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2nd Anniversary

My relationship with my husband would make a terrible romance novel.

We are in no way an exciting couple.  It would be like watching glue dry.  Worse even…like reading about someone who is watching glue dry.

Our friends have often referred to us as the “old couple”.  So what if we sometimes go to bed at 9pm on a Saturday?  Don’t judge me.

Some call it a rut – we call it routine.  Every Sunday morning we go to the same coffee shop and order the same drinks.  We spend our evenings watching episodes of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix, even though we’ve seen them all.  We go to the same restaurant every Valentine’s Day.  In the seven years we’ve been together, not a year has gone by when we didn’t watch The Brother’s Grimm – the movie he took me to see on our first date.  We really wouldn’t have it any other way.

Recently we celebrated our second wedding anniversary.  Unlike all other holidays and special occasions, this is one where we don’t have an established routine.  Last year we went to an Irish pub and saw Captain America.  I know…super romantic, right?

This year we considered a weekend getaway – but with my sister’s Vegas wedding and an upcoming camping trip the thought of packing, driving, and sleeping in a strange bed was not high on our list.  So we decided to keep it local…but that doesn’t mean we didn’t make it special!

Since our anniversary was on a Sunday, we began the day the same way we begin every Sunday…a trip to our favorite coffee shop in Newport Beach!  He ordered his dark chocolate mocha and I had my Turkish café latte with cardamom!

Our next outing was all for me…a picnic in the park!  We ate lunch in the grass next to the creek, lounged on our blanket reading our books, and fed the ducks in the pond! It was marvelous and I loved every minute of it!  For the lunch I packed goat cheese pizza pockets, fresh pear slices, couscous salad (recipe below), and brownies.

A delicious picnic for two

Beautiful setting!

The duckies!! And you can see the world’s more ginormous coy fish in the center of the picture!

After a relaxing afternoon, we packed up the picnic basket and headed to the movie theater to see The Dark Knight Rises (I know, we are so unromantic, but we can’t help that we love superhero movies).  I suggest it to anyone who hasn’t yet seen it, but I don’t suggest too many liquids before sitting down to this 3 hour movie!

For dinner, we went to the Orange County Mining Co. where we sat at a window overlooking Orange and Anaheim.  This place is the perfect balance of casual and fancy.  The atmosphere is comfortable and informal, but the food is worthy of any fine dining restaurant.  I enjoyed the most delicious filet mignon with béarnaise sauce and garlic mashed potatoes!

The view from the Orange County Mining co.

I know…not exactly a day worthy of romantic prose…but it was exactly perfect for the two of us!

We did get each other gifts…which perfectly illustrate how nerdy we both are!  I got him the special edition Derpy Hooves pony from the 2012 San Diego Comic Con and he got me a pink cupcake necklace from Tiffany’s!

Special Edition Derpy Hooves Pony

There are few things greater than seeing that special blue box!

Israeli Couscous Salad
Adapted from Use Real Butter
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Israeli couscous, uncooked
  • 1 cob of corn, cooked, cooled
  • 1 medium cucumber, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped heirloom tomatoes
  • ½ cup canned chickpeas, rinsed
  • ¼ cup feta cheese
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, diced
  • ¼ tsp curry powder
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring about 2 quarts of water to boil.  Pour the couscous into the water and cook until pasta is tender, about 5-10 minutes.  Drain the couscous and rinse with cold water.
  2. Shuck the corn kernels off the cob.
  3. In a large mixing bowl add couscous, corn, cucumber, tomatoes, chickpeas, and feta cheese.
  4. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over the salad and sprinkle with salt, pepper, parsley, curry powder, and turmeric.  Mix until coated.  Adjust seasoning to your liking.
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Custom Gift Baskets

Gift baskets are the greatest invention in the history of gift-giving.

You can create one for any occasion.  Seriously.  For ANY occasion!

I don’t create your typical gift basket…I pretty much hate anything in an oversized wicker basket wrapped in cellophane.

I have a weird thing about cellophane.  Just thinking about that crinkling is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

I have a tendency to get super carried away with gift-giving.  I find great joy in going to million and one stores to find six different items that perfectly match each other to create one unified basket of  happiness.

I can get pretty matchy matchy in ways that make my husband shake his head.

Anyways, I have come up with a few tips for creating some really unique and personalized gifts.

