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summer bucket list 2017

Happy summer! It’s officially here with the humidity to prove it!

Summer Bucket List

For the past few weeks I have been gearing up for the new season and adding things to my summer bucket list. While it is not my favorite season (I’m not a fan of the extremely hot and humid days we get here), I do love that summer always seems more relaxed than other parts of the year. Summer comes with its own kind of fun. It brings a relaxed vibe, long days, warm nights, fresh fruit and vegetables. The sunny days entice me to spend more time outside and allow for dinner on the back patio and outdoor weekend projects. I am excited for all of these fun experiences this summer!

-Swim in the pool at our complex (we didn’t swim in it a single time last year!)
-Spend an evening at Honeysuckle Tea House (we went for the first time to cross it off my spring bucket list and we loved it!)
-Go to one place on our Triangle bucket list
-Try a new coffee shop
-Ride bikes together
-Pick blackberries
-Make popsicles
-Go to the lake
-Make and start to implement a plan for our back patio beautification
-Refinish table
-Pick paint color for guest bedroom
-Take a trip before Will starts his MPH year
-Try a new seasonal recipe
-Go to a Durham Bulls game
-Buy local food from the Farmers’ Market

What fun things are on your summer bucket list?!

link love

link love 6.2.2017via

It’s Friday (and national doughnut day at that)! Sometimes short weeks get me all confused. My days are all off and every day this week has felt like a different day of the week, but not necessarily in order. My brain is very confused, but hey, it’s almost the weekend! We’re avoiding the news and focusing on some link love because covfefe and climate change are both terrifying right now (and in case we need a reminder, let’s take a look back at the “Antarctica is Melting” link from last week).

Moving on, this list of the best romcoms is enticing as the weekend approaches. There are so many on that list that I haven’t seen, but I agree that the one’s I recognize should be on the list. What are your favorites? I’m always up for a good romcom.

My to-do list this weekend includes “buy sunscreen,” among other errands. New York City beach goers may be able to remove that from their list this year. The Parks Department has organized a pilot program of free sunscreen dispensers at city beaches this summer. We already have hand sanitizer dispensers all over, why not sunscreen? Reapply, reapply, reapply.

As we head into the weekend, here is a tip to make yours feel longer: try new things! I read this article earlier this week and then heard something similar on the radio this morning. Maybe that’s a sign that I’m not trying enough new things. Hmmm.

I love some good science of baking explanations, or just helpful answers to baking faqs. Joy has that down pat. Salted butter, gluten free wizardry, cookie troubleshooting, flour on flour on flour, buttermilk…whyyyy? You name it, she answers it. It’s good information for anyone to know.

Enjoy your weekend – I hope it’s beautiful for you!

june goals

June 2017 Goals | www.passthecookies.com

Happy June and almost summer! It is starting to feel more and more like summer every day, with warm weather, open pools, and nightly thunderstorms to boot. Our May was filled to the brim and because of our packed schedule it seemed to go by quickly. While being busy and fully booked can sometimes feel stressful, we got to spend wonderful quality time with so many friends and family members who we don’t see often. It was a great month and having a three-day weekend right at the end was the cherry on top! I’d take another May 2017, if anyone’s asking. I’m going into June with a still busy schedule, but have great hopes for it after the great month we just had. Plus, summer is coming, and while the intense heat of July and August aren’t my favorite, June still has some beautiful long nights that I’m looking forward to filling with time outside. Without further ado: a recap of May goals and some new June goals!

May Goals
– Plant herbs – I moved the basil outside and so far it has been doing well in its pot. I may plant it in a bigger pot this month, but we’ll see how it does.
– Have tea at Honeysuckle Tea House – I’m carrying this one over because we didn’t get to do it but I really want to while the weather is nice.
– Celebrate with friends and family at (and on the way to) weddings – carrying this over from last month because we have more weddings coming up in May! Celebrated with lots of friends and family at and on the way to a wedding last month. We are looking forward to even more family and celebration at a special wedding this month (see June Goals below!)
– Balance my work and weekend obligations with exercise – Run at least 3 times a week, do toning exercises at least once a week. I feel like I am back in a good rhythm with running again, and when the evening thunderstorms throw of my running plans I have been able to do indoor exercises. Hoping to keep this up!
– Successfully work all of our end-of-school-year events at work (5 within 15 days). Halleluiah!
– Spend Memorial Day weekend relaxing with friends and family (brunch?!). Memorial Day Weekend was packed to the brim with friends and family and it was so refreshing and so good! I’ll recap our brunch spread soon!
– Make plan to make headboard for daybed. Made a plan, now figuring out a good time to implement.
– Celebrate bachelorette parties, bridal showers, birthdays and Mother’s Day. May was full of celebrations and parties, with one (or more!) every weekend!

