Another Semester Down and a Sweet Potato Splurge

Sweet Potato Pancakes with Peanut Butter, Blackberries, and Maple Syrup

Sweet Potato Pancakes with Peanut Butter, Blackberries, and Maple Syrup

My mom shuffled through the door balancing a suitcase and an over-packed and poorly-duct-taped box, and my dad carried his weight in tote bags filled with winter coats, spiral-bound notebooks, and packets of sticky notes. A pale and sheepish mono-ridden version of myself followed them carrying just a pillow and my worn patterned-purse across my chest. We navigated our way through the narrow hallways and up to the fifth floor. The short blonde boy carrying my guitar case and wearing an Orientation t-shirt smiled and informed us that the same man who designed my building also designed prisons. I mustered up a half-grin and chuckle but began to question my sanity in moving into a prison-like dormitory a day after being diagnosed with mono. But my stubborn mind was set: I was going to college rain or shine, and that was that.

Browned Butter Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Browned Butter Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes

A year later, I’m driving a Subaru Outback along the road that winds through cow pastures, dairy farms, and small Vermont towns. Just like the year prior, the car is packed with suitcases and a seemingly never-ending supply of roasted almonds, yet this time I’m alone except for the comforting voice of James Taylor, who has faithfully accompanied me for the past few hours as I play his Greatest Hits on repeat. When I drive over the final hill and see the blue sign welcoming me to campus, I turn off the music and roll down the windows. After a three-month hiatus of traveling and soaking in the sun from my trusty lifeguard stand, it feels like I’m coming home.

Sweet Potato Bread: Serve warm with butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar.

Sweet Potato Bread: Serve warm with butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar.

And somehow we’ve gotten to today: a year and a half after the day I walked onto campus as “that girl with mono” and a semester after my epic solo road trip filled with almonds and my mediocre singing along to James Taylor. Thirteen courses taken, hundreds of Word documents added to my MacBook’s hard drive, and a major finally declared (helloooo International Studies department). I’m three semesters in and not quite sure where the time has gone. Sometimes it feels like yesterday that I awkwardly introduced myself to my freshman roommate and told her that my name was pronounced like “Slayer” without the l. On the other hand, it seems like eons have passed since the moment I held a pencil in my sweaty palm and flipped open to a blank white page of a blue book to take my first midterm last fall.

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Sweet Potato Biscuits

This past semester was full of both fun shenanigans and challenging academic endeavors. One day I ran through an apple orchard with friends, and another time I took up residence in the basement of the library for twelve hours to crank out papers like it was my job. Of all those assignments, one in particular stands out in my mind—probably because it satisfied my sweet tooth and allowed me to spend some quality time getting to know our newly renovated and beautiful kitchen. For my Food Geographies class, I studied the North Carolina Sweet Potato and put together a collection of recipes.  Basically, this translated to me returning home for Thanksgiving and making nine sweet potato recipes in approximately 48 hours. I’m not going to lie—the recipes were definitely either a hit or miss. Of all of our sweet potato concoctions, two of the “hits” were the super easy baked sweet potato fries and the sweet potato smoothie. The fries are a consistent crowd pleaser, and the smoothie was an unexpected and refreshing surprise.  Cheers to your own sweet potato adventures!

 Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Baked Sweet Potato Fries. Have maple syrup and ketchup ready for dipping.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries. Have maple syrup and ketchup ready for dipping.

 Source: Modified from Paula Deen, Food Network

Ingredients: Olive oil, for tossing, 5 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into ¼ inch long slices then ¼ inch wide strips, using a crinkle cut knife, 1 tablespoon house seasoning, ½ teaspoon paprika

House Seasoning: 1 cup salt, ¼ cup black pepper, ¼ cup garlic powder. Mix together and store for up to 6 months.


Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Line a sheet tray with parchment. In a large bowl toss sweet potatoes with just enough oil to coat. Sprinkle with House Seasoning and paprika. Spread sweet potatoes in single layer on prepared baking sheet, being sure not to overcrowd. Bake until sweet potatoes are tender and golden brown, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Information:

Per Serving: Calories: 273; Fat: 9.5g (Saturated Fat: 1g); Protein: 4g; Carbohydrates: 44g; Sugar: 9g; Fiber 7g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 1,670mg

 Sweet Potato Smoothies

Sweet Potato Smoothies: Sound sketch but are a refreshing treat.

Sweet Potato Smoothies: Sound sketch but are a refreshing treat.

 Source: Brigette Shevy on Money Saving Mom

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients: ½ cup sweet potato, cooked and chilled, 1 frozen banana, cut in thirds, ½ yellow apple, cored, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 1 teaspoon vanilla, ½ cup milk, 1 cup ice cubes


Place all ingredients in a Vita-mix or a high-powered blender. Blend on high until smooth. Serve immediately.

All sweet potatoes used in this project were from Faison, NC.

All sweet potatoes used in this project were from Faison, NC.

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Full of Thanks…and Pumpkin Tea Bread.

Amy’s Pumpkin Tea Bread

I know I’m home when I wake up with an allergy attack to my own chocolate lab curled up at the foot of my bed.  While he may be the premier snuggle buddy in the Southeast, my twin bed is hardly large enough for the two of us, and not having been around dogs in two and a half months means my sinuses aren’t ready to take on all of this therapeutic puppy lovin’.  Coming home for Thanksgiving means I must sharpen up my sarcasm skills to compete with my witty teenage brothers, readjust myself to the sketchy brake pads of my dad’s jeep, and trade my warm fuzzy boots for a pair of comfy flip flops.

