New Year. Same Me. But a little better.

This year I’m trying something a little different. I’m still not making any resolutions for the new year but I did great a few goals that I’ll be focusing on this year. In the past, resolutions haven’t worked (aside from my all-time favorite resolution to make this year better than the previous year) and unsurprisingly, large general goals haven’t worked either.

I’m usually so focused on the end game goal (say, lose 20 pounds) that I lose sight of the smaller gains I did make in the year and so when I don’t meet that goal, I’m disappointed even though I may have made a ton of smaller strides.

That’s why this year I named the game: Progress; not perfection.

Inspired by the Passion Planner, I created my own system to help define my personal goals for this year. I liked the idea of their planners but honestly, I didn’t want to feel like I had to sit and do a monthly self-reflection and write those down. So instead of shelling out the money for their planner, I purchased a Sugar Paper planner at Target (mine is black with gold dots) and created a vision board on Trello.

sugar-paper-planner

My Trello board is broken down into my main goals for the year (Finances, Healthy Living, Brush Lettering, Writing, and Ballet) and then smaller progress goals that will help me gauge how I’m doing in terms of achieving the main goal. This will hopefully help me to stay focused on all the steps I did accomplish en route to the main goal. If you’re interested, here’s more information on how I set up my board.

Trello Board.jpg

Since I’m a visual person, setting my goals in a Trello board is really making me excited, plus I can make updates on my iPad with the Trello app. The basic plan is free so I highly recommend trying it out to see if it’ll work for you!

I’m excited by my vision board this year and plan on discussing each goal in a little more detail in future posts and give you progress updates throughout the year. 2017 may not be the best in some aspects outside of my control (like, politically. Ugh) but at least I can make it great personally.

What are you looking forward to accomplishing this year? What tools are you using to accomplish your goals?

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Confessions of a not very good blogger

You guys! You guys! So much has happened since my last post in…uh…January? Really? January? I didn’t realize it’s been that long since my last post. Well, uh, at least it was from this year. It IS from this year right? Right.

So, what’s been going on since January? Things. Things like planning a wedding (that blog hasn’t been updated either. I suck), honeymooning in Vegas, traipsing around Napa Valley with family, trying new recipes, general lounging and acclimating to life as a newlywed, working out (more often than not – kinda), video game playing, Netflix watching, Game of Thrones reading, Graphic Design and web design/development learning, and contemplating life. In short, it’s been a little busy around these parts.

However, I am looking forward to getting back to writing! I know you’ve heard it all before so I won’t even waste the breath or words to say that I’m serious this time; that I changed. Because, let’s be realistic: there are only so many hours in the day and if it comes down to writing a blog post or spending quality time with the husband (or napping), I’m going to spend the time with him (or nap). But that isn’t to say that I’m any less dedicated. It’s just to say that my priorities have changed slightly.

But I’m rambling. I have a mess of thoughts in my head just waiting to be organized into coherent sentences for blogs so stuff will be coming.  So for now I’ll leave you with this (and don’t worry; I’ll be back!)

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In the Kitchen: Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cupcakes

Every so often I get the urge to bake. Usually it happens when there’s rain on the horizon but considering it’ll be in the 80s for the next week or so, that doesn’t seem to explain this latest baking craving. I’ve been adding new dessert recipes to my Pinterest board but just haven’t had a chance to buckle down into the kitchen to bake anything – I’m still trying to figure out when to make cookie dough for the freezer! I have a fairly ambitious baking wishlist:

  1. Chocolate chip cookie dough
  2. Peanut butter cookie dough
  3. Sugar cookie dough (maybe?)
  4. Mini cherry tart cookies
  5. Apple cider doughnuts
  6. Challah bread

I knew something was up because, seriously? Challah bread? I’ve always shied away from breads because I am kind of intimidated by yeast. It can’t be too warm or too cold (like Goldilocks, this yeast). But there’s something about it that’s so enticing.

Anywho, I finally managed to make some time in the kitchen while my nieces and nephew were visiting to try out a recipe I’ve been hoping to try since I first found it: Cinnamon Toast Crunch cupcakes. I originally saved this recipe because Cinnamon Toast Crunch is the mister’s favorite cereal and I thought this would be a great dessert to make for him. Dessert and breakfast all in one? Sign me up!

