Favorite Things

Favorite Thingsfavorite-things

| adorable Christmas Light Cupcakes |

Happy Friday! I hope that you had a great week and have fun plans for the weekend. We’re getting our tree this weekend and I will be putting the finishing touches on my holiday gift guides starting on Monday. It is the season for giving – so there will be some giveaways this month too! Don’t forget to take advantage of an exclusive discount for CT in Style readers. You can give a beautiful, personalized holiday gift by getting a photo or digital artwork framed at Frame it Easy. Use code CTINSTYLE16 during checkout to enjoy 10% off your order. Frame it Easy turns their orders around quickly, so you should be able to get it in time for Christmas. The coupon is good until the end of the year.

There is one gift on my holiday gift guide that I can’t wait until next week to share with you. The reason I like it so much is because I desperately need it, and it’s not even for me!

My husband misplaces things. It is a daily occurrence. Every morning he’ll say his goodbyes and get into the car to head to work. I can see him in our driveway from the kitchen window, and I just watch him while I am sipping my coffee. A few moments later, Kerry pops out of the car and comes back inside and looks at me and says “Phone?” There are no other words like “where” or “is” or “my.” Just to keep things interesting, his phone could be anywhere. He roams around the house while he is on a business call (it helps him think) and the phone is left wherever the call happen to end. So there aren’t even any usual places where he leaves it that I can look. He’s so inventive with randomly putting things anywhere that he should be the one hiding Elf on the Shelf.

I’ve tried. I have set up valet trays for him and put them in convenient and brightly lit places. He’ll literally put his wallet next to the tray, then leave his phone behind a lamp on a table in the sunroom and put his keys in the laundry room. So you can understand that it might be a tiny bit irritating when he comes flying in the house running late for a meeting and grunts “Phone?” “Wallet?” “Keys?” and I have to say for the hundredth time, “For God’s sake, why don’t you just use the tray so we don’t have to go through this every morning?” It’s like Groundhog Day over here.

Kerry is getting Tile this year. You can read all about it here, but basically you tag all your things like your keys, phone, wallet, backpack, etc., download an app to your smartphone and as long as you are within 100 feet, the Tile will play a loud tune until you find it (and the important thing that’s attached to it). Lose your phone? Press any one of the Tiles that you have on other things, like your keys, and your phone will ring (even on silent). I only wish we had Tile years ago when Kerry lost our only set of car keys. We had to get the car towed to the dealer and it cost us $500 to get a new ignition installed with a brand new set of car keys. Two days later, our cleaning crew found the old keys under the sofa. True story.

Have a wonderful weekend! xo

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| find everything with tile |

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| simple stairway roping with eucalyptus, pine cones and ribbon |

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| this continues to be my favorite holiday front door |

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| my dining chairs are similar to this and I love the holiday swag |

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10 Tips for Staying Centered this Holiday Season

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10 tips for staying centered this holiday season10-tips-for-staying-centered-this-holiday-seaso

Happy December 1st! I attended a very fun wreath making party last night that ushered in the first official event of the holidays. It is just the beginning of many celebrations that occur during this time of year. For some, including me, it can be a stressful time and feel a bit overwhelming when your calendar starts getting packed. December brings an intensive few weeks of reconnecting with friends at festive events followed by the wonderful chill of time off from work and school to spend with family.

But, when there is too much going on I tend to feel scattered and my focus is not “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” When this starts happening, I go to my yoga mat to remind me to stay centered. But if you can’t practice yoga regularly, or if yoga just isn’t your thing, there are many other ways of staying centered this holiday season. Recently, I met with Greg Barringer, founder of ShaktiAnanda for some tips:

Ten Tips for Staying Centered This Season

  1. Writing is very therapeutic. The process of putting your thoughts and feelings down on paper helps clarify your aspirations and what’s bothering you.
  2. Embrace your Emotions. Acknowledge your feelings instead of pushing them away and build your capacity to hold the entire spectrum, from joy to sadness.
  3. Accentuate the Positive. Positivity can be miraculous. Hold onto positive thoughts by envisioning happier situations.
  4. Don’t Be Grinchy. Remember and cultivate your attitude of gratitude, love and forgiveness to connect in a fulfilling way to family and friends.
  5. Detox the Halls. Interject incense, exercise and healthy food choices into the mix. One of the very first things I do during the holiday season is plug in a Balsam & Cedar Scent Plug. The fragrance reminds me of Christmas and instantly makes me happy. Plus my entire home smells ah-mazing!
  6. Just Do You. Treat yourself to some alone time to rejuvenate your spirit. Perhaps read a great book, get a mani/pedi, meet some friends for lunch or get a massage. Do what’s best for you to make this season joyful.
  7. Reach out and Touch Someone. We long for a sense of true connection. Reach out to a friend or family member who lives too far away to travel to. You’ll both get a positive benefit from the connection!
  8. Don’t Burn the Yule Log on Both Ends. Carve out at least five minutes a day to sit quietly, meditate, relieve stress and use your breath to calm your body and mind. For me, this time is in the morning before my kiddos wake up. I pour myself some pumpkin spice coffee and sit on the window seat in our kitchen and think about nothing.
  9. Crank up the tunes. Music heals the soul. Get some sound therapy by making it a point to turn on that radio or grab your smart phone and listen to some tunes.
  10. Move. Practice yoga, tai chi, dance or take a walk. Any form of exercise will make you feel better and helps mitigate negative emotions.

Meet Greg Barringer

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| Greg Barringer |

Interested in learning more? I’ve also included my Q&A with Greg Barringer about Trends in Yoga & Meditation. If you are wondering what may be a fad or what is substance, read on to learn about Greg’s insights.

 “Mindfulness and peace are cultivated by assuming the stance of the impartial witness to your own experience.”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn

More people than ever are practicing yoga today, but what they are practicing is not necessarily yoga, and many current practices will not stand the test of time. This doesn’t mean these activities aren’t worthwhile, but they may not be leading to yoga’s true purpose: quieting the body and mind so one may connect with the true self. We’d like to help you cut through the hype. Here we share our perspective on fads versus what can be truly transformative in yoga and meditation practice.

Our intention is to share with you what we have discovered that will truly guide us in our quest to remain calm, centered, healthy, and balanced during this holiday season and beyond.  We’ve put together this Q & A and additional tips to help you stay present, jolly and bright.

Questions:

  1. What are some of the recent fads in yoga and meditation?

Aerial/Acro Yoga, Hot Barre Yoga, Underwater Yoga, Paddleboard Yoga and I’ve even heard of Pole Dancing Yoga.

I have practiced many of these, and taught some of them. I have enjoyed them, they are fun. What I’ve realized, however, is that many yoga practices are really entertainment, exercise and stretching. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s a nice way to introduce people to the fundamentals of yoga (if they don’t get hurt doing it).

My preference is to focus on methods and techniques that I believe align more closely with the true purpose of yoga which according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is the calming of the mind so people can experience their true nature of peace and interconnectedness.

Our personal practice is meant to connect us; to ourselves, to each other, and to source or a sense of the Divine (which means different things to different people). Yoga and meditation should build our capacity for more feelings and sensation, cultivate clarity, develop courage, nurture compassion, and leave us feeling both more alive and at peace.

2. Which do you feel has the most longevity and why? Which of these do you endorse?

The question to ask is, does this practice calm me? Does it leave me feeling more peaceful, more connected, more alive, and more able to be present with whatever arises?

My practice and teaching leans towards methods that facilitate calming the nervous system and your entire body. These practices help strengthen and relax muscles, soften tense shoulders and jaws, and help us slow down to achieve a quieter state of mind. We are looking to retrain the nervous system to change our response to stimuli, making us less reactive and more centered.

In my view, some of the better forms of practice are restorative yoga, hot yoga, yin yoga, kundalini yoga, vinyasa and other classes which focus on clearing the energy blocks in the body and calming the mind. There are also some nice meditative practices; Tai Chi, Qigong, Vipassana, Sound Healing – there are some good meditation apps out there!

 

3. What styles of yoga and meditation do you practice and what are the benefits of each?

I practice and share several lineages of yoga. My first real practice was Bikram Yoga, a form of hot yoga and a strong posture (asana) practice. Over a decade ago I went to Kripalu for my first teacher training. Kripalu guided me into the compassionate, psychological, and philosophical aspects of yoga. While there I met Yoganand Michael Carrol. Yoganand had been at Kripalu for twenty years, strictly following the teachings of Swami Kripalu. I moved to South Carolina and started practicing under his guidance. A few years later I went to Florida to study with Amrit Desai, the founder of Kripalu. Each of these experiences and teachers took me further into a visceral awareness of truth, our ability to be centered and at peace in the midst of everything.

In the meantime, I started practicing Kundalini Yoga. Kundalini is a holistic practice which works with raising energy and awareness, strengthening the body and nervous system, and creating balance.

