When I think back on 2016, it all seems like a bit of a blur.  It was hard.  I was insanely tired. Burned out. Depressed, anxious, confused, unbalanced;  I felt stuck.  For me, a personal emotional rollercoaster for various reasons. Needless to say, when I stopped to really think of what actually took place, I was shocked. I had forgotten SO much!!! Despite those feelings that made it challenging, 2016 was was an epic year of highlights, a million firsts that will forever change my life. I guess a good reminder to myself that everything doesn’t have to be perfect for life to begin.

I couldn’t begin to tell you how I could top this year so ironically, I’m trepidatious to get into 2017.  But I promise you this, I am TOTALLY open to it being even better!  πŸ™‚  

Today, I’m reflecting in gratitude all of the great moments of 2016.  Later tonight, I’m gonna dream big for 2017.  

Here is my list of Top 10 things that happened in 2016 that made it a year I’ll never forget:

  1.  I MARRIED MY SWEETIE!!
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Photo By: Stillpoint Photography

Okay, duh. So I totally remembered getting married.  πŸ˜‰  In an amazing feat, my family and friends pulled off our wedding.  Folks came in from all over the country, every one pitched in.  It really is the best day of your life.  You’re marrying your best friend but also all of these people in your life remind you how much they love you?  It leaves you feeling pretty incredible. 

If only my dad loved me more…  πŸ˜‰

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Photo By: Stillpoint Photography

2.  I WENT TO INDIA!!!!  

India was my first foray into traveling abroad. I used my passport and visa for the first time ever and it felt amazing. We went to Delhi, Agra, Alwar and Jaipur… We got to see a ton, took a cooking class, visited the Taj Mahal, spent time at an orphanage and rode an elephant!  I got to paint her, ride her and give her a nice bath.  Elephants are so warm and leathery.  I loved her.  πŸ™‚

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There’s so much to say about India and yet I barely remember it now.  I do my best to live through the photos.  I remember thinking I should be keeping a journal but I didn’t know what to say.  It felt just like rehashing the day.  Now, I totally wish I had.  I forget EVERYTHING. I’m also pretty sure I’ve lost a good chunk of my photos.  I guess that will teach me to use a proper workflow.  

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I literally took thousands of pictures in India.  It overwhelms me to think about how to share them in a way that a) won’t make me crazy and b) that will do the experience justice. I’ve decided it’s pretty much impossible.    

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3.  WE GOT OUR BABIES!!!

There is something about raising little kitties from the time they are just babies.  I am totally their mama!!!  They are so snuggly and comforting… stinky and annoying… But I wouldn’t trade them for the world.  They totally have my heart. And their paws on my face. Sniff, sniff… 

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We got Sophelia The Great and Thomas in early July.  They have gotten so big!!! Wahhhhhh!!!!  Little Thomas we sometimes call ‘Fat Cat’ because he scarfs as much as he can during feedings knowing he has to share!  This morning, as soon as just a few pieces of kitten chow were in the bowl, his head was in there.  I literally had to pour food on top of his head to get it in the bowl. It’s crazy. Poor Sophie just sits there until Thomas pulls back for a breath.  Sophie is still Little Sophie but her name has also morphed into Sophatilla and then Tilla or Little Tilla…  Thomas has the big black patch on his face, Sophie has the little wisp… I love them so  much.

“Come play with us Danny…”

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When I think of how small they were when we first got them… I CANNOT EVEN HANDLE IT.   

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My heart literally aches.  I want to cry ugly tears, dry heave for hours.  Whatever… I just… it is literally painful to think of my babies as babies… 

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4)  OUR FIRST TRIP TO STEHEKIN!

I’ll share more about Stehekin in another blog but if you get the chance to go, do it!  It is a tiny town (?) at the very northern tip of Lake Chelan. 

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My honey and I went after the wedding for a few days to visit our friend Tammy, the most exceptional host.  It was so quiet and peaceful, even despite a terrible cold!  Not to mention gorgeous…

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5) FIRST YEAR WITH MY DSLR!

Talk about life changing… For the first time in my life I had $1500 saved for no reason.  That was the exact amount it was being sold for on our local bulletin board.  A Nikon D7000 with a shutter count of 200 that included a bunch of lenses, bag, cards, etc.  It was a steal and I just knew it was meant to be.  Who needs savings?!  πŸ˜‰   I literally can’t imagine my life without it. Technically I bought the camera in November of 2015 but I was too overwhelmed to really use it till this year. One of my first shots… I look back on this period of my picture taking and it makes me nauseous.  Ha!  All part of the learning curve, a lifelong journey, and I’m overwhelmed by what I still need to learn… but nauseating nonetheless!

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6)  OUR TRIP TO LA!

So much to say about this trip as well!  I’ll be sharing these travel blogs as well very soon! We drove along the coast and it rained nonstop… Despite it all, we had a really great time!

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It was all sunshine when we got to Los Angeles… 

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We went to our friends’ Halloween party…

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Walked around Grand Central Market…   πŸ™‚

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7) I LAUNCHED MANDICROCKER!

