Thanksgiving Mostly Clean Eating

Brian and I have been hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas at our house for a few years now. We have the most space so it just seemed to make sense for us to take everyone in here (plus, we have the most kids and I’m not trying to cart them around on Christmas!). Over the years we have kind of gotten it figured out, as much as you really can. I do a lot of cooking and prep leading up to the day so that I’m not spending all day cooking and missing out on family time. Having half the dishes already made before Thanksgiving is ultra helpful. Also, our meals have gotten a little more complex since we have been on our limited grains and sugar journey. Gone are the days of boxed anything and cans of gravy.

You know how everyone seems to have their quintessential Thanksgiving dishes? Well, we try to accommodate those as much as we can but also add in healthy options for us. For example, Brian is a huge mashed potato fan and we rarely have them so on Thanksgiving and Christmas I make a lot of them. Everyone else seems to enjoy them as well so that dish doesn’t get modified. In case you are wondering the best way to make the mashed potatoes is in the slow cooker.

On the other hand, I do make multiple stuffing versions. One fairly regular version (except that I make my own bread crumbs because that boxed stuff is no bueno!). The second is one for my family and is never quite the same. In the past I’ve made an almond flour bread stuffing, this year I created one with sweet potato, onions, celery, and a granola that I flavored to be like stuffing. The stuffings are made in advance so we’ve taste tested them. After three years of being mostly grain-free I didn’t even like the regular stuffing (where is all the flavor?! Why do I only taste bread?!). I used to be a die-hard stuffing fan. Eat all the stuffing! And the girls said they didn’t care for the regular stuffing much either, except for the veggies in it. =)

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There is always a big salad filled with vegetables. We are also having roasted vegetables. It depends on what I have on hand but this year we are having roasted green beans and chard (so many green beans, yay!). No dinner rolls. It always seems that people get the dinner roll and can’t ever finish it, so I’ve decided I’m not wasting my efforts. I make my own gravy and am still perfecting the recipe. I follow one from Rachael Ray and sometimes it works better than others (I have real gravy issues!).

I married into a family that has both turkey and ham for Thanksgiving and Christmas so we stick with that. It’s a lot of meat and makes me sick to think about it but I fear there would be a revolt if both them weren’t present. To top the meat I’ve become a fan of cranberry sauce. I never ate cranberry sauce when I was younger but once I started making my own (recipe here) I converted to a cranberry sauce lover.

Those are the key dinner items. Occasionally, someone will bring something like macaroni and cheese or green bean casserole. We welcome people to bring whatever they may want and I TRY to limit how much the kiddos get of these other items.

Dessert has always been my favorite part and we don’t skimp here. There are multiple pies and other desserts for the after dinner spread. This year I kept it fairly simple. I made THE Ultimate Holiday Pie, grain-free and refined sugar-free! Using this grain-free honey graham cracker crust, subbing honey for the sugar in the cheesecake layer, this pumpkin pie, and the pecan pie topping from here. The healthy version came out beautifully and I’m hoping for no complaints about the lack of sugar. I just wanted to be able to eat this lovely creation and not feel sick. In addition to pie we are having fruit salad (chopped up fruits stirred in with homemade honey sweetened  whipped cream), and these cake batter truffles (also grain and refined sugar free).

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Before dinner we snack on vegetables and hummus and this year I made spiced bar nuts. The nuts were a huge hit last year and when I made them earlier this week we were loving the preview.

While I don’t necessarily love making the multiple versions of foods I am excited that this year I have converted all the dessert to be edible for my family. And that despite the mashed potatoes and the regular stuffing the rest of the food fits right into our eating style. I dream of the day when I can say that about all the food on the table. Small steps for now. We have come a long way from Thanksgivings past.

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THE Ultimate Holiday Dessert

Looking for an outrageous dessert that screams holiday spirit? I’ve found THE dessert (thank you Pinterest!). Actually, I found it about a month ago or longer but decided to give it a serious look again. My best friend is going through a rough season and I wanted to make something for her. So I made THE ultimate holiday pie. It’s crazy like the piecaken but totally not the same.

