Monday, April 23, 2012

Chocolate-PB-Banana Smoothie

Ok, so this wasn't exactly a difficult recipe to come up with, but it's so freaking delicious that I had to share. I've been super into fruit smoothies, sometimes with kale and/or spinach in them. This is a bit more of an indulgent smoothie.

Now don't let the word indulgent throw you off. While this does taste very dessert-y and it may not have as many fruits and veggies as a health-nut smoothie, it's far from bad for you. In fact, this smoothie is probably the perfect post-workout drink. Not to mention, even with all the delicious in it, it's still only about 250 calories!

As you may have heard recently, chocolate milk is the new "it" post-workout drink. Instead of just water or a sports drink, chocolate milk has protein, carbs, and sugar, so you get a little energy boost and you give your body something to metabolize. Well, this smoothie has chocolate and milk in it. It also has yogurt (even more protein), peanut butter (yet more protein), a banana (vitamins, minerals, carbs, natural sugars), and ice (for hydration). I've gotten back into a workout routine lately and I feel like I'm going to be having this smoothie quite a bit!

1/4 C. skim milk
1/4 C. plain or vanilla yogurt
1 Tbsp. smooth peanut butter
2 tsp. chocolate syrup
1 medium banana, cut into pieces
5 or 6 ice cubes

- Add milk, yogurt, peanut butter, chocolate, and  cut-up banana to a blender. Cover and blend for about 30 seconds.
- Add the ice cubes, and blend for 30-45 seconds, or until no chunks of ice remain.
- Drink!

Now I have to admit that I didn't actually measure anything when I made this, so I'm guessing on the amounts I used. It would be really difficult to mess this up, though, and depending on your tastes, you may want more or less of something anyway. Love chocolate? Add another tsp. or two. Hate peanut butter? We're not friends. Like a thicker, more frappuccino-like smoothie? Add more ice and blend it a little longer. Want a sweeter/more tropical taste? Use almond or coconut milk instead of skim. Play around with it!


Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Trellis

Everything is a go for my move to Virginia in less than a month! I'm more excited than I can put into words. I'm just waiting for a call from Busch Gardens HR to set up a drug test and park orientation, and an e-mail from my apartment complex with contact info to turn on utilities and everything. It's coming up quickly!

My weekend apartment hunt with my mom in Williamsburg was an adventure in itself. She's a nervous passenger and a total backseat driver. Just driving around Williamsburg and Newport News was stressful enough. The drive home was even worse. We missed a turn at one point and ended up in the heart of Washington D.C. The gps kept telling me to go where there was no road, and getting us even more lost. Eventually my mom got out a map and we found roads that we knew and just navigated ourselves home. Some free advice... avoid Interstate 95/295/395/495 on the way to/from Williamsburg. The Route 15/17 way may not be as fast, but at least you know you won't end up lost in D.C.

Anyway, while I was down there, I looked at 3 apartment complexes, and drove through a fourth. The fourth didn't have office hours on the weekend, but the shingles were all falling off of the buildings and it looked a little sketchy, so I wouldn't have wanted a tour anyway. The first place we toured had great amenities - a huge gym, a huge indoor pool with a hot tub and sauna, beautiful grounds... but the whole apartment was about the size of my current living room. I would have lived there if it was super cheap, or my only option, but it wasn't. It ended up being my third choice out of the three that I saw.

The one that my mom and I both fell in love with was gorgeous on the outside, about 2 miles from Busch Gardens, great spacious apartments, and had a pool, basketball courts, and barbeque picnic area. But... it would have been almost $1000/month after rent and utilities and everything. For that, I might as well just move to NYC.

The apartment that I decided to go with is at a place called The Trellis at Lee's Mill.

It looks nice and well-kept on the outside, and it's in a good neighborhood. It's about 8 miles from the employee entrance to Busch Gardens, and accessible to everything. There's a nice big outdoor pool and a couple of community grills if I'm ever craving a flame-grilled burger. The apartment is actually the biggest of the ones I saw, square foot-wise. And most importantly, it's half an hour from Buckroe Beach in Hampton, VA; an hour from Virginia Beach; and 2 hours from the Outer Banks. I plan on turning into a total beach bum.

I took some pictures of the empty unit that we saw, but it's not the unit I'll be living in. Mine wasn't vacated yet.

It's completely remodeled, new appliances, stackable washer and dryer. It has about 10 times the cabinet/storage space as my house in SC. I might be able to bake a thing or two here.

