GARDEN VIDEO: How to Prep Your Peonies this Spring

Pin It It's time, gardeners! The weather has been on the cool side in the midwest but the garden isn't waiting for that perfect day-and your plants need some tending. Peonies and roses are my first plants on my to do list. Here, I show you what I do to get nice peonies in May.

Everyone has their own secret garden tips, please share yours with my readers! A happy garden makes the world a better place-really!

Also, I mention roses above. If you also want to know about my tips on rose spring care, I have a step by step video here.

MOMMYHOOD: The Tug and Pull of 12

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Navigating the tween years can be so tricky.

You get through the no-sleep, diaper ridden newborn phase, the toddler tantrum phase and the play ground politics elementary school phase coming out of all of it seemingly unscathed. During the whole journey, this child of yours is practically another bodily appendage, holding your hand on the way to school and wanting you to stay with them at bedtime. They want to read with you, snuggle with you, do everything with you. 

Now I walk into my 12 year old daughter's room and she asks why I am there, with that little bit of edgy attitude. You know the tone? You may recognize it because you had it too, many years ago.
At bedtime, she wants to get her own water and doesn't always want me to tuck her in anymore.
She can't wait to get out of my car at school drop off.

As she pulls away from me, I try and stay close. After all, isn't this the phase that I should be knowing what she's doing, who she is hanging out with and talking to? Isn't this the precarious phase where bad influences can prove disastrous for my daughter? I also...well...I miss her. But when I push into her life, she often pushes back. A few months ago, I was at my wit's end.

I finally sat down to talk to her. The conversation went like this:
"I just want you to know, I want to respect your privacy. And I am so used to you wanting me around, doing so much for you and with you. I am having trouble knowing when to be around and when not-and I miss spending so much time with you. If you want to hang out or want me to tuck you in or watch a movie together, I need you to let me know, because I want to be there for you. Otherwise I'll try and give you more space, OK? I know you are becoming your own person and want more independence. I don't want to squash that. Does that sound like a deal? Can you help me know what you need from me by communicating more?"

"Yes, mom."

So now it's a dance. I give her space, nudging in when my instincts tell me I should, and when she surprises me and says, "I want to hang out with you after homework and watch a show." I make sure to drop whatever I was planning on doing and get in that time with her. Sometimes she can't communicate when she needs me, so I'm always on the "mamma-bear-instincts-red-alert" when I feel she may need me to push in. I am in a "Stop, Drop and Be There" mode. If I don't do it now, what will the teen years be like? I will barely see her at all!

I have noticed that because I respect her privacy now she wants to hang out with me more-and tells me so. It has made us closer, and she has a lot less attitude when she talks to me. Maybe because I have made a point to try and understand her and force her to communicate her needs with me? I am not sure. 

SO the dance continues, maybe well into high school.
I push in sometimes but generally follow her lead. We get close when she asks and then she boogies on her own for a while until she asks for another twirl. And when she asks for a dance, I oblige-no matter what. Because I never know when the next dance will happen. You have to be there when they want you or else they may stop asking for a dance with you all together. That's a slippery slope I don't want to go down.

RECIPES: GF/DF/SF Coconut Chocolate Baked Doughnuts (gluten free, dairy free, sugar free, but NOT taste free!)

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My mission this weekend was to try and make my daughter some gluten free chocolate doughnuts that I could also indulge in while staying on the fast metabolism diet (phase 3). This meant trying to bake with natural birch xylitol as well as using coconut oil and almond milk instead of butter. I also needed to use a gluten free flour that had the correct carbs for phase 3. I think the one I used was not totally phase 3 approved but it was the best I could do.

Baking like this seems more of a chemical science experiment than the baking I'm used to. Coconut oil is somewhat solid, but using it as softened butter doesn't quite work the same. Xylitol is also difficult, as it has large granules and doesn't dissolve easily into the batter. SO I wasn't sure how these babies were going to turn out. There were moments when the stuff in the bowl did not look right! But once I am on the train, I am taking it to the station!

I figured my 12 year old, who holds nothing back, would have told me if they needed to be tossed or if we could freeze the extras to eat on busy school day mornings.

Well, she had 4 doughnuts yesterday morning. So, I think they were a success.

If you wish to make these with real sugar, it's an even substitution. You can also use plain flour instead of gluten free.

