Monday, February 28, 2011

Reversible Everyday Shopper

Yay! I successfully completed my first project from the book I won last month, Amy Butler's Style Stitches. Not only did the wonderful Bree from My Crafty Crap give a copy of the book away but she's also hosting a sew along. I flaked out last month and didn't get around to making the complicated-looking Cosmo Bag so I vowed I'd bust out the sewing machine for this one. I'm glad I waited since the Reversible Everyday Shopper was such an easy bag to sew with nothing more complex than a straight line.

The book is full of patterns for a wide variety of bags. I'm looking forward to trying so many of them out. This is one of the more plain styles in the book and, to tell the truth, it's probably not one I'll probably bother making again as it's written. I don't really have a need in my life for such a huge tote but if you're short on reusable grocery bags it would certainly come in handy for that. Obviously with the bulk it's not the sort of bag you can just roll up and pop in your purse, which is what I prefer to do with mine. I imagine this is intended to be a cutesy bag you carry around at the market and show off while you shop.

This year, I've been making an effort to use up fabrics from my stash so it was difficult to find the perfect combination for this bag. At least I was able to use up some of that Ikea fabric I bought on an impulse and have regretted purchasing since. I swear they must pipe something through the vents in the store to encourage silly impulse buys. There are cute elements that drew me to the fabric in the first place but it's been hard to find a project large enough to show those off. As a result, they've sat unused in my closet for the better part of a year.

Since I was such a slacker and waited until the last minute, I was able to take advantage of everyone else's hard work and read several reviews before I dove into the pattern. I made a few changes to the pattern based on that and some additional ones of my own.

  • I used a third fabric for the pocket because I didn't have enough on hand of the Ikea fabric. The bags I've liked the best from others have used three or more fabrics to shake things up and keep the bag interesting. Some used contrasting fabrics for the side panels as well, which I think works great.

  • I only included one pocket on the side that will probably be inside most often. Partially because I didn't have enough of the fabric I chose to use and partially because I didn't want to obscure any of the cute Ikea fabric.

  • I sewed a seam up the center of the pocket to divide it into two sections. Some of the reviews I read did the same as the pocket was too large and floppy otherwise. Seems like a good choice based on my results.

  • I used quilting cotton for one of sides. I couldn't find coordinating home decor fabrics in my stash and figured one layer of sturdy Ikea fabric would be enough. I think the bag turned out just fine and still has plenty of structure.

  • I only interfaced the quilting cotton side of the bag but did interface both bottom sections. Again, this was based on others' reviews in addition to my own cheapness. The bag still seems nice and sturdy. Honestly, considering how tough it was to sew through some areas once the bag was assembled I can't imagine how my machine would have gotten through that extra bulk.

  • I'm not sure if the instructions state this, but make sure to switch to a thick needle when you're working on the folded section of the straps and sewing around the top of the assembled bag. Even with a size 16 needle I had to hand crank the machine to plow through it all.

All in all it's a neat pattern and I wouldn't mind toying with the size to make a more normal-sized tote. At least now I feel that I deserved the book I won and can't wait to try next month's pattern, the Origami Bag.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 182]

This isn't the photo I set out to take today but after looking through my shots this one intrigued me the most. I'll be sorry to see this week's theme go.

Theme: over exposed

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 180 & 181]

I decided to stop hogging the camera yesterday and give the other lady of the house her own photo shoot. Her pale skin tone is just perfect for overexposing.

Today I'm back to the self-portraits, this time using some beautiful flowers I bought myself as a belated Valentine's Day gift. I started to do this photo shoot in my back yard so I could better make use of the sunlight and get the angle just right, but my neighbors seem to be incapable of staying indoors so I got embarrassed and fled back to my home. Had to make do with the only usable window as my backdrop. Had fun playing around with the focus on this one.

Theme: over exposed

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 179]

I am having so much fun with this week's theme! It seems to lend itself perfectly to portraits and the like. Since I'm the only one around willing to model I'm getting a ton of practice with self-portraits, which was one of the skills I was hoping to improve with this photography project.

And yes, I could learn to iron my clothes before taking a photograph but that would show far too much devotion to something that's meant to be just a hobby.

