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

Christmas cookies

Huh? Christmas cookies? It’s late-January, crazy woman.

I know, I know. I meant to post about these before Christmas, but as usual with my life these days, I fell behind. Still, though, I wanted to share my Christmas cookie successes for readers to bookmark for next year, if you feel so inclined!

I made four types of cookies this year to gift to neighbors, our landlord, some family members, and Graham’s teachers. I tried to find unique recipes that would look colorful and each have a distinctly different taste. My baking recipe Pinterest board is slightly out of control, so I started another private board to hone in on just the recipes that I was considering for the holidays. After some intense internal deliberation, the winners were:

Ultimate Chocolate Chip cookies (with pretzels added)
My old standby that never fails me. My newest trick is to crush up some hard mini pretzels and add them in, too, in order to bump up the crunchy-and-salty factor. (I don’t add the rest of the salt that the recipe calls for… just a pinch, since the pretzels are plenty salty).

Red Velvet Sugar Cookies
These were delicious and so rich — the cream cheese frosting is really what took them to a whole new level. I ended up needing to use all of the red gel food coloring I had to get the color right, so make sure you have plenty if you’re making these!

Eggnog Cookies
If you like eggnog, you will love these! I actually made a mistake the first time I made them — the recipe calls for three cups of flours, but my mom-brain couldn’t remember if I had already added two or three cups. The dough still seemed a little runny, so I went ahead and added another cup. The dough then ended up being much easier to work with, and the final result was a batch of deliciously cake-y cookies. Wouldn’t you know that when I made them a second time and correctly added three cups of flour, the dough was a bit runny and I found it hard to work with. So, accidentally adding a fourth cup of flour ended up making them better, in my opinion! The frosting (more like a glaze) was amazing and the perfect addition. Just a note that if you make these yourself, be sure to have plenty of flour on-hand to sprinkle on the finished dough before working with it — it is very sticky.

Peppermint Sugar Cookies
I’m not a big mint fan, but since I was baking these cookies for others I thought I’d give this recipe a whirl. Nick was my taste-tester and he gave them two thumbs up. Mine looked much flatter than the photos from the original recipe, but overall were easy and fun to make and still added some fun color to my cookie tins.

The photo above is what my final cookies looked like. Not as picture perfect as the images in the original recipe posts, but not too shabby, either — it goes to show that recipes found on Pinterest can actually work out for the average human who enjoys baking but is far from being a master baker!

For full recipes, check out the links above for each type of cookie. What great cookie recipes have you discovered lately?

oatmeal banana bites

Disclaimer: these do not look very appetizing. But they are good!

oatmeal banana bites - Claremont Road

These oatmeal banana bites (my variation of the two ingredient cookies you may have heard about) are awesome to have on-hand for a quick breakfast when you otherwise have a hungry and cranky 9-month old hollering at you for his own breakfast.

Not that I’d know anything about that.

For the first 7 months of Graham’s life, like the diligent breastfeeding mom I was/am, I had oatmeal for breakfast just about every single day to help keep my supply up. And while quick oats are, indeed, quick to make, there are still certain “quick” tasks that become difficult to master with one hand while you have a squirmy baby on the other hip who will not let you put him down without a meltdown. All of a sudden, measuring half a cup of oats, adding a cup of water, opening the microwave, closing the microwave, setting the time on the microwave and pressing start, opening the microwave again, carrying a steaming hot bowl of oatmeal over to the counter, mixing brown sugar and cinnamon in, and slicing up a banana to put on top starts to feel like a near impossible task. Somedays it was and I just shoved a brownie into my mouth and called it breakfast.

Then I discovered the two ingredient cookies. Now, let me be clear: baking does not magically turn a combination of bananas and oatmeal into gooey chocolate chip cookies. When Googling for the recipe one day on my phone when I didn’t have the original link on-hand, I came across a few disgruntled bloggers who were upset that these just tasted like bananas and oatmeal, not the cookies they were promised! Well… they are bananas and oatmeal. And they are in cookie form. That does not make them sugary treats. I would not serve these as dessert at a dinner party in lieu of chocolate chip cookies!

Glad we got that out of the way.

The main ingredients are:
• two large ripe bananas
• one cup of quick oats

Put them in a bowl, mash them together, add anything else you’d like, place balls of them onto a greased cookie sheet (I grease aluminum foil on a cookie sheet, so there is literally no clean up aside from washing your bowl and throwing out the foil), and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Since I typically add brown sugar and cinnamon to my oatmeal, I did the same with this recipe: just eyeballed it based on two servings of oatmeal, and mixed in. If the two bananas I’m using are on the smaller side, I’ll add in a third to the mix.

I have been throwing these together one or two nights a week after Graham goes to bed, and it has made my mornings run so much more smoothly when Graham needs my attention. I just grab five or six of them and eat while I’m in the middle of entertaining him or getting his breakfast together. In general, preparing anything for our day the night before means I’m less crazed no matter what the day holds (lately: teething fussiness — yuck).

The best part is that they’re literally the same exact thing as eating my bowl of oatmeal for breakfast (minus the water, of course). And, since I’ve been known to be a snacker, grabbing a few more throughout the day while I’m grazing in the kitchen feels like a treat since they’re in cookie form, except they’re a generally healthy snack. At least, healthier than the Girl Scout Cookies I stockpile each year or going around the corner to help myself to some self-serve froyo.

