Thursday, August 30, 2012

Forgot my hall pass; or, why I've been AWOL

Happy Thursday, dear friends!

I am so sorry I have been absent the past few weeks. It's been crazy hectic around here, what with wrapping up projects, getting ready to go on an epic roadtrip to a friend's wedding in Montana, taking said road trip, training for my second half marathon and, well, livin' life. But while I as gone, I swear, I took some pictures!

Of course, we had to start off on the right foot, with the Corn Palace...

And Wall Drug.


The Badlands.


 Mount Rushmore-- lit up!

 Buffalo at Custer State Park in South Dakota-- these things were massive, and totally frightening!

And they had no fear.... not even of oncoming traffic. Jaywalking masters.

 Gorgeous lake at Custer-- right where the trails began! 

 Family of white-tailed deer at Custer State Park-- Bambi!

Baby buffalo-- still huge, still terrifying.

Check out these beggars-- came right up to the cars and got fed by all the tourists...

This one was having a fat day. I feel ya, buddy-- we've all been there...


Rapid City is, apparently, a City, as is evidenced by the copious amounts of graffiti.

Firehouse Brewing Company-- great food, good local brews. I drank a (rather dark) IPA named "Swarthy Beaver." For the win.


Then it was time for photo ops with statues of all of the United States Presidents...

As usual, I tried to make my voice heard...

General Custer's grave at Little Bighorn.

The gorgeous waterfall at the Canyon at Yellowstone National Park in WY!

 Yellowstone River.

The Canyon at Yellowstone, near where we stayed.

Top of the waterfall at the Canyon at Yellowstone-- beautiful!

Elk running through the Hot Springs village in Yellowstone-- again, no fear!

Hot springs at Yellowstone-- could smell the sulfur a mile away. Literally.


Mud volcano. Not going to lie-- it looked and smelled like a spa treatment. If it weren't so hot, I would've ignored the rangers, jumped in, and come out with the skin of a 12-year-old (minus acne, of course)

 Thermal pools... gorgeous!


Lake Yellowstone


Bozeman, Montana-- gorgeous setting for a wedding!


Hiking the "M" in Bozeman.

Well-earned dirt on my feet.


 Sunset over E+G's wedding. Perfection.

  1. Going to a drive-in movie theatre
  2. Tubing with friends
  3. Taking a road trip with a killer playlist x2! (Duluth, MN and Bozeman, MT)
  4. Picking TONS of berries-- and eating only berries for an entire day with no guilt
  5. Saying "yes" to everything for a day (frightening)
  6. Saying "no" to everything I don't want to do for a day (empowering)
  7. Throwing an old-fashioned pajama party with the girls and staying up all night
  8. Hosting a "Tour de Franz" (running back and forth between friends' apartments and mine while sampling boxed wines and wearing mustache tattoos)
  9. Buying a new novel, going to a coffee shop, and sitting outside sipping iced americanos while reading an entire book in one fell swoop
  10. Go to a music festival and be the first one dancing
  11. Putting the strangest things I can think of into cookies and sharing them with you.
  12. Learn to make one signature cocktail

Monday, August 6, 2012

How to make friends and win over acquaintances ; or, The Ultimate Peanut Butter Chocolate Birthday Cake

While baking is delicious and I love to cook for those I love, there are ulterior motives for baking

Baking makes me friends. Baking gets me out of tight spots. And baking means that, if I'm stumped for a birthday present for someone, or I think I didn't find the perfect gift, I can overshadow that fact with a blowout of a cake.

My friend had a rather big birthday this weekend, though we kept it pretty chill. I bought her a pretty water bottle, but that seemed inadequate, so I went to town on the cake.

Peanut butter layers with a firm crumb (thanks to buttermilk). Filled with dark chocolate frosting and chopped mini Reese's cups.

Finished off with more chocolate frosting, more peanut butter cups, and a generous (okay, excessive) drizzle of peanut butter on top.

Not going to lie-- according to my friends, this is the best cake I've made to date. This is the one to beat.

The water bottle actually went over well... but not as well as the cake!

Happy birthday, Sara!

The Ultimate Peanut Butter Chocolate Birthday Cake

Adapted from Joy the Baker and Our Best Bites


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup smooth peanut butter
7 tbsp butter, unsalted, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour two 9" round cake pans.

Whisk together dry ingredients, except sugars. Set aside.

In an electric mixer, cream together butter, sugars, and peanut butter until fluffy. Slowly add eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture in increments, until all is added. Finally, SLOWLY beat in the buttermilk (emphasis on "SLOWLY," unless you want buttermilk all over your new shirt).

