Look who’s 30!

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Hello, and happy birthday!  MY birthday, that is. 🙂

Today is my 30th birthday, and I’m excited to be celebrating this huge milestone. To me, 30 is the age I’ve always considered to be when you are really a real adult. For most, 30 means no more school, no more entry-level jobs, and probably having had a huge life shift from “It’s all about me” to “Life’s actually more about people other than me.” I know that I have experienced that shift recently, mostly as a result of having a baby and leaving full-time work. Now my days are less consumed with what I’m doing for me and my goals and more focused on taking care of those around me—namely, my family.

A few years ago, when I shared my “Thirty by 30” list with some older friends, they sort of laughed at my idea of continuing to accomplish goals after having children. They warned me that all other goals will fade away when that day comes. And while that’s partially true, I still have aspirations of doing most everything that I set out to do five years ago. I was definitely unprepared for how challenging it would be to continue doing these things. In fact, I think I spent most of the first year after my daughter was born not doing much of anything for myself!

But now that I am at a more stable place in life—not birthing babies, not selling/buying/moving houses (I did that recently, too, by the way), and not struggling to figure out work/life balance—I’d like the chance to tie up the loose ends on the goals set by my 25-year-old self.

I’ll be taking some time over the next year, while I’m 30, to work on some of these things, and I’ll spell out which ones and why in a future blog post. I’ll also be sharing some of the progress I’ve made lately that I simply haven’t had the time to blog about.

So… CHEERS to 30 years, to becoming the people we want to be, and to dreaming new dreams!

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Meet my neighbors √

It’s been three years since I blogged about wanting to meet more of my neighbors, and I’m sort of ashamed to say it’s taken this long for me to check it off my list.

At the time, I’d only ever talked to one or two of the people living around us. As of today, however, we’ve met eight of the nine families on our block as well as another one nearby. So, did I host a big party or go door to door? Nope! Well, not exactly…

A few of our neighbors were introduced to us in the normal, natural way, even though it took us awhile to get around to it. We met all of our directly adjoining neighbors (next door, across the street) while doing normal activities such as getting the mail, bringing in groceries, etc. housesThese have been only cursory conversations, though, enough basically get a name and kids’ ages, or whatever. We met another neighbor when she brought her son trick-or-treating at our house last fall.

One winter, when I was very pregnant, I met one of the neighbors because my car got stuck in the snow in the middle of the road. And I mean… not just on the road but, like, in the very center of an intersection so that no one could get around me. And with an out-of-town husband and a giant baby belly, there was no way I was getting out of it without help. Since I was in a hurry to get out of the way, I didn’t want to spend time going around to all the families I knew, especially since most of them were likely at work. So I went up to a random house with an open garage. I think they were a little surprised to find a pregnant girl on their stoop, ha ha. But thankfully, the man of the house was home and able to push my car up all the way into my garage. I thanked them a few days later with a pan of brownies. It’s certainly a funny story, so it’s a shame that this neighbor has since moved away.

I’ve had the most interaction with our neighbors, though, since I’ve started staying home during the daytime. I met another mom living nearby. She and her 4-year-old son occasionally play out on their driveway, so I make it a point to stop over and say “hi” when I can. I told her they’d be welcome to come over and play sometime but have yet to make an actual invitation out of that offer.

The neighbor I’ve gotten to know the best is Sue, a middle-aged woman living just next door. She is very outgoing and just loves to see our daughter and talk about what’s new in each of our lives. She has offered to babysit and had me look after her plants while she went on vacation. I knew we had become “real” neighbors when I felt comfortable going over to “borrow a cup of sugar,” as the saying goes. 🙂

Sue, like me, was getting tired of having so many people on the block who’d never met, so she organized a National Night Out party this summer. I was thrilled to see most of the families on our block attend, including three we’d never met before. Everyone had a great time and even expressed interest in more neighborhood get-togethers. Such great news! I do hope that we can make it happen, possibly even yet this summer.

