Monday, February 24, 2014

Crying and Cupcakes

Today is my neighbor and friend, Patrice's, birthday!  So this post is about her cupcakes.  But first I have to get something off my chest:

Today marks the 5-year anniversary of my best friend's suicide.  That is not an easy sentence to get out.  You would think that as time goes on, things would get easier, but as any survivor of suicide knows, they never do.  I woke up today feeling exactly as I did the moment I woke from a dead sleep to a 5:35AM text vibration on my bedside table five years ago.  It was my best friend's sister, Marissa, asking me to call her.  At that moment, I knew that if I dialed that phone, my life would be changed forever.

Today I remembered many of the events from the weeks that followed: crying through my midterm just hours after I'd heard the news, feeling so numb driving the four hours home that I don't remember the trip, and helping his family assemble pictures and pick music and write something for the funeral.  I remember the three entire days that went by that I could not eat anything, and the meal of pie and french fries I shared with Marissa after that realization.  I remember mindlessly moving through the wake and the funeral.  I even remember not feeling the tattoo I got to commit his memory to my skin.

I also relived the intense feelings of guilt and pain as I played the last time we saw each other, the last letters we wrote, and the last phone call over and over and over again in my head.  I still wonder if I had somehow acted differently, said something different, or had been a better friend, if I would be writing this blog post right now with tears in my eyes.

I would never call myself a religious or spiritual person.  I am not exactly sure what I believe about what happens after death, but I feel that Kurt's spirit is all around me, looking out for me.  I occasionally see him in a stranger's green eyes, or his sister's laugh, and every single time I look up and see the stars.  I know that he is looking out for me and for Marissa, and that he would want us to keep moving forward.  That's why when I turned on my car to face the day this morning, the song playing on the radio was "Only the Good Die Young" by Billy Joel.  I know it was his way of trying to lighten the mood and make me smile.  He was always good at brightening up a room.  That's why he'll always be my shooting star.

In previous years, I have baked something in his honor on this day.  I have made a raspberry lemon cheesecake, a sushi cake, and a honey whiskey cheesecake.  This year, I am celebrating the life of my best friend by celebrating the birthday of a new friend, Patrice.  Patrice is my wonderful neighbor, and one of the nicest people I have met.  She and her boyfriend (my other favorite neighbor) also recently got engaged!  I wanted to celebrate both events, so I coordinated with her fiancé to find out Patrice's favorite flavors.  I hate making red velvet, so I tried my best at homemade funfetti cupcakes.  This is what I ended up with:

I'm sorry I don't really have the energy to post the recipe and steps right now, but I promise I'll come back and edit it soon.

Patrice- Happy Birthday, and Happy Engagement!

Kurt- I miss you every day, but I'm going to keep going, for you.

Love and cookies,

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Breaking Loose and Banana Bread

My resolution for this year was to be more spontaneous, and I think I have been doing a pretty good job with that so far.  In the past two months I started dating again, went to a trampoline park, ice skating, and bowling.  I am hosting spontaneous girls' nights and meeting with friends on the fly.  It's kind of nice to not have to plan every minute of my life all the time.

This morning after a terrific night of bowling and a movie, I woke up early to clean the kitchen, and noticed I had overly ripe bananas.  I could either throw them out, or make banana bread- the banana bread option won hands down, of course.  I am pretty busy with school and the internship hunt right now, so I don't have a lot of time.  But this morning, I decided I was just going to whip up a loaf and that was that.  I really like this new version of myself, the "go-with-the-flow-and-carpe-diem" version.  It is fun and exciting, and now apparently delicious.

If you had asked me on New Years Day if I thought I would be this happy two months later, I would have thought you were crazy.  It's a pretty cool feeling, and I think I'm going to stick with it for a while.

Brown Sugar Topped Banana Bread
Recipe adapted from The Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book
Yield: 1 large loaf

Friday, February 14, 2014

Saying it with Snickerdoodles

As I announced yesterday, I am back to blogging.  We had a snow day yesterday, so I of course used my extra day to bake cookies instead of do the massive amounts of homework I have... Then again, if you're reading this, then you probably know me, and you aren't at all surprised by this procrastination tactic.

