Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sugar & spice

I've thought of another thing that made January the pits: no baking. No baking! No wonder I was wallowing around in the dumps.

How I love to have a good reason to bake (beyond just the two of us stuffing ourselves silly), and within the last couple of weeks, excuses have been popping up all over.

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I may have shared this recipe before, but it's so fantastic, it deserves a second appearance. Muffins are my favorites to bake (at least right now); they're such tidy little packages of comfort, they usually require only one bowl, and they freeze so well. I've used this recipe for ages, and I can't remember where I found it, although I do think it was originally meant for a loaf of bread.

Banana Cinnamon Swirl Muffins
3 over-ripe bananas
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
Dash salt
1 1/2 cups flour

Preheat to 350 and grease a muffin tin (that non-stick cooking spray with flour is great for muffins). Mix together the bananas, butter, sugar, egg & vanilla. Sprinkle soda & salt over banana mixture. Add flour & gently stir, being careful not to over-mix. Spoon a bit of batter into each cup & sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Top with more batter & more cinnamon sugar. Bake about 20 minutes (18 for me because our oven runs on the hot side.) 

*Add chopped walnuts for extra yum! Be generous with the cinnamon sugar!

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And now prepare to have your socks knocked off. As far as I'm concerned, this is the Pioneer Woman's greatest culinary triumph. (Her recipe is intended as a layer cake, but I use it for cupcakes, and it makes a pile. Around 22, I think.)

Coffee Cream Cupcakes 
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks butter
3 Tbsp instant coffee crystals
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 and line two muffins tins with cupcake papers. Mix together the flour, sugar & salt. Melt butter over medium-low heat. While melting, add coffee crystals to 1 cup boiling water; set aside. When butter has melted, add the coffee & let come to a boil about 10 seconds; set aside for just a minute. In a separate bowl, mix together buttermilk, eggs, soda & vanilla. Pour the butter/coffee mixture into the flour & stir gently. Add in the egg mixture & stir gently until combined. Fill papers 3/4 full. Bake about 18 minutes. 

I made these yesterday for a friend's birthday and you can see that I very thoughtfully ate one to make sure they weren't poisonous:

Coffee Cream Cheese Frosting
8 oz cream cheese, at room temp
2 Tbsp milk or cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups powdered sugar
4 tsp instant coffee crystals

Beat cream cheese & milk until smooth. Beat in vanilla, salt, powdered sugar & coffee crystals.

*This isn't the Pioneer Woman's creation; I found it on the internet, but again, can't remember exactly where. The consistency ends up being fairly thin; the batch I made this morning was definitely much too runny for piping & actually seemed more like a glaze. Adding more cream cheese and powdered sugar would bulk it up enough for piping, I think. 

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This has nothing to do with baking, but I've been awfully hard on winter, so here's some evidence that it hasn't been all gloom & doom:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Color splash

Whew, January was tough. It was gray and gray and GRAY and totally stole my thunder in the be-happy-and-productive department. I felt like I was teetering on the edge of a serious problem, so in February I decided to make a concerted effort to snap myself out of the dumps.

First, I would feed my creative side, which had been lethargic for too long. And, if the outside world was one enormous iron curtain, I would fill the inside of our house with color - pink and red specifically, because what else in there in February? :) So...

I took 500 trips to craft store (pigs will fly before I can organize myself enough to get everything I need in one shot); this pile of goodies is now a sweet little pendant banner that hangs across the doors to our deck:
And this is just a piece of scrapbook paper in a picture frame-turned-tray that sits on the coffee table:
I woke up one morning in a fit of ridiculous & decided our candles were unacceptable and needed replacing right now. After running all over looking for new ones, I had a flash of common sense & decided to wrap the old ones in paper left over from the pendant project. The white tray is filled with clear gems from the dollar store; I punched out circles from different scrapbook paper I had lying around & modge-podge'd them to the bottoms. (Easy-peasy & cheap, yahoo!) 
More framed scrapbook paper:

I also sent out Valentines; doing something small for someone else is a wonderful way to cheer our own hearts, and I had great fun shopping for pink tea :)

And then the flowers! I love the grocery store on Valentine's Day; roses & tulips & carnations everywhere, just begging to be brought home:

Our juicer is getting a ton of use lately, and in keeping with the pink explosion, I used a Gala apple, an orange, a carrot, a little bit of pineapple & two beets to make this:
It's just as delicious as it looks, although if you're not a fan of beets to begin with, this may not be your favorite...but you should try it anyway; really, I mean it!

And that's the story of how I fought the big, bad winter blahs & won :) Now, COME ON spring!

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Saturday, January 04, 2014

A new year!

Happy, happy New Year to you! Let's begin with a lovely poem:

Another fresh new year is here . . .
Another year to live!
To banish worry, doubt, and fear,
To love and laugh and give!

This bright new year is given me
To live each day with zest . . .
To daily grow and try to be
My highest and my best!

I have the opportunity
Once more to right some wrongs,
To pray for peace, to plant a tree,
And sing more joyful songs!” 
― William Arthur Ward


Now, about resolutions: I have them! I always do. I love - and I've mentioned this in Januarys past - standing on the edge of brand new year and purposefully choosing things to work toward or improve, and if I make mistakes along the way or decide to give up completely on this or that, I don't care a bit. 

For this month (and all the months after, too, but some things seem more manageable when I focus on smaller snippets of time) I am very earnestly working on turning around the holiday-induced habit of eating junk at every turn. Really, in December we were out of control. We are not bears preparing for hibernation, nor are our stomachs trash compactors, and behaving that way all month made us feel and start to look pretty crummy. Jan Michael is tackling this, too, so we can help in each other in times of weakness. Up with broccoli, down with Chicken in a Biscuit! 

I'd also like to go on many more hikes this year. There are so many beautiful places to explore that are very close to home, and it's such a fantastic way to get exercise and be outside at the same time. Hiking isn't Jan Michael's favorite thing, but I have two friends who love it and do it often, so I'll enlist them. 

And puzzles. I want to put together more puzzles. Not every resolution has to change the world, right? :)

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December

December around here has been merry & bright, and has looked something like this:

Jan Michael has made 15 batches of caramel corn since the beginning of the month, two of which were sent to Germany & Portugal. Caramel corn world domination! :)

Have I been clear enough about how we love him so? 



Just missing a few very important people on both Christmas Eve & Christmas day, but we'll take what we can get! 


Thursday, December 05, 2013

November

I've neglected our little home here on the internet something awful lately. My heart has been so full with everything that's been going on, but it seems like my ability to describe it all is hunkered down in a cave somewhere hibernating. So, not many words again to go with the pictures, but I do want to share those at least, because it makes me sad to see this small glimpse into our days all grown over with cobwebs.

November has a special kind of sunrise and sunset all its own:

A combination 15th-anniversary / We'd-better-hurry-up-and-figure-out-something-for-the-Christmas-cards-before-it's-too-late! photo shoot:

Thanksgiving projects - we had the LOVELIEST Thanksgiving:

And over & over again, the undisputed star of the show:

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

October catch up

I'm dying to share pictures from October, but for the life of me, I can't think of what to say about any of them. So - no words, lots of photos. You'll get the picture from the pictures, ha!