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Happy Friday from Akira

July 9, 2010

My papillon Akira hopes you have a weekend full of belly scratches and squirrels to chase.

Cupcake Happiness

July 6, 2010

I’ve been in love with cupcakes lately. They are fun, friendly and personal because each individual cake is made just for the person who is about to devour it.

When we went to visit baby Kingston I wanted to bring  a strawberry dessert since I know the Kennedys love the delicious fruit.  I settled on a Giada De Laurentiis recipe for Strawberry and Mascarpone Filled Cupcakes. Even though it’s a pretty simple recipe, the addition of mascarpone cheese really elevates the cupcakes to something unique and special. I always love icing that hardens a bit to add a little crunchy texture as this cake’s did. Together with the tangy berries, the moist cake and creamy cheese it made for the perfect summer treat.

Strawberry and Mascarpone Filled Cupcakes - Picture via FoodNetwork.com

The second cupcake I’ve made in the last month or so was for our Father’s Day lunch. I am obsessed with anything that involves marshmallows so I decided to makes s’mores cupcakes. After doing some research online, I quickly figured out that there are a thousand and one recipes for s’mores cupcakes and none exactly the same. I decided, as I often do, to go to the old standby of the kitchen, Martha Stewart’s website. The recipe on her site is actually credited to Jennifer Shea of Trophy Cupcakes (which I would die to visit one day). I did vary the recipe a bit by using marshmallow fluff instead of making the marshmallow frosting because I wanted that super sticky, gooeyness of the fluff that is so familiar. This recipe has you creating a mini graham cracker crust on the bottom then layering bits of chocolate, chocolate cake, then more chocolate bits and graham cracker crumbs. The cake is topped off with the fluff (or frosting) and then browned on top to give it that campfire look. Although it was a very tasty cupcake that everyone (including me) seemed to love, all the components didn’t remind me exactly of a real s’more. Next time I would probably use more chocolate pieces to give the cupcakes that super-melty chocolateyness that a s’more gives you.

S'mores Cupcake (sadly, the only one of the three cupcakes I remembered to capture on film)

The last batch of cupcakes I made were some classic red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting for my friend Alison’s birthday. I again did a modified Martha Stewart recipe that you can find here. I think red velvet is really difficult because the flavor isn’t easy to describe and it really lives or dies on the quality of the frosting. I personally LOVE super-cream-cheesey frosting and think most canned varieties barely taste of it. To ensure that the cream cheese flavor really stood out, I added about 1/2 cup less of confectioners sugar then what the recipe called for. I also heaped the smooth, rich frosting on each cake to ensure that every bite would have more than enough. If left at room temperature, I think the leftover frosting would make quite a nice dip for fruit as well. These babies seemed to be a crowd-pleaser, but then again, who doesn’t love red velvet cake?

Red Velvet Cupcakes - Picture via MarthaStewart.com

I’m sure as the summer progresses there will be more sweet treats to be shared at any number of barbecues and pool parties. I can’t wait to try out some new recipes with the people I love most.

Update: I may have just found my next project. Lemon-Limoncello Cupcakes {knees weak}.

Lemon-Limoncello Cupcakes - Picture via BrownEyedBaker.com

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

June 28, 2010

This past Sunday, my husband and I got the opportunity to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with some of our friends.

Entering Hogsmeade

We first went to Zonko’s Joke Shop and Honeydukes Sweet Shop and then bought a mug of butterbeer.

Zonko's Joke Shop

Honeydukes Sweet Shop

A Chocolate Frog From Honeydukes

Matt and Gary Drinking Butterbeer

We checked out Hogsmeade Station and then some of us rode the Dragon Challenge roller coaster (not me). We all congregated back together to go on the Forbidden Journey ride that is within Hogwart’s Castle. Within the Castle, they replicated parts of the school down to every detail, from Dumbledore’s office to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom with very life-like videos of the characters from the movie. I can’t describe too much of the ride itself since my eyes were closed almost the whole time but it’s a simulation ride in cars that get thrust up, down, back and forth. I got off of The Forbidden Journey a little dizzy but exhilarated.

Hogsmeade Station

Hogwart's Castle

Next up was lunch at Three Broomsticks where we feasted on fish and chips, turkey legs, ribs and pear cider. The menu also had things like pasties with ground beef, shepherd’s pie, roast chicken and pumpkin juice. Next up was Ollivander’s Wand Shop which I found especially magical. Ollivandar chose a kid from the front of the group to fit for a wand. After things go awry with the first two wands, the third one is deemed to be just right as lights beam down and music starts to play. We then get moved into the wand shop where you can actually purchase your own wand and to The Owl Post where you can get anything for your stationery needs. I purchased only a few postcards that were stamped with the Hogsmeade postmark. After one final stop to Honeyduke’s we left the magical world to the other Islands in the Islands of Adventure theme park.

Three Broomsticks

Sign at Three Broomsticks

Alison Eating a Turkey Leg

Ollivander's Wand Shop

Ollivandar Picking a Wand

Floor to Ceiling Wands at Ollivander's

The Owl Post

The park did leave me wanting more, like an entire Harry Potter-only theme park, but it was truly inspired and magical. I think going back in the winter would be even more fun since it’s supposed to be wintertime there anyway (and the snow on the roofs are the closest thing to snow we get in FL). I’m sure I’ll be drinking out of my butterbeer mug daily, dreaming of my next visit to the land of Harry Potter.

Me Drinking Butterbeer

Bonus pic! Our friends Kaci and Daniel also came although we didn’t get any pictures with them. Here is their little one Elijah all tuckered out from the day. Awwww!

