Sunday, December 21, 2014

Grammy's Bon Bons

For the past few years, this has been the cyclical battle of me vs this recipe:

 1. Decide to try Grammy's Bon Bon recipe (again).
 2. Make dough and really struggle not to want to eat the whole bowl.
 3. Pray the chocolate dipping goes smoother (literally & figuratively) than the year before.
 4. Melt chocolate and hold my breath start dipping.
 5. Get way too excited for having dipped 2 bon bons successfully.
 6. Just as fast as that conquering the world feeling came, it's destroyed by clumping chocolate and ugly bon bons.
 7. Wishing I had just eaten the bowl of dough instead of even trying to dip.
 8. Deciding I'm not going to do it again next year.

A couple years ago, I even had my Aunt Sue come over and watched her dip bon bons, while picking her brain of all the best techniques. Wax? Oil? Why, oh why could I not get the hang of dipping the little balls of dough nicely in chocolate? (Okay, maybe that's just a tad bit dramatic.)

This year, however, I got to step 5 and didn't say anything out loud about how wonderful the process was going and how pretty they looked. Then, I proceeded to dip 75 of these beauties without cursing water for ruining my chocolate or any other innocent bystander. It was quite a lovely experience and I'm hoping I can repeat it again next year.

Photo by Michelle Waters
I've had a couple people ask for the recipe this year, so I figured I'd post it on here to make it's mark on internet history forever. You know, since this year I have a more than a few photogenic ones.

This recipe was passed down to me from my dear Grammy, if you hadn't already guessed.

Grammy's Bon Bons
Makes 75-80 inch diameter

12-15 oz walnuts, crushed
1 cup butter, softened
1.5 pounds powdered sugar
1 can sweetened condensed milk
12 oz shredded coconut
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 teaspoons vanilla
40 oz chocolate (for dipping)

Crush walnuts. I spread them out on a cookie sheet and use a can to crush them. It's not necessary for them to be in a fine powder but just small enough you'd be happy biting into one.

Mix the nuts and butter until combined.

Add rest of ingredients, except chocolate, mixing until completely combined.

Let this dough set for at least 3 hours in the refrigerator, per the original recipe. I think it's easiest to roll the dough into balls before refrigerating. One tip I do have would be to not making these too big because they are very rich and the bigger they are, the more difficult they are to dip.

*I would highly recommend rolling the dough into balls, placing on a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet and putting them into the freezer...overnight if possible. I'm hypothesizing that is why I had such success dipping. But that's just a hypothesis. One I will test next year. 

Melt chocolate in double broiler (or poor-man's double broiler, Pyrex bowl sitting atop pot of boiling water). Dip the dough balls in the melted chocolate, allow to cool and harden.

These are best stored in the refrigerator.

Good luck and please, please let me know if you have any chocolate dipping secrets!

Also, one afterthought I had as I successfully finished dipping more bon bons this year than I ever have, is that maybe, just maybe all it takes is practice. I mean really, I only try this once a year, so why should I be good at it at this point? You know who is good at dipping bon bons? My Grammy. She is 79. She's dipped a few more bon bons in her life than I have. Plus, dipping chocolate would probably fall into the candy-making category and I really have no experience in this, unless you count dipping strawberries in fondue.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dear Addison (4 years, 8 months)

Dear Addison,

Oh Addie Roo, I miss you. I haven't got to hug or kiss you in 3 months and I still won't have gotten to in 3 more months when you turn 5! I can't believe it.

When I called you and momma last time, you were in the bathroom. Momma asked if you needed any help. You, as usual, said no. Your momma checked the bathroom anyway and told you that you don't need to use as much toilet paper. To that, you replied, "Don't worry momma, it'll turn into a small ball when it is in the toilet." I could hear you, but you said, "Shhh, don't tell her."

Your mom also told me some funny stories from late. Like this one.

While eating your Blizzad from Dairy Queen, you said, "Mom, my throat is as cold as Christmas." Impressive simile baby girl. You're so smart and adorable.

Also, this line, which I have a feeling is a little preview of what is to come in your teen years: "Mom, you're just gonna have to do it cause i'm too busy."

I absolutely love how much you love school. The other day, you said, "Mom, can you tell Raleigh not to come for a few more minutes." She said you never want to leave school.

