A Bloody Good Birthday.

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I know that getting older can be a terrifying and dreaded thing- especially for those of us in our late twenties as we inch closer and closer to 30, but personally, I embrace it. With age comes more experiences, more possibilities, and sure- more tough choices- and while your body and desires may change from what they were in, say, your teens or early twenties (i.e. staying out and partying all night or gorging on greasy fast food can and will come back to haunt you,) there’s nothing wrong with aging. Getting older is a privilege that many people unfortunately don’t always get to have.

Having a birthday right smack in the middle of a work week blows, however. Such was the case with my 28th birthday yesterday. It’s hard to coordinate plans to celebrate with friends and family when you get out of work in the evening and have to be up at 7 a.m. the next day- so when my mom told me to come by after I’d left the office for the night because she had a surprise for me- I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d already spent most of the day completely stunned by the amount of incredibly sweet messages and birthday wishes that poured in from friends and family from all over. It was overwhelming- in the best way possible!

What I got when I arrived at my mom’s house was a “Walking Dead” themed surprise party with some of my relatives. When my mom knows I’m a big fan of something- she goes all out. The Daryl Dixon cake pictured above was something she had made for me that I loved so much I didn’t want to cut it at first.

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Apart from the cake, my “Walking Dead”-geekiness was further fueled with toys, a huge poster, a shooter-style video game, the best socks ever created, and a W.W.D.D.D t-shirt. Also? This:

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Yeah. That’d be a life-size Daryl cardboard cut-out. I told you all my mom went all out, guys. I may be 28 now, but my space will no doubt resemble that of a teenaged fangirl/fanboy’s by the time I’m done moving and rearranging all of this stuff into it. It’s going to be awesome.

Another non-“Walking Dead” related surprise came in the form of an ASUS Transformer Book my mom bought me in an attempt to make my staying connected while traveling 100000000x easier. I was speechless. For years I’ve been taking my laptop everywhere, and for years it’s been such a pain in the ass to carry around or fly with. I’d been meaning to finally downsize to a decent and thinner tablet for the longest time, but have never actually gotten around to it- instead relying on my SmartPhone when on the road. Out of all the wonderful, geeky, and totally “me” presents I received this year- the ASUS was the one that nearly moved me to tears.

Yesterday was truly one of the best birthdays I think I’ve ever had. Between the flood of calls and messages I received to the completely fantastic surprises my family had planned for me- it was an amazing, wonderful day- even if I had to work!

Thanks to all who wished me a good one! It meant the world to me!

xox

Dessert Cart.

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I swear to God I’m not THAT person who has to take pictures of every single meal or snack before they actually enjoy the taste of it, and I also want to stress that despite the fact that most of my food photos consist of cupcakes and sugary confections, I’m very much a healthy eater and I do actually consume nutritious meals outside of the dessert menu.

The photos above were some of the dessert selections from my cousin Paige’s graduation party/cookout last weekend. All of the cupcakes, brownies, cookies, and tarts just looked too pretty to eat on their serving trays that I couldn’t help but snap a couple of photos before I dug in.

Baking Post: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

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For as long as I can remember, my mom always made “Pineapple Upside-Down Cake” for every holiday, family function, special occasion, etc. It was sort of like fruitcake- always just, there, on the table (except it was much, much tastier than a fruitcake)- but it’s always been a sort of tradition in her house.

I had a craving for it tonight, and decided to make one myself. The recipe is simple enough, and if you’ve got an hour or so, it’s a nice change from a standard scoop of ice cream or cookie for dessert.

YOU WILL NEED:

* Butter.

* Brown sugar.

* 1 Springform pan.

* 1 Box of yellow cake mix (the brand is entirely up to you- just make sure it’s yellow cake).

* 1 Can of sliced pineapples.

* 1 Jar of maraschino cherries.

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OKAY, HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

1. First, you are going to use butter to “grease” the bottom of your springform pan. Make sure it’s covered to avoid any sticking. If you’re not a fan of butter, any non-stick spray should do the trick.

2. Cover the bottom of the pan with the brown sugar. Don’t be stingy. You can use a lot and it won’t ruin the cake.

3. Place the pineapple slices on top of the brown sugar.

4. Place maraschino cherries in the center of each pineapple slice. From here, you can feel free to add more brown sugar on top of the pineapple slices and cherries.

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5. Preheat your oven to 350°. While the oven is heating up, prepare your yellow cake mixture as instructed on the box.

6. Pour the mixed yellow cake batter on top of your brown sugar/pineapple/cherry concoction.

7. Place pan inside oven and bake for approximately 50 minutes-1 hour. Be sure to do the toothpick test every so often to make sure your cake is cooked all the way through.

8. When your cake is done baking in the oven, let it sit on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes. *BE CAREFUL: THE BROWN SUGAR WILL BE REALLY HOT* Heed my warning- I learned that the hard way.

