Tag Archives: birthday

on missing birthdays

I don’t hate much. In fact, I’m one of those optimists that manages to see the teeny tiny glimmers of hope in generally pretty awful people even when I’m trying not to. Current exceptions being Donald Trump and fire ants but let’s get into that once both pests are no longer affecting us, shall we?

But if I had to place ‘hate’ on one thing in my life, it would be missing birthdays. A learned behavior I’m sure, I have a really tough time not physically being there for loved one’s birthdays. OK, anyone’s birthday really. I was looking at the calendar and realized that Finn may spend his 4th birthday with a dog sitter this coming July and actually felt a pang of guilt 4 months ahead of the date for goodness sake.

Birthdays are big in my family. We’ve chatted about this in previous posts (examples here and here), specifically referring to my physiological need to be present at any and all family birthdays, something I’m trying to adapt to living a few states away now. But as each day approaches, I can’t help but feel a little FOMO (fear of missing out non-millennial readers) for “missing” another birthday.

So on this sunny March 12th spring (ok, high of 82 spring) morning, my body may be out avoiding the fire ants in the garden and possibly hitting the pool this afternoon, but my heart is back in Illinois celebrating my mom’s 65th birthday.

And yes, despite the fact that stranger’s assume she’s also my dad’s daughter sometimes, she’s 65 today!

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And based on that last photo, I’m starting to think she may care that Matt’s not there a little more than me. Geesh!

So while I can’t be there to enjoy the delicious looking birthday/St. Patrick’s day themed cake that Jake picked out for mom last night, thanks to technology I was able to sing along and watch her blow out the candles from afar.

I’m blessed to have a mom that squeals with as much excitement for scone and a cup of coffee as she does for a new sweater and cookbook, the former being what you can look forward to the next time you visit.

Happy Birthday, Mom! Here’s a photo of a cake from three years ago. We love you!

st. patricks day layer cake, ombre layer cake, white birthday cake, buttercream icing, colored layer cake, st. patrick's day, holiday, baking,

 

Super Spring Break

If you couldn’t tell from my overgramming last week, my nephews (and my sister) came to visit us to celebrate their spring break. Unfortunately I spent most of the week at work, but I’m grateful for the afternoons and evenings I spent brushing up on my toilet humor, identifying fire ant hills and avoiding getting jinxed.

Days were spent punching water spouts at the splash park and evenings cheating at mini golf. We even managed a second attempt at the beach since the first time was ‘too boring.’

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On Thursday, we celebrated Jake’s 5th birthday the only way Jake prefers to celebrate, with superhero masks and store-bought cookie cake.

IMG_4663IMG_4664IMG_4669IMG_4670IMG_4671Friday we had a picnic at the beach and then spent the afternoon drop-kicking waves to cap off the trip. And is it just me or did we do so right next to a Nana lookalike? IMG_9943

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We miss them already but we’re soaking up the quiet and resting up the busy months ahead.

30!

I’m thirty. 30 years old!

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Thirty! I did it. I finally passed the last milestone birthday that all of my friends passed nearly a year before me! Being the youngest of the group, I was used to being last in line for all age-related events. Last to drive at 16, last to do whatever a non-smoker is allowed to do at 18 and the last to legally drink at 21. Now don’t feel too bad for me. Looking back, I can see now that it actually worked out in my favor. I had cool friends to drive me to and from school, to book rental cars when we went on trips and to illustrate which liquor you should not make your best friend on your 21st birthday. Tequila maybe. Whiskey no way. I remember thinking that when they all turned thirty, I would still be 29. And how cool that would be to still be 29 when all your friends were old and thirty. turning 30, birthday, friends Well I realized about a year ago that it’s neither cool nor old. Thirty is not the old age I (and probably every other 24 year old who is reading this) thinks it is. There’s a shift that happens about the age of 26 or 27 where you suddenly realize that you are rapidly approaching the thirty year-old you thought was so old just a few years ago. I am now that thirty year-old that kids just out of college scoff at. Only I don’t feel very different than them. Minus pretty much all of these things. I stayed up until 2 a.m. this weekend. Only it was because my mom and sister’s flight got delayed, not because we wanted to hit up the late-night bar and watch the sun come up. I cannot tell you the last time I willingly stayed up that late. And I’m ok with that. As if last weekend’s surprise party wasn’t enough, my mom and sister came down to visit me in Florida this weekend to celebrate the official birthday. You don’t realize how loved you are until you live really far away and people go out of their way to make you feel special on your birthday. turning 30, birthday, friends   On Saturday, we headed down to St. Armands and Lido Beach. Lido Beach, St Armands, Florida, family, birthday   And on Sunday we spent most of the day at Siesta Key, followed by a sunset dinner along the beach on Anna Marie Island. beach, florida, family, birthday, swiss mountain dog, sunset, anna marie island, siesta key beach, florida, family, birthday, swiss mountain dog, sunset, anna marie island, siesta key   It was so nice to spend some quality time with just my mom and sister. If the next two-thirds of my life look anything like theirs, I can’t wait to get there. Thank you again for all the well-wishes over the weekend. I’m excited for the year ahead.

