cranberry and cadbury mini egg energy bites

If you’re like me, you still have some Easter candy floating around aimlessly in your kitchen, your living room, maybe also in your pockets and in your car. This Easter candy is begging to be finished, but there is just so much of it that it is difficult to finish. Especially when there are other delicious things like Gushers getting in the way during afternoon snack time.

So last weekend, on a whim when prepping foodstuffs for an epic end-of-winter hike, I decided to turn some already delicious raw energy balls into not-raw, much deliciouser energy balls, or bites, as I’ll classily refer to them here. I make many versions of these, often with cocoa powder, often with various dried fruits, and always with a base of dates and nuts.

cranberry and cadbury mini egg energy bites

The addition of Cadbury Mini Eggs is a genius move, because it gives the energy bites a crunchy crackly texture that is terribly fun to eat – I imagine that to be the energy flowing straight into me, and down towards my legs to give them strength for the last few miles of the day.  What’s more, Cadbury recently unveiled ‘Royal Dark’ Mini Eggs, which are leaps and bounds more delicious than the original milk chocolate variety. That is what I used here, and I highly recommend it.

If you happen to have various other Easter candies looking for a home, I think many things would work well in these. Jordan almonds would work. Malted milk balls would work. Fun-sized Easter candy bars would work. Perhaps even jelly beans would work! …although that’s a bit too wacky for me.

gulf hagas

I referred to our hike as epic. It was only 9.7 miles, but the going was rrrrrrrough. First off, let me say that I don’t yet own waterproof boots. As a forester, that is probably something that I shouldn’t admit – ask me next week, and I’ll probably be able to saw “Pshaw I have waterproof boots!” and then I’ll quietly mumble something about “purchasingthemlastweekend.”

Luckily, someone had been on a good portion of the trail at some point over the winter, so the snow that is often still above-my-knees deep was reduced to the perfect depth for trodding upon. The trail we hiked was at Gulf Hagas, known as the Grand Canyon of Maine. Take that as you will – – it was definitely no Grand canyon, but it was a Lovely canyon and a Stunning canyon nonetheless. Given the canyon nature of the hike, there was a quite a bit of micro-rocky terrain, which turned out to be covered in sheer ice during our visit. It’s safe to say I did my share of slipping and sliding.

The loop hike that we did took us on a section of the Appalachian Trail as well, which we realized we hadn’t set foot on since 2011, at Grayson Highlands in Virginia. The AT hadn’t seen any footprints all winter other than moose and deer, so while being just a short section, it was sort of tiring. Remember that part about the not-waterproof boots? Remember that other part about the snow above-my-knees deep? Connect those two dots right thurr.

But jeebus, what a beautiful hike. I can’t wait for the snow to fully recede, and for weekend after weekend of glorious hiking adventures this summer. Bring it on, I say (nay, I plead)!

KI roadgulf hagasgulf hagascar camping

Perfect for bringing along on hikes, this recipe will give you a boost with healthy walnuts, hazelnuts, and dates, as well as a peppy sugar rush from the chocolate. Use up that Easter candy!

Cranberry and Cadbury Mini Egg Energy Bites

{recipe by myself – very approximate, but very adaptable}

Makes 12-15

++Ingredients:++

3 handfuls walnuts (or your nut of choice)
1 handful hazelnuts
2 handfuls dates
pinch of salt
1 handful dried cranberries
2 handfuls Cadbury Royal Dark Mini Eggs
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp maple syrup

++Directions:++

In the bowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients, and pulse until mixed. If the mixture is overly wet, add another handful of nuts. If the mixture is dry, add some more maple syrup, or a teaspoon of water. Shape mixture into balls, and place on a tray. Freeze for at least an hour. Enjoy chilled if possible.

cranberry and cadbury mini egg energy bites

an ode to my mother, because i love her very much

I would like to make a proclamation. It is bold (and in bold font). I think my mum is the best!

