Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Cake, Part 1

A few weeks ago, I invited family over to celebrate my sister-in-law's birthday. For dinner, we ate homemade pulled pork nachos (click here for my recipe).

For dessert, I set out to bake something unique that would make my sister-in-law smile. Unlike everyone else in the family, she isn't a huge fan of ice cream, so that ruled out ice cream cake. I thought about a lemon cake but decided that the chocolate-loving menfolk wouldn't be too thrilled about that.

Then I had a revelation. My sister-in-law is a strawberry addict, and she especially enjoys chocolate-covered strawberries, so why not a chocolate-covered strawberry cake?

The process was time-consuming, but the result was more than worth it. And as delicious as the cake was, the look on my sister-in-law's face when she saw it was by far the best part. Below is the cake recipe. I'll share the recipes for the strawberry buttercream frosting and chocolate glaze soon.

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Cake, Part 1

Super Moist Chocolate Cake

2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

4 eggs
1-1/3 cups milk
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup canola oil

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour four round cake pans (can be 9-10 inches). I used spring-form pans, which made the process much easier.

2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and unsweetened cocoa powder in a large bowl.

3. In another large bowl, beat eggs, milk, vanilla, and oil.

4. Add dry ingredients to wet, and whisk until well blended.

5. Pour batter into four cake pans, using a spatula to make sure batter is evenly dispersed. If your oven isn't large enough or if you only have two pans, feel free to bake the cakes in two batches.

6. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes. Test with the toothpick test. (Insert toothpick into the center of each cake. If it comes out clean, cakes are done.)

7. Run a butter knife or spatula around the inside of each pan to prevent cake from sticking, and wait 10-15 minutes. If your pans are spring-form, release the springs.

8. Use a knife or spatula to gently remove cakes from pans. Place cakes upside-down on plates to cool.

 Before baking

 After baking

'Champion' DVD Giveaway

Earlier this year, I posted my review of the movie Champion one month ahead of its theatrical release. Mr. Handsome and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and we highly recommend it. Champion illustrates the life-changing power of forgiveness, a message that desperately needs to be shared.

The film was released to Digital and On Demand October 24th and will be available on DVD November 7th.

In exchange for my review, I have received two DVD copies of Champion to raffle off to my readers. Follow the prompts on the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win. For more on the movie, click here to read my review.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Photo courtesy of championthemovie.com

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Volunteering at VBS

I have been reading through the feedback that you all submitted on my Ask Ellie 2.0 post and noticed that a couple readers asked if Mr. Handsome and I have done any volunteering. One thing I have enjoyed doing since moving to Nashville is helping out with Vacation Bible School.

Growing up, my older brother and I always loved attending VBS. We would bring home the cassette tapes of the theme songs and play them 24/7 for weeks. (I still remember the lyrics to this day!) Sadly, many VBS programs these days don't give out physical copies of the songs because they expect the kids to be able to access them on YouTube, but that's the way of our world.

With all the wonderful memories I made at VBS as a child, I was thrilled to get involved in our church's program. This year, we used LifeWay's Galactic Starveyors program, and I taught Kindergarten.

To decorate my classroom, I used the wall decorations provided by LifeWay and then came up with additional ideas by browsing Pinterest.

On Amazon, I found a few cheap, plastic tablecloths to hang on the walls.

In the story time corner, I set up a large piece of cardboard to create sort of a "clubhouse." I also planned to have the kids color on the cardboard when we had downtime, but our week was so jam-packed that we hardly had a chance.

And what's a galaxy theme without incorporating the cheesy phrase "out of this world"?

On the door, I created this rocket ship out of butcher paper.

Volunteering at VBS was a blast. I had 15 Kindergarteners, with two teen helpers to assist me. A few weeks later, I was thrilled to see two of my kids (siblings, although they were 10 months apart) at a random event 40 minutes away. Although I wasn't sure they would remember me, I decided to approach their mother. I hadn't met her, as their aunt had dropped them off and picked them up all week, but after I told her who I was, she was very happy that I had said something.

Have any of you been involved in VBS? 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

How I Met Mr. Handsome, Part 4

This summer, we shared Mr.  Handsome's account of the story of how we met. (Click here to watch those videos.) Now it's time to hear my side of the saga...

