Haven’t Had Enough Cocoa? Try This.

Best Simple Hot Cocoa

It’s the second day of the new month and I love this time of year. I love celebrating advent and trying to fit something fun and seasonal into each day. Yesterday was baking Monster Cookies and listening to Christmas music. Today I wanted to share my simple hot cocoa recipe. I don’t know about where you live but in my town it’s 23 degrees! Hopefully this recipe will warm you up and help get you into the holiday spirit.

Recipe:

2 tbls EACH of

* Cocoa powder

* Sugar

1 cup of milk, separated

Optional:

Mini marshmallows

Reddi Wip

Chocolate Chips

Chocolate Jimmies

Mix cocoa, sugar and 2 tblsp milk over medium heat  and whisk until cocoa is dissolved. Add the rest of the milk, more if you prefer a little less cocoa-y cocoa. Continue to stir over heat until cocoa is hot. Do not boil!

Pour cocoa over a handful of chocolate chips in your favorite mug. Stir to melt. Add a few mini marshmallows and Reddi Wip. Top with chocolate jimmies. Enjoy!

*Makes 1 large mug. Duplicate as needed for more servings.

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Chocolate Sugar Cookies (A.K.A. Deranged Moose Cookies)

With all the busyness of the holiday weekend I didn’t get the cookie recipe up. Better late than never though, so here it is.

The original recipe is from LilaLoa, found here.

I’ve added a few notes and some photos. Click on a pic to view the gallery. Refer to it as you need while going through the recipe. P.S. The chocolate frosting recipe follows. I used this frosting recipe because I didn’t want to make royal icing. It never tastes very good, especially with chocolate cookies. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments.

I couldn’t find the frosting recipe I used for these. I knew I should have Pinned it! So, if memory serves (fingers crossed) it went a little something like this:

1 1/2 sticks margarine (no need to soften)

1 cup cocoa powder

2-2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (to taste/consistency)

1 tsp vanilla

Milk (in tablespoons as needed for consistency; I didn’t need any)

I added a little more powdered sugar (maaaybe half a cup, no more) to make it a little thicker and because I used unsweetened cocoa powder so it was a little dark tasting. All you do is throw all the ingredients in one bowl and mix it up. I recommend mixing the butter and cocoa and a little sugar first, adding sugar slowly. Then add the vanilla and, if you need the frosting thinner, the milk. Beat with your mixer until you’re satisfied, tasting as you go.

I found this frosting set up really well in just a couple of hours, unlike royal icing which can take 24 hours to set up and then is rock hard. This also tastes much better. Do be careful when transporting though, the icing is still squishably soft, though not soft and sticky to the touch (i.e., you could press a fingerprint into it but you wouldn’t do any damage if you stack them in a baking pan for transport).

To decorate I simply spread the frosting on evenly, made an eye with a glob of white piping gel and stuck a chocolate sprinkle in the middle for the pupil. But, as you can see, they came out looking a little deranged. I’d love to see your take on the decorating. Leave a photo along with a comment.

Happy baking,

-Tara

A Crazy Weekend Part II (And Where to Go In B-Town)

And now, as promised, the second crazy/fun event of my photo-less weekend.

My husband and I celebrated our first anniversary.

As did our as yet unborn baby (whom we affectionately call Muggy. There’s a story behind that).

Yes, we’ve just been married a year and I’m all of 7 months pregnant. We’re insane but we’re happy.

So since we didn’t have a ton of money to jet set to California as we wished (nor did we have the vacation time at work) we opted to have a nice weekend closer to home.

Bloomington, Indiana if you didn’t know is a somewhat small college town in Southern Indiana, the college being Indiana University. You might have heard of it. While it isn’t the number one travel destination in the country (or even in Southern Indiana) there actually is a lot to do and a ton of good food to be had. So I thought I would share our experience and give you some recommendations in case you ever find yourself needing an inexpensive weekend away.

I’ll start with the food (naturally):

Samira This is the top-rated restaurant in Bloomington. It offers Afghani and Middle Eastern cuisine (which I’d never tried before) and a relaxed, comfortable environment. The food was amazing. If you go, I highly recommend the Chicken Manto (dumplings on basmati rice with a yogurt sauce) and the baklava. When you’re given a choice between soup and salad, skip the salad and go with the lentil soup. After trying my husband’s I regretted my out-of-character decision to make the healthy choice of the salad.

