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Seafood Paella and A Crazy-Easy Cake

27 Sep

I’m back with another If I Can Make It, You Can Too recipe. As I’ve told you before, I’m not much in the cooking category but what I lack in the skills department, I make up for with creativity. (Remember the rainbow cake from the first installment of If I Can Make It, You Can Too? )

Recently, I hosted a small birthday dinner for my friend Tracy. On the menu: shrimp and scallop paella and birthday cake, of course.

The paella recipe comes from Ingrid Hoffmann of Simply Delicioso on the Food Network and I first tried it in North Carolina where I was invited to speak at a Women’s Leadership Conference at Lowe’s headquarters. On the last night of the event we ate a meal I will never forget. We were treated to a live cooking demonstration by Ingrid herself, while we ate the delicious paella that she showed us how to prepare. She was charming and funny and I hung on every word she said because I was loving the food! Then we finished with a Duff Goldman cake decorating demo and a chance to decorate our own. Like as in, one mini cake for every single person in a huge ballroom! Duff was as great as he is on TV. (Is it any surprise that Ace of Cakes is my favorite cooking show ever? I mean, it was more about decorating than it was about cooking!) Here’s the cake I decorated at the event:

But anyway, let’s get back to the paella. You can click here for Ingrid’s recipe but I recommend reducing the seafood. It calls for an insane amount and it almost overwhelms it. For this batch, which served 8 adults with plenty left over, I increased each ingredient by 50% but I kept the seafood amounts the same. I’d also like to mention that the recipe calls for Spanish dry-cured chorizo but the meat man in my supermarket recommended a Premio chorizo that was kind of soft and I think it was much better than when I had made it with the more dry, hard stuff.

I started out by getting all the chopping done earlier in the day. The red and green peppers, onion, and garlic were all chopped and put away while I ran to the Y to see Sophia star as Joy the Jellyfish in the Westfield Y Drama Camp’s production of A Little Mermaid. (It goes without saying that she was sensational. But thanks for asking!)

Then about an hour before I started cooking, I measured out the tomato paste, rice, and olive oil. I also chopped and portioned the lemon and chorizo. (FYI: My bowls – which I LOVE – are from Anthropologie. You can get the little ones here and here and the big ones here.)

As the first guests arrived, the oil, onion, garlic, peppers, saffron and chorizo went into the pan.

In less than an hour, we were ready to eat. I served a simple green salad and some ciabatta with the paella. Everyone loved it!

As for the cake, I was stumped. Knowing we were making a birthday cake, Lily immediately asked her “Aunt” Tracy what her favorite color is. (I love that even my 4-year-old knows that when you’re getting creative, you need some inspiration first.) The answer was blue.

I knew I was going to make a box mix cake with my homemade buttercream frosting from this recipe but I didn’t know what else to do. So, I sent a text to the birthday girl asking what her favorite candy is. She replied with this cryptic message: “Twizzlers, reeses peanut cups, sour patch, I’m random.”  Suddenly, I was more confused than ever.

Then I tried a Pinterest search for the most general thing I could think of: “Birthday cake”. And I worked! I started to see a bunch of pennants and since that was something I had always wanted to try, I figured I’d do it. Luckily the girls had a bunch of arts and crafts supplies out already so I made the whole thing in less than 10 minutes. (Swear!) I grabbed some paper and cut it into little triangles. Then I took some foam alphabet stickers and spelled out Tracy’s name. (One guest thought I made the letters with fondant! Ha!) Next I glued the triangles to some twine and tied them to a couple skewers that I had in a kitchen drawer. And that’s how Tracy ended up with a vanilla cake with buttercream frosting topped with blue sugar, mini Reese’s peanut butter cups and a personalized pennant.

Everyone loved the paella and the simple cake was a hit too. Happy 40th, Tra!

