Life of a Jack-O-Lantern

Last year was the first time since I was a kid, that I took the time to carve out a pumpkin. I had forgotten how much fun (and messy) it could be. Since Halloween is just around the corner I wanted to share some of the pictures I took and go through the life cycle of my Jack-O-Lantern. He’s the one in the middle with the worried look on his face, which I think it was very representative of what I was feeling since I wasn’t sure how it would come out!

I got together with my brother, daughter, niece and nephew and we went down to the local pumpkin patch to pick out the perfect little guys to carve. We also went to the store and picked up some pumpkin carving kits. I was skeptical.

First we gutted our pumpkins until they were smooth inside. I never knew there were that many seeds inside a pumpkin! I had also forgotten how messy and sticky this task could get. Next, we chose a design page from our kits. As you can see, I kept it simple. My brother chose the witch (show-off!). My 8 year old nephew chose the skulls and my niece did the “Trick or Treat” freehand – she’s 14. The ones with the little stickers belonged to my 5 year old. We carved out the designs and lit them. The mess, the time spent, the cleaning up … all worth it! They looked awesome.

Then came the disappointing part. Because we live in South Florida, heat and humidity are nothing new, even in the Fall. Still, I was surprised at how fast these Jack-O-Lanterns started to rot! By the time Halloween rolled around, they had already begun to collapse. We lit them anyway – from afar (and in the dark) you couldn’t really tell how rotten they were.

If you’re interested, I found some tips for preserving a carved pumpkin:

1. Put petroleum jelly on the cut edges to prevent it from drying out.
2. Spray the pumpkin with water, wrap it in plastic and place in the refrigerator when it’s not on display so it doesn’t rot as quickly.
3. To preserve it a little longer, you can also spray it with a mixture of water and bleach to ward of mold and kill insects.
4. To revive a shriveled pumpkin, soak it in water for several hours then towel dry to prevent mold growth.

Tip Source: Pumpkin Masters

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Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I’ve decided to kick off my “Favorite Things” series with this very inspiring Dr.Seuss mug. It’s based on the children’s book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr.Seuss, of course. I have to admit I’ve never read it, but I’m inclined to do so after having been drinking my tea from this mug for the last month.

The mug actually belongs to my husband, JC. He bought it a few months back and would take it with him every morning. As of last month, he slipped up and started leaving it at home and that’s how I got my hands on it… I’ve been using it ever since!

The thing I love about this mug are those 5 little words “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” – I don’t see them as the title of a book, I see them as words of motivation. I tend to drink tea while I work so I keep the side of the mug with the words in facing my direction so that every now and then I can take a quick glance and continue to work. It makes me smile.

We purchased this mug at Barnes & Noble, but you can find it on Amazon.com for about $13 – and if you’re always on the go, they have a travel mug version available, too! (do a search for ‘Dr.Seuss mug’ and it will pop right up)

Simple 5 Ingredient Steak Rub

Today I’m going to share with you a simple recipe for a steak rub using fresh ingredients. You can use this on any type of steak – in this case I used skirt steak, but it tastes especially delicious on Flank steak, as well.

First you are going to gather your ingredients – Thyme, Garlic, Salt, Pepper, and Olive Oil.

Steak Rub

Recipe for Rub:

  • 1 tbs chopped fresh thyme
  • 3 garlic cloves – pressed
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

Steak Rub

Steak Recipe:

  • Prepared garlic-thyme rub (recipe above)
  • 1 lb steak of your choice
  • Cooking spray
  1. Preheat grill.
  2. Score meat diagonally on both sides.
  3. Season steak with prepared rub on both sides.
  4. Spray grill with cooking spray, grill steak about 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness.
  5. Remove steak from grill and let stand about 5 minutes.
  6. Cut steak diagonally into strips, serve.

Steak Rub

This recipe is full of flavor, but not overwhelming. It’s crucial that you use fresh thyme and freshly pressed garlic. Do not try to get away with using dried thyme and garlic powder (or jarred minced garlic). It will not taste the same! You can stay healthy and serve it with your favorite summer salad or even better, a side of mashed potatoes made from scratch!

Steak Rub.

I made Buttercream!

