Saturday, April 30, 2011

Crème Brûlée French Toast


Today was my husband's birthday and even though he's not a fan of celebrating holidays I couldn't let this one pass by without spoiling him a little. What better way for him to begin his day than with some amazing French toast?

I like that the recipe called for everything to be prepared the night before so all I had to do this morning was pop it in the oven. That is, after I used my magical crystal ball to predict when he might awaken so it could be ready at the right time. I managed to peg it almost perfectly so the delicious smell from his birthday surprise was already wafting through the house.

The best part is that this concoction already had a nice layer of sugary goodness so maple syrup was not required. Not that that stopped my husband from pouring some on his. I let him get away with it because it's his birthday.


Crème Brûlée French Toast
Recipe from About.com


1 loaf Challah or Brioche Bread, sliced into 1 1/2-inch thick slices
1/2 cup Butter, unsalted (1 stick)
1 cup Brown Sugar, packed
2 tablespoons Corn Syrup
5 large Eggs
3/4 cup Heavy Cream
3/4 cup Milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1/4 teaspoon Salt
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or Cointreau (I left this out and substituted a dash of orange extract)


Butter a 9 by 13 baking dish.

In a small pot, melt the butter with the brown sugar and corn syrup. Stir together until the sugar is completely melted. Pour mixture into the baking dish.

Place the bread slices on top of the butter and sugar mixture in one even layer. Squeeze the edges slightly to make the bread fit.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, milk, vanilla, salt, and 2 teaspoons of Grand Marnier. Pour this mixture over the bread. Tightly cover baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

Let dish stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before placing in preheated oven at 350 degrees.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until french toast is golden and puffed.

Serve hot, sugared side up with diced strawberries and powdered sugar, if desired.


A Photo A Day [Day 244]


Today's photo is actually a Photoshop project in response to another challenge going on at 365project.org. For this one, participants start with the same original picture and work it as they see fit. Interesting to see what different results everyone comes up with. This is my first attempt at the challenge but I thought I'd give it a go since I'm becoming more confident with my Photoshop skills. Of course, mine had to take a morbid twist and I turned the below lovely picture of an idyllic sunset into something creepier.

Original Photo

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 243]

I lost a follower today. :( I can only assume it's due to the overabundance of photography posts without much else to keep y'all entertained. I'm still recovering from last week's cold and haven't had the energy to do much but lie around in bed in the evenings, so baking and sewing are right out. I'm hoping to get back in the swing of things soon. I get that my photography project isn't everyone's cup of tea but I'll forge ahead and keep posting what I've got. I hope the rest of you stick around.

The artist chosen for this week's artist challenge is Roy Lichtenstein. Don't worry; I'll wait while you look him up. Like me, you've probably seen his pop art but never knew the artist's name. I had fun doing a little research and learning more about him. I figured if I was going to be doing a cartoon-esque piece I might as well pose as one of my favorite comic book characters: Death from The Sandman series.


Unfortunately, the editing process didn't go exactly as planned. I think if I hadn't had a different look in mind I'd be more pleased with the end result, but as it is I'm happy enough. I hope to try again this week, probably with a lighter-colored picture as the dots seem to get washed out or overpowered by the darkness and shadows.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 240-242]

Whoa. Hadn't realized I was so behind on posting my pictures. Oops. Time to play catch up.

I never mentioned that my husband and I only recently discovered a great walking area just minutes from our house. All this time I've been roaming the rundown streets of my neighborhood when I want to get some outdoor exercise while I could have been enjoying trees and greenery and a view of the river. Silly me. This was taken while on one of our walks:



While not the best picture this next one serves two purposes: to let you admire my new haircut and to let me tell you how excited I am to have booked a trip to Orlando in the fall to go to the Harry Potter theme park! Hence my kissing my Snape action figure. I can't begin to tell you how happy this upcoming trip makes me. Yes, deep down underneath my morbid self is a silly little girl who loves stories about wizards and magical castles. I'll be going with my best friend, who's even more of a fan than I, so I know we'll have a blast. Plus she's so much fun to hang out with anyway and brings out my wild side. What little there is to speak of, of course.