Approaching 30

Do you know how hard it is to write a recap of a weekend you aren’t ready to let go of yet?

Hard.

Chicago had everything going for it this weekend. Great food, perfect weather, a music festival that keeps hundreds of thousands in Grant Park so you can enjoy the rest of the city crowd-free and a surprise birthday party with nearly all of my friends and family.

Wait, what?

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I flew back to Chicago this weekend to celebrate one of my best friends and former roommate at her baby shower.

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I was expecting to cuddle a few babies, hoping to catch up with my Chicago friends and planning on eating as much ethnic food as I could to get me through until the next visit. I love your sunshine Florida but nothing compares to Chicago for food.

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We decided on a small get-together Saturday evening to make it easy on the new parents in the group, not much changing from our parties of the past except an inverse ratio of sip cups and flip cups and a universal awareness of the potential of finger pinches and stair falls.

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I was thrilled that all of my friends made the effort to come over with their kids, especially considering bedtimes might be off and meltdowns might occur. And I was pleased yet confused to see each of them show up with a dish to share, while I the out-of-towner had nothing to contribute to the cause. If you know me well you know how much something like this troubles me.

babies, photography, toddlers, summer, surprise party, Chicago

I was completely content and happy, enjoying a perfect summer night with some of my favorite people when my mom walked onto the deck, followed by my sister, Owen and Jake. Dad would show up a few minutes later in typical Murf fashion as I tried to quell my tears and perspiration from the shock.

I flashed back to my 15th birthday when after finishing a family dinner at home, I was told I had a present in the basement that I should go “check out.” I embarrassingly descended the stairs to be greeted by my closest Freshman guy and girlfriends who were waiting to surprise me, each adorned with a different color plastic lei. I was equal parts mortified and excited. Mortified that they had been waiting in my wood-paneled basement throughout dinner and excited to jam out to some TLC and BSB songs for the rest of the night. 

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The good news about approaching 30 is that selfless acts of kindness no longer embarrass you.

The bad news is they make you sob uncontrollably.

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A good friend is someone who lets you believe you are celebrating her all weekend and then goes and throws a surprise party for you along the way. Or someone who with her own family in town and a 4-week-old baby, coordinates cake and fruit platters to celebrate. The one who sits in traffic longer than the party probably lasted to be there. The one you’ve known since you were 10 who was in attendance for the wood-paneled basement surprise and just hours ago returned from a cross-country flight back from California with a toddler.

Note: the husbands, too. Even though I didn’t get any photos of any of them, they deserve a little credit as well. 

babies, photography, toddlers, summer, surprise party, Chicago

And a great family. A great family will detour their way through the northern part of the state and back, spend the better part of the day at LegoLand and then trek all the way into the city just to be there to celebrate with you and your friends. On Lollapalooza weekend no less.

These people and that city make it hard for a girl to recap a weekend she wishes she was still in the middle of.

Nonetheless, I’m feeling pretty good about this whole 30 thing.