XO

Sue at Home

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A Visit to Hidden Pond

11 Sep

When we recently went to Maine and stayed at Tides Beach Club, we had to make a visit to Hidden Pond, Tides sister hotel located deep in the woods. The resort is a series of free standing bungalows – some one-bedrooms for vacationing couples and some bigger cottages for families. We had read a lot about Earth, Hidden Pond’s farm to table restaurant so we decided to give it a try. The decor was so spectacular that we were smitten with the place before we ever took a bite of the delicious food. Check out this branch that was suspended from the ceiling and wrapped in twinkle lights.

The shelves above the bar were simple but stunning. And I’m guessing those are Tom Dixon pendants (or  something similar).

Two of the walls were lined with slices of logs. (The treatment that the Novogratz’s just gave to Tony Hawk’s fireplace reminded me of the decor at Earth. Check it out here.) We also loved the industrial light fixture of hanging bulbs. But the best was the beautiful chesterfield sofa that sat in front of a roaring fire.

We went back to Hidden Pond to hang out at the adults-only pool the next day. It was located in front of The Tree Spa. We didn’t get a chance to indulge in any treatments but the spa was named to Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List so I’d guess it’s pretty good.

If you ever wanted to know what it’s like to get a massage in a treehouse, then The Tree Spa is your place.

Near the pool is one of Hidden Pond’s firepits. I was upset that we never visited at night (they bring you a basket of s’mores fixins!) but that would have meant that would have missed the amazing dessert we shared at Earth: Banana and Peanut Butter ice cream with salted caramel.  It was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had!

The outdoor bar by the pool was so cute and it has so many great ideas for modern rustic decor. Check out that woody cocktail table.

These baskets were cut in half and attached to wall the hold citrus.

I loved the huge mason jar water jug and the bark-edged bar.

I love this idea (mason jar + sand + candle) and I’ll totally do this for my beach house. (Too bad I don’t have a beach house.)

This little chalkboard cow offered a healthy treat. And then at 11:30, the bartender wiped it off and replaced those words with “Margarita” and “Bloody Mary”! I had to have a bloody, of course. (Check yesterday’s post of the picture of that beauty.)

We loved the super rustic style of Hidden Pond and I think we need to go back one day for the s’mores!

XO

Sue at Home

Check out my other posts about our trip to Maine.

Three Days in Kennebunkport, Maine

Decor Ideas from Tides Beach Club in Maine

How to Create a Tides Beach Club Room at Home

Three Days in Kennebunkport, Maine

10 Sep

I’ve been sharing lots of pictures of the beautiful Tides Beach Club that we stayed at in Maine (here and here) but I’d like to take you off campus to show you some of the other charming things we loved about Kennebunkport, Maine. (If you’ve never been, plan a trip for next summer!)

We checked out this big fella and then ate his brothers for the next 3 days.

Our first stop was The Clam Shack where we had ended up having lunch everyday. The line was long and the food was pricey but it was totally worth it. Do they have the best lobster roll in Maine?  I don’t know but I can tell you that lobster roll was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my life. (Yes they do, according to the Travel Channel’s Food Wars!)

At The Clam Shack, the lobster roll isn’t your typical hot dog roll looking thing. It’s on a delicious buttery bakery roll and the lobster is just perfection. We loved the fried clam strips too (and the shrimp which we tried on day two) but nothing could beat that perfect lobster roll.

As for shopping in the harbor, it was mostly disappointing tourist traps with two big exceptions: Daytrip Society and their kid’s store, Daytrip Jr. They both carried such a smart assortment of quirky items that any tourist or local could love. (And lucky you, they have ecommerce, too!) I was particularly smitten with the kids store, pictured below. They had toys and games that I had never seen before and I had to pry myself out of there before I spent a fortune!

When we got back to our hotel, we decided to take a walk on the beautiful beach just across the street. The water was ice cold but Pablo braved it for one Nestea Plunge He’s crazy!

Before dinner, we relaxed on the front porch of Tides and while I sipped a cocktail (or three), Pablo did a Fantasy Football draft. (Yes, I allowed my husband to do a draft while we were on vacation. Yes, I am the best wife on the planet.)