Baking without dairy and sugar is definitely something I don't want to make a habit of! It's tricky for sure. But these turned out really well. Freeze some for the week like we did so you can balance the Dunkin' Doughnuts runs with healthy options too! Your family will thank you for it!

 GF/DF/SF Coconut Chocolate Baked Doughnuts

1 egg
2/3 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk or coconut milk
1/2 cup coconut milk, melted
1 tsp. white vinegar
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. Gluten Free baking flour
3/4 cup birch xylitol
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
extra coconut oil for brushing the doughnut pan

1 1/2 tbsp. coconut oil
1 Tbsp. cocoa
1 Tbsp. birch xylitol dissolved into 1 tsp. hot water
dash of salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla


Preheat oven to 350˚. Brush your doughnut pan (I love my Nordic ware pan) with coconut oil and set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk the egg, melted oil, milk, vanilla and vinegar. Add the birch xylitol and mix well until the xylitol is dissolved into the mixture as best as possible.

In another bowl, mix the cocoa, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Pour gently into the wet ingredient and mix well until combined. Splash more almond milk into the dry mixture if batter seems too stiff.

Using a spoon and knife (or a pastry bag if you are OCD) spoon the batter into the doughnut molds until just to the rim. Use your knife to smooth them out and distribute the batter evenly.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating pan once during baking. Doughnuts should spring back when touched.

Let cool for 10 minutes in the pans before inverting the doughnuts onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Meanwhile make the frosting. Dissolve the xylitol in the hot water (I used the microwave to do this). Add the vanilla, cocoa and coconut oil and salt and mix well. Use as a drizzling frosting or glaze. If you want a sturdier frosting, place in the refrigerator for a few minutes while the doughnuts cool.

Once cooled, frost with the chocolate frosting and sprinkle with extra birch xylitol. Freeze extras for busy weekday mornings.

RECIPE: Magic Chocolate Bottom Amaretto Cake

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This is a great snack cake for guests or just for a nice treat after a Sunday meal. It's been in my recipe repertoire for years and I am so excited to finally have foodie photos for you so I can share it here!

It has a decadent gooey chocolate bottom that tastes great with the cake, especially if you serve it a la mode. The technique for it is a little bold by pouring the syrup right on top of the wet batter. Don't get scared about the chocolate part, it really works. The chocolate on the top somehow makes a silky chocolate bottom to the cake. Tell your kids it's the oven fairy.

Magic Chocolate Bottom Amaretto Cake

First part
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. Amaretto (and a splash)

Second part
2/3 cup sugar
2 (1 oz.) unsweetened baking chocolate
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2 tsp. Amaretto (and another splash)
1/4 cup slivered or sliced almonds


Heat oven to 350˚ F. Sprinkle 1/4 cup sliced almonds on the bottom of a well greased 9" or 11 x 7"  baking pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, add the sugar until light and fluffy, then add the egg. Alternate the milk with the dry ingredients until mixed well. Finish with the amaretto, until smooth and silky. 

Pour over the almond slivers evenly, using a spatula to gently even everything out. Set aside. 

Now move to part 2. In a small sauce pan, combine the sugar with the water over medium heat. As the sugar dissolves, add the vanilla then add the chocolate and melt and mix . Bring mixture to a complete boil (about 6-8 minutes). Remove from heat, and stir in the butter and amaretto. Mix completely. 

Pour mixture over the cake batter in the pan gently and evenly. Sprinkle the top with the rest of the almonds. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the top springs back when touched in the center. Cool completely, and serve with vanilla ice cream.


MOMMYHOOD: How our National Parks Served our Family Well this Week and How I Can Return the Favor

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This is a story of how our beautiful country with our national, natural treasures can mean so much more than beautiful views and a vacation. It can do something magical for you and your family-and in my case, my daughter.

I needed to write this today-the day after returning from a trip visiting 5 of our national forests and parks. Last night on the flight home I saw a post in my news feed about how Congress is voting on a scheme that will allow selling off pieces of our national parks and forests by giving them over to the states. This was dismaying news. I do not use this blog for any political conversation. Yes, I have spoken up against the FDA about the supplement, Anatabloc. But I leave the general political conversation to the pundits. Lord knows there are plenty out there no matter what side you are on. This blog is about home, hearth, food and parenting. To that end, I have the national parks to thank for helping me with my parenting job this week. So yes, I am going to speak up to protect our national parks and forests. I owe them a lot.

