Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Pumpkin Spiced Chocolate Loaf


Here we are and it's almost Fall again.

That means it has been waaaay too long since I last posted.  (I know- what else is new?)  But that also means it's nearly time for my favorite season and favorite holiday, so I'm pretty excited!

As usual, it was an action-packed Spring and Summer for us.  My in-laws are incredibly generous, and took us all to Disney World in April.  OMG.  Can I just tell you that I felt like a kid again myself?

Best. Vacation. EVER.


In May, the Vittles family also gained a niece/cousin - my brother-in-law and sister-in-law welcomed a daughter, Annie, and she is soooo sweet!  Chubby cheeks just like her cousins, and possibly one of the happiest babies I have ever seen!

I think we'll keep her.


In July, we took our annual trip to Canada to my in-laws' house on the St. Lawrence River. Mini got to try her hand at driving the boat, and we did lots of fun activities.


Unfortunately we only got to the beach ONCE all summer, in August while my aunt and cousin were visiting- but that was a great time too.


And now... Mini Smalls is officially a Kindergartener, and the Minion just started nursery school!


They both did so great. No drama or tears from either of them (or from Mama, for that matter!)

The Minion didn't even say goodbye, just made a beeline to the play kitchen to make some food.

Wonder where he gets that from?

As for Miss Mini, I knew she was beyond ready for Kindergarten, but this summer I was still feeling slightly unsure of all the changes that come along with going to school full-time. I was also mourning a little for the end of her toddlerhood (although Lord knows there were plenty of days over the last 5+ years that I longed for more independent and rational days ahead!).

In the weeks leading up, I bought us matching bracelets to go with a sweet poem I had seen online, and wondered how she would do that first day. Would she be nervous to ride on the bus? Would she feel anxious about spending the whole day at school, away from family and the babysitter she's known since she was a newborn? Would she have any fears of this new routine?

Spoiler alert: No, no, and no.

The night before the big day, I presented her with the bracelet and read her the poem. She hugged me tightly, seeming to enjoy idea of us wearing matching bracelets - but showed no signs of anxiety.



She got something called 'Jitter Glitter' at orientation from her teacher - she was supposed to sprinkle it on her head the night before her first day, to calm her nerves.  However, I think she was more excited to have an excuse to pour glitter on her noggin than to ward away any potential jitters.

She also read a book she received from her nursery school at Pre-K graduation, called "The Night Before Kindergarten." Overall, it was a pleasant, drama-free evening.  After the kids went to bed, I braved the crazy last-minute, back-to-school shoppers of Walmart to get her the pizza Lunchable she had wanted (which I had regretted saying 'no' to in the grocery store, a few days before).

The next morning, she literally could not wait to get to the bus stop. She rushed us through pictures, and power-walked to the corner. We were by far the first ones there, even beating some other neighbors who took an earlier bus to a different school.

She pranced around in her backpack, anxiously awaiting her friend and her friend's older brother to come from around the corner. The latter two are veterans, in 2nd and 5th grade respectively, and chattered excitedly about where they would sit on the bus, where their classrooms were, and what Mara could expect at school.

When the bus finally came, and her friend thoughtfully led her by the hand to a seat they would share, I found that I wasn't at all sad or emotional like I thought I might be.

She was ready.

And so was I.

I'm sure the year will come with its ups and downs, but it makes a mama happy to see that her children feel ready and prepared for the next chapter in their lives- even if the book isn't very long yet.

In the meantime, I am also totally ready for Fall.  I bought a stash of  pumpkin-scented candles at Bath & Body Works.  I didn't care that it was 90-something degrees with 100% humidity the last week of August - I lit them anyway.

I ask the kids almost daily what they want to be for Halloween. (I'll stop when their answers are consistent).

Instead of being disgusted by the Autumn and even Halloween displays in stores in August, they only served to escalate my anticipation.

I made my own pumpkin spice syrup so I could enjoy a "PSL" before Starbucks was even ready to unleash the fall flavor.

I changed our holiday banner in the dining room from flag bunting to glittery leaves, the first week of September.

And finally, I created this Pumpkin Spiced Chocolate Loaf to share with anyone whose excitement for Fall matches mine.

A couple years ago, I bought a candy bar at a local chocolate shop that was spiced chocolate, and I realized that these flavors go together way better than most people (myself included) give them credit for.

If you are a fan of autumn spices and chocolate, I hope you will give it a try. I don't think you will be disappointed!




Pumpkin Spiced Chocolate Loaf

  • 1/2 C. butter, softened (1 stick)
  • 1/2 C. granulated sugar
  • 1 C. packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 C. canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 3/4 C. buttermilk (can add 3/4 t. vinegar to regular milk if you do not have any)
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 C. all-purpose flour, spooned & leveled
  • 3/4 C. cocoa powder + a little extra for dusting pan
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1 1/2 t. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon 
  • powdered sugar, for dusting finished loaf (optional)
Heat oven to 325 degrees F.  Butter & lightly dust an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pan w/cocoa powder and dump out excess. (Note: I recommend a glass loaf pan - if using metal, it may not need to be in the oven as long as the recipe calls for).

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, spices together until well-combined.  Set aside.

