Monday, October 31, 2011

Mini Pumpkin Spice Donuts

Every fall it seems that pumpkin works its way into every dish possible. From pies to soups to risottos, the list goes on and on. I thought I'd seen it all until I came across this recipe for mini pumpkin spice donuts. They remind me ever so slightly of Donettes because they're baked and more cake-like than fried donuts, but that's not what's important. What's important is that after they come out of the oven, they're dipped in butter and rolled in cinnamon sugar, and they taste like all your favorite parts of fall. (Mine tasted like the sound of crunching leaves underfoot, the warmth of a well-blanketed bed, and the coziness of wearing comfy pants all weekend.) I popped one in my mouth while I was sugaring them all, and it was pretty wild. 

p.s. Happy Halloween!! Have a good one :)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Have a spooky weekend!

Halloween is almost here, and I'm so excited! takes Halloween pretty seriously, and almost everyone dresses up (compared to Halloween at my last company where only two people dressed up — me and Stacy). I stayed home sick today, so this weekend I'll be willing this cold away, putting the finishing touches on my costume, and watching The Walking Dead. I heard it's spooky and suspenseful which sounds absolutely perfect for getting in the Halloween spirit.

p.s. My cloud computing costume was featured in Mashable's tech-themed Halloween costumes slideshow today!

(pumpkin carvings by Ray Villafane via Design Taxi)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My (Mildly) Roaring 20s: Corporate Bathroom Etiquette

There are a lot of tricky things to navigate in the corporate world, but a lot of it seems to be unspoken common knowledge. Like never being that person who takes the last cup of coffee in the morning and who doesn't make a new pot. But when it comes to corporate bathroom etiquette, it seems that anything goes.

In my mind, bathroom time equals private time — there's really no need for anyone else to know what's going on in your stall. Of course, everyone knows what's going on in your stall because everyone goes to the bathroom, so it's mind-boggling to me when some people act like they don't know. In my experience, I've known these people to come in two types: the conversationalists and the lingerers.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Milk + Cookies: Glittery Place Cards-and-Favors-in-One


Dinner parties are one of my favorite things — they combine food and chit and chat into one fun evening. I'm a firm believer that no matter how small or casual a dinner party is, adding just a few thoughtful details can make it feel extra special. I think place cards are a classy touch, and I love the idea of sending guests home with a little gift. So I created this easy project to make place cards and favors in one: stamped initials on paper straws help guests find their seats, and inside each glittery milk carton is a sweet cookie treat. Many of the necessary craft supplies can be found at your local craft supplies store or online at shops like Factory Direct Craft.

Craft supplies you'll need: clean empty milk cartons, paint, glitter, straws, glitter paper, cellophane bags, a stapler, and cookies.

Step one: Paint the outside of the milk cartons in any color you'd like. While the paint is still wet, sprinkle on like-colored glitter. Let dry completely. (I covered my milk cartons in pretty white glitter, but couldn't get it to show up on camera :(

Step two: Cut out strips of paper and stamp your guests' initials on each one using a glue pad. Sprinkle glitter over glue while still wet. Let dry completely and attach each paper strip to a straw with tape.

Step three: Package cookies (make sure they're small enough to fit inside the carton) in cellophane bags and staple glitter paper over the tops to seal.

Step four: Place cookies inside each milk carton and staple milk carton closed. Place straw in the milk carton, and you're done!

Tip: If you can't find little half pint milk cartons anywhere, Whole Foods sells half pint cartons of cream.

(This post is in partnership with Factory Direct Craft.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Do you do sexy Halloween costumes?

It seems to me that women fall into two Halloween costume camps with minimal cross-over: those that do sexy and those that don't. I always thought I did sexy, but this week Alan informed me otherwise. I guess dressing up as a slice of pizza is only hot and steamy to some. Speaking of hot and steamy, the evolution of sexy Halloween costumes by Jillian Tamaki made me giggle. I am especially loving the sexy smelly old gym sock, and I dare Alan to say the perfect soft-boiled egg is not sexy as hell.   