Now that we’ve established it as THE ultimate holiday pie. What exactly is it? It is a layered pie. Cheesecake on the bottom, followed by pumpkin pie in the middle, and topped with pecan pie. In each and every bite you get the distinct flavor of the individual layers but in combination! And if that’s not enough to convince you just wait until the smell of this pie while cooking is wafting through the house. Holiday smells irresistible.

The key to layering this pie is that each layer is made separately, poured into the pie pan, and set to freeze before the next layer is added. That way the layers don’t mix together and stay nice and separate while baking.

The original recipe called for a pastry crust but I’d never use a pastry crust on cheesecake so I went with graham cracker crust instead. It was the right move. Since the cheesecake is on the bottom the graham crust melts in the cheesecake just as you’d expect from your typical cheesecake. But with pumpkin pie and pecan pie on top this cheesecake is anything but typical:

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The pumpkin pie layer is the thickest layer, appropriately so:

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After the pumpkin pie layer is frozen on top of the cheesecake layer you spoon the pecan pie filling on top. The pecan pie filling is thin and once cooked sort of melts into the top portion of the pumpkin pie layer. Another reason that the pumpkin pie layer should be slightly thicker. No need to freeze again, but bake and enjoy the delicious smell filling your house. A little pointer: I was extremely nervous putting my frozen glass pie pan into a hot oven. I got lucky with no broken pie pan but next time I will not preheat the oven and let the pie plate heat up with the oven.

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I could not follow the original recipe in regards to the pecan pie because it called for corn syrup and that’s just not something that makes its way into our house. Instead I found a recipe using agave and it worked! This whole recipe is not the kind of thing I usually make as it is laden with sugar but like I said, best friend, rough season, seemed like a good time to give this a try.

Once the pie is done, the pecan pie filling will be browned and the pie will still be jiggly but not wet. We had to taste test immediately but it’s much better when it’s had adequate time to set up in the fridge. Topped with whipped cream this pie is the perfect combination of the holiday season and flavors.

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I’m pretty sure I can alter this to be refined sugar-free and grain-free but I had to have the original recipe under my belt first.  The classic pumpkin pie was set to make an appearance on our Thanksgiving table but I’m reconsidering. Classic pumpkin pie or THE ultimate holiday pie?! We’ll put it to a vote.

An Apple A Day

I’m working to prove the saying that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. We were given apples from an orchard of somebody at Brian’s work. A lot of apples! So many that I don’t feel bad using them all the time, they seem endless. In fact, I already made some homemade applesauce (amazing recipe from the Against All Grain cookbook, so easy, no added sugar or juice and very tasty!) and didn’t even put a dent in the apple quantity. Other than that I’ve been feeding them to the girls at least once a day with breakfast or lunch. As for me, I am currently obsessed with an apple dessert I created.

I’m embarrassed to admit how often I’ve made this dessert in the last week because that means that I have eaten a lot of it. Brian has eaten very little of the dessert, mostly because he knows how much I am enjoying it (read: I’m not sharing!). You know I’ve made it often when I have a good idea of the measurements and ratios of the ingredients. Usually, I throw things together until they look and taste good but since I’ve made this numerous times I’ve got an idea of the actual quantities involved.

I’m calling this Apple Cookie Crumble:

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Two apples are cut into chunks and sprinkled with cinnamon. The apples are placed in a pan greased with coconut oil. The topping is the fun part! I use about 2 cups of nuts and seeds and process them until they are flour like in texture. I’ve been using 1 cup of peanuts and a mixture of other nuts and pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. Almond flour would work too but I tend to have more peanuts on hand. To the nut/seed flour I add 2 tablespoons coconut oil, 2 tablespoons honey, 1/3 cup of shredded unsweetened coconut, and 2 tablespoons coconut flour. I process it all together with some cinnamon and nutmeg until it is crumbly but sticking together. At this point I’ve made something similar to a grain-free cookie base (and it’s pretty yummy eaten just like this too) but to finish the dessert the cookie mixture is scooped and spread on top of the apples to cover them. I cook this at 350 degrees for about 20 mins  and then press a few dark chocolate chips on top to melt into the warm topping.

