Monthly Archives: September 2011

The B Word

It’s budget.  Stop being so vulgar.

I’ve officially started to freak out about money.  Again.  Now that I’m all stocked up on boots and cardigans it is most definitely time to start SAVING.  So what do you think?  Are you along for the ride?

I actually cut my credit card bill in HALF this June by making and sticking to a budget, and I think I need to do that again starting in October.  Of course it was a lot easier in the summer, when I could live solely on Fudgsicles and there were plenty of free festivals and hikes to entertain me.  But I have faith.  I can eat peanut butter and go sledding a lot.  Or something.

Basically my budget will work like this: pay all necessary expenses (rent, utilities, cell phone, internet, gas, car insurance and the odd medical and pet bills that pop up).  Then I get $250 a month for food and $100 a month for entertainment and other miscellaneous wants.  That sounds daunting, right?  It’s actually not that bad, I’ll just have to get really creative with how I spend my time.  Actually, I bet having to entertain myself without spending money will be good for my artistic/crafty side.  And that’s good for you, because I’ll have lots of fun posts!  So I’m not worried…mostly.

I’ll keep you posted on the clever ways I find to save money and spend my time, and update the blog on my budget progress.  You’ll keep me accountable, like in And Then She Saved.  Deal?  It will be better than it sounds, I promise.  This is valuable Indie Girl living advice, people.  And it is totally FREE.

You’re welcome.

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The Best Sugar Cookie Ever

Wow, two posts in two days!  Lucky you!

You might remember that I promised, a very long time ago, to share my Amazing Happy Super Fantastic Ultra-Fun-Time Famous Sugar Cookie recipe.  Or, as I like to call it, my sugar cookie recipe.  And today is the day I share.

This recipe really needs no explanation, except that it’s superb and you will love it.  It’s from the good ol’ Betty Crocker Cooky Book (c 1963) which means it’s full of sugar and butter.  This recipe, which the cookbook credits to a one Mary Herman, is unique in that it uses confectioner’s sugar, almond extract and cream of tartar, and the cookies are light and slightly crumbly as opposed to the chewy kind most people are used to.  But trust me: they’re better this way.  Thank Betty and Mary and get baking.

Mary’s Sugar Cookies

  • 1 1/2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Make sure your butter is at room temperature and mix it with your sugar.  I do this by hand or else I get powdered sugar EVERYWHERE. It helps to have a well-worn wooden spoon.

It will take a whole lot of elbow grease, but eventually it will look smooth and creamy like this:

Add your egg and extracts and mix well.  I use an old-school egg beater for this part.  In a separate bowl, blend your dry ingredients, then add to the wet ingredients.  Try not to fling flour out of the bowl like I sometimes (always) do.  This too will take a lot of stir power.   The dough will start out looking like this:

But keep at it!  Use the back of the spoon in a downward motion around the bowl, being sure to flip the dough ball as it forms to get the sneaky flour bits at the bottom, and eventually you’ll wind up with this:

Cover this in plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge.  The recipe says to refrigerate for two to three hours, but at this point I start preheating the oven at 375 and prepping my rolling station.  I halve the dough (leaving the rest covered in the fridge) and start rolling it out after only about fifteen minutes because I’m very impatient.

Roll the dough out to about a quarter inch thick on a well-floured surface.  Seriously, flour everything.  Flour the cookie cutters, too.  Once I cut out my cookies I put them on a plastic cutting board (which doesn’t stick) and put that in the fridge to chill as everything bakes.  For the cookies that are immediately oven-bound, bake them about two inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes.  Ideally the edges will be just barely brown, which brings out the toasty almond flavor.

So there you have it.  Depending on how big your cookie cutters are you’ll wind up with two to three dozen cookies.  Two to three dozen amazing cookies. Unless you make a double batch, like I just did, which will yield you about 65 cookies and several hours of work.  Thankfully they freeze beautifully; let the frosting set (put them on a cookie sheet in the freezer for ten minutes) then layer them in a large airtight container between sheets of wax paper.  They’ll keep for a solid couple of months!

But for however good these cookies are, the thing that really makes them special is the decorating.  Can I brag about something for a second?  I am fantastic at decorating cookies.  I have the steadiest hand with a pastry bag you will ever see.  I can draw straight lines in frosting like nobody’s business.  Are these skills useful?  No.  But they do endear me to friends and family whenever I bake…which I do for almost every holiday.  Observe (but ignore the shoddy picture quality, these were pre-blog days):

And, of course, the autumn cookies at the top of this post, which aren’t as elaborate but very seasonal.  So how can you, too, decorate cookies like a pro?

1. Use a real pastry bag, real caps and a size two or three decorating tip.  It’ll give you more control to not worry about your tip slipping out of a makeshift bag (that’s what she said!) and the size three is the standard for writing, dots and lines.