*Note the pretty new countertop. Thankful for kitchen renovations.

Sugars and spice…

Rolling back into the Carolinas reminds me of various reasons to give thanks.  This go-round of travel, I am especially thankful for auxiliary cords and the new Taylor Swift album. I’m pleasantly surprised and thankful for the water pressure coming out of my showerhead at home, as opposed to the mediocre water pressure of the shower in my dorm. I’m grateful for a refrigerator stocked with hummus and local pimento cheese and a freezer filled with parts of a deer my dad shot yesterday morning (my stomach is more than content with the fresh venison that we ate last night). I’m thankful for a second round of orange and yellow leaves, overly competitive family Boggle nights, and the clear skies and windy back roads through the Southern Appalachians.

Pre-oven batter.

Post-oven: 3 loaves of magic.

Every Thanksgiving, my mom makes loaves upon loaves of her famous pumpkin bread. When my brothers and I were younger, we would stand on our tiptoes to reach the top of the counter and steal pieces of it placed so nicely on the platter.  When we each had a piece or two, we would dash to the living room to sneakily snack on our favorite Thanksgiving treat before the big meal. When an adult would discover us hidden under the table and covered in crumbs, we claimed that the bread needed taste-testers–to make sure it wasn’t poisonous, of course.

Ready to be eaten.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, pretty fall colors, yummy-delicious-ness, and food babies, here is the recipe for the pumpkin bread that has a future at all of my coming Thanksgiving dinners. Knock yourself out.

Pumpkin Tea Bread

Source:  Mom’s Recipe Book (the half-ripped page adds character…)

Ingredients:  3 cups flour, 3 cups sugar, 2 cups pumpkin (1 can of Libby’s pumpkin), 3 eggs, 1 cup oil, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp ground cloves, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, ½ tsp salt

Directions: Add sugar to oil. Mix well. Add pumpkin and eggs. In separate bowl, mix spices and flour well. Add to liquid mixture. Pour into greased angel cake food pan (or 3 mini loaf pans). Bake at 350º for 60-75 minutes for angel cake food pan or 55-60 minutes for 3 8-inch loaf pans (or until knife comes out clean). Can add 1 cup nuts and/or 2/3 cups raisins if it suits your fancy/taste buds.

Sliced and ready for action.

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Crashes and Fat Balls

Sometimes it takes colliding with big, scary mountains to realize that our daily challenges are merely molehills.  Today, it took me crashing into a 1998 tan Buick to notice that rolling out of bed in the morning to silence my alarm is more of a blessing than a repetitive and volume-increasing curse.

Insert classic cheesy mountain photo. Taken in Colombia, Summer 2012.

I will admit that sometimes I see a yellow light and gun it, but this wasn’t one of those occasions.  My brain went on autopilot as I was simply sipping my warm mint green tea, listening to music, and chatting with my friend on our way to yoga. I didn’t even realize we were going through an intersection until my friend gasped and my tea was suddenly all over her pink tank top–until the crash and the shattering of glass and the leaking of strange-colored fluids from the front of my dad’s trusty ’95 Jeep Cherokee.

All I can think about is timing.  Two seconds earlier and I would have cleared the light, we would have sweated off two pounds in hot yoga, and I would have gone home to fall asleep on the couch watching ESPN.  Two seconds later, and I could have killed both my friend and the driver of the Buick and spent the rest of my life with insomnia-inducing nightmares and outrageous insurance rates.  To keep it real, our moment of impact was perfect: enough to scare the living daylights out of me, yet not serious enough to cause any injuries (unless you count totaling the other driver’s car…)

Sometimes it’s hard to find the silver lining in a mess of phone calls, insurance fees, and tears.  It was surprisingly easy to drop the F-bomb like it was hot in front of my mom for the first time in my life and chug the rest of my gross cold tea like it was the last liquid form on Earth.  But I’m coming to terms with my silver lining.  Shit happens. Some people pay full price for mistakes, and others are blessed with second chances.  At the end of the day, I step away as one of the lucky ones with a second chance.  Adios tea-drinking and driving days–I can happily say my travel time to anywhere and everywhere will be reduced due to fewer stops for hygienically sub-par restrooms.

Let’s face it: I’m in a mess, but I’m not embarrassed to say that I’m thankful.  I’m thankful for my family who came from three different directions to find me and for my friend who insisted that everything was going to be fine. I’m thankful for my teenage brother who skipped breakfast and brushing his teeth to drive fifteen minutes to just come sit next to me on the side of the road, and for the random stranger who smiled and awkwardly told me it ‘wouldn’t be my last ticket.’  (So comforting, right?) I’m thankful for close calls that inspire caution and gratefulness, and I’m thankful for second chances.

See how I made it a stoplight? #lolzapalooza. A sense of humor is good, right?

And I’m thankful for these “Fat Balls.”  Yea, I will also admit that my brothers talked me into dropping my diet “healthy lifestyle” for the day and making them this simple Oreo-Truffle-ish dessert.  They’re rich, creamy, sugary, and not exactly guilt free. Warning: Save for a special occasion.

