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Stripes & Pinpoints

 
 Shirt: Shade clothing; Pants: Old Navy; Shoes: Target
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Still loving any stripes and dots combos.  Also, these pants?  Are some of my new faves.

We're over here just waiting for Frankenstorm to hit.  So far, we just have some rain and slight wind, but we'll see how bad it gets.  D's work is closed, so it's nice to have him home.  East coast friends, stay safe & dry!

Chocolate Cake with Salted Butter Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting and Caramel Filling


I promised you cake, and cake you shall have.

(But better quality, in-daylight photos?  That would require not only foresight, but also restraint on my part.)

I'm usually not the biggest cake person.  I generally prefer brownies and PIE.  And even then, sweets aren't my very favorite.  I just don't do store bought treats (or really, most treats that are made anywhere but my kitchen) because I don't enjoy them enough to make it worth the junk.  And since we don't make sweets all that often, I usually like to try new things when I do, which means even excellent treats rarely get repeat performances.  But this cake?  May indeed be my request for my next birthday.  So when I say this cake is good, it is gooood.

I wanted chocolate.  I wanted caramel.  But I wanted salted caramel frosting.  But I didn't want frosting inside, preferring straight-up caramel.  I also didn't want to spend eons making a 6-layer creation or the caramel, nor did I want to use a candy thermometer.  I hate candy thermometers.  Oh yeah, and corn syrup?  Not my cup of caramel.
After this photo, I drizzled a little caramel on top of each cake
So I basically made a mish mosh of several different recipes.  And it was delicious.  Heavenly.  Perfect for a a kids' party (with a good number of adults), or an adult party, or, if we're being honest, a Friday night at home.  Well, it's probably a little fancy for that, but who's watching?


Chocolate Cake with Salted Butter Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting and Caramel Filling

Chocolate Cake (from here)

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Coarse salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons oil (I used vegetable)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cake: Butter or spray three 9-inch round cake pans (or, like I did, use 2 cake pans and a bunch of mini cuppycake cups - really sample cups given me by Trader Joe's). Sift flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in the bowl of a mixer. Beat on low speed until just combined. Raise speed to medium, and add eggs, buttermilk, 1 1/2 cups warm water, oil, and vanilla. Beat until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Divide batter among pans. Bake until cakes are set and a toothpick inserted into the center of each comes out clean, about 35 minutes (or about 17-18 for the mini cupcakes). Let cool in pans set on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks, and let cool completely.


Amazing Salted Butter Caramel Sauce (from here)

Makes about 1 1/3 cups

1 cup sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) salted butter
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons heavy cream (preferably at room temperature, but I forgot to take it out of the fridge and it was fine)

Melt sugar over medium high heat in a large pot (I used a 4-qt), whisking or stirring the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly. Cook the liquefied sugar to a dark amber color (I didn't go quite as dark as I would if I were just using at sauce since it was filling the cake). Add the butter all at once and quickly stir it in. Remove pot from stove and pour in heavy cream (warning: it will foam and sputter, so be careful; this is also why you want a large pot), whisking it until you get a smooth sauce.


Salted Butter Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from here)

(Note: I 2/3rds the original frosting recipe since I wasn't using it for filling. I still had nearly a cup of leftover frosting after a well-frosted cake, not that I'm complaining.  I'm writing the recipe as I did it, but feel free to 2/3 it again if you don't want much leftover.)

10.5 tablespoons butter at room temperature
5.5 ounces of cream cheese (or 2/3 of a package)
2.5-3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup salted butter caramel (recipe above)

Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy.  Add 2 cups of the powdered sugar into the butter/cream cheese mixture and beat to combine.  Add 1 cup of the salted caramel and beat to combine.  Add additional powdered sugar until the frosting is the sweetness and consistency you desire.

Assembly
After cakes are cool, place one on serving stand and cover inside surface with caramel.  Place second cake on top (repeat if you have 3 cake layers instead of cuppycakes).  Cover with frosting.  Devour.  Swoon.

A 2nd Birthday

Oh, you thought you were going to get away with not hearing all the details of a 2-year-old's birthday?  Wrong.  You're so welcome.  But hey - at least I'm promising you a cake (recipe) for tomorrow!

