Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Look!

If blogs were people, this blog would be standing in front of her friends right now asking if they liked her new top.  Thanks, Stephanie, for giving my blog a makeover.  It was much needed!

She even added this great accessory: a button for my Pinned It, Made It Mondays!  So start pinning so you can join in on the fun!  I missed this week, but it's coming again soon.


Feel your blog is looking a bit drab?  Let Steph be your blog's Stacy and Clinton!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Local Highlight: Comfy Feely

I have some extremely talented friends and family members, so I thought I need to be highlighting these amazing ladies.  First off is Debbie Feely's darling baby-wear and baby-care line, ComfyFeely.  Each item is made with love (of course) using high quality, 100% cotton fabrics that are pre-washed in baby-friendly detergent.  Most items are reversible, which makes them awesome twofers!  But best of all, they are made with simplicity in mind--easy to wear, easy to wash, easy to pack.  This lady takes her research seriously, and when one mom says that a button was hard to do or a top was difficult to wear, she adjusts.

For my friend's recent sprinkle, I ordered four items from ComfyFeely: a blanket, summer dress, bonnet, and booties.  The blanket, dress, and bonnet are all reversible!  Just look at these sweet things:

 
 

I also ordered another set for yet another baby girl shower around the corner.  Reversible bonnet and dress, plus adorable bloomers.  Love it!

Of course, she makes boy things, as well, but this just happened to be what I needed.  Next time you are in need of a baby gift, keep ComfyFeely in mind!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tidbits Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, all!

Isn't the exclamation point just wonderful?  I can type "Happy Tuesday" and follow that with an exclamation point to make it seem that I am full of energy!  See?!  I did it again!  The truth is, though, I'm tired.  It's only Tuesday, and I am worn out.  I came home from work at 4:15 and have filled the past three hours sitting on the couch eating a banana split (that's right -- a banana split.  at 4:30), watching reruns of 30 Rock, and napping with my cat.

Why am I tired?  Because life is busy.  And the school-year is nearly over.  And the end-of-season events are upon us.  And cotton is floating in the air making my allergies unbearable.

Nonetheless, I've had a great week and wanted--at the very least--to share my latest tidbits starting with the most recent.

1. We had our final Bible study last night and are officially on summer break.  From September through May we meet nearly every week at our home on Mondays.  Through fellowship and studying God's word, we've grown in unity and love.  Although a couple months off will be nice, I'm grateful for this group and the year we've had.  For our last night, we shared a meal and took an opportunity to celebrate with one of our couples the upcoming arrival of their baby girl.  Just look the adorable things my mom-in-law made for the occasion:


I'll be posting about her lovely items another day.  They really are special!  For the occasion, I also made cupcakes and once again my flour frosting stole the show.  What?  You haven't tried it yet?  You must.  I even simplified it and just used powdered sugar, and it still was great.

2. After church on Sunday, I got to spend the whole day with my mom :)  It's funny that I am nearly thirty years old and still love hanging out with my mama.  We hung out by the pool, went shopping, and ate yummy food.  My favorites.

3. I hosted a women's brunch here on Saturday morning.  It was lovely, albeit a bit under-attended.  But those who came brought good food and good conversation, so we had a great time sitting outside on a cooler May morning.


4.  Friday night we hung out with Ben, Steph, and Ellie.  It had seemed like ages since we'd seen them. We finally did what I've been wanting to do forever--made home-made pizza on the barbecue!  It turned out perfectly and will be a weekly thing, I hope.  Steph snapped some great shots, then whipped up strawberry shortcake for us afterward.  Delish!  I'll share the recipe and how-to soon.


5.  Thursday night Robby's softball team played two games that spanned about four hours of our evening.  To top it off, the night was the windiest it's been!  I was covered in dirt from sitting in the bleachers as little whirlwinds kept coming my way.

6.  Tuesday and Wednesday were busy workdays, and I found myself filling every second with grading or planning or piling as we are down to only two weeks left!  I also refused to let myself plop on the couch after work and went to the gym.  Too bad that motivation hasn't been there this week.  Maybe tomorrow.

And that was it, my week in tidbits.  I feel a bit more energized now that I've blogged and maybe am not so hard on myself.  It has been a busy week indeed!  Hope your day's been kind and your week is filled with good things so far.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pinned It, Made It: Baby Buggy Card!