2. Move quickly.  Look ahead at where you want your line to go and keep a fluid motion.  Try not to backtrack, as blending your lines or covering mistakes will never look quite right.  Try to squeeze all the air out of your bag to avoid bubbles.

3. When you’re ending a line or making a turn, press the decorating tip gently to help the frosting anchor.  Otherwise you might go to make another letter and take the strand of frosting from the preceding letter with you.  Same thing with dots: press briefly to make that frosting anchor to the cookie, or whatever you just squeezed out will stick to the decorating tip instead.

4. When frosting with a knife, push the frosting where you want it to go, don’t just swipe it on the cookie.

Getting smooth strokes when frosting with a knife can make all the difference, too.  So, in the spirit of the season I thought I’d do a brief tutorial on how to frost pumpkin cookies to give them a little dimension.

1. Frost the entire cookie, except the stem.

2. Then run your knife smoothly along the outer left edge of the pumpkin.

3. Run your knife along the same contour, about 2/5 the way in to the center, creating a slight ridge against your last stroke.

4. Flip the cookie and repeat steps two and three on the opposite side, doing the outer edge first and moving inward.

5. Finally, turn the cookie upright and gently run your knife down the center of the pumpkin.  You should have five little “sections” of frosting mimicking the curves on a pumpkin.

6. Then, using a pastry bag and brown or green frosting, fill in the stem and draw curly vines or a jack-o-lantern face.

So…is that helpful?  Sometimes I have trouble explaining things because I do them so much it’s hard for me to break down the process for other people.  Just keep practicing!  Draw on paper towels with your frosting bag before tackling your cake or cookies!  And remember, your cookies will be eaten before anyone even notices mistakes.  So get to it!

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Sweater Weather

So, in addition to the cool-weather cooking (pumpkin cookies and spiced lattes and roasted root vegetables…mmm…) fashion is another thing I love love love about autumn.  Except not fashion.  I hate the word fashion.  I like the clothes.  I like scarves and boots and cozy sweaters and going thrift store shopping with my mama, which we only ever do when it’s cold out.  I heart thrift stores like whoa.

So, true to obsessive form, I’ve been poring over style blogs like mad lately.  Particularly Elsie’s A Beautiful Mess and Elizabeth’s Delightfully Tacky, but I’m also constantly discovering new little quirky nooks of the interwebs to inspire me.  I think I might start doing more style news and outfit posts, yeah?  Just a forewarning, though, I am not as adorable as Elsie and Elizabeth.  But maybe Christine can help me with some good shots?

Elizabeth from Delightfully Tacky

So the lesson is there are lots of lovely style blogs on the internet by a lot of lovely ladies.  And then there’s Urban Outfitters.  Can I just take an uncharacteristic paragraph to rant for a second?  Because…seriously. What exactly is going on with Urban Outfitters?  Their new catalog looks like an awkward, cracked-out mashup of the nineties, like The Craft meets SLC Punk meets Lizzie McGuire if she grew up and developed a drug problem.  Urban Outfitters is now almost too hipster for itself.  Not that I really have anything personal against the store (hell, I used to work for Anthropologie.  Employee discount…swoon), I just find the intentionally hideous styling to be trite and annoying.  And then there’s the whole thing about Urban stealing ideas from independent designers

From Urban Outfitters' fall catalog. WTF?

Okay. Rant over.  I’ll go back to my normal happy-but-awkward demeanor.  So can we maybe talk about Anthropologie a little bit more?  About how I love it and how they have an amazing design team because their catalogs always make me believe their products will lead to a perfect life (hey, at least I recognize it) and how I can’t afford it and how talking about clothes like this makes me feel like a materialistic whore of capitalism but I don’t care?  Can we talk about that?  Can you buy me this skirt?

From Anthropolgie's fall catalog.

I totally mean what I say about them having an amazing design team.  I’m pretty darn savvy to marketing and media and all that jazz, but I completely fall in love with the notion of the Anthro lifestyle every time I look at their photos.  Not the clothes, mind you.  The idea of Anthropologie.  It takes talent to do that, to market a lifestyle concept.  I mean I know advertisers always try to place their product within a certain context, make it an integral part of the framework of a certain kind of life, but Anthropologie isn’t a product, it’s a store.  It’s not even marketing items, it’s marketing itself, and very successfully at that.  So hats off to you, Anthro.  I’ll buy in.

So…this post is sort of convoluted and directionless.  I apologize.  I will be sharing more bits of fall style though! And collaborating with Christine on doing style shoots.  She, after all, is the one with the nice camera.  And the talent.  So stay tuned!

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Zucchini-Carrot Superbread

You know how they say it’s okay to experiment when cooking but baking is an exact science?  Yeah, they’re totally wrong.  Baking is as loose an art as anything if you (sort of) know what you’re doing.  And I (sort of) know what I’m doing.

