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Give thanks this post is not any longer

…while I give thanks for the following beautiful things from the past week:

1) My wonderful husband who took a few days off so we could have a nine-day vacation all together.

2) For fun excursions

Ready to go!

That introduced us to new friends

And left everyone tuckered out at the end of the day.

3) For time spent in the beautiful outdoors!

4) For time spent with family.

5) For baking, my great escape.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Marshmallow Sour Cream Topping and Gingersnap Crust

Cranberry Orange Loaf

First attempt at homemade pie crust. Yay!

My annual Thanksgiving contributions.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie with Graham-Pecan Crust. I love this picture because of how my nephew is creepin' in on this pie.

Caramel Pecan Pie

Cinnamon Apple Pie with Raisins and Crumb Topping - more like strudel than apple pie, but still delicious!

(The pumpkin desserts were the big winners this time around. Make sure to try the cheesecake and the pumpkin pie! The loaf, pecan pie, and apple pie are of course all worth a try, too!)

6) For my beautiful baby bub.

7) And for our beautiful family.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

P.S. The excursion was to the San Antonio Zoo and the outdoor time, at Enchanted Rock State Park. Both are highly recommended!

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Takin’ a breather

As you may or may not know, there’s a big holiday coming up this week. One of my favorite ones, actually. The food, the family, the conversations, the DESSERTS (oh come on, like you’re surprised), with no pressure. By no pressure I mean, Thanksgiving is one of those rare holidays where you don’t have to decorate, don’t have to dress up, don’t have to send cards, don’t have to go somewhere to see fireworks, it’s just a fabulous excuse to spend time with family and eat a bunch of good food. I have such good memories of Thanksgiving so I’m really looking forward to this week.

HOWEVER, due to the aforementioned desserts, I will be very busy this coming week. Between all the family get-togethers, I’m looking at baking approximately FIVE desserts this week. Yikes! So partly due to that and partly due to the fact that I just needed to take a breather from all these intense cakes I’ve been making, I decided to take it easy this weekend.

And still ended up making two desserts from my favorite cookbook.

Sigh. ‘Tis the life of a serial baker, I guess.

To be honest, it all sort of happened by accident. James and I were sitting around, enjoying our lazy Friday evening, when all of a sudden, I wanted to make a dessert. I just ached to create something. It was that moment that reassured me that I’m not crazy for wanting to make all these desserts and write about them on a blog and everything. The moment I relaxed, the first thing I turned to was dessert-making! It’s just a comfort to me.

So here’s my impromptu, what-can-I-make-with-what’s-already-in-my-pantry dessert:

Loving' me some coffee.

Chocolate Espresso Pudding with Espresso Whipped Cream. I had never made pudding in any way than from a box or package before, and I was so surprised to find how easy it was to make it from scratch. You honestly just need basic pantry ingredients for a basic pudding, and you can just dress it up from there.

The next thing that surprised me was how delicious it was. There are times that you just can’t beat the combo of coffee and chocolate, and I am not exaggerating when I say this five-minute dessert was better than some of the cakes I’ve labored over for hours. Fantastic. Try it here, and don’t skimp out on the instant espresso. I think it probably gives a much more interesting flavor to the pudding than regular ol’ instant coffee would.

The second “dessert” I baked this weekend wasn’t a dessert at all. It was actually breakfast. A Dutch Baby is a kind of baked pancake, and I felt like I’d kept seeing or hearing about it everywhere recently, so I just decided to try it. This, again, was one of those things you can make out of typical ingredients you already have. Unfortunately, we dove into this thing too quickly to take any pictures, but essentially it looked like this:

Plain and simple.

Simple. Low-key. Fast. I think I liked it better than a regular pancake. Try it out next time you want to try something new.

So that’s it for this weekend. Baking and dessert-making continue to be my hobby of relaxation, and I’m hoping I can channel that relaxation to this weekend’s dessert marathon. Eep! Keep your fingers crossed, or, as we say in Polish, hold your thumbs!

Bananas over birthdays!

This weekend my family celebrated some very special birthdays. My youngest nephew Kacio turned a year old (yay, happy birthday!) and my dear mother turned, um, 35 maybe? Something like that.

Anyway, we had a wonderful family dinner with TWO birthday cakes and lots of eating and talking and fun. Here’s Kacio with his delicious, chocolatey birthday cake made by his mama:

Happy birthday Kacio!

Yum!

