RECIPE: Banana, Coconut and White Chocolate Bread

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I inherited some bananas after a scouting event last week. I am not a fan of bananas. I was kind of traumatized at a very young age from a banana incident that I rarely speak about, but lets just say it involved a fellow childhood friend over-indulging in bananas. Egh.

But therapy session aside, I don't mind baking with bananas. They add a sweet moistness to baked goods that allow you to sometimes lessen sugars or fats. But I wanted to try something different. I follow an amazing food blogger, Fragrantvanillacake, and she is just my idol and inspiration. She gets so creative with her baking and mixes things together that I would never think of. For instance, she recently posted some avocado chocolate chip cookies that made the Top 9 on Foodbuzz. So I wanted to try a different take on run-of-the-mill banana bread. Not so adventurous as FragrantVanillaCake, but something unique. So I thought about bananas being tropical, connecting that with some coconut I had in the pantry-like a pina colada-but without the pina. And then  I wanted some decadence because I was hoping for this to be dessert for Sunday evening. So I added some white chocolate chips to compliment the mild coconut. Maybe next time I will play with a pina colada banana bread? Add some spiced rum and some dried coconut and pineapple juice in the mix? Huh, maybe I can get a little nutty too, if I am brave enough?

Now about that rum...let's go find it.....


Banana, Coconut and White Chocolate Bread

4 oz. butter, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. coconut extract
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup toasted shredded coconut
3/4 white chocolate chips

2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350˚.





In a small bowl, mix flour with baking powder, baking soda, ground cinnamon and salt.





Whip the butter with a whisk until creamy. Whip the sugar and the sour cream. Mix until creamy. Add the mashed banana and mix well. Add the coconut extract and vanilla extract and mix. 




Whisk in the dry ingredients until just combined. Whisk in the toasted coconut and the white chocolate chips. Spray a loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pour the batter in the pan. Place pan on the middle rack. Back for 45 to 60 min. or until golden and toothpick comes out clean. Serve warm. Garnish with some shredded coconut.


LIFESTYLE: My "Un-Mom" Band List (another way to fight off the "Mom Jean" stigma)

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It happens to all of us at some point as we get older. That moment when someone refers to you as "Ma'am" v.s. "Miss".  The moment when you make a reference to an old movie or general pop culture and your audience stares at you blankly, not knowing what planet you're on. And you wonder to yourself, "When did this happen?"

Sadly, that has happened a lot to me lately.

I work in advertising, and it is a "young" industry. People that work in it need to stay up on trends, music and pop culture as much as anything else related to work. I also work with a lot of young people at my agency. Something I never really payed much attention to. I just am who I am. And in my mind, I am as old as I feel, and I don't feel that old. But when we worked on a recent TV commercial using an '80's celebrity, a few people on my team needed to Wikipedia that celebrity to even find out about him. It was a massive pot hole on my road to "aging denial".

When it comes to music, I think people have a perception of what we Moms listen too. And don't get me wrong, I have a healthy dose of old Journey, Duran Duran, Madonna and Sting- just like any woman that went to high school in the 80's. But it was so funny when I was listening to The Killers & Placebo in my office. A coworker came in and mentioned how surprised they were that I was listening to those bands. (After all, I was a MOM). Now this bugged me. I am a creative leader in my organization. I have to play the part of someone that has a pulse on what is going on out there. And I really try to. It's a lot of work, but I do get help.

I have to admit, I would not get exposure to all the new indie bands out there if it wasn't for my husband. He is a huge "music snob" and is always finding new, underground bands to share with me. It's kind of his hobby. I just don't have the energy or time with all my other hobbies to stay up on it at all. But if it wasn't for him, I would be stuck in the 90's like the horrible radio stations that crowd the Chicago air waves. (well, I give WXRT a pass. They try.)

SO I thought I would share with you my "UnMom Band List". One, to share some great bands with you that you may or may not have had exposure to. And Two, to help you richen up your own playlist so that people can know how cool and hip you REALLY are. Because you are! After all, you are online, reading blogs and socially savvy. I mean, you are reading this, aren't you!?

Also, there are two great mags that help stay up on music trends and bands. One is an online magazine that focuses on music but mixes art, games and other culture called PASTE. And another great printed magazine just about music is called Under The Radar. Great stuff.

