Thankful for Pie 2016 (is the year over yet?) Edition

Well.

I know that I’m definitely not in the minority when I state that 2016 was mostly a flaming garbage fire of a year. Losing so many inspirational people (especially David Bowie…my bestest kitten’s namesake…that one still hurts) and watching this country (well, large parts of the world, actually) attempt to tear itself apart with prejudice and hate…

It’s very hard to be thankful this year.

However, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to try. So, here’s my annual year-in-review, Thankful for Pie, featuring a whole boatload of photos and stories that did not end up on the blog this year due to the fact that working night shift makes blogging extremely difficult. I will try my best to not be so lame about it next year, I promise.

January started with a very special project…

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cap and peggy

making hats for Cap and Peggy! My friend Bailee and I got up insanely early in the morning in order to spend 15 seconds getting this picture late in the afternoon, and let me tell you, what a fantastic decision that was. Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell were both lovely, lovely people, and they deserve all the handknit love.

Later that month, I spilled an entire gallon of milk on my kitchen floor.

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It was really a grand achievement.

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Dan and I also got into watching professional darts competitions on YouTube, and I discovered that I am acutally pretty decent at darts. Please, do yourself a favor and go watch some of these things, and then walk around your house yelling “One hundred and eighty!” at the top of your lungs. You’ll feel awesome.

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Many walks in City Park were had as well, and we were particularly photogenic that day.

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And we got to go see Tool! Second time for me, third time for Dan, but I will go see that band every time I can until the day I die. So good.

In February, Dan made me go canoeing on Valentine’s Day.

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I say made me because for some reason, even though I am a decent swimmer and also wearing a flotation device, going out in this canoe gives me all kinds of anxiety. We seriously bought this canoe with spare change collected from over a number of years, and I need to make a special point to get more comfortable getting into that thing, because Dan has suggested we go canoeing every single weekend since.

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There was Mediterranean food at the end, though, so that made it okay, with the added bonus of my Captain America t-shirt.

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That month I also discovered that Luke Danes from Gilmore Girls and I have the exact same kitchen light fixture. Good deal.

In March, I got to deliver a baby blanket filled with love to my much-deserving friend Christina.

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She remains one of the reasons why I’m still sticking with night shift at my crazy-busy hospital, and her tiny baby will continue to receive knitted love from me whenever possible.

Dan’s family came into town that month, and we took them to China Lights.

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The entire park was filled with these beautiful sculptures made of hand-painted silk and light, and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

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Stunning.

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I made some awesome socks, and told their name to any- and everyone who would listen. Say it with me. Drachenschwingen.

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My friend Paul made me the most beautiful masterpiece of a snoball at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, one of the greatest places on Earth. Snoballs will remain a theme throughout the year.

In April, my good friend Kelli from nursing school got married, and I got to see some much-missed friends.

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It’s always nice to see beautiful weddings happen to really good people.

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I also got a really good 7-letter word in Scrabble that month, you guys.

In May, Dan and I celebrated our ten years together with brunch and pretty trees.

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Riccobono’s Panola Street Cafe will always treat you right with the good, good breakfast food.

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My best friend’s band, the Ghostwood, had their very last show. Jonathan and his wife Rebecca have since moved to California, and I miss them all the time.

I won’t pretend I wasn’t really sad, but I did have a moment of triumph at this particular show. A crowd-surfing/mosh-pit/poorly-place speaker situation led to the guitarist Andy’s lovely girlfriend Lisa getting hit really hard in the knee, and I got to spring into first aid action, helping Andy get her out of harm’s way, providing her with ibuprofen, and then getting her an ice pack. I felt downright nurse-like.

She’s totally okay now, guys, don’t worry.

Dan and I got to see this really awesome papier-mache elephant.

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And I got to witness what is possibly the greatest license plate of all time.

June. Oh my god, June. I completely forgot to tell you guys what happened to…bum bum bum…the Hamilton hats. This could be a post all by itself, so hang in there.

Well, first things first, I made an insane amount of hats for the entire cast of Hamilton.

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Actually, first-first things first, my brother and sister-in-law made the arrangements to take me and Dan on a fantastic New York Hamilton-based trip for my birthday, which I will never, ever be a good enough person to deserve, so I have no idea why they keep doing these awesome things for me.

And then I wrote a rather unintentionally heartfelt post about them addressed directly to Mr. Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The hats came with us to New York City!

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We saw Fun Home! It was an astoundingly beautiful piece of theatre, and I was totally crushed when it closed earlier this year. Every single person in this world would benefit from seeing it, and I hope that communities get their own productions running soon.

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Ignore my weird grinning double-chinned I-totally-wasn’t-bawling-my-eyes-out-ten-minutes-ago face in these, but just be excited that Beth Malone and Michael Cerveris were such wonderful friendly people. Michael Cerveris was super excited to talk about New Orleans with me for a little bit (he lives here!), and I dream of one day being super cool and not weird at all if I bump into him on the sidewalk.

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The entire cast was just so friendly and sweet to the fans. It was really fun to watch them.

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On Hamilton day, Dan and I started early and roamed Central Park.

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Dan discovered that in order to get the proper angle on some extremely important photos, you have to fall over backwards into a bush.

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The original bag that I had packed the hats in disintegrated in my suitcase, so I packed the hats up into a nicer laundry bag from our hotel, complete with a printed out copy of the blog post, like a giant dork.

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We went to this super-cool lunch/interview thing at Sardi’s where there was a Q&A with Betsy Struxness and Stephanie Klemons, original member of the Hamilton ensemble and assistant choreographer/dance captain of Hamilton respectively. Two very cool and accomplished ladies who encouraged everyone to pursue the arts and get their entire families involved. Also, I was wearing an awesome dress with chickens all over it that I got from Trashy Diva.

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We got in line for the show, and I mustered up the courage to knock on the backstage door, at Betsy and Stephanie’s advice. A kindly older gentleman came out and asked me who the hats were for. I told them that they were for everyone in the cast. And that was it.

Until. We got inside the theatre, bought some merch, made our way to our seats, and then my sister-in-law Kim tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Jinger, look!” I turned to see who I assume was the stage manager, wearing one of my hats and making her way up into the booth about 5 minutes before the show started. I died for a second. And that was it.

No, seriously, that really was it.

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We waited for autographs afterwards, plus after the evening show, and even though we saw and chatted with both Rory O’Malley and Leslie Odom, Jr. (both fellow Carnegie Mellon alums and people I have actually met and interacted with in real life before), neither of them knew anything about the hats. I tweeted and re-tweeted about the blog post to Lin-Manuel Miranda and other cast members, and aside from getting a “like” from Renée Elise Goldsberry…

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…which, don’t get me wrong, was freaking awesome, I never heard anything else about them. I sincerely hope that they didn’t end up in a garbage can somewhere. Perhaps they are hanging out with Jeff the Squirrel somewhere.

