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February 28, 2011

Bite-sized Decadent Brownies


I don't know about you, but I am so ready for spring!  In early anticipation, I decided to bake a treat fit for Easter.  I used a Wilton mini-cupcake silicone mold in adorable daisy shapes and created these decadent brownies.  They're not decadent because they're difficult to make; they're decadent because it's difficult to not overindulge bite after bite.  Before you know it, you've consumed 20 of these little suckers without even realizing it (not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything like that).  :)

I found the Wilton mini-cupcake daisy mold at the local Christmas Tree Shop and got it for less than $8.  What a great buy!  I know I'm going to be using this often. 

{ Love this mold! }

Ok, so here's why I love these brownie bites!  My favorite part of brownies are the chewy edges.  Yum!  Because these molds create small, individual brownies, they each turn out chewy and delicious.  Almost like chewy chocolate cookies.   And it couldn't get any simpler with a little help from Duncan Hines.  :)  My favorite brownie mix though, if you must know, is Betty Crocker's Triple Chunk Brownies.  That's one serious box of chocolate chewy, gooey goodness.

These brownie bites are scrumptious and addictive just by themselves.  But you can doll them up with a simple swirl of frosting or get really festive with sprinkles and your favorite Easter candy.  I chose to make them more decadent with hazelnut flavored cream cheese frosting, sugar sprinkles, and peanut M&Ms.

One word of caution:  Lightly coat the mini-cupcake pan with cooking spray prior to pouring the batter in.  This will keep it from sticking.  Another tip:  after baking, be sure to let the brownies cool completely in the mold before removing them.  Otherwise, they'll break apart. 

By the way, please don't let my hand in the photos detract you from the treat.  I was obviously not meant to be a hand model like Joey from "Friends" (love that episode!).

Enjoy and cheers to warmer days!


Bite-sized Decadent Brownies
{Prep time: 10 minutes; Bake time: 25 minutes; Makes approx. 32 bite-sized brownies}

1 19-oz package brownie mix
1 egg
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
Cooking spray to coat mini-cupcake pan
1 recipe hazelnut cream cheese frosting (see below)
Sprinkles and candy for topping

Heat oven to 350 degrees for shiny metal pan (325 for nonstick or glass pan).   Lightly coat mini-cupcake pan with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, stir brownie mix, egg, oil, and water until well blended.  Pour batter by rounded teaspoon (approx. 2) into each mold, filling it about 2/3 full.  Bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool in pan on wire rack completely before removing brownies from the mold.  Once cooled, gently remove the brownies, frost and decorate.
Hazelnut Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
3/4 teaspoon hazelnut extract

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and hazelnut extract. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until smooth.
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February 24, 2011

Auditioning for "Twilight" Series

I thought I'd dig into my archives and share this little bit of entertainment with you.   This series of photos was taken when my oldest was 14-months-old.  He refused to wear a bib, so we decided to strip him down to his diaper when offering him a juicy, red plum.   We knew it would be messy, but the poor plum was devoured and demolished with absolutely no mercy.  And he was in need of a serious bath after this.

Not sure my son is ready for Hollywood just yet, but I think he could give Rob Pattinson a run for his money.  :)


Auditioning for "Twilight" Series

"Woe is you, cursed plum!"

"Grrr!  I shall peel your skin and eat thy flesh!"

"So gooey and soft." [Crushes flesh between his fingers.]

"Take that!"

"Muhahahaha!" [Eerie music playing in the background.]

[Pan camera to eaten flesh.]

"So do I get the part?"

Hope you enjoyed this edition of "Fun Captions" and have a great weekend!

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February 17, 2011

A Thousand Beautiful Things


I was greatly inspired by this article published in the Huffington Post today.  In it, the author briefly touches on a tragic incident that left her heart jaded and bitter.  It wasn't until she started giving thanks on a regular basis, that she began to see the beauty in life and enjoy "God in the moment".

So starting today, I'm jotting down the things I'm grateful for - both big and small.  And I'm sure the list will reach and exceed a thousand before I know it, because God is a good God and has lavished on us countless, beautiful gifts.

I'd encourage you to start your own list! 