Monday, October 24, 2011

How to Frost Sugar Cookies the Easy Way

I made frosted sugar cookies this weekend for an upcoming project (more on that later this week). It was my first time working with royal icing (which dries hard to the touch), and it was so fun. I'll have to experiment closer to Christmas with the piping and flooding technique, but for those looking for a quick way to frost, this is what I did:

1) Place a generous amount of frosting in the center of the cookie.
2) Using a butter knife, push the frosting out from the center to the edges, stopping a 1/4 inch from the edge.
3) Smooth frosting over in a circular motion.

It's definitely not the most precise method, but it's very fast and easy. For the white accents, I just filled a sandwich bag with frosting and used this tip. I think making tiny pearl borders was my favorite part of the whole thing.

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies
Barely adapted from Blonde Designs

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour

1. Cream butter and cream cheese until fluffy; add sugar and mix.
2. Add egg, salt, and vanilla; mix well.
3. Add flour. Be careful to not overmix. Wrap dough in plastic and chill several hours or overnight.
4. Roll out on floured surface and cut out cookies (keep on thicker side). Bake on ungreased sheet at 375 degrees until edges begin to barely brown. Cool completely and frost.


Royal Icing
From Martha Stewart

2 large egg whites, or more to thin icing
4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar, or more to thicken icing
1 lemon, juiced

1. Beat the whites until stiff but not dry.
2. Add sugar and lemon juice; beat for 1 minute more. If icing is too thick, add more egg whites; if it is too thin, add more sugar.
3. Add food coloring if desired (I am partial to this icing color gel which produces the most vibrant colors by using just the teeniest amount). The icing may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Camel This + That + Bright Shoes

{Urban Outfitters shoes, Therapy skirt, H&M sweater}

The bright purple shoes in this otherwise all-camel outfit from J. Crew (below) kill me — such a perfect, playful balance! I put together my own version of the look with an oversized, elbow-padded grandpa sweater from H&M. It's warm and slouchy and super comfortable. I can't wait to wear it on brisk walks or while eating soup inside on a rainy day.
(Photos by Alive by Shooting)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

My (Mildly) Roaring 20s: The Moment You Know It's Not Going to Work

For some people (and for art gallery owners in movies), there is an exact moment when they know the person they’re dating is the one. Before Alan, I’d always been much better at identifying the exact moment when I knew the person I was dating was definitely not the one. My senior year of college, in a very cliché moment of life, I started seeing a guy named Sam. He didn’t go to my school, but he was in a band and had cool band-guy hair. Those two things alone were his most memorable attributes, and I let it slide that we had almost nothing in common. After all, his hair – the cool hair – and my appreciation for it, seemed, at the time, like the building blocks of a solid relationship.

After a few dates, however, I began to wonder if we’d be able to make it work. Our evenings of eating pizza together were oddly quiet, but he was a nice guy, and in a college world full of frat guys, you could do a lot worse than eat pizza with a nice guy in a band.

Halloween rolled around, and in a moment of costume brainstorming, I had a brilliant idea. “I know,” I said feverishly, my excitement growing by the second. “I’ll wrap myself in aluminum foil, stick Al on my back… and be an element!” I beamed at him. When he kept looking at me blankly, I went on, “You know, like on the periodic table.”

Finally, in the most telling moment of our humdrum relationship, he said, “What’s the periodic table?” And in that moment I knew we would never work. He pushed a lock of hair off his face, and I watched it spring perfectly back into place.

We stopped seeing each other soon after, but I always thought it'd be funny if we had made it to Halloween if he matched my costume by covering himself in salt and being the element sodium.

Have you guys had moments in your relationships where you definitely knew it was going to work or not? What happened?

(Top image source via All Women Stalk)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Painted Cross-Stitch Pumpkins

For the past few years that I've carved my Halloween pumpkins, I've never been quite happy with the result, so this year I painted them instead. I made simple cross-stitch patterns using a little bit of craft paint and a skewer to create the x's. They were so much fun to make and way less messier than carving. (Though, I'll admit that I'm still smitten with these intricately carved pumpkins).

