Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 214]

Waiting for the snow and hoping it doesn't come.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 212 & 213]

I'm having a bit of a creativity block when it comes to my photography project. I'm stuck taking shots of things around my house.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cinnamon Cappuccino Cupcakes Made With King Arthur Flour Cinnamon Chips

When King Arthur Flour contacted me after I made the killer maple-bacon biscuit bake from their recipe I was so happy that I nearly danced a little jig. How was it that an amazing company like that would notice little old me and, better yet, offer to send me something from their fantastic store to test out? Turns out a friend of a friend works there so she helped bring me to their attention but I can still feel proud that they were impressed enough to get in touch. Since I have no scruples I was all too happy to cast aside my integrity and sell out for the sake of getting a freebie. Even better that I get to be a shill for a company I genuinely like with products I happily recommend already.

I may not regularly buy their flour due to my frugal German tendencies -- although their white whole wheat flour, which I won when I attended a KAF baking demo, is amazing -- but I do make a habit of splurging on other baking ingredients from their catalog as you can see from this picture of every item I found in my cupboards that came from King Arthur Flour:

They're the ones who first introduced me to Vanilla Bean Crush, the only vanilla extract I'll use now. It's got specks of vanilla bean floating in it for a remarkably strong and authentic vanilla flavor. When I make pizza dough at home I make sure to throw in some of their Pizza Dough Flavor and Pizza Seasoning for a pizza parlor-like flavor. By far, the absolute best item I've ever bought from them, one which I regularly buy as gifts and rave about to anyone I meet, is their Vietnamese Cinnamon. When I first smelled it I knew no other cinnamon would ever compare. It's both stronger and sweeter than the plain old cinnamon you can buy in the grocery store so it gives an extra little kick to everything I bake with it.

When King Arthur Flour kindly made their offer to send me something from their catalog, I immediately knew what I wanted to choose. I've had my eye on their mini cinnamon chips for years, both because I love cinnamon so much and because these chips in particular have gotten great reviews from other customers. I am happy to report that they sent me a large one-pound bag so I'll be able to make many more recipes in the future.

For my first cinnamon chip baking experiment, I nabbed a recipe from Tasty Kitchen and made a few adjustment. They featured a cappuccino muffin recipe that already contained a hint of cinnamon in the batter, so why not swap in cinnamon chips for some of the chocolate chips called for in the recipe? I couldn't possibly go wrong with cinnamon coffee cupcakes studded with mini cinnamon chips and chocolate chips with an extra dose of caffeine in the coffee buttercream.

The cinnamon chips seem to be made with the same quality Vietnamese cinnamon I adore. Needless to say, I was extremely pleased with the cinnamon flavor of the chips. The miniature size is perfect for cupcakes, which can sometimes be overwhelmed by larger baking chips. They blended seamlessly into the finished cupcakes, almost melting completely in place so you're left with soft pockets of zesty cinnamon flavor. A wonderful surprise! Even if this hadn't been a freebie I'd still find myself recommending them as a wonderful addition to your baked goods. Hop on over to King Arthur Flour and treat yourself to something fun like these cinnamon chips. You can't go wrong with any of their quality ingredients and bakeware. I know you'll love anything you try!

Cinnamon Cappuccino Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from Tasty Kitchen

2 packages Starbucks Via Instant Coffee or enough instant coffee granules of your choice to make two cups of coffee
1/2 cup warm milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup King Arthur Flour Cinnamon Mini Baking Chips
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

1) Preheat oven to 375°. Line a cupcake pan with 12 paper liners.
2) Dissolve Starbucks Via instant coffee in warm milk. Stir and mash with a spoon up against the side of the bowl until instant coffee is completely dissolved. Next, add melted butter, egg and vanilla and whisk until combined.
3) In another bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.
4) Pour wet ingredients into a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir well to incorporate completely. Finally, stir in the cinnamon chips and chocolate chips.
5) Fill muffin tins 2/3 full and bake at 375° for 17-20 minutes.
6) Let cool in pan on rack for ten minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on rack.

