I can come up with just about any excuse to bake a cake. Birthdays, anniversaries and showers are all great excuses to indulge in cake but sometimes you've got to create your own cake worthy event. The grandparents are coming to town, one of the kids makes a good grade on a test, it's Monday, it's raining - admittedly some excuses are better than others. 😂
Last weekend I baked a cake - for absolutely no reason at all. That's right - I said it and I'm not ashamed. I ate cake in the middle of the week, just because I wanted to and I'm not even going to try and come up with an excuse.
I didn't want to invest a lot of time into making an overly extravagant cake. I just wanted a decadent chocolatey cake that I could whip up in under 30 minutes. I also didn't want a cake so big that it would feed the masses. Eight inch chocolate sheet cake to the rescue.
I'm not a 100% clear on the definition of a sheet cake. To be honest, I always thought that the name was derived from the pan that it was cooked in. I assumed that all sheet cake was made on a cookie sheet. Silly me. Turns out, sheet cakes can be baked in any pan. For my little family, a square 8" pan is a perfect sheet cake size.
Chocolate Sheet Cake
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup + 2 T flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/4 cup dutch processed cocoa powder
1/3 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 pound milk chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream
8 Tablespoons butter
Spread frosting over cake.
I bake a lot of cakes but I rarely make sheet cakes. The question that I'm now wondering now is WHY? Sheet cakes are so easy to make, they're delicious and they're infinitely easier to transport and store than traditional layer cakes. I am going to have to make more sheet cakes. Tomorrow I have to tackle massive piles of laundry and clean my house - that's a perfect excuse to bake another chocolate sheet cake. Don't you think?
When I'm craving a coffee, no matter where I am, I can usually find a Starbucks, a Dunkin Donuts or a Panera Bread without much searching that will make me a specially prepared cup of Joe. ☕️(Decaf soy latte is my beverage of choice - just in case anyone wants to bring my a cup of coffee sometime.😂) But there's just something about going to a local, independently owned coffee shop that is just so special and I make an extra effort to seek these out before I resort to getting coffee from a big chain coffee shop. I do feel like I get better coffee at the smaller shops but I also feel like they have so much more to offer than just coffee.
My little town is fortunate enough to have not one but TWO of the cutest, little coffee shops that you'll ever see. It's no surprise that they're my favorite hang out spots in town. It's not uncommon to find me at one of these shops, sipping on a coffee and typing away on my computer when I can't seem to stay focused enough to get my computer work done at home. #lessdistractions Even though I'm drinking decaf, I feel like I'm much more productive when I work at a coffee shop. (Is there such a thing as airborne caffeine?)
One of these little coffee shops shares its space with a little local market. Local artists, builders and all around crafty people, sell their wares in this shared space. It's a great spot to pick up birthday gifts or unique handmade items. Who knew there were so many talented people in my little town?
The second little coffee shop is decorated in very unique and original heirlooms. My town is known for it's many, MANY antique shops and stepping into this coffee shop really gives you the vibe of my little relic filled town. Yes, they serve great coffee abut they also reflect a the essence of the community.
The other thing that both of these coffee shops have to offer is great snacks. There's just something about a giant, freshly baked blueberry muffin or a sugary shortbread cookie that I can't resist. It wouldn't be right to sip on a perfectly prepared cup of coffee without having something to nibble on. 🍪 I pretty sure that ordering a snack along with a coffee is proper coffee shop etiquette after all. 🤷🏻♀️
My coffee accompaniment is usually some type of chocolate or cinnamon scone. I love a crumbly, buttery scone and I've resisted making them at home because, quite honestly, I was afraid that I'd eat too many of them. 😂 After all, they are amazing. I finally gave in and made a batch at home and I have to say that they were fabulous. You haven't lived until you've had a warm scone, straight from the oven. #lifechanging And just in case you were worried about my self control, (as you should be) I packed up all but one of these to deliver to some well deserved friends recently. Now all they have to do is to make a fresh cup of coffee to go with them.
Chocolate Chip Scones
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons cold butter
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
raw sugar for sprinkling
I love to visit coffee shops when I travel too. Send me the names of the local coffee shops in your town. I would love to stop by and see them sometime. I don't know when I'll be in your town, but I keep a running list of restaurants and coffee shops that I want to visit on my phone. That way, when I do travel and I find myself either hungry or thirsty, (pretty much all the time) I've got a list of places that I can visit.
I always have the best of intentions of waking up early on Sunday morning to make a nice breakfast for my family BUT I have the most comfortable bed in the whole wide world. Sooo, instead of getting up early, most days I end up delaying breakfast and lying in bed trying to convince myself that I should spend more time in my super soft, cozy bed.
"Does my family really WANT pancakes?
Do they even LIKE pancakes?
We probably don't even have enough syrup for pancakes.
We have plenty of cereal for breakfast.
Pancakes are all carbs anyway."
These are the thoughts that run through my mind as I negotiate with myself to buy myself a few extra minutes in my bed. It's probably no surprise that more times than not, breakfast takes a back seat to sleep.
The only way for me to truly avoid this internal argument that happens in my head every Sunday morning is to prep breakfast before I go to bed on Saturday night. There's actually quite a few things that I can prepare the night before to give me extra time in bed. Overnight oats, yeast waffle batter, egg casseroles and french toast casseroles are all great make ahead breakfast foods that we love.
This Berry Walnut French Toast Casserole is a great addition to our make ahead breakfast menus. It's absolutely scrumptious and I can toss it in the oven when I finally drag myself out of bed in the morning and by the time I get out of the shower - it's ready to eat.