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Lending a Hand

A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law and father-in-law were visiting Nashville for the weekend, so rather than go to our church, we all decided to go to church with Mr. Handsome's brother and his wife.

After the service, we chatted with a young woman and her mother. My mother-in-law and the young woman's mother really hit it off, and it wasn't long before they were talking like they were lifelong friends. (We were all a bit confused at first, but when we found out that they both have seven children and are/were homeschool moms, we understood their instant bond.)

It just so happened that this young woman was getting married in Nashville the following weekend, and her mother was stressed out because she is from the East Coast and was having trouble finding people to help out at the DIY event.

My mother-in-law non-nonchalantly said that she would see if any of her children would be able to lend a hand, and the woman was ecstatic. "That would be wonderful!" she exclaimed.

My well-meaning mother-in-law called over my brother-in-law and his wife (the ones who actually attend the church and would probably know many of the guests at the wedding) to see if they were free the following weekend. They were busy, so Mr. Handsome and I volunteered to help.

The following weekend, we arrived at the church, and the mother of the bride was being pulled in 1,000 different directions, so she asked another helper to take us to the kitchen and show us what to do. Well, this person took us to the kitchen and then admitted that she had no idea what we were supposed to do, so she handed us a list and left.

To make a long story short, we did a lot of improvising, as we set up the appetizers and dinner buffet, met the baker and showed her where to put the cake, and (after the ceremony was over) instructed the guests where to line up for dinner.

We had a bit of difficulty figuring out the drink situation. The labels on the two dispensers said Sweet Tea and Strawberry Lemonade, but the huge walk-in fridge only contained Kiwi Lemonade (didn't even know that was a thing) and Unsweetened Tea.

If you live in the South, you know that serving only Unsweetened Tea is simply not socially acceptable. We changed the labels and filled the drink dispensers, hoping that the well-meaning hosts, who were from the North, wouldn't be chewed out by all the sweet tea loving guests from the South.

The mother and father of the bride were very appreciative of our help and even gave us a gift card to Olive Garden. When we had finished our duties, we sat down to eat the fabulous food, which was from an Indian restaurant.

The highlight of the evening, which turned out to be a lot of fun, was listening to one of the guests tell us the bride and groom's love story. It turns out that the groom is completely blind, but he is a successful lawyer in Washington D.C. and can do everything but drive a car. (Isn't that incredible?)

Rather than coddle him, his parents had pushed him towards greatness by refusing to allow him to make excuses for himself. The guest, a college friend of the groom, told us a story of a time when one of the groom's bed sheets had ripped while he was away at school. The friend suggested the groom call his mom, who had purchased the sheets, and ask her to order a replacement. The groom laughed and told his roommate that he knew exactly what his mom's response would be: "Just take a taxi to Kohl's and buy yourself a new set."

CD Giveaway

Who's ready for a giveaway? I'm raffling off five copies of Erin Bates Paine's newest CD, Lullaby. For those who are familiar with the Bates family, Erin is the third oldest of Gil and Kelly Bates' 19 children. A fabulous piano player who has recorded four CDs, she is expecting her third child with husband Chad Paine.

Lullaby features 12 classic tunes, including "You are my Sunshine," "This Little Light of Mine," "Somewhere over the Rainbow," and "Rock-a-Bye Baby." Follow the prompts on the Rafflecopter widget below to enter to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Artwork courtesy of Chad Paine; photo courtesy of TarynYagerPhotography.com

To purchase Erin's CDs, visit the Paines' website.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ask Ellie 2.0

Soon after I started this blog (has it really been almost two-and-a-half years?) I published a post titled "Ask Ellie," where I invited readers to share their feedback, questions, and post suggestions. I have lots of new ideas up my sleeve, but I'm always eager to hear what you all have to say.

What are your favorite posts that I have shared? What types of post would you like me to share in the future? Do you have any questions that you would like me to answer (either in a video or a written post)?

Go ahead and share your answers as comments. I will read and take into consideration every single response.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Homemade Hummus Recipe

How many of my readers are hummus fans? I sure am! Last week, I was randomly craving chips and hummus after having gone several months without having any. The Walmart brand was decent, but after finishing the entire tub in one week, I decided to make my own. The recipe I came up with was leaps and bounds better than store-bought.

