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Oh boy, it's been a while. As it turns out, when you have to plan a wedding in three and a half months, buy a condo, make improvements on said condo, have a few scattered trips to various places, and are super busy at work all at the same time....shit gets a little crazy.

I feel like such a grown-up right now. I OWN LAND. Okay, I really just own a piece of a building, but still. Landed gentry. We've been buying real people furniture, too. Not "sofa that came out of Brandon's parents' garage and is possibly from the 70's" furniture. Like, real expensive furniture. That matches. And isn't torn up by cats (yet). 

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AND we're getting married in 36 days. We got our marriage license today. It was literally the easiest government office visit in the history of ever. I expected DMV-style hellishness, but was pleasantly surprised. Also, I thought marriage licenses came on fancy paper with seals and all that. Ours definitely came from a black and white copier. Boring.

We decided to get our marriage license today because it has officially been one year since my mom passed away. That might seem like a weird thing to do, by my mom was never one to want people to be sad. I mean, she left explicit instructions that we were to have a celebration lunch for her instead of a funeral (complete with a specific guest list, too). Anyway, I know she would've wanted us to turn today into a better day, and this was a nice way to do it. My mom's marriages with both my dad (until he passed) and my stepdad were full of love and happiness, and the marriage license was an effort to commemorate that, in a way. And then we went out to have celebratory (and memorial) drinks and burgers...cause that's the way mom would have wanted it.

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If you're lucky enough to have your mom around this Mother's Day (or someone who's like a mom to you), make them this cake. It's rich and delicious and moist (sorry!), and the Malbec wine adds some deep fruitiness that complements the chocolate incredibly well. The orange-cream cheese frosting gives some tanginess to cut through the richness of the chocolate, and almost lends a sangria-type vibe to the cake. You can make the cake in one bowl (super easy!), and you can substitute any red wine you like if you can't find Malbec. It only lasted three days around here, but it stands up well to the fridge, and maybe even got better overnight. I'm pretty sure it'd make great cupcakes, too!

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Malbec Chocolate Cake + Orange-Cream Cheese Frosting

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

for the cake:

6 TB unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup Malbec wine (or, sub any red wine you prefer)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp orange extract
1 cup + 1 tablespoon  all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder (I used the Onyx cocoa powder, but dutch is fine too)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
a pinch ground cinnamon

for the frosting:

8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 TB unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange extract (or orange blossom extract)
zest of 1 orange
a pinch of salt
about 2 1/2 cups of confectioners' (powdered) sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom of two 6-inch round cake pans with parchment, and spray the interior with a nonstick spray. 

  2. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. 

  3. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. 

  4. Add the egg and yolk and beat well, then the red wine + vanilla and orange extracts. Don’t worry if the batter looks curdled. 

  5. Scrape down the sides/bottom of the bowl.

  6. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together, right over your wet ingredients. 

  7. Mix until 3/4 combined, then gently stir the rest together with a rubber spatula. 

  8. Spread batter in prepared pans. 

  9. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. 

  10. Cool in pan on a rack for about 10 minutes, then flip out of pan and cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack. 

  11. Once they're completely cool, you can either even out your layers, wrap them well in plastic wrap, and freeze them until you want to use them, or even them out and frost them immediately.

  12. Make your frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth, light, and fluffy (3-4 minutes).

  13. Add in extracts, zest, and salt, and beat for another minute. 

  14. Scrape down the sides/bottom of the bowl AND the attachment (sometimes zest will get stuck to it, especially if you're using the whisk attachment.

  15. Sift in one cup of powdered sugar at a time, mixing well in between, until you have a frosting that is your desired consistency. It took about 2 1/4 cups for me, but it can vary depending on the type of cream cheese you use (light cream cheese makes a looser frosting and will need more powdered sugar to stiffen it up, just FYI).

  16. Decorate cake as desired! I frosted mine, and then covered the sides in cake crumbs from when I evened out the layers, and topped with orange slices.


HAPPY NEW YEAR! (Or, good riddance 2014!)

Happy New Year! 

I hope everyone had a fun, festive, and/or drama-free holiday season. I decided to unplug for a bit around the holidays (and by unplugging what I really mean is still taking lots of instagram photos and watching everyone and their mother announce pregnancies, weddings, and engagements on facebook). It seems, from reading peoples' reflections on 2014, most people had a pretty great year. Which is awesome (really, I'm not being snarky). But...and I hate to be that person...but I am so, SO glad to say GTFO to 2014. Not a good year over here, and I'm happy to be moving on.

I have one, single new year's resolution: do everything in my power to make 2015 as rad as possible. 

Anyway, we'll get back into recipes next week, but I wanted to share a little iPhone photo/instagram run down of the last couple of weeks of 2014. If you follow me on instagram, you might have seen some (but not all!) of these already. If you don't follow me -- please do! My handle is helloitsmel.

