Tag Archives: holiday

Mummies, Monsters and Sweet Little Pumpkins

You may be wondering where this post is going based on the dichotomy of a title, huh?

Me too.

Don’t worry we’re all in this together.

I sometimes wonder what it’s like to plan out blog posts. To have them be strategic and organized versus a brain dump of the tiny elements of creativity or life updates I’ve managed to throw together last-minute in an effort to get them out of my head and onto your smart phone.

In reality it would take far more monetization of this blog and likely the hiring of an assistant to ever get to deliver you the content strategy you deserve.

In the meantime (aka always and forever) you are stuck with my random frequency and rogue content. Chances are if you’ve stuck around this long, a small part of you may even appreciate them.

Moving on.

If there’s one thing to get me back on track with blogging it’s a holiday. There’s a voice in my head in the month leading up to said holiday that starts to whisper:

“So, what are you going to make for Halloween this year?”

Soon, the whisper turns to a normal speaking voice that says:

“Only a few weeks left to decide. Better get some supplies just in case.”

It’s not my fault that this voice comes out more frequently whenever I’m near the baking or holiday aisle at Target. It just does.

By the holiday week, the tone gets an attitude and says things like:

“Well you might as well pack away all those new Halloween cookie cutters and sprinkles you bought for this year because there’s no way you have time to make spiders and cauldrons and headstones now. Don’t blame me, I’ve been bugging you for weeks to decide.”

And then, like most things in my life lately, I decide to throw something together last-minute after Matt suggests we just “buy some cookies at the store or something.”

“Blasphemy. Doesn’t he know we have a reputation to uphold?” 

So in the spirit of upholding reputations as we enter into another holiday season, I present a simple way to make a “homemade” Halloween treat fit for kids and adults alike.

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Mummy & Monster White Chocolate Oreos

  • 1 package oreos
  • 1 package vanilla almond bark
  • green gel food coloring (I used wilton leaf green)
  • candy eyes (wilton-baking aisle)
  • Edible food marker (black)

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In a large ceramic bowl, melt half of almond bark brick in microwave at 50 percent power for 2 minutes. Stir.

Using a wax paper covered cookie sheet as your landing spot, dip Oreos into white chocolate until covered and set on paper. Once all are dipped, place candy eyes and then put cookie sheet in refrigerator to set chocolate.

In a separate bowl, melt the other half of almond bark until creamy. Add a few drops of gel food coloring (water-based food coloring will stiffen your chocolate) and mix until you get your desired monster green.

Repeat chocolate dipping process on another wax paper covered cookie sheet. Add eye and sprinkles or any other monster features you see fit. Or add another eye and now that I look at them you have a pretty close resemblance to a Ninja Turtle.

Cowabunga.

While green monsters are cooling in fridge, pull white mummies back out and use remaining white chocolate to make mummy wraps. This works best if the chocolate has slightly stiffened but feel free to re-melt in microwave for thinner gauzing.

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So now that we got the spooky stuff out of the way, let’s randomly transition to the sweeter side of the season where pumpkins are growing and so is the size of my belly.

Last weekend we were fortunate to get together with our Chicago/Zalewski side of the family for a shower celebrating the upcoming arrival of Baby Z.

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All fall-themed decor credit goes to my sister-in-law and mother-in-law who created an adorable shower for Matt and I. Would you just look at those cookies?

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It was so nice to get together with everyone ahead of the holiday season. We can’t wait to celebrate with the rest of the family in just a few weeks.

 

Is it too late for an Easter post?

According to my priest it’s not.

Easter marks the beginning of a season of celebration and new beginnings so technically I’m not late in delivering this Easter cupcake recipe to you.

Technically, I’m right on time!

And I’m not just emphasizing my punctuality because my husband told me mass started at 8:30 last Sunday when it really started at 8:45 to get me out the door in time.

I’d like the record to show that I made it to church on time for many years before I met him.

Thanks, mom! 

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Planned out or last-minute, these cupcakes are great for any spring celebration. I’m actually not a big fan of coconut, but I’m a sucker for a cute bird’s nest and toasted coconut makes the cutest bird’s nests so coconut it is. (note: If you are a coconut lover, you can add coconut flavoring to the icing and/or shredded coconut to the batter)

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Banana Carrot Cupcakes (adapted from How Sweet Eats)

  • 2 C flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 C melted butter (substitute coconut oil)
  • 1 C sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 2 C grated carrots
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 C buttermilk

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with liners.

Toast coconut in a thin layer (I use a silpat) until just slightly browned. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon together. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, blend sugar and butter. Add eggs. Add bananas, carrots and vanilla until well combined.

