Friday, November 19, 2010

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

 Since there is a 2010 Favorite Things link party at 320 Sycamore,

I thought I would throw out a few of my faves.

Dark Chocolate

My number one favorite treat is chocolate.  Not just ANY chocolate, but deep, dark chocolate.  I love Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet chocolate chips. 

They are SO decadent and yummy!  Perfect out of the bag or in any of your favorite recipes, they are simply the best.

French Pedicure

I didn't get my first pedicure until I was probably 45, but now the ultimate summer treat for my feet is a french pedicure.  One the top things on my special-occasions gift list is a gift certificate to a nice nail salon.

Yellow Box Flip Flops

The most comfortable footwear EVER is Yellow Box's flip flops.  They're so cushiony.  And lots of their styles have a little Bling Thing going on.

Wearing these flip flops is one of the best ways to show off my french pedi!

Chi Flat Iron Hair Styler

I have naturally curly hair that has only gotten curlier with age.  I used to live in a humid climate where it was impossible to keep it from looking like a Brillo pad.  Now that I live in a dryer climate, my hair is easier to manage but I still depend on the Chi flat iron to smooth my hair out. 

It took a lot to convince me that any hair care tool was worth $100, but this one is.  It is super hot, fast, and leaves my hair smooth and straight.  The only downside is it doesn't have an auto shut-off feature which I find to be a real pain.

Jo Malone fragrances

Finally, I love the fresh and light fragrances by Jo Malone.  One of my favorites is Nectarine Blossom & Honey.

In my city, I need to go to either Saks or Neiman Marcus to get it, which kind of intimidates me since I'm not a "fancy girl."  I always feel like the sales clerks are giving me the once over.  Oh well, when I spray this stuff on, at least it makes me feel like a million bucks!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tangy Cranberry Orange Bread

I love fall!  There are so many unique flavors that you don't really capitalize on the rest of the year.  One of these flavors is the tart and tangy taste of cranberry.  Cranberries are a native North American fruit and are mostly grown in the New England states here in the U.S.  The fresh berries make their appearance in grocery stores in November and December only.

Did you know that you can freeze cranberries and enjoy them year-round?

I put the whole unopened bag in my upright freezer and use them whenever I have a craving for cranberry muffins, bread, or bread pudding or just plain old cranberry sauce!  I use them within a year so that I can refill my freezer when the fresh ones come back around.

Here's a terrific recipe for one of my favorite ways to use cranberries.  The mayo in this recipe may seem like a strange ingredient but it replaces oil or butter and makes the bread nice and moist.  You can use low-fat (light) mayo, but don't use the non-fat.

Cranberry Orange Bread
(click here to print recipe)

2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

2 eggs
3/4 cup orange juice (I like Florida's Natural--tastes like fresh-squeezed)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. orange peel, grated or scant 1/4 tsp. orange oil (for more on orange oil, click here)

1 1/2 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (or another nut you like)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In large bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  In another bowl, combine eggs, mayo, orange juice and orange zest.  Mix well.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Pour in the liquid ingredients along with the cranberries and nuts.  Stir until just moistened.  Batter will be thick.

Spoon into 1 large (9 1/2 x 5 1/4") or 2 smaller (7 1/2 x 4") greased loaf pans.  You can put a topping on the bread for a pretty presentation by combining an additional 2 T. sugar with 1/2 tsp. orange peel.  Sprinkle over top of loaf.

Tart and tangy cranberry bread

Bake for 1 hour for a large or 50 minutes for 2 smaller loaves.  Then cover loosely with foil and bake for an addtional 10 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Note that if you use frozen berries, the loaves may take longer to bake.  Cool in pans for 15 minutes, then remove (run knife along edge of pan to loosen) and cool completely on a wire rack.  This can be tightly wrapped and frozen for later, if desired.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Citrus Oils

I have orange and/or lemon oil on hand at all times because I don't always have fresh citrus available for zest when I'm baking.  These oils are different than extracts in that they contain no alcohol.  They are cold-pressed from the rinds of the fruit and are very concentrated.  You can order it online here.

Orange oil is sometimes available at World Market and Williams-Sonoma, too.  Be advised, a little goes a long way!  I use it for cranberry orange bread, pumpkin cream cheese bread, and cinnamon orange pecans, among other things.  It's great to have on hand if you bake a lot because it keeps in the refrigerator for a very long time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Weighing In

Some of you may know that I am a baker.  I think it is my spiritual gift to bless people with homemade goodies from my kitchen.

One of the most important things to know when you bake is that measurements matter.  It is best to be precise.  Since I'm an accountant in my other life, this is not difficult for me.  But because I can tend to border on the obsessive with getting things exact, I decided to purchase a kitchen scale.

I will admit that one of the main reasons I wanted an electronic scale was because I need to lose a few pounds, and the way I do that is calorie counting and portion control.  However, it is so easy to underestimate what I am eating when I think something like a piece of steak is 3 oz. when it is actually 10!  Whoa, Nellie, big difference!

Anyway, while perusing the web, I noticed that Cooks Illustrated (the foodie magazine) highly recommended a model called the Oxo Good Grips, Model #1130800.  This is a review that was on that shows the features better than I ever could (and it's entertaining, too!)

I bought this scale at Bed, Bath and Beyond using a 20% off coupon, so it was around 40 bucks.  It is very accurate and fun to use.

