On Birthdays and Boston Cream Pie

20 Jul

17 mo 012

I’ve had this blog for almost 3 years and somehow it does not include my Boston Cream Pie. What?!!!

However, it does include the spooktacular Boston “Scream” Pie Halloween rendition.

It’s my MIL’s favorite birthday pie cake…and also my grandmother’s…and occasionally gets requested by my sister.

I’ve dubbed it THE BIRTHDAY PIE.

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Eating leftover birthday cake for breakfast like a grown-up. Because that’s what grown-ups do, right?? #dontmindthechocolatebeard

I love making birthday cakes. And baking for others in general. It’s such an–often literally–sweet way to show someone you care about them. I am always reminded of this NPR essay from the This I Believe archives (listen to it–it’s good). We relive our past and honor those who came before us when we bake treasured family recipes, and pave the way for the future when we try new recipes–destined to become family favorites and part of new traditions.

And so I bake. Birthday cakes for family. Cookies for playdates. Pumpkin pie for my pumpkin-loving husband.

It all adds up to a pretty sweet life–especially the eating-cake-for-breakfast part. ;-)

Boston Cream Pie

Part 1: The Cake

I love, love, love this hot-milk sponge cake.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup sugar

5 large eggs

1/4 milk

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat sugar and eggs until light-colored, tripled in volume and the consistency of softly whipped cream. Meanwhile, heat butter and milk in a small saucepan until butter is melted.

In roughly 3 additions, gently fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Reheat the milk mixture until it’s piping hot and fold it in until well combined. Pour into 2 greased 9-inch round cake pans and bake for 20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The cake should also lightly spring back to the touch when done. Let cool at least slightly before removing from pan.

Part 2: The Filling

Since the pastry cream* needs to be refrigerated, you can make it first if you please–or even the day before.

1/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

4 large egg yolks

1 1/3 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium bowl, beat sugar, flour, cornstarch and eggs on high until thick and pale yellow, at least 2 minutes. Meanwhile, bring milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Gradually pour 1/3 of the hot-milk mixture into the egg mixture, stirring to combine. Scrape the egg mixture back into the pan and continue to cook over low to medium heat until the mixture is thickened and begins to bubble–whisking constantly to avoid scorching it. Then, continue to cook for 45 to 60 seconds.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour into a clean bowl and cover the surface with a piece of wax paper to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool, then refrigerate before using.

*I know it sounds fancy, but it’s really not hard to pull off!

Part 3: The Chocolate Glaze

Here’s the part where I tell you to just throw some chocolate and maybe sugar and a little bit of liquid in a double boiler and see what happens. ;-)

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

6 tablespoons freshly brewed coffee, milk or water

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter or less, cut into small pieces.

The ingredients listed above appear in the Joy of Cooking’s Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze Recipe–which I always use but almost never follow. The key is to melt the chocolate, add some sugar to make it sweeter if desired (sometimes I start with an unsweetened baker’s bar so the added sugar is a must), add some liquid (usually milk) until it is meltly and smooth. Remove from heat then add as much butter as seems reasonable (almost never more than 1/2 stick) and drizzle the whole thing over the cake, letting it drip down the sides as pictured above. You can’t mess this up.

That’s it! Refrigerate until serving, but let come to room temp for 20 minutes or so to take the chill off. All recipes adapted from The Joy of Cooking.

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Sweet 16

26 Jun

Long time no write! You’ll be happy to know that Eric and I made our book bar date happen (mentioned here) and we HIGHLY recommend it. But this post isn’t about that. I thought it’d be fun to catch up on Emily’s day-to-day (like this post and this post of yore). She is constantly changing, a little redheaded blur that buzzes past me and is on to the next thing before I can capture the thing she just did. So here’s a peak into RIGHT NOW–a time capsule if you will–before she wakes up in the morning and changes all over again.

P.S. There’s a recipe for Pineapple Upside-Down Cake at the end…because I can’t help myself.

My midafternoon smoothie companion: Proudly making messes daily

Sixteen months is learning something new every day. EVERY DAY. Sixteen months is running through the house, although sometimes I wish you wouldn’t. Hence sixteen months is also full of falls and scratched-up knees, which almost never slow you down. Sixteen months is a handful of spoken words (mama, dadada, woof, Ga for Garfield, uh-oh…The Important Stuff), a couple of signs (more and all done), and what seems like an unlimited vocabulary of words that you know and respond to accordingly. Sixteen months is also pointing…and often pointing and screaming.