Fat Balls

Ingredients: 1 package Oreos (whichever style you’re in the mood for), 1 package 1/3 reduced fat cream cheese, white chocolate for dipping, sprinkles (optional)


  1. Put Oreos in one large Ziploc. Then put this bag in another Ziploc so there is no spillage.  Crush Oreos until they are very fine.
  2. Mix crushed Oreos with package of Cream Cheese
  3. Roll batter into small balls and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  4. Melt chocolate and dip balls in chocolate.
  5. Chill for approx. 1 hour in refrigerator (it might be hard to wait, but trust me, these babies are 10x better after they have set).
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Summer Gazpacho and Citrus Baked Salmon

A tasty, summery gazpacho

If you had asked me of my fish preferences a year ago, I would have told you I stick to purely Swedish or tuna fish in a can.  And if it was tuna, it better have been camouflaged in a mixture of mayonnaise, relish, and chopped up sour green apple in between slices of tomato and Swiss on my Bruegger’s bagel.  Now I realize that the irrational fish fear of my childhood was most likely only correlated with the fact that the scent of raw fish made me want to vomit.

And the chopping begins!

At a young age, I mastered the art of discreetly mashing the fish on my plate with the bottom of my fork to make it seem like I had tried it.  For the times when my grandmother demanded that everyone watch as I try the fish that my father had meticulously prepared, I knew the trick of placing a miniscule piece of it in the side of my mouth until everyone looked away and I could strategically spit it into my white doily napkin.  When a family member would question how I liked this particular fish, I would crinkle my eyebrows, purse my lips, and muster up the words to describe my dislike towards the lean meat.  My grandfather would rationalize that my taste buds simply still hadn’t fully developed, and my brothers would smile and yell, “More for us!”

Mmm zucchini.

It turned out that my fear of fish extended to other sea creatures as well.  When it was time for our bi-weekly trip to the grocery store with our mom, my brothers and I would always dart to the back of the store to see the live lobsters swim around their tank.  Although it was fun to watch them try to fight with their pincers rubber-banded together and their whiskers flailing in every which way and direction, the thought of consuming these critters sent a shiver up my spine.

Attempt #1: In the food processor. (Pre-leakage)

And then there was Christmas. Every Christmas Eve during cocktail hour, everyone in my family snacked on fresh shrimp (everyone in my family, except for me, that is).  I could confidently concoct the special cocktail sauce by the time I was seven, though I never dipped more than a finger or the occasional cracker in it.  Once I even tried convincing my family that I was actually allergic to seafood so as to avoid tasting the shrimp, yet it was a faulty story because there was one exception to my fish fear: freshly fried oysters.  It all started during Homecoming Weekend at the SAE house at my dad’s alma mater.  I may not have known what a fraternity was, or even been able to read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom yet, but I could down a lot of fried oysters nearly as quickly as the current brothers.  I sat atop my father’s shoulders and would tap his head when I needed another oyster fix.  He would dutifully put down his beer and slather another Saltine with oyster and ketchup.  It was the life.  Every now and then I still crave these oysters, although the thought of getting on my dad’s shoulders gives me nightmares of spinal injuries and visits to the ER.

Major food processor leakage. Might be time to upgrade our 1970s Cuisinart!

I grew older, and the time between my dad’s graduation and the present day increased as the frequency in our visits to the SAE house steadily decreased.  I still didn’t like fish. A couple of years ago on a trip to Costa Rica, my family encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and order a local fish at a restaurant that was known for their piscatorial specialties.  My heart dropped to my stomach when they brought out a platter with a cooked fish complete with gooey eyeballs and whiskers.  I tried to be polite, but I couldn’t even pick up my fork.  Luckily for me, my dad offered to trade plates with me, so I ended up eating a delicious mix of rice and beans.  Let’s just say ordering a whole cooked fish at this point in my life was twelve steps too far out of my happy little culinary comfort zone.

Attempt #2: In the blender.

I ate my first shrimp three months ago.  As soon as my teeth sunk down into the juicy steamed piece of shrimp, I realized my stupidity. After nineteen years of refusing to eat most things from the sea, all I could think was, “I. Missed. Out.” I immediately wanted another piece of shrimp; however, there was a slight issue: how does one take the tail off of a shrimp? Oh yes, the embarrassment.  My brothers shot me the typical teenage boy “Really?” face, and my mom ordered that one of them teach me the proper way to prepare a bite of shrimp. Don’t worry—now I can get the tails off before you can grab the cocktail sauce from the fridge.

While the gazpacho chills in the fridge, we can start on the salmon.

Ain’t she a beaut.

Now that I know what I was missing for the majority of the first two decades of my life, I figure I have some major catching up to do in the fish world.  After living with my grandparents for a handful of weeks this summer, I decided to prepare dinner for them on my last night as a special thank you and goodbye.  Despite a few recipe reading and food-processor leaking mishaps, both the gazpacho and salmon turned out to be great, healthy, and tasty successes.  Here’s to trying new things fish! Bon appétit.

Course #1 ready to be slurped down. Add avocado for a smooth treat to compliment the rich flavors.


Source: Loosely based off of Pioneer Woman’s recipe

Yield: approximately 8 servings

Ingredients:  2 cloves Garlic, Minced, 1/2 whole Red Onion, Diced, 1 whole Large Cucumber, Diced, 5 whole Roma Tomatoes, Diced, 1/2 whole Large Red Pepper, Diced,  1/2 whole Large Yellow Pepper, Diced, 1 whole Zucchini, Diced, 2 stalks Celery, Diced, 1 dash Salt To Taste, 1/4 gallon Tomato Juice, 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1/8 cup Red Wine Vinegar, 6 dashes Tabasco, 1 dash Black Pepper To Taste, Avocado, Sour Cream, Cilantro (optional for garnishes)


1. In the bowl of a food processor or in a blender, combine the minced garlic with half the red onion, half the cucumber, half the tomato, half the zucchini, half the celery, half the tomato juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar, sugar, Tabasco, and a dash of salt.