Of course, time passed and I still hadn’t made it but the stars aligned and on the hottest day we’ve had so far this year, I cranked up the oven and made some cupcakes. I never said decision making was my strongest virtue.

The original recipe called for boxed cake mix and while I have no qualms with using box mixes, I wanted to avoid going to the store (which was silly because I ended up going to the store anyway) so I used a vanilla cake recipe and added cinnamon for the cinnamon cake base and followed the recipe for the Cinnamon Toast Crunch cream cheese frosting.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch cupcakes

 

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cupcakes
Adapted from Your Cup of Cake

Cinnamon Cake Base
(based from Sweetapolita’s Fluffy Vanilla Cake)

5 large egg whites (150 g), at room temperature
1 whole egg
1 cup whole milk (237 ml), at room temperature
2-1/4 teaspoons (12 ml) pure vanilla extract
3 cups (345 g) cake flour, sifted
2 cups (400 g) sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (17 g) baking powder
3/4 teaspoon (5 g) salt
12 tablespoons (170 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 24 even pieces
1 1/2 teaspons cinnamon (this is added to make it a cinnamon cake)

Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup Cinnamon Toast Crunch powder – (Crush the cereal in a bag and then sift out 2/3 cup)

For the cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease, line with parchment, and flour two round 8-inch pans.
  2. In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the egg whites, whole egg, 1/4 cup of milk, and the vanilla. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients together on low speed (I use the “stir” setting on my mixer) for 30 seconds.
  4. Add the butter one piece at a time, about every 10 seconds, ensuring it’s cold (you can keep some in refrigerator while you’re adding pieces). Continue to mix on low until the mixture is a fine crumbly texture. Add milk, and mix on low speed for 5 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg mixture in 3 separate batches, mixing until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. (You want to ensure that the batter is homogenous.) Fold once or twice to ensure the batter at bottom of bowl is incorporated.
  5. Scoop batter into cupcake tins, filling about 2/3 full.
  6. Bake for 13-15 minutes, rotating the pans after 10 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with a few crumbs when inserted into the center

For the frosting:

  1. Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add Cinnamon Toast Crunch powder. Add vanilla and powdered sugar. Adjust the consistency using milk if it is too thick.
  2. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes and top with cinnamon sugar and Cinnamon Toast Crunch squares.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch cupcakes

In the Kitchen: Baked Donuts

I have been talking about making donuts for many moons now, so much so that I had looked into buying a doughnut pan. Naturally, I never got around to getting one even though I kept talking about these magical doughnuts I somehow was going to make. Not one to let a silly logistical matter like owning necessary baking equipment deter me, I kept my eye out for any baked doughnut recipe I came across, ignoring the vast majority that utilized yeast. I have this unfounded fear of working with yeast. Unfounded because I have never worked with it yet I’m terrified of doing so. I also have several recipes for challah bread. All of which uses yeast. Yeah, that’s some fuzzy math right there.

Lindsey was so kind enough to gift me my very own doughnut pan for Christmas. I was so excited! So much so that I immediately started tearing through the Internets looking for a good non-yeast baked doughnut recipe. I found a few but never got around to making them. Figures.

But on Thursday night I was hit was a strange and overwhelming desire: I wanted to watch The Office while eating a baked doughnut and hot chocolate. I’m still not sure where that came from but I couldn’t shake it. It had become my duty to make these doughnuts; never mind that I still had a good four hours before The Office aired. Time schmime. I am not a prisoner to time.

I halved the recipe to get six doughnuts since it was only me and there was no way I would be able to get in touch with my inner Homer Simpson. The only changes I made was to use my vanilla bean paste instead of regular vanilla extract because I’m slightly obsessed with vanilla bean paste.

 

Baking was quick and easy. I didn’t know that only the part that was actually in the pan would get browned. Maybe that’s not true and my oven was just being stupid but it didn’t really matter. It bakes evenly so if you’re so inclined, you can just flip the donuts over like I did.

These doughnuts had a cakey texture that was delicious. Now, they’re not light and fluffy as your conventional deep-fried doughnut but who said that was the only way doughnuts should be? There are a great healthful alternative to the deep fried version. They also kept pretty well too. Granted, they only lasted a couple days but they were delicious those couple of days!

