ina’s caramel-icious sticky buns

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My aunt first made these years and years ago and I loved them.

I was surprised that she made them because she is more of a savory-food cook, not a baker.  I asked her for the recipe and she told me that she had seen Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) make them on “Good Morning America” and that they were super easy to make.

Ina Garten?  You know it’s going to be good!

Super easy to make?  This recipe is a must!

I kept a mental note and stored these yummies away with several other ideas in my pile of good intentions and there they remained.  Until today.

Let’s get started!

Start by taking out 1 box of frozen pastry to thaw according to your brand’s directions.

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This is what makes the recipe so easy.  Normally, you would start out by making a homemade yeast rising dough (like we did for our “ree-ally good cinnamon rolls”) but puff pastry replaces that here.

Never worked with puff pastry before?  Trust me, this is great stuff.  They turn out flakey and buttery, much like a fresh french croissant.  You can use it for savories and sweets.  I’ve wrapped them around chicken with herbed cheese, used them for chicken pot pie, and have made quick desserts like nutella & banana pockets.  They turn simple food into fancy food.

Now preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Put 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 1/3 cup of brown sugar in a bowl

Why does my picture show a lot more butter?  Because Ina’s recipe calls for 1 1/2 sticks but this is a LOT of butter for it’s purpose.  I would definitely only use 6 tablespoons next time and possibly add some corn syrup to help coat things better.

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and cream together.

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Place about 1 rounded tablespoon of the mixture into 12 muffin tins that have been sprayed with non-stick spray.

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It’s really important to spray because these will bubble up in the oven and after you’re done inhaling these melt-in-your-mouth treats, you won’t want to have to spend a lot of time scrubbing your tins.

There.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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If you like nuts, this is where you can rough chop up 1/4 cup of pecans (do you notice I make hubby do all of the work?)

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and sprinkle them evenly over the butter/sugar mixture.  Or leave them out if nuts aren’t your thing.

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Now lay your first sheet of unfolded puff pastry (fold lines going left to right) down on a lightly floured surface

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and brush it with a little bit of melted butter.

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Sprinkle each sheet with 1/3 cup of brown sugar and a 1.5 teaspoons of ground cinnamon to taste.

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Roll the pastry dough towards you like a jelly roll.

If you have some thread laying around (we never do, but we have dental floss!  No comments about that please, sometimes you just gotta improvise), bring it just under the rolled dough like so

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and trim off both of the ends and discard.  Then proceed to slice 6 equal pieces

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and gently push each piece down on top of the pecan/butter/sugar mixture, spiral side up.

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Halfway done!  Now repeat those steps for your second sheet of puff pastry.

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Then put the muffin tin on top of a baking tray – because there WILL be ooozing – and throw them into your oven for about 20 minutes.  (Note – Ina’s recipe says 3o minutes, but ours started to scorch at 25, so watch them closely!)

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Carefully invert the buns onto the baking tray while they are still hot.

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And there you have it!

If you think they look mouth-watering in the pictures, wait till you taste them!  They melt in your mouth.

But do not wait to eat them…

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…these treats are designed for you to eat them right away while they’re warm – or you’ll regret it!

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ellie m


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“ree”-ally good cinnamon rolls

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It was Thanksgiving morning, and hubby and I got off to a slooow start.

We celebrated a full-fledged Thanksgiving-with-all-the-trimmings- dinner a few days earlier (on Sunday) with the boys and guests.  By mid-week, we hadn’t even though about what we were going to have for Thursday.  We had a turkey on Sunday, turkey leftovers during the week, and were looking forward to another turkey at my mother’s house on Friday.  Thursday needed to be different.

What we did know, was that we wanted to sleep in and make homemade cinnamon rolls to go with our morning coffee.

By the time we rolled out of bed, we decided that we would try Ree Drummond’s (The Pioneer Woman) cinnamon rolls recipe.  It has been probably 30 years since I have made homemade cinnamon rolls (you know, when I was five years old.  ahem) and since that recipe no longer exists, we thought we would use this one as the base and tweak just a couple of minor things.  Like, making the dough the night before.

Did I mention we were off to a slow start?  The cinnamon rolls weren’t ready until late afternoon – but they were SO worth it!

Here’s how it’s done!

