a birthday party!

aunt dea and her best friend, vicki

aunt dea and her best friend, vicki

a few weekends ago, brian and i went to ohio to attend my aunt dea’s surprise birthday party that my mom and dad were hosting. dea is my mom’s sister, and has always been so special to my sister and i. my mom dumped us off at aunt dea’s house when we were driving her nuts, or if she knew we just needed someone to talk to. she helped me get through countless teenage dilemmas, and i’m sure she’s done the same for my sister. you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. and at the risk of sounding cheesy, i would choose her as a friend if she weren’t my family.

rachel (my sister) and i wanted to help as much as possible to make it a special party. we wanted my mom to be free from as many duties as possible, so she could enjoy the party with dea. plus, mother’s day was the following day, and we wanted her to take it easy! she ended up letting brian, rachel, dad, and myself take over in the kitchen, which is extremely rare. my dad is an excellent cook. his specialty is fish, whether he knows it or not. he was on the grill that night, making seared yellow fin tuna. brown and seasoned simply with salt and pepper on the outside, pink and soft on the inside. perfect. extra rare tuna is one of my favorite things! i believe he grilled chicken, too.. but since i don’t partake in chicken, i don’t really remember. i’m sure it was great! i made roasted potatoes and lemony asparagus for the side, and a big salad with strawberries, avocado, and goat cheese. too bad i didn’t get any pictures of the main courses. i was too busy pigging out.

sweet and creamy, studded with berries

the family got up pretty early that morning before the party, and decided, as a group, to make strawberry frozen yogurt to go with all the other treats we prepared. this was truly a family effort. everyone got involved… somehow it makes sense that everyone wanted to stick a spoon in and taste it, you know, “to make sure it doesn’t need anything”. we used to make ice cream as a family (and haven’t in 20 years) when i was pretty little, so it was nice to bring it back. it turned out AMAZING! the recipe is quite simple, and really healthy! we used fage 2% plain yogurt. i strongly recommend you make frozen yogurt. expect a more intense and rich flavor than you get from the freezer section at the grocery store. it is most likely way healthier, too. it is definitely well worth your time, and fun for the whole family… and i don’t say that very often.. the recipe was pretty much made up. you could add whatever fruit you want, or no fruit at all. it would be great as just vanilla frozen yogurt.  like i said, it’s pretty darn healthy, so it’s only “pretty sweet”, not “super duper sugary sweet”. i’m not saying it tastes healthy, it’s actually pretty awesome. but, if you’re looking for something really indulgent, you could add more sugar or bad stuff, like cut up chunks of peanut butter cups, chocolate chips, salted nuts, or whatever you’re dreaming of. be creative!

strawberry frozen yogurt:

2/3 cup sugar

3 cups greek strained yogurt

1 tsp vanilla (or a good scraping from a bean)

1 1/2 cups finely chopped strawberries, sprinkled with sugar

let berries soak in small amount of sugar for an hour or so at room temp.

mix first 3 ingredients and let sit in refridgerator for 1-2 hours.

pour yogurt mixture into ice cream maker and continue according to manufacturer’s instruction.

after yogurt is done in ice cream maker, stir strawberries in and freeze for at least an hour or so for hard scoops, or enjoy soft-serve style.

rachel made a beautiful cherry swirled cheesecake. i’ve mentioned before that she is modest in the kitchen, and she was pretty timid putting it on the table to serve. she warned everyone, “i’m not sure if it turned out well, i’ve never made it before”… the cake disappeared as quickly as it was sliced. mom mentions every time i’m on the phone with her, “i wonder if your sister is going to make a cheesecake tonight”.. rachel, i would call this a success. everyone loved it. it had that perfect balance of dense and silky. it surprised me that this recipe was low fat! you would never guess. and the cool part, is that it was filled! it was a layered style cheesecake! what the heck?! pretty gutsy, sister. but, it’s double worth the effort when something challenging and risky turns out even better than you expect. i’m proud of her for a lot of things, and taking risks (safe risks)  is one of those things. it’s hard, when entertaining, to go out on a limb and do something you’ve never done before. you don’t want people to think you suck at baking, but you don’t want them to think you can’t try anything interesting! i’ve had complete failures when baking for guests, and that is one thing that makes me er on the side of caution. rachel took the bull by the horns! i had never had a filled cheesecake before, and will definitely make one soon. it looks pretty easy to do, and she didn’t seem too frustrated with it. ingredients are simple and the recipe is pretty strait forward. she was kind enough to share the recipe, so here it is:

cherry swirl cheesecake:

1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

3 cups home made (or 21 oz can) cherry pie filling

1 tsp orange zest

2 packages fat free cream cheese (not in a tub)

1 14 oz can low fat sweetened condensed milk

4 large egg whites

1 egg

1/3 cup lemon juice (can be from bottle)

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup flour (you can use white whole wheat or ap white flour)

preheat oven to 300f. spray bottom and sides of 8″ spring-form. sprinkle crumbs in bottom of pan.

in blender or food processor, puree cherry filling until smooth. mix in orange zest and set aside.

in mixer bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy, slowly adding in condensed milk until smooth. add in egg whites and egg, lemon juice, and vanilla. stir in flour.

pour half of batter over crumbs in pan. spoon cherry 1/2 filling evenly over batter. top with remaining batter (evenly), and drop by spoonsful 1/2 cup cherry filling. use toothpick or thin knife to gently swirl.

bake 60-65 minutes until filling is set.

cool at room temp for at least 2 hours before chilling in the fridge.

sweet and swirly cheesecake

sweet and swirly cheesecake

brian and i made lemon cupcakes with blackberry drizzle. they were super good. i’ve never made cupcakes that melt in your mouth, but now i’m sure that the secret is using powdered sugar. i loved the lemon flavor, so fresh and springy! the blackberry drizzle was a perfect match for the lemon, and really easy to make. oh, and they are vegan. this recipe only makes 6 large cupcakes or 12 minis, so you may want to double the recipe.


1/4 cup cold earth balance margarine

1/2 cup powdered sugar

3 oz (1/2 container) vanilla flavored So Delicious brand coconut yogurt

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp soy milk

1 tsp lemon zest

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup + 1 tbsp white whole wheat flour or ap white flour

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp salt

preheat oven to 350f. place racks in the center of oven. prep large 6 cup muffin tin or mini 12 cup with cupcake liners.

beat sugar with margarine, slowly at first, speeding up to whip, until light and fluffy. add yogurt a spoon at a time, beating between additions. add soy milk, then lemon juice and zest, then vanilla, IN THAT ORDER.. it will get curdly if you do not follow instructions. whip until mixture is fluffy and well incorporated.

in separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. add half of flour mixture into wet ingredients, and mix until it looks a little dusty. add the rest of dry, and mix until JUST incorporated. remember, over mixing will result in dead cupcakes.

spoon batter evenly into cups, and bake for 15 minutes. cakes will be soft and spring back to the touch. don’t let the tops turn golden brown. they should stay the same color.

blackberry drizzle:

1 cup no sugar added blackberry jam

powdered sugar to taste

juice from 1/2 lemon

mix all ingredients with electric mixer until combined. add more or less of whatever taste you desire.

sunset in the country

sunset in the country


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