Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

What a hiatus! Last week, through this past Monday, was just an incredible culmination of fantastic moments and awesome memories.  I was lucky enough to spend Monday through Thursday exploring beautiful Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park.  Sadly Yellowstone was a bit too far to fit into our schedule, but my coworkers and I made the most of our time in Jackson.  As previously mentioned, we ventured through Teton National Park, particularly around Jenny Lake and hiking up to Taggart Lake.  To say it is stunningly beautiful would be an understatement to end all understatements.  Ah – mazing.

Just to recap: one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been to!
Just to recap: one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been to!

The following two days in Jackson were spent primarily in some awesome sessions for the conference I was attending.  We met great people

This section is called the "Sleeping Indian," not so politically correct, but there you have it.
This section is called the “Sleeping Indian,” not so politically correct, but there you have it.

from around the region with good ideas we hope to incorporate into our current work structure.  I was able to go for a 5 and a half mile run on Wednesday between conference sessions and dinner.  From our hotel, which was located at the very southeast corner of Jackson, right up next to Snow King Mountain (I use the word “mountain” liberally, but apparently it is the steepest north facing ski slope in the US).  I followed Snow King Road west until I could hook up with the main road in and out of town, Cache.  I ran down this stretch until I was clear out of town, about a mile and a half.  Once you emerge from Jackson Hole and are heading north, you run right into the National Elk Refuge, which parallels much of Teton National Park.  During the winter months, the locals host actual sleigh rides which allow you to get right up to herds of elk, while explaining the history of the refuge and more about the animals themselves.  While that sounds awesome, for that day, running alongside it, without snow and ice, was fine with me!

There’s a fairly new, and outstanding, bike path that follows the edge of the refuge.  Now I was not up for renting a bike, so I decided to risk it and run along the path for a while.  Some of the views were breathtaking.  At this point you are shielded from the Tetons, but on the eastern range are some awesome mountains and formations.  The day was perfect, the sky was blue, and it was like being in a world of my own.

Honestly, the perfect day, and ideally located bike trail, for an afternoon run.
Honestly, the perfect day, and ideally located bike trail, for an afternoon run.
Perfect views of the Tetons from atop Snow King Mountain!
Perfect views of the Tetons from atop Snow King Mountain! Sleepy Jackson Hole just below.

The next and last day of the conference, I woke up at 5:50am and jetted out of the hotel to hike up Snow King Mountain.  I will give Jacksonians credit: it is steep.  I took the Summit Trail three-quarters of the way up (I had to watch my time since I needed to be ready for the morning by 8am), and from there, the views were phenomenal.  Suddenly the Teton Range comes into view above the ridge surrounding Jackson Hole.  The entire valley invades your view, and it’s like the entire world is resting below your feet.  I have gone on plenty of hikes in Colorado, but this vista was particularly enthralling.

My coworkers and I left that afternoon (after a two hour delay spent in the airport – time wasted when we could have done another hike!), and within a few hours our friends Samantha (the lovely Miss BakeNBurn) and her hubby arrived for the most wonderful long weekend ever.  Wow, did they spoil us.  Our hubbies got to play golf, we basked by the pool, there was some excellent shopping, we went hiking through Castlewood Canyon State Park, we took the cog railway up Pike’s Peak (and made it to the [cloud-covered] top!), we wandered through Garden of the Gods, and topped it all off with their first high-altitude race – my favorite – the BolderBOULDER (I may have already signed up for next year…)!  I’ll get into all that later, but the past two weeks have been a reminder of how fun life can be, what great friends I have, and how many amazing places I have yet to explore!

BolderBOULDER awesomeness.  Yeah we were all in red, white and blue (Go America!). I miss them already! Come back!
BolderBOULDER awesomeness. Yeah we were all in red, white and blue (Go America!). I miss them already! Come back!

Are you like me – do you take advantage of every moment you have when exploring a new place?  What is one place you’ve been to that has just taken your breath away?  What did you do for Memorial Day Weekend?

