bake 20: pumpkin pie

progress is being made.  slowly for sure, but i'm confident i'll reach my goal before the years end.  this pumpkin pie was one of the two pies i made for this year's thanksgiving dinner.  i'm a huge fan of pumpkin pie- so i knew this was one recipe i had to take on.  and i'm so glad i did.  now if only i had remembered to take a decent photo.

recipe: alton brown's pumpkin pie with this crust

adjustments: i chose to make a traditional crust since i used gingersnaps for the cheesecake.  aslo, i'm a huge fan of spicier pumpkin pie, so i doubled up on the spices in this recipe.  turns out i wasn't the only one who preferred a bit more kick, so it was a good decision.

review: if i say so myself, it was a great pie.  for some reason it was a bit mousse-ier than i remember pumpkin pie to be, but trust me, that wasn't an issue at all.  also, the added spice made the flavor awesome.

this was #13 of the bake 20 challenge.

over the next five months i'm going to try my hand at 20 different baked goods.  there's no specific order and no plan.  just making things that look good and hopefully in the process, finding a new appreciation of baking.  feel free to join me in the Bake 20 Challenge.


an american cowboy themed birthday.

i've been dying to share these photos with you.  my sister, the creative genius, just threw my nephew a killer party for his 4th birthday.  niko (my nephew) is currently obsessed with all things cowboy and american.  his favorite things in the world are: the national anthem, his cowboy hat & boots, horses and the american flag.  lindsay had the interesting task of marrying these components and did an outstanding job.  the above photos are some of my favorite elements.

the party was held in a community park on a typical southern californian day.  she served apples, chicken nuggets, some snack mix, veggies & dip (cutely placed in bell peppers), and s'mores.  at the drink station, she created mason jar "sippy cups" and used paper straws and chalkboard labels to complete the look.

in lieu of cake, she made adorable cake pops.  remember those frozen sherbet push-pops you'd eat in the middle of summer?  well, using a similar vessel, she baked a combination of chocolate and vanilla mini cake muffins and stacked cake and frosting into each pop.  every cake pop was topped with a toy horse and placed in a handmade tray she crafted out of a 4x8 board, a drill and some paint.  these were the perfect size for kids and unlike actual cake, were much easier and cleaner for the kids to eat.

as if that wasn't enough, she wanted to offer a place for families to take photos.  she created a photo booth with pvc pipe, left over fabric and a fabric scrap banner adorned with his name.  she offered an array of props: bandanas, hats, shades, stick horses and american flags for the kids/families to use while they took their photos.

to top it off, she made a pinata for the final birthday hoorah.  the kids were in heaven and the adults- myself included- were in awe of her awesome work.  using a variety of pinterest inspiration and some ideas of her own, she created a fantastic day and memory for her little boy.  over the next couple weeks i'll work with lindsay to share some of these amazing diy ideas with you!

ps. if you're interested in purchasing a stick horse, email me at jess.russ10 at gmail{dot}com.  they make great holiday or birthday presents for the little cowboy or cowgirl in your life.


bake 20: maple cheesecake with roasted pears.

knowing i still have a ways to go on this challenge, i offered to make dessert for thanksgiving dinner.  i opted for one traditional recipe, and one less so: a maple cheesecake with roasted pears.  i have to say, if there was a throw down between the two desserts, it would have been close- but this one definitely took the cake.  ha!

recipe: maple cheesecake with roasted pears with an easy press-in pie crust

adjustments: i didn't make any adjustments to the cheesecake but opted to use gingersnaps for the crust. gingersnaps are my favorite cookies- so anywhere i can add them, i will.  the springform pan i used was bigger than the recommended size, so the cheesecake was much thinner than i had hoped.  however, with 12 plus people, the thinner cake went much further than a standard cheesecake might have.

review:  awesome.  totally and unequivocally awesome.  everyone raved about this cheesecake and went back for seconds and thirds.  i was nervous about experimenting with a thanksgiving dessert, but the maple and pear and gingersnap flavors married well.  i think this cheesecake will become a holiday tradition.

this was #12 of the bake 20 challenge.

over the next five months i'm going to try my hand at 20 different baked goods.  there's no specific order and no plan.  just making things that look good and hopefully in the process, finding a new appreciation of baking.  feel free to join me in the Bake 20 Challenge.


