Happy New Year!!

Happy New Year everyone! Like I mentioned yesterday, I almost can’t believe that it’s already 2014! This year seems to have passed by faster than usual. Wasn’t it just August??

I thought I’d take today to share some holiday gifts I received this year. First off, I’d like to thank Kablee at Kablee’s Kitchen! I commented on her post about the Food Blogger Cookie Swap because I was super-sad about missing the deadline this year. (It may actually be my one 2013 regret…)

20140101-114102.jpg

Kablee sent me cookies when I participated in the Cookie Swap last year, and her cookies looked great again this year! Well, when I got back to work last week, there was a package of cookies waiting for me from Kablee! Her Butterbeer Cookies totally made my day, and her thoughtfulness made my week! Thanks Kablee! 🙂

20140101-114109.jpg

This year, I also got a lot of really great cookbooks that I’m excited to share. (FYI, this is not an endorsement, and I’m not getting paid for posting this. I just like sharing!) First off, I got a new canning book to add to my library! I’m really excited about this book because the author structured the book by season. So I can start planning my Spring canning adventures!

20140101-114116.jpg

My mom also got me a really awesome new cupcake cookbook! As a librarian, cupcakes fall into the section she manages and purchases, so she always has an eye out for new cookbooks. This book was not even on my radar, which is what makes it even more amazing! The authors organize the cookbooks as a series of love letters, including one to bacon and one to the Golden Girls. I’m super-excited to try out some of these recipes in the New Year!

20140101-114123.jpg

The boyfriend and I picked up a bacon cookbook as a gift to ourselves. We’re not Paleo, but we’re really into eating local and sustainable foods and using the whole animal. With a new high-end butcher shop in the neighborhood, we’re really excited to try out some new recipes!

20140101-114128.jpg

The biggest and most-pink of all the cookbooks is “Patisserie: Mastering the Fundamentals of French Pastry”. I’m really happy to add this to my library, especially because of the step-by-step instructions. I looked through the cookbook over the weekend, and I think I’m going to tackle macaroons first!

20140101-114136.jpg

In addition to cookbooks, I also got some great new cooking tools, including different sized cookie scoops. I also got a new Thermapen, which wasn’t even on my Christmas list! I was bragging to the boyfriend on Christmas Eve about just how awesome the Thermapen is, so I was almost giddy when I opened one up from my dad and stepmom! Now I need to figure out what to make first! One of the other really cute cooking gifts from this year was this set of nesting measuring cups from the boyfriend’s mom! These are really adorable and will probably live on my counter year-round!

20140101-114142.jpg

What new cookbooks and cooking tools did you add to your kitchen? What are you most excited to make in the New Year? Please share in the comments below! Thanks for reading, and happy new year! May 2014 be the best year yet! 😀

Advertisements

Happy Holidays!

Wow, it’s already the last day of 2013, and this year seemed to just FLY by! I almost can’t believe it will be over in less than 12 hours (at least on the east coast). This has been an extremely challenging year for me, mostly due to my sleep disorder diagnosis. I stopped blogging for almost 6 months before finally getting back into the swing of things last month.

With the holidays (and my sleep disorder!), life has been a little crazy in the last few weeks. The boyfriend and I spent Christmas with my mom in Chicago, and wow it was COLD! It was fun to walk around downtown with the boyfriend and really nice to have a relaxing holiday with my mom. I even had the opportunity to make a Brandied Applesauce Cake for dessert. (I split the batter in to two smaller tube pans, so that my mom wouldn’t be left with an entire leftover cake. And she can bring the second cake in to church or work.)

This week, I’m taking a mini-staycation to relax and catch up on cleaning, baking, and blogging. Today, I got up early and tried to make my first batch of homemade donuts. Unfortunately, they came out a little too dense, so it’s time to modify the recipe and try again! I’m not sure what I’m going to do with all these donuts tho… I definitely don’t need to eat them all myself. Haha!

Now, time to take photos for tomorrow’s blog post! Hope everyone has a happy and safe New Years’ Eve!

~ Emily 🙂

Ladybug Cake

Over the summer, when I was on my health-related hiatus from blogging, I still tried to fit in as much baking as my body could handle. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I knew something was really wrong with me when I didn’t have the energy to bake! Thankfully, I was able to make a few cakes for friends, including this adorable ladybug cake.