2. Pulse until all ingredients are blended well; mixture will have a nice speckled, colorful texture.

3. Pour into a large bowl and add the rest of the tomato juice, and half of the remaining onion, cucumber, tomato, zucchini, and celery. (Reserve the rest of the diced vegetables for garnish.)

4. Stir mixture together and check seasonings, adding salt if needed. Chill soup for at least a couple of hours; soup needs to be very cold! The longer it chills, the more time the flavors have to blend, and the stronger the gazpacho becomes.

5. Remove the soup from the fridge and stir. Check seasonings one last time. Ladle into a bowl and garnish with remaining diced vegetables, a sliver of fresh avocado, sour cream, and cilantro. You can also place a grilled shrimp on the top and serve with grilled slices of bread if that suits your fancy.

Course #2: Baked Salmon with Cooked Asparagus

Citrus Baked Salmon

Source: loosely based off of Food Network’s recipe 

Yield: 4 generous servings

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill, 2 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes, in oil, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 orange for slicing, 1-2 lemon(s) for slicing, 2/3 cup white wine, 4 6-8 oz Salmon fillets


1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.

2. In a large 9 by 13 shallow baking dish place 1 lemon slice with 1 orange slice side by side so you’ll end up with 4 groups. Each salmon fillet will have its own bed of citrus.

3. Season each fillet with salt and pepper then place each salmon fillet over the 2 slices of lemon and orange.

4. In a small bowl mix the dill, sun-dried tomatoes and tomato oil.

5. Divide mixture on top of the salmon fillet, then drizzle with the wine.

6. Place the baking dish in the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes (*Note: it took me a lot longer to cook because I used 1 large fillet instead of 4 mini fillets.)

Course #3: A scoop of vanilla ice cream accompanied by seasonal berries. A perfect ending to a summery meal.

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Lifeguarding Lessons and Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake

Just like any job, there are tricks to my trade.  I may not have the fanciest magnifying glass in a group of private investigators or be able to count cards at a gambling table in Las Vegas, but my co-workers and I know how to dominate our domain.  We stealthily hide our eyes behind polarized glasses and coat ourselves with a secret lotion to protect us from one of the many dangers of our job.  We sport high-fashion fanny packs and are each prepared with a metal whistle hanging around our necks, always at the ready to be situated in between our clenched teeth.

Grating the carrots is actually the most time-consuming part of the recipe.

…and voila.

Okay, you guessed it–I’m a lifeguard.  And, yes, I may have over-glorified our daily attire and deadpan serious attitudes.  Don’t get me wrong, we take our jobs extremely seriously and complete daily training to maintain our skills at a test-ready level to protect the kids swimming in the lake.  However, as I was saying earlier, we know the tricks of our trade.  One of our usual games involves luring the kids out of the water; no swimmers translates to lying down on the dock to better our bronze and catch up on the latest 50 Shades of Grey.

Post-oven and pre-assembly.

We have a specific set of tools for achieving our goals.  For the kids concerned with returning to school the tannest of their lunch bunch, a guard strategically tells them that they are losing their tan, and suggests that they had better lie out on the dock to soak up some solid UV rays.  Occasionally someone will wonder out loud, “was that a snake?” to quickly clear the water.  I have even heard of one guard bribing a certain child with candy so as to take a break from the sun.

Stacked and ready to be iced.

One morning, when our typical gang of nine-year old girls showed up ready to swim at the stroke of 9:59 AM, we created a scavenger hunt running them all over town.  They snuck tennis balls from the courts, blushed in photos with their crushes, choreographed and performed dances to pop songs, and finally shared giant ice cream sundaes all before noon. And the best part? It was all dry fun. By the time they completed the hunt, the sun was high in the sky, we had already been on the clock for three hours, and we were all dying to jump in the lake.

The cream cheese frosting is just the icing on the cake. (Pun intended).

Another one of our proudest moments as lifeguards this summer was the morning we spearheaded the Great Massage Competition.  Instead of having to rate the swimmers’ identical dives one after the other, my fellow lifeguards and I rested our heads on our rescue tubes and let each child take turns giving us back massages.  After they all went through the rotation once, we decided we needed to double check before making an executive decision. Not only did we keep the kids out of the water, stay dry, and enjoy free massages, but we also crowned each child with their own title such as “best knot-getter-outer” and “most likely to go pro” so as to not hurt their feelings and to make each feel special.  Yes, we’re brilliant.

Good luck eating just one piece. Sharing is recommended.

Although we pride ourselves on our skills of deterring children from entering the water, we do enjoy watching them frolic around and having them retrieve age-old hair ties and beeping watches for us from the lake floor. The kids keep us company on the dock, splash us so we don’t faint of heat strokes, and update us on all the tween gossip.  We enjoy the sun and get to play epic games of hide and seek with dummies on the bottom of the lake.  And, hey, we even get paid a smidgen more than minimum wage. Life is good.

You know what else is good? This awesome and simple recipe for carrot cake. It’ll rock your world.  Give it a go:

It’s just vegetables, right??

Carrot Cake

Source: Jane L.