The next day, we took a drive around to look at some insanely beautiful houses (check out this listing if you have 4 million dollars).  We took this picture near Ocean Avenue. I think it’s the only one we got together.

We drove by the Bush compound (ya know – cause you have to if you go to Kennebunkport or something like that) and marveled at it’s pretentiousness. I mean, they live on their own peninsula!

We also sampled the world’s greatest Bloody Mary at Earth at Hidden Pond. We spent a lot of time at the pool there. More on our delicious dinner at Earth tomorrow as well as lots of beautiful rustic decor ideas you can steal from Hidden Pond.

Pablo kept talking about how the fires smelled so great in Maine. Personally, I think it was just the idea of smelling a nice fresh fire in August. In the summer, you just forget how good that smells. But he swore it was the Maine firewood. So, when we saw this roadside firewood “shop” that operated on the honor system, we had to pick up a bundle. Check out the sign: “Camp Wood. $4.00 a bundle. Theives…” (yes it was spelled that way) “…smile for camera. I’m sorry honest people.” So, we put our money in the little cup and took a bunch.

On our way out of Maine, we did some antiquing on Route 1. We visited probably 10-12 shops so we were pretty exhausted by the end. I snapped this happy picture of Pablo as we entered our first store. (There would be no more happy pictures because he ended up listening to sports radio in the car while I endlessly hunted for treasures.) My favorite shops were the one pictured here, Antiques USA in Arundel (it was massive), Wells General Store Antiques in Wells (which had lots of 1950s diner stuff) and Columbary House in Cape Neddick where I ended up getting a cake plate with a glass dome for $35 and a blue and cream striped crock for my mom for $15.

I’m already dreaming of getting back there again. That lobster roll is calling me!

XO

Sue at Home

Our Wedding: The Details

25 Jul

First of all, thanks so much for your interest in our wedding! Monday’s post on the setting for our wedding, and Tuesday’s post on the fashion choices were two of my most read blog posts EVER, so thanks!

Today, I’d like to show you some of the details from the wedding. Let me first explain something to the youngins out there: Before Pinterest, there was a wedding binder. And let me tell you, mine was huge! I pulled it out of the attic (of course I still have it!) to take a peek again. Honestly, the binder seems to be the most outdated part of my wedding! The cover, which features a flower inspiration pic and our teal detailed invitation, shows the color palette we worked with. There were also touches of Tiffany Blue throughout the wedding.

Here’s a picture of a flower inspiration page. Pretty, huh? I would have died to have carried a huge arrangement of peonies but they weren’t in season so when I saw this picture of cabbage roses from Martha Stewart Weddings,I was smitten.

The arrangement came out beautifully. It was heavy as hell – but I loved it. (That’s me and my dad before we left the mansion to walk down the aisle.)

 

Funny story: My dad is no sap but he can be known to get a little sentimental.  So, I warned him. I said, “Dad, don’t you dare turn to me right before we walk down the aisle and say something that makes me cry. I want you to tell me a joke.” And he took this task very seriously. He bought joke books and looked for the perfect one for weeks. Finally, he decided on this short, sweet, and giggle-inducing one: A pig is sitting at a bar drinking beer and after beer. Finally, the bartender asks him if he needs to use the bathroom and he says no thanks. He continues to drink and the bartender is baffled. After a few more beers, the bartender asks again, “Don’t you need to use the bathroom?” and finally the pig says, “No. Don’t you know who I am? I’m the little pig who goes Wee Wee Wee all the way home!”

Thanks Dad for the potty humor when I needed it the most. (You can actually see me gaffaw in the wedding video!)

Ok – back to the decorative details:

The bridesmaids all carried different flowers in various shades of pink. Everything from hydrangeas to daisies to snapdragons. They were small and simple and they looked great. (For more about the bridesmaids dresses and where you should NOT get yours, check yesterday’s post).

