wedding cakey

I MADE A WEDDING CAKE! FOR REALS! PLS ADMIRE MY TRIUMPH!

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And the general wedding splendor 🙂 When one makes the wedding cake, one also gets a backstage pass to all the wedding setup festivities. Prime twinkly light prep was taking when I took the photograph below.

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Let’s rewind. I have written a NOVEL about my process. It is as much for my records as yours. But I did learn a lot in this experience and perhaps you, dear reader, will benefit.

This process began when I spent 10,000 hours researching recipes/practicing recipes.

I admit I had a real ace up my sleeve in the form of my cousin Rachel, who just happens to have worked as a PASTRY CHEF. Most of the recipes and techniques I ended up using were hers. She’s the best.

It turns out that practicing recipes, and planning recipes for the actual making of this actual huge amount of cake, involved doing an exorbitant amount of math.

To scale the recipes my cousin gave me to various pan sizes, I did the calculations based on Smitten Kitchen’s advice, at the end of this blog post, to use surface area of the pan rather than batter volume. In other words, a 9 inch pan has an area of about 64 inches. Its radius is 4.5 inches, and you use pi r squared to get the area. WHO SAID YOU DON’T USE MATH IN REAL LIFE?! Meanwhile, a 12 inch pan has an area of about 113 inches. Let’s say I wanted to convert a recipe for a cake that fits in a nine inch pan to fitting in a 12 inch pan- I’d multiply each ingredient (preferably in ounces or grams) by 113/64. For eggs, you obviously just end up rounding up or down.

What I ended up making were three separate cakes: a 6 inch, a 9 inch, and a 12 inch. I came up with those numbers using the Wilton diagrams. I will say I actually only ended up making approximately 108 servings, per the guidance of the bride and groom, and I was distraught by that because there were 160 wedding guests. And though there was also pie, the thought of someone going away hungry for dessert was devastating to me. Well, friends, this was NOT a realistic concern. Lots of people don’t eat cake. The bride and groom now have a freezer full of it.

Okay so the aforementioned 6″, 9″ and 12″ cakes could’ve been stacked on each other, but my friends weren’t interested in that aesthetic. Frankly, thank God. The thought of stacking and doweling cakes makes me a bit lightheaded.

So, I had three separate cakes. But secretly, I had nine cakes, since each cake had three layers. Furthermore, each layer was cut in half and then filled with filling. So each cake, from the bottom up, went: cake, filling, cake, icing; cake, filling, cake, icing; cake, filling, cake, icing. As seen below!

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As for the recipes themselves, please note that my fancy pastry chef cousin’s recipes are sparse on details because she’s such a friggin fantastic baker that she doesn’t need to include much in her recipes. I’ve done my best to make notes below.

The recipes I used were:

  • Chocolate genoise:
    • For one 12 inch round pan: Whisk 8 eggs and 8.4 oz sugar over double boiler until sugar dissolves/eggs are slightly warm to the touch Then move to mixer and whip until 3x volume and very pale yellow. Meanwhile, sift together 6.4 oz flour and 1.2  oz cocoa powder. Remove eggs from mixer, fold in flour mix. Use your hand to fold to lessen chance of deflating [Ileana note: I interpreted this to mean use your hand and a spatula, rather than the mixer. I didn’t literally stick my hand in batter. Though honestly that may’ve been what my cousin meant, since I know she always uses her hands to separate eggs]. Bake @350 in buttered/floured tin (I always put parchment on the bottom too) [Ileana note: OMG YES ADD THE PARCHMENT. It removes all stress from the process]. Cook until they smell good and have just separated from side of pan. [Ileana note: I was wracked with anxiety about the cooking time. While it is 100% true that baked goods really do start to smell extra good when they are done (thus my cousin’s “cook until they smell good”), my nose was also sort of broken at a certain point in the baking process. I also had multiple cakes in various stages all in my kitchen at the same time. You could bake for maybe 15 minutes and evaluate at that time and that might be a good starting point for baking time.]
    • I learned that the maximum capacity of my Kitchenaid mixer (standard size, not industrial size, which is what my pastry chef cousin has!) is 4 or 5 eggs’ worth of genoise. So, to make enough batter for one 12 inch cake layer, I had to do it in two batches.
  • Plain genoise
    • To make one 9 inch round pan, Whisk 4 eggs + 4.2 oz sugar over double boiler until sugar dissolves/eggs are slightly warm to the touch. Then move to mixer [Ileana note: I added about 1/2 teaspoon vanilla at this point] and whip until 3x volume and very pale yellow. Meanwhile, sift together just shy of 4 oz flour. Remove eggs from mixer, fold in flour. Use your hand to fold to lessen chance of deflating [Ileana note: I interpreted this to mean use your hand and a spatula, rather than the mixer. I didn’t literally stick my hand in batter. Though honestly that may’ve been what my cousin meant, since I know she always uses her hands to separate eggs]. Bake @350 in buttered/floured tin (I always put parchment on the bottom too) [Ileana note: OMG YES ADD THE PARCHMENT. It removes all stress from the process]. Cook until they smell good and have just separated from side of pan. [Ileana note: I was wracked with anxiety about the cooking time. While it is 100% true that baked goods really do start to smell extra good when they are done (thus my cousin’s “cook until they smell good”), my nose was also sort of broken at a certain point in the baking process. I also had multiple cakes in various stages all in my kitchen at the same time. You could bake for maybe 15 minutes and evaluate at that time and that might be a good starting point for baking time.]
  • Smitten Kitchen’s swiss buttercream
    • Note: a batch made with 5 sticks of butter (half her “big” recipe) maxed out the capacity of my Kitchenaid mixer.
    • To ice my three cakes- a 6 inch, a 9 inch, and a 12 inch diameter cake; each about 4-5 inches tall; each with icing between layers and icing around the diameter of the fillings; it took 1.5 “big” batches of the Smitten Kitchen swiss buttercream.
    • I have nothing to add to her instructions, which are invaluable. I had the exact same experience of flipping out that I was making frosting soup and then somehow it magically turns into icing after about 20 minutes of whipping. I also observed that the finished icing indeed has the texture of mayonnaise and indeed is wonderful to work with.
  • My fancy pastry chef cousin’s ganache “recipe”: measure equal amounts of bittersweet chocolate and cream. Heat up the cream (she uses a stove, I used the microwave). Mix them together with a whisk, leaving no lumps. Let them cool.
  • Strawberry filling which I cobbled together (initially I used a food network recipe for strawberry sauce but then that ended up being way too thin so I added a few bags of frozen strawberries and immersion blended it with that so it ended up being super concentrated strawberry bliss. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to recreate it, hahaha)

