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We make towering cakes, slather them with frosting and poke long wax sticks in the top.

We sing “Happy Birthday” off pitch.

They blow out the candles…

…making sure not to leave one burning so the aunts and uncles won’t tease them about having a girlfriend.

We slice the cake, revealing mammoth layers of soft chocolate and lip smacking frosting.

Everyone leaves and it’s time to clean up the mess. But why is it so hard for us to throw out the candles? Is it because they were only lit long enough to sing one rendition of “Happy Birthday” before the smoke drifted through the kitchen?

Or does it make us sad to see our babies getting older and we’re overcome with nostalgia? Are we afraid we’ll lose the memories of each party, each balloon, each cake, each smile, each celebration?

Or are we afraid they will forget?

Sweet and burning wishes,

Staci

Bell and Frank Barr are two of the most fun-spirited people I have [virtually] met. The Faerie House artists and owners design, create, and bring to life whimsical clay faerie houses for gardens and indoor spaces, all from their colorful Edina, Minn. workshop. In the middle of winter last year, I had the pleasure of talking with the Barrs and learning about the passion they put into their handmade art and why they have quite a “sparkly” following. This summer, I have the pleasure of enjoying my own brightly colored, playful Faerie House on my deck. (I swear a fairy buzzed by my head as I wrote this post on the deck right after I placed the twig in the fairy door. It didn’t ring the tiny bell inside though.) Read my Edina Magazine article to learn what the symbol on the roof represents, why I stuck a tiny stick from my yard in the faerie house door, and why Frank and Bell stamp NOW on each piece. Better yet, view the article on pages 42-44 of the Edina Magazine April 2017 digital edition so you can read articles about installing an outdoor fireplace, a tree planting cheat sheet, a few tips about growing Cacti, and my favorite—made in Minnesota paleo nuts called Num Nuts.

You can see all the different Faerie Houses and meet Frank and Bell at the 2017 Edina Art Fair booth #431, Excelsior Art on the Lake, and Eagan Art Festival.

If you can’t make it to one of the art shows, you can buy Faerie Houses online at FaerieHouse.com. Even if you don’t wear sparkly shoes, I bet you will get hooked.

Sweet & peaceful wishes,

Staci

It’s nothing really. I just had a few extra pink cake layers. And you know what they say—when life hands you cake, make balls.

I’m not a cake decorator. So when people ask me to make cake for their special occasions, I refer them to Jamiecakes or Hy-Vee. But once in a while Jamiecakes can’t take anymore orders and I say yes to making a reveal cake for a family friend. The ultrasound was in the morning and they wanted the cake that night so I knew I needed to be ready with pink cake layers and blue cake layers because I wouldn’t have time during the day to bake.

It’s a boy! Which is why I had extra pink cake layers in my freezer, taking up valuable space that could be used for mocha cakes from Flandreau Bakery or cheesecakes. I was going to throw them out but I decided to tear them up, stir in a bunch of vanilla frosting, and make cake pops. It wasn’t as irritatingly tedious as I thought it would be. Although, I had intentions of actually making pops that weren’t upside down but I started the dipping process and realized I forgot to bring in a piece of styrofoam to hold them upright to dry. Oh well, I don’t think the gravity changed the flavor.

My daughter and I each ate one and we gave the rest away in random, special deliveries. I don’t have a specific recipe for cake balls. But this is what I did and how you can do it:

Cake Balls or Pops 

pre-made cake

one or two canisters of vanilla frosting

2 or more bags of Wilton pink candy melts

sprinkles

cake pop sticks

piece of styrofoam if you want the pops to be upright

  1. Line a pan that will fit in your freezer with wax paper to set the balls on.
  2. Crumble two 9-inch cake layers into a bowl (mine were homemade cakes but you could simply bake a box cake and use the entire cake – you don’t need layers, just cake to break up).
  3. Stir in at least one can of vanilla frosting (I used one and a half cans but it really depends on how much cake you have). You want this to be creamy, almost more frosting than cake really.
  4. Shape into balls, smaller than a golf ball but larger than a marble. Place on wax paper and set pan in freezer for approximately 15 minutes.
  5. Melt candy melts over low heat.
  6. Dip a stick into the candy melts, covering about one-fourth of the stick, and insert into semi frozen cake pop. Set pops on pan and put back in the freezer until fully frozen, at least 30 minutes. Keep candy melts warm. Add a few drops of vegetable oil to the candy melts to thin it out a little for dipping.
  7. Once cake balls are frozen, gently dip once into candy melts, fully covering the ball and letting excess drip off. Scatter sprinkles onto ball and place back on pan or insert upright into a piece of styrofoam (do a good job of tapping off excess). You’ll want to work this process quickly because once the balls start to defrost, they’ll fall off the stick when you are dipping.
  8. Let cool and set. Best eaten at room temperature. Can be stored in the freezer or refrigerator.

