Friends forging a course together through the unexpected

Festive Sea Breeze Cupcakes November 24, 2013

I know, it’s the end of November.  You’re probably thinking I’m being a big tease by posting about beach-themed cupcakes.  You’re right, I am.  And you may not recreate these cupcakes until next June, but I’m going to share them with you anyway.  Perhaps you can transport yourself right to sunny beaches in your daydreams while baking.

My friend and coworker Becky is getting married this winter in Mexico.  She has chosen a festive and unique color scheme of teal and coral for her wedding colors.  A few weeks ago I attended a wedding shower for her, and had offered to make a dessert for the teal and coral-themed beachy event.  The bride-to-be’s favorite cakes are chocolate and red velvet, so I decided to trade the festive red for some ocean blue velvet in these sea breeze cupcakes.

Blue Velvet Cake:

  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. canola oil
  • 1 c. plain yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. blue food coloring
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 c. flour (2 1/2 if you’re not baking in high altitude like I am here in Colorado)
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 350.  In a standing mixer, combine eggs, oil, yogurt, sugar, food coloring, and vanilla.  Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt until it’s all combined and there are no clumps.  Divide your batter evenly among 12 cupcakes and bake for 25 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting (you can half this recipe if you don’t need all the decorative frosting for your beachy cupcakes and are just doing them with a basic amount of frosting for taste):

  • 6 oz. unsalted butter
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 4 c. powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Beat the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla together until smooth and combined.  Add your powdered sugar cup by cup, blending until everything is creamy.

Once I baked my cupcakes, I frosted half of each one with the plain cream cheese frosting.  I dipped that half in graham cracker crumbs to make them look like little sandy heavens.  I colored the remaining cream cheese frosting with just a touch of blue food coloring to keep them light blue and classy, just like those gorgeous clear blue waves Becky will be dipping her toes into in Mexico!  I put all my blue frosting into a large ziploc bag, though you can use a frosting bag if you have one.  I cut the tip off the bag and replaced it with a large star-tip frosting piper to frost the wavy half of the cupcakes.


With a little cocktail umbrella stuck in the sand of each cupcake, you’re ready for your teleport to paradise, even if it is only for a few indulgent bites.



Owl Themed Baby Shower March 27, 2012

Filed under: Kelly — Uncharted @ 11:12 pm
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This past weekend Karla and I held a baby shower for our dear friends Tom & Kim. I mentioned it in last week’s post and told you I would show you all the fun stuff we created for the day. So here we are! The theme we chose for the party was owls. It was easy to choose because the new baby’s room will be decorated with owls. Tomorrow Karla is going to tell you how we did all of our planning to make the big day happen, but today I am going to talk about all the different ways we brought out the owl theme into the party.

The first place we were able to add to the theme was on the invitations. Because we already know the baby is a girl {yay!} we knew we wanted to incorporate pink, but we didn’t want it to be overwhelming. So we added a chocolate brown and an apple green to the mix. I already had an owl stamp so all we needed was some paper. {I think adding the hand stamp really makes the invitation more personal. Karla even had the inspired idea to stamp the envelopes too}.

When we went to the craft store to pick up the paper for the invites, Karla spotted an adorable owl patterned fabric. We already knew we wanted to make a diaper cake and decided it would be the perfect accessory to add. I read some advice online about how to construct a diaper cake and learned that it’s best to use size 1 diapers- apparently baby’s don’t stay in newborn diapers very long and it’s nice for the parents to have the next size at home already. The advice I read called for an anchor for the diapers so that they can stay in place. The first website I found, suggested a paper towel roll. I ended up going another route…

That’s right...Champagne!

I can’t take the credit though. The second site I went to, Alphamom taught me that tidbit and I couldn’t get over what a fun surprise that would be for the parents. I chose the actual diaper technique from Lollypop Diaper Cakes and wrapped the diapers around the bottle. Then had Karla help me tie a piece of yarn around the whole thing to keep it in place.

I kept building layers of diapers

After all the diapers were in place {I used 50 in all}, I took the cute owl fabric, cut it into three strips and wrapped it around each layer and tucked it in so it was molded to each layer. I used safety pins to make sure the fabric would stay in place and created yarn flowers to add some decoration and finish off the cake. What do you think?

Ta Da!

Another way we incorporated the owl theme into the party was through dessert. Tom & Kim LOVE cupcakes. Many a time they have called Karla and I and asked if we want to run downtown to get cupcakes. We knew right away that we would need to do cupcakes instead of a traditional cake. I knew I had seen an owl cupcake before so I hopped on Pinterest and searched for an owl cupcake we could create ourselves.