So I did all my cake math and successfully made all of those bad boys approximately 1-2 weeks in advance of the wedding, and they invaded my freezer:

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And then I thawed them in my fridge:

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And then I made my fillings and frostings.

And then,

then

it was assembly time.

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I’m not going to lie to you, this was the most intense part of the experience.

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Cutting cake layers in half is not for the faint of heart. It doesn’t help when you have crappy serrated knives (me). It doesn’t help when your cake layers are very large. It doesn’t help when you’re not particularly spatial. It is what it is. Do it, suck it up.

A key tip that I highly recommend is doing a perimeter of icing. That helps hold in the ganache (or whatever other filling) and keep it from spilling out and mucking up the outer layer of icing on the cake.

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When the assembly was done, each of the three separate cakes looked something like this:

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And then it was time for the crumb coat! My love of the crumb coat is discussed below and it is included in any cake tutorial worth its salt. Befriend the crumb coat, baker friends.

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Okay so those were the basic preliminary cake assembly steps. I think this is a good time for an interlude on essential supplies.

I made this list assuming at least a basic knowledge of baking- obviously you’ll need bowls and whisks and spatulas and all the normal baking things. But the things below are not necessarily mandatory for regular cake baking but are either extremely convenient or just absolutely essential for wedding cake baking.

  • Pasteurized egg whites, if one is using Swiss buttercream icing. Maybe the egg whites get hot enough in the double boiler, maybe they don’t. As a dietitian I know too much about food safety, and why chance it?! Plus it’s easier buying the packaged stuff than separating that many eggs.
  • Big cake pans, which I purchased at Michael’s craft store. Honestly I wish I had bought more pans because with my triple cake layers (to make tall cakes) I ended up making nine individual cakes- three six inch, three nine inch, and three twelve inch. I had two nine inch pans but only one six inch pan and only one twelve inch pan. I wish I had just sprung for extra pans.
  • Parchment paper for lining the cake pans. It removes 100% of the anxiety. In some of my test runs I didn’t do this and was also a bit impatient about taking the cake out of the pan maybe before it had cooled enough and dealt with cake breaking in half and making me really really angry. The parchment avoids this situation!
  • DIGITAL SCALE. Seriously large scale baking is impossible if you have to deal with measuring cups. Weights are the way to go. The difference is absurd. Your workflow simply consists of dumping an ingredient in a bowl til the scale says the number you want-> zero the scale-> add the next ingredient til the scale says the number you want-> zero the scale. I would’ve gone insane if I’d had to measure individual cups of flour, sugar, etc. Plus my fancy pastry chef cousin didn’t give me any recipes in cups hahaha. Real bakers use weights!
  • Stand mixer. The kind of aeration that needs to happen for the genoise and, dear God, the Swiss buttercream, would take literally hours of hand mixing. My arm would’ve fallen off- the whisking I had to do in the initial step of the Swiss buttercream was quite enough.
  • Double boiler or a metal bowl that fits over a large saucepan/large pot- that’s necessary for getting eggs to behave themselves both in the genoise and in the Swiss buttercream.
  • Offset spatula for putting on the icing. Makes it so much easier. Lots of cooking videos demonstrating this.
  • Pastry bags and icing tips. I didn’t do anything fancy but they’re great for doing the perimeter around the filling, as pictured above, and for doing touch ups once the cake is iced on the outer layer.
  • Cake boxes. This is easier said than done, actually. Apparently the larger Michael’s craft stores have cake boxes but the smaller ones, though they have literally every other item having to do with cake, do not. Weird. I ended up getting some for free at Whole Foods in the bakery section (hurray!) However, they only have them in some sizes and most were either slightly too big or slightly too small for my finished cakes. This ended up being a bit of a kerfuffle, but since as we’ll note later on, buttercream fixes everything, it’s not an insurmountable kerfuffle.
  • Cake boards
  • Big plates to display your cakes. This is not typically something one just has around the house so it’s worth thinking about. We ended up using my small cake stand for the 6″ cake, Shaylen’s pretty family antique plate for the 9″ cake, and, honestly, I know this is kind of not classy, we used my 16 inch cake pan that I’d already bought but not ended up using, flipped upside down and covered in fabric, for the 12′ cake.
  • This isn’t equipment per se, but let it be known to CLEAR OUT SPACE IN YOUR FREEZER! Because as we’ve discussed, when one is making NINE SEPARATE CAKES, it takes up space.
  • Also then CLEAR UP SPACE IN YOUR REFRIGERATOR. Or have refrigerator space somewhere else (i.e. the venue or, in my case, the wedding planner’s house which thank God is around the corner from mine) to put the assembled cake.