Another shot from the walking area. This was actually taken a few days ago but I've taken my time figuring out how to get the editing just right.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 239]


Eh, didn't quite turn out as I'd hoped but this is another Edvard Munch-inspired photo, this one based on Woman in Three Stages.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 238]


I'm finally getting back into the swing of things and was able to actually participate in this week's artist challenge. Since I won last week's challenge with my Dali-esque piece I was allowed to choose the next artist. I chose Edvard Munch, most commonly known for The Scream. This is my take on a lesser-known piece, The Murderer in the Lane.

My husband plays a convincing murder victim but unfortunately the life insurance company didn't buy it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 237]


I was feeling well enough today to leave the house and get some exercise for the first time since Monday. Took a short walk down by the water to catch the sunset. Of course, breathing in that New Jersey air probably set the recuperation process back by several days.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 236]


I know flower pictures are hardly a novelty this time of year but after being holed up in my house for the past few days it was nice to go out and see everything beautifully in bloom.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 234 & 235]

The good news? I finally finished watching all 20 hour-long episodes of "The Killing" yesterday. The bad news? That's because I stayed home sick from work yesterday and today. Boo. I only ever do that if I feel I'm at death's door. Yes, I'm one of those people. You're getting another filler pic from this weekend because the only pic I took was of my cat as she huddled up to me all day. I'd like to think she was trying to comfort me but I suspect she was trying to steal the feverish heat my body was radiating. Oh well. At least she needs me for something.



This illness is really taking its toll on me. I am, however, happy to report that my hair has never looked better.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 233]


I dare you to go into the basement. C'mon, what are you so afraid of?

I'm feeling under the weather today so what better excuse to share another of the photos from that abandoned house? I'll admit, this wide open trap door did scare me a tiny bit. Who knows what's lurking down there?

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 232]


There's an eyebrow war going on at the 365 site where I post my daily pictures, started by one person posting a picture with a dramatic, cockeyed expression involving raised eyebrows. In response many others have been posting similar pictures and it has erupted into an all out war! I've been amused by what everyone's done but figured I lacked the necessary follicular flexibility to join in myself. Today I realized that Count Vigor, our resident animatronic vampire, has the perfect expression to fit the bill. He is no doubt a fierce and mighty warrior unlikely to take prisoners so I dare you to challenge him back.

You can see all of the eyebrow-related silliness here.

Tuxedo Peeps and Coconut Rum Cupcakes



Far be it from me to let a holiday go by without celebrating it with food. I already have several goodies in the freezer ready to go for next Sunday but that's no excuse to not start the party early. When I spotted this tutorial for tuxedo Peeps I knew they'd be the perfect topper for my Easter cupcakes.

I don't usually go for silly decorations like this that have nothing to do with the flavor of the cupcake and need to be removed before one can dig in to the cake, but this was sort of a fun way to spruce up some traditional Easter treats. Just time consuming, which I wasn't in the mood for when I would have rather been watching more of my Danish crime thriller. If I had kids I probably would have enjoyed the process more. Still, I think the little guys turned out to be pretty cute.


I was craving something simple so I worked with a basic white cake recipe and added hints of coconut flavor and a dash of rum to the batter. My original plan was to fill it with lemon curd but the jar I had in the cupboard had expired so I scrapped that and went with a fig jam filling instead. The frosting was another simple one: cream cheese with shredded coconut sprinkled on top.

I don't have fancy coconut flavorings or coconut rum so I once again used a random ingredient from my fridge to make up for that. I had a coupon for a free bottle of Coffee-Mate so I've got a giant bottle of Coconut Creme-flavored creamer. I have to say, it did a wonderful job of imbuing the cake with a coconut flavor and the rum is definitely present but in a subtle way.

Coconut Rum Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 eggs
2 tbsp coconut rum (I used regular spiced rum)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup Coconut Creme Coffee-Mate (or substitute 1/3 cup milk)
1/3 cup milk

1) Preheat oven to 350 F. Line cupcake pan with 12 paper liners.
2) In a small bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, and salt.
3) In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, butter, eggs, rum, and vanilla until smooth.
4) Combine Coffee-Mate and milk.
5) Alternately whisk flour mixture and milk mixture into sugar mixture, making three additions of flour mixture and two of milk, beating just until smooth.
6) Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and tops of cupcakes spring back when lightly touched. Let cool in pan on rack 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on rack.
7) Using the cone method, fill with your favorite fruit jam.

Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe adapted from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson

1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 to 2 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar (I only needed 2 cups but the recipe called for 2 1/4)
1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut

In a bowl, using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat together cream cheese and butter until creamy. With mixer on low speed, beat in confectioners' sugar 1/2 cup at a time until desired consistency is reached. Increase speed to medium-high, beating until light and fluffy. Pipe frosting onto cupcakes and sprinkle shredded coconut on top.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 231]


I committed a crime today for my photography project. It's true. Whereas before I had always been a perfectly law-abiding citizen (with the exception of enough speeding violations to land me in traffic school before the age of 18) this project has turned me into a criminal! Today I spotted an abandoned, run-down house out in the country and trespassed all over the property in an attempt to get cool photos. This place had it all: shattered windows, peeling paint, collapsed walls, "keep out" scrawled on the walls, and even a creepy basement trap door, which was eerily wide open when we got there.

I have many more photos from today to sift through and edit so you'll probably be seeing some of those later in the week. Assuming the police don't track me down before then.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 230]


Please pardon my nudity. It's for a good cause, though, in celebration of one of my favorite artists. I can only hope no child sees this and is scarred for life as a result.

I finally had the time to sit down and come up with a good Dali tribute for this week's artist challenge. Not only was I immediately inspired by a portrait he did of his wife but my version turned out even better than I'd envisioned.

The original can be seen (and bought) here.

On top of that, I managed to get our taxes done this morning too so it's been a productive day for me! Now that I've accomplished so much I can justify lounging around on the sofa watching more of "The Killing." Yay!

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 229]


Another lovely entry for this week's theme, "in the garden." Forget flowers and home grown veggies, these are the sorts of things one finds in my garden. If the police happen to question you about me please don't mention this photo.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 228]


Can I sue my neighbor's tree for littering?

I know I said Photoshop was dead to me after my last disastrous attempt at following a tutorial, but I quickly forgot that and got to processing today's photo in an effort to make it more interesting. Of course, the tutorial I was following was for something completely different but this is what I wound up with mid-way through the process. I decided I liked it and kept it as today's photo. Another entry for this week's theme: in the garden.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 227]

"I lift my gaze to empty skies above"

"I dream of rain
I dream of gardens in the desert sand
I wake in vain
I dream of love as time runs through my hand"
- Sting (Yes, I just admitted that I still listen to Sting)

Technically this is from yesterday but because I wasted hours trying to follow a fancy Photoshop tutorial before realizing that it's way beyond my skill set I'm not going to let my efforts go to waste. As you can see if you follow the link, I only got through the first few steps before I gave up. Even so it took me forever. Perhaps Photoshop and I aren't meant to be after all. Back to regular photography for me, I think.

Fancy pants tutorial here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 226]


I went out and got myself a tattoo today.

Alright, only kidding. I'm working on learning new Photoshop skills here. Obviously this is a very basic attempt but it's a start. Gotta start somewhere, after all.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 225]


I wasn't terribly enthused about any of the pictures I took of the flowers in the garden until I started messing around with various Photoshop actions and Picnik effects. Finally came up with a way to make these plain old tulips a little more interesting.

This week's theme: in the garden

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 223 & 224]


"Everybody's got a hunger, a hunger they can't resist"

Yes, this picture would have been more effective if those were empty candy wrappers but I wasn't about to go on a candy binge just for this project. Although it was rather tempting. I finally got around to doing one for this week's theme: numbers.


I amped up the colors a bit on one of my shots of my new dress and made that today's official photo.

Jamie Dress Sew Along Completed


Things I should have done this weekend: cleaned, read the ridiculously convoluted 700-page book for my book club meeting next week, and done our taxes. But since a friend pointed out that taxes aren't due until the 18th this year I figured I could safely put that last item off until next weekend. Instead, I went ahead and made the dress for Sew Sweetness' Sis Boom Jamie Dress sew along.