Divide batter between two pans. Bake 30-35 minutes, until golden brown and cake bounces back when touched. Remove from oven, cool, and invert cakes from pans.


 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
 2 cups almond milk
1 1/2 cup real butter, softened
 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
3 cups mini Reese's cups, halved
1/2 cup peanut butter

In a saucepan, whisk together sugar, flour, cocoa, and milk; bring to a boil, whisking constantly, until thickened like a thinned pudding.  Remove from heat and strain mixture through fine mesh sieve into a small bowl. Cool completely in the refrigerator.

Beat the butter until creamy, then slowly add in the cooled chocolate mixture until well combined fluffy-- it may look a bit separated, but that will remedy itself soon.  Finally add in melted chocolate and beat again until well combined and fluffy.

Spread on cake between layers; sprinkle a handful of peanut butter cups between. Finish assembling the cake, decorating the base and top of the cake.

Place peanut butter in a ziploc bag, and run under hot water until melty. Snip the tip of the bag, and drizzle over finished cake. Eat with friends.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Friday I'm In Love: Blog Edition

There are days when things get really slow in the research world. Right now, everyone is in and out of town enjoying the summer sun, and so there are days when I roll in to my cubicle or lab bench and realize... there's not a whole lot I can do.

That's when I turn to these blogs for entertainment, inspiration, or a good laugh. I'm always game for new sources of blog-addiction, so leave any recommendations in the comments-- if it's your blog, maybe I'll feature it soon (especially if you have something delicious posted)!

I'm in love with: The blog that started it all for me, and that got me going-- Joy the Baker.

I'm in love with: Joy's podcast partner-in-crime, Tracy from Shutterbean. I'm pretty sure we're sisters from another mister-- love her stylings and how she lets loose her inner hippie.

I'm in love with: Cakespy. Seriously-- the girl has some amazing foodie doodles, and delves into the history of popular desserts, like carrot cake.

I'm in love with: My friend Deborah's new blog, A Complicated Kitchen.  She's been through some serious health scares, and has found balance through dietary changes and running-- and is one of the most amazing cooks I know.

I'm in love with: My friend Beth's blog, I Run for Hope, I Run for Life, which details her experiences and reasons to run with the American Cancer Society's DetermiNation program.

This list is by no means exhaustive... I'll share more later!

Happy Friday, all! Get inspired-- and share some of your favorites below!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Can't leave well enough alone; or, Hummingbird Cupcakes

I always envy those around me who can procrastinate or have that magnificent ability to enjoy when they have a lighter work load. I'm always looking to make more work for myself, and can never sit still. I always need to be doing something.

Right now, things are slow with my work, and I should take the time to enjoy it. I should be soaking up the early days of August, filling up my time with bike riding, running, picnicking, and lazing away outside reading a fluffy novel.

Nope. I'm looking for things to do, and taking it out on myself in my personal life.

I was invited to a barbeque/pool party, and was told that I didn't have to bring anything. Not gonna fly.

I chose to try my hand at Hummingbird cake, which I had on my bike tour last November in North Carolina. It was amazing... but again, I couldn't leave well enough alone. I had to add more ingredients to the already lengthy list. Diced apples? Extra cinnamon? Boom.

These cupcakes are light and fruit-filled, with the summery taste of cream cheese frosting. They're kissed with cinnamon, a flavor which always screams autumn to me-- perfect for the last days of summer and for transitioning into fall. Also perfect for a barbeque or outdoor party, as cream cheese frosting holds up better in this 95-degree heat and humidity than buttercream does.

I may not be able to power down and stop working and doing (if anyone has any suggestions on how to do this, please tell me!), but boy, these cupcakes were totally worth the work.

Hummingbird Cupcakes

Adapted from the Complete Magnolia Bakery

For the cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 mashed overripe bananas
8 oz crushed canned pineapple
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup diced apple

For the frosting:

Two 8 oz packages cream cheese
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 cups confectioner's sugar
Sprinkle of cinnamon


Preheat oven to 325F. Line muffin tins with cupcake liners.

Sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In another large bowl of a mixer, beat oil with sugar until smooth; add eggs one at a time, and beat until light in color. Add vanilla, pineapple, and banana. Slowly add the dry ingredients in three or four parts, beating well in between. Fold in pecans and apples.

Fill each muffin tin 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and allow to cool completely before frosting.


In the bowl of a mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth; add vanilla and combine. Slowly add confectioner's sugar until desired texture is achieved.

Frost the top of each cooled cupcake with a generous dose of frosting. Top with chopped pecans.