More tips:

  • There is an online video tutorial of virtually every step in the cake icing and assembly process. Take advantage of this. Some things look easier in the videos (DUH) but I will say that putting down a crumb coat while frosting a cake is a freaking revelation and I’m so glad I learned that technique online.
  • Get more ingredients than you need. Running out of eggs or butter is so frustrating. I bought butter at COSTCO- THREE POUNDS OF IT- and it still wasn’t enough. Get more than you think you need. Of everything.
  • Straight up, making a wedding cake is quiiiiite expensive. I used 15 sticks of butter in the frosting. I used 44 eggs in the cake layers. IT IS EXPENSIVE. Only make it for friends you really love (for the record, I do). And it 100% counts as your wedding gift.
  • The process will take 1000 years. You will be either baking or doing dishes for 1000 years. I watched all of The Staircase on Netflix whilst baking and doing dishes for 1000 years. Just expect that. Have a diverting true crime program to give you soothing background noise.
  • As said, assembling the cake is by far the most stressful part. Cutting cake layers in half is *@#%ing difficult. Fortunately…
  • Buttercream hides almost anything. GOD BLESS BUTTERCREAM. Even if a little filling leaks out from in between the layers, even if things look a little crooked, even if one side is sticking out in a wonky way, a slightly thicker layer of buttercream in a particular section can disguise any manner of ills.
  • Also, when in doubt, just display the cake from its best angle.

I.e. go from this:

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To this!

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After the crumb coat had cooled, I put on the final layer of buttercream, then packed my cake into my boxes, refrigerated them overnight, and brought them to the venue the morning of the wedding.

Our wedding planner/flower genius set aside some of the (beautiful!) sunflowers and green bits of foliage to adorn the cakes and we kept it super simple.

Then, on the smallest layer, which was the layer that Kyle and Shaylen cut, Shaylen put her HANDMADE WEDDING CAKE TOPPERS! Little lovebirds she made in her pottery class. Ugh she’s so cute.

And this is how it looked!

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Thank GOD I had absolutely nothing to do with the cake cutting process, so once Shaylen and Kyle had done their slicing and took their first bite and the cake didn’t explode or collapse or do anything awful, I heaved a sigh of relief and got to become a cake admirer/cake eater just like the rest of the wedding guests.

Here are the finished chocolate and vanilla layers! (The caterers sliced different sizes of the chocolate cake which I think was actually a great idea so people had options on portion size).

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Oh and as I briefly mentioned, IT’S NOT LIKE THERE WAS JUST CAKE, EITHER. There were also pies! Delicious key lime and peach pies! Ugh what a great evening of dessert.

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I peeked in the back where the caterer was doing their slicing and got to see these enormous slabs of cakey goodness. I mean. I made those:
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So will I ever do it again?

Well, NEVER for money. That’d be way too much pressure. I’m in no danger of becoming a professional cake baker.

Maaaaaaaybe for other friends in the same tier as Kyle and Shaylen (though that’s, uh, not many of them 😀 )

While I was ultimately exhausted at the end of this project, I’m also astonished at how much I learned (as you, uh, may have guessed from the 3000 words or so I just wrote). It’s nice to learn new things as an adult. It’s also nice to have a super physical experience when your day to day work involves being in your head a lot.

And finally, it’s nice to have your house spend about four weeks constantly smelling like cake.

That’s all I’ve got!

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summer cookin

First of all, I got Sun Basket again because it had been awhile and I still had some credit.

Kudos to them, because this box was all winners and everything was pristine; there were no problems with produce being too hard/too soft/etc.

First we have “Moroccan lamb tagine with artichokes, tomato-poached eggs, and couscous.

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This was maybe a bit more autumnal than I would typically pick, and had my house smelling strongly of lamb for several days.

But.

THE LAMB MEATBALLS WERE SO FREAKING UNBELIEVABLE! So tender and flavorful! Such a delicious spice blend! (<< apparently including Aleppo chili peppers). The meatballs were hot and smoky but not too spicy. The lamb was tender and melty and lovely.

Ugh so good.

I will say these portions were extra ginormous and I easily stretched what was supposed to be two meals into three. And though I

Next I made SoCal fish tacos with avocado, cabbage slaw, and lime yogurt, which I mentioned earlier I served at a little pool party with some girlfriends.

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Somehow they timed it so the avocado was perfectly ripe mmm. The sauce was really simple but really delicious.

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Finally, I made Salmon with creamy citrus dressing and stone fruit–snap pea salad. YUM.

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I feel like every time I’ve gotten Sun Basket there’s been one dish that sounds like kind of a weird combination. Like, had any of yall thought about sauteeing radishes, snap peas, and peaches together? I had not.

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However, this was REAL good. The radishes may have been my favorite part, and I don’t even like radishes that much!

Wait actually just kidding the sauce was my favorite part. It was creamy, rich, and just a little tangy.

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As far as things I made without the assistance of Sun Basket, I would do things like wander into my yard, pick some blackberries, and throw them on an English muffin with some nut butter. Nothing wrong with that at all.
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Or do one sweet and one savory (savory= mashed avocado and Trader Joe’s delicious all purpose seasoning)

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This was such a perfect summer breakfast! Scrambled eggs, toast with butter, and UH-MAZING fresh peach. For awhile there were consistently delicious South Carolina peaches at Harris Teeter. Alas, they are no more- the last time I bought beaches they tasted like nothing and the texture was disgusting mush. You were good while you lasted, perfect peaches.

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Another CLASSIC summer combo- watermelon, fresh mint, feta, olive oil, balsamic. YES.

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I had my lady friends over and made us burgers with caramelized onions and bleu cheese. YUM. Served on arugula salads with homemade vinaigrette. And also the meal involved more delicious summery things but- of course- I can’t remember what.

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Ridiculously simple but delicious: crusty bread, toasted; tomatoes, squeezed atop; salt; olive oil.

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I tried Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi, though I felt like a real tool doing so. I made it with browned butter and sage (<< from my garden). It was, I must confess, delicious. Despite me wanting to be very much on the record that real gnocchi is delicious and there’s nothing wrong with gluten if you don’t have Celiac disease.

