Sugar Muffins

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Birthdays have always been a special affair in my family. It started when we were all young and continues today. Even when we were young however, one of the main ways we have always celebrated the day was in planning our birthday menu.

Can you imagine? Choosing WHATEVER you want for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Oh yeah, we love our birthday’s around here!

I guess one could say that as we have all gotten older, some things have changed. But what has really happened is that those changes have morphed into other ways of celebrating. For example: instead of the BLT sandwiches we chose for lunch as kids, you have peanut butter and jelly but then celebrate with a cupcake from Sprinkles. Do you see what I mean? The simple pleasures we enjoyed (such as BLT sandwiches) as kids have just been exchanged for more indulgent ones (like cupcakes).

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While on vacation in 2012, we took my brother to our favorite the only place to get Lobster Rolls in Mystic Ct. for his birthday.

To get back to the subject of birthday menus, I can’t remember too many birthday’s that did not involve sugar muffins for breakfast. You know what I mean. The warm muffins drenched in melted butter and then coated in a mixture of sugar and cinnamon. While they may have some other names – such as doughnut muffins or french breakfast puffs – they always have been and always will be sugar muffins in this house. And you have to admit, it’s a far more appropriate name because that’s exactly what they are; SUGAR muffins.

A few years ago they only used to show up at birthday’s or other special occasions, but being now adults we can make them whenever, like um, last week… no special occasion, I just felt like making/eating sugar muffins for breakfast, so on an ordinary Thursday morning that’s exactly what I did. No regrets!

So really the only thing for me to say is that if you have NOT made or ever eaten sugar muffins,I pity you because you have been missing out! These are probably the best muffins you will ever put in your mouth. As I stated earlier, warm, drenched in butter and then coated in sugar, so, SO good! And look, I know they’re not healthy, like not at all, but one has to indulge and enjoy life (that’s what this blog is all about!), so put a little sunshine into your ordinary day, and make these – no regrets!

The lowdown:

Muffins with a hint of nutmeg, baked, dipped in butter, rolled into a sugar/cinnamon mixture and served warm. Be sure to have some other people present to help you eat them, not because one actually needs help eating them, but staying out of them!

Cottura felice!

 

 

  French Breakfast Puffs (aka Sugar Muffins)

Warm, buttery, and coated in sugar/cinnamon, these muffins will melt in your mouth! 

Ingredients

3 C. all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 C. granulated sugar

2/3 C. shortening

2 eggs

1 C. milk

For coating

3/4 C. (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 C. granulated sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350° f. and grease 15 (see note below) muffin cups.

In a medium sized bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg; set aside.

In a large bowl using an electric mixer, cream together 1 C. sugar, shortening, and eggs.

Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk, mixing well after each addition.

Fill  greased muffin cups 2/3 full and bake bake for 20 – 25 minutes.

For the  cinnamon/sugar coating:

In a bowl big enough for rolling the muffins in,combine  sugar and cinnamon.

While muffins are still warm, dip in the melted butter then in the cinnamon/sugar mixture.

Serve warm.

* The original recipe says it makes 24 puffs, but the last time I made them I only got about 15. 

 

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Help for the nervous blues

 

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I get stage fright (who doesn’t?) anytime I perform. Whether it is for something important or for the least stressful affair, it doesn’t matter. Even when I don’t seem to be nervous somehow my nerves kick in and it affects my performance level greatly. There was only one time when it didn’t and that was a time when I was so mad about – get this – in which order I was playing at a certain event (you play and receive a critique sheet, that sort of thing) that I was out to prove myself the best of the bunch. Okay, so right now you are probably thinking that I must be pretty full of myself. The answer to that is: to the best of my knowledge I am not. I actually am almost the opposite, and in fact, since that day even though I have tried (as that proved to be my best performance) I have not been able to get that same drive to execute a satisfying performance (it is rather a joke in my family though).

Usually before and during a performance, no matter to whom I am performing, I am too busy feeding my brain thoughts of doubt.

”I don’t feel like I have the piece memorized, what if I forget it?”

“Don’t miss any notes.”

”One section down, x more to go!”

You get the general idea. It’s certainly not thoughts of musicality and focus on the music.

So, what do I do about this? I’ve read all the tips and tricks: eat bananas, remember you are there to share music, stretch, breathe, think positive thoughts, etc. And while some of these things certainly help, it may not be enough to help (it was never enough to help me) overcome nervousness. So now what?

