Manda Cooks: Zucchini Muffins

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Zucchini has been in our CSA haul for the past few weeks straight. I’m not complaining – zucchini is surprisingly easy to work into just about any dinner dish. We’ve had pasta with zucchini, lemon and parm, zucchini and corn fritters, zucchini stir fry and zucchini quesadillas. This morning I woke up at 9, found one last lonely zucchini in my fridge (in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer, duh), and found myself with just enough time to make zucchini muffins to bring with me to a baby shower at noon. I should have made them yesterday, because zucchini bread falls into the category of fruit-based baked goods that get better with age (true of banana bread, pumpkin, bread, apple cake… day three is the best, if you can make it last that long). But morning-of zucchini bread eaten just two hours after baking is also delicious, and nobody complained. I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe – she has a love affair with zucchini, so I trust her completely when it comes to this (and have added this and this to my list for obvious reasons). I’ve spelled it out again below, so that I’ll remember where I landed for next time.

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Here’s what you’ll need:

3 large eggs
1/2 cup melted butter and 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
2 cups grated, packed zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour

Here’s what you do:

Preheat over to 350F. Whisk eggs, butter, oil, sugar and vanilla together until combined. Whisk in cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir in zucchini then fold in flour until just combined. Pour into muffin tins – you can get pretty close to the top here, as these rise perfectly. I got 20 muffins in the end (only 19 made it to the baby shower because of mandatory taste testing reasons). SK says muffin baking time is 20-25 minutes, but mine were ready after 16 — keep an eye on them!

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Manda DIYs: Glitzy Prosecco “Proposals”

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There are some wedding traditions that Brett and I will be skipping — either because they’re too cheesy, or too mushy romantic, or they just don’t quite feel like us. Wedding party “proposals” can definitely veer on the edge of cheesy, but I’ll take any excuse for a craft project ; )

Brett and I knew we wanted to have our siblings stand with us when we get married, but we also wanted to find a way for our closest friends to be involved in the big day. We decided to make our siblings our traditional bridesmaids and groomsmen, and then ask our friends to be party of our “bride squad” and “groom squad”. I made monogrammed straw totes for the bridesmaids, but wanted to do something else extra for my total squad. I didn’t want to spend too much or give my squad something they wouldn’t really use… so the obvious choice was to cover mini bottles of prosecco in glitter, duh! Inexpensive, easy and consumable.

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You’ll need:

mini prosecco bottles
paint tape
adhesive spray – I used this
three colors of glitter – I used this brand
acrylic sealer gloss – I used this

Use the paint tape to cover the top section of the bottle. Hold the bottle at the tape-covered neck and rotate it as you cover it with the adhesive spray, and continue to rotate as you sprinkle glitter from the top down. You have to move somewhat quickly, but glitter is forgiving so you definitely don’t have to try to be perfect. Once you’re finished glittering, give the bottle another all-over spray with acrylic sealer. This is optional, but helps the glitter stay put (sort of).

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Manda Travels: Cuba!

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Two weeks ago Brett and I spent a long weekend in Cuba thanks to my older brother, who gave us the flights as an engagement gift. We spent two nights in Old Havana and our third night in Guanabo, a beach town about 30 minutes from Havana. Cuba was unlike any place I have ever been — it was colorful, hot and weird but welcoming.

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We stayed in two different airbnbs and both were comfortable but without any frills, which is exactly what we expected. Our hosts were so friendly and helpful – they arranged taxis for us, made dinner reservations and were available for anything we needed (including when the water stopped working on our first day, and when the power went out on our second day – part of the charm of Havana!) The hotels that we were looking at didn’t have great reviews and were much more expensive than our airbnbs (which were $35/night and $17/night!) — we also were able to walk everywhere we needed, which was nice and convenient.

Cuba has a few “inconveniences” that are easy enough to work around in advance. There isn’t any cell service, and wifi isn’t widely available — I called my phone my “camera” the whole time. We did a bunch of research in advance on restaurants and site seeing. There is a map app that allows you to save a map to your phone, but we actually used a paper map from a guidebook the whole time, which felt fittingly old-school. There aren’t any traditional grocery stores, but you can buy water or beer from little counters in town (that also sell a few other random items like canned corn, tuna fish and rolls).

Cuba also operates only on cash, and there is an extra fee to exchange into their currency from US dollars. We brought euros with us instead, which we exchanged into CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) at the airport and then a second time at a bank in town. We had to wait about 45 minutes at the bank — if you can plan out your budget for a single exchange, I’d recommend just doing it all at the airport. We spent about 100 CUC/day ($100), plus another 100 on the driving tour we did.

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Our favorite eats:
361 – a cute bar/restaurant next door to our airbnb
Dona Eutimia – one of “the best” restaurants in Old Havana, apparently! our host made us the reservation here — it’s at the end of a small alleyway and surrounded by other small restaurants. We had ropa vieja, a giant avocado filled with shrimp and frozen mojitos.
El Cocinero – we had dinner here Saturday night and it definitely had a vacation vibe. The host stand apparently didn’t have our reservation (or the reservation for the group in front of us…) but they managed to seat us anyway. El Cocinero is in a cool old building that use to be an oil factory — we ate outside on the cute rooftop terrace. The food and drinks were great. After dinner we went next door to the Fabrica de Arte Cubano – a super trendy, VERY Brooklyn, art factory and bar.

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Our favorite drinks:
La Bodeguita del Medio – Hemingway’s favorite mojito bar! Super small and crowded, so we grabbed our drinks and enjoyed them outside on the street. Not the best mojito, but a fun crowd and live music, so worth the experience.
El Floridita – Hemingway’s favorite daquiri bar! Also fun and crowded. The shades are all drawn, so it was dark but cool.
Plus we got a surprisingly good and refreshing pina colada inside a pineapple from a street cart – we really embraced the whole “we’re tourists!” thing, in case you couldn’t tell.

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And, of course, we tried three different coffee places:
*iced coffee is a foreign thing there, we ordered it at each place, but were served three different versions. As with everything in Havana, just go with the flow.
Cafe Bohemia – a cute cafe tucked away from the main square in Plaza Vieja. Was my favorite setting, but a little hot because it didn’t get much air flow!
Cafe El Escorial – another place in Plaza Vieja, but on the main square. Good people watching, but wasn’t our favorite.
Cafe O’Reilly – this was the only place we found that was a) open early and b) served breakfast! A cute place, reminded me of New Orleans.

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And how we killed time between meals 😉
We did a 90 minute driving tour with a guide recommended by a friend – he picked us up in Old Havana, drove us to the Morro Castle, then along El Malecon and through the neighborhoods of Havana.
Museum of the Revolution – Brett described this as “highly mediocre” and I couldn’t agree more! This can be skipped.
Playing Card Museum – a cute, free museum in Plaza Vieja, was fun for a quick walk-through
Walked around Central Park, Capital Building and “Jurassic Park” (a place where a bunch of old cars park!)
Played bananagrams and read books 😉

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Our night in Guanabo was so different from our time in Old Havana, it was great to have the contrast. It’s a beach town filled with Cuban tourists – we definitely stuck out, but everyone was really friendly. One guy even introduced himself and shook my hand on the beach! Our airbnb host used to own a restaurant and cooked us breakfast on our last morning – was one of our favorite meals of the trip! For dinner the night before we ate at Chicken Little – the “best restaurant” in Guanabo. But in classic Cuban style they were out of chicken! We had fish instead 🙂

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