I have a love-hate relationship with Valentine's Day.  I think it's too commercialized and sappy and pressured.  But I also kind of like it because it gives me an excuse to show my friends how much I love them.  Because friend-love and all other kinds of love should be celebrated on Valentine's Day too.  In previous years, I have spent my Valentine's Days stuffing my friends' mailboxes with cookies, teaching Zumba Fitness® in a women's prison, and playing Apples to Apples with patients in a psychiatric hospital.  Those were the best ways I could have spent a holiday about love- showing love to other people.

Last year I was in bad space and did not do anything to celebrate V Day.  This year, I am feeling inspired by the new love and relationships that have come into my life, so I decided to bake some cookies.  Unfortunately it is not as convenient to give them to people as in college, when I just put them in everyone's mailboxes.  This year, I had all I could do to battle the weather and get a tin full of cookies into my internship for my coworkers.  To the rest of my friends, please know that I love you and will give you cookies if you come visit me.

I wasn't exactly in a sugar cookie mood yesterday, so I decided to do something different.  For possibly the first time in my 24 years, I have a date on Valentine's Day.  This date told me his favorite cookies are snickerdoodles, so I decided to make them for my coworkers and leave an extra one out for him.  I usually hate sprinkles, but I wanted to be a little festive, so this is what I came up with:

Valentine's Snickerdoodles
Recipe adapted from here
Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Baking, Birthdays, and Balance

Dear friends, family, and foodies that read this blog,

I want to apologize for the minor hiatus I took from blogging.  There has been a lot going on in my life, and I am finally ready to tell you about it.  I haven't entirely disappeared from baking.  In fact, I have done quite a bit of baking therapy.  I just haven't had the time to write about any of it.  Since my last post, I have made:

Peppermint Cupcakes w/ Dark Chocolate Ganache and Crushed Candy Canes

Melting Snowmen Cookies Take 2

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes w/ Cream Cheese Frosting and Crushed Candy Canes

New York Style Cheesecake w/ a Graham Cracker Crust and a
Homemade Cranberry-Sour Cherry Compote

Minnie Mouse Cupcakes

Mocha Cake w/ Espresso and Mocha Buttercreams,
Topped w/ Chocolate Shavings

White Cake w/ Vanilla Buttercream, Filled with Chocolate Chips,
Decorate with Fondant and Buttercream

White Cake, Filled w/ Strawberry Preserves, Topped w/
Chocolate Buttercream and Fresh Strawberries

Chocolate Cake w/ Vanilla Buttercream
See?  Told you I've been busy.  I've also been busy with other things, like grad school, my internship, my two part-time jobs, and my never-ending quest for happiness and growth.  Allow me to fill you in:

1. Grad school: School has been tough, but I am managing things better and staying afloat this semester.  I still don't love my school or the Boston area, but I am hanging in there.  This is just what I have to do to fulfill my life dream, and that is getting me through.

2. Practicum: My practicum or "internship" has been going swimmingly.  I love working in a middle school.  I have some of the most wonderful and supportive coworkers and some of the most amazing students.  I never want to leave.  Unfortunately I have to, and the search for next year's site is grueling and frustrating, but I know I will find one that is meant for me in the end.

3. Marketing Job: I have cut back on some hours and am no longer working for Admissions, but I am really liking this job.  I have a really wonderful boss (in fact, she ordered the Minnie Mouse cupcakes for her daughter's birthday party!).  She is attentive and supportive and always there for me.

4. Tutoring Job: I had a plethora of students in the fall, and am just now catching a break.  I have met some really amazing kids and families the last few months, and one of them has almost become like a little sister to me.  I am loving what I am doing and can't wait to meet my next student!

5. Life: I made the decision to leave behind my toxic relationship and put me first.  It was a really difficult and painful decision that took many months to make, and I finally did it.  I feel free and happy and optimistic.  I am beginning the search for new apartments, but won't be moving until I secure an internship for next year.  In the mean time, I have been meeting new people and re-connecting with old ones.  I joined a gym and have been eating better.  I have been making time for myself and for being social.  I have finally found a sense of inner peace and balance, and I am not about to let that go.

