7.31.2012

lemon yogurt cake.

I interrupt your Tuesday morning to temp you with this beautiful, light, buttercup-hued, luscious lemon yogurt cake.
Wish you could taste it, because it's just perfect, just about any time of day. Especially if it involves welcoming Earth's newest angel, at least in my world: Campbell Katherine, who was born to Krisa and her husband on Friday. She's such a sweet little thing, just a hair bigger than this mini-loaf, in fact.

When I held her last night, I was reminded of this beautiful phase of early, early parenthood and early, early life and the new-ness of... everything. It's cliche, I know, but it's hard to believe that Mari was ever that small, and it was only one year ago. That gets me a little bit - right there in the throat. I get choked up just thinking about it.

Enter this butter-free lemon yogurt cake. It's a delicious slice of sunshine to pair with those days when you could use a pick-me-up. Days when you don't want to let go; days when you're wondering how you'll make it through; days when you're so tired you just can't think; days when all you want is an answer that no one can provide; days when you feel like celebrating a tiny (or big!) victory; and days when you just want and deserve to treat yourself.
It's for days when, even though you love your stand mixer more than you should, you can only muster enough for a good old fashioned bowl and spatula (okay, and a really good whisk). This is one of my favorite cake breads that I've made several times and it never disappoints. In fact, the more I think about it, it might be a nice alternative to this year's Kahlua Cakes. Hmmm.

The Barefoot Contessa's Lemon Yogurt Cake
From The Barefoot Contessa at Home, page 168
Yield: 1 large loaf or 3 mini loaves

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (or more, to thin)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour loaf pan(s). Or, use this.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup of sugar, eggs, lemon zest and vanilla. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it's well incorporated (it will take a good few spins). Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes for the large loaf, or 40-45 for the mini-loaves. Or, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan until sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear and set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. While it's still warm, pour the lemon/sugar mixture over to absorb. I like to do this while the cake is still in the pan, like it's taking a bath in the tub. I will add that I go easy on the syrup, and usually have leftovers.

Allow cake to cool and remove from pan. For the glaze, whisk together the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice and drizzle over cake. All over the cake.
If gifting, let glaze set completely before wrapping loaf in plastic wrap and then again with parchment paper. Tie with Lemon Divine Twine and real lemon leaves, if you have the pleasure of having a lemon tree in your life.

7.27.2012

cheers for friday: sparkling mint lemonade.

It's five o'clock somewhere, yes? My mint obsession continues with this refreshing beverage that I've been enjoying with loads of birthday party leftovers of sparkling lemonade.
To a store-bought bottle of lemon Italian soda (I like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods' sparkling lemonade), add: a handful of crushed mint, ice cubes and a stripey straw. And there is summer in a glass (which I'm sure mixes just lovely with your libation of choice).

Treat yourself this weekend, and enjoy!

7.26.2012

no cook summer menu.

Well, almost no cook, if you must count the grill. Over the weekend, my mom and I were talking about how much we love the beauty and bounty of summer cooking; that less-is-more mentality where assembly is minimal, flavors come together with ease and cooking is generally a breeze.
Have you enjoyed a home-cooked burger yet this season? Inspired by A Cup of Jo's burger discussion, we got our grill on, and with a few other fresh ingredients, enjoyed a delicious taste of summer, which included burgers, corn and watermelon. Basically: summer on a plate.

Here's our easy no-cook, basically-just-chop, grill (thanks to Eddie) & serve menu:

+ Cheeseburgers, topped with big slices of tomato, red onion and shredded lettuce (from the bag).
+ Grilled corn on the cob, rubbed with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and garlic powder.
+ Watermelon, mint and prosciutto salad (no dressing need apply; just a rough chop of melon, mint and meat tossed together, and chilled for a bit).
+ Dessert: coconut popsicles.
My latest summer obsession: mint.

PS: thanks for your sweet notes and comments on Mari's birthday party. Next week is unofficially birthday recap week, and I have lots more to come. Plus... tomorrow, stop by for a quick summer beverage you should treat yourself to this weekend!

7.24.2012

sneak peak: mari's first birthday.

My heart is skipping a little beat or two over here, in pure happiness over some birthday weekend photos captured by the amazing Jenna of Jenna Beth Photography. You may recall that our dear family friend photographed us last year, and we just had to have her back for Mari's first birthday.
And, this just in, on her birthday of all days: she posted photos from the party, plus our little family shoot and you can check them out on her beautiful blog right here.