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Got Rory, Leslie, and Ephraim Sykes (who has since gone on to win hearts playing Seaweed on Hairspray Live!) to sign my Hamiltome, too, even though there were no pictures of that due to the crush of the crowd, so that was good stuff.

Speaking of good stuff, there were many other wonderful things about the trip.

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We toured the Aladdin theatre and got to interact with some cool Disney Broadway memorabilia.

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We saw a DeLorean parked behind a pile of trash.

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We had a wonderful picnic in Central Park with more incredibly beautiful people from Carnegie Mellon, my friends Carla, Nora, Marie, Evan, and Evan (yes, I meant to type two Evans), who all, even though I see them only every five years or so (which is ridiculous and I hope that we can change), remain the most lovely people who fall into conversation as if we just saw each other the day before.

This picnic took place on Sunday, Tony Awards morning, which was unfortunately also the day that the news erupted about the horrific Pulse nightclub shooting the previous night. It was a good day to hug your friends as tightly as possible.

Speaking of Tony Awards…

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We went to a viewing party at this wonderful restaurant whose name unfortunately escapes me at the moment, but we had a great time. Dan cheated off of me on our Tony ballots, but promised to split the prize with me.

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We ate an array of tiny delicious foods and drank an astonishing amount of wine, all while tearing up while watching Lin-Manuel accept his award with starkly beautiful poetry and seeing Hamilton and The Humans just clean up all the awards. Good stuff.

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A wonderful trip, but bittersweet.

In July?

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Dan and I made pie, but unfortunately zero pictures of pie or pie recipes ended up on the blog this year, for the precise reason that I absolutely sucked at pie this year. I just could not get my crust game together, and I still have absolutely no idea why. Many attempts were made, many disappointments were had. I am aware of the irony that I always call this post Thankful for Pie, but the reasoning for keeping the name this year will be made clear later.

I made a decorative throw pillow for one of my favorite authors, Chuck Palahniuk.

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I think he liked it.

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In fact, I know he did.

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Look at the little picture he took of me! What a good dude.

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I also took the month of July to binge listen all of The Adventure Zone podcast while drinking coffee and coloring-by-numbers. It’s hard to stay in the lines when you’re listening to those McElroy brothers, let me tell you.

August brought with it more snoballs.

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Plus, my new favorite shoes, turquoise Vans covered with beach balls and tiny kittens playing in inner tubes. Like you do.

In September, I started a new vest for Dan, which will get a massive blog post when I’m finished, I promise.

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I went on a granola-baking binge.

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We had a few beach moments before it got too cold and gloomy to do so.

Something also happened in September that was awful, but ended up being something that I am incredibly thankful for. Because this involves nursing and patients, I have to speak very, very generally, so bear with me. We take care of a huge range of high-acuity patients on our floor, and having very young children with tracheostomies and ventilators is not uncommon. Early one morning, I happened to be the one to respond to a mother’s call for help and ended up performing CPR on an unresponsive and not-breathing baby with no pulse with a trach/vent for nearly five minutes. I got rotated out when the code team arrived and seconds later, her heart started beating again.

She’s totally okay now, I promise! She was back to her old self the next night, and I know that this is par for the course when you work with very sick children, but it would be wrong to pretend that this didn’t affect me deeply. I had nightmares for about a month afterwards where I saw the entire thing happen over again. We also had a long-time patient that I took care of all the time pass away this year, so it was like the entire reality of my job hit me all at once.

Hold on, let’s look at something happy.

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My parents dug up an old Karate Kid movie poster puzzle for me.

Plus, I have really cute cats!

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Like, the cutest! Feel better? Okay. Me too.

I am not rethinking nursing in any way, trust me. If anything, I’m digging in deeper. More on that later.

October started with the greatest Halloween decorations of all time.

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I see this house on my way to work all the time, and I wonder if the guy who does this knows how much happiness it brings me.

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More snoballs, this time featuring Hansen’s well-known motto.

Then, for a dress-up opportunity at work, Dan made me the greatest gift a man has ever given a woman.

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My very own Captain America shield made out of a garbage can lid. (Just like in the first movie! I know!) It is possibly now my most prized possession. I wish I could carry it around every day.

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And dang it if it didn’t look super cute with my vintage-y Captain America dress.

All this dressing up was for our superhero-themed Pediatric Nurses’ Week poster contest, and let me tell you, people on 6 Center know how to throw down.

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I know that we save lives and stuff, but this just might be my greatest accomplishment as a registered nurse. I’m way down in the lower right-hand corner, but all of the collaging, drawing, and lettering was all done by yours truly. Needless to say, we won the crap out of that poster contest.

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I finally got the Hamilton soundtrack on vinyl just in time for our Hamilton’s America documentary viewing party, which also included alcoholic cake…

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Drunken Pumpkin Bundt Cake, to be exact…

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…lots of Hamilton shirts…

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…and hilarious Hamilton bingo.

Remember how I said that I was digging in deeper into nursing? Well, in November, I was accepted into Loyola University’s DNP program.

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In three years, I will have a Doctorate of Nursing Practice, and will hopefully be able to work in a clinic in underserved communities to help children and their families. I start in a week and a half. I’m simultaneously excited and terrified, plus happy to buy some new school supplies.

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Dan and I did our part and became part of history, voting for the very first woman candidate for president. We all know how that worked out, but I’m still proud that we got a chance to do such a thing, and I can’t wait to do it again.

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For Thanksgiving, I continued to experience crust and pie-related failure. The pumpkin pie was perfectly fine, but that apple and cranberry one up on top was a huge mess. I fought through uncooperative crust and managed to make something that looked really good, but for some reason the filling never…gelled together. I sliced it open and dished up mangled pieces of apple, cranberry, and crumbled crust and tried not to get really upset. Pie really is a mystery that way. You can go from start to finish thinking everything is fine, but you won’t know until you try to get that first slice out of the pan.

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At the end of the month, I got to help make a baby’s first Christmas a little more special. Christina’s baby (mentioned above with the baby blanket) has been “adopted” as honorary grandbaby to one of our other coworkers, and she commandeered me to make a label for this adorable stuffed bear. I went ahead and said, how about I make it a lot harder and make a whole sweater for the bear? No one who reads this regularly is at all surprised, I’m sure.

Also, the bear “unzips” up the back and flips inside out to fold into a plush ball, which is really, really cool, but makes it so that the sweater had to be able to come off, hence the wide neckline. When my coworkers saw it, they all declared that the cowl-neck was adorable, which was hilarious to me.

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In December, I made tiny Candlenights stockings for the McElroy brothers.

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I destroyed my coworkers in bowling.

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We ate even more snoballs. Any and every time of year is right for this icy goodness.

And, then, to finish things up on a high note, I conquered crust.

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I got out the big guns and let Joy the Baker tell me what to do. Every step was painstakingly followed, I rolled out everything extremely slowly and chilled everything multiple times, and it was perfect.