Don’t we look great?

I have never seen her hair not curly. I have never seen her with glasses not-circular. I love her.

We listen to Belle & Sebastian, Keane, Ron Sexsmith, The Corrs, and Band of Horses, and we sing along at the top of our lungs. When I’m lucky, we even listen to the Spice Girls. And to top it off, we went to a New Kids on the Block concert together in 2008. She obliges me in all my musical whims, and I think she is the best. I like NKOTB a lot too.

She gets dangerously close to alligators.

She loves my cat almost as much as I do. Almost.

She has been known to eat TeenAgers chips. Silly Italy.

And perhaps most importantly, she taught me about the finer things in life. Yes, sugar! I don’t remember having piles of sugared treats lying around when I was younger (I’m making up for that now), but holidays have always been a nifty excuse for chocolates, and other tasty snacks. Now, years later and too many miles apart, she still sends me delights that make my tummy happy, and heart full – of love, and of longing to share more time with this wonderful lady. She took every effort to ensure that this year’s Easter basket was a delight:

I throw the apple in because she also instilled in me a great love of fruit. It’s not all about sugar, people. Yes, I have many fillings in my teeth, but the dentists have told me I have very deep grooves (I swear). Several times they also told me I had the cleanest teeth they’d seen in a long time. So thank you, mum: the brush-a brush-a brush-a song has worked wonders for years.

Above you will find the wonderful tasties that I have been enjoying for weeks now. Yes, those are Beatrix Potter gummies. Crazy, no? I kind of want to frame them on the wall. There are hazelnut-flavored Lindt froggy creations (I think they’re supposed to be frogs. They have funny mouths), Lake Champlain Chocolates in coconut cream and raspberry cream flavors, and my favorite Starburst jellybeans. I would like to mention that these Lake Champlain Chocolate half-eggs were wonderful; the chocolate was flavorful and inviting, with a terrific snap. I loved the coconut creams especially. I had to look on their blog to find out the second flavor: I thought it was cherry. Oops. But overall, really excellent chocolates. Good job, LCC.

As this is not a chocolate review – it is a mum review – I will stop the chocolate analysis there.

No, wait, I won’t. I’ve got more. After my super positive review of the Minneapolis-based Lily Bloom’s Kitchen Gourmet Chocolate Macaroons, the world’s bestest mum sent me more! Here is what they looked like before I opened them, one rainy day last week. Scroll down to see what they looked like one day later – even the box looked like it had been through a war.

To be honest, I had some help with this. I like to think of myself as a generous chocolate sharer, rather than a hoarder.

In summary, I wish I could eat more lobster rolls with my mum.

I wish we could go for more walks near bogs under windmills on Prince Edward Island. And eat seafood crepes beforehand. And investigate more in-depth the motivations behind horse-drawn seaweed harvesting. As I hate this picture of myself very much, I am proving my love for my mum by showing it to the world. She loves this picture.

And finally, I can’t wait until Christmas, when we will again do a number on the potatoes of the world, to make piles upon piles of wonderful, delicious lefse.

I love you and miss you, mum. I wish that I hadn’t dropped my phone into the cat’s bedside cup of water and left it there unknowingly for nearly three hours, as it is now busted and I can’t call you. But these things happen (if you’re me).

Happy Mother’s Day!

super duper über lemon cake – with blueberries!

A few weeks ago, I discovered a wonderful place. And upon discovering that wonderful place, I immediately shared it with my mum. She was equally impressed.

For what modern woman doesn’t want to know about the joys of baking cakes in the gorgeous fashions of Sweetapolita? I wanted to know.

I’m a big fan of making fancy cakes, if only for the time it takes to put one together. I like to eat them, sure, but it’s not my top priority. Find my way to the Sweetapolita blog, I was impressed, but also slightly intimidated. Because my cakes don’t usually turn out looking like well-groomed beauty pageant contestants.