It seems baby shower season is upon us once again!  How is it that these type of events seem to come in bunches?  The first of many is my sweet friend from church who is expecting a girl this June.  I browsed for a cute shower card idea and came across one from GlitterGlueGlam. It was a cute little baby buggy made out of fabric. Out of that, I made this:
Super simple and super sweet, wouldn't you say?  Here's the quick how-to, but don't make it for any showers I'm planning to attend, too ;)

Card
Ribbon
Wire (or paper clip)
Fabric or Felt (or paper, for that matter)
Two buttons

Make a circle out of your fabric/felt/paper.  Fold in quarters and cut one quarter out.  Starch and iron (if using fabric), so it is stiff.  Take wire (or paperclip) and fold into an angle.  Glue ribbon across bottom and glue buggy, making sure there will be enough room for your legs and wheels.  Place one dollop of hot glue on top of wire, tuck under buggy, and press.  Add buttons for wheels and anything else to your card.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rustic Apple Tart


For my birthday, Steph gave me America's Test Kitchen Light & Healthy Cookbook.  I figure if anyone can pull off light and healthy while not making it blah and boring, it's ATK.  As I was deciding which desserts to make for Mother's Day, I found a lovely rustic apple tart recipe that I had to try.

Now, I've never really made a pie or tart before.  I suppose I've assisted people but never have from start to finish made my own.  I usually stand by my rule of not making a new recipe for such a special occasion, but this looked so darn unbelievable I had to try it!

I've got to say, it turned out pretty amazing.  I've had my share of failed recipes (need proof? click here, here, and here, just to start), so I think I have earned the right to say something is good when it was good.  And this was good.  Perhaps even great.


The ingredients for the dough are simple:
  • 2 T light sour cream
  • 2-4 T ice water
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I used KAF Unbleached White Whole Wheat)
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 8 T unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces and chilled
Stir sour cream and 2 T water together and refrigerate until needed. Process (or whisk) flours, sugar, and salt together.  Scatter butter pieces over top and pulse (or use a pastry cutter) until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Continue, adding sour cream mixture until dough comes together.  You can add more ice water here.  Turn dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press into a nice 6-inch round.  Wrap tightly in wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.  (I made mine a day ahead.)

When ready, roll dough out between two pieces of floured parchment paper into a 12-inch circle.  (You can see from my pics that mine was a very very rough circle.)  Place on cookie sheet and refrigerate until firm.  Take out and remove the top parchment paper.

The filling ingredients also are quite simple:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1/8 t cinnamon (I did a bit more)
  • 1 lb. Granny Smith apples (about 2 large)
  • 1 lb. McIntosh apples (I had to use Fugi for one tart, and Jazz for the other)
  • 3 T apple or other jelly
Core and peel apples.  I have one of those corer/slicer things, so I did that first, then peeled them with a paring knife, and cut each slice into three.  They're supposed to be 1/4 inch thick, so don't do it too thin!  Mix cinnamon, sugar, and lemon together, then toss in the apples slices.  Mix well.

Make a "wall" of apples in a circle in the middle of the dough.  You want to leave room outside the apple wall so the juices have somewhere to go.  Build up the middle with apples.  Pull your tart dough up around the apples and fold it over the fruit, pleating every 2 or 3 inches as needed.  I brushed the dough with some of the leftover apple/sugar juice, then sprinkled on a good amount of raw sugar over the whole thing.


Bake until golden, crisp, and tender, which was about 45-50 minutes for me.  (ATK says an hour.)  Brush jelly over the exposed apples to soften them.  Let sit for a few minutes, then use spatula to loosen from parchment and place on rack to cool.  Serve as is or a la mode!  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pinned It, Made It Mondays: Mini Donuts

Time for a new series, so welcome to Pinned It, Made It Mondays!  I find that the weekends are when I finally get to make something I've pinned or tucked away, so Mondays are the day to share.  

Awhile ago, I pinned this from Sprinkle Bakes, the beautiful dessert/baking blog Heather Baird keeps.  It's a fantastic blog although every time I visit it I find myself in my kitchen looking for something delicious to bake.  (In other words: Stay away if you are dieting!)  Not only are her desserts amazing, her photography is gorgeous, as well.

