Posted on May 1st, 2017
For Ian’s birthday, I promised I would make any dessert that he wanted, and he was pretty quick with his choice. “Make that almond cake from last winter,” he said, his eyes lighting up, “That was my favorite cake you ever made.”
Oh, sweet Ian. If only I had been as sure in the recipe as you were in your selection.
Since I usually put recipes together as I go, I couldn’t actually recall how I had made The Almond Cake from Last Winter. I knew it had been a bundt cake, that it had been deliciously moist but with a caramelized outer shell, and that I had finished it with an amaretto glaze, but the ratios of the key cake ingredients and whether I had added anything else were kind of a mystery. So I made an almond cake, and eight of us gathered around to sing and wish Ian the happiest birthday. We have poorly lit iPhone photos to show for it.
Most people went back for seconds, so I’m going to take that as a stamp of approval. I’m also going to document the recipe in case I am asked to make That Almond Cake again, or in case you’re looking for a non-traditional birthday cake, too.
1 cup of butter, softened
2 cups of sugar
6 eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon almond extract
3 cups of flour (do not overmeasure!)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 cup of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds
For the glaze:
6 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup Amaretto
1 cup sugar
1/8 cup water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly grease/butter a bundt tin, and line the bottom with almonds. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Measure in vanilla and almond extract, and beat in eggs, adding one at a time and mixing in between. Add salt and baking soda. Slowly add increments of flour, alternating with Greek yogurt, with care not to overmix.
Spread batter into prepared tin, and pop in the oven. Cook time varies with oven, about 50-60 minutes. Remove when inserted knife comes out slightly moist, but clean. The cake will pull away from the sides a bit with time, so allow the cake to cool for at least an hour before inverting.
To prepare the glaze, combine ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, and stir for about three minutes. Drizzle over the cake, allow to harden, and enjoy! I recommend serving with macerated blueberries and a little vanilla ice cream.
Happy birthday, Ian!
Posted on April 17th, 2017
Passover ends tomorrow, so I’m just getting this post in under the wire! We had had an Easter egg hunt and brunch last year, so in the spirit of cultural fairness, Ian and I hosted our first Seder on Saturday night. As you know, I love entertaining, and while each dinner party presents challenges, they’re usually the sort I’m eager to tackle. But Passover was different, and I was so, so nervous all week. In the classic Helen tradition of overthinking absolutely everything, I really wanted to honor Ian’s heritage and do it right.
I wisely put Ian in charge of the Haggadahs and Seder plate planning, but there were still a lot of firsts for me. To calm my nerves and play to my strengths, I actually started with baking dessert the night before. It was my first gluten and dairy free cake, but this lemon almond torte turned out amazingly well. I sometimes find almond flour to be a bit grainy, but the texture really worked here. I used this recipe as a base, and added 2 teaspoons of vanilla and a teaspoon of almond extract to play up the almond flavor. I paired it with a homemade berry compote. It was a great recipe for spring!
Ina Garten is perfect, so her tzimmes recipe was perfect, too (modified to dairy free for the occasion). The spinach souffle I made was, frankly, not thrilling. Dairy free souffle is fairly well doomed, I suppose. Since horseradish is a traditional part of the Seder plate, I roasted two honey horseradish chickens to serve as the main course. They definitely had a rustic Norman Rockwell vibe coming out of the oven!
Our table was set for ten (nine friends + one Elijah), and the most gorgeous hydrangeas made for a simple yet striking centerpiece. Friends brought baba ganoush, matzo ball soup, matzo kugel, charoset, and salad. The candles were lit, the wine was poured, and poured, and poured, the story was told.
On a related note, I should practice carving chicken.
Posted on April 14th, 2017
On Wednesday, it came to our attention that one of Ian’s coworkers had never heard of matzo (or matzoh, or matzah, etc., take your pick). Naturally, we had to close that knowledge gap as quickly and as sweetly as possible! I remembered a brittle-esque recipe I had made with graham crackers a few years ago, and adapted it for a Passover version using ingredients I had on hand. Ian reports that the outcome was universally appreciated. Based on the nibble I snuck from the tray, I can see why!