The dough – makes about 45-ish rolls – (I regretfully do not have pictures of the first few steps because I wasn’t thinking I was going to photo document this recipe until my brain woke up and I yelped “wait!  i should be taking pictures!”)

First – dissolve 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of whole milk and 1 cup of canola oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Take the saucepan off the heat and if you are impatient, like me, pour the liquid into a different bowl and throw it in the fridge to help cool it down faster.  Why?  Because the temperature needs to drop down to about 110 degrees (use a thermometer!) before you can sprinkle and dissolve 4 1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast into it.  Anything over 110 will kill the yeast and your dough won’t rise.  Let sit for a minute or so.

Now put 8 cups of flour in a large bowl, make a well and pour the warm liquid into the center and mix all.  The dough will be sticky!  Throw a damp kitchen towel over it and let the dough rise for 1 hour.

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Then mix in 1 more cup of flour/1 teaspoon each of baking powder (heap) and baking soda (scant), and 1 tablespoon of salt and combine with the rest of the dough.

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It should look like this.  Throw the damp kitchen towel over it again and stick it in the fridge for at least another hour (or overnight) to let it continue to rise and that also makes it easier to work with.

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The filling – (we weren’t sure if we were going to make the entire batch – this recipe makes a lot! – or half of a batch at first.  Pictures and instructions below are for half of a batch.  Just double all of it if you decide to make it all at once)

Combine 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/8 cup ground cinnamon and pour into a mixing bowl with 1 1/2 sticks of softened butter.


Cream the butter

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then pour in the cinnamon sugar mixture and mix together

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until it looks like a paste:

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Time to assemble!

Take your covered dough out of the refrigerator.

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It should look like this:

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Cut the dough in half and place it on your floured surface.

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Flatten it out a little before you start to roll it.

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Roll it out into a large, thin rectangle.

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Start spreading the cinnamon sugar mixture all over the dough

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until you get an even layer that looks like this:

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Starting from the furthest edge from you, roll the dough tightly down towards you.

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That’s right, keep going!

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This is what it will look like once it’s all rolled up.  Yes, it looks small, but it’s going to have another chance to rise again.

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At this point, some people use a knife to cut into individual pieces.  I say DON’T DO IT!  Personally, I feel that using a knife smushes your dough, and that’s not a happy thing.  If you have some thread laying around (we did not, but we had dental floss!  No comments about that please, sometimes you just gotta improvise), bring it just under the rolled dough like so

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and bring the 2 ends up, criss-cross them all the way through

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and now you have a perfectly cut piece!  Continue cutting about 1 1/2″ pieces and place in a greased baking pan.  These round pans hold about 9 pieces.

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Now throw that kitchen towel over them again and let them rise for just a little longer

then pop them into a 375 degree oven for about 15-17 minutes or until the dough gets golden brown.

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Your kitchen should smell yummy at this point!

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Don’t eat them yet!  You’re almost done – just need the icing!

The icing – (again, pictures and instructions below are for half of a batch.  Just double all of it if you decide to make it all at once)

You’ll need 1 pound of powdered sugar, 1/2 cup whole milk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/8 cup of brewed coffee, 2 teaspoons of maple extract, and a dash of salt.

You gotta trust me on the coffee and maple extract – I was really hesitant to use these and wanted to wimp out and use vanilla.  But we went with it and it turned out SUPER good!

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Mix all together until it’s silky smooth

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then drizzle that goodness onto your hot rolls

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and if you become impatient like me, forget the spoon and just start to pour in on!

These were so good!  The bread was moist and sweet and the filling had just the right amount of sweetness to it – not too much so the icing was a good compliment to it.

We liked the adjustments we made to the ingredients and cooking method versus the original recipe, but since the foundation of it is from Ree Drummond, we thought we’d name them after her.

We hope you enjoy these “ree”-ally good cinnamon rolls and share with your friends and family!

ellie m


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pear tarts

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Hubby is a baker and his specialty is his grandmother’s homemade apple pie — pie crust and all.

Pssst.  I don’t like apple pie.

But I love that homemade crust!

So one day he decided to substitute pears for the apples AND made smaller – individual tarts instead of a whole pie so I could have more crust.  It’s one of my FAVORITES.

Here’s how he makes them.

For a dozen tarts, start out with 5-6 super ripe pears.

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then peel them

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and cut them up into thin slices.

