Lemony Lemonies: My New Obsession

If you follow me on Pinterest, specifically my baking board (aptly named “things I should not bake but ultimately will“), then it’s no surprise to you that I have a weakness for desserts of the lemony variety. It started innocently enough in high school with the occasional Tastykake lemon pie from the cafeteria vending machine; over time, the obsession grew, and now it is my life’s mission to find the most delectable lemon desserts on the planet.

I recently stumbled upon my favorite one yet: Bakerella’s Lemony Lemonies. They are the density and consistency of a brownie, but made of all lemon-goodness. Aside from zesting a few lemons (which my friendly assistant husband took care of for me), it’s low on the labor scale and high on the quick-and-easy scale. They were also really simple to cut after being chilled, which was a bonus — there’s nothing more annoying than baking a pretty and delicious treat that looks all wonky once you cut it. I made these for a get-together last Saturday, and they were the perfect summer treat after lunch. (Personally, I think they’re best chilled, but you be the judge!) I may or may not have been polishing them off all week… just ask my waistline.

Bakerella's Lemony Lemonies | Claremont Road

Head on over to Bakerella to see the full recipe — and get baking immediately, would ya? You’ll thank me later.

The Big ONE: Graham’s First Birthday

Last September we celebrated a very special day: Graham’s first birthday!

first birthday party | Claremont Road

We always knew we’d have a party of some sort, but the details didn’t come together until the months leading up to it. We settled on a family party at our home, and decided we will save inviting Graham’s friends for when he’s a bit older.

I initially thought a nautical theme would be fun… and then within about a day of adding nautical details to a Pinterest board, I started to feel myself getting stressed and overwhelmed by possibilities. That was all I needed to throw the theme straight out the window, and instead a fun color palette of blues, aquas, and greens became our focus. Best decision I’ve ever made! It saved us grief, money, and made it a whole lot easier to not go overboard with any details. (And, as you can tell by the colors of this blog design, I was certainly in my element.) I picked up inexpensive decorations and plates whenever I came across them, mostly at Target and our neighborhood 5 and 10, ordered a dozen colored balloons in mixed hues and a big silver number one balloon at Party City, and made a banner with paper I already had in my stash.

first birthday party decor | Claremont Road

I designed the invitations and had them printed by one of my regular print vendors that we use at Curious & Co. I absolutely adore how they turned out!

first birthday party invite | Claremont Road

I was (and still am) so, so proud of how the cake turned out. I love to bake, but I’m mostly a cookie girl and I had never baked a layered cake and decorated it myself before. I went back and forth about making a cake from scratch, but my wise sister-in-law told me there is nothing wrong with a boxed mix, and I decided she was very right.

first birthday party ombré cake | Claremont Road

Standing in the cake mix aisle at Target, I Googled the top rated cake mixes, and Good Housekeeping told me Betty Crocker SuperMoist Golden Vanilla was a good choice. That was enough to convince me: I bought two boxes to make my layered cake. I also purchased food coloring gel to make 3 of my 4 layers different shades of aqua/teal for an ombré effect. The batter was so bright and fun! I should have taken pictures. But no matter, because they still looked amazing once they were baked, too. I baked the layers the week before the party and froze them until the day before — this actually seemed to make the layers even more moist, and also meant I wasn’t baking the day before the party. Win-win.

first birthday party | Claremont Road

When it came time to decorate, I used canned buttercream icing in between layers, and then watched this video tutorial to learn how to create an ombré effect with the icing on the sides (using more food coloring to achieve the colors I wanted). I loved that imperfections just added to the charm, and I am still so in love with the final result! I didn’t have any fancy tools or a lazy Susan to spin the cake like in the video — I just used my cake stand and a spreading knife to go around and around until I was happy. I added edible pearl details around the top edge and blue crystal sugar to the center as the final touch. I ordered 6″ tall white candles on Amazon to top things off.

first birthday party | Claremont Road first birthday party | Claremont Road first birthday party | Claremont Road

The cake was delicious and every last bite was gone in a flash!

We tried to keep the food as simple as possible in terms of preparation, but still made sure we had plenty to feed to our guests. We ordered a few large hoagies and sandwiches and cut them into smaller pieces; I put Nick in charge of getting lots of fruit, veggies, and cheeses to put some trays together (much less expensive than buying pre-made trays), my best friend brought a yummy spinach dip, and I made cupcakes in addition to the cake, in case some guests preferred chocolate cake. I topped the sandwiches and cupcakes off with little flags that I made from washi tape and toothpicks, after I saw how cute it looked when Amy from The Nifty Foodie did it.

first birthday party | Claremont Road first birthday party washi tape flags | Claremont Road first birthday party cupcakes and washi tape flags | Claremont Road

