Easy Shaped Cream Puffs for New Year’s Eve

Posted by Carly Morgan

Disclaimer: the vanilla that I use in the recipe below was sent to me by Heilala vanilla in exchange for trying it out and writing about it. The thoughts, opinions, and awesome sugary goodness photos below are my own. 

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2016 cream puffs for New Year’s Eve! You can make them!

Believe me, if I can make them, you can make them. Have you noticed how all of my recipe titles start with the word “easy”? That is not a coincidence. That is because I run screaming from hard recipes that require things like double boiling or using any kind of thermometer.

This recipe is thermometer-free, btw.

This is one I picked up a while ago, actually, because I wanted to make these little beauties after I saw them being served at Walt Disney World:

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Cream puff swans are one of those weird recipes that look like you’re a master pastry chef, but they’re actually so easy that Eva can help me make them. To be fair, I cheat a little with mine because I figured out a way to cut corners and make the swans even easier than their already-easy original recipe, so if you wanted to get super fancy and professional you should find a “real” recipe on Pinterest. But if you want them to be delicious and not have anyone notice that you cheated while also saving yourself a little effort, my recipe will make swans and New Year’s Eve numbers and people’s names for their birthdays and all that.

Puff dough:

1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup flour
4 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 425º. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Heat butter, water, salt and sugar until boiling. Take the pot off the heat, add the flour and stir quickly until all the flour is incorporated. Put the pot back on medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute. It will look weird but it will start to get kind of fluffy while you heat it so just keep stirring.

Put the hot dough in your mixer and beat at medium speed for a minute until the dough is cooler. Add the eggs and beat for two more minutes. Put the dough in a pastry bag with a standard 1/2 round tip. (You can also put the dough in a gallon-size Ziploc and snip off a corner to use that as a pastry bag, but the puffs won’t turn out quite so pretty.)

First, make your swan bodies by making two leaf-shapes on the parchment paper and filling them in with dough. The leaf shapes are going to be the bottom of the swan and the wings, so make them as big as you want the swans (I usually do about three inches by four inches) and make sure the shape is totally filled with dough. For every two leaf-shapes, make a little S shaped swan head and try to pull the dough away quickly at the end to make a little beak. I’d recommend you make an extra swan head or two since these tend to burn a bit, but maybe your oven is nicer than mine.

If you’re not making swans or you don’t want to only make swans, pipe out your shapes, letters, numbers, or little ball-shaped blobs to make standard puffs. I usually make mine by doing two pieces of piped dough right next to each other and then another two right on top, if that makes sense, so that the shape/letter/number has a clear line down the center to define it and it’s easier to cut in half later. Seriously, though, it’s pretty hard to mess this up. Just know that the smaller they are, the faster they’ll cook.

Bake 15 minutes at 425º then reduce the heat to 375º and bake until puffed up and golden brown on top. Depending on the size of your shapes, this could be anywhere from 10-20 minutes and you definitely don’t want to burn them but opening the oven too much will make them flatter so use your judgement. Let cool on the baking sheet completely before filling so your whipped cream filling doesn’t melt all over the place!

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Whipped cream filling:

Using your electric mixer with the whisk attachment, whip a cup of whipping cream and a cup of powdered sugar together until stiff peaks form. While mixing, add a teaspoon of vanilla for flavor. I used Heilala vanilla paste for this one, which is the same as scraping a vanilla pod but much easier, cheaper, and lasts longer. The result was delicious and I think the fact that you can see the little bits of vanilla bean in the cream makes it even yummier.

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Once your shaped puffs are cool, carefully slice them in half using a serrated knife and fill them with your whipped cream filling. You can pull the pastry bag out and pipe your filling in so it looks all neat and pretty, but I’ve found the dolloping-with-a-spoon method to be just fine because I like a whole lot of whipped cream in my cream puffs.

To make the swan, you’re going to put a whole lot of filling on top of one of the leaf-shapes and then cut the other leaf-shape in half and use that for the wings, sticking the head out front before sprinkling the whole thing with powdered sugar. The cheating part about this is that traditionally the swan is just one big puffy puff that gets sliced in half and filled with cream, instead of a sort of puff sandwich like the one you see here, but personally I really like the puff dough and I think the little squiggles from making the leaf shape look nice. Plus, it makes the swan heartier and easier to move when you’re plating it on top of the chocolate ganache (see my secret “recipe” for ganache below).

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Like I mentioned, shapes just get cut in half and filled. Easy peasy.

