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
- 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)
- 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