Thursday, April 17, 2014

An Exciting Announcement

I've been baking up a little something different in the kitchen lately, and I'm so excited to share my lovely new website with you. Hank has been gracious enough to work with me on putting this together, and I'm really proud of it. There is still work to be done, and my goal is to turn it into a place where I can share content and provide more information about my work with my clients.

The Texas Cottage Food Law only allows me to bake and sell locally, so unless I'm able to deliver sweets to your door (or have you pick them up from mine), I'm unable to sell to you. However, if you are the least bit interested in cookie decorating (or sweets in general), please come back to visit my site. I'm working on the "Blog" tab, and hope to create a small community for those who share my love of sweets.

And since I'm making announcements, I'll also throw it out there that I'm also planning a series of cookie decorating classes. Smaller classes will be done in my home, and I also plan to host a few larger ones at our lovely clubhouse in Steiner Ranch. If you are ever interested in getting a group of friends or family together for a class, please let me know. Teaching has always been a passion of mine, and I'm looking forward to combining it with my love of cookie decorating.

Sweet Elise Website

Photo credit to Emily and M Photography

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spiderman Birthday Extravaganza

Oh hello! Apologies for the short absence from posting, but I have been buried alive in the kitchen and am just now catching up. I have a few fun projects, starting with these two Superman cakes. Four year old Jake celebrated his birthday with friends recently, and I made a two tier detailed cake for the occasion.

Sweet Elise: Spiderman Cake

Chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream, and fondant accents made up this first cake. I learned one important less- and that is you can never underestimate the value of a well structured cake. This one ended up being heavier than I anticipated, and it really needed an internal support structure. Luckily it survived the car trip for delivery, and made it in one piece. But I could have prevented a small sagging issue had I just used a dowel down the middle.

Sweet Elise: Fondant Web Letters
White fondant letters with tiny spider webs.

Sweet Elise: Spiderman Cake
Finished cake, safe and sound at the party.

Cake number two was a really fun Spiderman face that I made for his smaller family birthday dinner. His mom did not request the fondant, but I wanted this cake to look very different than the first. I did some research online, and came across this amazingly informative tutorial for how to get the shape of the face. I've made marshmallow fondant before and have a recipe that I prefer, but I have not actually covered a cake with it yet. I find this particular recipe very easy to work with though, and it gave such a nice smooth texture to this cake. I was glad I decided to use it.

Sweet Elise: Spiderman Cake
Chocolate cake and buttercream before it was covered in fondant.

Sweet Elise: Spiderman Cake
Spiderman web was done in black royal icing.

Sweet Elise: Spiderman Cake
Final product, with fondant eyes.

Underneath the fondant was yet more chocolate, and the most delicious chocolate buttercream. Even though the marshmallow fondant tastes far better than the store bought kind, at least I knew it could easily be peeled off so that the buttercream could really stand out.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Our Little Family

Hank and I never had the chance to get engagement pictures taken last year before our wedding, so when Emily from Emily and M Photography approached us about taking some pictures for her portfolio, we jumped at the chance. She is new to Austin and working on building her business. After seeing the beautiful pictures she took, I can highly recommend her to anyone in the Austin and surrounding area.

We met her at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in our neighborhood, and she quickly put us at ease. Since our very first date was over coffee, we thought this would be a great spot to take some fun pictures. We were both a little nervous, and totally awkward at first, but she really made us feel so comfortable once we got started. 

The Holland House: Emily and M Photography

The Holland House: Emily and M Photography

The Holland House: Emily and M Photography

The Holland House: Emily and M Photography

After the coffee shop, we drove around the corner to our house for a quick change of clothes. We also grabbed our 3 dogs and headed out to the greenbelt behind our house. At the time we had no idea that Marley was not feeling well and that we'd be saying goodbye shortly after (though we can now see in the pictures how much she had aged recently). Having these pictures with her is now beyond special to us. Emily was able to capture each of the dog's personalties and seeing their faces cracks me up! Of course the shoot was not without drama. Brees managed to break loose from us and went traipsing through the woods for a bit, scaring me half to death. But luckily we had a bag of smelly treats with and were able to get her to come back pretty easily. 