This dessert has stolen my heart! The apples are soft and warm and the cookie top is a little crumbly, crisp but still soft. Brian enjoyed his with some whipped cream but I prefer mine as is, warm out of the oven. I’ve got some leftovers from making yet another one last night and I’m exercising some serious restraint to not eat it every time I walk by. The only thing stopping me is the fact that if I eat it now, I’ll have to make more for later (problem, I know!) or there definitely won’t be enough for sharing. Apples, warm apples with cookie topping, stop calling my name!

Fall Grilling

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the changing season, I enjoyed my evening grilling experience. It just felt different now that it’s Fall. The sun was shining but not in a hot summery way. There was a slight breeze but it was calm. And my girls were in and out taking their art time outside. Early Fall grilling is refreshing.

Isabelle lost another tooth this week (that makes 7!). Her missing tooth has led to a lot of conversations about eating corn on the cob and the difficulties involved with that. Cob corn, as Lexi calls it, is a favorite which is why they were talking about it. Little did they know I had bought some corn on the cob to grill this weekend. So we had the opportunity to see how Isabelle managed (read: corn all over her face).

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In addition to corn on the cob, I grilled green beans (I’m obsessed!) and veggie burgers. We had our burgers on lettuce with some Korean cucumbers (they are fermented instead of pickled) and tomatoes.

For dessert I grilled some sweet potatoes and then mashed them up to make this sweet potato and apple nut crumble. A great Fall dessert!

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The dish boasts sweet potato, apples, walnuts, and plenty of cinnamon.

Today has changed my mind about the new season. Maybe Fall won’t be so bad.

Rainy Days and Cookies

Something about very rainy days makes me want to bake cookies. This is a problem since I live in the Pacific Northwest where we get a lot of rainy days. My cookie baking urge hits often but the family never seems to mind. My freezer, however, is filled with random amounts of frozen cookie dough from past batches. When it’s rainy and the baking urge hits I don’t want to pull cookies out of the freezer to cook. I want to mix up the dough and form them into little balls and then bake, no shortcuts! I should clarify that for the most part those frozen cookie dough pieces do eventually get eaten.

Since the first day of Falll we’ve been getting some considerable rainy periods and I’ve been itching to make some cookies. I knew just the cookie I was going to make. When Isabelle bought school lunch on Tuesday her menu said she would get a Ranger Cookie with her meal. Curious, since I’d never had a Ranger Cookie, I asked her about it on our walk home. She told me that it was a pretty regular cookie with cinnamon. Hmmm…that didn’t sound very ranger like to me. So this whole scene unfolded with me looking up Ranger Cookie recipes and images and showing them to her to see if that is what she ate. Brian thought I was crazy as I showed her image after image but I was just so curious about them and wanted to know what it was like. She assured me, as I was listing off the typical Ranger Cookie ingredients, that none of those things were in her cookie. What?! Eventually, we concluded (through more research and image searching) that what she ate must have been a snickerdoodle. Well, she’s never had a snickerdoodle either so it was not a cookie she could identify. Now, she can (maybe?).

So if you’ve never had a Ranger Cookie either let me give you the highlights. Ranger Cookies have all the makings of your basic cookie recipe with the addition of oats, shredded coconut, and crispy rice cereal. Those are the key ingredients I found in my searching. Some people add chocolate chips, some nuts but they all had the oats, coconut, and crispy rice cereal.

Now for my version. Even though none of us has eaten a regular Ranger Cookie I was not going to make a sugary and flour filled cookie just for the sake of trying them. We could get the idea of a Ranger Cookie even if it is gluten-free and honey sweetened. I adapted my favorite trail mix cookie recipe to substitute some of the nut and seed ingredients with the must have Ranger Cookie ingredients and added chocolate chips because you just can’t go wrong with that.

