DIY Birthday Box

DIY Birthday Box

If I love you, you’ll know it. I will have cooked for you, or crafted for your or both. One of my closest friends, and former coworker, moved abroad last year to start Grad School and join her fiancé in Paris. When she was still here in DC, she practically held my hand through two of the craziest years of my life, even when she had a million other things going on in her own life. And for that, I don’t think I can ever really thank her enough.

When she left to pursue her dreams, I was torn. Of course I wanted the best for her, I wanted her to become successful and stay happy, but I was also selfish. I didn’t want my close friend to leave because that would mean I wouldn’t be able to see her whenever I wanted, or go on our crazy adventures. So I sent her off with a Paris Survival Kit, complete with a Learn French on Your Commute CD pack, a photo of the two of us, some wine accessories and a really-long letter explaining what everything meant and why she needed them.

Now, a little less than a year later, it’s her birthday. And as much as I would have loved to get on the first flight to Paris, work and other obligations were standing in the way. Instead, I gathered a few things to send over in a birthday box.

The nice thing about birthday boxes, is that you can use your creativity to make them meaningful to the receiver. I usually always include cake in a jar, a card and birthday candles. Because, really what’s a birthday without cake? And it’s always nice to include something you know they’ll love … like coffee, for example.




I started with a plain white box from Michaels. It took me a while to decide how I wanted to decorate the box, but I decided to go with simplicity. Michael’s has an entire aisle dedicated to scrapbooking stickers. It’s so great, because they have so many ready-to-use themes. I picked up a couple sticker packets and ended up using two to create a simple design on the lid.

Going back to our days in DC, I remember our Friday Dunkin Coffee treats. So, at the grocery store I found packages of ground Dunkin Coffee.

South Moon Under sells this adorable mug that I bought to include in the box, and of course bought myself a matching one to use.



The card means the most to me. As a writer, I find that I can best express myself through the written word. It’s a challenge and an adventure to search the rows of birthday cards for something that says just the right thing, just the way that I want it to. A card that is a reflection of me as the giver and a reflection of the receiver. It’s an important and meaningful process. This card had to be special. Of course, I added my own note on the inside of the card as well. I always draft my thoughts out on a separate piece of paper before committing to writing on the card. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve added things in after writing my original draft. If you’re sending candles to go with the cake, it’s safest to tape them to the inside of the card. That way, they don’t break somewhere in the box.



Last, but certainly not least, the cake. Since I was sending this box from DC to Paris, I didn’t want to run into any customs issues. I filled a pretty mason jar with funfetti cake mix and sprinkles. I layered the sprinkles between the cake mix – it didn’t quite arrive layered, but at least the cake mix wasn’t all over the box.



Finally, packing it all up. I used colored tissue paper – and lots of it – to wrap up the jar and mug. I didn’t want it to get there in pieces. And I topped it all off with multi-colored confetti.

Birthday Boxes are meant to be special and tailored to the receiver. So use your own creativity to send someone best wishes on the most important day of the year to them.

Pulled Beef Tacos

Pulled Beef Tacos_2

I’ve always heard about the wonders of the crock pot. I’ve seen countless Pinterest Pins about easy crock pot meals. I’ve even heard stories about how great it is to just throw all the ingredients in there, turn it on for the day, go to work and have basically a ready meal once you get home. But I’ve never actually used a crock pot before in my life! Shocking, I know.

It’s not that I never wanted to, I guess I was always a little anxious. “What if I do it wrong?” “What if it doesn’t turn out?” “Is it really going to taste good if I just throw the ingredients in there and walk away?” That’s the internal dialogue I’ve had with myself in the past about using the crock pot.

It wasn’t until I was feeling a little adventurous that I invited the Taco Tuesday Crew (TTC for short) over for TT at my house, that I seriously considered toying with this foreign contraption. The TTC was formed about two years ago. It started off with just four girls who wanted to get together for some Mexican. And ever since then, it’s become a weekly tradition. It’s girl time, it’s where we catch up and vent and share major life events, and opinions without judgment. It’s more than just tacos on a Tuesday night. We spent a little over a year going to Café Rio because we’re obsessed with their roast beef. That’s where I got the idea to try it out myself. I think I could seriously compete with Rio – if I do say so myself!

Note to self: use the crockpot more often. It’s like magic.

