Snowmen, Strietzel and Sleep Training

What happens to you when you’re sleep deprived? Do you turn into a zombie? Or become incredibly sensitive? For me, it’s a mix of things which came to a peak last week. When you have a baby, you expect to be really tired in the beginning and you are. New babies need round the clock care and a lot of that depends on mom if the babies are breastfed. I think in the beginning I was tired, but I must have been running on new mom adrenaline. The 2 hour feedings didn’t seem to bother me and I managed to get naps during the day when I was really exhausted. What I didn’t expect was to repeat that vicious cycle when we hit four months.

There is an evil called “sleep regressions” and they happen to a handful of babies. I only knew one friend who had a baby who had sleep troubles, the rest must have been angels (or maybe liars?), so I didn’t think much of it. Nolan was never a great sleeper. He had a crutch which was the exercise ball. He was addicted to bouncing and only fell asleep if bounced. We never intended to bounce him so much, but it was the only thing that soothed our fussy baby. Sleep deprivation makes my brain cloudy. Sometimes it’s hard to think straight and mostly I’m just unmotivated to add stress to my day (aka not going out if I don’t have to). With my cloudy head, I ruined some hard boiled eggs… twice. It’s hard to ruin a hard boiled egg since it involves only a few steps, but I forgot about one pan of them and let my water boil down to nothing, setting off the smoke alarm. The second time I set the kitchen timer but thought it was the annoying dishwasher beep and didn’t get to them immediately. Rubbery eggs = gross. Multi-tasking while sleep deprived is bad news for me apparently.

About a month ago, we lost patience with the bouncing. Our quads grew stronger and our back muscles ached. Around the three month mark, Nolan began to sleep in slightly longer stretches but showed no signs of dropping night feedings to give us a break. He was even making progress with naps longer than 30 minutes at a time, hallelujah! Jump to the four month mark and any sort of progress was tossed out the window and buried under a deep drift of snow. Coupled with a growth spurt, Nolan lost all abilities to sleep alone for more than one sleep cycle (30-40 minutes) without needing his crutch. For almost two weeks we tried repeatedly to get him to sleep in his crib and every night by around 2am he was in bed with us, sleeping on my chest. I’m pretty sure he was the only one getting good rest that way and Michael and I were going crazy. We needed this baby to sleep so that we could sleep again too! Can you tell we aren’t a co-sleeping family?

After a terrible night a week ago, we decided we had to do something. We didn’t want to project our frustrations onto each other and Nolan really needed way more sleep that he was getting. Average babies his age are supposed to sleep around 14 hours per day and he was nowhere close. Furthermore, I kept reading that kids who sleep longer have generally higher IQs and I feared that we would affect his intelligence! No joke. I read three books which all made me feel like a failure at parenting: Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child; Baby Wise; and The Baby Whisperer. We ended up using Ferber’s Progressive Waiting approach and are on day 6. Nolan is doing great and we are too! I’m still tired but I think my body is just catching up from lost sleep. We now have long stretches of sleep with minimal wake ups at night and he can soothe himself which is huge progress! I never thought we’d be able to lay him down awake in his crib to go to sleep but it is working! So if you’re out there struggling with the same sleep deprivation, please just try something. If it doesn’t work for you, try the next thing. If there is anything we can take away from this month, it’s that we aren’t alone. There are tons of other parents out there who’ve written the exact same blog posts and weaned from bouncing and swaddling and trained their kids to sleep the same way we are now. Thank goodness for the internet, and a husband who loves you when you’re cranky and want nothing more than to sit around in your sweatpants. And for progressive waiting and sleeping babies…

To celebrate all this recent sleep I’ve been much more alert during night feedings. I still have to keep myself occupied because, well, it’s the middle of the night and it’s dark and I’m holding a warm snuggly baby and sometimes I drift off with my head all crooked in the rocking chair… and even though I’ve got an oil for that, it’s important we don’t fall asleep because that might ruin our sleep training. Once I’ve exhausted facebook and instagram, I usually turn to pinterest. There are a lot of crafty Valentine images popping up in my feed. I’ve been thinking we deserve a Valentine’s Day reward for all this sleep deprivation which will come in the shape of Michael’s favorite cookie of all time, Springerles. It’s only fair because I often smell like a Springerle when i use my Fennel oil for lactation support. Hopefully the family doesn’t stage a revolt since I’m breaking a serious tradition of these cookies only being made at Christmas.