The Grand Tetons: Worth the Wait

I am almost ashamed to say that I knew little to nothing about the Grand Tetons and Teton National Park growing up. Of course I was aware of Yellowstone, which made Wyoming somewhat recognizable for me, but beyond that it was wide open spaces and, much like Colorado, pretty mountain ranges. A coworker of mine mentioned the absolute grandeur and awe-inspiring vistas the Tetons illicit, but it’s hard to comprehend without being there.

I arrived yesterday to prepare for the conference, knowing the Tuesday flight from Denver would get me in far too late. This gave me an afternoon/evening and morning to kill before our first session today at 2:00pm. Last night, a few coworkers and I surveyed the town of Jackson Hole… on foot… without much success of local assistance. Finally we had to rent a car, realizing quickly this was not Colorado with a shuttle to everywhere.

It's hard not to share every photo! They're all beautiful!
It’s hard not to share every photo! They’re all beautiful!

We acquired our epic, and useful, Sienna minivan by 6pm, 3 hours behind our intended timeframe, and headed straight for Teton National Park. It was fortuitous for many reasons, but primarily for the fact that the park was practically deserted. It felt like this vast piece of heaven was solely ours. I felt akin to Lord Byron as he traversed the Lake District and professed its beauty in perfect prose.

Great view of a herd of elk mea during through windy point.
My coworker photographing a herd of elk meandering through windy point.

I’ve never seen anything quite so beautiful that it elicited this urge to cry because of its beauty. I realize there is so much world to see, but for me, this was a profound moment of discovery. Our group wandered through the park, encountered a herd of elk, a few grazing bison, and some adorable pika along the way. We started by the entrance to Death Canyon, drove up towards the trailhead for Taggart and Bradley Lakes, and wandered up past numerous lookouts to North Jenny Lake Junction. Suddenly a mass of vans, SUVs, trucks and folks with professional cameras swarmed the side of the road. We were told by an amiable park ranger that a a grizzly had been spotted with her cub only 10 minutes prior. We waited no more than another 10 minutes and realized she wasn’t emerging for an encore performance, and carried on to Jenny Lake. I’m glad we did!

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The sun setting over Jenny Lake.

We left the park by 8:30am, with the last rays of sun just disappearing over the Tetons. We had scoped out options to hike the next morning, and we were ready for the adventure ahead. We had an early breakfast in town, and headed straight for the Grand Teton National Park Visitor Center, and were aided on picking the right trail for us. We took the Taggart Lake loop up to the base of the Tetons, overlooking a stunning alpine lake. Much of the terrain was dry, with the snow having melted, but the last half mile leading to the lake was covered in 4 to 5 foot snow pack. It was traverse-able, but we knew we wouldn’t make it around the entire loop of the trail and headed back the way we came. Luckily we were out early, and we heading back to the car by the time most groups were heading up the ridge. Even better, we spotted a full-grown moose standing in a stream on our way out of the park!

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A rushing stream of snowmelt on our ascent up to Taggart Lake.

The rest of today was spent grabbing a quick tasty lunch at the Merry a Piglets (great name!) and attending a phenomenal pre-conference session to get us back into work mode. That is, thankfully, why we are able to be here, and I personally couldn’t be more grateful! What an incredible first day and a half here in Jackson Hole!

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The stunning view from Taggart Lake, still mostly frozen at the base of the Tetons.

Have you ever been to Grand Teton National Park? Do you have any vistas or views that you find utterly awe-inspiring? Aren’t conferences in amazing places the absolute best? Do you like to explore while on work trips, or only keep your eye on the professional development prize?

Jackson Hole & Workin’ for the Weekend

Yesterday I was planning on sitting down to write a nice Friday favorites post about my upcoming trips, both work and pleasure, Ms. BakeNBurn’s visit, my all-time fav the BolderBOULDER, and all other sorts of Friday goodness. My plan was quickly halted when I learned I would be taking my first student as an academic advisor. I know that doesn’t sound scary or intimidating, but having to learn programs for five different schools and colleges, resources across the entire campus, and make sure to cover everything a brand new student needs to know caused a moment of panic.