Homemade Hummus

1-15oz can garbanzo beans
1/4 cup tahini (often found in the international aisle)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2-1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 Tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon paprika

Combine ingredients, and blend using an immersion hand blender--such as a Bamix--until creamy. (Food processors and regular blenders work, as well.)

Store in the refrigerator. Serve with chips or veggies.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Chipmunk Encounter

To help you conquer the Monday doldrums, I have a couple cute photos to share. As I mentioned in my post about Day 4 of our Canadian Rocky Mountain adventure, we were greeted by a curious chipmunk when we arrived at a breathtaking lookout point during an all-day hike at Lake Louise. (Don't worry, we didn't feed it.)

The chipmunks in Banff National Park are often very friendly because they have grown so accustomed to humans. As a child, I remember sitting on a bench at Moraine Lake and being completely startled when a chipmunk crawled into my lap.

Have you had any interesting encounters with animals in the wild?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Mr. Handsome's Ship Paintings

Mr. Handsome the painter has recently become interested in a new subject: ships. These three original ship paintings are some of his first attempts. The photos simply don't do them justice. They are so much better in person, and they blow me out of the water every single time I look at them. No pun intended...

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Flowers of the Canadian Rockies

On our trip through the Canadian Rocky Mountains, we hiked 32.3 miles in 20.5 hours and gained a total elevation of 9,284 feet. I always had my iPhone camera handy to capture all the beautiful scenery. While we walked, I made a point of taking pictures of the many types of flowers we encountered. Can you name any of them? Which are your favorites? Mine is No. 8.


Monday, October 9, 2017

Ground Turkey Taco Salad

We usually eat leftovers for lunch, but today, I felt like making something "fresh," so I whipped up a ground turkey taco salad. The "recipe" is hardly even a recipe because it's so easy.

Everything can be cooked/sliced in advance, so it's the perfect meal to have on hand for a quick lunch or to pack up and take to work.

Ground Turkey Taco Salad

1-1b ground turkey, browned and seasoned with taco seasoning
2 heads romaine lettuce, shredded
3 tomatoes, sliced
Tortilla chips, crumbled
Shredded cheese
Ranch dressing

Serves 3-4

#FabFitFun and a Giveaway

Last week, I received my first #FabFitFun Box, and I have already fallen in love with the products inside.

For those who haven't heard, FabFitFun is a subscription box filled with beauty, wellness, fashion, and fitness products that is delivered to your door each season (four times per year). I was invited to become a #FabFitFunPartner and was sent the fall box for free.

I'll admit that subscription boxes have never been my thing. I expected a box of cheap and junky products that I would never use, but I was thrilled to find a bunch of practical, useful items--including several full-size beauty products with all-natural ingredients.

Check out my unpacking video below, and enter code ELLIE at fabfitfun.com to get $10.00 off your first box. The Fall Box has sold out, but if you order now, you will receive the Editor's Box (filled with FabFitFun's top-rated brands and products). All opinions are my own.

Because I love my readers so much, and because I want you to see how awesome #FabFitFun is, I have set aside one of the most expensive items from the Fall Box to raffle off as a giveaway. Stay tuned for more info!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Top Wedding Planning Tips

Two-and-a-half years ago, Mr. Handsome and I planned a DIY wedding in just three months. It was a whirlwind, but we loved having a short engagement. I wrote several posts about our wedding soon after it happened, but I have since received requests to share more. Here are my top wedding planning tips:

Research and make a budget
Start by brainstorming ideas, looking things up online, and talking with folks who have had experience planning weddings. Write up some rough ideas, and then get together with your fiancé and anyone else who will be involved in the finances, and make a budget.

When we planned our wedding, we cut costs by DIY-ing everything but the side dishes. That allowed us to pull off an event for nearly 300 guests (we invited more than 400) at a small fraction of the amount considered to be the national average cost of a wedding.

Be kind to your wedding party
I can't tell you how many stories I have heard from disgruntled bridesmaids and groomsmen who
have been asked to purchase exorbitantly priced outfits. While it's important to choose wedding party attire that you and your fiancé love, selecting $400 bridesmaid dresses isn't always a considerate decision. One of my friends had to bow out of a wedding because she couldn't afford the dress she was told to buy.