Add half of dry ingredients and mix together (being careful not to overmix). Add buttermilk and remaining dry ingredients.

Using a 1/4 cup scoop, fill cupcake liners until they are 3/4 way full.

(Or, if you’re like me, accidentally forget the buttermilk and remember after you’ve already filled your cupcake liners, scrape everything back in the bowl and add buttermilk)

Bake 16-18 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  •  

     

    1 1/2 blocks of cold cream cheese

  • Blue Gel Food coloring
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Toasted unsweetened flaked coconut
  • Cadbury mini eggs

In a stand mixer, whip cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar. Add in vanilla extract and food coloring until you get a robin’s egg blue (or until your sister tells you it looks unappetizingly gray).

Ice cupcakes and top with coconut and cadbury mini eggs.

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Oh and I almost forgot to mention the best part, these cupcakes are basically more fruit and veggies than they are dessert so you can eat them without any guilt whatsoever.

 

On Christmas cards 

Oh hey guys.

I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that I have not prioritized spending quality time with my blog as much as I should have lately. Turns out when you move closer to friends and family you actually end up spending more time with friends and family. In person. Like real life BFF and heart eye emojis. I suppose that’s actually good news packaged as bad news but I’m an optimist so sue me.

The other good news is that my wordpress domain automatically renewed itself so at least one half of this relationship is committed for another year.

You may be wondering, so Sarah what’s it like to have all these words and random musings in your head but not making enough time to share them with the blogosphere regularly?

You’ll have to ask Matt but I’d imagine it’s equivalent to the reaction you’d get by bringing your husband with you to Target two weeks before Christmas. #somanythresholdmusthaves #somanypeopleintheaisle

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Speaking of husbands, it’s time for double Jeopardy.

I’ll take things husbands say each year when it comes time to order Christmas cards for 800, Alex.

People actually pay professional photographers to take Christmas card photos? Seriously? Well, we will not be those people.

Can’t we just buy some with snowmen or holly on them and be done with it? 

They cost how much? 

We might as well send Valentine’s Day cards at this point 

Next category is things you hear when your sister asks you to bring home your camera for the weekend to ‘get a few photos’ of she and the boys for Christmas cards and you have approximately 35 minutes of daylight and 10-12 minutes of patience from 3/4 of your subjects.

I’m cold.

I’m cold.

I’m cold. 

Think we got any good ones? 

Ok let’s go I’m cold. 

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By the power of the Christmas spirit we survived another Christmas card season. Even with Jake in tow.

 

Bad karma and good chocolate

Have you ever had one of those days where you knew the whole day was going to be off before you even left the house?

You know the kind. You’re just leisurely walking the dog (emphasis on the leisurely because your dog suddenly walks like a 90-year old who needs a hip replacement) when your phone jumps out of your pocket and shatters on the wet cement.

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This weather has us all like…

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There’s something off in the universe, you think.

And how could you not wonder. Just a few hours prior the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. No seriously. They did. And they deserved it. Life will never be the same.

Do you ever think door frames and counter corners are out to get you?

Me neither.

Pop quiz.

Which of these items are essential for a successful post-work gym session?

A. Hair tie

B. Workout underwear

C. TWO socks

D. All of the above

Any guess what all these situations have in common? They require you to adapt. To shift. To consider wearing your glasses more often and to put out as much good karma as you can by texting your Cubs fan friends and family and telling them how happy you are for them.

Chocolate helps too. So here is a chocolate recipe I planned to post separately, but will now be forever linked to a really random few paragraphs about a string of bad luck and the team that finally broke the curse.

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Spooky Spiderweb Trifle 

  • 1 package instant chocolate pudding
  • 3 C Milk (I used unsweetened vanilla almond milk)
  • Oreos (I used Halloween Oreos)
  • Brownies
  • Chocolate syrup
  • Cool Whip

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In a large bowl, mix cold water (or milk) into chocolate pudding mix. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Chop brownies and Oreo cookies.

Fold half of Cool Whip into pudding mix.

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Beginning with brownies, layer brownies, pudding mix, chopped Oreos in a trifle dish. Repeat until you run out of ingredients or reach the top.

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Add remaining Cool Whip to top. Drizzle chocolate syrup in a spiral. Using a toothpick, pull toothpick from center out to edge as if you are slicing a pie or a pizza.

Bonus points if you have a fake spider to add in the center. I didn’t so my spider is hiding under the whip cream and all you can see are her creepy eyes.

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Trifles and Patriotism

What’s red, white and blue and inappropriately timed on a random weekend between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July?

Sarah’s version of a triple berry trifle of course.

Because why would someone make this in time for the first patriotic holiday of the year, or instead wait until the second patriotic holiday of the year when they could randomly decide to bring it to a friend’s house for dessert on a completely plain Sunday?