I work in an academic advising office at CU Denver, but as a project specialist, much more behind the scenes. Every day is a little bit different, and I love that about my job. I’ve been in the process of trying to incorporate advising into my job duties to help the team, but had only shadowed appointments to this point. When my coworker called out, it was game time. Rule number 76: No excuses, play like a champion.

You may appreciate this compilation of amazing rules.

It was so much fun meeting with a great student and his family, and finally putting the months of preparation into practice. The excitement of the week was not over there, however. This morning I rose before the sun and, well, went back to work! Today was our spring commencement ceremony. I love graduations – the excitement, the pride, the accomplishments! It makes my giddy little Higher Ed heart sing.

With all our graduates graduated, I can now focus on the week ahead: Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Samantha and Michael’s visit for the BolderBOULDER! On Monday I head out to Jackson Hole, Wyoming with 2 fellow coworkers for a regional conference. I’m so thrilled for this adventure. We’re getting in a day early due to timing conflicts, but that means we’ll have time to hike in Yellowstone and Grand Teton! One of my coworkers is also an avid hiker and mountain climber, so he’s going to lead the way. While I’ve been to Yellowstone before, it’s been nearly 11 years, and we didn’t do much hiking at the time.

I return home Thursday, which is coincidentally the day Samantha and her hubby arrive for five days! We’ve obviously planned the whole weekend, being the Type A’s we are, to include a trek up Pikes Peak, a hike in the front range foothills, golf for the boys and pool time for us, a little retail therapy, and of course the BolderBOULDER on Memorial Day! This next week and a half is bound to be pretty fantastic and a whirlwind of fun!

Ill check in later, hopefully with great adventures to share!

What adventures do you have coming up? Are you as in love with your job as I am? Do you just love graduation ceremonies, or find them a dead bore like my hubs? 😉 Have you hiked in the Grand Tetons or Yellowstone – recommendations?

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Congrats CU Denver graduates!

May Margaritas and Go-to Quiche

I have been on a bit of a baking and cooking kick as of late, and I think it’s due mainly to this bizarre weather that Colorado has experienced during the past few weeks.  This cold snap may be getting to me – I refuse to think that it actually snowed on Sunday and Monday.  Luckily everything melted off yesterday, and it’s climbing into the 60s today (okay, it’s going be 60 degrees, semantics…).  But given this odd shift in the weather, I have had more time inside, planning meals and finding some good new recipes and revisiting great old ones.

Homemade waffles with strawberries and maple syrup. I am one lucky puppy mommy!
Homemade waffles with strawberries and maple syrup. I am one lucky puppy mommy!

Sunday was Mother’s Day, but given my newfound role as a puppy mom, the hubs decided to rise early and prepare waffles with strawberries.  It was the perfect way to start the day.  We spent much of it playing with our pup, going to the gym (thanks a lot May snowstorm!), catching up on our favorite shows (“Game of Thrones” and “Mad Men” really make Sunday nights amazing), and concocting cocktails and making a lovely fish dinner.  Robbie grilled (in the snow!) halibut with a Cuban rub and I prepared my all-time favorite salmon recipe, grilled salmon with a lime butter sauce.  We prepared sweet potato fries (with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkling of sea salt) as a side.  So good, I tell you, so good.

I had sent the hubs a recipe earlier in the week for a drink I wanted to try.  I found a recipe for a fresh strawberry margarita on the Anthropologie blog, and decided this would be my beverage for Puppy Mom day, regardless of the snow.  It’s definitely worth it, not too sweet, and full of fresh ingredients.  I learned early on that fresh orange juice makes a world of difference in margaritas, and that is proven true in this awesome libation.

Fresh Strawberry Margarita

Ingredients

2 oz. strawberry puree (see below)

2 oz. tequila

Such a tasty treat on a cold snowy day!
Such a tasty treat on a cold snowy day!