 

Vanilla bean baked doughnuts
via Naturally Ella

makes 12 doughnuts

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla [I used my beloved vanilla bean paste]
4 eggs
6 tablespoons butter melted
1/4 cup milk

Icing

2 cups powdered sugar may need more to reach consistency
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla [and more vanilla bean paste]

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 375˚and spray a doughnut pan.

2) In a medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients and set aside.  In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk, and butter until mixture is slightly frothy.  Stir into dry ingredients until ingredients are just combined (do not over mix.)

3) Scoop batter into plastic or piping bag.  Cut a medium size tip (if using the plastic bag) and squeeze batter into doughnut pan, filling each doughnut almost to the top (leave about 1/8″.)

4) Bake for 7-9 minutes until doughnut springs back.  Remove from pan and let cool.  Once doughnuts are cool, prepare icing.  Icing should be not be too runny but should be stiff enough to hold to doughnut.  Dip one side of the doughnut in the icing and return to cooling rack.

Grieving definitely is a process

Last Wednesday, May 19th, was my parents’ 32nd wedding anniversary and the first anniversary of my dad’s heart transplant. We spent part of the afternoon visiting his grave and marveling at the newly installed marble headstone [which looks great]. Dad is located in a nice part of the National Cemetery near the pond and across from one of our decidedly favorite headstone quotes. I can’t help but crack a smile whenever I see it.

Seeing that Monday also marked the 2nd month since his passing, I figured it was a fitting time to offer you an update.

Grieving is an interesting process. There’s no real manual that covers what to expect for everyone. I know there is the generally accepted “5 Stages of Grief” but everyone reacts and copes differently. Overall, my family is doing fairly well. We’ve been leaning on each other a lot for understanding and the occasional vent/crying session. It’s been fun laughing about random memories of Dad as well as talking through our grievances about him as well. We all have had varying differences in dealing with our feelings. Speaking for myself, I definitely didn’t go through all 5 stages [and only nominally went through the abridged 3 stage model]. I never felt anger or the need to bargain. I have always been at peace with what happened, even through his illness while he was alive. I guess for me, I relied heavily on my relationship with God to see me through this time. Losing my Dad wasn’t an option for me but when it became clear that it was in his best interest to let him go, it was slightly easier to let it be.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sleeping or eating well. I had pretty much lost my appetite and had to make a conscious effort to remember to eat since I wasn’t hungry but I knew I had to eat. Trying to sleep was another ordeal; I’d stay up late and eventually fall asleep only to wake up a few hours later where I’d stay up for another hour or so before finally falling back asleep. It was not an easy time.

I decided that I am going to take my time during the healing stage. I still get weepy every once and again but I try to find the right balance that will allow me to feel exactly how I feel without letting those sad feelings consume me. If I’m sad one day, then I’ll be sad. If I’m fine, then I’ll be fine. Because really, it’s a day by day process. Some days will be better than others but there is no reason or need to rush through your feelings just to get to some level of “normality.” All I hope for are a series of good days.

I’ve found that I’m fine when I’m keeping busy with the day-to-day stuff like school. Most of my sad moments typically hit during my quieter moments, like on my drive home from school. Sometimes I think about the moment his doctors requested the family to gather and how I felt or I’ll think about the moment he quietly slipped away surrounded my family and the slight feeling of panic that struck me when the doctor offered his apologies. I don’t know why I was so shocked when he passed but I guess I was expecting more to happen.

Though, surprisingly, I haven’t had that big cathartic cry yet. I don’t know why or if I’ll ever have one since my first instinct is always to get myself to stop crying [I don’t like to cry] but part of me feels like I should have one.

In the end, I try not to look too far ahead. I don’t get down on myself for feeling like I do and I don’t make apologies for myself either. Grief isn’t easy to deal with but it’s made slightly easier by taking it one day at a time. I’ll probably always feel a little sad about losing my dad so I’m not expecting to wake up one day and be totally fine. I don’t plan on erasing his phone number from my phone either. Even though I can’t call him anymore, it’s more comforting to leave it there.

I just want to thank all those who have called, text, or emailed me to check up on my family and I. That is, quite possibly, the best thing anyone can do for someone who lost a loved one. And in case you were wondering, today was a good day.