For centerpieces we had some low and some tall and they were mixes of pinks and greens.  I spent weeks making beaded table numbers but they were a bit of a bust. In fact, they’re crooked and you can’t even see them in these pics. I feel like I need to explain: I took wires, added large silvery clear beads and bent the wires in the shapes of the table numbers. Then I had the florist insert them into the centerpieces. Unfortunately, they were too small/clear and no one could see them. Oh well.

     

One of my favorite flower arrangements was the huge one in the Music Room. As guests arrived, they entered through the foyer and then were directed into this small blue room that had a large arrangement in it with all the seating cards stuck in the arrangement. (I guess sticking things into flowers was a big thing 10 years ago! Or at least I thought it was!)

Now to the yummiest detail – the cake! Now listen, my mood on my wedding day was one that I have never had before or after. (Yes, even different than the birth of my kids.) I was giddy, elated, and high-on-life. I drank several glasses of champagne throughout the evening and none of it touched me. It was like I was drunk from the day itself and nothing else could compare. So maybe you don’t want to trust me when I tell you that my wedding cake was The. Most. Delicious. Cake. Ever.

But it was.

It was simple – white cake with buttercream and chocolate ganache covered in fondant. And now that I think of it, I need to take a trip to Fall River, Massachusetts and get an anniversary cake sometime this summer from Confections.  We rented the vintage cake stand from the bakery and I think it really added the perfect touch.

Our favors were another favorite detail of mine. I discovered early on when we were dating that our initials were the same as the initials for salt and pepper (S&P) so it was natural that we gave shakers as our favors. I found these great stainless steel ones from Crate and Barrel which featured holes in the shape of the letters S&P. I found acrylic boxes to put them in and I decorated each one with a wide silk blue ribbon and a label that said “S&P  – Love is the Spice of Life – July 27, 2002”

The best is that they’re totally personal. They wouldn’t make sense for anyone but us. Unless you have S&P initials, of course! I’m happy to say that many of our friends use them everyday – and we do too!

Hope you enjoyed all the details of our wedding! Stay tuned for more wedding fun tomorrow.

XO

Sue at Home

Photos of wedding binder by me. All other photos by Mark Nelson.

Lemonade Stand

9 Jul

Sophia’s been begging to have a lemonade stand for awhile so we finally did it this weekend. Her sweet Uncle Francis who was here visiting bought her this awesome stand to get her started.

It’s made of heavy duty cardboard and you just have to fold the pieces to put it together. He got it at CVS but here’s a link to order it at Overstock.com. It comes with stickers and you can decorate one side for lemonade and one side for cookies.

As for the lemonade, we went with homemade and I used this recipe. It was delicious if I do say so myself. I think making the simple syrup really helps because the sugar is totally dissolved.

We made a big neon sign and hung it at the corner and then we waited.

But no one came.  Sophia figured a “staff uniform change” was in order so she and Lily went inside to change into “lemonade dresses”. (Whatever that means.) If you drove by and saw this, wouldn’t you stop?

Meanwhile, I decided to do a little marketing to get things moving. As Marketing Manager, I emailed her former classmates and sent text messages to a few friends saying, “If you’re out and about, stop by”.  I also walked over and “played customer” to get her ready. The attitude she’s giving me in this picture is because I decided to make it a math lesson and I brought her change and made her count it out. Pretty mean of me, right?

And I don’t know if it was the change to “lemonade dresses” or my marketing efforts but something worked because we started getting customers. At one point there was even a line!

By the time our neighbors came by and bought the last of the second pitcher, Sophia was a lemonade-pouring & money-collecting pro.

Lily on the other hand, was whining and sitting on the steps most of the time so it was a lesson learned: Age 4 is too young to manage your own business.