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

On my quest to becoming a better baker, I became curious about how to make my own Buttercream frosting. I did a quick search for recipes, and came across this one from SavorySweetLife.com for Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting. The recipe also includes useful tips and tricks for getting the frosting just right for what you are using it for (smoother for frosting or thicker for piping). I think what sold me on this recipe in particular were the photographs.

I really wanted to focus on the buttercream frosting, so I relied on my old friend Betty Crocker for the cake mix. I used the French Vanilla flavor for this one. I think using boxed cake mix is a good idea if you are just starting out and don’t want to overwhelm yourself with ingredients and steps (not to mention the mess!). This is also a great short cut if you want to practice different piping and decorating techniques. By using boxed cake mix, I was able to quickly whip together a batch of cupcakes and focus on getting the buttercream frosting recipe right.

The recipe doesn’t take many ingredients; just unsalted butter, powdered sugar, salt, vanilla extract and heavy cream. Main thing to remember, though – don’t melt the butter! If you use stick butter and want it to soften quicker, just cut it into chunks and place it in a bowl at room temperature.

Now, get up and go make some buttercream frosting!

Recipe: Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting – Delicious!

Note: I’d like to take a moment to say that I have nothing against using boxed cake mix. They are quite tasty actually. In my personal journey, however, I’m trying to learn how to bake more from scratch. By doing so, I become more aware of how each of the ingredients work together and hopefully one day I will be able to create my own original recipes.

Almond Coconut Cupcakes – a first!

Almond Coconut Cupcakes

When I was  a kid my mom would buy Betty Crocker cake mixes often. I remember my favorite part would be scraping the leftover batter off the bowl and eating it (probably not the healthiest thing my mom let me do considering the raw eggs).  Not only was it time well spent, but it was an experience that developed into sort of a habit.  Anytime I could, any occasion, I would find a reason to bake – cupcakes in particular. However, truth be told, I never shook the habit of buying boxed cake mixes – I went on to experiment with boxed brownie and boxed cookie mixes, as well. As of lately though, I’ve been itching to bake …  from scratch! No boxes, no shortcuts!

This weekend I was hell bent on baking. I combed the internet for a cupcake recipe and found one that sounded soooo delicious. I went out to get the ingredients right away. Unfortunately, I won’t be sharing that recipe with you today because I couldn’t find almond meal ;P  Instead, I opted for a little recipe from the Taste of Home magazine for Coconut Cupcakes and I’m sure glad I did – they were delicious!

Almond Coconut Cupcakes

Almond Coconut Cupcakes

These yummy almond and vanilla flavored cupcakes have bits of flaked coconut inside. They are topped with gooey cream cheese frosting – also made from scratch with toasted, flaked coconut sprinkled over it. I have to be honest with you though, I don’t think the frosting was supposed to be that consistency. I’m not sure why it came out that way, but it was gooey delicousness all the way!

For this being my first Betty Crocker free baking experience, I think I did pretty well. Sure, there was flour all over the place and a ton of stuff to wash, but it was worth it!

I look forward to sharing my next baking experience with you. Until then, you can find this recipe at: Taste of Home – Coconut Cupcakes. Enjoy!

Songs, Scissors, and Scraps

Postal Service inspired collage by Jennifer Grau 2007

Postal Service inspired collage by Jennifer Grau 2007

A few years ago, my friends and I used to get together for craft nights. Everyone would bring whatever they had available, be it paint, markers, old magazines, scrap paper, and so on. The only thing we needed was a good idea to kick of the night. As this didn’t always come easy, one of the things we would do as an icebreaker was write a line from a song on a piece of paper, toss it in a container, and pick one. We would then create a collage inspired by our randomly chosen lyric. These were some of the results.

Rilo Kiley inspired collage by Hildemar Cruz 2007

Rilo Kiley inspired collage by Hildemar Cruz 2007

Fionna Apple inspired collage by Karyna Amador 2007

Fionna Apple inspired collage by Karyna Amador 2007

Postal Service inspired collage by Nora Chirinos 2007

Postal Service inspired collage by Nora Chirinos 2007

Next time you feel like getting crafty but feel like you need that little extra push to get started, try this exercise. It is sure to result in something pretty interesting!