Monthly Archives: September 2013

S’Mores Cupcakes

With the start of the school year, we are back in full swing with Cub Scouts. I love to blog about Cub Scouts because it is such a big part of our lives and has been an incredible experience for our whole family. The Scouting program is awesome and I love sharing all of the fun and important stuff we do with all of you.

This past weekend, our Pack got together for a lesson on the Scouting principle of Leave No Trace. Leave No Trace means just that. It focuses primarily on camping and outdoor activities but the underlying principle applies to all areas of our lives. Take care of your environment; whether it is the outdoors, your school, your home, your room, the park, the movie theater; you get the idea. Wherever you go, whatever you do, be mindful of the environment and how you have an impact upon it.

And ALWAYS leave a place better than you found it. Which means sometimes we have to pick up after others too.

Rather than just talk about it with our Scouts, we wanted them to experience the lesson first hand. The best lessons are often learned by seeing and doing. So this past Saturday, our boys and their families spent a few hours cleaning up along the banks of the Salt River.

The lower Salt River is a major recreation site in our area and unfortunately, not everyone respects the privilege of enjoying such a beautiful place. A LOT of trash gets left behind. It was important for our Scouts to see first hand how even a little waste has a big impact when the effects of so many visitors is combined.

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They worked hard and cleaned up a lot of trash.

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We are very proud of our “Bear” and his understanding and respect for nature and the need to care for and protect the environment. He is passionate about it. Now, if we could just get that same passion to carry over to his room.

After all of that hard work and a lot of hand sanitizer, it was time for a treat. It was way too hot to roast marshmallows (and open fire isn’t allowed right now) so I decided to improvise and turn Scouting’s signature dish into a cup cake.

S’Mores Cupcakes

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I love to bake from scratch and have some wonderful chocolate cake recipes from my grandmother. But there are times when practicality wins out and you just have to break out the cake mix. I adapted a recipe from the cookbook “The Cake Mix Doctor” by Anne Byrn and came up with a yummy chocolate cupcake, perfect to feed a lot of hungry Cub Scouts. Three batches yielded 60 cupcakes. If you don’t “overfill” as I tend to do, you might just get 24 cup cakes in a batch.

Cup Cake Ingredients

  • 1 package Milk Chocolate cake mix
  • 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 1/3 Cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Cup Cake S’More Toppings

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  • Graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 Bag of jumbo marshmallows, each marshmallow cut in half
  • Graham cracker pieces or mini graham crackers for garnish
  • Chocolate pieces for garnish

Cup Cake Directions

In pure cake mix fashion, put all of the ingredients together in your stand mixer and blend it all on medium to medium-high for a minute. Scrape down the sides and blend for another minute or until well combined and smooth. Line your muffin/cup cake tin with paper wrappers and fill each 3/4 of the way full.

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Then sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs (about a teaspoon each). I made the first batch with the graham cracker crumbs placed in the bottom of the wrapper and the batter poured on top. It didn’t adhere to the cake like I wanted so I opted to sprinkle the crumbs on top.

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Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

I love how they look with the graham cracker crumbs on top.

Next … the fun part.

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Set your oven rack, two spaces down from the broiler and then turn the oven to the broil setting.

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Put your cupcakes on a sheet tray and place a marshmallow half on top of each one. Place the marshmallow topped cupcakes under the broiler for 1 minute and 45 seconds. That is the exact amount of time my oven took to perfectly toast the marshmallows. The time needed in your oven may be different so keep an eye on them.

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Finish the cup cakes off in true S’Mores fashion with wedges of graham cracker and chocolate. The crackers can go on right away but let the marshmallow cool a bit before you add the chocolate or you’ll have a melty mess.

The boys and families of our Pack spent and afternoon doing our part to clean up a bit and leave things better than we found them. But our day wasn’t all hard work. Yes, there were yummy cup cakes but did I mention there was a also helicopter?

No? Ohhhh, there was a helicopter!

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Our Wolf Den Leader is a Sheriff’s Deputy and he arranged quite the surprise for our boys. For all of us, actually. When he told me he was setting up something cool, I was just thinking a few sirens and lights. Nope. There was a helicopter.

