Dark chocolate covered rice pudding pops!

It's HOT here in Los Angeles. 
What better way to beat the heat, than ice pops? But forget just plain juice for your frozen delight, go for the exotic with these delicious Rice Pudding pops that you can then 
dip in dark chocolate!!  
These babies smell of cinnamon and are cool comfort on a stick.

I've made them with whole milk, and recently with almond milk, making them vegan as well as Gluten free. They were good both ways!

You'll need:
3 cups whole milk/almond milk/or your favorite...
1 vanilla bean
 *Halve the bean lengthwise and scrape out all of the vanilla paste into the pot.
1 cup short or medium grain rice. 
*I used arborio last time (aka risotto), so they were extra dense and hearty
2 cinnamon sticks
1  14oz. can of sweetened condensed milk mixed with 2 cups water
3 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1. Bring your milk, 1 1/4 cups of water, scraped vanilla beans, and the vanilla paste, to a simmer in a 4 qt. pot over medium-low heat. Stir in the rice and cinnamon sticks and cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender, about 20–30 minutes. Remove the cinnamon sticks and stir in the condensed milk/water mixture, vanilla extract, and salt. Simmer until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, 10–15 minutes more. Remove your pan from the heat, stir in the ground cinnamon, and let cool slightly. 

2. Transfer mixture to twelve 3-oz. ice-pop molds or even Dixie cups. Transfer the molds to the freezer and freeze until slushy, about 1 hour. Insert a Popsicle stick into each mold and freeze until pops are solid, about 3 hours more. To release ice pops from molds, run the bottom of the molds briefly under warm water.
3. Melt a good quality dark chocolate with about 1/2 teaspoon of either coconut or vegetable oil. You can melt it in a coffee cup in the microwave if you're careful not to burn it! Or you can use the double broiler method on the stove. Stir to make smooth and shiny.
Now simply dip your ice pops in, covering a little, or the whole thing, then tap the excess chocolate. Eat immediately, or store  in a container in the freezer.

Go make some today!
xo melanie

Indian & elephant birthday party in the park!

As crazy as it is to believe, my baby turned one in May (sniff). I knew I wanted to honor him with a party, but what kind? I found the perfect answer in a joint first birthday party!
My gorgeous co-host Ani and her babes are Indian, so immediately I knew the theme. When she volunteered to make all of the delicious Indian food, leaving me to the sweets and decor, I found a marriage made in heaven!
I designed an invite, but ultimately ended up using Pingg online invitations. 
Awesomely, I could use my design! And we were off!
I chose the beautiful Kings Road Park, in West Hollywood,  again after having Big bro's Superhero Party here. It's magical.
 The yummy guests of honor!
                  And the yummy fooooood. Seriously, people were drooling. Ani and her brother Alex, really knocked it out of the park (ha ha no pun intended...)

Because we were in a park, and not all of it was grass, I created a baby area for wee ones not yet walking. Of course, most of the mamas ended up here too...
 . I created the backdrop for the dessert table from a ton of streamers and gold fringe. I found the tutorial here.
I have to say, it was pretty rad (and easy!).
Rolled in sprinkles, and put onto stripey straws, these mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches from Trader Joes, become precious pops!   
 My favorite chocolate cake recipe
 Spray painted toy elephants gave a whimsical elegance.
Yes, you read that correctly... Cake batter Rice Krispie treats. Word.
Needless to say, candy coated, sprinkled, jumbo marshmallow pops were a huge hit.
 Hanging shots of baby's first year
Pretty Ani and Flash's fellow birthday boy. 
Clearly obvious which ones here are the Indian wannabes...
I lost both smash cakes during transport to the park, but cupcakes did the job just fine!
 I got gigantic balloons for the high chairs, and made streamers for them from tissue poms, ribbon and fringe.
One of my favorite details. I cut the boy's names from this awesome glitter card stock, and hand sewed it onto bakers twine with poms. These got thrown away, and I literally cried...
 I filled clear balloons with confetti. Hung upside down, they looked sweet when the wind blew. All of the kids wanted one, but they had a HUGE disclaimer... 
They pop: confetti everywhere!
Elephant Bean Bag Toss
 Homemade bubbles and wands are a breeze, and turned out to be really effective!
Big Sisters!