Every backyard needs a “Little Mermaid”

Sixteen months is afternoon dips in the backyard splash pool and sprinklers, and an insane amount of fun at the Valley’s many splash pads. Sixteen months is discovering that the AJ’s fountain makes a decent splash pad in a pinch (and why Mommy met her friend there without you the other week). Sixteen months is making friends and figuring out how to interact and play with the little people you see regularly. Sixteen months is knocking over another redhead when you randomly decided to give her a hug (but don’t worry–it scared you way more than her) and holding hands with a Valentine birthday twin at the aforementioned splash pad. Sixteen months is sharing toys (most of the time, anyway) and occasionally hitting another kid on the head with one of them.

A sticky situation: Please sign here, here, here and here.

Sixteen months is tantrums. Tantrums when we take something away from you. Tantrums when we tell you no. Tantrums when you’re overtired. Daddy calls them NBA flops. Sixteen months is doing almost anything to snap said toddler out of tantrum (getting on all fours and barking like a dog usually works…so do cookies). Thankfully, sixteen months is also full of “Happy Hours.” No, not that happy hour, although there’s plenty of those for Mom and Dad after bedtime (may I suggest KBC Blueberry Wheat Ale this summer?), but the magical 5 o’clock hour where no matter the day you’ve had, you turn into the happiest, silliest, hyper little girl for the home stretch of your day–standing on your head, trying to get us to chase you, basically having the time of your life. This is such a welcome change from the witching hour that used to take place at this time. Thank you for that.

Big girl car seat = no nap transfers (but still grateful for an extra nap wherever and whenever and however I get it).

Sixteen months is dropping a nap, but luckily sweet 16 still means a solid 12 hours of sleep. Sixteen months is hugs. Arms-wide-open-and-coming-at-you hugs. For Mom. For Dad. For grandmas, grandpas, aunts and uncles. Even for other moms who invite you over for playdates. Sixteen months is still sucking on your left two fingers to help you drift off to dreamland (whatever does the trick) and wearing a size XL SleepSack…and destroying one of them at 15 months when you decided it would be more fun to smear Vaseline ALL OVER IT instead of taking your afternoon nap.

THIS is the face of 16 months

Sixteen months is nonsensical sentences that make perfect sense to you and to your dolls and stuffed toys. Sixteen months is the beginning of make-believe play–especially feeding your toys and changing their diapers (you will make an excellent mother someday). Sixteen months is feeding yourself with a spoon–something you did the very first time we fed you solids–but now masterfully feeding yourself Cheerios, applesauce, yogurt, and most recently an ENTIRE SCOOP of ice cream. Sixteen months is messes. Lots and lots and LOTS of messes. In part because sixteen months also means tossing your food overboard when you’re through. Sixteen months is also googling “how to get Play-Doh out of carpet.”

Daddy’s Little Helper

Sixteen months is helping unload the dishwasher (and having mild heart attacks when you hand me something breakable), standing on your stepstool to load the washing machine dirty sock by dirty sock (it’s a slooooooow process), fetching the newspaper and putting it on the kitchen table, and even picking up and throwing away trash. Sixteen months is imitating face washing, putting on makeup, brushing your teeth (which I actually wish you would do) and trying on my shoes.

Taking selfies to pass the time…Emily thinks this is HILARIOUS.

Sixteen months is Mom and Dad thinking about spending our first night (or two) away if a willing grandparent would pretty pretty please watch you (#shesnotsobad). Sixteen months is balancing some side work with being a playgroup captain…and (most days) feeling like I can have my cake and eat it too. Sixteen months is beaming with pride each time you do or say or discover something new. Sixteen months is as sweet as can be–and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And so, let’s eat cake!

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Guess who made this cake to celebrate a made-up holiday from my childhood?? Now THAT’S sweet. ;-)

2 tablespoons butter

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 8-ounce can pineapple slices, drained and halved (we used fresh-cut square chunks)

4 maraschino cherries, halved

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

2/3 cup milk

1/4 cup butter, softned

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a 9-inch round cake pan. Stir in brown sugar and 1 tablespoon water. Arrange pineapples and cherries in pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, sugar and baking powder. Add milk, 1/4 cup butter, egg and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed until combined. Spoon batter over fruit and bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate. Serve warm.

From Better Homes and Gardens

Psst! Feel like a trip down memory lane? Here’s are similar-ish posts from one month, two months, six months, ten months and one year.

 

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Desert Date

18 Apr

This post is a month old–what else is new old?