"UnMom Band List"

The Knife
Minipop
Chairlift
The Naked and Famous
Feeder
Metric
Modest Mouse
Santigold
Charm Particles
Foster the People
Gotye
The Joy Formidable
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Simon Wilcox
The Sounds
Tegan and Sara
One Republic
Sharon Van Etten
Passion Pit
Frou Frou
The Grates
Muse 
Silversun Pickups
Two Door Cinema Club
The Fray
Frightened Rabbit
Placebo
She Wants Revenge
Killers
Florence and the Machines
Nada Surf
Coldplay
Interpol
Travis
The Rakes
Mike Snow
Snow Patrol
Keane
Postal Service

RECIPE: Home Brewed, Cold Press Iced Coffee

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I am not sure where you are, but for us in Chicago, it has been unseasonably hot for March (like 85˚ hot!). And on recent mornings, I have gotten that summertime craving for a tall cup of iced coffee. Trips to McDonald's and Starbucks every morning, however, can get pretty pricey.  I have also had really bad "iced coffee" at most independent cafes. You know...where the girl behind the counter pours hot coffee over ice cubes and calls that iced? I am not sure if you ever have experienced this, but if you are like me and need coffee to make peace with the world in the morning, you can't drink swill such as this. It's so bad, you might just want to kick someone in the knees. Sorry, but I get a little violent about coffee. Ask my coworkers. Nothing sets me off more than being left a half cup of coffee in the pot with not even a fresh pot started! I think the whole world should spend at least 6 months waiting tables to learn proper kitchen etiquette.

But I digress.

Hot coffee chilled in the fridge and then poured on ice can work. I've done it myself with left over coffee. It's not a bad thing to do during the summer, actually. I keep a sealed pitcher in the fridge and I just keep storing left over coffee in it. It's a great way to not waste good coffee.

But the best iced coffee is cold pressed. When it sits in cold tap water for an extended period of time, it slow brews without heat. The slow brew in cold water is something magical. What is created is a creamy, less bitter cup of coffee with caramel/mocha undertones. I think you can taste a lot more of the layers of coffee.

If you feel that pouring this deliciousness over ice cubes waters things down, you can pour coffee into ice cube trays to make coffee ice cubes! I myself don't mind just plain ice, but that's just me.

You will need a Bodum French Press to make cold-press coffee. I am not sure if there are other ways to make it, but if you know of some, please comment below! Now there is still time tonight...give it a try!


Home Brewed, Cold Press Iced Coffee





1: In a coffee grinder, pour 7 Tbsp. scoops of strong coffee beans (we use Costa Rican or Sumatra dark roasts). Grind for 16 seconds while shaking. Then hit it 2-3 more times for good measure.


2: Pour into the coffee press.



3: Add cold water to about 1 1/2" from the top. Give it a good stir. Place the wire mesh top on but do not press down. Let sit at room temperature, undisturbed, for about 6-8 hours or overnight.


4: In the morning, press down until all the way down. Pour the concentrated cold press coffee in a larger lidded container. Pour about the same quantity of ice cold water into the concentrated coffee. I prefer it equal parts coffee concentrate and water. But if you prefer a really strong brew, you might want to pour less than equal amounts and taste it, and see how much water you want.

5: Pour over ice, and dress up as you want! I usually pack up my lidded container to work and keep it in the fridge so I can drink it all day...and share with my pals.

RECIPE: "Dr. Seuss Hat" Candied Marshmallow Pops

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Happy Belated 100 year Birthday to Dr. Seuss! Today my daughter and I saw The Lorax, and we just loved it. In honor of all things Seuss, I wanted to share with you how to make one of my hottest sellers at my recent fundraising bake sale. They are mini Cat in the Hat pops, made from candy melts and marshmallows. They are not that hard to make, you just need a little patience. Wilton's candy melts are incredibly easy to melt and are quite forgiving. They also set pretty quickly so that you can move on to the next steps without being up all night finishing these. Also, I wanted to credit the idea for these to a great family site called family kitchen.

Anything covered with a candy melt is preserved to a point, at room temp for almost a week. You just need to individually cover each item tightly with a candy wrapper bag and twist tie, or even a sandwich bag with a twist tie. I have also found that if you use candy melts on homemade cake pops and you individually wrap each pop, then store in an airtight container or plastic wrapped box in the refrigerator, they can keep up to a week without sweating or getting weird. On the contrary, Wilton advises not to refrigerate or freeze the candy melts once used, but like I said, I got it to work out.

But these hats I kept on the counter individually wrapped for 4 days and they were perfectly fine. The kids went crazy for them! A quick trip to a craft store that sells candy making items, plus a bag of marshmallows-and you are all set to go!

One last note, I kept my pops here on the shorter side. For more authentic Cat in the Hat pops, you could make each hat the way I have shown, but double-stacking each so they are a little taller and match the true Cat in the Hat look.