Simple Thank You bags were filled with Animal Crackers and yogurt covered stars

It was a lovely party. And our babies are ONE
xo Melanie
Thanks so much to Karen Steyr for the fabulous photos!

Want me to do YOUR next party? Leave me a message!

Lessons for Momma in the wake of the Boston tragedy

In light of the events of the week I have fed my addiction for the 24 hour news cycle (much to my husbands dismay). Yet it somehow pulled me from my self-imposed depression of yet another relocation with a toddler.  This of course is a blog for another day and so insignificant comparatively.  I am a military brat and liberally conservative by nature. Of course I have my personal opinion of the individuals involved in the Boston tragedy. But my reaction as a daughter who's father was in the Pentagon on 9/11 was surpassed by a strong sense of needing to learn something from this for my child.  I am first and foremost his momma.  

In my need for clarity I have overdosed on commentary and newspaper articles about the Boston tragedy which has forced me to a realization beyond the current developmental stage of my little lovebug.   As parents our job is so vitally important to ensure our children know themselves and are proud of who we are as individuals and where we come from. With a child who's last name know one can pronounce, who speaks one language to his Momma and another to his Papa he will experience life differently than even I did.  I must teach him pride in who he is no matter what the circumstance.  It doesn't matter if he never meets people who could lead him down a path of destruction.  I want him to have the skills to live fully.  I know my child is only 20 months old.  I have the luxury of this opinion as we have not yet reached the truly hard part of making this happen.  But this time allows me an unforeseen opportunity.  

I heard family members and analysts alike give their opinions on how difficult it was for these brothers to assimilate to the American culture forcing them to radicalize. It quickly brought my thoughts to someone I once knew.  A beautiful girl who lost her parents and entire family but two brothers in the  Chechen War.  She was 17. I met her a mere seven days after she arrived in the states as a refugee.  All who knew her witnessed how utterly devastating life became for her. Her story was tragic. Yet despite of her horror she was beautiful and extraordinary in every way. On the other hand living abroad I can understand the assimilation issue. But the momma in me feels the issue is much more significant than assimilation. I heard someone say on one of the news shows something along the lines of ... 'As a country America is one of the best examples of embracing other cultures specifically those of Arab and Muslim decent.  We need to remember how hard we have worked as individuals to make this happen.' Living in the UK and traveling throughout Europe this statement really hit home for me personally.  It is true. The drastic division is so apparent it is almost shocking. As an American without seeing it myself I would have never imagined people could live in such a way.  Americans are special this way in my opinion. I want my child to know and feel this pride.  

I believe our generation raises children differently.  We try very hard to make sure our children see people as people. We appreciate differences in others and want this diversity to allow our children the opportunity of interacting with others who are different-whether it be religion, heritage or even something as simple as the foods we eat.  It's such a monumental yet simple task for me as a parent to help my child understand why we are different from our friends and peers. Things as simple as why we do not get happy meals though we are not vegetarians.  Yet we drink rice milk because after reading "Skinny Bitch" I could never force down another glass of dairy milk without thinking of every USDA report I read and the poor little cows. Why every night we pray to God because we believe faith and acceptance of Him is a top priority. Why we eat at a table in a chair not roaming around the house or restaurant. We are who we are by choice and show who we are by our actions.  While these do not compare to extremism of some individuals this is how we live in our home.  I want my child to know to the core of who he is, to be an individual and find his strength and happiness there. 

Now before I offend anyone who may feel I am trivializing the issue I am not.  I also don't kid myself-my own family thinks I'm insane with a lot of the things I do as a parent.  But just as I was raised to stand strong in my beliefs I am not hindered from forging ahead as I please... with confidence learned the hard way.

