Sunday, July 24, 2011

Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

I love event planning, so when I found out our next door neighbors finally sold their house and would be moving at the end of the month, I knew we had to throw them a going away party.

Here are the invitations I made:

I just typed up the invites in MS Word, printed them out two per page and cut them in half.  Then I took an old atlas, tore out a bunch of pages, cut them in half and glue-sticked the invite to a map.  Super easy, kind of time-consuming (though I was gluing them while watching a movie so that may have been why) but I got TONS of compliments on them from my neighbors!

[Side note: we've lived in this house for almost 20 years, so my neighbors have seriously watched me grow up-- my first bike, learning to drive, graduating from high school and college, etc]

I wanted to make a special dessert, too-- part of my "I'm 24 and need to learn how to bake or else my future kids are screwed" summer mentality-- and after browsing around some of my favorite baking blogs, I found a recipe for Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes.  It was actually a guest post on Carrie Sellman's cake blog, Half Baked.

These are the treats as created by cupcake contributor Lauren of Crave.Indulge.Satisfy:

I loved her idea for making cupcake jars but I'm taking baby steps with my baking... for now =)

And these are how mine turned out:

I'm sure a professional photo shoot like Lauren's wouldn't hurt too, instead of just a cell phone pic, but you get the idea!  What I just can't figure out, though, is how she got her cupcake wrappers to stay so yellow-- mine ended up going from a bright primary yellow to cake-color invisible yellow.  How do you maintain the color???

Now, I cheated a little on the cupcakes... Instead of making the cake from scratch (the idea of which still terrifies me as a total newbie baker), I did pick up a box of Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Lemon Supreme Cake mix.  But I made the strawberry buttercream frosting totally from scratch!  I ended up having to play around a little bit with the proportions of powdered sugar, strawberry puree and lemon zest but overall they weren't too difficult!

And they were a hit at the party =)  Everybody loved them and said they can't wait for my cupcakes at our next party!

Things I learned while making these cupcakes:
  • How to use a food processor
  • How to puree something
  • How to use a stand mixer
  • The best way to load an icing bag is to fold over the top so you have a cuff, then place it in a glass or jar (with the cuff folded over the top edges of the glass/jar) so you can use both hands!
  • Always use an apron!  Unless you're baking in an old sorority t-shirt and Soffe shorts...
  • Flexible spatulas are a necessity
  • Strawberry juice/puree will stain things (spatulas, icing bags, etc.)
  • If you don't have a zester, a small handheld cheese grater works just fine
 Here's what I used for this baking project:
In the future I'd love to try these again from scratch and maybe try a raspberry or blueberry twist instead of strawberry!  The possibilities are endess....

Have a great Sunday =)


Monday, July 18, 2011

Results: Harry Potter Cookies & More

Dear self,
In the future, buy supplies and mix/bake cookies the night before.  Then begin decorating right after breakfast so you don't run out of time and end up with the cookies below.
Love, me

Yep, I didn't quite get as much done as I'd hoped.  I didn't realize I'd have to go to Michael's for cake decorating products; I'm 24 and have never really done this so I figured I could pick up everything I needed at Target.


After making shopping lists of everything I'd need for the cookies and researching online to find out where I could buy it, I decided to start at Target and then make a trip to Michael's, if needed.

Let's just say Target doesn't carry specific decorating tips, squeeze bottles, specific shades of food coloring, etc.  They do, however, carry the break-n-bake cookie dough, so I popped the cookies in the oven when I got home from Target (4 mins away) and asked Real HouseMom to take them out of the oven when the timer went off.  Meanwhile I raced to Michael's (12 mins away), which ended up being a mecca for those who are craft-oriented (or pretending to be).

Long story short, once I got home I made royal icing, mixed the food coloring into it and outlined the cookies.  It took about 4-5, um, unique cookies before I finally got the hang of it!  .....sort of.

The outlined cookies (stop judging)

While the piped outlines dried, I added water to the royal icing and put it in the squeeze bottle so I could flood the cookies.  It was working well!  Until my friend K showed up so we could go to dinner.... About 8 cookies after she arrived, I ran out of watered-down royal icing, so I decided we'd go to dinner, let the flooded cookies set and then I could finish when we got home.

The filled-in cookies (and the ones that were left after I ran out of flooded icing)

Welllllll we got home from dinner (Buffalo Wild Wings boneless Thursday!) and only had a few hours to go, so I made the executive decision to forgo finishing the cookies in favor of watching Deathly Hallows: part 1 and painting our nails in Gryffindor colors.  For about $1 each from Target (duh), I got "scarlet" (New York Color in #228 Chelsea) and "gold" (Sinful Colors in #955 Pull Over).