Nat's actual birthday was on a Friday, so we spent the day as a family.  We kicked things off by going into his room singing and holding a candle-lit waffle.  He was still lying down in his crib when we went in, but quickly got excited and stood up to blow out his candle and open a little present from us.  He seemed to understand it was a special day because he requested to watch Cars during breakfast, which he hadn't done before, so of course we had to oblige.
Several "ka-chow!"s later, we headed over to the Air & Space Museum, which, as you can imagine, is basically little boy heaven.  He loved all the activities and all the many, many planes (especially the colored ones and the ones you could go inside).  Seriously, if you have a toddler and are in DC, go to this museum.  We headed home for lunch and naps, and then went too dinner and to pick up a couple (free!) birthday desserts.
 
On Saturday, we had a fun little party at an awesome park nearby.  Can I just say how much I love having parties at parks?  Because I do.  Built-in entertainment, minimal clean-up, decorations optional.  So easy.  This particular park has TONS of little play cars and other vehicles, which made it even more perfect.  The kids got to decorate some cardboard box cars, which they loved.  We'd intended to do one game (red light, green light with the boxes), but the kids were having too much fun running around to bother stopping for an activity that didn't involve sugar.  So we just let them play and the adults chatted and we all ate food (breakfast taquitos and vanilla pear muffins and other assorted snacks) and it was just delightful.

We headed home and opened a few presents (though we'd said no presents, several people still brought Nat a little something - he could not get enough of his new Mater) and took naps.  We went to dinner with my parents that night; spending the whole day with them was present enough for Nat.  Overall, just a really delightful and low-key and fun birthday.
Oh, and the cake?  Was to die for.  Stay tuned for a recipe tomorrow!

Cream with a Splash of Wine

Sweater/skirt: Banana Republic; Tights/booties: Zappos; Bracelets: India

I'm so glad wine/maroon/burgundy/anything-but-the-o-word is still around this season.  I wore these tights to death last year and was almost giddy about their inaugural wear on Sunday.  It turned out to be nearly 70 degrees out but somehow the creams and golds and reds just felt right.

1 & 2

Dear Tina,
Happy one-month birthday!  Oh, what a joy it has been to have you in our home these last few weeks.  You have already cemented your place in our hearts.
c/o Katie Hart
I adore your sweet, if a little feisty, personality.  You're such a peaceful baby, but you do have a bit of second-child in you such that you're not afraid to make your needs known if you feel they're not being adequately addressed.  You really love to be held and, unlike your brother, are a total cuddler.  Fortunately, you LOVE being in the Boba, and contentedly snooze in there while I do all manner of things from cooking to playgrounding to attending church meetings.  You love being in bed with us; though it's not ideal, if you keep up with the 6 and 7 hour stretches, I promise I won't complain too much.
 
You've loved getting to know the people who love you.  You're smitten with your Daddy, and he with you.  I've loved watching the special relationship you have with him blossom, even in this early time.  Your grandparents cannot get enough of you and are constantly trying to devise ways to come over and see you and your brother.  Your sweet little smiles have a way of sending us all into raptures.
In the last month, you've already initiated and experienced your fair share of miracles.  While we'd decided on your first name a while back, we really struggled with your middle name.  Several days after your birth, and at the very end of our grace period for including your middle name on your social security records, your dad gave you a blessing in which it was made abundantly clear to both of us what your middle name should be.  It's an Indian name that means "light," and you've certainly lived up to that ideal.  You have a way of brightening the room and understanding the needs of those around you that truly is unique.  I can't wait to see how you continue to fulfill its meaning.
Kina, I sometimes feel bad that I can't give you quite as much attention as I gave to your brother.  I feel guilty that you're destined to a life of hand-me-down books and clothes.  But then I realize that for you, my heart was already expanded.  It was already open and enlarged to the wave of love that was ready to fill it.  You are so special to us, and your sweet little face gives me the biggest rush that I can enjoy more fully because I was a little more ready for it.  I hope you know how much we treasure you, and how grateful we are that you love us back.  Love you forever, baby girl.
c/o Katie Hart
love,
mama

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Dear Nat,
Happy 2nd birthday!  It's been a little while since I've written you one of these letters, but I figured you deserved one for the grand occasion of turning TWO!  Baby boy, I cannot believe how fast these last couple of years have gone by.  You've grown from my tiny little infant into the sweetest, smartest, most hilarious toddler, and I love you all the more for it.
In the last few months, you've really been building your vocabulary.  You're speaking in full sentences now, and spout off well over 500 words.  It's so fun to have little conversations with you - you really are my little buddy as we go out and about.  You are just learning so much right now - you're always pulling out new phrases and numbers and descriptions.  I love hearing about your dreams and the things you find funny (like seeing shapes in your food).
It's been so fun for me to see you bonding with Kina.  You're the one who coined her nickname, and it suits her perfectly.  While you weren't overly interested at first, you've become such a good big brother in the last couple of weeks and regularly look out for her and alert me to her needs.  You're so observant and notice both her and those around you and try to serve them.  It's one of my favorite things about you - you truly love to make others happy.
 