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Dan’s birthday apple pie was a success, and I will continue to kick ass at pie in the new year, hopefully.

I hope that you all take the time to find the light in such a dark year and also kick ass at whatever you choose to do. Although, seriously, you should make some pie. You’ll feel better, I promise.

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Thankful for Pie (somehow pie-less, yet still awesome) 2015 Edition

I guess this recurring post is just the year in review now, instead of a declaration of love for pie, due to the fact that I can’t get my act together around Thanksgiving anymore. (Want to see previous years? 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.) Nevertheless, you can be thankful for things anytime during the year, right? Right.

Also, even though I know for a fact that Dan and I ate a whole ton of pie this year, there are absolutely zero pictures of pie! I know, right, but my crust game was just seriously lacking this year. Have no fear, no matter what, pie is always right up there on the list of things that I am most grateful for.

Here we go.

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January was a bit of a blur, as I was starting my last semester of nursing school. Pancakes and beignets were enjoyed at every available opportunity.

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Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day nearly collided in February. Let me tell you, if you want to see some really unflattering pictures, look through about 100 pictures of me screaming at a parade. I get so serious about absolutely needing some useless pieces of plastic, and I look completely deranged. Anyway, Endymion is one of my favorite parades, so it was great to take some out-of-town friends and act like a maniac just to get a frisbee.

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Ha! I lied! Of course, there has to be pie for Pi Day in March! (Seriously, I completely forgot about this amazing pie until just this moment. Bad, bad baker.) My friend Amanda came up with possibly the greatest pie name ever, Chocolate and Cream and Berries? Oh My! Any pie that has punctuation in its title automatically has my vote.

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April brought with it a lovely scarf with beautiful silver beads, of which I still have approximately 8000 and no ideas for how to use them.

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Also, my last nursing school exam! I had a much-needed old fashioned at the St. Roch Market and resisted the urge to run around dancing in the streets.

May? Oh man, May was busy.

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Graduation Day!

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Valedictorian!

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Party planning!

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Rumchata Ribbon Ice Cream! Let’s be honest. The ice cream was the most important. That, and that lemon and blueberry bundt cake up there was pretty amazing, too.

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I designed and made a pretty cowl, Cowl Before the Storm, and it might just actually be cool enough to wear it today when I go see Star Wars.

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We went to see the Rentals! I got to chat with Matt Sharpe a little bit after the show, and I told him that I played through my cassette tape of Return of the Rentals so many times since age 13 that the ribbon snapped.

Yes, that is a Stay-Puft marshmallow man dancing up there during the show. It’s best left unexplained.

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Also, I dressed up like Fox in Socks at some point. Bright red scrub pants are the bomb.

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Dan and I tried to take June as easy as possible.

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I came home from work after midnight on my birthday to find a chocolate cake surprise from my love, plus new vinyl records!

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We did all kinds of coloring. (Yes, I am aware it is super trendy. No, I do not care. Coloring is awesome.)

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I made these awesome alcohol-drenched cupcakes.

In July, I started my new real-world job.

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I never would have predicted that I could simultaneously experience so many different emotions at one job, in even one hour at one job. My previous job life has been mostly retail and management-type stuff, and the feelings range from frustration to accomplishment, but mostly you just want to hurry up and finish things so you can go home.

Working with these kids has been so different and so eye-opening for me. I get to celebrate their victories, sing along to their favorite movies, comfort them and dry their tears, make crazy faces and make them laugh, be the bad guy with the medicine so that their parents can continue to be their heroes…in the short time that I’ve been there, I’ve experienced profound loss and unmitigated joy side-by-side with these children and their families, and even though I come home from night shift exhausted and generally don’t have any idea what time it is anymore, I can definitely say that I made the right decision to work in pediatrics.

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Plus, the hospital is close to my very favorite snoball stand, so that’s a plus. There are no shortcuts to quality.

At the end of July, my grandmother passed away. I actually found out about this the day before I took my NCLEX nursing license test while simultaneously battling terrible food poisoning brought about by Chinese food shrimp. There was a big mess in my brain for a fairly long time.

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She loved Christmas, and I felt her absence from our table this year strongly.

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Making pretty scarves helps you get through these things, even though it’s August and way too hot outside.

September?

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A trip to Los Angeles to deliver a very special scarf

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…to a very special person.

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I met the love of my life at the wax museum. It was hard to let go.

And then, the Emmys? What?

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I was just as surprised as you, Jamie Lee.

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Such a crazy trip, courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law, who seem to have created a habit of making opportunities for me to get to go do amazing things. You guys are great.

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In October, my baby Bowie had his 8th birthday. Here are some more adorable cat pictures, just because.

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Dang, those cats are cute.

November started with more alcoholic cupcakes.

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There’s still a lot of winter left to make your own RumChata cupcakes, so you should get on that.

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In December, so much blanket knitting (which you all just read about yesterday, right?), plus carouselfies…

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…more beignets and coffee…

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…and a large pack of angry cranes that followed Dan for about 10 minutes, thinking he would share his beignets.

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Plus, super secret work on a super secret project that I am terrible at keeping secrets about. Let’s just say, it involves a certain Avenger with a propensity for wearing patriotic colors, plus his troubled half-robotic-armed friend. That’s pretty vague, right?

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It’s been a year of ups and downs, that’s for sure, and as I looked through all of my pictures, I was struck by how much I didn’t really document things much this year. It just felt like a whirlwind to finally finish school and start a new life in nursing, or perhaps I am also lazy and attracted more to sleep than to putting my life back together again after school.

Now that life is starting to reassemble around my new job, I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of making things. Hopefully, 2016 will be full of pies (and I’ll actually remember to take pictures of them), knitting, hugs, and love, not just for me but for all of you out there. I’m just itching to get out there and make things already, and I can’t wait to show you when I do.

RumChata Cupcakes!

It’s my friend Brittany’s birthday today, known mostly to you readers as the genius who came up with the RumChata Ice Cream challenge to which I valiantly arose during my graduation party.

That giant bottle of RumChata that I bought to make the ice cream has been hanging out in my refrigerator ever since, just waiting for the opportunity to become some other sort of alcoholic dessert. I’d say that a 30th birthday is a good enough occasion to break it out again, yes? Yes.

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Now, Brittany has a deep appreciation for all things cinnamon, including Fireball and RumChata. Don’t believe me?

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I wasn’t the only one who thought that it would make a good gift.

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Shots of RumChata are a something of a tradition with us.

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She’s also a bit of a cupcake connoisseur, so it seemed like the perfect idea to conjure up some RumChata Cupcakes to bring to the party.

There’s plenty of alcohol in the actual cakes themselves, plus extra brushed on top, and then mixed up into the buttercream frosting, too, as well as a great deal of cinnamon.