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Summer meal prep: corn, broiled; summer squash, sliced and tossed with olive oil and oregano from the garden; eggplants, sliced, coated in a miso ginger blend, and broiled. Yum!

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The corn ended up with sour cream, chili pepper, and parmesan. Plate was rounded out with yummy sungold cherry tomatoes and fresh lima beans (with olive oil, lemon juice, and a bit more garden sage).

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Summer is my favorite season. Summer cooking is my favorite cooking.

summer adventures

 

We begin with my sister’s birthday dinner! My baby sister turned 27 on June 27th HOLY COW I JUST REALIZED IT WAS HER GOLDEN BIRTHDAY! Should’ve made a bigger deal about that!

Anyway, it was great eats. We went to St. Roch. Behold the menu:

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We began with beverages. She got a glass of wine; I for some reason was not in the mood (slightly iffy stomach?) so I got a shrub, which could be made with added booze but which I got virgin. It had pineapple and vinegar and herbal goodness and it was PERFECT! Calmed my tummy right down. Which is good, because then we feasted…

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A salad special to start: watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, lil fancy lettuce, fried shallots, ricotta salata, and Thai style dressing with fish sauce and things. (Probably more than that, I’m trying to list the components from memory). SO inventive!

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What the restaurant is known for- oysters! We got them grilled with a variety of toppings. The one on the left is pimento cheese because the South is crazy.

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We also got crawfish hush puppies. These were OUTRAGEOUS.

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And finally we split a crawfish boil. My sister showed me how to break down the crawfish and then proceeded to just DEMOLISH those guys at a very rapid pace, leaving me in the DUST. She went to college in Louisiana and knows how to dissect a crawfish real fast. I do not. I looked pretty sad!

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Since we were full to the point of bursting already, we didn’t do dessert there. But since it was her birthday and dessert is mandatory, we did get Malindi a birthday dessert to go. Quite the feast! And it’s always fun to go out for a special outing on a Wednesday- adds some excitement to the work week.

Once the weekend rolled around I met up with Shaylen at a bar. I got moral support from her about the absolute lunacy of single girl life, and she got moral support from me as her wedding grew nearer and nearer.

Said moral support included girl talk, prosecco (which they had on tap!) and Battleship (!!!!!!)

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Later that weekend I had a hot date at the swimming pool with the First Wives Club. I had gotten a Sun Basket that particular week and one of the meals was fish tacos. Even though there were three of us (rather than the two the recipe is supposed to serve) I figured out that I could stretch it out with some extra tortillas and frozen mahi mahi that I had- all that worked beautifully! (Also the Sun Basket portions are pretty big… sort of “man sized”).

And then we also had yummy yummy sides- Emily brought veggies and hummus and Lesli made uh-mazing orzo salad with grapes and mint and feta.

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The fish tacos were yet another excellent Sun Basket meal. I think fish tacos could end up being my last meal. I think that’d be okay.

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And then because yet again I was testing wedding cake recipes, I brought a wee cakey for everyone to try, topped with blackberries from my yard tossed with a bit of orange juice and sugar. Lesli, meanwhile, had made DELICIOUS key lime pie along with homemade whipped cream. Gosh I’m glad my friends love to cook as much as I do.

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Then the following week the Fourth of July arrived and…

I GOT TO SEE MY LOVE FERN!

My friend Andrea, hereinafter known as “love fern”, which has been our mutual nickname for one another for over a decade, has been my friend since we met at camp the summer after 9th grade. She and I both lived in NC for awhile but now she has taken off to NYC to be a star! She is an opera singer and is stupid talented.

Anyway, she was in NC for a very quick trip to see her parents and I got to whisk her away for an evening! We gabbed and soaked up life at The Durham, a very cool rooftop bar that opened after she’d moved away.

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And then the next morning, before I drove her to the airport, we stopped at Rise for biscuits and donuts. It was July 4th so I had to get that adorable donut. (Funnily enough I didn’t actually eat it- I bequeathed it to a friend whose house I popped by on my way home from the airport). (I ate all the biscuit, though- egg, cheese and tomato- and it left me full for approximately 7 hours).

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Later on the 4th, I attended an unphotographed cookout which was fun despite a surprise burst of torrential rain.

Later that week I observed this enterprising squirrel defeating a squirrel proof bird feeder. I took his picture because I was proud of him.
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The following weekend I went to the OCEAN! HUZZAH!

I’d attempted a trip earlier in the summer with some girlfriends but we’d gotten rained out. I feared I’d never see the beach for all of 2018 if I didn’t just make it happen for myself. So I recruited one friend and we drove down for a single Sunday (and we got a rather late start so we were in the car far longer than we were at the beach.)

DOESN’T MATTER. WORTH IT

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I also ate an oyster po’ boy before I left the seaside SO. That was great. Why do you get so hungry from ocean air? Why is food at the beach the best food of all time? A wonderful mystery.

The following weekend I stayed closer to home and enjoyed the Tomato Day festivities at the Carrboro farmer’s market

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Gazillions of samples! Long line!

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That weekend was a bit awkward because my old roommate was moving out and I sort of wanted to stay out of her way and it sort of felt like getting dumped hahaha. (<<< we are fine now, we literally just went to yoga class together and then had a wonderful conversation about the patriarchy)

But anyway it worked out to keep my distance. I went to Weaver Street Market and got one of their outrageously good yogurt parfaits (with a peach compote in it <3)

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And then I cat sat for this cutie!

Boo! Such a perfect name for a black cat.

We had a nice time.

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My friend Lesli, Boo’s human mother, was out of town and I basically just took over her apartment hahahaha. She’s a neurology nurse practitioner and had this fascinating book:

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Aaaaaaand… I read it cover to cover in two days! Some of it while in her tub HAHAHAHAHA! Ugh it was great I love baths and my house is too disgusting for them.