Theme: over exposed

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 178]

I'm really proud of this one. It seems that I typically wind up with inadvertently overexposed pictures when I try to photograph snow so I took advantage of the few inches we got the other night to work on this week's theme. I love how it turned out. The best part is it needed very little editing, which was a relief. I didn't have to fuss with it too long to get the photo I envisioned. Makes up for all the trouble I put into yesterday's photo.

Theme: over exposed

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 177]

So while this is not quite what I or the creator of the theme had in mind it's close enough to my grand vision. Hope no one's too traumatized.

And yes, this is the tamed down version.

Theme: Over exposed

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 176]

I spent over an hour this evening editing what I thought would be the perfect photo for this week's theme only to have my husband deem it unsuitable for the internet once I was done. I guess I should have asked his opinion before I did all that work because I suspect he's right that it might be a little too risqué and could alienate some of my followers. I'm working on ways to make it more suitable for public consumption but that'll have to wait for another day. Meanwhile, you get a picture I took yesterday at the park. It'll have to tide you over until my masterpiece can be revealed.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 175]

I love my Mini so much I have a fleet of mini Minis to keep it company.

Theme: your heart

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 172-174]

Nutella hot chocolate with a shot of Baileys. Recipe here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 171]

This was one of those days where every idea I tried didn't turn out as planned. I hate to use the same effect two days in a row but it's getting close to bedtime so here's what ya get.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 169]

“Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn't it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up."
-Neil Gaiman

Theme: Your heart

A Roach By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

I feel pretty confident in saying that I'm probably the only person you know who had a roach named after her for Valentine's Day. What can I say? My husband and I have a strange relationship. This makes me happier than flowers and jewelry ever could.

I can only hope that little Lina is being fed plenty of cupcakes and chocolate. She has special dietary needs, just like her namesake.

I blacked out my husband's contact info so none of you jealous girls can try to steal him away from me. Not that I could blame you for wanting a man who would shower you with such luxurious gifts.

Ginger Chocolate Pear Cupcakes

Happy Valentine's Day! Now that I have a genuinely delicious treat to share with you I feel OK about proclaiming that.

This Valentine's Day I decided to treat myself. I started brainstorming what sort of chocolate-y concoction I'd come up with, all for me since my husband's not a fan of the stuff. I'm not sure where I got the idea to combine chocolate, ginger, and pear but it seemed so appealing that it was only a matter of figuring out how to incorporate those three ingredients into a cupcake.

Since it was for a holiday I could go all out so I dug out my trusty copy of Death By Chocolate and snagged the recipe for chocolate cupcakes and some tips on how to make the ganache filling. I settled on a high-quality chocolate truffle filling infused with fresh ginger flavor and a little crunch from nuggets of candied ginger. For the frosting I wound up with a buttercream subtly flavored with a hint of pear and more spicy ginger. Although I'd hoped the pear flavor would be stronger I think the overall combination works so well that I won't complain one bit about my Valentine's Day treat. Not that I'd have time to complain since I'm busy scarfing down these babies.

Granny Twichells Secret Chocolate Cupcake Recipe
Recipe adapted from Death By Chocolate by Marcel Desaulniers

10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 18 cupcake wells with paper liners.
2) Heat 1 inch of water in the bottom half of a double boiler over medium heat. Place 10 ounces semisweet chocolate, 1 cup heavy cream and 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate in the top half of the double boiler. tightly cover with plastic wrap. Allow to heat for 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Set aside until needed.
3) Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Beat on medium until lemon-colored and slightly thickened, about 4 minutes.
4) Add the melted chocolate mixture and beat on medium for 15 to 20 seconds more.
5) Add the cake flour and baking soda and beat on low for 10 seconds. Increase to medium and beat for an additional 10 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Use a rubber spatula and thoroughly combine the batter.
6) Evenly divide the batter among 18 bake cups, filling the cups to within 1/4 below the rim. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool in pan for ten minutes. Remove from pan and completely cool cupcakes on wire rack.

Ginger Chocolate Ganache Filling
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons shredded ginger
3 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger

Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. In a heavy saucepan, heat cream and shredded ginger over medium heat until almost boiling. Pour through a strainer over chocolate. Using your fingers or the back of a spoon, squeeze/press as much liquid out of the shredded ginger left in the strainer into the chocolate mixture. Let chocolate sit for five minutes, then whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in chopped candied ginger.