I did some research in April to prep myself for playing (in a winners recital) at Carnegie Hall. It’s not like I was giving a solo recital and gosh, it wasn’t even in Stern Auditorium, but it was still one of the biggest moments in my life and I didn’t want to gum it up – especially since nervousness has been a very paralyzing problem for me. I always get so nervous that the music, which almost always isn’t note perfect anyway, is made worse. It has kept me from advancing in competitions (well, I like to think that anyway…), and has, I am sure, made for some unpleasant experiences for listeners. But I could never pull myself together. My Mom certainly tried. I tried. (or did I?) I read tips and bought  this book (of which I would recommend) that Dr. Yoheved Kaplinsky once recommended to a student in a masterclass I was observing.
Nothing helped. My Mom kept trying to tell me to quit telling myself that I didn’t know the piece or wasn’t ready etc. And even though I probably knew (however, I think there have been times when I have told myself otherwise) that it was my mental preparation (or lack of) that was doing me the most harm, I just wasn’t ready to listen.

Mom: Lexi, you have to tell yourself you know this piece.

Me: but I don’t know it.

You can see the problem. Unfortunately, I didn’t – not clearly anyway. I just couldn’t shut out that little voice of doom.

In April, everything just seemed to click and make sense when I came across this website here. I enjoy/ed it very much and loved what Dr. Noa Kageyama had to say on the matter. To read things like this and know that I wasn’t the only one was so refreshing and helpful:

” We are typically led to believe that being “nervous” is a bad thing. Indeed, most of the advice I’ve ever heard has been aimed at reducing anxiety. Over the years, I tried everything I could to get rid of the unpleasant feelings associated with performance anxiety. I tried eating bananas, drinking chamomile tea, imagining the audience in their underwear, sleep deprivation, practicing more, taking various supplements, and even trying to convince myself that it didn’t matter how I played. None of this, of course, took the anxiety away or did much to help me perform any better.

From my work with sport psychologist Dr. Don Greene when I was a graduate student at Julliard and my own doctoral training in performance psychology, I’ve come to understand that anxiety itself is not the problem. The problem is that most of us have never learned how to use adrenaline to our advantage. By telling ourselves and our students to “just relax,” we are actually doing each other a disservice by implicitly confirming that the anxiety we feel is bad and to be feared. I soon learned to welcome the rush of adrenaline and to use that energy to power my performances, and to perform with more freedom, conviction, and confidence than I ever imagined possible. ”

For once, I put aside the feeling of silliness, and just kept telling myself how much I knew the piece, how well I was going to play it, and that  (I’m sorry, I know this sounds bad, but if you knew me, you would know how necessary it was! :)) I was going to play better than anyone else there. And do you know what? I think it actually worked! For once in my life, I walked out confident. Ready. And if you want to know, just ask my siblings; they’ll tell you just how confident I looked… actually don’t. From what they have said I’m afraid I went to the extreme side of looking just downright cocky. I hope not, I certainly didn’t mean to be! 😀

Soo… please, if you suffer from extreme (or a little) performance anxiety, first, you have my complete sympathy – you really do; I thought I was never going to feel any other way! and second, I highly reccomend that you visit The Bulletproof Musician and try to implement some of his suggestions. To reiterate what I just said, I think it really helps – no matter how silly or ineffective you may feel this to be – to keep telling yourself over and over and over again (and then once more to be sure :)) that you know your piece; you own it.

Little voice: what if I mess up?

You/me: I won’t. I know this piece! 

What are some things that have helped you deal with performance anxiety? What do you do to prepare for a performance?

Some particular posts I would recommend reading:

What every musician ought to know about stage fright

How your mom can help you play more courageously under pressure

How to make performance anxiety an asset instead of a liability

 

 

Frozen Pink Punch

 

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I don’t know if I’m a little out of it when it comes to what kinds of beverages (other than alcohol…) are being served at parties/events or not, but regardless, punch is one beverage that I still enjoy immensely!

Today I want to share with you a very delicious and refreshing punch recipe I made for a wedding last month that was a huge hit – I obviously didn’t make enough as my mom and sister were refilling the (large) punch bowls constantly and they had pretty much run out by the time we left with still about 2 hours left of reception! Whoops…

What I love about this punch is that it is as easy to put together as it is tasty. The base, since it is frozen, can be made ahead of time making it easy to pull out, thaw (not much though, as you want a slush effect if possible), and mix with the other liquids! You know I’m all about easy… 🙂

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Now about the taste… very sweet, slightly tangy and ADDICTING! Plus, if you can get it slushy (which you probably can, I seemed to be the only person in the world that had problems with this – of course that could have been due to my not chilling the ginger ale before hand…) it makes it all the better!

