Tag Archives: vanilla

A few weeks ago, I was honored to throw a baby shower for my sister Kelsey. Her and her hubby Jordan are expecting their first baby in August. We are patiently waiting for the first Smith cousin for Huntley! The shower was a wonderful success; great food, great company and an amazing location. 

I was lucky enough to host the shower at my aunt Christine’s house in Keystone, South Dakota. Her house backs up to the 1880’s train that runs from Hill City to Keystone. It was a real treat to enjoy lunch and games down by her wonderful waterfall and creek, all while waving to the passerby’s on the steam engine 1880’s train!

I enjoyed planning this baby shower, in part due to the fun theme; Woodlands Baby. The shower was everything woodlands – acorns, lanterns, trail mix, pine trees, babbling brooks, wildflowers, and baby animals galore!

Our menu consisted of a watermelon baby carriage (mom-to-be request), owl veggie tray, woodlands animal crackers, porcupine cheese dip, broccoli salad, and sandwiches. The baby shower showcase was the lemon-thyme vanilla cake with cream cheese buttercream.

These cakes were so delectable and the cream cheese frosting made for the perfect finish to the strong vanilla flavoring. I frosted these “naked” as I thought it looked appropriate in the forrest with the family of deer and added garnishes of fresh thyme to pull in our woodlands element and the thyme flavor. 

After the shower I got to snap a few photos of my sister, so that she will always remember her cute baby bump. It is so fun to watch my little sister in this special moment in her life. I can remember the months leading up to having Huntley where you prepare for every little moment, but nothing prepares you for the amount of love that is coming your way, until you hold that sweet baby in your arms. Baby Ellis will be here before we know it!

Lemon-Thyme Vanilla Cake

3 c. sifted cake flour
2 c. sugar
4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
5 large egg whites
1 whole egg
1 c. whole milk
2 1/4 t. pure vanilla extract
2 t. lemon juice
2 T. thyme, minced
3/4 c. unsalted butter

1 c. salted butter, softened
1/2 c. shortening
16 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 T. vanilla extract
4 pounds confectioners sugar
*1/2 t. salt (if you use unsalted butter)

Prepare Cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and line 3 6-inch cake pans or 2 8-in cake pans with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together egg whites, egg, milk, and vanilla extract.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients together on low speed. Gradually add in cold butter and continue to mix until mixture is a fine, crumbly texture. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients in separate batches, making sure to scrape down the sides each time. Mix in the lemon juice and minced thyme. Mix until light and fluffy. Divide batter evenly into pans and bake for 25-35 minutes. Check with a cake tester to ensure the cake is done baking. 

Prepare Frosting: In a mixing bowl with paddle attachment cream together shortening and butter. Mix until creamy. Add in cut up cream cheese and vanilla and blend again. Then a little a time add confectioners sugar. Turn on high for 15 minutes to make frosting smooth and fluffy. 

Links to other menu items:
Pink Lemonade Sparkling Fruit Punch
Blueberry-Mint Lemonade
Broccoli Salad {Forrest of Trees}
Watermelon Baby Carriage
Owl Veggie Tray
Porcupine Cheese Ball 










It’s stock show time! Right now the National Western Stock Show is in full swing in Denver. For me this event brings back memories of some of my first experiences as Miss Rodeo South Dakota, a year in which I learned so much about myself, met so many wonderful people, and got to attend rodeos across the country and my state. 

Speaking of stock shows, one of my favorite stock shows is right around the corner, the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo! Every year thousands dig out their cowboy boots and Wrangler jeans in the dead of winter in the Black Hills of South Dakota for the annual event.

For me the smells of the Black Hills Stock Show bring the event to life! There are no words to describe that first inhale as you walk through the doors to the rodeo arena, one of livestock, horses, and everything western. For me it brings back every single memory I have with horses and rodeo.