I was going to make cookies tonight.  Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.  I am SO EXCITED to start cooking with pumpkin.  Instead, though, I came into quite a large amount of zucchini.  Zucchini and crook-necked squash and a flying saucer squash (which Google just told me is a pattypan variety) and a whole mess ‘o cherry tomatoes.  But mostly zucchini.  So what choice did I have but to make zucchini bread?  It was a forced hand, really.

The thing is, instead of plain old zucchini bread I decided to toy around with one of Joy the Baker‘s recipes and try to make a healthy all-around breakfast bread.  And you know what?  I totally did.  This bread not only has zucchini, but carrots, applesauce, cranberries, walnuts, oatmeal and spinach too (yeah, spinach – just stick with me here).  There’s a ton of protein, no oil and very little sugar.  It’s a sweet-savory loaf of goodness…well, two loaves of goodness.  I had a seriously huge zucchini to use up.  So how do you create your own superbread?  Follow along:

Zucchini-Carrot Superbread (adapted very loosely from Joy the Baker)*

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons flax meal
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups grated zucchini
  • 3 cups grated carrots
  • 1 cup baby spinach, sliced into ribbons
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

*Makes two loaves

Set your oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour two loaf pans.  Mix your dry ingredients – the flours, oats, soda, powder, spices, salt and flax.  In a separate bowl, beat together your eggs, sugars, applesauce and vanilla.

Add your zucchini, carrots and spinach to your wet ingredients.  Mix thoroughly, then add the dry ingredients.

At this point you will think you’re making dinner.  Just look at all those veggies!  You’re not, though, because when this is all stirred up you’re going to fold in your walnuts and cranberries.  Breakfast again!  Divide the batter between the two loaf pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about an hour.

Let cool in the pan, then remove and let cool completely on a rack.  Eat one for breakfast (or, if you’re like me, immediately) and wrap the other one up tight for freezing.  It’s dense, nutty, savory and sweet all at once.  Plus each loaf contains like four servings of fruits and veggies (not to mention fiber, protein, healthy fat – and only about 200 calories per slice based on 10 slices per loaf).  Feel good about yourself for making it and even better for eating it…and go forth and experiment!

 

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Happy September!

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am that it’s finally September.  Well, I guess I can begin to tell you…I just did…you know what I mean. I love autumn more than ice cream and at least as much as kittens.  Autumn means wearing scarves and boots, baking pumpkin cookies (baking anything, really), reading outside while sipping a spiced latte, watching the trees turn lovely shades of warm, cramming in the last baseball games of the season…I’m getting giddy just thinking about it.  Most importantly, it means the start of cooler weather and the reinvigoration of my desire to create.  Art projects, come to me now!

Since I’m feeling so warm and fuzzy right now thinking about things I love, I thought I’d do a mini-blog roll and share some of my favorite sources of inspiration on the web.  Stumble Upon is a fantastic resource for new material, so if you don’t have an account you should get one.  Do it.  Other than Stumble Upon, there’s…

 

Joy the Baker

Possibly my inspiration for starting this blog, Joy is probably the girl we all want to be.  She’s funny and quirky and tells it like it is…in the sweetest way possible.  Plus she’s a dang good cook, and I am still trying to cram in all the cookie, bread and crumble recipes of hers I want to try.  Recipes like zucchini sweet potato bread, which I’ve tried and loved, and vegan cherry carrot cookies, which I am dying to bake.  She also has a great podcast where she talks about things like boys and leggings and dessert with Tracy, who writes my next blog…

 

Shutterbean

Shutterbean is another lovely food blog, with a wider range than just baking.  Tracy is a lot like Joy (which makes sense, right?), with a great voice, awesome photographs and yummy recipes like Vietnamese noodle salad.

 

Design*Sponge

Design*Sponge covers the gamut of food, fashion, craft a decor.  It’s a good source of inspiration, though not always the very most relatable.  Still, who doesn’t like to look at pretty things?

 

So Much to Tell You

So Much to Tell You is a fashion-oriented blog by two girls from New Zealand.  I just started reading it, and while it’s not always my taste I am always inspired by the offbeat, beautiful and random things that they curate.  I like the idiosyncrasies in people’s tastes (which is why I liked Tavi Gevinson’s Style Rookie until she became less eccentric fashion maven and more angsty teenage girl…not that I hold it against her).  I guess I like random curatorial blogs in general (i.e. Delightfully Tacky or This is Colossal)…

 

A Beautiful Mess

Fashion + craft + design.  What more could you want?

 

Not Martha

This one is craft + food + travel + helpful and interesting links collected from the internet.  Also a win.  And I love the title.

 

Home, Made

Duh.  It’s Christine’s blog.  As if you had to ask.

 

So…is that all?  No.  I did say mini-blog roll though, so now at least you know a few of my favorites.  I love spending lazy mornings eating scones and drinking coffee and reading art and design blogs, there’s no way I could list them all.  Now I get to make maple scones and cinnamon coffee and actually DO the projects I want, in addition to reveling in the inspiration.  Onward, autumn!

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