Sunday, February 14, 2021

Chocolate Hazelnut & Raspberry Greek Yogurt Parfait


Happy Valentine's Day, y'all!

Much like every other holiday since last March 2020, Valentine's day is kind of a bust this year!

Then again, we don't usually do much for V-Day anyway. Mr. V and I are not exactly what you would call romantic people.

Not that we don't love each other, of course!

It's just that our perfect movie date night would include something more along the lines of John Wick than The Notebook. No biggie.

"Hey girl.... I feel like there's not enough death & destruction in this movie for us."

(Remember those 'Hey girl' Ryan Gosling memes? Or am I just embarrassing/dating myself haha?)

Anyhow... what I have for you today is more of an idea than a recipe. But I will do my best to approximate amounts so you can replicate this deliciousness at home. 

I will never forget the day I went into the grocery store and saw Chobani was now making little containers of Greek yogurt mixed with nut butters, including chocolate hazelnut. 

It didn't stop me in my tracks because I thought it was a revolutionary idea, though. 

No, I had been making this at home for years and felt like I should definitely own the patent to that combo by then.

Robbed, I tell you. Robbed!

However, that didn't stop me from buying a few containers because, well, convenience.

But I can't say I've seen any of those in the stores by us recently? So I guess they weren't hot sellers, though I can't imagine why. 

Whatever the reason, that just means you'll have no choice other than to make it yourself at home!

For this, I like to do about a tablespoon of Nutella per half cup of plain Greek yogurt. That would honestly be pushing it on the sweetness for me as a lunch option.

But, you do you. This is your parfait.

"Hey girl... put as much Nutella in that yogurt as your beautiful heart desires."

(See, Ryan says it's cool- go nuts.)

After a while, I discovered that this delicious yogurt mixture is further complemented by fresh raspberries. Yum.

Then Santa brought me some chocolate granola in my stocking and boom. My parfait was born.

Yes, I'll admit we are definitely getting closer to dessert territory as opposed to lunch. So let's just go ahead and cross that line! 

Add a dollop of whipped cream and some chocolate sauce because it's pretty.

And delicious. The perfect storm.

"Hey girl... you deserve nothing less than perfection."

Ok ok, I'll stop now.


Chocolate Hazelnut & Raspberry Greek Yogurt Parfait

  • 1 T. Nutella (or other chocolate hazelnut spread)
  • 1/2 C. plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 C. chocolate granola (or any other granola of your choosing)
  • 1/4 C. fresh raspberries
  • optional: whipped cream, chocolate syrup, mini chocolate chips

Mix Nutella and yogurt together in a small bowl, until well combined. 

Spoon half of yogurt mixture to a parfait cup or small mason jar. Sprinkle with granola. Add remaining yogurt and top with raspberries.

Top with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and/or mini chocolate chips if desired.

Original Recipe

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Pumpkin Crumb Cake

Wow. I know it has been over a year since my last post, but it seems more like three lifetimes ago! 2020 has been a doozy for sure.

Thankfully, we are all healthy in the Vittles household and extended family (knock on wood). That's the most important thing, and my heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones.

I feel like the pandemic experience has varied for people depending on a lot of factors, one of the biggest being location. New Jersey was initially one of the hardest-hit areas in the US, during a time when there were a lot of uncertainties about the virus. A lot of businesses were unable to reopen for months here due to restrictions, and those that could open had to really adapt to the new rules. 

Life has finally been seeming a little more normal these days, but as we head into the winter months I fear this taste of normalcy will be short-lived.

Just for kicks, I recently looked back in my text messages to Mr. Vittles from the beginning of pandemic. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say they were funny/incredibly naive. On March 16 (Day 1 of remote learning for my then-first grader, Mini):

"I am already losing my mind. I don't know how I am going to do this for two weeks."

Two weeks. That's all it was supposed to be! Remember that? And I literally thought that sounded like an eternity. 

In the beginning of lockdown, I was technically on leave because the kids' schools were closed. I was still checking emails and voicemails and responding accordingly, but I was not working full-time. Also, the Minion was still in Pre-K and didn't have any assigned work.

And still I was not sure I could do this? Yikes.

Fast forward almost 8 months, and I have not one but two kids remote learning 3 days a week with a pretty rigorous schedule of Google meets. I am also working from home full-time. On the other two days, the kids are face-to-face in school for half a day, leaving me with two mornings a week to go in the office or work alone. 

Remote learning days look like me and my Kindergartener sitting next to each other at the kitchen table, while we are both on our computers. I try to piece together the work I need to do while still listening to what his teacher says.

We start the day with the Pledge of Allegiance, then we sing "You're a Grand Old Flag" (complete with patriotic hand motions.) Most of the rest of the day consists of repetition, stories, songs and videos interspersed with his teacher's gentle reminders. 

"You have to put yourself on mute, honey." 

"You have to take yourself off mute, honey."

(At some point, I'm sure the kids will figure that out.... right?!?)

Or my personal favorite- "Can you hear me? Thumbs up if you can hear me."

I seriously have no idea how teachers are handling half the class at home while the other half is in front of them. Incredible.

Then in the meantime, my second grader is in her room with the door shut (so we don't disturb each other any further) trying to navigate her Google meets and assignments on her own. 

Luckily she's been an independent little thing pretty much from birth, so this hasn't been too much of an issue. But she's also a social critter, and I know she wishes she could sit with us too. 

Unfortunately my crowded brain can't handle that level of distraction.

To say it has been challenging is an understatement. I still don't know how a parent is supposed to do these things simultaneously.

I don't know how the kids are supposed to learn like this, or make friends like this.  

