Let’s make a cake!

My kid has this thing about cakes. A couple of months ago he asked me to buy a yellow cake mix. “Let’s make a cake, Mom!” Yeah. Sure. OK. Fine.

It wasn’t bad.

But the baking fan in me struggled a bit with the fact that it came from a mix.

Still, it was fun. He loved it. And it was easy. Easy is good, right?

I was at Target recently, just browsing the grocery aisles, when I spied another vanilla cake mix. I smiled remembering the other cake we’d made. Then I shrugged, picked it up and put it in the cart.

And the very next day I decided to mix it up for him. (He assisted with the previous one but was hosting a friend for a video-game session this time around.) I just couldn’t remember which frosting recipe I’d used last time. (That part I can at least say I made myself!) So I searched Pinterest and came up with one that used ingredients I had on hand. This one.

And that was my mistake.

Why? Because that frosting is possibly the best I’ve ever had. It wasn’t super-sweet like some buttercreams. I could sit with a bowl of it and easily eat it all. Sadly. (Can you say sugar freak?) So in these photos you see a cake slathered with frosting. Because I went WAY out by making a double batch to ensure I had enough. And I was determined to enjoy it to the fullest! (The kiddo loved it too. He asked for leftover cake every night this week.) So I guess you could say I recommend you try that recipe.

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I’ve lived in Michigan nearly all my life, yet somehow I’ve never managed to visit the lakeshore during the winter. This weekend the idea struck me for some reason. And when I brought it up to Scott he told me he’d actually been thinking the same thing. So planned it and made it happen. Grand Haven decked out in snow. And ice. And wind. Lots of wind.


We did NOT walk out on the pier like these people did, much to Dev’s chagrin. We watched parents take their kids out, but there was NO WAY I was going to do that. Ice, people. Ice is slippery. And there’s a frigid lake right there waiting to suck you in. Boots, winter coats and all. OK, yes, I’m a bit paranoid. But I have a kid, which gives me certain rights to access paranoia when it’s called for.

Dev did get plenty of face time with the ice and snow, though.

Of course I’m not much better than those other parents because I was cluelessly wandering on the icy stuff here not realizing that the beach had ended and we were climbing around on top of frozen Lake Michigan. Scott had to point that out to me and tell me to get my butt back on shore.

And my paranoia kicked in again when he started throwing snowballs right near the iced-over railing. Which drops into the channel. Of frigid, deathly water. He thought we were being very over-protective. But he was nice enough to back away a bit before lobbing the next one.

Is it possible to have too many cookies?


Some people would say yes. I might have said yes at the end of the sessions. And yet it’s nice to have a lot of tasty gingerbread people cooling their heels in my freezer.

If you can believe this, I’ve never made gingerbread people before. So this wasn’t just an adventure in baking cookies that my gluten-free stomach can, uh, stomach, but also in baking a classic that I really didn’t have a good standard to measure against.

We had various thicknesses so some are soft and some are crispy. But they’re all good! And Dev rocks the icing piping. He was so eager to help me this year. I’m not sure how long the sous chef/baker thing will last, but I’m enjoying it for now.

We made snowy lemon cookies for the previous weekend, along with a GF version of the classic tollhouse variety (because Dev insisted he was going to bring his own cookies to the shindig). So between the three, we’ve spent our fair share of time in the kitchen together.

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Playing catch-up (as I always am)

So most of my September posts actually featured photos and events from August. The delay is not something the very anal part of my brain appreciates. I used to snap photos and blog about my day on the SAME DAY things happened. Obviously things have changed a bit. To appease my more orderly side, I’m sharing several from September, including two from today, so I feel sort of, well, “caught up.”

First are the chocolate chip cookies I made (along with the breadsticks from my previous post). From Against All Grain. Verrrrry easy to make. Verrrry yummy.