I do not understand how a person could become someone so disillusioned they could make a bomb full of nails and set it off in a crowd of people.  Or even walk into a school full of children and shoot them.  My solution and hope these things stop occurring is as a parent to know my responsibility.  Teach my child respect of himself and others.    He must feel these things with such conviction they are part of his inherent nature.  

Life is precious.  Strength is invaluable. Confidence is essential.  Love and respect of all are the tools to living and surviving this sometimes harsh world.  As a parent I pray I am given the blessings of teaching this to my sweet little boy. 

My thoughts and prayers are with Boston and the families living through this unimaginable tragedy.

The best chocolate cake you'll ever make. No joke.

 I LOVE cake.
Love it. Want to marry it. Would eat it every single day if I could. Chocolate cake to be specific, but really, any old cake will do. I am Miranda in Sex and the City when she throws away her cake to stop eating it, only to end up eating it out of the trash. Yes, it's that bad.

While at a friend's house one day, we were jonesing for cake, but there was nary a mix in sight. I found a recipe for a chocolate cake that we JUST had all of the ingredients for, and ended up with the best chocolate cake I'd ever made. It's not fancy, it's simple, and super moist. Since then, I've tweaked it a bit, and make it for most celebrations. After getting babies down at night, I've been known to sit down with the whole cake and a fork. Who needs a plate?

Friends have been asking for the recipe, so I thought I'd share!

2 cups white sugar
1  3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1   1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional) 
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk (I use unsweetened Rice milk)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour your favorite pan, or line your cupcake pans.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed of mixer. You can also just mix by hand, but mix well... 
  3. Stir in the boiling water last. Batter will be thin. Pour evenly into the prepared pans.
  4. Bake 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the cake tests done with a toothpick. 20 to 25 for cupcakes.
  5. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
I'm far too lazy for mixing dry ingredients in a separate bowl, so throw it all together in one, just add the boiling water LAST.
Now get ready, your friends are going to be asking YOU for the recipe! 
These also make the most amazing cake pops. Ever. 
Feel free to bring me a piece, it IS my favorite...
xo Melanie

It's a high five for Bird!

My first born, my baby bird, has just turned 5! WTH
This year, as Christmas decorating, crafts, and festivities came to a close, I turned my attention to the looming birthday. It seemed impossible to me, yet it really was so, and as I cannot convince him to STOP growing, we needed to have a party. I suggested a Superhero party where everyone could make their own capes to take home as their favor. One mention of crafts, and he was in! (he IS mine, after alll) I reserved an amazing park, and started dreaming. Here are some images.
Dessert table just waiting for the cake...
I had this "engineer print" done at Staples for under $4! Word!
The pennant banner, I made by cutting comic books (ordered from ebay) into triangles and sewing them together with a pre-folded blanket binding. Easy and one of a kind!
I wanted to avoid any of the commercial superheroes, opting for a generic, kind of old school "super" decor. The Missoni -like tablecloth fabric reminded me of the classic POW! BAM! artwork. Multi-colored lanterns, balloons, and a rainbow "5" pinata rounded out the scheme. I did want to make our own pinata, but we just ran out of time, so we had one delivered to our door by the kind people at Party City. (Learning to let go...)
Cape Making!
Veggie Sliders
                      I really was quite in love with my sprinkle cake. It was chocolate of course...
Have you made Marshmallow pops yet?? Soooo simple, but put on a stick and dipped in sprinkles, instant fancy party. I presented them poked into blocks of floral foam from the dollar store wrapped up in coordinating stripey wrapping paper!
I peeled the labels off of water bottles and popped on some chevron duct tape that I had in the craft closet . Finally a use for it!

I set up games out on the lawn for any kiddos who felt like playing. A 3 legged race and the egg and spoon are classics!
We set up a photo op with a cloud paper background and a tripod for parents to simply shoot and click. I photo-shopped them after!
The Thank you card...

And he's 5. Oy.
xo Melanie