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If you’d like, you can also top them with chocolate ganache. I’m not leaving a recipe here because I’m too lazy to make my own ganache these days, so I’m going to let you in on my little secret…

Store bought frosting. Microwave it for 20 seconds at a time until it’s all liquidy and then use a pastry brush to brush it on top of your cream puffs. Top with a sprinkle of powdered sugar if you want. Easy and delicious.

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Your call on using chocolate, though. Kyle prefers chocolate-covered cream puffs while I like just a sprinkle of powdered sugar, so we compromise.

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Personally, I really like the simple combination of sugar, butter, and vanilla. It’s everything good about baking.

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And there you have it! A New Year’s Eve dessert that anyone can make. Fair warning – these are really filling so don’t make a hundred or anything. The four of us couldn’t even finish this tray (though we tried…good times…).

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Oh, second fair warning: if you make swans for your kids, they might not eat them. This is particularly true if you’re trying out a competing desert. I thought I’d whip up a box mix of chocolate cupcakes to use the rest of the melted store-bought frosting (dipping the tops makes them shiny and pretty) and then I used some white frosting to practice writing the year on top in case we wanted to do that for our New Year’s Eve party.

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It turns out that I suck at writing with icing (the three above were the only legible results out of twenty-four), so the cupcakes will not be making a repeat performance, but they did manage to knock the swans out of the water as far as the kids were concerned. C’est la vie! More swans for Mama…

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Kate’s Birth Story

Posted by Kate Ardohain

At 4:34 am (yes, I looked at the clock on my phone when I got up) on December 9th, 2015, I was woken up by pain. Not any horrible pain, but enough to know that what I was feeling was something I hadn’t felt before. It started out feeling like a period cramp then progressed into a sharp-feeling pain that I had to concentrate breathing through for about 20 seconds then it slowly faded and was gone. I fell back asleep and at 4:47 am, I woke again, same feeling, same duration. I laid in bed for a few minutes, scrolling through Instagram and trying to either get my mind off the “incidents” or wrap my head around the fact that these “incidents” may in fact be contractions.

I opened my contraction timer app on my phone that I had installed the week before and, at 4:57, pressed start on the tracking of my third contraction. One of my best friends, Joni, texted me that she was surprised that I was awake so early (she had seen that I liked one of her photos on IG a few minutes prior) and I wrote her back, “I’ve been timing contractions since 4:30” and attached one of those petrified-face emojis to really seal the enormity of the situation. Joni lives in Texas and she was getting ready for work, so we turned on Skype and chatted (and I was sufficiently distracted for about an hour, through more contractions).

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At 7:00, I went upstairs to take a shower and let Chris know that I was pretty sure this baby was making an appearance sooner rather than later. By this time, I had breathed my way through 14 contractions over the nearly 3-hour period. I came into the bedroom, said Chris’ name and when he opened his eyes, I said, “good morning! I have been having contractions for about 3 hours.” He got a huge grin across his face and said, “really?!” I confirmed and told him that I was going to take a shower and I didn’t need him to do anything else for the time being. I showered, did my hair and makeup, whilst pausing appropriately through contractions that were now about 10 minutes apart.

Chris and I went downstairs and I made myself some toast while he came down and readied the ingredients for the spaghetti sauce we had planned to make that day to be added to our freezer storage meals of chicken stew and beef stew that we had made a few days prior. As my contractions came, Chris watched the timer and talked me through as the seconds ticked by, letting me know when I was halfway there and when it was almost over. I called my parents and when my mom picked up, I told her that I thought I was in labor and gave her the situation update. She told me that when my dad came home, they would be on their way (they live about 4 hours from us). Chris went to take a shower and when he came back down, I was sitting on the chaise lounge in our front room breathing through more contractions. He grabbed my phone and checked for the length on time between, which at this point was about 5-6 minutes apart. He looked at me and said, “okay, Kate, we’re gonna go to the hospital.”

He went upstairs, grabbed the hospital bag and his own bag, got my pillow and headphones and came back downstairs. I stood up and he put his arms around me and hugged me through another one. He got the dog outside with food and water, grabbed the carseat, and we made our way out to the truck. As is nearly ALWAYS the case, we were behind the slowest sight-seeing people in Monterey and ended up behind a garbage truck literally going 20 miles an hour at the exit to the hospital. Chris was attempting to not completely lose his shit with road rage while I clenched his hand through the pain.

