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When I was 9 years old, my family packed up our belongings in our New York home and moved us across the country to South Dakota. We had a going away party where my sisters and I sang “So long, Farewell” from the Sound of Music to all of our relatives and they balled their eyes out. Leaving New York was a very sad day, but I didn’t know how sad it would continue to be for me. New York was the home of my childhood, my friends, and much of my family whom I spent a lot of time with growing up. It was all I had ever known. 

South Dakota was VERY different than New York. The weather was different, the landscape was different, and the food was different too. My first day of school in 4th grade was probably one of the worst days of my life. So as we embark at the start of another school year, I want to offer some guidance for parents in terms of change. Transitioning to something new can be hard, but with the right preparation and thought that change can promote wonderful things. 

  1. If you are planning to move, time your move with your children in mind. Moving at the start of the summer allows children to adapt to their new surroundings and then transition to a new school. Taking each change in small steps is helpful. 
  2. On the first day of school, make sure your child has a buddy to take them around the school, eat lunch with them, tuck them under their wing so to speak. This is probably the most important tip. My first day of school I was alone, lost, and so scared. 
  3. Visit the school in advance. Meet the teachers, staff and discuss any school routines. It’s important as a newbie to get a solid foundation of the contacts at school so that you can better help your child. 
  4. Check in! Check in on your child several weeks after the start. Meet with the teacher and discover how your child is adjusting.
  5. Get involved. Sign your child up for clubs, sports, and activities that suit your child’s interests. These activities will allow your child to blossom and make new friends. 

Even though my move to South Dakota was hard, it truly shaped me. Change has that power, to make you stronger and to make you step outside your comfort zone. Moving to South Dakota was a blessing in disguise, because it shaped me into the person I am today. My heart will always hold a place for New York. In some strange way, I probably learned to cook because I wanted to re-create all of the classic New York treats that I grew up with. 

When I moved to South Dakota there weren’t any bakeries that made one of my favorite cookies, the black and white cookie. There were no bakeries or deli’s at all! So in my years growing up in South Dakota I took it upon myself to learn how to make the classic New York staples, black and white cookies, pizza, bagels, you know, the good stuff. 

In New York, my favorite cookies come from Rockland Bakery in Rockland County, New York. This bakery is such an icon in the northeast. It’s bakery cases host any baked delicacy your heart could desire. And the fresh bread! At Rockland Bakery you can pluck your bread, bagels, rolls, right from the oven where they come out crisp and piping hot. It doesn’t get any more fresh than that! To learn more about this amazing bakery check them out here

So as a nod to the place of my childhood, here is the classic black and white cookie recipe, which is adapted from an Epicurious recipe, with a few alterations to the chocolate frosting. In addition to these scrumptious cookies, take a look at my favorite bakery and favorite scenes from New York. 


New York Black & White Cookie

1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/3 c. buttermilk
1/2 t. vanilla
1/3 c. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1 large egg
Vanilla Frosting
1 1/2 c. confectioners sugar
1 T.  light corn syrup
1 t. fresh lemon juice
1/4 t. anilla
1 to 2 T. water
Chocolate Frosting
1/4 c. butter
2 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. cocoa powder
1. t. vanilla
2 T. milk

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a cup. Beat together butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then add egg, beating until combined well. Mix in flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately in batches at low speed, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix until smooth. Spoon 1/4 cups of batter about 2 inches apart onto a buttered large baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until tops are puffed and pale golden, and cookies spring back when touched, 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack and chill (to cool quickly), about 5 minutes.

Prepare icing. Stir together powdered sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl until smooth. In a separate bowl mix powdered sugar and cocoa. Mix dry mixture with butter and gradually add vanilla and milk. Beat for 1-2 minutes until smooth. Turn cookies flat sides up, then spread white icing over half of each and chocolate over other half. 

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~It’s all about the frosting!


Achievement Days in our county was the day that 4-Hers would showcase all of their hard work and dedication through their 4-H projects. Growing up it was often an exciting day where all our projects were awarded a ribbon depending on the quality, craftsmanship, etc. For me this day was exhilarating , because I would wake up REALLY early to make cookies, cake, and fresh bread. I always wanted my food project entries to be as fresh as possible. And it paid off, most of my food projects always earned the coveted purple ribbon.