I ordered a bunch of square Instagram photos of Graham from PostalPix and hung them on twine with mini clothespins around the house; my best friend helped me string banners of multi-colored, varied length streamers that we hung in doorways and outside to greet our guests. I printed the outline of large letters (in one of my favorite fonts) on a few different shades of paper that I had in my stash, and cut them out with my X-acto blade to make a banner that we hung on my grandmother’s large mirror in our dining room. Truth be told: the banner stayed up until it was time to put up Christmas decorations! I was sad to take it down and will probably break it out for as many of Graham’s birthdays as possible.

first birthday party | Claremont Road first birthday party DIY banner | Claremont Road first birthday party | Claremont Road

Because it was just too easy and I couldn’t resist, I made water bottle labels, too.

first birthday party DIY water bottle labels | Claremont Road

I definitely had fun with some of the details (I am still me, after all), but I didn’t let myself get stressed out, which was key. We had a great day with our little guy and our families, and it was so bittersweet to celebrate the end of our first year as a family of three (and the fact that Nick and I survived the first year of parenthood — hooray!).

We are positively crazy about this kid.

first birthday party | Claremont Road first birthday party | Claremont Road first birthday party | Claremont Road

dreaming of theme parties

When I’m out jogging through my neighborhood, I become a special kind of weirdo. As I pass by many (out of our price range) adorable houses, I survey if there is enough street parking for all of our (imaginary) party guests when we throw our (equally imaginary) awesome parties at each house (that isn’t ours).

I told you. Special kind of weirdo.

Seriously, though: I often dream of the day when we will have the kind of home that is perfect for entertaining our friends and families. Great big open spaces, a nice backyard, ample parking. I conjure up all of the awesome theme parties we could have, if only we had the space. Here are some of the ideas that will remain on the backburner until I have my time in the entertaining spotlight.

Swap Party
I still want to do this someday, and not just with clothes. Wouldn’t it be fun to know that your friends are able to take home some items you no longer have use for, while you get to scoop up something “new” in exchange? Anything unclaimed at the end of the party can be donated to Goodwill. I’ve been really taking to the Unclutterer way of thinking lately, and it’s sometimes a little easier to get rid of something when you know where it’s going.

Mad Men Party
Come on over and hang out with the gang from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Put on a pointy bra, wear a slightly-provocative-but-not-overly-revealing dress, and be ready to drink Roger Sterling under the table. Don-worthy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will abound, while the tunes of the early 60s play in the background.

Mixed Brew Party
This one’s for the beer lovers. Bring two six-packs of the beer of your choosing — one to share at the party, one to put aside until the end of the party — and be prepared to work your way through other guests’ selections. At the end of the night, break out everyone’s second six-packs and allow each guest to mix and match their new favorites into a custom six pack to bring home with them.

Halloween Costume Party
Nick and I met at a Halloween costume party, so of course I look forward to the day when we can host our own ghoulish gathering. Costumes required, or else…!

What are some awesome theme parties you’ve been to (or would like to go to)?

cold beers + a touch of nostalgia

Over the weekend I celebrated the big 3-0 with some family and a few close friends down the shore. Since I’m a glutton for DIY and I love any excuse to break out my Gocco, I decided to put together some little party favors for the lovely folks who made the trek to the Jersey shore to party with me.

A few weeks ago I came up with the idea of screen printing some can coozies for my guests, since adult beverages would surely be making an appearance over the weekend. I found several websites that sold blank can coozies, but the only site I came across that allows you to mix and match colors without a minimum purchase was BlankKoozies.com. At 99 cents each, I ordered a mix of navy, teal, and fuchsia coozies (my order was shipped the same day), and created a design that was similar to my email invitiation. Using my Gocco and silver ink, I printed the design and fell in love with the sweet results.

I decided not to stop there when I found a little store in town that had a great selection of candy that brought me back to my childhood. I mean, what better way to celebrate turning 30 than with candy cigarettes, Pop Rocks, and candy buttons?? I also threw in some salt water taffy for good measure.

When I printed the can coozies, I had remembered that there was a package of brown paper lunch bags in our kitchen, so I decided to make use of the Gocco screen while I already had it inked up and I printed my design on the bags. They ended up being the perfect finishing touch — I put all of the goodies inside the bags and they looked incredibly adorable awaiting the arrival of my guests.

The coozies (and the candy) were a big hit! I had fun putting everything together and I’m glad that the goodies added a little something to the festivities. ‘Twas a great weekend!

rocky road crispy bars

We hung out with my cousins on Superbowl Sunday, and I decided to contribute a tasty dessert to the already fat-filled spread (because it just wouldn’t be Superbowl Sunday without lots of unhealthy food). My cousin’s fiancée cannot have gluten, so I wanted to make something that she could eat. I found this recipe for rocky road crispy bars and decided it sounded too good to not try!

These were extremely easy to make, and SO super duper tasty! We just polished off the last of them tonight (I have eaten an obscene quantity in the last few days… I’m not proud). If you like peanut butter, chocolate, marshmallows and rice krispies, I’m pretty sure you won’t hate these.