Ingredients: Cake: 2 cups sugar, 2 cups flour, sifted, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking soda, 3 tsp cinnamon, 1 ½ cups oil, 4 eggs, beaten, 3 cups carrots, grated; Filling and Icing: ½ cup butter, 1 lb box powdered sugar, 1 8oz pkg of cream cheese, 2 tsp vanilla, 1 cup pecan pieces  (use pecans to your liking)


  1. For the cake, mix dry ingredients well.
  2. Add oil, beaten eggs, and grated carrots. Mix well.
  3. Pour into 3-buttered and floured 8” cake pans and bake 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes
  4. Cream together butter, sugar, vanilla & cream cheese to start the icing.
  5. Ice the cake putting frosting in between layers, on top, and on the sides.
  6. Sprinkle pecan pieces on and around cake.
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The Double Caramel Turtle Cake Challenge

Double Caramel Turtle Cake

One of the birthday perks in my household is that you design the dinner menu on your special day.  In honor of my mother, October 3rd is usually filled with spaghetti and hints of red meat sauce staining the corners of my dad’s mouth.  Steak always appears on the table on January 28th to satisfy the elite (read: expensive) taste of my teenage brother.  By the time June 13th rolls around, I always undergo grave internal struggle over whether to choose homemade chicken potpie or fresh fish tacos as my special birthday dish.

Just a little (lot) bit of sugar…

Under construction

This year on my brother’s birthday, I told him that I would bake him a cake of his choice.  Almost immediately I could see the neurons firing in his brain as he quickly considered this tasty challenge and pondered what would be an incredibly difficult recipe along with a delicious birthday treat.  A couple of days later, he knocked on my door and pointed to the image on the cover of the newest Cooking Light: Desserts Edition. He declared that he had made his decision and that he would be expecting a Double Caramel Turtle Cake complete with candles in approximately 24 hours.  At first I thought he was kidding, but unfortunately for me, he was not.  This newsflash translated to me dropping my to-do lists and abandoning my beckoning yoga mat and heading to Harris Teeter to purchase dipping caramel and finely chopped pecans, the only two ingredients that our (surprisingly organized) kitchen lacked.

Finished product

Let the Happy Birthday Song Begin.

I dedicated the next day to delicately crafting my brother’s birthday present.  I meticulously followed Cooking Light’s directions in hopes that the cake wouldn’t turn out to be a total flop. After all, I’m not a huge fan of chocolate cake, so I really wanted to knock this thing out of the water.  My family deemed the cake a success, as evidenced by the fact that most of us went back for seconds on this dangerously rich and decadent combination of chocolate, caramel, and (dare I say) vanilla ice cream. Why not splurge? It was in honor of my brother, right…?

Oh nom nom.

Half-way gone…

Anyway, the cake lasted about two days in my house before we licked the platter and then shoved it in the already-jam packed dishwasher.  Despite my original anxieties about baking a complex-looking cake from the cover of my mom’s favorite magazine, creating this beautiful cake both bolstered my confidence in the kitchen and converted me into a chocolate-cake crazy freak.  And just to throw this on the record: this was honestly the best cake I have ever tasted, and I would 100% recommend giving it a shot.  Though do be warned: You may have a harder time eating other lesser quality chocolate cakes after you get hooked on this one…Good luck with that.  Happy baking!

Add a scoop of vanilla just to be the icing on the cake. (Pun intended)

Double Caramel Turtle Cake

Source: Cooking Light

Ingredients: Cake: cooking spray, 1 tbl all-purpose flour, 1 ½ cups boiling water, ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa, 1 ½ cups granulated sugar, 6 tbl butter softened, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 2 large eggs, 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking soda, ¾ tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp salt; Frosting: 2 tbl butter, ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar, 2-3 tbl fat-free milk, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 2 cups sifted powdered sugar; Topping: 2/3 cup fat-free caramel apple dip (such as T. Marzetti’s), ¼ cup finely chopped pecans, toasted


  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
    1. To prepare cake, coat bottoms of 2 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray (do not coat sides of pans); line bottoms with wax paper. Coat wax paper with cooking spray; dust with 1 tablespoon flour.
    2. Combine boiling water and cocoa, stirring well with a whisk. Cool completely.
    3. Place granulated sugar, 6 tablespoons butter, and vanilla in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Lightly spoon 1 2/3 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 1 2/3 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture and cocoa mixture alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
    4. Pour batter into prepared pans; sharply tap pans once on counter to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.
    5. To prepare frosting, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and 2 tablespoons milk; cook 1 minute or until sugar melts. Remove from heat; cool slightly. Combine butter mixture and 2 teaspoons vanilla in a large bowl. Gradually add powdered sugar; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, beating until spreading consistency.
    6. Place 1 cake layer on a plate; spread top with half of frosting. Place caramel dip in a small zip-top plastic bag. Snip a small hole in 1 corner of bag; drizzle half of caramel dip over frosting. Top with other cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top of cake; drizzle with remaining caramel dip. Sprinkle with pecans.

Nutritional Information (amount per serving): 309 calories, 8.4g fat, 4.3g saturated fat, 3.7g protein, 56.7 carbohydrates, 1.9g fiber, 42mg cholesterol, 1.5mg iron, 249mg sodium, 41mg calcium

Birthday boy turns 14.

