Fourth of July Treats

Every year my dad's family gets together for an afternoon picnic on July 4th. We cook out, drink lemonade, play bocce ball, toss waterballoons, have a watermelon seed spitting contest.... we even put on our own parade. (Seriously. Most years, we even draw a decent sized crowd. It's called the 38th Street Parade.)

One of the best parts of the picnic, besides seeing family, is the delicious food. This year, I think I'm going to try making a new dessert. I've narrowed it down to these two:

Flag Cake


  • 18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup sour cream at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

For the icing:

  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

To assemble:

  • 2 half-pints blueberries
  • 3 half-pints raspberries


Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour an 18 by 13 by 1 1/2-inch sheet pan.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed, until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add the eggs, 2 at a time, then add the sour cream and vanilla. Scrape down the sides and stir until smooth.

Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with a spatula. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool to room temperature.

For the icing, combine the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mixing just until smooth.

Spread three-fourths of the icing on the top of the cooled sheet cake. Outline the flag on the top of the cake with a toothpick. Fill the upper left corner with blueberries. Place 2 rows of raspberries across the top of the cake like a red stripe. Put the remaining icing in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe two rows of white stripes below the raspberries. Alternate rows of raspberries and icing until the flag is completed. Pipe stars on top of the blueberries.

I serve this cake right in the pan. If you want to turn it out onto a board before frosting, use parchment paper when you grease and flour the pan.

Red, White and Blue Trifle


· 1 box red velvet cake mix, about 18 ounces (if you can't find red velvet cake use 1 box chocolate cake plus a bottle of red foodcoloring)

· 1 (16-ounce) tub whipped topping

· 2 pints blueberries

· 1 pint strawberries, tops removed


Bake the red velvet cake mix according to package directions and allow to cool.

Using a serrated knife cut the red velvet cake into 1 inch square pieces and line the bottom of the trifle bowl with half of the cake squares.Using a spatula, spread about a 2-inch layer of whipped topping on top of the cake squares.Layer about 1 1/2 pints of the blueberries on top of whipped topping.Layer the remaining cake pieces on top of the blueberries forming a second layer of cake. Using a spatula, spread remaining whipped topping over the cakes pieces.

Decorate the perimeter with the strawberries; placing the strawberries cut side down. Sprinkle the remaining blueberries on top of the trifle inside the strawberry perimeter.

Cute Little Story

He's going to grow up to be a stand-up comic or a politician.
At 1 1/2 years old, my cousin's son Carson is already a schmoozer.

A few days ago, as I was walking past him, I felt a tug on my pant leg.

"Uppie, uppie."

I scooped him up in my arms. He smiled, looked at me, looked at my glass of water and smiled again.


His juice bottled taped against the side of my glass before he took a sip.

"Down please, down please."

I set him back on the floor and he strolled away.


Thumbs Up for Movies

I really appreciate when friends offer their opinions on movies I'm thinking of seeing. While I find most of Robert Ebert's reviews entertaining, I usually don't agree with parts... or the entire review.

I trust the opinions of my friends more. So I thought I’d pass on my opinion on a few movies I’ve seen recently. Here’s my thumbs up/thumbs down:

The Hangover: Thumbs Up.

Hilarious, though I'll probably never watch it again, it's a little too ridiculous for me.

The Proposal: Thumbs Up.

It revolves around several clich├ęs, but is funny and entertaining nonetheless. Plus, I'm a big fan of Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock, they both have amazing comedic timing.

It's definitely not as funny or entertaining as the first one, but I still think it was cute. I wish Owen Wilson had a bigger part in this movie, his character is hilarious.

Star Trek: Thumbs WAY Up.

This is a very well-made movie. I was worried that a new sci-fi movie would overdo the special effects and ignore the storyline, but they found the right balance. After watching the original movies and television show, I've noticed how remarkably similar the new cast is to the original. I'm impressed.

Maybe I'm too easy on the reviews, or maybe I just lucked out on my movie choices lately.


Sadly, This Isn't Fiction Either

I admit that I have a lot of strange habits, but this one makes perfect sense to me: I refuse to buy a book if the cover is an image from a movie adaptation.

It lessens the literary value. I'm certain.


Strawberry Memories

My aunt was an amazing chef, you could give her ketchup and crackers and she would make a delicious meal out of it. Her big cooking rule, though, was that everything tastes better fresh. She had a huge garden in her backyard, but what she didn't grow at home, my mom, sisters and I would pick at a farm with her.

We used to pick apples, grapes, pears, tomatoes, asparagus, rhubarb and many other vegetables at farms together.

My sisters' and my favorite farm was a little strawberry patch in the county. We would make a whole day trip out to the patch. My sister and I had a little competitions to see who could pick the most berries, while sneaking a few also.

So when my friends asked me to go pick strawberries today, I didn't hesitate, of course I would.

It was so much fun walking around and reliving childhood memories.

VIP at the Coffee Shop

Yesterday, I sat outside for hours at my favorite coffee shop.

