Celebrating this guy on his 45th Birthday! It’s no wonder I’ve had a crush on him since 4th grade. I love how funny he is and how he is the perfect mix of strength/tenderness and ambition/contentedness. He loves our family and we appreciate the beautiful, rich life we have with him.
After a delicious dinner at Stella’s, one of our favorite restaurants, Mary Fowler made homemade chocolate cake with cream cheese and peanut butter frosting. Davis and Lawrence, the young man we are helping out, were happy to help eat the three layers of decadence.
This Easter we had a simple meal of ham biscuits, pimento cheese, salad and this Charlotte torte for dessert.
My cousin Emily and I worked in a grocery store bakery during college, and we learned how to make these! While I think they look so festive and impressive, they are very simple and this one did not even involve any baking! I just bought one angel food cake from the bakery and we used it for the layers.
While I did use a springform pan for this torte, you could easily use a regular cake pan (just may have trouble removing it) or a glass bowl or trifle dish would also work! I happened to find these soft lady fingers in the bakery section of the grocery store but you could also use whatever you layer you use for banana pudding… graham crackers, Nilla wafers, Pepperidge Farm cookies, etc.
For the filling, I used to always use vanilla pudding + one container Cool Whip and it’s great! And that is what I did here. But my preferred way is adding a can of sweetened condensed milk and an 8oz block of cream cheese to the plain vanilla pudding. It makes it more special, more rich and decadent.
Fruit Charlotte Torte
2 packs Lady Fingers
2 large (5.1oz) instant Vanilla pudding
4 cups milk
1 tub Cool Whip (optional- see notes below)
1 angel food cake (or 1-2 cake layers)
fruit to decorate- I love raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, grapes, and blueberries
Make the pudding according to the box instructions.
*Note: To make it more decadent, try replacing the cool whip with one can of sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk) and one block of cream cheese, whipped, mixing well, before folding into the pudding.
Line the bottom of springform pan with cake layer. I keep cake layers 1/2 – 1 inch thick.
Line the sides of springform pan with lady fingers.
Add one layer of pudding mixture.
Follow with cake layer. Repeat until you reach the top, ending with pudding layer.
Then the fun part! Decorate with fruit! If I am taking this somewhere, I usually add the fruit with only a few hours to go. Especially cut fruit (like strawberries) can sometimes leak their juices a little. This one above was refrigerated overnight and nothing leaked at all.
Because today is St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve been thinking about our trip last summer to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. I expected to feel an immediate connection with Ireland, as I’ve always known about my ancestors immigration from Ireland and my dad’s family is your pretty “typical” Irish Catholic huge family.
But the place I immediately felt at home was actually in Lake District, in the county of Cumbria, England. The mountains and the water reminded me of Smith Mountain Lake, here in Virginia where we have always had a vacation home.
I also love all things Beatrix Potter. She lived and wrote & illustrated here. They had a precious little shop featuring all her books and trinkets. As a child my sisters and I had children’s china featuring her sweet characters and my couple of Easter decorations look very much like they could have some from her illustrations.
I loved touring William Wordsworth’s English home. It was so English- go figure! The fabrics, the furniture, the style- so charming! And I have always loved English-style gardens so walking through the beautiful, tidy gardens was so relaxing.
We had a delicious lunch and I will never forget my mom and Mary Fowler running to Sarah Nelson’s for their famous Grasmere gingerbread. The mouthwatering smell led you to the tiny, little shop. The recipe is top secret and it was delicious! Not at all a cake-ey gingerbread but a very sweet, crumbly texture that goes perfectly with a cup of tea.
We bought a few pounds of it and I had a little piece every day after we returned home with hot tea around 4pm. But when it was gone, I started researching online for a recipe. The best I could find was from some kind of thread where an old lady mentioned she had a little souvenir paper recipe book that mentioned a Grasmere Gingerbread recipe.