I also took a really long nap on her couch (Boo supported me in that, as he was taking a really long nap on his cat tree).

I eventually emerged from her house and had my house back, with considerably less stuff in it. I did some organizing.

And then I met my cousin and her husband and their bambino at my fave coffee shop and I had MY FIRST AFFOGATO.

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Solid couple of weekends.

Okay so this post had a lot of foreshadowing (pre wedding commiseration with Shaylen, more wedding cake testing) and…

Project Wedding Cake is done! The wedding weekend has passed! Mission completed!

Post to come soon 🙂

cookin

My cooking adventures, as spring moved into summer:

  • Cod, from Trader Joe’s
  • Fresh asparagus
  • roasted parsnips
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • lemon
  • capers

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A bunch of little yummy things

  • Hard boiled egg with Trader Joe’s everything but the bagel seasoning
  • One english muffin half topped with an artichoke pesto of sorts that involved parsley, walnuts, lemon and artichoke hearts
  • One english muffin half topped with pimento cheese

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Most random collection of items to form into dinner awards goes to:

  • Leftover carrots with a maple-apple cider vinegar- somethingorother glaze
  • a fried egg or two
  • leftover Kodiak protein pancakes with a thrown together strawberry compote that might’ve involved a little bit of balsamic?

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Channeling childhood:

  • meatless chicken nuggets
  • leftover oven fries (made using Smitten Kitchen’s recipe which was just meh)
  • Trader Joe’s shredded cabbage/kale/carrot salad (comes with pepitas, dried apricots, and an exceptionally tasty tahini dressing)

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I went through a phase this spring where ALL I WANTED TO EAT WAS TACOS. This often involved just hitting up the cheap taco truck near me but sometimes I was good and cooked. This was:

  • a peppers/onions/mushrooms saute
  • black beans
  • cheese
  • leftover cabbage slaw… which I had gotten from the taco truck hahaha.

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My auntie was in town and I helped her make dinner at my cousin’s house. It involved

  • fettucine
  • thawed frozen green peas
  • fresh snap peas
  • fresh herbs
  • lemon
  • parmesan, OBVI.

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Another cravings inspired menu. For the record I have no objection whatsoever to eating burgers on buns but also don’t tend to feel like buying 8 buns at a time for lil old me when I want a burger about every six months. SO, I did burger on a salad but also made homemade fries. Burger was topped with cheese and mustard. Salad involved juicy little cherry tomatoes.
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A tasty collection:

  • hunk o’ sausage (I think this was Trader Joe’s turkey summer sausage?)
  • Leftover piece of asparagus and brie quiche (which was good but I’ve decided brie does not belong in quiche)
  • salad with arugula, strawberries, vinaigrette

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Homemade pizza:

  • Harris Teeter wheat pizza crust (by far the easiest work with of the ready made crusts at my local grocery stores)
  • fig jam
  • bleu cheese
  • leftover swiss-ish cheese, I wanna say jarlsburg?
  • caramelied onions

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Mm. Made a big one and a wee one.

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This is not a complete dish but it is a combination I encourage everyone to try and to then become addicted to:

  • Hummus, any kind
  • Zhoug OH MY GOSH THIS STUFF IS GOOD! Herbal and refreshing, zippy, wonderful when paired with richer/creamier things like hummus or whole milk yogurt or runny egg yolks

I’ve been inhaling it on various toasties.

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Finally, a hint on what I like to make in the summer… this was a Friday night after a long day and I thought about grabbing takeout but then realized what I was craving and that it was something I could make quickly and easily at home

  • Tomatoes (farmer’s market)
  • Basil (my garden)
  • Peaches (regular grocery store but from South Carolina)
  • BURRATA! YESSSSSS!
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil

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Seriously if you love your taste buds make this.

other people’s weddings

Recently my life has been weirdly consumed by various activities associated with other people’s weddings. I love those people, so of course it’s nice to celebrate their joy with them. And yet, having observed all of this nonsense up close, I can now confidently say in the deeply, deeply unlikely event that I meet someone to whom I want to make a lifelong commitment I will run to city hall and then perhaps have a high caliber barbecue with friends but that is the closest thing to a wedding I will ever have. You have my word.

So here’s one bride and groom: my sister (!) and her Eric

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I mean they get to be in love but I get to hang out in the car with their doggo, Billie Jean. She is very beautiful as you can see.

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We decided to take an outing with the pets to Dorothea Dix park, which has lovely, expansive grounds and most weekends resembles sort of a dog party.

But wait… I said “the pets.” Yes, Bean was not the only pet there.

Little Mearl also joined us.

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My sister’s cat is an unusual young man.

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He does amazingly well in these huge public unfamiliar settings with tons of dogs around. He occasionally retreats into his little backpack when he gets overstimulated but he does seem to genuinely have a nice time sniffing grass and things.

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Malindi used her phone’s portrait mode to take this enchanting picture of her and Eric’s hairy children.

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And this one of me, hahaha.

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Before we went on our nice little outing we stopped for French pastries (!) at Lucette Grace, the most magic little patisserie in downtown Raleigh.

I got this lemon meringue tart which was ACCESSORIZED by a MINI LEMON MACARON. It wasn’t beautiful or anything.

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And Malindi lived her best life and got this double header of various cheesecakey and chocolatey things.

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Those were all great but honestly I think my favorite thing was this truly unbelievable brown butter pecan caramel. I bought one for each of us ❤

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So Malindi and Eric are getting hitched and that is very exciting. I already recounted their Virginia/hometown engagement party. But then their friends in Raleigh also threw them an adopted town engagement party!

And, as you’ll recall, until-recently Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe was at their Virginia party… and current North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper was at their North Carolina party! Just ridiculous!