For now, please enjoy some stop-motion short films made by my lovely, and consider making some Strietzel (minus candied fruit) for your lovebird this Valentine’s Day. In a perfect world, I’d be making this for breakfast tomorrow too… maybe next year.

How To Build A Snowman
Strietzel Stop Motion


2 packages yeast or 14g by weight
1/4 C warm water
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C flour

Dissolve yeast in water in a small bowl. Add sugar and flour and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for one hour.

6 1/2 C flour
1 C butter melted
1 1/2 C milk scalded
3 egg yolks well beaten
1 tsp salt

2 C mixed candied fruits and raisins (alternately if you’re not using candied fruit, just use 1/2 to 3/4 C raisins that you plump in hot water) Candies fruit or “Citron” is easy to find around the holidays. It’s tradition to use red and green candied cherries too.

Scald the milk (185˚F) in a medium saucepan remove from heat. Stir in cold sticks of butter, set aside.

Measure about 3 C flour into a large bowl. Whisk in salt. When milk has cooled and butter is all melted, add this to the flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Add in eggs and yeast starter and stir to combine. Continue adding flour one cup at a time into the bowl with the wooden spoon until you have 5-6 cups of flour incorporated. Knead the dough in the bowl a few times until all the loose bits are incorporated into one ball. Lightly flour a worksurface and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic (not sticky), 5-8 minutes. I usually add all of the candied fruit or raisins towards the end of kneading so the fruit doesn’t escape as many times. Grease a bowl and add the dough ball, turning to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, approximately 2 hours.

Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 9 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 15″ rope.

Braid 4 strands, then three strands, then twist the remaining two strands.

Stack the 3 braid onto the 4 braid and secure with toothpicks. When stacking, I rotate the braid 180˚ so the braid is going in the opposite direction of the one below. Stack the twist on top and add more toothpicks.

Grease a cookie sheet and place the loaf in the center. Cover and let it rise again for about 30 minutes (until doubled). Preheat oven to 350˚F. Beat an egg yolk and brush top of loaf. Bake 1 hour covered with foil. I removed the foil in the last 10-15 minutes of baking. The loaf will be done when the top is golden brown and it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.


Ruffled Birthday Cake

I just turned 31. This somehow seems more profound than 30 and makes me feel like I’m getting old! But I know 31 is not really old at all and where this notion came from I’m not really sure. I was enthusiastic about turning 30 because 30 seems more respectable, especially if your client happens to ask your age. I don’t know that I’d fully trust a 28 or 29 year old to design my house (but many people did thankfully). So now that I’m 31 I decided it was time to make my own birthday cake. Gasp! But why? Well, I really love making cake and experimenting with new recipes which I don’t often do when I make cakes for other people. I also think I can beat out most bakeries in the cake department (or at least tie them) and there is no need to spend $45 on a cake for myself! Lots of people make their own cakes… especially other baker bloggers I know. So I made myself an experimental chocolate cake with a frosting technique I’ve been wanting to try for a really long time!

cake 1

Chocolate cake is hard to get right. There is an intricate balance of moist vs fluffy with just the right amount of sweetness. I’ve been attempting different chocolate cake recipes for a long time now and think this one is the winner so far. I used an intensely dark cocoa powder given to me as a gift for 2/3 of the cocoa in the recipe and it turned out amazingly dark and delicious. I also learned after 12 years with Michael that he feesl “ho hum” about chocolate cake and would actually rather eat a brownie. It’s amazing what you learn after being together for this long, especially with the amount of baked goods that come out of my kitchen. It also makes sense because I don’t think he has ever requested a chocolate cake for his birthday!

I pinned a few cakes a while ago as inspiration to try a ruffle. I would suggest using a Swiss buttercream instead of an American buttercream just because they are less sweet and a bit more shiny. Both pipe well and set up firm in the refrigerator. If you are frosting a cake that needs to be outdoors in a hot environment for a long time, maybe try a shortening based buttercream, though I think these don’t taste as good. The frosting turned out beautifully. Unfortunately there is just so much of it we ended up scraping off the ends and not eating it because it was too sweet.

