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Berry summer salad

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Has a car ever passed you on your walk home and they’re blasting instrumental tunes, and the sun is shining perfectly through the trees, and everyone has a pep in their step because it’s Friday? This exact scene happened to me today, and it was delightful! For the three seconds someone else’s BMW drove past me, I felt like I was in a movie. And if you’re wondering if I was waiting for Alec Baldwin to round the corner or for a flash mob to break out in front of me, maybe Alec Baldwin in a flash mob? The answer is yes. Yes I was.

I also discovered we live next to a Labrador Retriever who walks around the block with a teddy bear in its mouth. Saw that little fella duck into his basement apt. right next door! If that wasn’t the most endearing thing I saw all week, then I don’t know what was.

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I’m also not ashamed to admit this salad was another highlight of my week. Tell me you’ve never gotten excited over a meal, and I won’t believe you. I packed this bad boy for lunch three times, and if we’re being perfectly honest, I will likely eat it for at least two meals this weekend.

My secret with kale salads (please just skip this part if you and the whole world already know this) is to put your dressing directly on the kale first and foremost. If I’m packing it for work, I layer all the toppings on the bottom followed by the kale and then the dressing. If I’m at home, then I put the dressing on while I make the quinoa and cut up the fruit. The extra time the kale and dressing get to know each other softens the kale just enough to make even the world’s most avid kale naysayers ask for this recipe!

Happy weekend, friends. May all of us enjoy cars blasting instrumental music and the perfect amount of hair-blowing breeze all weekend long!

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Summer Salad | Serves 1

Ingredients*

Handful of kale with the stems removed

1/2C of cooked quinoa

4 strawberries

Handful of blueberries

Sprinkle of walnuts

1/2 chicken breast

1/4 avocado

2T of honey mustard dressing

Directions

  1. Mix and enjoy!

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*I specified the exact amounts of each item, but it feels so silly telling you to only throw 4 strawberries on your salad. Put as much of each item as you want! Swap the walnuts for almonds! Or the honey mustard with balsamic! Whatever your heart desires! And also, don’t bother to wait for the quinoa to cool. This salad is best served with quinoa at any temperature.

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Softball shortbread cookies with royal icing

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We had five glorious day of sunshine and warm temps before the cold rolled in today. I had forgotten how wonderful it is to come home while it’s still light out! Spring, you are anxiously awaited around here. This past week, the softball team at work had a bake sale, and I contributed these shortbread cookies with royal icing.

They were meant to look like softballs, but I got the color of the royal icing all wrong and they ended up looking more like Mike Wazowski. Or watermelon tennis balls. Paul Hollywood would be appalled. Although I would hope he’d approve of the flavors at the very least if not the design. I’m sharing these here as a benchmark for improving my sugar cookie icing skills. Truth be told, I was avoiding using royal icing like I’ve been avoiding my taxes.

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Would it slide off the edges of the cookies and turn into a puddle (the icing, not the taxes)? Would the cookies melt and stick together on my walk to work? Would anyone know what these were supposed to be? I somehow convinced myself that the “royal” part of royal icing was meant as a warning sign to all of us non-royals to run for the hills and avoid this icing like the plague for it’s too difficult to handle with peasant hands!

Not to mention, according to Instagram, everyone and their mom has already perfected the technique. It seems as if there are thousands of videos of bakers “flooding” the icing: creating a barrier and then filling the inside with icing. There’s something about naming a technique which is more or less as simple as spreading some schmear on a bagel that intimidated the hell out of me.

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But if I always let other people doing things first (or weather-related technique names) stop me from doing them myself, I’ll never get anywhere or do anything and that sounds exhausting. While I really wish these had been more yellow and red, they were a fun first attempt at icing designs. I hope they’re the first of many decorated cookies around here!

I thought about manipulating these photos and claiming I aced the color on the first try, but I’m not that kind of lady. Who can trust a dishonest baker? No one. That’s who. So for fun, I included a before and after manipulation of the colorful icing below.

Before

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After

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Crazy, right? Just craziness. I used a shortbread cookie for the base and a simple royal icing both of which are listed below. The cookie recipe is manipulated ever-so slightly from Mindy Segal’s Cookie Love cookbook which I can’t recommend enough!

Shortbread cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 cups of flour

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Cube the butter and put it in a mixing bowl. Add the sugar. Combine until fluffy and well incorporated.
  3. Add the flour and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium for 5 minutes.
  4. When the dough begins to stick together or to the sides of the bowl, dump it onto a well-floured surface for rolling.
  5. Place a wooden spoon on either side of the dough (but not wider than your rolling pin), so the roller stops flattening the cookies after a certain height.
  6. Flatten dough. Cut desired shapes.
  7. Place shapes on cookie sheets and place in the oven. Decrease the oven’s temp. to 325.
  8. Rotate cookies after 10 minutes and cook for another 5-6 minutes until golden brown on the edges, but mostly the bottoms.