At the hospital, there was valet at the front entrance for women in labor and emergency patients. When Chris pulled up, I was right in the middle of a contraction and the guy went to open my door but saw that I was, ahem, indisposed, and paused. He motioned for someone and when I was breathing again, he opened the door and I got out of the car, directly seating myself into the wheelchair provided. Chris grabbed our stuff and rushed behind me as they wheeled me to the birthing center. I wasn’t sure at this point if Chris was pushing me or if it was a hospital worker until I heard Chris jogging up behind us saying, “I’m right behind you, Kate!”

When we got there, they opened the door and the nurses got up and said that they had a woman in active labor and needed to find a room. I was wheeled down the hallway through the confusion of them relaying clean room information back and forth to each other and ended up in the room where we had done the labor and delivery tour 2 months prior. I got undressed… actually sidenote funny story there… when we went into the room, there were two nurses there. One of them said, “Okay honey, let’s get your pants off. Do you want to do it here or in the bathroom?”

At this point, I was just like, whatever the hell I need to do in order to get this moving along, I will do. I don’t care who sees my goods, I’m sure by the end of this I will have had no less than a dozen people down there checking things out. I started to pull my pants down and then I looked at her and said, “Should I take my underwear off too?” She smiled and said, “Yes, we can’t very well have a baby with underwear on, can we?” Looking back on that, it makes me laugh. Like, really? Underwear too? C’mon, Kate.

Gimme a break, I was delusional with painful contractions that I had now been going through for about 7 hours.

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I laid down in bed and got attached to everything from IVs to blood pressure monitors to baby monitors. The nurse asked me about my plan for pain management and I immediately said “epidural”. It’s funny how quickly your mind changes when you’re in pain. Before labor, I told myself I would go as long as I could on the natural route and apparently, 7 hours of contractions was as far as my natural journey went. Chris held my hand through contractions while the anesthesiologist was called. (Have you ever written out the word “anesthesiologist”? Holy crap, that took me like a full minute, lol).

The nurse checked my progress and told us that I was at 4 cm, 60% effaced (which is the softening and thinning of the cervix). She went to call my doctor and came back a few minutes later. “Dr. Walker didn’t believe me that you were in labor! He said he just saw you yesterday!” It’s so funny. Chris and I had been to see him the day prior and I was told I was 2 cm, 50% effaced. I was so disappointed and when we left, I felt like at the rate I was going (1 cm the week prior and 2 cm this week) I still had 8 more weeks of pregnancy! I smiled at the thought of it all and how uncontrollable this really all is.

About 30 minutes later, the anesthesiologist came in and got me set up for the epidural. For those of you that don’t know, I have a huge tattoo on my back… like, a tattoo that covers the entirety of my back from my shoulder blades to my hips. When the doctor saw it, he was like, “whoa! This is a huge back piece! It always make it a little more difficult because I can’t see your spine as well in order to get everything centered.” NOT really something you want to hear from the person that is basically getting ready to paralyze you from your butt down to your toes. Truth be told, I wasn’t really that nervous about it at that point because I was just ready for the pain to be gone.

It took about 10 minutes and then another 20 before everything became amazingly peaceful again. I watched on the monitor as my contractions came and went and I finally relaxed. The nurses placed a catheter in (TMI? Really? Lol) and I knew at that point I wasn’t getting up for a while as I realized my legs felt like they were about a hundred pounds each. I felt like my neck and shoulders were so tight from the tensing up I didn’t even realize I was doing through all the pain. My only really annoying side effect from the injection was shivering. I wasn’t cold, but I was shivering uncontrollably for about 2 hours and it continued throughout the rest of my labor rather inconsistently and in spurts of about 5 minutes every time.

I laid back and just sat and talked to Chris for about an hour until the nurse came back in to check my status. 5 cm, 100% eff… whoops! Uh, what was that about… and, the nurse had broken my water. Lol. At this point, I couldn’t feel anything but seeing Chris’ face, and subsequent, “whoa” when everything came gushing out was pretty entertaining. For some reason, I always thought that your water breaking was the beginning of labor… stupid movies, always diluting the truth. Apparently, that is normally not the case and thank the lord for that, because if that had happened at 4:30 in the morning in our bed, I would have been really grossed out… and wet… and we’d be purchasing a new mattress for Christmas.

About 4 hours later, I was still at 5 cm and my doctor recommended that I get some Pitocin to get things moving again. I guess that getting an epidural sometimes slows your labor down though I’m unsure why. I had heard horror stories about Pitocin and how it makes your contractions super painful, but after discussing it with Chris, we decided that Dr. Walker hadn’t steered up wrong yet and if that was his recommendation, we should go with it. With that started into my IV, there was nothing to do but wait.

