Saturday, March 30, 2013

This Bunny Likes Carrot Cupcakes

My love for cupcake baking knows no bounds. And to my delight, I've become the (un?)official cupcake baker for my husband's office. Guys, they actually request my cupcakes. Being a baker is one of my many secret dream jobs so this is a major thrill. I like to put on Edith Piaf, don my frilly apron, and as I whisk and frost, I pretend I am a famous Parisian pastry chef known the world over for my petits gâteaux. But, I digress.

I made Easter-themed carrot cupcakes for them this week. Recipe below.

I'm missing the Annual Adult Easter Egg Hunt at my parents' house this weekend. Flavio has to work, so we can't make it. Sad face. It's a highly competitive race for plastic eggs, some of which contain chocolate, some of which contain $20 bills (!!) Bummed we're not there. I'll have to eat my feelings. Thank god for carrot cake. And at a zillion calories per bite, thank god I gave most of it away.

Hope your weekend is filled with Easter treats and something sweet. xo


Carrot Cupcakes with Mascarpone Cream Cheese Icing
Makes 12 cupcakes

For cupcakes:

  • 4 medium carrots
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • Make cupcakes:

    Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Line muffin cups with paper liners.

    Coarsely grate enough carrots to measure 2 cups using large teardrop holes of a box grater.

    Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a bowl.

    Whisk together oil, eggs, brown sugar, grated carrots, and vanilla in a large bowl, then stir in flour mixture until just combined.

    Divide batter among muffin cups and bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted into center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.

    Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan and cool completely on rack, about 1 hour more.

    For icing:

    {the secret ingredient}
    • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
    • 1 cup (8 ounces) cream cheese at room temperature
    • 2 cups powdered sugar -- sifted
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • Pinch of kosher salt
    • 1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • Fresh raspberries for decorating

    Make icing:

    In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the mascarpone on very low speed until just combined. (Be careful; once you've added the mascarpone, excessive beating can make the frosting curdle.) Stir in the vanilla extract.   NOTE: I used my food processor as my mixer is broken, and it worked fine. If using a food processor, hand-mix in the mascarpone, or it will curdle.

    Decorate cupcakes with a pastry bag and tip -- it's easier and prettier than any other method. If you don't have a pastry bag/tip, load all the icing into a freezer-size ziplock bag and cut off one corner. Instant cake decorating trick!  I used Wilton's Icing Gel to paint on the carrots. 

    Cupcake recipe from here.
    Icing recipe from here.

    Thursday, March 28, 2013

    Our Secrets to a Happy Marriage: 1.5 Years In

    In honor of this week's national discussion on the right to marry, I'd like to do something I'm completely unqualified to do: Dole out unsolicited marriage advice...

    As my last Weekending post revealed, Flavio and I are not without our moments of marital strife. I am hotheaded and can go from 0 to 60 in no time flat. I cry and want to talk/bark things out immediately. Flavio is the opposite. He is a silent storm, quiet and contemplative in the heat of the moment. I want answers and solutions right now. He wants time and physical distance, which makes me crazy. Obviously, my putting up my dukes and his running away won't solve any problems. {Although, his approach of bringing-things-down-a-notch before continuing is obviously the superior option.} So tonight, I fed my beloved some wine and coyly asked him, "What do you think makes for a happy marriage?" He got suspicious, laughed and told me it was a "loaded question", and pretended to be too busy to answer. I asked again and he replied with a word both surprising and wise:  Balance.

    Here's his take:

    "What I like most about our marriage is our sense of balance. A happy marriage means the two people stay balanced between being both individuals and partners. You can't lose your individuality - that's what attracted you in the first place and that's what makes you a good partner. By staying an individual in the partnership, you balance each other complement each other. We have similar interests, but then we also like doing things apart. We have serious conversations, but then we laugh and make fun of things together. You're sensitive and feeling, and I'm practical and logical. You like to talk and I like to listen. You like to bake and I like to cook. You do the dishes and... you do the dishes. Balance."

    Ha! Is he a wizard, or what? So insightful.

    Here's my take:

    The secret to a happy marriage comes from realizing it's not all rainbows and roses. There are good days and bad days but if you're in it for the long haul, you realize the bad days don't mean doom, they mean an opportunity to grow together. When there are tough times, and there definitely will be, you have to work through it together. And sometimes, you just have to let stuff go {I'm still working on this part}. Even after our worst fights, after I've cooled down a bit, I see the bigger picture, the 50+ years in front of us, and I'm never left questioning whether things are going to be okay. I know they're going to be okay because I know we have a solid foundation and we will work through the rough patches together.

