Pink Wings

Patriotic Flower Cookies

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CelebratewithM #CollectiveBias

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that supporting the troops is a cause that is close to my heart. I have been part of a family with close military ties my entire life. I grew up a military brat, my pops being in the Army, and us moving every year or so. And I loved listening to my Grandpa's stories from WWII, especially one about him hearing something in the bushes while everyone was sleeping, almost throwing a grenade, but then seeing that it was just a donkey. Or how, because he'd lost his leg in the war, he would shock people while visiting my mother's homeland of Korea, because while everyone else was taking off their shoes before entering a house, he was taking off his entire leg. Haha.

It's definitely not always fun stories to be had being in a military family. Everyone suffers huge disappoints at some point, inexplicable assignments, unexpected separations, etc. We have a family member who just left for another long deployment in an even less desirable place than last time. I'm already thinking of ideas for packages to send. My top favorite thing to send is treats from our travels, aka chocolates, but I've had some unfortunate incidents in the past (eg a large bag of chocolates from Hawaii arriving in a big melted mess. Not smart on my part, it was summer....). So I've learned a bit since then. There is one chocolate I know for sure I can send, the ol' "melts in your mouth, not in your hand" one. Did you know that M&M's® were actually originally made for the troops? During WWII they were sold exclusively to the military, and they still do a great job supporting the troops. Just another reason I adore being a Mars ambassador. This year they are doing a "1 for You, 1 for the Troops" promotion. For every bag of M&M's® you buy at Walmart, they will donate a bag to the troops. But keep in mind this is only at Walmart, so make sure you buy your bags there. You can also make donations and print gift cards on the Walmart site as other ways to support the troops, and there will be in-store demos talking about the promotion, so check out if they're coming to your local store.

I have been on a sugar cookie rampage lately, and I amped them up in this recipe. I threw some chopped M&M's® into my go-to cookie recipe for added flavor and a patriotic look, and the M&M's® served as perfect little flower centers. I love how they turned out. Check out my video and recipe below! Do you guys have any fun military stories or creative ways to support the troops? If you want more ideas, find some HERE.

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Patriotic Flower Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen

Cookies:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp milk
  • 1/2 cup M&M's® Red, White & Blue Milk Chocolate, chopped small
Icing:
  • 2.5 Tbsp meringue powder
  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 lb. powdered sugar + more for rolling cookies
  • red and blue gel food coloring


Directions:

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the egg and milk. On low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. Then add chopped M&M's®.

Shape the dough into two discs, cover them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 375F. Prep two pans with silicon mats or parchment paper

Dust a clean surface with powdered sugar. Remove one disc from the fridge and roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick. Use flower cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Place at least an inch apart on your pans. Bake one sheet at a time, for about 9 minutes until the cookies start to turn golden around the edges. Let cool completely.

For the icing:
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment combine the warm water and meringue powder. Add the cream of tartar. Change to the paddle attachment and add the powdered sugar at once. Mix on slow for 10 minutes, scraping the sides once or twice. Test your icing to see if the consistency is just right. This is my favorite icing tip. Add more water or powdered sugar as needed.

Separate the icing into three separate bowls. Add red food coloring to one, and blue coloring to one. Mix well, and avoid creating bubbles.

Fit a pastry bag with a plain #3 tip to flood cookies. Let them dry for about 30 minutes or overnight, the use a plain #1 tip for finer details, and add an M&M's® to the middle for your flower center. Place a wet towel over icing that you're not using to keep it from drying out. Once decorated, let cookies dry overnight.