My little outlet where I get to create lots of fun content, share my experiences and projects… It’s a lot of fun.  A LOT OF WORK.  But I have my fingers crossed that this opens up the doors for it to be a paid gig, or even more, opens doors to be able to travel and shoot.  I would love the inspiration/human interest part of this website to become its own thing maybe?  Who knows!   I love doing it all but I think experiencing a new place through the lens is my favorite form of expression right now. We’ll see!  Again, I’m open to it being whatever it is supposed to… even if it’s just for me!  πŸ™‚ 

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8)  I BECAME A PAID WRITER!

It occurred to me that I also started writing my Mazama column for the Methow Valley News this year! It is such a little baby stipend each month but it technically makes me a paid writer. AND it is totally a stipend that helps! It is a huge challenge to write these every week.  For starters, there’s not too much happening around these parts, I usually have very little time to put into them but the weekly deadline keeps me disciplined.  I also got to do a couple of side articles for our supplications as well!  Click here if you’d like to read one!  

9)  I BECAME A PAID PHOTOGRAPHER!

Every season, we have a Methow Arts Magazine that comes out locally.  I was asked to do the photography for the Fall Season’s artist, Rick Swanson. It was a HUGE learning curve for me.  I was probably asked to do it before I was ready but I think its important to say yes and trust what the universe brings into your life. 

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I also started doing paid portraits, headshots and family photos– another learning curve but a LOT of fun!

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My seester is soooo pretty.  πŸ™‚  πŸ™‚  πŸ™‚

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10)  SISTER TRIP TO SEATTLE!

We are not sisters that typically vacation together. Usually our incomes allow us to merely survive in big cities, let alone have anything extra, but this year we made it happen.  

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It was a bit of a whirlwind… But when the Sisters Three are together, all is as it should be. 

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SO A LOT OF AWESOME SHIT, RIGHT????  And these are all big events!  That doesn’t even begin to cover other little things that happened.  My friend Glen came to visit us, etc.  That’ll learn me!  

Anyway, I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year’s Eve and heads into 2017 with full hearts and big dreams.  Anything and everything is possible.  I’m going to do my best to remember how great 2017 is while I’m living in it this time!  πŸ˜‰

Mandi

 

Most people that know my mom know that she spent over 20 years in the mental health field.  It took her to the brink of sanity on many occasions.  Especially the last five years, I could just tell that my mom was soooo very unhappy. I would always ask her if it was really worth it to wait it out. She just kept her eyes on the prize of retirement.  

What most people don’t know is that my mom is an artist.  She draws. She sings. She painted a beach scene on my sister’s wall when I was little that I’ve never forgotten.  She likes to put all of her kids’ creative success solely on their fathers.  She is such a creative person, but to raise four kids, lived in art-less, uninspired ‘mom-survival mode.’  So many moms I know do this!  She not only downplayed her artist instinct but she almost squelched it like a bad memory.  You would never know by the way she lived her life.  Now that she is in retirement she seems happy as a little clammy jay bird! She has redecorated and repainted parts of the house.  She’s actually taking the time to breathe and think about herself for once, a relief to all of her kids.

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I Relaxed the Day After Christmas.

 

I’m on the phone with her this week and she tells me she took a ‘sip and paint’ class– one of those classes where you get to paint a picture and drink wine.  She thought it was so  much fun but was slightly annoyed that there were lines on the canvas to stay within, and that she couldn’t paint her tree the way she wanted.  Finally, she just resolved that she was was just going to paint her tree the way she wanted anyway!  There was a hint of law-breaking rebel in her voice that I adored.  HELLO, ARTIST MUCH!!??? Most people are SO content to stay within the lines and do it ‘right’ so that they have a pretty picture to instagram.  Just the idea that my mom got out of the house to do something creative made me soooo very happy (and happy for the other folks there creating, too!) She said it inspired her to buy some paints and a canvas. WHAT IS HAPPENING?!!!

Can you imagine if my mom locked herself in a room once a day and actually did something creative for herself the past 20 years?  How much happier she probably would have been?  

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I Planted My Garden

 

This Inspiration tab is for sharing stories that I find  courageous, brave and inspirational, for sure, but I also created this page for the Artists, Creatives and Creators.   I believe wholeheartedly that there is an artist in all of us.  Maybe we’re not all Picassos but who cares!?  That is the point.   We all are uniquely creative and have a muse inside us that loves to create for the joy of it.  If you watch ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ you realize even a career in raw fish can be inspiring. 

I believe our culture has trained us to look at creativity and artistry as frivolous, totally selfish, unpractical and unnecessary, an utter tragedy in my mind.  How many mid life panic attacks do we have to have, second homes do we have to buy to keep ourselves happy and socially ‘okay?’  What if part of that hole that needs filling is creation?  The joys of childhood that were stifled with words like ‘responsibility’ and ‘logic’ and ‘career’ and ‘success.’  Most of us, myself included, are perfectionists… “If I can’t do it perfectly, what’s the point?” or “If it’s not amazing art, I shouldn’t share it.” What about the tried and true-less: “It’s just too late to start that now.”

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I Self-Cared In a Warm Bath of Epsom Salts.

 

Creating art isn’t about finding self worth in our ‘likes’ or in the money we make as artists.  It is about the joy that it brings us– which is far from frivolous, if anything it helps maintain our balance as humans.  We also can’t wait for everything to be perfect before we begin. How can we ever become great artists if we aren’t creating regularly?  For every photo I like, I’ve taken 200 photos I’ve hated.  Get me? Maybe in ten years, I’ll have one great photo.  But I am so happy to live for that one great photo. 