Truth is, I’m not in this space as much as I’d like. I think this rambunctious 14-month-old has something to do with it:

Just a kid in a candy store. We were SUPPOSED to be hanging out with our friends at a splash pad playdate. Instead, I spent the better part of an hour chasing Emily in and out of this nearby candy store before giving up and heading home. #likeamagnet #whyidonthavetimetowrite #thehair

But last month’s date’s been on my mind, compliments of the full moon. (Yes, we’re doing monthly dates. No, it wasn’t a New Year’s Resolution. Yes, we talk about our kid while we’re out. And it’s awesome.)

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Last month found us at the Desert Botanical Garden for the Chihuly exhibit. We’d been tipped off that the 4-8pm time slot would enable us to see the glass installations by day and also lit up at night, but through no fault planning of our own, we serendipitously wound up there on the night of the full moon.

Best. Date. Ever.

Eric was in photography heaven (and so were the crowds of photography students who actually planned to be there for the full moon) so I’ll let his photos (mostly) speak for themselves:

Needles among the cacti

Neon hills

One of these things is not like the other…

Perhaps this one was beamed down from an alien spaceship…I can feel those creepy-crawlies.

This one reminds me of a Dr. Seuss novel. (See, I told you we talk about the baby on date night.)

The fireball

Day…

…Night

Saguaro silhouette

Boating party

Goodnight Moon. (Yet another kid’s book reference…)

This month’s date was a little less romantic (at a D-backs game with our families, but without the baby!), but we have big plans to check out Central Phoenix’s not-yet-opened Changing Hands’ First Draft bookstore/bar (!!!) in May. Books? Beer? No baby? We’re there.

Psst! Wanna see the glass works of art for yourself? The exhibit runs through May 18th. 

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In Old News, Cabbage Gratin

28 Mar

No alcohol was consumed during this photo shoot ;)

Apparently this blog has a reputation for untimely St. Patrick’s Day posts (see herehere aaaand here).

But isn’t that the Irish way? I stayed up past my bedtime many nights on our trip to the emerald isle, patiently sipping Guinness in a pub as I waited for the Celtic music to start at 9:30pm (as the guidebooks promised), only to have the guitar players and tin whistlers saunter in at 9:45 or 9:50. On a particularly late night, even one of the musicians grew tired so naturally a fellow bandmate hollered to the barmaid: Get her an Irish coffee without the Irish!

That’s Ireland. And I love it so.

Eric made this cabbage gratin to use up the leftover cabbage from our St. Patrick’s Day festivities, and while it may not look it, it was amazing. Like a cross between a quiche and, well, a cabbage I guess. I told Eric it tasted like something I’d order in a tearoom, which is pretty much the highest compliment I could give.

Our Irish lassie…1 year ago

But back to the booze. We didn’t take posed pictures of Emily during her first year with a lovie or special object to show how much she’s grown (arguably, though, she’s still one highly-photographed little lady). The closest thing we have to measure her increasing stature is a bottle of whiskey from her first St. Paddy’s Day, way back when she was just a wee lassie of 1 month old. Now that bottle is just a little taller than her knee. 

As the Irish say: Is maith an scéalaí an aimsir. Or, time is a great storyteller. 

Cabbage Gratin

A delicate and subtle dish that makes about 6 servings

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

6 cups cabbage (about a pound), cooked and shredded (and ideally leftover from St. Patrick’s Day)

2 large eggs

1 cup milk

1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)

Butter a 2-quart gratin dish and layer with 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cheddar cheese, flour, salt and cardamon. Add the cabbage to the mixture, pour into the gratin dish, and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes or until golden brown. Put your 13-month-old down for a nap and enjoy on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Adapted from–where else–The Joy of Cooking

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Lemons and cookies and cocktails, oh my!

11 Mar

It’s mid-March, which means our lemon tree looks like this:

What do you do with thousands of lemons? You make these cookies and this cocktail.

THESE cookies.

Lemon shortbread cookies

These lemon cloud cookies were made for a lemonade playplate at the park. They had a satisfying crunch, tasted of lemon (duh), and were devoured by a crowd of happy sticky-fingered kids.

THIS cocktail.

Whiskey Sour

This cocktail was consumed while making these cookies. I had half a lemon and a hankering for whiskey, and then this happened:

Whiskey Sour 001

Garfield is apparently excited for the new season of Mad Men too…IndianaGeorge, please don’t cancel your cable!!!

Lemon Cloud Cookies

Makes just a little over 2 sheets of cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cornstarch

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Juice of half a large lemon (save the other half for cocktail below)

1 heaping teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated

Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Batter may look broken and curdled.  Beat in the lemon juice and zest.