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Of course the boys LOVED it. And they deserved it. Hard work always has its reward!

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I know one little boy in particular who was in heaven!

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Really, does it get much cooler than that?

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We also had a visit from these deputies who patrol the river on ATVs. Very cool too! In fact, I’m pretty sure they have their own action figures. Well, if they don’t they should.

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The perfect spot to watch a helicopter take off!

A special thanks to Rob and our friends from the Sheriff’s Department for the work you do to keep our community safe and for so graciously giving a little of your time to make a kid’s day.

You guys rock!

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The MVMT Dinner – It’s a Wrap

Today I am wrapping up my series of posts on the MVMT Dinner, an Art Deco themed event I coordinated in July.

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But before I write another word, I must thank my hardworking and dedicated staff …

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David filled about 150 votive candle holders with decorative black sand. Nathan was quality control and tested every votive candle, passing it down the assembly line to his brother only when he was certain it was in perfect working order.

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Two scoops each x 150. No more. No less.

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My mom ironed and ironed and ironed.

Two-Helpers

David and Sara came along to help me set up. I don’t think they even snuck many of the gelato bar toppings. Well maybe just a few.

They are small but they aren’t unionized and you can pay them in gummy bears. They helped a lot and I couldn’t have pulled it off without them; especially my mom who does not accept payment in gummy bears.

The pre-dinner reception was held in the foyer of the church’s worship center. It was a great place to mingle and chat and share in some wonderful hors d’oeuvres.

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The crudité tower was beautiful and had a nice assortment of fresh vegetables and cheeses along with olives, marinated mushrooms and crunchy chilled grapes. Served alongside was a delicious hummus with crackers and pita wedges.

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I love the presentation.

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We also included one passed hors d’oeuvre.

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A unique savory cone filled with a Thai basil goat cheese, topped with a wasabi pea.

The filling was delicious!

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We were off to a good start.

I love all of the behind the scenes action …

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The pre-dinner reception was great. Unfortunately, the dinner itself was not what I had hoped.

The caterer we used is very good and came highly recommended. They had fantastic customer service and accepted our job short notice. They accommodated several changes and adapted to a last minute final head count. I also have to say that on the night of the event, the wait staff was fantastic!

That being said, there were a few lessons learned and things I would do differently. Hopefully I can pass along my missteps and save a reader or two any catering regrets …

Think everything through and don’t assume the details will be covered.

The crudité tower had marinated mushrooms on it that were awkward to select with your fingers. The tower should have had small serving tongs. Alas, I had to go and find a few plastic spoons. Luckily, I had purchased disposable plates and napkins for the hors d’oeuvre table, just in case, or there would have been none.

Be certain of what you are getting and don’t assume anything.

I did not have enough time to arrange a pre-menu selection tasting. Knowing that, I should have asked more questions and assumed less as the dinner itself turned out not to be at all what I was expecting.

The picture in my head of beautiful Tuscan roasted vegetables alongside a savory citrus roasted chicken breast artfully placed on a bed of orzo was not what was set before me. The vegetables were finely diced and mixed in with the orzo making them virtually undetectable. The chicken was a baked chicken breast and while it was tender and the flavor was good, I was very disappointed at the missing beautifully browned crispy skin that the term “roasted” led me to assume. In fact, there was no color on the plate at all. The veggies disappeared into the pale orzo along side an equally pale chicken breast.

When I shared my disappointment with a friend, she said “oh, the vegetables were in the orzo, I thought they just forgot them” – can you hear my breath drawing in? Not the reaction to dinner I was hoping for.

Follow your instinct and don’t be talked into something that doesn’t feel right. Oh how that applies to soooo many things in life.

The missing spoons. The missing spoons that haunt my dreams. I let the catering representative I worked with talk me out of spoons. She said they really aren’t really necessary. She said they are often left off. She said they cost more. It is amazing how much each piece of tableware adds to the overall cost (I think I need to go into the party rental business). I nixed the spoons. I didn’t want to but I did and in the end, the tables just didn’t look complete. They looked like somebody forgot the spoons.