Coffee Buttercream
Recipe adapted from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon hot coffee

1) In a small bowl, mix together coffee granules and hot coffee. Stir until coffee granules are dissolved. Let cool completely.
2) In a small bowl, using an electric miser on low speed, beat together butter, sugar, and salt until well combined. Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, beating until frosting is smooth.
3) Add cooled coffee to butter mixture, beating until smooth, creamy, and well mixed. You will need to scrape down sides of the bowl several times while mixing.


Monday, March 28, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 211]

My future home. Assuming I win the lottery, of course.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sis Boom Jamie Dress Sew Along

Since I'm on a roll with the Style Stitches sew along I figured I'd add more to my plate with a dress sew along. I've been meaning to make myself a dress for over a year so it's about time I got around to sewing one. Considering that it was my tentative sewing goal for 2010 and I bought my first dress pattern over a year ago it seems I need further encouragement to dive in.

Enter Sew Sweetness' sew along, just announced last week. The pattern she's chosen looks cute, simple enough for a beginner like me, and it doesn't use a ton of fabric. Even better is that she's scored a discount on the pattern for all participants and a discount from an Etsy seller who offers tons of beautiful fabrics perfect for this dress.

If you want to join in, head on over and sign up before Friday, April 1st to get the discounted pattern price. Can't wait to see what everyone comes up with!

A Photo A Day [Day 209 & 210]

Shockingly, my husband was up before noon on a weekend morning so I convinced him to join me for brunch at a local British-themed restaurant. Their Sunday brunch special is French toast stuffed with Cadbury chocolate served with golden syrup. To. Die. For. I need to figure out how to replicate this recipe for myself.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Style Stitches Sew Along: Beautiful Balance Checkbook Cover

Confession time: I tend to wing it when it comes to interfacing. If a pattern calls for a specific type of interfacing I usually can't find it in stock at my local Jo-Ann Fabrics so I don't even bother looking any longer. Instead, I keep a supply of several types on hand at home and use the one I think most closely matches what the pattern requires. This tactic usually works out just fine for me, until this pattern, that is.

The pattern itself is pretty easy to follow and is similar to the jewelry roll I previously made from One Yard Wonders. There aren't many diagrams and while I would have appreciated a few more to guide me through certain steps, the written instructions do a good job of explaining it all. Aside from the difficulty of sewing around the curves of the flap it's a very easy beginner pattern.

So here's what I screwed up: I used Peltex for all of the outer pieces including the flap and no interfacing on the interior lining panels or interior flap. I actually think that was a fine move if I'd done a better job of trimming the thick interfacing down so it wouldn't be in the way of the seams. Also, I did interface the inside pocket panels and think that added a ton of bulk to the finished product, making it a little too thick and bulky when folded up. I'm not sure I'd have the room in my purse to carry this around in addition to a wallet. I also wasn't able to properly do the topstitching in the final steps because of the bulk on the flap so mine's a little different looking than the one in the book.

Again, those problems were all due to my own changes and blatantly ignoring the instructions so I'd be curious to see how much better this would turn out if I'd done everything according to plan. As it is, I like it well enough to give as a gift as I intended but I think next time around I'd try to learn from my mistakes and make an even better version.

As usual, I didn't bother to use home decor fabric, instead substituting some quilting cotton on the outside and flannel on the inside. All fabrics were from Jo-Ann Fabrics. Since I'm in a confessional mood I'll also admit that while the exterior bird fabric was from my stash I did buy the interior fabric yesterday specifically for this project. I simply couldn't come up with an appealing enough combo from my existing fabrics and figured since it's a gift I could justify spending the $1.

It's not even April yet and I've already completed that month's project in My Crafty Crap's and JemJam's Style Stitches sew alongs. Yay!

Edited to add: I was feeling guilty about foisting a sub par item off onto a friend so I quickly made a second one using the same fabrics. I did a much better job trimming and lining up the Peltex, used regular interfacing on the flap pieces, left the interfacing off of the interior pocket panels but did interface the interior lining panels. I'm not sure if it's because I used flannel on the inside or if the pattern simply calls for too much interfacing but I certainly didn't need to interface those pocket panels. Any more interfacing would have been overkill.

