the gift of Advent

advent devo candle

as the calendar flips to november & flurries begin to fly, i find myself in what i realize is a familiar state of mind. the one where the anticipation of the upcoming holidays meets an intense desire to be present to the people & moments around me. i know all too well that if i’m not careful, time will steamroll right through Thanksgiving & Christmas, and we’ll find ourselves crashing into the new year, dizzy from busy-ness.

as my mind swirls with thoughts of what fun things we’ll do to mark the holidays this year (especially now that charlie loves to help with & gets SO excited about things), i’m equally excited to create space for stopping to rest, relax, and enjoy the heart & gift of the celebrations.

maybe you’ve been in a similar place before? maybe even now?

for me, the feeling applies pretty universally november through january. however, as as a creative person who loves to make gifts, bake, and decorate, the weeks between Thanksgiving & Christmas can be a blur if i’m not intentional. a few years ago, i stumbled upon an Advent devotional, and it really influenced how i felt & prepared for Christmas. it has looked a little different from year to year (a series of daily emails, a set of cards with an image or verse, a journaling activity, a daily illustration aligned with portions of the Christmas Story), but the rhythm of pausing each day of Advent to reflect on Jesus changed me that year and has become a practice i continue to prioritize and treasure.

looking back, i noticed that the most meaningful, transformational aspects of each of those various Advent experiences that kept me pointed towards Jesus as i entered into Advent were been Scripture, questions, and reflection. i need Scripture – sometimes just a verse, and sometimes a story – to keep me grounded in the character of God…the bare beginnings of Jesus’ story…the tenderness of it all. i need questions to help me connect those ancient words to my everyday life. the combination of those two things serve as points of reflection that i come back to throughout the day.

when laura & i were dreaming this summer about our next set of devotional cards, Advent was #1 on our list. having a visual reminder with the devotional cards adds a whole new depth of engagement for me with the Scripture, questions, and reflection, and we pray that they are helpful in the same way for you, too. we’ve been working away on these little beauties for the past few months – praying over the verses & questions, praying for the people that will hold them. praying for you, sitting with Jesus as you slow your hustle & rest more deeply in to Him.

the Advent devotional card set is 23 simple, pretty cards with a verse on the front and a Scripture reference & questions/prompts to reflect on on the back. on days that you’re short on time, you can easily tuck a card into your bag or purse to take out later in the day while you’re waiting at an appointment, for the bus, or in the carpool line. you can read the full Scripture reference on your phone app, if  you’d like, & simply reflect on the question/prompt or jot down your thoughts in the blank space on the back of the card.

on days that you have a little extra time, you could sit down with a warm cup of coffee or tea, your bible, and a card. after reading the verse on the front of the card and the Scripture reference(s) on the back, you could take more time to reflect on your thoughts about the question/prompts and sit in a few moments of quiet to pray about them, rest with your wonderings, jot down some notes on the back of the card, or write them in your journal.

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those are just two ideas of ways we envision the devotional cards could be used as you look at, listen to, and talk with Jesus this Advent season. our heart for these cards is that they can be part of your day no matter what your routine looks like. we hope you love them so much that you display them on your desk to help you reflect on verses in between emails & to-dos…maybe on your fridge as you try to memorize a verse…as a garland on your mantle… we think they would also be great to discuss as a family around the dinner table. however you choose, we pray that they enrich your Advent!

the full set is $20 (sales tax and shipping are included), and you can order yours online here. for purchases of 3 or more sets, we will contact you to adjust shipping costs. the Advent devotional cards are also available at Pathway Bookstore at Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina.

* we’d love to see your posts about the devo cards as you use them!
Use #shareAdventdevo, and we can cheer each other on :o) *

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gratitude lately.

lately, i have been grateful for…

date night skydate nights…

ipsento(delicious) reminders of friends we love dearly…

the gift of watching things grow…

roasted beetbeauty in tiny, unexpected packages…

words* that meet us right where we are & point us to Him…

garden helper
and for my little garden helper…who nibbles as he harvests.

gratitude is a miraculous, wonderful thing. what we have is, truly, enough. more than enough.

happy sunday, friends. let’s choose brave today.