A half hour later, my parents showed up and I was so happy to see them. My mom was so excited and my dad seemed a little choked up, seeing his baby getting ready to have her own baby. Chris and my dad went to get something to eat (at this point, it was about 5:00 and Chris hadn’t eaten anything all day) and I sat and talked with my mom about the whole process. When the nurse came in to check me again, I had progressed to 7 cm. Dr. Walker came in as well after his office had closed and checked up on me. At that point, with so many nurses coming in and out of the room and checking my every which way, it was honestly nice to see a familiar face, someone who I had been seeing nearly every week for the past month and every month before that. He went to get dinner and told me he would be back when it was time to have this baby. I had no idea that I would be doing most of my labor with my nurses (which changed out every 8 hours) and only complete this process with my doctor present.

Finally, the concluding pelvic exam as done and my nurse, Alyssa, told me that it was time to start pushing. I confessed to her that I was really scared and she patiently talked me through the whole process, which was so so nice and made me feel a little more at ease. My mom came to my side (Chris on the other side) and I asked her to say a prayer. While she spoke, asking God for strength for me and my baby, I cried. I don’t know if it was fear or just the overwhelming sense that this 9 month journey was about be over and whole new chapter of my and Chris’ lives was about to begin, but then it was time.

The stirrups came out and my hundred pound legs were lifted into them. At this point, the contractions were so strong that I could feel them at their peak, for about 30 seconds each time. Through 3 contractions, I pushed every 10 seconds with a breath in between until she told me to stop so she could call Dr. Walker. About 10 minutes later, he came in and put a gown on, “Let’s have this baby!” I smiled and felt like I should laugh, but I was just trying not to push and felt like good, hearty laugh may just send this baby flying across the room. He sat down and for the last time, my mom and Chris pulled my legs back and I pushed with all my might for about 10 seconds until Dr. Walker told me to stop pushing. “Look down at your baby, Kate!” he said and I arched up to look down between my legs. He was small and bloody and had dark hair. All of a sudden, I was completely overcome with emotion. Was it exhaustion? Was it seeing this life that had grown inside me for so long entering this world? I don’t know… it was such an unexpected response and then…

He was there.

Steven Alfred, born at 10:08 pm on December 9th, 2015. I looked at Chris and just wept while I said, “I did it!” He smiled and kissed me and said, “Ya, you did babe. I love you so much.” I heard Steven cry for the first time, that gurgled, strained cry and they put him on my chest. He was so small and so wiggly. I put my hands on his shivering body and tried to warm and cuddle him up to me. I spoke to him and he seemed to respond, knowing that voice that he had heard from the inside for so many months. Chris leaned down and spoke to him and at that point, he stopped crying. He knew Chris’ voice too. He knew his daddy. We sat together for about 5 minutes until the nurses took him to do all the newborn baby “stuff.” And it was over. The life I had felt inside me for months was never to be inside me again. And I was a mom. And Chris was a dad. And our lives were eternally changed. And Steven Alfred was our son. Forever.

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Functional Mom Gear: PacaPod Diaper Bag for Allergy Parents

Posted by Carly Morgan

Allergy parent reality – No matter how big your kids get, you’re probably going to need to carry a big bag with you. In addition to emergency medication (which is a little bulky on its own), I currently carry safe snacks for the kids, diapers and wipes for Calvin (not often needed but just in case), and a few other mom things. For this reason, I rarely carry a little bag. I’m a big bag mom.

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This one is the Jura diaper bag (part of the Yummy Mummy line from PacaPod) and it’s currently meeting all of our different needs in a very smart way. Tons of diaper bag companies make bags that have lots of small pockets, special compartments, and little time-savers but I got excited about this one at the ABC Kids Expo because I immediately saw the possibilities for allergy families.

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PacaPod diaper bags have two small pods that fit into the diaper bag and are designed to make organizing baby’s life a little easier. One is a diaper pod that comes with a changing bad and a little nappy bag and the other is an insulated pod designed for bottles and other feeding gear. Since we’re past bottles, I jumped on the chance to use that insulated pod to hold Eva’s allergy medication. The insulation protects her meds from rough treatment and from major changes in temperature which could break down the medicine and make it less effective in an emergency. Believe me, even being careful we’ve accidentally left the bag in the car or in the sun a few times and even walking around in the frigid winter air I get a little worried about it. It’s nice to have everything safe and protected in a convenient place!

