Perfectly Fabulous Cakes

This summer was super busy and it went by in a blink. Since I've sent the husband back to work (at a school) and the child off to preschool, I am looking forward to getting out some of the projects that I have been working on in my Bossy Italian kitchen.

As you all might know, I'm not the biggest baker, but I have my moments. Well, my best friend in the world is getting married (in less than 30 days EEEEK!) and I am the maid of honor. Okay, fine, I'm the MATRON of honor, but whatever. The point is, I was tasked with throwing some parties for the lovely bride, and you know what that means..... CAKE! 

Now, cakes are kind of a big deal. They have to taste good, but you also want them to look good. And really pretty cakes can cost a really pretty penny. Or, like, 4,000 pennies. So, I knew I had to come up with something cost effective and elegant. That's a tall order for someone who isn't really much or a baker. I'm being candid when I say that my cake decorating skills are even worse than my bakery knowledge. Or as my husband says, "You start out strong, but then you move too fast." Metaphor for life? Hmmmm. 

Luckily, what I lack in pastry skill I make up for in creativity and now you all can too. Because I have found the solution for all people like me who want fancy little cakes that wow the crowd, and taste great too. Ready? 



Here was my first try at this cake. It's three store bought angel food cakes layered with my own homemade jam (recipe for my jam HERE) and vanilla icing. I cut each cake in half, did a layer of jam and icing, and then put the next layer on. 

Now I bet you are wondering how I held this sucker together right? I used a paper towel roll, which, I have to say worked well, and it was great for sticking flowers in. I used fresh flowers, and mint to garnish the cake. You may recall how my husband said that I start strong but then I sort of get impatient... yea, well, I have to give it to him on this one. The cake was a wee bit lopsided due to my *ahem* haste. 

My best advice is to take more time cutting the layers. I did a hack job. Now, this cake was meant to feed about 30 people for this wedding shower I threw. Hence, the six layers. But after this one came out so great (I got sooooo many compliments on this!), I decided to make another one for my husband's grandmother's birthday. 


This one only had two layers, and I actually made the cake myself...from a box mix. But I did the Angel food cake in a bunt pan because I didn't know there was a difference. It came out great! This time I topped it with some fresh peaches from our local orchard, mint and lavender. 



This cake looked and smelled amazing. The fresh peaches were really juicy, and they dripped down the sides, mixing with the blueberry jam and it looked just beautiful. 

So there you go. You too can make a confectionary masterpiece that everyone will think took hours, and really, it didn't. Shhhhh. It'll be our little secret. 



Terrible Twos and Tomato Tarts

It's tomato season. Does anyone else have a tomato garden? Mine is positively overwhelmed with tomatoes and so I have been digging deeper than ever into my tomato recipe thinking place to come up with ways to use them. Tomato sauce is a great way to use tomatoes, and I've also been eating them sliced with lots and lots of salt.

Last week, though, I wanted to try something a little different, and since we had a family party, I came up with this tart. This tart was not only delicious, but it was the bright spot in my day that day. You see, my daughter has entered what I think can be officially dubbed "the terrible twos." She's so dang stubborn. She cannot be moved, compelled, or willed into anything.

And the day I made this tart, it was "one of those days." Boy, I felt like I was losing at the parenting game big-time. I had to give up on my night weaning efforts, I couldn't get her to brush her teeth, and for a number of days now, she's been running around with hair that--even when brushed--cannot be tamed. She absolutely refuses to let me put it in cute braids anymore. My poor heart... but two year olds, they are kind of like tomato tarts.

First you think you have a tomato problem, and then next thing you know, you've got this beautiful tart. Thank goodness for this tart. It came out right. It was wonderful. And dammit, this two year phase will pass and my child will puff up like pastry and come out right too...I just have to find a way to turn her tomatoes into a tart.

So if you have a two year old, a bunch of tomatoes and a need for something pretty, this recipe is for you (and everyone else too). I hope you like it!

Billie's Tomato Tart 

Time: 30 Minutes | Makes 1 Tart | Difficulty: Easy 

You will need

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed for 30 minutes 
2 tablespoons mayonnaise 
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
fresh basil, several leaves, chopped
small egg, beaten 
balsamic glaze to finish 

Method:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

On a greased cookie sheet lay out your puff pastry.

In a small bowl combine the garlic and mayonnaise. Spread the mixture over your puff pastry, leaving a nice edge for folding over.

Top with the sliced tomatoes and fresh basil.

Fold the sides over to make a bit of a "pocket" (see picture.)

Brush the puff pastry with the beaten egg.