June Goals
-Make and decorate a cake for a baby shower
-Celebrate Will’s brother and almost sister-in-law getting married!!!
-Help with the wedding, rehearsal dinner, and other celebratory events
-Enjoy a girl’s trip to LA with childhood friends
-Add two go-to dinner recipes to our list
-Use the lettuce and herbs from our garden in meals
-Find a moisturizer or foundation with SPF that I like and start wearing it regularly
-Make new popsicle flavor combinations
-Continue with a regular running schedule or do indoor toning exercises when it is thunder storming or too hot (welcome to North Carolina summers!)
-Have tea at Honeysuckle Tea House
-Celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary (!)

coconut cake with earl grey buttercream

If places could be a love language, cute local coffee shops would be one of mine. I think it is safe to say the same about my tea-loving parents. Last year, their New Years resolution was to go to their local coffee shop every Saturday they were in town, and they did! They know most of the baristas by name and the baristas know their order when they walk in the door. Even if they don’t see my parents, the baristas behind the coffee counter know my parents are in the shop when they hear the order called. It is the same order every week: two Earl Grey tea lattes with two pumps of vanilla, otherwise known as London fog.

Coconut Cake with Earl Grey Buttercream | www.passthecookies.com

Coconut Cake with Earl Grey Buttercream | www.passthecookies.com

Their love for Earl Grey tea is not unfounded. They have always been tea drinkers and, amidst other types of tea, we had Earl Grey on hand at all times when I was growing up. So, when it came time to think of a good Mother’s Day dessert, incorporating their favorite coffee shop order seemed like a the perfect solution. Enter: coconut cake with Earl Grey buttercream.

Coconut Cake with Earl Grey Buttercream | www.passthecookies.com

Coconut Cake with Earl Grey Buttercream | www.passthecookies.com

I am so excited about every part of this cake. The coconut cake is delicious on it’s own and the browned butter takes the flavor to another level of amazing! It is slightly dense, perfectly moist, and filled with coconut. I don’t know which part of this cake I love more, the cake or the frosting. As much as I love the coconut cake base, I could eat the Earl Grey buttercream by the spoonful it is so good. The Earl Grey tea flavor comes through so clearly and is perfect when paired with a little vanilla buttercream and a bite of coconut cake. The flavors complement each other so well, and make for a pretty cake to boot!

Coconut Cake with Earl Grey Buttercream | www.passthecookies.com

Coconut Cake with Earl Grey Buttercream | www.passthecookies.com

Coconut Cake with Earl Grey Buttercream | www.passthecookies.com

I have always thought of coconut cake as a great spring dessert, but it is so versatile that it could work just as well after Mother’s Day too. Dress it up with coconut covering the entire outside, or stick with a more subtle approach. Add jam or lemon curd between the layers and it is a whole new cake! If you are looking for something more simple than a layer cake, bake the coconut cake in a loaf pan and call it brunch. I won’t tell ;) This recipe makes a small 6-inch cake, perfect for small Mother’s Day gatherings, however, if you want a larger cake double everything and bake the layers in 8-inch cake pans.

Coconut Cake with Earl Grey Buttercream

Coconut Cake
2 large eggs
1 ¼ cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup granulated sugar
5 ounces sweetened flaked coconut (about 1 ½ cups)
6 tablespoons butter, browned (see this post for how to brown butter)
Nonstick cooking spray for baking pan

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 6-inch cake pans with nonstick baking spray, line the bottoms with parchment paper circles, then spray with nonstick spray again.

In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir in the sugar and coconut. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour in egg mixture. Stir the wet and dry ingredients together until just combined. Add the browned butter, and stir until just smooth. Be careful not to overmix. The batter will be very thick.

Distribute the batter evenly between the pans, and spread it out to smooth the cakes. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan five minutes, before turning out onto a cooling rack.