Dining room:
Space for my table and chairs, extra cabinets and storage because of the remodel, and a ceiling fan! (Not sure why I'm so excited about a ceiling fan since it has central air. It just seems like people in the south should have ceiling fans.)

Nothing spectacular, but it's about twice the size of my bathroom in SC, if you can believe that!

Master bedroom: 
There's second smaller bedroom, too. I can have guests! (hint, hint)

Living room/entrance:
Big enough for my furniture, and since I'll have an upstairs unit (this one is downstairs), I'll have an extra closet off the living room for more storage.

So two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchen, dining room, living room, 4 closets. I think I could live there awhile. Hopefully everything works out at Busch Gardens after my contract is up, and I get rehired for next season. There are also several large performing arts centers and theatres in Newport News that I want to check out. Maybe I can get a foot in the door at one of those! I know I love the area, and I feel like there are lots of opportunities in my field. This is a good match, and I know now that I made the right decision when I turned down the Wisconsin job and kept interviewing. It all worked out!

Now on this end I just have to get everything sorted out and packed, possibly have a yard sale, and finish up work at the Campus. On the VA end, I have to get my utilities set up, find someone to give me renter's insurance, and set up some new bank accounts (sadly, there are no Susquehanna Banks in VA). Hopefully everything works out and goes smoothly, and in 28 days I'll finally be on my own again, living in Virginia and getting ready to start my first real job in my field! Look at me, I'm an adult!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Banana-Rum Birthday Cake

This is my 100th post on this blog! I was torn between writing about my weekend in Williamsburg, and this post. This won, though. I decided I had to do a recipe for my 100th post!

For my mom's birthday, I made her a Banana-Rum Cake with Browned Butter Frosting. It was amazing, if I do say so myself. Once again, the recipe is from the Joy the Baker Cookbook. This will probably be my last Joy the Baker recipe post for awhile, since she'll probably sue the pants off me if I post every recipe in her cookbook! Maybe she'll forgive me if everyone goes and buys her book.

Some of my cakes have been coming out really dense lately. I'm not sure why.... This one came out perfectly, though. There was some... confusion... about the cake situation, and I didn't know if I'd be making one till late, so I didn't have time to decorate it. Mom had some candles to blow out, though, and my cake decorating skills aren't very impressive, so it was probably better this way!

Banana-Rum Cake with Browned Butter Frosting

For the cake:
3 C. flour
2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 C. unsalted butter - softened
1 3/4 C. packed brown sugar
2 1/4 C. (about 4) mashed bananas
3 Tbsp. rum
3 eggs
1/2 C. plus 2 Tbsp. buttermilk
1/2 C. chopped pecans

For the frosting:
3/4 C. salted butter
3 C. powdered sugar - sifted
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. rum
1/2 C. heavy cream

- Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

- To make the cake: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

- In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add mashed bananas and rum and mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

- With the mixer on low speed, add half of the flour mixture. Add the buttermilk and mix until just combined. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix until almost completely incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer and finish mixing by hand, to avoid over-mixing. Fold in the pecans.

- Divide the batter between the cake pans and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let the cakes rest in the pans for about 20 minutes before removing them to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.

- For the frosting: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter until browned in color and nutty in fragrance. (As the butter heats, foam will form on top, and brown bits will settle on the bottom. This is normal, and the bits are where all the flavor is!) Pour the browned butter into a small bowl to cool.

- In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, add the powdered sugar. Turn the mixer on low, and pour in the cooled browned butter in a stream. Increase the speed to medium and add the vanilla and rum. Beat until mixed well - a couple of minutes. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the cream. Increase the speed back to medium and beat until smooth and creamy. If it's too thick, add some more cream; if it's too thin, add some more powdered sugar. Spread between the layers and on the top and sides of the (completely cooled) cake.

It's a bit of an intimidating recipe, but it's worth it! It's sweet and banana-y and browned butter-y. It's a great combination of flavors. Definitely one of my favorite cakes, and browned butter is my new favorite thing!

In other news, there will be a post coming up about my apartment hunting weekend and my new apartment in VA! For now, go and make this cake. You can share it if you want. There would be no shame in eating the whole thing yourself. You may just want to find a treadmill afterwards.


Thursday, April 12, 2012


So I made a Banana-Rum Cake with Browned Butter Frosting for my mom's birthday. But. You're all just going to have to wait for that post because today I'm going to talk about my new job!

