Foolproof Sugar Cookies

When I was younger, I made it a goal to have a recipe memorized. It seemed glamorous to have a signature recipe; to be known for a culinary creation that I could whip up at any point during the day, from anywhere.

Now that I’m writing that out, however, I’m actually not sure where or when I thought I’d be in those situations. Maybe I imagined I’d be challenged to a bake-off while traveling through a quaint town outside of Paris? Clearly, I’ve read too many chick-lit books set in the City of Love.

For now, I’m celebrating smaller milestones, like finally having this six-ingredient cookie recipe memorized. A win is a win, baby! Maybe one day my brain will have more space for a complex, impressive French dish… but right now it’s consumed with marketing work, diapers and cheerios. C’est La Vie.

Anyway, this recipe came from an old Mrs. Fields cookie book a long time ago. I don’t even know if I’ve ever made anything else out of it… my mom and I found this one and never looked back! Now, I make them for holidays and any time a little extra sugar is needed 🙂  I just made them recently for a baby shower I co-hosted for my brother and his wife. I rolled out blue fondant and cut out hearts to place on top for a simple, classic cookie.

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Foolproof Sugar Cookies

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup salted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Basic Buttercream Frosting

  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 1 t skim milk
  • 2-4 cups of powdered sugar, depending on desired thickness

Yield: 2-3 dozen cookies

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until well mixed. Scrape down sides of bowl, then add the flour and salt. Blend until combined. Gather dough into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disk and wrap tightly in a plastic wrap or a plastic bag. Refrigerate for at least one hour or several days.

When you’re ready to bake the cookies, roll the dough out on a floured surface. With cookie cutters, cut dough into desired shapes and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, being careful not to brown*. Immediately transfer cookies with a spatula to a cool, flat surface.

To make the frosting, mix all of the frosting ingredients together, slowly adding powered sugar until you reach the desired thickness. (The measurements are loose on this one!) You can also add a few drops of food coloring. Frost and enjoy!

*To make sure they’re soft, take the cookies out as soon as they lose their sheen and have a matte top. Then, let them sit for a few minutes before moving to a cooling rack. 

Easy love & hard-won happiness

“It used to be so easy,” my husband and I mused over margaritas and guacamole on a recent date night. We were checking in with each other and discussing how we’re feeling about work, stress, the future and so on. We never used to have to say “let’s check in” when we needed to vent or wanted to bring something up — life was a continuous date full of connection and conversational opportunities.

Now, we try to steal a kiss while tripping over our dog and catching the bowl of salsa our toddler is attempting to throw. We still text throughout the day, but it’s changed from debating the happy hour we’ll hit after work to questioning our budget (yes, I did need those shoes!), gushing over said crazy toddler and planning when we can chat in person. Life involves more bills and babysitters and less sleep and relaxation than ever. Our time used to seem endless, but now it feels like a constant, limited loop. It’s marked by work schedules and nap timelines and so much else we couldn’t have imagined back then.

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It’s taken us years (almost seven) to get to this point. We started out just as starry-eyed as everyone else. You don’t realize at first that you’re building the base for a big future full of marriage, babies and a mortgage. Dating begins with an indescribable feeling of possibility; a flattering pursuit. My husband and I met through mutual friends and he quickly convinced me that a first date would be worth it even though we lived in separate states. It took just one shared pizza to realize that I wouldn’t be able to walk away from this.

I admittedly see a lot through rose-colored glasses, but I knew marriage wasn’t something to be entered into lightly. He gave me confidence. I was also fortunate to have an excellent example of what marriage could be. My parents always put each other first, above us. As a kid, I thought it was strange that they wouldn’t take our sides when one of them was (clearly) wrong. As an adult, I recognize the respect they gave each other and the hard work that’s gone into their 30-year marriage. They are always a team, and in many ways, they make marriage seem easy — which is the ultimate sign of partnership. I recognized similar partnership potential in my husband early on, which made it a clear choice. I could see us choosing each other again and again, whether that was picking a date night over a work event or backing each other up in front of our (future) teenage children.

“Shouldn’t this be the easiest part?” One of my best friends asked when struggling with a long-term relationship that didn’t yet include marriage or kids. I listened to her explanation and quickly realized that she was right. The reality of love is so different than we expect. I recalled that recent check in date with my husband (along with the planning and money that went into it) and agreed that it only gets more difficult to connect and prioritize. It isn’t always easy initially, but it certainly doesn’t get easier when you add more stuff and tiny humans into the mix. You need a solid foundation before all of that comes along; an infrastructure that’s strong enough to withstand all of the inevitable trials. Sleepless nights and colicky babies require a lot of grace for survival. We all have different courtships and stories woven together by our decision to choose love; to put another person’s happiness above our own.