I'm visit so often that when I walk in the baristas greet me by name. I even have a special VIP customer card.

The view is beautiful on a sunny day.


My Grandma

Today is my Grandma's funeral. My mom was having a really tough time coping with her mom's death so I offered to help out as much as I could. I was in charge of collecting photos from family members and creating a slideshow for the visitation service.

Some of her scrapbooks were so old the pages fell out as I turned them. The binding broke, the glue yellowed and faded, but the photos still told an amazing story. Looking through these photos, I realized that I never really talked to my Grandma about her life before us kids came along.

She lived through the Great Depression, prohibition and the Jazz Age, through World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, through the Civil Rights Movement, Leave It To Beaver and the Cold War, through moon landings, Woodstock and the JFK assassination... and so much more.

I wish I had more time to talk to my Grandma, to ask her so many questions that I have, to hear more of her stories. Knowing her, I'm sure she had some great ones.

Isn't my Grandma such a cool lady? (She's on the left.)


Drinking Coffee and Writing Stories

One of my favorite things to do is grab a latte and a comfy chair in the corner of a coffee shop and write short stories. I'm sad to say, it's been a while since I've done that.

But now that I'm done with school and have more free time, I think I'm going grab a chair at the coffee shop and work on my stories again.

In a perfect world, I would wake up about 9am, slowly enjoy a strong cup of coffee and a delectable croissant at home and then head to the coffee shop on the harbor. I would spend my afternoon reading engaging, delightful books and writing stimulating, pleasing stories. If only...


Summer Breeze Makes Me Feel Fine

Summer is finally here, that means: Warm days and nights, Watermelon, Baseball games, Cookouts, Parades, Reading outside, Sunshine, Iced coffee, Fireworks, Lemonade, Golf, Sunscreen, Sandals, Strawberries...



Yesterday, I graduated from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism with my masters degree. I was so nervous and excited that I couldn't stop shaking all day!

Now, I have to figure out what's next. It seems I'm going to be nervous and excited for a while longer.

P.S. They made us sing the Northwestern Alma Mater . I was so lost.


Once a Badger, Always a Badger

By dinner time on Saturday, I will be a Master of Science.

I will graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism with my masters degree in new media journalism. I don't think it's really hit me yet that I'll have my masters degree. It will probably set in some time in August.

Looking forward to my Northwestern graduation makes me think back to my University of Wisconsin graduation. It was easily one of the happiest and saddest days in my life. I was so sad that my undergrad experience was over.

I doubt there will ever be four more consecutive years in my life that were so enjoyable and amazing. I made so many great friends and memories in Madison that I will cherish forever.

I was so excited to finally earn my bachelors degree after four years.

At Wisconsin, it's tradition to climb the enormous Lincoln statue on the top of Bascom Hill and give Abe a kiss for good luck.

We ended our ceremony by singing "Varsity," a tradition at Wisconsin. I'm not sure how Northwestern will end the ceremony. I hope we don't have to sing, I don't know any NU songs.

Birthdays, Cakes and Mix Tapes

My friend's birthday is exactly 5 months and 5 days away. And while I'll get her the typical birthday present and bake her a little cake, I also wanted to do something a little different.

This year, I think I'll make her a mix tape. (Yes, a tape. I know this will be difficult to do considering I'm not sure I actually own a cassette player anymore nor does anyone else. Hmm, maybe I should just make a mix CD... nope. Mix TAPE.)

Now I have to find the perfect blend of cheesy friendship/loving songs and goofy ones that remind me of her.

{photo via Flickr kiira lynn}

Baby Talk

I was hanging out with my friend and her six week old daughter today. We started talking about whether her and her husband were planning to have another baby soon or wait. She said she would love to have another soon. She already has names picked out!

With so many of my friends having babies or getting married lately, I've been forced to think about both a lot more than I used to. So much so, in fact, that we worked on my list of potential baby names.

While I cannot post these names for fear that others will add them to their lists, I will say that I love odd names-- names that are unusual and not common but normal enough that everyone will be able to pronounce them.

I still have a while before I have to pick just one though.

{photo via Flickr Kelley Ryden}


Too Old for My Name

When I graduated from college, I faced a dilemma even bigger than finding a job. I didn't know how to introduce myself to any future employers or acquaintances for that matter.

I grew up answering to Susie but when I started in college, I never corrected professors when they called me Susan. It seemed more fitting, more grown-up, but I'm still not used to it.

I always loved that I had a name that could be shortened, but now I'm starting to think it's not as great as I thought. I don't really feel like either name is fitting anymore. It may be because I'm in my twenties and Susie sounds like a five-year-old's name and Susan sounds like a 50 year old mom.

I think I've found my middle ground (until I turn 40 at least). In any professional setting, I'm Susan, but with friends or younger people, I'm Susie.

I wonder what names are fitting, no matter the age.


Cluttered with Memories

I really wish I could have a very simply decorated home.

But I know it will never happen. I have way too many keepsakes and decorations that will forever clutter my home.