In a large measuring cup or medium bowl, whisk pumpkin into buttermilk.  Set aside.

In large bowl of electric mixer, on medium speed, cream butter until smooth.  Add sugars and beat until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Add egg and mix well.  Then add buttermilk mixture and vanilla. Beat until combined (mixture will be soupy with chunks of butter, this is ok).

Add dry ingredients to wet and stir together with a spoon until just combined and no flour streaks remain - do not overmix.  Pour batter into prepared loaf pan, and bake 60-70 minutes in preheated oven or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool 10-15 minutes in pan on rack, then turn out loaf onto rack to cool completely. When cooled, dust with powdered sugar in sieve if desired.

Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen's 'Everyday Chocolate Cake'

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cookies


Happy Halloween everyone !

Yes, I realize it may be a bit late to share this recipe with you- but it's so good that I don't even care.

So what caramel apples are no longer "in season?" It's still Fall, and in this house we eat things like pumpkin-spice pancakes all year round. Not because they are festive, but because they are DELICIOUS. 

These cookies are much the same.  I do like a good caramel apple, but they can be overwhelmingly sweet. That's why I fell in love with these cookies- they have a subtle caramel apple flavor, mellowed out by the oatmeal cookie, and they won't break your teeth. 

Lord knows I don't need anymore sweets right now, though. Between the Mini's 5th birthday party filled with cake and cupcakes and now Halloween, I am on sugar overload. 

Not all people feel this way, however. The Minion would have tasted every piece of candy he got tonight, if we let him! Must take after his father.


And we did let him eat a lot for a 2 year old, I have to say. But he really rallied... stayed out til after 8, and didn't complain (even though his dragon costume was a bit cumbersome).


"Belle" was equally well-behaved, and I always consider any activity like this to be a wild success if there are no tears.


I believe my insistence on creating two Halloween loving children is working like a charm. Gray's fairly limited 2-year old vocabulary includes words such as witch, zombie, ghost, and skeleton. 

Tonight he learned "trick-or-treat" which somehow came out like "Shaky chicken!" Whatever, he still got candy. 

They watched the Nightmare Before Christmas and Mini watched Halloweentown, all without nightmares or getting scared. In fact, they loved it so much we carved our pumpkins as Jack Skellington and Oogie Boogie.


We also survived a trip to Spirit of Halloween store which had actual jumping spiders that nearly gave *me* a heart attack!

Yes, I'm grooming my Halloween minions well. Muah ha ha!
 
 Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 C. butter 
1/4 C. granulated sugar
1/2 C. brown sugar 
1 egg
1/2 t. vanilla
1 C. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking powder 
1/2 t. baking soda 
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. cinnamon 
1/4 t. nutmeg 
1/4 t. allspice 
1 1/2 C. Rolled oats
3/4 C. Kraft caramel bits 
One small apple, peeled, cored, and diced (No less than 1/2 C. but no more than 2/3 C.)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside.

In large bowl or standing mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium speed about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add in egg and vanilla, and beat on high until well combined.

In separate bowl, whisk together all remaining dry ingredients (flour thru oats). Add dry ingredients to wet, and mix thoroughly.

Stir in Caramel pieces and apple, making sure they are evenly distributed throughout the batter.
 
Place golf ball sized scoops onto prepared sheets, two inches apart (I would do about 8 per sheet.) Bake for 9-10 minutes or until tops start to turn golden brown. Let rest 3 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. I would recommend using a metal spatula sprayed with a bit of cooking spray if the cookies are not coming off the parchment easily. Makes 18 to 20 cookies.

Adapted from Some the Wiser blog

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Anise Egg Biscuits


Happy Mother's Day Eve, ya'll!  I'm embarrassed to admit that I actually wrote about half of this post in March and just never finished it.  At the time, the Mini just had a few sleepovers at her grandparents' houses, and was so excited.  Our parents help us out a ton, watching the kids on work days - so you would think that it wouldn't be as much of a novelty for Min to sleep over.  But nope, she loved every second, and it made me nostalgic about my own childhood sleepovers with my grandparents.

I guess its fitting that I post this at a time when we honor the mothers and mother-figures who impact our lives... right?

Ok. So before I ever slept at a friend's house, I stayed overnight with my grandparents.  Those will always be my first memories of a "sleepover," though they continued for many years into my childhood.

It's no secret that the best grandparent sleepovers (and just general encounters) are the ones without your parents. This way, your grandparents can fully spoil you to both your, and their, heart's content.

Yes, I'm a parent now, and sometimes I do get agita over some of the things our parents do with our kids.

Things like feeding my then-18-month-old son an ungodly amount of fish sticks "because he just kept eating them."

Things like letting my then-3-year-old daughter sleep on the living room couch until Mr. Vittles and I returned home at 11 PM "because she wanted to."

Things like giving my now-4-year-old daughter whipped cream on crackers to eat "because by the way she asked for it, we thought it was something you give her."

<Sigh.>

It doesn't help that Mini is super smart and purposely tries to push boundaries and see what she can get away with.  I'm also probably just jealous that I end up being the stick-in-the-mud bad guy with the rules and the no's all the time.  Nonetheless, I'm not that far removed from being a youngster that I can't still appreciate how freaking awesome it is to stay with your grandparents. Grandparents are the best.