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He came in the door and everyone (Eric until recently worked on his staff and most of the folks at the party were part of his campaign and/or work for him now) was like “Wait, governor, weren’t you just on TV?” And he was indeed but that must’ve been his last official event for the day (a Saturday) because he stayed and hung out at the party for a good long while and was so friendly and nice!

It makes Eric look pretty dang likeable that all these fancy and important-ish politicians he works for are so nice and enthusiastic about coming to low key parties for their staffers.

Well I saw low key but actually it was pretty heckin fancy as parties go. LOOK AT THIS DESSERT TABLE.

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Because I had some leftover chocolate cake scraps sitting around (reasons will be revealed below!) I opted to add to the dessert enjoyment by making my first ever cake pops. I will confess that the cake itself was homemade, as was the chocolate ganache I dipped it in… but for the actual cake ball formation process I totally just used frosting in a can. And it was real tasty.

Anyway, I thought these turned out real cute!

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The savory department at the party was also really impressive. They had both fried risotto balls AND fried macaroni and cheese balls.

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Okay now for the other bride and groom who are quite close to me… my friends Shaylen and Kyle!

Kyle was part of my Americorps gang in 2010-2011, after college graduation. He and Shaylen had just started dating then, so I got to know her a bit too. We all stayed in touch while I did my little things and they did their considerably bigger things (most notably, living for two years in Indonesia!) Eventually (I like to fancy with a little bit of pull from me) they ended up moving to NC so Kyle could attend law school at UNC. I’ve gotten to see lots of both of them since then. Shaylen also works in public health so it’s been lots of fun having her around to gripe about various things with 😀

So THEY are getting hitched this August and THEY are the couple for whom I will be making a wedding cake!

So I got to get in a practice round at Shay’s gorgey bridal shower!

Shaylen’s friend Caroline is the most gifted flower arranger I have ever met. I mean, she works in the wedding industry so she’s had some practice, but my understanding is still that she is pretty self-taught.

She made the following bouquets using mostly flowers from TRADER JOE’S, supplemented with some peonies she bought wholesaler using a florist connection she has (… I mean)

Can you even?! SO gorgeous!

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And for my contribution to the shower I did a WEDDING CAKE PRACTICE RUN! I went for the chocolate layer, and had my first ever adventure with Swiss buttercream.

This was how things went down in my car (thank God the place where the shower was is about 10 minutes from my house. On the actual wedding day I’ll use cake boxes, I promise). (Also it was not slanty it is just the angle, I swear. I did a rather nice job leveling it, if I do say so myself.)

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Caroline worked more of her magic and put some greenery and loveliness on top of the cake, and I did some finishing buttercream touches. I was so pleased with how it turned out!

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Also on the menu at the shower was the usual fun afternoon tea things. I love a cucumber sandwich. I love a mini scone. It’s so easy to make me happy.

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Caroline also made Shaylen a magic flower crown that she got to wore. She looks so adorable in this picture! Despite the fact that the shower was outside and it was about 300 degrees!

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Okay so now let’s talk cake:

  • Chocolate cake– Smitten Kitchen.
  • Swiss buttercream– Smitten Kitchen
  • Chocolate ganache filling (!) My cousin the pastry chef talked me through it. I quote: “Ganache is just equal parts chocolate and heavy cream. So I’d guess for a big cake you’d need at least a quart of cream (scald) poured over 2lbs bittersweet chocolate (easiest to do with chips). Stir while hot until there are no chunks at all. Once it cools there’s no getting rid of chunks. Leave at room temp until ready to use. I don’t refrigerate it before assembling because it makes it impossible to spread. If it looks like it separates, just add a little fat to it and whisk…Make sure you don’t pour the choco into the hot milk pan. Could burn and then it’s gross.” Because she’s a fancy lady she scalds her cream on the stovetop but I will confess I microwaved it and nothing bad happened. And holy cow, bittersweet chocolate and heavy cream melted together tastes like HEAVEN.

I ended up making the cake in a HUGE pan (testing the structural integrity of the huge pan for the actual wedding day- it stood up fine but I actually am going to end up making more cakes in smaller pans). Then I traced around small pans to cut the big cake out into two 8-inch layers and two six-inch layers.

The two 8-inch layers went to the party. And the two 6-inch layers went to my friends’ Dan and Bethany’s house because I hadn’t seen them in awhile and they’re great! Their four year old daughter LOVVVED THIS.

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So the ganache, I’m not changing a thing. It’s extraordinary. The swiss buttercream, I’m not changing a thing. It’s wonderfully easy to work with, relatively heat resistant, and DELICIOUS- not too sweet.

The only thing is that the chocolate cake is almost TOO rich?! They’ll have an outdoor wedding in August, already be serving a rich meal, it’s covered in buttercream and chocolate… I may, rather than using the Smitten Kitchen cake recipe, make my cousin’s genoise recipe (similar to this). That way the cake itself is a bit lighter but can soak up some flavored syrup for some exoticism (and I may throw some booze in there 😉 ) and since I”m not stacking it I don’t have to worry about it getting too heavy/soggy- I can just focus on its deliciousness!

Anyway, here’s the interior shot. Not bad, eh?!

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adventures

I like going out and doing things but as you will tell from this post I do like having my little rituals and routines. And also brunch. I like brunch a lot.

Had brunch with Myra and Alex awhile back. I know it was awhile because Myra was still preggers and now their baby is three months old! Gah, when did my friends start getting so old?!

We went to Tandem. I got tasty eggs florentine:

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And the pregnant lady got BY FAR the better option and got big fat gorgeous french toast with some kind of creme anglaise situation on the side and strawberries and rhubarb and whipped cream and syrup and all the nice things.

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A sushi roomie date:

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And a pie roomie date! It was her birthday and we got wonderful desserts. Hanging with my roommate is a biiiiit awkward since she announced she was moving out but mostly it’s good.