When I asked my mom what kind of cake to make for her birthday, she requested no chocolate (what?!) and no citrusy flavors. Maybe she was afraid of the crazy cakes I’ve made before, ha. But this actually made things super difficult! As I looked through my amazing cookbook, I kept going, “Ooh! That looks good! Oh wait, chocolate. Ooh, how about thi-, no, chocolate. Hmm.” Finally, though, I found one of the most unique cakes I’d ever seen.

You see, most of the time when I think of layer cakes, I think of the basics – cakes that taste like vanilla, chocolate, some kind of nuts maybe, with pretty straightforward fillings and frostings. So the cake that I ended up picking was something completely different. I give you:

Banana Layer Cake with Caramel Cream and Sea-Salt Roasted Pecans.

Awwww yeaaaaah. I just thought it sounded so unique! It’s like bananas foster, elevated to cake status! I got to use some new techniques and new equipment (yay for candy thermometers!) for this cake, too, so that’s always good for my baking-education purposes. I will say this, though, if ever you make a cake whose filling is essentially whipped-cream-based, please, for goodness’ sake, assemble it on-site or make sure to chill it for several hours before you take it anywhere. Otherwise you end up with this:

A delicious avalanche.

Sad. Still tasted great!

So if you’re looking for something completely different, I suggest you check out this cake some time. I’m not even usually a fan of banana-flavored things, but honestly, this cake was fantastic. The sweetness of the bananas mixed with the saltiness and crunchiness of the pecans? Delish. Here’s the rest of the pictures to get you salivating… and baking! Seriously, try it!

Close-up of those home-roasted pecans. These are worth making by themselves.

Four layers!

That’s it for this weekend. Have a wonderful week!

Food for thought

There comes a day in every person’s life where they have to claim independence, spread their wings, and leave the nest.

Today was that day.

For Maciek.

Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating. Perhaps the amazing milestone of STARTING SOLIDS is not that dramatic. But it sure does feel like that to Mama! Her little baby is all grown up and doesn’t need her anymore! At least not much. 😉

But yes, a batch of homemade sweet-potato baby food later and Maciek has started solids. So grown up! And so far it looks like he loves it. We started off with a small amount today just to be cautious, but this kiddo looked like he could have kept eating a lot more. So we’ll let him go at it tomorrow! I’m excited to see how much he’ll eat!

Here it comes!

Do I chew the spoon or eat off of it?

This eating off a spoon thing is not working.

But Mama's finger is the best spoon!

Zut alors!

There comes a point in every baker’s life where you just have to cover up a mistake you made. This has, of course, never happened to me before. Ahem.

I was all kinds of excited about this weekend’s dessert because I felt like I was so clever in choosing it. You see, my beloved husband asked me to buy him a large amount of apples for our recent Halloween get-together so we could bob for apples. So I happily grabbed a five-pound bag and brought it home the day before the party. Where it sat for the next week, unopened.

Sssoooo, I needed to find a use for five pounds of red delicious apples. Lo and behold, my monster of a cookbook did not disappoint, and I found a recipe for Tarte Tatin, which is apparently a fairly common French pastry. I already had all the ingredients on hand, and I was going to get to try some new techniques.

This pastry is unique in that you cook the apples in a simple caramel sauce, first on the stovetop, and then in the same pan, covered with a delicious crust, in the oven. When the tart is finished, the whole thing gets flipped upside down and you have beautiful caramel-y apples atop a gorgeous crust.

That is, if you don’t burn your caramel and apples first.

*Sigh*

Long story short, due to rushing around and trying to do too many things at once, I let my beautiful caramel apples cook just a touch too long on the stovetop. James came into the kitchen and wondered why there was steam coming out of our hot water kettle until he realized it was actually smoke coming from our cast iron skillet on the stove. Some quick thinking and salvaging of unruined apples later, we had a makeshift, semi-Tarte-Tatin baking in a pie dish in the oven, at least covered with that delicious crust.

And you know what? It actually wasn’t too bad. We took the tart to a family gathering where they all commented on its deliciousness. I either have a really awesome family who loves me and wanted to make me feel better or the tart was actually edible. Probably both. I’d say the biggest problem ended up being the tart’s diminished size, so it’s a good thing we’d thought ahead and brought some homemade oatmeal cookies since it was supposed to be a fairly sizable gathering.

All in all, everything turned out well. You might even consider my adventure totally appropriate, considering the origins of the Tarte Tatin.

And now, the incriminating evidence:

Prior to flipping.