If you’re craving a sweet snack or are in need of a hostess gift for a weekend Seder, this is a great way to use up that surplus of matzo that all seemed like a good and necessary purchase at the time.
4(ish) sheets unsalted matzo
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) of salted butter* (or margarine for dairy free)
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil, and put a layer of parchment paper or a silicone liner on top. Cover tray completely with pieces of matzo, breaking pieces and overlapping slightly as necessary.
Melt butter in a saucepan and combine with brown sugar and vanilla. Bring to a rolling simmer, and whisk constantly until the mixture is amber in color and pulls away slightly from the side of the pot, about 3 minutes. Immediately pour over the matzo tray, and place in the oven for about 12-15 minutes.
While matzo is beginning to cook, put coconut and almonds on a separate baking sheet, and add to the oven to toast for about 7 minutes. The matzo will be finished when the caramel is bubbly and deeply golden, but be careful not to burn! Remove from the oven and immediately top with toasted coconut, almonds, and butterscotch chips.
Allow to cook at room temperature for about fifteen minutes, and transfer baking sheet to fridge for at least 30 minutes. Break into pieces, and enjoy! Which may entail eating until you have a bellyache.
*If unsalted, add a pinch of salt to the caramel mixture
Posted on April 13th, 2017
If you’re new here (welcome!), you may not know I am one of the 0.5% of American adults who have run a marathon. I logged my 26.2 miles in January at the Walt Disney World Marathon in Florida, a race I ran with my husband, Ian, to celebrate our marriage. Registration for the Disney Marathon Weekend opened recently, and I am so excited to be partnering with my favorite nonprofit, JDRF, to write about my experiences with running and participating in their national endurance team.
I am truly an accidental distance runner. I began my fitness journey in May 2011, taking long walks every day and spending time on the elliptical five days per week. One fateful September day a few months later, all of the ellipticals at my college’s gym were occupied, so I had no choice but to face what I viewed as an archenemy: the treadmill. I still remember the day that fall when I first ran three miles without stopping– I felt like a superhero. I called my brother, a cross-country runner living with type one diabetes who has since completed four marathons with Team JDRF, to tell him about my big accomplishment. He wasn’t impressed. But I had been bitten by the running bug, and that has proven to be life-changing.
Running became my primary physical activity over that next year, and I was logging about 20 miles per week. In November 2012, I decided to kick it up a notch, roping my mom into joining me in training for the February 2013 Disney Princess Half Marathon. Run Disney events are so well run and entertaining, and sharing that bond and that magical weekend with her was so special. I ran a few more half marathons, but did not seriously consider training for a full.
…Until my brother ran the New York Marathon, his first as a nineteen year old, with Team JDRF in November 2014. He had the opportunity to set a personal goal and link it it to a bigger purpose, simultaneously training for the run and fundraising for type one diabetes research. I tagged along to the team breakfast the day before the run, and was moved by how dedicated and determined the runners were both to their personal goals and to supporting their favorite cause. During the event the next day, I had to stop myself from jumping in and chasing my brother up First Avenue. I knew I wanted in.
The real benefit of running as part of your favorite charity’s team is you receive guaranteed entry into high profile races that fill up quickly, and Team JDRF offers entrance into different events and race lengths all around the country. Ian had not been running as much, so we first decided to sign up for a half marathon together as a teaser. Even though no one else from our chapter was participating, Team JDRF does an amazing job of building a virtual community. Leading up to the January 2016 Walt Disney World weekend, we were welcomed into a group of runners from around the country training for distances ranging from a 5k to the Dopey Challenge (48.6 miles over the weekend). The staff from JDRF facilitated conversations around how to meet our fundraising minimums, and a coach was available to give us personalized guidance on our training plans. Ian and I had to ask about how to handle a high amount of treadmill training as we combatted an excessively rainy Seattle season! And at the end of our fundraising season, the Team JDRF Disney runners had raised about $150,000 for type one diabetes research.