Choosing the ones that we are going to have put on canvas is going to be a tough task.

The Holland House: Emily and M Photography

The Holland House: Emily and M Photography

The Holland House: Emily and M Photography

The Holland House: Emily and M Photography

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pink Heart Cookies and Petit Fours: A Very Girly Baby Shower

I was contacted by an old high school friend about making treats for a very "girly" baby shower she was hosting. She wanted pink, hearts and dainty treats, and I couldn't have been more excited to work with her. That is.....until she asked for petit fours. I've tried making them twice, and have been less than thrilled with both the tedious process, and the results. I even vowed to never make them again. But I just couldn't tell her no.

So I took to Google, determined to find a better way to make them. After lots of browsing, I happened upon the site for the Woodland Bakery Blog, and her tutorial for poured fondant icing. Not only did the recipe pique my interest, but so did her method of actually pouring the fondant with a piping bag, instead of dipping or spooning it over the cakes. I've not had much luck getting an even coat on the petit fours, but this method seemed to give more control over the placement of icing. Genuis!! Not only was it so much easier this way, but it was also less messy. I love how they turned out, and  have officially added petit fours to my price list.

Sweet Elise: Petit Fours

For the heart cookie favors, I used the Sweetambs tutorial for wet on wet roses, and the result was a  beautiful, almost hand-painted looking cookie. These were wrapped in cellophane bags and tied with ribbon, and I think they made for a really special take home treat.

Sweet Elise: Heart Cookie Favors

As luck would have it, Hank and I had our pictures taken by a new photographer in Austin that same weekend, and I sent her home with a few leftover treats as a thank you. She took these beautiful pictures at home, and I just love them! If you're in the Austin area, she is a wonderful photographer to use. Thank you Emily and M!

Sweet Elise: Heart Cookies and Petit Fours

Sweet Elise: Petit Fours

Friday, March 21, 2014

Happy 1st Birthday, Brees!

On March 4th, our amazingly wonderful foster-fail dog Brees turned 1 years old (we think). Since she was picked up off the streets at just a few weeks old, it's hard to tell exactly when her birthday is. The shelter picked March 4th, and it sounded good to us.

The Holland House: Birthday Girl Brees

We were traveling back from our Napa trip the day of her birthday, so I had pre-arranged a very special birthday party at her boarding and playcare facility, Mud Puppies. Yes- we are those kind-of dog people. Our animals are our children, and I knew that she would enjoy the special attention. She has brought so much joy to our lives- and it only seemed fair to return the favor on her special day.

It's hard to believe that this:

The Holland House: Puppy Brees

Has turned into this 60-something pound this:

The Holland House: Grown-Up Brees

She is such a goofy, beautiful, loving, playful, and (sometimes) smart girl, and we just adore her to pieces. On our flight home, Mud Puppies started posting pictures from her party, and each one of them cracked us up. They seemed to catch every bit of her personality. And after losing Marley so suddenly, it was so nice to have something to smile about when we returned home. We love you so much Breesy girl, and are thankful that you fell so unexpectedly into our lives.

The Holland House: Cool Brees

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Napa 2014- The Tasting Part

After the marathon portion of the trip was over, it was time to get serious. No less than three hours after the guys had finished running, they were showered, dressed, and ready to start drinking. We headed to the Napa Marriott to catch the party bus reserved for a total of 50 Gazelles. Needless to say, the remainder of the afternoon was a blast!

The Holland House: Napa Party Bus
Party Bus!!

Rather than bore you with a play by play of the remaining two days of our trip, I'm going to highlight our favorite eats and drinks instead. Below are the places that we consider to be "must dos" should you be planning a trip to Napa.