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Ranger Cookies are good! They are a perfect match for my family since they love oats, coconut, and crispy rice cereal (and chocolate chips, but that probably doesn’t need to be specified). And I got to make the mysterious Ranger Cookies and fulfill my rainy day baking urge. Based on the family’s response to the cookies, the Ranger Cookie dough in the freezer will likely get used sooner rather than later, no worries there.

First Day of Fall

Today is the day. The girls have been watching the calendar and waiting for the arrival of fall. I’m not sure why, I’m still not ready for summer to be over! But alas, fall has arrived and it did so with the typical rain. In my attempt to hang onto summer for as long as possible I have held off on making any sort of pumpkin flavored dishes until the actual start of fall.

To celebrate the arrival of the new season I made the girls pumpkin pancakes for breakfast. Not just pumpkin flavored pancakes, pumpkin shaped as well (or roughly pumpkin shaped, ha!). I used this almond flour pumpkin pancake recipe to keep them grain-free.

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We’ve changed our breakfast routine around here because of school and preschool schedules. The girls come downstairs when they wake up and serve themselves small 1/2 cup bowls of cereal. Then later in the morning I’d make the three of us an actual breakfast around nine or so and then we wouldn’t have anything more until lunchtime at noon. This worked well for our family since the three of us would be home all together in the morning and allowed us time to sit down together to start the day. Also, since we’d had a substantial breakfast at 9 am there was no need for additional snacking until lunch time. Now that we are on the go in the mornings between getting Isabelle to school and then Lexi to preschool all during our usual breakfast time we’ve had to adjust. We totally don’t have it figured out yet and are making little tweaks to make breakfast work for us. At first we were letting Isabelle have additional cereal and the fruit we normally would have at 9 with her cereal. But then Lexi started school and the schedule changed again. Giving them even more cereal in the morning was not the solution. At least not one that I felt good about. I’d like them to not eat the cereal at all but it is something they enjoy since they get to do it all themselves (they grab their small containers, cereal bowls, spoons, and small containers with milk in them and pour everything into the bowl).

Numerous times last year I’d ask Isabelle if I could make her an actual breakfast instead of having cereal and the answer was always no. They love the independence. So we compromised. They get a small bowl of cereal on school mornings and then I make them a small breakfast with some fruit next to it that they eat shortly after cereal. All this means I have to adjust my own breakfast ritual to accommodate theirs. Now I’m attempting to eat my substantial breakfast bright and early instead of at the later 9 am. Which is hard for me! I’m hungry in the morning but prefer a small holdover snack of fruit until a little later on. It’s all an adjustment.

To keep the fall theme going I made the girls caramel apple bites for snack. Now that Isabelle is not getting a snack provided by someone else (and filled with sugar and grains) at school we can have the occasional after school treat (wish I could say the same about Lexi). For the past few years now I’ve made this caramel recipe for our fall apples. The caramel is made of heavy cream and honey. Yep, that’s basically it! Obviously since it’s made of honey and cream the taste is more honey like than sugar syrup like but it does set up and get firm like the standard caramel recipes. I just love that this recipe is so simple and made with stuff you would regularly find in my house.

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Caramel apples aren’t complete without the fun little add-on toppers. I used some chopped peanuts and mini chocolate chips, coconut, M&Ms, and peanut butter M&Ms (because those were my favorite to get at the Fair). My attempt to make these more bite size than whole apple wasn’t a complete win since I chopped the apples into thirds and attempted to dip them this way. They dipped ok but the caramel doesn’t stick to the inside of the apple as well as to the peel while they are setting. So we used a spoon to scoop up the remaining caramel to eat with our apples bites or just eat on its own (yep that also happened).

Happy Fall!

 

 

Back to School Celebration, Round 2?!