I guess the title of this post isn't entirely accurate. I've been employed at the Campus Theatre, but I only got to work a few hours a week. I LOVE the Campus, and I've been there about 7 months now (wow...), but I've really been looking for something full time. Well, I finally heard back from Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, and I start on the tech team in June! I'll be doing install/maintenance/tear-down for the Illumi-nights, Howl-o-Scream, and Christmas Town events. Illumi-nights is the back half of the season, when they light the park all up, and have fireworks every night. Obviously, Howl-o-Scream is the Halloween season, and Christmas Town is Christmastime. I'll be working on lighting and props, getting everything installed and pretty, keeping everything working and making adjustments, then tearing everything down and doing it again for the next event.

My contract will go through December, and there's an option to stay on for a strike crew in January. Then I'll re-interview in January for the 2013 season. So if all goes well and I'm not horrible at my job, I'll probably just have February off and start again in March to get the park ready to open. I've been researching apartments, and I have some appointments set up to go see a few places this weekend. Williamsburg is an expensive area, so my top two choices are in Newport News, right next door. Well... my top choice is in Williamsburg, but they don't have any openings. Newport News is only about a fifteen/twenty minute drive, though, and it seems like a great place, and maybe a little cheaper to live in.

Between Williamsburg and Newport News, they have every restaurant and store that you could ever have any desire to go to. Plus, Colonial Williamsburg is right there. Yorktown and Jamestown aren't far. Virginia Beach is an hour away, and the Outer Banks are about two hours. I'll be working at an amusement park. I mean, come on. I think I'm more excited about moving to Virginia than I would be about moving to New York City!

I'm mostly just happy to be able to use all of my stuff again! My big comfy bed, my new Keurig, my new pots and pans, my TVs, pretty much all of my kitchen stuff.... I'll be close enough that people can come visit if they want, or if I happen to have a weekend off, I could come home. It's really just the perfect location for me.

So hopefully I'll get an apartment squared away this weekend so I can move in mid-May. That way I can get settled, do my orientation at the park, and still get some beach time in before I start on June 4th! So excited! There may be a post about my apartment-hunting expedition. If not, there will certainly be a post when I move in to a place. And in the more immediate future, there will be a post about Banana-Rum Cake!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter! I made cupcakes! They were for my mom's 3rd graders. I used Joy the Baker's Simple Vanilla Cupcakes recipe, with a couple of changes. For the icing, I used some horrible icing recipe that I found online. It really was pretty gross, but I kept adding things until it tasted good. I won't share the icing recipe, because I really don't know what or how much of anything that I added to make it decent.

These cupcakes are surprisingly dense and moist, and totally delicious. I made a triple batch, since a single batch only makes a dozen.

Vanilla Cupcakes
(adapted from Joy the Baker's Simple Vanilla Cupcakes)

1 1/3 C. all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 stick margarine
1 C. sugar
2 eggs
2 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 C. whole milk

- Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a 12-cupcake pan with cupcake liners and set aside.

- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.

- With an electric stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together for about 4 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract until well incorporated.

- Add half of the flour mixture and beat on low until just incorporated. Add the milk and beat until blended. Add the rest of the flour mixture and beat until almost incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer and finish stirring by hand, to avoid over-mixing. Divide the batter between the 12 cupcake liners.

- Bake for about 25 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

- Remove from the oven and let rest in the pan for a few minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

- Once completely cool, frost and decorate!

They're sweet and vanilla-y and delicious. Kids and adults alike will love them. You can use any icing you want, and decorate them for any holiday or occasion. Totally a versatile recipe.

I had some extra cupcakes, so I played around with decoration. I had these adorable Easter sprinkles in my collection, and Mom got the bunny and egg toppers. Then I played around with decorating tips and techniques. One day, I WILL take a cake decorating class. Until then, I will keep trying to teach myself!


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mini Chocolate Lava Cake

Guys. You guys. This recipe, you guys. Wow. It is, of course, from the Joy the Baker Cookbook. She calls it Single Girl Melty Chocolate Cake. I needed a slightly more masculine name, so I went with Mini Chocolate Lava Cake. It's gooey and chocolatey and super simple. Also, dangerous. I'm going to make this all the time. Just for me. Maybe several times a day.

Mini Chocolate Lava Cake

1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 C. semisweet chocolate chips
1 large egg
4 tsp. white sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp. all-purpose flour

- Place a rack in the center of the oven, with a cookie sheet on it. Preheat to 375 degrees F.

- Generously butter and flour a 1-cup ramekin and set aside.

- In a small pot, bring 2 inches of water to a simmer. Place the butter and chocolate chips in a small heatproof bowl and place over the simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

 - In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and sugar.  Pour in the slightly cooled melted chocolate mixture, and whisk until well incorporated. Add the salt and flour, and stir until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared ramekin.