Gradually beat in the flour.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and give the dough a few good turns with your spatula to bring it all together.

Drop rounded tablespoons of dough about 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes or until slightly golden. Slide the parchment paper off the pan to cool completely.

Adapted from the always-fabulous Joy the Baker

Whiskey Sour

Makes one drink

Shot of whiskey

Juice of half a lemon

Water, about 3/4 shot glass worth

1 tablespoon sugar

Stir and serve on the rocks. Sip over an episode of Mad Men if you’re in the mood. ;-)

Recipe adapted from a plethora of lemon cocktail recipes Eric found somewhere on the Interweb…did I mention we have a lot of lemons? We’re considering dubbing it the signature cocktail of The Desert Abode…

Psst! Jonesing for more lemon recipes? Check out this lemon week post of yore.

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The Mad Hatter’s Take on Tea Sandwiches

5 Mar

Mommy_Job

It’s Thursday night. I’m at the Sugar Bowl with my sister and brother-in-law, pre-kids. Eric calls to say he’s running late and that we should order without him.

So we do.

Without hesitation and without looking at the menu, the three of us order The Turkey Special in unison: a slab of roasted turkey complete with stuffing and mashed potatoes smothered in gravy.

It’s Turkey Thursday–after all–the reason we’re here.

Best_daddy

Eric enters the 50s-era restaurant and saddles up to the table. The waitress comes round and asks Eric what he wants–and, without hesitation–he orders:

“I’ll have the tea sandwiches.”

No manly plate of meat for him. Eric’s a tea-sandwich guy through and through. I kind of love this about him. Don’t get me wrong, he will happily eat–and more importantly, grill–a mean steak, but what can I say: The guy loves tea sandwiches.

All_Finished

This makes him the perfect afternoon tea date because while he loves tea sandwiches, I feel ho-hum about them. I’m in it for the scones and desserts (and tea of course). It’s how I got him to take me to tea for the very first time at Butchart Gardens in Victoria–when he didn’t even like tea. As it turned out, my tea-sandwich-loving husband not only ate my share of the tiny finger sandwiches that day, but he also drank me under the table and has been my teatime companion ever since.

All images courtesy of The Sugar Bowl. You can click to enlarge them if you wish.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Sandwiches (seen in this post)

Take note!
All recipes are from The Joy of Cooking. They have an excellent section devoted to the art of tea sandwiches entitled: Ideas for Tea Sandwiches. We doubled all recipes herein, which required 3 loaves of bread (crusts removed) and served 15 people. Should you not be throwing a Mad Hatter birthday tea party (and you really should), the portions below are more apt to feed a family rather than a crowd.

Chicken salad
2 to 2 1/2 cups shredded white and dark chicken meat
1 cup celery, diced
1/2 to 1 cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove skin from chicken and Crock-Pot for 3 to 3 1/2 hours on high until chicken is cooked and falls off the bone. Note that it is important to use white and dark meat for the best flavor (we used split chicken breasts and leg quarters). Cool and refrigerate until ready to prepare tea sandwiches. Then, combine all ingredients and spread on bread.

Egg salad
Combine in a medium bowl:
6 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped
1/4 to 1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons onions, minced
2 tablespoons celery, minced
Pepper to taste
Refrigerate until cold and spread on bread.

Cucumber
Bring your butter to room temperature (for high tea, we suggest you spring for the good stuff: Kerry Gold). Peel and thinly slice one cucumber. Spread softened butter on bread and add cucumber slices, slightly overlapping. 

Psst! Made some yummy lemon shortbread cookies for a playdate today. Recipe coming at ya soon–with bonus cocktail recipe! Cocktail not consumed at playdate… ;-)

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A Mad Hatter Tea Party

20 Feb

For a little girl who loves tea parties, there was really no other way to celebrate her 1st birthday…

Alice in wonderland tea party b&w

And since I adore the illustrations in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, here’s a party peek through the looking-glass.

THE PARTY DRESS

The dress

Green satin with a lace flower overlay and a big ol’ bow in the back. Shoes optional.

THE MAD HATTER

Aka: Daddy in a top hat

THE ONESIES

Onesies from days gone by…

THE BALLOONS

A-buck-a-balloon post-Valentine’s-Day closeout. Valentine birthday for the win.

THE MENU

(Click to enlarge if you so please)

THE TEA SANDWICHES

Compliments of The Mad Hatter: a tea-sandwich-loving Dad

THE TABLES

Flowers and cupids and hearts, oh my!