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I know it sounds picky and no, it was not an epic world crisis but I was raised knowing how to properly set a table. Ask anyone who knows me, it is kind of “my thing”.  For all of the planning and effort it takes to pull an event together, you don’t want a small detail to negatively impact the finished product.

Bottom line, don’t omit the spoons.

Set a complete table and negotiate a better price for it. Also, the salad forks were so small I felt like I was eating from an oyster fork but we have spent enough time on flatware and negativity.

The Lesson … Ask. Ask. Ask. Verify. Verify. Verify. Until you are satisfied with every detail and know that you are getting what you expect.

I really hate not being able to give the caterer a glowing review. They were lovely to work with and really did go above and beyond for us in many ways. But in the end, the devil is in the details as they say.

On a far more positive note, I have to share with you one of the highlights of the evening.

Perry the Coffee Guy.

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Okay, he’s not really the “coffee guy” – he owns The Coffee Chop. I found him through an online search for a mobile coffee barista and read some really great articles about him.

As this was not an event suitable for the standard “cocktail hour”, we decided instead to have a  coffee bar. It was a great decision. Perry did a fantastic job, coming fully stocked with Italian sodas and a complete espresso bar. Let me tell you, he was a big hit. He was busy all evening and was very sweet and personable. He even sent me an e-mail a few days later complimenting me on the event and letting me know how welcome he felt and how much fun he had. Classy guy and a skilled Barista. I highly, highly recommend him if you are planning an event in the Phoenix area. His website is http://thecoffeechop.com but I have had trouble linking to it and am hoping it will work in the future.

So that is it for the MVMT Dinner. But the MVMT at Mission Community Church has only just begun and was launched this past Sunday to the congregation.

I was so blessed to work on this event and truly loved every minute of it. Thanks for indulging me and letting me share it with you. In the end, the MVMT Dinner wasn’t about the food or missing spoons or fancy hors d’oeuvres. It was about coming together in fellowship to celebrate all that God has blessed us with as we trust Him and take the next step He has for us as a church.

I would love for you to see what the MVMT is all about and why it is such a blessing to be part of a community of Christ followers who truly seek to be His “Hands and Feet” in every way.

Do Justice. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. Mica 6:8

MVMT.org

 

Remembering

At 5:46 a.m., twelve years ago this morning, I was sleeping peacefully. I had the bed all to myself as my husband had already left for the National Guard base and a routine KC-135 refueling mission.

Just before 6 a.m., the phone rang.

It was my husband.

“Turn on the news. Then call Mark. I love you. I’ll call you when I can.”

Click. Nothing more.

I wasn’t bleary eyed, groggy or fuzzy from being abruptly awakened. I knew the tone. I felt the seriousness. Instantly, I was alert and focused. Something big had happened.

Something terrible.

I turned on the news.

I turned on the news and watched the world as I knew it change before my eyes as United Airlines Flight 175 tore into Tower Two of the World Trade Center in a horrific explosion of fire and black smoke. Tower One already burning next to it. 

6:03 a.m. 

Dear Lord, how many people were in those buildings? On those planes? 

Tears in my eyes, lump in my throat, I called Mark. Mark was the best man in our wedding and is one of my husband’s closest buddies. He is also a fellow tanker pilot and at the time, lived only a few miles from us.

He is also not a morning person. “What?!”

“Mark, turn on the news. Something is happening.”

I can’t share with you the first words out of his mouth when he turned on the TV but I promise you, I will never forget them. He knew what was happening. He knew it wasn’t an accident.

And then he simply said “Okay, I’m going in”. Calm. All Business.

Click. Nothing more.

And then, the wave of phone calls.

My husband had been an active duty KC-135 pilot for ten years when he left active duty in 2000  to finish out his service flying part time for the National Guard and work full time flying for American Airlines.

My phone was inundated by friends and family desperate for me to tell them that he was not on American Flight 11.

“Please tell me Gary was not on that plane.”

“I know you’re probably getting a lot of calls but please just tell me he’s okay.”

“Where is Gary? He’s not flying is he?”

Phone calls all morning and sporadically throughout the day. Those phone calls are what have stayed with me the most all these years. I am so thankful for that outpouring of love and concern but I have to be honest, that is not what still resonates. It is how I was able to answer that never leaves me.

