Month: July 2014

Cookie Thursday

There are few things better than a cookie. I find cookies to be such lovely treats. They’re single servings of deliciousness. I asked my cousin to pick out a cookie recipe for me to make and send to her and she picked a real winner! When she showed me the recipe she had picked I was excited as I had never made any type of sandwich cookie before.

This recipe from Joy of Baking.com is delicious. I have mentioned before that this is my favorite recipe site as the recipes are always easy to follow and often have videos to go with them. These cookies are similar to Oreo cookies. The cookies have a rich semi-sweet chocolate flavor and the cream is sweet and smooth. I used less sugar than the cookies called for because I wanted the cream to compliment the cookies not simply add to the sweetness. I like my chocolate to taste like chocolate not sugar, but that’s a personal preference. Cutting back the amount of sugar is optional and it’s an option I exercise in almost every recipe.

For the cookies:

1 cup (240 ml) semi sweet chocolate chips or 6 ounces (170 grams) semi sweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup (226 grams) unsaltedbutter, room temperature

3/4 cup (150 grams) white granulated sugar (I used about 1/2 a cup)

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all purposeflour

3/4 cup (70 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch processed)

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

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What the dough should look like once it has come together.

Be sure to check out Joy of Baking.com for the complete recipe (including the cream filling) and detailed instructions as well as a video of this recipe!

I personally, could eat these cookies on their own without the cream BUT the cream is such a great addition. I did not bother to make my logs perfect when I rolled up the dough so the cookies did not turn out perfectly round. You could spend more time on that, but like I have always said about home made: I want it to look as such. To me, that’s the best part.

As a side note, whenever I bake I try to use the best ingredients available to me. They really do make a difference. However, when baking we need to also keep in mind our bottom line. I have found that chocolate is an ingredient I will always splurge on as long as I can afford to, as well as vanilla extract. I refuse to use the imitation stuff. It’s just not the same. In my kitchen I tend to favor the following brands in my baking:

  • Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract
  • King Arthur Flour (unbleached, all purpose)
  • Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet chocolate (either chips or in bar form)
  • Hershey’s Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

I hope you found this post helpful.

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Waving goodbye to your toddler

One of the many wonderful things that come with a visit from my mom is the ability for my husband and me to head out on our own. Whether it’s to watch a movie or run some errands spending any sort of time alone together feels really special. I am able to enjoy this time with my husband because I know that my son is in great hands. Hands that I know I can trust because they’re the same hands that raised me, and I turned out OK!

I think anybody that has had kids can attest to the fact that there are things that we all do differently than our parents. I think it’s completely normal because no two people are exactly alike. We all make different decisions based on our own personalities, beliefs and information available to us. No matter how we come to our decisions the impetus is always the same: we want what’s best for our children.

Whenever my husband and me would head our my mom would immediately distract Diego. It brought back a lot of memories of me helping do the exact same thing for my cousins when their parents would step out. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, or simply a habit my family shares but across the board it was what was done. So I immediately understood my mother’s instinct when it came to Diego. Now, I am not one of those parents that is very picky about things involving my son. I would consider myself quite laid back in that respect. But when it comes to saying goodbye to him I don’t want him to be tricked into being left with somebody while I step out. I feel very strongly about this which is why explained to my mom how and why I wanted to do it differently.

It is normal for kids to experience separation anxiety, and it is normal for them to cry and be upset for a bit after one departs. It breaks my heart to see him cry when I leave but I know it has to be done. I also understand the desire to avoid the tears by simply distracting a child so that he doesn’t see his parent(s) leave. There are two main reasons why I don’t believe in distraction over openly waving goodbye to our children:

1. Trust that mom and dad will come back.

I want Diego to learn that he can trust that we will return to him. That we will be honest with him and tell him when we are leaving. I plan on parenting with open communication and this includes communicating with him when we are leaving him behind. He might not understand it all right now but a kiss and a wave goodbye is something he is familiar with.

2. I don’t want him to feel that he has to look over his shoulder.

Peace of mind is something you can’t place a value on. I want my son to have this. I don’t want him to realize that anytime he looks the other way Mom and Dad might disappear without a word. The anxiety that can cause is potentially harmful in my opinion. Being carefree and relaxed is what I want to give him and I think that at some point kids pick up on the vibe whenever their caretaker(s) are about to sneak off. For one thing it’s very blatant when we try to distract them, and the nervous energy is something kids can very easily pick up on.