RumChata Cupcakes
adapted from Betty Crocker’s Starlight Yellow Cake and Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients:
Cupcakes:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups RumChata liqueur (plus about 1/4 cup extra for brushing)
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3 large eggs
1 heaping tsp. cinnamon (plus extra for sprinkling)

RumChata Buttercream Frosting:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2-3 tbsp. RumChata liqueur

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 2 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners.

In large bowl, beat all cupcake ingredients together on low speed for 30 seconds, and then at high speed for about 3 minutes, until smooth and custardy. I like to start with the sugar and butter first, then the eggs, then everything else, but whatever works best for you.

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Whatever you do, don’t trust the lid on the baking powder, no matter how well it seems to be attached.

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Divide the batter evenly into the 24 cupcake liners, being sure to only fill each between 1/2 and 3/4 full.

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Put your face really, really close to the pan and get in a really good sniff of that cinnamon-y goodness before you have to put it in the oven.

Bake the cupcakes for approximately 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean and the tops spring back when touched lightly in their centers. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

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While the cakes are cooling, it’s frosting time!

In a medium bowl, beat the powdered sugar and softened butter together on low-medium speed until well-incorporated, then add the vanilla and 1 tbsp. of the RumChata.

Then, gradually add in enough RumChata, by drops, until the frosting is smooth and spreadable. I lost track of exactly how much I put in there, but I don’t think that I went more than 4 tbsp. You’ll know when you get there.

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Now, take your cooled cupcakes and poke some holes in the tops with a toothpick.

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Be sure to notice that your cats are up to something over in the corner, and have a balanced, logical discussion with them about how they shouldn’t try to eat cobwebs.

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Then, brush on a generous layer of RumChata and allow it to soak in a little bit.

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If you don’t let them dry a little bit, the tops of the cake will rip right off when you try to put the frosting on, so be patient if possible.

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I did end up having a tiny bit of RumChata left over after brushing all the cakes. You can guess what I did with that.

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If you said drink it straight from the measuring cup, you are correct.

Get a nice heaping scoop of frosting on a flat spatula and smear it on top of your cupcakes in a rustic fashion.

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Or, if you want to get fancy and pipe it on, go right ahead. However, this frosting recipe gives you just barely enough to get the tops done this way, so if you want something more elaborate, you should probably double the recipe.

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Then, with all your pretty little cakes in a row, sprinkle a touch of cinnamon on top of each one.

Pretty!

Now, what do these taste like? Here we have a stop-motion reaction shot, courtesy of the birthday girl.

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When they’re baking, they smell like butter and cinnamon and rum and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, all of the good things in the world. They taste that way, too, let me assure you.

Later on in the night, Brittany told me that they were the best thing that she had ever put in her mouth, and then she reminded me again later on Facebook. I’m not sure if I would go that far, but yes, they are definitely something special. They might be worth buying another giant bottle of RumChata for.

Little Lebowskis – Dark Chocolate White Russian Cupcakes

I appear to have acquired for myself a reputation for making boozy desserts. I have absolutely no idea how that could have possibly happened.

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My friend Samantha recently moved away from New Orleans to Chicago, and for her going-away party, I asked her if she’d like for me to bake anything. She said that she didn’t care what the baked good was, as long as it was filled with alcohol, preferably White Russian-flavored.

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I was prepared with a ridiculous amount of Kahlua, but, as usual, some research was in order. I was going to be bringing this dessert to a bar (appropriately enough, considering the contents), so it couldn’t be some sort of giant cake or frozen thing. Cupcakes seemed portable and appropriate. Clicking around brought me to the Collegiate Baker‘s Chocolate Kahlua Cake, a thing of beauty that absolutely begged to be modified into cupcakes.

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All of the elements were there: chocolate, Kahlua, and even more Kahlua.

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As for the cupcakes part, the only modification that I made was to divide the batter into liners in a cupcake pan (obviously), and baked them for a slightly longer period of time (about 33 minutes, as opposed to the 25 in the original recipe). I’m not sure if the longer time comes from a slightly taller cake or from the fact that my oven is a lying liar all the time, but things worked out nicely.

Just a note, you end up filling the cupcake liners slightly higher than you think you need to because these don’t rise very much at all. Just go a little bit higher than the standard 2/3rds, and you’ll be just fine. You’ll get 18 cupcakes, plus a tiny 1/2-sized 19th cupcake just for you to enjoy.

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This tiny half-cake ended up being super important to the process here. Dan and I split it when the cupcakes had cooled sufficiently, and we discovered that, although the chocolate and coffee liqueur flavor was pleasing (that’s too weak of a word…it was freaking dense and delicious), it was not what you’d call boozy really. It didn’t have that little bump of tang and flavor that I’ve come to associate with those types of desserts.

So, after the cakes were totally cooled, I went ahead and remedied that by poking a bunch of holes in the top of each cupcake…

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…and brushing them with straight Kahlua to soak in. Each one got a good, full brushful, plus some extra drops drizzled into those gorgeous cracks on top. I think I used slightly less than 1/2 cup for all 18 cakes.

Then, I let that soak in while I made the frosting.

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Southern Living’s White Russian Frosting, because you don’t mess with perfection.

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It’s ridiculous how good this stuff is. And a warning, you’ll end up with way too much for just cupcakes, unless you are some kind of champion cupcake decorator who knows how to pile that stuff up way high. I think that I probably only used about half of the recipe, and the other half is currently sitting in my refrigerator, calling to me softly every time I walk by.

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Now, I am intimidated by frosting cupcakes. But if you are a close reader, you are probably not surprised by this information. This time, however, I had the frosting mojo. I was on a roll, making perfect little spirals with perfect tiny curls on top.

Until.

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My frosting bag betrayed me. Split right up the side. And then at the tip while I attempted to salvage the existing frosting and rescue the tip. While I scrambled to rig up a Ziplock bag to save the entire operation and not lose the frosting mojo, Dan took some artistic shots.

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Dang. I’m still proud somehow.

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Back on track.

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I was even smiling, and you know that rarely happens in my kitchen.

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Then, for the finishing touch, everything got sprinkled with some bittersweet chocolate shavings. You could make some chocolate curls for yourself, or you could go with my cheating, hacky version and buy some super fancy hot chocolate from Williams-Sonoma and use that instead. It’s delicious sprinkled on top of ice cream, too.

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Hooray! I sent out the call on social media for friends to help me with the name for these, as I couldn’t think of anything that was remotely clever or didn’t sound exactly like every other cake on the Internet. There was so many funny and interesting suggestions, but what really stuck out was how many people mentioned The Big Lebowski and the Dude.

I kicked myself for not thinking of that first, and then used elements of a bunch of suggestions to come up with Little Lebowskis, after the urban achievers in the film. And proud we are of all of them. (Do it in your best Maude voice.)

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Sam became the keeper of the cupcakes once they appeared at the party, and her smile makes me think that I did a pretty good job.

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I know that the quality of these pictures is bad, but bars are dark and no one else in the world cares if you like to take pictures of your food.