Speaking of Raleigh, you spent the other afternoon with him. He was talking to Sadie and you felt it was necessary to say, "Raleigh, she can't understand you." Then, you looked at Sadie and said, "Bark, bark, bark. There Raleigh, now she knows."

Your mom also told me that you asked "Can Auntie Mal pick me up from school tomorrow so we can go see Ellie and Olivia?" I cannot wait until I can actually do that when I am home next year and you are in kindergarten! We can even have sleepovers with Ellie and Olivia. I promise.

Love you always, forever and without a doubt,

Auntie Mal

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Oreo Pancakes

Well, I have been living in Peru for just over 2 months now and something from home that I have really missed is the accessibility of the ingredients I am used to at home, not to mention an oven. Don't get me wrong, I love the fresh produce I get at the market every day. I love the simplicity of my meals. But every now and then I just want the comforts of my own kitchen, ingredients and all.

So, here's what I came up with. It's super complicated.

Make your favorite pancake mix.

Crush up a few Oreos, one for every 2-3 pancakes you plan on making. More if you're feeling indulgent. Mix them into your pancake mix.

Pour the batter onto the griddle and continue as you normally would to make your pancakes, flipping when golden brown.

For some extra sweetness, top with maple syrup of course.

Okay, so not the fanciest or healthiest. Or even super creative. But, it sure hit the spot needing something that tastes like home. Oreos are Oreos, no matter where you are in the world.

This post was not sponsored by Oreo, in case you were wondering.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dear Addison (4 years, 7 months)

Dear Addison,

"I'm 4 1/2 years old now."

That's what you told me on Skype two dates ago. You're getting so old you make sure to tack on that 1/2 to your age. I remember saying that for every age through, maybe 10 or so. Oh, where is the time going baby girl?

Momma told me all about your Christmas recital. You looked so pretty in your beautiful dress! I wish I could have seen you singing your heart out. Last year you sang Jingle hells, jingle hells, jingle all the way...I bet you figured it out this year.

A few days before Christmas I asked you what you wanted Santa to bring you. Your answer surprised me: a stuffed puppy and horse. That's all. I asked if you were sure you wanted a stuffed puppy since you have a real puppy of your own, Sadie girl. You looked at me on the computer and shrugged your shoulders. Silly girl.

Here's one of my favorite exchanges we had that Skype session:

     Auntie Mal: Have you seen Santa this year?
     Addison: Yeah, he came to my school but he wasn't the real Santa because he was too young.
     Auntie Mal: (raises eyebrows, looks at your momma)
     Addison: He was just helping the real Santa out.

Got it. You are so stinking smart. You're 4 (and a half) and thought Santa looked too young. You make me laugh.

As I mentioned in a previous letter, you love to text me and for some reason, this time we talked online, you loved taking pictures of me on the computer. You'd hold momma's phone up to the screen and say "Say cheese, Auntie Mal! Perfect."

Now on to Christmas. At Grammy's on Christmas Eve, I was Skyped in and just loved watching you hand out presents, with Auntie Sarah's help reading the names. You kept passing out the presents and saying "Happy birthday" to whomever it was receiving the gift.

"Happy birthday, Nonni!"

"Poppa, here is one for you, but I think I should help you open it."

I watched you open a present from Uncle Jerry that was in a bag and you declared, "There's nothing in here." Then, realized there was crayons, coloring books and a gift card. Someone asked you where the gift card was from and you replied "Old McDonald's...I love Old McDonald's but it's a long way from Toledo." Everyone laughed. (If no one has told you yet, you have referred to Mcdonald's as Old McDonald's since you could speak.)

You played with a few of your gifts that night including a Spongebob Mr. Krabby Patty bath set. You were making the Krabby patties and told Uncle Jeff he was Squidward. "You can just sit there and ask everyone, 'Would you like a krabby patty?' and then tell me." Again, everyone laughed.

Grammy gave you a baby doll that "pees" when you give it a bottle of water, then you have to change the diaper. First, you asked your momma to change the diaper but she said that it was your baby and you're the momma so you need to change the diaper. To that you said, "But Nonni changed my diaper." You had momma, Nonni and anyone else who heard, just chuckling at the truth and your logic. Momma helped you lay a new diaper out and told you she knew you could do it and to give it a try. You tried for a few seconds and then said, "Raleigh, will you just do it?" And he did.

