Thursday, December 19, 2013

Simple Wrapping

Wrapping presents is (almost) my favorite part of giving them! I love any form of decorating, I suppose. When we were in Portland last month, I grabbed a few cloth bags at my favorite local craft store. They were only .50 cents each and I thought they'd make perfect gift bags for small presents. I used trimmings from our tree and a few decorative berry branches to make them a bit festive.

I used a small, round lid to trace a circle on a brown paper bag and punched a hole to make a gift tag.

I picked off a couple needles from the end and slipped the stem into the knot of the drawstring. The berry branch is made of wire and easily secured everything together.

Super easy and December-y and rustic and fun.

Like I said, it's perfect for small gifts, especially jewelry. And attaches really well to Christmas cards!


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Chocolate Cream Pie

I really dislike baking. I end up doing it a lot, because I love baked goods, but it is a fickle friend. One wrong move and you have a completely ruined batch of cookies or a fallen cake or the most dense corn muffins Matt's grandma has ever had.

But then every once in a while, I stumble upon a recipe with very minimal baking and maximum chocolate involved. This is one of those recipes. There's about 20 minutes of baking. It's pretty easy and mostly involves a lot of whisking. The last time I made this was in Tennessee, while we were visiting our friend's Joey & Christen! (Nothing says "thanks for letting us stay here" like a big mess in the kitchen, right?) When I got put on pie duty for Thanksgiving, I knew this would be the perfect alternative for non-pumpkin eaters. But who says you have to pick just one kind of pie to eat?

The only reason I'm re-posting the recipe instead of just linking you to the site I found it on is because I made some light changes, added some tips and prepared the entire thing using my food processor. If you don't have a food processor, add it to your Christmas list. In the meanwhile, I added some steps for those of you without one. It takes about an extra hour to make it without, but it's worth it!

This recipe is originally from one of Martha Stewart's pies & tarts books, which I will be adding to my Christmas list. She is becoming my favorite baking source. I feel a little mainstream admitting that, but what can I say, I can always trust her recipes.


25 chocolate wafers (After checking two stores for wafers, I improvised by buying Whole Foods' brand of Oreo cookies and popping off the cream-less side.)

4 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons sugar

-Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the wafers until fine crumbs form. Add in the butter and sugar and pulse until well combined. (Or you can place the cookies in a Ziplock bag and crunch them up, then stir crumbs together in a bowl with butter and sugar.)

-Press the mixture firmly into an ungreased 9x9 pie dish, making sure it's evenly distributed on sides and bottom. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Bake until crust is fragrant, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

-While the crust is baking, you can get started on the custard, but watch your timing. You want to give your crust plenty of time to cool before you add the custard.

Chocolate Custard:

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups milk

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (around 60%), finely chopped

1 teaspoon unflavored powder gelatin

2 tablespoons cold water

4 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

-I used my food processor to save myself some time on chocolate chopping. I broke off chunks and pulsed quickly until finely chopped. Be careful not to damage your blade! 

-Whisk together sugar, cornstarch and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In a separate medium-sized bowl, prep your egg yolks so they're easy to add in later.

-Heat the milk and chocolate in a medium-sized saucepan on medium heat until all the chocolate is melted, stirring occasionally. Careful not to burn the milk on the bottom of the pan.

-Whisk 1 cup hot milk mixture into sugar mixture until smooth. Whisk milk-sugar mixture into the remaining milk mixture in the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until bubbling and thick, 4 to 5 minutes total (about 2 minutes after it comes to a boil).

-In a small bowl, combine cold water and gelatin. Set aside for about five minutes.

-Pour milk mixture into the bowl of egg yolks in a slow steady stream, whisking until completely incorporated (this method prevents eggs from cooking on the stove). Then return the mixture to saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thick bubbles start popping up in the middle (about 1 or 2 minutes).