Since I had divorced parents (and later, step-parents) from a pretty young age, I was lucky enough to have four sets of grandparents growing up - and trust me, they all spoiled the living daylights out of me!  But on the topic of grandparent sleepovers, I will focus on my dad and mom's parents.

My dad's parents, or "Yaya and Poppa" as I called them, lived in the same apartment in a Connecticut city for most of my childhood.  In fact, they lived there around 50 years before they were finally convinced to move to a stand-alone house (and safer neighborhood).

Yaya & Poppa, 1990

The apartment wasn't the biggest, but it was cozy.  They shared it with a white cat named Snowy, and a little brown dog named Cocoa.  Cocoa (or "Tutu," as my grandfather inexplicably called her) did not like to eat dog food.  Legend has it that Yaya dropped a meatball while cooking one day, and Cocoa sampled the goods.  Once she discovered the glory of "people food," she never looked back. She also never stopped smelling unnaturally awful, as dogs apparently are not meant to eat pasta fagioli on the regular.  (Just a tip for all the dog owners out there, in case you were wondering.)

Me & Cocoa aka "Tutu"

I slept in their back bedroom where there was a twin bed and a little TV, but I always watched television with Yaya in the living room before bed.  We would probably watch a Lifetime-type movie or an uplifting show like "Touched by an Angel."  She was a night owl and loved to sleep in, just like me.  Poppa was inevitably out there too, probably grumbling about the poor choice of television programming (his idea of a good show was more along the lines of "Lassie" or "Walker, Texas Ranger.")  But he had little choice, because the couch was also his bed.  By the time I came along, Yaya had enough with his snoring and banished him to a separate room.  I think he usually slept in the spare room, but when I was there he slept on the couch.

At some point during my stay, I knew I would have to make a visit to their landlord, a woman named Vera who lived in the apartment upstairs.  When you live in the same place for that many years, I guess your landlord becomes part of your family.  She also never had children of her own, so she sort of adopted my cousins and I as her grandchildren.  Vera was a tiny, elderly lady, usually in a hairnet, who didn't get out much - so she really looked forward to our visits.  For as sweet as she was, she was also very eccentric.  These days, people would probably refer to her as 'a hoarder.'  Not sure that term was used back then, but I remember she had giant piles of magazines that she would have to move off of the couch for her guests to sit down.  Her apartment looked exactly like my grandparents,' but in all the times I visited her, I never got past the front living room. After a bit of chatting about school & the like, she would hobble to the kitchen and come back with a cup of cranberry ginger ale for you.  If you were lucky, she might give you a strawberry hard candy or a sheet of stickers she got in the mail from Easter Seals charity.  If you were really lucky, she might even put a few dollars in your little paw before you left.

Aside from the obligatory Vera visit, Yaya always had fun activities planned - especially with my cousins, aunts, & uncles.  My cousin Sandi was the same age as me, and Yaya would take us to the park and a restaurant called Ground Round that served popcorn and showed movies.  In the summer, she would take us to swim in her sister's pool, our Aunt Theresa.

Me, Sandi, & Yaya at the park

But oddly enough, all these years later, it's mostly the downtime that I remember.  I would look at the same bunch of pictures that had been hanging on the wall for probably 25 years, and thumb through the old photo albums she kept in the spare room where I slept.  I would marvel at the pictures of my grandfather at the beach, without a shirt on (I had personally never seen him in anything less than an undershirt and pants- never even shorts).  After having a shower, I would sneak a few dabs of Yaya's Jean Nate After-Bath Splash, and feel very fancy.  At night, before I fell asleep, I would stare at the glowing rosary beads she left hanging next to my bed and wonder if they were magic.

And of course, one of my favorite parts of our sleepovers was the fact that she always had the pantry stocked with my favorite snacks, as well as ones I had never even heard of.  Yaya was the first to introduce me to Bugles (aka edible cheesy fingernails, when you put them on your fingertips).  She also made pitchers of Crystal Light lemonade so sweet that my cousins and I all knew better than to drink the last cup in the bottom, unless you wanted to burn off all your taste buds.


Such good grandparents to put on these horrible shirts I bought them

Sleepovers at my mom's parents, who I called "Grammy and Gramps," were different but just as awesome. Oddly enough, though, they also included way-too-sweet Crystal Light lemonade - I'm assuming that was a pantry staple of the times?

Grammy & Gramps, late 80's

In any event, Grammy & Gramps lived close to us, so I was there a lot more often. They moved from Connecticut to New Jersey when I was around 5 years old, and they bought a huge house with a pool. Summer days were spent there swimming until my lips turned blue. I can remember helping my grandfather test the pH of the pool water, as well as the sound of my grandmother's bangle bracelets jingling under the water when she would take her one & only dip of the day.  I would speculate that it had to be at least 125 degrees outside for Grammy to get in there more than once a day.  Gramps, on the other hand, was an avid swimmer and spent countless hours in the pool with me, teaching me all the moves he knew- which included squirting people by squeezing the water with your fist.