So the other day I tried it and it is a good starting point! The texture was just about perfect. My family loved it but I still want a stronger ginger flavor so I’ll keep tweaking it and then share once I think it’s good to go.
It makes me so happy that my kids enjoy baking. Davis made these the other day- one of his specialties! He delivered some to the neighbors and they called later saying they were the best snickerdoodles they’d had.
Davis’s Snickerdoodle Cookies
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
Roll dough balls in 2 Tablespoons sugar plus 2 teaspoons cinnamon
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and eggs thoroughly. Add flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Shape into 1 inch balls. Roll dough balls in 2 TB sugar plus 2 teaspoons cinnamon.
Place on ungreased baking sheet for 8 minutes. We like them “pillow” soft so we take them out a little early to cool and soften.
Last week we went out to dinner for my dad’s 65th birthday with most of his 8 siblings! I really wanted to bring a cake to the restaurant but was running out of time. Mary Fowler saved the day and baked one of our favorites: the Hershey chocolate cake. It goes so well with red wine, my dad’s favorite 🙂
So while I showered and got ready, she whipped up the cake and it looked beautiful! Everyone loved it! We definitely show love with food around here!
My kids are just now in their second week of school and it is still as hot as the dickens (what does that even mean?). So, before the crisp, full-of-pumpkin fall arrives, I want to write some highlights down. This summer was so GREAT: so happy, so sad, so full, and so complex.
CELEBRATING The end of school this year was something incredible. When we moved here 5 years ago, probably our biggest focus was making sure the kids had an easy school transition. We met with a professional and she recommended we not overthink this but simply find out where educated parents send their kids to school.
Well, as one child is beginning her last year of middle school and the other is beginning last year of elementary school, I received the gift of confirmation that we made good decisions. We want our kids to do well in school, and they do very well, but it is of higher importance to us that they are kind, respectful, grateful, and receive the support as they figure out who they are and how they want to contribute to this world.
Two women (one friend, one teacher) came up to me at separate times, but on the same day, to tell me of their L.O.V.E. for Davis. One told me how funny and well-mannered he is and the other told me what a great guy in the classroom he is. She kept coming up to me and saying, “I just love that boy!”
The next day Adam and I had to separate to attend two awards ceremonies at the exact same time, one at each school. I was so proud of Davis’s straight A’s all year as well as some other accomplishments that hadn’t come so easy for him. But when he and another little girl from his class were awarded the Citizenship Award, I felt such immense joy that he is thriving right where he is.
I signed Davis out and together we raced over to Mary Fowler’s school just in time to see her receive some awesome scholastic awards, as well as a HEART award. My girl is a hard worker but that HEART award is still up on the fridge! Adam was stopped by 3 different teachers who told him: 1. your daughter is so very special, 2. your daughter’s personality is just so FUN! She is a great student but she is also funny and social- just a delight to be around, and 3. I hope my 2 year old daughter grows up to be just like Mary Fowler!
I was kind of floating that morning. Adam took us all out to a family brunch and I could hardly talk because I was processing my fears/concerns/worries to the reality that my kids are just fine… thriving, really.
Because I can worry with the best of them, I think I may begin listing my fears on paper so I can later write down examples that may help alleviate those fears.
DECORATING Just this week, I got around to visiting two different friends who hired me to help them with some work on their houses. What validation it is to see these beautiful spaces. Both projects felt so clean and calm and refreshed.
Sometimes when I look through magazines I start to question if I really know what I’m doing because I have zero desire to do big-time, crazy-expensive projects like the ones you see featured in magazines. My favorite projects are normal families who just want a crisper, calmer, simpler, but well-designed, pretty space. And seeing the completed spaces added to my confidence.
Additionally, one of my neighbors has hired me to help with a larger scale project and it so far has been so gratifying to help her get more bang for her buck than she expected. We are still in the very early stages of planning and budgeting but this kind of work is fulfilling to me.