Lessons in layer cake

Some of you may remember when I made my first attempt at an ombré cake back in March for my
Mom’s birthday.

st. patricks day layer cake, ombre layer cake, white birthday cake, buttercream icing, colored layer cake, st. patrick's day, holiday, baking,

It wasn’t a complete flop but I rushed through it, failing to execute the preschool-mastered skill of color order. Yes, it still tasted good and fit in with the whole St. Patrick’s day theme that weekend, but I knew I’d need to try it again when I could devote the time and patience it took to not screw it up.

st. patricks day layer cake, ombre layer cake, white birthday cake, buttercream icing, colored layer cake, st. patrick's day, holiday, baking,

So in celebration of Matt’s birthday this week I decided to give it another shot.

birthday layer cake, ombre layer cake, white birthday cake, buttercream icing, blue ombre layer cake, birthday, holiday, baking,

My first tip with making this cake is to do it on a Sunday afternoon when you have no commitments other than careful measuring and wait time. If you’re anything like me, you often try to multitask when you cook and bake.

birthday layer cake, ombre layer cake, white birthday cake, buttercream icing, blue ombre layer cake, birthday, holiday, baking,

This is not the cake to do that with. This layer cake is a special occasion type of cake because it is equal parts time-consuming and indulgent. From the cake to the buttercream icing, there’s no shortage of butter and that’s a good thing. Throw out your paleo/whole/vegan/healthy eating plan for enough time to eat a slice. You can thank me later.

birthday layer cake, ombre layer cake, white birthday cake, buttercream icing, blue ombre layer cake, birthday, holiday, baking,

Ombre layer cake 

  • 1 1/2 C unsalted butter, softened (can substitute 1/2 C vegetable shortening if you want)
  • 3 C sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 C flour (sifted)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 C whole milk
  • 1/2 C buttermilk
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Ideally this is the time to grease and flour all four of your cake pans. Oh you don’t have four cake pans? Me neither. Grease and flour two of them and set aside.

In a stand mixer, whip butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar 1 cup at a time. Add eggs one at a time until each is combined.

In another bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt.

In a liquid measure, combine milk, buttermilk and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients into wet one cup at a time, alternating between milk mixture and flour. Try not to overmix.

Place four medium bowls out on your counter. Divide batter into each bowl evenly. For me it was just under 2 cups of batter per bowl. Add no food coloring to the first bowl. I like to use gel food coloring as I find it’s a little more accurate.  Add one toothpick of color into the second bowl and mix until combined. Two for the next and closer to four for the final one. The key here is to only mix the batter until the color is combined as the colored layers already tend to be a little tougher than those that aren’t.

Need another photo to take a break from the instructions? Me too.

birthday layer cake, ombre layer cake, white birthday cake, buttercream icing, blue ombre layer cake, birthday, holiday, baking,

 

Once your layers are colored, pour the first two into your two baking pans and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. These layers are thin so they will cook relatively quick.

Remove from oven and let cool on rack for 5-10 minutes. Add a layer of parchment or wax paper to your rack before you flip them out of the pan to make turning easier for you when they are cool. Trust me it helps. Wash and dry your pans to bring them back to room temperature before you bake your other two layers.

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Once your second batch is out of the oven and cooling you can start on your buttercream icing. This stuff is indulgent so I usually keep it pretty thin. That being said both times I’ve made this cake I’ve had to make extra buttercream icing to get it covered so go ahead and make a bunch.

Buttercream Icing

  • 3-4 C powdered sugar (sifted)
  • 1 1/2 C unsalted butter
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 3-4 TBL whipping cream

Sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl. Cream butter in a stand mixer and add powdered sugar slowly so as not to go all King James on your kitchen. Add vanilla and cream and whip it until peaks form. Refrigerate it until you are ready to ice the cake.

birthday layer cake, ombre layer cake, white birthday cake, buttercream icing, blue ombre layer cake, birthday, holiday, baking,

Once your layers are cool, wrap each of them in plastic wrap and freeze them for a few minutes. this will make the icing process much easier.

When you are ready to ice your cake, check your layer order several times before you place them on your cake stand. Trust me. The two middle layers look a lot a like and can be very deceiving. Do a rough ice and then finish it off with, you guess it, more buttercream.

I like to keep this cake in the fridge between servings because let’s face it, it’s going to take you at least a week to eat it all. Offer it up to friends or strangers that you just met. Everybody loves a good layer cake.

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Happy Birthday Jake!

Today is my youngest nephew Jake’s fourth birthday.

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It’s hard to believe we’ve only had four years of this precocious kid, but the laughter and joy he brings to our family is immeasurable.