The Holland House: Wine Tasting in Napa

Round Pond

One of the girls in our group is family friends with the owners of Round Pond Estate, and she scheduled a really special wine/food pairing for us late Sunday afternoon. This beautiful property is off the beaten path in the Rutherford region of Napa. It sits smack dab in the middle of the valley, and has the prettiest views from their second floor terrace. Their standout wines include an easy to drink Sauvignon Blanc (hello hot Texas summer), and several delicious cabs. We shipped home several bottles, along with some of their own infused olive oils that we had a chance to sample at our tasting. We did not get a chance to tour their gardens and orchards, which is all the more reason to go back. If you do anything in Napa, it should include a tasting on their terrace in the late afternoon. It was heaven.

The Holland House: Round Pond
Looking out the front window at Round Pond.

The Holland House: Round Pond
View from the Round Pond terrace.


My mom helped arrange a tasting at this small vineyard. One of our goals for the trip was to visit places where we couldn't necessarily be able to find the wine back home- and this fit perfectly. The Biale Family has been growing Zinfandel on their small property since 1937, and they do red wine really well. Our tasting was so casual, and led by a knowledgeable (and very pretty) Marie who filled us in on all kinds of interesting "behind the scenes" information. We sat on their back porch for about 2 hours, looking out at their vines and mustard, tasting wine and chatting with friends. Perfect way to start a Monday, in my opinion. We also shared a few good laughs over how one of our friends misread the below sign. You'll have to check out their site for the story of the Black Chicken.

The Holland House: Biale Vineyards

The Holland House: Biale Vineyards

The Holland House: Mustard

Gott's Roadside

So much wine must be tempered with food, and a burger and fries from Gott's Roadside was the perfect "in-between tastings" meal. There are two locations, but the one we went to sat right on  the highway in St. Helena. You order at the counter and eat outside, so weather can definitely play a factor. They use quality ingredients and source locally when possible, and the fries are out of this world! I was stuffed after my meal, but am kicking myself for not trying one of their shakes. This place is an absolute must!

The Holland House: Gott's Roadside Burger
Wisconsin Sourdough Burger (hold the mushrooms)


Our last tasting of the day was at Turnbull, at the recommendation of Marie earlier that day. Since it was a Monday, we were able to get a tasting scheduled in their private room. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Marvin the wine dog, and I knew we were going to have fun. The property was really pretty, and the private room was comfortable and intimate. And Tyler, our wine guy, was adorable. We made our way through the reserve flight, and loved everything that we tasted. It was such a fun experience! At the end, we made our way inside the main building, and the guys pulled out yet another wine for us to taste, a Cab Franc, and at that point Hank and I joined our first wine club. We hardly ever splurge on big things, so we were really excited about it and are looking forward to receiving all of our wine this year.

The Holland House: Turnbull Cellars

The Holland House: Turnbull Tasting
We all had purple teeth after drinking so much 
Azzurro Pizzeria

Our neighbors recommended Azzurro, and lucky for us it was right around the corner from the house we were renting. It definitely has a neighborhood feel to it, and I highly suggest reservations as it's a smaller restaurant. The second you walk in, you smell pizza dough and garlic, and it is awesome! We shared pizza, salads, and wine from a place I wish we had had the chance to visit- Elyse Winery. Great food, and nice ambiance after a long day of tasting.

Overall it was truly an amazing trip. We had such a great time with our friends, and it was perfect timing for us to get away from the house for a bit. It's always nice to come home, but I'm glad we've glad plenty of bottles to help remind us of our trip to Napa.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Napa Valley Marathon Race Report

The 2014 Napa Valley Marathon was my 8th (maybe 9th) marathon to complete, but it also represented a few firsts for me.  This training cycle was the first time I have trained for a marathon WITHOUT a time goal in mind.  My goal was just to finish. I approached this training and race with a very relaxed mindset, and saw it as more of an opportunity to run with friends and take an amazing trip with my wife. Mission accomplished!

The Holland House: Gilbert's Gazelles
Part of my training group from Gilbert's Gazelles

Pre-race (Saturday):
This was the first marathon Amy had the opportunity to be a part of with me.  By all accounts she probably thought I was a nervous, uptight wreck but indeed I was not.  The morning before the race we do an Aussie Carb Load routine. I will spare our readers the details but it entails eating an obscene amount of carbs.  This year I had decided to dial it back.  As a point of comparison, in previous marathons I had consumed 700 grams of carbs before the race.  In Napa, I managed to top my tank at approximately 450 grams of carbs.  Although considerably less, it still left me feeling a little less than ideal.  