EATING Once school started, I was hell-bent on making sure we continued having family dinner together every.single.night. I knew once after school activities started it would be hard but I still really want to try our best to have dinner together, around the table, followed by some kind of family game. Nothing crazy- sometimes just 15 minutes. The key to my success was going to be planning ahead. So I wrote out the simple meals we would have each night. And if it’s a crazy day/evening, that means I have to plan ahead for a crock pot meal. Planning.
It is worth it. Sitting at the table together makes the kids talk so much more than they would if we were in the kitchen moving around, some sitting, some standing…
Afterwards, I usually have to drag everyone to play Rummicub or basketball or football, but 2 minutes in, EVERYONE is on board! It is worth it.
Davis chose golf and theater for two of his activities this fall. And he also wanted to order Blue Apron to make dinner for the family 2x a week! For me, this is an expensive option to my normal monthly grocery budget, but I am viewing this as a cooking class for him to justify the cost 🙂 One other potential benefit: we didn’t have a choice of delivery day; Friday was chosen for us. So, while most Fridays we order or make pizza, we will be replacing that with some pretty special meals by Davis! I think it will be great!
Tomorrow is our first delivery so we’ll see how it goes!
EXPLORING This summer involved some exploring! And I’m talking about exploring of the travel and spiritual kind.
In June we spent some time at the lake with family and friends. I always love seeing my family and the addition of friends who now have a place at the lake added a fun dynamic! The kids and parents all had a blast together! My kids have much younger cousins, who they love, but having friends the same age to play with is a different kind of fun!
Truth be told, I was a little anxious because soon after was our trip to the United Kingdom. Mary Fowler’s school planned this and my parents have always wanted to go to Ireland so my sweet husband sent me and Mary Fowler on another European trip, less than 3 months apart. I owe him!
What is really awesome is that my mom had some big things she wanted taken care of that she and my dad kept procrastinating about. So this trip was a wonderful motivation. They got done what they needed just before we were driving to the airport. And more change for them was to come. I have wonderful parents but they have always struggled with some forms of “taking action.” There has been something about this trip that has helped with this dynamic. And I notice a lightness in them.
Not to mention, this trip was just so special in so many ways. I wrote all about it with pictures in a photo book. We were kind of exploring our English and Irish heritage and I know I came away with a better understanding, and even more curiosity! Because I was the designated photographer for my parents, I completed the book really fast and sent them their copy. Then I quickly made the Italy book, too. Getting my pictures in print form has always been one of my passions.
We had another very relaxing and soul-filling family beach trip with Adam’s mom. We are water people. I love it when Adam and I take walks together. And playing in the ocean with the kids- all together, then jumping in the pool for a little play before going in for lunch or dinner- it’s just a nice daily rhythm. I took pictures, though not as many as last year and I look forward to making that book.
Spiritual exploration is constant for me but there this summer held a couple of family illnesses –Several of my aunts and uncles were suffering with uncertainty in their health and my beautiful cousin who I have always looked up to was undergoing treatment for lymphoma and two tragic deaths that literally took our breath away. The first was the kind-hearted dad of one of Mary Fowler’s friends. His death had Adam and I asking a lot of questions and opened up a lot of conversation. Attending his funeral was a gift. His family is very special. Mary Fowler was with us and I imagine it will be one of those major life-altering memories for her and for us.
The second tragic death was a young man in high school. He is the stepson of one of my sweet friends. His funeral, too, was a gift. The family was so honest and loving and strong. The masses of people, most especially children, attending this funeral was remarkable. For these kids to be a part of this will promote life and light and good. It also reignited my desire to attend this particular church.
LOVING This summer I loved that I felt more present.
I love that my kids and I played tennis together.
I love that I played in the water more with my family.
I love that we spent a lot of time together as a family.
READING When I was little I remember my mom and my aunt Debbie taking us to the library regularly over the summer. My mom can read about a book a day so we would pile our arms full! When I take my kids (usually kind of begrudgingly) I walk in and feel such excitement and hope! All these books! All free! So much to learn about!
My kids are not usually as excited as me.