20131203-115146.jpg

The cake was made for a friend’s daughter’s birthday. The parameters were pretty simple: she loves ladybugs and wanted a Boston Cream Pie. I had a lot of fun making this “cake”, especially because I’ve never made a Boston Cream Pie! As it turns out, it’s not a pie at all! (I had really only ever had Boston Cream donuts, hence my unfortunate ignorance.)

20131203-115140.jpg

The ladybug is simply a Boston Cream Pie, which is two layers of sponge cake filled with vanilla pastry cream and topped with chocolate ganache. To color the ladybug, I darkened the chocolate ganache using food dye (the candy-kind) and use white chocolate dyed red for the wings. The eyes are mini-marshmallows.

20131203-115135.jpg

Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of the inside of the cake, which by the way, was quite tasty because I sneaked a bit of the cutting scraps from leveling the cake tops. While most of my friends are accustomed to receiving cakes with a small slice removed, I felt like a bit of a jerk to do that to a 4-year-old. 😛

As always, thanks for reading! Happy baking! 🙂

I’m back!! (For reals this time)

Wow, it’s be forever since I’ve last posted. Fans and followers, I’m sorry I haven’t been blogging in months. Life keeps getting in the way of my productivity, in both good and bad ways. This post focuses mostly on the “bad”, but I’ll update on the “good” soon! 🙂

For those of you who are friends and family, you’re most likely aware of the health issues I’ve been having. But for my other followers, a quick update. My health has been deteriorating over the last year or so, with the worst being the last 6 months. I became tired all the time (that kind of tired you feel after not sleeping for 48 hours) and didn’t feel rested no matter how much sleep I got. I tried altering my diet, changing my sleep schedule and routines, and cutting out activities to rest. But none of it helped, and I knew something was really wrong when I didn’t have the energy to bake after work.

After visiting a neurologist and going through sleep tests, I’ve been diagnosed with Idiopathic Hypersomnia. This essentially means that something is happening in my brain, which is causing me to want to sleep for 14-18 hours/day. Needless to say, that doesn’t leave much time for baking and blogging while also trying to maintain employment at my full-time job. 😉 So I’m now on a path of trying out treatments to see what may work to help me function like a normal person again. (Unfortunately, the “idiopathic” part of my diagnosis means that the doctors don’t know what’s causing my extreme sleepiness and fatigue, so there’s not a direct treatment path to follow…)

It’s been about 10 days since I started this first round of treatment options, and, in comparison to how I felt a month ago, I feel GREAT!! I’ve regained productivity and focus, and I even have a new recipe to post later this week. (I’m also working on a new layout and possibly a new website to come!) I’m still not 100% of who I used to be, and I may never be again. But I have hope for the first time in months, and I’m finally moving in the right direction.

So thank you to everyone that checked in on the blog while I was on hiatus! It’s nice to log back on and see that my page-views haven’t tanked in my absence. And a massive thank you to my friends, family, and especially the boyfriend for being there over the last few months. I wouldn’t have gotten treatment without your encouragement and support. It might be a bumpy road ahead, but I’m buckled in and ready to go! 🙂

Till next time,

Emily 🙂

I’m back!

For my friends and regular followers, I’m sure you’ve noticed that I haven’t posted anything new in a while! A few weeks ago, I experienced a pretty decent personal setback that left me reconsidering my love of baking and blogging, as well as my personal and professional goals going forward. And I fell in to a little downward spiral of depression and self-doubt, two things I generally struggle with…

So I decided to take a little time off and gather my thoughts. Unfortunately, running the blog started to feel like work, and it got really stressful instead of fun. And I have enough stress in my life between other personal and professional commitments!

Well, I’m happy to announce that I’m back and (hopefully) better than ever! I have new short- and long-term goals and have gained a most of my confidence back thanks to my wonderful friends and family, including the boyfriend. (Super thanks to him for putting up with my crazies!)

To make a long story short, I’ll likely be publishing fewer recipes, supplementing them with other things from my crazy life! I’ll have a new recipe up later this week, and I have a lot of really great things planned for this summer! But for now, a few pics of the last event/baking competition that I entered…

Untitled2

The competition was for the National Capital Area Cake Show (NCACS), and the theme was Candy! I went a lot outside of the box, as I tend to do, and entered a Root Beer Barrel cupcake and a Licorice Allsorts cupcake. The Root Beer Barrel cupcakes are a root beer cake topped with a root beer-scented meringue and root beer caramel. The Licorice Allsorts cupcakes were a black licorice cake topped with coconut-almond buttercream, shredded coconut, and a little pie of black licorice. Both cupcakes came out amazing, tho I didn’t take home any blue ribbons this time. Hey, you can’t win them all, eh?!