*Unseen by Sara Hagerty; GraceLaced by Ruth Chou Simons

our greatest expression & a first-in-twenty-years garden.

tomato-basilthere’s just something about having my hands in the dirt & watching things grow.

peaceful and grounding.

soothing. intentional. life-giving. healing. hopeful.

when i was 12 years old i had surgery, and when i got home after too many days in the hospital, apparently i walked straight through the house to the backyard to check on my vegetable garden.

for our wedding, we got a lemon tree instead of a unity candle. to commemorate our first anniversary we got a fig tree.

to celebrate the birth of our son and my husband’s sweet grandpa’s life-richly-lived, we got a beautiful Charles White peony.

my mother’s day gift this year was a little stunner of a rose bush. as if the sweetly scented, delicate, creamy-apricot-y blossoms weren’t enough, the name is fantastic: Champagne Wishes.

and this spring, i got to build my first garden at our very own house. to say that it’s been a treat to spend mornings and evenings watching things grow is an understatement. for Christmas and my birthday, i asked for a gift certificate for supplies. i poured over catalogues and websites hoping to find just the right mix of trusted, must-grow and fun, new-to-me flower and vegetable varieties to plant in my first-in-twenty-years garden.

as seed-starting and mother nature would have it, there has been plenty of trial & error, anticipation, shriveled seedlings, and excitement woven throughout these past few learning-laden months. i’ve planted & re-planted seeds. some sprouted the first time. some sprouted the second time. some sprouted when i tossed a handful on a patch of bare dirt a few weeks ago. others i’ll try again next year. we had a big storm in the spring with wind that scattered my fledgling vegetable plants, damaging many of them. and as for the raised garden, i planted it late in the season and for sure planted more than i had space for.

we have to start somewhere, right? and sometimes starting is the most important step, even if the rest looks a little more trial & error and a little less polished & perfected. as it turns out, i’m ok with this year being more about simply enjoying that i finally get to have a garden and a yard to experiment in, learning through experience, and tucking observations & tidbits away for next year. i’m a rookie, i tried some things i knew could be challenging, and i often learn best as i go. or maybe i’m just in la-la land since somehow my dahlias & sweet peas are blooming after having absolutely zero success last year. that alone is a gigantic – and beautiful!- win in my book.

florals

as i’ve spent mornings and evenings watering, weeding, and watching our backyard actually turn into something rather pretty, i’ve thought a lot about what it is about gardening that draws me in. because, truth be told, it’s a lot of work. much more work than i anticipated it being back in march/april when my mind was a swirl of idyllic daydreams. it was a fair amount of work & time to build the raised bed. planting took time to plan, prep, and actually do. since our yard was full of random overgrown bushes, digging everything up & preparing the beds was a task and a half. and now the watering, worrying about 90º+ days, and maintaining everything takes time away from other things i’d like to be doing.

but even with all of that, gardening brings me incredible joy & thankfulness, and i’m realizing two things.

dahlias

first, i want to pass gardening on to charlie in some way. not that he’ll want to be in the garden with me all the time or will be a farmer some day…but just the simple joy of watching something grow. the being-together-ness of it. planting seeds with him this spring was an experience i’ll always treasure, and it’s been so fun to see him still get excited to water the plants (tonight’s entertainment: him running back & forth between his water table & a planted container on the patio, watering the rhubarb).

i love that sometimes as he plays in the backyard, he’s running over to me with a bubble wand, as i prune the tomato plants, so that i can blow bubbles with him or with a toy from his water table, as i snip flowers for a bouquet, for me to come splash with him. i’m thankful that he sees and experiences what’s growing around him and that it’s all part of where he lives, plays, and is learning about the world around him.

gardening buddy

second, and probably the most enduring truth in my life about gardening is that it holds immense hope for me. and when so much these days feels uncertain, hard, or discouraging, getting my hands in the dirt, catching a new blossom opening, and watching our vegetables grow feels…healing. it causes me to take a deep breath. to slow down. it restores something that was missing…something that i can’t quite put into words but am deeply grateful for.

floret_truckthe process of creating our little garden began over the winter as i thought ahead to the promise of warmer days. then in march/april when we were all completely over winter, i was able to tuck seeds into their little piles of dirt with hopeful anticipation…waking up each day to see what had sprouted overnight, watching them stretch and grow. once the days were warmer, i nestled the seedlings that had soldiered on through the long, cold winter into the ground, believing that one day, a little bud just might pop out.

then one did! and another. and another! then things started to grow much bigger than i imagined (hello 6 foot tomato plants?!)…some budded but didn’t blossom…a storm/extreme heat left their marks. i know in my head that it’s just a garden/plant/seed, but when those things happened, i felt guilty for having been over-zealous and planting too much, for not planning better, for not thinking of all the random scenarios so that i could have avoided them. and you know what i’m learning (albeit very slowly and with lots of over-thinking)?

sprouts

it’s ok. the plants figure it out. earlier this spring, after a particularly damaging storm hit their farm, our CSA (and favorite) farmer said, “[the plants] mostly just simply re-grow…sometimes even growing back even bigger and more bountiful than before. what a lovely example of resilience for us all as we weather life.” oh my heart, if that it’s so. dang. true.