So, be adventurous and try new things. No one will complain and you just might end up with a delicious and gorgeous cake in the end. Oh, and don’t be shy about baking something you want for yourself! Do however accept an invitation for someone else to bake a dessert for you on your actual birthday. We had a lovely dinner at Longman and Eagle in Logan Square for my birthday dinner and the dessert was fabulous.

cake 2

Chocolate Cake

1 ¾ C flour
1 ½ C sugar
¾ C unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 C buttermilk (or sub soy milk for dairy intolerance – see below)
½ C canola oil
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 C hot coffee

  • Preheat oven to 350˚F (or 325˚F for convection oven), grease two 9” pans, line with parchment, and set aside.
  • Sift dry ingredients together.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk eggs with buttermilk, oil and vanilla.
  • Whisk in the dry ingredients until the batter is just moistened.
  • Add the hot coffee and stir with a spatula until smooth.
  • Divide between two cake pans.
  • Bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Cakes are ready when they spring back lightly when pressed. (Convection oven cakes may be done sooner so check at 25 minutes).
  • Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
  • Refrigerate for 2 hours before frosting or freeze overnight wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.
  • To make a dairy free cake, you’ll need to substitute the buttermilk. Add 1T white vinegar to a 1 C measuring cup. Then fill the rest of the way with plain soy milk. Whisk or stir with a fork to combine. For the best consistency, refrigerate for 3 hours before using.

How to make Frosting Ruffles using your favorite buttercream

  • You’ll need about 8-10 cups of frosting for one double layer 9” cake
  • Frost the cake with a crumb coat and refrigerate for 20 minutes
  • Fill piping bag fitted with a #104 Petal Decorating tip. (I’ve seen these for $1.00 at JoAnn Fabric Stores).
  • Use a parchment cake pan liner (I buy mine in bulk packs) or cut a parchment to fit the size of cake you baked. Then fold the circle in half and keep folding in half until you have the desired slice size. Unfold the parchment and set it on top of the hardened crumb coat. Use a knife or dough cutter and mark the folds vertically in the frosting around the whole cake. Remove the parchment from the top, or mark the top as well if you decide to ruffle the top of the cake. For the top ruffle, stick a toothpick through the center point and remove the parchment. Then line your pastry cutter or knife with the center point and vertical line along the edge and press gently into the top of the cake frosting.
  • With your pastry bag held vertically and the large end of the decorating tip close to the cake, start piping at one side of a vertical mark and continue the width of one “slice” of cake. Fold the frosting back and forth until you reach the top and then add one to two extra folds. Continue until you have finished the entire circumference of the cake.
  • Following within the lines will make your ruffles perfectly vertical. (There are some you-tube videos of people using this frosting technique and it looks all willy nilly and slanted.)
  • You can continue the folds across the top of the cake to the center point if you marked the top, or you can frost the top using concentric circles as I did. It’s easiest to do this with a turntable, but if you don’t have one (I don’t!) then just spin the cake stand in one hand and keep the piping bag in the other. Always keep the large end of the piping tip next to the cake.

ruffle tutorial


When pregnant, especially in the early weeks, most people try and keep it a secret and for good reason. You never know what can happen in those first precious months of creating a life. We didn’t end up telling anyone until we passed the 10 week mark and in those 10 weeks I avoided quite a few happy hours and other ‘drinking centered activities’. It actually wasn’t that hard or that bad, it would have just been an immediate clue to all of our friends that we were pregnant. The few times we did go out to dinner I think at least one of our friends figured it out…. which is why I think everyone should know a few Mocktail recipes!

Mocktails are just a fun word for virgin ‘cocktails’ and hopefully a little more creative than just leaving out the ingredient that makes an alcoholic beverage what it is. You’ll have to order from the bartender to keep it a total surprise, but hopefully your partner can help with this! It’s a fun item for non-drinkers and may send you to the grocery store craving something besides lemonade on a hot day.

