An Outsider’s Guide to East Ohio

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I titled this blog “Buckeyes and Babies,” not only to document my adjustment to motherhood, but also my adjustment to living in Ohio. You see, we live in a very special niche of the Ohio Valley. Close enough to Pittsburgh (30 minutes) to make us honorary Pittsburghers, but loyal enough to the Buckeye state that we still bleed crimson and gray (OSU colors). There are a number of unspoken traditions here that I, as an outsider, have been able to take note of. They’ve helped me appreciate this area and its eccentricities.

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#1 We decorate all year – Every house I’ve been in (that belongs to a native Ohioan,) has a tiny “Christmas” tree that is left up all year, sporting different decorations for each holiday. If you’re a really dedicated Ohioan who takes pride in their home, then you don’t just decorate for the bigger holidays (ex. Easter) you decorate for Valentine’s and St. Patrick’s too. And not just a little tree, no– if you really take pride in your property, you also decorate your mantle and doorway with festive lights and adornments.

Speaking about pride of ownership…

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#2 We take our landscaping seriously – It can be hard to find beauty in the steel mill cities that line the Ohio River, so we create our own. Vegetable gardens, fountains, flower beds, and perennials… I’ve never experienced a community of people who put so much work into their yards before. Also, residents here don’t just have beautiful landscaping, they have a spotlight on every tree, walkway, and bush so that you know they have nice landscaping. Day or night, you will appreciate the man made beauty of East Ohio residents. Back in California, I never thought twice about landscaping.  Why put effort into a garden when you could be at the beach? (Not to mention there probably wasn’t enough water to maintain a garden with the seasonal droughts.) We’d just throw a few palm trees in the yard and call it a day. I mean, our state flower is a weed for goodness’ sake. That should highlight to you what Californians think about landscaping.

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#3 Our seasons rock – Yes, some times we have to create beauty, but there are a few moments when we don’t. Winter sucks, I won’t lie to you… and I’ve heard we get about as much sunshine here as they do in Seattle, but when the seasons change it is absolutely stunning. Rolling hills covered in fall colors, or in the spring, daintily adorned with small buds and wild flowers are not moments to be missed.

#4 Buckeyes are the best – And the term “buckeye” can refer  to a multitude of things: the OSU mascot, our state tree, the actual buckeye nut (left), the cookie (right), etc. Personally, I think the cookies are what’s “best.” Even though every one calls it a cookie, it’s really just a peanut butter ball dipped in chocolate. While we’re talking about cookies…

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#5 Cookie tables – I’ve been told that this tradition actually started in the city of Pittsburgh and just spread within a 50 mile radius. Either way, its a tradition here! During the great depression, people couldn’t afford wedding cakes, so family and close friends to the bride and groom would bring various cookies for people to eat for dessert at the wedding reception. Now, friends and family make cookies for the bride and groom as a show of love and support. To not have a cookie table is to insult the generosity of your kinsmen (no body will explicitly admit it, but trust me — it’s true.)

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#6 Cold Cheese Pizza – This is more of a pet peeve for me, but it is some thing that is also unique to our area. Cooked pizza dough, cooked pizza sauce… with the cheese and pepperoni sprinkled on AFTER. That’s right, cold raw cheese and meats on your warm bread and sauce. Don’t ask me why, I just chalk it up to a valley quirk, but some people actually crave this square pizza.

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#7 “Yinz” – Another Pittsburgh tradition sneaking its way into the valley, “yinz” simply refers to a group of people.

Those are the most common Ohio Valley quirks I could think up. Are you surprised by what made the list?

 

Comfort and Joy

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I’ve been lucky enough to have my brother here helping me nest for the past 2 weeks, but he leaves on Monday. Besides spending time with his [sassy] goddaughter, he’s been helping me clean, organize, and been cooking us meals from scratch. If you’ve followed my blog for more than a year, then you know winters are especially tough on this former Southern California girl, but having my brother here has really helped me from feeling overwhelmed and isolated.

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Another thing that has helped, is baking! [My blog is named after a cookie for goodness sake…] While I’ve been trying to take care of my [and baby’s] health, winter time always calls for comfort foods. See, my brother never left the golden state after he turned 18, like I did, instead he stayed there for college and wasn’t expecting the winter wonderland that appeared here over night when he planned this visit. He too, has been needing comfort food during his stay, and so after my kale smoothie in the morning, the day usually progresses with either some fresh baked cookies, or a pan of baked mac’n’cheese. I’m not going to go as far to say that is a “balanced” nutritional diet, but it’s all about survival here in the winter. J got me a fitbit for Christmas, and that in and of itself has helped me to be more aware of my habits and how to improve on being a little more active.