 - Place the ramekin on the cookie sheet in the preheated oven. Bake for 7-10 minutes*. The less time in the oven, the gooier the cake will be. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 2 minutes.

- Using pot holders, carefully invert the cake onto a plate.

 - Enjoy immediately!

The * after "7-10 minutes" is because I actually had to bake mine for about 15 minutes. I took it out after 10, and it was still pretty much liquid. After awhile, I just stopped using the timer, and waited until it was puffed up and a little more solid.

Also, make sure you butter and flour the ramekin very well. A piece of mine stuck when I inverted it, as you can see in that last picture.

It was delicious, and quick, and totally worth it. Have it with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, and you've just found Heaven. Double the recipe and use two ramekins for a quick, easy, delicious, impressive date night dessert.

I totally plan on experimenting with this recipe. Adding a little vanilla or mint extract, maybe? Some peanut butter chips? Some rum? Coffee? Top it with some raspberry jam? Sliced strawberries? Banana? The possibilities are endless. Maybe I'll open up a cafe and only serve variations on this recipe! Lava Cake Cafe? Any backers out there interested in investing?!


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Weekend in the City

On Friday and Saturday, I was in New York City. The main reason for my trip was the Joy the Baker book signing on Saturday. Since I was going, though, I made a weekend out of it. I got to catch up with some friends, and stay in my college roommate's awesome apartment. More and more people that I went to college with are moving to the city. It's nice, because if I would happen to get a job there and need a place to stay until I find an apartment, I have lots of mooching options.

While I was in the city, I had to visit some of my favorite places. Frozen yogurt from Red Mango, gelato from Il Laboratorio, shopping and drooling over the authentic British fare at Myers of Keswick, and of course coffee from Starbuck's. I know we have Starbuck's here. It just tastes better in the city. Leave me alone.

 I got to see a show while I was there. I thought about hitting up a TKTS stand to see one of the more mainstream musicals, but even half-price is expensive for those. Instead, I stood in the rush line for a $20 ticket to "Now. Here. This." at the Vineyard Theater. It's the same people that developed and starred in "Title of Show". If you don't know what that is, you should probably find out. "Now. Here. This." is all about living in the moment and participating in what's going on around you, instead of just drifting through life. The four actors talk about their defining moments in life, happiness, sadness, embarrassment.... It's very personal and may not be for everyone, but I loved it... probably because I can relate to almost every point they make. There were parts at which I laughed so hard I almost peed, and parts at which the entire audience had a collective weep. If you're in the city, or going to the city, rush is 2 hours before showtime, and I believe it's playing through April 22nd. Check it out!

Now. The main event. The Joy the Baker book signing. It was crazy and exciting and amazing. Joy Wilson might be my favorite person ever. When I got in the room, there was a cooler full of beer, and a spread of cookies and shortbreads. Free beer and cookies? Best book signing EVER. I think I heard that over 200 people showed up. There was an RSVP option on The Brooklyn Kitchen's website, so everyone that sent in an RSVP was guaranteed a spot for the Q&A, but some of the people that didn't RSVP were turned away, because the room was full. Joy introduced herself and answered any questions that people had.

Once the Q&A was over, the signing started. They opened the signing up to everyone who came, so those who had been waiting outside flooded in. Do you know how long it takes to sign over 200 books? Four and a half hours, apparently. I didn't feel like fighting people for a place in line, and it seemed stupid to go to the back and stand for hours, so I just sat on a bench along the back wall and waited till people cleared out. I sat there for a good four hours till I could actually see the end of the line. All I can say is God bless Joy for sitting and signing for that long. She had to have been exhausted and hungry and in desperate need of a bathroom break, but she took the time to talk to every one of her fans, write something personal in the cookbooks, and pose for a picture if you wanted one. She even signed my wooden spoon. Hey, someone in another city got her to sign his Kitchen Aid mixer. A wooden spoon isn't that weird.

We talked about what I've made from the book so far, and how everyone loves the Trail Mix Cookies. She was impressed that I'd come all the way from PA to see her. We posed for a picture, she signed my cookbook and spoon, and I got a a hug and a bookmark with a picture of her cat on it.

Joy Wilson, a.k.a. Joy the Baker is amazing and sweet and dedicated and fun and I really just want to hang out with her. If she's ever on the east coast again, you can bet I'll be there!

It was an exhausting, amazing, exciting, much-needed weekend. If I had a steadier source of income, I would definitely be there more often. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for the Bucks County job. If I'm only two hours from NYC, and have access to the $5 bus from Philly to New York, you won't be able to keep me away!