I honestly feel that sneaking off to avoid tears is more for the parent’s benefit than for the child’s. I hate to see my sweet boy pout and cry when we leave but I know that within a few minutes he will be back to playing and having a good time. In time he will learn that even though we may go out for a bit we will always return to him. We are not abandoning him.

I want to thank my mom for always being open-minded and understanding. I always hear horror-stories about grandmothers who force their way of doing things. I am lucky that my mom has always respected my parenting choices. I have never been shy about standing up for myself and while I think we should always pick our battles I also believe in standing up for things you feel strongly about. And speaking about that I also think it’s important to communicate effectively with caretakers about your expectations and limits. Oftentimes a simple explanation of your thought process is enough to incite conversation. My mom and I do not see everything in the same way, nor will we ever, but we share a thirst for learning and discovering new points of view. I hope to pass that on to my son.

 

French baguettes and self-confidence

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen these past few weeks and it’s no coincidence. My mom is visiting so I have had time to try out some of the more ambitious recipes I have been eyeing. Now that I’ve made bread a couple of times I can say that it is not as labor intensive as I previously thought. I would not have learned that had I not tried.

Today I tried my hand at making French baguettes. It sounded complicated enough to strike my fancy. One of the things I love about baking and cooking is the opportunity to challenge myself. I started the dough last night and went to bed hopeful for the baguettes I would be able to make come morning. The results were nothing short of amazing even though I encountered a tiny problem with my oven. Even though it allowed me to set it to preheat to 550 it got stuck at 535 and never went any higher. All this resulted in was a longer cooking time and a wish for professional kitchen appliances.

The secret to these French baguettes is keeping the oven steamy. You achieve this by placing a pan of water on the bottom rack and spraying your loaves with water every five minutes. It’s not difficult but it is labor intensive. It is not a bread that you leave while it bakes.

If you’re interested in trying out this recipe head over to Food Wishes¬†for a complete recipe and video demonstration.

Baking and cooking have long been passions of mine. I love trying out new things in the kitchen. As I mentioned before I enjoy challenging myself. The kitchen is the perfect place to do that and the results always teach me something. For me, cooking provides a sense of accomplishment. I might not have the most exciting day but I baked a French baguette!

Self-confidence is something that, like most people, I struggle with from time to time. How people perceive me and how I perceive myself are two very different things. Should we let other’s opinions of us affect us? I think that we spend too much time worrying about how other people judge us. We walk into a crowded pool area and we fear judgmental stares. So we cover up and hide. We cheat ourselves from enjoying the moment because we are so focused on strangers’ thoughts. It is likely that most people aren’t paying you any mind but how to convince yourself of that?

I am a strong advocate of body positivity. I have mentioned it before and will continue to discuss it. It is important. Young girls and women are currently starving themselves, cutting themselves or succumbing to an eating disorder because they believe that their bodies are wrong. There are people who believe they are right to criticise others’ eating habits, to speculate on health and other private matters simply based on the size of a person’s body. I have learned first hand that some people do not care to change this. They believe that being cruel is kind, that offending and humiliating is a path to healing. Those are the kind people we need to keep away from our children. Intent is not enough to excuse this behavior.

So what do I do when I get down on myself? It really depends. Sometimes I try out a new recipe. I’ve recently been baking a lot but for the most part I stick to revamping our dinner menu. Baking is often impractical for me. For one thing, it’s really hot here in Florida, and I also have a toddler that loves to get in my way. He’s too young to be any real help in the kitchen so it’s easier for me to have somebody entertain him while I putter about in the kitchen.

Another way I make myself feel better is by putting on some makeup. I can’t explain what it is about mascara and eyeliner but it makes me happy. I love playing around with makeup and although I am not one to wear it everyday I know my way around my face.

Something else that helps me gather my thoughts and myself is this blog. I have a space where I can talk about anything. I can record my thoughts on whatever I want and nobody can censor me. People may disagree or even dislike what I write but they can’t control any of it. I think we all need a space like that. It doesn’t have to be shared, it can be something that’s just for you.