Being gone for Christmas has easily been the hardest part of my time here in Peru. I always miss you but I absolutely hated being gone for the holidays, however, I am thankful for technology and getting to catch up with you as much as I do.

Love you always, forever and without a doubt,

Auntie Mal

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Review

And just like that, 2012 is gone and we are about to start 2013. I didn't post quite as much as in 2011, but I feel like I became more comfortable blogging in that I found my voice that I am more comfortable writing in. I also changed up my blog header which is fun. This year was also the year that my 25 Before 25 List was to be completed...Here we go, a review of my baking, crafts and life in 2012.

I think I will refer to 2012 as the year of brown butter, salted caramel and bacon. Not all together of course, but I will try any recipe with either of those 3 things, as I just love them! I baked more than I ever have and now have some go-to recipes, not to mention, I feel like I have drastically improved my food photography skills. Not that they are worthy of being in a magazine, but when I give myself enough time and take my pictures during the day with natural lighting, I do alright. Baking recap begins...

From left to right, top to bottom:
Hunger Games Cake (Olivia's 1st Birthday)
Rainbow Cake (Addison's 4th Birthday)
Bacon Maple Cupcakes
Chocolate Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Filling
Boston Creme Pie
Purple Ombre Rosette Cake
Snickers Brownies
Salted Caramel Banana Muffins
Salted Caramel Soaked Chocolate Cake

From top to bottom, left to right, large picture:
Bacon Sun Dried Tomato Grilled Cheese
Bacon Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats
Nutella Stuffed Sugar Cookies
Oreo Truffles
Salted Caramel Butter Bars
Cupcake Boquet
Peanut Buttery Chocolatey Goodness Bars

After looking through all my posts to highlight my favorite recipes from this year, I moved on to crafts. Compared to last year, I didn't craft much. Well, I suppose the things I focused on took a lot of my time, like the memory quilt and my aunt's scrapbook.

From left to right, top to bottom:
Memory Quilt
DIY 5 Strand Braided Headband
Handmade Under the Sea Blocks
Aunt Sue's Scrapbook Album
Calligraphy Class

And with those quick craft highlights, we are at my life in 2012. I lived with my sister and niece for over half the year so I have many wonderful memories with Addison including pool time, sleepovers, Disney on Ice, playground fun among many other things. I also started Dear Addison, which are monthly letters written to my niece Addison. I spent many weekends in Portland with Michelle and her family, seeing the Sand in the City and even taking a night photography class we both just loved. I was a volunteer basketball coach at my old high school. I did my first 5K, the Color Run. I traveled to Hawaii with my family, Crater Lake with my friends and reunited with my 3 best friends for the first time since college (2010) in Louisiana.

Oh, and for the last 2 months of 2012, I have been living in Cusco, Peru.

I can honestly say this year has been one of the best yet. I have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to in 2013!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dear Addison (4 years, 6 months)

Dear Addison,

You are officially on the downward slope toward 5. Jeepers.

Before I left the country, I actually wondered if I would have anything to write about for these monthly letters. Although I haven't been able to see you nearly as much as I would have liked this past month, I am not without stories to remember and share. Thankfully, with you, there is never a dull moment, even if my time is limited and via technology.

For example, you take your momma's phone and text me. A lot. And I absolutely love it. It makes me smile when all of a sudden I have 9 text notifications.

I talked with you on the phone for a little while the first week I was in Peru. Our connection wasn't that strong, but you were so determined to talk to me. You told me all about vampire bats and how they like blood. Then, you explained to me how thankful you were that you will never be a momma bird because they feed their babies with worms from their mouth and since you are a human, you will never have to do that. Whew. You also told me about making your own pizza and how yummy yours turned out. Even though there was some static, you kept telling me, "One more story, Auntie Mal." Gosh, I could talk to you forever. When we finally said goodbye, I told you that I love you to the moon and back. Your response: I love you to Peru and back. You are so smart and adorable.

