Willow Bird Baking: Ask Me Anything #1

Ask Me Anything is a new feature where you ask me questions and I make you a video full of answers. And macaroni and cheese noises and Christmas pajamas, apparently.

Do you have a question you want me to answer in the next video? Leave me a comment here or send me an email. Don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel to see more videos.

Willow Bird Baking Reader Survey!

Willow Bird Baking Reader Survey

Willow Bird Baking has just turned 5 YEARS OLD. That’s nuts! Willow Bird has been featured by Ladies’ Home Journal, SAVEUR, Fine Cooking, The Charlotte Observer, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and more. I’ve gotten to work with some of my very favorite brands, meet Ina Garten (!!!), share my wedding with all of you, be part of your celebrations, join in baking challenges with you, and develop new recipes.

To make the next 5 years just as awesome as the past 5 years have been, will you take a few minutes and fill out a reader survey for me?


Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading!

Our Wedding Day

(Photo by Todd Sumlin)

I saw Mike’s car turning onto Kings Street as I blew past in my little red Nissan. I hoped he hadn’t caught a glimpse of me — I wanted to see his face when he had a real “first look.” I jumped out of my car at Mama Ricotta’s, an iconic and well-loved Italian restaurant in Charlotte. The best photographer in the universe (Charlotte Observer photojournalist and a great family friend Todd Sumlin) met me with a big hug and an even bigger camera. I told him Mike was just about to pull in and then, sure enough, his black car pulled into the parking lot. I hid (and did considerable hair-floofing, dress smoothing, and smile-adjusting) until Mike got out of the car, whereupon he turned and there it was — the moment I’d imagined a million times: our first sight of each other, complete with him (absolutely killing it in his blue suit) walking quickly over to me with a broad smile, saying, “Julie, you look beautiful.”

The first look (Photo by Todd Sumlin)

Our wedding was picture perfect for me, from proposal to the last goodnight. One of my favorite details was the beautiful custom invitation that illustrator Lana Frankel created. I have to brag on Lana for a bit, because this girl worked tirelessly to make sure these were perfect: she included our special fountain, hand addressed our envelopes, and even lined them with metallic art deco inspired paper (to match my vintage ring)! She went above and beyond — and that’s what I love about working with a small, passion-driven business like hers. We were so tickled with the invitations and they’re now one of our most special wedding mementos.

Another perfect detail was our ceremony. I wanted to retain a few wedding traditions that were meaningful to us and ditch the many that weren’t. Mike and I opted for a small exchange of vows at the restaurant itself followed by a big feast — the food was a very important detail for me, of course! No aisle, no long ceremony, no separate dancing reception. I love those things at others’ weddings, but for us, it really fit to do a big family dinner instead. That’s more who we are.

Mama Ricotta’s seated us in the back of the restaurant with a heavy red/gold metallic curtain drawn behind us. My mom worked magic with $20 worth of hot pink baby roses I’d picked up at Trader Joe’s the day before, making it look like we’d actually planned some décor. After fretting for a week or so about who would officiate our ceremony (we wanted someone special to us who knew a bit about us personally), Mike and I convinced my dad to get ordained and do the job! It was the most wonderful twist I could’ve imagined: I’ll never forget that my dad not only “gave me away,” but actually led us through our vows on my wedding day.

After our vows — which we giggled and sniffled our way through — the servers brought us tray after tray overflowing with amazing food (some of which is pictured in our wedding album, below). Here’s the menu we enjoyed surrounded by our close family:

My lovely new in-laws (who have really felt like family for years) jokingly asked whether we’d also paid for the servers to roll us all out with handtrucks after the meal. Despite having just eaten a huge amount of food, Mike and I happily cut the cake: a huge sheet cake from Sam’s Club with fluffy whipped icing. Perhaps that doesn’t sound too fancy, but to me, there’s nothing more decadent than a ton of fluffy icing that I didn’t mix up myself! I had a hard decision to make, though, as I tried to determine which piece had the maximum amount of icing.

Mike helps me decide which piece of cake I want. Pretty sure this is important practice for being my husband. (Photo by Todd Sumlin)

At the end of the night, the marriage license was signed and hugs and kisses given all around. Mike and I found ourselves buckled into his car, husband and wife. I read him the cards we’d received from our family as he drove us through the streets of Charlotte. Three days later, we still turn to each other every now and then and laugh, realizing again how surreal it is that we’re married. I don’t know how long it’ll take for that to wear off, but I’m in no hurry. It has been a truly lovely union so far.

I thought I’d share a few photos from our wedding album with you. Thank you so much, again, to our wonderful photographer and friend, Todd Sumlin, for taking these photos. If you’re in Charlotte and need a photographer, I can’t recommend him enough! (You can click the “full screen” button to make the slideshow larger.)

layers_of_eli's weddingphotosubset album on Photobucket

Just like that, on August 4, 2013, all my dreams came true. Thank you all for your love, congratulations, and support!

* * *

Disclosure: Lana and Todd both generously gifted portions or the entirety of their services to me for my wedding; however, I value my readers such that all opinions expressed on Willow Bird are always my own. I share these lovely folks and their businesses with you because they are absolute gems and I know you’ll appreciate the quality of their work as much as I do.

Quick Reminder: Google Reader is Shutting Down

Friends, this is just a quick reminder that Google Reader is shutting down tomorrow. If you currently follow blogs on Google Reader, you can check out other readers like feedly and bloglovin’, both of which allow you to import all your Google Reader subscriptions with just a click or two. That way you won’t miss out on any dessert!

