Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Tour

Robby has been working on creating a new website for our church, so one of the things he did was take some neat pictures of our church. Here are a few of my favorites, a little tour of Sierra Baptist, if you will. Once he finishes the website, I'll post the link, so you can see the rest of his fine work.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Love this

Today I awoke to a beautiful (yes, beautiful) overcast rainy day. We haven't had a really good one yet, so this is a welcomed event. Even Calla seemed pleased and wanted to pop the bubbles that appeared on the walkway. Now, I am enjoying my coffee, the harvest scent of the candle by me, and the recent posts of my friends.

Happy rainy day to you all! Enjoy the last weekend of October!

Oh and the camellia bloomed! Lovely!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fall Flower

We don't have many fall-blooming flowers in our yard, but one that is a lovely surprise is this sasanqua "pink snow" camellia. Sweet name, don't you think? It's just beginning to open, so I'll have to snap a shot when it's in full bloom. It's a really easy plant to care for and makes a nice potted plant in a semi-shady area.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Made It! DIY Air Freshener

It has been a busy week with little time for crafting, but I finally was able to take a break from things I have to get finished to make that adorable acorn freshener. Debbie had given me a bag of dried lemon verbena. Delicious, right? This was a great scent replacement for the lavender, as my hub can't stand the smell. (Too bad. I love it.)

This craft was super easy. Give it a try! No sewing machine required, and the time and cost was minimal: About an hour, and $1.00 for the felt, plus some thread, a needle, and glue.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Autumn Crafts

Today, to take a break from a music project I had been working on, I decided to browse the DIYs from my favorite site Design*Sponge and see if there were any great autumn-inspired crafts. And of course, there were. I'm adding these to my hope-to-try list.




I just love Fall.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Challenges of a good thing

Last spring, I informed my principal and school that I wouldn't be returning to teach this year. Since our summers are usually busier than the school year, the truth of that reality hasn't really hit until recently. I've had about good two solid months "off" without camps or week-long trips or the other things that take up summer. For the first time, my days are my own. I have filled my days with activities I always wanted to do but didn't have time for, at least not enough time to make it consistent - exercising, prayer, reading, crafting, cooking, cleaning, composing, and visiting. In a phrase, I have become the stay-at-home-wife.

In so many ways, it has been amazing. I feel healthier, calmer, balanced. Honestly, who wouldn't? Even people who say they would get bored would probably benefit from a good amount of time home. But that's not what this post is about. This post is about the challenges.

That's right. Challenges. First of all, my work shaped my identity. I have never not worked. Whether I was a student or a teacher, I have always had some type of job. Once I made my decision eight years ago to become a teacher, I got on that teaching path and never veered. Teaching brought stress, yes, but it also brought satisfaction and joy. I loved the pride and sense of accomplishment I felt after completing a semester or school year. And of course, I loved the recognition. As much as I didn't want my work to become mixed in with my identity, it did. And so here I am now, trying to understand that my identity and value and worth haven't changed when so much of it was wrapped up in what I did...which is no longer what I do.

Second, my work brought security. My husband has been in ministry since before we were married, and although God has always been faithful and every church Robby has served has been good, there is still a sense of risk involved for me. My job felt somewhat like the back-up: if anything ever went wrong in a church, we had my job to cover us. That loss of security has hit even harder this past couple of weeks as we've been dealing with switching from my benefits to his.

Finally, my work made it possible to have lots of "wants." We are taken care of now. We have everything we need -- and so much more. But many of the extra things we did before have had to be altered or cut altogether, and unfortunately, I miss them more than I thought I would! I realize that a number of those "activities" were things I did when I was bored or when I needed a boost, things that provided a quick effect with little energy, and if I'm being honest, things that I felt entitled to because I had worked hard for my money!

I still believe that this was a decision we made with God's blessing. I just wasn't prepared for such a seemingly good thing to bring these challenges.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Potato Gloup

That is the term Robby and I coined to describe the potato soup I made yesterday. It was tasty, but its consistency was exactly like glue. I know this can happen from over-processing the potatoes, so that's apparently what I did. After a little research, I've found a couple of tips to help steer me clear of making gloup again.

1. Rinse the potatoes thoroughly in cold water using a colander. Don't let them sit in the water.
2. Make sure the potatoes are as fresh as possible.
3. Don't over-cook them.
4. Work them as little as possible using a potato masher.

So, I believe I was zero for four on the above list - I rinsed in hot water (because the cold water takes too long), my taters were old, I let them boil forever, and I used a blender to process some of them. In my defense, the recipe I used said to do the last thing.

Oh well. Our cold weather still is coming our way, so I have to time to fix the gloup.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

DIY How-to: Button Pillows


You need:
Pillow insert (or an old throw pillow you want to use)
Material
Felt - Cut out to be the shape you want on your pillow. I used a bird shape for one (found a print online), and a three piece flower for the other.
2 Buttons

To know how much material to use, measure your pillow insert.
-Width of pillow x 2 plus 1 inch for seam allowance
-Length of pillow x 2 plus 4 inches for fold and buttons - you can do more if you want a thicker flap where the buttons will be.