Earl Grey Buttercream
1 ¼ cups butter, divided
2 tablespoons Earl Grey tea (loose tea from about 8 teabags)
1 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place ½ cup butter in a small saucepan with the loose tea. Heat over medium heat until the butter melts, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the tea steep for 5 more minutes. Strain the butter through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Refrigerate until the tea-steeped butter is the consistency of softened butter (about 20-30 minutes). It is okay to have some small bits of tea in the butter.

After the butter has cooled, place the remaining ¾ cup butter and the tea-steeped butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and blend on medium until fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar and mix until combined. Add in vanilla and blend on medium-high until fluffy.

Vanilla Buttercream
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)

Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until creamy. Reduce the speed to low, gradually add the powdered sugar, and beat to combine. Beat in the salt and vanilla until fluffy.

Assembly
After the cakes are completely cool, cut off the domed tops of the cakes with a large serrated knife. Place one cake layer on the cake plate, top with Earl Grey buttercream and another cake layer. Cover with a thin, smooth layer of Earl Grey buttercream and refrigerate fro 10-15 minutes. This is your crumb coat. Cover the entire cake with vanilla buttercream then add Earl Grey buttercream around the bottom of the cake.

Notes:
If you just want Earl Grey frosting, double the Earl Grey buttercream recipe and omit the vanilla buttercream recipe. Do the opposite if you just want vanilla frosting (though the Earl Grey buttercream is one of my favorite frostings).

You can cover the cake with coconut or create an ombré effect with the Earl Grey buttercream and the vanilla buttercream (shown here).

You can also make this into three layers by distributing the batter evenly between three 6-inch cake pans.

Coconut cake adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen.

pretty spring pajamas

If you know me, you likely know about my love for a good pajama set. A good pajama set makes me so happy, and the spring pajamas that are out right now are doing just that!

My pajama set collection started in high school, when my mom started giving my siblings and I pajamas for Christmas every year, with pretty pj sets for my sister and me. We gathered a few pairs of flannel pajamas, perfect for cold winter nights. Over the years I have increased my pajama set collection and always love getting a new pair. My sister and I received these soft, stretchy, striped cotton pajamas for Christmas and they are one of my favorites! They are the most comfortable pair I have and are so cute with the pretty piping detail and cuffs. (Just make sure to size down if you get these as they run a little big.)

Spring Pajamas | www.passthecookies.com

One year while we were dating, Will invited me to spend 4th of July with his family at his grandparents house. This left me in a pajama conundrum – flannel isn’t the best material for July in the south, but I wanted to make a good impression in front of all of his extended family and not wear a ratty t-shirt either. With my mom’s help, I found a pretty pink striped cotton pajama shorts set that worked perfectly for the hot summer nights, and still looked lovely and classy at the breakfast table in the morning. That pajama set, which I still wear and love, taught me the versatility of cotton pajamas and a good shorts set.

With the heavy duvet on our bed in the winter and a light maltese covering it in the summer, I can wear cotton pajamas year round without feeling too cold or too hot (though some frigid nights are strictly for flannel). Even when we travel in the winter I pack one of my pajama shorts sets, and often end up wearing them if the place where we are staying has the heat cranked up. With warmer weather here to stay, I am so excited to have my shorts sets back in full rotation and to see all of the beautiful new shorts sets that are out for the warm spring weather. I have heard wonderful things about Eberjey and Lake pajamas, and I have my eye on this pretty coral striped shorts set and this darling citrus-inspired set. I love all of the patterns that are out right now, too. These gingham pajamas and these lightweight poppy print pajama shorts, pants and shirt are all adorable! Below are a few more of my favorites to inspire you this season :)

photo via

spring bucket list

2017 spring bucket list
via

It is officially spring and we have already had the rain showers and pollen coatings to prove it! Each fall, I like to create a list of things I want to do before the next season starts. I’m not sure why I haven’t done this for every season, because these seasonal bucket lists are some of my favorite ways to set goals. The three-month time period allows for more time and flexibility than my monthly goals, but doesn’t allow me to push things around like I might with my yearly goals. These lists also force me to live in the present and focus on and enjoy the current season. Some of the items on my list are already planned out, and some are left to fill free weekends and evenings whenever the mood (and timing) strikes. So, without further ado, my spring bucket list!