-Remove from heat. Stir in softened gelatin and whisk until completely dissolved. Stir in the vanilla. Let custard cool for about 10 minutes, whisking a few times to break down the film solidifying on top.

-Pour custard into baked & cooled chocolate crust. The recipe suggested pouring through a strainer to make it extra smooth, but this step is optional. Use a spatula to press custard through, if needed.

-Wait a few minutes for air bubbles to rise and pop and then completely cover custard with plastic wrap to prevent a film from forming. Refrigerate until custard is firm, at least four hours.

-I made this pie a day in advance for Thanksgiving and it was much more on the runny side as opposed to when I slice it up and serve it the same day I make it. But runny or not, it's delicious.

Whipped Cream & Chocolate Shavings:

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup powdered sugar (or less)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate bar

-I made whipped cream with my food processor for this pie and I will never make it any other way again! Pulse cream, sugar and vanilla together for about 20 seconds until firm peaks form. It's the best whipped cream I've ever had and stayed firm for hours, even after sitting out on the pie table during dinner.

-To make chocolate curls, soften your chocolate bar in the microwave for about 5-10 seconds until it's soft to the touch. Using a potato peeler, shave off long strips of the chocolate. I made shorter, more tightly curled chocolate shavings this time by shaving the shorter end of the chocolate bar.

This pie disappeared pretty shortly after this picture was taken. It was a hit!  Thank you, Martha.

Friday, November 29, 2013


Here's a peek into our Thanksgiving feast yesterday! It was a long day with lots of people, eating, dishes and speed Scrabble. As usual, Matt's fried turkey was a hit and a huge source of entertainment as we watched the bird bubbling in a vat of oil. (I'm telling ya, I'll never go back. 40 minutes in the fryer and you get the most moist and flavorful turkey you'll ever have.) 

We got good use out of Matt's new cocktail shaker! I made some cranberry punch for the kids and me to sip on while the adults indulged in cocktails and margaritas. I missed the tradition of sipping on champagne during appetizers, but I will say that it saved me a lot of stomach room to not drink something so bubbly.

I think I'll share that chocolate cream pie recipe later this week, it was SO good. I made homemade pie crust for the first time too! Since Matt's gluten free, I usually get away with crustless pumpkin pies but this year I just went for it. Yum. Have I mentioned my appetite's back?

I'm so excited it's finally Christmas time! We kicked off the season with a couple showings of Home Alone, a few servings of leftovers and some Christmas decorating. I've been feeling a little out of sorts since we have been living out of suitcases since April (exaggeration...we have a dresser now), but I decided I wouldn't let it slow me down from some good ol' fashioned Christmas. We still aren't sure what's next for us, but we better decide soon! I'm getting close to the halfway mark of this pregnancy, how did that happen?

In the meanwhile, we are so thankful to be living at the Clother's and SO happy to be able to spend holidays with them while we're living away from family. We are blessed!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

15 weeks

Finally, finally, finally reached the end of my first trimester a couple weeks ago. I kind of thought I'd wake up on the day of my 14th week and feel 100% better. It didn't really happen that way, but I'm starting to feel a lot less nauseous and a lot more energy. I was greeted into my 2nd trimester by a couple gnarly migraines that flare up from time to time, but honestly I'd take blinding head/neck pain over feeling sick to my stomach any day.

And just in time for Thanksgiving, my appetite is back! Mostly. These past few months I've been saying that I should volunteer my super-smelling nose powers to the FBI or something. I could smell the soap on Matt's hands after he washed them for hours and it made my stomach turn (enter: peppermint essential oil stirred into scent-free soap). Half the time it wasn't even my nausea that kicked my appetite, it was the idea of having to smell whatever was cooking. Or look at it. Or clean it up afterwards. My sweet, patient husband kept me properly fed and abided by all my obnoxious preferences. It's going to be a long time until I can eat salmon again. Ugh. Or until I can type the word out without flinching..