1 oz. Cointreau

2 Tbsp. lime juice

Sugar/Salt for the rim

Lime slices and additional strawberries for garnish

Directions

Strawberry Puree

Combine one pound of hulled strawberries and the juice of two oranges (preferably Valencia oranges) in a blender. Blend until very smooth and strain through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth. Store the puree in a tightly-lidded jar in the refrigerator.

If you only want to make enough puree for one drink, combine ¼ pound of strawberries with the juice of half an orange.  This should equal the 2 ounces needed for the cocktail.

Margaritas

First, prepare your glassware: With a slice of lime, wet the rim and dip into a plate of sugar (the recipe calls for salt, but it made the drink a bit too savory, so next time I will make it with sugar), and fill the glass with ice. Then, in a cocktail shaker, combine the strawberry puree, tequila, Cointreau and lime juice.  Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into the salt-rimmed glasses and serve with a lime wedge and a fresh strawberry with the stem removed.

If you need additional sweetness, add a touch of simple syrup or agave.  Drink up and enjoy!

 

This week I made my tried and true spinach and bacon quiche, which is always a favorite given the prospect of leftovers.  It doesn’t involve too many ingredients, can be used as a base for other fillers, and always turns out perfectly.  I initially took the recipe from Kraft, but I tweaked it to mix up the cheese and add sautéed mushrooms for additional flavor.  I know you’ll like it!

Spinach, Bacon and Mushroom Quiche

Easy to make, but easier to eat!
Easy to make, but easier to eat!

Ingredients

1 ready-to-use refrigerated pie crust (1/2 of 15-oz. pkg.) or homemade pie crust (see my recipe below)

2 – 2 ½ cups grated cheese of your choice (I use sharp white cheddar, mozzarella, gruyere, and Parmesan)

2 Tbsp.  flour

1 10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach, cooked, well drained

1 cup skim milk

2 eggs, beaten

3 – 4 slices of cooked bacon, chopped into ½ inch pieces

½ pint of sautéed mushrooms of your choice, or small can of canned mushrooms drained

½ tsp. salt (or less, depending on the saltiness of the cheese you add)

A dash of pepper

Directions

Heat the oven to 350°F.  Line a 9-inch pie plate with the pie crust and flute or fork the edges.  Toss the cheese with flour in medium bowl.  Add remaining ingredients and mix until fully incorporated.  Pour the mixture into the pie crust and disperse evenly.  Sprinkle with additional cheese if desired.  Bake for one hour or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Serve for breakfast, brunch or dinner.  Enjoy!

Photo May 12, 7 33 05 PM

 

Pie Crust Recipe

Ingredients

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1/4  teaspoon fine salt

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into small pieces

4 to 5 tablespoons ice water

Directions
Combine the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter, fork or your fingers, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it’s in pea-size pieces that are slightly yellow in color, about 4 to 5 minutes.  Add 4 tablespoons of the ice water and mix just until the dough comes together.  Only add the last tablespoon of ice water if necessary, but don’t overwork the dough or it’ll become tough.  Shape the dough into a flat disk, cover it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, then use it in the pie or tart recipe of your choice.  You can also freeze the disks for up to two months for future use.  Place in the refrigeration prior to using to allow the dough to defrost slightly.

What are your go to recipes?  Any fun alternatives for margarita mix-ins?  What did you do for Mother’s Day?  Am I crazy for celebrating Puppy Mommy Day – my pup is my fur-child after all?

May Snowshowers and Blueberry Lemon Muffins

I live in Colorado, and apparently this means freak snowstorms, regardless of the month or season.  Yesterday I woke up to a wintry mix of ice and snow, which eventually turned into just snow throughout the day.  This weather anomaly continued through this morning, and has, hopefully, finally subsided.  I didn’t realize that by moving here I was signing myself up for practically summer snow… where have my clear-cut seasons gone?

Enjoying brunch with some of the awesome Denver ADPi's!
Enjoying brunch with some of the awesome Denver ADPi’s!