our turkey day.

hi friends!  did you survive the whirlwind holiday?  this year was so laid back compared to last year- particularly since we weren't hosting.  instead, we celebrated at my in-law's house with all the families.  it was very casual & very nice.  i was tasked with the dessert.  i made two pies that were a huge hit and quickly gobbled up.

the morning of thanksgiving, we kept our turkey trot tradition alive and ran the father joes thanksgiving day 5k.  we love this tradition; it's a great way to start the day, burn some calories and if you can get the family involved, a relaxing way to spend time together before the holiday chaos and food coma takes over.

the rest of the weekend was spent playing board games, crafting, hiking and taking evening walks on the beach.  my main priority was spending time with family since my grandma's in town from albuquerque- so it was nice to slow down, catch up, and enjoy everyone's company.  i'm very much looking forward to this holiday season.  since we don't have a home to decorate, i'm indulging in a diy christmas to help keep the creative juices and holiday spirit flourishing.  luckily for me, christmas carols, hot chocolate and warm slippers can be enjoyed anywhere.

enjoy your week!



i love november if for nothing more than having an entire month dedicated to thanks & gratitude.  this season i've had a hard time recognizing all i'm thankful for since so much of me wants to be settled back in our new york home, with access to our little life, things, everyday comforts & friends.

but then i look around that all i have here & am often in awe.  sure, right now, our life is still in transition.  we don't have a home to call our own, we're still in the process of finding jobs, we're living day-to-day with very few future plans and 98% of our stuff is in storage in boston.  but sometimes as i've discovered this past month, all these "struggles" & "stressors" are bringing us so much more joy and happiness than we could have imagined.  thankfully.

thankfully we're relearning the art of simple living.
thankfully we have a roof over our head despite being homeless.
thankfully we have the time go on lunch dates, take long mid-day hikes, and help out when needed.
thankfully there's skype.  those skype dates make my day.
thankfully our time with family & friends isn't rushed due to over commitments or vacation days.
thankfully we're surrounded by sunshine.
thankfully snail mail is frequently sent cross-country.
thankfully we have open invitations to be dinner guests.
thankfully we're learning to ask for help and embrace change.
thankfully we're spending this thanksgiving not only together, but with our families as well.

yep.  so much good can come from change.  sometimes it just takes a month, or a conversation, or a special occasion to help you realize it.


bake 20: mini apple empanadas.

here's a super-easy recipe for the holiday season.  you can honestly do this one of two ways: with homemade or store bought dough.  in my opinion, homemade dough makes everything better- however, that takes time...and that can be hard to come by during the holiday season.  the best part of this recipe?  you can use whatever filling you desire.  the possibilities are endless.
recipe: pie dough & apple filling

adjustments: well, i didn't make a full pie obviously, so i only made about half the filling recipe.  i then rolled out the pie dough and used a large round cookie cutter to press little circles into the dough.  then i added the filling, folded the dough over & pressed the edges down with a fork.  i over-filled the pies so unfortunately they cracked and spilled quite a bit during the baking process however, they were just as delish.

review: i love bite size morsels.  much like any pie, they were perfect with ice cream.  seeing how easy these were to make (especially with store bought pie dough), i'm excited about all the possibilities.

this was #11 of the bake 20 challenge.

over the next five months i'm going to try my hand at 20 different baked goods.  there's no specific order and no plan.  just making things that look good and hopefully in the process, finding a new appreciation of baking.  feel free to join me in the Bake 20 Challenge.


los penasquitos canyon preserve.

i have a serious thing for hiking.  long hikes, short hikes, day hikes, or overnight hikes- it doesn't matter.  as long as i'm out exploring nature, i'm a happy camper (sometimes literally).  over the weekend, i corralled my sisters and nephew to join me on a short & sweet hike through a fantastic reserve in north county, san diego: the los penasquitos canyon preserve.
as kids, we would come here all the time to hike.  from the get-go, it's relatively flat but once you reach the waterfalls,  the terrain starts getting pretty hilly.  the trek to the waterfalls, is about six miles round trip.  considering we were hiking with a four year old, we only made it about four miles out & back.  which, with a four year old, is fantastic.
it was fun to see how the preserve changed- and what stayed the same.  it was also awesome to view this giant canyon, full of huge palms, flowing streams, wild oaks, rosemary & sage from a child's eye.  he was mesmerized by the cactus, mountain bikes and horse tracks.  we let the dogs swim quite a bit as well- and this was the ultimate source of entertainment.
i can't wait to continue to introduce hiking & hopefully a love for the great outdoors to our niece & nephews.  i was lucky to have nature-obsessed mentors to guide and teach me as i grew, and i can only hope to be the same for them.