Some of my favorite snacks and meals are plain pasta with butter & parmesan cheese (actually, that's always a favorite), tangerines (I eat about five every day), ginger mints and the occasional bowl of cottage cheese. Maybe. Meat or other forms of incredibly high protein always immediately relieve my nausea, but it takes a lot of convincing to keep those down. 

Matt and I were able to spend the weekend with my family earlier this month. It was so wonderful. The Northwest was on it's best behavior while we were there; no rain, crisp air and exploding colors on all the leaves. I felt so good that weekend too. I had a lot of social energy from being around family and friends, my parents provided all my favorite snacks and their soap smelled really good. It was such a great weekend, but of course it blurred by. It was so hard to leave! Spending time with my family really made the pregnancy feel real. At that point, no one else really knew and it was the first time I'd seen my mom since I told her over Skype almost two months earlier! Isn't she a good secret-keeper? (I almost told her the day after I found out after receiving a text from her that read "I had a dream last night that you were pregnant, are you?" Sheesh. That mother's intuition runs deep.)

It was such a gift to be able to spend time with family, tell a few people in person about the news and experience some fall weather. It's just starting to get cold down here (as in, we turned the heater on for the first time all year about two days ago) and feel like fall/winter. Just in time for Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite. Christmas season is my favorite time of year, and I feel like Thanksgiving is a great kick off to that. I love how relational it is, I love how much food there is, I love getting excited for Christmas and I love my husband's fried turkey. This will be our third Thanksgiving spent in this house with Alan & Cynthia. They have graciously invited us to join them year after year as none of us have family in town! Today I'm baking a few pies, prepping a few side dishes and maybe sneaking a little Christmas music in.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

3 months

Matt and I are really excited to announce that we're expecting a baby! 

Four pregnancy tests, three ultrasounds and 300 Saltine crackers later, it still feels really surreal that I'm pregnant. But the more people find out, the more real it becomes! Especially since I'm starting to show now. There's no going back! The picture we're holding is from our ultrasound at 11 weeks. I had a little scare and my doctor sent me off to get an ultrasound done right away. Matt rushed over from work and came bursting into the room just as the technician was finding our little babe on the screen. The baby was so active! Kicking (we saw toes!), squirming and turning upside down. We both just fell in love. It went from just feeling like I was experiencing an incurable case of the flu to remembering that there is a baby in there causing all that trouble! I'll never forget the look on Matt's face when he saw our baby rub their face with their little fist. (Note: there is only one baby in there, just not sure what pronoun to use yet!) So, so, so priceless.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A birthday and a DIY

A couple weekends ago, we celebrated Matt's 29th birthday. Lucky for us, it was on a Friday! We had dinner together (at his favorite barbeque place, of course) and then came home and enjoyed cake and cards with our housemates. I've finally mastered his favorite cake: gluten-free devil's food cake covered with Grandma's seven minute frosting. (Anyone else get a little intimidated making family recipes? Sheesh. You would've thought I was competing on Chopped or something.)  We had a really fun night and he loved all his gifts! I never get tired of celebrating that man. I am so thankful for his life and I still can't believe I get to be such a big part of it.

 Matt's been mixing drinks at home lately and trying out old fashioned recipes. We don't even have a shot glass, let alone anything else a proper bartender would need, so I decided to get him a few drink necessities. I tracked down a vintage cocktail shaker and thought I'd add a little recipe book alongside it. 

I aged plain white paper by dying it with black tea and I loved the way it turned out. The moisture gives the paper a great aged texture and the tea gives an uneven, streaky look. It was perfect! This would be a great way to distress gift tags, a banner, envelopes or anything else you think needs a touch of antique.

It's really easy. All you need is the paper you'd like to dye and a few bags of black tea. 


Dip the tea bags in a couple inches of boiling water until they are just moistened. Rub the teabag across the paper (careful, it's hot!), dipping it back in the water if necessary. Color will fade when you need to get a new tea bag.

Allow paper to air dry. I only did one side of the paper and it turned out great, but doing both sides would provide even more color and texture. 