1. Measure and cut material. Use your pillow as your guide. Your material should look like a long rectangle since it is going to meet in the middle where the buttons will be.

2. Fold the material around the pillow. In the middle, fold the ends in two inches and pin. This will be where the button holes and buttons go.
3. Sew the folded ends. Wrap the pillow to double-check size. Remember, you want your pillow cover to be tight.
4. Working with the same ends, mark where the button-holes will be. (If using a button-hole maker with a sewing machine, do a test to see how big the hole is.) One way to make sure the buttons will be equal distance from the sides and each other is to find the middle, then measure about three inches out. Lightly mark with a pencil, so you know where to make the button-hole.
5. Sew your button holes and open them. A trick is to place a pin at the top of the hole, then use your seam-ripper to open the hole.
6. Line up the button hole over where the buttons will be placed. Mark a dot in the middle, then sew the button.
7. Your finished buttons should look like this!
8. Next step is to turn the pillow over and position your felt cut-out. Use pins to secure it to the pillow. Undo the buttons and sew the felt to the pillow using the same color of thread as the felt.
10. Once finished, the inside of your pillow should look like this:
11. Now, close the pillow and turn the whole pillow inside out. Sew the two sides with the raw edges, about 1/2 inch seams. Undo the buttons, turn the pillows right side out, and fill!

Steph's Baby Shower

This past Saturday, we celebrated with Stephanie, as she and Ben are soon expecting the arrival of their little girl. The butterfly theme of the shower was easy and pretty to pull off: many things can quickly be made to look like butterflies!

I got a chance to use many of the recipes I've been trying out lately including my favorite chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting and sugar cookies with royal icing. Everything turned out quite tasty, so I was very pleased.

We had a great time, and Steph received many lovely things for her little one to come. We look forward to meeting Baby G very soon!

Here are a few pictures from the shower, but you can see more at Steph's blog, How Sweet It Is.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hide and Seek

Calla thinks that if she can crouch low enough behind a plant, I can't see her. This is one of her favorite places to hide, and when I walk by, she jumps out, hits me with her paw, and runs away. Kindness isn't one of her qualities.

Butternut Squash Soup

This past weekend, I threw my friend Stephanie a baby shower. Stephanie loves the season of autumn, so I wanted the menu to have a fall-ish feel to it. We had chicken salad sandwiches (not sure if that fits the category), a fruit and nut green salad, and butternut squash soup. The soup turned out very tasty, so I wanted to share the recipe. It's a variation of a recipe on Cook's Illustrated.

Ingredients:
Butternut squash - the recipe calls for 3 lbs., but I like my soup to be thick, so I did more like 5 lbs.
4T butter
4 cups water
2 cups chicken broth
1 yellow onion (less if you like less onion flavor), minced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 t brown sugar
Salt
Spices of choice - I used paprika, cayenne, some onion powder, but you can make the recipe sweeter and do more sugar

Directions:
1. Cut the squash (unpeeled) in half and scoop out the seeds and fibers. Do not throw away! Quarter the squash so that you have good-sized chunks to boil.
2. In a Dutch oven over medium high heat, melt the butter and add the minced onion. Cook until translucent.
3. Add seeds and fibers and saute until the butter has turned a nice yellow-orange color, about 4 minutes.
4. Add water, chicken broth, and a dash of salt and bring to boil. Add squash and reduce heat to medium low. Cover and cook for half hour, or until squash is tender.
5. When tender, remove squash and let cool on baking sheet.
6. Use a colander and large bowl to drain liquid, but do not throw out liquid! Throw out seeds and fibers.
7. Once cool, scoop out the squash and throw out peels.
8. Using a blender, puree the squash with the remaining liquid, doing small batches at a time.
9. Pour the puree back into the Dutch oven. Stir in cream and brown sugar.
10. Add salt (and spices) to taste. Serve!

This really turned out great, so give it a try if you're looking for an autumn soup.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

We have a winner!

After trying about six chocolate cake recipes and a few frosting recipes, I have chosen my favorite. This recipe received raved reviews from my testers - the VK family, the Feely family, and our Monday night Bible study. Since the cake recipe comes from Test Kitchen (and you can't access that without a password), I have copied it for you below. Note that this is for a layered chocolate cake. To make the cupcakes, simply fill the cupcakes 3/4 full and cut baking time to 14 -17 minutes. These cupcakes are very soft and delicate, so give them plenty of cooling time. I also found it worked best to let them cool in the fridge overnight and frost them the next day. This is a big recipe and makes about 30 cupcakes (at least), or a large chocolate cake. The frosting recipe is the one I had posted earlier, but I'll put it here since I did make a few helpful changes.

Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

Do not substitute semisweet chocolate chips for the chopped semisweet chocolate in the frosting—chocolate chips contain less cocoa butter than bar chocolate and will not melt as readily. For best results, don't make the frosting until the cakes are cooled, and use the frosting as soon as it is ready. If the frosting gets too cold and stiff to spread easily, wrap the mixer bowl with a towel soaked in hot water and mix on low speed until the frosting appears creamy and smooth. Refrigerated leftover cake should sit at room temperature before serving until the frosting softens.