Anyway, the first bite of these is super dark chocolate and sweet buttercream. Then, the Kahlua kicks in and warms everything up, and makes everyone make the same simultaneously surprised and satisfied face. I’m going to have to make them again to use up all that extra frosting.

A Very Very Very Happy Pi Day 2015 to You! Chocolate and Cream and Berries? Oh My!

Any day that ends with the top news item on your Facebook feed being “mathematical constant celebrated” is definitely a good day. And any day that ends in pie. Especially this one.

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Pi Day is today! I always make it a point to celebrate the day. The greatest nerd holiday short of May the Fourth. (Anybody? You know who you are. Be proud in your nerd-ness.) I could tell it was coming up because there was a drastic increase in hits on the blog for my Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie, and if you are making it to celebrate today, I can’t think of anything that would make me happier.

I made a pie to celebrate yesterday, but waiting until today to post it keeps my nerd cred intact, yes? My reasons for making it yesterday? Because I had to hang out with some awesome sick children and give them medicine and take their vital signs for 12 hours today. That’s why.

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Anyway.

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This pie is not all that different from that previous glorious strawberry-chocolate wonder, mostly because I am bad at making up new things with any sort of confidence, but also because it’s really hard to go wrong with French silk and fresh fruit. And chocolate cinnamon graham cracker crust, of course.

But.

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Before we get to the recipe, I have a bone to pick with the (presumably) good people over at Baker’s. Now, I could already say something to you guys about the fact that these boxes used to contain 8 oz. of chocolate (double the chocolate!) for the same price, but I’m not going to harp on that. What I am going to say is that this is a box of lies.

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EASY BREAK BAR? LIES! Go back to those fantastic little individually-wrapped squares that caused me absolutely no shouting or anger. Please. There’s only so much I can take.

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Recipe now? Or, as I learned today from people from Germany looking for pie on my blog, rezept now? No problem.

Chocolate and Cream and Berries? Oh My!
totally awesome recipe name from my amazing friend Amanda, picked from an impressively insane list that also included suggestions that incorporated my own name made by some of the greatest people that have ever walked the Earth

with a tiny bit of assistance from Betty Crocker

Ingredients:
Chocolate Cinnamon Graham Cracker Crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate graham crackers (I used one sleeve, about 18 squares)
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

French Silk Pie Filling:
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate, melted and then cooled
3/4 cup egg substitute

6-8 oz. fresh raspberries, rinsed and sorted through to find the prettiest ones

Directions:
Crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until well-incorporated. Press mixture firmly against the bottom and sides of a 9″ deep-dish pie pan.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes. Allow to cool completely before filling.

Filling:
In medium bowl, beat sugar and butter with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and cooled chocolate. Gradually add in egg substitute and beat on high speed until mixture is light and fluffy (about 3 minutes).

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Pour into pie crust and spread evenly. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes while you prep and sort your super pretty raspberries.

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It’s not completely necessary to wear an Eddie Izzard comedy tour shirt, but it helps.

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Place the raspberries (and press them in slightly) in a pleasing pattern on top of the pie, either going with the radius-inspired wheel-spoke pattern that we did, or something even more mathematically geeky. Or you could just buy an insane boatload of raspberries and cover the whole damn thing.

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There was a little bit of back-of-the-envelope deliberation involved over here.

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Chill pie for at least 2 hours, but not before ogling your work for what seems to be an excessive amount of time to anyone slightly normal.

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Good job, you.

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Combine remaining ingredients in chilled mixing bowl and whip cream on high speed until super fluffy and spreadable.

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Slice that pie up with a mind to keep each radius centered on each slice. You get to eat a food version of a mathematical measurement!  (Or just slice however you want. You have all that power here. You could eat the entire center out and leave the crust, if you want. It’s your Pi Day.) Drop a heaping dollop of whipped cream and a few scattered extra raspberries on top, and then enjoy!

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Enjoy what’s rest of Pie Day, you lovely people. I think I’m going to go make Dan cut me another slice.

Year-End Thankfulness and Awesomeness Round-Up (or…Thankful for Pie: Damn Fine Cherry Pie Super-Late Edition)

You guys. Like usual, I decided to use all my free time after finishing the semester forgetting that I had a blog to post things on. Whoops.

In order to make up for it, get ready for waaaay too much content.

This year has been for me, as well as for many others in my life, full of ups and downs, and to properly celebrate it (as well as make up for the fact that I completely forgot to do a Thanksgiving post this year, even though I had an exorbitant amount of pie pictures ready to go), I decided to go through all of my pictures from this year and pick out my favorite moments for which I am enormously thankful. Heavily featured? Awesome people and silly situations, plus knitting.

Don’t worry, there’s also pictures of pie. And ice cream. And a whole lot of me, which I normally shy away from, but why else have a blog if you aren’t going to at least take one entry to celebrate how awesome you are, even if you feel as though you make super weird faces in most pictures?

Here we go.

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I made my friend Bailee this giant labor of love early in the year, the sight of which prompted the following amazing text message:

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And can we talk a little bit more about Bailee?

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She moved back home to Mississippi at the beginning of summer, but she is still totally game to drive all the way back in order to sit with me in a movie theater for nine hours to watch all of The Hobbit trilogy.

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I miss her all the time. That girl’s a keeper.

Speaking of Mardi Gras…(I know that’s not right, but how else does one transition solely on photo content?)

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My friend Jonathan orchestrated a lovely surprise for his wife this year when she was riding in a Mardi Gras parade. We dutifully waited for her float in the place where we said we would, and then we ran as fast as we possibly could down the street in order to meet her float and scream at her and receive beads four more times.

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Needless to say, I think that Rebecca was delighted.

You know who else is delightful?

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These guys.

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Best (and probably most photogenic, for sure) cats ever.

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In March, I walked for MS with my spectacular nursing school friend Gaby, who is an inspiration to me in so many different ways. She is always there for me to roll my eyes with and knows that the best way to deal with the seriousness of the health care industry is to have an awesome time and not care at all about what anyone else thinks. She believes in the wisdom and comfort of good coffee, good wine, and pictures of Grumpy Cat, and I am so happy that she is my friend.

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In April, I made banana bread and talked a lot about ASMR right here on the blog, and the outpouring of love and appreciation that I got from friends and blog-buddies alike really knocked me out. I can’t even express how thankful I am for ASMR and all of the wonderful content-creators out there, like Heather Feather and Springbok ASMR and countless others. You guys are so freaking great.

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In May, I threw caution to the wind and wore a wig all day to dress up as Ramona Flowers. I am still proud of myself for not having a panic attack from so much wig and goggle anxiety.

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In June, I made this amazing frozen yogurt from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, and then posted about it on Tumblr. Then, Jeni’s Ice Creams itself actually reblogged it and called it the “official flavor of summer,” and my mind got blown while I watched it get reblogged over a hundred times. I know that those are pretty piddly numbers for most seasoned Tumblr folk, but my brain exploded everywhere for a few hours when that happened. It was awesome.