So, the end of the year. First, I made a lot of baked goodies for coworkers as holiday gifts. And didn't blog about much of it. But, they included homemade cheez-its, vanilla-rum caramels, marshmallows and homemade hot chocolate mix, gingerbread cookies, and the cranberry-orange-white chocolate biscotti and homemade peppermint oreos below.

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We flew to California to visit home for a few days. Obviously, the very first thing we did after navigating the hell that is the Southwest baggage claim at LAX: ate IN & OUT. So good. 

in and out

We re-realized how odd my home town is. Weird signs pointing to otherwise very clearly marked coffee shops and mannequins gettin' crazy at the town mall. We had some tasty beer, and went to the Ventura Harbor. And we went to LA to see Brandon's family and afterward drove to Beverly Hills for the sole purpose of finding the Bouchon Bakery over there. Totally worth it.


Of course, we went to Disneyland. It was crazy crowded, but still fun. We made friends with goats, took a selfie on Thunder Mountain, and Minnie Mouse tried to steal my boyfriend.

disney pano

We also played a round of mini golf (which I lost), and learned how to shoot with a bow and arrow. And Brandon grilled on Christmas.

One cat had to go to the vet and was on drugs. The other one wore a sweater.

And we had an incredible dinner at The Publican on New Year's Eve!


I'll be back next week with recipes! I've got a few new ideas to work on for you all, including a cocktail of the week series and a hot chocolate/marshmallow series. You'll also notice "Sprinkles" in the top nav of my site -- that's just were all the random life and travel posts are gonna be from now on.


Happy Friendsgiving!


If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that our annual tradition is to have Friendsgiving, rather than a family-filled Thanksgiving. Friendsgiving is always low-stress, super fun, and a chance to have a mini vacay from work while playing tourist in our own city. We always have a theme to our meal, too, which is never the traditional turkey/potatoes/stuffing deal...last year's theme was tex-mex.

This year, dinner will be full of asian foods. There will be gyoza. There will be roasted pork/cranberry and red bean/coconut bao. There will be spam fried rice. There will be some kind of vegetables. I still haven't worked out all the details, but it'll be glorious. We're running a "Turkey Day 5k" on Thursday morning, and I'm pretty convinced that I'll run for 5 minutes and then keel over because I'm bad at running and I'm nervous. Maybe I should keep some cookies in my pocket for this type of running emergency. I think cookies might be my smelling salts. We're also doing other fun things over the long weekend like going to the Christkindl Market downtown in Daley Plaza, going to ZooLights, eating at all the delicious places, and even going to afternoon tea service at a fancy tea room.

If you'll allow me to be a little bit sappy...2014 has been a really, really shit year, and I think that it's especially important during shitty times to take a little time and think about the good things, and what I'm thankful for. And I think it's important to do that "out loud." This year, I'm most thankful for Brandon. I am always thankful for Brandon, but he has been unwaveringly supportive and caring and helpful during this craptacular year, and there's no way I could've managed without him. I'm thankful for family...especially my step-dad, who cared for my mom until the end, and is basically a saint and easily one of the best people I know. I'm incredibly grateful for friends; for Anna and Alison who trekked out to Chicago over the summer to make sure I was doing okay, and for my Chicago friends who made sure I knew they were around if I needed them, but never made me feel bad for feeling anti-social. I'm thankful for my job and my pretty rad co-workers, who are really more friends than co-workers. I'm weirdly thankful for my cats and the office dog, because unconditional love from animals is a huge source of happiness for me. And lastly, I'm thankful for food, and for this blog. Food is (obviously) something I'm really passionate about, and to have this blog as a ways to share that love has been amazing!

Alright, sappiness over.

Here's a quick little grid of some recipes I've blogged about that might be worth of your weekend festivities! For more recipes, visit the Recipe Index!

Happy Thanksgiving -- enjoy your weekend!



It's apple season! We try to go apple picking somewhere new each year in late-September or early-October (you can see a recipe for cider doughnut holes and last year's trip here), and so last weekend we took a mini road trip out to Elkhorn, Wisconsin to a cute little apple farm and picked ourselves a boatload of apples. Well, more like half a bushel of apples. I now have 20-ish pounds of apples to consume. Or to force upon others to consume. Needless to say, over the next few weeks I'll be sharing some apple-related recipes so you can find a way to partake in apple season, too. Apples are a quintessential fall food for me, just like pumpkin and squash. Caramelize them, mix them with spices, turn them into sauce, throw them in a coffee cake or muffins...there are so many things you can do with apples! Stay tuned for apple sauce, apple butter, apple-cinnamon challah, and some other apple-y things. I've also got a recipe for coffee caramel sauce to share with you early next week, and a recipe for streusel-y, spiced butternut squash muffins coming up soon too!  Until then, I'll leave you with a photo montage of our apple picking adventure.

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