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Getting to know the neighbors… or at least their toys!

So, I feel confident scratching this item off of my list, but I’m setting myself a few more mini-goals (below) in the hope that I’ll get to know my neighbors even better in the future. We’re expecting to move to a new neighborhood in about a year or two, and I’m committed to being more intentional with getting to know those in the homes around us MUCH sooner next time around!

Goals for getting to know the neighbors:

  • Have dinner with Joe and Sue
  • Invite Vicki and her son over for a play date
  • Have a conversation with Jennifer that lasts more than
    one minute  …I know, right?
  • See another block party happen before we move away.
    Ideas: bonfire, progressive dinner, ice cream sundae party
  • Go inside someone else’s house to see what it looks like
    (The houses on our block are almost identical to one another,
    so it’s neat to see how they’re decorated, etc.)

-Lauryn

262 days until I turn 30

Enter food in the State Fair √

Today is the day! It’s Minnesota State Fair baked goods entry day, and I’ve just returned from dropping off my cupcakes at the fairgrounds. Let me just say, What a fun experience.

But first… let’s see the cupcakes:

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I talked a bit before about what I was entering—a miniaturized version of my mother-in-law’s awesome carrot cake. I followed the recipe almost exactly, though I did add a tiny bit of nutmeg this time to give the cake a little bit more flavor. DSC_0014I mentioned that one of the best parts of the cake is its pecan and cream cheese frosting, but that cream cheese isn’t allowed in fair entries. So instead I whipped up my usual white frosting but added a cream cheese emulsion to help give it that flavor. I thought they came out tasting pretty good. Honestly, the cake itself is so good it can just be eaten as-is, so my goal with the frosting was just to complement without getting in the way.

And off to the fair we went!

It was really neat to be at the fairgrounds on the eve of the fair, when many of the booths and attractions are set up but there’s still hardly anyone on the grounds. I’ve been to the site before at off times of the year, but never this close to the actual date of the fair. There’s this feeling of anticipation in the air, and though I’m only so-so on the fair itself and attend only once every few years, I found myself all excited as I drove through and saw all the familiar sights.

If the fairgrounds were a labyrinth puzzle, the platform would be tilted significantly under the weight of the Creative Activities building. The sidewalk in front of and all along the side of the building was lined with bakers toting pies and cakes and bags of bread.

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I took my place in line, wishing I’d brought something to pass the time. It turns out that I didn’t need it. As soon as someone stepped in line behind me, she and I struck up a conversation that continued through the 45 minutes we waited. She was surprised by the length of the line; in her six years baking for the fair, this was the longest she’d seen it. We talked about what was in her large Sterilite container and about the ribbons she’d won in years past. She was tickled recalling how last year during fair drop-off she’d been interviewed for a special show by the Travel Channel and got her 15 seconds of fame with her sound bite, “chocolate chip cookies.”

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The other woman in line with us was a lot like me—around my age and also entering the fair for the first time. “Just banana bread and apple pie,” she shrugged when I asked her what she’d brought. “No, that’s State Fair-worthy banana bread,” I told her. She and I had similar motivations as well. Her parents were both ribbon winners, and she’d always thought it would be fun to enter the competition at least once. I told her I’d heard that there was no such thing as entering one time, that once you start there’s no going back.

Perhaps that would explain the hoards of middle-aged women lugging plastic totes and rolling suitcases full of baked goods. It made my new friend and me feel like total newbies with our one and two items. To me, the crowd epitomized “The Great Minnesota Get-Together,” all these people gathered with a common interest and a common goal.