Am I a good person? Am I a good mother? Do I do enough? Should I be doing more? These are questions that are often on my mind and the answers are all a bit ambiguous. I like to think that I excel in most areas of my life, but I know that I fall short sometimes. Do I let people down? Yes. One of them being myself. Good is relative and subjective. I don’t wait on my husband hand and foot. To some that is wrong but I burned my bra a long time ago. So, am I a good wife, person and mother? I’ll let my son’s kisses, smiles and hugs be my answer ūüėČ

This feels like somewhat of a random blog post but it’s what’s on my mind at the moment. I hope you enjoyed the read and if you’re feeling industrious may I suggest trying your hand at the French baguettes I mentioned? They really are worth the effort.

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Hidden gems: Margate, Florida

Margate is probably not a city that is on most tourists’ radars. I had never heard of it before I moved here in 2006. I would say that Margate is an up and coming city. It is only seven and half miles from the Atlantic ocean, and in close proximity to excellent shopping as well as other attractions. Margate is also home to JM Lexus, the #1 volume Lexus dealer in the world since 1992 (in case you enjoy random trivia). Here are three hidden gems that I love:

La Bamba Restaurant

Maybe it’s the happy hour specials, maybe it’s the complimentary chips and salsa, or maybe it’s the food. This place is always busy. The food has never disappointed me. It is always consistent. Service is prompt and friendly, and the bathrooms are clean. What more could you want? La Bamba has become our unofficial celebratory hangout. Whenever something big is happening in our lives we end up here. Partly because it’s a stone’s throw away from home but it’s also just that good! Birthday dinners are almost always celebrated here, when we found out we were expecting we celebrated with a nice La Bamba dinner, after our 20 week ultrasound where we found out we were having a boy we also ended up here. This restaurant has become our place and we love it. The Margate location has been in business for 25 years. It is a family owned business founded right here in South Florida by the Molina family. They have grown to five restaurants, each managed by a Molina. Their lunch and dinner specials are great and their portions will not leave you hungry. If you’re in need for a quick lunch look no further than La Bamba. Their lunch portions include a soup or a soft-drink and range in price from $6.50- $9.50. In the interest of research, I took my family out to lunch and timed their service. Less than 10 minutes from the time we ordered our food, we were already enjoying it.¬†Good food at a good price in a casual atmosphere that is what La Bamba means to me.

La Bamba II storefront

La Bamba II storefront

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Pollo a la plancha

Pollo a la plancha

Baby palomilla steak

Baby palomilla steak

Chicken Enchilada lunch portion

Chicken Enchilada lunch portion

Ritter’s Frozen Custard

Located at 6700 W. Atlantic Blvd, this franchise was founded in Franklin, Indiana and can now be found in several states. Florida is lucky to be among those. Their special custard is creamy and decadent, and their flavors are delicious. While I prefer vanilla, my sister-in-law swears by their rum raisin, and her husband really enjoys their banana. With their varied menu, indoor and outdoor seating, and late hours I don’t think you can ever go wrong at Ritter’s. Any day is a good day for ice-cream here in Florida but summer evenings are probably the best time to enjoy a cone, cup or sundae. On Monday’s they host a night just for dogs and on Wednesdays they have a kids night complete with bounce houses and face painting. photo 1-12 photo 2-12 photo 3-10 photo 4-8 photo 5-5

 

Coral Gate Park

Coral Gate is our favorite park. It might not boast as many features as other parks but it’s peaceful, safe, clean and convenient to us. Their three half basket ball courts are always busy on weekends, and their four tennis courts get plenty of use regularly. There is a small field perfect for kids to run around as well as a playground. photo 2-11 photo 2-10 photo 5-4 IMG_3771 IMG_3445 IMG_4233

 

When RelayRides contacted me about writing a blog post featuring hidden gems in my community I was immediately inspired visit some of my favorite places. Revisiting old faves is great but discovering new gems is just as awesome!

RelayRides is one such gem, and an idea I wish I had thought of. My husband had mentioned the company to me a couple of years ago when he was considering listing one of our cars. We have since become a one car family but the idea behind car sharing is an amazing one. The service is pretty simple you can either list your car, or find a car to rent. You search by city or airport and once you’ve found a car you like you book it! The company has a $1,000,000 liability policy so as a vehicle owner you’re very well covered. For more information check out their how-it-works section right here. Sharing cars works because we don’t need a car all of the time and the less cars on the road the happier our environment. I think it is the future, and it’s not limited to renting while traveling. Sometimes we need a larger car or truck to haul a large purchase, and renting a car is a great way to get things done without having to pay delivery fees.