Thank you to all of those who have supported me through this difficult time in my life, and I look forward to the times we are about to have now that I am a whole person again.  This 24th year of my life is going to be the best one yet; I can feel it.

Love and cookies,

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Breakfast-Inspired Cookies

In the fall, the majority of foods and beverages I consume usually contains pumpkin.  I love pumpkin everything: pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin latte, pumpkin-spiced chai, pumpkin soufflé, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin pie smoothies, pumpkin french toast- you name it.  A few weekends ago, it was a chilly autumn morning, and I was faced with one of my favorite questions: "what should I eat for breakfast?"  I definitely wanted something warm, so pumpkin pancakes immediately came to my mind.  However, I also wanted something healthy, so I dreamed up a quick, healthy, and delicious pumpkin oatmeal recipe, complete with pecans and dried cranberries:

It was so wonderful, that I decided it should also be a cookie.  That's right- my breakfast inspired my latest cookies.  This is what I came up with:

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies w/ Pecans and Craisins
Recipe adapted from here
Yield: 3 dozen small cookies

Monday, November 11, 2013

Crazy Candy Brownies

Sometimes we just have to slow down and rewind a little.  Other times, life is super stressful and you need to rewind a LOT.  Grad school kind of necessitates the latter, so we tend to regress when given the chance.  Last Friday, my friend Renée helped facilitate that by throwing a "Stereotypical Girls Night In."  There were pajamas, snacks, blankets, card games, nail painting, and the obligatory beloved chick flick, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.  It was fun and relaxing, and provided some very necessary self-care and giggles.  I now feel prepared to tackle the next few weeks until Thanksgiving break.

Of course, what would a girls' night be without chocolate?  This was my contribution to the evening:

Crazy Candy Brownies (Saucepan brownies w/ Peanut M&Ms and Almond Snickers)
Recipe adapted from My Grandma's Recipe
Yield: 1 9x13" pan of brownies

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Belated Birthday Treats (Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes)

I am definitely proud to say that my baked goods are becoming slightly famous in my circle of friends.  I often hear them say, "I finally get to taste a Hannah creation!" when I bring in treats for class or birthdays.  I'm sorry to tell you, my friends, but whatever comes out of my kitchen is not that exclusive.  I look for any excuse to bake, so if you tell me you want something, I will make it for you.  And if you tell me when your birthday is, I will most likely make you a cake if I have enough time/funds.  But if you don't tell me when your birthday is and I have not already made you something, chances are, I don't already have it in my calendar.  And then your birthday comes up and I didn't bake you anything, and then I feel embarrassed because I didn't know.  So save me the guilt trip and save yourself the empty birthday belly, and give me a heads up on the date and your favorite flavor combos!

One person that is guilty of this birthday advisement omission is my dear friend, Lauren H at MSPP.  That's right, there are actually THREE wonderful Laurens, not two as I have previously alluded, at MSPP whose birthdays all fall within three weeks of each other.  I sat next to Lauren H in class and opened my Facebook, only to find out that it was her birthday that day, and I hadn't made her anything!  I felt so terrible, and demanded that she let me make her something the following week.

Lauren and I became friends our first semester at MSPP because we had an incredibly awkward class together, and we bonded over the discomfort we shared.  Lauren is from Georgia, so she gets my lack of affection for the Massholes.  We share the common experience of growing up hearing "yes, ma'am," and "thank you, sir," and the occasional "ya'll."  She is also just one of those cuddly people you feel compelled to hug.  If you are having a bad day, just a quick squeeze from Lauren will cheer you up and give you the strength to get through the rest of your week.  Lauren and I also both try to be vegan, but occasionally fail because we love cookies and cheese.  She is beautiful, sweet, and genuine, and I am honored to call her my friend.  I would do anything for this girl, so when she told me she likes chocolate and maraschino cherries, I was obligated to make these:

Dark Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes w/ Dark Chocolate Ganache (vegan)
Recipe adapted from here
Yield: 1 dozen cupcakes