“No, he wasn’t on that plane” – “Yes, he is okay” – “No, he wasn’t flying”.

The other wives, the husbands, the mothers, the fathers, the sisters, the brothers who were getting the same phone calls but could not give the same answers, they have stayed with me. I carry them with me because I can’t imagine having to answer as they did. For me, it was all okay. For them it was not and I will never forget. For them and for the loved ones they lost.

After 9-11-2001, I did not see my husband again for a week, other than that night when I met him at the guard shack to drop off an overnight bag and several dozen pizzas.

But I did see him again.

He spent the next week on high alert and when his unit got the call to launch and refuel fighters flying homeland defense, he and Mark piloted one of the first planes back in the air after everything had been grounded. He shared with me how surreal it was to be practically “alone” in the skies.

He flew with American again for only a short time before he was called back to full time National Guard duty where he has remained ever since, taking a military leave of absence from the airline. In the short amount of time he flew commercially after 9-11, his route was Dallas to Newark where for weeks he could see the smoldering remains of the twin towers on approach.

A constant and terrible reminder of all that was lost and how life had changed. How our country had been changed.

This morning, twelve years later, at my children’s school there was a Patriot’s Day ceremony around the flagpole in the inner courtyard. 

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The 6th grade students sang Lee Greenwoods “Proud to be an American” and several of their classmates shared beautiful sentiments they had written. One of the girls who read is a friend of Sara’s and as she spoke the words “I was born just after the events of 9-11”,  the realization struck me that every child at that ceremony today was born after 9-11. They have never lived in an America untouched by terror.  Those sixth graders are the first generation of a profoundly changed America. And they are a beautiful reminder of our resilience and strength; of what we have overcome. That life does go on.

The little girl who shared those words, her name is Hope.

There are so many things I reflect on and remember on this day each year.

I remember the pain and disbelief and being glued to the news.

I remember the sacrifice and the heroes. “Okay, I’m going in”. Firefighters. Police officers. Military. Ordinary citizens. Airline passengers. They stepped up, they went in.

And many didn’t come out. But others did because of them.

We came out of 9-11 because of them.

And we must never forget them.

The reminders are around us everyday. See them. Remember them.

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Heavenly Father, today we remember what was lost in our country. Thank you for this day. Thank you for the freedom we are so blessed to know. May we never take it for granted. Thank you for the men and women who continue to sacrifice that we might gather in remembrance around a flagpole in an elementary school courtyard; safe and without fear. Be with them. Protect them. Let us not forget that there are those who live in fear and terror and horror everyday. We pray for them and for peace. We lift up to you the families of all who did not come home twelve years ago as their pain becomes new again on this day. Comfort them as only you can. 

Let us never forget.

Amen.

 

What’s for Dessert? A Gelato Bar!

It is time to talk dessert.

For the MVMT Dinner, we decided not to have the caterer provide a plated dessert and opted instead to put together something a little more fun.

A Gelato Bar.

I have “talked” your ear off in my last two posts about putting together an Art Deco themed event; The MVMT Dinner. So I am going to keep this one simple. Or at least I’m going to try. Really, I am. I am just going to tell you what I did (briefly – oh that is so hard for me) and let you see for yourself.

First, however, I must apologize for the less than stellar photography. A) I am not a professional photographer – although I do love it and aspire to be better at it. B) The lighting did not help. C) Running around like a, well, person putting on a dinner for 175 people and trying to snap a few pictures here and there at the same time, did not help.

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No, this gelato bar was not served on a cruise ship listing slightly to port. I did warn you.

Since I am starting this post with a disclaimer, I might as well fess up to another oops. I did not actually get a picture of the gelato portion of the G.E.L.A.T.O. bar.

I know. I set the topping portion of the bar up ahead of time and draped everything in black plastic table cloths. The gelato pans were placed in tubs of ice (black plastic dish tubs that fit two pans perfectly and actually looked great) but they were not brought in and “snuck” discretely under the tablecloth until after dinner had started. The gelato bar was not “unveiled” until dinner was finishing up and I didn’t want to be taking pictures of the gelato as guests were waiting to dish up. Okay, that isn’t entirely true, I WANTED to but just didn’t think it was in very good taste.