Lexi started pre-k today. She has been very excited to head back to school and patiently waited her turn as she counts down the days and continuously asks when she gets to go. Since we had a special family dinner and dessert last week to kick off back to school, Brian and I decided we would go out to dinner the night of Lexi’s first day of school (also we had a Groupon that was going to expire soon!) to make that day special for her too. We had planned this out weeks ago. Our celebration last week was not intended for just Isabelle but for everyone as a kick off to the school season. Lexi didn’t see it that way I guess. Wouldn’t you know the day before Lexi starts school she provides me with her special dinner and dessert requests for her first day back to school. This was all completely unprompted.

She said she would like lasagna and ice cream cake. Funny enough for dinner that very night I had originally planned on making eggplant and zucchini lasagna but then decided it was too much work and was going to simplify dinner. After she informed she would like lasagna I figured I’d just go for it and we’d have the lasagna a night early and keep our original plan to have dinner out. That meant we had to tell her about our surprise dinner plans for the following night. That girl loves going out to eat so she was not disappointed about having lasagna a day early.

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The eggplant zucchini lasagna is based of this recipe. The eggplant and zucchini is roasted beforehand and then I covered them with, basically, a black bean hummus and some homemade spaghetti sauce with added lentils. For the girls I added a small amount of mozzarella to at least make it seem somewhat lasagna like in honor of Lexi. What better to eat with lasagna than side salads!

Now that we had our lasagna bases covered, Lexi was concerned with her special dessert. She had very specific ideas of what this ice cream cake would entail. I, however, could not fathom making another cake even if it was ice cream cake. I hadn’t planned on making any sort of dessert after a dinner out. But I took her request to heart (after all, it is her first day of school and she does get short-changed a lot being the youngest) and made homemade strawberry ice cream and chocolate chunk cookies. Then I sandwiched the delicious ice cream into the cookies to make chocolate chunk cookie strawberry ice cream sandwiches.

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As yummy as these were I almost didn’t get away with it! Lexi was excited about cookies and ice cream but bummed that there was no cake. We talked it over and she decided that the cookies and ice cream were acceptable. Thank goodness! It’s not as if I didn’t feed her cake just the day before. I’m helping a friend make a cake for a wedding reception so I had to try out a coconut cake recipe. Cake experimentation equals taste testing for the family. Turns out coconut cake is pretty darn good. I tested out this recipe, in mini cake tins. We decided that the cake with a little coconut flakes mixed into the batter yields lighter fluffier cake (in case you ever make a coconut cake) so this is the version I’ll be making for the large cake.

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The frosting was a light and fluffy and coconut flavored and topped with toasted unsweetened shredded coconut. I’m not typically a fan of coconut but the lightness of this had me wanting to keep taste testing (if only I wouldn’t have a headache later).

All said and done Lexi enjoyed her first day back to school and her special dinner and dessert, even if it was slightly different from she had asked for. Plus, as a consolation I will be making more cake in just a couple of days for the actual reception so she will have plenty of taste testing, beater eating opportunities.

First Day of School Celebration

We’ve started a back to school tradition at our house a few years ago. On the first day back to school we make a special dinner and dessert of the girl’s choosing and give them little gifts to celebrate. Dinner was an easy pick for them: spaghetti with noodles. I’m not sure what the spaghetti kick is about recently but I feel like it’s made a frequent appearance on the menu. I also love that they specified noodles. We had some black bean spaghetti in the pantry so I happily obliged. Like the mung bean fettucine, the noodles were made of just black beans and water, grain-free spaghetti! Dessert was more of a challenge. They couldn’t agree. Izzy wanted pie, Lexi wanted cake. Neither was budging on this one. So, we put our hands together. Pie, good; cake, good. Let’s put them together!

Now, this is not at all my idea. The piecaken has been making its round on the internet for a while. Basically, you take a pie and bake it inside a cake so that you have what appears to be a cake on the outside but it is stuffed with pie! Mind blowing, right? When I did some searching for the piecaken I couldn’t find anything that was refined sugar-free and not filled with regular flour. Maybe people who don’t eat sugar or flour don’t make piecakens. But I do! Can you imagine what would happen to my family if I had made the regular piecaken?! I mean it’s pie inside a cake! If that doesn’t sound like tummyaches I don’t know what does.