The Holland House: Track Workout
Track workout before the Aussie carb load

After the Aussie Carb Load workout and subsequent “Carb Fest”, we decided to drive the race course since none of us had any experience with running this race route.  This was another first for me.  I typically like the surprises along the course (oh look at that beautiful river!) but I felt it may be beneficial to our pace group if at least one of us knew where we were going the next day.  It was a beautiful drive containing slight ups and downs (uh yeah-right) and gentle curves (sure Hank).  After the drive it was time to head back to headquarters, the house we rented, and spend the rest of the day relaxing-and eating more carbs.  On an aside, it was roughly at 2pm that I decided I may never be able to drink water again.  Of course, I immediately went and refilled my glass.

Race Day (Sunday):
What a glorious day to go for a long run!  The weather was perfect (temps in the 40’s and overcast) so I was excited about the possibility of all the PR’s that would be had by my running friends.  Our pace group (which consisted of 5-6 fellow Gazelles) had all trained together very consistently.  So naturally I quickly adopted their goals as my own for their race.  The “team” settled on a goal of 3:18 for the race and we would follow the MARCO method.  This consists of dividing the race into 4 segments and essentially running negative splits.  We had agreed to the following goals: miles 1-2 at a 7:45 pace, miles 3-9 at a 7:37 pace, miles 10-18 at a 7:32 pace and finally closing at a 7:27 pace.  This conversation dominated the loooong bus ride to the start which almost distracted me from the fact that I had to pee, very very badly.  

The Holland House: Napa Valley Marathon Starting Line

The start line was awesome!  The race was small, only 2500 runners, so we were able to just hang out at the start without much restriction.  At 7am, the gun went off and away we went!  Becky, Mike, Craig, Elizabeth and I quickly settled into our plan.  There was not a great deal of crowd support so it was key that we stayed together as long as possible.  Mike was communicating our pace every mile while I directed the team on how to best run the curves so we didn't run a REALLY LONG race.  We caught the attention of several other runners around us who asked if we were an official pace group.  We quickly had a large following of runners.

The landscape was gorgeous and weather was perfect so Becky and I decided to push the pace around mile 10.  I felt we were behind schedule as a result of the not-so-gentle curves.  At a few points, I do believe Becky was cursing me about the hills that I had proclaimed to be “not bad at all”.  I had lied.  We hit the half mark at 1:40 and were right on schedule.  I like to be a little early than late, so we decided to push the pace some more.  At this point we were already running 7:25 pace.   I figured at this rate we would come in around 3:16-3:18 which would accomplish Becky’s goal.  Around mile 16, we had lost most of our pace group but picked up two guys from San Francisco who were running their first marathons.  My hardest miles were ahead, 18 to 26.2.

The Holland House: Napa Valley Marathon
Mile 16

Yep, there it is at mile 18.  It is called doubt (and leg cramps).  At this point my quads were extremely tight but I thought I could just push through the pain for 8 more miles.  I can do anything for 8 miles!  Then the hill at 20 hit me.  It was a long gradual climb but the worst part for my aching quads was the long gradual decline.  At mile 22(ish) I decided to let Becky and my new friends go.  Today was not my day and I just wanted to enjoy the day and finish with a smile.  From mile 23 on, everyone seemed to be passing me like I was standing still.  At one point my entire right leg cramped so badly that my foot was turned in an unnatural direction.  All I could think of was get to the finish because Amy is there and probably is worried about me now since most of my friends have finished. I managed to put on a smile and hobble through the finish line.  My time?  A pretty respectable 3:30 considering there was some stopping and walking.

The Holland House: Gilbert's Gazelles Finishers
Gilbert's Gazelles enjoying some much deserved wine

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this race to anyone considering. The goodie bags were incredible and you cannot beat running down the Silverado Trail.  Although I did not have a PR, it was extremely satisfying to share this entire experience with Amy every step of the way.  
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