Tip: When I make cookies, I take them out of the oven just before I think they’re fully done so they can cool on the pan for 10 minutes before I transfer them to a cooling rack.

Royal icing recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 2 egg whites
  • A pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients until well-incorporated.
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Harry Potter cake and a buttercream frosting recipe

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At the end of April, Kevin and I are headed to Iceland followed by an almost-week in London. I couldn’t be more excited so to celebrate the trip, I made an exact replica of the cake Hagrid gifts Harry when they first meet!

I would be remiss not to mention my heart goes out to the victims of this week’s terror attack on Parliament. “No act of terror can shake the strength and resilience of our British ally.” Sending my deepest sympathies across the pond.

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Conveniently, neither of us has ever visited London so we hope to check off quite a few tourist spots (hel-lo, London Eye) while also leaving plenty of room for exploration. Have you ever been? I would love to hear about your must-see places!

For starters, I signed up for a cookie icing class at Biscuiteers and am so excited I don’t know how I’m going to wait another month! I’m sure it comes as no surprise at all that we also snatched up tickets for The Harry Potter Studio Tour.

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I know true Harry Potter fans out there will tell me that this cake is more fitting for Harry’s birthday in July (have I hit my nerdy comments quota yet today?), but I just couldn’t help myself! You can see the cake from the movie here. Some friends pointed out it’s not quite accurate since I didn’t sit on it like Hagrid does. Haha! Maybe next time 😉

If only I could take this entire chocolate cake with us. I made Julia Turshen’s Happy Wife Happy Life recipe from her cookbook Small Victories. Once I saw that there is a full cup of coffee in the batter, I had to try it.

This turned out to be one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever eaten. The coffee makes the layers perfectly moist which you can tell from the photos above. I also accidentally added almond extract to the frosting and decided to still add vanilla extract (#yolo). Together they complemented the chocolate layers perfectly. The happiest of accidents!

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Unless the author posts the recipe in full on their site, I don’t believe in posting the recipe in full on my blog. However, with a quick google search, you can find others who don’t feel the same (like the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel here).

My reasoning is that recipes are special, and if the author wanted this online, they would share it online. If I had written a cookbook, I wouldn’t want other bloggers to copy and paste my work in a format where I might not have intended it to live without seeking explicit permission first.

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Julia’s recipe calls for raspberry jam sandwiched in between each layer, but I used a traditional buttercream icing. If anyone missed the jam, I didn’t hear about it!

This cake lasted all of two days in our house which is without a doubt the quickest turnaround of any dessert around here. I know it won’t be long before I make it again. Happy weekend, friends!

Buttercream Frosting Recipe

Ingredients 

3Cups of powdered sugar

1 stick of butter

1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons milk or whipping cream

Food coloring (optional)

Directions

  1. Mix together 3C of sugar and 1 stick of butter on low speed (or by hand) until it’s well incorporated.
  2. If you’re using a stand mixer, increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.
  3. Add 1/2 T vanilla and 2t milk and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Add more milk until you’ve reached your desired consistency.

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Special shout-out to my friend Claire for letting me shoot in her apt., capturing some extra photos, and bearing the ever-important roles of taste tester and hand model! You can tell by the giant slices missing how much we hated it 😉 

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Homemade Milkbar confetti cookies and a DC guide

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My sister is visiting DC! Wahoo! The only thing better than sitting on the couch all weekend eating Milkbar cookies is sitting on the couch all weekend eating Milkbar cookies with friends and family.

Just kidding. We’re not going to sit inside eating cookies all weekend. We planned our itinerary two weeks ago! What follows is a suggested itinerary for Someone Who Has Visited DC More Than Once But Still Wants to See A Few Things DC Has to Offer.

This guide is mostly food related (as the best ones are) with a few sights thrown in. I’m no D.C. Tour Guide so take all of these recommendations with a grain of salt. And a cookie.