Using the cone method, fill each cooled cupcake with ganache. You may have some extra that can be kept at room temperature until firm enough to roll into truffles. Or just eat it with a spoon. I'll won't tell. :)

Ginger Pear Buttercream
9.6 ounce can pear nectar
1 1/2 tablespoons shredded ginger
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 to 4 cups powdered sugar

1) In a small saucepan, heat pear nectar over medium high heat until boiling. Continue to boil, stirring often, until reduced to a thin syrup, ten to fifteen minutes. Mixture will thicken more as it cools.
2) Pour into a small bowl. Place a strainer above the bowl and, using your fingers or the back of a spoon, squeeze/press as much liquid out of the shredded ginger into the pear syrup. Discard shredded ginger. Stir pear mixture to combine and let cool to room temperature.
3) In a mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter 40 seconds. Add pear mixture, vanilla, and 3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar. Beat until smooth and gradually add more powdered sugar to reach desired consistency.


Strawberry Milk Cake

When I saw a recipe for strawberry milk cake at The Kitchn I was so excited. My Valentine's Day baking plans were still up in the air and I immediately thought this would be the perfect Valentine's Day treat for my strawberry-loving husband. I'm disappointed that despite the use of artificially flavored strawberry milk the cake doesn't actually taste like strawberries. Sure, there's an adorable pink hue to the cake but that's partially thanks to the red food coloring I added because with the milk alone the color didn't seem strong enough. The cake isn't bad but it's just not what I was hoping to give to my husband for Valentine's Day. I think because of that I'm more upset about this baking failure than I usually would be. So frustrating. I wish people would be more honest when posting recipes online.

I skipped the frosting recipe they included in favor of a strawberry buttercream and malted chocolate filling. I guess I should be glad I did so there's some strawberry flavor to be found in the dessert.

Strawberry Milk Cake
Recipe adapted from The Kitchn

2 eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup scalded strawberry milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter
Red food coloring (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and grease two cake pans, set aside. Beat the eggs, vanilla and sugar until fully combined (I used a whisk). In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour to egg mixture, mixing until just combined. In a small sauce pan, heat milk until almost boiling (there will be some steam and a few small bubbles on the side of the pan), add butter and turn off heat, stirring until butter is fully melted. Pour scalded milk/butter into the batter, add red food coloring (if desired), and stir until combined. Divide evenly into prepared pans and bake for 20-30 minutes, until done. Let cool completely in pans on wire rack.

Malted Chocolate Filling
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon malted milk powder
1 1/2 tablespoons chocolate ice cream topping
1 cup powdered sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons milk

In a mixing bowl, cream butter for one minute. Add malted milk powder, chocolate topping, and powdered sugar. Beat at medium speed until combined. Gradually add milk until desired consistency is reached. Spread onto bottom layer of cake. Top with other layer of cake.

Strawberry Frosting
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons pureed strawberries
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

In a mixing bowl, cream butter for one minute. Add strawberries, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Beat at medium speed until combined.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 167 & 168]

Went out for a drive yesterday and found a series of warehouses with fun sayings printed on the sides.

Spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen working on Valentine's Day treats.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Birthday Cake Fudge

No, it's not anyone's birthday around here but I wasn't about to let that stop me from making birthday cake fudge. You shouldn't let it stop you either as this fudge is just as delicious as you're no doubt already imagining. Seriously. Go make this now. Make it your Valentine's Day present to yourself.

I snagged the recipe from the kick-ass Mrs. Bettie Rocker, who is one of my favorite bloggers. She features some of the most amazing recipes out there and has a healthy appreciation for skulls. My kind of girl! Not only is her blog stylish (gotta love that red and turquoise combo) but it's also just the right amount of cutesy offset with plenty of sass. Check her out for some unbeatable recipes. Preferably once you've got a plateful of birthday cake fudge to keep you company.