And finally, I also practice Thai yoga massage. Thai yoga is a form of bodywork that uses therapeutic touch along the energy lines of the body to release tension and blocks in the body, nervous and glandular system. The practice leaves the client feeling both rejuvenated and relaxed.

I practice and share several types of meditation. The simplest form is noticing the breath. The intention of all meditation practice is similar to yoga; the calming of the mind, leading to the experience our true nature. The techniques are different and usually, but not always subtler. I practice Vipassana, a Buddhist method of observation; OSHO a dynamic form of meditation; mantra, the repetition of sound; sound healing; and yoga nidra, guided meditation.

4. What advice would you give women who are self-conscious in class? (e.g. feel self-conscious about their weight, ability, body, or feelings of competitiveness)

Swami Kripalu said, “The biggest obstacle westerners have to their enlightenment and freedom is their own self-loathing.”

Self-acceptance is the key to happiness and peace. If we can get to a place where we truly feel okay with who we are, peace will prevail in our lives. I continually reinforce with my students the practice of Ahimsa, being kind and loving with oneself, and that everyone is beautiful and divine in their own way.

Women are in a very difficult situation in our society. They are expected to be perfect moms, daughters, wives, friends, employees, and community builders, as well as being beautiful and polite. This is an impossible, unsustainable situation. Women must be kinder, more encouraging, and lenient with themselves and each other.

My intention is to create a safe space for all of us to experience our own beauty and grace; to feel sadness and joy, to allow our idiosyncrasies and our greatness. Our yoga and meditation practice is a sanctuary, a place where we can explore and be ourselves, with encouragement and non-judgement.

5. If you could leave everyone with some ideas to think about, what would they be?

Breathe. The single easiest and most profound practice is to breathe more deeply and consciously. Make peace with uncertainty, turn the unknown into a field of creative possibility.

And finally, embrace this, “Not loving myself or others is not going to work!” We are not going to solve our problems or the world’s problems by vilifying ourselves or anyone else. We must practice compassion with everyone to bring ourselves to justice, equality, and peace.

My very best wishes to you all for a very bright holiday season!

May you be safe.

May you be happy.

May you be healthy.

May you be at ease.

May you feel love for yourself and those around you this season and always.

Greg’s Background: Greg Barringer, Founder of ShaktiAnanda, is a highly trained practitioner of Yoga and Meditation, certified and registered with the Yoga Alliance (RYT). He has seen many yoga trends come and go in the over twenty years he’s explored; finding himself now on the cutting edge of the more transformative practices.

He received his initial teaching certification from the Kripalu School of Yoga, and has advanced certifications in Thai, Hatha and Kundalini. He has a BA and MBA from Boston University, spent time coaching high performance athletes and was himself a nationally ranked rower. Among many things, he worked in Human Resources at MIT. He looks to grow and explore best practices, including those learned on a recent retreat to India, and bring these experiences to his clients and students.

Greg’s intention is to elevate our consciousness, our sense of connection, and build our capacity for feeling, healing, and sensation. The benefits of practice with him include releasing blocks that keep us stuck, raising energy and awareness, strengthening the body, and enhancing the immune, circulatory, glandular, and nervous systems.

Visit www.shaktiananda.yoga for information on the benefits of therapeutic yoga and meditation. Greg can also be reached via phone at 203-722-2025. For my CT readers, Greg’s current class schedule is here.

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Have Yourself A Fashionable Holiday

CT in Style

Have Yourself a Fashionable Holiday

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If you haven’t filled up your fridge with holiday party invitations yet, trust me, they’re coming. Just like every year, your next few weeks of 2016 are going to be packed with everything from casual to semi-casual to formal holiday parties. No matter if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or any other celebration, it’s inevitable that you’ll need to be ready to attend holiday parties, gatherings, family events, and even the dreaded office party.

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Thankfully, there are a few ways that you can achieve a festive and fashion-forward look, without looking overdone. Just follow a few of these simple suggestions:

Grab some sparkly accessories

Designers are certainly ramping up for the holiday season, one in particular. The selection of Guess pieces available on Lyst right now highlights several accessories that can help you celebrate the shiny, magical touches of the holiday festivities. The Women’s Volted pointed toe flats can make your toes twinkle with every step you take, and their glittery and faux-leather clutches add some sparkly side bling that make for a perfect festive bag.

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|Haute Romance Clutch |

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| GUESS Metallic Electric Party Glitter Crossbody Clutch |

You can always show your love for the season with a few pieces of jewelry. For example, the Hinged Filigree Claw Cuff looks so much like a pair of angel wings you might be tempted to use it as a Christmas tree topper. It is only $10.00! Cuffs are all the rage, and this one is so pretty and dainty.