I think these are unbelievable cute {if I don’t say so myself} and believe it or not they are super simple to create! The idea is originally from One Charming Party. All you do is make a chocolate cupcake, ice it with chocolate frosting then add two Oreos for eyes, 2 brown Reese Pieces for the beady part of the eyes, and an orange one for the beak.

The favors were also a find on Pinterest. I just have to mention how badly I hate lame favors that everyone takes home and throws away. Karla was probably annoyed with how judgmental I was of all the favors out there. But there was one that caught both of our eyes right away!

Barefoot Wine! Aren’t the footprints perfect?

We purposely picked one of the Barefoot wine’s that came in a pink color since we know the baby is a girl. Then Karla brought up the idea of cute little tags to make them more personal. We found a punch we liked along with some ribbon and used the same owl stamp from the invitations to tie the theme in. On the other side of the tags we added the phrase ‘Woo Hoo’! This incorporates our excitement for the little one as well as the owl theme yet again!

Punch Punch and more Punching

Stamped Tags

That brings me to the end of our owl themed extravaganza. As I mentioned earlier, Karla will be sharing some more party details tomorrow so make sure to tune in!


Ever Wonder What You’re Walking On? October 19, 2011

This year instead of going up to Lake Geneva for my birthday as had been the traditions in previous years, I opted for something different in my own backyard. I knew I wanted to go to More for cupcakes but I need something else to compliment my favorite small tasty treats.

Scouring the Chicago’s Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) website, I found lots of options. Using my favorite key word of “free”, I began my search.

Our tour guide, Jim and I with my awesome birthday present!

After scrolling through two pages on CCTB, I found the Chicago Loop Bridge tour via the Chicago’s Bridgehouse Museum. A free two hour guided tour on Saturdays of the loop bridges sounded intriguing and definitely different, so I sent an email inquiring about available options.

Jim Phillips, a volunteer with the Bridgehouse Museum, got back to me pretty much instantly. He listed a variety of choices that our tour could include. After thinking it over and running a few ideas by Kelly and Jill, I made my birthday tour decision. But you’ll have to wait a little longer to read about it!

To start off my birthday, I invited a few friends over for brunch. My friend Bethany brought over the fixings for mimosas and we made a fresh pot of coffee too for folks to enjoy. The night before, Jill helped me make the main course, a strata by Martha Stewart that turned out delightful!

With our tummies full, we headed to the loop to meet up with Jim at the Bridgehouse Museum. Our group started at the DuSable Bridge on Michigan Avenue. Jim filled us in on the basics of how drawbridges work. It was fascinating to learn about the engineering and architectural progression of Chicago’s bridges from the 1840’s up to 1984.

An example of the Beaux-Arts Bridgehouse style

We headed “down river” towards the financial district, walking over the bridges of Dearborn Street, Clark, LaSalle, Wells, Franklin, Lake, Randolph, and Washington Street. My personal favorite bridges were built between 1913 and1930, known as the “Beaux-Arts”. You can tell which bridges belong to this period by looking at the bridgehouse – if it has a non-flat roof, or it looks “fancy” and has two or four bridgehouses flanking the bridge.

Heading back up to the museum we enjoyed a ride on a Shoreline taxi. Deciding we all needed food, we checked out the new Chick-Fil-A. After Eeach ordering some tasty chicken nuggets or sandwiches, we felt rejuvenated enough to get our cupcake from More. The only problem was deciding what flavor!

I had a fabulous birthday. I learned about the bridges I’ve walked over for the past 20+ years, enjoyed a beautiful boat ride on a fall day and a cupcake with my close friends. All around win.


Sugar Fix April 27, 2011

Filed under: Karla — Uncharted @ 5:35 pm
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When traveling Europe in college, I fell in love with “bäckereis”, also known as bakeries. Some of my favorite meals were made from buying fresh bread in the morning for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or grabbing a pain au chocolat for breakfast.

A Complete Chocolate Model of Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche @ a Bakery in Berlin

Unfortunately the States aren’t exactly known for bakeries. Coffee chains offer pastries in the morning to go with your favorite cup of joe. Big box grocery stores line the shelves with your choice of gooey white bread or wheat. But I’m still looking for my pain au chocolat.