Take a moment to think about how amazing this planet would be if more people concerned themselves less with clean houses, making money, being martyrs to their families, letting fear rule, <insert a million other excuses here>, and just created?  Shared it fearlessly and without expectation? Art, music, books, photos, gardens, trifles, pottery, drum lessons, landscaping, dance classes, etc, etc, etc… 

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I Took Photos of Our Kittens Rather Than Murder Them For the Mess They Made

 

This year I started working on a series of photos I’ve titled ‘The Mess Series.’  It occurred to me just how much time I spend cleaning each day and how little time I spent doing something creative.  The clutter constrains me, I say.  Well, bullshit.  I decided I wasn’t going to do that to myself anymore.  Out of self and creative care, it was no longer allowed.  Rather than clean, I take a picture of the mess and the title becomes what I’ve done instead.  It is a work in progress but a series that has really helped me to put my inner artist first, find peace in the chaos (a great practice for life anyway!) and kick my excuses to the curb. 

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I Hiked Maple Pass

These photos are some of the un-award winning pictures I’ve been taking.  It also helps me deal with being comfortable in my own skin as messes are personal, can be judged and posting them can feel vulnerable.  A statement for how we live our lives really.  I hope they inspire you to put aside your own excuses and create. This series is a work in progress so most of these won’t end up in the final project, I would imagine.  But because they mean something to me as an artist, they are worth sharing for now to make a point.  THINGS THAT MEAN SOMETHING TO US ARE WORTH SHARING, HOMIES!!! 

At the very least, CREATE.  Okay, rant over.  πŸ™‚  

I have a HUGE fire under my butt this upcoming year– not to accomplish but to create.  For the JOY of it!  I have projects I want to start, things I want to say, feelings that need to come out in a healthy way.  I really hope you’ll join me.  Please share your thoughts in the comments below! I’d love to hear what you’re working on! xoxo.

Mandi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Banana Cream Pie is probably my favorite pie of all time.  Not the cloyingly sweet, straight from the big tub of fake pudding, with little pathetic slices of banana you get at an all night diner… But rather a big ol’ slice of pie from scratch stuffed to the gills with banana and fresh whip… ooooh, dawgie!  Today I’m sharing one of my babies… Loaded Banana Cream Pie.

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The reason Thomas (above) finds this pie so special is because Thomas loves food, Thomas thinks he is starving and Thomas eats everything.  Sophie’s lucky to get her head in the bowl half the time!  I find myself saying things to these cats my mom used to say to us kids, “You can’t possibly be hungry, I just fed you,”  “Let your sister have some!” or “You’re not hungry, you’re just bored.”  Little Tilla (below), on the other hand, loves mommy’s pie because of the walnut crust, the rum cinnamon nutmeg filling and the bourbon whipped cream.  Such a sophisticated palate, our little Sophie!  πŸ˜‰

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The first thing you’re going to do is make your pie crust.  Here is a painfully hideous, poorly produced little video I did to describe how I make my walnut crust using my cuisinart and how I roll it out.

 

Once the pie crust is rolled out, I freeze it for at least an hour (usually overnight) and then par bake it for about 40-50 minutes.  I usually make my pastry cream and ganache the day before.  To assemble, I put a schmear of chocolate ganache on the bottom. Susina, a bakery where I used to work did this.  Not only is it super delicious but it seals the bottom crust so it doesn’t get soggy after adding the pastry cream.

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Then I do a thin layer of bananas right on top of that ganache.

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Then a layer of pastry cream on top of the bananas until they’re just barely covered.  

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Another layer of sliced bananas. Then cream.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Until you reach the very top!  NINE BANANAS WORTH PEOPLE!  Granted, I have a pretty thick pie plate so maybe seven bananas for the non-insane.  *Megan in Bridesmaids* “I took nine…

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Then you whip your heavy whipping cream, add a little powdered sugar and some bourbon.  Spread that onto your mound of banana pastry cream, top with chocolate shavings and BOOM… MandiCrocker’s Loaded Banana Cream Pie.  Try it out!! You can do it and you won’t even be a little sorry!  πŸ™‚

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If you’re enjoying these posts, don’t forget to subscribe to MandiCrocker so you don’t miss anything!  Tell your friends and if you try out a recipe, be sure to tag MandiCrocker on Instagram.  It’s always fun to see re-creations!  Happy Holidays, everyone!!! 