well, it's official.  yesterday we sold our ny home.  the sale of the home wasn't nearly as climatic as i had hoped.  with the exception of wiring some funds to the bank, we really didn't do anything.  however, it was still harder than i thought it would be.

almost a month ago we said goodbye to this little home.  there was a point in time when we weren't sure whether or not we could sell it & not wanting to be landlords from across the country, we kept our hopes up that the right person would come along.  she did- and not a moment too late.  by the time we left ny, all the details were wrapped up and in true new york real estate fashion, we had to hurry up to wait.  so we drove away, knowing that everything we could have done, was done & the ball was totally in the buyers court.  luckily, everything went smoothly and according to plan.

so now this little home- the first home we'd ever purchased, the home that kept us warm on cold, snowy nights, the home that held backyard bbqs, birthday bashes, date nights, and thanksgiving dinners; the home that boasted our first major diy projects, the home that harbored our breaking bad & lost marathons, the home where gardening and vegetarian dishes became the norm, the home that provided sanctuary through two deployments and sleepless nights, the home brimming with happy memories and laughter and love- is now in the loving arms of someone else.  and that's okay.

man, we loved this home.  and lucky for us, we get to keep all these memories and carry them with us until we no longer will.  so now as we work on finding a home in san diego, thanks to our ny experience, we know exactly what we want in our next place.  it's been difficult to find something up to par, but knowing it's not the place that makes a home- but the people, makes finding a replacement home much more exciting.

it was fun little revolutionary home.  thanks for everything- we'll never ever forget you!


bake 20: overnight sticky buns.

good news: this challenge has turned into a family affair!  after watching yet another episode of alton brown's good eats, a. was antsy to make something sweet.  we settled on sticky buns.  & i'm so glad we did.

recipe: overnight cinnamon rolls

adjustments: we had to make the dough twice.  the first dough didn't rise and after making the second dough, it looked as though it might have the same demise.  however, we moved the dough to the much-warmer upstairs, and the dough took off.  due to our dough issues, we actually didn't assemble to rolls until the morning.  but this was okay since everything turned out wonderfully.

review: while these take a long time (overnight to be exact), they're definitely worth the wait.  the rolls are gooey and perfect for an impressive breakfast.

this was #10 of the bake 20 challenge.

over the next five months i'm going to try my hand at 20 different baked goods.  there's no specific order and no plan.  just making things that look good and hopefully in the process, finding a new appreciation of baking.  feel free to join me in the Bake 20 Challenge.


around here.

 here's to the start of a new week!

lately i've been all across the board, so things have been rather random.  i'm in the process of trying to get in the habit of working out after waking up.  i tend to get bored after doing the same thing, so i've been mixing it up with pilates, swimming, biking, and running.  i'm hoping to get back into trx training- but baby steps my friends.
due to my buying local challenge, i'm taking time to frequent the farmers markets & local craft fairs.  i love talking to the different vendors and getting re-accustomed to what's seasonal in southern california.  my favorite part?  riding my bike to our local farmer's market.  it's completely down hill on the way there, making for a rather enjoyable ride back to the house!
speaking of getting re-accustomed- i'm still trying to figure out how to settle into the in-law's house.  they've graciously offered to let us stay, but as is the case with being a house guest, it's been really challenging to get comfortable.  the transition's been interesting & i'm missing having my own space to craft, think, and just be.  
crafting's on the brain these days.  i'm loving the idea of a diy christmas, but without having the proper space to work & make a proper mess, it's becoming more stressful than it should be- so i'm still trying to figure out what to do.  my mom's creating quite a bit and has invited me to join her- so that's been a fun outlet.  last night for example, we made a living wreath.  more on this later, but i dare say i'm obsessed.