Spring Bucket List
-Go on a picnic
-Plant herbs
-Celebrate my birthday
-See the Ansel Adams exhibit at the NC art museum
-Go on lots of walks
-Celebrate with friends and family at weddings
-Spend time at our local farmers’ market
-Celebrate Easter with family and make an Easter dessert
-Go to at least one new place on our triangle bucket list
-Make lots of cookies for my cousin’s wedding favors
-Have tea at the reopened Honeysuckle Tea House
-Eat a meal outside (at home or at a restaurant/café)
-Have Memorial Day brunch (an accidental annual tradition in my family)
-Celebrate our three year wedding anniversary!

What is on your spring bucket list?!

sprouts farmers market

We’re doing something a little different today. We’re going on a tour of the newest grocery store in town!

Sprouts Farmers Market North Carolina | www.passthecookies.com

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to tour the new Sprouts Farmers Market in Raleigh before it’s grand opening on Wednesday morning. The grocery store is the first Sprouts Farmers Market in North Carolina and it couldn’t have gotten here soon enough! The variety of healthy options at affordable prices was unbelievable. Do you see that produce section below?! There is so much selection! They have a great array of organic options, but also conventional options if you aren’t at a place where you want to eat (or want to pay for) organic food. That being said, the prices of both conventional items and organic and natural items is amazing. The store is a slight trek from where I live, but it is so worth it! (more…)

2nd blogiversary!

Yesterday marked the second anniversary of Pass the Cookies blog (a second blogiversary, if you will)!

Pass the Cookies 2nd blogiversary! | www.passthecookies.com

I started this blog in Will’s second semester of medical school, mainly to give me something to do while he studied at night and on weekends. I look ahead and see the few short years until medical school graduation, but don’t think about the time behind us very much. The start of medical school seems so far away now that Will is midway though his third year, and just as the two and a half year mark of med school came unexpectedly, the two year mark of this blog crept up on me as well. It has been a fun journey and I am so glad to have you here with me! I am so glad to have this space where I can share recipes, trips, tips, things I am loving and goals with you.

Throughout this blog journey I have learned more about recipe creation, cookie making, photography, and so much more. One of my favorite parts of this blog is hearing about the Pass the Cookies recipes you try! I absolutely love when someone tells me they made a recipe from the blog or shares a picture of a blog recipe they made. I know the recipes here span the difficulty range, some very easy, some more consuming, but those moments knowing that I can help other people bake, branch out and try new recipes bring me such joy!

Over the next year I am excited to learn and grow even more here, to share more recipes, trips and goals, among other things. Thank you for following along and coming back to Pass the Cookies! I can’t wait to see what is in store! And don’t worry, there will be a celebratory recipe soon ;)

Photo above is of the funfetti brownie cake with cookie dough frosting from earlier this year.

homemade gifts and easy english toffee

We are in the final days before Christmas, and while I’m pretty much finished with my shopping (except maybe a few stocking stuffers and gift toppers), I still have lots of baking to do to make sure I can get our tokens of appreciation to the bus driver, mail delivery person, neighbors, coworkers and far-away family. We like to make cookies, candy and other small homemade treats for these people as a thoughtful, personal way to show our appreciation for all of their help and love throughout the year. I love making and wrapping homemade gifts in small packages tied with pretty ribbons. Some of our favorite treats that we make and share every year are shortbread bites, rosemary spiced nuts, gingerbread cookies, and marshmallows, but we decided to try something new this year with easy English toffee.

Easy English Toffee-12

As noted by its title, this English toffee is super simple. I didn’t realize before writing this post, but adding the almonds makes it English toffee, rather than just toffee, as if the British have a monopoly on almond usage. I love making this recipe with chopped toasted pecans in place of the almonds (which I guess would then nullify “English” in the title). Not only does it have a wonderful flavor, it also reminds me of the delicious Chapel Hill toffee we love to give family and friends as a memento from our small college town.

easy English toffee and other homemade gifts | passthecookies.com

Easy English Toffee-13

Though not absolutely necessary, it is helpful to have a candy thermometer (or at least a clean meat thermometer) to make this recipe. In order for the mixture to become a hard toffee, it has to reach a high enough temperature. The great thing about this easy recipe is that if your butter-sugar mixture doesn’t get hot enough to create hard toffee, you will have a delicious soft candy treat that is still wonderful to gift! It is difficult to mess up this recipe, which makes it great for the week before Christmas when you don’t have time for re-dos.