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Set them in a strainer to let the excess juice drain out so they don’t get mushy.

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Toss the pear slices in a mixture of 1 cup of sugar, 1 tbsp flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice to taste.  Place the pear slices in the refrigerator.

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Now it’s time to make the crust!

Start with 2 cups of flour.

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Add 2 teaspoons of salt

Start with 4 tablespoons of cold water – the dough will start out crumbly.  As you continue to work with the pastry blender add 1-3 more tablespoons of cold water – working the dough until the dough starts staying together through the wires of the pastry blender.

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Place your dough on a floured surface

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and start to shape it into an oval.

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Roll it out until it’s about 1/8″ of an inch.

(By the way – the rolling pin hubby uses is his favorite.  It’s his Grandma Snyder’s rolling pin from the 1940’s passed down to him.)

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Take the rim of a glass and cut out the individual crusts

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and use a sharp knife to slide it underneath the dough to lift it up

and place in a greased muffin tins like so:

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Now grab the pear slices from the fridge and start placing them into each individual pie tart

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and pop them into a 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes.

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These are SO yummy.  Serve them with whipped cream or ice cream to make them extra special.

Thank you, hubby, for coming up with this creation for me!

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ellie m


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set-aside or set-apart?

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There was a huge season in my life recently when I felt like I was being set aside.  Much of it had to do with facing consequences based on utterly huge mistakes that I had made.  I assumed that God maybe gently set me aside during this time so He could intervene and stop the pain I caused of those around me.

That, and also maybe, just maybe He needed me to be set aside so I could hear His voice among all others.

Whatever the reason, being “set-aside” felt like rejection.

Until I read this post by Lysa TerKeurst:

There were many feelings I thought I’d have at this small conference I’d been so looking forward to attending. Acceptance. Fun. Camaraderie.

On paper, these were my people.

They lead organizations. I lead an organization. They are vulnerable. I am vulnerable. Like me, they know the stresses of deadlines, trying to balance kids with ministry, and the nagging sense that we should keep hidden the fact that we have the pizza delivery place on speed dial.

Yes, these will for sure be my people.

And the great thing about gathering with people you just know you’re going to bond with is that they will get you. Really get you … like on the level of having inside jokes that makes every conversation comfortable and delightful.

I couldn’t wait to be with these people.

And I couldn’t wait for the deep friendships that would surely bloom as a result of our time together.

I walked into the meeting room and quickly found the people I was excited to meet. Every seat had a name tag attached so I circled the table looking for mine. As I got to the last chair and realized my name wasn’t there, I got a sinking feeling.

I milled around the room looking for my name, feeling increasingly out of place. Finally, at a table on the opposite side of the room, I found my name. I rallied in my heart that the Lord must have a special plan for me to meet and connect with the others assigned to my table. I took my seat and pulled out my cell phone as I nervously waited for my tablemates.

I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

As the prayer for the meal concluded and the event got underway, it was painfully apparent the others assigned to my table weren’t able to come for some reason. So, I’d be seated alone. Very alone.

In reality, I don’t think anyone else really noticed my predicament. After all by this point everyone in the room was busy passing rolls and salad dressing options.

In my head I started to have a little pity conversation, “Well, self, would you like a roll? Or ten perhaps? It’s certainly an option when you’re sitting single at a table for 10.”

And that’s when a very clear sentence popped into my head, “You aren’t set aside, Lysa. You are set apart.” It wasn’t audible. And it wasn’t my own thought. I knew it was a thought assigned by God that I needed to ponder.

To be set aside is to be rejected.

That’s exactly what the enemy would have wanted me to feel. If he could get me to feel this, then I’d become completely self absorbed in my own insecurity and miss whatever reason God had for me to be at this event.

To be set apart is to be given an assignment that requires preparation.

That’s what I believe God wanted me to see. If He could get me to see this, I’d be able to embrace the lesson of this situation.

Have you ever been in this place? I wasn’t just in this place at the dinner that night. I’ve been in whole seasons of my life where, though I had people around, I felt quite alone in the calling of my life. Can I give you three thoughts that might encourage you in a season like that?

1. Look for the gift of being humbled.

Proverbs 11:2 reminds us that “with humility comes wisdom.” In this set apart place, God will give you special wisdom you’ll need for the assignment ahead.