I wrote down a few old fashioned drink recipes and tucked the booklet inside his cocktail shaker. He loved it! Now all we need is an excuse to host a cocktail party....

Friday, October 18, 2013

Please excuse the PDA

Back in April, we did a photo shoot with our friends Zach and Loretta who are entering the world of photography together. She suggested we do a themed shoot, putting a meal together and going on a picnic. I was pretty excited, because not only do Matt and I love picnics, but just a few Aprils ago, we stopped by Trader Joe's, put together a picnic, ate it over-looking the city and Matt proposed! We only have one picture from that night (us grinning stupidly into a camera phone with my hand in front of us), so this kind of felt like the engagement photo shoot we never really had. Here are some of my favorites from the day:

It was a really fun day and even though Zach and Loretta are two of our close friends, they were incredibly professional and at times I even forgot they were there as we sipped wine over-looking the city.

They took some in our house too, which are especially dear to me since we ended up frantically moving out later that month. I'm so thankful to have some new pictures of us together and excited for our talented friends!

Zach and Loretta work for Marianne Wilson Associates and their contact information and portfolios are available here

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Welcome, Autumn!

During football season, Matt always cooks up something incredible for us to eat before the game. This week, he made smoked macaroni and cheese, which I can't even talk about standing up. I decided to make a fall treat to bring over to Dan & Bean's house tonight (where we will inevitably watch more football and snack).

I got this recipe out of All About Baking. It's pretty easy, especially if you have a stand mixer. It does take about an hour to bake, but it fills the house with all sort of autumn-y, cinnamon-y, warm smells. And when you're in the sun room drinking coffee, reading and waiting for the house to wake up, it's quite lovely. 

The recipe calls for an 8x8x2 pan, so that it's truly a cake, but I wanted more of a loaf/bread situation. It came out perfectly fluffy and soft. I think next time I'll make it in a cake pan, the height of the loaf pan was a bit much and it tends to fall apart. What can I say, the recipe knows what's best.

There's an entire chapter in this book about how when you bake, you need to use the right flour. It raves about Swans Down Cake Flour for cupcakes, cakes, etc. It's really affordable, available at any grocery store and made a huge difference in density and fluffiness. I'm use to baking with various gluten-free flours or all-purpose flour, which is fine, but this cake turned out light and delicate due to the cake flour and lots of sifting. I'm sold!

Spice Cake

2 cups sifted Swans Down Cake Flour (or flour of choice)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (make sure it's still active!)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 pinch nutmeg 
1/2 teaspoon all spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 egg, well beaten
3/4 cup milk

-Sift the flour once, then measure (spoon carefully so it remains light). Add baking powder, salt and spices and sift together three times. Using a mixer, cream the butter until fluffy. Add sugar gradually and cream together thoroughly. Add the beaten egg and mix again. Alternate adding a bit of the dry mixture, beating it until smooth, and then adding milk, a small amount at a time. Beat after each addition. Bake in a greased 8x8x2 pan for 50 minutes at 350 degrees. If you're using a loaf pan, decrease to 325 and add an additional 15 minutes.

 Now, let's talk about the frosting. I wanted something that dried like a glaze but was thick like a frosting. Oh my goodness. Let's just say after I glazed the cake and was moving it to the breakfast bar to let it cool, I came back in the kitchen and all my housemates were gathered around the mixing bowl shamelessly licking it clean. It's amazing. I want to put it on everything. I found the recipe for it here.

Brown Butter Frosting:

4 tablespoons butter
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Once the cake has completely cooled, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. After about 5 minutes, the butter will get brown specs on the bottom of the pan and give off a nutty aroma. Pour the browned butter into a mixing bowl and whisk in the powdered sugar slowly. Add in the vanilla and stir. Add the water, a little at a time, until it's still thick, but pourable.

Place the cake on a wire rack with paper towels under it and drizzle the glaze over it.