Sugar cookie recipe adapted from Alton. Icing recipe adapted from Sweetopia

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Cat Hats Tutorial

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #NutrishCatCrafts #CollectiveBias

My little fur babies were adopted around this time of year. I couldn't tell you the dates, but we had just graduated college and moved to Texas. One or two weeks after moving, hubby had to leave for a month-long training. I was sad to be left behind in the tiniest town I'd ever lived in, and to be apart from my hubs for so long, so it was the perfect time to adopt cats like we had always talked about. My little Hana (flower in Japanese), the wild tabby, was just a baby and such a handful. We chose her because she seemed the most desperate to get out of her cage, and turns out she is an avid meower. She was so tiny when we adopted her that hubby could fit her into his side pocket, and she liked to sleep on his shoulder when he was resting on the couch. Kuro (black in Japanese) was slightly older when we got him, and the reason we liked him was because he has six toes and they are so cute. Sometimes he is our little panther boy, other times he looks like Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon.

Now as much as I love my fur babies, I've never thrown them a birthday party before. But this was an excuse to get them into cat hats, snap a picture, and laugh my head off at how cute they are, so I had to do it. Since special days call for special food, I grabbed Rachael Ray™ Nutrish®, both the wet (Grain Free Wet Food for Cats) and dry (Zero Grain Food for Cats) food. We always talked about how much we spoil our cats, but after this cat-day party I really don't know if we did. This cat food is legit. When I popped open a thing of the wet food to bribe them into posing for a photo, I was amazed at how appetizing it looked. It was literally chunks of distinguishable, real foods like fish, etc. Rachael Ray™ Nutrish® is inspired by recipes from her own kitchen, and uses very wholesome ingredients, the number one ingredient always being either US farm-raised chicken or fish with absolutely no fillers, meat by-products, grains, or artificial preservatives/flavors. Sounds better than my own food. And my cats were very "helpful" as I took my photos, scarfing this food every chance they got. I fed them the Ocean Fish & Chicken Catch-iatore to get them to pose for my photo, and it did a spectacular job of holding their attention despite there being a scary UPS guy outside the window dropping off a package.

Just looking at the food labels on Rachael Ray™ Nutrish® made me feel slightly ashamed of whatever I've been feeding my cats up till now. On top of first-class cat food, did you know that Rachael Ray™ donates all of her personal proceeds to Rachael's Rescue to shelter pets in need and supply them with food and medical supplies and treatments? So far she's donated over $14 million. Cray. That is definitely something I can get behind.

I grabbed my food at Walmart and they had a good selection, but you can find out where to get it near you HERE. You can also order it on Amazon.com.

I'm so happy I got to work with Rachael Ray™ Nutrish® on this post because both my cats and I have become big fans. Who else is a cat lover? Have you tried this stuff?? (Because you should.) And do you do any funny things for your fur babies? Find out so many more ways to spoil and be good to your cats HERE.

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How to Make Cat Hats:

What You Need:
  • Mid-weight paper like cardstock
  • Tassels
  • Decorative ribbon
  • Elastic
  • Glue gun
  • Double-sided tape
  • Regular transparent tape
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • This template

Directions:

1. Print and cut out the template.

2. Trace your template onto the back of some fancy paper and cut it out.

3. Glue a tassel onto the top corner of your hat.

4. Pre-bend the hat so that it's easier to tape together.

5. Place double-sided tape along one edge, almost to the top.

6. Attach hat at the seams. Place tape on the inside to reinforce.

7. Measure and cut 7 inches (do more or less depending on your cat) of elastic and staple to the inside of your hat.

8. Use hot glue to decorate the bottom of the hat with ribbon, covering the staples.

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Monterey + Big Sur: Top 10 Things to Do

Last weekend we had the chance to go camping in Big Sur. For the past few weeks we'd been stocking up on gear, so it was the perfect opportunity. The thing about Big Sur is that it's different from the coast slightly north in San Francisco, Point Reyes, etc. In Big Sur you get a gorgeous mix of beautiful beaches, mountains, coastal cliffs, and Redwoods all at once, so it's a totally new experience. On the way down to Big Sur is Monterey, which we'd been to a couple of times and did every last touristy thing there, but this was our first time making it further south. We left in the morning and timed it so that we would end up in Monterey for lunch at our favorite spot, then dessert at our favorite bakery there, then continued on. This area is one of my favorites to visit, so today I'm sharing my guide to Monterey County, aka my top ten things to do in Monterey and Big Sur. Check it out, and follow along on Instagram for more #Monterey adventure photos with the hashtag #GrabYourMoment:

1. Grab lunch at Caffe Trieste. Or brunch. Or dinner. They have the best spaghetti marinara I've ever eaten. Hubs always gets some version of their french toast which also never disappoints.