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Places to eat and drink

  • Ghibellina – This Italian restaurant’s walls hold much sister gossip I’m sure. I’ve never not seen Ghibellina packed to the gills, but thanks to the loud music, tasty pizzas and open kitchen, you are likely the last thing your neighbors are paying attention to.
  • Le Diplomate – If you’re in the mood for a fancy brunch, this Parisian bistro on 14th St. is the spot. It’s like walking straight into Amelie!
  • DC Noodles – Get a double order of the pork belly buns. They taste like a delightfully soft cloud filled with sweet bbq pork.
  • The Pretzel Bakery – I have yet to visit, but this is the kind of place that makes people’s eyes roll into the back of their head when they talk about it. What’s not to love about a bakery full of pretzels!?
  • Toki Underground – This no reservations ramen bar is well worth the wait! The communal seating and big-head action figures around the room are the perfect atmosphere for a small group.
  • Baked and Wired – Don’t listen to TLC, this is the best cupcake in the city. I recommend the Uniporns and Rainhoes (Sorry, Dad.).
  • My house! Hit me up if you’re ever in the city. I’d love to bake with you.

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Things to See and Do

  • Atlantic Plumbing Cinema – The stuff (contemporary, cocktail-loving, armchair enthusiast) movie lover’s dreams are made of!
  • Salt and Sundry – How I ever manage to leave Salt and Sundry empty-handed I’ll never know. The paper goods! The cake stands! The candles! My sister better leave room in her suitcase is all I’m sayin.
  • The Botanical Gardens – These gardens have something for everyone – even a tropical rainforest! Guaranteed plans no matter the weather.
  • The Renwick Gallery – Any description I provide won’t do the Renwick justice. Check out the hashtag on Instagram. And tell me these cookie stacks don’t at least remind you a little of the paper stacks?

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The cookies pictured here are the Confetti cookies from the Milkbar cookbook. They have a similar recipe for the birthday cake truffles on their site as well which have almost the exact same components. Don’t let the directions intimidate you! It requires multiple recipes but the best part is, the ingredients all store very well. And let me just add that you won’t be the first one to use store-bought vanilla extract instead of the clear vanilla extract it calls for 😉

If you really have your heart set on these cookies but don’t want to buy the book, I recommend adding the birthday sand (pictured on the paddle in the third photo) to a standard sugar cookie recipe and throwing in some extra sprinkles for good measure.

And if all else fails, you can’t go wrong with the mix.

Safe travels, sis! I hope you’re hungry.

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DC friends, anything you’d add to the list for someone who’s visited before? I’m sure there are tons of places I’ve left out. I’d love to hear what your staples are!

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Smitten Kitchen’s whole lemon bars

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Over the course of the past week I spent a lot of time in my own head thinking about the purpose of this food blog. Some of the (ridiculous and not so ridiculous) questions I asked myself included: Does the world really need another food Instagram to follow? What am I contributing to the food writing community? And what the hell am I doing anyways?

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This site is not the first time I’ve tried blogging. I’ve written posts more often than I should admit only to find myself leaving a site in the dust because it’s too much work. Or because I didn’t feel like I had anything new to contribute. Or because I was worried about what other people would think.

But eventually I came to my senses and realized that as long as I’m having fun, what do all of these questions really matter?

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In my favorite interview with Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, when asked what she would tell new bloggers she said, “First off, I’d tell them to just do it. Secondly—and more importantly—don’t worry about what everyone else has done or is doing. If you constantly think, “Somebody has already made this,” then you’re never going to make anything.”

So I’m doing the thing. I’m putting all my past attempts behind me and giving this whole food blog a try. I’m also making lemon bars (recipe here). Because heavens, if we don’t have desserts to get us through long days and self-deprecating nights, then we’re doing it all wrong.

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The recipe Deb posted on her site is slightly different than the one I used from her cookbook. Namely the one in the book uses an entire lemon – peel and all. The flaky shortbread base and crispy edges are like eating a cookie only to be delightfully surprised when you realize the soft lemon curd is more like a pie. I’m grateful we live in a world where we can have both. At the same time!

Other things I’m grateful for include time spent with old friends, plastic-wrapped library books which sound like you’re opening a bag of chips when you grab them, and safe, smooth flights, which trust me, is a post for another time. However you’ve found yourself here, I’m glad you did! I highly recommend getting yourself a lemon and whipping these up. You won’t regret it.

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p.s. If you want to collaborate on a project, I’d love to work with you! I’m excited to experiment and finally get out of my own head. And I wish I could send you a lemon bar for reading this far.

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A Whole30 recap

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Whole30 is done! Woohoo! You can read more about why I decided to try it again here. Below is a quick take about the entire month followed by a much longer explanation if you’re in a reading mood.

The short version: Now that it’s behind me, I can honestly say I enjoyed Whole30 more than I thought I would. It took just one meal during the reintroduction phase for me to realize some foods leave me feeling so bad that it’s not worth the taste.

Since finishing the program, I have tried to incorporate more veggies and healthier snacking into my diet. However, no plan will ever get me to cut baking out of my life forever. I recommend Whole30 if you’re looking to pinpoint an illness/ ache/ pain. If you want to lose weight or just eat a little healthier, this plan is too strict.