I know you are going to love this punch and I strongly urge you to try it at your next event – you will be the hit of the party!

Notes:

~ If you don’t end up with an icy/slushy punch, it’s ok – trust me – it tastes just as good!

~ If you want, you can substitute (you would need about six bottles though…) sparkling apple cider for the ginger ale. But be forewarned: it makes it EXTRA sweet, so if you don’t like things on the super sweet side then I would leave it out and just use the ginger ale and 7-Up, or perhaps cut down the sugar(?).

 

Frozen Pink Punch

Serves 50

Ingredients

2 C. water

3 C. granulated sugar

1 (6 ounce) package strawberry gelatin mix

1 (16 ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate

5 C. plus ¾ C (46 ounces total) pineapple juice

¾ C. lemon juice (the kind in the bottle)

3 quarts ginger ale

1 (12 oz) can 7-Up

Directions

In a large saucepan over high heat, combine water and sugar. Bring to a boil and boil to a thin syrup.

Next, add gelatin mix, orange juice concentrate, pineapple juice, and lemon juice. Stir well.

Pour mixture into 1-2 large zip top bags and place into a larger freezer safe bowl.

Freeze until almost completely frozen (freezing overnight works well).

When ready to serve, remove bags and bowl from freezer and allow to thaw for about an hour.

Remove mixture from bags and place in punch bowl (or desired container).

Add ginger ale and 7-Up. Stir well and break up ice chunks as you go.

 

Easy & Inexpensive Summer Activities For Kids, part 3

 

 

Could you get much more fun than slime, glow-in-the-dark no less?

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Two weeks ago when my nieces were over, we put this together and had lots of fun doing it!  Such a cool, inexpensive idea and  –  the best part is… they loved it!  I had been looking at this project for a little while and after having made glow-in-the-dark jellyfish the previous week, I decided to use some leftover paint from that to make the slime. At first I was a bit apprehensive as to whether or not this project would be easy, but once you have everything together you really couldn’t get much easier.

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Here are the supplies that are needed:

Borax

Water

 Glue

• Glow-in-the-dark paint

• Neon Food Coloring 

• Popsicle sticks

• Mixing bowls

Bottle for mixing borax/water solution

Those are the supplies that were originally called for, but I didn’t have some of them (like clear glue or neon food coloring), so here is what I used:

 Borax

•Water 

• Regular craft glue

2 different colors of glow-in-the-dark paint

Paper straws (for stirring)

• Spray bottle (for the water/borax solution)

• Candy cups (for mixing bowls)

Using these as opposed to the original supplies worked out just fine and if you have colored glow-in-the-dark paint like I did, then you can eliminate the food coloring!

Making this was so easy and fun, not to mention taking it into a dark room and watching it glow…

Enjoy!

Glow-in-the-dark slime tutorial

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Sorry I don’t have any pictures of the actual slime – couldn’t get a good one! 

Glorified Brownies for your BOTW

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Do you ever crave comfort food? Food that maybe isn’t too difficult or time consuming to make, but also kind of makes you… happy…? I made that sort of food yesterday when I made these Glorified Brownies. Getting the recipe from an old cookbook that doesn’t have pictures, I didn’t know what to expect, but they (the  ingredients and the whole process, that is) looked very promising, so I decided to give them a try. The results were as good as they sounded, brownies with a layer of melted marshmallows on top and then a chocolate frosting to finish it off. Yes, I was quite happy.

I first thought about trying this combination with a different brownie, but upon further tasting and thinking, I figured out why this particular brownie suits the combination of marshmallows and chocolate frosting so well; it’s because the brownie itself is not overly sweet, making it the perfect bottom layer for all that marshmallow chocolatey goodness on top.

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The brownie has actually more of a cake like consistency and when you are mixing that part up you are wondering how it’s all going to work out, but it does!

The only thing I might change, would be the addition of chocolate chips. Maybe bittersweet? Mini semisweet? If you decide to try this recipe with chocolate chips before I do, let me know how it is!

The lowdown: A cake like brownie topped with gooey melted marshmallows and finished off with a delicious chocolate frosting. Easy, simple and tasty, these brownies would be great for any event or sudden craving – be sure to have some napkins on hand, though!