Predictably, we loved our experience running the Walt Disney World half, and only wished that it wasn’t over so quickly… so singing up for the full marathon was the natural next step! We found the same wonderful support network during our training journey (and we once again leveraged Hal Higdon’s training plans). With every mile I trained and ran on race day, I had that constant reminder and motivation that I was working not only for myself, but to do my part to improve the lives of everyone impacted by type one diabetes. Running 26.2 miles is no sweat compared to finding a cure!
Whether you’re hoping to start running or wanting to get more involved in nonprofit work, this is the perfect way to set your personal finish line. Connect with an organization supporting your favorite cause to see if they participate in endurance fundraising, and if you’re interested in opportunities with Team JDRF in particular, you can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. (For those of you who do not run, they have AMAZING destination cycling events, too!)
My journey to marathoning was a long one, and I think most people don’t become marathoners overnight. Yet even before I started officially training, every workout brought me one step closer. I don’t know that I’ll be running at Disney again in January… because I have my sights set on running Chicago!
Posted on April 12th, 2017
I admit that when it comes to scallops, there is absolutely such a thing as too much, but a little scallop detailing adds a feminine dimension to an outfit. My carry all tote was purchased two years ago in the early resurgence of the scallop trend, and it continues to be a favorite for travel, weekend errands, and even as a work bag in warmer months. I was pleased to see so many similar options at such a range of price points this season both because I have validation that my bag is still #trendy and I am still #hip, and also because it means you all can scoop one up for yourselves, too!
At the upper end of the price range, the Asha Waverly designs continue to be my favorite. Tons of colors, opportunity for personalization through monogram or even your favorite vacation destination, and a smaller scallop scale for a bit of differentiation from other options on the market.
My bag is Kate Spade, and they’re continuing to turn out similar offerings in fun color and in professional black, several of which are on sale! I have a Deux Lux clutch from last season, and the price on their tote is amazing (plus Amazon Prime shipping!). Laser cut totes transition particularly well to vacation/beach/pool/summer bags, and this one includes a removable zippered pouch, too.
Shop some of my favorites below (and click here to view in browser). Half of these are under $100!
Posted on April 7th, 2017
Started the week in Canada, ending the week in St. Louis! It’s funny– Ian and I don’t live in St. Louis anymore and incidentally our parents don’t either, but we still refer to our St. Louis trips as “going home.” It just feels right. We’re staying with my aunt and uncle on this trip, and I’m really digging the wallpaper in their bathroom.
In other Friday Five news:
Baking… a cake! We all have those coworkers who seem to do not only their own job but also step up and help with everyone else’s too, the ones who make the office a better place. One such leader on our team had a birthday on Monday, and requested white cake with the acclaimed rainbow chip frosting. I tried three stores before I tracked the right frosting down, and this base white cake recipe was the perfect pairing. I actually didn’t change a single thing about the recipe– the whipped egg whites made for the most amazing texture. I can’t wait to make this recipe again and mix it up with a bit of citrus or almond.
Blending… avocado pesto sauce. Spiralized zucchini noodles never get old when you’re constantly trying different preparations, and I loved this bright green sauce this week. Halving the recipe was plenty for dinner for two people, and I also roasted some cherry tomatoes in the oven and sliced up a chicken sausage to make it a low-carb but delicious meal.
Inspired by… my friend Lexi’s gratitude. Lexi, of stripes-wearing blog fame, published an essay with The Mighty this week as she continues her eating disorder recovery journey. I’m so proud of her for writing about her recovery, and for the lens of appreciation through which she writes.
Donating… to the Syrian American Medical Society. The news about this week’s chemical weapons attack in Syria this week was devastating, and first responders in Syria need additional resources to treat victims. You can donate here.
Watching… this little clip from Barbour. Makes me look forward to the dog days of summer, if you know what I mean!
Blue skies forecasted in St. Louis this weekend– perfect weather for staying inside and watching the Masters on TV!