Did you decorate or carve pumpkins this year? If so, what did you make?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Heirloom Tomatoes from Stacy's Garden

My friend Stacy has a sweet vegetable garden with heirloom and cherry tomatoes, herbs, and zucchini. Next year she wants to grow corn! I'm always so impressed when people grow their own food, especially since it seems impossible when I try to do it. I've been babying a tomato plant for months and months and finally, just yesterday, one of my hard green tomatoes ripened!

{my one precious tomato I successfully grew} 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Brown Butter Raspberry Tart

This weekend I found myself with a fridge full of raspberries. Costco was selling them at some ridiculous price, and I just couldn't help myself. I wanted to start testing out recipes for the holidays with them. The idea was to make something beautiful, something a little bit fancier than your standard pumpkin pie, but also something simple that wouldn't make the holidays crazier than they already are. This brown butter raspberry tart nailed it. Aside from it being super pretty, it tastes amazing — the richness of the brown butter complements the tartness of the raspberries really well, and the shortbread crust gives every bite a nice cookie crunch ending. When I asked Alan if he wanted a piece, he said he wasn't a big fan of tarts, but politely said he'd try a little. He ended up eating half of it in one sitting. Needless to say, this is definitely a front-runner for the Thanksgiving dessert table.    

Brown Butter Raspberry Tart
Adapted from Bon Appetit

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
Pinch of salt

1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced
2 6-ounce containers fresh raspberries

For crust:

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Using rubber spatula or fork, mix melted butter, sugar, and vanilla in medium bowl. Add flour and salt and stir until incorporated. Transfer dough to 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Using fingertips, press dough evenly onto sides and bottom of pan.
Bake crust until golden, about 11 minutes (crust will puff slightly while baking). Transfer crust to rack and cool in pan. Maintain oven temperature.

For filling:

Whisk sugar, eggs, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add flour and vanilla; whisk until smooth. Cook butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until deep nutty brown (do not burn), stirring often, about 6 minutes. (Tip: When browning butter, use a saucepan with a light-colored bottom so that you can gauge the color of the butter.) Immediately pour browned butter into glass measuring cup. Gradually whisk browned butter into sugar-egg mixture; whisk until well blended.

Arrange raspberries, pointed side up and close together in concentric circles, in bottom of cooled crust. Carefully pour browned butter mixture evenly over berries. Place tart on rimmed baking sheet. Bake tart until filling is puffed and golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool tart completely in pan on rack. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.

Remove tart pan sides. Place tart on platter. Cut into wedges and serve.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sessun Fall/Winter Collection

I am loving the Sessun fall-winter 2011-2012 collection, or le collection automne-hiver, as the French would say it. Colorful and girlish, I want to wear it all, especially the plaid coat and blue dress with berry-colored tights. 

(All images via Sessun)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Life (with Cancer) After Cancer

Last week, I was standing over a co-worker's computer talking to him about the redemption rates of digital coupons when I saw the news break that Steve Jobs had died. My hand shot up to my mouth, and we looked at each other. He said, "Well, that's not surprising."

When I picked Alan up from work, I asked if he had heard the news, and he said, "Yes. And I don't really want to talk about a guy who died from cancer." We switched topics and talked about something else the rest of the way home.

In this week's My (Mildly) Roaring 20s post, I'd like to talk about what life with Alan has been like after his own battle with cancer and the one lingering thing I thought would go away but never did.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wise Words for Creatives

As a blogger and a writer, I'm always looking to improve. I want to take better pictures, write more compelling stories... the list is endless. Some days, I'm more optimistic about my progress than others. On the bad days, I feel like I'm not doing enough — not enough, not better, not faster. It can be a catty, catty game that drives me crazy. But then I read or hear something that really inspires me. One person's work that I really admire for knowing how to captivate audiences so well is Ira Glass's. My friend Stacy got me totally hooked on his radio show, This American Life. He's an amazing storyteller. Since I'm a fairly new listener, I'd assumed he'd always been a genius storyteller, so it surprised me when I read this (slightly paraphrased) quote by him on how he thought his work sucked for years when he first started and how this is normal for creative people who create great work. In this videocast series where the quote is from, he talks about how he thinks he still sucked after he'd been broadcasting for eight years! If he can struggle for nearly a decade and be as great as he is, there's hope for the rest of us.