Then came the first day of 5th grade. Wow! Summer went by so fast. So, so fast.IMG_6621

Then a couple of fun shots of the four-legged critters. (I always take pics of them.) The first one is of the two eldest gatos sitting on one of the brand-new chairs I nabbed at my company’s annual sale. They’re comfy and sturdy and fairly fashionable. (The chairs, I mean.) What more could you ask for?
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And these two shots were taken today as part of his ecology homework. In the first one he’s grinning big because he was excited about being “photobombed” by the squirrel who’s hanging out on the back fence. I’m not sure it counts as photobombing if you place yourself strategically in front of said squirrel to ensure he’s in the photo. But maybe? We made pizza today too, but the camera battery was dead so no photos were snapped. It’s the most delicious crust recipe I’ve tried to far from the new America’s Test Kitchen book.
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A cat and some breadsticks

Cats. I love them. Sometimes, though, they can be incredibly frustrating (as any human or other animal can be, I’m sure). Such as this morning when I was walking around in the dark looking for my gym bag and stepped on Finn. He has far better eyesight in the dark than I do. Why wouldn’t he have moved when he saw me blundering his way?

Nick Furry has his own issues. He’s a total nut. He’s still a teenager, though. First thing in the morning he races around the house, jumping on furniture and into windowsills. He hits the dining room chairs so hard that they often slide across the floor. No one’s chasing him. But I think he thinks someone is.

He and I also have a skirmish, usually daily, regarding his desire to sit on the dining room table. Our cat Lucy used to do the same. I’d take her down, she’d get back up. I’d squirt her with a squirt gun, she’d stand there and take it with a look on her face that said, “Nice try!” Nick actually gets down when squirted, but he pops back up like a prairie dog as soon as I’m not looking.

And he, like her, often plays this game when I’m baking. There must be some cat sense that tells them that it’s more fun to be naughty when it requires me to wash my hands after every extrication.

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So, he was interrupting this particular project: rosemary breadsticks from Against All Grain. They are super easy to make, but you have to roll them out one by one, of course, and that’s when he would hop on the table. He’s too smart for his own good.

I want to make sure to mention that not only did Scott like these, Devin actually asked for seconds. That never happens! Especially if he has an inkling that they’re gluten-free. The recipe is in her book, which I highly recommend.DSC_7651

The second Chicago visit

Ok, this is really not the second one. It’s actually the fourth! It’s just that I had two visits within the space of one week, which isn’t normal. Four visits in one year isn’t normal either. But I’ll take any chance I can get to head back to my “other hometown.”

This trip was for a conference, but I snuck in a day with a friend I hadn’t seen in ages as well.

I got there the afternoon before the conference started and I had arranged to meet a friend for dinner at Lady Gregory’s (my favorite!). It’s in Andersonville so I thought I’d walk a bit and then hop on the Red Line.

I started my walk along Michigan Avenue, cutting over to Oak Street Beach to walk along the lakeshore.


Lots of cool city scenery to snap…


This is the view from the bridge that crosses Lake Shore Drive.



Then I ambled through the areas around the zoo.



I didn’t take any more photos after that during the walk. Not sure why. I was enjoying it. The weather was nice and it was great to wander though places I hadn’t been in so many years. I kept saying to myself, “I’ll walk to Belmont and catch the train there.” And then I’d walk right past Belmont. So maybe Addison? Nope. Sheridan would have been the best bet after a while, but I bypassed that, too.

That’s when I realized that I was either going to walk the entire way or catch a cab. When I made it to our old neighborhood around Clark and Montrose, I had begun to flag and headed to Clark to catch a taxi. I felt a bit defeated after challenging myself to go the entire distance. But I stood on the corner for a moment and realized that there weren’t that many cabs around. So I put one foot in front of the other and walked the last mile.

Nine miles total.

I’m such a goober. But it felt great. I was only a little bit soggy from sweating when Lisa arrived and I got there five minutes before her. We had a great dinner and chatted quite a bit. And I definitely took a cab home!