Here’s the disclaimer, though — despite the recipe saying “gluten free,” I found out after I made them that Rice Krispies are not actually gluten free. They contain malt, which is derived from barley, which is a no-go in a gluten free diet :-( However, there are brands of rice crisps out there that are gluten free, so if you switched them out in the recipe, you’d be good to go! (And in case you’re wondering, my cousin’s fiancée decided to take the chance and had no side-effects, but I do not recommend trying this if you can’t have gluten!)

Ingredients

  1. 3/4 cup chunky peanut butter
  2. 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  3. 3 tablespoons sugar
  4. 2 1/4 cups Rice Krispies
  5. 12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
  6. 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  7. 1/4 cup sugar
  8. 1/4 cup butter
  9. 2 cups Rice Krispies
  10. 1 1/2 cups small marshmallows
  11. 1/2 cup chopped peanuts

Directions

  1. Cook 1st three ingredients in saucepan until peanut butter is melted, stirring constantly.
  2. Stir in the 2 1/4 cups rice krispies. Spread in baking dish (9×13 size is good, or Tupperware cold cut keeper).
  3. Cook chocolate chips, 1/2 cup corn syrup, 1/4 cup sugar, and butter over low heat, til butter is melted (stir constantly).
  4. Stir in 2 cups cereal and marshmallows.
  5. Spread over 1st layer.
  6. Sprinkle with nuts. Cool.

Recipe found on RecipeZaar

happy halloween!

On October 31, 2003, I went to a Halloween party dressed as Violet Beauregard from “Willy Wonka.” At that party, I noticed a cute guy (wearing a mullet wig) playing beer pong (klassy). We later struck up a conversation while waiting in line for the bathroom… and now, he’s my husband.

in 2004, on our one year anniversary, as Daphne and Fred

Now that we’re all hitched and stuff, we no longer consider Halloween our official anniversary… but I will always remember it as our meetiversary.

We’ll be celebrating the spooktastic holiday in costume with friends (costume photos to come!). I look forward to someday having a house that we can decorate from top to bottom and throwing a fabulous Halloween party. Here is some of my favorite Halloween inspiration that I’ve been bookmarking from around the web this week.

unique pumpkins via Hasel/Allison at Elizabeth Ann Designs Living

adorable owl costume via Martha Stewart

painted pumpkins via ritzy bee blog

eerie eyeball recipes via simply stated

spiderweb coasters via 12fifteen

Duncan the disgruntled banana via Oh! Apostrophe

Halloween invitation via Brooklyn Limestone

Happy Halloween!

bakerella’s cupcake pops

It’s a little after the fact now… but I still thought I’d share with you the photos of Bakerella’s cupcake pops that I made for the Fourth of July. I modeled mine after her Patriotic Pops and brought them to a family gathering with my in-laws.

Dipping the cake balls into the chocolate without making a complete mess proved to be a little more difficult than you’d imagine. At first, they were looking a bit wonky, like this:

My lovely assistant/husband who was helping me at this point came up with the idea to use a skewer for dipping, then removing the skewer to let the chocolate cool and harden (bottom right photo on second collage image, above). This made everything go much more smoothly, as you can see below. Once he would take the pop off of the skewer and sit it upside-down to let it cool, I would stick in the lollipop sticks while the chocolate was still warm.

When it came time for Nick to dip the pops into white chocolate for the cupcake tops, he just grabbed the lollipop sticks and dipped. (Please ignore our messy kitchen in the below photo… I never claimed to be a mess-free cook!)

We did not have a styrofoam block to put the lollipop sticks into for the white chocolate to cool with the pops sitting upright, so we ended up taking the sticks out and just letting them cool on wax paper. So technically, they became cupcake bites instead of cupcake pops, but having the lollipop sticks in them for dipping still made it much, much easier.

As soon as they were sitting on the wax paper, I decorated them with red or blue sugar crystals and red or blue M&Ms; while the white chocolate was still warm. (Unless you’re making hundreds of bites/pops, don’t bother buying the monochromatic M&Ms.; They’re ridiculously overpriced — we just bought a regular bag of M&Ms; and picked out the red and blue ones! There were plenty to go around and plenty left over afterwards. Om nom nom.)

Note to self for next year: the red sugar crystals on white chocolate topped with an M&M; kind of makes the cupcake bites look like eyeballs. Stick with the blue sugar crystals! Much cuter.

They certainly weren’t perfect, but I was excited that I tried something new. And despite looking a little imperfect, they were SO yummy!!!

I’m so busy these days that usually, if we bring something to a gathering of friends or family, Nick ends up making it. I was starting to feel crappy about never having a part in putting together some yummy treats, so I wanted this to be my project (although he graciously helped me towards the end when we were under a time crunch). Any cooking project that involves such a crafty aspect is appealing to me because I feel like I get to be artistic.