cupcakes: 3 flavas.

Life is absolutely crazy right now. As a more-than full-time PhD, a part-time research assistant, the owner of a high maintenance dog, and someone trying to recover her health, coordinate international travel, plan a major move, AND maintain relationships…this year has been quite something. Now, this may sound like complaining but I swear that is not my intention. It may even sound like bragging,…but I am also not trying to “busy brag” as is so damn common in Western culture. You know…when you ask someone how they are and they reply “I am sooo busy.” It makes my eye twitch. I have willingly taken on my workload and know that it is entirely unremarkable. Plus, I fully admit that I enjoy and thrive off of going from one activity to the next.

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The problem is that I have a hard time creating boundaries and often feel that I need to commit more time to “me” and to non-work-related hobbies to balance the scales. So, in spite of my other time commitments, when a co-worker asked if I would be up for making some cupcakes for her daughters baby shower I jumped at the opportunity.

Baking is something I do as a hobby because it is enjoyable. It is also a challenge, and I find it is a great way to escape my own mind. Baking takes precision, and I find myself being less focused on my to-do list when I am in the kitchen with bags of flour and sugar.

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For the cupcakes I could have just gone with 3 dozen vanilla but where’s the fun in that? After a search on one of my most trusted baking blogs - Sallys Baking Addiction - I settled on a combination of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Ok, just realized I made Neapolitan. Huh.

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The cupcakes took a lot longer than I expected, but I figure that time away from work was the kind of mental health retreat that we all need now and then. It also warmed my heart when I got a text after the shower telling me the cupcakes received rave reviews and that my co-workers daughter wanted me to do the cupcakes for her wedding. Ok, now I am bragging. Apparently, her daughter also proposed that my co-worker and I go into the cupcake-making business together. Hey, what’s one more job?


Cupcakes: Vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.

Each recipe yields 12-14 cupcakes

Recipes from Sallys Baking Addiction:

  1. Vanilla cupcakes

  2. Chocolate cupcakes

  3. Strawberry cupcakes

For the frosting, I made a triple batch of the following:

  1. Vanilla buttercream


oreo sprinkle chocolate chip cookies.

oh, baby!

Towards the end of last year I turned the big 3-0, and with that came a lot of personal changes. I will admit that I became acutely aware that the lines in my forehead and “light blonde” hairs I was seeing for a while were, in fact, here to stay. On a much more positive note, I stopped putting effort into one-sided relationships, stopped caring what other people thought of me, and - as discussed at length in another post - started focusing more on improving my own health and happiness.

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Aside from my personal growth, being “30s” has brought me so much joy because I have witnessed the people I love the most growing and changing as well. Over the past few years, most of my close friends have got married to amazing men and women, and have started creating their own little families. I am in the very fortunate position of being “Auntie Catina”, “Auntie Tina” (a name I hate being called, unless it is by a little human), and briefly “Auntie Kitchen”. One of my favourite things to do these days is see my nieces and nephews and get smiles, hugs, and kisses from the little people that my loved ones have created.

Two of my closest friends K & D recently brought her second child into the world. Already a mom to a hilarious, outgoing little girl, my friend K welcomed her second girl with the same strength, confidence, and grace as she did for the first time around. I am truly in awe of how she, and my other girl friends, have adapted to motherhood and managed stayed themselves while simultaneously becoming even stronger and more loving.

For the newest little one’s shower, I asked what I could bring and was told something baked. No problem. I saw a package of birthday cake Oreos in the pantry that I had been trying to hide from sight to avoid consuming in one sitting, and decided that putting them IN a cookie was probably a safe and smart play. Plus, seeing as how the event was a celebration of a birth, birthday flavoured cookies just seemed to make sense.

I can say that these cookies definitely make sense. Make them for a baby shower, birthday party, or just because you want something sweet on a weekday evening. No judgement from Auntie Kitchen.

