Sunday, November 28, 2010

I Heart Faces Photo Challenge - Scenic Black and White

I became passionate about black and white photography after receiving my first Ansel Adams calendar in high school.  I love how black and white erases the clutter and, instead, draws the viewer into contrast and texture and light.

This photo of my niece, Sherah, and her husband, Andy, was taken at their wedding on the Oregon coast.  Surrounded by majestic rock and harsh waters, their solid embrace holds a future of promise that will withstand all that life throws their way.

The June day was windy and cold.  Who knew that this pragmatic bride, never flinching, wore long underwear under her gorgeous gown?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Knots on a Counting Rope

Every year before their Thanksgiving Feast, the second grade class reads a book called Knots On A Counting Rope by Bill Martin and John Archembault.  The book is about a Native American boy who requests his favorite story from his grandfather --- the story of the special night when the boy came into the world.  Though born blind, the boy learns many ways to see without needing his eyes.  Each time the Grandfather tells the boy's tale, he adds another knot to the counting rope.  Once the rope is full, the boy will know the wonderful story by heart and will be able to tell it himself.

After the children have heard the story, the parents are invited to the class to tell a story of their child.  Here is my humorous and sentimental story of Arielle.

Photo by Ken Rada

When Arielle was born, we knew we had our hands full.   She was the child that made me wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, “I’m the mom, I can do this!”   It was a few years later that I truly understood the problem – she was really a teenager, trapped inside a baby’s body.

As a baby and toddler, she quickly learned to speak her mind.  At nine months, she spoke one of her first words, “Apple Juice,” and just a few months later, as I was dropping her off at the church nursery, she spoke her first sentence, “No play!”  At 18 months, she demonstrated her keen intelligence at lunch one day.  While she was busy coloring, I placed her lunch on the table, which included a slice of rolled up turkey.  She took the turkey and began to color on it with a marker.  “No, No,” I said, “We color on the paper, not the turkey. “  Determined to show me that she was capable of doing the exact opposite of what I said, she promptly rolled up the piece of paper, shoved it in her mouth and ate it!  Before she was two, she was speaking clearly.  One day, when she was feeling exceptionally upset with me, she looked me in the eyes and said, “I’m going to hurt you badly!”  At this point, I looked at my sweet little girl and thought, “I am so proud of her.  She used proper grammar!”

A defining moment, however, happened around age two.  Always trying to keep up with her older sister, Arielle potty-trained very early.  One day, when the bathroom was in use, she used her resourcefulness and, instead, entered the door adjacent to the bathroom  - the hall closet.  It was there that she pulled down her pants and went potty right on top of my paperback copy of Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child!

Most people think that Arielle was named after the Little Mermaid, but she was not.  Arielle was named after God’s special name for his cherished land of Jerusalem.  Her name means “Lioness of God.”   Brave, courageous and elegant, Arielle is an individual who shows the strength and the courage to stand up for what she believes. Her middle name, Evangeline, comes from her Grandmother and means “Bearer of Good News!”  As Arielle has grown and matured, her gifts have developed.  She is kind, compassionate, artistic, determined, industrious, loyal, resourceful and wise.  We are so proud to have a daughter like Arielle. 


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Candied Sweet Potato Cupcakes

Sweet potatoes have never been a Thanksgiving tradition in our house, but now that we are "Southerners", I thought it would be fun to incorporate this root vegetable into our family feast.  These Candied Sweet Potato Cupcakes, from Martha Stewart's Cupcake book are a take on the famous southern side dish, complete with a marshmallow and candied pecan topping!

My first step in tackling these cupcakes was to simplify the recipe!  Rather than roasting sweet potatoes specifically for these cupcakes,  I opted for canned sweet potato puree.  While I'm sure that homemade roasted sweet potatoes would be even more delicious than the canned version - my family will never know!

Thanksgiving break is a great time to incorporate the little bakers.  Cracking the eggs (into a separate cup, please!) seems to be the favorite task!

I made a few more substitutions in the recipe including the use of white whole wheat flour and substituting one stick of butter for 1/2 cup of canola oil.  I think oil makes a cake moister (not to mention cutting down on the saturated fat!)

I also reduced the baking time to 20 minutes instead of 28 minutes.  From experience I have learned that Martha's oven runs a lot cooler than mine!