INGREDIENTS

Cake
12tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), very soft, plus extra for greasing pans
1 3/4cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces), plus extra for dusting pans
4ounces unsweetened chocolate , coarsely chopped
1/4cup Dutch-processed cocoa (3/4 ounce)
1/2cup hot water
1 3/4cups sugar (12 1/4 ounces)
1 1/2teaspoons baking soda
1teaspoon table salt
1cup buttermilk
2teaspoons vanilla extract
4large eggs
2large egg yolks
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. 1. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch-round by 2-inch-high cake pans with softened butter; dust pans with flour and knock out excess. Combine chocolate, cocoa powder, and hot water in medium heatproof bowl; set bowl over saucepan containing 1 inch of simmering water and stir with rubber spatula until chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup sugar to chocolate mixture and stir until thick and glossy, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and set aside to cool.

  2. 2. Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl. Combine buttermilk and vanilla in small bowl. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk eggs and yolks on medium-low speed until combined, about 10 seconds. Add remaining 1 1/4 cups sugar, increase speed to high, and whisk until fluffy and lightened in color, 2 to 3 minutes. Replace whisk with paddle attachment. Add cooled chocolate mixture to egg/sugar mixture and mix on medium speed until thoroughly incorporated, 30 to 45 seconds, pausing to scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add softened butter one tablespoon at a time, mixing about 10 seconds after each addition. Add about one-third of flour mixture followed by half of buttermilk mixture, mixing until incorporated after each addition (about 15 seconds). Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk mixture (batter may appear separated). Scrape down sides of bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium-low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans (or cupcake pans); smooth batter to edges of pan with spatula.

  3. 3. Bake cakes until toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs attached, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cakes in pans 15 minutes, then invert onto wire rack. Cool cakes to room temperature before frosting, 45 to 60 minutes.

    Buttercream Frosting

    2sticks butter, very soft
    1/4cup flour
    1cup milk
    1cup sugar (NOT powdered sugar)
    1teaspoon vanilla extract

    1. Over medium high heat on the stove, slowly mix together 1 cup milk and 1/4 cup flour. Do this by placing about 1/2 cup of the milk in and slowly whisk the flour, adding more milk so that it doesn't get too gooey or lumpy. It's important that there are no lumps, so take your time on this step. Keep whisking until all the milk and flour is mixed. It will look like glue! Let cool, and whisk occasionally so it doesn't get lumpy or stuck to the pan.

    2. With a mixer, beat butter until it is smooth and creamy, around 3 minutes. Add in sugar and beat for an additional three minutes until fluffy. Add cooled milk/flour mixture and beat 5-7 minutes until the frosting is thick and creamy.

    3. Add flavoring. I like 1 teaspoon of vanilla, but you can also do a couple of teaspoons of strong espresso or another extract. A little orange zest or cinnamon is also a nice addition.

    4. To get a chocolate frosting, make as above and add 1 teaspoon of vanilla, about 1/4 cup of cocoa powder (more to taste), and about 1/4 cup of powdered sugar to sweeten it up. (To be honest, I just added a little of each and kept adding til it was what I liked, but 1/4 cup to begin should be good.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

DIY: Button-Closed Pillow

I love throw pillows. They are a great way to liven up a room in an instant. The pillows I have made have been very simple, so I wanted to step it up just a tiny bit. Debbie told me it's quite easy to make a pillow slip cover, instead of doing it my way, which is to sew a case directly onto the pillow insert.

This was my first attempt. I plan to try it again very soon and work out the little problems I came across. Overall though, it was a lot of fun!


***Okay, I started writing out the instructions, and even I was getting confused, and I already made it. So...if you want to know how to do this, send me an email or write it in the comments. I'll work on some clearer instructions.

FFF: Recipes


I have been in baking mode lately, as you are aware. (Sorry to all of those who are trying to watch what they eat and then I post pics of yummy cakes and cookies!) I thought I'd share my favorite sites to go to when looking for a tasty treat.

1. Williams-Sonoma (need I even mention this again?) - Over and over I have found recipes that are top notch. I can't say they are healthy, but when you just want something to taste good, this is a good site to go to. (Needing a healthier alternative? Cooking Light has been pretty good to me, and their cakes have been very tasty.)

2. Design*Sponge - Yes, my favorite decorating site also hosts a number of fabulous recipes. One of the major perks of this site is the beautiful photography of the food. That alone is worth checking out.

3. Betty Crocker - My mom still says that some of the best recipes she's had came from the old Betty Crocker cookbook. Another good ol'e book is the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, the classic red and white checkered necessity.

4. Cooks Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen - Unfortunately, you must be a member to sign in to see these recipes, but they do have free trials, so you could pull a Kelly and copy and paste every single interesting recipe in an afternoon. Another hint is to look for their end of the year magazine, which includes the best recipes from the year. That's where I've gotten a lot of jewels lately.

5. Epicurious.com - This one is last because I haven't tried and verified enough, but the couple I have tried have turned out yummy. If you've ever visited Marisa's blog, Renewing My Mind, you may have seen her amazing Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes post. That was an epicurious creation.

Any sites or cookbooks that are invaluable to you? Let me know!