So, here is a picture of her Vanilla Bean Baby Doughnuts:

Photo by Heather Baird, Sprinkle Bakes
Darling, right?  I mean, who doesn't love donuts, and who doesn't love all things mini???  I immediately placed a mini donut pan in my Amazon cart, but because a mini donut pan isn't exactly the needed item for a kitchen (Alton Brown would call it a uni-tasker), it stayed in the cart.  Then, on Friday, my mom and I were browsing at Sur Le Table and I found one!  I bought it and the next morning made these:



I think have a new favorite treat for brunches and showers everywhere!  And here is my attempt to completely copy her idea:


I used the recipe from Williams-Sonoma, which I am sharing because I know you all will go and buy one of these pans this very moment!  Even if you don't, this is a pretty great recipe for a light cake donut, which you could bake in anything small.


For the donuts:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg

Directions:

To make the donuts, preheat an oven to 350°F. Grease the wells of a mini donut pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg. In a measuring cup, stir together the buttermilk, whole milk, and vanilla. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat together the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg and beat on medium speed until combined, about 1 minute.

Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour. Beat each addition until just blended.  Ready to fill pan!
Tip: Use a pastry bag to fill donut cavities.  Cut about 1 inch from the bottom of the bag, then squeeze into pan.  It should fill a little more than half the cavity.  They bake up pretty much how they look, though, so try to keep them uniform.
Bake in oven for 6 minutes, turning halfway for evenness.  (W-S says 8 minutes, but they were too done and tasted more like large cheerios.)
To make the icing, simply get a cup of powdered sugar and add in milk teaspoon by teaspoon until it is the right consistency.  Add a dash of vanilla or any other flavoring, plus your food coloring.  You can also make a chocolate ganache, powdered sugar dust, or cinnamon-sugar topping for your donuts.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Clean Freak, here I come!

It all began with one simple episode of Clean Freaks.  While hanging out with Steph one night, she (who is on an organize-it rampage herself) insisted we watch this particular episode she had recorded, so we did.  Sabrina Soto, the host of the show, showcased not only the biggest clean freaks around but the biggest organized clean freaks around.

Soon I found myself flopped over on Steph's couch, utterly defeated.  I actually consider myself a pretty clean and organized person, but after watching these amazingly and freakishly together women, I looked like a slob!

It didn't matter, though.  Steph had unknowingly unleashed the organizing monster inside of me, and the next day, I began the home overhaul.  Two weeks and hours of work later, I felt many things finally had a home in my home.

There are some pretty amazing organizing websites out there which Steph shared with me (iheartorganizing is a great place to start), so you can find much better info than what I'm going to give along with some incredible photos.  Seriously, these women make organizing into an art! This is more of a brag board than anything :)

So, I did a bit in every room, starting with the kitchen and firstly the herbs/spice/tea/coffee cabinets.  I don't have a before picture, but basically it was a big line of stuff.  A couple of spice organizers (just the simple step ones) has made life much easier.  All of the cake decorating items--candles, dye, sprinkles, etc.--went in a wooden crate that I couldn't find a use for.  The coffee section was simplified and made more useable by bringing in different sugars I use often--white, brown, and raw.  And overall things just make more sense, now.  I even typed up a spice list with common uses, as well as printed off these cute measuring conversions and candy thermometer, which I found at Tipnut--a site you definitely need to check out!  I'm still working on making cuter labels, as mine are just a white typed label, and this site has tons of awesome ones.



Another major help was finally getting a junk drawer organizer.  In our kitchen, the junk drawer held a bunch of appliance manuals, a never-once-used phone book, and--you guessed it--junk, among the one or two things I really needed, like scissors and a post-it pad.  After purchasing Target's organizer (two, actually--one went in the bathroom), I now have a useable drawer!  Yay!



This was just the beginning, but it began the craze.  And actually, I'm finishing this post up after starting it a couple of weeks ago, and things still look organized!  That is the true test!