Action shot!

All flipped over and ready to go.

Apples ready for their close-up.

Served with fresh cinnamon whipped cream.

The always-dependable oatmeal cookie.

A very similar Tarte Tatin recipe can be found here (just add in some cinnamon to the crust!), and as for the surprisingly amazing whipped cream, just add two tablespoons sugar and a quarter teaspoon cinnamon to a cup of whipping cream before you start beating it. I would imagine it would be a wonderful addition to holiday baking!

And, because we can hardly let a dessert post go by without some painfully adorable pictures of my own sweetums, prepare to be pained:

Mama, I disapprove of your mistakes.

Sometimes your desserts taste funny.

But it's ok because I'm flying!

Until next time!

Don’t pop the bubble!

I try not to rant on this blog. Not because I don’t have things to rant about, mind you – that’s just the problem. If I let myself rant, I could rant as much as the day is long, just because I can be a crotchety person like that. But let’s be honest, nobody really needs that. Hence I don’t rant.

But there has been this thing recently that’s really gotten my goat. Evidently more so than my usual pet peeves as I’m breaking my no-rant rule for it. I’ll just look at this as a sort of public service announcement, so that if you ever find yourself in this situation, you’ll at least have another perspective to think about. Here goes:

PLEASE don’t touch my baby if you don’t know me. Please.

Maybe this doesn’t bother other people as much as it bothers me, I don’t know. I don’t speak for all mothers everywhere but please at least keep this in mind. If I don’t know you, don’t touch my baby!

I read somewhere once that women get much more protective and confident when they become mothers, and I definitely think that’s true. But honestly, I think this is an issue of personal space more than anything else. I like hugs and chilling out cozily on the couch as much as the next person, but I wouldn’t go stroke a stranger’s hair or pinch their cheeks or anything. And I think most of us wouldn’t do that! So why is it that people have this insatiable urge to touch babies, even if they don’t know them? Aren’t babies even more vulnerable and in need of a personal bubble than the rest of us?

Now don’t get me wrong. I love it when people stop me on neighborhood walks, in the grocery store, at parties, whatever, to tell me how adorable my baby is. I totally agree! He’s amazing! But if I don’t know you, there is no reason why you need to touch him. So admire from afar, please!

I could have filed this away under the very few personal-space issues that I have (like pregnant-belly touching; I don’t really get that one either. I don’t touch your belly – don’t touch mine, friend!), but this one’s particularly important to me as it involves my child. So forgive this newly protective and confident mama, and ask before you touch!

Thanks for listening, and I promise I’ll try to avoid rants in the future! See you at the next dessert post!

Spooky sweeties

Happy Halloween, y’all!

What? I’m a day late? Ah yes. Ahem. Well, in that case, happy All Saints’ Day!

But I still have Halloween goodies to share, never fear! Halloween sweeties are here!

Here’s sweetie número uno:

Delicious chocolate. *drool*

Spiderwebby!

White chocolate: healthier than cobwebs.

The web is made of white chocolate.

Get it before it's gone!

Chocolate + more chocolate = delicious.

Chocolate Ganache Tart with Toasted Pecan Crust. So simple – really only two flavors here: chocolate and pecans. So delicious. I served it at a Halloween get-together and I received the ultimate compliment of several people thinking it was store-bought! Aaaaand it was GONE within an hour of cutting into it. Finally, even my husband loved it. And he hates nuts. That has to be the biggest compliment of all. 🙂 You can check it out here, and if you can’t find a 9-inch tart pan (not even Bed, Bath & Beyond has them in stock! What?!), use an 11-inch pan and just make a batch and a half of everything (both the filling and crust), give the crust a couple of extra minutes in the oven, and everything will turn out great. Plus, bigger pan equals more delicious tart leftovers!

Then you gotta have some spooky cupcakes for the kiddos:

Spooky.

Little sugar bats.

A vegan variety.

Two different kinds of cupcakes for two different tastes. Now, I have to admit I cheated a little bit here. Only the second kind was made from scratch. The first kind was made from a cupcake mix from Crate and Barrel. What? Even bakers have to get a break sometimes! Both cupcakes were a chocolate cake; the first had a (very bright) cream cheese frosting and the second, a simple chocolate glaze.

Finally, the sweetest sweetie of them all:

My wittuw monkey.

Monkeys live in trees!

Happy Halloween!

Hope you had a safe and happy Halloween! Now let’s all enjoy November!