MVMT Dinner Gelato Bar InspirationAnyway, picture something like this – without the artful presentation on top (but I did have flavor cards). I love the artful presentation but the gelato looked pretty amazing on it’s own and I wanted it to be easy to serve from both sides of the table in order for the line to go faster. Okay, that really isn’t a good reason. I should have taken the time to put a little bit of artful presentation on top of the gelato.

Mental note made for next time. Spumoni? How does one decorate spumoni? Anyone?

The gorgeous inspiration photo above is from photographer Adrienne Gunde.

The gelato bar had nine different un-artfully decorated yet incredibly delicious flavors to choose from …

  • Triple Dark Chocolate (I suspended the “no sugar” rule for the evening and had this one)
  • Old World Vanilla
  • Sea Salt Caramel (and this one)
  • Cappuccino Hazelnut
  • Italian Pistachio (and a little bit of this one – it was just so hard to choose)
  •  Spumoni
  • Mango Sorbetto
  • Mandarin Orange Vanilla
  • White Chocolate Raspberry

I ordered the Gelato from Nick’s Gelato. The company is based in Phoenix but they ship all over the place. They were very easy to work with, even setting it up for me to drive downtown to the cold storage facility myself to save shipping and delivery costs. Budget. And most importantly, the gelato was delicious. I am a very happy Nick’s Gelato customer!

And then there were the Toppings …

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So, just in case you can’t read the crazy blurry picture above, let me tell you a bit about the toppings.

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There were caramel bits, gummy bears and peanut butter cup mini’s – boy are those dangerous – “I could never eat a WHOLE peanut butter cup but what harm could 25 minis do?” They’re small.

There were also Andes Mints pieces, Toffee bits, M & M’s, mini-chocolate chips, chopped hazelnuts, wafer cookies and Pirouette cookies.

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And of course, rainbow sprinkles. Rainbow sprinkles are a must.

I added a bit of Art Deco patterned ribbon around this cute bowl from the dollar store and then attached a pretty embellishment that I printed out on cardstock. Why? Because I had to find something to do with that perfect ribbon. I do love ribbon. Someday I might just tell you about my ribbon drawers, yes drawerS as in more than one. Remember Monica – from “Friends”? She only had ONE ribbon drawer. Actually, maybe I shouldn’t tell you about the ribbon drawers. Forget I mentioned it. Let us never speak of it again.

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The fluted bowls also came from the dollar store. To give a little dimension to the table, I grabbed small candle sticks (also from the dollar store) and super glued them to four of the bowls.

Scoops

I found these great little topping scoops at Michael’s in the wedding section.

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I framed the table with a tall floral arrangement at the beginning of the toppings bar and a three-tiered silver tray filled with the wafer cookies at the other end.

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I purchased all of the toppings, every single one of them, at Wal-Mart.

Gelato. Toppings. What am I forgetting?

Oh, yeah – I got a little ahead of myself there. Before the gelato, before the toppings, the classic question “cone or bowl” had to be answered.

But don’t answer too quickly because these cones were dipped in chocolate …

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Cone or bowl?

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I dipped the “business end” of sugar cones in melted chocolate, some milk chocolate and some white chocolate, and then placed them on sheet trays lined with parchment paper to set. To serve them I bought a decorative cardboard 3-tiered stand and stacked them up.

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I also got to use my ribbon and hot glue gun again to attach a little bit of embellishment to the glass hurricanes I put spoons in.

Art-Deco-DetailingJust a bit more Art Deco flair!

So, there it is a fun and really easy to do Gelato Bar for an event big or small. It was such a hit that I am going to do an ice cream bar for Nathan’s upcoming birthday party and also tomorrow night for our first Cub Scout meeting. And yes, I will probably do the dipped cones again. I really love those little guys and am happy to spoil them a bit.

Ugg … “word count” over a thousand, my queue to wrap things up. So much for brevity.

But before I go, I just have to ask one question – Cone or Bowl?

Or Waffle Cone Bowl?

You didn’t see that one coming, did you?