"Dr. Seuss Hat" Candied Marshmallow Pops

You will need:
1 12 oz. bag Wilton white candy melts
1 12 oz. bag Wilton red candy melts
canola oil
24+ lollipop sticks
candy bags with twist ties (or sandwich bags)
Large Marshmallows
a toothpick or bamboo stick
Styrofoam squares
parchment paper and a pencil
a squeeze bottle (Wilton sells these as well)

A foot tall Styrofoam cone and a wide blue ribbon wrapped around it from top to bottom for display

Directions:


First, figure out your hat brims. On a piece of paper, size up a marshmallow, and find a circular guide that gives you a 1/2" or so circle bigger than the size of your marshmallow. I found my 1/4 cup to work out perfectly. Using a pencil and your circle guide, make about 6-8 circles on a piece of paper, about 1-2" apart.


Cut a large piece of parchment and slip your notepaper with your circles under the parchment. this will be your guide. You want the parchment to be big enough to hold about 24 hat brims.



Pour just over half of your white candy melts into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave at half power for 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave again at half power for 30 second. Stir again. Microwave at half power for 15 seconds. Stir again. If not thin enough, go 15 more seconds at half power. Pour about 1/2 Tbsp. canola oil in the candy and stir. Using a spoon, ladle a little over half the melted candy into the squeeze bottle. Squeeze around your circle guides right on the parchment. Fill in the circles, and make sure they have a nice thickness for the discs (about 1/8 inch thick). Keep going until your circles are filled. Gently move the notepaper under the parchment into a new, open area, and draw and fill some more circles. I was able to make 24, but if you have a lot of candy melts, you could easily make more.


Let the brims set. As they are almost set, move on to the lollipop sticks. Take one, dip it into some candy melt, and gently push into the center of the disc. Hold it there for 15-30 seconds. The candy melt at the end will act as "glue". You will be able to let it go and the stick will finish "setting" into the brim. While these are setting, start covering the marshmallows.

Whatever is left on your squeeze bottle, dump it back into your melting bowl. You will need a good cup or so of candy melt in the bowl for the marshmallows. So at this point, you may need to add more and microwave it at half power again until you get a good consistency. Cut another piece of parchment and lay it on the table. With a spoon and a toothpick or bamboo stick, dip the marshmallow into the candy melt. Roll it around until completely covered. With the spoon, fish it out. Set it close to the end, and tap the spoon against the bowl so that excess candy drips off and it spreads into a nice, even coating. Using your stick, scoot it off the spoon and onto the parchment from the bottom. Continue until all the marshmallows are covered. Let set.


While those are setting, gently pull the "brims" off the parchment, and turn over. Stick them right side up into the Styrofoam squares so they are ready for attachment.




In a bowl, melt half the red candy melts in the same manner as the white. Add the 1/2 Tbsp. canola oil so it has a thin consistency. When the white marshmallows are set completely, you can add the first "red ring". Gently dip each marshmallow end, straight up and down, into the red candy, until you have about a 1/4 inch stripe. Pull up and gently swing or tap from side to side to get off excess. With a twist and quick turn upside down, you can place them on the parchment to set. Once all set, you can do the same technique with the bottoms. However, instead of turning over, you will place the wet red bottom side right onto a waiting brim. Gently hold it there for 15-30 seconds. It starts to set up quickly. When you think it won't move, re stick it back into the Styrofoam as straight as possible so they set up straight and even.

Let them set up in peace for a couple of hours. Then, wrap each in a candy bag or sandwich bag with a twist tie so they do not dry out and get stale. They can stay at room temp, sealed in this way for up to a week.

I wrapped a tall Styrofoam cone with a wide, silk, blue ribbon, from the bottom to the top. Then I slipped each wrapped pop through the ribbon in various places, almost making a tree. It was a creative way to display the pops without damaging them.

TUESDAY INFOGRAPHIC: St. Patrick's Day Lucky Trivia

Pin It Let me just say, I am not Irish. I was always really sad in school, because I felt like every kid in my class was Irish but me, and they got a day all to themselves. "What about the Italians!?", I would ask my mother. She would tell me how our day was St. Joseph's Day, but we did not get to wear red and eat zeppole at school! Irish kids had all the luck.

Well, someone just said to me that everyone is Irish on St Patrick's day. So I am going with that. And when my daughter gets a snarky question about her "Irishness" when she wears her Snoopy "Kiss Me I'm Irish!" shirt in honor of St. Patrick's Day, I will tell her to tell those snooty kids the same.

ENJOY and Happy St. Patrick's Day from this first generation Italian. Be safe!