9.  Once cooled, flip your cake over onto a serving dish.

10. OPEN FOOD HOLE. SHOVE CAKE INSIDE.

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It came out pretty good- at least good enough where I know my mom would be proud of my efforts- although I can’t say for sure that I’ll carry on her tradition of baking one for every gathering I have with family and friends.

It’d be kinda’ funny, though.

xx

Odds & Ends.

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I had mentioned in my last entry that in lieu of a traditional birthday cake, some of my family surprised me the other night with those tasty red velvet and salted caramel cupcakes. Unbeknownst to me, however, my mom had a surprise (belated) birthday cake custom-made for me for another small get together she’d planned at her house last night. I have a bit of an infatuation with Tiffany & Co., so my mom had the cake shaped and frosted in the design of one of their trademark light blue gift boxes with white ribbon.

I had to take a couple pictures of it before I guiltily cut into it. It was just so cute- and so were the very bright and colorful flowers I received as a belated-birthday present, too. The whole evening was such a wonderful surprise!

Today, I bundled up and headed out to explore and photograph the old abandoned Medfield State Hospital. Unlike other locations I’ve been to, the grounds of the hospital are open to the public from 6 AM ’til 6 PM daily. Entering any of the buildings is strictly prohibited, and there are security personnel who routinely patrol the area, but for the most part- you can roam freely without being hassled. The place is monstrous, and very spaced out, which left me with a lot of ground to cover.

Because of the cold, I was the only one up there today- which made the whole experience a little eerie at first, especially when I was hearing metal clanging from inside the buildings whenever the wind blew, or seeing animals run by when they heard me approaching, but it proved to be a really cool adventure. I’d like to go back when it’s a bit warmer out so I can stay and poke around a little longer.

The hospital was built in 1892, and stayed open and operational until 2003, which explains why it’s still in relatively good condition (sans a couple of broken windows here and there) compared to other abandoned hospitals &  asylums in New England.

The grounds were also apparently most recently used as a filming location for the movies “Shutter Island” and “The Box”.

Down the street, a couple of miles away from the front entrance of the grounds, is the Medfield State Hospital Cemetery, where patients who died between 1918 and 1988 have been laid to rest. I had wanted to stop and respectfully take a look, but it looked like the front entrance was closed off as I drove by a couple of times. Maybe next time.

Baking Post: Salted Caramel Cupcakes

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Yesterday was my birthday, and was celebrated in a quiet, low-key fashion. I worked most of the day, and spent most of the evening with my mom and some of my relatives at her house. It was nice.

Knowing my love of all things red velvet, which is only matched by my love of all things salted caramel, my mom, aunt, uncle, and cousin all teamed up to create the above-pictured “Red Velvet & Salted Caramel Cupcakes” in lieu of a traditional birthday cake for me. They were DELICIOUS, and I borrowed the recipe from my aunt to share with any foodies who may read this blog, or for anyone who is just interested in attempting to bake something new:

YOU WILL NEED:

* One box cake mix, and the ingredients to bake it (eggs, flour, milk, etc.) It can be any kind of cake mix, depending on your preference.

* Sea salt.

* 4-5 Heath Bars (Butterfinger bars are also a good substitute)

* Caramel ice cream topping

* Buttercream icing

* Squeeze bottle

OKAY, HERE’S WHAT YOU DO:

1. Bake your cupcakes according to the package directions.

2. When the cupcakes are nearly done baking, pour the caramel ice cream topping into a measuring cup.

3. Add 1/2 tablespoon of sea salt per 8 ox. of caramel. You may have to add a little more, depending on how salty you want them to taste.

4. Warm the mixture in the microwave for one minute, and then stir well. From there, pour the mixture into the squeeze bottle.

5. When the cupcakes are done baking, use the squeeze bottle to inject the mixture into the center of the cupcakes. Be sure to save some of the mixture for later! When all of the cupcakes have been filled, move them to a cooling area.

6. Keeping the Heath (or Butterfinger) bars in their packaging, HULK SMASH ‘EM INTO BITS. When you’re done, unwrap them and pour the pieces into a bowl.

7. When the cupcakes are cooled, frost them with the buttercream icing, sprinkle them (or dunk them) into the broken up Heath/Butterfinger bits, and drizzle more of the salted caramel mixture over them.

8. SHOVE CUPCAKES INTO MOUTH.

The sweetness of the red velvet cake, the salted caramel filling, and the broken up bits of Butterfinger made for an unexpected and pretty awesome flavor combination. Definitely one I never would have thought of before.

Before I wrap this entry up: many, many thanks to everyone who sent birthday wishes and kind words yesterday! It really meant a lot. I love you all and I had a great day!

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And can we all just stop for a moment and appreciate this birthday card my mom gave me? Holy shit.