Friday, April 22, 2016

A Weekend in Newport Beach with A Baby

Last weekend, Petra and I took a road trip to Newport Beach. Travel is obviously something very important to Bradford and me, and we both so looking forward to sharing new places and experiences with our children. "Vacations" with a 1-year-old don't really exist, however exploration and excitement seems to be at an all-time high when you take a child somewhere new. Petra was so amped the whole weekend, hardly napping, and we had such a great time with family enjoying the gorgeous California coast that I love and miss so much. 

We stayed at Marriott's Newport Coast Villas, which is a really great spot for families. They have suites with a full kitchen, great play areas and daily activities for kids, and it's within walking distance of Crystal Cove State Park, which has great tide pools for exploring and adventuring. 






Monday, February 29, 2016

The Best Chocolate Birthday Cake



Petra turned one last week and we had a perfect, small celebration with family. I was beyond excited to make her birthday special, including baking this seriously delicious chocolate cake with vanilla bean buttercream frosting (and hot pink sprinkles!). I think I will be making this cake for every celebration I host from now on. It is moist, rich, and SUPER easy to make. We devoured it so quickly that the only picture I snapped was from the next day when there was only one slice left.

The Best Chocolate Birthday Cake
Yield: one whole cake
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Bake Time: 30 minutes
Cool Time: 1 hour
Total Time: about 2 hours

INGREDIENTS:

1 pkg. devil's food cake mix
3 oz. pkg. instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of sea salt
2 cups semi-sweet mini chocolate chips (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray cake pan(s) with non-stick cooking spray. 

Beat together all ingredients until smooth batter forms, reserving the chocolate chips if using. 

Mix in the chocolate chips with a rubber spatula. 

Pour batter into cake pan(s) and bake according to the time directions given on the cake mix box (30 minutes for a traditional round cake). 

Let cool completely before slicing each layer in half and frosting with Vanilla Bean Buttercream frosting.

*I'd also like to try this with this Best Ever Chocolate Frosting recipe sometime.


Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting

Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting
From somethingswanky.com
Yield: about 4 cups frosting (enough for one cake)
Time: 15 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening (may substitute for butter, if needed)
4 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract or vanilla bean

    DIRECTIONS:

    In a stand mixer or large bowl, whisk together the butter and shortening, scraping down the sides as needed, until smooth and blended.

    Add 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon milk, then whisk until smooth.

    Add 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon vanilla, then whisk until smooth.

    Add 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon milk, then whisk until smooth.

    Add 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon milk, then whisk until smooth.

    Be sure to scrape down the sides as needed when mixing. Enjoy!

    Wednesday, February 10, 2016

    "No"-cai Bowls




    I've been making smoothies for breakfast for years now and sometimes it can feel like a chore to chug down the entire thing. The other day, I had a fabulous idea to turn my smoothie into an acai bowl and it transformed my entire dining experience. The combination of a bright, flavorful smoothie with crunchy granola and chewy coconut flakes was superb! There's one confession I have to make though. There's no acai in this dish at all. So, I present to you the "No"-cai bowl...

    "No"-cai Bowls
    Time: about 10 minutes
    Yield: 2 servings

    INGREDIENTS:

    {for the smoothie}

    2 small oranges (or 1 large), peeled and quartered
    1 fresh banana, chopped
    1 frozen banana, chopped
    2 cups frozen berries, your choice (smaller berries blend better)
    1/4 cup juice
    2 large handfuls spinach
    1/2 cup greek yogurt

    {toppings}

    1/2 banana, sliced
    coconut flakes

    DIRECTIONS:

    Place all ingredients, in order, in a high-powered blender, such as a Blendtec or Vitamix. Blend until smooth, using the pulse button and a spatula to work through any rough patches. If necessary, add a little more juice to blend until smooth. The goal is to make the smoothie as thick as possible.

    Once blended, pour smoothie into a bowl, then top with bananas, granola, and coconut flakes. 

    Tuesday, February 2, 2016

    How to Quit Your Job & Travel the World in 3 Steps

    On May 7, 2014, I quit my job as a brand manager at a very large advertising firm. Two days later, my husband and I were on a plane bound for Bangkok with no return ticket. We spent seven months traveling around eight different countries in South and Southeast Asia before returning to America to start a family and pursue some entrepreneurial opportunities.

    The experiences we had while traveling added value, richness, and strength to our lives. We have seen the far-reaching beauty of this earth, marveled at man's greatest achievements, endured long, hot, sticky, crowded train rides, witnessed pure devotion and humility, watched heartbreaking and inspiring acts of service and love, grown to understand each other an an entirely deeper level, and grown to understand the vast expanses and far-reaching differences of the human experience.

    We received many different reactions when we told people we were quitting our jobs to travel with no definite plan for the future. Many were negative. Some were positive. A few asked,

    "How can I do that?"