    Advice in a nutshell: Remaining an individual in the marriage makes you a better partner; see the bigger picture and work through the tough times together. That's our advice, a mere one year and eight months into marriage. Not like we really know what we're talking about yet. Check back with us in 20 years.

    For a more qualified take on marital bliss, this article on 15 Marriage Secrets is enlightening and funny. And here's my mom's best marriage advice.

    I hope the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality this week. We all have the right to marriage's tribulations and triumphs.

    Thanks for reading. If you have any tips for a happy relationship, I'd love to hear. xo

    {Photo above from our wedding day: July 22, 2011}

    Wednesday, March 27, 2013

    Movies That Never Get Old

    {Some of our DVDs. Are DVDs going the way of the dodo? With Apple TV,  I think so...}

    Are there movies to which you can't say no? You know, movies you've seen a million times, but will watch for the millionth and one time, just because you love them so? I'm not talking about true cinematic masterpieces (like Cinema Paradiso or Casablanca), just movies that suck you in, and that you can't resist watching over and over.

    Here are 10 of mine, in no particular order. I've seen each of these so many times I can practically recite every word, but they never get old.

    1.  Sideways
    2.  Dumb and Dumber
    3.  Love Actually
    4.  The Departed
    5.  As Good As It Gets
    6.  Good Will Hunting
    7.  Romeo and Juliet (the Leo/Claire Danes version)
    8.  When Harry Met Sally (and pretty much anything Nora Ephron)
    9.  Lost in Translation
    10. Bridget Jones's Diary

    Which movies make your list?

    Tuesday, March 26, 2013

    A Spring of Self-Improvement

    {Monarch visitor to our house. Spring is metamorphosis time!}
    Our financial fast ends this Saturday and Flavio and I declare the following:

    We feel pretty great about the whole enterprise and don't want to see it end.

    I'm looking forward to writing a complete reflection on the fast soon but in the meantime, I'll just say it's been an awesome exercise in mindfulness. We're going to keep the fast going beyond Lent with a less-strict version. I'd highly recommend a financial fast for all.

    In the spirit of mindfulness (and because I love projects), I have another declaration:

    Let this be a Spring of Self-Improvement! A spring cleaning for the house, body, and spirit.

    In addition to keeping our financial fast going, we're/I'm welcoming spring with the following challenges:

    ** Major spring cleaning of our house. Donating and getting rid of stuff. Inspired by this article.

    ** 30 days of Paleo/Primal eating: April 1- 30. We like to do 30 days of paleo a couple times a year to re-examine what we're eating. We notice that when we're not eating grains, we tend to eat more veggies and whole foods.

    ** I'm doing it. I am going back to CrossFit. Reason: Winter brought a steady diet of wine and baked goods, and I need to wear a bathing suit in public soon. I start April 1. Eeeks!

    Let the self-improvement continue...

    {My husband at CrossFit. This will be me in 30 days.}

    Monday, March 25, 2013


    Saturday morning brought clean sheets and fresh coffee. But somewhere between the clean sheets and the coffee, things got grumpy. Nothing was wrong, really - sometimes you're just crabby. We had so much scheduled, I felt overwhelmed. Dog training, sheep herding lessons, buy groceries, clean the house, laundry, Flavio helped a friend move, etc. It wasn't bad stuff, just felt never-ending. All I really wanted to do was laze about, have a leisurely brunch, and then read my book in the sun. I took a deep breath and we pressed forward with our busy day. I barked at Flavio a few more times as we ran from one commitment to the next, but by nightfall we were happily tangled on the couch, eating chocolate pudding and watching movies. All was well again.

    For obvious reasons, Saturday is not pictured. Sunday made up for Saturday. We did everything our hearts desired. Slept in, strolled the farmers' market, frolicked at dog beach, Flavio barbecued, I baked, Guiri lounged about, we ate good food, and we snuggled in to a mini-marathon of our fave show, House of Cards. It was a good day.

    I'm on spring break from Navy college, but still teaching at SDSU until Thursday. A lighter schedule this week and come Friday I'll officially be on break. Can't wait! I need it.

    Some scenes from Sunday..