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The Breakfast Challenge: Buttermilk-Apple Coffee Cake

Buttermilk-Apple Coffee Cake

Here most of my friends and I are three weeks out of exams, however today marks the real start of summer in my town. If alarm clocks went off this morning, it was for the sole purpose of beating the crowds at the amusement park or for getting the best chairs at the neighborhood pool.  With school out, a fresh and hectic summer energy has taken over town.  Kids blindly run across streets to the closest lemonade stand, moms suffer mild panic attacks due to their loss of typical 8:15-3:15 daycare, and the borderline sketchy-looking American flag painted ice-cream truck plays Yankee Doodle on repeat as it drives up and down my street.  Lifeguards now triple the quantity of boxes of popsicles on their grocery list and pretend like they don’t know the answers to the jokes on the sugar-dyed sticks so as to please their elementary school age guests.  Lunches no longer must be tossed out the door to children running to flag down the bus two minutes after its designated departure time, and breakfast no longer needs to be that lone packet of string cheese sitting in the fridge because you overslept.  In fact, instead of rushing out the door with coffee and Nutrigrain in hand, treat yourself to actually sitting down to eat breakfast. Maybe even throw in a newspaper.  To complete this idyllic image, imagine yourself eating this Buttermilk Apple Coffee Cake while leisurely sipping organic tea or fair trade coffee.  Here is some more specific instruction so you can get crackin’ on making this imagination a reality:

Green Apples vs. Red? Green always win.

Buttermilk-Apple Coffee Cake

Source: adapted from the recipe from The Best of Cooking Light 3

Yield: 8 servings; (Serving size: 1 wedge of cake).

Ingredients: Cake: 1 ½ cups thinly sliced peeled Granny Smith apple, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, ½ tsp ground cinnamon, 1 cup all-purpose flour, ½ tsp baking soda, 1/8 tsp salt, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons softened butter, 1 large egg, 1 tsp vanilla extract, ½ tsp almond extract, ½ cup low-fat buttermilk, cooking spray, 2 tablespoons sliced almonds; Glaze: ¼ cup sifted powdered sugar, 1 tsp low-fat buttermilk, ¼ tsp vanilla extract

Warning: This Smells Delicious.


  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. To prepare the cake, combine the first 4 ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook 5 minutes or until syrupy, stirring frequently; cool.
  3. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Combine granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended; add egg and extracts, beating well. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture; beat well after each addition.
  4. Spoon the batter into an 8-inch round cake pan coated with cooking spray. Arrange apple mixture over cake; top with almonds. Bake at 350º for 24-25 minutes or until cake begins to pull away from sides of pan.  Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Quickly invert cake onto wire rack. Then invert onto a serving plate.
  5. To prepare glaze, combine powdered sugar, 1 tsp buttermilk, and ¼ tsp vanilla in a small bowl; stir with a whisk. Drizzle glaze over cake. Serve warm or at room temperature.



Notes: I recommend doubling the glaze.  Photos show glaze doubled.

Mmmm with glaze. Definitely double the glaze.

Works well for breakfast or a tasty dessert.

Nutritional Information: 185 calories (24% from fat), 5g fat, 3.4g protein, 31.8g carb, 1g fiber, 35mg chol, 1mg iron, 162mg sodium, 36mg calc.

A scoop of vanilla accents the flavors, too. Though, maybe not for breakfast. (Unless you’re my brother…Yes he went there.)

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Almond Joy: Strawberry Almond Cream Tart

Strawberry Almond Cream Tart

Summer 2012:  Day 7.  Coming from a girl who usually has summer booked from the day after school lets out until the last possible moment before cracking down on summer reading the week before classes start, the word “downtime” is hardly in my vocabulary.  Before getting in the loop with jobs and the whole summer brouhaha, I have a couple weeks to veg and relax at home.  I’m not going to lie, leisurely waking up this week with the biggest thing on my to-do list being “go to yoga” is a little weird.  My dad has informed me that I have a year’s worth of chores to catch up on, so I have consequently taken various trips to the bike store, finally applied for a VIC Savings Card at Harris Teeter, and shoveled dog poop out of our backyard in the scalding Carolina heat.

Honey Graham Cracker Crust

Tis the Season for Buy One Get One Berries.

I occasionally have text message reminders from my brother demanding that I “make him a dessert” since he is slaving away at school while I nap by the lake or listen to live music in town with high school friends.  Without lots of plans and much to my mother’s delight, I have found myself cleaning my room and even unloading the dishwasher without being asked to escape the 90% humidity outside.  As I put away a third coffee-stained mug, I wonder what the world must be coming to and when almost-summer May will turn into real-Summer June full of sunscreen, popsicles, and sweaty neighborhood lemonade stands.

Crust and Cream

In the Springform Pan

This week I have made up for a semester’s worth of lost sleep and enjoyed my parents’ home cooked meals while transforming visions of premade dining hall casseroles into figures of my imagination.  I have gotten lost while running the local cross-country course, and my first sunburn has turned to tan.  Having some time off from the ‘real world’ of papers and problem sets (just kidding—like I did a problem set as an International Studies major…) has also given me time to drool over my mom’s collection of cooking magazines and bookmark a handful of recipes to test out this summer.  One of the first images to grab my attention was this Strawberry Almond Cream Tart.  The glazed red of the strawberries in the magazine photograph made the dessert look more like a piece of art than tart, and my stomach instinctively began to rumble.  Here goes:

Tart-y Party

A little messy, but tasty nonetheless.

Strawberry-Almond Cream Tart

Source: The Best of Cooking Light 5

Yield: 10 servings (serving size: 1 piece).