I'm still not 100% happy with the results as it's very bulky but it does fold up better than my previous version. I also had a ton of trouble with the topstitching in the final steps as the needle could barely plow through at some spots and at the edges the bulk wouldn't even fit under my sewing machine foot. While this pattern makes a pretty little checkbook cover that sews up quickly (even more quickly the second time around, I can report) I'm not sure how often I'll use it in the future.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 208]

Meh. All out of ideas for today. The world as seen through a bottle of green apple syrup.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Patio Chair Cushions

We Germans are a hearty sort not accustomed to creature comforts like plush cushions and decorative home accents, which is why it never occurred to my mom to buy cushions for her two outdoor patio chairs. But when a visiting friend commented on the lack of a soft, protective barrier my mom decided it was time to get some.

I immediately volunteered to make a set for her and then proceeded to wait five months before I finally got around to doing it. Bad me. Fortunately those five months happened to coincide with a chilly autumn and winter so it's not as if the patio chairs were getting much use.

Primarily, I used this tutorial from Sew 4 Home because it was easy and didn't feature anything more advanced that my current sewing skills could offer. I'd planned all along to add piping for a more sophisticated, decorative look so I was happy to follow along with their instructions for reducing bulk from the boxed corners by clipping out some of the piping cord. Leaving off the no-slip material I instead snagged the instructions for adding ties from another Sew 4 Home tutorial.

The cushions use an envelope closure and, although it was my first, it was as simple to sew as you'd imagine. In fact, everything came together so quickly and easily that I feel even more guilty about putting off this project for so long. As you can see from the pictures, they really brighten her chairs and I'm sure having breakfast on the patio every morning will be a much more comfortable activity now.

A Photo A Day [Day 207]

Finally, a picture I actually took today! My husband hates my new earrings but I think I'll keep 'em even though I'm not much of a jewelry sort of girl. I'll keep them to spite him!

A Photo A Day [Day 206]

I'm still posting pics from my trip home last week since I'm feeling homesick and sad to be back in boring ol' New Jersey. I especially miss having an active and vibrant downtown area nearby so I could try my hand at street photography more often and get interesting shots like this. I tried editing this one several different ways until I settled on this black and white with a dash of selective coloring.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 205]

Not feeling terribly inspired today so I'm using a filler pic I took a few weeks ago. I was a little sad at the time that I didn't get a chance to use it as I thought it turned out well. Yet another self-portrait I can add to the short list of pictures where I actually look normal. Enjoy!

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 203 & 204]

Amusingly, my dad and I have both received nearly identical Grumpy shirts as gifts. I wonder if the people in our lives are trying to tell us something.

Oh no! What has Punky done to the queen? Yes, I now own a solar-powered waving queen statue that will soon adorn my desk at work.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 199-202]

I'm back safe and sound from my trip home to Virginia. I was so pleased to see their spring flowers in full bloom. Took a few shots around my mom's garden.

Found a group of folks meditating on the Downtown Mall amidst the usual hubbub and crowds so I slyly snapped a few shots. I probably didn't need to bother trying to be sneaky since I think their eyes may have been closed but it was good practice for street photography.

Went out to a fancy pants four-course dinner on Friday night with the family and finally got a photo for this week's theme (bubbles).

I had such a hard time choosing which portrait of my best friend, Esi, to choose. She's so beautiful and expressive that she looked fantastic in every photo I took. I miss her already!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 198]

This will likely be my last post this week since I'll be out of town without internet access. What should I be doing right now? Packing my suitcase. There's just one slight problem with that...

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 197]

Scenes from New Jersey.

Alternate title: See? It's not as bad as you imagined. Mercifully, not a Snooki in sight.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 196]

You've no idea how happy I was to see this first sign of spring today. Some time between last night and this afternoon the first daffodil of the season bloomed. Could it be that snow shoveling season is officially over?

Theme: Signs

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 195]

I hit the local park to catch the sunset and try working on HDR photography a little more. Still having trouble with all of my final pictures turning out too dark but I'll keep working at it.