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Later on that same day when I made that frozen yogurt, I went to my birthday party where lots of really pretty ladies thought it would be fun to grab my boobs. It was.

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And then, at June’s end, Dan and I went to visit my brother and his now-wife in Austin to see Eddie Izzard and give him this handknit squirrel. I’m pretty sure we all know how that went, but I still wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything else. I just hope that Jeff found a good home eventually.

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In July, I made a hat. I just think it’s really pretty.

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Then in August, another hat, plus a published pattern and the highest day ever for views here at jingersnaps. Brain exploded again, you guys. You have no idea how happy that stuff makes me. Someone actually made one of their own in that very first week (want to see? Ravelry link!), and it came out so cute. I was elated. Knitters are seriously the best.

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Oh, and in August, I got free ice cream on my snoball once for absolutely no reason. It was pretty great, too.

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In September, I discovered that I could knit rainbows.

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And my brother got married! I managed to wear makeup and a lovely dress and didn’t spill anything on myself, somehow.

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Plus, Dan and I took lots of picnics and bike rides in the park and along the lake. Can’t you just see the joy radiating from that beautiful man’s face? He loves a good tire swing.

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In October, I invented an extremely boozy cake that made a bunch of people really happy. And tipsy.

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I also met one of my idols, Ms. Joy Wilson from Joy the Baker, and gave her a homemade cat toy. Like you do.

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I actually attended a school function for once, but only because it required wearing a fancy dress and drinking wine in an aquarium. When else would we ever get that opportunity?

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Also in October, my wonderful friend Amanda from Colorado visited New Orleans with her husband, and we had the most amazing time. We managed to somehow visit a record store that was showcasing Mardi Gras Indian costumes when this happened:

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The artist himself actually put that on my head. My face pretty accurately reflects my feelings, both of excitement and of confusion as to how these uber-talented artists can wear these things and dance around the way that they do. Seriously, the headdress alone was nearly 40 pounds.

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We went on a trip through the Honey Island Swamp with them, and then later that same weekend…

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See anything familiar about that headdress? We saw that exact same guy, this time wearing his beautiful handmade costume and leading a second-line down Canal Street. Their time here was pretty astounding. It was like the New Orleans that the commercials make you think always exists, but rarely does outside of Mardi Gras. We saw live music, alligators, and graveyards, plus topped it all off with Sazeracs.

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Oh, and in October, I read a bedtime story to Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper. It was a busy month.

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In November, I met William Joyce! And what a delightful man he was. He really gives a good autograph.

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I feel like December was all about pie. Apple pie for Dan’s birthday. Cherry pie for a super-fun Twin Peaks HD viewing party. (Hence the ‘damn fine pie’ reference in the title.) French silk pie for Christmas, with no pictures unfortunately. Pie is always one of the things that I am thankful for, and this year made me realize just how much people like when you’re around if you can make a good pie.

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In December, actually just a few days ago, I got the opportunity to see Degas’ Little Dancer in person. Degas has been one of my favorite artists for as long as I can remember, and it was a privilege to see such a wonderful and influential part of art history.

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Now that I look at it all together in these fantastic little moments, 2014 was a wonderful year to look back on. Not only do I have some really amazing friends, but you guys reading this are a huge part of my joy, just in case you didn’t get it by now.

I am thankful for everyone reading and everyone crafting and everyone working hard to make things that people will love, regardless of what they are. You should all be so proud of yourselves for creating beautiful things and moments in other people’s lives. Thank you for a lovely year.

Elegant Deception with Joy the Baker’s Cinnamon Sugar and Dark Chocolate Croissants

On Saturday, I spent a ridiculous amount of time outside in a park in the cold, selling children’s books and running around and meeting authors with absolutely nothing knitted to present to them (I know. I’m ashamed of myself enough for everyone, don’t worry.) Then, I decided that the best thing to do (instead of sitting down with hot tea and studying and going to bed early, like a normal person would do) would be to spend my evening making chocolate-filled croissants to give to my co-workers at 7 am the next morning.

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I am full of great ideas. Especially if they involve egg wash and extreme amounts of cinnamon and sugar.

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It had already been a MONTH since I got Joy the Baker‘s new cookbook (and blogged all about how I made her a cat toy), and I still hadn’t made anything from it. I clearly need to sort out my priorities.

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There is an excellent recipe in Homemade Decadence that really embraces the title to me, the Cinnamon Sugar and Dark Chocolate Croissants. In this recipe, we can pretend that we are together enough in our lives to be able to whip up puff pastry at a moment’s notice, simply by purchasing boxes of puff pastry and defrosting them a few hours before we want to make croissants.  Such elegant deception.

I ran into a bit of a problem here, as the puff pastry did not want to defrost. Apparently, in addition to my oven being a lying liar and not being nearly as hot as it claims to be, my refrigerator must also be much, much colder than it should be. I let these puff pastry sheets defrost for 3 hours, and they still had ice crystals and folded creases that made them split into 3 sections, rather than the 4 that Joy wanted me to cut them into.

I felt personally responsible for the obstinance of these damn puff pastry sheets, as though I was letting Joy and the entire blogging and somehow Barnes & Noble family down by not being able to control the thawing time of butter and flour. It gets weird in my head sometimes.

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Life snapped back into focus, and I decided to roll with it and made a 3×3 sheet to get 18 slightly smaller croissants than the 4×2 sheet described. Well, smaller croissants are better than no croissants, as the time-worn saying goes.

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And aren’t they adorable?

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I swear that I wasn’t deliberately trying to flip off the camera in that one.

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Before and after. I really enjoyed how neat and tidy and efficient the pastry-rolling process made me feel.

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Basically, the idea here is that a layer of cinnamon and sugar is sandwiched between 2 sheets of flaky puff pastry, which are then cut into triangles and rolled around dark chocolate chunks to form a flaky, crunchy, sweet chocolate delivery device, perfect for adding to a breakfast buffet line. Cutting them out, rolling them up, and sprinkling them with cinnamon, sugar, and sea salt makes you feel super fancy, which is a big bonus in my book.

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Then, you put them into your lying, cheating oven and bake them until they are done (which in the real world is somewhere between 12-15 minutes, and in my kitchen topped out at 21-24…I need an oven thermometer for Christmas, you guys. It will prevent me from dismantling the thing with a screwdriver and malice in my heart).

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Look how cute they are!

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Flaky and brown and crisp on top. Dang, you fancy, mini-croissant.

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I had to sample one, of course. To make sure it was not burnt. It’s a chef’s thing.

(If you can place that movie quote, we need to hang out.)

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Lots of flaky layers and creamy chocolate inside. Hooray!

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Unfortunately, it was gone in seconds. Slightly longer, maybe, because I was taking pictures. To add to the pain, I wasn’t allowed to have anymore because they had to make an appearance at an event the next morning.