A few weeks ago, after you all ate Thanksgiving at Papa's I got to Skype with everyone. During the whole conversation you were very quiet. Apparently, you had not been in the best of moods. But, at the very end of the conversation, as we were all saying goodbye, you stated, "I slept in an eagle's nest." You said nothing for the 20 minute conversation and then throw that out there. Everyone laughed and were all quite confused. But that was it. You wouldn't explain what you meant and no one knew where it came from.

You, momma and I Skyped for a few hours the next Saturday afternoon. It was wonderful and actually made me homesick. You sat on momma's lap in the recliner and told me stories. One of the first things you were so excited to show me was your jingle bell nails. Oh, how I miss painting our nails together.

Your mom brought up a story about you spending time with Raleigh and then you wanted to finish it. So she let you and you started off with, "Don't laugh at what I'm going to tell you." I knew I was in for good one. It was the story about Sadie ripping up a stuffed animal. You were worried someone would get mad so you took the stuffing and hid it up your sleeve. No one noticed the rest of the day and you went to bed, sleeping through the night with the stuffing up your sleeve. It's so cute how you were trying to cover for Sadie. She has your back, too. Mom says she has started sleeping by your bed at night. She will keep you safe for sure. Mom says you are under the covers here.

Even watching you zone out on some cartoons and eat lunch made me really miss the simple things. You kept sneaking curly Cheetos. They are your favorite. You can eat a lot of those if no one stops you. Must be the Phelan in you.

Oh, baby girl. I miss you dearly. I can't wait to hear all about Christmas. I just hate that I won't be there this year. Don't forget to leave out a little reindeer food with Santa's cookies.

Love you always, forever and without a doubt,

Auntie Mal

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving in Cusco

It didn’t feel like Thanksgiving all day. There was no hype or even any preparation leading up to the holiday in the form of ads or turkeys or pumpkin pies around the markets. I didn’t miss the advertising but the lack of excitment kicking off the holiday season bummed me out a bit. It was suddenly here but Peruvians do not celebrate it, as it is an American holiday. I wasn’t even inclined to try to make something. It all felt very strange. It was my first pang of homesickness since leaving the US 3 weeks ago. I worked my usual shift from 2-6pm at the hostel (see sign below) and headed over to the volunteer house for Friendsgiving with a bottle of wine. Mushed potatoes, anyone?

To my surprise, the dining area had a few festive decorations, including little turkeys made from noodles and construction paper thanks to Whitney.

Photo credit: Whitney Connor

My day became exponentionally better once in the presence of friends and helping prepare for a big, tasty meal with comfort foods of home.

Myself, Cara, Shelby and Whitney in the living/dining room of the volunteer house.

Nearly everyone in the house had helped make a dish or drink, everything being from scratch.

Photo credit: Whitney Connor

Photo credit: Whitney Connor
We had chicken (turkeys are hard to come by), green bean casserole, fresh salad, deviled eggs, the best stuffing in the entire world and more. Cara made her famous stuffing with the ingredients she could find and it was so delicious, I could have eaten the entire dish, nothing else and been completely happy in a food coma afterwards.

We ate and drank and relaxed, which is exactly what you are supposed to do on Thanksgiving, right? It turned out to be a surprisingly wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with good food and friends. I even got to Skype with my family which I was very thankful for, despite not having a strong enough connection to see them, hearing their voices was wonderful.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dear Addison (4 years, 5 months)

Dear Addison,

Last week was so bittersweet. I spent my last Friday in the United States for the next 9 months with you, momma, Auntie Sarah and Nonni watching Disney On Ice: Dare to Dream in the Rose Garden. You wore a Cinderella costume from the dress-up box at Papa's and were so excited to see the princesses.

I was excited to see the Disney on Ice show because I have very fond memories of Jasmine and Aladdin on the magic carpet when I was little, but watching you react to the show was even better.

Of course, you had to have some cotton candy.  A Disney On Ice experience wouldn't be complete without ingesting some sticky sugar.

The cotton candy conveniently came with a princess crown. Gosh, you are the cutest kid on the entire planet, in my opinion.