2. Dessert at Parker-Lusseau Bakery. A sweet little bakery run by a French couple, they have a plethora of little French entremets and pastries. I recommend their passion fruit-white chocolate cake, and their almond croissants are to die for.

3. Do the 17-mile drive to take in all the coastal beauty. It's worth the strange fee that they charge at the beginning of the drive. Or if you're going to Big Sur...just drive to Big Sur. Plenty of gorgeous lookout points to be had along the way, and you will definitely want to stop at least a few times, so give your drive a good allotment of time.

4. Fisherman's Wharf to see the sea lions. 

5. Camp in Big Sur. Many of the camp sites are booked months and months in advance for the weekends, but there are also many places that offer walkup-only sites, which are basically first come first serve. Hubby and I rolled into Pfieffer State Park's campgrounds around 5pm on a Saturday and they totally had a spot for us. So even if your trip is last minute, give it a try. If not, our back-up plan was to spend the night in Monterey. For reference, Pfieffer's sites cost $35, it's $1 per shower token which last for 3 minutes each, and the firewood bundles were $10 each. Not one of the cheaper sites, but we enjoyed it very much. Also have heard wonderful things about Big Sur Campground and their apparently spotless bathrooms. Or if you're my brother-in-law, just walk up a hill and sleep on the ground.

6. Check out McWay Falls. You can't go down to see it up close, but they offer a lovely trail overlooking the falls and beach below. It's exactly the kind of little paradise that you imagine buried treasure to be hidden.

7. Bixby Bridge. Take in it's glory, snap a shot, and continue on your journey.

8. Picnic on the beach. These are not warm, sunny SoCal beaches, but they are just as fun to enjoy your treats on. Bundle up in a blanket, bring some hot chocolate and snacks, and enjoy the cool breeze.

9. Monterey Bay Aquarium. Hubby and I love animals, and this is a very cool aquarium. It is quite pricey, so be on the lookout for coupons. I believe we bought coupons with a military discount. But you can win free tickets by commenting on this post! See the deets below.

10. Cannery Row. A lovely street of quaint boutiques, restaurants and such. A good place to end up around dinner time.

Have you been to any of these spots before? If not, definitely plan a trip soon, especially with this nice weather, and remember to hashtag your photos with #Monterey and #GrabYourMoment.

Thanks to See Monterey for sponsoring this post and giving me the chance to get back to one of my favorite places. For more travel info and ideas on what to do, check out official travel info at the See Monterey website. And to win a free pair of tickets to the Monterey Bay Aquarium: all you have to do is comment below. See Monterey will choose the top 5 comments (across all blog posts involved in this campaign) to give away tickets to, good until 7/31. That would save you a good 80 bucks, so comment away!

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Animal Buns

Have you guys ever had sweet red bean paste? It's possibly the most common filling in Asia - you'll find it in all types of breads, steamed buns, pastries, etc. The sound of it may seem strange - sweet red bean paste - but if you think about it, coffee is really hot bean juice, so we all have our oddities.

My Japanese mother-in-law always stocks me up on Japanese foods when we see her, including red bean paste. A lot of times it will sit there for months, but this time around I was determined to use it right away for something fun. And thus these animal buns were born.