Posted on April 5th, 2017
As a frequent weekend traveler, I’ve come to learn there are fun mini-trips, and there are epic ones. Our weekend to Lake Louise had the makings to fall squarely into the epic category. It was our first time in the Canadian Rockies, we were meeting two of our best friends who live across the country and whom we hadn’t seen since our wedding, the weather forecast looked promising, and we were staying at an awesome and historic hotel.
Lake Louise didn’t disappoint.
A late night flight to Calgary and a few hours snoozing in an airport hotel had us ready to roll with Taylor and Andrew at sunrise on Friday morning. We rented a car and started the 2.5(ish) hour drive into the mountains, stopping only for Tim Horton’s because that’s the Canadian way (#teamtimbits). Thanks to our early departure, we arrived at the Fairmont Chateau at 10am, and couldn’t wait to get out to play in the snow. A 7 mile snowy hike across the lake and on the paths around the hotel was the perfect way to commune with nature in a winter wonderland.
By the way, as much as I enjoyed every minute of our wintry weekend, I was struck by how much I do not under any circumstances actually want to live through a real Alberta winter. It was in the 30s and sunny, which was pleasant and totally lovely for what we wanted to do, but to imagine experiencing months of short days and daily temperatures 60 degrees below freezing sounds daunting. I’m not even sure I could handle a Lake Louise vacation in December!
After our walk, we had a late lunch overlooking the lake before Taylor and I treated ourselves to pedicures at the spa before we drove into the town of Banff, about 45 minutes away, for dinner. Fittingly, we had bison steaks at The Bison, catching up and sipping cocktails in their cozy upstairs space.
Saturday morning brought our long-awaited dogsledding adventure. Teams of 8 dogs pulled us over the meadows and through the woods for one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. Seeing the joy the dogs got from running and appreciating the beauty of the scenery was truly rejuvenating. The fact that the dogs just wanted snuggles at the end was a bonus!
The town of Banff, albeit a bit touristy, was charming, so we decided to explore on Saturday afternoon. I had one of my favorite meals (salad, gin, and french fries) at Park Distillery, and then we did a little shopping. Life hack: Lululemon prices are the same in Canadian dollars as they are in American, and the Canadian dollar is 75% of the USD, aka Lululemon 25% off. We took the scenic route home before dinner at the chateau’s Walliser Stube restaurant. Long, luxurious dinners with great food (black truffle fondue!) and best friends are my favorite way to spend an evening.
Andrew was our fearless chauffeur for the weekend, and braved the blizzard conditions to drive us back to Calgary for Sunday flights home. We flew back to Seattle feeling so fortunate to have the opportunity for adventuring, and particularly to have friends who will fly to another country to join us. We’re already planning next spring’s trip!
Posted on March 31st, 2017
Hello from Canada! My first time using my new name passport. Our long-awaited trip to Lake Louise has ended up coming at a tricky time, but I am so looking forward to some days of exploring and catching up with two of our best New York friends. This has been on my bucket list, and I’m really excited for all the weekend has in store. Spoiler: dogsledding.
Shivering… with bare legs. Temperatures in Seattle usually top out around 50 degrees these days, but it’s nearly April, I’m finished wearing tights for the season, and I’d rather pretend it’s spring and go tights-less for work. Definitely my own personal
Tracking… The Skinny Dip: Charleston Edition. How cute does this new boutique in my favorite little city look? I’ve been stalking their Instagram for weeks, and I can’t believe how many of my favorite brands are involved. They open their doors tomorrow– can’t wait for the pictures, and for an in-person visit down the line.
Craving… ice cream. Little G ice cream, to be precise. While recovering from a brain tumor at only 16 years old, Grace Connor channeled her frustrations into churning out the most tempting and jaw-dropping flavors. Fortunately, Goldbely has added Little G to their online ordering service, so you can have a little taste of Massachusetts heading your way, too!