Mandi

Oh, look… one more just for me.  πŸ™‚

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Totally Loaded Banana Cream Pie
A walnut crust, smeared with chocolate and stuffed to the gills with banana pastry cream and topped with a bourbon whip!
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PIE CRUST
  1. 1 c. toasted walnuts
  2. 1 1/2 c. flour
  3. 1 tsp salt
  4. 1 tsp cinnamon
  5. 2 tsp sugar
  6. 1 c. cold butter, cut in chunks
  7. 1/2 c. milk
  8. more flour for dusting
EGG WASH
  1. 1 Egg yolk
  2. A few tablespoons of buttermilk or water
PASTRY CREAM
  1. 3 c. milk
  2. 1 tsp vanilla
  3. 9 egg yolks
  4. 3/4 c. sugar
  5. 1/2 c. cornstarch
  6. 1/2 tsp. salt
  7. 5 T. butter
  8. 1 tsp. cinnamon
  9. 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  10. 1 T. dark rum
  11. 9 ripe bananas, sliced
GANACHE
  1. 1/4 c. heavy cream
  2. 1/2 c. bittersweet chips
WHIPPED CREAM
  1. 2 c. heavy cream
  2. 3-4 T. powdered sugar (to taste)
  3. 2 T. bourbon
  4. chocolate shavings (to decorate, optional)
To make crust (video available)
  1. Preheat oven to 425
  2. Pulse walnuts in a cuisinart until finely ground. Add dry ingredients and pulse to mix.
  3. Dump in cold butter and pulse 2-3 times just until the butter is covered by the flour.
  4. With the cuisinart on, pour in your milk. Pulse until just blended and the butter is the size of peas.
  5. Roll out pie crust and freeze for one hour.
  6. Brush the crimped edges of cold pie crust with egg wash. Place parchment and pie weights inside.
  7. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes. Lower temp to 350 for another 20-25 minutes. (The crust should caramelize a bit and be a light golden brown).
  8. When the pie crust has cooled completely, remove the parchement and pie weights.
To make pastry cream
  1. Scald the heavy cream in a large saucepan.
  2. In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch and salt.
  3. When the cream has scalded, turn off the heat. Take out about a 1/4 cup of the cream and whisk very quickly into the egg yolk mixture. Do it again.
  4. Once the egg yolk mixture is a bit runny and warm, add the entire bowl to the cream on the stove.
  5. Turn the heat back on and cook on medium heat until thickened, whisking the entire time. Remove from heat. Add rum, vanilla, salt and butter. Stir until everything has melted in.
  6. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
To make the ganache
  1. Scald the heavy cream and add the chips.
  2. Let rest for five minutes, whisk together and let cool to room temperature.
To make whipped cream
  1. With the mixer on high, whip the cold heavy cream until thickened. Add the powdered sugar and bourbon (to taste) and whip until spreadable consistency.
To assemble
  1. Smear ganache onto the bottom of the pie crust. Layer with a row of sliced bananas. Cover with pastry cream. Repeat steps until full.
  2. Spread on your whipped cream over the pie. Cover with chocolate shavings.
  3. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Even better the next day!
Adapted from Doris Greenspan's Pastry Cream
Adapted from Doris Greenspan's Pastry Cream
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s inspiration comes all the way from Alwar, India.  I am so honored to have Andy Lepper write for us this week.  Andy runs a non-profit called No Longer Orphans and is ‘Papa’ to 35 boys at Shiloh Children’s Home in Alwar.  I had the pleasure of meeting Andy and his wife Susan while traveling in India with friends.  We got to stay at the boys home, they fed us, took care of us and we watched 35 happy, rambunctious, well-adjusted boys play, laugh and take care of each other.  They are truly memories and people I will never forget. Today’s post is about the little things… 

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If you didn’t know, I live in India. My wife and I run a children’s home. Some might call it an orphanage. We have 35 boys. I see some pretty amazing things. Some of them make me laugh. Some of them make me cry. Some of them make me think.

Today was a thinking kind of day. I encountered a few things worth writing about.  I will share one experience with you.

I was having a nice leisurely ride on my motorcycle when I passed him. At first I didn’t catch what he was doing. He was slumped over on his hands and knees on the asphalt picking something up. That something was grains of wheat.

As I became aware of what he was doing I got a wider look. And don’t judge me, but I stopped to watch and didnt help. About 20 feet ahead was his motorcycle with a 50 pound bag of wheat on it. Something had happened and the bag had lost some of its content. But not much. Maybe a pound of grain at the most.

But here was this man on his hands and knees picking up one pound of wheat that was spread out over 20 feet. I repeat, On his hands and knees. WHY? Was he so poor that this was his family’s rations for the month and that 1 pound meant a day that his children wouldn’t eat? Or was he afraid of what his boss might say if he found out a mistake had happened? I will never know the reason he was so intent on rescuing a pound of wheat, one grain at a time.

But what strikes me the most is his intensity for such a little thing. The truth is that he probably could ration the remainder and stretch it so the loss is minimal to his family. The truth is also that his boss probably would never actually know that some was missing if that was the reason.

This smallest of things mattered to him. You could tell that each grain had value to him.

Seeing this turned my thoughts to my 35 boys, my 35 Indian men in training. You see, life is made up of thousands of small events that get overshadowed by the handful of major events. These small events make up our days, our weeks, our years. It’s these little things that make us who we are. I will have thousands of encounters with each one of my boys. So the question I pose to myself is whether I see the value in these small events as they happen. Do I cherish the tiny things that make up the whole of our lives? Do I recognize the importance of one of my little ones who slips his hand in mine when he wants comfort? Do I enjoy the times where they look at me searching for affirmation? These moments are building my young boys into men. Do I value the moments I have with each boy, even if no one will ever know? 

What are the small things worth to you? Even if no one would ever find out, do you value the insignificant things like this Indian man?

Luke 16:10   One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.

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MandiCrocker note:  Please consider donating to No Longer Orphans.  Having been there, I have seen these donations in action.  Every dollar goes to these boys, I promise you that, and the need is great. Money also stretches in India so even small contributions help! Below are some pictures I took of the trip.

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Stacy showing the boys the pictures of them on her camera.