We recently came back from a short, ambitious trip to see the Grand Canyon State Park in Arizona with hopes of also seeing the surrounding forests, canyons and parks. The idea was to break down some walls and barriers growing in our tween daughter by blowing her mind by something so spectacular, so jaw dropping amazing that it might just help her think about things a little differently. We hoped it would open her soul up a little, and realize that some of her tween troubles and tribulations, in the grand scheme of things, have a smaller place in her heart and mind. And nothing can blow your mind more that the grandeur of the Grand Canyon.

I am not going to sugar coat this, my daughter did NOT want to go. My precocious, force-of-nature, dive-head-first-into-anything child has become an introspective, introverted, sedentary adolescent.  She wanted to stay home, and had been grumbling about this trip for months. But I put the fear of God (and loss of electronic devices) in her and made her promise to be respectful, keep an open mind and go with the flow. My husband and I are voracious travelers. When we visit somewhere, we don’t stop. So I knew our pace would be a lot for my daughter to keep up with at her current quiet pace. We were going to push her outside of her comfort zone. And I really believed she needed it.

One thing we didn’t mention to our daughter was a secret plan we were brewing up. My husband and I vowed to indulge in a helicopter ride over the canyon if we could save for it. It’s something we both always wanted to do, but it seemed expensive. We saved for it since January and told her a couple weeks before leaving that we were going to do it.

She was a little freaked out. “Isn’t that dangerous?!” she exclaimed.
Yes, darling. Yes. It. Is. But let's live a little!

And guess what happened upon seeing the canyon?
(Well, once she got used to being next to it, because she was pretty freaked out and held my hand standing next to it like when she was 5. I loved that.)

We got a smile.
You may not have a 12 year old daughter yet-or 13, 14, 15 year old?
Well, suffice it to say smiles while hanging with parents don’t come easy these days.
Then she stood next to me and as she smiled again, looking out over all that crazy, awe inspiring beauty, she said she was amazed and that it almost didn’t look real. Then asked when the helicopter ride was starting, excitement in her voice.

And the helicopter ride? It was worth every penny. I cannot even explain to you how jaw-dropping-poop-your-pants-awe-striking-amazing-sauce it was. If you can swing it, please do it. There are rumors they are going to stop allowing the helicopters to go over it eventually. I am so glad we got the chance to do it. (But of course if they do harm the ecosystem then that surely is an issue that needs resolving.)

My daughter got to sit up front and next to the window. Our cute pilot had a spectacular indie rock playlist piping through our headphones as we were stunned into silence by the views. We could see my daughter’s smile from the back where we were sitting, and saw her taking tons of pictures with her camera. When we hopped off, we got what we were hoping for since we planned out the trip in January-the sought after “That was pretty cool!”

It put her in such an open mood she agreed to go up to Lowell Observatory late that night to look through telescopes with me. Any other day would have been met with groaning and eye rolling.

What a day-a magical, amazing day.

And what if one day, my daughter’s daughter or granddaughter could never smile, be amazed or enjoy the Grand Canyon like she did? What if my daughter will never know the contentment that I felt watching her soaking in all that beauty, and know that we helped make an impact in her life by bringing her there?

Our national parks and resources should not be for sale by the highest bidder. Only the federal government can and should protect these lands. The states will want to sell it for money. We can all argue over what our federal taxes should or shouldn’t cover. But for me, owning and caring for our national parks is a no brainer. It’s our home, our property and we can’t make more of them. We should treasure them like the unique jewels they are.

Please join me in signing this petition to make our voices heard. Sign it for my daughter. Sign it for your daughters and sons. Sign it for all the future generations that will need these lands to open their minds and hearts to what really matters in life.

The song "America, the Beautiful!" is one of my favorites. It was written originally as a poem by Kathleen Bates in 1893, inspired by the majestic beauty she saw outside her train window on the way to Colorado Springs. I hope Congress remembers this song, and keeps safe our purple mountain majesties, the fruited plains and all the national treasures found between one sea and the other.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Thank you, and I promise my next post will be a cupcake or something...we'll get back to our regular programming!

RECIPE: My Take on Hi Hat Cupcakes

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These cupcakes are the most delicious I have ever made. I'm not kidding. The cake is a dense, moist chocolate, with a piped mallow-like filling on top. Then you dunk the whole thing in high quality melted chocolate, and wait for it to set. Because I made these for our "black and white" themed wine & dinner club party, I decorated the tops with dabs of white Candy Melt polka dots.