P.S. Byrd says to tell you that if you snooze, you lose. And she eats your share of the cupcakes.

Dessert Smörgåsbord with Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolates

Have we talked about how I turned down the most gorgeous faucet known to humanity? No? Let me complain for a moment, then: I received an email offering me a free faucet. I get these sort of emails all the time — they offer free products to review. I usually ignore them or politely decline. And a faucet would’ve sounded decidedly pedestrian to me until I had my own residence to furnish. But it just so happened that when I got this particular email, I was knee-deep in decorating my new apartment with hip art prints and succulents. And this faucet — this gorgeous faucet! — had the supple curves of a swan’s neck, a built-in hidden sprayer, and a broad array of snazzy finishes.

OH, the faucet!

My current faucet has a rusty, bent aerator and makes a squeaky noise every time you turn it on. Just as a frame of reference. Just so you fully understand my desire for this glorious, free, swan’s-necked-snazzy-finished faucet.

my favorite!

But (a few tears shed on my behalf would be welcome here) I turned down the offer. I would’ve had to review it here on Willow Bird Baking, and since I didn’t already use that brand and wouldn’t have had an opportunity to compare it to others (besides my rusty-bent-squeaky one, anyway), I didn’t feel like it would be a very balanced review. And even though it was a beautiful faucet, Willow Bird Baking is about food, community, life lessons, and kitchen confidence. When some of the blogs I’ve loved in the past began to look more like review sites, littered with products and sponsored posts, I lost interest. It seemed less personal, less important, and less authentic.

I say all this so that when I start squealing like a fangirl about Ghirardelli in a moment, you know that it’s coming from me, Julie, who doesn’t do product reviews without a really great reason (and who may or may not have stress-eaten about 3 of these Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate bars before my first Willow Bird Baking Challenge hangout the other week. No comment.)

But seriously, I’m an old-school Ghirardelli lover. After watching America’s Test Kitchen choose their 60% cacao chips in a taste-test years ago, I tried them for myself and was hooked. I now use them in almost every recipe calling for chocolate. That’s pretty normal. Taking touristy photos of their Willy-Wonka-esque factory in San Francisco like I was on a flippin’ pilgrimage probably isn’t.

Regarding that stress-eating, by the way . . . Ghirardelli wants me to tell you about how the Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolates can help you to create a perfect moment in your day. The moments I can tell you about are as follows:

-Um, that stress-eating incident.

-When Mike and I stood at the counter and taste-tested every. single. one. of the seven chocolate bars Ghirardelli sent me. And then retested them repeatedly like they were incorrigible schoolchildren.

-That one night when Mike and I piled a truckload of ice cream into a bowl with some Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate squares so that I could prove to him that they were better when not combined with something cold (what, you’ve never proven something by contradiction? I suffer for science.)

-The morning where I didn’t have anything left for breakfast so I ate a metric ton of chocolate, pretzels, dates, and leftover toasted coconut and pecans.

These aren’t exactly your typical “perfect” moments. They’re more your typical frazzled-schoolteacher-with-a-few-minutes-to-eat-as-much-chocolate-as-possible moments.

However imperfect the moments might have been, the chocolate was perfect. Smooth and rich, the taste lingers on your tongue (as long as it’s warm, Mike) and pairs perfectly with so many different treats. I guess that’s why the chocolate itself can serve as an oasis in the midst of a chaotic day. A moment of perfection even within the imperfection, you might say?

I can’t wait to use the rest of my Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolates in lots of amazing recipes. In the meantime, here’s a fun way you can enjoy them: paired with salty pretzel rods, juicy dates, toasted coconut, and toasted pecans. Breakfast of champions…?

Dessert Smörgåsbord with Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolates

Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: as many servings as you’d like!

I call this a dessert smörgåsbord, but if I’m going to be real, I had this for breakfast the other day. The point is, these foods pair beautifully with Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolates any time of day.

Salted pretzel rods
toasted coconut
toasted pecans
a Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate bar (I prefer the 60% cacao Evening Dream, but Hazelnut Heaven, Toffee Interlude, and Sea Salt Soirée are close behind!)

Hunt and peck your way through the dessert smörgåsbord, combining and alternating flavors. I always advise to eat Ghirardelli chocolate with a warm drink or none at all — cold foods/drinks drastically change the experience by preventing some of the melt that occurs when you chew. That’s where all the flavor is! So avoid cold milk and ice cream with your dessert buffet.

Illustrating my love for Ghirardelli’s 60% Cacao chocolate: here are all the recipes where I’ve mentioned it on Willow Bird Baking!

1. German Chocolate Cheesecake
2. Fauxstess Cupcakes
3. Chocolate Coconut Cream Pie Bars
4. Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles
5. Coffee Mousse Filled Double Chocolate Chunk Cookie Sandwiches
6. Magic Bars
7. Cannoli
8. Brownie-Bottom Coconut Chocolate Cream Cake
9. Chocolatey Red Velvet Pull-Apart Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze
10. Salted Caramel Mocha Hot Chocolate

This post is brought to you by Ghirardelli Intense Dark™ Chocolate. While I was compensated for my time and groceries and provided with lots of delicious chocolate, I never, ever share products with you that I’m not personally exuberant about, and that’s a promise!


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