Stacy showing the boys the pictures of them on her camera.

 

One of the boys showing me his coloring.

One of the boys showing me his coloring.

 

Little shoes.

Little shoes.

 

Chickens outside the orphanage.

Chickens outside the orphanage.

 

Some of the sweet boys.

Some of the sweet boys.

 

The boys have shoes but much prefer being without them!

The boys have shoes but much prefer being without them!

 

Boys being boys!

Boys being boys!

 

One good kick!

One good kick!

 

Playing.

Playing.

 

This little cutie was constantly being taken care of, picked up and dragged around by all of the other boys. They watch out for each other.

This little cutie was constantly being taken care of, picked up and dragged around by all of the other boys. They watch out for each other.

 

More playing!

More playing!

 

This little guy was everywhere!

This little guy was everywhere!

 

And fast as lightening!

And fast as lightening!

 

Homework time

Homework time

 

Too fascinated with my cell phone to study- ha!

Too fascinated with my cell phone to study- ha!

 

Drying clothes.

Drying clothes.

 

What the boys home looks like inside. Huge big room, and old British construction.

What the boys home looks like inside. Huge big room, and old British construction.

 

Love these kids.

Love these kids.

 

More drying clothes... 35 boys currently there!

More drying clothes… 35 boys currently there!

 

The "kitchen."

The “kitchen.”

 

Bible school time

Bible school time

 

The boys were so excited to have apples, an expensive fruit in India.

The boys were so excited to have apples, an expensive fruit in India.

 

My friend, and Stacy's husband Lucas, playing with the kids.

My friend, and Stacy’s husband Lucas, playing with the kids.

 

New flip flops for the boys thanks to The Jamie Sheth Foundation.

New flip flops for the boys thanks to The Jamie Sheth Foundation.

 

The boys just got some but grew out of them so fast!

The boys just got some but grew out of them so fast!

As a baker, you get a lot of requests!  From vegan to gluten-free, sugar free to no-nuts, there is always a special request.  And aside from folks with legitimate concerns, we all have that ‘special friend,’ don’t we?  For me, it’s my hilarious friend Millie. She lives on her own island, an island with one TV that only plays re-runs of ‘I Love Lucy’ and Yankees games.  For HER, I’ll say I’m making pumpkin cheesecake bars…

Millie:  “I love pumpkin cheesecake bars!!! Mandi J!  Can you make me some but without the bourbon white chocolate drizzle?  And none of the pumpkin? But add peanut butter.  Can you do  bittersweet chocolate? So much better for you.  Subtract the graham cracker crust. And if you could work in fava beans, you would be my FAVORITE Mandi J.  Not that you aren’t already.”

Mandi J:  “That means there’s no crust, Mills Vanills…

Millie:  “Does it need one?”

Mandi J:  “YES.” 

She cracks me up!!!  Totally one of my favorite people as she lives on the kind of island I want to visit. So I’m always trying to do my best with requests because I want everyone to be happy!!! BUT, if I’m going to agree to the bells and whistles it has to taste good.  Also, if it is naturally gluten free, vegan, etc.?  Even better!  

 

Insanely moist vegan chocolate cake covered with ganache and a gooey coconut filling.

Today’s recipe, is a SUPER yummy, SUPER decadent vegan german chocolate cake that you wouldn’t even know is vegan!  If you love rich and ooey gooey, this recipe is totally for you!  I came up with this cake combo for my hubby’s best friend’s birthday. For the cake, I adapted a cake recipe from The Minimalist Baker that I made into three layers.  I adapted a filling from Alice’s Tea Cup and used my go-to ganache recipe that I substituted.  The combo is truly decadent… 

I would also like to mention that writing happy birthday on a german chocolate cake is always a challenge.  πŸ˜‰

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And seriously, DON’T worry about calories.

“Eeeeeat, EAT!!!!  Nobody likes a skinny Santa…”  πŸ™‚

Mandi

 