What’s your best time-saving breakfast tip?

original recipe found here

Halloween treat (kind of)

Happy Halloween! We didn’t do much this weekend since there was a freak October snow storm on Saturday and the roads were pretty icy, but we did decide to make use of our time indoors (and our ice cream maker) to make some pumpkin frozen yogurt. I had pinned this recipe recently and since it sounded so simple, I wanted to give it a whirl.

image source

I have to admit that we were a bit disappointed with the outcome. It wasn’t nearly sweet enough and it was much darker in color than the image above — Nick suggested that pumpkin pie filling might have worked better than pumpkin purée. Regardless, though, I’m glad we finally broke in our ice cream maker, and I’d like to test it out again sometime soon!

Tonight we’ll be handing out candy at my mom’s house since we don’t get trick-or-treaters, but we’ll be sans costume. What about you? Will you be dressing up?

vegetarian for a day

I’m a carnivore. I can’t help it — I love meat. But yesterday, while recovering from over-indulging at the many delectable food stations at a friend’s beautiful wedding, and after reading another friend’s blog post about her journey to a healthier diet, I decided I could benefit from some more meat-free dishes in my repertoire. So I found a yummy vegetarian recipe online, sent Nick to the grocery store, and told him to make it for me.

Well, that’s not entirely true; Nick did go to the grocery store and then made dinner, but I didn’t make him! He’s just that nice and enjoys being in the kitchen that much more than me. How did I get so lucky??

Anyway, the final result was delicious, and the four servings were very generous portions — neither of us felt deprived and there was plenty left over for dinner tonight. We will definitely be making this dish again. And by “we,” I of course mean Nick.

image via allrecipes.com

Suki’s Spinach and Feta Pasta Recipe
via allrecipes.com

1 (8 ounce) package penne pasta (we used whole grain penne)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups chopped tomatoes
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
2 cups spinach leaves, packed
salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch red pepper flakes
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (we used a 6 ounce package of fat free feta)

Check out the instructions on allrecipes.com to make this dish!

lemon crush

When it comes to Girl Scout cookies, I’ve always been a Tagalong fan, myself (also known as Peanut Butter Patties, depending on where you live). Until, that is, I recently laid eyes on these beauties.

image source

That there is a Lemonade cookie. It looks simple enough, right? Oh, but it’s so much more than just a lemon sugar cookie. The bottom is iced with a sweet and tangy lemon icing, and it is delightful. I am in love.

It’s funny — I’ve never been a huge fan of actual lemonade drinks, but when it comes to dessert, lemon-flavored sweets are the only ones that may have a chance of beating out those of the chocolate variety. Our wedding cake is a prime example of my love for all lemony desserts.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find a Girl Scout who can sell me enough cookies to get me through the year until next cookie season. Tell me again why they don’t sell these things year-round?

sweet Thanksgiving place cards

It is difficult to believe that tomorrow is December 1 already…where did November go?

We had a great long holiday weekend with Nick’s family in central PA and I think I have just about recovered from the over-indulging. There were 25 of us at Thanksgiving dinner (and that’s not even everyone that’s usually at family gatherings!) and my job was to make place cards for everyone. Clearly, I love paper and papery things, but if there’s one thing better than paper, it’s cookies. So that means the only thing better than paper place cards are edible place cards.

I already had some 4.25″ x 2″ labels and cellophane baggies, so I decided to make my favorite ultimate chocolate chip cookies and package two in a bag for each person. I threw together a little design and made a label with each person’s name on it, which also doubled as a seal for the bag when folded over to secure things. The final result looked really cute on everyone’s plate (and served as a little dessert-before-dinner for those with a super sweet tooth!).

The labels looked like this when I printed out a full sheet — you can see that once they were printed, they were folded over between the two “give thanks” banners and over the folded bag to close it. (Names have all been replaced with my name and Nick’s name so you can’t stalk our family members :)

Needless to say, they were a hit. But really, what crazy person wouldn’t love cookies?

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving as well!

a birthday pizza crawl

Last week, my dad celebrated a milestone birthday. While he’s a pretty simple guy who is always happy with any gift for the gesture alone, I really didn’t want to get him just another round of golf; my brother and I wanted to do something a little different this year.

If there’s one thing our dad loves more than golf, it’s pizza. My brother and sister-in-law came up with the great idea of taking our dad on his own New York pizza crawl, and of course Nick and I were on board from the moment they uttered the word “pizza.”

My brother, John, did his research and mapped out a whopping six pizza shops throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn that we were going to hit up (perhaps a little ambitious!). I put together some score cards, Nick, my dad and I headed to John & Kim’s place in Brooklyn, and we were all off on our mission to eat some amazing NY pizza.

Our first stop was Totonno’s in Coney Island… aaaaaaand it wasn’t open yet when we arrived at 11:30. Oops. We made a game-time decision to add DiFara’s to the list (knowing that we could get there before their noon opening and be one of the first groups in line, as it gets crowded FAST) and headed there.

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butternut squash soup

I love soups that have a sweet kick to them, and the autumn air inspired me to take a stab at making butternut squash soup for the first time last night. I did some Googling and found this recipe that had lots of positive feedback; after reading the reviews, I decided to modify things a bit, and Nick and I tackled the cooking together (and without killing each other in our small kitchen!). I’m really excited that it came out not only edible, but totally delicious.

image source because I suck at taking pretty pictures of food

Butternut Squash Soup
found via Food Network, modified by me

1 butternut squash (3-4 lbs), peeled and seeded
1 granny smith apple, peeled and seeded
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup half-and-half
salt and pepper to taste

Cut squash and apple into 1-inch chunks. Spread on greased baking sheet, sprinkle with olive oil and roast for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.

In large pot melt butter. Add onion and celery and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add stock and bring to a simmer. Add roasted squash and apples and purée entire mixture with an immersion blender. Stir in half-and-half and season with nutmeg, syrup, brown sugar, salt and pepper.

Optional: Garnish with a dollop of sour cream. Serve with toasted French bread topped with melted grated Parmesan cheese.