Food wasn’t the only category that I entered projects for Achievement Days. Horse, rodeo, visual arts, photography, horticulture, house plants, clothing, hobbies and collections were some of my other favorite areas. 4-H was a very pivotal program in my life and it makes me sad to see the program dying in communities around the country. I could talk for 10 days straight about why these programs are important, but I hope by sharing this with you all, you may encourage your family or another family looking for a great outlet to create and foster a sense of achievement.

So this year I got to relive my 4-H glory days by submitting entries in the Dunn County Fair. I spent the ENTIRE day cooking my entries and I loved every minute of it. It was really fun picking out my favorite recipes to cook and be judged on. I made a yummy zucchini bread recipe that is the perfect solution to an oversupply of garden zucchini. I tried a new recipe, Chewy Maple Cookies. Although they did taste great, the appearance wasn’t what I was hoping for. Chocolate Revel Bars were next up, these are an awesome treat. Rich chocolate is paired with a cookie base that is accentuated by oatmeal. My cake was a Lemon-Lavender cake, which utilized dried lavender buds in the mix. And finally the big winner was the Pecan Pie recipe. This is one of my favorite pies, especially for the holidays. 

In the end, my hard work paid off and I won the highest achievement, best in class with my pecan pie. The pie crust is extra buttery and the pie filling is to die for. What programs do your families support; 4-H, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, FFA? There are so many worthwhile youth programs out there and most counties have a county fair too. I encourage you to get out there, create a craft, bake some cookies, grow some vegetables, make a necklace. Whatever you do, your time and effort will give you a great sense of achievement. 


Best in Class Pecan Pie

Pie Crust                                                                                          
3 c. flour                                                                           
2 t. salt                                                                             
14 T. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled     
½ c. cold water                                             

Pie Filling
Flour for dusting
1 c. corn syrup
¾ c. sugar
¼ c. brown sugar
2 T. unsalted butter
2 t. vanilla
½ t. salt
3 eggs
1 ¼ c. chopped pecans plus ½ c. pecan halves

Prepare pie dough by pulsing flour, salt and butter in a food processor into pea size crumbles. Add water, pulse until dough comes together. Divide dough in half and wrap in disks. Chill 1 hour before using. Roll dough into a 12 in. round. Fit into a 9 inch pie plate. Chill 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk corn syrup, sugars, butter, vanilla, salt, and eggs in a bowl. Fold in chopped pecans. Distribute filling evenly over dough, arrange pecan halves around the inside edge of pie. Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is set, about 1 hour.



Lemon Lavender Bundt Cake {Blue Ribbon}

3 c. cake flour
1 ½ t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
¼ t. salt
16 T. unsalted butter
1 ½ c. sugar
1 T. dried lavender flowers
4 eggs, lightly beaten
½ t. lemon extract
1 c. plain yogurt
1 T. lemon zest

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt pan. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter, sugar, and lavender. Add the eggs, then beat in the lemon extract. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the yogurt. Fold in the lemon zest. Bake for 1 hour.



Zucchini Bread {Blue Ribbon}

3 eggs, beaten
3 t. cinnamon
1 c. cooking oil
2 c. peeled and grated zucchini
2 c. sugar
½ t. salt
3 c. flour
¼ t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder

Mix all ingredients together and put in bread pans. Bake bread at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean. Makes 2 loaves.

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Chocolate Revel Bars {Blue Ribbon}

Cookie Layer                                               
1 c. shortening                                           
2 c. sugar                                                   
2 eggs                                                           
2 t. vanilla                                                    
2 ½ c. flour                                                  
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
3 c. oatmeal

1 (15 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2 c. chocolate chips
2 T. butter
1/2 t. salt
2 t. vanilla

Mix shortening and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add dry ingredients. Set aside and prepare filling. Melt chocolate chips, milk, butter, and salt in microwave. When smooth add vanilla. Spread 2/3 of oatmeal mixture in a 9×13 baking dish. Cover with chocolate filling. Dot with the remaining 1/3 oatmeal mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.



Chewy Maple Cookies {Red Ribbon}

½ c. shortening
1 ½ c. flour
1 c. brown sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 egg
½ t. salt
½ c. maple syrup
1 c. coconut
½ t. vanilla

In a mixing bowl, cream shortening and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg, syrup and vanilla until well mixed. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to the creamed mixture. Stir in coconut. Drop by tablespoons 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

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Thanks to all of the volunteers at the Dunn County Fair. There were many excellent open class exhibits as well as amazing 4-H projects!