Now comes the fun part - the topping!
Carefully arrange cupcake-sized piles of marshmallows on a baking sheet covered with a Silpat mat or parchment paper.  Top with candied pecans (store bought or make your own).  I left some plain for those that have yet to discover the pleasure of a candied pecan!

Since I don't own a kitchen torch, I broiled my toppings for a mere two minutes!
Let them cool slightly and slide them onto the cupcakes.

I was expecting these to taste just like pumpkin, but was pleasantly surprised to find that they had their own subtle flavor.  The topping adhered nicely to the cupcake and the combination made a truly delightful, not-too-sweet bite.  I hope they keep until tomorrow!

Candied Sweet Potato Cupcakes
adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Wet Ingredients:
1 15-ounce can sweet potato puree
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line 24 muffin tins with paper liners.  Whisk dry ingredients.  With an electric mixer, beat butter, oil and sugar.  Add eggs.  Add sweet potato puree and vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  Add the flour mixture in batches and beat until completely incorporated.  Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

TOPPING:  Making 12 at a time, make 12 marshmallow mounds on a cookie sheet lined with a silpat mat or parchment paper.  Add pecans.  Broil for about 2 minutes or until brown, watching carefully!  With a spatula, transfer marshmallow mounds the cupcakes.  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Waiting for Snow

When I was growing up in the midwest, we would wake up on a winter morning and say, "I hope it snows, today!"  Now, that we live in the south, my kids say, "I hope it snows this year!"  The girls' older sister, Anna, came up with the idea of paper snowflakes for this week's I Heart Faces theme:  Paper!

For more great photos, visit I Heart Faces!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Oreo Turkeys

Our Annual Oreo Turkey making all began eight years ago when Samuel was in kindergarten.  Still unaware of the overachieving alpha room-mom type, I naively volunteered to bring dessert to the kindergarten Thanksgiving Party.  In my mind I was thinking, "Two-dozen grocery store cupcakes?"  The room mom had other ideas.  "Why don't you search the internet for some cute Thanksgiving dessert ideas?  Maybe you could make something that looks like a turkey?"  Eight years ago, I had a 5-year old, a 2-year old and a baby.  I showed up to school parties with a double stroller and a diaper bag.  I barely knew what the internet was!  My competitive nature, however, spurred me on and I came across these adorable Oreo Turkeys.

Thus began my journey into food crafts and, perhaps, makes me now a little guilty of being a slightly overachieving room-mom type myself.  In any case, eight years later, I think I have these turkeys down to a science and the kids think it's a great Thanksgiving tradition!  


  • Do everything in assembly line fashion.  
  • Lay out all the Oreos (I use double stuffed) on a Silpat mat or parchment paper.
  • Melt about 8 ounces of chocolate in a Gallon Sized Ziploc bag.  
  • Snip the corner 1/4" or less.  This bag will be used for piping chocolate "glue"


  • Put a dime-sized dot of glue on the lower center part of the Oreo.
  • Working quickly, add one Whopper to the top of the "glue" spot.


  • Working 3 or four Oreos at a time, pipe on chocolate to the remaining top portion of the Oreo.
  • Add five Candy Corn "feathers".  The largest Candy Corn should be in the center.

 STEP #4

  • Put a dot of chocolate on top of each Whopper.
  • Attach a Candy Corn Head.
  • Using "Writing Icing" (Not Gel) dot two blue eyes and a red "wattle" - (or is it the the "snood"?) to the head and let dry.
Enjoy!  These are actually quite tasty.  It's hard to stop at just one!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Anna's Art Party

When Anna said she wanted an "Art Party" for her 10th Birthday, I knew these cupcakes were just the ticket.  Who says beautiful has to be complicated?  Simple chocolate cupcakes (in my new brown glassine paper liners!) topped with 7 different colors of icing.  How easy is that?  The idea for these Artist's Palette cupcakes came from the latest addition to my cupcake cookbook library, What's New, Cupcake? by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson.  The edible paint brush is made from a breadstick, three rolled out and fringed Tootsie Rolls and a red Fruit Roll Up.

Ten grown-up girls enjoyed an evening of painting, munching and giggling.