It seems like just yesterday I was begging the concierge at the downtown Hilton Garden Inn to go wake up my dad so we could make the drive from Chicago to Springfield in time for Jake’s arrival. Fortunately for my sister, he came much faster than his older brother and fortunately for my dad and I, the concierge agreed.

brothers, jake birthday, jake and owen

Jake’s 4-going-on-14 personality can partially be attributed to his older brother Owen. Even with a good role model however, it’s been clear from the beginning that Jake would dance to the beat of his own drum. He’d also beat a lot of things, but let’s save that for later.

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Jake is all boy. He has been from day one. If something can be used as a weapon, you better believe he will find a way to use it as one. If an object can be scaled, he will climb it. If there is a song to be sung, he will sing it with utmost enthusiasm. And if there are miscellaneous items missing from any one location, he’s your pirate and those items make up his booty.

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He’s sweet too though, often telling his mommy how much he loves her, snuggling with Nana and letting his brother pick him up and carry him even as they get closer in size. Yes that last one is also because he’s incredibly lazy but let’s go with sweet for the sake of this paragraph.

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But beyond all these traits, the thing I love most about Jake is his sense of humor. He’s funny. And not just in a toddlers do funny things kind of way, but in a this kid has pure comedic timing and he’s going to get into a lot of trouble over the years kind of way.

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I can’t wait to be along for the ride. Happy 4th Birthday Jake!

Jake dances to pitbull from Sarah Murphy on Vimeo.

Spooky Pumpkin Toffee Cookies

Pumpkin season is in full swing folks. And while I’m not exactly down with the PSL craze, I do love to put pumpkin into just about everything else from October through oh let’s just say February. If I’m baking you something during this time frame, it’s likely to include pumpkin. Sorry I’m not sorry.

I made this batch of pumpkin cookies for my girlfriend’s birthday last week. I knew she liked pumpkin and I figured she liked toffee but after I posted the picture on Instagram, my assumptions were confirmed.

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Birthday baking. #Nailedit.

These cookies originally started out as an adaptation of this recipe from trusted recipe blog, Two Peas and their Pod, but like my other attempts at any cookie with pumpkin, they rose up like fluffy little clouds in a summer sky. Ah summer, wish you were here. Seriously though. Warm up Chicago!

As I watched these cookies bake, I noticed them fluffing up like crazy. Maybe it was because I didn’t quite have enough toffee to weigh them down (I ran out at 1/2 cup and added spooky chocolate chips to make up for it) or that pumpkin cookies and I just won’t have the same crispy and flat relationship that my other cookies and I have together, but they looked nothing like the original recipe.

It was at that point that I decided to scrap the salted caramel glaze and serve these gems on their own. They might be cuffins in terms of shape and fluff quotient, but they were tasty cuffins. So tasty that I made another batch for work again this week. And just like the movie they were Gone in 60 Seconds. Ok 60 minutes but close enough.

spooky pumpkin toffee chocolate chip cookies simply social blog

Pumpkin Toffee Cookies with Spooky Chocolate Chips

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground all-spice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C unsalted butter
1 1/2 C sugar
1 C canned pumpkin (I use Libby’s 100% pumpkin)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 C Heath Toffee Bits (I used 1/2 C heath bits and 1 C spooky chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, powder, spices and salt. Set aside. In a stand mixer, blend butter and sugar until creamy. Add pumpkin, egg and vanilla, mixing between each ingredient. Once combined, slowly add dry ingredients to wet. Add in your choice of toffee or chocolate chips.

This makes a very sticky dough, so I suggest using a cookie scoop and spraying it with non-stick spray every 3 or 4 scoops. Trust me, you will be less inclined to throw the cookie dough at your counter or fridge because it just won’t release from the scoop.

These cooked up well (fluffy and soft) on my silpat and in a jelly roll pan. I don’t know why but I love my jelly roll pan for cookies. It’s just my thang. 

Bake for 15 minutes or until edges slightly brown. Note: these cookies won’t get crispy so they may look soft but are done after about 15 minutes.

Let cool in pan and then on wire rack.

Let your dog photobomb them again like he does every other baked good you make. Kid loves pumpkin, too!

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Looks like it’s going to be a perfect weekend for baking something with pumpkin. Everybody’s doing it.

Have a great day.