For the party lovers, I'll be sharing more soon, including detail photos, le menu, decor, etc. Lots more to come.

Can you ever be more grateful for artists who capture some of life's sweetest moments in black, white and color? I really don't think so. Jenna, thank you. You are amazing (and, by the way: happy birthday TO YOU!).

7.23.2012

top five wknd snaps: summer, in photos.

Deep inhale in. Hold. Sip in more air. Hold. One more sip. Now, exhale through the mouth. Repeat as needed. Doesn't that feel good? A fresh, cleansing summer breath just about sums up my weekend, which started with a long-overdue yoga class and ended in the swimming pool with Mari. In short: it was just what the doctor ordered. Plus...

One: Sunset devoured, cover-to-cover.
Two: We got our grill on (albeit a borrowed grill, from our neighbors).
Three: Sweetness. We're on the popsicle bandwagon (store-bought, from Dreyer's).
Four: Color, inspired by the season. This is Essie's new California Coral
Five: Someone's walking. Everywhere.

7.19.2012

summer's list.

Last night, I was flipping through summer sale catalogs and flashback'd to a recent trip to Target. Back-to-school items are being shelved. That's the kind of reminder I needed; summer is flying by and I decided I needed a summer bucket list.
So much of this summer has been spent obsessing over Mari's first birthday, which, in my opinion, is a great way to spend one's time. But now, I have a little liberation. I don't have extra long to-do lists and I'm not frazzled by endless, obscure errands. I'm also over that emotional hump of watching my daughter turn one, and now I really feel like I can take a deep breath, exhale and settle into the season.

My summer is here. And here's what I want to do:

+ Grill corn on the cob, specifically for this salad. Or... this.
+ Take Mari night swimming (or at least, close-to-bedtime swimming).
+ Make peach jam. Just freezer jam. Canning = someday, but not now.
+ Enjoy an old favorite: The BC's Summer Garden Pasta.
+ Walk to The Creamery for some post-dinner ice cream.
+ Get Mari in some open-toed shoes. I have my eyes on these.
+ Do family night at a concert in the park and introduce Mari to the pond.
+ Play hookie on a Tuesday and hit up the Farmer's Market.
+ Go see a summer blockbuster.
+ Eat bing cherries. Preferably out of cute paper bags, like these.
+ One summer project: get Mari's baby book done. I've not held up my end of the bargain here.
+ And, while we're on that topic, I shall get back to dinner-party-hosting this month. I don't know what happened in May and June, but now seems like the perfect time to plug in the twinkle lights, enjoy our deck and have some friends over.

What's on your summer bucket list?

Mari's swimsuit: Old Navy.

7.17.2012

summer s'mores, brownie style.

Wow, what a weekend. I took some extra time to really drag out the Birthday Girl's first birthday, and it was a long, friend- and family-filled weekend. And it was so wonderful. Thank you for your kind notes, celebratory wishes and cyber hugs. Mari just learned how to blow kisses, so mmmwah. From the bottom of our hearts.

I have so much fun to share once the dust settles, the pictures download and we unpack from her Sunday beach party (it might take a few weeks - I have to remember that I took months to plan the party, right?). So, to hold us all over, I've got a quick, easy summer sweet for you to try stat: smore's brownies.
Like most summer-inspired foods that I love (top of mind: fresh corn on the cob, white peaches and anything grilled), I can't get enough graham crackers + chocolate + marshmallows around this time of year. Last night, in the market, I almost bought a way-too-expensive gourmet smore's trail mix (and now I'm wishing I did). If you're poking around Pinterest, you've probably pinned a smore's recipe or two. And, well, here's three.

We enjoyed these on the Fourth of July at our neighbor's beach picnic, whilst enjoying the best afternoon of lounging and people watching. Made better by melty-gooey-goodness, thanks to Marta Writes. It doesn't get any easier: a box of brownie mix, graham crackers, a bar (or two) of chocolate and marshmallows.
Go visit her beautiful blog for the complete recipe, and I know it will be hard, but try to enjoy these brownies the same day you bake. On day two, the graham crackers staled a bit (not that that stopped me from dusting off the leftovers or anything).

PS: on the topic of summer baking: are you enjoying peaches, or what? I am thinking I might need to re-visit this number (or heck, this one, too) from last year.

7.13.2012

happy birthday, baby.

Dear Mari-girl,

Happy first birthday, lady bug. I will start with the over-used cliche: I can't believe how quickly this year has passed. Over the last week, I've replayed bits and pieces of your first year in my head, by looking at photos on my phone, reading old blog posts and your journal, and it's all got me so sentimentally wound-up. Was someone going to tell me that the first birthday of your first born is a crazy roller coaster ride, or what?!