I let the girls choose the flavors of each element. So we have apple pie:

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I can’t say this is grain-free because the crust has oat flour in it. The crust is made primarily of oat flour and walnuts. And the crumble is my standard crisp topping made with peanuts, walnuts, honey, and coconut oil.

The cake is chocolate cake. I used the recipe from the Wheat Belly cookbook. The cake is made of almond flour, coconut flour, and flaxseeds. No grains there! Honey is the sweetener in this cake. It’s the same recipe as I used for my birthday cake except that it’s chocolate.

Once you have baked the pie you put down a little cake mix and slap that pie right on top.

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Then, you top the pie with the rest of the cake mix so that the cake bakes around the pie.

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This baby was heavy! Each time I picked it up I was shocked by how heavy it was. Due to the density of the piecaken I used a whipped cream frosting to add some lightness.

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And the verdict of our gluten-free, refined sugar-free piecaken:

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So good! The apple pie kind of melts into the cake to create a moist delicious filling. And we all really liked the chocolate cake itself. The frosting was perfect, light and airy. Our better-for-you version of the piecaken was a success. And we have a lot leftover; small pieces are all you can handle.

This post really wasn’t supposed to be a step by step for piecaken but I was so excited about how it turned out especially after not being able to find much out on the internet for a healthier version. It can be done, my friends. And it can be done well!

Before we ate piecaken I did make spaghetti out of the black bean noodles and I made some zucchini noodles. Due to the special occasion I homemade the spaghetti sauce. The recipe was from the Oh She Glows cookbook and is a mushroom spaghetti sauce. That cookbook does not let me down and the sauce came out fabulous. I love pesto so I made a small batch of pesto to go on top of the red sauce (dairy-free by subbing out the cheese for salt and a little nutritional yeast).

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Spaghetti and side salads, a match made in heaven! Another back to school celebration night in the books. As you can guess, the star of the celebration was the piecaken. Good thing for leftovers!

Labor Day Camping!

We are going camping! Would be an exciting 4 day camping trip except that we are spending one of those days traveling back and attending my sister’s “wedding”. I’m hoping we can use this camping trip to unwind a little from the summer and the busyness of the past few weeks as back to school craziness begins.

I’d love to say I have lots of pics of all the great food we are bringing because I have spent the past two days preparing it all. However, the truth is I do not. And my menu is not overly exciting because of the travel day on Saturday (and the “wedding” food). We are going to try to grill some pizza on Sunday, though. We’ve talked about making some camping pizza a lot in the past and we are going to give it a go. I made a pizza crust recipe specific to be used on the grill (slightly more durable than a regular crust) and we will see how it travels and how our always extra hot grill handles it. Oh, and per the girl’s breakfast request we are having biscuits and gravy one morning. These girls love their biscuits and gravy. I’ve got a great biscuit recipe made with chickpea flour so grains for breakfast will not follow pizza from the night before. Also, I did have to make more lentil wraps to use as buns for our chicken apple sausages (still can’t see another hot dog!).

While I have no pictures from today or from camping prep I do have a beauty of a cake to share. Brian’s mom is coming camping with us and her birthday is the day after we return home. Naturally, it is my duty to make her a cake! For awhile now (I don’t make cakes nearly as often as I used to) I’ve been wanting to make a Boston Creme Pie. Not for me because I am not a fan of custard or pudding or things of that nature. You know who is, Brian! So this cake should be a goody for him and hopefully will be appreciated by his mom too. I used a Martha Stewart recipe for the cake and some other recipe for the custard. Since I don’t like custard I’ve never made pastry cream before but I totally nailed it on my first attempt! And the cake came out yummy and more spongy than I’m used to making.

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Hullo, beautiful! You can never go wrong with a cake topped in chocolate ganache (or sprinkles!). We are bringing this lovely thing camping so the rest of the trip is very light on desserts, no cookies or bars (but s’mores of course!). Here’s to hoping the cake still looks this pretty once we arrive. Boston Creme Pie, I’m glad we’ve become friends.