If the above statement sounds like you then we should be friends. If you are my husband, stop rolling your eyes at yet another moment when your wife threw things together at the last minute and pretended like it was in the works all along. That’s just how she rolls and you married her so let’s just grab a spoon and dig in together shall we?

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The nice thing about trifles is that they are fairly easy to make. In fact, it typically takes more time to gather and chop the ingredients than it does to put the entire thing together.

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You may remember this recipe from a few years ago. If you want to revisit it and see how cute and tiny my friend’s little girl was at the time, head on over to the previous post to check it out.

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If you’re like me and you remake a recipe forgetting that you actually made and posted it already three years ago then stick around and read below for the aforementioned triple berry trifle revisited.

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Triple Berry Trifle (feeds 4-6 or 1-2 depending on how hungry the fellas are)

  • 1 package shortcake cups, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 1 pint strawberries, sliced
  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 1 pint raspberries

Pudding Layer:

  • 6 TBL sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 C cold water
  • 1 package vanilla instant pudding
  • 9 oz fat-free frozen whipped topping, thawed

In a medium bowl, whisk water and sweetened condensed milk until combined. Add pudding mix and stir for another minute or so. Let mixture set for 1-2 minutes. Fold in cool whip. Set aside.

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Start with a layer of cake and then alternate blueberries/raspberries, pudding mixture and sliced strawberries. Repeat until you reach desired height, run out of ingredients, or just become disgusted at just how large that trifle dish is. Feel free to get creative once you reach the top layer or just copy the photo like I do whenever I’m re-creating a recipe “on my own.”

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Let’s Talk About Christmas Lists

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas Lists. You see, I’ve always enjoyed the tradition of paging through catalogs around the table after Thanksgiving, each family member attempting to jog memories of all the things they desperately needed throughout the year but can’t seem to remember when the blank yellow pad of paper is in front of them.

Who doesn’t need a new pair of fuzzy LLBean slippers? I could use another blanket for the couch. One can never have enough cable knit throws, can they? Nope. Especially when one lives in a tropical climate. 

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I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas lists because my love language is gift giving. I get it from my Nana. And while I love the idea of getting someone something that is written on their Christmas list, there’s an internal struggle I have each year around this time between buying what’s on the list and buying what’s NOT on the list.

Yep. I’m that girl. The girl who wrecks her brain for weeks trying to come up themes for everyone’s gifts, crafty and homemade additions to the gifts or, if the Christmas magic is really with her, the perfect gift for the person who doesn’t necessarily know what the perfect gift is. That, my friends, is the spirit of Christmas if you’re a gift giver at heart. Well, that and the birth of Jesus, but the Magi have that one covered.

And depending on your family and the members in it, you may fall on one side or another when it comes to gift lists, too.

There’s the mom who stuffs her purse with various iterations of other people’s lists but never really manages to end up with anything on hers. It’s ok though. Stick with anything that smells good, feels soft or keeps her warm, preferably in a neutral shade and you’re good to go.

Or the older nephew who unlike any other 9 year-old in town, tells you he doesn’t really need anything this year.

Or the sister who every day leading up to Christmas is very interested in what’s on every other family member’s list yet only manages to list one gift on her own. And a very small one at that.

And if we’re talking about lists, I’d be remiss to not mention the dad who if he’s anything like my dad, Murfs up any holiday with his version of a wish list. You may remember the years he spent asking for a conga drum so he could…

“…jam at some gigs with some cool cats.” 

Or the Father’s Day request for the book, Five Strides on the Banked Track: The Life and Times of the Roller Derby

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised then when I received an email from my dad with the subject line: “Dad’s xmas list add-on” a link that led us here.

Just a houseboat add-on to this year’s list huh, Murf? Let’s not discuss the barriers to gifting the aforementioned item such as loan restrictions, satellite installation for his DVR habit or the simple fact that he still resides in the Midwest. Those things aside, for the past 275 days or so, I’ve been reminded about the houseboat interest via text message and in conversation. The barriers to the now digitally recorded wish list item are endless yet the drive still seems to be there.

The gift of list making is strong with this one.

So I remind you as you open your Christmas presents this year, consider the gift giver’s intention before you scoff at those bracelets you assumed were napkin rings.

After all, as I was told my great-grandfather used to say each time this year,

We all got all too G*d D*mn much. 

Happy Holidays!

 

Holiday Greetings

Happy Holidays!

I’ll begin this holiday greeting by apologizing for cheating you all out of a printed Christmas card this year. Especially because opening holiday cards and hanging them up is one of my favorite traditions and I may or may not still have all of yours from the past four years in a storage box because recycling them would destroy the memories and I refuse to be a memory destroyer.