7 Lucky Facts about St Patrick's Day [Infographic]
Via: DegreeSearch.org

RECIPE: Tart Raspberry & Kirsch Crumble Bars

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Spring is in the air, and nothing says Spring but fresh fruit & berries. I had a hankering for some berry bars, but raspberries are still not quite in season. You can get them at the store, but for 4-5 dollars a pint! You need a lot of raspberries to make a good amount of bars, and well, we are on a budget like the rest of the country! So I opted to play with a bag of frozen ones instead. I added a generous splash of Kirsch to liven them up after defrosting. You can use any cherry or berry liquor you have on hand. You could even substitute Amaretto to kick up the almond undertones if you wish. You can also skip the liquor all together, and maybe just add a splash of lemon juice, orange juice or vanilla. This recipe makes tart bars. If you prefer a jammier, sweeter fruit flavor kick up the sugar a little in the raspberries.

Enjoy the first signs of Spring!

Tart Raspberry & Kirsch Crumble Bars


Ingredients:

2 bags frozen whole raspberries, 12 oz. each
2 Tbsp. Kirsch
1 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar, divided as such
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
4 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375˚. Spray a 13 x 9 pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.


Pour the frozen raspberries in a medium size bowl. Let sit out at room temp. 1-2 hours until mostly defrosted.


In a medium bowl, mix flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon with a fork. Cut the shortening into the flour with a pastry cutter and mash the flour until first the texture of cornmeal. Lightly whip an egg with a fork. Add to the flour mixture and mix with the pastry cutter until large clumps form. Press with your fingers. Pour a little over half of the mixture into the pan. Press it down with the palms of your hands, creating an even 3/8" crust along the bottom. Reserve the rest of the mixture for the crumble top.


To your defrosted raspberries, add the kirsch, 1/2 cup sugar and the cornstarch. Toss lightly to coat, but don't over mix with a spoon. You don't want to break up the raspberries too much. Pour evenly over the shortbread crust. With the remaining crumble, add the almonds and mix. With your hands, sprinkle the crumble with the almonds over the top. It's OK if areas of raspberries are showing through. It is part of the look and the flavor.


Bake on the middle rack for 45 min-1 hour. The crumble will have a light golden color and the fruit is bubbly and thick. Let sit out, cool and set for a couple hours before cutting. Store in an airtight container for a couple days.

LIFESTYLE: Open Books Bookstore: Keeping Literacy and the Urban Bookshop Experience Alive and Well in Chicago

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I have lived in the city since college, and there were many things that drew me to the city. I loved the neighborhood shopping districts, the eclectic restaurants, the small art galleries, the diverse people, and the independent bookstores nestled among quaint neighborhoods. I was always inspired by one of my favorite Woody Allen movies, Hannah and Her Sisters. Remember that scene where Lee takes Elliot to a great, eclectic bookstore where he buys an e.e Cummings book for her? That shop looked so cool, and reminded me of another bookshop I stumbled into during my visit to Paris that was dusty, cluttered, off the beaten path and full of treasures! Sadly, this bookstore in New York (see pic below) is now a fancy Pub and Grill. My point is made.




Enter the big box chains, and out went many independent bookstores. They are not easy to find any more. Now, with the addition of digital readers and Amazon, will brick and mortar bookstores survive? And the other question is, what happens to all the paper books? As more people downsize to digital readers, paper books need homes. But it is harder to find places that actually take used books for donations. Our public library system in Chicago does not take donated books. But a wonderful librarian, who I will thank forever, told me about Open Books, who does!

Open books first and foremost is a non profit organization, and here is their mission:


Open Books is a nonprofit social venture that operates an extraordinary bookstore, provides community programs, and mobilizes passionate volunteers to promote literacy in Chicago and beyond.


And their "hub" is their amazing book shop. When I walked around, browsing around their shelves, I did not want to leave. The place just has great karma. It is not "dusty and cluttered" but bright, colorful and clean. There is a nice lounge area with cushy couches where you can flip through a book. There is a great children's area in the back where they feature story times for children. All the books are donated and funds go toward their literacy and writing programs. They will take books for all ages, and those that don't get sold in the store, they find other homes for within the community. Volunteers work the shop as well as their programs. It is a pretty amazing place and organization.

Please do stop by the store if you are ever in the city! It is everything that an urban book store should be and more. Browse their shelves, buy some books, get cozy in their lounge. If you are in the area and have old books to toss, please drop them off here. Those used books will do so many good things on so many levels. If you have a local book shop in your neighborhood, please support them. They are a rare treasure, and add to the fabric of our culture and community. 

I am so proud, excited and happy that they agreed to celebrate World Read Aloud Day tomorrow with me! We will co-run a bake sale there and a story hour! So stop by tomorrow! You can cozy up with a book and a home made cake pop or Samoa brownie made by yours truly for $1! As you know,  I am dangerous in the kitchen, and I would love to see you!






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