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through that."

— Ira Glass

Monday, October 10, 2011

5 Ingredient Wheat Bread in 5 Easy Steps

For a long time, this no-knead bread was my go-to recipe whenever I wanted to make bread at home, but then Ali shared her wheat bread recipe with me and now I have two keepers — they're both so good. The no-knead recipe makes a more rustic, bakery-like loaf (great for impressing the host at your next dinner party), while this wheat recipe makes a good everyday loaf for things like toast and sandwiches. 

Aside from the fact that this recipe takes about 4 hours to make (don't worry, most of that is just rise time), it's virtually foolproof. The first time I made it, it looked like a gloopy, sticky, unformable mess. After the first step, I set it aside in a bowl and forgot about it because I had written it off as a lost cause. When I came back in the kitchen 2 hours later, it was practically overflowing in the bowl, but looked more like dough should. I decided to heck with it, followed the rest of the recipe, and out came two mighty fine loaves. 

Now, this is a sticky dough. There's just no way around it. But the trick, I've learned, is to not follow the measurements too closely. Just keep throwing flour in the bowl until it looks a little less gloopy, sticky, and unformable. After combining all the ingredients and kneading for 5 minutes, my dough looked like the above.

After the first hour-long rise, the dough should look smoother (and lots more friendly, don't you think?) My favorite part is folding the dough in on itself.

Since this recipe makes two loaves, it's perfect for slicing up, sticking in the freezer, and pulling a few slices out in the morning for breakfast throughout the week or for dinner in the evenings. Having fresh hot toast with a slather of butter and blueberry jam in the mornings beats cold cereal any day. 

Easy 5-Ingredient, 5-Step Wheat Bread
Adapted from How to Sew a Button, as told to me by Ali 

3 overflowing cups whole wheat flour
3 overflowing cups bread flour (all purpose will work, too)
3 3/4 cups tepid water (2 1/2 cups cold + 1 1/4 cups boiling)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoon yeast

1. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together. Knead until dough comes together into one collective mass. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for one hour. 
2.  Oil a large bowl and set aside. Remove plastic wrap and transfer dough to oiled bowl. Fold dough in on itself, bringing the bottom edge up to the center, the top edge down to the center and then both sides into the center. Cover and let rise for one hour.
3. Dump dough onto a floured surface (or floured parchment paper if you want to avoid cleanup). Split dough into two pieces. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes. 
4. Form each piece of dough into a rectangle and fold in thirds, then in half,  and then roll to the length of the loaf pan. (I found that the dough was too sticky to do any sort of folding, so I just sorta rolled it and then plopped it into the pan, and it still turned out fine. If you've never folded/rolled dough before (like me), you might find these step-by-step pictures helpful.) Place dough in greased pan. Cover and let rise for 1 hour. After 1 hour, the dough should rise to the top of the pan. If it doesn't, let it sit for 30 minute intervals until it does.
5. Bake at 425 degrees in the center of your oven for 20-25 minutes. The top will be golden brown. Remove bread from oven and immediately dump loaves out of pans and onto cooling racks. Let sit for 1 hour before slicing. (Or, if you can't fight fresh home-baked bread either, eat right away, preferably with salted butter). 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sweaters & Specks of Gold

This week has been rainy and cold, and (surprisingly!) I found that I really enjoyed the brisk weather. It makes me want to get cozy, drink lots of coffee and hot tea, and listen to holiday tunes. Since it's a little too early in the season to break out my Christmas cds, I'll settle for thick knits and pretty splashes of gold.