So maybe love should be easy at the beginning, but there are too many variables and tests over the years to maintain that level of simplicity. It can set your foundation, and that’s it. Everything else is built in time, through a partnership comprised of obstacles and accomplishments that may or may not include: paid debt, achieved goals, happiness, unhappiness, moves, children, travel mishaps, broken A/C units (testing love and our civility!) and so much more. If marriage starts with spontaneous notes and weekend getaways, it’s sustained by intentional compliments and on-going, sometimes mundane, acts of love and commitment. Now, he fills up my gas tank because he knows I’m too impatient to do it. I cook for him because I know that otherwise he’d subsist solely on scrambled eggs. Life is full of sweet memories and difficult conversations. We’ve gone through college courses, career shifts and vacation disasters. We’ve had periods of more money and then less. Our love has changed, grown and solidified. We still have a lot to work through and figure out together.

It’s not easy anymore. But it’s hard-won, and it’s ours.

Friday Favorites

Happy Friday! It was a long week of sickness in our house, and we are READY for some fun adventures and family visitors! Here are a few of my favorites this week… please share any of your favorite finds or tips in the comments too!

Travel-sized rollerball perfume: If you’re like me and always forget about perfume, these smaller rollerball perfumes are perfect to stash in your purse and the car! I currently have this one from Target and this set from Urban Outfitters (especially love the pistachio brulee scent).

Coffee & Crumbs podcast: This has been my saving grace at the gym, on walks and in the car for the past year! I’m eventually going to run out of new episodes though, so any other podcast recommendations would be appreciated.

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Houseplant tip: I have a black thumb, admittedly, but I recently took a cool houseplant class at a local nursery and they let us in on an insider tip: Stick a chopstick into the soil to check for moisture! That can help you determine how often it needs water. I also learned that you only need to water most houseplants once every week or two — and it’s not always that easy to keep succulents alive (validation!).

Sleepless thoughts: I wrote an article about not sleeping after a week of not sleeping… as I said, sickness really got to us this week 😉 Maybe you can relate? 

How to make potatoes crispy: It’s the small battles, you guys. If you’ve always wondered how to make your roasted potatoes crispy, there’s finally a solution. I’m now soaking my potatoes before baking them. And if that’s not ending on a high note, I don’t know what is!

Sleeplessness & Survival

“How I finally fixed my sleep problems.”

“The secret to a goodnight’s sleep.”

“15 reasons you keep waking up in the middle of the night.”

Should I continue? Our society is obsessed with sleep. From all of the research on the ill effects of not getting enough sleep (or getting too much!) to the tips and tricks for solving sleep problems, it can be endless and overwhelming. As a (still fairly new) mom, I waver between annoyed and angry every time another groundbreaking study reveals that my current sleep patterns are unhealthy and may even lead to an early demise. I’m not one to leave comments on articles, but if I was, my sleep-deprived brain has conjured up many retorts in the late (or early) hours of the night along the lines of: “Middle-of-the-night wake ups are harmful for my REM cycle? How interesting. Let me tell that to my 18-month-old who can’t sleep with the slightest hint of a stuffy nose.”

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Of course, sleep is important. But when you tell a bone-tired parent that rest is within reach with a few easy tips, Mr. Whelan from Reader’s Digest, we’re probably not going to take it well! The natural progression during this sleepless time, then, is to research a more probable solution. And by that, I mean fall into a Google wormhole of community message threads with desperate moms and blog articles about other people’s perfect babies. Both of those nosedive quickly from helpful to hysterical. In fact, I found most blogger’s posts about baby sleeping habits to be just as hopeless as the mainstream tips. After all, what works for one baby will rarely work for another.

It took a while to accept that truth, as logic often requires a clear, rested mind. When our sleep problems were at their worst last year, I read an assortment of sleep training methods. I tried a few, but nothing seemed to work. My son never calmed down enough to soothe himself – instead, he’d just become more angry that I was ignoring him. He didn’t take a binky or like to be swaddled. What was I doing wrong? The only thing that brought me peace, and perspective, during that time was this article from Jennifer Batchelor: “Sometimes Babies Don’t Sleep.” It beautifully outlines the truth that you can’t always train or schedule away these difficult aspects of parenthood. Sometimes, babies just don’t sleep. Sometimes, we aren’t in control. It’s so simple, but it felt groundbreaking to accept that in the midst of exhaustion!