So it was only a matter of time before I decided to make one of these beauties. Enter Easter. I didn’t get enough sweets from the homemade marshmallow friends that I made that morning, oh no…. I longer for something more. Something sugarier – would this be possible?

So while my pan of mallow was still cooling, I began to make what may be the neatest-looking cake my two hands have ever put together. Until now, my chief triumph has been a banana-caramel cake with mascarpone frosting, a Martha Stewart recipe. Or perhaps it was my take on a 9-layer Dobos torte, with a Grand Marnier flavored Swiss meringue buttercream (see? Grand Marnier keeps popping up left and right. It’s time for a break from you, Marnier!), and then covered on the outside of that with a massive piping of meringue – made for a friend’s birthday.

We have now established that I like to make cakes. Keeping that in mind, we should also establish that many of the trees here in my fair city now have leaves! It’s exciting to watch leaf out – endlessly exciting for excitable me. When thinking of photos that I could pair with this cake, the beautiful daffodils, tulips and freshly-sprouted leaves that I see every day immediately came to mind. However, it hit me that this cake is really bold. It is really bright. It is plenty of springy sunshine on its own. And so having enough drama from The Bold and The Beautiful cake alone, I chose to photograph in black and white.

Perhaps the tastiest part of making this cake came in the form of the lemon C.U.R.D. While I’ve made variations of curd that tend more toward the custard end of the spectrum, I hadn’t made a true lemon curd. In my mind, it was difficult (or something… I’m not sure what I was thinking).

Well, it wasn’t. But it was delicious! Made simply of egg yolks, lemon juice and zest, sugar, and unsalted butter, it came together nicely and surprised me into tasting it at least eighteen times, with several spoons as well as three or four fingers, before it went into the fridge to set.

The frosting was nearly as tasty, but incredibly sweet. By Easter afternoon, I had overextended myself on sugar due to my intense snacking regime that consisted solely of friendly marshmallows, Cadbury creme eggs, and Starburst jelly beans. My week-long Easter candy sugar ride is only now drawing to a close, as I reach the bottom of my basket. Still, some Lake Champlain and Lindt chocolates remain, thank goodness.

On a semi-serious note, all savory foods that I have eaten in the past few days have tasted incredibly salty, almost painfully so. I can feel the salt, and it feels angry. Or at least overly flavorful. I’m curious to know if this is my palate’s revenge on me for indulging so singularly in sweets for so many days in a row. If so, my bad, palate. My bad. But calm down, already.

And now, without further ado, the recipe. This cake will take you some time, especially if you take breaks to

a) cut out homemade marshmallows friends with “your favorite Easter cookie cutters,”

b) go for a long walk that culminates in climbing on rickety iron structure, all the while taking pictures, and

c) stop to admire the wicked awesome butt portion ham that your boyfriend is cooking and glazing and effortlessly making look all sorts of delicious, while you work in an effort-filled frenzy to put together your 50-step cake.

Here it is:

Lemon-Blueberry Layer Cake {recipe adapted from Sweetapolita unless otherwise noted}

Makes 1 cheery, sweet sweet sweet cake!

Cake

++Ingredients:++

2 c. + 6 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 pint blueberries (roughly 2 1/2 c.)
1/2 c. sour cream
1/2 c. whole milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. pure lemon extract (which I didn’t have, I used 1 tsp. lemon juice in its place)
1 tsp. lemon zest (I used 2 tsp., again to make up for the lack of lemon extract)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c. sugar
4 large eggs

++Directions:++

Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare three 8″ round cake pans with parchment paper, butter and flour. Sift dry ingredients into medium bowl. Transfer 1 tablespoon flour mixture to larger bowl. Add washed and thoroughly dried blueberries and toss to coat them with flour. Set remaining flour mixture and blueberries aside.