My first experiment with polka dot nails could've been better... but probably could've been worse

About 10:30, we decided to head to the theater to get seats and oh my goodness was it packed!!  The theater near my house (across the street from my Target, actually) is a 30-screen jumbo theater-- and Deathly Hallows: part 2 was playing on 17 screens.  No joke, over half of the entire place was total HP mania!

The movie was really good (the book was better, duh!) and the people at the movie were a little over-the-top (aka I wanted to throw some of the chanting, screaming not-yet-lost-my-baby-fat tweens & teens down the stairs) but overall we had a great time!

And for the future, I now know that seriously decorated cookies need some advance preparation...

Again, here's what helped me make these cookies:
Another future note-to-self: when halving measurements, write down what the new measurements will be.  I ended up halving the powdered sugar but not the water and couldn't figure out why, after 20 mins of mixing, I still didn't have stiff peaks.  Figured it out pretty quickly after that.

Have a great Monday =)


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Learning to.... Bake & Decorate Cookies

Growing up, Real HouseMom would usually have some kind of baked good around the house as an after-dinner treat.  The most common desserts were brownies-- Duncan Hines, I believe-- or chocolate chip cookies from scratch.  Real HouseMom is definitely more than competent in the kitchen, baking and cooking (sometimes at the same time!) with the greatest of ease.  The problem with this was that she and I weren't the only people around.  The two of us could stretch a batch of brownies to last a week-- but with Soccer Dad and Little Bro in the house, it was a different story.  Between the two of them, at least half the pan of brownies/cookies/cake/whatever would be devoured that day.  And the remaining half would be gone by the following night.  With those two in the house, homemade desserts never last 48 hours.
The most common treat at our house, always frosted =)

Because of this, Real HouseMom never went through the trouble of decorating anything.  Cookies and cakes always go so fast that any sugary artwork would go completely unnoticed-- so I never learned how to decorate any sweets, beyond the occasional "Happy Birthday" that looks like it was written by a six-year-old.

Now that I'm 24, I've decided it's time to learn to be a pastry artist.  Not professionally or full-time or anything crazy like that!  Just for the occasional party, holiday or birthday.  And I'm going to start by making a batch of Harry Potter cookies for the midnight launch of 'Deathly Hallows: Part 2' (which, of course, I'm going to see at midnight).

The cookies I will be attempting later this week!  [details below]

Here's the story: our next door neighbors just sold their house and will be moving in the next few weeks, so Real HouseMom and I decided we're going to throw a going-away-slash-block-party in our cul-de-sac.  Me being the overly ambitious planner I am, I decided we're going to have some great decorations and some fabulous desserts.

I decided some cute shaped & decorated sugar cookies would be a fun treat for everybody, so I Googled "frosting cookies" to find a how-to guide.  What I found was this awesome video from Bridget of Bake at 350.  Confession: I can't get enough of her blog!  First of all, the video was super helpful to someone like me, who's completely kitchen-challenged.  Then when I went to her blog, I saw these adorable cowboy boot cookies!!

I think these are insanely precious but I just can't think of an occasion when cowboy boot cookies would be appropriate here in Chicago... I might throw a western-themed party just to make these!

Below those cute boots were three "You might also like" posts-- and one of them was for Harry Potter cookies!  [Side note: I'll do a Harry Potter post later this week, to explain why these cookies have just become the highlight of my life]  So I've decided that my first attempt at piping and decorating with royal icing is going to be this week when I do my best to make the Harry Potter cookies.  I promise I'll post pictures!

In the meantime, I'm trying to find anything related to North Carolina (where Mr. & Mrs. Next Door will be moving) so I can get cookie cutters and icing colors that pertain to the party.  Let me know if you're from the Charlotte area (or even NC in general), I'd love some ideas for the decorations and food!

Have a great Tuesday =)


Saturday, July 9, 2011

College Prep Giveaway: Jack Rogers Navajos!

In case you don't already know about it, Carly the College Prepster runs one of my favorite blogs =)

Click her logo to visit her blog!

Well, today she posted that she is giving away a pair of Jack Rogers Navjos!  Not a bad contest, if you ask me.  All you have to do is follow a couple painless steps and leave a comment, and you're entered!  View the contest here:

I'll post again on her blog, but if I win the contest, this is the pair I want most:

The Hamptons White Navajos.  They're so cute and go with everything!  Let me know if you enter, too!