Now I am confused about who came up with this cupcake originally. I thought it was Martha Stewart, but I also read that it came from some blogger? I am not sure. If you know, please let me know. I wish to link and credit whatever foodie brilliance that inspires a dish if applicable. It's an ethical thing with me.

So, I adapted this recipe technique wise as well as recipe wise.

I used my go-to chocolate cake recipe that I usually use for cake pops. I also froze the mallow tops for quite a bit to assure this crazy-cooking-physics experiment actually worked.

These are labor intensive, but worth it. Make them for a special occasion and prepare yourself for serious accolades.

Note: This batter makes a lot of cake, so if you don't want to be dipping massive amounts of cupcakes for hours-pour this batter into however many liners you want. Then pour the extra batter in a Pyrex cake pan. Bake it then wrap it tightly with plastic wrap once cooled. Then freeze it. You can use it later for a last minute guest or crumble it up for cake pops. I am asked to make my cake pops a lot, so it's nice to have extra cake to crumble up on hand.

Urban Domestic Diva's Take on High Hat Cupcakes


Cake Recipe:
1 1/2 cups good quality unsweetened cocoa
3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups hot water

Mallow frosting:
1/4 cup water
1 3/4 cup sugar
3 large egg whites
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Chocolate coating:
2 cups semi sweet chocolate (might need more as you go)
3 Tbsp. canola oil (might need more as you go)


Heat oven to 350˚.  Line muffin tin with cupcake liners. Set aside.

Mix flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl. With a paddle attachment, mix the oil, buttermilk, vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition. Add hot water. Scrape the sides and blend a few minutes more until smooth.

Pour the batter into the liners about 2/3 full. Bake for 20-30 minutes on the middle rack. The cake should spring back to the touch and toothpick comes out clean. Let cupcakes cool completely on cooling rack.

Meanwhile make the mallow.

Fill a large stock pot with water about halfway up, and place on a low flame. You want the water to just barely simmer. If it gets boiling, lower the flame. This pot is going to act like a double boiler, so it needs to fit whatever bowl you will be using for the frosting.

While the pot is heating up, in a large bowl combine sugar with the water. Mix until it's dissolved. Add the egg whites and cream of tartar. Use a hand mixer and beat until this mixture is foamy, usually about 1 minute.
Set the bowl over the stock pot in the barley simmering water. Use an oven mitt to hold your bowl. Use you hand mixer (make sure it can reach your stove-you may need an extension cord) and beat the egg mixture until stiff peaks form and the frosting is 160˚. Clip a candy thermometer on the bowl to measure the temperature as you beat things up. This takes 12 minutes at least, so get comfortable! Have the kids take turns so you get some breaks.

Once you have fluffy, stiff peaks and things are glossy and at the right temperature, remove the bowl from heat and set on a towel on the counter. Stir in the vanilla and almond extract, and beat the mixture with your hand mixer for 2 more minutes until nice and thick.

Use a piping bag with a plain hole, large tip (like this). Spoon the frosting into the bag and pipe the mallow in a large circular motions and upward, making a fluffy giant mountain on top of each cupcake.

(Here I had to hide my skepticism. These looked so lovely at this point, and I had no idea how dunking these luscious tops into hot chocolate wasn't going to trash these tops right off the cupcakes.)

Place these on a baking sheet and freeze these for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, melt your chocolate.

Mix the chocolate with the canola oil. You can either melt the chocolate on a double boiler or use the microwave. Heat the chocolate in the microwave for 30 second intervals at 50% power, mixing in between. Pour the chocolate in a deep, narrow bowl. Make sure it's deep because these have high tops! You don't want the top of the mallow frosting to mush against the bottom of the chocolate dipping bowl. You may need to keep adding oil or more chocolate or heating lightly as you go. You need a lot of chocolate and it needs to move freely.

Move gently and quickly in this next step.

Take a cupcake out of the freezer. Turn it upside down and dunk the cupcake down into the chocolate and quickly pull up, twirling it and letting excess drip off. With a turn of the wrist, twirl the cupcake upright and let set on a cooling rack for the chocolate to set and harden. Use a decorating brush or toothpick to cover bottom parts of the cupcake that didn't get chocolate.

Once the chocolate sets and hardens, you can melt some candy melts to decorate the tops.

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