Cook for 15-20 minutes or until the pastry if puffed and golden.

Finish by drizzling the balsamic glaze.

Enjoy with a glass of wine and possibly your two year old.

The Shared Cooking Experience {Cooking with Fire}

So it's been FOREVER since I've posted, which is mostly because I have been very busy. You may be happy to know that one of the things I have been busy is actually cooking. I have been learning new techniques, once of which is cooking over the fire. I have also been cooking new recipes, which I am excited to share with you guys.

One of the things I have found since my daughter was born is that recipe development takes longer. And that time is so precious! I find myself wanting to be around the people I love more, and to that end, I have been cooking with people more.

Recently, I've been cooking with my friend Jenn, who is also Ruby's godmother, and her fiancé, Andy. We've been busting out some truly amazing meals together, and having a fabulous time doing it. It all started when Jenn and I wanted to tackle some ravioli together several months ago.

I love making ravioli, but it's so much better when you do it with a friend and make a ton of ravioli that you can freeze and enjoy for the next several weeks. (Check out my ravioli recipes here and here). So there we were: my best friend, my daughter and I, and we were facing down a pile of flour that would become our ravioli.


The ravioli that began it all. 


The experience of rolling out what seemed like a million little raviolis was a lot of fun, if not labor intensive. As it usually happens with my best friend and cooking, our little ravioli adventure sparked something larger. It was around the table later that evening, eating our ravioli with her fiancé and my husband, we concocted a plan to cook over the fire a couple of days later.

Over the spring, we cooked over the fire together several times, and now that we are into summer, our fire cooking sessions are getting more intricate and we've been inviting more people. There is something magical that happens when you share a cooking experience around a fire. It's primal, and it keeps us coming back and growing our venture to include more people, more tricks and, ultimately, more love.

This was a chicken and lemon recipe, one of our first fire cooks. 

You can take something so simple: cooking around a fire, and make it into a day long event that feeds you, body and soul. I find myself looking forward to these days with friends and family; they are their own event.

It was my husband's birthday in June, and Andy (Jenn's aforementioned fiancé) and Jenn got him this book: Seven Fires, Grilling the Argentine Way, written by Francis Mallman. It's become our fire cooking bible, and we are just loving it.

This was our "traditional" Sunday Asado. 


Food has always been a way that I have connected with people, and the older I get, the more this continues to be true for me in an evolutionary way. Now that I have a child, I am especially grateful for her to see people gathering, putting down their phones, looking into the flames of a fire, and cooking a meal together. I want her to know that even in a modern society, we are ancient people and we can practice being present and cooking slowly.

I watched Cooked, ( on Netflix, with Michael Pollan), and he talks about how cooking over a fire is the bridge between the humans and gods. I don't know if I believe in god, per say, but I certainly feel cosmic when I'm communing in this way. I feel responsible for the food in a way I don't when I cook over a stove. I feel connected in an experience that is wholly enriching. And I would like to encourage others who may be interested, to give it a try.


My New Favorite T-Shirt

The other day I was having dinner with my dear friend, Paul, and his friend Nate, and Paul said of me, "No one loves where they live more than you." It's true. I love Delaware, like, so much. Moving away from Delaware is practically unfathomable for me. We have it all: beautiful beaches (actually, some of the most beautiful in country), open farm land, small town appeal, wonderful seafood, and of course, all my friends and family are here (well, almost.) 

Simply put, Delaware is an amazing place, and in particular, Southern Delaware. It's where my heart is. 

So when a high school friend of mine, Crystal, posted her t-shirts online, I was super duper DUPER stoked to grab one. And I wanted to share them with you guys in case you are from Delaware, live in Delaware, or are just feeling Delawarey. If you aren't, check out her other stuff, too. 

But you guys, this is my new favorite t-shirt. I almost don't even want to admit how much I have been wearing it. Gray is my black, so it's just awesome. Thanks to Crystal, I can wear this sucker out. Now I just need to get one for my daughter and we'll be set. 

This is Crystal, she made these beauties (and she has other goodies too!) 


This is muy bestie, Jenn, rocking her t-shirt. I love how she rolled the sleeves. 


And this is me! Seriously, I had no idea how hard taking an outfit selfie in the mirror was. GAH. But whatevs. I love my shirt, and the weird selfie. 


Breastfeeding A Toddler {Past 2 years}

Help normalize breastfeeding by sharing your story. <3
I am amazed to even be titling and writing this post. I think the best place to start is to say that I never dreamed of making it this far in my breastfeeding journey, and I don't know that many moms do...it just sort of happens that way. For my daughter and I, we have found that it works well and we are happy with arrangement, although it continues to evolve.