veggie babes

and i figure it out, too. i trim the squash back to keep them from trampling the carrots. i found 6 foot polls to stake & secure the tomato plants. i let the shallots go & will plant them in a different spot next year. the peony is in the ground now (so its growth won’t be confused by my planting it too late), and i’m guessing it will be just fine. i’ve learned how to prune a rose bush and lemon tree. i’ll try ranunculus again next year.

garden bouquet

while there are things i’ll do differently next year that may result in a few more wins, there will still be lots of learning. and that’s a really good thing. because it means i’m still trying. still hoping. still getting to have these crazy fun, life-giving, special experiences with my boy.

while i have the wonderful gift of gathering little fistfuls of blooms that i grew. watching tiny cantaloupe buds turn into actual growing melons…streaky red-yellow tomatoes grow, slowly but surely…peppers slowly transition from green to bright red.

both/and. the tension of growth & learning, letting go & transitions, holding hope & trusting.

for a seed to achieve its greatest expression,
it must come completely undone. the shell cracks,
its insides come out, and everything changes.
to someone who doesn’t understand growth,
it would look like complete destruction.

~ cynthia occelli

 

lunchtime glory days & a salad “recipe.”

in college, my favorite lunch spot was Mrs. Green’s. to my great benefit, it was right next to the business school that i spent many seemingly endless days at for 2+ years. had Chick-fil-A been in good old Harrisonburg at the time*, much less fifty steps from my home-away-from-home, i’m not sure how i would have fared. but i digress.

Mrs. Green’s was in the basement of a building, and – maybe for choosing lettuce and vegetables? – the unexpected rewards of lunch there were the sunshine & lake views. the back side of the building was lower than the front, so our tired minds & sleepy peepers welcomed the vitamin D and entertainment from the ducks playing in Newman Lake.

it was a surprise to exactly no one that the easiest part of lunch, for me, was deciding where to go. however, once i was there, all bets were off. the spread of deliciousness to choose from was fantastic. different types of lettuce, spring greens, spinach…endless vegetables & proteins & fruit…toppings, toppings, & more toppings…dressings. all ready & waiting. it’s a good thing we paid by visit, not by plate weight.

those were lunchtime glory days! in trying to channel my inner Mrs. Green, this little ditty has become my faithful go-to. with a little prep (roasting beets & shaking up a jar of dressing) that is mostly hands-off (hooray!), i can throw it together quickly, it travels well, and, so far, it’s been a crowd-pleaser, too.

beets are a vegetable that i first started to explore, basically out of sheer necessity, six years ago. i joined a CSA for the first time, and these little jewels were, shall we say, bountiful. the only thing i connected beets to up until that time were the magenta, pungent pools of pickled, rubbery cubes on salad bars, but i was hopeful. i mean, how could something so pretty (deep purple! gold! striped! even the greens are cool) not have at least a little potential?!

friends, i’m here to tell you that i found their potential. and it’s delicious. just sweet enough, velvety, good both warm and cold, and easy. that’s maybe one of their finer features on the topic of weekend prep for weekday meals. this delightfully thrown together salad has all the right things going on between crisp greens, sweet/savory beets, creamy avocado & feta, fresh berries, and salty nuts all mingling with the maple balsamic vinaigrette.

with beets and greens rocking it in our CSA boxes and berries at the peak of their season, i’ve been a pretty happy camper re-living a little slice of those good old glory days.

*seriously, the pickins were slim in suuuper-small-town VA when i was there. it was a BIG day when we got a Super Walmart in addition to the regular Walmart.

:: roasted beet salad with maple balsamic vinaigrette ::
how to roast beets adapted – barely – from the kitchn

beet salad with maple balsamic vinaigrette

salad recipes sometimes seem a little silly to me because you can throw together whatever you like & happen to have. however, just as quickly as i say that, sometimes i need to see a new pile of goodness to keep my salad rotation – pardon the pun – fresh. with all of that said, the list of ingredients below are the the cast of characters that are often on hand at our house, but sub in whatever you have & love!

i used the kitchn’s recipe for oven roasted beets the first time i made them this way. their instructions are great, but in the interest of keeping things all in one place, i’ve outlined the process with my adjustments below. i roast a bunch in one batch over the weekend, peel & dice them, and they’re read to go all week.

ingredients

salad
1½ cups greens
⅓ cup roasted beets, diced
⅓ cup roasted sweet potato, diced
¼ avocado, diced
⅓ cup cooked chicken, diced/shredded
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
handful of fresh or dried berries
nuts or seeds (sunflower seeds, pepitas, chopped pecans…whatever you like)
maple balsamic vinaigrette

maple balsamic vinaigrette
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
½ teaspoon dry mustard powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

instructions

maple balsamic vinaigrette
add all of the ingredients to a jar of your choice (pint sized or larger) & shake to combine.