    {ranunculus from the market}
    {so happy}
    {lounging in the sun}
    {first strawberries of spring}

    {pretty lady}
    {not sure this pic captures it, but the evening springtime light in our place is magical}

    Sunday, March 24, 2013

    Strawberry Shortcake Season

    The first strawberries of the year have arrived, and by my watch that means: It's shortcake season!

    {succulent strawberries from the Hillcrest farmers' market}
    When I was a kid, my mom would celebrate shortcake season by buying those bright yellow, spongy, Twinkie-looking "shortcakes" in noisy plastic wrappers from the grocery store. She'd top these neon disks with canned whipped cream, plop some sliced strawberries on top and call it a day. And a delicious day it was. Strawberry shortcake has always been one of my favorites, but it wasn't until I was an adult that I learned the crumbly, flaky beauty of true shortcake. Lightly sweet, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, shortcakes are biscuits from heaven. Topped with softly whipped cream and fresh berries, these little cakes taste like spring with a side of summer. Let's get to it.

    First, slice up your strawberries, put in a bowl, top with about a tablespoon of sugar, a tablespoon of lemon juice and some grated lemon zest. Let rest for at least 2 hours, so juices can macerate (I love that word).
    {slicing berries}
    Then, make your dough (recipe below), cut out your shortcakes, and bake.
    {I should really get a biscuit cutter}
    Finally, make your whipped cream.

    NOTE: Halfway through the baking process, I had a terrible realization - my beloved mixer is broken! How on earth would I make the whipped cream? A wire whisk? No. My mother-in-law was coming over for dinner in 30 minutes and I wouldn't have time to hand-beat the cream into submission. I wondered: Could I make whipped cream in my trusty food processor? I could. And I did! And guess what, I think I'll make whipped cream this way from now on. The texture was perfect and it was faster than any other method I've used. How to do it below.

    Put it all together, and...

    Perfection on a plate.

    (Adapted from the biscuit recipe here)

    2 cups flour
    3 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/4 cup sugar
    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cold and cut into cubes
    2 eggs
    1/2 cup cream 

    :: Put the dry ingredients into the food processor and pulse to combine.

    :: Add the cubes of butter and pulse 7 or 8 times for about 1 second each.

    :: Mix together the cream and the eggs and then pour into the food processor while pulsing. A ball of soft dough should form within a few seconds. Be careful not to overmix.

    :: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and gently shape into a rectangle approximately 1/2 inch thick. Fold in thirds lengthwise, turn one quarter turn and repeat once more. This gentle folding creates a soft, flaky biscuit.

    :: Pat the dough out with your hands to about 1/2 or 3/4 inch thick. Cut out your biscuits and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

    :: Bake in a 425 degree oven for about 10 minutes, until the tops are just golden brown.


    Fit food processor with chopping blade. Place 1 cup cold heavy cream, 1 tablespoon powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla in food processor at same time. Pulse a little at a time -- just for a couple seconds at a time. Stop when soft peaks form - maybe 10 seconds in. Take it slow - be careful not to overwhip.

    Friday, March 22, 2013

    Toys and Tots

    Italian Photographer Gabriele Galimberti's photo essay Toy Stories is just so touching. In it, children all over the world show off their most prized possessions - their toys. Galimberti traveled the world for 18 months, photographing children from every walk of life. Her conclusion: "They are pretty much all the same; they just want to play." I find myself coming back to her website to analyze the pictures and to read her words and each time I do, I get misty-eyed. The sociology is fascinating, and the sentiment is heart-warming.

    Wishing you lots of play this weekend.

    {Tangawizi in Kenya}
    {Julia in Albania}

    {Norden in Morocco}
    {Stella in Italy}
    {Chiwa in Malawi}
    {Virginia in Utah}
    {Botlhe in Botswana}
    {Ragnar in Iceland}
    There are so many great pictures on her website; I had a hard time deciding which ones to include. See the full series here

    Thursday, March 21, 2013

    Simple But Dignified Chocolate Pudding

    {What's up, pudding cup?}
    As a child of the eighties/nineties, Snack Pack pudding cups occupied an important place in my lunch box and my heart. As an adult, I sometimes get a hankering for pudding, but feel like I should have a more dignified version, or at least one that does not wage chemical warfare on my body (Eek! Snack Packs have a shelf life of 18 months and their scary ingredients are listed here).

    Luckily, a dignified and chemical-free homemade pudding is quick and easy to make. It's rich and decadent, yet cozy and simple. A sweet end to a Thursday night. 