1 J. Crew bright purple sweater
2 Edor asymmetrical gold necklace   
3 KraeO chunky knit scarf
4 Pedlars porcelain milk cartons
5 Hygge & West wallpaper

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My (Mildly) Roaring 20s: Living with Boys

(img via TBI vision)

Remember last week when I said I wanted to start writing more? Well, I've been thinking about it, and I would love to write something like Joanna Goddard's weekly blog series on motherhood. She has a 1.5 year old and always has funny and touching insights to share on her experiences as a new mom. I thought about what I could write about that I'm an "expert" on. After many conversations with myself in the shower, I decided that being in my eighth year of my 20s, I am sort of an expert on things that can happen to you during this exciting decade of life. (Okay, that is kind of a vast overstatement if I ever heard one, so let's just say that at the very least, I have lots of stories to tell from this span of my life.)

Now that I had the topic squared away, I needed a title for the series. Something catchy (Joanna's series is aptly titled "Motherhood Mondays"). "My Roaring 20s" sounded fun but also made it sound like I live a life like Beyonce's — all glamorous and private planes and mini bar indulgences — so I toned it down a little to make it more accurate. And there you have it: the whole story on how this little series came to be. For my first post, I'd like to talk about living with boys and having a platonic boy roommate, which I did my senior year of college.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

For the Love of Food Styling: Tabletop Construction

One of the best things about our place is the kitchen which is way bigger than any of the kitchens we've had in the past. It even has fancy granite-top counters which is amazing for making things like bread, soft pretzels, or pie crust. The one down side to granite counters is they don't really provide the clean white background I like to have in my food photos. At first I tried using foam core as a backdrop — snooze. Then I tried white tablecloth — better. Still though, I wanted something that looked rustic and more kitchen-like. What I really wanted was an old whitewashed farm table, but even though our kitchen is bigger, it's definitely not huge.

I'd been thinking about a few different solutions, but they all involved building things with tools (which is not my forte) or winning the lottery. Then I went over to Ali and Elijah's house and realized Elijah is quite the carpenter — for fun, he made a baking cabinet for Ali to store all of her cake supplies in. So this weekend, my super handy and awesome neighbors helped me build the next best thing to a table: a tabletop made up of one 2x4! It fits right on my counter, stores easily, and makes for the perfect food photography backdrop. It took a just few hours to put together and to paint and cost $20 for all the materials. I haven't been this excited about taking food photos in a long time! It looks quite table-y, don't you think?

Monday, October 3, 2011

My First Layer Cake — Banana with Cream Cheese Frosting

Whenever I'm in a bakery, there is always one thing my eyes are drawn to and that my heart completely fawns all over: the tall, beautiful layer cakes. Then my brain kicks in and reminds me that being in my apartment with an entire cake in my fridge would probably be a bad, bad thing, so I always end up staring longingly through the glass and going home with a cream cheese croissant. I've thought about making one myself, but the thought of making a layer cake has always intimidated me. 

Luckily, my new neighbor just so happens to be a professional cake baker! I brought over 6 really spotty, mushy bananas, and together we made the banana cake that I had at my birthday. Ali walked me through the steps on how to properly cut cakes in half, how to create a crumb coat, and how to end up with smooth frosting over everything. (A video tutorial will be coming shortly!) The cake was incredible and tastes so much like the banana cake at my favorite bakery Icing on the Cake. If you love banana desserts, go get some spotty bananas and make this asap!  

Banana Cake
(source unknown)

Note: The recipe below makes one 8" cake. We doubled the recipe to make two 8" cakes for one 8" 4-layer cake. (Layers are so fun!) 

2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 3; the riper/mushier/spottier the better)
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup shortening (we substituted shortening for butter because shortening kind of freaks me out)
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Allow eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, grease one 8" round cake pan. 
2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add bananas, buttermilk, shortening (or butter), and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until combined. Add eggs; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Pour batter into prepared pan. 
3. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cake layers in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cake layers from pans; cool thoroughly on racks. Frost with cream cheese icing. 
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