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Did you watch the opening of the 2016 Summer Olympics last night? I am a total nerd when it comes to the Olympics. I just love all of it! The site of Bob Costas literally makes me giddy, because it means it’s either time for the Olympics or the Kentucky Derby.

The Olympics is such an amazing event that unites the world in so many ways. I love the stories of the athletes, but most of all I love how it depicts the true testament of determination. To be an Olympian takes an amazing amount of courage, grit, and determination. Can you imagine the countless hours, months, and years that go into practicing for one event? It takes an immeasurable amount of passion for a sport to reach the level of the Olympics. 

To celebrate this spectacular display of determination, we whipped up this cute little dinner showcasing the rings of the Olympics. The rings themselves display unity in that they represent the six colors (white too) that can reproduce the colors of every country. It is truly an international symbol.

We chose wheat bran bagels with oats to highlight our olympic rings, but you can use any type of bagel, mini bagel, or english muffin for a perfect pizza. Homemade pizza sauce and fresh mozerrella make these Olympic rings extra tasty. For the colors of the rings we used blue potatoes, black olives, cherry tomatoes, yellow peppers, and basil. You can use any blue, black, red, yellow, or green pizza topping that your heart desires. Other ideas would be eggplant, green peppers, jalapeños, pepperonis, etc. 

This would be a great recipe to share with your family while you tune into some Olympic action. Who is your favorite athlete? What is your favorite event to watch?


Olympic Ring Bagel Pizzas

3 Bagels
Mozzarella cheese
Pizza sauce
2 Blue Potatoes
1/2 c. black olives
1/2 c. cherry tomatoes
1 yellow pepper
6-7 basil leaves
Salt & Pepper 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Slice bagels in half and assemble on a baking pan. Cover the top of bagel with pizza sauce and sprinkle mozerrella cheese. Prepare ring colors. Slice blue potatoes thinly and place around bagel. Sprinkle olive and basil leaves on respective bagel slices. Slices cherry tomatoes and yellow pepper into small chunks and place on bagel ring. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is browned. Enjoy 

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I forgot to mention that while in Utah we visited Olympic Park, which was the host to the 2002 Winter Olympics. Prior to our visit, we watched Eddie the Eagle, the story of a British ski jumper who had a ton of determination. If you have a chance to watch it, I would highly recommend adding it to your feel good movie playlist.

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When I was Miss Rodeo South Dakota way back in 2009, my go-to autograph slogan was “Dream Big!” It was the perfect phrase to share with every young cowgirl and cowboy that I met during that time because they are two words that can make such an impact in your life. Way before my days as a rodeo queen, I dreamed of attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. I longed to learn about cooking and baking and becoming a world renown chef. I studied French in high school, so that I would be better adept at learning the art of french cuisine. I set big dreams for myself and I never let people tell me they were too big. 

Attending the Culinary Institute of America was a lofty dream, but it was one that I was serious about. I filled out the application to attend the world’s top culinary school four times, but I never sent it away. My dreams took me on a different path, one I am thankful for to this day. On our recent trip to New York, I was ecstatic to go visit this prestigious school and taste some of the delicious creations. 

The school really is magical. It gives off this Hogwarts-esque vibe because the buildings actually used to be a Jesuit novitiate. We ate at the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe (on graduation day) which was really fun because all of the chefs were walking around in their cap and gowns. The cafe was the perfect lunch spot and the food did not dissapoint!

We enjoyed the crab cake that was served with a yummy mango, lime, & jalapeno coulis and frisèe salad. Our table was filled with delectable truffle seasoned french fries, potatoes,  salmon tartan, macaroni and cheese with gruyere cheese, and the best beef tenderloin my sister has ever eaten. This cafe not only satisfies on the savory side, they shine with the amazing desserts too. Blueberry lemon macarons, ganache, cake, and chocolate; we tasted all of the goodness that the bakery had to offer. 

Although I didn’t get to attend the Culinary Institute of America as a student, I bought a chef’s coat at the bookstore and I still live out my dreams through writing this blog, cooking, and sharing recipes everyday. Don’t be afraid to dream big and work towards your aspirations. Don’t ever let someone tell you that your dreams are too big. Sometimes your dreams don’t look exactly how you picture them in the end, but if you work hard enough you can do anything. 


Right down the road, lies another massive institution, the Vanderbilt Mansion. It is a magnificent mansion that represents what can happen when an individual dreams REALLY BIG! You can learn more about the Vanderbilt mansion here

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