Allow me to say one thing, so that it's clear: FED IS BEST. This is not meant to tell anyone how they should feed (or not feed) their baby or toddler. But what I found was that there really wasn't a ton of information available to moms like me, so I wanted to share my own experience, and this post is simply that: my experience.

When I brought my daughter home, my goal was to make it ten months with breastfeeding. In some of my darker breastfeeding moments, I would say, "I just want to make it to ten months." The reason behind that was simple--it was when I self weaned as a baby. Let's face it, the beginning is hard. Breastfeeding in the beginning is hard. But once we had the hang of it, well, it was a breeze!

I wrote about my experience breastfeeding past 1 year, which you can read here.  Breastfeeding a nearly two year old has it's own special circumstances and challenges. Here's what I have found so far....

The questions/judgments never stop
"When will you stop breastfeeding?" It's the most frequently asked question I get with regard to my breastfeeding. The simple answer is I don't know. On the heels of this I have also gotten some judgment about how she's "too attached" (which is just a facet of her personality, not breastfeeding), and yet others who will say that "if they can ask for it, they are too old." People speak from their own experiences, what can I say?

There was a brief period where I felt less comfortable breastfeeding in public, and at this point, I do generally like to wait until we get home. No one likes to feel judged, not even bossy old me! But I also decided to buck up, and not let anyone make me feel odd for doing what comes quite naturally. I'll say it again: the worldwide average for weaning is 4 years old. So everyone can just get over it.

We are learning our manners
At a year old, I was willing to deal with a little bit of nipple twiddling, but at almost two, that shizz has got to stop. Along with anything else I don't like, including if I am "not in the mood" to breastfeed. I will admit, this takes practice and a steel resolve because my kid is about as stubborn as they come. But it's MY body and I am sharing MY milk, so she's got to have respect and understanding.

I have found that being persistent helps. But I also offer alternatives. For example, she can "pat mommy nice" instead of twisting the hell out of my nipple. She can hold my hand. Or, if she doesn't want to follow my rules, she can be put down and try again when she's ready to play by the rules. Not that this always works out. But I'm trying my best!

I do get "touched out." 
Some days I just need space. When you are nursing a newborn, it's kind of the same, but they NEED the milk to survive, so.... not so with a toddler. When I'm "touched out" it's great to use distraction such as activities, a snack, or Daddy who can take her on a ride or outing to help me get a break. She's beginning to understand more and more, but she does love her "milks" so it's game of give and take on both our parts.

I find that I go through periods where I am more touched out than other times. Sometimes it's very challenging to hang in there when you experience a couple of weeks where you are at the end of the your touched out rope. But those periods seem to always resolve and we get back in the groove. I have learned it is normal to feel this way.

Still the best for boo boos and sickness 
One week my poor Ruby had a fever so high I was a little scared. I was so happy I was able to nurse her. Through teething, some pretty crazy falls, and other colds and bumps, nursing is the perfect way to soothe my child.

Also, last week when we went camping, she unexpectedly got sick. She didn't want to eat ANYTHING (which is very unlike her), so my mind was eased knowing that she could have breastmilk and gain the nourishment she needed. Breastfeeding is handy like that--even at two years old!

Nap times/Bedtimes
She still nurses to sleep nearly every time it's nap time or bedtime. The downside? I am STILL doing every bedtime and nap. I tell myself that this is temporary and I actually enjoy that time to connect with her and see her fall asleep. Someday in the all too soon future, she won't need me quite as much, and I know I'll miss that. (Even though it is somewhat overwhelming at times.)

Support is KEY 
I have an incredible village around me. Both my mom and my mother-in-law support my extended breastfeeding, and our community is also very pro-breastfeeding. I even have a couple of friends who are breastfeeding their two year olds, so I am able to reach out to them with questions. When I do reach out, it REALLY helps. I also joined La Leche league on Facebook, and I get good support there as well. I can't stress enough how important it is to know you are not alone in your journey.

I was recently sobbing over the sink after a particularly trying few days. I exclaimed to my husband, "If I have to breastfeed one more day I am going to lose it!" He gave me a hug and assured me that it was going to be okay. And it was...just because I have been at this for two years doesn't mean that I don't have hard moments still. Learning to set limits and boundaries is what parenting is all about, and this is a facet of it.

Have you entered a stage of extended breastfeeding? What has it been like for you? Share your experience in the comments section below!! 