I'm so proud of you, my little love with such a big personality. You make me laugh, smile and cry and my heart still explodes with joy at the very thought of you, just like it did in those first few weeks of your life.
Your first year has been my best year. I want to thank you for teaching me about true blue love and for so many other little things, like:

Taking time to stop and touch (and smell) the flowers.
How a nap can really re-set my entire day.
Family matters.
Eating steamed broccoli isn't so bad.
Frustration is only a phase, and can usually be conquered in seconds.
Putting toys back where they came from applies to me, too.
With you, life really does get more fun with every passing day.
Daddy's hair is prettier than mine, and I'm okay with that.
Happiness is a state of mind (that can be helped along by things like empty water bottles or wrapping paper).
Taking life slow, one intentional step at a time, while holding someone's hand, is a good thing.
The best version of me comes when I remember my purpose in life: to set a good example for you.

I will hold onto these first year memories with all my might, as I watch you grow up, learn to walk and talk and begin your second year. I love you, sweet girl. Happy birthday.
XOX mom

PS: Friday the 13th is a great day to have a birthday. Believe it for the rest of your life!

All photos by Bella Baby Photography, when Mari was nearly 12 hours old.

7.10.2012

dinner tonite: salmon salad.

With meal planning and journaling becoming a bit of a habit, we're eating healthier, and that feels good. I have Dinner: A Love Story (DALS) to thank for giving me the kick in the pants to get moving in the right direction, and I had the pleasure of trying a deliciously healthy and filling DALS recipe last week, and fresh salmon salad with one of my favorite summer eats: fresh corn from the cob.
Because I can't pass up dill when it comes to salmon, I subbed it in for cilantro and opted to roast the potatoes vs. boil. While I was at it, I tossed in some chunks of onion, so in they went with the spuds while I got the rest of the dish prepped. Tomatoes are a must for next time (sometimes I run out, and sometimes I forget) because there will certainly be a next time.

This is a perfect week-night summer salad that's flexible, adaptable and elegant enough for company, and if you chop and prep ahead of time, it's just a matter of popping things in and out of the oven. I could not have made this, however, without Eddie, who helps get dinner on the table every night, in between bath and story time, and puts up with barking instructions from the tub. Totally normal in our household.

Dinner: A Love Story's Salmon Salad
Serves 4, with leftovers

For the vinaigrette:
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
Squeeze of fresh lemon
1/2 cup good olive oil

For the vinaigrette, whisk all ingredients together and set aside.

For the salad:
1 pound salmon fillet
Salt and pepper
4 large potatoes or several small potatoes, scrubbed and halved (I like fingerling or purple or both)
2 ears of corn, shucked
Handful of thin green beans, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 English hothouse cucumber, diced
5 to 6 scallions, chopped (white and green parts)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (or in my case, dill)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Season salmon with salt and pepper and place in foil-lined glass baking dish and roast for 15 minutes (alternatively, you can grill salmon - see DALS note). Remove from oven, set aside.

Meanwhile, add the potatoes to boiling water and cook for about 12 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon (or this!) and add to large bowl.* Add the corn to to the same pot of water and cook for about 4-5 minutes. Remove to cool and slice off kernels directly into salad bowl (use another bowl, upside down, and see this trick for cutting corn from the cob). Add the beans to the pot of water and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, and add to salad bowl.

Add salmon (gently remove the skin if you like, and the fish will break up nicely as you incorporate it into the salad), tomatoes, cucumber, scallions and cilantro (or dill) to salad bowl and toss with vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a crusty slice of bread to soak up all that vinaigrette goodness.

By the way, you can watch DALS' Jenny Rosenstrach make this salad on Today and see how really simple it is!

*Since the oven was already hot, I roasted potatoes (and I'd suggest adding some onion, if you have it), drizzled in olive oil, salt and pepper on a foil-lined baking sheet for about 25-30 minutes at 425 degrees.

7.06.2012

DIY: red, white + blue hurricanes.