I can’t remember everything but I try to take pictures of what I’m reading. Mary Fowler had to read The Book Thief and The Outsiders over the summer so I read The Book Thief, too, and really enjoyed it. She also has really enjoyed NO FEAR Shakespeare (for school). She said it really helps you understand and makes Shakespeare enjoyable! So that may be helpful to someone with kids.
Book Thief 5 stars
The Little Paris Bookshop 4 stars
My grandmother wanted me to read this and it has surprisingly stuck with me.
The Hen who Dreamed She Could Fly 4 stars
I really liked this one and may need to purchase. I tried several of her suggestions and I really need to post about them. I was shocked at how well my kids responded!
Cleaning House 4 stars
I borrowed this from a friend and read during the Ireland trip- really good! I actually watched a movie on Netflix called The Fundamentals of Caring that I thought was similar and better.
Me Before You 3 stars
After You 2 stars
To Heaven and Back 5 stars
A Man Called Ove 4 stars
The Language of Flowers 5 stars This would be a great book club pic!
Davis really loved Swiss Family Robinson and Tom Sawyer. We read them aloud. He also loves graphic novels (cartoon-strip-ish books) on his own. I have never liked graphic novels or comics for that matter??
Well, that’s a wrap of the highlights of summer. I do plan to continue my weekly digital scrapbook pages but I am so far behind that I may do summer and then try the little Instagram Chatbooks for the daily mundane? I have started a totally private, no following/or followers family insta site and supposedly every 60 pictures it can be printed into a Chat book for $6
I don’t know if it will satisfy me but we shall see…
We had a family wedding in the Outer Banks this past weekend so my parents asked us to join them for a week at the beach, making it a little vacation. Having kids still in school makes me pause, but as a kid, I remember loving it when my parents took us out for special occasions.
Each fall, our family would fly to Florida (St. Petersburg, Sanibel Island, Orlando, etc.) and we would miss a week of school. It felt special:) My sisters and I would load up our backpacks with schoolwork and baby dolls- usually never opening a notebook.
However, my kids are not so enthusiastic?? They are a bit nervous about missing school work.
The highlights of the week for me include:
playing tennis with my parents and my two monkeys
walking on the beach (and even jogging with Mary Fowler!)
my dad’s daily bloody marys and perfect soft-shell crabs
playing cards (500 Rummy)
laughing so hard as Davis tells us his secrets to great hair:) “A lot of shampoo and conditioner… I’m talking a crap-ton.”
Mary Fowler doing my hair and nails for the wedding- I looked great! So proud of her!
going to my cousin David’s house for dinner and the kids playing with their cousins just like I used to do!
both kids loving all over their dad while throwing the football on the beach
and definitely spending time with my aunts and uncles- Anne, Kerry, MaryAnn, and Danny… I cannot get enough of their stories growing up.
I hope that one day my kids treasure these moments like I do 🙂
I know it’s April but my kids made my mom’s Christmas chocolate crinkle cookies together last night- and even cleaned up after themselves! It tasted like Christmas! It has never even occurred to me that they can be made year-round! Silly kids! But they are so easy and good, they should be made all the time! *Just leave time for chilling the dough*
In our house we use and love this cookbook. Note: I can’t stand how the recipes are photographed or organized- it’s very confusing. And we have tried some recipes that were NOT hits, but we have several favorites 🙂
My mom had an original version which has splatters and grease marks all over it. And when I was pregnant with my daughter, my aunt bought my mom (the grandmother-to-be) a new printing of the original. At some point I stole it and now my son claims it:)
Growing up, I didn’t give these crinkle cookies enough credit! Around the holidays I was fascinated by the more fancy, decorated cookies. My aunt Mary Ann and Aunt Debbie would always make the multi-colored butter press cookies along with decorated gingerbread men. When our household made cookies, it was usually these or chocolate chip or snicker doodle or anything with lemon (my dad’s favorite).