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Though I’ll be sad to see my brother go, as I’m sure Sophie will be sad to see her playmate disappear, I rest assured knowing my mom will be here in less than a month for the birth of this new baby! In the meantime, I have J’s birthday to look forward to, as much as some well-deserved alone time I’m planning for us.

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Despite having a pretty mild winter here overall, it is still hard for me to cope when the snow starts falling. How do you all survive the winter months?

New York Recap

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As I announced on Friday, the husband and I were in New York City this past weekend, attending comic con! While we mostly hung around the convention center doing nerdy things, we also had time to explore a bit of the city. I wanted to share all my favorite things with you guys in a post, so here it goes! [I plan to do a separate post on the convention for all you nerdy followers, but this will just be a recap of my favorite city spots and places to eat…]

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First things first, if you want a chic place to stay near the convention center or Hell’s Kitchen, then I’d highly recommend the Yotel. You can’t miss the signature purple neon of this place if you’re on 10th ave. They have killer free coffee all day [which, even though coffee has been giving me acid reflux, I seriously couldn’t resist a cup…] and in the mornings, they have really delicious muffins for free. It’s clean, updated, and only a 5-10 minute walk to the convention center which made it perfect for this trip.

Our favorite place for a meal was Friedman’s on W 31st street. I cannot say enough good things about this place. All of their food was fresh, they has a wide variety of gluten free options, and the staff was so friendly and helpful despite being overwhelmed with business from people leaving the convention at night. J and I both got salads, but they must have housemade dressings because I am telling you, I have never had a better balsamic vinaigrette in my LIFE.

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You all know I love my sweets, and while I was disappointed that I didn’t get to visit the Manhattan Carlo’s Bakery, it ended up being a blessing because I got to go to this delicious cookie spot instead. Schmackary’s has THE BEST cookies. We got an Oatmeal Scotchie [oatmeal and butterscotch], The Monster [oats, PB, m&m’s, semi sweet chocolate chips], Red Velvet, Caramel Delight [chocolate cookie with caramel in the middle and a tiny sprinkle of coconut], Funfetti [reminiscent of the funfetti cake with vanilla frosting and sprinkles (also my favorite from the bunch)], and Maple bacon. It was hard for us not to eat these all in one sitting, and pictured above it me sneaking half a cookie in the airport terminal while hubs was using the restroom…

As you know, J and I are Catholic, which means we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to go to mass at St. Patrick’s. This is some thing that was on my bucket list last time we were in NYC, but we just never made it there since there was a convenient little Franciscan Friary down the street from us. This time we walked the 10 blocks it took to get to St. Patrick’s and I’m so glad we did! Not only was it a beautiful mass, knowing that the pope had just recently visited, but we also got to walk through Times Square, a farmers market, and Rockefeller Center on our way to the church. So, even though most of our time was spent inside the convention center, we got to do a quick walking tour of NYC on our way to mass. [Not to mention, the streets are almost empty early on a Sunday morning, which made our walk much more enjoyable, and less rushed.]

Overall, it was just a really fun trip! It was definitely tough on my pregnant body, and I had to keep a close eye for swelling and take every opportunity possible to sit down and rest my hips… but I am so glad I was able to have this short little “babymoon” with my husband.

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Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

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These are My father-in-law’s favorite cookie. Since it was Father’s Day this past weekend, I whipped up a special batch just for him!

What you need:
10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, divided
½ cup confectioners’ sugar or regular sugar***
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
¾ teaspoon corn syrup
1/3 cup of sprinkles

*** Using regular sugar will give your cookie density, more like a sugar cookie. Powdered sugar will give you a lighter consistency comparable to shortbread.

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and set aside. If you are not using parchment or a silicone baking mat, you do not need to grease the baking sheet.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together 1 stick of the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Beat in the flour, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium-high.

3. Using a small cookie scoop or heaping teaspoons, roll the dough into balls, roll in your choice of sprinkles, and place 1-inch apart on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven, and make an indentation into the middle of each cookie. Return to oven, and bake until light brown on the edges, 5 minutes more. Remove to cool.

4. Combine chocolate, 2 tablespoons butter, and corn syrup in a small heat-proof bowl. Set over a pot of simmering water; stir occasionally until melted and smooth. (Alternately, you can microwave the mixture on 50% power in 30-second increments, stirring after each, until completely melted and smooth.) When cookies are cool, fill the thumbprints with the chocolate mixture.

ENJOY!

Favorite Gluten Free Cookies

When I’m hard on my gluten free diet, I’m willing to sacrifice a lot of things… but not cookies.