Lennie’s This restaurant and brewery is also highly rated online. My husband and I split one of the best pizzas we’ve ever had (we went with the Hoosier Harvest specialty) and my husband (ok enough with spelling that out, his name’s Luke)  enjoyed a flight of beer samples while I enviously stared on. I did try the tiiiniest sip of the Java Porter which was amazingly smooth and creamy with no bitter aftertaste. I can’t resist a good java beer. They also have several IPAs to choose from if you’re into that kind of thing (weirdo. Just kidding loooove yoooou). If you love pizza and beer Lennie’s is your kind of place.

Square Donuts Ok, so we didn’t actually go to this particular Square Donuts (we stayed at a bed and breakfast so naturally we had breakfast there) but there is a Square Donuts nearer where we live and they’re just plain good. It’s kind of a first-come first-serve place, so they just close when they’re out of donuts for the day. If you’re a midnight-donut person (I can eat donuts morning, noon and night personally) this isn’t your jam, but getting there a little earlier is worth it.

Five Guys This obviously isn’t a B-Town original, but Five Guys is delicious, let’s be real. If you’re in the mood for a juicy cheeseburger and perfectly crispy natural fries, just go to Five Guys. I haven’t experienced any of the local hamburger joints so I can’t recommend them, but I’m sure if you were feeling adventurous Bloomington would have plenty of juicy burgers to offer. And probably a pint to wash it down with (with which to wash it down- dang it!).

There were a couple of other places that made our to-do list that we didn’t get to scratch off. The menus we looked at online sounded appealing but you can only pack so much food into a weekend and the next day we were off to Nashville, IN. So here are a few more choices that, if they were to be terrible for some reason, don’t blame me!

The Irish Lion

Hu Hot Mongolian Grill

Taste Of India

Mother Bear’s Pizza

Besides all the great food, there’s lots more to do in Bloomington. As far as where to stay, I can only recommend the Grant St. Inn. It’s a bed and breakfast downtown near all the action, but it feels far enough removed that you can relax. The breakfast was delicious but the bed was so incredibly comfortable we almost missed it.

Then there’s shopping. A few places to check out include

Fountain Square Mall

The College Mall

Cactus Flower

The Briar and the Burley (in Fountain Square Mall)

and my favorite… Target

I know that shouldn’t be that exciting, you probably go to Target on a weekly basis, but this is the closest Target to me! I go, like, twice a year. It’s sad.

There are tons of other little shops downtown that we didn’t have time to check out.

That’s not to mention the State Parks, trails, museums, the IU Auditorium with its ever-changing list of shows and events, and the Bluespring Caverns subterranean boat tours! I was pumped about that one but unfortunately it was a little too late in the year and the tours were closed for the season. Maybe come Spring.

After the day and night in Bloomington, we headed to Nashville, which is about 20 minutes away from Bloomington, but that’s for another post. If you live in or around Southern Indiana and need something to do on a weekend, or are planning to visit for some strange reason, check out Bloomington and Nashville. And actually take pictures!

Check back in tomorrow for an amazing chocolate cookie recipe complete with pictures and fool proof instructions.

In the mean time, have any other recommendations to add? Leave it in the comments.

Love always,

Tara

A Crazy Weekend Part I (And How to Throw a Last Minute Birthday Party)

I’ve got to start taking more pictures. This weekend was insane (fun but insane) and I have almost no pictures to show for it. Friday was my baby sister’s 8th birthday and after my brother and mother ended up having the same knee surgery only a week apart (my brother’s being the day of said sister’s party) it was up to me to throw it together last minute.

She is OBSESSED (or “insessed” as she would say…we’re working on that) with Sonic the Hedgehog so that’s the theme we went with. When I say last minute, I mean last minute. I had given my mom a list of ideas earlier this year so I had a slight inkling of some things we could do but I seriously put this party together DAY OF. Did I mention she invited 15 guests between the ages of 4 and 10?

This was one of the events I have practically no photos of, besides a few of her blowing out the candles on her Sonic photo image cake. I thought I would at least link to a few of the sources I used to put this party together, in case you ever need to throw together a Sonic the Hedgehog themed party (I sincerely hope you don’t, though. I don’t recommend the experience).

(I only bought one bag though, and that’s probably all you’ll need, so don’t freak out about the $40 economy pack!) If I’d had more time I probably would have tried to find some prettier, diamond shaped fake gems, but alas I had only one day.

Then all you do is hide them around your yard or house. Be sure to tell the kids what’s off limits and how many are hidden (which means you have to remember to count as you hide them). Whoever finds the most Chaos Emeralds wins.