Luckily, I’ve found a few nifty bakeries in Chicago where I can get my sugar fix. Here are a few of my favorites:

Sweet Mandy B’s in Lincoln Park: a great place to pick up a cookie, toffee bar or cupcake at a reasonable price. Plus it is in a fun neighborhood to walk around when the weather is nice.

More in the Loop: in need of a classy, sophisticated cupcake drive by? This is your place for quick and easy service when you’re craving an upscale flavor. A great place for special occasions since it’s a little on the spendy side.

Oak Park Bakery Inc in Oak Park: German chocolate cake please! Sarah bought a birthday cake for me two years ago from this place and I am still raving about it. They also have a wonderful selection of sweet treats.

Kirschbaum’s Bakery in Western Springs: the smiley face cookie is the bomb. Yes, I said and wrote the bomb. That is how good it is. You haven’t experienced a cookie until you have tried one. I don’t care what you say.

Molly’s Cupcakes in Lincoln Park: looking for a relaxing place to catch up with friends and you don’t want to go to Starbucks? This great neighborhood cupcake bakery gives patrons a cozy place to enjoy a fabulous tasting cupcake in a homey environment.

Weber’s Bakery in Chicago: Need a cake layered with strawberries the size of large eggs? Have a hankering for some traditional German poppy seed cake? Or how about rye bread? You can’t beat the tasty treats at Weber’s.

Do you have any favorite places to add?


What’s Up, Cupcake? November 3, 2010

Filed under: Sarah — Uncharted @ 10:00 am
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For some reason, baking relaxes me.  It may be because it reminds me of weekends at my great grandma’s house at Wonder Lake and the memories we made over her teaching me how to truly sift flour and round those butter cookies into spheres of perfection.  It may be because sometimes making a perfect batch of brownies is the only thing I don’t mess up that day.  Or it may be because well, let’s face it, sometimes sweets are the only thing that can make a girl happy.  Whatever it is, baking brings a smile to my face…especially baking cupcakes.

Sometimes intricate baking is a joy, and other times it’s a royal pain.  Every once in a while (or for some of us, often), simple baking is the way to go.  We all have those days when the cookie can’t make it to your mouth fast enough!  I’m learning how to master baking cupcakes that are fun and very personal, but don’t take all the measuring and recipe following.  One of the books that has been helping me learn this lesson is Hello, Cupcake!  My brother gifted this to me one Christmas.  He got it from his favorite store, Urban Outfitters (who knew they sold awesome cookbooks, right?!) and it was quite a thoughtful gift for his baking sister, moi.

I love Hello Cupcake because it teaches you how to cheat.  In the back of the book, the authors provide their readers with simple recipes to follow to make cupcake batter.  They even include recipes that merely require opening a box of baking mix and using buttermilk in place of water to make the end result more mouthwatering.  Sometimes a girl just wants perfect presentation and a visual impression from her cupcakes that will knock your socks off.  We busy ladies don’t always have time to slave over baking AND decorating.  

I also have some favorite gourmet mixes that I can recommend to you with confidence, if you’re in the market for some delicious cupcakes any time in the near future.  Williams-Sonoma makes a great brand called Sprinkles, and an LA-based cupcake shop called Famous Cupcakes has their own line of yummy mixes.  They may be a tad pricier than your typical Betty Crocker, but I guarantee they’re worth it, especially because some of them even come with cute baking cups and/or the mixes to make a great frosting to pair with your delectable treats!

One of my favorite creations from Hello Cupcake to date is a batch of sunflower cupcakes I recreated for a tea party my dear friends Kelly and Karla were hosting (please excuse the picture quality, it was taken on my Blackberry).  At first, I was reluctant to try what looked like a very intricate design on a cupcake, but after some practice I really got going.  Another trick the authors of Hello Cupcake have helped me discover is that you don’t always need expensive baking tools to make your cupcakes works of art.  To create the petal detail on these babies, all I had to do was load my yellow frosting into a Ziploc bag and cut the corner a certain way.  I love making something out of nothing (see my profile, please!), so this Ziploc trick really caught my eye.

Even if baking isn’t your thing, you’re sure to impress your guests at any party with a cutesy cupcake dessert.  You can try one of my favorite shortcuts and throw about a half cup of peanut butter in vanilla cake mix batter and stir another half cup into a container of pre-made chocolate frosting to create your own peanut butter chocolate cupcakes.  Just throw a few Reese’s peanut butter chips on the top and you’re good to go!  Oh, and be sure to keep an eye out for the second edition of Hello, Cupcake entitled What’s New, Cupcake?  It’s already on my Christmas list.


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