of course, my specialty.

I wish I had photos of it with the shiny gold candles in it, too. They were adorable. Oh well.

See? Chocolate on the outside, purple on the inside! (My mother-in-law noted that it seems more blue than purple. It is NOT BLUE. I applied the dye myself and it is most definitely PURPLE. Thank you for your comment.)

Fifth birthday 5

Baking Secret: While I never thought I would do it, I DID end up using cake mix to make the cupcakes AND the cake alike. I doctored the mix before baking — butter and milk instead of oil and water, plus I added real vanilla bean and pure vanilla extract — but it was SO MUCH easier than making the batter from scratch. To make sure I wasn’t being TOO easy on myself, the filling between the layers is homemade chocolate ganache.

The cupcakes are gone. The cake is gone. The leftover ganache, which I just ate right now by the spoonful, is gone.

And now I have a five-year-old. An independent, brilliant, confident, creative, twirly, curious, still-sucks-her-thumb, sometimes-cuddly-sometimes-not, animal loving, imaginative, LEGO building, super fast running, fearless, charismatic, hilarious, beautiful five-year-old. She gets better and more fascinating and more complicated and more herevery day. I am so very lucky to have her in my life, so fortunate to be able to watch her and help her and enjoy her as she grows. (But I still have all the attendant Feelings™ that accompany my baby’s inexorable transition from infant to adult.)

fifth-birthday-1.jpg

Why yes I DID color coordinate her wrapping paper with her cake, thankyouverymuch.

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