roasted beets

  1. preheat oven to 400º.
  2. tear off a piece of aluminum foil that’s big enough to create a little packet for the amount of beets you’re roasting. set the foil on a baking pan/sheet.
  3. if your beets still have the greens on them, cut them off right where they connect to the beet.
    *save your stems & greens! they are great washed, cut, and mixed into your salad greens, sautéed as a side or mixed in to eggs, in smoothies, or lots of other ways. this salad from sara at sprouted kitchen is the bomb.
  4. scrub the beets a little & and toss them onto the foil. no need to dry them; extra water is actually good. it will create some steam in the foil packet & will help the skins slide off even more easily. (before i seal up the foil, i make sure there is a tablespoon or so of water in the packet.)
  5. trim off any rough parts of the beets if you’d like, but even that’s probably not necessary.
  6. roll the top & sides of the aluminum foil to create a little rectangular packet.
  7. slide the pan into the oven & roast for 45-60 minutes (45 for smaller beets, 60 for larger).
  8. take the pan out of the oven & let the beets cool, still enclosed in the packet, for 20 mins or so.
  9. peeled roasted beetopen up the packet, and when the beets are cool enough to touch, apply a little pressure & a downward motion to the skin of the beet, and it should slide right off.

 

 

this everyday life.

this past monday, one of those completely awesome, out of the blue things happened where i crossed paths in the most unusual of places with a sweet friend i haven’t seen in at least two years. we keep in touch sporadically through texts & instagram, but nothing beats a big hug & getting to catch up ever-so-quickly; it was the greatest surprise.

in the maybe five minutes we had for catching up, i love that as we talked about what our families have been up to, we both mentioned that we’ve been enjoying a slower pace. more home time. more down time. more playing in the backyard & going for walks & finding airplanes in the sky and trucks passing by.

this, mind you, is coming from someone who is wired for productivity & multi-tasking. left to my own devices, i can really kick things in to high gear & make things happen.

however, a few years ago, when i met my husband, for the first time i realized – to my surprise – that i didn’t always miss doing all-the-things…because i was able to really be present when i was hanging out with him. i started saying no to after work groups and coffee with friends so that i could be home with him. a few years into marriage and with our sweet boy now, it’s even more important to not be gone more than one night a week. even that is hard for me sometimes!

although i’m aware of my natural tendency towards productivity, sometimes it still takes a second thought for me to not over-fill our time (even with fun things), be picking up toys when we’re playing with something else, or working on a project while we watch a movie.

but every. single. time., it’s worth it. the unplanned days when we get to wander around the farmer’s market – waving to all the puppies, high-fiving farmers & vendors, and dancing to the local musicians…planting flowers and vegetables in our backyard with our boy – watching him waddle around with his watering can, watering every patio paver and some plants sometimes, too, and teaching him in some tiny way about gardening…walking to the bench at the end of the block to watch the trucks – holding hands with my husband and talking about our days.

the everyday things that so often slip right by.

as laura & i sent devo card drafts back & forth to each other one bazillion times, there were a few cards that struck a chord for one reason or another. this one got me first with it’s whimsical font and unexpected pop of color. it just plain made me smile.

then i read the prompt that laura wrote to go along with the verse…and i have come back to this card every day since, considering this question she posed:

“What does it look like to like to live with [God] in everyday ways?”

i don’t know about you, but there are a number of big things i’m asking God for. trusting Him for. but most of all, i need Him in the everyday ways. i need to slow down my thoughts, my worries, my questions, my schedule so that i can see Him at work in my interactions, my family, and, go figure – my thoughts, my worries, my questions, my schedule. a slower, less full, dare i say less check-things-off-my-to-do-list-productive pace creates space for me to be more present and attentive to noticing the little everyday ways that i sense God’s nearness, see Him at work around me, and rest in Him.

when i am present in the little moments – the, “mama, see?” moments where i am more often smiling & laughing at what he’s pointing at as he’s asking me to look at it than i am asking him to show me again because i was doing something else (which also happens; don’t get me wrong – i’m a work in progress) – i am reminded of how deeply important the everyday things of life and the everyday ways of God are.