2. Look for the gift of being lonely.

This will develop in you a deeper sense of compassion for your fellow travelers. You better believe when I walk into a conference now, I look for someone sitting alone and make sure they know they are noticed.

3. Look for the gift of silence.

Had I been surrounded by the voices of those people I was so eager to meet that night, I would have surely missed the voice of God. I’m trying to weave more silence into the rhythm of my life now so I can whisper, “God, what might You want to say to me right now? I’m listening.”

I know it can painful to be alone. And I know the thoughts of being set aside are loud and overwhelmingly tempting to believe in the hollows of feeling unnoticed and uninvited.

But as you pray through your feelings, see if maybe your situation has more to do with you being prepared than you being overlooked.

There is something wonderfully sacred that happens when a girl chooses to look past being set aside to see God’s call for her to be set apart.

By Lysa TerKeurst posted on (in)courage’s site

ellie m


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mary, did you know

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The first time I heard this song was when hubby sang it (solo) at church years and years ago.  I remember thinking that this is the prettiest song I have ever heard.  I have reminded him since that I want him to sing it again so I can record him and play it over and over.

Today, I watched the video of this song by Pentatonix – an a cappella band who did such a beautiful rendition of it.   Just beautiful.

Here is the video and the lyrics are beneath.

Mary, Did You Know

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

Mary did you know, Mary did you know, Mary did you know…

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

ellie m


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UPDATE:  Ugh.  Since posting this, hubby informs me that the song he sang was “Joseph’s Song”, not “Mary, Did You Know”.  Joseph…Mary…you understand how I can get confused, yes?

kirk cameron’s “Saving Christmas” movie

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I admit, I throw a wet blanket on Christmas every single year.

I complain about the commercialism, materialism, and the let’s-spend-until-we’re-broke-ism mentality.  Not to mention Christmas trees, cards, lights, toys…all out on display before Halloween arrives?  Christmas had been hijacked by retail stores!

I wanted to be surrounded by reminders of the real meaning and joy of Christmas.  But I had given up hope on that many seasons ago.

UNTIL…I saw a movie trailer for Kirk Cameron’s new “Saving Christmas” movie.  There was a scene of this guy with the same attitude I had and Kirk Cameron tells him that everything that he was seeing around him was all about Jesus.  I wondered how he was going to explain that.

No spoiler alerts here — I will just say that I was expecting just a cheesy sort of fun movie that hubby and I could watch together — but the movie completely exceeded my expectations!  As we were walking toward the movie theater, I said to him “maybe this will help me with my attitude”.  And boy, did it!

I am so glad that I saw this movie.  I never thought that I would be able to experience Christmas the way I wanted to, but this movie turned it around.  I was so giddy afterwards and now have a child-like anticipation for this Christmas season.  So thankful!

Do you have the same attitude I had?  Check out this trailer — then check out the movie.  Only in theaters for another week or so!


ellie m

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clementine cake – a must try!

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Last week, hubby and I made Clementine Cake for the first time.  It came on my radar after we watched the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” a few months back.  I looked up recipes – there’s not a lot of variation out there.  Hubby is the hands-down baker of this clan, so I always recruit him to help with baked goods.

Here’s how we did it!

I chose to use a combination of Nigella Lawson’s version and a version I found in my Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottozenghi.  The main differences are that Nigella’s version is flourless which, with the amount of ground almonds it requires, gives it a texture that might catch some people off guard.  The Jerusalem cookbook’s version does include flour, but the flavor of the clementines mostly comes from the zest in the batter and the syrup that is poured over the top of it in the end.  I much prefer Nigella’s technique of cooking down several whole clementines in boiling water and using all of that to flavor the cake.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.


You start out by bringing 4-5 clementines (1 lb) up to a boil and then simmer for 2 (yes, two) hours.  I kept the lid on and kept my eye on the water level, adding more as needed.  There should be enough for them to float around in.


After they’ve cooled down, cut them in half and take out all of the seeds and throw them in a blender.


Blend them up good until it’s a smooth puree.  I love this color!  Between you and me, I’m loving all of the colors in this entire post!  Makes me want to go out shopping for clementine-colored everything.


Now it’s time to put together all of the other ingredients, which are not all pictured here because I thought it would clutter up the picture…and I don’t like clutter.