These are some pics I took in the mornings before the conference. It was at the Gleacher Center, right on the river, and the sunrise was beautiful. I had no luck finding a decent local coffee shop so I went with Starbucks both days, getting up bright and early, and just ambled along in solitude.


This one was after the first day of the conference. Loved the light. And where did I go for dinner that night? I skipped out on the after-conference gathering and grabbed a salad at Trader Joe’s.

Then I had a Google Hangout with my kid. Good times!

Shots from the morning of day two…

Thursday after the event was over, I jumped in my car and crawled through traffic on the Dan Ryan before finally breaking free around Evanston and zooming the rest of the way to Antioch. Dan and Renee bought a new house in the country this summer and it was such a contrast to the city. Very peaceful and beautiful. And they have horse neighbors!

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And their cat Lizzie…


And now Dan has even more room for his trucks, cars, motorcycles, lawn mowers and other machines!

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They made me dinner the first night and then took me to dinner the next at a nice place called The Shanty. We basically just hung out and I relaxed before having to get on the road early the next day.

I visited with the horses both days. Because they were cool. And that is all!
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Chicago visit #1

Because, yes, there was a visit #2 in the same week.

This one was a day trip with friends. Two of my crazy friends from work. (They look crazy, don’t they?)

We’ll call them Easy and Peasy.

They were awesome travel companions, I must say. They talked the entire drive there (and back…and while we were traipsing all over the city) so the normal three-hour trip didn’t seem nearly that long. They were also open to anything I wanted to do – and they were excited about pretty much everything we did do.

Tourists always look up. That’s where the best architecture is!
I’d been to the Cultural Center before, but never looked at it in detail the way I did this time around.
Selfie with unaware friends!
Perusing the exhibit.
A big red statue? Irresistible!
More gorgeous Cultural Center architecture.
I’m not sure they saw the appeal of the mirrored reflection.
Millennium Park never seems to get old to me. It’s awesome being right there in the city, but enjoying a nice stretch of greenery.
That, my friends, is Leonard Slatkin. Someone I know was VERY excited about that.
They never noticed when I did things like this.
Cooperative, aren’t they?
I’ve never walked through the Lurie Gardens before. So nice!

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Visiting our Chicago “office.”
Group photo before we trekked back to the parking garage.


The coffee ice cream that took a week to make

Yes, the headline is true. One week.

But that’s only if you’re me and you’ve only made ice cream once before, years ago. And you make a mistake that seems entirely silly later on.

Let’s start with why I decided to make this particular ice cream. It goes back to my favorite store-bought ice cream. Which sadly no longer exists. I was very sad for a very long time. And then I had to get over it.

(Why, you ask, didn’t I just switch to another Starbucks ice cream flavor? This one was low-fat, people! And it tasted so creamy and delicious. How could it be low in fat? How? The others were full-fat blowhards. I just couldn’t do it.)

Back to this ice cream. The one I was so excited to make.

It started out nicely. Egg yolks. Aren’t they kind of cool looking all together like that in the bowl?

And then there’s this. (Obviously, this particular coffee ice cream isn’t low in fat. Ahem.)

I scalded it as the recipe said.

I mixed it in with the yolks and sugar and it got all frothy.

Then I got interrupted by the cat. That wasn’t the problem, though.

I returned the whole thing to the stove, as instructed, and stirred for 12-15 minutes. (Well, a little bit longer.)

Then I added the coffee, cooled it down and put it in the ice cream maker. That’s when things went downhill. It churned and churned and churned and churned and…

You get the picture. It was still liquid. No creamy anything. *le sigh*

To make myself feel better, I enjoyed a glass of wine with my friend Fiona.

And then I had a cup of coffee. The Escapist. Yum. From The Sparrows.

And then I watched Devin and Scott play carpetball.

These things took my mind off of my coffee-ice-cream sorrows.