For cold or rainy days, Grammy and Gramps had an old pinball machine in the basement, and an assortment of old toys and games up in the attic.  I can still remember how the attic smelled, and how it kind of gave me the creeps (even though it was partly finished, and a perfectly nice attic.)  They also had a player piano, which I loved. Most of the rolls they had for the self-playing feature were Christmas carols, so the family would all gather around the piano and sing carols at the holidays.  I never learned how to play the piano, so the rest of the year I would just plink away, for probably way longer than my grandparents' ears would have liked, trying to teach myself simple melodies.

1992

They had 2 guest rooms, 3 if you counted the attic "bedroom" - but I always slept in the same room with two twin beds.  It faced the driveway, and I can remember the sound of my grandfather's brakes squeaking as he left to play golf in the wee hours of the morning.  When he came home later, he would usually take me for ride to go get the mail from their post office box, but I also loved to go for rides in Grammy's jaunty little BMW convertible, complete with sheepskin seat covers.  And instead of Yaya's Jean Nate's after-bath splash, I looked forward to feeling fancy after a few puffs of Grammy's Estee Lauder powder in her master bathroom.

On summer days off from school, I loved to watch The Price is Right.  At night before bed, we watched Wheel of Fortune - Grammy was a whiz at the puzzles, and thought Vanna White was "really something else" with all those dresses.  And every day at lunch, Grammy had to watch her "story,"which was the soap opera "The Young and the Restless." I can still remember the theme song perfectly, and it transports me back to sitting on a bench in their kitchen, in a damp bathing suit, munching on a sandwich in front of their tiny "portable" TV.

But much like trying to make small talk with an elderly, hoarding hermit, not all memories were glorious. With all the time spent outside, I remember plucking a preposterous amount of holly leaves off of the bottom of my bare feet.  Yowza.  I really hope the holly trees predated the pool, otherwise that was a terrible landscape decision.  Also, Grammy frequently stocked her fridge with processed "cheese food" slices that my mother basically considered poison, as well as lactose-free milk (which wouldn't be a huge deal in 2017, but Lactaid in the late 80s/early 90s was pretty brutal).  Let's just say I was less than thrilled whenever Grammy announced that dinner would be a "toasted cheese sandwich" (as she called grilled cheese) and a glass of milk!

Grammy & Me, 1985

If I could force down enough of the toasted cheese, though, I was typically rewarded with ice cream, sherbert, or one of my favorites - creamsicles. Interestingly enough, I always looked forward to breakfast the most.  I was a terribly picky eater but I ate almost any kind of fruit, and Grammy would slice a grapefruit in half, meticulously cut the sections one by one, and top it all off with a sprinkle of sugar.  I rarely ate grapefruit at home so I thought it was fun to scoop out each individual piece with her special spoons - but the best part was the end when you squeezed what was left of your grapefruit half into the bowl and drank the juice.

Another one of my favorite parts of breakfast there was Roman Egg Biscuits by Stella D'Oro.  Grammy usually kept them in a glass jar on the counter, and they were so yummy.  I recently got a craving for them, and made it my mission to find a copycat recipe.  I actually think the manufacturer stopped making them, but I wouldn't be able to eat them now anyway being gluten free.

I never really found anything that was a "copycat," but the interwebs kept pointing me to a Greek cookie/biscuit that seemed very similar.  So I gave it a shot and added a little anise flavoring to make it more... er, Roman?  I don't know.  But it seemed like a good idea, and I'm glad I did.


At this point, I haven't had a roman egg biscuit in so long that I can't really judge how similar they taste.  But these seem pretty close, and either way they are damn delicious.  Great with tea or coffee.  I shared some with my dad and stepmom, and they really liked them too.  My stepmom admitted she was wary of the anise, but said it was more subtle than she was expecting and a nice twist.  You could always use strictly vanilla, though, if you are unsure.

More importantly, I wish I could go back and have a sleepover with my grandparents again- such happy memories.  I am so thankful my kids will have their own memories with their grandparents! Having lost nearly all of my 8 grandparents at this point, I can say that time spent together is truly priceless.  Whipped cream crackers and all!

Anise Egg Biscuits

6 T. butter
1/4 C. white sugar
1/4 t. pure vanilla extract
1/4 t. pure anise extract
2 eggs, divided
1 C. all-purpose flour (I used Cup 4 Cup gluten free flour so it should work with any regular flour)
pinch salt
1 1/2 t. baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease or line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter until light & fluffy.  Add sugar & beat a couple minutes on medium speed. Add one of the eggs, and beat well.  Beat in vanilla and anise.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and stir to form a soft dough.  (If dough cannot be easily handled, add a bit more flour until desired consistency is reached).

Lightly flour a work surface and hands.  Break off 1-inch lumps of dough, and roll into ropes about 7-inches long and 1/4 inch in diameter on floured surface.  Cross the ends, and cross ends again, forming a braid.  Place biscuits on cookie sheet 1-inch apart.

Beat remaining egg, and brush onto biscuits for glaze.  Bake in preheated oven 13 to 16 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven & let cool 2 minutes on sheet, then transfer to cooling racks.  Makes about 18 biscuits.

Recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Antipasto Skewers


I had all intentions of posting this while it was still November. At the very least.

Well, needless to say, that never happened.

On the bright side, I'm getting to it before "Fall" is officially over.

Initially I was going to share a recipe for pumpkin oatmeal cookies. But it seems that once we hit December, everyone's mindset automatically switches to winter and of course the holidays!

So as much as it pained me, I had to abandon it. We can't go backwards!

Although I'd love to go back a couple months and have it be October 17 instead of December 17! You all know I love Fall... and how is it possible that there is only a week left before Christmas? I feel like it was just Halloween.  (Although now that stores start putting out the Christmas decorations by the 2nd week of October, I should probably be used to the idea of Christmas by this point.)

Anyway, I'm so sad that Fall always seems to pass by in a flash. But we did a lot this season! In September, the Mini started nursery school - I can't even handle how big she's getting.

The Minion actually proved to be more emotional about the milestone than I was, but I still can't believe my girl is that much closer to Kindergarten!


At the end of October, we celebrated her 4th birthday at home with family, and also at an ice cream parlor with her little friends.  Her ice cream party had a Cinderella theme, as she is very into the Disney princesses at the moment.


 The party at our house, however, was a woodland theme.


Her obsession with forest animals continues, as she followed up last year's fox Halloween costume with a hedgehog costume this year!

The fox was hard enough to find (although this year of course I saw numerous foxes available in stores)... but a hedgehog proved to be impossible.

Enter my fabulous aunt, Jody, who actually made the Mini's costume by hand (and did it in just a couple days, no less!)


I have never seen a happier hedgehog. She was thrilled to strut her stuff in her school parade, and we had an awesome time trick-or-treating.

                           


I thought Mini would get tired early, but we actually had to tell her that it was time to go home a little before 8pm! Luckily the Minion was a little more content being a penguin this year than he was being a bat, so he didn't seem to mind the late night.

It helped that Mr. Vittles fed him a slow but steady stream of M&Ms. The white on his costume was streaked with orange, red, and yellow as his flippers kept getting the way of his nibbling.

Ah, the hazards of being a penguin.


Not that it stopped him at all, though.  As he would say, "Nom nommmm."

Then came November and of course Thanksgiving.  We got to experience the first of many holiday shows at school for Mini, and even though she was quite sheepish, it was totally adorable.


I also realized I spent my 9th Thanksgiving in a row with my in-laws! My first one there was in 2008, before I was a Mrs.

me (left) with my sister-in-law, 11/2008

That year, I brought zesty carrots and boursin dip, and one of these days I will have to post the carrot recipe, because I have brought it probably 7 out of the 9 years by request! (Brought it again this year, too, haha).

But the antipasto skewers was an idea I 'pinned' long ago on Pinterest, and have been wanting to make for a while. I got my chance when I suggested it as an appetizer for my brother-in-law Chris' engagement party at the end of October.


That's right - in June of 2017, I will be getting another beautiful sister-in-law, one that has been part of the family for many years now as well. I am excited for the wedding, and for Kristen to be an official member of the family!

                             

She has an Italian-American side of her family like I do, and I remember at the party her grandma asked if I made the "antipast" skewers.  She said they were very good.

They seemed popular, too - at a party of 60-some people, about 2/3 of the tray went in one passing.


So this would be a good appetizer if you are having a holiday party, or even just some company!

It's really more of an idea, though than a recipe, and the amounts are listed as a guide.  I didn't see any recipes on the internet that were exactly what I had in mind, so I did my own thing. I thought these flavors and colors (yes, colors - Mr. Vittles made fun of me for that one) went well together.  You might have your own twist that you prefer!

I hope everyone has a fun and safe holiday!

Antipasto Skewers

  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 8-oz. stick pepperoni
  • 1 8-oz. stick salami
  • 1 6-oz. wedge of provolone cheese
  • 2 6-oz. cans pitted black olives
  • 1 12-oz. jar pepperoncini
  • long "fancy" toothpicks or thin craft sticks
Wash & dry tomatoes. Cut salami & pepperoni into slices about 1/2-inch thick pieces. Cut each piece in half so you have a semi-circle.  Set aside.  Cut provolone into 1/2-inch thick cubes & set aside. Drain olives then place on baking sheets lined with paper towel to dry.  Drain pepperoncini and cut into small pieces, then place on baking sheets lined with paper towel to dry.  (Keep sheets in refrigerator if drying for a while). Then assemble skewers.  Keep refrigerated if not using immediately.

Original Recipe, Inspired by ideas found on Pinterest

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream (No Machine Required)


Here we are at the end of July already.  A few weeks ago, Mr. Vittles and I were sitting out on the deck, enjoying some toasted marshmallows around the chimnea after the kiddos went to bed.

At one point, some neighborhood kids went flying by on their bikes, laughing and seemingly having the time of their lives.

It made me nostalgic for my own childhood, when summer meant something entirely different.  "Remember when we were kids and summer was awesome?" I said aloud.

My husband replied "Yup. Now it's just hot."

And really, that's so true. At some point, summer loses its magic and becomes more of a pain than a wonder.  Sure you get to go to the pool or beach and do things like eat outside.  But for the most part, you just have to do all the same stuff you do all year, except now you get to sweat while you do it.