I’m definitely going to do this again, and maybe only make 4 giant croissants, filled with chocolate or almond paste. That would certainly be decadent, and I would go out of my way not to share with anybody. That would certainly be the mature thing to do. You should all go out and buy Homemade Decadence and do the same.

Drunken Pumpkin Bundt Cake – a tale of adventure, mishap, and Irish Cream

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I went to go and get a flu shot yesterday, and on the way home, I went to the grocery store and bought the following items:

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I didn’t need 3 whole cans of pumpkin, but they were on sale, and I was powerless to resist.

Since last week or so, probably since the calendar officially told us that fall was here, I have been daydreaming about a cake that incorporated 2 of my favorite things: pumpkin and cheap Irish cream liqueur.

I am aware that most people use Irish cream as a mixer in more elaborate cocktails or as a way to make their coffee more interesting, but, over the years, it has become my favorite drink all on its own. Just in a tiny glass with an ice cube? I have no idea why it’s so great, but it is. Irish cream is made with Irish whiskey, sugar (or honey), and cream, blended together into perfection. Its thick, silky texture makes it an easy substitute for milk in any cake recipe. And its warmth and slight hint of spice from the whiskey makes it, in my opinion, a great pairing for the cinnamon, ginger, and cloves inherent in pumpkin baking.

Putting them together makes so much sense to me that I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought of it before. Or really, that no one appeared to have. I found a whole ton of recipes involving combining pumpkin and rum in cake-y form, but nothing with delicious, wonderful Irish cream. This needed to be fixed.

In my kitchen, it’s not fall until…

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…now.

I went to Betty for inspiration and a basic yellow cake recipe, and then just experimented from there. There was a tiny bit of heartbreak along the way (ooooh, spooky foreshadowing!), but everything turned out amazing in the end.

Ready?

Drunken Pumpkin Bundt Cake
adapted from Betty Crocker‘s Starlight Yellow Cake and inspired by the glories of fall, in general

Ingredients:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 1/4 cups Irish cream liqueur (plus about 1/4 cup extra for brushing)
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly grease and flour the bundt pan of your choice.

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Seriously, do this thoroughly. (More foreshadowing, I know. Bum bum buuuuuuuuummmmm!)

In large bowl, put all ingredients, except for powdered sugar, and beat together on low speed for about 30 seconds, and then at high speed (or only halfway if you’re using a KitchenAid mixer, like me, because high speed would probably send pumpkin splattering all across yourself and your kitchen) for about 3 minutes.

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Pour batter into prepared pan.

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Admire the lovely orange color and the amazing smell for just a second before you pop it into the oven. While baking, that heavenly smell will only intensify. Your kitchen will smell like hot toddies and pumpkin pie. You will suddenly decide that you are the smartest person on the planet. Or maybe that was just me. I do tend to get a little bit cocky before the fall. BUM BUM BUUUUMMMMM!

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Now, here’s where things went a bit awry. I baked my bundt until a toothpick came out clean (about 50 minutes), which is usually the standard. However, this resulted in a cake that was just a little too…delicate for the rigors of being a stand-alone bundt. It’s super moist and delicious, and I wouldn’t recommend changing anything about the ingredients, but just increase the baking time in order to get a thicker, tougher crust on there that will prevent this type of tragedy.

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After I waited the normal 15-20 minutes to release the cake from the bundt pan, I made sure to run a butter knife along the edge, and flipped it over. And about a third of the top of the cake decided to stay in the pan. (It’s okay to gasp a little. I’m pretty sure that I did, too.)

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A few years ago, this would have probably made me cry a little. However, I decided that I am a grown woman, and instead, I got to work with a butter knife, making strategic cuts and delicately prying that cake top out of the pan and placing it in its correct place. I was determined to photograph and eat this goddamn delicious cake, and nothing was going to stop me.

Thinking back on it, I’m pretty sure that lengthening the baking time to least an hour (as long as nothing was scorching) and then waiting a little longer before attempting to get the cake out of the pan would probably solve all of these problems. I’ll definitely be making this one again soon, so I’ll be sure to report back.

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Then, I left the cake alone to cool properly (and hopefully decide to fuse together a bit) and made a salad. This is not required, but highly recommended.

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After the cake was fully cool, I poked it all over with a toothpick, steering clear of the Franken-cake pieced-together sections for fear of further damage.

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Then, I brushed a little extra Irish cream over the top, letting it sink into the top layer of cake. It was probably just a bit less than 1/4 cup, but who keeps track of these things? Just keep going until the top crust is saturated. Then, let the cake sit for just a little while longer, like about 30-45 minutes.

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That Irish cream layer will soak in and harden a little bit, giving the cake a sort of “shellacked” outer layer. Ideally, it won’t be sticky or too moist, just sort of thick and glossy.

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Now, sprinkle the top with a thin layer of powdered sugar. I debated going crazy and concocting some sort of Irish cream icing or frosting, but this cake is so moist and flavorful that you really don’t want to overpower it.

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And you’re done!

Slice into that glorious cake and take a bite. I’ll wait.

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It’s so good, right? It tastes like warm pumpkin pie, like whiskey and spices on a cold day. Dan took one bite and said, “I think I’m going to get drunk.” Hence the name: Drunken Pumpkin Bundt Cake.

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Go out and make one (and just keep it in the oven a little longer than I did) in order to bring instant pumpkin spice sass to any party or just to warm up a chilly fall night. You will be glad that you did.

Score One for the Pie People – Freestylin’ with Jeni’s Raspberry Blueberry Oven-Baked Empanadas

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Dan and I got into a small debate last weekend with some friends as to whether cake is better than pie. Dan and I fall firmly down on the “pie” side, which might be one of the defining reasons for our eight years together. I’m sure other factors play a part, but they surely can’t be as important as pie.

Cupcakes, with their beneficial frosting-to-cake ratio were mentioned during this debate, and I countered this argument with the existence of hand pies. Or empanadas. Or turnovers. Or whatever you want to call these wonderful little single-serving treats that give you an amazing crust-to-filling ratio that blows a cupcake away.

People who grew up in New Orleans (like me) also grew up on Hubig’s Pies, these amazing deep fried sugar bombs that always made an appearance at every family function in my childhood. (I have an aunt who used to work in their corporate office, and it was always her potluck contribution to bring an entire case of assorted flavors.) Unfortunately, Hubig’s suffered a devastating fire in 2012, and the factory has yet to be restored. That leaves those of us firmly entrenched on the “pie” side without some of our favorite things.

How do we fix this problem? We make our own.

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We get out our new ice cream cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts, turn to the page with the recipe for Sweet Empanadas, and get to mixing up some dough.

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Jeni’s has been encouraging people to take the recipes in the cookbooks and run with them, putting their own spin on things or creating new flavors, something they’ve dubbed Freestylin’. #freestylin if we want to be super-cool.