Despite my incredible sadness from the drop in temperatures and accumulation of unseasonal precipitation, I managed to make the most of my weekend.  Although long outdoor runs were not in the equation, I was able to work in 4 miles on Saturday and a necessary trip to the gym on Sunday (thanks, but no thanks cruel and twisted weather gods!).  On Saturday, I celebrated my sorority’s Founder’s Day with nearly 20 women from the Denver metro area.  Thankfully the day started off sunny and lovely, and we were able to enjoy a beautiful brunch at a sister’s home in Ken Caryl Valley.

If you’re familiar with the Denver area, you probably know the enormity that is Littleton.  I, however, did not know how far west Littleton stretched, until I was driving into the foothills and emerged into a beautiful valley, surrounded on all sides by lovely little peaks.  I love that almost three years into living here, I am still discovering something new!

For the event, each lady brought an item for the potluck brunch.  Given that I would need to prepare something Friday evening, I wanted to make something easy and universally well-liked.  Obviously that meant blueberry muffins!

I love blueberries (hello, amazing source of antioxidants!) and I adore lemon, thus my lemon cakes.  So what better way to usher in the summertime than combining my favorite ingredients?  Blueberry muffins may be a favorite go-to for muffin-makers, but I have had many boring blueberry muffins in my day.  Adding lemon really brightens the flavor and makes the muffins light and fluffy, rather than dense and dull.  I found a fairly basic recipe on Foodnetwork.com but jazzed it up with a little more lemony flavor!

Blueberry Lemon Muffins

Ingredients

2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I utilized Hungarian High Altitude Flour)

¾ cup sugar Baker’s Sugar

Delicious, fluffy and perfectly springtime.  Now where did spring go?
Delicious, fluffy and perfectly springtime. Now where did spring go?

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon fine Kosher salt

Freshly grated nutmeg (or 1 tsp of pre-grated nutmeg)

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1 cup heavy cream

2 large eggs, at room temperature

The zest of one lemon

The juice of one lemon

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 ½ cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a 12-muffin tin with cupcake liners and set aside. (My batch resulted in 18 muffins rather than 12.)

Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Melt the butter, and then whisk the cream, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla with the butter.

Make a small well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour wet ingredients into the well, then stir with a wooden spoon until the dry ingredients are moistened but still lumpy. Do not overmix the batter or your muffins will be dense. Gently fold in the blueberries. Divide the batter evenly into the muffin tin and sprinkle the tops with vanilla sugar or granulated sugar.

Put the muffins in the oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking. Insert a toothpick into the center of a muffin to check if it is done. Toothpick should come out clean. Cool muffins in the pan on a rack for a couple minutes. Turn the muffins out of the pan and cool on the rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy!

Who doesn't love a good blueberry muffin?
Who doesn’t love a good blueberry muffin?

Ode to the Elliptical and Delightful Turkey Meatballs

This week has been a hit the ground running kind of week.  At work, students are entering finals week, so there is a lot of tension and nervous energy.  Thankfully I have used this as an excuse to decompress when I get home.  What does that mean?  Exercise and cooking!

Oh, how I love the elliptical!
Oh, how I love the elliptical!

I returned to the gym this week, instead of running outside, due to some evening storms hitting the Denver area, and rediscovered my love for the elliptical.  Over this past winter, using the elliptical really strengthened my legs, and I feel a noticeable difference now when I run.  I admit I had my doubts at first.  When my hubby first convinced me to give it a go, I thought my legs were on fire and that I would never walk again.  I kid you not.  I was in so much pain at work the next day.  To say I was a little peeved at the hubs would be a vast understatement.