I ¬†hope you enjoyed these hidden gems. If you’re ever in town, pay them a visit, and if you’re not go out and discover some hidden gems of your own.

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Making bread

The smell of freshly baked bread is one of those things that is universally appealing. I have been wanting to try my hand at making bread for a while but was very intimidated by the whole proofing of yeast thing. My first foray into bread making was pizza dough. I was moderately successful with that. If you look up bread recipes you will find tons of them. I have found that not all recipes provide the same amount of detail and therefore a novice bread maker might run into some errors that could easily avoided. Before I make anything for the first time I like to do my research. I read various recipes from different sources because I find that each recipe can provide me with important tips and tricks that another might leave out.

The recipe I used is from i heart nap time (a cute title that I wish I had come up with!) but I also referred to this recipe from Brown eyed Baker. My recipe is a slightly altered version of these.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 1/2 TB sugar
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 TB salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk (the original recipe called for evaporated milk but I had none)
  • 5-7 cups of bread flour, white or wheat will work too (can use more if needed)
  • oil for coating the bowl once the dough is ready to rise

 

Directions:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 200 degrees. Once the oven temperature reaches 200 degrees, maintain the heat for 10 minutes, then turn off the oven. This is where you will leave the dough to rise. You can also set it next to a window but I found that this is a pretty fool proof method of ensuring the environment is warm enough for the dough to rise.
  2. Place the yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Pour the warm water (not too hot) over the yeast mixture and let it sit for 15-20 minutes, or until nice and bubbly.
  3. Combine melted butter, sugar, milk and salt into a large mixing bowl. When your yeast mixture is ready add them together and mix.
  4. If you are using a stand mixer put on your bread hook and then pour in 3 cups of flour. If not you can stir/kneed it as well. Then add in 1 cup of flour at a time and mix. When you get to 5 cups of flour in the bowl, add in 1/2 cup more of flour at a time until the dough is no longer sticking to the sides. You’ll know it’s ready when your fingers no longer stick to the dough.
  5. Cover the ball of dough and sides of the bowl with oil and cover the bowl with a warm towel. Set in your warmed oven to rise (approx 1.5 hours). When it has risen over the bowl punch it down and place on a floured surface.
  6. Knead the dough for 2-3 minutes.
  7. Cut dough into two pieces and roll them out into a rectangle. Roll the dough up and place into 2 greased bread pans.
  8. Let the bread rise again, and when it looks like a good loaf of bread place them in the oven at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. When the bread is done remove onto a cooling rack.
  9. Enjoy!

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peanut butter cups

A couple of weeks ago I was happily watching television when I decided that I wanted a peanut butter cup. I didn’t want just any peanut butter cup. I wanted one I had made myself. As I¬†made a mental calculation of what I had in the pantry (peanut butter, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and semi-sweet chocolate chips) I became increasingly excited about making them.

I headed into the kitchen with nothing but my hunger. I did not use a recipe. The first thing I did was whip about a cup of peanut butter with about a tablespoon of powdered sugar. I used my stand mixer for this. I let it get nice and fluffy and light in color. Once this was done I set it aside.

I then set up a double boiler in order to melt the chocolate. I am not sure how much chocolate I used but I would say it was probably about a cup and a half of chocolate chips. I also added a tablespoon of butter and a splash of vanilla extract. I also added a teaspoon of cooking oil. Once this was melted I set it aside.

I did not have any cupcake liners around so I lined a silicone mini cupcake pan with wax paper. I then spooned in some chocolate into the bottom of each well and left to cook for a couple of minutes in the freezer. I then piped in the peanut butter using a zip top bag. Because the peanut butter was so light and fluffy I found this the easiest way to do this. Spooning it in, although doable, seemed too messy and time consuming.

Once again, I put them in the freezer to set a bit then topped them off with a chocolate later. The result is a solid chocolate outside, with some peanut butter peaking out here and there. When you bite into the cup the peanut butter oozes out as it doesn’t set into a solid.

I absolutely loved them and plan to make them again soon.

I hope you will give these a try.