My sadness was truly lifted when my co-workers heard my tale and began to query me about what I’d done. The ice cream maker was spinning, right? You added salt, right? You used cream, right?

Yes, yes, yes.

And then I innocently said, “I used skim milk. Do you think that was a problem?”

Um, yeah. It was indeed.

Oh, July…where have you gone!

Someone said just yesterday that it seems like it takes forever for July 4th to arrive, and once it does summer just speeds right by.

That may be true. It seems like we just celebrated Independence Day. Which happens to be my son’s favorite holiday. Even better than Christmas, he claims. And I did indeed take photos over that weekend. And afterward. I actually had a hot streak going with my camera for a bit there.

So with a bit of a delay, here are some photos of our July so far.

Starting with the Fourth, of course! I took lots and lots of photos, but most had my neighbors in them. I didn’t feel like getting all of those photo releases signed. Ha! So you get to see my son’s fireworks wagon – filled to the brim. He was giddy, even if it’s not apparent in these photos.

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The next day we went to Meijer Gardens (free passes from my company – woot!). It was bittersweet for me. The kiddo was hardly interested in the boats this year. The entire children’s garden elicited very little enthusiasm. I remember sitting several times for what seemed like hours as he pushed his little plastic boat around the “great lakes.” Sigh.

But he enjoyed our walk out to the farm garden and the trails.

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Then I made blueberry scones. Which I’m posting here specifically because my mom complained that I post sooo many food photos to my blog. The fact is, I don’t cook or bake enough so when I do…I have to take photos!

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And this was the prep for the faux cherry garcia frozen yogurt that I found and just HAD to make. Can you believe how adorable that cherry pitter is? And way less messy than the other one I had. I wasn’t thrilled with the yogurt, but I think I’ll try it again with a couple of change-ups. It was very close. We’ve also been using our ice cream maker for slushies. They’re Dev’s new obsession.

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Four Mondays in a row!

For some reason, I’m in a bit of a pattern here. Snap photos over the weekend. Post them on Monday.

I’ve actually become quite offline-focused over my weekends. So much so that people are a bit amazed that I didn’t see a Facebook post or respond to their email. I’m in front of a computer all through the week. I guess I see weekends as times to step away. I’m not against picking up my iPad and playing a game of Dots (so flipping addictive) or snapping photos for Instagram or even watching a Netflix movie on the computer. I just don’t feel the desire to engage the way I seem to during the week.

So not unplugged. Un-surfed? Eh. Something like that.

This weekend I caught up on some gardening tasks. It’s amazing how many weeds will grow if you’re not diligent for a few days. (Although try to grow something I *want* to be there and it takes forever!)


And I finally tried a recipe I’d been dying to make for a few weeks now. Yes, it’s cornbread. And, yes, if you know me well enough, it’s gluten free. I’ve made a few versions. I’ve liked most of them. But this one has rocketed to the #1 spot on my list. I still haven’t mixed up Shauna’s all-purpose flour, which I’ve been meaning to since she made it seem so easy, but the King Arthur version worked just fine here. This is another one of those recipes where you really can’t tell that it’s gluten free. It’s just a really great cornbread recipe. You should try it!


The first official weekend of summer

Summer is officially here. We’re doing our best to get outside, but also to get things done. Sometimes it’s hard to do both. But I managed it this weekend when I finally painted our coffee tables. I set them up in the garage and did cleaning between coats of paint. I felt very productive, I must say!

And then my husband had the brilliant idea for a family walk to dinner. We hadn’t been to Bombay Cuisine in a long time. So we got in tasty Indian food and four miles of walking. Now that’s some good family time!

And now for some random weekend photos…

This? Is a dog eating a pizza. A tiny pizza. I can’t resist giving our “old lady” treats.DSC_6572

I love my gnome.

And then there’s my adorable kid. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to get away with calling him adorable. But he doesn’t read my blog so I’m safe for a bit.