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Oreo Sprinkle Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yields: 2 dozen cookies
Adapted very slightly from Sally’s Baking Addiction’s “The Best Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies”

Ingredients

Wet:

  • 3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 3/4 cup (150g) packed light brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar

  • 1 large egg, at room temperature

  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Dry:

  • 2 cups (250g) all-purpose flour 

  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Add-ins

  • 20 birthday cake (or regular) Oreos, coarsely chopped

  • 1 cup (180 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips

  • 1/2 cup (80 g) rainbow sprinkle


Directions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and sugar together on medium speed until combined and creamy (about 2 minutes). Beat in the egg and vanilla, stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of bowl as needed.

  2. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients.

  3. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with the mixer running on slow speed until combined. Stop to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

  4. Continuing on low speed, add all of the add-ins (minus about 1/4 cup of Oreos) until evenly distributed.

  5. Cover the sticky dough tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge (this is mandatory!) for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

  6. Remove the cooled cookie dough from the fridge and preheat the oven to 350. While you wait for the oven to heat up, line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking sheets (I like these)

  7. Roll dough into 1.5 tbsp balls (this scooper is the perfect size)

  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes. They should be slightly golden on the edges and be extremely soft when you remove them from the oven. Gently press the reserved Oreo pieces to the tops of cookies while they are still warm (this is optional to make them look nice; it’s cool if you dumped them all in at step 4).

  9. After 5 minutes, transfer the cookies to racks to cool completely.

  10. Cookies will stay yummy for about one week, or you can freeze for up to 3 months.

ollantaytambo.

One question has been burning in my mind ever since starting this blog: How do you write about travel when you aren’t travelling? Although I try to travel as much as possible, the fact is that I am not a travel blogger and take off only a few times a year if I am lucky. While I do have upcoming travel plans, I won’t be away for a few more months. Faced with this problem, I’ve determined that the only solution is to go back in time and revisit the places that I have already been. So with that, I am going to start from the beginning. A “throwback Saturday series” if you will.

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Back in 2013, my now husband and I went on our first backpacking trip. The destination: Peru. As an anthropologist, I naturally gravitate towards places of cultural importance and historical significance, so Machu Picchu was obviously a huge draw to the country. But we will talk about Machu Picchu another day.

The place I really want to write about first was my favourite in Peru. It is a little village with a not-so-little name: Ollantaytambo. Now, this was six years ago so I have to rely on pictures and memories, but I will try to do it justice.

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Wikipedia has reminded me that Ollantaytambo is 72 km northwest of the city of Cusco, and is located in what is referred to as the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Apparently the village is en route to one of the most common starting points for the famed Inca Trail hikes to Machu Picchu, but we were visiting in September and there were very few other tourists in the village.

Nestled into the valley, Ollantaytambo is surrounded by hills, mountains and impressive Inca ruins. When people think of Peru, I would guess that most automatically think of Machu Picchu. While it is an incredible site, there are fascinating and impressive ruins all over Peru that deserve attention as well. The two Inca ruins at Ollantaytambo are absolutely worth seeing, as they are not only massive but miraculously well preserved.

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As much as I appreciated the ruins, my favourite part of Ollantaytambo was the village itself. In addition to being literally surrounded by centuries-old history, the village itself is a living, breathing historical relic. Ollantaytambo continues to survive on the original stones that it was built upon in the 13th century (!!). The narrow cobblestone streets are lined by homes and buildings that look straight out of…well…the 13th century. I also remember hearing a distinct sound everywhere we went: trickling water. Ollantaytambo has an extensive aqueduct system running alongside streets, transporting fresh water from the mountains throughout the village. It is amazing to me that this Inca invention continues to be useful to people centuries later.

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As far as food, a couple places still stand out to me. The first is Hearts Cafe, where we had a lovely breakfast. Proceeds from the cafe go to supporting the health of children in the Sacred Valley, who I learned suffer hunger and nutritional deficiencies. Due to the remote location of many villages, environmental challenges, and high poverty, many disadvantaged families subsist solely on potatoes. I remember reading that in their menu to this day, and in the back of my mind I still imagine going back one day to get involved in nutrition health promotion programs in the area.

