Brie and Onion Jam Veggie Burgers

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written about food. But during that long break, this is one of the meals I have made over and over again. I make it for guests, I make it just for me. I made it once with Sarah of Well Dined.

This burger is piled high with delicious flavors, from the brie and onion jam, to a rich truffle aioli, a tight handful of spinach, and the creamy coolness of avocado. I love a good, fancy burger. I love that when I make burgers, I can customize them for each person at my table (and, for me, it usually means double spinach).

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Books I’m Reading in 2017, Part 1

2017 Books Part 1

My mom had so many pearls of wisdom for me when I was a kid. Most of the time, I probably rolled my eyes at her when she would repeat one of her classic phrases, but as an adult, some things resonate more clearly. Like this:

Garbage in, garbage out.

Luke even affirms this for us: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart…for out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

With this in mind, I set a goal to read more books than I watch TV this year. *gasp!*

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How to Transport a Tiered Wedding Cake

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I dearly wish I had taken pictures of the fancy cakes I baked last summer when they were in the car. Then I could have shown you that they did actually survive being in my car. Alas. I must have been too panicked about delivering them in pristine condition despite the scorching heat. You will just have to take my word for it! Instead, I will share a few photos of a smaller, much simpler cake I made for a baby shower.

Transport is the most terrifying part of baking a wedding cake. After spending about 24 hours actively working on these cakes, I had to put them in the back of my car, where I couldn’t see or protect them, and drive them away from my house.

I am a big believer in “practice makes perfect,” so I practiced transpo, as well! I gingerly placed that trial bridal cake in my trunk and drove 20 minutes away, down windy two-lane roads, to see whether the cake would arrive at the bride’s house in one piece. It did! What a relief.

And the Big Day went without a hitch, as well, all cakes delivered as pristine as they started.

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Wedding Cake Should Be Chocolate: The Bridal Cake

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Last summer, I tried on the hat of official wedding cake baker, and I baked for a gorgeous wedding with 200 guests! Today I am going to share with you the ultimate challenge of that adventure: the bridal cake.

After making this cake, I truly understand why wedding cakes are so costly.

The intricate detail, the careful timing, the insane pressure of delivering a perfect masterpiece for the most well photographed day of anyone’s life…

The lovely bride envisioned some very fancy decorations on her cake, with a swirly, lacy look and pearls and pretty much everything that a fairy tale cake would have, minus the ability to actually glow. (The bride would glow enough on her own!)

I was initially so worried about frosting a bridal cake with a brown frosting (can you make a cake look “bridal” when the natural color of the frosting is so dark? and not at all conducive to being dyed a pretty color?), but in the dark, romantic light of the country club where the reception was held, this cake stood tall and lovely, surrounded by pink flowers and twinkle lights, and it was a vision.

You can’t photograph flavor, but I can promise you that this wedding cake, with its dark chocolate crumb and rich espresso buttercream, was utterly delicious.

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Wedding Cake Should Be Chocolate: The Groom’s Cake

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Last summer I made a wedding cake! Or, to be more precise, I made a bridal cake, a groom’s cake, and several sheet cakes for the absolutely gorgeous wedding of some friends of mine! The bride used to babysit my children, and her mother is one of my dearest friends and mentors.

It was such a labor of love. Delicious, chocolatey labor.

And today I am sharing part two of my series about my wedding baking adventure!

Last time I shared with you the ups and downs of my planning stages, including the timing of making all this happen. Today I want to share with you the recipes for the groom’s cake: a two-tiered vanilla cake with chocolate ganache filling, chocolate mousse frosting, and a shiny chocolate drizzle, topped with a chocolate fish to honor the groom’s favorite pasttime.

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Wedding Cake Should Be Chocolate: The Planning Stage

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Last year, when a dear friend asked me to do the wedding cake for her daughter, I was immediately all in. Yes, of course!

The beautiful bride and groom just celebrated their first anniversary, so despite all of the changes going on around these parts, I thought this was the perfect time to share with you last summer’s adventure of fancy baking!

Little did I know how much baking for this elegant wedding would stretch me as a baker.

These wedding cakes humbled me in many ways. I had to ask lots of questions of professional bakers. I renewed my search for the perfect yellow cake recipe, one that produced a consistently moist and tender and flavorful vanilla cake. I had to practice my piping technique. I also had to ask for help from friends!

I think they turned out just beautiful (and amazingly delicious). These cakes were my babies. And they took a village!