Origami Bags, Take Two

I used to be the most organized, on top of everything sort of girl. I'd remember complete grocery lists without needing to jot down a single item, I knew the balance of my bank account down the the last penny without having to look it up, and I never, ever forgot anyone's birthday. Things have changed a lot in the past few years, especially in that regard. I suspect it's because my life has gotten more complicated since then, that I have more people and responsibilities and tasks to keep track of and my tiny little brain just can't handle it all. Now I have a horrible habit of letting people's birthdays sneak up on me and even if I know one's coming up I can't motivate myself to start brainstorming present ideas until the last minute.

I realized on Wednesday that I have a friend whose birthday is coming up next week. Since I'd just gotten done making my first batch of Origami Bags for myself I figured it wouldn't be too difficult to churn out a few more as gifts. Oh, how wrong I was!

In my first review of the pattern I neglected to mention how surprised I was that these took so long to sew. We're talking hours for just one bag. It's not as if the pattern pieces are that intricate to cut out or that there are any fancy sewing skills required. Yet it seemed to take forever. I wrote it off as being due to my unfamiliarity with the pattern but this time around I really noticed the problem since I was trying to cram in all of the sewing in one weeknight. I only got one bag sewed Thursday night and finished the smaller one last night. I doubt this will become my go-to zippered pouch pattern for that reason alone. The end result is cute but it's a bit too labor intensive for something I might like to mass produce as gifts.

I also had a terrible time with the gussets again despite my using the same pin trick. Perhaps that's because it was late at night and I wasn't fully on top of my game. I had to re-do the interfaced corners a few times until I got it right.

Despite all of the difficulties I'm really pleased with the bags. I stuck with the same color combo as before but swapped in a more mature fabric since I know my friend doesn't have the mentality of a ten-year-old. No crazy-eyed bunnies for her. I once again made a large bag since someone accidentally cut out two extra yellow panels last time around and I paired the large with a mini bag. I have to say, I quite like the mini size and might have to make one for myself. It might be even better suited for carrying around my daily necessities than the small bag I'd previously made.

Now it's off to the post office to get these babies in the mail!

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 194]

"Listen to them: the children of the night. What sweet music they make."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 193]

If at first you don't succeed...

Theme: Signs

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 192]

Earlier today I decided today would be the big day I finally tackle HDR photography. It wasn't until later that I realized the weather's less than ideal to get one of those stunning photos I drool over. Stubbornly, I headed to the park anyway to try to capture something interesting despite the overcast sky. This isn't anywhere close to what I wanted but at least I've figured out some things not to do next time around based on today's experience. Better luck next time.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 191]

Theme: Signs

Style Stitches: Origami Bags

After waiting until the last minute with last month's Amy Butler Style Stitches sew along bag I decided to keep the sewing momentum going and dove into March's project, the Origami Bags, over the weekend. The book actually has directions for six versions available, each in a different size. I didn't intend to make a full set but figured I'd pick three fabrics and make three bags with different arrangements of those fabrics.

I chose to make the x-small, small, and large bags. I feel a bit like Goldilocks as the x-small bag is a little too small for me to find it useful (although my sunglasses do fit in it almost perfectly), the large bag is huge, but the small bag is just the right size. I wanted something I can carry around in my purse to organize my necessities: coupons, receipts, and my extensive collection of Blistex and lip gloss. The small bag fits the bill.

It's a simple pattern for the most part. I've done a few zippers in the past so there was nothing intimidating about that. The only snafu was when I tried to line up the side and bottom seams to sew the gussets. I had to rip out all of the stitching from my first one even though I'd been careful to try to align them by pinching along the seams. That wasn't a foolproof method but I did get better at it by the time I got through the eighth corner. I wound up giving it my best shot and first sewing a basting stitch where I thought the corner should go, then checking the alignment by pulling the corner out through the gap in the lining. Some I nailed on the first try but many had to be redone. I found I had the most trouble with the interfaced corners of the exterior of the bag as that extra bulk made it even harder to gauge the evenness.