This weekend, do yourself a favor and take a stroll through Target's dollar bins (as if I had to pull your arm) and pick up a handful of 3-packs of small American flags, because you are going to want to get crafty once you find out how easy and affordable these patriotic hurricanes are.
While scouring the world wide web for Independence Day inspiration, I found this made-for-me DIY that was done in less than 15 minutes, while still in my pajamas on the morning of the Fourth. Just in time, right? At least I'll be ready for next year, and you will too, if you gather a few supplies. Here's what you need:

+ large glass jar - extra credit if you recycle an old pickle jar (or something of that sort). You want something tall, wide and smooth.
+ spray adhesive - think spray paint, but spray glue. Find at your local craft shop.
+ American flags, detached and ironed, if needed (you will also want good fabric scissors to clean up the edge of the flag, if necessary)
+ Modge Podge or Yes! Paste and a sponge or paint brush for application - a tip on Yes!, learned from the brilliant Bianca - mix in a little bit of water to thin the super duper glue.
+ filler of your choice and candle(s)
It's pretty self-explanatory, and Sweet Something Designs provides a good tutorial. Here are some additional tips, maybe obvious (maybe not):

+ first things first: wash and your glass jar and allow to thoroughly dry (like overnight).
+ a very crisp and flat flag makes this project perfectly easy. Iron it if it's been wrapped tightly in plastic for far too long.
+ for me, the easiest way to detach the flag from the pole: just tug it right off with your hands, and trim the flag with good fabric scissors to clean up the edge.
+ to attach the flag to jar, spray the back of it with adhesive and place it on the jar, taking care to seal all four corners well. Allow the adhesive to dry a bit, and then lightly brush a coat of Modge Podge or Yes! over the flag, without getting any on the glass (if you do, have a damp paper towel handy to wipe it down immediately). This helps seal the flag and make it a bit glossy.
+ fill with sand (or maybe decorative moss, shells, corks or rocks) and a small candle and enjoy!
I'm in love with these hurricanes, and they'll probably be enjoyed on our deck through Labor Day! Note to self: pick up a few more candles.

Happy weekend! (Does anyone feel like we had two Mondays this week, and now two Fridays? I do and I'm so glad the second one is here.)

7.05.2012

four from the fourth.

Did everyone have a fantastic Fourth? Hope so. Weird to celebrate it on a Wednesday, though, yes? Like most of you, I'm back to work today, dreaming of yesterday's beach picnic with our neighbors, people watching on The Strand and cheering on Mari as she took in the ocean with her dad.

With the little one, it was an early night for us, which gave me plenty of time to relax and reflect, and be thankful for Independence Day, to so many people past and present who keep our freedom safe, especially one of Eddie's cousins and of course, Flight Suits.

I stole two brilliant blog ideas for the holiday, and will be sharing more details with you later, but for now, here's a taste of our Fourth.

One: patriotic hurricanes (blog steal numero uno).
Two: blog steal number two - s'mores brownies. Yes, you read that correctly. More to come.
Three: window boxes with spirit. You can really go nuts at Target with their three packs of flags for $1. Note to self: stock up for next year.
Four: simple caprese, perfected with the perfect balsamic (mucho thanks, LR).
 Tablecloth thanks to Betsy Ross; votives from the Target dollar bin.

7.02.2012

red, white + blue, baby.

Happy Monday! And happy July. If you're anything like me, you are wondering how the Fouth of July is upon us. But, I love this holiday and all that goes with it, so bring it on, Uncle Sam.
{channel red, white & blue with me on Pinterest}
Last year, right around this time, I was enjoying some down time before Miss Mari decided to enter this beautiful world. I was trying to keep my feet up while finishing so many projects - the number one being her room. While it feels like years have flown by since she was born, it also feels like yesterday that I was hunched over my giant belly, in her little corner of the world, perfecting the white baseboards and sanding down rough edges on her window sills. And getting paint in my hair. And being thankful for Eddie and my parents who helped us get so much done in those final moments of life-before-baby.

Those moments are so definitive at the time, aren't they? I remember thinking that if we didn't accomplish things before baby, we failed and/or we'd never have the chance to get to them again. I don't buy that, though, not after having a baby and having gone through a year of what has been the most productive of my life.

Except for this past weekend. Eddie was on the road, and I had big plans to get lots of things done. Crafty things for the Fourth, more crafty things for someone's first birthday party (oh, yes! so much to get to on that) and lots of cooking prep to make this week a breeze. But, Mari was under the weather, so I just got to be a mom. And now that her fever (and my worry) has passed, I'm thankful to have had the chance to just be (thanks, little beauty (she always knows what's best for me)). And all those things that I didn't get done - well - I know now that they will eventually. Or they won't. And that's just fine.

So, I'm going to just ease on into this holiday week, and hope you will, too. If I get some free time in between enjoying Mari's first Fourth of July, these patriotic hurricanes are first on my list. Cheers!