I do love decorating cookies, but as I get older, I gravitate towards the nostalgic, tried-and-true recipes, so pour a glass of milk and enjoy!
Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 squares (4 oz) unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Mix oil, chocolate, and granulated sugar. Blend in one egg at a time until well mixed. Add vanilla. Add flour, baking powder, and salt into oil mixture. Chill several hours or overnight.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Drop teaspoonfuls of dough into confectioners’ sugar. Roll in sugar and shape into balls. *We dip in confectioners’ sugar a second time to ensure a good-looking finished cookie.*
We eat a lot of chicken for dinner. The kids have started saying exactly what I used to say to my mom, “Chicken again?!? We always have chicken!”
But this roasted, bone-in chicken makes everyone happy. My mom and sisters have been begging for my “recipe.” I hardly consider it a recipe, it’s more like my “method.”
The other day when bone-in chicken breasts were on sale, I bought several to keep and freeze. While I was making dinner, I wrote down what I did and now it is here to share 🙂
Note: I cook 2-4 (depending on their size) for dinner for a family of 4, but I also cook extra (2-4) because the juicy white meat is so good to have on hand in the refrigerator. It makes the best chicken salad, chicken noodle soup, chicken enchiladas, or even plain- just added to your salad the next day.
Do NOT remove the skin prior to cooking. The skin and the bones are what ensure juicy, white meat. After cooking, I peel off the cooked skin and toss it… unless my parents are visiting… then my dad gets ONE. I know it’s bad, but he just loves it so…
Perfect Roast Chicken Breasts
Bone-in, Skin-on Chicken Breasts
Sea Salt & Pepper
Brush tops and bottoms with olive oil and then season both sides generously with salt and pepper. Spread breasts out on rimmed cookie sheet; don’t crowd them. Bake skin side up at 375 degrees for 45 minutes (smaller size) or 55 minutes (larger size).
Remove from oven and immediately cover with foil. Let rest, covered for 10 minutes.
Now, and only now can you cut into the center of the largest piece and ensure they are cooked thoroughly, Mom 🙂
This past Christmas we were visiting my family at Smith Mountain Lake and my grandmother brought this very delicious chocolate cake. The minute I tried it, it took me back to my childhood. It’s like one of those simple, non-showy, tried and true desserts that we ate as kids – nothing fancy.
There is just nothing like bringing out a whole cake for dessert! It makes any occasion special.
But cakes can be quite time-consuming if you have to bake multiple layers and make your own icing (not hard, but definitely messy), not to mention the finesse it takes to ice a layer cake! Well this one is meant to be a sheet cake (read:easy) as opposed to stacked layers. I usually make it in a round pan. And the icing really makes it. It is just the slightest bit “grainy” from the sugar. Kind of like your grandmother’s fudge. It is so easy to ice because you just pour it over the not-yet-cooled cake so the cake and the icing come together to make the perfect bite. It is also a great dessert to deliver to new moms (and potlucks) because it can be baked in any shape/size foil disposable pans, so it travels well and she won’t have to return any dishes 🙂
It truly has become my new favorite chocolate dessert. For some reason, starting with Adam’s birthday after the holidays, we got into the rhythm of having 2-3 couples over for dinner each Saturday. Every Saturday I made practically the same menu! Adam’s favorite: Beef Tenderloin, Salad, and some version of potato (baked, mashed, scalloped). And each time I was asked for the cake recipe. Enjoy!
HERSHEY CHOCOLATE CAKE
1⁄2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 (16 ounce) can hershey chocolate syrup
1⁄2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
1⁄3 cup evaporated milk or regular milk
1⁄2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
For cake: Cream butter and sugar; then add eggs one at a time and beat well, after each.
Sift dry ingredients and add to above mixture.
Add syrup and mix well. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes in 13×9 inch pan.
Do not over bake. After cake is baked, immediately prepare icing because you will ice cake while hot.
For icing: Boil butter, milk and sugar together for two to three minutes.
Add chocolate chips, beat until smooth.
Pour on cake.