The pattern is wonderfully easy to follow with oodles of helpful diagrams and nothing more complicated than sewing a zipper. And even with that their instructions and method make that a piece of cake. The dress is also super cute. The trouble is, it might just be a little too cute for the likes of me. I'm sure I'll wear it but probably more as a special occasion dress, not as an everyday running errands sort of outfit since I'm usually a jeans and t-shirt kinda girl. I'm still not sold on the gathered skirt as being suitable for anyone not young enough to shop in the junior's section and I'm not convinced it's flattering on anyone other than a super skinny girl. Heck, upon channel surfing last night and finding myself unable to tear myself away from the last hour of Pride and Prejudice I noted that the costumes were remarkably similar in design to this dress. Even stick thin Keira Knightley looked like she'd been hitting the Oreos a little too hard in the face of so many gathers.


To solve that problem I might dust off my trusty 9th grade math skills and do some geometry to make a pretty half-circle skirt like Kitschy Coo did with her funky zebra print dress. Unfortunately, from a quick glance at the tutorial, this will involve some time to work the numbers and draft the pattern but I think from seeing her results that's the sort of skirt I'd like.

I'm also not pleased with the bra strap situation. When I saw the pattern I was pleased that the straps on the dress are wide enough to cover a bra strap. Which would be the case if the placement of the straps weren't so awkward. After seeing others struggle with this same problem I went out and bought a convertible bra today figuring that one of the five options would work without having to resort to the dreaded strapless bra option. Alas, if I could get the straps hidden in the front that meant that they peeked out in the back, and vice versa. If there were an easy way to fix that I'd try that next time around.

I also had a small snafu when trying to thread the strap into the bodice when one of my seams connecting the bodice outer to the lining burst at the edge. I probably wasn't being as gentle as I should but next time I'll probably reinforce that seam and skip cutting the seam allowance as it's only a 1/4" seam, which shouldn't add too much bulk. To properly fix it would have meant taking apart the entire bodice so instead I went the lazy route and did some top stitching that I hope isn't too noticeable.

Per Sara's recommendation I did size up and cut the bodice and waistband out in large, which turns out to have been unnecessary for me. Considering that I put on my most padded bra and still was on the low end of the medium measurements I sort of figured I'd wind up taking it in but am glad I erred on the side of caution. Her other recommendation to try it on frequently during the process was a great one. I tried on the dress after I'd pinned the skirt to the bodice and decided to cut 10.5 inches of fabric off from each skirt piece, reducing some of the bulk of the gathers.

I also continued the waistband around the back of the dress, again based on dresses I'd seen others make. I figured because I was using a contrasting fabric for that part it would look more complete with that change. If you're interested in trying out this pattern for yourself I recommend you visit the Flickr group for the sew along and see what everyone else has come up with.


I do plan to make this pattern at least once more since I have a second batch of fabrics waiting in the wings. I'm also intrigued by what Kim at My Go-Go Life did when she found she wasn't pleased with the skirt either. She took out the gathers and lopped off some of the length to turn it into a cute tunic. I can see myself wearing this as a top layered under a cardigan more than I'll wear it as a dress so that's a much more practical version for me.

All in all I'm pleased with the dress, am glad I finally got my feet wet by making my very first dress, and couldn't love the fabric any more than I do. I'm glad I splurged and bought some of the gorgeous Aviary 2 fabric for this project. It helps that I already had the perfect comfy sandals to match!


Try to ignore the scary guy lurking behind me. Our house is so full of Halloween decorations all year round that it's almost impossible to not catch something creepy in the background of every picture.


Photobucket

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 222]


"In a heart there are windows and doors
You can let the light in
You can feel the wind blow
When there's nothing to lose
And nothing to gain
Grab a hold of that fistful of rain"
- Warren Zevon

Again with the wrinkled clothes! Clearly there's no hope for me.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Photo A Day [221]


In my very humble opinion, I think I've been on fire lately coming up with great shots for this project. I'm really proud of what I've been churning out. Only problem is, setting up those shots and then editing them takes up a lot of my time. It's hard to juggle so many interests and this past week especially it's been tough to find the time to make dinner, read, work out, and keep up with my sewing projects since I've been spending so much time behind the camera and immersed in Photoshop. So today I'm going the lazy route and am posting a picture of a spindly tree I took a few days ago. I've done minimal processing, just a quick Photoshop action from a fun set of free actions I recently downloaded. The set's called "Ghost Stories" and with actions named "haunted," "nightmare," and "forbidden" how could I resist? Right up my horror movie-loving alley! If you like what you see you can download it here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 220]