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come to the edge.

come to the edge quote

those passions. the ones that you find yourself thinking about when you’re supposed to be focusing on something else. that you can’t learn enough about. that you could lose hours wrapped up in. the ones that feed your soul & make you come alive.

i hope everyone has at least one thing like that in their life. for me, one of those things is lettering. i can remember saving my money when i was 9 or 10 to buy a book about how to make different letter shapes; a few years later i was gifted a calligraphy set that i practiced with whenever i could. (oh how i wish i had saved that little practice booklet that came with the set; it was fantastically awful!) somehow that little flicker of a flame didn’t burn out with bubble letters on science fair posters. for years i’ve daydreamed about some day having a little side business lettering quotes and invitations and envelopes and who-knows-what-else. but that seems scary and tiny-but-huge and like too big of an undertaking, so i mostly just doodle and practice and revel in addressing our christmas card each year (bubble letters haven’t made a comeback…yet). until recently, that is, when a super fun project came along that i got to collaborate on [insert giddy, nervous excitement].

my friend laura, who breathes encouragement, generosity, hospitality, honesty, and spiritual formation, wrote an incredible devotional centered around God’s invitation to each of us to come. just as we are, here & now in our everyday lives.

laura gathered 31 verses speaking to God’s invitation to us to come to Him, reminding us of how He comes to us, and encouraging us to come to & be with one another, and she paired them with simple, meaningful prompts: questions to reflect on, songs to listen to, reminders of God’s character, ideas for ways to connect with others. to help make the devotional useful, flexible, and engaging, we organized the devotional into 31 postcard-sized cards, then added a mix of modern, fun, handwritten fonts and pops of color.

playing with fonts & colors and doing behind-the-scenes logistics are my jam, so those were no-brainers, but initially i dreamily thought about hand lettering all the verses which was (massively, i-can-do-all-the-things) naive of me. when i realized that task was far too involved for what i had the capacity for, i got really discouraged, and in my discouragement, i immediately turned the idea off. it was all or nothing, and clearly i couldn’t do “all,” so i went about the rest of the details. however, as i kept working on other parts of the project, i couldn’t shake the prompting that i kept sensing – what i’m now calling a “come to the edge” invitation – to include hand lettering in the card set in some way. lo and behold, as i kept coming back to the project, kept picking up my pen, kept letting go of what i initially envisioned and trusted the prompting, in the end, i was able to tuck a few little hand lettered elements in.

i could stop there with, “it all worked out!” but it’s what happened between finally picking up my pen and finishing the final piece that opened my eyes a little and made the long-appreciated quote above come to life. the truth of the matter is that working on this project wasn’t always simple or easy. i laugh as i write that: “funny…doing things we are passionate about isn’t always easy.” i couldn’t get information i needed. no matter how badly i wanted to pick up my pen & work on lettering, i battled legitimate hurdles with real life circumstances that delayed me being able to get started. shipments didn’t arrive how they were ordered.

then along came fear and battling not just “i might fall” fears – i was full-on drowning in “I’M FALLING, SAVE ME!” fears: “this isn’t good enough,” “no one will like it,” “you’re wasting your time.” i was working my creative time in after work, after dinner-bath-stories-bedtime-cleanup, in between loads of laundry, during naps. i’d hit my stride only to realize i was verging on midnight on a work night…or charlie was waking up…or i’d blown past when i needed to be making diner. it took everything in me to keep listening to the tiny, quiet, consistent, deep prompt to keep going. to do the really hard, scary thing with the hope that there was purpose and meaning to what i was doing. that it mattered.

and, oh, if that isn’t the cry of my heart: to do things that matter.

the day that i fiddled with the hand lettering pieces for the last time, i almost cried. they are pieces that i am incredibly proud of, knowing what it took to create them, and i am thankful-beyond-words to be able to send those little pieces of my heart out to the world and share them with the recipients of the card sets. it feels…scary and tiny-but-huge and like too big of an undertaking, but i did it. a full schedule and work and fear and details-gone-awry didn’t win; creating and sharing and saying yes to my passion won.

and that, as sort of dramatic as it may sound, feels a bit like flying. He invited me, He helped create the space, and He gave me encouragement and the push-à-la-prompting that i needed to see that i had it in me to do a really hard thing that i really believe in.

so if you are in the midst of starting a new thing or sending something you love & are proud of out into the world, go for it. be brave with what you love, and share what God has gifted you with with those around you.

our prayers for the devotional are that it is engaging, thought-provoking, and refreshing and that it invites you into conversation with the Lord that reminds you of His nearness, His guidance, and His love.

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the devotional card set is printed on sturdy cardstock (80# cover, for my fellow paper fanatics) with a beautiful, glossy, full color front and matte black and white back. the set is designed so that, if you’d like, you can do one card per day for a month. for the months with 31 days, you’re right on; if you do it in, say, a non-leap-year february, you’ll have a bonus trio ;o)

each of the 31 cards:

  • has a verse on the front and a scripture reference and prompts on the back
    *i love the variety of prompts: questions to reflect on, songs to look up and listen to, reminders of God’s character, ideas for ways to connect with others
  • has plenty of white space on the back for responding to the questions, writing down thoughts, doodling…whatever you like!
  • is approximately 4.2″ x 5.5″ making it a great companion to your quiet time or easy to take with you on-the-go to do on your lunch break, on the bus, at the park watching your kids play…wherever, whenever.

the full set is $20 which includes sales tax and shipping. you can order yours here.