 Ingredients: Crust: 36 honey graham crackers (about 9 sheets), 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, melted, 4 tsp water, cooking spray; Filling: 2/3 cup light cream cheese, ¼ cup sugar, ½ tsp vanilla extract, ¼ tsp almond extract; Topping: 6 cups small fresh strawberries, divided, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted


  1. Preheat oven to 350º
  2. To prepare crust, place crackers in a food processor, process until crumbly.  Add 2 tablespoons sugar, butter, and water, pulse until moist.  Place the mixture in a 12 x 8-inch rectangular pan coated with cooking spray, pressing into bottom and up sides of pan to ¾ inch.  Bake at 350º for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack.
  3. To prepare filling, combine cream cheese, ¼ cup sugar, and extracts in a medium bowl, stir until smooth.  Spread filling mixture evenly over the bottom of the crust.
  4. To prepare topping, place 2 cups strawberries in food processor, and process until pureed.  Combine strawberry puree, 2/3 cup sugar, and cornstarch in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a whisk.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low; cook 1 minute.  Remove glaze from heat; cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  5. Combine 4 cups strawberries and juice; toss to coat. Arrange berries, bottoms up, in 5 straight lines over filling. Spoon half of glaze evenly over berries (reserve remaining glaze for another use). Arrange nuts around edge. Cover and chill for three hours.

Serves ten.


•You can use a 9-inch round removable-bottom tart pan, a 9-inch springform pan, or a 10-inch pie plate.

•The crust and filling can be made ahead. Cover and store separately in the refrigerator. Serve extra glaze on ice cream or pound cake.

Nutritional Information:

Calories: 289 (28% from fat); Fat: 8.9g; Protein: 4.5g, Carb: 48.7g; Chol: 15mg; Iron: 1.3mg; Sodium: 242mg; Calc: 59mg.

His go-to dessert face.

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Ringing in the Summer: Peach Blueberry Pie

Peach Blueberry Pie

So one year of college down.  Highlights include: driving various Subarus, surviving the (mild) Vermont winter, writing 26 papers (but who’s counting…), learning how to properly cut an avocado, getting poison ivy, and explaining the pronunciation of my name on nearly a daily basis.  My friend taught me how to say ‘toothbrush’ in Dutch (“tandenborstel”), I overcame mono, and finally found the gym the week before Thanksgiving break.  I mistook Grape Nuts for granola, fell off my awkwardly tall bed, and realized my roommate was on the cross-country ski team instead of the downhill ski team after about a month and a half of living with her.  I spread the magic of North Carolinian Cheerwine to a select group of lucky people on my hall, grabbed a great piece of butt of the lead singer from Guster as he crowd surfed, and realized I never want to take Mandarin.

Berry berry berry berry rockin’ everywhere.

Sugar and Spice.

 All in all, it was a great first year.  Though yesterday when I walked through the back gate with an assortment of backpacks, tote bags, and a handful of accumulated sombreros to the welcoming scent of dog poop and my dad’s basil plants, I was glad to be home.  I enjoyed my first hours at home sleeping and in silence; exam week gifted me with a combo cough and cold that robbed me of my voice.   But no worries; my parents and brothers had lots of talking-at-me to do, so I could sit, listen, and shake my head no to their queries about any imaginary boyfriend.

An almost perfect landing.

Before adding the top pie crust.

One of my classes this semester was an introduction to creative writing course, and I wrote a quasi-autobiographical “fiction” piece about a southern girl’s disastrous experience baking a peach cobbler. Ever since, I’ve been craving some sort of peachy treat, so I decided to ring in the summer with a Peach-Blueberry Pie.  I loosely based this dish off of Joy the Baker’s recipe, using my go-to crust from Willow Bird Baking.  I tweaked a few things here and there, and this is what I came up with…

Pre-Oven Pie. Dust top with cinnamon and sugar mixture after an egg-wash.

Post-Oven Pie. Let cool for 2-4 hours to allow juices to set.

Peach Blueberry Pie

Source: Adapted from Joy the Baker; crust from Willow Bird Baking

Yield: 1 large pie

Ingredients: Crust: 2 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 cup cold shortening, 1/2 cup cold butter (chopped), 4-5 tablespoons ice cold water; Filling: about 3 lbs ripe peaches (approx 6 peaches), 1 cup+ blueberries (I used 1 carton), ½ cup granulated sugar, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, ½ tsp ground nutmeg, 1/8 tsp ground ginger, 1/8 tsp ground coriander, 3 tablespoons all purpose flour, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 2 tsp fresh lemon juice, 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash, 2 tablespoons sugar and ½ tsp ground cinnamon for topping before baking.


1. Make 2 crusts: Pulse 2 cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt together in a food processor to combine. Add cubes of ¼ cup shortening and pulse until the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in ½ cup of butter cubed and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add 4 tablespoons water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another tablespoon of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes (if you’re in a hurry, chill in the freezer for about 10 minutes).  Roll disk of dough out to around ¼ inch thick.

2. To make the filling, wash and slice the peaches.  In a medium bowl, combine peach slices and blueberries.

3. In a different small bowl, whisk together sugar, spices, flour, and cornstarch.

4. Pour the sugar mixture over the fruit, and gently toss together with a wooden spoon.

5. Stir in the lemon juice. Place bowl of fruit in the fridge to rest while you roll the crust out.

6. Preheat oven to 400ºF.  Place a rack in the center of the oven, and place a baking sheet on the lower rack, just below where you’re going to place the pie.  This will catch any pie drippings without making a mess of your oven.

7. Remove one of the pie dough disks from the fridge.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out into about a 13-inch round. Gently lift the 13-inch round from the floured surface and center in the 9-inch baking dish.  Place in the fridge while you roll out the top crust.

8. Roll out the top crust just as you did the bottom crust, moving the dough across the floured surface every once in a while, and creating a roughly 13-inch circle.

9. Remove the bottom crust and fruit filling from the fridge.  Gently pour the fruit filling into the pie dish.

10. Carefully remove the top crust from the work surface and drape over the fruit in the pie dish.  With a small knife, trim the crust, leaving about 3/4-inch overhang.  With your fingers press the top and bottom crusts together and fold under.  Use a fork or your fingers to crimp the edges of the dough.  Cut five small slits in the top of the crust so the juices and steam can vent.