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The longer version: Whole30 was hard but (and I can’t believe I’m about to say this) worth it. When I told friends and family I was eliminating dairy, sugar, legumes, alcohol and grains for thirty days, the comparison Whole30 garnered most was Atkin’s. I’ve never tried Atkin’s, but Whole30 is not intended as a longterm diet. Nor is it actually a diet since weight loss is not the main goal.

Thankfully, the last thirty days were some of the most sedentary we have planned for the year so cooking at home and staying inside were both very doable. The time commitment on the other hand was a serious strain. When you’re trying to get out the door in the morning after making dinner and snacks the night before (which alone is a success!) cooking an entire breakfast was sometimes the last thing I wanted to do.

I’m very grateful that I live a lifestyle which allows me to invest in my health and that I tried Whole30 while I only have my own schedule to worry about. It took me a solid three weeks to feel like I finally got into the swing of things and could whip up meals in a reasonable amount of time. I credit this to smarter meal planning and a better understanding of the restrictions.

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Real talk: It cannot be said enough how much of a time commitment Whole30 requires. If you try this plan, be prepared to spend a lot of time reading labels and avoiding many pantry staples.

Because I was cooking so much at home, I thought I would save money, but the fresh produce and a myriad of ingredients for homemade sauces and dressings meant I didn’t save much at all. Can you hear my frustration? What I missed most was grabbing a spontaneous drink after work on the way home and spending my weekend mornings baking desserts to share with friends.

I tried Whole30 (sometimes lovingly referred to as Hell30) because I wanted to understand what causes my migraines and to make healthier food choices. During the process, I couldn’t understand how people finish the program and don’t crave foods they once loved. (You mean to tell me there are people out there who don’t like toast?)

Since this reset, I now know that foods which once sounded good don’t sound that great anymore, and I feel stronger for knowing some things (I’m looking at you, lattes) don’t have a hold on me like they used to.

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Life post-Whole30: After returning home from vacation, I was incapacitated with the flu. Indulging more than usual and feeling downright awful made me want to stick to Whole30 again. Do I sound like one of those individuals who drinks kale for breakfast and makes imitation parmesan cheese? Hell, if it makes me feel good, I’m beginning to think neither of those things sounds so bad. While I spent so much time wishing I could have a bowl of ice cream or piece of toast, I never thought I would want to be on Whole30 once it was over, and yet here I am.

I’ve reintroduced most foods with the exception of dairy. Making banana bread while we were in Arizona and lemon bars (I’ll share the recipe I used later this week) this past weekend was downright therapeutic, and I have no intention of ever giving up baking again. However, I do plan to incorporate more vegetables on a daily basis and maybe ease up on treating myself so much.

If you’re going to try Whole30: Try to find friends near and far to do it with you and hold you accountable. Swapping everything from complaints to recipes made the plan more doable! I also recommend the cookbook. Planning ahead is the number one key to surviving the full thirty days, and a complete book of recipes helps tremendously!

If you want to learn more:  

Week one update

Week two update

What I’m looking forward to baking

More recipe ideas on my Instagram

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A few things I plan to bake now that Whole30 is finally over

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And just like that, I can welcome legumes, dairy, sugar, alcohol and bread back into my life one by one. I’m beyond excited to bust out my Kitchenaid and get the sugar, butter and flour flowing once again. Come back next week for my thoughts on Whole30, but until then, here are some of the desserts I’m most excited to bake.

Salted chocolate chunk cookies from Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. No recipe round-up is complete without a shoutout to Deb!

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Corgi chai cookies from Adrianna of A Cozy Kitchen. Might have to add the double decker tacos to this list too because what’s better than a taco? A taco wrapped in a taco!

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Peanut butter chocolate chunk bars with with salted caramel drizzle by Lily of Kale and Caramel. Just looking at these makes me drool all over my computer.

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Homemade funfetti cake with chocolate frosting from Michelle of Hummingbird High. I love stumbling upon the early days of a successful food blog. I clicked this recipe from the recipe index and what I found was an honest account of moving to a new city, desserts turning out all wrong, and encouragement to keep on keeping on!

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Lavender vanilla bean sugar cookies by Kate of The Wood and Spoon. And if you haven’t yet seen her stop motion videos on Instagram, definitely check em out!

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DIY box of chocolates from Christina Lane of Dessert for Two. Walking by all of the Valentine’s Day candy this past month was no easy feat. If I make this box of chocolates, it’s almost like I didn’t miss out on the holiday at all!

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p.s. You can’t tell in the above photo, but I cropped out my Whole30 cookbook. I highly recommend buying it if you’re thinking of giving it a go!