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2017 & cake for dinner.

friends, i’m fairly certain that i could sit here for hours looking at the screen with this post 75% ready to go with the cake picture, link, and recipe written & formatted. days, even. maybe weeks? because the other part of the post – the part where i jump back in to this little old blog spot-o-mine – that part i feel like i need to do “right.”

“right.” oy! such an unnecessarily heavy word sometimes, isn’t it? but we’re going to shake off all of that & jump in. just like that :o) small steps, one at a time.

a few things have happened since that last post just shy of two (two?!) years ago. i tried writing about 15 different posts after that one, as we stepped into IVF, and i don’t know what it was, but it just didn’t work to post them. so to fast forward: we are one of the incredibly, overwhelmingly, beyond-any-words-ever blessed couples that it worked for. and i have to tell you: we have spent the last year watching the most ridiculously awesome little boy grow & learn & basically amaze us daily. we are for sure THOSE cliché parents.

we also moved into a new house (1.5 weeks before the babe arrived. totally sensible!) on the exact opposite side of town. so, you could say that 2016 was full to the brim with learning  & all the new things all at the same time. it was wonderful. and it was busy. and it was exhausting.

i love every ounce of what 2016 held for us – how we grew together as a family, how it shaped us more into who we are created to be, how we learned about each other & ourselves as husband & wife, parents, creatives…and i am looking so forward to 2017. to slowing down, savoring this sweet, fleeting season, loving well & focusing on each other,  doing some new things.

and how better to start a year than with cake for dinner on new year’s eve, right?

to back up a few steps, my permanent christmas eve job is bringing dessert. i hadn’t even started thinking about what to bring when i stumbled upon this recipe, but there was immediately no other option once i saw it. in the interest of full disclosure, the cake itself is easy to make, but the marshmallow fluff & buttercream frosting take some time. it’s not an every day, one bowl & done recipe, but for a special occasion, it’s absolutely worth the effort. plus, the recipe as written made extra fluff & buttercream, so i made an extra cake on new year’s eve. which gets us back to that cake for dinner thing. there’s a first time for everything!

:: hot chocolate cake ::
adapted – barely – from the cake blog (a recipe by olivia bogacki)

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i joke that there are certain female “musts” that i wasn’t born with – one being i don’t love chocolate. i’ve never been one for chocolate cake or chocolate frosting, much less the two together, so the fact that this cake recipe & this chocolate frosting recipe are now my go-tos says something. the cake is dense & rich while the frosting is light & rich. both in their own way that i can only best describe – as strange as it may sound – as luxurious.

the recipe as written made three times more marshmallow fluff and two times more buttercream than i used to assemble the cake – and i don’t think i skimped on either one. we used the leftovers in hot chocolate & took little tastes by spoonful before making a second cake & still having fluff left over.

the original recipe didn’t mention anything about making components or assembling the cake ahead of time, but i don’t see any reason why you couldn’t do either of these things. if you would like to do either of these things, i’ve made notes at the bottom of the recipe.

ingredients

cake
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
¾ tsp salt
2 large eggs
¼ cup vegetable oil (i used canola)
½ cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup hot chocolate, made with milk

marshmallow fluff
⅓ cup water
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup light corn syrup
3 large egg whites
½ tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla

chocolate buttercream frosting
5 large egg whites
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ½ cups butter, at room temp, cut into ½” cubes
4 oz dark chocolate, melted & cooled (i used bittersweet)

instructions

cake

  1. preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. grease two 8″ round cake pans. line bottoms with parchment & dust with cocoa powder.
  3. measure all dry ingredients into the bowl & mix until combined.
    * i recommend mixing by hand with a whisk. both times i used my electric mixer i ended up with a thin layer of cocoa powder all over my counters…even when i was really careful the second time.
  4. in a separate bowl or large measuring cup (4 cup works well), mix the eggs, oil, buttermilk, & vanilla. slowly add the warm hot chocolate while whisking constantly.
  5. add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients & mix on medium speed for 2-3 minutes (or by hand until everything is combined & there is no sign of dry ingredients). the batter will be very thin.
  6. pour batter evenly into prepared pans. bake for 30 minutes (checking at 25 minutes) or until a toothpick  inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.
  7. cook cakes on wire rack for about 10 minutes, then take them out, peel off the parchment, & let them cool completely.