  1.  Come up with a theme.  It can be based on the occasion (baby shower, housewarming, etc.) or something the person enjoys (wine, books, movies, etc.).
  2. Think of one (or more) main items and go from there.  I usually give myself a price-point which I will either meet with one big item or a few smaller ones.  For example, to create a movie-themed basket I can spend $50 on a special-edition box set of a movie or I can split the $50 on movie tickets and a gift card to a restaurant.
  3. Add “fillers”.  These are meant to be small, inexpensive items that add to the theme of the basket.  For example, to add to my movie-themed basket I can get a package of microwave popcorn, a box of their favorite candy, and a bottle of soda-pop.
  4. When possible, buy items that fit into a color scheme.  I will add ribbon and tissue paper in colors inspired by one of the main items in the basket in order to make everything look unified.
  5. Be smart about the container!  Few people need giant wicker baskets (which are expensive anyways) cluttering up their house.  Find containers that fit the theme of the basket and that can be used by the recipient.  For example, I can put my movie-themed items inside a bowl or tub that can be used for popcorn.

Here are examples of some of my more recent baskets:

For the birthday of a close friend, I created a “Nook and Coffee” basket.  This included:

  • a Barnes & Noble gift card
  • a Starbucks gift card (cleverly placed inside of an empty Starbucks cup)
  • candied almonds and gummy candies (gotta have munchies while you read)

Wouldn’t you rather get this than a gift card shoved inside an envelope?

For my long-time mentor who moved to Kansas I created a “Roadtrip” basket.  She would be spending five days to drive across the country with her sister, so I filled her basket with

  • calming CD’s (I knew she would enjoy Celtic Thunder and a compilation of classics on the guitar)
  • hand sanitizer (because gas station bathrooms are gross)
  • Snacks (granola bars, small bags of cookies and crackers, and Ghirardelli chocolate squares)
  • Drinks (two bottle of her favorite soda and two bottles of water)

I placed everything inside of a mesh basket that could be used in her new home!

Nothings says roadtrip like junk food!

Finally, for a coworker who moved into her own apartment, I created a “New Home” basket.  I thought about things you might need to set up a home and ended up with:

  • a mini hand broom and dustpan
  • Kleenex
  • duct tape
  • extension cord
  • reminder post-its
  • removable wall-hanging hooks
  • a picture hanging kit

I put it all inside of a small plastic bucket that would be perfect for holding “under the sink” things like sponges.

Yellow and grey are my new favorite color combinations!

Insert Witty Vegas Wedding Title Here

I love weddings.

After studiously reading through wedding magazines, the knot, and Martha Stewart (not to mention time spent on Pinterest staying up to date with all the latest in wedding trends) I like to consider myself something of an expert on wedding planning.  Are you getting married?  If so, I could totally plan the shit out of your wedding.  And I can make your wedding cake (I’ve made one wedding cake before, so I’m kind of a pro –  it’s no big deal).

Despite having someone like me with such amazing skills and knowledge, my sister decided not to let me plan her wedding.  You would think she wanted it to be all about HER or something – sheesh!

Instead, my sister had a Las Vegas wedding!  She was married on July 4th in front of the fountains of the Bellagio.

The water show began right after the ceremony!

Despite having a small and intimate wedding (eight guests total), I took my role as Matron of Honor very seriously!  I know when I got married it was the littlest details that made the day extra special.

First on my list was wedding flowers.  My sister LOVES daisies!  She wanted gerbera daisies in bright pink and orange.  Real flowers would not be an option due to two problems: 1) excessive heat and 2) transportation.  Since temperatures in Las Vegas average about 105 degrees in July (and the wedding would be outdoors) it was likely the heat would wilt the flowers.  Flowers would also need to last quite a few days since everyone was driving to Las Vegas at least a few days before the wedding (and I do NOT have knack for keeping plants of any kind alive).

So, I purchased some brightly colored silk flowers and matching ribbon from Michael’s.  I made a small pink bouquet for the bride, wrapped in pink ribbon.  For myself and our younger sister, I used two orange blooms wrapped in orange ribbon.  For each I tied the stems together with some twine and wrapped the ribbon around to cover it, tying it off with a bow.  The stems were wired, so I was able to move them around afterwards to get the desired look.  I wanted to keep them small, but elegant.

Sweet and simple!

The groom had a single pink bloom while his best-man and our father had orange ones; I simply hot-glued the single blooms to a pin.