*****

Sweet wishes,

Staci

 

Have you ever driven down the interstate, passed a vehicle and looked over and wondered how in the world a toddler is driving the car next to you?

kids in cozy coupe

Perhaps toddler is an exaggeration. But it’s possible the young driver’s parent is back at home (tracking them at every mile marker on Find My iPhone), frenetically doing laundry and scrubbing floors with a toothbrush to keep their mind off the fact they just let their teenager take the car 53 miles down Interstate-29—alone for the first time.

And in the parent’s mind, they can’t shake the terrifying feeling like they’ve just let their toddler run with scissors across a busy intersection, street covered in glassy ice, in an area with frequent DWI and distracted driving crashes.

Cozy Coupe

I know why we have fear like this. It’s not because we don’t trust our kids or feel like we haven’t prepared them. But we know life happens and in the middle of our routine, daily lives, people die. And it seems like barreling down the interstate at 80 mph opens the door to tragedy, because let’s face it, you and I both know there are idiot drivers out there who aren’t paying attention to anything but Snapchat stories of people they don’t know or the slimy lettuce that just fell out of their taco onto the floor.

Little Tikes

But if we look at it from our kids’ point of views, they just want freedom. The day after I rode with my teenager on the interstate for the first time, author and 12-year-old Minnesota blogger (That is Great!) Oscar Wolfe published Great Survey: Parents Give Us Freedom! and although it didn’t ease my vehicular fears, it reminded me that I’m not the only person in this decision. Especially at the age of 17 and having driven for almost two years, my daughter deserved to have me listen to her reasoning about why she thought it was OK for her to drive on I-29 alone.

We had a good conversation and she has since then driven a few times alone to Sioux Falls on the interstate and she does just fine. As parents, it’s hard to look at our young adult children and see young adults rather than babies. We still see the kid who rode on top of the Cozy Coupe while her brother was driving.

cozy coupe

But if I take another look, she was wearing a bike helmet so even at the age of four she inherently practiced road safety in the garage.

And yes, my floors are spotless and I still track her at every mile marker.

Sweet freedom wishes,

Staci

I also love Oscar’s follow-up article, How Parents Make the Rules. Often times, kids don’t know why we make the decisions we do about their freedoms. It usually has nothing to do with us trusting or not trusting our kids. And what matters most to us in this world is keeping them safe and alive.

What are you doing for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day? If you are hosting or attending a party or nursing a hangover while watching football, impress the pants off your guests with the perfect I’m-mingling-holding-a-craft-beer-appetizer—savory cheesecake in tiny Mason jars.

I concocted this recipe to honor farming in South Dakota. Unlike traditional dessert cheesecake, this smoky cheesecake is full of bacon and Gouda and Gruyere cheese and is served with salty crackers.

smoky bacon cheesecake

For the recipe, read Perfect Appetizer for your Pigskin Party: Smoky Bacon Cheesecake with Gouda and Gruyere on Hungry for Truth’s website.

smoky bacon cheesecake

About Hungry for Truth: “Hungry for Truth” is a new initiative from South Dakota Soybean designed to open discussions about food between South Dakotans and the farmers who grow it. We’re putting it all on the table to have open, honest conversations about how our food is raised and its safety.

The opinion written is my own and I was not compensated for this post. I just happen to like farmers. And bacon. And cheese.

Savory swine wishes,

Staci

Within minutes of cracking my eyes open and my feet hitting the chilly carpet, the morning sunshine was overshadowed by gloomy sadness—it’s the same tinge of grief that creeps in every September 18, the anniversary of my best friend’s unspeakable death.