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| Hinged Filigree Claw Cuff |

Personally, if I’m going to invest in pieces that are specific for the holidays, I like to keep it to accessories. They’re usually a little less expensive, and you can easily pass them off as year-round pieces when you pair them with other outfits.

But if you’re not a big accessory gal, there are certainly other options.

A Holiday Dress

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| GUESS Keyhole Sheath Dress |

Everyone probably has a LBD (little black dress) hanging in their closet, and they’re a classic choice for holiday events. Add a festively colored cardigan or blazer over the dress, and you’re ready for that office party in no time.

 

But if you’re looking for something new, try stepping outside of the LBD for a night, and grab a dress that’s a little more eye-catching.

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| Eci Off-the-shoulder-dress |

 

Bring on the Sequins

I love sequins! I bought a long dark blue sequin skirt for a cocktail party we hosted last year and it is hanging up next to four or five other sequin pieces I own. I like wearing a sequin tank top in the summer because of the way it catches the sunlight and adds a bit of fun for a date night. During the holidays, there is a lot of sparkle to compete with! A simple black sequin top with high waisted black pants is a gorgeous outfit for any party this year.

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| saved from Pinterest, I love this outfit and her hair |

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| OASIS Sequin Wrap Front Top |

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| Norma Kamali High Waist Palazzo Pants |

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You can always reverse it and wear stretchy sequin pants or leggings.

 

An Ugly Sweater Party

Don’t knock it just yet! Sure, they’re a trend, but ugly sweater parties are sooooo much fun! It’s the only time of the year where the tackiest outfit reigns supreme. However, it is possible to glam up an ugly sweater – so it actually looks fabulous! You’ll be hearing “You’re the only person I know who can make an ugly sweater look good.”

 

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| The Glam Snowflake |

Some of the so called “ugly holiday sweaters” these days are downright charming! Sure you can find ones adorned with bells and sweaters that light up to the beat of “Winter Wonderland,” but there are also some modestly cute ones that represent the season without making you look like a lawn ornament. Follow the guide on Bustle and you can tip the scales toward cute rather than tacky this season.the-edgy-elf

 

The Edgy Elf |

Like it or not, the holiday season is here. Christmas is just around the corner and if you follow retail rules, that means you’re already a few weeks behind on your shopping. Get out there and get your holiday fashion on!

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The Best Online Framing Store

the-best-online-framing-store

The Best Online Framing Storecatherine-and-jackson-1

| Catherine and Jackson |

One of the many things that I look forward to during the holiday season is receiving Christmas cards in the mail. The moment they arrive, I open them because I can’t wait to see the photos. Recently, my friend Kirsten told me of her tradition that I absolutely love. When she and her husband start getting cards in the mail, they tuck them all away unopened. On Christmas Eve, they light a fire, open a bottle of wine, grab their stack of cards and snuggle up together to read each card. I can totally see how much more meaningful this experience is and Kerry and I are definitely going to do it this Christmas.

Like many of my friends, I plan a family photo session at least once a year. Not only do I want the photos to use for our holiday card, I want them to frame so I can put them up in our home and for gift-giving. My family is camera-shy and a bit reluctant about these photo sessions, so this year I changed things up a little. I decided that I wasn’t going to even tell them about a photo session and see if being spontaneous would work in my favor. A lot of the tips that I wrote about in Tips For an Awesome Family Photo, still apply if you’d like to check out that blog post.

This time, I secretly planned a photo shoot for my family while we were on summer vacation at the Outer Banks, N.C. I figured that I would catch them off guard while they were relaxed and happy – and had eaten more ice cream in one week than they do all year. I told them that while we were on vacation we were going to go to a really nice restaurant and everyone had to dress up.

We went to the fabulous 1587 in Manteo, North Carolina and got seated at a table with views of the water. After our pre-dinner drinks had been served, I suggested that we take a walk outside to see the boats. My kiddos are so used to seeing me with a camera, they didn’t even notice it. After looking at the boats, I found the ideal backdrop and said to Jackson and Catherine “Let me take some pictures of you two.”

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jackson-laughing

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What unfolded was pure joy, a photographer’s dream. I’m not sure if it was my strategy to be spontaneous or if both my kiddos were just in the mood to have their photos taken. Catherine flashed me her beautiful brown eyes and a shy smile and wrapped her arms around her brother’s neck. Jackson started making wisecracks that had his sister belly laughing – which made him laugh. The entire series of pictures turned out beautifully and I could hardly wait to get them printed and framed.