marshmallow fluff

  1. combine water, sugar, & corn syrup in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, then insert a candy thermometer and stop stirring. you are watching for the temperature to reach 225ºF.
  2. while you are waiting, place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment.
  3. when the sugar syrup reaches 225ºF, start whipping the egg whites until they reach soft peaks. *continue monitoring the sugar syrup*
  4. when the sugar syrup reaches 240ºF, remove the pan from the heat, turn the mixer speed to medium, and very slowly pour the sugar syrup into the whipped egg whites in a thin stream.
  5. once all of the syrup is in the mixer with the whipped egg whites, turn the mixer speed up to medium-high and whip the fluff until it is thick & glossy and the bowl of the mixer is no longer hot. the original recipe says this takes about 7-8 minutes.
  6. turn the mixer speed down to medium, add the vanilla, and mix until combined.

chocolate buttercream frosting

  1. place the egg whites and sugar into the bowl of a mixer with the whisk attachment and whisk until combined.
  2. insert a candy thermometer into the bowl with egg white & sugar mixture, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, and whisk constantly (to prevent eggs from cooking).
  3. when the egg white & sugar mixture reaches 160ºF, remove the bowl from the heat.
  4. using the whisk attachment, beat the egg white mixture on high speed for 8-10 minutes – again feeling for the bowl to cool down, this time so that it is no longer warm. the meringue will be fluffy, glossy, & will hold stiff peaks.
  5. switch to the paddle attachment and, with mixer speed on low, slowly add the butter in small cubes. mix until all of the butter is mixed in & there are no streaks or chunks.
  6.  add the vanilla and cooled chocolate and whip on medium-high until silky and smooth.

to assemble the cake

  1. place one cake layer onto serving plate. pipe a dam of chocolate frosting around the edge of the cake (this prevents the fluff from seeping out; i put some frosting in a plastic bag & cut a small tip off) and the spread about a cup of the fluff in the middle.
  2. put the second cake layer on top.
  3. from here you can do whatever works for you. if you want to do a crumb coat – go for it! if you want to just frost it – go for it! the original recipe called for a crumb coat & 20 minutes in the fridge before frosting. i skipped the crumb coat & didn’t have any trouble.
  4. i used my fancy plastic bag for piping again & did little scallops of fluff on the top, but it was a little fussy, so i went with piped rounds around the bottom of the cake. the video they link to is helpful if you want to try the scallops :o)

assembling the cake ahead of time: the second cake we made was eaten over the course of a week (stored in the refrigerator), and we didn’t think it ever dried out or lost flavor. i think assembling the cake up to one day before serving it would be just fine. Store the assembled cake in an airtight container in the refrigerator, taking it out 30-60 minutes before serving to let the buttercream warm up.

making components ahead of time: each component (cake, marshmallow fluff, buttercream frosting) can be made prior to assembly.

  • cakes: the fully cooled cakes can be wrapped in plastic wrap & stored one night before assembly (i did this), or in the comments, the author of the cake blog says they can be wrapped in plastic wrap & stored in zip-top freezer bags in the freezer, thawing before assembly.
  • mashmallow fluff: can be made a day or two ahead of time, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. you can use it cold from the refrigerator for assembly.
  • buttercream: can be made a day or two ahead of time, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. let it warm to room temperature for 30-60 minutes before assembly.

yield: one 8” 2-layer cake; 12 servings

loss, faith, & celebration.

i’m a new year’s girl; there’s no disputing it. it’s not about resolutions (which i love) or being over christmas (impossible), or even the countdown to my impending birthday (christmas + the new year + my birthday = a trifecta of goodness). it’s the fresh canvas…the newness…the hope of what’s to come.

last year was the first year in a long time that the new year came & went, and i didn’t pay it much attention. ditto for my birthday. i actually kind of dreaded both of them; my heart just wasn’t ready to celebrate. when i am most honest, when i looked out to the 2014 that was ahead of us, i was anxious, scared, & desperately wanted to wish it away.

you see, just one week before christmas the year before (2013), we had an appointment that confirmed that the abdominal surgeries i have had in my life have done permanent damage that would not allow us to get pregnant. we were told that IVF would be our only option for trying to have a baby and that there would be a number of things that would need to fall into place in order for that to even be a possibility.

for a girl who had spent most of her childhood boasting that she was going to have 14 kids and most of her adult life thinking there was good reason to scale back just a little but still dreamt of a big family, the news was devastating.

to put it simply, 2014 was not my best year. it started out tough (lots of tears on new year’s day & we went to an IVF info session on my birthday), and it felt pretty awful more often than i’d like to admit. however, for all the hard stuff it brought, 2014 was undeniably a really important year. (do not be fooled – there were no rainbows & sunshine. remember the new year’s & birthday dreading?) in my heart, i knew it would be a long year.