Since 22 years of heartbreak can’t be mended with a bottle of Patrón and Duct tape, the next best thing for me is baking. So after I got off the phone with Darya’s dad, Darryl, I wiped my tears with a lotion-y Kleenex and cranked the oven to 350°.

6 and a half layer bars

I recalled a story her mom, Carmen, told me recently. One time, Carmen put a pan of 7-layer bars in the oven and had to leave the house so she asked Darya to turn the oven off when the timer was done. Well, Darya did just that. She turned the oven off but she didn’t take the bars out of the oven. The bars continued to bake and caramelize and as Carmen puts it, “…best bars we ever had and we can’t seem to duplicate that.”

In sweet memory of my friend, I tried to recreate what she had done so many years ago. I changed up the recipe a little because I thought adding caramel, milk chocolate toffee bits, and salty pretzel crumbs could only make the bars better. I was right.

Just remember to turn the oven off and let them sit in there for a while.

6 and a half layer bars

What makes these eight-and-a-half layer bars? I swapped (pretzels for nuts) and added a few ingredients (caramel and toffee bits) from traditional 7-layer bars and, because I’m not a raging fan of coconut, I only use half the coconut most recipes call for. A sprinkling really.

Eight-and-a-half layer bars

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

3/4 cup pretzel crumbs

11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) butter, melted

1 cup butterscotch chips

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

1 cup milk chocolate toffee bits

1/2 cup caramel ice cream topping (such as Mrs. Richardson’s butterscotch caramel)

1/2 cup (or your desired amount) shredded coconut

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9×13 pan with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.
  2. Stir together cracker and pretzel crumbs with melted butter. (I use a blender to make the crumbs and then add the butter.)
  3. Dump and firmly press the crumb mix into pan.
  4. Evenly scatter butterscotch chips, chocolate chips, and toffee bits onto crust.
  5. Drizzle on about 1/2 cup caramel ice cream topping.
  6. Sprinkle with coconut, reserving a tablespoon or two.
  7. Pour condensed milk over coconut. Sprinkle with last bit of coconut.
  8. Bake 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Turn off oven. Leave bars in oven for about 15 minutes before transferring pan to a cooling rack.
  9. Cool completely before cutting into bars. Store in airtight container.

With sweet memories of my BFF,

Staci

If you’ve been a morning guest in our home, chances are your coffee was as black as frozen hockey pucks and you’ve thrown dietary restraint to the wind by pigging out on warm, gooey butterscotch monkey bread.

Butterscotch monkey bread

Once in a while, I surprise my lovely friends and their kids and give them monkey bread at hockey games. And if you look closely on the bench by my purse, I even have a little pan for my favorite #6 after his game.

Tracey and kids

My recipe has evolved over the years to include butterscotch pudding mix and more biscuit dough. I’ve even driven 12 miles one way to buy the pudding in the morning because it’s that much better with it.

butterscotch monkey bread

I don’t only make monkey bread for houseguests. It is best eaten when it’s warm so my kids are experienced at dishing it into plastic containers for road food, like today as she headed off to work. Some houseguests, you know who you are Zach, won’t eat any until they’re in the car.

monkey bread before work

No houseguests? Make Flying Solo Monkey Bread.

monkey bread

Gooey forkful wishes,

Staci

Butterscotch monkey bread

1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 tablespoons)

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 small box (3.5 oz.) cook & serve (not instant) butterscotch pudding and pie filling

1/4 cup sugar

2 generous teaspoons cinnamon

4 tubes (7.5 ounces each) refrigerated biscuit dough

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease Bundt pan.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and brown sugar together. Whisk until bubbly. Turn off heat.
  3. In a separate medium bowl stir together dry pudding filling, sugar and cinnamon.
  4. With kitchen scissors, cut each biscuit into four pieces, letting them drop directly into pudding mixture. Every six biscuits or so, toss pieces around to coat fully and drop into Bundt pan.
  5. When half of the biscuits are in the Bundt pan, drizzle a few tablespoons of the caramel mixture onto the coated biscuit pieces.
  6. Finish cutting all the biscuits. Evenly pour the caramel mixture over the pieces.
  7. Bake 30 minutes. Remove from oven. Let sit 10 minutes. Invert pan onto a large baking sheet and lift Bundt pan off.
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