Pulled Beef Tacos_4


Pulled Beef Tacos
Write a review
  1. 2-3 lbs Boneless Chuck Roast Beef
  2. 2 tablespoons Olive oil
  3. 1 ½ teaspoons Smoked Paprika
  4. 1 tablespoon Chili Powder
  5. 1 tablespoon Cumin
  6. 1 medium Onion, chopped
  7. 4 cloves Garlic, minced
  8. 1 cup Low Sodium Beef Broth
  9. 1 tablespoon Tomato Paste
  10. 1 Chipotle Pepper in Adobo Sauce
  11. Salt, to taste
  1. In a small bowl, mix together the chili powder, smoked paprika and cumin
  2. Rub the roast with the spices, covering the surface
  3. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and sear the roast on all sides (about 2-3 minutes each)
  4. Carefully remove from the skillet and place in the crockpot
  5. In a separate bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon tomato paste with 1 cup beef broth
  6. Add the garlic, onions, Chipotle pepper, remaining tablespoon of olive oil, beef broth mixture and salt to the crock pot
  7. Cook on low for 7-9 hours, until the beef is tender
  8. Once it’s done, use two forks to shred the meat
  9. Serve with your favorite taco trimmings
Measuring Cups, Optional

Nutella Cinnamon Rolls

Nutella Cinnamon Rolls_2

Last weekend – ironically on Valentine’s Day – the founder of the Ferrero company, Mr. Michele Ferrero died at age 89. Known as “the Father of Nutella” and “real life Willy Wonka,” Ferrero’s company introduced Nutella, Kinder Eggs and Ferrero Rocher, making the world a sweeter, happier place.

I have to say, I was into Nutella before it became a thing here in the U.S. over the last few years. Nutella on toast for breakfast wasn’t unheard of during my childhood and was pretty much our substitute for peanut butter; that’s not to say we didn’t stock peanut butter jars in our pantry. But let’s just say, I was sneaking spoonfuls of Nutella in the middle of the night long before the food bloggers picked it up as the latest and greatest.

In honor of this legendary man and the chocolate legacy he’s left behind, I whipped up a batch of easy Nutella Cinnamon Rolls. They’re easy because I didn’t make my own dough. Let’s be real, I used Pillsbury Crescent Roll dough and pulled together my own filling.

  Nutella Cinnamon Rolls

Nutella Cinnamon Rolls
Write a review
  1. 1 can Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
  2. 4 tablespoons Nutella
  3. 1 tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
  4. Dental Floss, for cutting the rounds
  5. Cooking Spray
  6. Muffin Pan
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F
  2. On a flat surface, unroll the dough into one large sheet
  3. Spread the nutella over the dough in an even layer, careful not to tear it. I found using a knife, as opposed to a spoon works best.
  4. Sprinkle the nutella with cinnamon
  5. Roll the dough horizontally, staring on the longest end
  6. Once you’ve rolled the dough, use the dental floss to cut the dough into 1 inch pieces. To do so, slide the floss under the roll, pull up each side of the floss, cross and pull in opposite directions. Repeat with the remaining dough.
  7. Spray your muffin pan with cooking spray and place each roll in the pan, swirl-side up
  8. Bake for 13-15 minutes
  9. Serve warm
Measuring Cups, Optional

Turkey Bacon Hearts

Turkey Bacon Hearts

Valentine’s Day has come and gone. And while everyone focuses on their significant others (boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives), Valentine’s Day is extra special in our family because it’s Tayta’s Birthday.

I’m happy to announce that Tayta, yes … halfway through her 90s, still loves celebrating her birthday. The flowers, the roses, the chocolates, the presents, the cakes, they’re all for her, and she expects it and that’s what makes Valentine’s Day so special. She’s pretty much the glue that holds all her kids and grandkids and grand-grand kids together.

So this year, we celebrated at her home. The local cousins made their rounds throughout the day, showering her with gifts. As for the other—I lost count how many –cousins, they called in from all over the world – literally from California to Australia [think, globe going east].