Before having my son, I had never stayed awake for an entire night. I went to bed when I was tired, even if that meant missing out on all-night study sessions or bowing out of a social event early. Then, at exactly 39 weeks and six days pregnant, I started having contractions. Instead of sleeping, I watched movies all night and counted the time between contractions. At 4 am on my due date, it finally seemed like it was time to wake up my husband and head to the hospital. Griffin was born that night around 10 pm and then, between tests and vital checks and everything else, rest still alluded us. I went from 0 to 60 when it came to testing my ability to function without sleep. My sometimes sleep-challenged child was sending me a sign right from the beginning!

Now that he’s 18 months, there are plenty of nights when he sleeps well and I almost forget what we’ve survived to get here. And then he’ll get a cold and his response to the discomfort of a stuffy nose will give me terrifying glimpses into his “man flu” future (mostly joking!). Even so, we’ll have a night without sleep that takes us back to the beginning days of our family of three. I’ll gripe and groan the next morning and add a few more cups to my usual coffee lineup, but I’ll press on.

Because within the harsh frustration of not being able to sleep when it’s all you want to do, a tiny light is flickering to flames. A growing wisdom is replacing my initial motherhood frustrations and insecurities. I’m beginning to recognize how incomprehensible and extraordinary the foundation of trust and selflessness is that results when you are the caregiver of a tiny human; when you cater to their every need. Not sleeping sucks, there’s no denying that. But it shows you how strong you are; how much you can still accomplish when your brain is pounding and your eyes are hazy. And it also demonstrates the limitless love of parenthood.

 

Easy Entertaining Menu with Pomegranate Guacamole

When the witching hour replaces happy hour: After emerging from the newborn haze, I felt like I had to re-learn or refine some of my social (and general life) skills. Mainly, the art of entertaining while also taking care of a tiny human. Who knew it would be so exhausting?

I’ve always been a little scatterbrained (can we call it creative?) and now that my attention is consumed by a crazy little boy, I’m at a whole different level of distracted most of the time. But, I love having people over when I can get it together! And I’ve been lucky enough to learn from my mom, the ultimate hostess, over the years! She’s always throwing together events, hosting large groups of people and cooking homemade-everything in the midst of it all.

Of course, doing it all isn’t always realistic! But I’ve certainly picked up on a few valuable tips from my mom. Number one? Make a plan and have fun with it. Make sure that you choose recipes you trust and that can be prepped ahead of time to reduce stress. Cultivating community is important and it doesn’t have to be high-maintenance or all consuming to have friends or family over. Sometimes, pizza is totally the answer.

Other days, you can make an impressive line-up, like the following menu, and still have time to relax beforehand with a glass of wine. It all comes down to prepping items and utilizing shortcuts — like rotisserie chicken, store-bought salsa and cake mix. Amen.

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Apps:Chips, salsa and pomegranate guacamole (recipe below!)

Dinner: Chicken avocado enchiladas

Dessert: Snickerdoodle bundt cake

The Best Pomegranate Guacamole

Serves 2 – 4

Ingredients:

  •  3 avocados
  • 1/3 tomato, diced
  • One big handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 lemon or lime juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste (plus, add a dash of garlic salt!)
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • Optional: 1/4 onion, minced

Directions: First, get the avocados into a big mixing bowl and mash them up. Next, dice the tomato and chop the cilantro and throw it into the bowl. Squeeze 1/2 of a lemon or lime into the bowl, then add the rest of the seasoning and mix. Fold in the pomegranate seeds last, saving a few to sprinkle on top. Enjoy!

Favorite Easy Weeknight Dinners

Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Waffle Wednesday – oh my!

Honestly, I find all of those themed categories to be overwhelming. I always start out meal planning with the best of intentions… but I’m also impulsive with cooking and eating! I usually end up moving things around because it feels more like soup weather on Monday versus Tuesday or I decide that I don’t want to wait until Thursday for tacos (picture shrugging girl emoji!).

Moral of the story? This isn’t a meal planning pitch. In fact, it’s a call for help! How do keep your weekly meals in check/on track? What are your go-to recipes? I can’t remember the last time we actually followed a set schedule of meals. We usually have basics on hand for last-minute, fast dinners like pasta or ground turkey tacos, and then we’ll rotate some new recipes or other favorites in each week. I’m always in need of inspiration, but now I often have tiny toddler hands reaching for everything I’m cooking and demanding my full attention while water boils over! That means my recipe criteria requires minimal prep and even less hands-on cooking time.