Since I had to wait until Monday to hit the fabric store and purchase a zipper for my last bag, I posted a desperate cry for help in the two Style Stitches sew along Flickr groups to see if there's some fancy tip I'm missing out on. Bree from My Crafty Crap, who's hosting one of the sew alongs I'm participating in, had the brilliant suggestion to stick a pin through the seams after pinching the fabric, making sure the pin goes through both seams. Once I had that information I was able to master those darn gussets. It worked like a charm!

Once again, I made an effort to work with fabrics from my stash and while I'm sure I could have come up with something more dramatic if I'd been able to hit the fabric store for perfectly coordinating fabrics, I'm happy enough with the ones I chose. I especially love the bunny fabric, which I bought because it was a great price on clearance and because I thought the bunnies looked dazed and demented. Incidentally, that was also my sole criterion for choosing a husband. Even better is that I was able to supply two of the zippers from the large stash my mom gave me, left over from her own sewing days. Note that I used quilting cotton fabric instead of home decor and the bags sit up just fine on their own. I'm not sure why the pattern specifies home decor weight unless Ms. Butler's just trying to rustle up a little extra cash for fabric manufacturers.

I'm participating in two different sew alongs for this book since they're both running on the same schedule. Check out both My Crafty Crap and JemJam to join in and become eligible to win some fun prizes. Last month, I won a $50 gift certificate to Fat Quarter Shop with my Everyday Shopper so I can attest to the fact that the prizes are legit and, of course, wonderful.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 190]

For those of you keeping score, day 189 was of the Irish Potato Cupcakes. Nothing too interesting since the photo idea I had and waited all day for a chance to try didn't work out. There goes 40 minutes of my life down the drain.

Today I'm following The Daily Shoot's theme: Red.

Irish Potato Cupcakes

Yesterday's Irish potato post was but a precursor for something greater: Irish potato cupcakes. I took the flavors of Irish potatoes, turned them into a cupcake, and then stuffed each one with a fresh Irish potato. I'm happy to report that my crazy little experiment turned out even better than I'd imagined!

I used my favorite vanilla cake recipe and added a heaping serving of cinnamon and whipped up some cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut for the topping. The Irish potato nestled in the center ties it all together perfectly even though it does make the cupcake a little structurally unsound. I recommend eating this one with a fork and after a few bites you should expect it to fall apart a bit. I'm guessing this is because the filling's cinnamon coating keeps it from being sticky enough to hold it together. It's not a huge problem but I thought I'd let you know in case you're trying to eat one on the run. And be warned: this cupcake is a sugar bomb. You'll need a tall glass of milk or a gallon of water to wash it down.

Irish Potato Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 cup granulated sugar
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons soft butter
2/3 cup milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cupcake pan with 12 paper liners.

2) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.

3) Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.

4) Combine the milk and vanilla and add, all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.

5) With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Add the second egg, again beating for 30 seconds.

6) Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat briefly, just till smooth.

7) Scoop the batter by heaping 1/4-cupfuls into the prepared muffin tin. A muffin scoop works well here.

8) Bake the cupcakes for 23 to 25 minutes, until they've domed, and are a light golden brown around the edges. They'll spring back when pressed gently on top, and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

9) Remove the cupcakes from the oven, cool in pan on a rack for ten minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan and cool completely on rack.

10) For the filling, whip up a batch of Irish potatoes and make 12 of them larger than usual, about 3/4". The recipe will make much more than you need for the cupcakes so enjoy the leftovers or make a quarter of the recipe and you'll have enough to fill the cupcakes. Using the cone method fill each cupcake with a large Irish potato.

Toasted Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup flaked coconut
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon heavy cream
3-4 cups powdered sugar

1) In a pan over medium heat, toast coconut by stirring constantly until light golden brown. Remove coconut from pan and place in a bowl. Set aside.
2) In a mixer, cream butter and cream cheese. Add vanilla and heavy cream and beat until combined. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until mixture reaches desired consistency. Since you won't be piping the frosting it can be a little soft.
3) Spread frosting generously onto cupcakes using a spatula or flat knife. Dip the top of each cupcake into the bowl of toasted coconut, coating completely.