The red bean paste can be found at any Asian store and I would also expect it to be in the Asian section of large grocery stores. But you can also sub out for any filling of your choice. Chocolate or custard would be just as delicious. Recipe below:


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Animal Buns
Makes 15

  • 2-1/2 cups bread flour + 3 Tbsp for roux
  • 1/2 cup water + 2 Tbsp
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 4 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk + extra for wash
  • sweet read bean filling
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa powder

Directions:

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine 3 Tbsp bread flour and 1/2 cup water. Whisk continuously until it thickens. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Whisk together 1/2 cup milk and your egg, then pour into a bread mixer. Add the roux and butter, then 2-1/2 cups bread flour, sugar and salt. Use your finger to make a small divot in the flour and pour the yeast into it so that it's not touching any wet ingredients. Set the bread mixer to the dough setting and let it run. Place your package of sweet red bean filling in the fridge so it firms up a bit.

*If you don't have a bread mixer: combine all of the ingredients, then knead either by hand or in a stand mixer with the dough hook for 10-15 minutes. Let rise in a warm, dry place for 1 hour, punch down, then let rise again for 30 minutes. 

Once the dough is ready, plop it onto a clean surface dusted with flour. Divide it into 16 even pieces and set one aside to use for animal features. Take one piece of dough and use your hands to pinch and stretch it out until it's about 1/4 inch thick. Or roll out for an even consistency. Dust a small prep bowl and place the dough inside (see photos below). Place a scoop of sweet red bean filling in the middle, and pinch closed. Place seam-down on a pan fitted with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Continue with the rest of the dough until done. 

For the animal features: roll the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Use a sharp knife to cut triangles for cat ears, roll balls for bear and pig ears. I used the back of a large pastry tip for the bear mouth, and a small pastry tip for the pig nose. Dampen the pieces with just a bit of water to attach them to your buns. Cover the buns with a tea towel and let rise for 30-60 minutes. 

Heat oven to 335F. 
Pour a bit of milk into a small bowl. Brush milk onto each bun. In a small bowl, combine 2 Tbsp cocoa powder and just slightly less than 2 Tbsp water to create a paste. Pour into a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip. Pipe the final details onto your buns. Bake for 15 minutes. Let cool. 


Bread recipe adapted from HERE.
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Alphabet Doughnuts

Guys. Have you been seeing alphabet doughnuts everywhere like I have? I just love them. They always seem to come from California Donuts down in LA (they're as delicious as they look btw...best yeast doughnut I've ever had) or I've also seen them come from Provo Bakery in Utah. Unfortunately I'm not very close to either. After looking everywhere for a tutorial online I found absolutely nothing. So I decided to just give it a try myself and...well they turned out not too shabby as you can see. The recipe I adapted from Pioneer Woman's glazed doughnuts is below, but here is all that I learned for your reference: 1) all I could find on short notice was these plastic alphabet cookie cutters from Michael's. They're quite small so I was very afraid that my letters would become warped and indistinguishable while rising and being fried. Not the case. A few turned out weird, but most turned out quite well, and the small imperfections are rustic and charming. 2) If you still want tighter, well-formed letters, shorten the second rising time. The doughnuts may not be as fluffy, but they still taste good (in my undeveloped tongue's opinion). And 3) try making a few of each letter you need as insurance. That way you are certain to get a really pretty one.

Now. If you looked at my photos and are wondering what SoFab is...let me tell you!

SoFab, or Social Fabric, is an awesome community of bloggers and influencers run by Collective Bias, a company that connects influencers with sponsors. I've worked with them a ton over the past year or so and they are amazeballs. They offer a SoFab University as a great resource for learning and growing your business, and also hold conferences across the country for the same reason. SoFabU OTR is what they're called (Social Fabric University on the road) and I would adore going to one. This blog post is my entry into a contest they're holding to win a trip to one of the conferences. Wish me luck! And check out my stop-motion video at the bottom or on my Instagram :)

Why I want to attend: besides being able to learn and grow my blog more, one of the downsides of blogging is not enough human interaction. There is constant interaction with people who are halfway across the world and who you will probably never meet in real life. SoFab offers an amazing support system and community of bloggers, but I love the idea of a conference that actually brings these people together to learn from each other and inspire each other face to face. Plus when people ask me about blogging it's always a foreign and strange concept and hard for me to explain. I'd love for a while to be around like-minded people who really get it.