Good luck and have a great afternoon =)



Yes, it's really really really late but I just HAD to share this with you!  Tonight (well, last night), after a delightful dinner at Panera, I went to see 'Thor' with one of my girlfriends aka sorority sister and it was so good!  I apologize in advance for all the exclamation points in this post but that's how excited I still am =)

I didn't grow up reading comic books (except the occasional 'Betty & Veronica') so I have no clue which superheroes are Marvel and which are DC, or who The Avengers are, or what the story is with the X-Men.  Well, I saw 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' and 'X-Men First Class' so I guess I have a better idea of that group now.  But in general, I'm totally in the dark on the superheroes-- which, I think, is why I love the superhero movies sooo much!  And now that I'm typing this, I'm realizing just how many superhero movies I've seen over the years....
  • All the 'Batman' movies (no matter who played Bruce Wayne or which decade they came out)
  • The 'Spiderman' trilogy
  • 'Fantastic Four' & 'Rise of the Silver Surfer'
  • 'Iron Man' & 'Iron Man 2'  <--- Apparently he's in The Avengers!
I never saw 'The Incredible Hulk' with Edward Norton (who I always think of as the guy from 'Fight Club' now) or the original 'X-Men', 'X-2' or 'Last Stand' movies; nor have I seen 'Green Hornet' (does that count?) or 'Green Lantern' (mmmm Ryan Reynolds!) but now I have seen the two most recent 'X-Men' movies-- and 'Thor'-- and I'm just dying to see 'Captain America: The First Avenger' when it comes out!

Let me tell you-- 'Thor' was the most exciting movie I've seen lately.  And yes, I saw 'Transformers 3' the day it came out.  Ok so maybe they're tied....  Well since I know that was the end of the 'Transformers' saga, I'm giving the award to 'Thor' =)

Anyway, 'Thor' does a great job of combining the ubiquitous romantic story with some seriously awesome intergalactic butt-kicking.  Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor, is obscenely ripped.  I'm talking utterly swoon-worthy muscles and a b-e-a-utiful tan.  And Natalie Portman's character is adorable but very independent and intelligent-- NP rocks in everything =)

Ok, so mini spoiler alert =)

The casting was great.  Obvi.  And they did a great job with sets and costumes, too!  But serious snaps to the writers for spot-on conversations and logical screenplay.  OMG some parts were hilarious-- we were actually laughing out loud at the witty dialogue and quirky one-liners!

But what would a superhero movie be without action!  That hammer of his (ok, get your mind out of the gutter!) was probably the coolest weapon I can remember seeing in a movie.  Really, Thor could kick some serious bad-guy booty with that thing, it was awesome!  The fight scenes on Asgard, Jotunheim and Earth required some serious special effects but it was cool to see battles throughout the movie, instead of just in one enormous climactic scene.

We LOVED the movie (duh) until the very very very end.  The credits started to roll and we were like, umm, what about ______??  (sorry, no spoilers!)  So in our incredulity, we remained glued to our seats, hoping for an additional scene during or after the credits.

HINT: if you go to see 'Thor', you will definitely want to sit through the credits.  Trust me.  Minds were blown.

That's all I'm gonna say-- and somehow a quick little post turned into a novel-- so have a great Saturday =)


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The New Jules: Day 1 =)

Today for the Bikini Challenge from Tone It Up, I combined Day 1 and Day 2 (since you're supposed to start on a Monday but today was Tuesday).  The everyday requirements include drinking half your body weight in ounces of water-- so I'm aiming for 65-70 oz-- as well as eat a lean, green, clean dinner that doesn't include heavy starches, cheeses or fried food.  In my family, we always eat dinner between 8:30pm and 9:00pm so another goal of mine is to not eat past 7pm and be in bed by 11pm.  I'm hoping this isn't too ambitious 'cause I want to succeed!

Anywho, here's how my newly fit day went!

The challenge for Day 1

For Bikini Challenge Day 1, I woke up 30 mins early and did the Body Slim DVD from YogaWorks.  It was fun!  They alternate "deep burn" poses with "cardio" poses, taking you through the most common poses at a great pace.  It was a nice combination of static poses (like Warrior II, Triangle Pose and Side Plank) and flowing poses (including three variations on Sun Salutation).  And in case you're a total yoga newbie, they have someone doing slightly modified poses.  For more information on poses, the Yoga Journal website is a great place to start =)  You can also find the DVD that I did this morning at!

The challenge for Day 2

Fast forward a few hours.  I spent the afternoon doing housework so Real HouseMom could come home to a clean house after a week at my grandparents' lake house, and I modified my fitness plan (see update below).  I'm addicted to Pretty Little Liars on ABC Family so I had to watch it at 7pm.  Well, dinner took a lot longer to make than anticipated so I ended up eating around 7:30, which isn't too bad for my first attempt.  Once I finished eating (and the Rosewood drama had subsided for the week), it was time to do the 2nd half of my challenge workouts for today.  I did the Day 2 Bikini Strap Workout with my 5-lb hand weights on the floor of my living room while watching TV.  They said to do 12-20 reps of each move, so I aimed for 15 since I'm not exactly in peak condition right now.  Some of the moves were a little more tiring than others but I did 3 sets of each of the moves and it felt good!