Easy English Toffee-14

Easy English Toffee-15

If you aren’t into toffee (though you should still try this because it is delicious) I have listed a few of my favorite homemade gifts you can make this week for the service people in your life, stocking stuffers, or just the difficult person on your list who you still haven’t found a present for.

Homemade rosé gummy bears
Peppermint bark
Shortbread
Hand scrub
Bath salts
Coffee syrup
Hot chocolate mix (homemade or not) with homemade marshmallows
Homemade amaretto
Easy English toffee (recipe below)

Easy English Toffee-16

This toffee is just as the name states – easy and delicious. And with the adjustment of a few ingredients it goes from English toffee to Chapel Hill toffee :)

Easy English Toffee
1 cup finely chopped raw almonds, divided in two (you can also use pecans for this)
18 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks, divided in two (you can also use dark chocolate)
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
a pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (good quality, if you have it)

For this recipe, it is important to make sure everything is chopped and prepared before starting. You won’t have time or hands to do so after you start.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (as mentioned in the gift guide for bakers!) and sprinkle half of the chopped nuts onto the lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the almonds are fragrant and slightly golden, stirring a few times while they bake. Toasting the nuts adds a great flavor to the toffee.

Melt half of the chocolate in the microwave in 15 second increments until smooth and spread evenly on top of the toasted nuts. The nuts might move around a bit – this is fine. When you are finished spreading the chocolate you can move some of the nuts back into place to make sure they are evenly dispersed.

Get ready, set your music and have your tools ready – this is where you are married to your pan and the toffee that is to come. In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, melt the butter and brown sugar together, whisking constantly, until the mixture reaches 300 degrees F on your candy thermometer. For those who don’t have a candy thermometer, the color of the mixture will be about the color of peanut butter. This takes 15-20 minutes.

Remove the mixture from the heat and quickly add in salt and vanilla. Immediately pour the toffee onto your nut and chocolate covered baking sheet, spreading it out evenly with a rubber spatula or offset spatula. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate over the hot toffee and when it looks like it is melted, spread with an offset spatula (like in the gif above!). Sprinkle the remaining nuts on top and gently press them into the chocolate.

Refrigerate for 1 hour before breaking into pieces. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. I find that it stays fresh longer in the fridge. You can also make this ahead and freeze for up to 3 months.

gift guide for stocking stuffers

Today gift guide focuses on stocking stuffers for everyone on your list. I always save stocking stuffer items for last. I like to take inventory of the presents we have gotten for everyone, see if there are any small things that would pair nicely with our existing presents, or just smaller items that I think they would love and be surprised to get on Christmas morning. I always love trying to gift something that fits someone’s likes and personality, but is small enough to sneakily fit in a stocking. The sneakiness is part of the thrill of stocking stuffers because it causes so much excitement and wonderful surprises :). These smaller ideas also make great presents for coworkers or friends. The best part? Almost everything on this gift guide for stocking stuffers is under $25, and for the two or three items that aren’t I have included an under $25 dupe! Let’s stuff some stockings!

Gift Guide for Stocking Stuffers

A unique sweet treat, like hot chocolate on a stick, rose gummy bears, cocktail sugars (the mint julep sugars are in the shape of horses in horseshoes!), or macarons from a local bakery, is a great addition to any stocking. It stands out from the rest of the festive candy and gives them something to look forward to trying after the big holiday. You can even add a personal touch and make your own hot chocolate mix and package it with homemade marshmallows.

With their small size and reasonable pricing, earrings make a great stocking stuffer. There are so many styles, making this an easy gift for lots of people. Include a jewelry travel case for easy storage of all their new gifted jewelry on their trip home.

Beauty products are also great sizes for filling stockings. Lipstick, nail polish, face masks, lotion, a sleep mask, and any of their favorite makeup items make great fillers that your mom and sister are sure to love and use long after the holidays pass.

I have listed this on almost every gift guide this year because I believe socks are one of the most versatile gifts. They are great rolled up as stocking stuffers, gifted to coworkers and friends, or under the tree for a family member. With so many styles there is a good pair for everyone. These reindeer socks are so cute for the holidays.

Warm slippers (these chic faux fur ones are only $20!) and a velvet bow make lounging around the house in the days following Christmas much more stylish, and a desk calendar and some journals will get them started on the right foot the next week when New Year’s comes around.

I hope this weekend brings some cookie baking, relaxation and stocking stuffing!

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