I have a strong relationship with most of my belongings. They all have stories attached to them and reasons why they will never be discarded. I still have my first three dolls my mom gave me when I was a toddler, Annie, Amy and Old Amy, (I wasn't very clever.) and I don't think I could ever get rid of them.

{photo via potterybarn.com}


Sparking Blue Eyes

My favorite part about old time Hollywood is how everyone was charming. Paul Newman was especially.

I loved everything about him. His innocence and desire to always help others. ("I didn't turn in my citizenship card when I got my screen actor's card.") The way he respected and loved his family. His political activism. His eyes. Oh, his eyes.

I fell in love with Paul Newman a long time ago and I think others will to when they see his movies. There's a huge difference between Hollywood now and Hollywood 50 years ago. Watch one of his movies and you'll see easily.

A few of my favorite Paul Newman movies: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Nobody's Fool, Slap Shot, Cool Hand Luke and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Watch them. You'll be amazed and memorized.

"If my eyes should ever turn brown, my career is shot to hell." - Paul Newman.

{image via people.com}


Sometimes, I Get Annoyed

I really like reading and writing about what makes people happy, it puts me in a better mood; but let's face it, no one is always in a good mood. Sometimes things are frustrating and you have to vent. Here's my top ten list of things that tick me off.

  1. People talking loudly on their phones or just being loud in general.
  2. When people walk slow in front of you and you can't walk around.
  3. Cars without turn signals.
  4. People who are rude to others, especially waitresses.
  5. Waiting in lines.
  6. When my iPod dies 5 mins in to an hour train ride.
  7. Loud neighbors.
  8. People who don't know the difference between its/it's, their/they're/there and your/you're.
  9. People who text/talk on the phone while driving.
  10. When people don't replace the empty toilet paper roll.

What gets under your skin?

{photo via Flickr ificutmyhairirelandwillsink}


Cooking for Others

My brother-in-law Patrick is a chef at a classy wine and tapas place (though they also serve full meals). As the head chef, he is in charge of creating new plates and deciding the menu. This is perfect for him and my sister since he loves to cook and she's still learning.

I keep asking him to let me take over his kitchen and use it as my culinary laboratory, but it hasn't happened yet.

I'm not quite sure if others enjoy my cooking as much as I do though. I think I generally cook for my own taste and not others. I'll have to work on that, it'll be a fun experiment.


Classic Movie Nights

Last night I went to a Doc films showing of 'An Affair to Remember' at University of Chicago in Hyde Park.

Sounds amazing, right? It was, but wasn't.

This was the last movie showing of the series, sad. But because I love classic movies so much, I'm going to start my own film series. (These things are supposed to have themes, right? And names, have to work on that part still.) Instead of showing Cary Grant movies like the series I went to, I'm going to show all Humphrey Bogart films. I think we're going to start with 'The Big Sleep' and end with the greatest film ever made-- 'Casablanca.'

So far, the audience includes my mom and I. No tickets necessary.

Back to the Books

I haven't done a lot of reading lately, which is a shame considering it's one of my favorite activities.

I've just been too busy with class, appointments and other important, time-consuming things. (Or these are really just excuses.) But I recently began commuting by train everyday and have two hours with no Internet access. I didn't realize how relaxing that could be.

In the past few days commuting, I have already finished one book, The Reader by Bernhard Schlink.

While it isn't one of my favorites, it was a good story and a refreshing, relaxing change to my day.


Yes or No? Biking

I should really buy a bike. I haven't had one in years.

My friend and I were talking about biking the other day and we decided the only way to take a leisurely bike ride is through the English countryside on an old bike with a basket on the front.

But since that won't happen, maybe I should give a new bike and the city a try. (Even if it is a little scary.)

A lot of people biked to class in college and I constantly see people biking through the Loop in Chicago, but that's ridiculous and a little suicidal. I'll try the bike path.

{photo via dellsbells Flickr}


Photo of a Little Girl

I can't decide if this is a 'good' picture or not, but I like it.

Compiling Lists

I've been compiling a reading, viewing and cooking list for quite a while now. I'm waiting for the afternoon I can curl up in a lawn chair in my backyard and read, the evening I can spend in front of my stove creating a delicious meal and the night I can lay down with a relaxing movie.

What's on the list?

A few books:
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Bombingham by Anthony Grooms
The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra
The Key to My Neighbor's House by Elizabeth Neuffer
Lord of the Flies by William Golding

A few movies:
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
The Dirty Dozen
A Streetcar Named Desire

A few meals:
Roasted eggplant
Lamb burgers
Sesame salmon steaks

(Or maybe I could finish the 100 Books List I mentioned before)

A Day on the Boat

My dad owns a nice boat but the poor thing hasn't felt the cool waves of Lake Michigan in a few years. I encourage him to take it out but lately he says it is too much work for just a day. I would love to tell him that I'll spend an afternoon reeling in perch and blue gills but the idea of fishing all day does not sound pleasant at all.

Maybe if he lets me bring a few books and a picnic basket? And doesn't make me touch the fish.

{photo via Jesper Hauge Flickr}
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