The grooms boutonniere and the rings

Using leftover flowers and ribbon (and a little puff paint, because doesn’t everyone have a huge stash of puff paint somewhere in their house?) I created some fun wine glasses for all the ladies to toast with while we got ready.

The Bride’s Chalice

A toast!

So after enjoying a glorious massage and facial at the hotel spa, my sister sipped champagne from her custom bride glass while I did her hair and makeup.

And finally, the cake!  And by cake, I of course mean cupcakes.

Brownie Batter Cupcakes

My sister’s only request was chocolate…so I kind of took that and ran with it!  One of my favorite food bloggers, Confessions of a Cookbook Queen, had posted a recipe for Brownie Batter Cupcakes [add links] shortly before the wedding and I knew it would be perfect!  Mine were slightly different as I wanted them all chocolate (her recipe shows a vanilla cupcake) and I used a shortcut for the frosting.  I also had to make alterations to account for travel, which I describe below.

Decorations were made using store-bought fondant (I still haven’t managed to make my own yet) and melting chocolate.

Tim and Gail ❤

Love ❤

Brownie Batter Cupcakes

Adapted from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen

Ingredients
Cupcake batter (any flavor, I used a simple chocolate recipe)
Box of brownie mix (standard size – not family size)
Water (¾ amount needed for brownie mix)
Melted butter (equal to ¾ amount of oil needed for brownie mix)
Vanilla frosting (can use any recipe or store-bought)

  1. Reserve ¼ of the brownie mix.  Mix the remaining with the water and melted butter (batter should be thick).  Roll batter into 1 inch balls and place on a wax paper lined cookie sheet.  Freeze for at least one hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350.  Line cupcake tin with liners.
  3. Fill liners less than halfway with cupcake batter.  Place a brownie ball in the center, then cover with a spoonful of cupcake batter.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched (note: a toothpick inserted in the center will not come out clean as with other cupcakes since the brownie batter will not be cooked through).  Place cupcakes on a rack to cool.
  4. Prepare frosting by mixing the reserved brownie mix with the vanilla frosting of your choice (if you use your own recipe, make sure it is not more than 2 cups or you won’t have a very strong chocolate taste).
  5. Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, frost!

Notes for Travel:
Since I was preparing these for a small party of ten and would have to worry about them keeping for a couple days without access to a fridge, I had to do the following to ensure quality cupcakes:

  1. I halved my cupcake recipe to make only a dozen – I still made the brownie balls as the recipe calls for and just left the remaining balls in the freezer to use in the future.
  2. I stored my unfrosted cupcakes in an airtight container.  I stored the frosting in a separate container, which I kept on ice in our hotel room.  The decorations were stored in a baggie, separated with mini cupcake liners.
  3. I brought along one disposable decorating bag.  To avoid having to clean out a decorating tip in a hotel room, I opted to not use one.  Instead, I used only the decorating bag and snipped the tip to an appropriate size and piped onto the cupcake.  The pre-made decorations were them placed on top!

Couldn’t resist sneaking in a photo of me and my hubby 🙂

Sneak Peek…

I’m a terrible and negligent blogger…but you already knew that about me didn’t you?

I like to think I’m so busy being an awesome wife that I just don’t have enough time to actually write about being an awesome wife.  And if my husband wishes to continue enjoying my awesome wifeliness, he will agree with me.

As children, we are conditioned to believe that summers are a relaxing time in the year when we have no responsibilities or worries.  If we wanted to sleep until noon, we did.  If we wanted to stay up until the wee hours of the night reading through a frivolous book or playing nonsense games, then we did.  And by golly if we wanted to eat otter pops until our tongues turned blue that is precisely what we did.

But then this whole growing up thing happened.  Now I have to work all summer and I have obligations!  No spending my days lounged by the pool sipping lemonade; instead, I have to go to work every weekday, pay bills, keep my house cleaned, and attend parties and gatherings ALL the time!

Ok, so the parties and gatherings are in the positive part of being an adult (just above being able to eat ice cream every day if I so choose).  But it does make me a very busy person!

I have a few things in the works that I hope to share soon!  I am branching away from just being a baker and exploring my deep seeded desire to be the next Martha Stewart (without the jail time).  So, in addition to a few baked treats, I will soon be sharing with you:

  • Custom gift baskets
  • A Las Vegas wedding
  • The perfect anniversary
  • Pallet patio furniture

Also, I have finally broken down and now have a Twitter account.  My handle is @SweetCuppicakes if wish to follow me!