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Turning 30 and 30 random thoughts

I am thirty today! I remember when thirty sounded like a big number. I don’t think I’ve ever feared turning thirty but I used to have a specific idea of what my life would look like once I hit this so-called milestone. Here are thirty random thoughts…

  1. It’s great to plan but it’s equally great to be flexible.
  2. There is no timeline. We shouldn’t rush into major life decisions because we feel we are running against the clock. Marriage and kids are not requirements.
  3. Meeting people online gets a bad rap but it can be very rewarding. Some of my closest friends are ones that I met on the internet.
  4. Speak up. Learning to use your words is a necessary lifeskill that will serve you well in all your relationships. When we communicate honestly and effectively we are happier for it.
  5. Confrontation is never fun, but it’s a fact of life. I don’t go looking for confrontation as I would much rather avoid it but on occasion it’s better to face the issue head on and move on.
  6. Friends are what keeps me sane. If it weren’t for venting sessions and overall silliness I don’t know what I would do. Now more than ever friends are a central part of my life and I am thankful for them every day.
  7. All relationships take work. This doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships but friendships as well. All relationships are an investment. Whether it’s your spouse, significant other, friend or relative if we want to keep our relationships healthy we need to work on them constantly.
  8. Staying in touch is important. Sometimes I get lazy about keeping in touch with friends. Facebook and other social media gives us a false sense of intimacy. Because we see our friends posts and photos we cease to initiate personal contact with them. A phone-call, text, or e-mail is a great way to stay connected in a meaningful way when distance prevents you from hanging out in person.
  9. College degrees are over-valued. I will never regret going to university. For one thing it’s where I met my husband, but it was also a great experience overall. Still, having a degree isn’t what it used to be.
  10. Don’t stick your nose up at work. Believing that you are too good to do a certain job is icky. Don’t be a snob. We all have aspirations but your first job out of college will likely be completely unrelated to what you want to do.
  11. Read. I know some people don’t enjoy reading, and that’s ok, but¬†reading is an important part of my life. I love getting lost in a book, learning about a new topic or simply reading about things from a point of view different from my own.
  12. It’s ok to wear makeup.
  13. It’s ok to go without make up.
  14. Removing toxic people from your life is not selfish, it’s smart.
  15. Most people are doing the best they can.
  16. Following a recipe is great and all but sometimes recipes leave things out. I’ve just had first hand experience with bread: your kitchen needs to be warm and if it’s not you need to create a warm environment for your dough to rise. (turning your oven on to 200 degrees and turning it off is a common recommendation)
  17. The internet is forever. I don’t understand why more people don’t grasp this. I see a lot of airing of dirty laundry on social media and it often just makes me cringe.
  18. I dislike lists that tell women what they should have accomplished by a certain age or what things they should or shouldn’t be doing. We are all different. Some of us can’t afford a hefty savings account because we don’t make enough money! We all move through life at our own pace and while some of these ideas have merit these lists only serve to shame and make those who don’t live up to them feel inferior.
  19. Don’t pay any mind to silly lists on the internet. See above.
  20. By definition this IS a silly list. Don’t pay it any mind ūüėČ
  21. I think every human should have a working knowledge of cooking, food safety and basic house upkeep. If you’re able-bodied and capable, then you should be able to take care of yourself.
  22. There is only ONE way to achieve a bikini body/summer swimsuit body: put on a swimsuit and strut your stuff at the beach or pool. As long as YOU are comfortable nothing else matters. Other acceptable forms of swimwear- shorts and tee shirt, tank top, wetsuit, etc. You can wear as much or a little as you want. The idea that a beach body is one free of flaws and under a certain size makes me sick.
  23. Feminism/feminist is NOT a dirty word. Stop it. I hear women declare “I’m not a feminist, but…” why is that? If you’re unsure, do your own research and assign labels to yourself as you see fit but please do it out of an informed decision and not just because you have been led to believe it’s a bad thing.
  24. Speaking of believing it’s ok not to believe. I used to be very afraid of letting people know I am not religious. Religion is one of those things that can get people worked up fast and I find it an impolite topic of conversation but in the right environment it’s a great discussion to have. I always say that I haven’t been given the gift of faith but I support all those who have theirs.
  25. Hand written thank you notes. What more is there to say? I love getting these in the mail and I love sending them out to friends. I feel it’s not practiced enough. Sending a thank you text just doesn’t measure up the personal touch of a handwritten note.
  26. Hand made/homemade things are awesome. If you have the time and inclination of course.
  27. Writing lists seems like a great idea until you get to no. 27 and realize you have nothing left to write.
  28. Further down you start to question the whole thing.
  29. By 29 you feel like a cheat but with only one more to go you figure you can fake your way through this.
  30. Cookies can’t fix your problems but they make them more bearable.

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