Now, so you don’t have any misconceptions, I’m no heavy drinker. I do love a glass of wine with dinner, and it’s what I’ve missed most. This is the product of living an hour and a half away from wine country for eight years of life and having a fairly large collection of good wine. It’s just sitting in the cabinet waiting with me for a few more weeks. Michael is also excited to break out the bottles again because a good bottle of wine should be shared and appreciated by more than one person. I also enjoy a handful of tequila drinks and thank my Meemaw for a love of vodka (not gin) gimlets, a favorite old lady drink of mine. Because I’m weirdly in love with grapefruits I also enjoy Greyhounds, Salty Dogs (a greyhound with a salted rim) and the drink you should really order instead of a margarita when you go to Mexico, the Paloma.

We hosted a dinner at our new place recently and invited a few of Michael’s co-workers (hopefully we get to call them new friends) and old friends from college. Since there were two pregnant ladies, we requested someone bring a non-alcoholic beverage to share and oh my was it delicious. A mix of fresh squeezed lime juice, homemade simple syrup and sparkling water. It’s basically a fresh sparkling limeade but also reminds me of drinking a margarita. Tart and delicious, I will probably keep making these long beyond pregnancy. They would be a perfect addition to any summer BBQ.

Sparkling Limeade

And then there is the grapefruit obsession again. I frequently have grapefruit juice on hand. I like that it’s not as sweet as orange juice or apple juice which may surprise you since I have a major sweet tooth (or a full set of sweet pearly whites). If we were going out for drinks and I knew the bar had fresh squeezed grapefruit juice (thank you San Francisco for meeting all expectations in cocktail making) I’d just order a juice. Sometimes it was about the same price as a cheap well drink but what did I care? It was delicious and made me happier than just drinking water all of the time. In honor of my love for grapefruit and Palomas, I made this Mocktail to share.

grapefruit fizz

There really is no limit when it comes to inventing a new drink. Make your own simple syrups, muddle up some fresh fruit and create something great. Now, go out and enjoy a fresh sparkling beverage whether you’re pregnant or not.




Eating our way through Prague

If you remember about two months ago I posted about Vienna. I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve written a new post, but then again we’ve been in a whirlwind since then. As promised I’ll update you on … Continue reading

Eating Our Way Through Vienna

It’s been too long since my last post! Things are shaking up in the Townsend household but I’ll share more on that as soon as we’re finished with Europe. Until then, let’s travel to Vienna for the next few minutes.

Mumok Museum

After a 15 minute walk from the train station Wein Westbahnhof, we arrived at our AirBnB apartment in the Neubau (7th district). The apartment was located on Burgasse Street just west of the Museum Quarter.  It was a great location to access most of the city. We just ended a fabulous stay in Budapest, and Vienna was the 5th City/Country on our journey. After settling in to the apartment, we headed out to the Museum Quarter since it was just a five minute walk from the apartment. We stopped at a restaurant to check out a menu for later during the week and walked another ten minutes to a little market for a snack. Naschmarkt is a small permanent outdoor market with retailers, food vendors, flower shops, wine and beer, and gift shops. We were a little apprehensive for our first German encounter. I learned some special all-encompassing phrases like Bitte which can mean please, here you go, you’re welcome, pardon, may I help you and probably a slew of other things I don’t know. We wanted to order cheese and bread for a snack and decided on the cheese and salumi shop with young bearded men instead of the one across the aisle with older more rigid looking Viennese women. A good choice for us since I started with a rambling I don’t speak German… and he helped us select a not too stinky cheese to eat with our olive bread.


Maria-Theresien Platz


If you visit Vienna, there is no way you can leave without trying a street vendor sausage. These beauties are gigantic and perfectly packed into a roll. The roll is genius. They slice off the corner and place the cut side down over a metal rod. This creates a hole inside that they pump ketchup or mustard into and then slide the sausage in. They tuck the roll top back inside and hand it to you wrapped in a napkin. Amazing. Also delicious and mess free. No crooked-neck-hot-dog-eating for us. We tried them first at Bitzinger Wurstelstand and then at another random stand while we were shopping another day. Some stands also sell pickles and you should probably eat them too. Why? Because pickles are great! They also sell sausages without the bread, sliced on a plate that you eat with tiny forks. A lot of stands also sell beers so grab one and sip it while you enjoy a sausage (sorry vegetarians, I don’t know what is offered instead).