  • How Well Do You Know Your Sonic Characters? Game- This one might have been a little advanced for 6-8 year-olds. They lost interest in it half way through but it did kill some time. Basically you just fill in which character is what kind of animal. I gave a couple of hints as some of the guests weren’t quite as avid of fans as my sister is. And yes, there is an answer key, and yes it’s a FREE printable.

Here’s the link for that: http://www.thepartyanimal-blog.org/Downloads/How_Well_Do_You_Know_Sonic.pdf

She also has a lot of other great ideas for this theme.

  • Pin the Tail on Tails- Sounds like what it is. Replace the donkey in the classic game with Miles Prower, aka Tails, and cut out copies of the tail for kids to pin on. Write the kid’s name on their tail so you know whose is whose.

Here’s the link: http://www.heidisrecipes.com/2011/02/sonic-tails.html

  • Coloring Contest- This was probably the most popular activity (surprisingly) and it was also extremely easy. There were so many printable Sonic characters to choose from and since it only requires a printer, copy paper and black ink it’s probably the cheapest party entertainment you could ask for.

Here’s a link to one of the websites I printed from but there are lots more: http://fastseoguru.com/cartoon/printable-sonic-the-hedgehog-amy-rose-coloring-pages

Click around and find other characters.

  • Finally, here’s a link to my Pin Board for the party. I wasn’t able to do a few of the ideas but if I had had more time there were some cute things I would have liked to do.

http://www.pinterest.com/tarakennedy91/reagans-8th/

Besides all the things listed, I also set the table with blue, yellow, red and pink; each color representing a certain character (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and Amy Rose). I tied yellow and blue balloons on my plant hangers on my porch to help guests find the house, popped popcorn and coated it in blue candy melts (I put those in treat bags and tied Air Heads and Tootsie Pops to the outside with blue curled ribbon and sent them home. Less mess for me to worry about!) and made an easy red punch and printed off a label that said Knuckles’ Knock Out Punch with a Google Image of the Knuckles character (you can see an example on my Pinterest Board).

The crazy weekend continued with more crazy fun but more on that tomorrow. In the mean time, have you ever thrown together a last minute party? Got any tips? Leave a comment.

Love always,

Tara

Hello

I was intimidated to start a blog. Partly because it’s surprisingly intimidating to actually sit down and get your ideas out there, and partly because I’d started making an impossibly long mental list of all the annoying things I noticed on blogs I’d come across that I wanted to avoid if I ever did work up the nerve to start one. This list soon lead to anxiety. These people were writing very successful blogs! What would my amateur blog look like? So I started reevaluating this list and scratched some things out. Maybe I was being too critical. Maybe I was looking for reasons not to start. Whatever the case, I narrowed the list down to a few things I do want to avoid, and you can hold me accountable. So, here’s the list:

  • Typos and Grammatical Errors- I’m not saying I’ll use “who” and “whom” correctly every time, or that you’ll never see me split an infinitive, but if you’re going to write for a living, either be well enough versed in English to catch your own mistakes or have someone else proofread your work. I actually cringed the other week when I read the phrase “…cut myself a peace of pie” on a popular, widely read recipe blog. That being said, I apologize in advance for occasionally ending a sentence with a preposition.

 

  • Vague Recipe Directions with Little to No Pictures- Generally speaking, the people who try out recipes they found on blogs are not master chefs or professional bakers. I need details and pictures help reassure me that I’m not way off track. “The pretzels need to take a bath before baking…” Ok? What does that mean? Do I draw them an actual bath and throw in the rubber ducky? Help me out here! I hope to be detailed enough to direct the most novice of bakers without insulting anyone’s intelligence.

  • Beginning Every Post with “Honestly…” or “I have to confess…”- Especially when it’s something like, “I have to confess…I LOVE DESSERT!!!!!” Duh. Who doesn’t? That’s not a confession.

zooey deschanel dessert person gif New Girl

  • 4. Using Way Too Many Exclamation Points- Enough said.

 

  • 5. Sounding Like a Totally Different Person- I want anyone who reads my blog and also has the pleasure to know me in real life (ahem) to not feel like they don’t recognize my voice. Nothing annoys me more than reading someone’s post on Facebook and thinking, “They would never say that! Who are they pretending to be?” So I’m not going to suddenly start using words like “adorbs” or “scrumptious” (except maybe facetiously. And I do use that word. A lot.)

All that being said, I hope you don’t think me too negative a person. I just want to be honest and offer something different in a “Mommy Blog” (more on that later). In the meantime, I hope you stick around to see me attempt to fulfill all these promises.

Love Always,

Tara