11. Brush lightly with beaten egg and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture.

12. Place pie in the oven and bake at 400º F for 15 minutes.  Reduce the oven heat to 375º and bake for 45 to 55 more minutes.  Remove from the oven when crust is browned and golden, and the juices are bubbling.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 2 hours before serving.  Place covered in the fridge to store.  Pie lasts up to 3 or 4 days.

Lasts for up to 3-4 days. Though in my family, it’ll go in 3 hours tops.

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Spring Break Pound Cake

Blueberry Pound Cake with a Dash of Vanilla

People power past in suits and shiny shoes carrying black briefcases while talking to what seems like the air, but is actually the small blinking blue chip attached to their ear.  Others saunter by in groups; men sport printed button-downs, women have large sunglasses on the top of their head, and kids don their new “Hawaii Girl” t-shirts on top of their red-tinted and over-exposed sun kissed skin.  The beeping of the small white cart carrying elderly people semi-successfully pushes families out of the way, while that occasional person opts to sit face forward in the comfortable chair and gets a massage at the Asian Spa randomly located in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Terminal B.

Before and After

The high school girl sitting next to me at the gate has recounted the events of her recent trip to Africa on the phone…twice (once to her mother, and once to her father).  I could now tell you about her adventures riding an ostrich, teaching English at an orphanage, or even about her abhorrent Bandaid tan on her right index finger–but I won’t bore you with the details.

Topped off with a lemon glaze

Another woman passes me, and there is no doubt that this chick is from Vermont.  Amidst the power-walking businessmen, she strides more slowly through the terminal.  Two long French braids start at the top of her head and fall almost all the way down to her stomach.  Her tie-dye shirt, gypsy pants, and woven purse draped across her shoulder all add to her hippie ambiance.  Not to be stereotypical or anything, but she’s probably a maple syrup snob, gets great deals on Cabot cheese, and lives within biking distance of the Ben & Jerry’s Factory.

The First Piece (going to the Birthday Boy!)

When I finally board the plane, I am greeted by a scent that reminds me of poor-quality grits, a retirement home, and burnt coffee.  At least it’s only an hour-long flight…On this plane ride down to North Carolina, my seemingly organized college freshman self crafts two organized, colorful, and ambitious Spring Break to-do lists.  One list consists of items like “Spanish reading,” “English revisions,” and “Review for Political Science Midterm,” while the other list includes tasks like, “Get Pedicure,” “Play Soccer,” and “Work Ahead on Tan.”

Pound Cake Gone Birthday Cake

With the true intention of checking off boxes on both of these lists that I made last week, unfortunately some of my Spring Break goals were mutually exclusive.  Sometimes schoolwork was sacrificed for sleeping, eating, and obsessively checking my March Madness bracket status.

Feliz Cumpleaños Time

Despite my lack of productive academic work over break, I have no regrets.  If I hadn’t left some (read: lots of) work to do, what else would I have done all day while traversing various airports on my way back to Midd?  Don’t worry, I continued to procrastinate with my hobby of people-watching.  After I took my seat on the plane from Philadelphia to Burlington on the way back to school, I began to fine-tune this people-watching skill.  The students returning from break all failed to blend in.  The consistent backpack on the back and text in hand bookmarked with a pen revealed a universal neglect of reading over the spring term recess.  And if you hadn’t guessed already, here I am on the final day of Spring Break with newly painted orange toenails, a little bit more color in my cheeks, and about eight books stacked in front of me waiting to be opened.  I fit right in.

Yes, I got this piece of cake to stand up straight.

I may not have gotten ahead in my classes for the coming week over Spring Break, but I did manage to bake a delectable blueberry pound cake in honor of my grandfather’s 84th birthday yesterday.  So here’s to putting down the books, grabbing some berries, and the beautiful Carolina spring weather! Enjoy.

Serves as dessert, as well as perfect breakfast.

Blueberry Pound Cake

 Source: Cooking Light

Yield: 16 servings

Ingredients: 2 cups granulated sugar, ½ cup light butter, ½ cup (4 oz) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese (softened), 3 large eggs, 1 large egg white, 3 cups all-purpose flour (divided), 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, 1 tsp baking powder, ½ tsp baking soda, ½ tsp salt, 1 (8 oz) carton lemon low-fat yogurt, 2 tsp vanilla extract, cooking spray, ½ cup powdered sugar, 4 tsp lemon juice


  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Beat first three ingredients at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended (about 5 minutes).
  3. Add eggs and egg white, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife.
  5. Combine 2 tablespoons flour and blueberries in a small bowl and toss well.
  6. Combine remaining flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in separate bowl.
  7. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture alternately with yogurt, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
  8. Fold in blueberry mixture and vanilla.
  9. Pour cake batter into a 10-inch tube pan coated with cooking spray.
  10.  Bake at 350º for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
  11.  Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes; remove from pan.
  12. Lightly spoon powdered sugar into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife.
  13. Combine with lemon juice in a bowl; drizzle over warm cake. Cut with a serrated knife.

Notes: Tossing the blueberries with flour helps to suspend them in the cake.

Nutritional Information: 287 calories (19% from fat); 6.2g fat; 5.7g protein; 53.9g carb; 1.5g fiber; 57mg chol; 227mg sodium

Nothing to do with the pound cake, but happy-dog Wonka licking the marinade off of the platter of venison burgers.

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