A Thousand Beautiful Things:
  1. Others who share their stories of encouragement.
  2. A husband who prays.
  3. My sons making funny faces.
  4. The comfort of lying in a warm bed.
  5. Creativity that comes in all shapes and forms.
  6. Reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.
  7. When my son says "I love you" completely out of the blue.
  8. My children's laughter when I nuzzle my nose against their belly.
  9. A good cup of coffee to help through the day.
  10. Being able to read Scripture with a renewed hunger for the Word.
  11. Those who fight for justice & go into the trenches to secure freedom for all.
  12. Missing socks that magically reappear somehow.
  13. The testimony of a friend who is fostering a child.
  14. Popcorn jellybellies ... even if no one else likes them.
  15. Free food!
  16. A song that makes your heart leap and your soul rejoice.
  17. Boot sales.
  18. Enjoying Korean fried chicken and a pint of Killian's Red with your favorite person (aka husband).
  19. Organic mixed vegetables from Costco.
  20. Homemade cards.
  21. Toddlers who enjoy and finish their meals.
  22. Warm weather after a not-so-pleasant winter.
  23. The anticipation of spring.
  24. Playdates with moms and their kids.
  25. Town library where the boys are free to roam.
  26. Quiet afternoons.
  27. My children's health.
  28. Being reminded by my mother that children running, screaming exuberantly, and being full of life is a good thing.
  29. My mom who is an amazing and humble servant of the Lord.
  30. Little boys who like to exert their energy in the snow.
  31. Hot bowl of soup on a cold winter's day.
  32. Women who open up their hearts and open up their lives.
  33. Knowing you're not the only one who doesn't have it all together.  Everyone else is right there with you.
  34. Grace that washes away even the ugliest of sins.
  35. A husband who is supportive and patient.
  36. A child's arms wrapped tightly around your neck.
  37. Dark chocolate brownie bites.
  38. A sermon message that reminds us to worship God in the moment. 
  39. God clinging to us when we are most desperate.
  40. A simple yet powerful word of encouragement.
  41. A friend's prayer.
  42. A sister who patiently and lovingly listens in our time of need.
  43. The internet and how it allows me to connect with folks I would never have otherwise.
  44. Children who love their veggies.
  45. Building legos with your son and never making the same thing twice.
  46. Standing with 1,000 believers in praise and adoration of the King.
  47. Lemon cookies.
  48. Adorable matching outfits for the kids.
  49. Husband who takes care of you when you're sick.
  50. Boys laughing and chatting with each other at bed time.
  51. Friends dropping off dinner when you're not well.
  52. Spontaneous date nights with hubby.
  53. A hot bowl of extra spicy tofu soup.
  54. Molten chocolate lava cake made in 10 minutes.
  55. The day your child stops crying when you drop him off at preschool.
  56. An encouraging word from your child's teacher.
  57. Hilarious DIY superhero outfits!
  58. Seeing my 3-year-old son moved by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.
  59. The Jesus Storybook Bible.
  60. Saturdays at the park.
  61. Iced coffee.
  62. Getting a long overdue pedicure with a friend.
  63. Friends who foster!
  64. Potty training success.
  65. Unexpected flowers.
  66. Kind words from a stranger.
  67. New friends.
  68. The heart of a 4-year-old.
  69. God's timing for all things.
  70. Brothers going to preschool together.
  71. The funny things 2-year-olds say.
  72. Cousins.
  73. Movements that are making a difference in the world.
  74. Answered prayers for a friend's child.
  75. Having amazing friends who also happen to be amazing dentists!
  76. A 5-year-old's sweet and genuine prayer.
  77. Missionaries taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
  78. The sun beaming warm and bright on the face after a long, cold winter.
  79. Knowing change is possible when others might tell you otherwise.
  80. When communities rally together for a good cause.
  81. Puppy kisses.

To be continued . . .
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February 14, 2011

The Greatest Gift a Husband Can Give His Wife

{ the greatest gift a husband can give his wife }
Over the weekend, I shared with my husband my desire to be a Proverbs 31 woman but struggled with understanding exactly what that meant.  Reading the passage over a few times, I didn't get what being this "wife of noble character" fully encompassed.  Or maybe the truth was I didn't feel I could ever live up to the woman depicted in the passage.

So my husband shared this short devotional book with me:  How to Pray for Your Wife.

He read it last year and told me about it then.  But I didn't fully appreciate what this meant or how this helped shape his specific prayers for me and us as a family. 