So, that’s all for now.  I know…a VERY boring post but what can you do?

A Very Brony Birthday

So, I have a tendency to make lofty plans for myself that include a complete disregard for how much time is actually in each day.  I forget that I can’t get 8 hours of sleep, work 8 hours, and still have time to complete 293 hours of baking, DIY crafts and social activities all in one day.  As a result, my brilliant plans to blog twice a week have gone completely out the window.

I am re-thinking my aims for this blog.  I have changed the tagline from “The sweetest blog around” to “real stories of a modern housewife”.  Basically, I don’t want to feel pressured to create some marvelous baked treat every week to share, but I still want to be able to blog on a regular basis.  This was my brilliant solution.

This time, however, I do have a marvelous baked treat to share:

Photograph by Moxie Blue Photography
http://moxiebluephotography.com/

Has anyone else fallen in love with My Little Ponies: Friendship Is Magic?  If not, proceed directly to Netflix and watch it.  NOW!  Do not continue reading this post as you will not properly appreciate this masterful creation.  I hear you neigh-sayers (pony pun intended) who think you are too good for MLP.  I have anticipated your resistance and have compiled a short list as to why this show is amazing:

  1. MLP’s creator, Lauren Faust, was a story artist for The Powerpuff Girls and head writer for Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.
  2. Two words: SONIC RAINBOOM!  You know you want to find out the awesomeness the name suggests.
  3. Star Trek fans?  John de Lancie (who played Q in Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager) appropriately does the voice for the mischievous Discord in season 2 of MLP.
  4. Derpy Hooves.
  5. Nobody throws a party like Pinkie Pie.

Obviously when I saw a request on facebook from Moxie Blue Photography to create a cake for a Brony-themed birthday party, I jumped at the chance!  The party was for her son’s 4th birthday.

Since the birthday boy’s favorite pony is Applejack, I focused on her for the cake.  Since she runs Sweet Apple Orchard, I made Sweet Apple Cinnamon Cake and Apple-Barrel Cupcakes.  In addition, I made Cutie Mark Cupcakes to represent the Mane Six!

(all photographs by Moxie Blue Photography)

The Applejack figure on the cake was purchased from Amazon.com.  She is also a spoon!  However, she didn’t come with her trademark cowboy hat, so I fashioned one out of polymer clay.

I used a compilation of recipes to create each magical confection.

The Sweet Apple Cinnamon Cake and Apple-Barrel Cupcakes consisted of cinnamon cake and apple filling from Craving Chronicles, Hershey’s caramel drizzle, and Swiss buttercream from Sprinkle Bakes.  I baked the cake in a 6-inch circle and 8-inch square pan (with enough batter left to make 6 cupcakes and 12 mini cupcakes).  I cut out a second 6-inch circle layer from the square layer and used the salvage to create the hay bale.  I also cut out the centers of the cupcakes so I could fill them with the apple filling.

The Cute Mark Cupcakes were a vanilla cake and vanilla frosting from a Better Homes and Garden magazine I purchased a long time ago at the super market:

I dyed the cupcakes to match the bodies of each of the Mane 6 and the frosting to match their mane’s.  The cutie marks were made from fondant.  They were filled with a simple recipe I use for Chocolate Mousse: take instant chocolate pudding and mix with 1.25 cups milk, fold into about 2 cups of fresh whipped cream.  I suggest making the whipped cream from scratch – cool whip with not work well for this.

And there you have it!  This is without a doubt my favorite cake I have ever made!

Honey Cake

I have some news concerning my blog format (for all 5 of my faithful subscribers).  I have decided to expand the content that I discuss here and make a more consistent effort to share my mad culinary skills.  I will now post twice a week – every Tuesday and Friday.  Fridays will be to highlight desserts (both my own and linking you to other amazing desserts I find throughout the week.  Tuesdays will be for discussing general food/cooking.  I will share recipes and tips on my favorite dishes (because if I am being honest I have spent way more time perfecting my stuffed pepper recipe than I have on my honey cake).

Speaking of honey cake…

Honey Cake

Did you know that it is pretty much impossible to make gluten-free phyllo dough?  I found recipe attempts online for creating the paper-thin sheets of crispy baked goodness…but the fact is you NEED gluten to form the dough.  Long strands of gluten are formed in the dough which are stretched thinner and thinner until the sheets are as thin as tissue paper.