What I learned in a very organized nutshell:
  • It's worth buying a few things to help with the organizing.  The plastic shoe boxes at Target are almost always on sale 5 for $5 and can be used just about anywhere.  They're in my pantry, laundry room, closet, and craftroom. 
  • The spice rack organizer and junk drawer organizers were worth the $8.  Some things you can make, and others are worth the purchase.  You can get more for your buck, though, if you try.  The spice shelf, for example, is sold as one expandable shelf, but I split it up and made it work as two separate shelves.  The junk drawer, as well, comes in two pieces, so I split one of them up and used half in a desk and half in the bathroom.
  • Labels are a must.  Mine aren't cute, but they work.  Step 2 would be to go back and make them pleasing to the eye :)
  • Simply lining everything up doesn't work!!!  This has always been my problem.  I throw things away and make things neat but don't give permanent homes.  Naturally, in a couple of days, things fall over, something new comes along, and it's back to square one.  Things need homes.
  • Organization and cleanliness go hand-in-hand because it's easy to be clean if things have a home.  My closet, for example, has never looked better simply because I don't get overwhelmed with finding a spot for things anymore.  I know my tights go here, my belts go here, and my random hat I never wear...that goes up in this basket labeled "Silly and Miscellaneous," which brings me to my last point:
  • Have places for the odds and ends.  I finally made my husband have a R.I.P. box where he can put all the old memorabilia items he can't bare to get rid of.  I don't have to look at them anymore, and he's happy I have not once again thrown away his nostalgia.
And that's it!  Well, that's some of it, anyway.  More to come in the future.  For now, happy organizing!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tidbits Tuesday

Happy Tuesday, friends!  It seems morning comes, I blink, and then it's time for bed.  Time is just a-flying, don't you agree?  Before this day is gone, I wanted to share a few tidbits from the past week.
  • We had a great time at the park on Sunday with friends from church.  You really can't beat this beautiful weather here these days.  We know the heat is coming, though.
  • Over the weekend we saw the Avengers with Ben and Steph and loved it!!  Seriously, it was fantastic.  Go and see it as soon as you can, but make sure you buy tickets ahead of time.  They're selling out fast.
  • On Friday my students had their second spring recital.  It was awesome to see how far they (and I) have come.  Last year I had five students perform, and this year there were nine of my ten who participated!  They all did amazing and made me look good :)
  • We finished STAR testing last week, so it's back to normal at school.  Inevitably, though, things feel rushed once testing is over.  I'm in my last unit, and students (and I) are feeling the final push.  Always exciting, but a bit exhausting.  
  • As summer nears we are making plans for vacations and getaways.  Yay!  Looks like a trip back to New York just might happen, afterall.  Woo-hoo!
  • The spring blooms are still making me smile.  Although it's heating up and the garden isn't quite in its glory as before, we continue to enjoy every flower and leaf.  Two new clematis vines are especially exciting:

Hope your Tuesday has been filled with sweet tidbits!  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hungry For More Movies

Spoiler Alert: The Hunger Games books are discussed here, as well as crucial parts of the film.


For my birthday, Steph gave me the Hunger Games trilogy, and in about a week, I had read all three.  My take on the books seemed to fluctuate throughout my reading: some days, I loved what Collins was doing and was thoroughly entertained; other days, I was disappointed and frustrated.  The second book in the series, Catching Fire, was the best, I thought, and gave me high hopes for the overall story.  It seemed the author was setting us all up for--in spite of the brutality and coldness found in the Games themselves--a beautiful tale of redemption and grace.  Sadly, Mockingjay, the last book, broke my heart.  I felt cheated, and not because I think all stories should end perfectly with no death or loss.  Some of my favorite stories of all time don't have the "happily-ever-after" ending.  No, I felt cheated because Collins threw away an opportunity to reveal truth, mainly that although this world is imperfect and people do terrible things, there is always hope.  There are things worth fighting for, and, as the Harry Potter series points out (and Kelly loves to quote), there are things worse than death.

Nonetheless, I was excited to see the film, and it didn't disappoint.  Except for the shaky filming during the first ten minutes or so, which made me feel a bit sea-sick, I thought it was what Hunger Games should have been.  It stayed close to the main plot, but there were two major changes that made the film, in my opinion, better than the book:

1.  Katniss is painted as much more noble and selfless in the movie than she is in the book.  One of the hardest parts about reading the first book is the fact that Katniss isn't your typical hero.  Although she does sacrifice herself for her sister and takes Prim's place in the Hunger Games, her constant internal monologue shows that she is pretty darn self-centered and cynical.  (This is why I had higher hopes for Catching Fire--you see glimpses of her growth in sacrifice and love, something that is dashed in the last book.)  In the book, Peeta is lightyears ahead of Katniss in terms of maturity and character.  In the film, he still stands out one who is truly good and noble--which was important to keep--but Katniss also has good qualities.