I also love how enthusiastic and passionate you are.  You're not one to sit on the sidelines - you love being right in the middle of all the action, whatever it is.  You get so excited about things, and I love that you're not afraid to express it.  To me, you're the embodiment of one of my favorite quotes, "Nothing's interesting if you're not interested."
 
And you're interested in everything.  You love music and singing (both the traditional children's songs and anything by the only composer whose name you know, "Beethoven!").  You adore books and could read them all day long (some of your favorites are The Lorax, The Cat in the Hat, and the Llama Llama books).  You love any sort of moving vehicle, along with the movie Cars (your first and only movie - a special treat while Daddy was on paternity leave).  You would live outside if we let you, eternally content with sticks and rocks and playgrounds.  You've developed a newfound love of coloring and puzzles.  Everything is a game, including cooking (which you adore) and "clea-MUP!"  At your birthday dinner with your grandparents, the pianist at the restaurant played "Happy Birthday" for you and you started clapping and loudly exclaiming "YAY!" right after - you were just so enthused by it all.  I cannot tell you how much I love this age with you.
Installment 1 of Cars; Making bread
You have a knack not only for learning, but for teaching.  You are kind to everyone around you, and so forgiving.  You love hard and fast.  A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling vaguely annoyed with someone for no good reason.  As I was putting you to bed, your love for this person was abundantly clear in your nightly prayer, and it made me realize my fault.  Immediately, a surge of gratitude for this person rose up in my own heart.  You have a way of not only seeing and seeking the best in those around you, but also of causing the best to come out.  You're independent, yes, but you're also fiercely affectionate.  You're still a mama's boy, and show that love in hugs and sweetness, and fun and affection for your daddy.
The morning of your birthday, your dad and I were up too late, but that meant that we got to ring in your birth on the very minute - 12:24am.  As those minutes passed, I lay in bed reflecting on the variety of emotions I've felt since that moment.  I remember feeling so overwhelmed and exhausted right after delivering you.  I felt uncertain and a little disconnected from everything in the weeks after you were born.  But most of all, I felt a crushing love for which there are simply no words.  Time has only increased that love to proportions I then had no capacity to understand.
You know I couldn't resist buying her outfit when I saw it at the thrift store, knowing he had these shorts at home...
 My Nat, I love you.  I'm so grateful for these last two years of being your mother.  I hope you know that although my attention may be divided these days, my love is not.  Lucky for all of us, Kina's arrival has only made me love you both more.  Thanks for being my buddy, my confidant, my teacher, my student, my comedian, my interpreter, my friend, my son.  I love you, small.

love,
mama

(Nat's monthly letters here.)

Olive & Peach

Shirt: Old Navy; Skirt: Made by me; Earrings: F21; Sandals: Target
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I love this peachy skirt, and was hoping to get a couple more wears out of it before it's totally out of season.  I think pairing it with an olive-colored top made it a little more autumnal.  And contemplative.*

*Who caught the reference?  If so, I love you.

Good job, United, but BOO eShakti


So do you remember when I wrote all about how much I loathe United Airlines?  Well, guess what?  Over four months later, they finally wrote me back!  I know, I was shocked, too.  I had basically completely forgotten about the whole experience and had for sure given up hope on ever hearing from them again.  It looks like it was my letter to the Department of Transportation that actually got through to a human being instead of some random drone.

The Good: They contacted us again and tried to make peace.  There was one person to whom I could actually respond, and with whom I could have an email conversation (instead of passing me off to a different person each time).  This person was kind and articulate and actually listened to what I wrote.  They offered us each travel certificates (not a huge amount, but should at least cover one one-way domestic flight) as well as a very minimal number of goodwill frequent flier miles (would cover exactly nothing, except perhaps some random magazine subscription, but a nice gesture nonetheless :)).