This morning while I was at the library with my toddler and father-in-law, I consumed the book, finished it in 30 minutes (it's a short and quick read), became overwhelmed with emotion but fought off tears (didn't want librarians to think I was having a meltdown), and thanked God for my husband and his gift of prayer to and for me.  In the guide, I saw James' notes and markings and felt a sense of deep love poured over me.   How blessed I am to have a man who loves me in such a way he intercedes on my behalf daily, encourages me, and points me to Christ!

And then I realized the greatest gift a man can give his wife is not flowers, jewelry, chocolate, or a fancy dinner out but rather the gift of daily interceding on her behalf through prayer.  This gift lasts for eternity, the value is even greater with time, it can't be stolen, and it is overflowing with love and tender care.

Husbands and wives, this is a book I highly recommend.  You can read it separately and then together.  I know its intention is meant for husbands, but this book gives great insight into Proverbs 31 verse by verse (starting with verse 10).  It's set up to be a 31-day devotional:  each day is spent examing a verse from the chapter, discussing the character/quality of the wife, how it applies to her and what it implies for the husband as well, and how to specifically pray for her, the family, and the husband himself.  It's recommended for singles as well, to help shape prayers for their future spouse. 

If you need further convincing that this devotional is well worth the investment, here's an excerpt. It was Day 1's suggested prayer that had me nearly in tears (skip to page 23 of the excerpt to read Day 1 devotional) :
  1. Lord, set my wife free as a redeemed daughter, and restore in her your image so that she might become a strong and mighty woman.
  2. Enable my wife to trust in you that you might deliver her from fears and insecurities that haunt her.
  3. Enable me to be a husband who provides security to my family just as you provide security for your people. Help me to point my family to you through my words and actions.

Here are how the days are broken up:

Day 1:  Security 
"An excellent wife..." (Proverbs 31:10A)

Day 2:  Treasure
"...who can find?  Her value is far above jewels." (Proverbs 31:10B)

Day 3:  Trust
 "Her husband trusts in her fully...." (Proverbs 31:11A)

Day 4:  Provision
"...And he is never lacking in spoil." (Proverbs 31:11B)

Day 5:  Rewards
"She shows him good, not evil, all the days of her life." (Proverbs 31:12)

Day 6:  Creativity
"She seeks wool and linen and works in delight with her hands." (Proverbs 31:13)

Day 7:  Service
"She is like trade ships; she brings her food from a great distance." (Proverbs 31:14)

Day 8:  Devotion
"And she gets up while it is still dark, and she gives food to her family and portions to her servant girls." (Proverbs 31:15)

Day 9:  Bargain-hunter
"She considers a field and buys it." (Proverbs 31:16A)

Day 10:  Entrepreneur
"From the fruit of her own hands, she plants a vineyard." (Proverbs 31:16B)

Day 11:  Strength
"She dresses herself in strength, and she makes her arms strong." (Proverbs 31:17)

Day 12: Artistry
"She sees that her merchandis is good..." (Proverbs 31:18A)

Day 13:  Excitement
"...She does not extinguish her lamp at night." (Proverbs 31:18B)

Day 14:  Multitasking
"In her hand she holds the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle." (Proverbs 31:19)

Day 15:  Hospitality
"She spreads out her hands to the poor..." (Proverbs 31:20A)

Day 16:  Mercy 
"And [she] reaches out to the needy." (Proverbs 31:20B)

Day 17:  Covering
"She is not afraid of snow for her household, because all of them are doubly clothed." (Proverbs 31:21)

Day 18:  Balance
"She makes for herself coverings of tapestry; and linen and purple are her clothing." (Proverbs 31:22)

Day 19:  Significance
"Her husband is known at the city gates where he takes his seat with the elders of the land" (Proverbs 31:23)

Day 20:  Light
"She makes linen garments, which she sells, and gives belts to the merchants." (Proverbs 31:24)

Day 21:  Majesty
"Strength and majesty are her clothing" (Proverbs 31:25A)

Day 22:  Laughter
"And she laughs at the days to come" (Proverbs 31:25B)

Day 23:  Wisdom
"She opens her mouth with wisdom." (Proverbs 31:26A)

Day 24:  Grace
"And the law of grace is on her tongue." (Proverbs 31:26B)

Day 25:  Watchwoman
"She watches over the way of her household."  (Proverbs 31:27A)

Day 26:  Active
"...And [she] does not eat the bread of slothfulness."  (Proverbs 31:27B)