But that line of thinking got me wondering if maybe I needed to take a breather from 'adulting' once in a while, and enjoy summer like a kid again.

So one beautiful afternoon, while The Minion napped, The Mini and I blew bubbles and played in the treehouse.  We laid down in the grass for what seemed like ages just looking up at the clouds through the trees.  And it was wonderful.

The Minion turned one last month and got lots of fun outside gifts like a pirate ship water table, a balance bike, and a whale sprinkler - so we've been having lots of fun with those.



Then this week, I decided to show the Mini how we could made ice cream the old-fashioned way, with rock salt, ice, and some elbow grease. But I always see recipes for vanilla, and while that's nice and traditional, I wanted to try something different.

Mini is all about the baking experimentation, so that was fine with her.  We got the "gredients" (as she calls them) at the store, to try a peanut butter version.  I have always been intrigued by the peanut butter powder I seem to see everywhere now, and I figured this would be the perfect application.  We also bought a huge sleeve of peanut butter cups, and Mini was coveting them like a pirate hoarding buried treasure.

"These are all for me, right?"

"No.  They are for everyone.  We have to share."

Immediate tears. "But I want ALL of them!"

Boy, do I know that feeling.  Peanut butter cups are pretty much the best thing ever.  I convinced her to let me cut one up for our ice cream, then we took turns shaking our concoction. By 'taking turns' I mean I did about 95% of the shaking.... and I must say, it came out great.


It was a pretty hot day, and this does melt more quickly than store-bought ice cream, so we had to eat super fast - but she didn't seem to mind!


As it turns out, I still got to enjoy some vanilla yesterday, when my nephew Holt came over to play.  The Mini was on a road trip with her dad to go see my brother-in-law compete in an Ironman triathlon (go Uncle Nick!), so it was just Holt and I with the Minion.

I let Holt pick between the two flavors, and he is apparently more of a traditionalist.  He is also a much more jovial shaker...


...although despite his enthusiasm, the length of my 'turn' was only reduced by approximately 5% in comparison to my first session, haha!  (Needless to say, every kid wants to shake until they try it for about 10 seconds, so get your 'guns' out for this one.)  But our ice cream came out just as good, and vanilla is the perfect canvass for lots of sprinkles! Yum.


Happy summer, y'all!

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream 

Ice Cream:
1/2 C. half and half
1 T. sugar
1 T. + 1 t. peanut butter powder, such as PB2 (I found it at Walmart, in the peanut butter section)
1 large Reese's peanut butter cup, cut into small pieces
1/8 t. vanilla extract

Other Ingredients:
1 large & 1 small ziploc bag
lots of ice
1/2 C. rock salt (such as Morton's ice cream salt, I found it at Walmart in the salt section)

Combine all ice cream ingredients (half & half thru vanilla extract) in a sandwich or quart-sized ziploc bag.  (I would recommend first placing the bag over a cup or bowl to stabilize it, before you add the ingredients).  Seal bag tightly & set aside.

Next, fill a large, gallon-sized ziploc bag about halfway with ice.  Add rock salt and shake to distribute.  Nestle small bag inside the large bag, so that it is surrounded by ice cubes.  Then seal large bag, and shake consistently anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, or until the ice cream mixture thickens to desired consistency.  Make sure the small bag stays surrounded by ice as much as possible. Serve and eat immediately.

Makes 1 to 2 servings (depending on the size of your consumer(s)!)

*Helpful hints: The shaking part can get quite messy as the ice melts, and the large bag may start to leak, so I definitely recommend doing the shaking outside.  I also recommend setting out your serving bowl(s) before you make the ice cream, so you can empty it out and start eating right away- it does melt fairly quickly.  (Or maybe I'm just too impatient and I don't shake it long enough, ha!)  You can also experiment with more or less peanut butter and/or peanut butter cups to your taste.  Enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Food.com 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Lemon Ricotta Mousse & Raspberry Parfaits


And... just like that it's May.

Soon enough it will be summer, although the weather we've been having lately certainly doesn't seem like it!  Apparently April's showers decided to come late this year. At the time when I'm usually deciding whether or not to bust out my sandals, I'm instead deciding if I'm ready to give up my boots! It's been cold and rainy for what seems like weeks, and now I'm just waiting for it to go from cool to blazing hot.

I hate when Mother Nature skips over Spring.  Not that Spring is my favorite season, I'm much more of a Fall kinda girl.  But I just like a little transition between the seasons!

On Mother's Day last weekend, we had a fabulous break in the nasty weather that seemed almost summer-like.  We sat outside for a while at my brother-in-law's house, and it was darn near HOT in the sun!

I can't believe I celebrated my third Mother's Day with my Mini Smalls, and now my first with the Minion.  They are getting way too big and time is going by entirely too fast.


This year, the Mini picked out my gifts from her and her brother (cupcake socks, and a stuffed rendition of the 'Kung Fu Panda', respectively).  I am looking forward to many more years of 'interesting' gifts from them!

I always get a little sappy around Mother's Day because it makes me think of my own mom and how much I miss her.