Birthday Cake Fudge
Recipe from Mrs. Bettie Rocker

3 cups sugar
1 1/2 sticks margarine (I used one stick salted and 1/2 stick unsalted butter)
5 oz can (2/3 cup) evaporated milk
12 oz chopped white chocolate chips
7oz jar marshmallow creme
3 or 4 Tablespoons yellow cake mix (just the powdered MIX, not batter)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Blue food coloring
Rainbow sprinkles

1. Line an 8 or 9 inch square pan with foil, leaving the ends hanging over the edges of the pan. Spray foil thoroughly with nonstick spray.

2. Place the sugar, margarine, and evaporated milk in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, and let boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Add chocolate chips, marshmallow creme, and cake mix, stirring until chocolate chips are melted. Add vanilla and mix well.

4. Working quickly, pour about 1/3 of the fudge in a bowl and add a few drops of blue food coloring, mixing and adding until you achieve the desired shade. Pour white fudge into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Spoon blue fudge over the top, spacing it out. Using a sharp knife, draw swirls through the blue and white to create a marbled effect. Sprinkle the top generously with rainbow sprinkles before the top sets up.

5. Let store at room temperature until cool, then place in the refrigerator until firm.

A Photo A Day [Days 165 & 166]

Two in a row of Punky, my little angel. Except when she's expressing her displeasure at not getting what she wants by using the claws. Otherwise she's a complete angel.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sweets For Your Sweet

This and more nerdy Valentines can be found here

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Valentine's Day, which is why I've just about reached the end of my tether with the cutesy Valentine's Day crafts everyone's been posting about since the day after Christmas. I've mentally composed blog posts going on and on about why the holiday irks me, from the usual complaints about consumerism to my own inflated expectations that are, inevitably, not met. Then I figured that I'd come across as a bitter old hag and didn't want to rain on anyone else's parade if you happen to love the holiday.

Ever since I realized that Valentine's Day, like most holidays, falls into the category of "just another day" to my husband I've been reluctant and a little resentful about doing anything to celebrate since I'm the one who has to make the effort, make the plans, and do all the work to make it happen. To top it off I'm the only one who cares once all that hard work is over. But at the last minute I seem to talk myself into at least baking something yummy since my mom always made such a big deal about holidays when I was growing up. In my family even the most minor holiday is an excuse to indulge in food. Green mashed potatoes and milk on St. Patrick's Day, anyone? Or was that just me?

I'm still working on my ideas for this year's Valentine's Day treats but thought I'd share some of my previous years' works to maybe inspire some of you.

If your husband loves pizza as much as mine does you can woo him with a heart-shaped pizza. If not woo him at least you can distract him from video games long enough to get him to share a meal with you. My husband mentioned that the pizza place where he used to work would make heart-shaped pizzas by request on Valentine's Day so I got the idea to make my own. Easy peasy.

I made this cookie cake pie for our anniversary one year but I think it's fun enough and so ridiculously over the top that it works for any holiday. It's exactly what it sounds like: a pie crust base topped with a layer of cookie dough, cake batter, and a mountain of frosting on top. Top with Valentine's sprinkles and you've got a special treat! I made this back in the day when I still thought it was acceptable to use cake mix so mine included strawberry cake to satisfy my husband's love of strawberries. It'd be just as easy to do with homemade cake batter. Instructions can be found here at CakeSpy.

Not being much of a TV watcher before I met my husband, I'd never heard of Domo until we got together. Now I love the furry little guy even though I still don't fully understand his purpose. I made this cake two years ago for my husband's Valentine's Day treat. As you can see, Domo has such a simple design that it was all too easy to make a Domo-shaped cake. I baked a strawberry cake, this time from scratch and using fresh strawberries, in a 9 x 13 pan, trimmed a strip off the bottom to make into his arms, and cut a little cake out between his legs. Then I topped it all with a thick chocolate fudge frosting. This was the first time I bothered to do a crumb layer while frosting so it wouldn't look like he'd been rolling in the dirt. I used this site to make my own custom conversation hearts, which I printed in different colors, cut out, and arranged on a piece of cardboard covered with pink tissue paper to make a cute cake base. There's a layer of plastic wrap between the base and the cake because I don't relish the thought of eating printer ink along with my cake.