But they do. Somehow, we all do.  So many people's lives have been turned upside down in one way or another by this pandemic. And we are all just doing our best. 

But for all the trials and tribulations, spending this much time with my kids has inspired so many moments of joy, laughter, and awe at what these two are capable of. 

They have been 100 times more adaptable than me, and I know this is time we would never have had together under normal circumstances. I have to remind myself to take deep breaths and to cherish those moments.

On the kitchen front, I can decisively say that I have grown quite tired of preparing food. I always hated packing the kids lunches and snacks every night, but it seems that eating every morsel of food at home each day is equally exhausting. So is keeping up with the dishes that result.

Despite all that, I couldn't let my favorite season pass without making some homemade pumpkin treats. My mother-in-law's pumpkin bread is our tried & true, but I've been wanting to try a pumpkin crumb cake for a while now.

I've never really found any recipes that had the crumb topping and cake combo I was looking for until I came across one from King Arthur Baking. It checked most of the boxes for me... but here in Jersey, traditional crumb cake has powdered sugar on top, so I had to make that addition.

I also took out the cinnamon filling. I guess I'm a purist! 

Just not so much of a purist that I didn't swap pumpkin pie spice for the cinnamon in the crumb topping.

And add extra pumpkin spice to the cake. 

Because... well... if you don't like pumpkin spice, you're in the wrong place my friends!

I really feel like this would be the perfect addition to your Thanksgiving breakfast. I know we are all going to have to adapt for the holidays this year, so we need things to look forward to!

And I wish you all a wonderful day, no matter how you choose to celebrate. 

Heck, maybe your version of celebrating this year means making this cake, sitting on the couch in your stretchy pants, and shoveling in the entire thing before noon. 

I won't judge. 

Your secret is safe with me. 

Pumpkin Crumb Cake

Crumb Topping 
  • 1/2 C. granulated sugar 
  • pinch of salt 
  • 2/3 C. all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. pumpkin pie spice
  • 4 T. butter, melted
  • *powdered sugar, optional 
  • 1.3 C. vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 C. granulated sugar
  • 1 C. pumpkin puree
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 t. pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. baking powder 
  • 1 1/2 C. flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8" square pan and set aside.

Make topping: In a medium bowl, whisk granulated sugar, salt, flour and pumpkin spice. Add melted butter and stir until combined. (*Powdered sugar is for later, after cake has cooled). Set bowl aside.

Make cake: In a large bowl, beat together oil, eggs, granulated sugar, pumpkin puree, vanilla, pumpkin spice, salt and baking powder until smooth. Add flour and stir just until smooth and no flour streaks remain.

Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly to edges. Sprinkle with crumb topping.

Bake until cake is light golden brown on top and toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (about 40-45 minutes).

Remove cake and cool on wire rack. When completely cooled, use a sieve to sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. You can also do this just before serving to avoid it melting into the cake.

Adapted from King Arthur Baking

    Sunday, August 18, 2019

    Fruity Marshmallow Krispy Treats

    As a kid, I ate my fair share of sugary treats.

    (I mean, I still do, let's be honest.)

    But not when it came to cereal.

    My favorites were the likes of plain Cheerios, corn or rice Chex, Crispix, Rice Krispies, Kix and maybe as far as Frosted Mini Wheats if I was feeling crazy.

    To this day, those are probably my faves.

    I can remember attending coveted sleepovers at my aunt Cary's house, and we would eat peanut butter and/or chocolatey cereal for breakfast (among a host of other junk foods- it was glorious).

    But any exceptions to my low-sugar cereal rule were purely of the vanilla-frosted, peanut butter, or chocolate variety - never fruity.  You most certainly would not catch Apple Jacks, Lucky Charms, or Fruit Loops anywhere near my bowl.

    Point being, there are no feelings of nostalgia from this girl when it comes to Fruity Pebbles.

    Nope, I made these bars strictly for their rainbow fun factor, as a treat for a family pool party we attended recently.

    I figured the kids would like them, and maybe a few parents would possess the nostalgia for the Flintstones-themed cereal that I lack.

    As for me, I thought it was going to hate them.

    But, no.

    Unfortunately for my waist line, I liked them very much indeed.  And pretty much all the parents agreed.

    "Why would anyone even make plain krispy treats when these exist?" mused one mom, munching away on the artificially-flavored fruity, marshmallowy goodness.

    Not sure I'd go that far. Still love me a ol' plain vanilla krispy treat.

    (Check out these white-chocolate dipped pops Grayden & I made for his ghost-themed birthday party.  In June. LOL, that's our boy.)

    But anyway, I'm trying to say that even if you don't love fruity cereal, I would give these a try.

    They might just change your mind.

    Fruity Marshmallow Krispy Treats

    • 8 T. butter
    • 1 1/2 bags (9 C.) mini marshmallows, divided Pinch salt
    • 1 t. pure vanilla extract
    • 4 cups plain crisped rice cereal
    • 6 cups fruity crisped rice cereal

    Generously grease a 9x13 pan, or line with nonstick foil- set aside.

    In large pan, melt butter over low heat. Add 6 cups of the marshmallows (1 bag) and stir over low heat until completely melted and mixture is homogeneous. Add vanilla and salt, mix to combine. Remove from heat.

    Add cereal, and mix to combine. Then add remaining 3 C marshmallows (1/2 bag) and stir to incorporate. Empty mixture into prepared pan. Grease hands with oil and very gently press the mixture evenly into the pan- do not press down firmly & compact the mixture, or the treats will be hard. Allow to cool & cut into squares.

    Recipe Adapted from Chelsea's Messy Apron

    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."


    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.


    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

    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 


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