Vegan German Chocolate Cake
Serves 8
An insanely delicious and moist vegan chocolate cake, covered with ganache and gooey coconut filling.
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Total Time
2 hr 40 min
Total Time
2 hr 40 min
For the cake
  1. 2 1/4 c. almond milk
  2. 1 T apple cider vinegar
  3. 2 c. unsweetened applesauce
  4. 3/4 c. strong brewed coffee
  5. 1 c. melted coconut oil
  6. 1 T vanilla
  7. 3 c. + 3 T. flour
  8. 2 c. sugar
  9. 1 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa
  10. 1 T baking soda
  11. 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  12. 1/2 tsp salt
For german chocolate filling
  1. 1/2 c. almond milk
  2. 1/4 c. cornstarch
  3. 1 pinch kosher salt
  4. 2 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
  5. 1 1/2 c. coconut milk
  6. 2 tsp vanilla
  7. 3 c. sweetened shredded coconut
  8. 1 c. lightly toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
  9. 20-25 full-size toasted pecans for decorating (optional)
For ganache
  1. 1 1/2 c bittersweet vegan chocolate
  2. 1 c. almond milk
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Line three 9 inch cake pans with parchment and grease with oil or vegan friendly spray.
For the cake
  1. Throw all of the ingredients into a large bowl and whisk the heck out of it! Disperse evenly into your three cake pans and bake for 20 minutes.
  2. Rotate pans and bake for about another 8 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
For the filling
  1. Whisk together the almond milk, cornstarch and salt in a bowl
  2. In a saucepan, dissolve the brown sugar in the coconut milk over med-high heat. Whisk until the mixture comes to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low and simmer for five minutes, or until slightly thickened.
  4. Pour the almond milk mixture into the saucepan and mix over low heat until the mixture is thick and smooth.
  5. Remove from heat and mix in vanilla, sweetened coconut and pecans. Let cool.
For ganache
  1. Heat the almond milk and bittersweet chips on low until glossy and smooth. Let cool to spreading consistency. (Or don't! I used it while it was still a bit warm & let it drizzle out the sides).
For assembly
  1. Shave the tops of the cakes off with a serrated knife so that the cakes are flat when you stack them.
  2. Carefully flip over your cake pans and put one cake circle on your plate. Spread with a third of the ganache. Then spread with a third of the german chocolate filling.
  3. Stack another cake on top of the german chocolate filling and repeat with ganache & more filling.
  4. Finally, stack your last cake on top. (It will be smoother if you flip over the last layer so the crumbly side is facing down). Cover with ganache & german chocolate filling. If you'd like, decorate the top of the cake with a circle of toasted unchopped pecans.
Notes
  1. To toast pecans: Place single layer on a baking sheet and toast at 350 for about 8 minutes, until lightly toasted and fragrant.
Adapted from Minimalist Baker, Alice's Tea Cup & My Own Whimsy
Adapted from Minimalist Baker, Alice's Tea Cup & My Own Whimsy
MandiCrocker https://mandicrocker.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s inspiration is written by my friend and guest blogger, Jenn Heater.  “Jennifer Love Heater” and I met at a little comedy school in Los Angeles.  She is incredibly smart, has a great sarcastic sense of humor and has a huge heart for politics.  I knew vaguely of a sickness a bit after we met but I never expected my good friend to be chronically ill and/or bedridden, etc. a majority of the years I would know her. I find her strength to be dumbfounding and courageous, and motivates me personally to remember how good I have it.  Be sure to send her lots of love in the comments. Read more

October was a terrific whirlwind and to be frank, totally kicked my ass!  I was prepping desserts for the event at our local theater, I had a friend in town, I was transitioning into a new job and had hardly gotten any sleep.  All that to say, our trip to Los Angeles and drive down the coast, to put it quaintly, was hardly planned.   All I really knew was that Lliam was planning our first two nights, the rest was totally open and eventually we would make it to Los Angeles.  

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We were so behind on laundry and packing, we didn’t leave till mid morning that first Monday.  Whenever I road trip, I always leave bright and early with a big cup of coffee, and sometimes even my favorite song at the time on pause ready to go.  That was not this trip.  Ha!  Thankfully, my dear friend Tammy put together this awesome little snack pack for us.  I never thought we’d get into it, with so many intentions of eating our way down the coast…  But as we soon learned, there were a lot of things that were going to be unexpected on this trip! 

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For starters, it downpoured as soon as we got on the road. Despite our late start, the non-stop rain, and windy roads that made me want to barf, we eventually made it to Klickitat– population 400.  It is a beautiful little nook of a place, and Lliam knew of a campground. There was still daylight when we arrived which concerned me a little bit.  To get down the coast and enjoy all the ‘great spots’ to see south of us in California, I was beginning to worry that we should have gone farther our first night.  Regardless, we hadn’t yet stopped all day so we were ravenous by the time we arrived.  There was one place in Klickitat to eat: The Huntington Steakhouse.  

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I’m no stranger to a good dive bar…  And maybe it was the scarcity of the season, the deathly quiet hunter drinking solo, the smell of rotted, warped ceilings or the creepy dull noise of Dallas Cowboys football in the background… but I was kind of terrified.  I couldn’t help but think this was either a Dexter kill room location or the most amazing dive bar I’d ever been to!  The jury was still out when Krampus arrived… 

 

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The entire ceiling was covered in ‘graffiti.’ I couldn’t fathom that this place ever had people in it, let alone became enough of a ‘party place’ that it would have ‘3am party graffiti,’ but clearly this was the place to be (at some point in the night and at some point in the year). Living in a tourist town, I get the ebb and flows of the season, so this was especially fascinating. Various signatures, phone numbers and crazy stories talking about the ‘greatest night of my life’, going back decades even, were scrawled on the rotted ceiling.   

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We ordered burgers and fries and a couple of beers (which I hear is a mistake because supposedly the steaks are truly awesome).  After our bellies were full, knowing we had reached our destination, we were able to stop long enough to remember, ‘Oh, right.  We get to relax now.’

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We opted out of the Duck Fart Cheesecake.  Lliam was ‘full’, a concept I’m not sure I’ve ever understood.  This added to some ‘feelings’ I had been experiencing throughout the day and previous month.  You have to understand that my intention of driving down to Los Angeles was initially a romantic one.  It involved me and my dreamboat inner adventurer.  Okay, and Hannah Honda.  A titillating threesome!  This was to be the kick off of the traveling portion of this website.  I would get to document experiences and eat new foods, photographing places I’d been to previously but didn’t have a DSLR at the time.   Whatever I felt like doing!  Whatever I felt like sharing!  Exciting…  I love flying solo!  