This recipe would have been right up her alley, although Mini Smalls was utterly confused.  When I was cleaning up the food processor, she asked if she could taste the "batter."  I explained that we weren't baking this, it was done- and she was not exactly impressed.  Mini's become my little baker, and she couldn't wrap her mind around a 'treat' that was just some ingredients whipped together with no oven required!

But thankfully our Mother's Day guests (my stepmom and dad) were a little more into the dessert than she was.


Unlike my husband who loves cavity-inducing sugar levels in his desserts, my stepmom is not super into sweets. But she said she really liked this dessert because it was refreshing and not sickeningly sweet. I would have to agree!

Lemon Ricotta Mousse & Raspberry Parfaits

1 C. heavy cream
1 T. powdered sugar
1 15-oz. container whole-milk ricotta
1/4 C. sugar
1 t. lemon zest
1 C. raspberries, washed & dried

In a small bowl, toss sugar & lemon zest.  Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until well-combined, and set aside.

In a food processor, process cream & powdered sugar for approximately 2 minutes until consistency of whipped cream. (You can also do this with a mixer if you'd prefer).  Be careful not to overmix and turn the cream to butter.  Place whipped cream in a medium bowl, and set aside.

Add ricotta to the now-empty food processor with sugar/zest mixture. Process until very smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping sides if necessary.  In batches, adddd ricotta mixture to bowl with whipped cream, and fold together gently until well-combined.

Set out 4 (or 6) parfait cups, small mason jars, or other dessert dishes/bowls.  Place a heaping spoonful of ricotta mousse into each.  Top with raspberries, then another large scoop of mousse. Top with remaining raspberries. Sprinkle with additional lemon zest, if desired.  Serve immediately or refrigerate.  Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Recipe Adapted from Giada di Laurentiis' Raspberry Ricotta Mousse

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Crispy Rice Treats


Has it seriously been almost 3 months since my last post?

I can't even believe that is possible.

Then again... a lot has happened since then.  Nothing bad or overly exciting... just busy life, I guess.

Besides the craziness that is always 'the holiday season,' I did take a solo trip to Savannah toward the end of January, with my mom's side of the family to surprise my grandmother for her 85th birthday.

My aunt drove her and her two friends up from Florida, to visit my uncle & aunt & cousin (who live in Savannah).  What she didn't know is that my other two aunts, my uncle, most of the rest of my cousins, and I were all there too!  We surprised her at my uncle's house, but since there were so many of us, we rented a house on Tybee Island.


My Grammy is the 2nd one from the right, in the front row.  We are all wearing hats that my aunt had made, which said "Happy 85th from your shorebirds." So cute!

It was tough to leave Mr. Vittles and the kids though, especially because the Jersey Shore ended up getting hit with a really serious blizzard AND I ended up getting extremely sick a few days before we left.  But she was so surprised, and it was completely adorable and totally worth it. You could tell that she was truly overwhelmed with joy to see everyone.  It has been years since that many of us were together in one place, so it was really nice to spend that time as a family.

Not long before the Savannah excursion, Mr. Vittles, the kids, and I took a trip up to Connecticut to see my dad's side of the family.  It was really hard to have our first Christmas without my grandmother Yaya... but of course we all still had a lot of laughs together. She wouldn't have wanted it any other way!

My great-aunt Theresa actually told me a story I had never heard before, which had me rolling.  Apparently, when my mom and dad were newlyweds, Yaya gave my mom a baby picture of my dad.  Aunt Theresa went to my parents' house one day, and saw the baby picture on my mom's dresser.  She was curious to know why my mom had the picture there, and my mom explained that Yaya had given it to her, and it was my dad as a baby.

Except... it wasn't my dad.  Turns out, it was my dad's cousin, Aunt Theresa's son.

Now, as a mother of two wee ones, I'm not entirely sure how you mistake a photo of your nephew for your own son?  And it's not like she had 12 kids, she had 3.  I dunno, maybe in 20 years it will make more sense to me.  But either way, it is such a classic Yaya moment, and I loved hearing the story.

She was also notoriously bad at picking out gifts for people, but she LOVED to shop.  So at first it was a little sad that we didn't have any crazy Yaya gifts to laugh at this year, but dad and stepmom surprised us all by wrapping every terrifying Christmas gift they had ever received from Yaya, and re-gifting them to each member of the family. A couple of my personal favorites included a light-up crystal paperweight with a hot air balloon inside, and a hat with a photo of my dad, stepmom, and I....and our names underneath (just in case my dad ever forgot who we were?)

Mr. Vittles was lucky enough to get that gem.  You haven't lived 'til you've rocked a hat with a captioned picture of your wife & in-laws.

In any event, one thing I noticed over the months of holiday & family gatherings, is that I often get asked "Do you still have that food blog?"

And my answer is obviously yes (otherwise I wouldn't be typing this!) but I am always a little ashamed to admit how infrequently I post.  I wish I could say that I still posted 3 or 4 times a month, but with a full-time job and a 24/7 job as a mommy to a 3 year old and 8-month old... there is barely enough time in the day to maintain, let alone do any extras.