Elijah Napping

Pregnant Ladies Everywhere!

June 21, 2010

Yesterday was Father’s Day (Happy Father’s Day to all you great fathers out there!) which is an excuse for most of  my extended family to get together and eat egg rolls the size of your head. It just so happens that three people in our family are pregnant right now: my sister-in-law Leslee, my other sister-in-law Nicole and (bear with me) my sister’s husband’s brother’s wife Tia. 

Nicole, Tia and Leslee

 

They are all three due in the next couple of months. Nicole is 31 weeks and having a girl, Tia is 35 weeks and also having a girl and Leslee is 34 weeks and they aren’t finding out the sex of the baby (although I think it’s a girl). It is so cute to see them all three together. I can’t wait to meet the little ones! There’s nothing like a new baby to bring some extra joy into your life!

Kingston Isaiah Kennedy

June 20, 2010

On Thursday, June 17th, we had the opportunity to visit baby Kingston and the new parents Jen and Jeremy under the guise of bringing over dinner.

I am in love! Kingston is so cute and perfect! He kept putting his arms behind his head,  obviously because he was so relaxed in my arms;).

I didn’t want to stop holding him. He was asleep the entire time and totally peaceful. He had his little baby mittens on which made him even more adorable.

The new parents were looking good considering the little amount of sleep they had gotten. They seem to be settling into parenthood very nicely. We are so happy and proud of them both.

Amazing Weekend, Amazing Friends

June 15, 2010

      

This has been an incredibly beautiful, relaxing and fun-filled few days. Friday began with the news that our friends Jen and Jeremy Kennedy were at the birth center, preparing to welcome baby Kingston after being almost two weeks late. He came just in time so that they did not have to go to the hospital and get induced (hospital would have equalled a very sad mommy). We are so thankful that Kingston and family are healthy and happy. We can’t wait to meet him!      

Kingston Isaiah Kennedy - Picture via KennedyBabyCo.com

 

 After that excitement on Friday morning, we went to chill with our friends Rob and Kristy-Lee at their house Friday night. We ate pizza, drank beer and rocked out on Rock Band. K-Lee can sing some Journey like nobody’s business, don’t let her tell you different.      

Saturday felt a little bit like a marathon. We started out bright and early at 7 a.m. to meet my family at the famous Townhouse Restaurant in Oviedo, chickens and all. We went to say goodbye to my mom and 12-year-old niece Skye who were leaving shortly after for a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. We are so glad that they have the opportunity to experience this trip together. We pray that Skye would be moved by the strength of people who have so little and come back with a grateful spirit.      

Oviedo Chicken

 

After breakfast, we ran some errands and then Gary went to meet up with his dude friends Dave and Jon to eat fried food and watch the U.S. vs. England World Cup match while I got my shop on. We then hustled over to Matt and Alison’s for some Frenchie craziness and Apples to Apples. The first game was almost a shut-out by Alison killing it with hilarious answers. Matt introduced us to the popsicle walk which is pretty much what it sounds like – whenever you eat a popsicle (pomegranate, yum!) you must take a walk outside while devouring  it. It’s a pretty simple tradition but one I think I need to incorporate into our popsicle-eating routine. Enjoying a frozen treat with great friends on a hot summer night is always a pleasure.      

Matt and Alison's Frenchie Nixon modeling - Picture via HardRock.com

 

 Sunday morning we were again up early to church and were surprised to see my Uncle Scott and Aunt Lisa standing in the lobby when we got there. My awesome cousin Josh and his equally awesome wife Rachel have been going to our church for the last few months now and his parents (the previously mentioned aunt and uncle) were meeting them for a visit. We don’t get to see Scott and Lisa that often as they live in Tampa so it was a nice reunion. After church we headed off to New Smyrna Beach with Matt and Alison to meet more friends, this time Kaci and Daniel and Kaci’s parents. They were staying at a friend’s beautifully renovated beach condo for the weekend. The beach trip began with stopping at the Mon Delice French Bakery for pressed sandwiches and tarts, continued with me trying to surf until I couldn’t stand any more salt up my nose, girl talk, relaxation and watermelon and ended with the ubiquitous stop at Frozen Gold Ice Cream Shop for a Reese’s Pieces Cyclone.        

       

New Smyrna Beach

 

After the seemingly crazy-busy weekend, I went home on Sunday night feeling rejuvenated. Gary and I are privileged to have some really amazing people in our lives who we have so much fun with but also know that they would be there for us through anything. And I feel lucky to live in a place where paradise is only an hour drive away. Some people don’t know what it’s like to (try to) ride a wave and get your feet buried in the sand. It’s so important to reflect on such things and to really appreciate the people around you and the positive experiences you have. It seems like something that should be a given but unfortunately isn’t always. Thanks to everyone in my life who makes me laugh and makes me feel loved everyday. I love weekends like these.

The End of the Rainbow

June 11, 2010

We’ve been reading the Bill Hybels study called Character: Reclaiming Six Endangered Qualities. The qualities that he talks about are things we all, and I especially, need right now. The characteristics are courage, discipline, confidence, patience, endurance and contentment. I’ve never contemplated these characteristics in-depth but when I think about the people I look up to and respect the most, they all possess  them in spades. Right now is a time in my life when I am pushing myself to every limit imaginable but am confident that the end result will be worth it. Now is the time for character building and at the rainbow’s end is the fruit of that, the pot of gold, if you will.  

Uncredited picture via dump.com