Despite my horrific first encounter, I gave it another go.  Since then, I realized its fantastic benefits.  What are those benefits, you ask?  I have five important reasons why I love the elliptical and the benefits it provides (I gleaned much of this from Ben Greenfield’s fitness blog, an Ironman athlete, coach, author, speaker and former bodybuilder):

  1. The elliptical allows you to maintain athleticism and fitness without the harsh impact to your joints that you would get from running.  It’s a great complement to running, but so much easier on the knees, hips, ankles, etc.  Studies have shown that the workout you get from an elliptical is highly similar to what you’d receive from running on a treadmill, but again, better for those joints!
  2. The elliptical works your quads in a way that running, walking, and cycling does not.  For me, this was a major weakness prior to using the elliptical, and now I can feel the difference.  My legs are stronger, particularly my quads.  My legs don’t really tire when I run, and that’s been a phenomenal change.
  3. Using the elliptical helps to target other weak muscle areas, like your glutes (and boy do I love me some glute exercises… thus my adoration of Michele Rogers), hamstrings, and hip flexors.
  4. So this was a surprise to me, but could explain a slight shift in my stride: your stride actually increases when using an elliptical, which maximizes your workout.  I just hope this translates to running.
  5. I use elliptical machines that require arm motion, which actually helps to incorporate the upper body and core into the overall workout.  By engaging the arms, you get a great workout in one single machine.  I do aspire to have arms like Jennifer Anniston or Cameron Diaz, so this makes me very happy.

 

Besides reconnecting with my love for the elliptical, I also tried a fun new recipe for turkey meatballs!  Again, I stole this recipe idea from my friend Justine, our gracious host for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon.  She made these for us the night prior to the race and I’ve been dying to make them ever since.  It’s a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis, and I have always loved her cooking.  Her Spicy Baked Italian Macaroni is ridiculously good.  I like to think of this meatball recipe as the kitchen sink turkey meatballs, it’s got just about everything in it!  They are worth it, though, because they’re flavorful, moist, and light.  I definitely recommend giving them a try!

Giada’s Classic Italian Turkey Meatballs

Ingredients

1 cup plain breadcrumbs

½ cup finely grated Parmesan, plus more for serving

These meatballs are worth the effort.  You can always freeze the extras!
These meatballs are worth the effort. You can always freeze the extras!

¼ cup chopped fresh basil (I used my newly planted sweet basil!)

¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

¼ cup whole milk, at room temperature (again, I don’t often purchase whole milk, so I used heavy cream)

1 tablespoon ketchup, optional (I recommend using it though!)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cloves garlic, minced (or one tablespoon of pre-minced garlic)

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 pound ground turkey meat

1 pound Italian seasoned ground turkey meat (Jennie-O has a good option)

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

 

Directions

Perfectly portioned and a great addition to pasta night.
Perfectly portioned and a great addition to pasta night.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, basil, parsley, milk, ketchup, tomato paste, salt, pepper, eggs, garlic and onions. Using a

wooden spoon, stir to blend the ingredients. Add the ground turkey to this mixture. Using fingers, gently mix all the ingredients until thoroughly combined.

Using a 1-ounce ice cream scoop, form the meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls (22 to 24 meatballs). Place the meatballs on a heavy nonstick baking sheet, spacing apart. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until cooked through, 15 minutes.  Serve with your preferred pasta (I made Angel Hair) and sauce (for pre-made sauce, I really like the San Marzano Pasta Sauce), and top with the extra grated Parmesan.  Enjoy!

These meatballs were so delicious, and because we actually used about 2.5 total pounds of turkey meat, we made about 30 meatballs.  Looks like meatball subs are on the menu tonight!

 

What are your thoughts on using the elliptical – yay or nay?  Any inspired dishes on the menu recently?  How do you balance your exercise routine?

Sally’s Cake Batter Blondies

Is it Thursday already?  Where has this week gone?  Oh well, one day closer to Friday, am I right?  So over the weekend, I got my first taste of

Gorgeous weekend for the High Line Canal trail - my new favorite!
Gorgeous weekend for the High Line Canal trail – my new favorite!

summer for the season.  Both Saturday and Sunday were heavenly, hovering in the low 80’s, full of sunshine and light breezes, and ideal outdoor days.  The hubs and I got two great runs in along the High Line Canal trail (he’s back in the running game after a 3 month battle with runner’s knee, so I am extremely excited), and spent the rest of our time cleaning up our back patio and planting our potted herb garden.