The Boyfriend Boxes

My mom is moving out of her office, which also happened to be a place we lived when I was a teenager. So, my husband and I went to go through some of the things that had been left behind over the years, and help my mom clean up a bit. When I arrived I was in for quite a surprise...for there they were: boxes, with boyfriends in them. 
I don't know how far away I had tucked the memory of making these boxes into the folds of my mind, but I tell you, it was DEEP. I literally had no recollection of making these very carefully (and sexually) crafted boxes to keep my then-boyfriend memorabilia in. Nonetheless, I had. 

These boxes were really something to see; adorned in glitter and sexual words and pictures. In a way, they made me feel classic. After all, my high school generation was the last to live without Facebook, and I guess when you don't have all that online stimulation jamming the wires of your brain you have to occupy your time somehow. 

Opening these gems, I found a treasure trove of notes, playbills, pictures, and other things I am not willing to admit to, that were the pieces of my former self. It was sort of neat seeing all the makings of the woman I was to become....all of those love notes were a reminder of the idealist I had been back then, and they were each little bricks in the road to the wife I have become. 

There was only one thing left to do with these boxes: have a ceremonial burning of them. I mean, I couldn't have these suckers hanging around my house with my child someday. No, no. They had to go. So, my mom, my husband and I went through them, had a selected reading, and then gave them a funeral. 

Really, this was the best time ever to have a boyfriend box burning. I have a husband, a child, and I turned 30 this year. It's been a time of closure for me. Sometimes closing doors can be difficult, or sometimes it can fun and ceremonial, like burning an old boyfriend box. Either way, it's an exercise in letting go...a sort of spiritual offering, at least for me. 

During the boyfriend box burning, I let go of the girl I was once and incorporated her into the woman I am today. That woman is ever-changing, as women tend to be. She still feels girl-like at times, but what I realized when I delved into the boxes of my past, is that I am far from being a child. It happened without me really noticing. It was a slow burn, if you will. And while I am far from fully baked, I like to think the dough is pretty well set at this point. 

Product Review: Ben & Jerry's NONDAIRY Ice Cream

Yesterday I went to the store and bought out all their corned beef brisket. Literally. Because it's just that time of year when I'm craving it so badly that I need to just....buy it all. As my daughter and I were on our store adventure, I figured I would check in *yet again* to see if the new Ben and Jerry's nondairy ice cream was out yet.

I have been waiting as patiently as a newly lactose intolerant Italian woman could for this product to hit the shelves. And then, there it was: hidden in the "nondairy" ice cream section instead of the Ben and Jerry's section (cause that makes sense to someone?). I might have squealed. Okay, I totally squealed. But so would you!

Every day during the last trimester of my pregnancy, I downed some sort of frozen ice cream treat...like gelato, or ice cream, or literally whatever I could get my sugary little hands on. And then, that child was born and with her came a new dairy free life that has found me missing my ice cream.

I quickly scooped up two cartons and brought them home of army ice cream loving heart to consume. There are LOTS of dairy free frozen treat options out there. Of course, there is sorbet, but there is nothing like ice cream, and duplicating that goodness can be a challenge. And it's not that there aren't already good ones--there are. But they are...well...how can I put this? Pretty vanilla.

 I had high hopes that Ben and Jerry could give me that boom pow ice cream experience I was missing. So how did they stack up, you ask? I have tried two, the "Peanut butter and cookies" and "Fudge brownie." Let me break it down for y'all.

Fudge Brownie- I cracked this one first because I love me some brownies. A word to the wise, it's best to set these out for a few minutes and let them get a little soft--but isn't that like all Ben and Jerry's? The quality of the chocolate was a little bitter, but that didn't bother me. It's not going to be quite as creamy as a milk product, but I would say it does pretty well. I enjoyed it, and so did my daughter!

Peanut butter and cookies- This one is a cookies in vanilla ice cream take, and I have to say--in our house at least--this was the favorite. It was creamier than the chocolate, and I, admittedly, had a hard time closing the carton. Not being able to stop eating this was my highest hope, so I was pretty pleased. This is the one I will likely buy again and again. Oh, and it wasn't "overly peanut buttery," and that was a good thing. Winner. All the way.

Some other notes: These frozen treats are awesome because while you cow milk lovers are sucking down a ton of calories, these are the healthier option. They aren't even that high in sugar, which is pretty cool too. And if you are like me, and just want a nondairy ice cream, these are going to be your best bet for indulging. It's interesting that they chose almond milk. I am a fan of almond milk myself, and personally I find it a good option for ice cream making.

Now, let's all go out and buy these so that they are popular and they make even more flavors for us to enjoy....mmmmkay. Also: if you've tried any of the other flavors and want to share your take in the comments section below, please do!