Tea for ONE (or 15 plus two babies)

The kiddie table, complete with play tea set

THE HOSTESS WITH THE MOSTEST

Sat though one course and spent the rest of the tea party running back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room “entertaining” her guests ;)

THE CAKE

Beet-red velvet cake with orange buttercream–accompanied by a smash cake that the birthday girl shared with a VERY happy dog.

THE SPECIAL GUEST

The other “Alice” in ONEderland…a very special Great-Great Aunt

THE PRESENTS

Piled high outside on a warm sunny day #winterbirthdayinphx

THE FAVORS

Cornmeal sugar cookie hearts packaged in owl Valentines

THE GOOD TIMES

Oh what fun it is to turn ONE.

THE AFTER PARTY

When you’re too excited to go to sleep, the next best thing is to play fetch with your doggie cousin ;-)

Welcome to ONEderland, Emily Alice! Down the rabbit hole we go…

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Valentine’s Day: A Mother’s Retrospective

13 Feb

Last Valentine’s Eve I ate spicy Mexican food in an attempt to get my labor started…

This February 13th I will crawl into bed equal parts excited and sad that my baby will turn 1 the next day (and there’s no old wives’ tale I can try to stop it from happening).

Last Valentine’s Day I held you in my arms for the very first time…

This Valentine’s Day I will hold you in my arms–briefly–for the thousandth time before you want down to walk run around the house.

Last Valentine’s Day I had no idea what the year had in store for us–or what taking care of a baby would be like…

This Valentine’s Day I have no idea what the year has in store for us–or what parenting a toddler will be like.

But I do know that I love you more than words or even pictures of the two of us can convey–and I’ve never been happier. Happy (almost) birthday my darling girl.

You will always be Mommy’s special Valentine.

Psst! Mad Hatter tea party prep is underway…stay tuned for a birthday party recap!

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Luck be a Potato Salad

4 Feb

The first new recipe of the year goes to…Eric!

We hosted a Pennsylvania Dutch New Year’s dinner party in which we grilled pork chops and ate sauerkraut in hopes of having good luck in the New Year…

One month in, I’d say we’re off to a pretty good start–except for a nasty 24-hour stomach bug that took our family out two weeks ago. Parenting merit badge awarded for getting our babe through her first vomiting spell. Won’t be the last, I’m sure.

But back to the potato salad. We wanted something to round out the meal and thought we’d keep things nice and simple by picking up some potato salad. However, the pre-made stuff was that imperfect combination of expensive and processed-looking to keep us from opening up our wallets…and so we came home with a bag of potatoes instead.

I mean, how hard could it be? 

Apparently, not very hard at all. Eric put this together lickety-split before I could say, “You’re done already?!”

And as luck would have it, it turned out so, soooo good.

Classic Potato Salad 

Makes a ton!

6 medium potatoes (about 2 pounds)

1 1/4 cups mayonnaise

1 heaping tablespoon prepared mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup onion, finely chopped

2 Dill pickles, finely chopped

6 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped

Peel and boil potatoes until tender. Drain water and cool slightly.

In a large boil, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper. Stir in the onion and pickles. Add the potatoes and eggs. Toss lightly to coat. Cover and chill. If desired, sprinkle with paprika just before serving.

Recipe adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

Psst! Ten days to someone’s FIRST birthday! Making this cake for our little Valentine. ;-)

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Biltmore Tea (and a birthday wish for two)

26 Jan

I turned 31 this month. Although it was less fanfare-y than 30, it still felt like a BIG year. This being the year that I became a mother and all. My thirty-first year was the most wonderful, exhausting, exhilarating, overwhelming and joyous year of my life–all wrapped up in a sweet redheaded package. ;-)

Naturally, we celebrated by having high tea.

This year’s birthday tea destination was Arizona Biltmore. Eric and I sipped hazelnut truffle and cherry marzipan tea (yes, they are as good as they sound) and munched on delicate tea sandwiches and scones topped with Denvonshire clotted cream as we enjoyed a few quiet hours to reflect on the year.

Almost 1 going on 31…playing dress up with Mommy’s birthday shoes

But the best birthday present of all came the morning before afternoon tea, when our Valentine took her FIRST steps (four to be exact) much to our surprise and delight.

Which reminded me that if I’m turning 31–then she’s turning ONE. And she’s having a birthday tea party–Mad Hatter style–of her own in a few short weeks.

Oh, how time flies little one.

And so I raise my teacup and make a birthday wish for both of us: May your second and my thirty-second year be our best yet, with many more happy years ahead of us.

Cheers to that!

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