First, cream 3/4 c. butter with 1 1/4 c. superfine sugar.  Slowly add in 5 beaten eggs.

Then pour in the clementine puree and mix until they’re all combined.

Now for the dry ingredients.  (yes, I know, the sugar above is dry.  just follow along please)

Add 2.5 c. ground almond (I used almond meal from Trader Joes), 3/4 c. flour, and a pinch of salt.


Mix it all up then pour the batter into a well greased and parchment paper-lined springform pan.  We decided to lather it in butter and forego the parchment paper but it still required hubby prying the cake off of the bottom of the pan with a sharp knife.  Lesson learned?  Use the parchment paper!

Both recipes say to bake for 1 hour total, but the two we baked finished up quickly, in 40 minutes.  Make sure you check it at around 35 minutes – if it’s not done and the top is getting too brown, cover it up with foil.

After it has cooled down, you get to decide how you’d like to top it.  We did one where we dusted it with powdered sugar which was pretty…but hubby is a cake-must-have-frosting kind of person, so he whipped up a variation of Betty Crocker’s 7 Minute Frosting.  To that, he added the zest of 1 clementine and the juice of 1/2 of a clementine.

Then he took a few clementine segments and arranged them in a spiral in the center of the cake to pretty it up.

This is super yummy if you slice it, toast it, smother it in butter.  Or just eat it as a cake should be eaten.

So moist, and so good!

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ellie m


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what’s for dinner?

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The other night, hubby asked what we were having for dinner.

His response when I showed him?

“That sounds like an NHL injury

Ha!  Get it?

Happy Friday people!

ellie m


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sunday dinner prep

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Getting some of the ingredients together to marinade the chicken for dinner tonight!



ellie m


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fall college tour. already?!

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<snif snif >

How did this happen?!

Okay, so it won’t be for another couple of years, but now that my precious miracle-baby boy turned-16 year old son is actually touring colleges, it suddenly seems real.

He’s with his school touring 6 colleges in Southern California this week.  I texted him and asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking a selfie or having someone take his picture at a college or two for me.  You know what I got as a response to that request?

< crickets chirping >

Yep.  Dead silence.

I was hoping to post those pictures here, but since it appears there’s a slim-to-zilch chance that that will happen, I found this image, which I think adequately describes a day in my near future:


ellie m


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graham’s temporary ‘quiet box’

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My co-worker (previously a middle school special needs teacher) gave me the idea of getting a refrigerator box (cut out one of the sides so it would be 3 sides only) that Graham might be able to be taught to retreat to before he ‘goes over the edge’.

Haven’t found one yet, but he did enjoy settling into this smaller box as soon as he spotted it sitting outside yesterday.  Lots of smiles, squeals, and laughter :)

It reminds me of little children who like the box better than what came in the box — you all know what I mean.

First, he had to make it comfy with his pillow and blanket…


…too much excitement!  How about a nap in it instead?

ellie m


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“by your side”

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We saw Tenth Avenue North in concert together in October, 2012.  I’ll skip through the up and down events leading up to that night, but I will say that it felt like a God-thing that we were there.  To this day, we think of it as a special night.

So when it came time to thinking about wedding songs – in particular, the song that I would walk down the aisle to – we thought we would select one of theirs.  We were very intentional about making decisions surrounding our wedding day based on what was meaningful to the two of us and thought about special things that only we shared together.  It had dawned on us one evening that using one of their songs would be perfect.  We had to find one with the right tempo and the right lyrics.  We both overwhelmingly agreed that it would be “By Your Side”.

The video I am sharing in this post is the same one we used on our wedding day.  I really wanted people to focus on the beautiful words of this song.  So the video played for them and the doors didn’t open for me to walk into the room until the second verse started.

I know that my God will always be by my side, and so will my best friend, who married me on that day.

Do you have a special story about the wedding song you picked?

“By Your Side” Tenth Avenue North (partial lyrics)

Why are you striving these days
Why are you trying to earn grace
Why are you crying
Let me lift up your face
Just don’t turn away

Why are you looking for love
Why are you still searching
As if I’m not enough
To where will you go child
Tell me where will you run
To where will you run

‘Cause I’ll be by your side wherever you fall
In the dead of night whenever you call
And please don’t fight these hands that are holding you
My hands are holding you

ellie m