    {Let's make puddin'}
    Simple But Dignified Chocolate Pudding
    Adapted from here

    Makes 6 cup-sized servings

    1/4 cup cornstarch
    2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
    1/2 cup sugar
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    3 cups whole milk
    6 ounces Trader Joe's Chocolate Chips (I'm sure better chocolate would mean better pudding but I always seem to have
    TJ's chocolate chips on hand.)
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    1. Combine the cornstarch, cocoa powder, sugar and salt in the top of a double boiler. Slowly whisk in the milk, scraping the bottom and sides with a heatproof spatula to incorporate the dry ingredients. Place over gently simmering water and stir occasionally, scraping the bottom and sides. Use a whisk, otherwise lumps may form. After 15 to 20 minutes, when the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of the spoon, add the chocolate chips. Continue stirring for about 2 to 4 minutes, or until the pudding is smooth and thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

    2. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer (if you want - I never do) and then pour into individual serving dishes.

    3. If you like pudding skin (like I do), pull plastic wrap over the top of the serving dish before refrigerating. If you hate pudding skin (like Flavio), place plastic wrap on top of the pudding and smooth it gently against the surface before refrigerating.

    4. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days. Top with nuts and serve with strawberries.

    Wednesday, March 20, 2013

    Welcome, Spring.

    Don't feel like saying much today. Except that it's officially spring, there are wild flowers on the side of the freeway, the sun is shining, and spring break is coming. Glorious.

    I keep thinking about this article about living with less and simplifying. As you read, you see how Hill's happiness grew one he got rid of unnecessary stuff - and the stressors that come with it.  His message is inspiring. Getting rid of things is so satisfying, and a great way to commemorate the new season. Spring Cleaning 2013 here I come.

    Finally, Pablo Neruda's quote above (translated: I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry tress) from this poem is so sexy and reads rather nicely aloud, if you're in the spirit.

    Happy spring.

    Tuesday, March 19, 2013

    Half-Birthday Wishes

    Do you celebrate your half-birthday? I do. It's the less-pressure, just-for-you birthday where there's no getting stressed or birthday-shy. Yes, we're on our financial fast, but I'm fantasizing about one day shopping again. What better excuse than my half-birthday? Well, a girl can dream..

    I always treat myself for my half-birthday (May 18), but usually with something small like a mani/pedi or a special treat from Anthro. If I win the lottery, here are a few other things I'd buy right now.

    Currently coveting:

    A cozy spring cardi that adds a pop of color
    A yellow KitchenAid - my stand mixer broke last week! Nooooo.
    Lionel Richie tea mug - to remind me to up my green tea intake
    Obsessed with this flip clock for the kitchen
    A spring-y Anthro dress
    These Parisian wedges

    Monday, March 18, 2013

    A Tip for Happiness

    I have a declaration: Teaching at the Navy Base is hard. Without going into detail, it's just a very different population than I'm used to, and after last week, I wanted to buy these pencils in bulk.

    Besides upping my wine intake, doing more Pilates, and taking nightly bubble baths, I've been on the lookout for other ways to increase happiness. I remembered the Happy documentary, which says research reveals that one way to increase happiness is to keep a gratitude journal. It says even the small act of noting three things for which you're grateful can substantially boost happiness. I've taken that idea and spinned it a bit: Each night, instead of journaling, Flavio and I lie in bed and ask each other: "What's the best thing that happened today?" Or, "What are some things you're grateful for today?" And you know what? This pillow talk helps! I find myself looking for things to be grateful for during the day, concentrating on the good instead of the bad. So, ask yourself: What are three things you're grateful for today? I'd say:
    1. Taking Guiri to play with her best friend, Poppy. No matter what the work day was like, you can't feel sad watching puppies play.
    2. Hanging in the kitchen drinking wine while Flavio makes dinner.
    3. Whispering in bed before falling asleep.

    Sunday, March 17, 2013

    Weekending, St. Paddy's!

    {Someone call the paddy wagon! Wine Vault}
    {Drinks, El Take It Easy}
    {Me pot o' gold, dog beach}
    {Corned beef & cabbage dinner}
    {Signs of spring, dog beach}

    {Green apple, orange glaze Irish tart}
    Lots of celebratory eating and drinking this weekend, and I loved every minute. Friday night we fiesta'd for our first date anniversary with drinkies and din at El Take It Easy, and ran into one of my former students while boozing. Woops. Tipsy run-ins with students are awkward..but fun.