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We’re still using the other pod to hold diapers and wipes but I think we’re rapidly approaching a point where even the emergency stash won’t be necessary. Since the pod is removable I could pull it out and just have open space for things like toys and extra shirts (still very necessary in our household for some reason) or I might use it to hold my DSLR since I do take it with us a lot and it would be nice to be able to get to it so easily. I’ve also thought about buying an extra insulated food pod to use for hot/cold Eva safe foods. It would be nice to worry less about finding safe lunch when we’re out!

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They make fanny packs and things like that for kids to carry their own medication and Eva does use a little Epi pen belt occasionally, but right now she’s in that sweet spot of being responsible and not being responsible. She’s responsible about not putting things in her mouth, keeping her hands clean, and noticing symptoms but I think she’s a little young to carry her medication on her. Plus, like I mentioned before, the meds aren’t the whole Eva kit and caboodle. So, I’m going to be a big bag mom for a while most likely. No complaints. Between the cute smart bag, the fairly healthy kids, and the fact that we’ve found ways to go out safely at all despite Eva’s challenges, I’m a happy camper.

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Allergy-Safe Holiday Party: Make Toys for the Animal Shelter

Posted by Carly Morgan

Make animal toys for the animal shelterEvery year my parents have a holiday open house. Traditionally, they’ve provided blank cookies and decorating materials and everyone has decorated cookies to take home while also bringing cookies to trade. It’s a big fun cookie extravaganza and we used to really enjoy it before Eva was diagnosed, but since we found out about her allergies it’s turned into a bit of a stressful event where we usually just pop our heads in and then leave.

This year, my stepmom changed things up a bit and made it allergy-friendly, which was awesome. Instead of decorating cookies, she set up two different stations where people could make cat and dog toys to be donated to the animal shelter. Isn’t that a great idea?

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One station had fabric, stuffing, and catnip to be easily turned into cat toys and the other station had towels to be cut up and braided for dog toys. There was also a hot cocoa bar and some wine and cookies, but the allergy risk was way down compared to prior years so we were able to hang out for a long time stress-free and chat with people while we worked on our toys. And yes, Calvin is holding pinking shears but I swear we had our eye on him!

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I love this idea for an allergy-safe holiday party! If you want to do something similar, here are some links to tutorials for easy and inexpensive animal toys:

Three Easy DIY Cat Toys
4 Do-It-Yourself Cat Toys You Can Make for Cheap
44 Really Cool Homemade DIY Dog Toys Your Dog Will Love
DIY dog toy: three ways
37 Homemade Dog Toys Made by DIY Pet Owners

Eva Style: Snow Day

Posted by Carly Morgan

Note: I received a free pair of snow boots from Pediped to feature in this style post. All the thoughts and opinions below are my own. Thanks, Pediped!

Salt Lake City got all of our winter snow over and done with during the last two days. We had only had a few dustings so the kids were thrilled to wake up to a white world. The rest of us were a little less than thrilled with all the shoveling and the cars sliding into each other and the cancelled plans because why would you go out in this weather?? Still, it’s fun to see the snow through the kids’ eyes and when it got a little warmer today and the sidewalks cleared, I was able to finally enjoy our marshmallow world and take some snow bunny photos of Miss Eva D. in her element.

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She’s wearing the Cruz snow boot from Pediped, a company you might be familiar with because I’ve been putting both of the kids in Pediped forever. (Seriously. I had Pediped shoes for Eva before I had Eva.) I love this brand because the shoes are designed to be extra comfortable and supportive but they still manage to be stylish. We’ve never tried out their snow boots before, but I’m already a big fan because of how sturdy they are,  how much grip the rubber soles have, and the fact that there are two straps to tighten to keep them tight against the leg. I don’t know why so many kid snow boots are just giant shoes with no traction that slip, slide, and get stuck in the snow every time you turn around?

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Earnshaw’s named Pediped the best footwear brand for kids, so if you haven’t checked them out I would highly recommend it. They have a great selection of boots (including riding boots, rain boots, and the cutest little moccasin/boot hybrids for babies). A lot of them are gender neutral, too, which something I really value now that I appreciate how much I spent on Eva’s shoe collection when she was Calvin’s age and how nice it would be if all the hand-me-downs weren’t pink and sparkly.

And yes, we really put the Cruz boots to the test in the blizzard. They held up.

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