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It was hard for me to find a cookies, by recipe or store bought, that weren’t dry, mealy, or otherwise unpleasant. After much experimentation, I have finally decided on a permanent recipe, that I know will yield me delicious results every time!

What you need:

  • 1 1/2 cups white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup corn starch
  • 1/4 cup gluten free flour [I use Pamela’s]
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
  • 2 Tbs of nutella or peanut butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, SOFTENED
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs ROOM TEMPERATURE
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 12 oz (2 cups) gluten-free chocolate chips
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl, whisk together rice flour, corn starch, g free flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt for 30 seconds, set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend together butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until mixture is well blended and creamy (if you aren’t using a beater blade, the paddle attachment that scrapes the bowl while mixing, then occasionally scrap down sides and bottom of bowl throughout entire mixing process). Mix in eggs one at a time, blending until combined after each addition. Stir in vanilla. With mixer set on low speed, slowly add in dry ingredient and mix until combined. Mix in chocolate chips and nutellla [or peanut butter]. Drop dough (I shaped into balls for more even rounds) about 2 1/2 Tbsp (45g each) at a time onto Silpat or parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spacing cookies 2-inches apart. Bake in preheated oven 9 – 11 minutes until golden. Sprinkle tops with Maldon Sea Salt if desired, cool on baking sheet several minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
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These cookies please even gluten-lovers [ like my husband]. Not to mention, these cookies christened some of my new silicone baking items I bought from zulily a few weeks ago.

I’m a simple gal, really. A little bit of online shopping and a couple cookies are enough to make me happy.

Father’s Day Gift Picks

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I’m a crafty person, so any holiday or reason to celebrate fills me with excitement and anticipation. Even If I’m not going to put together a bunch of themed crafts, I’m at least going to hunt for adorable themed products to use or give as gifts. Fathers Day is the best of both worlds. Whether the holiday was manufactured by department stores or not, it’s a good opportunity to tell dad how much we appreciate his hard work. I already have a strategy for gift giving that I use for every holiday, but Father’s Day is particularly fun because the kiddos get to help with the more sentimental gifts. I’ve been scouring the internet and think I have found my favorite gifts.

1. This triple frame idea is adorable! You can do any craft on top from finger painting, to hand prints, or a drawing… then add a picture and sweet sentiment below and you’re done! A gift and a card, all in one.
2. If you’re not feeling too crafty, that’s ok! I love this frame from Jc Penney. It fits in with our décor at home, but can also look great at Dad’s work desk.
3. Since babies are limited in crafting skills, a personalized onesie is a cute way to go. My husband and I are both on the nerdier side, so I couldn’t resist this kryptonite onesie! via etsy
4. A handmade docking station for all his STUFF. I mean, you’re the one cleaning it up half the time, right? When Hubs leaves his wallet and keys on the coffee table, our babe goes right for them. This is a stylish and functional piece that I found on etsy.
5. While Father’s Day is a day for the kids to show dad some love, he’ll also love a card from his wife, you ARE the reason he’s a father, afterall! etsy.com
6. This “we flippin’ love you” spatula is sure to cause a few chuckles, while also being functional (hello summer grilling!) etsy.com
7. When in doubt, whip up dad’s favorite treat! Never underestimate how appreciative men are when you’ve handmade some goodies just for them. My husband loves these cookies, even though they’re gluten free, and they’re always a nice surprise for him after a long day at work.

Salted Cocoa Cookies

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These are the richest cookies I have ever made. This is good, because it means I literally can’t eat the whole dozen in one sitting.

Do you ever wake up just feeling like you NEED chocolate? Need chocolate like you need water? No? Ahem…. in any case, I was having a major craving the other day, but I also wanted to feel like I accomplished something else besides consuming a bag of chocolate chips. Not only do these cookies require a bag of chocolate chips, but for a little bit of effort, you can create something decadent!

What you need:
10 ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Sea salt, for sprinkling

[Don’t even think of foregoing the salt. Trust me, you won’t have a saltly cookie; the salt simply highlights and balances the sweetness oall those chocolate chips you just packed it with.]

  1. Melt 8 ounces of chocolate and butter in a medium saucepan on low heat, stirring until smooth and melted. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl to combine.
  3. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl to combine. Add the melted chocolate mixture and whisk until fully incorporated. Fold in the flour mixture and remaining 2 ounces of chocolate and mix until just combined. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
  4. Preheat the oven to 325°F and line a few baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a small ice cream scoop, drop the dough onto the baking sheets, spacing the cookies 1-inch apart. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the tops are dry and cracked. Remove from the oven and top each cookie with a pinch of sea salt. Let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool completely.
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