The second place that I remember is a restaurant called Puka Rumi because my husband and I shared a massive bowl of guacamole there. This guacamole was so good that we still bring it up six years later. How can something with so few ingredients be so hard to master on my own!?

Overall, what I remember most about Ollantaytambo is the peacefulness I felt being there. Although I am someone who hates being still for too long, being in this village just made me feel calm and at home. I am thankful that we made it a destination, rather than a place to pass through, and would definitely recommend that anyone traveling in Peru spent at least a night in this sleepy village.


Recommendations:

Stay: Mama Simone Hostel
Eat: Hearts Cafe, Puka Rumi.

oatmeal chocolate walnut cookies.

how do you show love and appreciation?

There are many ways that you can say I love you; not only by what you say, but also by what you do. If we are going by the popular book the 5 love languages, people show emotional love through: 1) words of affirmation, 2) acts of service, 3) gifts, 4) quality time, and/or 5) physical touch. I myself am pretty big on receiving #1 and #4, but I think I show love in different ways.

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As an avid baker, I like to bake something for people to not only say I love you, but also to say “I was thinking about you” or “thank you”.

Recently, my pup Farley came home from a walk and was acting really strangely. She was, for lack of a better word, “woozy” and just was not acting like herself. With hesitation, my husband and I texted a friend who is a vet to get her take on Farley’s odd behaviour. I say with hesitation, because I’m not sure everyone with specialized knowledge wants to be called on to do their job for free late at night. But sure enough, our pal FaceTimed with us right away (and our dog), let us know her opinion, and told us we could follow up if anything changed.

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Our friend didn’t have to answer; she could have easily told us to go to the emergency or to come see her at her clinic the next day. I wanted to do something to show that we appreciated her, so I asked what kind of cookies she liked. Anything with chocolate and nuts. Done.

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Oh, and Farley? She is fine, but might have been high after eating “something” in a parking lot. If that was the case, she was probably really craving one of these bad boys that night.


“Thank you” oatmeal chocolate walnut cookies

Yields: 20-24 cookies

Recipe adapted very slightly from Sallys Baking Addiction, the place for everything cookie.

INGREDIENTS

Dry:

  • 1 and ½ cups (190g) all-purpose flour 

    1 tsp ground cinnamon

  • 1 tsp baking soda

  • 1 tsp salt

Wet:

  • 1 cup (230 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1 cup (200 g) light or dark brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar

  • 2 eggs, at room temperature

  • 1 tbsp molasses (I used this one)

  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Add-ins:

  • 3 cups (240 g) old-fashioned whole rolled oats

  • 1 cup (180 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips

  • 3/4 cup (95 g) walnuts

Vegan options (disclaimer: have not tried myself): sub vegan butter (like earth balance) or solid coconut oil for butter; organic sugar for the sugars; and flax eggs (2 tbsp ground flax + 5 tbsp water) for the chicken eggs.


DIRECTIONS

  1. Whisk the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.

  2. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until smooth (about 1 minute).

  3. Add the brown sugar and granulated sugar and beat on medium-high speed until creamed, (about 2 minutes). Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl as needed to make sure the butter and sugars come together nicely.

  4. Add the eggs, molasses, and vanilla and beat on high speed until combined (about 1 minute). Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl and beat again as needed to combine all that good stuff.

  5. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix on low until combined.

  6. With the mixer running on low speed, beat in the oats, chocolate chips, and walnuts. Cover and chill the dough for at least 45 minutes in the refrigerator (if longer than a few hours, allow to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes).

  7. Preheat oven to 350°F and line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

  8. Scoop about 3 Tablespoons of dough per cookie (yes, they are large and in charge), and place 4 inches apart on the baking sheets.

  9. Bake for 13-14 minutes or until lightly browned on the sides. The centers will still look very soft, but they will firm up as they cool.

  10. Remove from the oven and allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

  11. As usual, try to actually wait until completely cooled and fail miserably.


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