I started with them in the kitchen and posted that story on Instagram (see below) but I needed to move them to our master bedroom. I know this is totally cheesey, but these are the faces that I want to fall asleep to and wake up to. I warned you it was cheesey.

 

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Here are the images of the photos in the master bedroom.

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The Best Online Framing Store

Typically, I go through the hassle of framing them myself. I order prints to pick up at the local pharmacy or big box store and hope that they come out okay. Then I have to go to another store to find mats and frames that fit. I’ve found that when I try to do this myself, the quality just isn’t there – and it takes me days to do all the running around. Because these photos are so precious to me, I went to the experts at Frame It Easy to handle the entire process. This was my first experience using an online framing company and after I read their Our Story page, I could tell that my order would be carefully handled by people who take pride in the quality of their work.

The online ordering experience was a breeze and a lot of fun too. They guide you through a simple 5-step selection process and you can preview exactly what your frame will look like every step of the way. You can upload a photo or digital artwork and play around with different frame styles and colors, mat size and colors until you are happy with it. Frame it Easy is the perfect name for this online store, they made simplicity the very center of the customer’s online experience. Below, I’ve taken screenshots of the previews you get when selecting your frame style and mat color.

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| here’s the photo with a white wooden frame |

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| here’s the same photo with a shiny silver frame |

Once my order was placed, I got an email confirming it and a few days later I got another email letting me know that it was being shipped. When opened the box, I was blown away at the packaging. I normally don’t take photos of packaging, but this needs to be seen. This box could have fallen off the back of a truck and the contents wouldn’t have flinched.

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| I ordered 6 framed photos, here’s a look at how the frames were packaged in the box |

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| here’s the front of one framed photo, it is totally protected with cardboard |

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| here’s the back of a framed photo, they include protective felt squares and hardware to hang the picture |

 

With the holidays around the corner, this is a great personalized present. I’m going to order a couple more framed photos of our children for my husband’s office and I will pick a frame in the same wood tone as his desk. I know that he’ll think it is the best thing under the tree and it is a gift that will last.

If you have photos, prints or artwork that needs to be framed, Frame it Easy has provided a 10% discount to my readers (see below). Check out their website to see all the options available for a truly customized frame, proudly made in the USA.

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Enjoy 10% off using the following code through the end of the year, just copy and paste it in the Coupon field during checkout : CTINSTYLE16

click frameiteasy.com to go to their website

Thank you to Frameiteasy.com for sponsoring this post and for taking such excellent care of my photos. All opinions are my own.

The Best Online Framing Store

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Fresh Apple Cake from Connecticut

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Fresh Apple Cake from Connecticutfresh-apple-cake

| fresh apple cake from connecticut |

I think that it is important to eat seasonally and take advantage of the foods that are naturally available during certain parts of the year. We’re fortunate to have a lot of farms in Connecticut that grow a wide variety of produce and I try to visit them as much as possible. I take the kiddos with me because I want them to appreciate all the work that goes into farming and for them to see freshly picked produce in its organic state.

We went apple picking a few weeks back and I stored the apples in the refrigerator to make fresh apple cake. Baking this cake is one of the things on my annual fall “to do” list because it is so easy to make. I can’t even tell you how much I look forward to having a slice of this cake with a cup of tea, especially once it starts getting colder.

This year, I’m sharing the love and bringing this cake with me to contribute towards Thanksgiving Dinner that my friend is hosting. This fresh apple cake is delicious plain, but I kicked it up a bit with a frosting made from goat cheese, cream cheese, butter, sweetened condense milk and confectioner’s sugar. The cake is sweet and the zing from the goat cheese brings out the flavor even more. I doubled the recipe to make a tall cake and there was enough left over for me to make a small cake to keep.

I thought I’d share the recipe with you. I’ve adapted it from the Bakery Lane Soup Bowl cookbook. Enjoy and have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Ingredients:

3 eggs lightly beaten
2 cups of sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1/4 stick of soft salted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (freshly ground preferably)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups peeled and finely chopped apples (I used 4 Granny Smith apples)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit. Grease and flour two 8-9″ round cake pans. Peel, core and finely chop the apples (you will need about 4 apples to yield 3 cups). In a Kitchen Aid mixer or a large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, vegetable oil, butter, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Mix at medium speed for 2-3 minutes until all the ingredients are completely incorporated. Using a spatula, fold the apples and walnuts into the batter. Divide the batter evenly into the cake pans and bake until the cakes are golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean, about 1 1/2 hours.

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dry-ingredients

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