Adapted From here


Turkey Bacon Hearts_2


Turkey Bacon Hearts
Write a review
  1. Turkey Bacon
  2. Aluminum Foil
  3. Rimmed Baking Tray
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F
  2. Line the rimmed baking tray with aluminum foil
  3. Cut each slice of bacon horizontally, to make two long, thinner slices
  4. Then cut each vertically
  5. Assemble the bacon into heart shapes
  6. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until cooked through, but not burned
  7. Scoop up with a spatula
  8. Serve warm
Measuring Cups, Optional

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs_2

I love those mornings when I wake up to a text from my brother containing a photo and the words “make this.” Which is exactly what happened a couple days ago. We live in the same house, about two doors apart and yet I haven’t seen him in days – probably because we’re each on a different schedule. But not seeing me regularly doesn’t mean he’s forgotten that I can cook up some good dishes. Enter the random text Monday night at 11:07pm. Where do you suppose he found this photo? From the Food Porn Twitter account, where else? And of course, he expects me to drop everything and have it ready to eat at a moment’s notice.

I let him drool for a couple days before I got to experimenting and then promptly surprising him on a random Wednesday afternoon. 


Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs_3


Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs
Write a review
  1. 1 Egg, beaten
  2. 1/3 cup Italian Style Breadcrumbs
  3. 1 lb Ground Beef
  4. 1 tablespoon Onion Powder
  5. 1 tablespoon Garlic Salt
  6. 1/3 cup Parsley, chopped
  7. 2-3 Mozzarella Sticks, cut into ¼ inch pieces
  8. Cooking Spray
  1. Preheat 350
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the ground beef, onion powder, garlic salt, parsley and egg
  3. Using your hands, form rounds with the meat mixture
  4. Make a small hole in each meatball and insert one piece of mozzarella
  5. Work into a ball and repeat with the rest of the meat mixture
  6. Place on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil and greased with cooking spray
  7. Spray the meatballs with cooking spray, then
  8. Bake for 10 minutes, turn once and then cook for another 7 minutes
  9. Serve with pasta
Measuring Cups, Optional

Hareeseh [Semolina Cake]


You know that moment of excitement and apprehension when you’ve tried to bake something and you go to share it with your grandmother, certain she’s going to be so proud of your work? Well, that happened about three years ago when I first tried to make Hareeseh. I was so excited to bring her a sample of my baking that I could even envision her smiling and telling me what a great job I did.

Do you also know that moment when, instead of fulfilling your vision, she looks at it, turns to you and says “It’s a little thick. You could have made it a little thinner,” at which point you’re devastated and don’t really comprehend the rest of what she says? Yea, that happened too. But it’s okay, because it only motivated me to try again … albeit a few years later.

I’m sure she’d be proud. She’s gotten a chance to try some of my other arabic-food experiments. I love her to pieces, but she always has constructive criticism when it comes to my cooking. I am competing with the best, after all, and I don’t even come in a close second. I didn’t leave her any this time, as I baked this batch of Hareeseh for a co-worker’s birthday (yes, at my day job). It’s a good thing I made a large pyrex full, since everyone in the office had a piece – and some went back for seconds, thirds and even fourths. No worries, I won’t tell anyone who you are!

I made this one fluffy. You can make Hareeseh less fluffy by removing the baking soda from the recipe.


Hareeseh [Semolina Cake]
Write a review
  1. 3 cups fine Semolina
  2. 3/4 cup Unsalted Butter, melted
  3. 3/4 cup Sugar
  4. 1 cup plain Greek Yogurt
  5. 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  6. 1/2 cup blanched Almonds, Halved
  1. 4 cups sugar
  2. 3 cups Water
  3. Juice of 1/2 lemon
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F
  2. In a large bowl, mix the semolina, sugar and melted butter
  3. Use your hands to mix well
  4. In a separate bowl, mix baking soda with the Greek Yogurt and allow to sit for 5 minutes, until it doubles in size
  5. Add the yogurt to the semolina mix and use your hands to mix well
  6. Pour the batter in a pyrex baking dish and press down until flat -- should not be more than 1 inch thick
  7. Using a dull knife, cut squares or diamonds in the batter
  8. Place an almond half in each square/diamond
  9. Bake for 30 minutes until browned
  10. Remove from oven and pour the syrup over the entire pan while the cake is still hot (it absorbs better this way)
  12. In a small saucepan, mix together all the ingredients and stir well
  13. Bring to a boil and simmer until the syrup thickens (and can coat the tip of a metal spoon), about 30 minutes
Measuring Cups, Optional

1 2 3 30