One of the key scenes for this is toward the end when Katniss and Peeta hear from the Gamemakers that their amendment to the rule--that two people may win instead of one if from the same District--was false.

In the book, Katniss--in spite of all she and Peeta have been through--still points an arrow at him as soon as the Gamemaker finishes his announcement:

"If you think about it, it's not that surprising," he [Peeta] says softly.  I watch as he painfully makes it to his feet.  Then he's moving toward me, as if in slow motion, his hand is pulling the knife from his belt--
Before I am even aware of my actions, my bow is loaded with the arrow pointed straight at his heart.  Peeta raises his eyebrows and I see the knife has already left his hand on its way to the lake where it splashes in the water.  I drop my weapons and take a step back, my face burning what can only be shame.

This does not happen in the movie because at this point, Katniss had already grown in love and trust.  Her instinct isn't to defend herself; it is to stand up for what is right. Instead of Katniss showing her true colors once again, she and Peeta mutually refuse to kill each other.

Furthermore, the movie doesn't much highlight the fact that Katniss is faking her love toward Peeta just to survive.  The only hint of this in the movie is when Katniss tells Peeta that all they can do is try to forget what happened, and Peeta replies that he doesn't want to.  In the book, it is heartbreaking when Peeta realizes that their "relationship" was a fraud.

2.  The whole Capitol-versus-Katniss conflict that arises at the end of Hunger Games seems a lot less contrived in the movie than it does in the book.  In the book, it is the set-up for Catching Fire, but it does seem to come out of nowhere mainly because we are seeing things through Katniss's perspective, and she knows nothing of the conflict.  One second she is getting ready to have the reunion interview with Peeta; the next Haymitch is telling her she's in big trouble.  Because a movie isn't limited to a first-person point of view, we see glimpses of this throughout the film.  President Snow already shows that he's a controlling nut-job with his creepy conversations with the Gamemaker.  It is no surprise to us as the viewers--although it is to Katniss--that Snow and the Capitol are peeved about the near double suicide.

That's the challenge of writing a story from first-person point of view, I suppose.  We will be limited with what we see.  Rowling wrote Harry Potter in third person, so she avoided this problem, and Meyer wrote Twilight in first-person from Bella's perspective, but throws in a first-person from Jacob's perspective in the last book.  (Plus, the Midnight Sun leak gave us a view from Edward Cullens himself.)  Not only does Collins keep the whole story first-person from Katniss's point-of-view, but she also writes in present tense, so we are even that much more limited in knowing what's going on outside of Katniss's mind.

The film also was great with the other characters: Haymitch, Caesar, and Effie Trinket are really entertaining; Cinna was not quite what I expected, but still good; the Gamemakers were just calloused enough to make what they were doing believable; and the people of the Capitol with their crazy outfits and make-up made the perfect juxtaposition between the Capitol and the Districts.

I look forward to the next movie with some hesitation because of the change of director, but mostly with hope...because there always should be hope, right?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Perfect Visit!


A couple of weeks ago, I received a very disappointing phone call.  After careful planning and months of waiting, the time was near for Kelly to come for a kid-less four day visit with me.  That phone call ruined everything: the whole family had the stomach flu, and the visit would have to be cancelled.

Fortunately, Kelly pulled a last minute trip together about a week or so later and came for two nights.  We had a wonderful time acting like two girls with not a responsibility in the world!

Sunday afternoon kicked off our visit with a showering of birthday presents for her, dinner for two (Rob was busy with church commitments), and a viewing of Harry Potter, sprinkled with lots of yummy desserts and drinks.  Monday we lounged around until noon, then said hello to Camille at Tazarria and ran a few errands. That evening, we splurged on a delicious sushi dinner and saw Hunger Games at the theater.  (Loved it!)  Pizookies at home, a birthday song, and gabbing until the wee hours of morning kept us from facing the inevitable: our visit was nearly over.  An earlyish coffee date ended our fabulous time, then it was back to the real world as I headed to work and Kelly went on her way to her family.

Two days later, I am still recovering from our jam-packed couple of days and already making mental plans for our next one.  Thanks for the visit, friend!