In addition to their masterpieces, each girl went home with a bound journal.  I was fortunate enough to find these for $1.00 at Michael's with each of the girls' initials!  I tucked a King-sized Hershey's bar behind them, bagged them in cellophane and tied them with a black and white polka-dotted ribbon.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I wasn't actually planning to participate in today's I Heart Faces challenge.  I had no silhouette photos up my sleeve.  I've been housebound for several days with a sick little girl and the forecast has been nothing but rain.  On the way to the bathtub, however, I came across this little sweet inspiration.  

Even the rain has a silver lining...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Marshmallow Turkey Cupcakes {MSC}

With Thanksgiving parties galore just around the corner, this month I selected Marshmallow Turkey Cupcakes for the Martha Stewart Cupcake Club.  These cupcakes, looking so adorable in the glossy cookbook photo were fun, but slightly difficult to make.  

The cupcake base started with Martha's One Bowl Chocolate Cupcake recipe.  Being the master of shortcuts that I am, I was thrilled to see a recipe that actually gave me permission to dump everything together!  It reminded me of an old recipe my Grandma used to make called "Crazy Cake".  She took it one step further and mixed it right in the 9X13" pan!

The recipe called for brown cupcake liners.  I found these glassine brown paper liners here and I love them!  They are a bit heavier and less transparent than standard liners and give the cupcake a nice base.  Shipping was a little expensive, so I decided it would be better to buy more!  (300 to be exact!)  I'm sure you will be seeing these in the future!

Although the recipe only stated 18 cupcakes, I stretched it to 23.  That way I would have enough for the 4th grade class plus a few for the test kitchen!  I reduced the bake time to 14 minutes, which was perhaps a minute or two short.  I blame my ADD cupcake effort on the fact that I had one girl suffering from pneumonia and one girl suffering from sleepover jet lag!  Oh well, nothing a little frosting won't cover!

Chocolate Swiss Meringue was the suggested frosting for these birds.  Even though the recipe DID involve a double boiler, and DIDN'T include cream cheese, I decided to expand my culinary skills and try it.  The result was a delightfully fluffy and light topping.  I piped mine on with a snipped ziploc bag to cover the cupcake craters!

While the cupcakes themselves were delicious, straight-forward and relatively easy to make, the turkey adornments proved a little trickier.    First there was the issue of the coconut marshmallows.  Apparently, if you live south of the Mason-Dixon line, these are only available on-line!  While I was wiling to pay the shipping for some cool cupcake papers, I had to draw the line at $8.00 shipping for a bag of marshmallows!

On to plan B - make my own!   I dipped a marshmallow in melted butterscotch chips and then patted them with toasted coconut.  This technique made cute "baby turkeys" with big heads!  Swedish Fish made tail feathers, candy corn provided an ample beak and blue writing icing was all I could think of that would show up as eyes.


As an alternate, I used a Nutter Butter cookie.  First I coated the cupcake with toasted coconut.  Before inserting, I took a candy corn and dabbed it into the melted butterscotch chips and secured it to the center of the cookie.  With writing icing, I added two eyes.  After it dried, I inserted it into the cupcake, added Swedish Fish Tail feathers, and Voila!  Another Turkey Cupcake!


My husband liked the big-headed baby turkeys better.  What's your vote?

Thanks for baking with me!

Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

24 One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
5 Tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
24 Coconut Marshmallows, such as Jet-Puffed Toasted Coconut Marshmallows
48 long chocolate sprinkles
1 pound mini gummy fish (144 pieces)
12 ounces sweetened shredded coconut, lightly toasted

1.  Using a flexible spatula, fold melted and cooled chocolate into buttercream.  Use an offset spatula to spread buttercream over cupcakes in a smooth layer.

2.  With a wet toothpick, poke two holes in each coconut marshmallow; using kitchen tweezers, insert chocolate sprinkles for eyes.  Cut 12 orange gummy fish in half;  push one half into each marshmallow for a beak.  Press marshmallow heads onto cupcakes.  Press 5 more gummy fish into each cupake to make tail feathers.  Sprinkle toasted cocounjut over cupcakes to cover completely.  Decorated cupcakes can be stored up to 1 day at room temperature in airtight containers.

Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

Makes 18 Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup warm water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Reduce speed to low.  Add eggs, buttermilk, oil, extract, and the water; beat until smooth and combined, scraping down the sides of bowl as needed.

divide the batter evenly among lined cups, filling each about two-thirds full.  Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes (0r less). 

Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

Makes About 5 Cups

5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1.  Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water.  Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips.)

2.  Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form.  continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy and completely cool, about 10 minutes.

3.  With a mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla.  Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes.  Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth.  Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month.  Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake!

It's my kids' most requested Birthday treat - the homemade Chocolate Chip Cookie cake!  Easy to make and tastier than store bought, this cake starts out with my basic Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe:

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

1 1/3 cups butter or shortening (I like Earth Balance for less saturated fat)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2  tsp vanilla
3 cups flour (I use white whole wheat flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups chocolate chip

Blend butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Beat until light and fluffy again.  Add flour, baking soda and salt.  Beat until well mixed.  The dough will be stiff.  Add chocolate chips and combine with a spoon.

For the cookie cake, line a 1/2 sheet cake pan with parchment paper.  I did this gleefully this morning.  I have owned this 1/2 sheet cake pan for five years, but this is the first time (thanks to a kitchen facelift that included a new 30" oven!) that I have been able to use it!!  If you're still stuck with a 27" oven like I was, a jelly roll pan works, too - just don't try to put all the dough in it!  If you do it will overflow and leave a gooey mess in the bottom of your oven!  Yes, this is the voice of experience speaking!  If you don't have a jelly roll pan, a standard cake pan works, too.  Just do the math and halve the recipe.

Pat the dough into the pan evenly.  If the dough sticks to your fingers, put a plastic sandwich bag over your hand and spray the palm side with cooking spray.  

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

If you've been good and used the Earth Balance shortening and whole wheat flour, go ahead and make this delicious frosting recipe.  The cream cheese in it keeps it slightly less sweet than store-bought.  It must be good - the kids all begged for the corner piece!

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

12 ounces cream cheese
1 stick butter
3 cups chocolate chips, melted
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar

Cream the butter and cream cheese.  Add the vanilla.  Beat again.  Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave and add to the cream cheese mixture.  Beat until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time and beat until smooth.  

Happy 10th Birthday, Anna!

Monday, November 8, 2010

I Heart Faces Weekly Challenge - ORANGE!

A friend referred me to this great website called I Heart Faces.  The purpose of the site is to encourage the photography of beautiful and unique faces.  Every week they have a different photo challenge theme and photographers are invited to submit a photo!  Now, I am not a professional photographer - just a mom with a camera.  I do have, however, four beautiful faces (six if you include the husband and the dog!) that I love to photograph.

This week's photo challenge was Orange!  Here, my daughter, Arielle, sits in the pumpkin patch.  No need to carve a pumpkin when you have your own Jack-O-Lantern smile!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Pumpkin Patch

After a month of listening to, "MOM, when can we get our pumpkins?"
I looked at the calendar and it said - OCTOBER 30th! 
Where had the month gone?

Fortunately, it was a perfect day for the big hunt.

A perfect day to just be outside!

It was a perfect day....

... to find the perfect pumpkin!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Corn-on-the Cob Cupcakes

When Anna's fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Harris, had the fun idea to wrap up their Native American studies with student presentations and a party with Native American foods, cupcakes were not the first thing that came to mind.  Then I found these fabulous cupcakes in the book Hello, Cupcake! by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson.  What could be more Native to America than corn?

These easy to make, albeit a little putsy, cupcakes really come to life with the addition of little, shiny Jelly Bellys!

To make, simply start with plain vanilla cupcakes and frost with icing, tinted a pale yellow.

Arrange about 5 rows of jelly beans, close together on each cupcake.  I bought roughly two pounds - 1 1/2 pounds of yellow (pina colada) and 1/2 pound of white with yellow specks (buttered popcorn - not my favorite flavor, but all that Publix had!)

To finish, place 3 cupcakes side by side and insert one corn holder in each end of the cupcakes.  For butter pats, soften a starburst and flatten slightly so it looks melted.  Sprinkle with white decorating sugar (salt) and, if you can find it, black decorating sugar (pepper).  Now this is really sweet corn!

Mrs. Harris and her fun, fourth grade class!