Berry Walnut French Toast Casserole
8 ounce crusty whole grain baguette, cut into 1" cubes
1 cup milk
3 egg whites
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 ounce package frozen mixed berries, thawed
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons cold butter
Bake 30 minutes at 375. Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes.
Even though I didn't get a picture of it - this french toast is actually really yummy with a dollop of vanilla yogurt on the side. It compliments the toasted walnuts and the ripe berries, beautifully. I love this french toast and not JUST because it allows me to sleep an extra 15 minutes on Sunday morning. 😉 But extra sleep IS pretty great.
Lunch box notes from a pre-latte, barely holding it together, stressed out parent:
"I hit the snooze 7 times. Enjoy the Pop Tarts."
"Ok, Ok. I know that Isabel always has these amazing lunches and that you're tempted to trade your thermos of lentil soup and "gently aged" pear for her bente box of impeccably arranged sushi, veggies cut into flower shapes and homemade 100% fruit-juice sweetened cookies. I guess what I'm trying to say is - go ahead."
"That round thing is called a spoon. Use it. ... Also, sleeves are not napkins."
"If you toss this lunch and buy three puddings instead, I'll know."
"Enclosed is a butter knife - You cut the crusts off."
I borrowed these lunch box notes from an article in my Eating Well magazine. They really do describe my parenting style pretty accurately. I could see myself sending any one of these notes in my children's lunch box.
Trust me when I say that the presence or absence of a unique and creatively handwritten note tucked inside the lunch boxes of your little ones on a daily basis is not an accurate portrayal of the quality of our parenting. Don't judge yourself too harshly if you're not a note writing kind of parent. I usually started out the school year with big dreams of making homemade granola bars and my own fruit juice gummies but by the second week of school I couldn't even manage to refreeze the ice packs on a daily basis. Somehow, my kids managed to survive on canned tuna and a sleeve of ritz crackers.
We would all love to be "Isabel's" parent but let's face it - that doesn't always happen. There were days when I would send my kids off to school with a Martha Stewart worthy lunch and then prepare a healthy, homemade dinner for my family. But there were many MORE days that I would send my kids off to school with a cup of mandarin oranges and a peanut butter sandwich and still barely manage to scrape together a half-way healthy dinner for them to scarf down 30 minutes before baseball or soccer practice.
Meals can be a struggle. It's time we admitted it. I'm here to make meal preparation just a little less painful for you AND your family. If time and lack of cooking skills are your meal time obstacles, you need to give this Skillet Chili Mac a try. It's ridiculously easy, it comes together in under 35 minutes and it's super delicious.
Skillet Chili Mac
12 ounces whole wheat elbow macaroni
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
1 stalk celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
3 Tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup low sodium beef broth
15 ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Serve with cheddar and scallions.
My college aged daughter moved home to live with us for the summer and I have to say that it was just about the quickest three months of my life. Two years ago, when we moved her into her dorm room for the first time, I had prepared myself for the hardest goodbye of my life. My baby girl was moving away and I armed myself with an arsenal of coping mechanisms and a box of tissues to help myself deal with the transition of being an empty nester. I read the parenting books about the significance of "drop off day" written by all sorts of "experts" and I was prepared for the emotional flood. And believe me - there was a flood that day.
I was filled with overwhelming pride that she was attending the college of her dreams and sadness that her bright shining face would be absent from our dinner table every night. So on the day of her college drop off we carefully hauled tote after tote of bathroom necessities, school supplies and university sweatshirts into her unusually tiny dorm room on the 4th floor. After we organized her closet to Marie Kondo perfection and made her bed with the new sheets and comforter that she picked out for this exact occasion, we said our final goodbyes. The "experts were right" - it was hard. I may have let a few tears slip out before we left her room but I managed to mostly hold it together until we got to the car.
It was no surprise that it was hard to say goodbye and to leave her in that dorm room for the first time. What WAS a surprise is that there would be so many goodbyes over the next few years that would be equally heart wrenching. Why didn't the "experts" mention the goodbye when she moved back to school after her first Fall break? Christmas break? Summer vacation? It seems there's an endless stream of goodbyes when your child moves away to college. And in my experience - these subsequent goodbyes - don't get any easier with time. Silly me, I thought that once we got through the initial college drop off, each time she went back to school would be easier - turns out - I was wrong. Very wrong.
So last week I had to say goodbye again to my sweet daughter who moved back to school. Life feels differently when she's not in the house and it's going to take some getting used to not having her here again. It takes me about a week before I can even go into her room to change her sheets. 😥
Over the years, I've managed to come up with my own goodbye rituals when my kids go back to college. There's some crying, a lot of busy work and there's always some chocolate involved in my coping techniques. It's not the healthiest way of dealing with the emotional trauma but what can I say? Chocolate soothes my aching soul. So for all of you parents out there who may be struggling with the endless cycle of painful goodbyes of a college-aged child - whether it's the first goodbye or the 20th goodbye - I'm here to say I feel your pain and I've got your back. This Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie won't make the goodbyes any easier but it will help you feel better as you sit alone in your quieter than usual house.
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie
4 Tablespoons butter
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons rolled oats
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
Bake 35 minutes at 325. Cover with foil and bake another 10 minutes.
Let cool 15 minutes then cut into 12 wedges.
Chocolate and pasta are my comfort foods. (Not together obviously.) What do you eat when you need to really need something comforting and soothing? Send me your favorite comfort foods in the comments.
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