The girls were thrilled with all their loot ($28.50 including a large tip from their Grandma)! I wavered between letting them keep all the money or donating it to charity. I felt that the charity option was the right thing to do but I wanted the girls to have the feeling of earning money. But then I remembered that even a charity has to pay their staff. So, after salaries were paid out ($4 for each girl), we’ll be donating the rest to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. I heard the founder, Gretchen Holt-Witt, speak at an event last year and so much of what she said really stuck with me. She lost her son, the beautiful Prince Liam, to cancer not long ago and her strength and determination to find a cure are truly inspiring. Pediatric Cancer is such a horrible disease that people don’t want to talk about it.  So, let’s talk about it. Please, dig deep in your pockets and give anything you can. For more info on Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and how you can help raise money to fund pediatric cancer research, click here.

XO

Sue at Home

Rainbow Cake: If I Can Make it, You Can Too

27 Jun

I pretty much suck at cooking. Case in point, tonight’s dinner: I made pasta, a jar of Patsy’s tomato basil sauce and a package of Stony Brook Farm Turkey Meatballs. Yawn!

So it seems kind of silly for me to give cooking and baking advice. But, there are a few things I can make well. My main criteria for my cooking is that it has to be really easy with very little room for human error. And the bonus for you is that If I Can Make It, You Can Too. Hmmm…sounds like a new feature!

Remember a few weeks back when we celebrated Lily’s birthday with a rainbow themed party? And remember that I promised I’d give you the play-by-play of how I made the rainbow cake? No? Well, good. Cause I forgot too!

Let’s start by staring at my beautiful new Kitchenaid mixer in Aqua Sky. Ahhh…she’s lovely, isn’t she?

To make the 6 layer cake, I used three 8-inch diameter pans and made 2 box mixes of cake. You can use any kind you like. (Or knock yourself out with a homemade one. I just find that the box ones are pretty good so why bother with homemade?) I made one batch first and separated the batter into three bowls. I was very careful to make sure that I separated it evenly so the cakes would be the same size. Bowls from here.

I always use gel food coloring for cakes or frosting because I like the colors to be really bold. (If you want pastels, go ahead and use liquid coloring. It’s much easier to work with.) I kept the “color station” very methodical. Each color got its own knife so I didn’t mix them up and I was sure to put it on top of plenty of paper towels because that stuff can stain your counter tops! (Note, gel coloring is kind of disgusting looking but totally effective. If you’d prefer some more natural colors, well…you’re reading the wrong blog.)

I’ve learned that you need to add a lot of food coloring at first because you can’t add color, then mix, check the color, add more color, mix more, check the color again, add more color, mix more…well, you get the point. The problem with that is you’ll end up overmixing the cake batter and it gets thin. So, go bold the first time and don’t overmix!

Once the red, orange and yellow cakes were done baking, I let them cool while I washed and prepared the pans for the second patch.

Thankfully, my baking assistant came in to supervise round two.

After the cakes were baked and cooled, I wrapped them individually and put them in the fridge until I had a chance to frost them the next day.

When it was time for frosting, I whipped up a double batch of buttercream frosting. I’d love to share my top secret recipe but if I did I’d have to kill you. Kidding! I use the recipe on the side of the Domino powdered sugar box. It couldn’t be easier and it’s delicious. One by one, I frosted and kept adding layers. Some of the cakes were slightly angled so I used a serrated knife to slice a little off the top to even them out. An important tip I learned from the LHJ food team about frosting a cake: only use the back of the spatula.

 

 After it was frosted, I let Lily add some sprinkles to the top. I don’t have a cake plate, so I used an upside-down bowl to display it! But there was a tiny lip around the bottom of the bowl and I was totally out of frosting to hide it, so I used a cheap can of ready-to-use frosting to make those little dots around the base. Shhh…don’t tell anyone!

 I love that it’s so simple from the outside because when I cut it open, everyone Ohhh’d and Ahhhh’d!

But most importantly, Lily loved it! For all the other details of her rainbow party, like rainbow balloons, rainbow fruit salad, rainbow favors and rainbow manicures, click here.

 

Happy baking!

XO

Sue at Home

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