Our wedding was shabby-chic. The girls wore matching knee-length gowns from Dress Barn ($35 each) with jewelry that we provided. The guys wore their own black suits (no suit coats), along with matching dress shirts and ties that we gave them as gifts.

Don't be afraid to ask for help
Planning a wedding is no easy task. If well-meaning friends and family offer to help, take them up on it, and if they don't offer, don't be afraid to ask. Choose one person as a wedding coordinator (either a professional or someone close to you who has the talent of gently telling people what to do) and fill her in on all the details. That way, when the big day comes around and you're busy having your hair and makeup done, your coordinator can take care of the last minute details.

Add special touches that you will remember for a lifetime
All too often, brides and grooms are so caught up in the details that make a wedding seem picture perfect from the outside, that they forget to add personal touches that they will remember for years to come. We were blessed to have lots of family and friends help with planning and setup, and we were happy to let them give opinions and suggestions. That being said, there were a few things that Mr.
Handsome and I weren't willing to compromise on.

Mr. Handsome plays guitar, and ever since we started dating, I had been dreaming about him playing the song "Come Thou Fount" on guitar as I walked down the aisle. We received many opinions from people who thought we should add additional instruments to make it more interesting, but I'm so glad I didn't allow them to change my mind. Walking down to him as he performed a fingerstyle version of "Come Thou Fount" that he had composed is one of my favorite memories from our wedding day. Mr. Handsome also wrote a song for me that he played during the ceremony. Not wanting anyone to talk him out of it, the only person he told ahead of time was the guy running the sound system.

Relax, and enjoy the moment
"The goal of a wedding is to join two people in marriage. Everything else is just icing on the cake." This piece of advice was very helpful to me, and it applies to both the planning process and the actual wedding day. You can't control the small hiccups that are bound to happen, but you can determine whether you let them change your mood.

Our wedding reception was outdoors on a hot and humid day, so we had written on the invitation that guests could bring casual clothes to change into. Well, we failed to mention that the wedding party should stay in their dress clothes at least until dinner began. You can imagine what was going through my mind as our party was being introduced in front of everyone, and one of the groomsmen walked out in shorts and a t-shirt! But I quickly composed myself and refused to let it bother me. Had I flipped out, it could have negatively impacted the tone of the whole reception. We chose to laugh it off, and it's now a memory that we enjoy teasing the groomsman about.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Recipe: Pulled Pork Nachos

Mr. Handsome and I try to eat healthy most of the time, but we allow ourselves a couple days each week to indulge in less healthy meals--usually on the weekends and/or Magnificent Meal Monday. (That being said, I always strive to incorporate at lease one veggie into every lunch and dinner.)

Growing up, my family rarely went out to eat, but when we did, one of our favorite items to order were loaded nachos with all the fixins.

A while ago, I mentioned loaded nachos to Mr. Handsome and was shocked to find out that he hadn't every tried them. I just had to share this wonderful experience with him, so I decided to whip up a batch...and boy were they good! Instead of the usual ground beef, I tried pulled pork. Best culinary decision I've ever made.

Here's my recipe:

Loaded Pulled Pork Nachos

18-ounce bag tortilla chips
1.5 lbs pulled pork*
2 cans black beans
4 tomatoes
2 bell peppers
Homemade queso (click here for my recipe)
Homemade BBQ sauce (recipe is included in my BBQ wings post)
Shredded cheddar cheese

*I use my slow cooker pulled pork recipe, but I leave out the onions. My recipe calls for 3 lbs pork shoulder, so I save half the pulled pork for leftovers. (If you don't have pork shoulder, pork loin works, as well.)

Chop the tomatoes and peppers. (Mr. Handsome wanted me to share a photo of his perfectly sliced peppers.)

On a greased cookie sheet or baking stone, assemble the first layer of nachos, using half of each of your ingredients:

Pulled pork
BBQ sauce
Shredded cheddar cheese

Now, add a second layer:
Pulled pork
Shredded cheddar cheese
BBQ sauce

Bake at 350F until cheese has fully melted (about 20 minutes). Drizzle with queso, and serve.

Recipe serves 4-6