Truth is until I got a puppy, I never deemed anything worthy enough of placing on my holiday card. Sure, there was that one year I could have posed next to my Kitchen-Aide, covered in flour and looking war-torn after three days straight of holiday baking. Or the party photos filled with felt antlers and Santa-appliqued sweatshirts from the annual ugly Christmas sweater party, but nothing ever seemed right.

Fast-forward to this year and I am now acutely aware that we are soon-to-be a family of two and have zero photos of ourselves. So while we decided to wait until the New Year to send out cards, I couldn’t NOT spread glad tidings to you, electronically or otherwise. Because what is Christmas, if not a time to dress your pet up in a human-sized flannel and make him pose for you in front of the tree. (Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored by Target, but if you are reading this Target, this post could totally be sponsored by you)

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Awkward Family Photos

Every year around this time, my sister off-handily asks me to bring my camera home to “take a couple of pictures of the boys for a Christmas card.” Seems easy enough, right? Well it used to be. Back before said boys knew what capturing a decent photograph entailed. Things like real clothes, real smiles and real hugs that don’t end in punches, pinches or pokes.

Before we get into this year’s crop, let’s revisit the good ol’ days when the boys were oblivious and the photos were plentiful.

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After a 6-hour flight delay heading home, I arrived to a snowy Springfield just in time to head over to Champaign the next day for Thanksgiving. We made the most of the weekend, booking a wedding photographer, finding a wedding dress and catching up with a few friends and family in the process. If you’ve read any of my posts you probably know I’m horrible with big decisions. It wasn’t without some forethought that we decided to plan a wedding in 6 months. If you want to see a procrastinator change her tune, tell her it takes 6 months for a wedding dress to be made.

Anywho, we managed to squeeze in a little photo shoot a few hours before my flight back home and I will admit I was a little doubtful we would end up with anything useful. The boys had been in the car all day, Jake was willing to do just about anything aside from putting clothes on and they were well-aware that the next 20 minutes would involve more patience and participation than they were willing to give.

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That’s what I love about photographs. They pause a single moment in time. Between the paparazzi-shielding hands, the cold wind complaints (it was 55) and the school photo smiles.

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Photographs allow you to get a snapshot of someone looking exactly the way you love them most. Just being them.

 

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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A leprechaun was here

Remember that time I tried to make an ombré layer cake for my mom’s birthday and messed up the simplest part of the process, resulting in a randomly striped cake?

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I do.

By now I’ve heard the following reassurances:

It still tastes great. 

Hunny I think it’s perfect!

This is the best cake I’ve ever had. 

I think I actually prefer the colors this way.

I’d like to take a moment to thank my mother for saying each and every one of them. 

Thanks mom!

I’m sure you prefer the #3 layer in place of the #2 layer. You’re right. It looks better that way.

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Leave it to mothers to justify completely unjustifiable things to their daughters in an attempt to make them feel better.

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In reality we should blame Dad. He’s the one who invited me to join him for a pedicure in the middle of my cake-making process. I’m sure if I had not been distracted by the relaxation and soaking, I might have remembered the setting the layers on the cooling racks in the wrong order so I could be unpleasantly surprised when I cut into the cake after dinner.

Thanks Dad!

Seriously though. That was a great pedicure.

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So today, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I present you with a chance to wow everyone with your very own St. Patrick’s Day layer cake. 

After being inspired by a much prettier version from Cupcakes and Cashmere late last week, I had a feeling this one was going to be a Pinterest fail. Perhaps I willed it to be. Regardless of my layer issues, the cake and icing were delicious.

Here are some tips for not messing up your ombre cake experience:

1. Fill the cake pans more than halfway. I wanted to keep my layers thin since I was making four different colored ones. In the process I overcooked them a little. The cakes have a nice crunch to them but I found that my best layer was the one without the food coloring in it which also happened to be the thickest. Unless you are doing ombre, bake two colors and cut the cakes in half.

2. Use this cake recipe but consider doubling it (see above)

3. 10, 5, 3, 0. Those are the amounts of green food coloring I used for each layer of my cake. Divide the batter into bowls and add coloring separately. Do your dark layers first so you can adjust for the lighter one. Remember what order they are in because they look the same from the outside.

4. Use this icing recipe. Consider doubling it.

5. Don’t stress about the outcome. In the end, I was the only one who cared that my layers were out of order. My mom loved that her cake was homemade and let’s face it, the boys only care about blowing out the candles and eating the ice cream that goes with the cake anyway.

I’ll be back later this week to talk about this little St. Patrick’s Day gem.

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And the gigantic biceps I built carrying it during my commute this morning.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!