Three is magic number.  Yes it is.  It's a magic number.  -Schoolhouse Rock

What a great three years it's been!

This past year has been so full of amazing opportunities and milestones, it's really made me step back and evaluate things - both with this blog and in my personal life. There's simply too much I want to do!  I want to keep creating beautiful desserts but I also want to start painting again.  I want to connect more with readers of this blog and with other bloggers. I want to spend more time with the people I love. I want my laundry pile to shrink. I want my bathroom to not look like a disaster area. I want to find two earrings that match.

See, this year has made me acutely aware of the balance I lack in a few areas of my life. My best friend calls me a professional plate spinner. I usually have so many things going on at once that I become extremely disorganized, my attention is divided and it's a miracle that anything gets done.  So, I've decided to end the madness and say goodbye to my day job.  It's a bittersweet decision to leave a job that I've had for nine years (and I adore my coworkers), but it's time.  I'm following my heart, and I'll be blogging full time beginning in November. I'm so excited for things to come!

Let's celebrate!

I'm not sure what it is about fall that makes me want to bake up batches of whoopie pies, but it happens every year without fail. Maybe it's because I prefer them with plenty of cinnamon and spice. Or maybe because it's my favorite portable breakfast with a hot cup of coffee on a cool morning.

The shells for this pumpkin version are perfectly cakey and soft, and the whipped cream cheese filling is absolutely cloud-like.  But I didn't stop there.

Childhood memories, funnel cakes and glitter. 
Put all those things in a mason jar and shake well.  That's what it's like at the Tennessee Valley Fair. 

It's an atmosphere of happy squeals, mechanical clicks/whooshes, the smell of funnel cakes and hot sugar being spun into cotton candy. This year's take-home treats? Candied apples and a monster bag of cotton candy. 

But it wasn't enough.  I didn't get my fill of carnival food so I decided to make my own at home.

Classic candied apples are cinnamon-y, crunchy and have a slightly sticky candy coating. I have a dip-and-swirl technique which creates a thin layer of candy over the apple. This is key. No double-dipping or the candy will become an impenetrable force. And what good is that?

I'm super excited to be Dawn's guest today at Vanilla Sugar Blog. I'm sharing a cake recipe that didn't quite make it into the SprinkleBakes book - and speaking of, she's giving away two copies!  She's also put together a fun interview - check it all out HERE.

I've always been inspired by color, but after seeing the gorgeous charcoal shade that occurs naturally in black sesame confections, I've been even more inspired by its absence. (Believe it or not, the picture above is in full color!)

Black sesame paste is needed to create these cakes and can be found at most international markets. I couldn't find any locally so I made my own! The homemade paste creates a deep shade of grey and the flavor is wonderfully nutty and subtly smoky.

Life is full of contrast, and oftentimes you don't have to look too far to recognize it.  It can even pop up in a batch of cupcakes! As an artist I loved creating contrast in my paintings, and now it shows up in my baking!

con·trast  v.
To set in opposition in order to show or emphasize differences. The use of opposing elements, such as colors, forms, or lines, in proximity to produce an intensified effect in a work of art.

Lemon curd was a no-brainer for a cupcake filling. The sunny color contrasts perfectly with the inky grey cake, and the bright flavor perfectly balances the subtle smoky undertones of black sesame. This may sound a little dorky, but the finished cupcake reminds me of sunshine after the rain - both in flavor and appearance.

Remember those Fresh Flower Lollipops I made this earlier year? Well, I'm back with a brand new batch for the Etsy Weddings Blog! Pretty pink rose petals and fresh mint are perfectly suspended in delicious Bellini flavored hard candy.  Click over for updated tips and advice on making these bouquet-worthy lollies!

It wasn't so very long ago that I publicly proclaimed my love for Betty White and her lifelong work with animal rescue efforts. Shortly after that interview I received an email from Grandma's Molasses, and to my surprise they were not asking me to promote their product per se, but a worthy cause. Grandma's Molasses supports The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee by donating a hefty amount of their product yearly. It is used to entice the elephants to take their medicines by concealing the tastes with molasses. (Elephants LOVE molasses. Who knew?!)  After reading The Elephant Sanctuary's mission statement, I immediately wanted to help the effort. 

"The Elephant Sanctuary exists for two reasons:
  • To provide a haven for old, sick or needy elephants in a setting of green pastures,
    dense forests, spring-fed ponds and heated barns for cold winter nights.
  • To provide education about the crisis facing these social, sensitive, passionately intense,
    playful, complex, exceedingly intelligent and endangered creatures."

The awful truth: many of these animals have faced physical abuse, torture, and forced incarceration prior to their forever home at the sanctuary. And just like people, some elephants suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Elephant Sanctuary does an important job of rehabilitation and creates a safe place for these animals to roam free, but they need resources! As you can imagine it is very expensive to provide food and shelter to their 14 resident elephants - $133,000 a year for just one elephant!

The awesome part: you can help! Visit ElephantsLoveGrandmas.com to “adopt” an elephant! With each donation of $10 or more comes a certificate of “adoption,” a subscription to The Elephant Sanctuary’s Trunklines newsletter, a coupon for a free jar of Grandma’s Molasses, and a recipe card for Grandma’s Elephant Bread (a recipe developed by me!). With each donation of $30 or more comes all of this, plus photos and bio information about the “adopted” elephant.
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