I’m going to hold on to the Licorice Allsorts recipe because I intend to enter it in another recipe contest, but I’ll probably be modifying the Root Beer Barrel cupcake in to a cake to post on the blog later this Spring! So watch out for that soon! 🙂

As always, thanks for reading! Happy baking! 🙂

One Year, 100 Posts

Last week, I celebrated two important milestones on Pie with Sparkles: my one-year anniversary and my 100th post! So I thought, while I’m working on unpacking my new apartment (yep, I moved again!), I might as well spend a small among of time reminiscing…

It’s been quite an exciting year for me! Following encouragement from the boyfriend and my other very supportive friends and family, I started Pie with Sparkles, with the goal of sharing my awesome baked creations. That goal has slightly morphed along the way as I’ve become more comfortable sharing my personal life and as I’ve grown as a baker and blogger!

This year, my Beaver Cupcakes (only my second post on the blog!) have become Internet-famous! My cute, chocolatey beavers are the top result on Google search, and by far my most popular post!! Every time I see them pop up on Pintrest, I smile, and I know many of you do too. 🙂

I participated in my first cookie swap; I was “Freshly Pressed”; I moved (twice!); I perfected several techniques, breaking out of my comfort zone more than once; and I started experimenting with my very own recipes! My Fig and Grape Pie even took First Place in the DC State Fair!

Fig and Grape Pie with Cognac and Orange

I really can’t express how happy I am with the last year. And I have pretty lofty goals for the next year, and beyond! My biggest and hardest goal is to improve my blog photography. I’ve improved significantly over the last 100 posts in staging and editing photos, but I know I can get even better! 🙂

So thank you to all of my readers and followers! Your likes, comments, and shares brighten my day. I hope that, over the last year and 100 posts, I have inspired you to break out of your comfort zone or try something new, made your taste buds happy with my creations, or just put a smile on your face with a rainbow or a cute little beaver! Here’s to another year full of baking FUN!!

Cookie-Swap Roundup!

This month, I participated in the 2nd Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap. The Swap was organized by two really awesome food bloggers from Love and Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen and raised over $4,400 for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. The premise of the swap was to sign up, send a dozen homemade cookies to three other food bloggers, and receive three boxes of cookies from another set of awesome food bloggers. All of us who participated in the Swap posted our recipes last week, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who followed their Twitter feed to see what yummy recipes everyone was posting!

After I posted my recipe for Chocolate-Covered Cherry Cookies last week, I thought it would be nice to dedicate a post to the bloggers that I sent cookies to and those that I received cookies from. First up, the cookies I received were awesome! I shared a few with the boyfriend and some friends because I really didn’t need to eat three dozen cookies on my own… I think the best part of the swap was unwrapping the cookie packages I received to find out what little treat was waiting for me inside each box!

The first cookies I received were Caramel Stuffed Apple Cider Cookies from Erin cooks! Seriously, these cookies were awesome! Caramel and apple cider is one of my fave combos (as evidenced in my Apple Cider Cake recipe), and these cookies were fab. Erin sent two different variations: the first contained one large caramel candy stuffed in the center and the second contained small caramel bits mixed in. Both were really good, though I personally preferred the variation with the caramel bits. Thanks, Erin!

The second batch of cookies I received were from Val at eyechow. Her Coconut Butterscotch-Chip Cookies were really good! I love butterscotch and coconut but never really thought to combine them. Also, she baked some of her cookies in muffin tins, which was an awesome idea, especially if you don’t have [enough] cookie sheets! Thanks, Val!

The third package I received never made it home to the boyfriend… Kablee from Kablee’s Kitchen sent me some really fun Shortbread cookies, in four different varieties! It was really fun to taste her Shortbread Four Ways, and I wish I’d gotten to share them with the boyfriend… But I forgot to bring them home from work, so I slowly snacked on them for a few days. Reading her blog was really fun, especially cause she’s a fellow engineer! Thanks, Kablee!

I hope the bloggers that I sent cookies to enjoyed their surprises as much as I did! For a quick shout-out, here’s who I sent cookies to:

Go check out their blogs and recipes for more cookie recipes!

Fellow food bloggers: If you missed out on the Cookie Swap this year, go check out their website to sign up for notifications about next year’s swap!