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When I was asking Dan about what flavor of hand pie he’d like, he specified raspberry. I was in more of a blueberry mood. What to do, especially since we’re in freestylin’ mode? Mix them together.

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Raspberries and blueberries cooked down into a delicious syrup makes the most beautiful deep magenta that I’ve ever been able to produce in my kitchen.

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I cut my circles out of my dough, using a Hard Rock Cafe cocktail glass that I have never used once for alcohol, mostly because of its cartoonish shape.

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And because I didn’t have any troubles with the dough, I was bound to run into problems sooner or later. The recipe recommends 2-2 1/2 tablespoons of filling per pie, but I could barely fit in one without having problems sealing the dough.

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See those ones in the back spilling their purple guts already? I think that I might need to invest in an empanada press. Then, the oozing might not have been so…oozy.

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Because we were freestylin’ (and slightly because I am still moderately terrified of boiling oil), I decided to bake the pies instead of frying them. Everything got brushed with eggwash and sprinkled with some extra sugar. Then, they went into a preheated 375 degree oven for about 35 minutes, switching places and turning halfway through.

Even though oozing did occur, however, the pies stayed fairly plump and didn’t lose the majority of their fruity filling, so things worked out in the end.

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Especially when we scooped some vanilla bean ice cream (tragically not handmade) on top, as per Jeni’s suggestion.

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Look at that melty, fruity goodness. Yum.

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The pies have only been in existence for two days, and they are already more than halfway gone. I should have doubled things up, clearly. Or maybe we just need Hubig’s back ASAP. Either way would be a win for us “pie” people.

The Summer So Far? Ice Cream and Muffins!

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Hello there. It’s been a while. I’m afraid that I have been reveling a tiny bit too much in the fact that my semester ended and doing some things that I don’t get a lot of chances to do. Like what, you ask?

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Sitting near lakes during lovely sunsets.

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Having lunch dates with my love. (At Dat Dog, of course. Overloaded hot dogs and Barq’s in the bottle should be the opener for every summer vacation.)

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Knitting a little squirrel for Eddie Izzard. Like you do. (Pattern is the hilariously titled Knit One Squirrel Two, by Rabbit Hole Knits, a lovely little bit of knitting that turns out some very strangely shaped little items. Don’t those tiny squirrel leg/haunches look like drumsticks? And the squirrel body? I can’t even get into that.)

We’re going to see Mr. Izzard in Austin at the end of June as a special birthday treat from my brother and his fiancee. I’m still wondering exactly how I am going to manage to give him a squirrel as I do not have any idea as to whether he is into the whole autograph-and-shaking-hands-with-fans situation after his shows. Anyone have any ideas short of me going on Twitter and telling him that I really want him to have this tiny squirrel, no strings attached? I’m pretty sure that I will be sent to awkward-Twitter-stalker jail for that one.

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Eating frozen yogurt out of cups that depict some sort of crazy dystopian mountains-vomiting-rainbows insanity.

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Listening to the charming words of Mr. Kai Ryssdal, (in person!) everybody’s favorite sassy business radio host.

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Reading Infinite Jest and giggling when I see references to children’s pictures books and M*A*S*H throughout, although I don’t think David Foster Wallace much cared for the antics of Hawkeye and Trapper John (I almost wrote B.J., but I’m pretty sure he was only into the early seasons).

Playing this game with Trip almost every single morning. He crouches in the corner now and waits for me to wake up so that I can get that sunbeam-iPhone-reflection going for him.

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Watching awesome bands and eating crawfish with wonderful friends. (And the Ghostwood even has a new 7″ out called Empty Cosmic Gloom that you should purchase so that you can get your fix of New Orleans pop punk goodness.)

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Causing my right thumb to go numb by X-Acto-ing tiny stencils of popular movie symbology so that I could tattoo them on small children. I do weird things for work sometimes.

Speaking of…

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Dressing up as Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World for our Summer Reading Kickoff party at work, where we all dressed as our favorite characters from novels (graphic novels included) that were later turned into films. Dan is responsible for the amazing goggles and war-hammer, and yes, you should be jealous of that fact. This was the first time where I ever got so into a costume that I would consider this ‘cosplaying,’ and it’s weird to think that my first time cosplaying happened on the clock at Barnes & Noble. I had some fairly extreme wig + goggles + tights + combat boots anxiety, but had an awesome time nonetheless. Especially after the event was over and I spent 3 hours at the information desk helping people, being the only person inexplicably in a costume in the entire store. I’m sure I confused some people. Except the people in the graphic novels aisle. I’m pretty sure that I delighted them.

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Making Jeni’s Roasted Strawberry & Buttermilk Ice Cream, from her amazing first book, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.

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I didn’t get to eat much of it, as it was contributed to a work potluck in the break room, but it was some delicious stuff.

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It was a reason to actually go out and buy buttermilk, something that I do not normally do, even if a recipe tells me to.

Now I am in the situation where I have an awful lot of buttermilk that is going to go bad soon if I don’t use it up (How can you tell if buttermilk has turned, by the way? This is an important question.), so some baking just had to be done. Loaves of banana bread were mixed up and baked, but I still had more left over, so I turned to another old favorite.

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Pinch My Salt‘s delicious Whole Wheat Orange Spice Muffins were a great way to get up early this morning to use up that buttermilk, plus make my whole house smell like oranges, which is always a plus.

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Just one swipe on that grater, and it’s all over for me. I love oranges. I need a more emphatic word than love, but my hands still smell like oranges, and I’m too distracted and enchanted too care.

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Just lovely.

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The oranges are zested and juiced, and then combined with whole wheat flour, flaxseed meal, and some wonderful warm spices.

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I always like this moment right before I whisk together my dry ingredients, when you can see all the different colors and textures. It’s like sand art, in the best sense of the word.

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The wet ingredients are not nearly so attractive unmixed. Or mixed, frankly.

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But chunks of walnut make an appearance as well. I like to keep the chunks fairly large just to make these muffins as rustic and homey as possible.

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I’m going to pretend that that’s also the reason why I don’t smooth out the tops of my muffins, but laziness is probably also a factor in that.

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But look at that gorgeous cracked top! It’s so worth it. The tops of these muffins are sweet and have just the right amount of crunch. The bottoms are moist and orangey and buttery and full of whole wheatiness.

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You can even pretend that they’re still healthy when you dump a bunch of butter on them and enjoy them with some tea on a Friday morning. I have made these muffins countless times, but this is probably the first time with actual honest-to-goodness buttermilk, not fakey whole milk and vinegar kitchen hacks.

There’s only one problem. Even with all of this hearty buttermilk-based baking, I still somehow have buttermilk in my refrigerator. Apparently in Louisiana people must be drinking this stuff, because I can’t think of any reason why I had to buy a whole liter of this stuff. What on Earth am I going to do?

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Oh dear. Summer has only just begun. Someone ask me to make them an ice cream cake, quick.