    Step 1: Work hard at your job

    The biggest factor holding people back from gifting themselves the experience of prolonged world travel is fear of life after you return. The question of life after you return is both the beauty and the angst of travel. To make this question more beautiful and less anxiety-ridden, it's best to set yourself up for as many options as possible after you return.

    If you work hard at your job now, maintain positive relationships with co-workers, and develop a strong professional reputation, then doors will open for you upon your return and you'll feel more peace and calm about creating a gap in your resume. If you slack off and keep an attitude of "I'm out of here in a year, why give a hoot?", then you'll experience a lot more anxiety before, during, and after your travels.

    Step 2: Save money

    Decide how much you need to save and give yourself a reasonable timeframe to save that amount. Then, do it. The amount you decide to save will be depend on how long you want to travel, where you want to travel, and how much you want to have in your bank account when you return. I will tell you that it's possible for two people to travel through South and Southeast Asia for 7 months on $10,000 (we did it). Here is a great resource that gives the real costs of 11 different trips around the world to help you get a sense of travel costs.

    Once you decide how much to save, then SAVE IT! Cook at home instead of eating out, read books (from the library) and invite friends over to your place instead of going out, spend time working hard at your job (step 1), and watch the number in your bank account go up. Once you've saved enough, save a little more, then move on to step 3.

    Step 3: Buy the ticket 

    This is the most important piece of advice in the whole process so pay attention.

    Buy the ticket before you tell anyone about your plans.

    And make sure your ticket is non-refundable. Once you start telling people about your plans, the opinions will start flowing like chocolate at Willy Wonka's factory. Some will be polite, some will be blunt, almost all will in some form or another ask "why?" and "what will you do when you get back?". You won't have all the answers to these questions and that's okay (if you've already bought the ticket). People may make you doubt yourself and your decision. And that's okay (if you've bought the ticket). Because once you've bought the ticket, your adventure has already begun. 

    Wednesday, January 27, 2016

    Gingersnaps




    My Aunt Jamie makes the best gingersnaps and this year, I finally got her recipe. She claims it's not "her" recipe even though she was wise enough to almost double up the spices from the original, which makes a world of difference. In my mind, these will always be Jamie's gingersnaps. 

    Gingersnaps
    From Aunt Jamie via The Joy of Cooking 
    Yield: about 40-50 cookies
    Prep Time: 20 minutes
    Bake Time: 12 minutes per sheet
    Total Time: about an hour

    INGREDIENTS: 

    3/4 cup butter
    2 cups sugar
    2 eggs, well beaten
    1/2 cup molasses
    2 teaspoons vinegar
    3 3/4 cup flour
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
    3 teaspoons ground ginger
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

    DIRECTIONS:

    Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, molasses and vinegar. Add baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and one cup of the flour. Slowly add remaining flour and mix well until blended. Dough will be very thick. 

    Form dough into 3/4 inch balls. Bake on uncreased cookie sheets for about 12 minutes. 

    Wednesday, December 2, 2015

    Pondicherry


    Pondicherry was just our second stop in India after Chennai and I'll never forget the sound of our bus driver calling out for all the passengers to board the bus, yelling deeply a hundred times in a row with the same loud sing-song tone and that distinct India/British accent, "Pondy, Pondy, Pondy, Pondy, Pondy, Pondy, Pondy, Pondy, Pondy, Pondy"...you get the idea. 

    I didn't realize it at the time, but Pondicherry is actually a super quiet town by India's standards. It is quite charming to tourists due to the large amount of French influence (both in food and architecture) in addition to the Sri Aurobindo ashram, one of the biggest in India. 

    A cool story: Bradford and I actually stayed at one of the ashram's guesthouses, which was a neat experience. We had to remain super quiet and peaceful in the guesthouse. The rooms were simple (with rock-hard beds!) and the showers were cold, but the food at the canteen was amazing and super cheap! Every morning we would stuff ourselves with breakfast (hello, aloo paratha!). One day, my morning sickness got the best of me and I totally upchucked my entire pineapple juice upon returning to our room after eating. 

    On our first night there, we were walking along the boardwalk by the beach and totally stumbled on this amazing parade of pink Ganesh statues! It was one of those moments that could not have been planned any better and I was struck with the weirdness and loveliness and madness that is India--it was perfect. The parade was so long, we didn't even stay til the end, but we did watch as they began to dip each giant statue in the ocean using a huge crane. I'm still not sure of the significance of that act, but we just rolled with it. 


    This was just one of literally hundreds of Ganesh statues being paraded down the boardwalk, soon to be dipped in the ocean by a giant crane. I'm sure there's a religious reason for this, but mainly I think the Indians love to party.






    The food in India is so fresh and delicious. The sight of giant carts filled with fresh produce like these limes, never got old to me.

    {Cotton candy and a Gandhi statue after a rainstorm}