These cakes were powered by: one very understanding and patient husband; my parents, who spent the wedding weekend at my house offering moral and practical support; beautiful friends who shared supplies, refrigerator space, childcare, kitten care, and an extra hand; lots of prayer; the entire first season of Gilmore Girls; several gallons of coffee; a bottle of Riesling; not enough sleep; quite a bit of anxiety; and one happy little taste tester.

Not to mention: 9 pounds of butter, 16 pounds of sugar, 6 dozen eggs, 4 pounds of chocolate, and 150 pounds of love.

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Storybook Birthday Party

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One month ago, my darling baby Caitlin turned 2!

Of course, if you ask her how old she is, she says, “Cake!”

Caitlin is a sweet and determined little girl. She always knows what she wants and what she doesn’t! It has been so fun watching her learn over this past year: just when I think she might take forever to figure something out, she takes off running (literally. at 13½ months. walking is for chumps). She studies everything around her, speaks in complete sentences, and stands up for herself. She loves hugs and being outside and picture books. She loves shoes and farm animals and helping with chores. Her favorite foods are peanut butter and grapes.

Caitlin loves nothing better than sitting in our laps and reading books, so we threw her a storybook party to celebrate her second year of life!

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A Little Soul Searching

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photo © Natalie Zhou of Nana Floral

You may have noticed that there have been six months of silence around these parts.

I took a vacation.

I needed a break from self-imposed deadlines, from taking more pictures of plates than of gap-toothed smiles, from the chore of writing about everything I cook and never cooking the same thing more than twice.

The truth is, blogging is quite a lot of work. That’s why most people who do it successfully consider it to be their job! I do not really consider myself “successful” at this “job” because I have another career that is pretty consuming: mom-ing. In order to live up to that calling well, I have long sacrificed large parts of the blogger job description, parts like posting on social media and following friends faithfully in order to grow my audience here.

But last Fall, I realized that I wasn’t doing my mom job particularly well, either. Every time I sat down to do something on my computer, my scope of attention shrank to a small, glowing rectangle 12” from my face, and my patience with children’s shenanigans and demands disappeared entirely.

Around that time, I started asking myself some hard questions. Questions like: why have I been spending so much time thinking about food, trying new dishes, and taking pictures of everything I eat? Why do I like writing about food? What do I hope to offer or gain by doing this? Is writing a food blog the best use of my time as a mother of two preschoolers (and do I even enjoy it)?

The truth is, I found myself longing for the freedom to throw myself into other projects and ignore what’s for dinner.

IMG_7766I needed to simplify. I needed to find a lighter balance. I needed to blink and look away from Pinterest, Facebook, Tastespotting, and everything else. I needed to spend time with my gap-toothed smilers. You know. The ones who absolutely refuse to stand still next to each other for a two-second photo. #alwaysblurry

I spent a lot of time worrying about whether I should take a break from blogging, even though I knew I really needed to reorganize my priorities. But while I was fretting, before I knew it, a month had passed. And then two.

And I have to tell you, what started as a break from having my attention constantly divided turned into so much more.

Spoiler (in case you haven’t figured this out yet…): This is definitely a long-winded, reflective post. And there will not be a recipe at the end. I am so glad to have someplace to collect my thoughts, but I will not be offended if you decide to abandon this post, and just wait to see if it takes me another six months to show up again.

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Soft Pretzels

Soft Pretzels

The end of an era has arrived: this month marks the last Secret Recipe Club exchange, ever.

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about this. I have been part of this group since I was pregnant with Jake (who just turned 4!) so the SRC has influenced a lot of my cooking and baking throughout the years. Forty-two recipes on this blog happened because of the SRC. When I joined, it was with the idealistic hope that I would make friends with like-minded bloggers and find some delicious, well-curated recipes to add to my repertoire. What I found was that my preferences and standards were quite different from most of the rest of the group. I’m sure I haven’t been alone in struggling to find that single recipe from an assigned blog that fits into my own tastes and cooking style.

The challenge of the SRC exchange was often truly a challenge, and honestly, not always something I felt excited or joyful about. But I have grown as a cook and baker because of it! Because of the SRC, I have learned to look for something good in unexpected places. I have cooked some dishes I might not otherwise have tried. I have grown in testing new recipes and tweaking them to work better, or to work better for me. I have also grown as a blogger in taking my posts more seriously and making sure I am proud of what I write about.

This month, the last month of the Secret Recipe Club, I am working from the blog I’m Hungry, written by Traci. Her great strength is semi-homemade foods: if you are looking for ways to get food on the table quickly and easily, she is your gal. I was originally looking for a good Thanksgiving side dish, since it is November, but I ended up settling on soft pretzels, something I’ve been planning to bake for almost as many years as I’ve been part of SRC.

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