So, if you’re in need of dinner inspiration too, or just want to try a new easy recipe this week, below are some favorites that we’ve had in rotation lately. Please share any of your family favorites (or tips for distracting a toddler while cooking!) in the comments!

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Vegetarian lettuce wraps from the Pioneer Woman

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Spicy Peanut Soup with Sweet Potato and Kale from PinchofYum 

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BBQ Tofu with roasted veggies and potatoes from OhSheGlows

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Asian Chicken Noodle Soup from EatLiveRun

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Greek Burgers and sweet potatoes from Run Fast, Eat Slow

Mom, why didn’t you tell me your job was so hard?

Wine bars, weekend getaways and … diaper wipes?

Hi, I’m a millennial mom. According to the internet, I should be backpacking around foreign countries and writing essays about self-care. I should be posting Instagram photos with mimosas on exotic beaches or so focused on my job that I’m researching freezing my eggs.

Instead, I had a baby in my twenties.

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We’ve all seen the headlines about women shifting away from marriage and waiting longer to have children. Now, I’ve experienced it in the lingering loneliness and disconnect as friends counter my sleepless baby woes with hungover stories of calling in sick at work. I’ve laughed but felt the distance grow as people comment “I can barely take care of myself – much less another human being!” Because that’s the core of it, right? Why would I purposely choose to give up my comfortable life; to hand over my freedom to an irrational tiny human?

I didn’t go into motherhood naively – or so I thought. In fact, I laughably even felt confident. I was the oldest of four and I’d babysat plenty of little ones. I was excited to follow in my mother’s footsteps and add more joy into the family. But even so, I was blindsided by nearly every situation and every emotion that resulted (and I’m not even going to get into the hormones, oye!). About a month after my son was born, I was still recovering physically and emotionally. I was getting sleep only in increments of a few hours at a time. The extent of my brain activity was wondering things like “is it possible to die from a lack of sleep?” and “is it normal that he cries so much?” I was struggling with nursing and my baby was struggling with reflux. I was like most new mothers out there: completely overwhelmed, exhausted and anxiety-ridden.

“Why didn’t you tell me it was so hard?” I accused my mom, who had always made it seem effortless. Why didn’t anyone warn me? How were we possibly going to survive this? She laughed and said she’d asked her mom the same thing after having me. The reality is that everything worth anything in life is hard. And yes, as a millennial, I recognize the humor in even saying that. My generation is notorious for wanting life to come easy; for normalizing immediate gratification, digital dating and one-day shipping. We’re an impatient culture. And there’s nothing that tests your patience more than a newborn.

In our society, we either seem to avoid motherhood or over-glorify it. If you don’t have kids, you’re going to spin class and brunch and making backhanded comments about those who do. On the flip side, if you do have kids, your social media persona includes perfect hair, babies who somehow smile on command and sickeningly sweet captions. What about the rest of us in real life? What about the moms who try to meet for coffee only to slink out after a meltdown or blowout? Or the moms who rush home from a meeting only to be met with a grumpy baby because it’s the afternoon witching hour? We fuel debates between moms vs. not moms or working moms vs. stay-at-home moms, but all we really need is to give each other grace – there are hardships down every path.

I got just as caught up in my preparation for motherhood. I read the books. I imagined life as an Instagram mom. I wanted to puree all of my own organic vegetables but also embody the carefree French mother figure I read about. I decided that my baby would be flexible and he’d love “adult food” and traveling. He’d respond perfectly to sleep training — or maybe he wouldn’t even need it! I created the perfect vision of myself as a mom before I was actually a mom. And then it all changed. My baby was born and he annihilated everything I’d ever known in the best way. He immediately tested my patience, filled me with love and anxiety and every other emotion in the world.

So, Mom, why didn’t you tell me it was so hard? Because it wouldn’t have made a difference. I still would have chosen motherhood over backpacking adventures or boozy brunches. I can enjoy all of that later – but now, I have a toddler to run after. And that’s the shocking, awe-inspiring secret of motherhood: There’s no way to prepare and there’s nothing anyone can say to actually describe it. It alters your concept of time and your purpose. There’s nothing more simultaneously scary and beautiful. It’s so hard because it matters.