Bikini Challenge Day 1 Summary Checklist:

  • Check in with the Tone It Up girls: Almost check!  Once this post is finished, I'll link it in a tweet to them-- and you'll be able to see it in my Twitter box on the right.
  • Drink 65-70 oz water: Check!  My 24 oz blue Camelbak has the lines marked on it so it's super easy to see how much I've drank.  I drank 2 bottles already and have about 5 oz left in the third one, so that would be about 67 oz =)  I also had two glasses of sweetened (not sweet) tea...
  • Eat lean, green and clean for dinner: Mehhh kind of failed this one.  I ate with my mom and we had whole grain brown rice with a frozen Chinese stir fry.  No breads or potatoes AND a healthy portion of veggies, but the sauce was probably pretty high in sodium and added sugars =/
  • And I'm so excited to be developing these great new habits!!  Although a printable version of the challenge would be SUPER helpful *hint hint* =)

Running update: Since I live in Chicago and one of the best half marathons in the country is the Chicago Half Marathon, I asked around a little bit to see if any of my friends will be running it.  Turns out, several of my friends are signed up for it!  In case you didn't know, I'm do a lot of stuff on impulse.  A lot.  An hour after I heard back from my friends, I registered for the half marathon.  And since it's a month sooner than the one I was originally considering, I found this 10-week training program from Fitness Magazine-- which is perfect because the HM is Sunday 9/11 and that's 10 weeks away!  Since it's already after 11pm (which was when I was going to try to go to bed every night!) and creepy dark out, I'm postponing my run to first thing in the morning.  I'll let you know tomorrow how day 2 goes and I'll try to get some "before" pictures so I'll have something to compare with in a couple months!

Have a great hump day =)


I want to run a half marathon!

Last year I decided to get my butt in gear and lose some weight while training for my very first running race.  I spent the summer (which in Chicagoland is hot and humid as anything) alternating running workouts Monday-Wednesday-Friday and strength training Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday.  I managed to lose 15 pounds (yay!) but then I plateaued.

Me, in December 2009 with one of my cousins

Me, in December 2010 at our office holiday party (I'm front row, far left)

ANYWAY long story short, I ran the 5K race at the Chicago Half Marathon in September 2010 with my friend Liz.  We weren't trying to PR or win any awards, just have fun-- and let me tell you, it was SO much fun!  All my photos were on my old laptop and are now in my external hard drive, so for now here are a couple professional photos from the race (don't judge, they're hideous!)

I look super attractive....

With my friend Liz, just after we finished running
I'm sick of this workout plateau!  I've decided it's time to get my act back together and work on losing the remaining 15 lbs I'm aiming for.  I found the Tone It Up 8 week Bikini Challenge and decided I'm going to do it!  Below are the requirements; since you're supposed to start on a Monday, I'm going to do days 1 & 2 tomorrow (today? Tuesday....) and then be up to speed for Wednesday!

And to keep myself on track and focused-- aside from having to be super accountable to the @ToneItUp team-- I've found a 12 week plan to run a half marathon.  If I follow this plan from Hal Higdon, I'll be on track to run a 5K and a 10K before the half marathon in mid-October.  I'm excited and will keep you guys posted on how things go!

Wish me luck and have a great Tuesday =)


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Long-Distance Socializing

I'm 24 so I still like to go to the bars.  Not so much the wild and crazy nightclub scene, just your typical twenty-something bars, like Public House or John Barleycorn in Chicago and Features or Blackfinn in Naperville.  Since I'm not on the prowl for a guy but Boyfie lives in Indiana, most of the time I go out just with a girlfriend or two (instead of the gaggle of sorority sisters I was used to in college).

John Barleycorn in Lincoln Park

Public House in River North
Blackfinn Saloon in downtown Naperville

Features Bar & Grill in downtown Naperville

The problem I run into time and time again-- and it happened last night!-- is how to handle when the two or three of us are approached by a matching number of males.  Most of my girlfriends are single, so I don't want to.... umm... block anything but I'm also not interested in seeing these guys once we leave the bar.  I'm a really friendly and outgoing person by nature, so I can't just be rude (or bitchy!) and ignore them outright.  On the other hand, I know they feel led on if I even engage in conversation.

I'm trying to find the balance where I can make it clear that I'm not available without coming across as boring or snobbish!

Does anyone else have this problem?  If you have any suggestions, I'm all ears!

Have a fantastic Independence Day weekend =)