Stir whole milk, sour cream, vanilla extract, lemon extract (or juice) and lemon zest in small bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until pale yellow and very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, until well combined. Mix in flour mixture alternately with milk mixture, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Stir until just combined.

Pour 1/3 of the batter into one of the prepared 8″ round cake pans. Gently fold blueberries into remaining batter. Divide batter equally among remaining 2 pans.

Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into centre comes out clean, about 25 minutes. As usual, my cakes required a few more minutes. However, this eggy batter cooks quicker than you may think! Cool cakes in pans on racks for about 10 minutes, then invert onto racks until completely cool.

Lemon Curd {recipe from Martha Stewart}

++Ingredients:++

6 large egg yolks
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 c. lemon juice
12 tbsp. sugar
8 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces

++Directions:++

Combine yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a small saucepan. Whisk to combine. Set over medium heat, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure to stir sides and bottom of pan. Cook until mixture is thick enough to coat back of wooden spoon, 5 to 7 minutes. Starting tasting this wonderful concoction.

Remove saucepan from heat. Add butter, one piece at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon until consistency is smooth. Abandon spoons, eat a goodly amount. Share with anyone else who may also be willing to lick your lemony fingers.

Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Get in a few more tastes before you: Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to avoid a skin from forming; wrap tightly. Let cool; refrigerate until firm and chilled, at least 1 hour.

Zesty and Lemony Frosting 

++Ingredients:++

1 c. unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp. lemon zest
6 c. powdered sugar (it seems like a lot. It is.)
1/4 c.  lemon juice
6 tbsp. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. pure lemon extract (1-2 tsp. lemon juice for me)
2 tbsp. water
Pinch salt
Yellow food coloring

++Directions:++

Cream butter and lemon zest in bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, about 3 minutes. Slowly add icing sugar, mixing on low speed for about 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and beat on med-high for 3-4 minutes until very fluffy. Add a drop or two of food coloring, then beat until blended. Yields enough to frost outside of three layer 8″ round cake.

I should note that, not owning yellow gel food coloring, I added quite an immense amount of food coloring. I would like to take a moment to blame my kitchen, which has horrible natural lighting, especially in the afternoon (thank you so much, northeast facing window!). What looked uncolored in my kitchen proved to be quite yellow once I moved the frosting into the light. I didn’t mind, but I probably wouldn’t do this again. Next time I would mix my frosting in the bedroom, where there is a southwest facing window. At any rate, be forewarned. I was forewarned, but I didn’t listen.

++Assembly:++

Spread thin dollop of frosting on surface you plan to keep your cake on. Whether this is a cake board, or in my case, a cake stand (no cake boards), so be it. Transfer 1 cake layer to prepped surface, face up.

Create a dam around the perimeter of the layer using frosting in a pastry bag fitted with a coupler. The lemon curd will have thickened up, but may not be very thick. This dam will keep the curd from spilling out the sides of the layers. Spread lemon curd (roughly 1 cup) inside the dam. Top with plain cake layer, face up; repeat frosting around perimeter and lemon curd filling. Top with third cake layer, face down.

Spread a crumb coat of the sweeeeeeet Zesty and Lemony Frosting over top and sides of cake, using offset palette knife, and bench scraper for smooth finish if you have it (I do not). Place cake in refrigerator for apprx 30 mins. Remove from refrigerator and using same method, frost cake with generous layer of frosting, smoothing again.

Sweetapolita created a ruffled border by adding frosting to a piping bag with petal tip (Wilton #123): with skinny end facing out, use back and forth/up and down motion to create short ruffles. My frosting was not as thick as hers, so I added an edge detail around the top rim of the cake. As the frosting was so sweet and I had OD’d on sugar already, I called it good at that point. I also put it back into the fridge to set the frosting, and to give my stomach a few minutes to get ready for this delightful experience.

Keep cake covered and refrigerated (for up to 2 days – ha, who can eat this whole cake in two days?!? I’m still working on it over one week later) but serve at room temperature.