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The competition certainly is a culture in and of itself. At one point while we were waiting in line, a silver SUV pulled up and parked just across the road. A stir of whispers went through the crowd as state fair baking celebrity Marjorie Johnson, the “Blue Ribbon Baker,” stepped out in her pretty little red dress. Not even five feet tall, Marjorie still had quite an effect on those around, with many asking to take a picture with her while her “entourage” unloaded her goodies and got in line. I guess 2500 ribbons is what it takes to get someone else will wait in the line so you don’t have to. 😉

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Once we got inside the building, it was a quick and easy process of delivering our entries to be judged, almost anti-climactic in fact. Soon enough I was on my way again, with a simple reminder to “check the website” later in the week to see if my cupcakes had placed.

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If you’re headed out to the fair in the upcoming weeks, make sure to check the case for my carrot cake cupcakes. With a little luck, they’ll be the one with the blue ribbon attached to them! 🙂

[EDIT: So I didn’t win any ribbons, but I still had a great time doing it. Make sure to let me know if you see my cupcakes in the case at the fair!]

-Lauryn

269 days until I turn 30

State Fair, here we come…

statefair…me and my cupcakes, that is!

Today I finally settled on what to enter into the Minnesota State Fair. I don’t have many food “specialties,” and even fewer that would fit into the state fair Creative Activities competition categories, so I’ve spent a good bit of time poring over recipes to find the right one. I’ve decided to make cupcakes using my mother-in-law’s awesome carrot cake recipe. The cake is always a hit at family gatherings, so for me it’s both a treat to eat and also has special significance.

I registered for the competition today, and entry drop off is next Saturday. So, in the next week and a half, I’ll be looking to adapt this recipe for the fair:

  1. The recipe needs to be altered slightly to go from being a cake to working well as cupcakes. This shouldn’t be too big of a deal. Typically cupcakes are baked at the same temperature, just for a shorter period of time. I’ll probably play with it a bit ahead of time just to be sure and also to see whether there are any other kinds of changes to make with a cupcake in mind.
  2. The contest excludes any frostings made with cream cheese. The cream cheese frosting is a major component of this cake, so I’m working on finding a buttercream that will complement it just as well. I may even try making a frosting with a cream cheese emulsion—something I’ve never done before—to try to mimic the flavor of a cream cheese frosting.

I’ll let you know how it turns out!

-Lauryn

283 days until I turn 30

Make Homemade Egg Rolls √

Continuing my three-goals-in-one challenge to learn to make various ethnic eats, my husband Aaron and I recently tackled preparing our own homemade egg rolls.

I found a great recipe on Pinterest for baked egg rolls that includes step-by-step instructions with photos, very helpful for knowing just how much filling to include and how to roll them. I’ll spare you the play-by-play of how we made our egg rolls and just let you check out the recipe yourself.

We found these to be very simple to make, and they turned out nice and crispy without needing to be deep fried. We spritzed ours with olive oil from our Misto—a great alternative to cooking spray!

Here’s a handful of photos from our egg roll project:

DSC_0340 DSC_0341 DSC_0344Have you made egg rolls before? What do you put in yours?  I think next I’d like to try making Southwestern egg rolls like the ones at Chili’s. Mmm…

-Lauryn

311 days until I turn 30

Cake class wrap-up

In my most recent post I gave you an overview of the cake class I’ve been taking and a week-by-week update on the techniques I’ve learned.

My course wrapped up last week, and I’m proud to say that I passed, haha. 😉

In the final class session we learned how to write on cakes and create a few more intricate flowers such as the ribbon rose. Then we had the last 45 minutes or so to decorate our final cake. It was an open assignment—essentially, do whatever you want to do! My choice was to make a fun cake that incorporated as many of the different flowers we’d learned as I had time to make them. This is how my final cake turned out:

finalcakeHere is a close-up of my favorite techniques that we learned. The big pink flower is a zinnia, and it was much easier for me than the rose and looks just as pretty. The orange flower behind it is a swirl drop flower, and it’s also really easy. It only takes one tip and about a second to pipe! I was also very happy to learn how to make leaves properly, not only how to use the leaf tip, but also how to give it that cool dimension versus just being a fancy triangle. 🙂

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I’m pretty happy with the cake and the skills I took home with me from the class. I feel like I’m poised to create some pretty sweet (no pun intended) cakes with what I’ve learned; all I need is some motivation and inspiration, and I’ll be good to go!