Oh Addison, I already miss you. Out of everyone I gave a see-you-in-nine-months hug to, you were easily the most difficult because I know you aren't quite old enough to understand why I am not going to be around for 9 months. By the time you read this, I am certain we will have had all sorts of conversations about the world, where I have traveled and why. I hope you cherish the postcards I send you and look up every place on the map. I already can't wait to hear your beautiful, sweet voice on the phone or see you giggle on Skype. You promised me you would be good for momma, eat lots of healthy food to grow strong like Raleigh and learn a lot in school. Don't forget it kiddo.

Love you always, forever and without a doubt,

Auntie Mal

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Arrival in Inca Capital, Cusco

After an incredible week exploring northern and southern California, I flew out of Los Angeles en route to Lima, Peru. Bright and early, Jo kindly drove Cara and I to the airport. Here I am, pretty tired due to 3 hours of sleep but all packed and ready to go for the next 9 months!

Turns out, arriving about 3 hours before my 7:35 flight Friday morning was plenty early. In fact, I learned that gates for Avianca do not even open until 5:00am. (I will be checking this next time I have an early flight.) However, besides waiting a half hour for employees to show up and check my bag, Cara and I cruised through security, basically without stopping and ended up waiting in our respective terminals, passing the next 2 hours with a combination of people watching and reading. I have flown in and out of LAX a handful of times but there are always heaps of people and nearly a guaranteed line at security. Nonetheless, I was very thankful for how easy getting to my gate was. It was a great way to start our journey to South America.

The best part of people watching in LAX was the 13 abuelitas (little grandmas) in wheel chairs lined up to board the plane first. I discreetly tried to take a picture but couldn't quite get them all in the shot. They were so adorable.

Before I knew it, we lifted off and were en route headed south to Lima making a stop in San Salvador, El Salvador for my 6 hour layover.

The only notable event that happened on the first leg of my flight occurred after the initial internal debacle of having the window seat and needing to wake up the sleeping latina women in the middle and isle seats next to me. Once my physiological needs conquered my social passiveness, I was standing in a long line at the back of the plane for the restroom. There were more of us waiting in line than you could count on one hand. A fairly large latina women was a few people behind me and started raising her voice toward the flight attendants regarding the long line for the restroom and was very upset about why both the front and back restrooms could not be used. Obviously, this was not the fault of the flight attendants, who told her that since 9/11, standing lines are no longer allowed at the front of the planes. This was partially the cause for the jam in the back of the plane for the loo, not to mention we were closing in on the last hour of the flight after 2 beverage services. Soon after watching those big red lips spew Spanish with such determination, I was at the front of the line. A little patience and understanding would have done her wonders, but I can appreciate her passion. 

As the 4 hour flight came to an end, I got my first glimpse ever of El Salvador. It's the smallest Central American country in square miles. One day I will see more than the coastline and inside of the airport.

A quarter of a day had finally passed, which meant, next stop, Lima!  Just over 4 hours later, we arrived in Peru's capital at 1:00 in the morning. Since my flight and Cara's flight landed only minutes apart, we arranged a taxi together through Backpackers Family House, where we stayed at in Miraflores for the night.  

After catching some zzz's into mid morning, we made a quick run to the bank to get some Peruvian Nuevo Soles (local currency) and then the grocery store for some snacks before catching an afternoon bus from Lima to Cusco. We chose the very reputable and consequently more expensive, Cruz del Sur busline because it is a 21 hour ride, and well frankly we wanted to be comfortable and safe. (Dad-approved.)

Easily the longest bus ride I have ever taken, I was not a fan. The first 15 hours or so weren't bad but that last third of the ride seemed to drag on forever. We had the front pair of seats which meant we had ample leg room and our seats reclined nearly 180 degrees, but 21 hours is just a very long time.  I may try to stick to 15 hour max bus options around South America from here on out.

Finally, we arrived in the historical Inca capital - Cusco! We met up with friends from college at Pariwana Hostel, just off San Francisco Plaza and a few blocks from the main square, Plaza de Armas. It felt so awesome to be off the bus, breathing fresh air and ultimately back in a city I love, Cusco. To celebrate, Joe and I ate at Jak's Cafe and after over 24 hours without a proper meal, a grilled chicken and tomato sandwich never tasted so good.

At this point, I would like to solicit any advice for surviving long bus rides as I will have plenty next year and would appreciate any tips!
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