Why is this relevant to honey cake?

I have four friends here in California (actually, I have more than four friends, but right now I am just referring to a specific four) and we like to get together for potlucks.  These are basically an excuse for us all to gather at someone’s house, drink half a dozen bottles of wine, and play Dance Central.  Our last potluck was “greek” themed food.  Of course I immediately thought of baklava!  However, two of my friends can’t have gluten; hence the search for gluten-free phyllo dough that ended in bitter disappointment.

So I bought regular phyllo dough and made little apple pies for me and my husband.  But this isn’t about little triangles of crispy apple deliciousness, it’s about honey cake.

I considered making a dessert with figs, but the fresh ones weren’t in the grocery stores yet (all fruit should be available at all times of year in California, but apparently the grocery store disagrees).

And so, Honey Cake was born!  This is a very sweet dessert and easy to make.  I made it gluten free by simply substituting an all-purpose gluten free flour mix for the regular flour.

Other notable desserts found on the web this week include:
Seven Sins Chocolate Cake from Sprinkle Bakes
Clean Eating Strawberry Scones from Sugar Free Mom
Fun and Easy Treats for Memorial Day from Confessions of a Cookbook Queen (including a delicious looking Cherry Limeade Pie in a Jar!)

Honey Cake
Adapted from Allrecipes.com
Makes 16 pieces

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • ¾ cup butter
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ½ cup honey
  • ⅓ cup water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).  Grease and flour a 9 or 8 inch square pan.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and orange zest.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time.  Alternately add the flour mixture and milk (start and end with flour).  Mix until just incorporated.
  4. Pour the batter into your pan and bake for 40 minutes (or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes.
  5. In a small saucepan, combine honey and water.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.  Stir in the lemon juice and simmer 2 minutes more (it will have the consistency of a thin syrup).
  6. Cut the cake into small triangles (quarter the cake and then cut each square diagonally into four triangles to make 16 total pieces).  Pour the honey syrup over the cake.

*The cake is best served warm or at room temperature.  The more the cake sits, the more it will soak up the syrup!

Margarita Pudding Cups

It’s officially summer!!  I know, because we fired up our grill on Mother’s Day and once you start to BBQ, then it’s officially summer (this is a FACT).   Technically in California you can BBQ all year long, but in December it just doesn’t FEEL right.

One of my favorite things to enjoy on a hot summer day is a good margarita!  They are delightfully refreshing.  This is what inspired me to make these:

Margarita Pudding Cups!

Margarita Pudding Cups are a delicious way to enjoy the flavors of a margarita!  A pretzel bottom provides a salty contrast to the sweet (and boozy) margarita pudding.

In creating this recipe, I drew a lot of inspiration from recipes for margarita pies I kept seeing on Pinterest.  My husband and I were having another couple over to play Settlement (have you ever played this board game?  OMG AMAZING!) and planned to serve tostadas.  I wanted a margarita flavored dessert, but I didn’t want to use ice cream.  Well, why not replace vanilla ice cream with vanilla pudding??   And thus, Margarita Pudding Cups were born!

In truth, I am WAY too much of wimp to take a tequila shot

So delicious!

Our friends brought over some homemade pineapple coconut ice cream which we served with the pudding cups and it was delicious!  Looking back, I should have made a rum sauce to drizzle over the top and then we would have had piña colada ice cream!!   I may have a slight obsession with turning alcoholic drinks into dessert form…

Delightful Dessert Duo!

Mine were pretty strong (a little tequila goes a long way), so I suggest adding the alcohol a little at a time until you get the margarita taste you like.  My husband and I tend to double the tequila in our margaritas since we like them strong, so I was a little heavy-handed.

Margarita Pudding Cups
Makes 8 pudding cups

  • 1 3.4oz package instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup milk (I used non-fat but any kind of milk will work)
  • Zest from one lime
  • ¼ cup tequila (use less if desired)
  • 2 tbsp Triple Sec
  • 1 container Cool Whip (thawed)
  • 1 cup crushed pretzels
  • 2 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter (melted)
  1. Mix the crushed pretzels with the sugar and butter.  Press about ⅛ cup into the bottom of 8 small cups.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk the instant pudding with the milk.  The pudding should be very thick.  Mix in the lime zest, tequila, and triple sec.
  3. Fold the cool whip into the pudding mixture until completely combined.
  4. Divide the mixture evenly into the 8 cups.
  5. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.