It makes me sad, though, because I genuinely enjoy the creative outlet of adapting recipes, making new things, and staging photos.  And I have always found writing to be therapeutic. Sometimes I have ideas for a new recipe for the blog that I get so excited about, I can hardly wait to find time to get to the kitchen.

"Ideas."  In case you haven't noticed, I have a lot of ideas.

When we were in Savannah, I was actually reminiscing with my cousins about something we all did as teenagers - we went to a non-profit research facility and completed a very extensive aptitude test.  My mom did this when she was a teenager, and though she never really shared what her aptitudes were, she apparently found the testing useful enough to bring me to New York City and do it myself.  My grandparents started this tradition with all of their children, and as far as I know, all of my cousins did it too.  At best, it helped some of us choose a career path; at worst, it was very interesting to see what we were naturally good at, and what we were not.

To be honest, I didn't get much out of it by way of career choice, but I definitely did find it interesting.  One part where I scored 'off the charts' in ability was something they called "ideaphoria." For that portion of the test, they give you a jump-off point, and you have to write as many thoughts as possible about that topic in a given period of time.

Apparently, I had a whole lot of... thoughts.

And so far, they hit the nail on the head with that one. Unlike interests, aptitudes are supposed to hold true over the course of your lifetime - and I will tell you that I still have a boat-load of ideas.

The problem is, I have neither the time nor the motivation to execute about 99% of them!

But I do have a blog that I've grown very fond of, and even if I only get to share one idea a month (or every 3 months?) then so be it.

So this recipe turned out to be one that had me really excited, and I ended up surveying the wares of 3 different stores before I found satisfactory ingredients to bring my idea to life.

I was racking my brain to think of what I could add to the marshmallow & butter mixture to make it strawberry-flavored. Initially, I settled on instant strawberry pudding - until I realized there is no such thing.  (Or at least not that I found.  Maybe someone should develop that as a product?  Just sayin.')

The next thing that came to mind was strawberry gelatin, but I was not sure what that might do when combined with hot marshmallow cream.  Gelatin overload?  So then I settled on strawberry frosting... until I found marshmallows made by Jet-Puffed that are already strawberry-flavored! Problem solved.  But I still added some of that frosting for good measure, because let's face it- extra strawberry and sugar can only make it that much more delicious, right?

To match my enthusiasm for the recipe, I wanted to get a decent photo.  The winter is the absolute worst time for food photos, because there is such a small window of natural light (especially for someone that works or is tending to kiddos throughout the majority of daylight hours!)  But luckily for me, Mr. Vittles and I recently cleaned out our finished basement, and cleared a space for a table and chairs as a craft area for the minions.

When I was a kid, we actually had a special room in our house devoted to creating.  My mom called it "the Studio."  It was filled with supplies like markers and paper and glue and stamps and glitter and clay and beads.... and more importantly, the space to spread all that out and make something with it.  I have a lot of memories of working on things in there, from Christmas presents to school projects.  I can see that Mini already has a flair for creating, so I'm thankful we have the room available to have our own miniature 'studio' for the kids.

I dunno, there's something that just seems really nice about having a big, flat area to do stuff.  Anyone knows me personally has probably figured out that I have some difficulty controlling the level of clutter in my life, so an empty surface in my house almost seems downright luxurious!

One of the fun things we did in Mini's new craft area was to paint one side of a closet door with chalkboard paint.  So last night I decided to draw a little Valentine-themed backdrop for my treats.

My treats!  Duh, that's why you're here, right?



I'll be honest, I'm usually not huge on fruit and chocolate together- but there is something so irresistible to me about a chocolate-covered strawberry.  They actually remind me now of my sister-in-law, because she prefers them to cake as her special birthday treat.  But it's still classic Valentine's Day, if you ask me!

Seriously, these are pretty delicious, guys.  Embarrassing fact: I actually gave myself a stomach ache eating too many of them.  So just beware of the V-Day tummy troubles, and don't say I didn't warn ya!

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Crispy Rice Treats

Cereal Bars:

  • 3 T. butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 8-oz package strawberry marshmallows (I used Jet-Puffed Strawberry Mallows)
  • heaping 1/4 C. canned strawberry frosting
  • 5 cups crisp rice cereal (such as Rice Krispies)
Topping:

  • 1 12-oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 T. butter
  • sprinkles, if desired

Grease a 13x9 pan & set aside.

In a large, microwave-safe bowl, heat butter on high until melted (about 45 seconds). Add marshmallows, and toss to coat in butter.  Heat about 90 seconds, in 30 second intervals & stirring after each, until marshmallows are completed melted & mixture is smooth. Stir in strawberry frosting.

Add rice cereal, and mix well to coat.  Using a greased spatula or piece of waxed paper, firmly press mixture into bottom of prepared pan.  Cool completely.  Then place chocolate chips and 2 T. butter in a microwave safe bowl, and microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring after each, until mixture is smooth.

Pour chocolate over the top of cooled bars, and spread to evenly coat entire surface.  Top with sprinkles, if desired.  Let chocolate topping harden, then cut into squares.  Tip: I like to cut off all the edges, for a more uniform look.

Recipe adapted from Kraft, Jet-Puffed Marshmallow packaging

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