When Lliam said he was able to go, I was excited because I love my honey… and yet… I was also concerned.  He kept calling it ‘our vacation.’  It made my eye twitch.  A vacation is what you do with cocktail drinks in the Keys.  Adventuring, as a woman on her own, requires some fearlessness, your hands behind the wheel, a few breathless moments,  a whiff of audacity… Not that a totally safe trip down the coast is like peeing on a train in India but you’re not supposed to be entirely comfortable.  ‘A vacation’ is totally comfortable.

Needless to say, on MY adventure, whether or not I was full, I would have dove head first into anything called Duck Fart Cheesecake.  I mean, how could you NOT?  It’s practically a dare!  Sadly, the “I ate the Duckfart Cheesecake and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” part of the adventure never happened and I did my best to let it go.  We got to our campsite and set up for the night.  It was cold. And it was raining…still.  What was this– October??? Oh.  Right. 

The next morning we got started… you know, again… ‘early enough.’  I hadn’t slept well.  Lliam told me we were really close to Portland.  He had been at the helm; I had no idea we were so close! Portland is home to many amazing eateries but one of my favorites of all time is a Lebanese restaurant called Nicholas Restaurant.  It is, by far, one of the most amazing eating experiences I’ve ever had.  At seven thirty in the morning, on a ‘vacation,’ however, Lebanese food wasn’t going to happen. On MY adventure, I would have kept going the night before or I would have hung out in Portland for a few hours to eat at this amazing place.  Food is part of the adventure to me. I am totally THAT girl. 

I was grateful, however, when Lliam found us Mugs Coffeeshop in Bingen for breakfast.  It was dry.  It was warm.  They had a bathroom.  I wanted to lay my head on this sweet, soft puppy and commiserate on how we ‘couldn’t even’ today.  It took a little longer than we thought as they were pretty slammed but we’d make up time on the road… Right?

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We finally get back on Route 14 and I trepidatiously throw out the word ‘donuts.’  Could we squeeze it in? I mean, if you can’t Lebanese, at least you can donut (the other t-shirt in progress), because Portland is also home to Blue Star Donuts! While I was a little nervous about making a stop so early in the day, after we really hadn’t gone that far, Lliam said that sounded fun.  A win!!!  I kept trying to explain the pictures I would need to take because ‘really this is, you know, a work trip.’  

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A few minutes later, he mentions he had planned to stop at Beacon Rock right up the road.  Um… Okaaaaay. Sure, cool.  Quick photo op. Here’s where I’m going to say, dear friends, that it’s not that I didn’t want my honey’s input on the trip. Not at all.  It’s that I didn’t want his input to be a surprise! He then says there’s a mile trail up this big rock with great views at the top like we have all the time in the world!!!  My mind became a calculator and I started doing the math on miles, hours, minutes, etc.  This was not part of the day’s plan!  He never mentioned it!  I wasn’t going to give up the donuts!  NOT AFTER MISSING DUCK FART CHEESECAKE. 

With another late start, a lot of miles to go before we sleep and a stop in Portland half an hour away, how on earth were we ever going to get down the coast to enjoy all the places I actually wanted to photograph let alone arrive on time for our friends’ Halloween party!? It was also windy and cold!  I wasn’t dressed for hiking or a trail or whatever the #!$% this thing was… Putting all of these things together, my mind began freaking out.  And freaking out is NOT how I like to adventure. I’m not sure how much he knew I was in my head but I just kept telling myself there were donuts on the end of this stupid hike. I also knew how much my mind was being a little shit. 

Note:  Maybe after I take a photoshop class, I’ll know how to remove the purple from the bars of this photograph.  Lightroom brushes weren’t having it! 

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As much as I hated to admit it, despite the cold and nasty wind, the fresh air did me some good;  And God knows, I will do anything for a donut. 

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Everything around us was gorgeous.  I knew being present and grateful was a better solution.  But it’s always so annoying to drop the ego!!!

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I mean, if it wasn’t for my sweetie, I would have missed beautiful Beacon Rock!  

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There would have been no Klickitat campground.  No beautiful, windy, barfy drive. Certainly no steakhouse with a back of house kill room. 

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I totally would have missed this cute slug!!!  My honey is always so curious and always looks around.  He catches the little things I miss constantly. 

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The trail continued to climb and climb… Every time I began to question how long we were gone, I just let it go like a tried and true Disney Princess. 

 

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I later read on Wikipedia that in 1805 Lewis & Clark were here along the Columbia River, measuring the tides to know how close they were to the ocean.  I’m not gonna lie… They kinda had the adventure thing down.  Maybe we weren’t so far off? I began questioning if I really needed to put my adventuring into a box… 

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What if I let go of my plans and expectations and decided I was just on vacation with my hubby?  Would that be the worst thing in the world?  

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Far from it.  While I  might not have gotten any real work done, it would definitely be night and day more enjoyable!  

Note:  Lliam’s face in this picture cracks me up… He just needs some bear skins and he would look like Leonardo in ‘The Revenant.’  Ha!   πŸ™‚

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Beacon Rock is a an 848 feet tall monolith composed of basalt.  Lewis & Clark actually named it Beaten Rock, then later renamed it Beacon Rock.  It was also known as Castle Rock for a while (random!) but changed back to Beacon Rock in 1915.  It was also 1915 when Henry Biddle purchased the rock for $1 with the sole purpose of creating a trail to the top.  Construction took three years and the trail consisted of 51 switchbacks, handrails and bridges. 