What the experience would mean to me: Just looking at the list of Brooklyn's featured speakers is insanely exciting. Recently I was able to be an audience member for a Creative Live class on SEO. It was given by a millionaire SEO expert who contracted with very large companies, and most of the audience members were SEO consultants looking to progress the startups they were working for. There was a wealth of information given and I loved the knowledge I had attained, but when I got home I realized that a lot of it didn't really apply to a small-time blogger such as myself. So just reading the description for Alea Milham's Brooklyn class and how she plans to cater to bloggers, help us create our own growth strategy and even walk us through the SEO optimization of a personal blog post is exciting. When I started blogging I knew nothing about SEO, social media marketing, photography, etc. I have learned everything on my own and am proud of the progress I've made, but am so ready to make connections with inspiring people and soak in the knowledge I can gain at SoFabU on the Road.

What the experience will empower me to do after the conference: I'm well aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I work hard and put a lot of effort into my content, but my marketing skills need improvement. If I can learn from experts how to make my blog just a little better, get it seen more and raise my traffic even a bit, then I will consider it a huge success.

City I would like to attend: Both Chicago and Brooklyn would be amazing, but my first choice would be Brookyln.

If you're a blogger or interested in becoming one, or just interested, check out the SoFab on the Road website for more info. Here is the lineup:

Brooklyn 5/14
Chicago 7/9
Dallas 9/17
LA 10/1

Are you close to any of the conferences? LA would have been the closest for me, but we are moving by then! >.< #SoFabUOTR
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Alphabet Doughnuts

Doughnuts:
  • 1-1/8 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 pkg instant yeast (2-1/4 tsp)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1-1/4 sticks butter, melted and cooled
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • canola oil (a lot)

Glaze:
  • 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2-3 Tbsp water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (opt.)
  • food coloring
  • sprinkles

Directions:

Heat milk until it is warm, not too hot. Pour the sugar into the milk and stir to dissolve. Place yeast in a small bowl and pour the warm milk over it. Let rest for 10 minutes. 

In a separate small bowl, beat your eggs, then add your butter while mixing continuously. Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Turn to medium speed and pour in the yeast mixture. Mix for a couple of minutes until well combined. 

While still mixing, gradually add the flour about 1/2 cup at a time. Once it's all combined, mix for another 5 minutes. Scrape if needed, then mix for 30 seconds more. Let rest for 10 minutes. 

Spray a large mixing bowl with oil. Transfer your dough to the oiled bowl, then cover and refrigerate overnight. 

Prep a few cookie sheets with silicon mats or parchment paper dusted with flour. 

Lightly flour a clean surface and roll out your dough to around 1/4 inch thick. Use your alphabet cookie cutters to make letters and place them on your prepped cookie sheets. Roll together leftover scraps, let the dough rest a few minutes, then repeat until done. Cover with tea towels and let rise in a warm, dry place for at least an hour until they look fluffy. 

Before the dough is quite risen, fill a heavy-bottomed pot almost halfway with oil on your stovetop and bring the temperature to 375F. You want it to level off perfectly at 375F, so start this long before you plan on frying, and monitor the temperature well. Prep some pans or plates with paper towels for your fried doughnuts. 

Once the temperature has leveled off at 375F, place a few doughnuts into the hot oil and fry for one minute. Turn them over and fry for one more minute. Remove from oil and let rest on paper towels. Let the temperature rise back to 375F if needed, and repeat until done. 

For the glaze:
In a small mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients until smooth. Divide into three separate shallow bowls. Add food coloring as desired to each bowl. Dip the tops of your doughnuts into the glaze and immediately add sprinkles. Set aside to dry. Best eaten within the day.


Doughnut recipe adapted from Pioneer Woman.


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