As a former Miss Rodeo South Dakota, my heart still skips a beat every time I see that beautiful cowgirl carrying Old Glory in the spotlight. The excitement is electrifying as fireworks spark and the horses speed by effortlessly. Rodeo holds a special place in my heart because of the wonderful people I met in the sport and the many memories I made with my family and friends. 

But the Black Hills Stock Show also hosts home to an amazing horse sale, ranch rodeos, bull ridings, art shows, and 4-H youth events. Oh and we can’t forget the trade show, western shopping at its finest.

Walking into the trade show the smell of vanilla cinnamon almonds permeates the room. As a shopping connoisseur it is almost impossible to not stop and at least sample the decadent almonds but most often the sample elicits buying a few pounds to munch on the entire day.

Last year at the Black Hills Stock Show, there were no almonds! That sweet vanilla sugary scent had been eradicated from the building, so this year I’m taking it upon myself to cook up a batch at home! These almonds are a cinch to make and every cowboy and cowgirl will be asking you for more. They are sweet and crunchy, but also satisfying. They will definitely give you the energy needed to get through all of those wonderful stock show events. So this year as I travel to  Rapid City for this show stopping event, I will be toting my own almonds!

Memories can have a significant power, power over our emotions and power over the choices we make for the future. Remembering those memories and sometimes the delicious smells that go with them can be a rewarding experience. 


Cinnamon Sugar Vanilla Almonds

1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 T. cinnamon
1 egg white
1 T. vanilla
3 1/2 c. whole almonds

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat. In a bowl combine sugars, cinnamon, and salt. In a large bowl whisk egg white until frothy, then whisk in vanilla. Mix in the almonds and stir to coat. Then add sugar mixture and stir to coat all almonds. 

Spread almonds evenly onto a baking sheet. Bake for 60-70 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Enjoy warm or cool completely and store in an air-tight container. 


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!


Creating goals is an important element of a successful life. Goals drive you towards your passions and motivate you to embrace challenge, change, and perseverance. Beginning this blog has been a goal of mine for as long as I can remember! See I was the kid who woke up early to watch Martha Stewart bake a cake, the one who entered a gazillion 4-H food projects, just so I could hear that my crust was perfect and that it tasted amazing, the one who scoured garage sales for any cookbook I could find and the one who dreamed of becoming a brilliant chef when I grew up. I studied French in high school, so I would be better adept at speaking French, but it seems the only word I came out of french class with was le beurre (butter). I stayed up late watching Jamie Oliver and Iron Chef, thinking maybe I could pick up one trick that would help me in my cooking endeavors.

But through life’s twisty turns, I became a COUNSELOR. Yes, it’s a scary word and it has nothing to do with cooking or does it? Cooking has always been my therapy, my place of hunger, and my craving in life. I think cooking is therapeutic in so many ways and I hope to share this with you through my cooking.

Let’s talk about goals baby. Goals need to be smart.


So I ask myself, is this lofty goal of mine SMART? I hope we can find out on this journey.

To start I want to share a recipe for a simple cake from one of my original idols: Martha Stewart. This cake is yummy and easy to make. The frosting is a sweet, gooey candy like frosting that is melt your mouth delicious. Cheers to goals and making those goals SMART!


Vanilla Layer Cake with Easy Penuche Frosting

Cake adapted from Martha Stewart Living, July 2013


1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus more for cake pans and parchment
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup milk
1 3/4 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar


For the cake preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment; butter parchment as well. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together butter and granulated sugar with a mixer on medium speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Add eggs and beat well, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour mixture, beating until combined. Add milk and vanilla and beat until just combined. Divide batter between pans; smooth tops with an offset spatula. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, 33 to 35 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks to cool completely.

For the frosting, melt butter in a saucepan. Stir in brown sugar. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the milk and bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and set pan in cold water bath. When you can hold your hand on the bottom of the pan, the syrup is cool enough. Keep pan in iced water bath and beat in confectioner’s sugar until thick enough to spread. If frosting is too thin add more confectioner’s sugar. If too thick, add a few drops of hot water.

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