Sausage Lineup

Unfortunate Product Placement

Afternoon Snack

Michael and I decided to make Vienna a stop on our trip because his mom’s side of the family is of Austrian descent. His family has a few traditions that they have carried on since his great great grandparents immigrated to the United States and settled in Kansas. One of those traditions is a Christmas Bread called Strietzel. The bread is dense and sweet and is made with candied fruits (like the kind in fruitcake). We wanted to find out if you could get Strietzel any time of year and the answer was yes. The bread in Vienna didn’t have candied fruit, but the loaf was braided and came with toppings like almond slices, pearl sugar, and plain. One of the bakeries said that the candied fruit only came at Christmas and was called Stollen. Strietzel probably means different things depending on your region. I could get used to eating fruitless strietzel any time of year.

Hunting for Strietzel

We had cake and coffee at Demel. “Coffee Shops” in Vienna are very common. Not at all like their namesake in Amsterdam, these cafes serve coffee and pastries all day long. Demel had a huge assortment of freshly prepared pastries, canned jams and sauces, cookies, and expertly packed chocolates all made in house. After eating we walked to St Stephens’s Basilica. The church was undergoing some restoration to remove years of pollution causing the exterior to turn black. The restoration has reclaimed a majority of the Gothic Cathedral which shines white once again. The roof is immaculately tiled, depicting the double headed eagle which is a symbol of the Hapsburg dynasty.

Boxes of Delicious

Morning Snack

Facade Texture

In Need of TLC

Tall and Skinny

We wandered into Stadtpark, admired some flowers and the shear cleanliness of everything and plopped down in the grass to read a while. It was late afternoon and the sun felt nice and warm. We watched kids chase and feed ducks at the pond and left when the sun started to set. In addition to everything being clean in Vienna, this city has a ton of free public restrooms. They were also much cleaner than you might expect for a public toilet, just don’t forget your hand sanitizer.

Evening Falls

On our way home we stopped for a beer. After three weeks of traveling I was learning to embrace the lighter beers. After our happy hour we walked back to Museumplatz for dinner at Glacis Beisl. We didn’t have a reservation but were still seated almost immediately. I had fish and Michael tried authentic Viennese cuisine. For his starter he ate Clear Beef Soup, a beef broth based soup with some veggies. He also tried goulash since he’d never had this before. All of the food was great and we were stuffed once again.

Sampling Austria's Beverages

The next morning we decided to try out the City Bike program. All across Vienna there are stations with bikes you can check out and ride around town. Think of it like a library for bikes. The first hour is always free and each additional hour after that costs a few dollars. We picked up our bikes near the apartment and rode to a new coffee shop Michael read about, Caffé Couture. It’s across from the University at Garnisongasse 18, 1090. When we went, the concept was weird and there were no prices. You basically paid a price you thought the coffee was worth. Whew, not great since we didn’t know the going rate of a cappuccino or latte in Vienna. It was good and I think we offered around 3.50 Euros each. Not the best business model, but they are still around and have good reviews. Maybe you can go check it out and report back to let us know if they have set prices now. 

Window Seat


From coffee we headed out on a self guided bike tour of the Danube. We bought a loaf of pearl sugar coated Stritzel from a random bakery along the road and took the opportunity to use the restroom. It’s really essential to make these pit stops when you’re out for the whole day. There is a fairly well maintained bike path along the Danube but the river is not as celebrated as it is in Budapest.


We exchanged our bikes near the Hundertwasserhaus. This is an iconic piece of architecture that you might have seen before. Friedensreich Hundertwasser was a jewish born artist who in the 1950’s got into architecture. He approached architecture much like his art, stating that “an uneven floor is like a melody to the feet”. We may not all agree that undulating floors are melodic, but we should agree that this apartment building is quirky and inspiring. We had a simple lunch nearby at Cafe Menta. There are not a lot of choices near the complex but this cafe did not disappoint.