Last year, after I swore off Valentine's Day forever, I stumbled across some super dorky scientist valentines, free to download and print. How could I resist? Valentine's Day was back on the schedule and I decided to present the Valentine card to my husband with some chocolate cupcakes filled with strawberry chocolate ganache and topped with strawberry buttercream. Unfortunately this was before my blogging days so I didn't bother to save the recipe. I'd imagine there are plenty of recipes out there for something similar if the combination seems appealing to you. The heart toppers were inspired by something I saw in a magazine, just melted chocolate piped in the shape of a heart with swirls of chocolate across the middle. I managed to make a few stringing my and my husband's first initials together as you can see on the foremost cupcake. Again, easy peasy. Just the way I like it.

So there you have it. Just a few ideas that might help make your holiday a little more fun.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 164]

Well, today was a traumatizing day. There I was, breezing back to work after my lunch break when I saw one of the mutant wild turkeys that's taller than the hood of my Mini bolt out into the street, as they are wont to do around here. Now, everyone who lives around here knows that they frequent that area and I myself nearly had a run-in with one when it burst out of some tall weeds into the road. I managed to stop in time and it fluttered off unscathed. Unfortunately, the same fate was not in store for today's turkey.

It's true what they say about traumatic events seeming to happen in slow motion. I'm sure the entire event took less than a minute but it felt like an eternity as I watched it all unfold. I saw the woman in her big yellow car come bearing down on the turkey, not slowing at all until he was under her car. Then, inexplicably, I saw her continue to roll forward as the poor thing thrashed around in terror and pain, trying to get away from the car that was attacking him. At that point I noticed she'd been on her cell phone with a cigarette in the other hand, which explains why she hit the critter at full speed. I don't know if she kept driving because she was still reacting or because she was trying to herd him out from in front of her car, which is how it looked from my perspective. He managed to drag himself out of her lane as far as the middle of the street, where he collapsed because his legs were obviously not working. He proceeded to sit there and I could see his beak opening and closing as he called out and feathers that had been knocked loose blew all over the road. Once he was clear of her path the woman swerved around him and drove away. By the time I got off the phone with the police he'd curled up and stopped moving, whether from fear or because he'd died I'm not sure. Either way I was so shaken up by watching an animal suffer like that. I know wild turkeys are not the most attractive creations God has come up with and around here they are seen as a bit of a nuisance but it was still sad to witness.

There's no way of knowing if this could have been avoided had that stupid woman not been talking on her phone as accidents happen to even the most alert drivers, but it galls me how many people are arrogant enough to think that they can drive and talk on the phone at the same time. Don't even get me started on people who text and drive as I think they're a whole new breed of stupid. Any of us could operate a motor vehicle while half asleep. Steering and braking aren't that difficult, after all. It's all too easy to zone out while on a monotonous commute but it's the unexpected things that might crop up that require our full attention. How many times has the person in front of you suddenly braked, you've been cut off in traffic, or your car skidded on ice? And those are minor, almost weekly occurrences. Never mind the rarer but entirely possible incidents like today where an animal or, God forbid, a child runs out in front of your car. The simple fact is that humans have terrible reflexes and reaction times. Add to that the limitations of whatever car you're driving and you could easily wind up killing something or someone. Why deliberately do something, something that is completely avoidable, that will inhibit your response time?

When driving the most important thing you can do is pay attention. If you're in the driver's seat your commute is not an opportunity to catch up on your texts, apply your makeup, or fish around in the backseat for whatever item you absolutely have to have while barreling down the road at 40+ MPH. I'm sorry if I've ranted too long or sound too preachy but today's incident really bothered me and it's hardly the first time I've witnessed crappy driving only to discover that the offending driver is chatting away on her cell phone. Maybe it's because my mom instilled in me the notion that a motor vehicle can be a weapon or maybe it's because I vividly remember the cheesy but haunting videos we were forced to watch in driver's education but when I'm driving I consider my number one job to be to pay attention. Now if only everyone else out there on the road would agree.

RIP, little guy. You may have been pretty ugly in this life but for your troubles you may come back as a supermodel. Hopefully one who isn't accident prone.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 163]

Another self-portrait. After reading up on the subject a bit I think I'm already improving. Why, all of me is actually in focus here as opposed to just a choice selection as in yesterday's pic. I've also successfully managed to blur out most of my messy house in the background. Expect to see more self-portraits now that I have a tripod to help me out. Good thing I'm vain enough to keep working at this until I get it right.