What did we plant, you may be asking?  My absolute herb garden staples: sweet basil, sweet mint, rosemary, lavender, lemon thyme, and sage.  These are herbs I use so often, both in cooking and in cocktails (well maybe not lemon thyme in cocktails, but everything else, absolutely!).  We also planted a strawberry plant.  My sister-in-law planted one last summer and it did so well in the Colorado weather I thought I would give it a go!  The other thing to keep in mind is that I pot everything.  I like to change it up each year, and some herbs do not make it through the winter months here.  Furthermore, I refuse to plant mint in the ground because it will spread like wildfire and it’s nearly impossible to get rid of.  This allows me to monitor what I have and how much watering I need to do, and it’s so manageable.

It's finally mojito season. Did I mention my hubby is  a novice mixologist?
It’s finally mojito season. Did I mention my hubby is a novice mixologist?

After all our hard work planting, cleaning off patio furniture, hosing the entire patio down, and removing leaves and fallen blossoms, our outdoor area was usable again!  We spent Sunday evening grilling – I prepared salmon fillets with lime butter sauce and the hubs made a delicious sirloin – making cocktails (blackberry mojitos, yum! It was Kentucky Derby weekend, we had to have mint-inspired cocktails afterall), and baking!  My friend Justine, who so graciously hosted my gaggle of girlfriends the weekend prior for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in DC, found a delightful recipe for Cake Batter Blondies.  She attempted to explain the odd connection she has with the creator of this amazing recipe, but I will not attempt to relay that here.  Thanks to Sally’s Baking Addiction blog (and now cookbook!), we’ve got a favorite new blondie recipe.

The hubs and Rocco loving our clean and amazing patio!
The hubs and Rocco loving our clean and amazing patio!

The hubs loves blondies, so I try to surprise him with new twists on this delectable classic.  His mom used to make blondies for him as a child, and it has become his comfort dessert.  She shared her recipe with me while he and I were still dating, and it was literally titled “Robbie’s Blondies.”  It’s a sacred recipe to be sure.  Switching it up, however, is always a fun way to rediscover his favorite treat.  He and I both adore cake batter (almost) anything, so this recipe is the perfect combination of awesome.  Plus, it’s super easy to make!  I will not promise any health value, but enjoyment, most definitely.

Sally’s Baking Addiction Cake Batter Blondies

Ingredients:

1 box yellow cake mix (any kind will do, but if at altitude, check high altitude instructions)

¼ cup vegetable or canola oil

I am in LOVE with these blondies, and they're so easy!
I am in LOVE with these blondies, and they’re so easy!

1 large egg

1/3 – ½ cup milk (less is better, I used 1/3)

½ cup sprinkles (better to use larger multi-colored sprinkles than the small round type)

½ cup white chocolate chips

 

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.  Spray 11×7 baking pan with nonstick spray (I realized I do not own a 11×7 baking pan, so I used a 8×8 and a 6×4 baking dish separately, so they weren’t as dense).

Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl, adding the milk slowly. You want the cake batter to be as dense & thick as possible. Mix in the sprinkles and white chocolate chips.  Pour into prepared baking pan, sprinkle a few more sprinkles on top, and bake for 25-30 minutes until edges are just turning brown (at high altitude 25-26 minutes is recommended).

Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes so the center sets, before cutting into squares.  Keep in mind they will not appear to be fully done as the center will be gooey and fudgy.  This is the ideal consistency, however, so do not cut them until they’ve cooled!  Sally also notes not to use black sprinkles – it will turn the batter black before you bake… and that wouldn’t look so pretty!

Enjoy!

Delicious cake batter blondies - they were gone by last night...
Delicious cake batter blondies – they were gone by last night…

What have you been up to recently?  Anyone else loving the ability to bask in the outdoors?  What fun twists do you have for your baking favorites?