Browsing… for a bridesmaid dress. I’m so excited to be in my best friend’s wedding in October (my first time helping a friend say I Do!), and she’s just given us our marching orders on attire. Very generously, she’s giving us a lot of leeway– if you come across any wine/burgundy/maroon formal dresses, send them my way!
Saying Yes… to rosé , because Yes Way Rosé. If warmer temps cause you to fill your glass with something a little pinker, the Summer Water Societé is perfect for you. Nothing beats Veuve, but I suppose this will do.
Bonus! In case you missed it, the Fearless Girl is here to stay (for now).
Posted on March 30th, 2017
Most made-up holidays are a little frivolous and silly, and may in fact just be a marketing gimmick… and J. Crew’s National Stripes Day, planned for tomorrow, is truthfully no exception. But I’m willing to give in to a little frivolity if I can use it as an excuse to wear stripes for a purpose. (Who am I kidding? Like I ever need an excuse!)
I was in St. Louis visiting my grandparents last weekend, and my friend, Lexi, and I met up for a little coffee date. Naturally, we were in full striped uniform. It was a bit of a brisk early spring morning, but as a Seattlite I currently consider all forms of weather that aren’t rain to be pleasant and sufficient for being outdoors.
I hadn’t seen Lexi since she visited Seattle in September, so an in-person catchup was long overdue. (Thank goodness for texting in the meantime!) Lexi is the kind of infectiously joyous friend who makes you want to dance for no reason. Seriously.
J. Crew’s latest striped shift dress has an electric blue stripe and buttons at the cuffs, and is a perfect length for a myriad of settings– including the office! I appreciate the warmth of the longer sleeves during a transitional weather period, too. I haven’t gotten into the off-the-shoulder trend due to its limited ability to layer, but this nautical number has definitely caught me eye.
Enjoy your stripes on Friday, whether vertical or horizontal! Remember, you never need an excuse to wear stripes– but they’re giving you one anyway.
Shop my favorite striped pieces below:
Posted on March 21st, 2017
There are so many cool places in the world I want to see. Fjords of Norway, cliffs of Santorini, the Grand Canyon… and so many more. But for some of the places on my list, the hotel itself is enough of a destination. I’ve seen inspiration photos and read about distinctive world-class experiences, and I’m ready to check in and see for myself.
This post is appropriately timed since I will have the opportunity to cross a bucket list hotel off my list next week. Ian and I are meeting two of our favorite friends, Taylor and Andrew, for a final winter weekend hurrah at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Alberta. We can’t wait for time together in what promises to be a gorgeous place.
The hotels on my bucket list span the planet, but all have two things in common: stunning vistas, and a reputation for excellence.
The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia- The design by Dorothy Draper is enough of a draw! Although the mineral spa sounds pretty perfect, too.
Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada- A paradise in both winter and summer, being surrounded by the lake and mountains (and all the outdoor activities offered by proximity to both) sounds amazing. Can’t wait to report back!
Parker Palm Springs, Palm Springs, California– I don’t have as much appreciation for the midcentury modern aesthetic as many people do, but if I’m going to like it anywhere, it’s here. Poolside glamour incarnate!
Ashford Castle, Cong, Ireland- Staying in a castle seems like the best way to experience the history of Ireland. Yes, I will pretend like I am royalty. (PS or Ballyfin? My brother stayed there and loved it!)
Ion Adventure Hotel, Nesjavellir, Iceland– Seeing the Northern Lights is super high up on my life list, and the experience at Ion seems like the perfect place to experience nature’s fireworks.
Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee– A Southern foodie getaway. Seems like the perfect place to eat and think.
Ocean House, Watch Hill, Rhode Island– The epitome of summer Americana!
Bora Bora- Twist my arm, I’m not picky. I’ll happily stay at the Four Seasons or St. Regis or Intercontinental Le Moana or Hilton Moorea Lagoon. I just really want to experience the bluest water while sleeping in an overwater bungalow.
As you can see, I’m going to be very busy. Have you been to any of these places, and is it as dreamy as it seems? What hotels are on your list that I should be adding to mine?