The Bad: They still did nothing to address my actual concerns.  While they acknowledged that they failed miserably, there were no plans for how to address situations like this in the future.  We'll see if they get things figured out as they have some more time in the merger...

Okay, so this one just makes me sad.  I loved the idea of eShakti, where they let you customize their designs to your perfect fit and style (e.g, you can make things longer or shorter or add sleeves or whatever).  I wanted to love their company.  But I just can't stand behind a company that doesn't stand behind its products.

I purchased this skirt from them earlier this year.  I wore it a grand total of, I think, 4 times.  (And, uh, perhaps I shouldn't be sharing this in a public forum, but I hadn't even washed it in that time...don't judge, I'd only worn it to church and the temple, okay?)  Then once when I was wearing it, the entire back seam ripped open from the bottom to the middle of the skirt.  I wasn't even walking fast or bending over - I was just going from my living room to my kitchen (thank the heavens that I was at home).  I peeked at the seam to see if I had done something to it, but looking at it, I noticed that it had SUPER shoddy workmanship.  It was all uneven and sloppy and loose and was bound to tear.  And this was after they'd already messed up the measurements of the skirt - it was way too big when I got it (especially in the waist), but I procrastinated sending them updated measurements for a few weeks, and by then, I had found out I was practically into my second trimester of pregnancy, so I didn't even know what measurements to send.  (It did fit perfectly during that trimester, for what it's worth.)

So I contacted them about it five times before even getting a response.  I was told that it had been too long since I'd purchased the skirt for them to do anything about it - it had been 5 months, two of which I'd been trying to contact them via email/website/phone and had received no response.  They basically said tough luck on the skirt (which had cost upwards of $60, not including shipping) and offered me a $15 gift card (which gets you exactly nothing on their site).  I'd rather not spend lots of my own money on purchasing another inferior item, thanks.

Overall, I'm bummed that a company for which I had high hopes has both poor quality clothing and service.

A Fall Outfit & Recipe

Dress: Francesca's Collection; Cardi: Gap; Earrings: Gift from friend; Scarf: Gift from friend (India); Leggings: Target; Boots: Payless
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I really really love fall.  The food, the cool air, and, of course, the clothes.  Be glad that you don't know me in real life to hear me talk incessantly about that ever-interesting subject, the weather.

This is my favorite, super-easy fall breakfast.  It's the perfect thing for those chilly fall mornings when everyone needs a little extra comfort because your toddler has somehow managed use the curtain to knock a picture frame into his crib (yes, it shattered all over his crib, and no, he was not hurt - thank goodness).  Or because he, while previously uninterested in even approaching his baby sister, has suddenly decided to be big brotherly and heard her crying on the couch for the millisecond you had your back turned and picked her up to bring to you but then dropped her when you involuntarily and stupidly shrieked.  (Saving graces - it was under the armpits and he dropped her over pillows onto her feet, and he still liked and wanted to "hold baby kina!" after I was done comforting everyone.)  It was all very sweet once I determined that no one was mortally injured.  Supermom at your service.

Anyway, this is all a very long story to say that this is excellent for those mornings when everyone just needs some extra comfort, dangit.  I almost feel silly sharing it because it's really not even a recipe.  But it hadn't occurred to me to spoon Nutella into oatmeal until a month or so ago, so if it can help even one other person see the light, well, then my work is done.


Nutella Almond Banana Oatmeal


Make oatmeal like you normally do (I do old fashioned oats and cover with milk and cook in the microwave for 2 minutes because I'm lazy).  Spoon in 1 T Nutella and slice bananas and almonds on top.  Wonder at the fact that you never before tried this.


(Oh, and go check out the winner of the briolette bib statement necklace giveaway here!)

Whitewashed

 
 
Shirt: Old Navy; Skirt: Shabby Apple; Necklace: c/o Eclectic Ornaments; Shoes: Target
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Here's another peek at how I styled the gorgeous white briolette bib statement necklace (don't forget the giveaway ends today!).  I love white-on-white and this was no exception.  What I do not love is photographing white-on-white, but that's neither here nor there.  In any case, hurrah for one last white + coral outfit before the weather turns cool!

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Giveaway Reminder!  Today's the last day to enter to win a briolette bib statement necklace!
(Quick giveaway PSA - one of the options for an entry was to pin something from the blog.  Just to clarify, this is to pin an outfit from the blog itself, not repinning something from my pinterest board.  If you did the latter, fantastic, but I won't know! :))

Linking up with The Pleated Poppy