Cottura felice!

Notes:
~ If you are like me and don’t have a 9×11 pan, then you can do what I did and make your own! I took a 9×13 pan and lined it with foil, but did not line the whole pan. About 2 inches before the opposite edge from where I began, I stopped and folded the foil up to have a make shift side that would give me the correct measurement, i.e. 11 inches instead of 13. Hopefully this picture will help you visualize it!

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~ When making the frosting, you may need to add a little more milk, but be careful not to add too much. Just add a little at a time – I added around 1/8 cup (maybe a little less) more total.

Glorified Brownies

Ingredients

2 eggs
1 C. granulated sugar
1 C. (2 sticks) butter, melted
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted
3/4 C. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 C. nuts, lightly floured (totally optional, I omitted them myself)
18 large marshmallows

Chocolate frosting:
3 tbsp. butter
6 tbsp. milk
3 C. confectioners’ sugar
1/4 C. plus 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions
In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar. Add butter, chocolate, flour, salt and nuts (if desired).

Pour into a greased 9×11 pan and bake at 350° f. for 20 – 25 minutes or until moist crumbs stick to a toothpick when inserted (it’s okay if the brownies are a little underdone as you will be sticking them back in the oven)

Remove from oven and top with marshmallows. Bake for 3-5 minutes, or until marshmallows are melted.

Remove from the oven and mash marshmallows with a spatula.

For the frosting:

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat butter and milk until it just comes to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in confectioners’ sugar, cocoa, salt, and vanilla. Mix well.

Pour over marshmallows and cool thoroughly before serving.

Cut into small squares.

Easy & Inexpensive Summer Activities For Kids, Part 2

Okay, so I am really beginning to wonder where all of these cool crafts were when I was younger, especially ones like this weeks craft: glow in the dark jellyfish!

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As a kid (and I must confess that this has not changed…) I was enthralled with octopus, squid, jellyfish, and just about any sea creature in general. I mean, one of my biggest dreams was to see a live octopus… or bigger yet, a giant squid! so you can imagine that even though these are not octopus or squid, how excited I would have been to put together a craft like this. Anyway…

This craft is super fun, super cute, super easy, and CHEAP. As I have mentioned before, please visit the website for a step-by-step tutorial, but just to give you an idea these are all the materials that are needed (and again, there is a good chance that you probably already have some of them):

~ heavy-weight paper bowls
~ white yarn
~ glow-in-the-dark acrylic paint (under $3 for a 2 oz bottle of Folkart paint)
~ paint brushes and painting supplies
~ scissors
~ zipper sandwich bags
~ skewer or sharp pencil

We got three different colors of paint: pink, yellow, and green. While my nieces were doing something else, I set everything out, cut the yarn and divided it between different bags (each girl got three bags, one for every color). Then when they were ready, I put some paint in each bag and let them “squish” away! Then, while I went to hang the yarn outside to dry, I let them paint their bowls.

The great thing about this Texas sun and heat is that when you hang something wet outside, it’s dry in a flash!

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To get to the point and not bore you with details of what exactly we did, this craft is really a great one for kids of many ages (my nieces ages span from 6 to 3) and is not too time consuming. Plus, I think they would be great to hang up in a bedroom or playroom!

Glow In The Dark Jellyfish Tutorial

Enjoy!

Aunties secret: mommies make homemade juice popscicles, aunties BUY juice (um, natural of course… 🙂 ) and stick it in the popsicle molds.Voila! No muss, no fuss, and the kids are just as happy! 😛

A Super Easy (and very tasty) Ice cream Recipe

Well I’m glad I enjoyed the extra months of no miserable heat this year, because it sure is hot and miserable now…

IMG_0800 (1)Do you ever get really excited over certain recipes? I did on Tuesday when I made this ice cream that came from an old magazine dating back to 1984. Look at that picture, doesn’t it just look old? Come to find out my mom acquired this recipe after a friend brought the ice cream to a church potluck – apparently it was raved about for days afterwards. I had seen this before while browsing through our dessert recipe collection, but never thought much about making it. I guess I have not really been interested in making ice cream that wasn’t made in a machine (yes, I’m one of those people… but I’m learning to branch out and try more simple recipes). So when looking through the recipe collection recently, I decided to give it a try. It looked good enough and then what really clenched it for me was coming across this blog, and seeing what the blogger had to say about a very similar recipe.