I’d had my doubts about paying to take a course in basic decorating skills. Between what I already knew and what I was sure I could learn via YouTube, I figured that the course itself wouldn’t be worth the time and money.

My view in class

My typical view in class—a rainbow of frosting!

But the investment was totally worth it. I had underestimated was the value of having an instructor demonstrate each technique in person and then watch and provide feedback as I did the same. I could ask questions like, “Why am I getting that extra little tail at the end?” and get instant answers so that I could keep practicing and get it right. Also, there was value in the class dynamic, working within a group of people who were all learning at about the same level and could encourage each other and say things like, “No yours looks great. Mine’s all lopsided. Maybe my frosting’s too thin.”  Oh, and yeah… that little thing about frosting consistency that I learned. Priceless. 🙂  No one on YouTube would’ve caught that mistake I was already making over and over.

So, if you’re considering taking a cake decorating course, I’d encourage you to go for it. The classes tend to go on sale for $20, and I think I spent about $25 on supplies and another $20 or so on ingredients for all the cake and frosting I used. Not too bad considering that a lot of the supplies will last for as long as I keep up the hobby.

So that’s that. If you have questions about the course or the value or whatever, leave a comment or talk to me in person. I’m happy to share about my experience.

-Lauryn

318 days until I turn 30
certificate

It’s official. Cue “Pomp & Circumstance” 🙂

Cake class, weeks 1-3

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I’d been given the opportunity to take a cake decorating class as a birthday gift, and I wanted to give you an update on how it’s been.

The course itself has four two-hour sessions.
The topics are, essentially:

  • Week 1: How to mix and tint frosting, how to prepare and fill a piping bag, and the basics of piping frosting using different-shaped tips
  • Week 2: How to layer and frost a full-sized cake, practice with a few more tips and techniques
  • Week 3: Piping borders, leaves, grass, basic drop flowers and a few more complicated flowers
  • Week 4: Writing on cakes, creating ribbon roses, and decoration of our final cakes

For the most part, weeks 1 and 2 were a lot of basic stuff that I already knew. However, one BIG thing that I learned right off the bat in week 1 turned out to be the most important lesson of the entire course—frosting consistency! Apparently [heavy sarcasm] there is a method to the consistency of your frosting. I have been decorating cakes and cupcakes for a while now and have always used whatever consistency of frosting the recipe or can turned out, which has resulted in everything from crumbs in my frosting to misshapen letters to droopy decorations. I am SO glad that I now know the “secret” to avoiding these mishaps! (If you want to know more about this, just ask me. I’d be happy to share my new-found wisdom.)

During the course I also had the opportunity to work with a few bag tips I’d never used before, the most significant being a petal tip—used to make ruffles and flowers such as a rose—and the leaf tip. I learned to make some really cool decorations with these that I’ll share in a future blog post.

For now, I’d like to leave you with a few snapshots of things I’ve been working on. At the end of each class, we had about 30 minutes to decorate using the techniques we learned in that session. Here is some of what I came home with:

week 1

Week 1: We started with just two frosting tips and discussed how to make some different shapes with them. These are stars, rosettes and a swirl.

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Week 2: After we frosted our cake, we got to decorate it using techniques we’d learned. This whole flower is made using the “pulled dot” shape.

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Week 3: I had fun with my brightly colored frosting making use of several shapes we learned: drop flowers, leaves, grass, shell borders, and the daisy. (My frosting was too thin for the daisy. It should have more clearly defined petals, haha.)

In my next post… Week 4 cake project, reflections on the course as a whole, and my answer to the “was it worth it?” question.  Coming soon! 🙂

-Lauryn

322 days until I turn 30