"All of the sudden she disappears
Just yesterday she was here
Somebody tell me if I am sleeping"
- Counting Crows

Inspired by the rather insipid movie, Insidious, which I saw over the weekend. There was a scene with an out-of-body experience that made me want to try to capture that same feel myself. Since I don't believe in that sort of mumbo jumbo in real life this has instead become something more, something about feeling separated from yourself and leaving parts of yourself behind.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 219]


I know some folks aren't fans of HDR photography that looks too artificial or is too obviously HDR. I, however, am not as picky so I'm quite pleased with how this turned out. It helps that I had such a pretty model to work with.

Have I mentioned how much I love my little car? I like to pretend I'm in The Italian Job when I find myself in traffic next to another Mini. *vroom vroom*

Less impressive outtake:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies


I'm not sure if browned butter has officially become a baking fad or if I'm just now becoming aware of it. Either way I'm all too happy to capitalize on the dearth of browned butter recipes out there and incorporate it into as many of my baked goods as possible. I've extolled the virtues of browned butter in the past and all of that praise is equally well-deserved for the extra dimension it brings to what would otherwise be plain old chocolate chip cookies.

Aside from a few minor adjustments in the quantity of the ingredients, all of the basic ingredients are there with the big twist being the strong flavor of the browned butter. It's especially prevalent in the raw batter, not that I would know. ;) In fact, when doing a little taste test of the sugar mixture my first thought was that it tasted like caramel. A delicious sign of things to come!

I made the cookies a little smaller than the recipe calls for. I wound up with about 23 cookies not counting the 2-3 cookies' worth of cookie dough I ate as the first batch baked. They baked up nicely into cake-like morsels with crisp, lightly browned edges. I know there are all sorts of schools of thought as to what constitutes the perfect chocolate chip cookie but I'm not such a picky connoisseur. To me these contain everything I could possibly want in a cookie. You'll get no complaints from me!

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe adapted from Cooks Illustrated via The Way the Cookie Crumbles

1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)


1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper (I used nonstick pans and skipped this step). Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

3. Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whish for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use a #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet.

5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10-14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

Fabric Selections For The Jamie Dress Sew Along

I mentioned last week that I'm going to participate in a sew along hosted by Sew Sweetness. I've been getting more and more excited about the prospect of sewing my first dress as I've gone through the painstaking process of selecting the perfect fabrics. After days of indecisively going back and forth I finally settled on what I think will be the perfect fabrics:


I had such a hard time choosing from all of the beautiful Aviary 2 fabrics by Joel Dewberry that I broke down and bought enough to make two dresses. If I'd had an unlimited budget I would have bought some of each design and color combo. It's gorgeous, high-quality fabric that's even prettier in real life than in the pictures.

The first dress will feature Damask in Granite with Lodge Lattice in Vintage Yellow at the waistband. It's hard to tell from the pictures, but the yellows match perfectly and are even more vibrant in person.

The second will feature Sparrows in Plum and a solid-colored waistband, probably in a matching plum. The only way I can justify spending so much on designer fabric for this is if I buy the solid fabric at Jo-Ann Fabrics using a 40% off coupon. Gotta save those pennies somewhere!

To further my excitement, Sara at Sew Sweetness has already made three dresses for herself, each even better than the last. If this isn't enough to inspire me I don't know what will:

Sis Boom Jamie Dress Sew Along!


It's not too late to join in the sew along so if you're interested visit Sew Sweetness for all of the details and to get a great discount on the pattern and your fabric. Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 217]


I haven't done well participating in this week's theme, which is "framed." I've had an idea to do a shot like this with our gothic arch thingymabopper for a while so figured it fits this week's theme well enough to give it a go today. After rearranging all of the living room furniture and chasing off the cats I managed to get something fairly close to what I'd envisioned.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 216]


Help!

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 215]


Another shadowy self-portrait. What can I say? I'm going through a vain phase.