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As you can see, the trip to the top was totally a waste of time… Worst day EVER. 

 

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Let this be a reminder to all of us that get stuck in our heads when traveling… Sometimes its good to change up our expectations.  You might actually end up in the steps of great explorers without even knowing it.   

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Thanks for coming along with me… Portland is next!  Where are YOU headed!???

 

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“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about… Say yes quickly, if you know, if you’ve known it from before the beginning of the universe.” -Jalai Ud-Din Rumi

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I grew up in a small town in upstate New York.  It is a quaint little place when the economy is good, but aside from my most favorite ‘grinder’ sandwiches from our local Italian restaurant, you could hardly call it a ‘culinary draw’ to any real food enthusiast.  In my youth, we grew up on chicken tenders and frozen pizza from the Schwann Man, and pretty much streamlined Diet Coke and sugar drinks.

I started baking because of my sisters.  They would always bake for their boyfriends, and like the perfect kid sister, I would annoy them until they let me help.  Needless to say, we didn’t have cookbooks from any culinary greats.  There was no internet for research or Amazon to check reviews.  Instead, we had Betty Crocker cookie collections that my mom probably got from my grandmother.  

Any chance I got, I poured through them.  Any ‘candy making’ pamphlet I came across, I saved.  Even as a kid, I didn’t just want to make cookies for fun.  I wanted to produce cookies, candies and cakes. I wanted them to be bakery quality and I couldn’t wrap my brain around the who/what/when/where/why to make that happen.

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I’m also my father’s daughter, a total people pleaser.  So when I packaged my first set of cookies for a friend and they loved the gesture, it became a global crusade to get EVERYONE cookies.  It became a personal tradition, the night of Thanksgiving, that I would go to the 24 hour grocery store and load up on $200 worth of baking ingredients.  I would bake all through the weekend and ship out boxes to loved ones that Monday morning. It became an obsession. Why make one person’s day when you can make the day of 15 friends!? 30 friends!?  A college campus of friends!?After college it escalated further. One Christmas, I worked in a call center at our local phone company and brought in ginormous cookie platters enough to feed 200 people!  NUTS. 

When I moved to LA for acting and comedy after college, I would always bring treats to class. One cookie in particular was a hit with everyone, but especially my friend Jacole. It came from one of these old school books that was actually called The Favorite Brand Name Cookie Collection.  These cookies were called Peanut Butter Secrets.  MAGICAL.  

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Why were they special?  Why were they a secret??? Because not only were they a peanut butter cookie with chocolate on top… but they had peanut butter cups INSIDE!!!  I KNOW!!!

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Well, the initial recipe called for Butter Flavor Crisco and we already know how I feel about man made or chemical products in baking.  So I updated it and made a more ‘from scratch’ and dare I say, a bit more ‘gourmet’ version.  It’s one of my all time favorite cookies!  

Tip:  I use an ice cream or cookie scoop to get out the dough. Then I push a peanut butter cup into the scoop and cover the rest with what has squished out.  Much faster.  πŸ™‚

 

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CHOCOLATE!  PEANUT BUTTER!  SEA SALT!  I think the secret to these adapted cookies was in finding a decent peanut butter cookie recipe and using quality peanut butter cups. The sprinkle of salt, doesn’t hurt either. πŸ˜‰

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Anyway, for my JacoleyPoo, my honey and for countless other lovers of peanut butter and chocolate… This one’s for you. xoxo

Mandi

 

INGREDIENTS:

For Cookies:

1 c. butter

1 c. dark brown sugar

1/2 c. white sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 c. peanut butter 

2 tsp vanilla

2 1/2 c. flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

36-44 high quality peanut butter cups

1/2 c. salted nuts, chopped  (for sprinkling)

1 T sea salt flakes (for sprinkling)

For ganache:

3/4 c. heavy cream

1- 11 oz. package of bittersweet chocolate chips

1 T honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

DIRECTIONS:

For cookies:

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

With a mixer, beat together butter and both sugars.

Add eggs and vanilla.  

Add peanut butter.  Beat well.

Add dry ingredients.

When mixed thoroughly, scoop out a tablespoon of dough and wrap around each peanut butter cup.

Place on baking tray with parchment and bake for 8-12 minutes.  (These cookies continue to bake and set on the tray, so as soon as you see a whiff of brown on top, take them out immediately.  Or even a little bit sooner!)

To make ganache:

On medium heat, scald the cream in a small saucepan. Add the chips and let sit for five minutes.  Whisk together.  (If there are any lumps still in the chocolate, turn the saucepan on low and whisk continuously until the mixture is smooth). 

Stir in honey and allow to cool 15 minutes.

FOR ASSEMBLY:

Frost each cookie with ganache by dipping tops in chocolate or using a spatula.  Sprinkle with chopped nuts and sea salt.  

TIPS:

*If you can’t find dark brown sugar, you can use a cup of light brown sugar and 2 T of molasses.

*I use Skippy or Jiff peanut butter.  Organic Trade Joe’s ‘almond butter’ style peanut butter cannot be substituted in recipes.

*I use Ghirardelli bittersweet chips and LOVE Maldon Sea Salt Flakes.

*If you can’t find specialty peanut butter cups, Reeses are fine, too!