Day 27:  Cherished
"Her children stand up and call her blessed; and her husband praises her."  (Proverbs 31:28)

Day 28:  Appreciation
"Many women do noble things, but you go beyond them all."  (Proverbs 31:29)

Day 29:  Idol-smasher
"Elegance is a lie; beauty is vanity." (Proverbs 31:30A)

Day 30:  God-fearer
"A woman who fears the Lord - she shall be praised." (Proverbs 31:30B)

Day 31:  Praise
"Give to her the fruit of the hands, and let her works praise her at the city gates." (Proverbs 31:31)

---

Husbands and wives, make an investment in this book.  Your marriage will greatly benefit from it and be blessed by it.

And to my husband, I praise God for you, your noble character, and your amazing gift to me and our children. 

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February 13, 2011

Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting

{ made with love for my love }
This was the special treat made for my husband's birthday this past Friday (recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart).  I also made extra to contribute to a fundraising bake sale with the proceeds going toward a wonderful New York-based, non-profit organization called Bread and Water (they help provide relief across the world). 

It's a wonderful dessert to share with loved ones on Valentine's Day or any day for that matter.  I love the light fluffiness and sweet strawberry flavor of the buttercream frosting, but the cake itself is also delicious and moist (with the help of a little milk). 

Though the recipe can seem intimidating, it's really not.  The cupcake is simple to make (the most time-consuming part was chopping the strawberries).  The swiss meringue buttercream frosting can be made in advance or while the cupcakes are baking.  Here's a basic tutorial on how to make swiss meringue buttercream frosting.  If you refrigerate the cupcakes, just be sure to let them defrost at room temperature for a couple hours before serving.

To make it more festive, I transformed strawberry gummy candy and strawberry slices into heart shapes as garnish.


I've made a handful of different cupcakes now, and I have to say these are definitely among the top fave. 

Happy Valentine's Day!




Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Buttercream Frosting
Recipe from Martha Stewart
{ Makes 34 cupcakes }

Ingredients:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs plus 1 large egg white
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups finely chopped strawberries, plus small strawberries for garnish (or use gummy strawberry candy for garnish)
Strawberry Buttercream (recipe below)

Directions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.  Cream butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition.
  2. Reduce speed to low. Mix in the vanilla. Add flour mixture to butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk and ending with the flour.  Scrape sides of bowl.  Stir in chopped strawberries.  Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full.
  3. Bake cupcakes until testers inserted into centers come out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks.  Once cupcakes are cool, frost tops with strawberry buttercream.  Frosted cupcakes will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 days. Top with a strawberry just before serving.

Strawberry Buttercream Frosting
Recipe from Martha Stewart
{Makes about 5 cups}

Ingredients:
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, pureed

Directions:
  1. Place whites and sugar in a heatproof mixer bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer.
  2. Remove from heat, and attach bowl to a mixer. Whisk on medium speed for 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high, and whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, and add butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking well after each addition.
  3. Switch to a paddle attachment. With mixer on low, add strawberry puree, and beat until smooth, 3 to 5 minutes. Use immediately, or cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days. (Bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth before using.)
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February 11, 2011

Celebrating the Love of My Life

{ window decoration near the office in midtown new york }
February is a month for celebrating love.  Today is Hubby's birthday and in celebration of this beautiful man's life, I am making a special treat.  Any guesses as to what?


The main ingredient is this:


Here's another hint:


Final clue:


Come back later to see the special treat perfect for Valentine's day or to celebrate love any day of the year.

Happy birthday, darling!  You are one year more marvelous than last.  The boys and I are blessed beyond words to have you in our lives.  We love you.
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February 10, 2011

Potty Costumes

If you're looking for some great party costumes, I can't help you with that.  But potty ones, yes.  I have a 2.5-year-old who would love to model off the latest trends.

{ He says he's a sailor.  Looks more like a cowboy to me. }
.
{ He's also into astronauts now.  This is unlike any astronaut helmet I've ever seen. }

Needless to say, potty training is not going exactly as planned (nothing ever does with parenting).  I'm trying not to stress about it, and you gotta love the boy for his creativity.  Doing this in the dead of winter is not the brightest idea on my part, either.  We'll be more diligent about it when the weather gets warmer and CJ can run around in his undies.

Lord, please give me an added measure of patience.  And thank you for days that are never dull.  Amen.

 

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