Curry Soup

We continued on our bike ride to Prater Park. I was really hoping to find a pasture with horses hidden in the park (I read about this on a random blog) but we either didn’t ride far enough or went along the wrong path. The Park is humongous! We only covered a small portion with our bikes before we spent some more time reading in the grass. We returned our bikes near the Amusement park entrance and happened upon an Octoberfest. Michael and I stood out among the thousands of people all dressed in lederhosen while sharing a gigantic beer. The only attraction I requested was to ride the giant Ferris Wheel. The Wheel is called Weiner Riesenrad and was built in 1897. It ranks among the world’s tallest ferris wheels standing at 212’tall. It was the tallest until 1985 (intermittently while others were built and demolished) when Japan built a 279′ wheel. We timed our ride perfectly with sunset and Michael captured some great photos overlooking the whole city. You get a real sense of how green the city is from 200′ in the air.

Bike Share

Beer Tent

giant beers

We checked out bikes again for the ride back home. By this time we were pros. We’d pick out the color we wanted along with a good corresponding seat height (since you didn’t want to spend a lot of time adjusting), click a few buttons at the machine and grab a bike. Michael was not very adventurous in his bike selection since he always picked silver. Boring! I on the other hand rode every color bike available, changing each time we checked on in and out. They came in yellow, orange, blue, purple and silver. The city is built for biking with separated bike paths or bike friendly roads. I believe the cars are quite used to bikes everywhere so we felt very safe riding. It’s definitely more dangerous to commute by bike in San Francisco, so riding without helmets seemed not as crazy. On our way home we rode to Burger de Ville located at the 25 Hours Hotel. They had opened the food truck/trailer earlier that year and it was pretty delicious. There are picnic tables and some two and four tops in the garden just outside of the airstream trailer. Burgers were great, beers weren’t over priced, and it was a beautiful night to sit outside for dinner.

25 Hours Burgers

The next morning we started off looking for good bakeries and bought bread from Joseph-Brot Bakery, and an almond topped strietzel from Aida (it’s a franchise in the city but it’s still good and easily recognizable in all pink). We had coffee and ate some strietzel before walking around the city looking for something we might be able to bring back for Michael’s grandparents. We wanted to get them a present since his ancestors are from Austria (they came on the Mayflower!). What we learned via Michael’s Aunt Tracy is that they are from a town located in modern day Czech Republic which was once part of the Austro Hungarian Empire. Most every holiday tradition that his family has kept stems from Austrian roots and finding the right present proved exceptionally difficult. We almost bought the equivalent of an encyclopedia on the history of the town his family came from but it was written in old German dialect. Michael’s grandfather only reads and speaks a little german and who knows how easy an old dialect would be to read… so we didn’t buy that gift and came back from Vienna empty handed. We do have something in the works though!

Josehp-Brot Bakery


Books in German

It was mid afternoon when we decided to hop back on the bikes and ride to the photography museum Westlicht. They had an amazing collection of Leica Cameras, one of the biggest traveling exhibits in the world that they were about to auction off! The main feature was World Press Photo Exhibition. This collection of photos was serious. Some photos showed incredible emotion some were just really difficult to look at. A few were quirky and happy, but a majority covered events that people don’t normally hear about or see photos from. After the exhibit it was time for more cheese and then a 20 minute bike ride to the Schonbrunn Palace on the outskirts of town. It’s like Vienna’s version of Versailles. We made it just in time to get into the gardens before closing, took some silly photos and hiked to the top. We ended the night reflecting on our trip at the top of the garden and Michael took a few more photos after the sun set and all of the lights came on at the Schonbrunn Gloriette.


Leicas for Auction

World Press Photo Exhibition

We had a fantastic time in Vienna and the weather was pleasant. It’s amazing how bikeable the city is and how easy and quick it was to get around. If you’re not the biking type, there is also a great deal of public transportation to shuttle you around and when all else fails, walking is pretty easy since Vienna is not to hilly.

Gardens are for Dancing

Lean In

Schonbrunn Gloriette

Yellow Light

Next we head to Prague for our final stop on this glorious recount of our travels through Europe.

Be sure to check out Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris Part 1 and Part 2, and Budapest! And as always feel free to check out the rest of our vacation photos on Michael’s Flickr. Thanks for visiting!