    Saturday we took Guiri to Fiesta Island's dog beach so we could all run free. I love starting Saturdays there, moseying along the trails as the kayakers and crew teams float by. Dog beach makes me feel like I'm on vacation and reminds me why I never want to leave sunny San Diego.

    Saturday night we went back to the Wine Vault. They did an impressive beer tasting paired with a 10-course St. Paddy's menu and the tastings (and extra carafes) left us feeling very festive. We joked we needed to be picked up by the paddy wagon. It was a great night.

    Sunday we blasted the Dropkick Murphys and Mumford & Sons while cooking corned beef and braised Cabbage and I made this apple tart. We spent the afternoon watching two Eire-themed movies, The Departed and Good Will Hunting, and then enjoyed a delicious dinner with plenty o' blarney.

    Now: Sunday night blues; I'm not ready for another work week. Thank god Spring Break is right around the corner. Seriously, Cheers! to that.

    Friday, March 15, 2013

    Our Wonderfully Terrible First Date

    {On our first date, Señor Frog's Tijuana, March 15, 2001. Slightly inebriated.}

    Today is the anniversary of our first date. It's crazy to think I've known Flavio for twelve years. I can only imagine what my parents feel like knowing they met in their teens and have spent more than half a century together. Amazing.

    Our first date story is kind of hilarious (at least to us) and we spent some time reminiscing about this morning over breakfast.

    Here's the wonderfully terrible story:

    {The infamous Señor Frog's}
    I wasn't quite 21 when we met, so we decided to head south of the border for dinner, dancing and drinks at Tijuana's finest fiesta spot, Señor Frog's. And drink I did. My classy 20-year-old self ordered a flaming cucaracha, and then dos cucarachas, and then tres, and...
    {flaming cucarachas}
    The rest of the night is a blur, except I vaguely remember dancing to "Shake Your Bon-Bon" and then vomiting cucarachas all over the front of Flavio's pristine Acura.

    He got me home safely and the next morning I woke up with a headache and a shame like no other. Mortified, I was sure I'd never hear from him again, which was so upsetting because I knew I really liked him. But a little bit later he called to make sure I was okay. I apologized profusely for befouling his car, to which he kept saying he was very sorry I got sick and not to worry, he'd already cleaned the car. We went out to breakfast that morning and as they say, the rest is history.

    We'll be celebrating our First Date Anniversary tonight with Mexican food and drinks. Maybe I'll order a flaming cucaracha and see what happens. :)

    Thursday, March 14, 2013


    My parents have a ton of couple-friends, many of whom they've known their whole lives, so lately Flavio and I've been asking ourselves: Why we don't have more couple-friends? We have great friends, but most of them are either single, or are busy being parents, or are in a relationship but currently live in another state or country. My best friends and their significant others don't live here and all of our college/grad school couple-friends have moved out of expensive San Diego. So, here we are.

    Couple-friends are good for the marriage, so in all my nerdery, I searched the interwebs for clues on how to find these elusive C-Fs.  I stumbled upon this fascinating  NY Times article about the difficulty in making friends as an adult.  It's a good read and makes me feel less lame. As the article states, finding the right couple-friend “is like matchmaking for two," as all four people need to like each other.  I have repeatedly tried to set up our mutual single friends with the excitement of, We love both of you! And we hope you love each other!, but no matches yet. The search continues. 

    PS - A dog really helps you meet other adults. We've met many nice people at the dog park, dog beach, etc. and see them on a regular basis. But again, they're either single, or the chemistry for deep friendship beyond our dogs isn't there. Sigh.

    PPS - Seinfeld on Making Friends in Your 30s. Ha! :)

    Wednesday, March 13, 2013

    Gibigianna & Other Marvelous Words

    I like to get lost in the "strange and lovely words"on Otherwordly, a Tumblr which pays homage to wondrous, mysterious, and sometimes inspiring words. I see myself, and want to see myself, in the following wordsmithery:
    {Unfortunately, this is me. I can't hide my emotions, despite serious effort.
    I wear my heart on my sleeve.}
    {Yep. Not a good dancer, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy it!}

    {Sigh. Well, this was me pre-financial fast.}
    {I aspire to be a quaintrelle.}
    {I aspire to be a gibigianna.}