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A few more fun outing+ brunch dates:

A trip to the Scrap Exchange to celebrate Earth Day. Guys, if you ever come hang out in Durham you really must visit the Scrap Exchange. It is the coolest, most inspiring place. This video of gleeful children banging on drums made entirely out of repurposed junk is illustrative of the kind of creativity/thriftiness/conservation mindedness that just kind of floats through the air there.

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Emily and I adventured there and then got brunch at Guglhupf. Smoked salmon plate, yes please.

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Then a few weeks later we took a wee hike to the rock quarry at Eno River State Park. I hadn’t been in actual years and was like “Whyyy?!” It is so close by and so magical. There was a woman who’d strapped a hammock between two trees and was reading a novel and I was like HI CAN I HAVE YOUR LIFE PLEASE THAT LOOKS JUST PERFECT.

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And again… followed by brunch! The grits bowl at Foster’s Market.

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Met the whole First Wives Club (<< I feel like I’ve explained why I call us that enough times now) for dinner at Goorsha, a new Ethiopian place in Durham. Unfortunately I am a real snob about Ethiopian food having grown up near DC so I thought the food was just… okay. It’s not the same if the injera isn’t magic.

But, HOW CUTE IS THE STORY BEHIND THEIR NAME?! We did not actually feed each other, but it was still a night filled with warmth and friendship.

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A few weeks later my hot mess of a friend Colton needed to vacate his home for various reasons so he came and stayed with me. Here he is perched on my bed like we are having a teenage girl slumber party. (Don’t worry, mom, he slept on the fold out couch in the living room) (Where Lola the cat enjoyed pouncing on his feet at 4am HAHAHAHAHA)

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I did some cooking for us- here, some homemade pizza (cheese, caramelized onions, fig jam) and salad. Oh and a random hilariously big sausage.

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We did lots of relaxing weekend things like hanging out at Weaver Street market where I got a sudden, irresistible urge to eat strawberry shortcake.

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AND THERE IT WAS THEY HAD IT GOD BLESS AMERICA!

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We also went on a little outing to my old job site, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. We watched ourself a cute little Bill Nye-esque science show.

The gentleman behind us apparently decided that morning, whilst preparing to go to a family-oriented educational center, that it would be a great place to wear his “Save an Anvil, Bang a Blacksmith” shirt. Yiiiikes.

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Another weekend and for some reason I wanted to hang out with Colton again, weird.

We met up in Greensboro, partway between us. First we ate tasty tacos at Crafted.

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I got one fried fish and one seared tuna. Both were REAL TASTY.

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And then we went and saw RBG! Ugh, it was magic. I’m glad this weekend was before Kennedy’s retirement announcement because I’d otherwise have probably spent the whole movie sobbing weakly. But anyway, it was us and a few older ladies in the theater and we all had a blast and had to just cheer sometimes because hot damn Ruth Bader Ginsburg is heckin smart and heckin awesome. Also, she and her husband sound like they had a truly remarkable marriage, especially for that time period.

I continued to feel the magic despite the fact that I was there with Colton.

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And now for something that should have been an adventure… I read about a new all natural super fresh Indian bakery in The Indy. So I decided to take my cute lil sister there (she lives in the area).

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Well, we showed up and got to experience just the most relentless barrage of mansplaining to which I have ever been subject. As my sister pointed out, “We did not ask a single question.” Yet the random dude behind the counter talked at us for a minimum of ten minutes about WE HAVE NO PRESERVATIVES, I MEAN POISON AMIRITE, IN OUR FOOD. YEAH PEOPLE JUST EAT JUNK AND WONDER WHY THEY ARE DYING. And the fact that I was like “Yeah, I think poor diet quality might have been mentioned a time or two when I was getting my master’s in nutrition” did not phase him EVEN A TINY BIT.

UGH. MEN.

So anyway the sweets were delicious and the Indian woman behind the counter who I think was actually responsible for the production of said sweets was kind of low key “He talks so much!” but honestly the irritation I felt was so profound I’m unlikely to go back again.

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Because my mom has had to explain to her boyfriend and her male friend of roughly 40 years what mansplaining is I thought I’d make sure my readers had a credible source to share as needed 🙂

long weekends

I had a few rather crazy weekends home at my mama’s house in Northern Virginia. Crazy pleasant, but crazy in that seemingly every time I go home I seem to be doing roughly 14,000 things in a single weekend.

Fortunately there is always time for snuggles with Sheila. She makes sure of that. When I get up in the morning…

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Working from home…

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Trying to leave the house to go to the gym…

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Also blessedly there was time for reading. My mom loaned me this book after reading it for her book club and I ADORED IT. Ugh it was wonderful. Immediately gave it to my sister and told her to read it too. Told my aunt to read it and she announced she already had and loved it too. Seriously, this book!

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Okay so this first weekend at home (in April) that I’m chronicling I got to see my BESSSSTTTIIIIEEE! For her BABY SHOWER!

Her mom really went all out planning things. I really enjoyed the “It’s a boy!” stickers and put them on everything I could think of. Including the mother-to-be 😀

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We got to take a few minutes to do our Northern Virginia ritual of a visit to the Korean bakery. That was really nice!

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But then we had to zoom home to do our own baking- this SCRUMPTIOUS lemon cake for the baby shower. Some of the fussier aspects of the recipe we skipped but we followed the lemon curd recipe to the tee and it was SO SO AMAZING.

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And then we had leftover egg whites and that of course compelled us to make meringues. Which Lydia’s mom made even more adorable than they already were with the addition of little blue peeps!

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Which also adorned the brownies

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And the savory department, a cheese plate (again, It’s a Boy!)

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Yummy deviled eggs

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And “Name that Baby Food” tastings! Hahahaha. Baby shower games are so weird.