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My mom was right, the blogger was right: this is so good! I am now very much in love with this ice cream and its simplicity – I can’t get over it! 5 ingredients (more or less depending on what combinations you try), that’s it! And seriously, this tastes about as good as anything that I have gotten out of the ice cream maker, and bonus! it’s so much EASIER. I have already been thinking about the different combination possibilities…

But don’t listen to me, go try it for yourself and I bet you will be just as in love as I am!

Also, if you like gelato, then you have an added incentive for trying it, as that is what my sister said this tasted like to her.

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The lowdown:
I made two different combinations, both with a chocolate base and Oreos, but two different flavors. Both were equally good. By the way, let me tell you that I am privileged to have five happy (and sometimes probably not so happy..) taste testers around, it can really come in handy! Anyway, to get back on subject, one combination was a double chocolate Oreo, and one a chocolate mint Oreo. The double chocolate consists of chocolate ice cream with double chocolate stuffed Oreos mixed in. The mint chocolate has chocolate ice cream with mint Oreos mixed in and a little mint extract for more even more mint flavor.
Also, if you would like some extra chocolatey goodness on top, let me then recommend some ganache. I used Alton Brown’s recipe.

Cottura felice!

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Easy Double Chocolate Oreo Ice cream
(makes about 1 1/2 quarts)

Ingredients
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 C. unsweetened cocoa powder
4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely (or big chunks, however you like it) crushed chocolate creme filled Oreos (or any other brand of sandwich cookies
2 cups (1 pint) whipping cream, whipped (do not use whipped topping)

Directions
In a large bowl, stir together sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder, and vanilla. Stir until well combined.

Fold in cookies and whipped cream.

Pour into a 2 quart container (a loaf pan would also work well). Cover and freeze for six hours or until firm.

If desired, serve with ganache (highly recommended) or hot fudge topping.

Chocolate Mint Oreo Ice Cream

Ingredients
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 C. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp. (about 1/4 tsp. more if you like a very minty flavor) pure mint extract
1 C. coarsely crushed Mint Creme Filled Oreos (or any other brand of sandwich cookie)
2 C. (1 pint) whipping cream, whipped (do not use whipped topping)

Directions
In a large bowl, stir together sweetened condensed milk, cocoa powder, mint extract and vanilla. Stir until well combined.

Fold in cookies and whipped cream.

Pour into a 2 quart container (a loaf pan would also work well). Cover and freeze for six hours or until firm.

Easy & Inexpensive Summer Activities For Kids, Part 1

Everybody needs things to do with kids, especially in the summer, right? And I’m not even necessarily talking about things just for mommies; I’m also talking grandparents, aunts, uncles, or any person spending some time with kids and in need of some fun and (big bonus!) cheap things to do. I am an aunt who currently babysits her three nieces every week, so you can imagine my interest in finding some fun, easy, and inexpensive things that they will enjoy doing with minimal stress on the adult party!

During my searches, I have been very happy to find activities that have fit into these categories, so each week that I (or my Mom, sister, or brothers for that matter!) do a new activity with my nieces, I will try to post it along with a link. Please don’t expect any good pictures however, as most likely any pictures will be taken in the moment with a phone/iPad. 🙂

I hope you find these crafts/activities just as helpful as my family has – some of them can be quite fun – where were these things when I was a kid??

The craft I want to share with you this week is rather genius and I was wondering who came up with this idea (whoever you are, thank you!). It is simple, quick, and inexpensive as you most likely already have most (if not all) of the supplies needed. The craft I am referring to is sandpaper art t-shirts. This activity is great for kids of all ages and is especially good if the child loves to draw. All it involves is white t-shirts, crayons, sandpaper, paper towels, and an iron.

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Don’t you just love it when you are reading a tutorial for a craft for kids on a mommy/crafting blog and they always look so perfect? Well don’t be fooled, this right here is the real deal! Hey, that actually looks like a child’s drawing on that t-shirt…

Basically, (these are not the detailed instructions, so please visit the website for a step by step tutorial) what you are going to do is, have the kids draw on a piece of sandpaper and then (you the adult) iron it on to the white t-shirt. How simple is that?

Sandpaper art t-shirt tutorial.

Here is also another (tasty!) activity that is inexpensive and so easy for kids – check it out! Although, be sure to explain it better than I did – my nieces ended up eating the pretzels fondue style: dip, eat, repeat…

Enjoy!

What are some fun, easy, and inexpensive crafts/activities you like to do with kids? I would love some new ideas!