early on i remember admitting that i had a deep sense that it would be a year of mountain-top-highs and deep-valley-lows. that could not have been more true. there was sadness, loss, heartache, and grieving that i still can’t quite put to words, yet there was sweetness, too. it was a year marked throughout with wonderful celebrations of my husband – things he worked incredibly hard for, and celebrating him was wonderful, with our first wedding anniversary, with deepened relationships that brought healing, and with words spoken over me & us by people that have been relentless & intentional about sticking right by our sides through everything.

the Lord is tender like that. He knows about the heartache & loss & sadness, and He carries us through. He gives us strength in ways we never though possible. He brings beauty from ashes.

although i closed the door on 2014 with a bit more gusto than other years and am deeply thankful for a new year, 2014 was – and still is – a formative year for me. in the way that only challenges & grieving do, i was faced with questions, fears, and decisions that helped me dig deeper into my faith, priorities, and dreams. i was invited to sit in hard places with people that love me & know me – people that reminded me i wasn’t alone, encouraged me, and supported me. we have a little tribe of people that continue to pray us through doctor’s appointments, procedures, and decisions…offer to come to doctor’s appointments…and text, call, send cards, and shower us with love – in person & across state lines. through it all, i can honestly look back on 2014 with a thankful heart – holding all of the joys & all of the sorrows – knowing that i & we could not be in this place today without what we came through. i know a greater depth of the strength the Lord through me, i know His character more intimately, our marriage is stronger, and our faith in the Lord’s provision, nearness, and grace is even stronger.

to bring things full circle, 10 days before this past christmas (2014), after a year of appointments, waiting, procedures, and more waiting, we got the news we had been hoping & praying for – one of the biggest pieces in our journey to IVF fell into place. with hopeful anticipation, we scheduled our last two appointments for January 2nd, and got ready to celebrate 2015. this year, i was ready to celebrate again. not because we got good news (although that was certainly a big part of it) but because we had come so far.

and celebrate we did. we even managed an extra fun celebration a few days before my birthday when we officially got our IVF protocol & found out that we could start our first cycle of IVF the next week! i think we both floated out of the doctor’s office that day! then my husband planned the sweetest birthday for me, and we got to sit and revel in the glory & grace of it all.

i wouldn’t have ever willingly chosen the path that we have been on for the past year, but i know that i know that i know that God is with us in it. i know that our babies are being fought for with every shred of our beings & that one day we will tell them the story of how we longed for them & loved them well before we ever knew them.

this isn’t easy to share, but i genuinely believe that each our stories matter. over this past year, it’s been the voices of women & my incredible spiritual dad (who walked this road with his daughter, Nicole) who have been down this awful infertility road that have brought me comfort, relief, and encouragement – blogs, conversations with the dearest friends, and even instagram posts. although each journey is unique and personal, there is a shared ache & hope that knits us all together. for that reason alone, i want to share our experience. because if it offers hope, encouragement, or makes just one person feel a little less alone, that’s all that matters.

[i’ll recount what our first few days have been like & our first check-up (which is tomorrow – Monday – morning) in the next post.]

holding hope

i am.

this. on repeat. since sunday.

wherever you are…whatever you are carrying…He’s with you in the middle of all of it. He’s holding onto you, & you can cling to him.

He will not leave you.
you are not alone.

there’s no space that His love can’t reach
there’s no place where we can’t find peace
there’s no end to Amazing Grace
take me in with your arms spread wide
take me in like an orphan child
Never let go, never leave my side.

i am,
holding on to You.
i am,
holding on to You.
in the middle of the storm,
i am holding on,
i am

i am,
holding on to You.
i am,
holding on to you.
in the middle of the storm,
i am holding on,
i am

Love like this, oh my God to find!
i am overwhelmed what a joy divine!
Love like this sets our hearts on fire!

i am,
holding on to You.
i am,
holding on to You.
in the middle of the storm,
i am holding on,
i am

i am,
holding on to You.
i am,
holding on to You.
in the middle of the storm,
i am holding on,
i am

this is my Resurrection Song
this is my Hallelujah Come
this is why to You i run
this is my Resurrection Song
this is my Hallelujah Come
this is why to You i run
there’s no space that His love can’t reach
there’s no place that we can’t find peace
there’s no end to Amazing Grace

i am,
holding on to You.
i am,
holding on to You.
in the middle of the storm,
i am holding on,
i am

i am,
holding on to You.
i am,
holding on to You.
in the middle of the storm,
i am holding on,
i am