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There was also the cloth diaper activity (Lydia’s mom is real sassy with the description and I LOVE IT)

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And the “blend old pictures of Lydia and Brian to create their baby’s face” game. TERRIFYING!

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Fortunately, baby Simon has safely arrived and is obviously much, much cuter than the creation above. (And doesn’t Lydia look like a freaking angel?!) Again, I am SO JAZZED to watch my bestie become a mom!

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But lest you think the baby shower was the weekend’s only activity, it was, in fact, Greek Easter! So along with bonding with bestie, I was also going to church for approximately 14 hours in one weekend! (<< You think that’s exaggerating but the upper level clergy who showed up at the midnight service meant that, after arriving at 10pm for choir practice, we then weren’t leaving the church til 3am. It was hardcore. And it was not the first service of the week by a LONG SHOT.)

The Easter service is always deeply lovely though.

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The next morning (er, noon) my mom’s boyf did us a real solid and showed up with an absolute FEAST. We were all wiped and delighted not to cook and then he shows up with various delicacies from a Balkan bakery where several of his clients work (he’s an immigration lawyer<< DOING THE LORDS WORK, amirite?!) He said the bakery as well as the sausage factory are staffed by a beautifully multicultural, multireligous group of Serbs, Bosnians, Croats, etc. We could all learn from them. Also, their food is DELICIOUS.

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And then we were off to the Easter feast at my aunt Kathy’s! This was my first plate. It was all SO GOOD.

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I invited my grad school pals in the DC area and was pleased when a lot of them came. That’s Nate, Colton, Sam, Colton’s boyf James, and me. I look a little derpy but oh well it’s a really nice day to remember.

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Then I put in an appearance at my dad’s and even though I’d already eaten All The Food that day, he presented me with this, which I ate immediately:

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More awesome clients! My dad is working as a realtor and one of his clients (in search of warehouse space) is Iranian and went ahead and gave him THE YUMMIEST DATES OF ALL TIME. Man what a delicious day.

Was I done with the festivities? No! No I was not!

Because the day AFTER Greek Easter (the day after the day after my bestie’s baby shower!) was the day we celebrated my mama’s birthday!

I read about Tupelo Honey Cafe in Fannetastic Food (<< fun fact, she and I went to the same nutrition program at UNC) and I thought it’d be fun to take my mom out for a little taste of NC.

I knew we were in good hands when I tasted this killer biscuit.

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I got the breakfast shakshuka which was delicious and HUGE.

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And my mom got an equally magnificent burger.

And then I drove back to NC.

But a few short weeks later, following an an-usual insane Friday at the clinic, I spent another four hours listening to podcasts (current favorites: Small Town Dicks, Slow Burn) and making my way to Northern Virginia for…

My sister’s wedding?!

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No, despite the above cake clearly being a totally legit WEDDING CAKE, and despite the EIGHTY PEOPLE present in my aunt and uncle’s beautiful home it was, in fact, just an engagement party. Good grief!

My aunt and uncle’s house looked beautiful and their garden was RIDICULOUS- growing beautiful flowers is a passion of my uncle’s and it was heavenly out there.

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As for the people at the party… freaking Governor McAuliffe was there! (With our cute neighbor George)

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Eric (my sister’s fiance) was an INTERN in the McAuliffe campaign (he literally spent most of the time driving Terry’s wife Dorothy to events) and yet the governor and his wife showed up to their lil intern’s engagement party! That is really quite classy of them. Terry seemed nice and freakishly social, but honestly I loved talking to Dorothy the most. She’s one of the national chairs of No Kid Hungry and we talked food and public health and all the things I care about ❤

In general it was a sweet night. The mama of the groom (left) and my mama (right) did some real cute toasts together.

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Lots of friends and family showed up to celebrate the happy couple.

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The appetizer portion of the evening was, per the typical standards of my family, ridiculously abundant (love your dress, Betty! << she’s my most faithful blog reader 😀 )

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Also Eric’s brother and his wife have the cutest kiddos of all time.

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Bride, groom:

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Once the appetizers wound down and the non family guests started to trickle out we sat down for dinner (because 70 pounds of appetizers clearly was not enough hahahaha).

My uncle decorated the most AMAZING salmon.

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Dinner was lit. Then there was dessert too!

Along with the (wedding!) cake, I decided the party was a good justification for making this Smitten Kitchen recipe for coconut cream pie I’d been eyeing. It was OUTRAGEOUS. I had to make two of them since I’d been warned my uncle Tim was perfectly capable of taking an entire one down singlehandedly.

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But again, was one big occasion in one weekend enough? No!

Because the next day was in fact Mother’s Day. I had to take out my top caliber mom to celebrate! (<< Malindi and Eric had to depart Sunday morning- they planned to stop in NC to drop her off to go back to her internship Monday morning, and then Eric was going to continue driving to move to Louisiana (?!) to start a new job Tuesday (?!?!?!?) so they would’ve celebrated but they were real busy)

My mom and I came up with a very satisfactory plan to get Ethiopian food. Because I was heckin exhausted following the workweek and the buttload of driving and baking and distinct lack of sleeping, I began with reliably delicious Ethiopian coffee (a cappuccino in this case)

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And we split our usual vegetarian sampler as well as the lamb tibs. Ethiopian food is so so so so good. I was also pleased with myself because literally for the first time ever I did not overeat it to the point of feeling ILL. (Usually I struggle and fail to control myself because it is just. so. good.)

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Here’s the pic of my adorable mom I posted to Instagram. She’s a winner.

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And then I again put in an appearance at my dad’s (which I seriously cannot even remember, I think my sleep deprivation had hit such a level), hit up the Ikea on I-95 South (roommate moving out= need to buy things I’d always counted on her having such as doormats, toilet brushes, etc.), and then drove to NC and basically collapsed.

These visits at home have been wonderful but I think sometime I’ll go see my family and have literally NO PLANS