It just occurred to me that if I had used my new scale to weigh out each portion of dough for these cookies, they may have looked more uniform.  But hey, they tasted awesome (because they were filled with chocolate fudge filling)!  And they looked, ahem, "hand-crafted."

Hmm, I think I'll go make some more cookies!  There goes my diet.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Art in the Square

I bought a black collage-type frame similar to this on clearance at Kohls for $8.

It sat in my closet for 6 months.  When I redid my daughter's bathroom area last month, it needed some artwork to break up the blue color.  Then I remembered our squares theme from her bedroom and that frame.  I went to Hobby Lobby and bought a package of stickers that she liked and  4 different colors, patterns and textures of scrapbook paper: a green alligator texture, a black and glittery silver stripe, white dots on black, and a multi-colored square print that coordinated with her bedding.

  For less than $15, we had a new, unique art piece that didn't break the bank!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hip to be Square

Earlier this year, I told my almost-teen daughter that we would change her room to a more grown-up space.  I don't have a before picture, but here are some of the elements that were in there.  The walls were lavender.

Pastel quilt, tole vase, & impressionist pics of little girls

Needless to say, she was ready for a BIG change!  She wanted something hip and modern.  I wanted something punched-up but not too wild.  She thought my ideas were so square (and I guess using that term confirms it!).  Both of my kids are anti-earth tones when it comes to paint choices.  She wanted a bright blue paint.  Initially, I said no way, since it's out of character with my style and the rest of the house.  But then a friend's comment gave me pause.  She said that our kids are only home for a little while, so why shouldn't we give them the bedroom decor they desire?  Since her bedroom is upstairs and mine is down, I thought about it and gave in since I wouldn't have to look at that color every day.

I painted her room a Laura Ashley color from Lowe's called Glass Green.  It's not really green, it's more turquoise.  (One note about paint from Lowe's:  always go one sheen level down from what you were thinking for walls.  I chose a satin and should have gone with the eggshell.  It's a little shiny, but not bad.)

Once I saw the color direction she wanted to go in, we started looking at comforter sets.  I liked the Pottery Barn Teen versions but found them very pricey, so we settled on one from J.C. Penney which we both LOVE. I don't think it's available anymore, but it came with the comforter and 2 shams for around $80 and has a microfiber type feel to it.  Very nice.

Seventeen: Geo Nights

I found a striped body pillow ($20) from Target that coordinated beautifully.  The blackout drapes ($20), also from Target, were a necessity since my daughter's room faces east.  Now if I could only get her out of bed before 11 when she's not in school!

I found some removable decals ($10) at Walmart that I used over the bed to give it interest.

Decal detail

For her study area, I already had the console table that a friend gave me and we're using it as a desk.

 The lime chair ($30) came from Target as did the cool stacked-squares crystal lamp, my one splurge ($75).

Peace sign ($12) came from HomeGoods.  I thought about painting a peace sign directly on the wall but wanted to stick with things that were easily reversible since I have a lot of painting to do elsewhere!

Finally, since my daughter has grown just a little bit since her early childhood days...

she really needed a new dresser for her clothes.  I found a sturdy one for $300.  It has lots of deep drawers, a jewelry drawer, and even a center door section with shelves and sliding drawers behind it.  And square knobs!  Perfect!

Oozing with teen charm

Vintage glass cat from Grammy

The one thing I still need to do is paint the finials on my vintage iron bed (it was my grandma's) either a silver color or white to match the rest of the bed.  But Jessica's room is functional, it's modern, and she loves it.  And it makes her mom very happy.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Falling Back

I went to Target today and noticed that they're already closing out the Fall decor.  Really?!  I guess I just fell behind in decorating my house for Fall this year.  Lucky for me, I do have some things I reuse year-to-year, like this sign I got eons ago that hangs from an armoire in my entrance foyer.

I don't know why, but I always squeal with delight when I see these 3 little piggies.

On my foyer table are my apothecary jars.

The largest one holds faux pumpkins, pears and artichokes; the mid-sized one holds real gourds and faux artichokes; and the smallest one holds fake-corns.  I tried collecting the real ones but the little caps kept falling off.  I was too lazy to glue them all back on.

Recently, I found this awesome metal pitcher at Ikea.  It sits atop my antique icebox in the kitchen.  I filled it with some fall leaves and flowers.  

Next to it sits my prized, Mexican rooster, Rusty.  A few years ago, one of my son's little friends called it "that bombed-out rooster."  No appreciation for art, I tell ya!  I have always loved roosters in my kitchen, probably because they remind me of my mom.  She had a matching set of rooster canisters and breadbox in our kitchen for years.

Happy Fall, Y'all!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fall Flavors: Pumpkin Bread

You can tell it's Fall: brisk evenings, brilliantly-colored trees and awesome produce, such as pumpkins!  Most pumpkins in the United States are grown in the Midwest.  Most parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the flesh, seeds, leaves, and even flowers.  Pumpkin puree is an excellent source of fiber and beta carotene (Vitamin A) while the seeds supply a good amount of B vitamins, iron and magnesium.  Who knew this humble fruit was such a nutritional powerhouse?

One of my favorite things to make with pumpkin is Pumpkin Bread.  I have tried a lot of recipes and have enjoyed them all.  But the hit of orange in the cream cheese filling  is what makes this pumpkin bread special.   My family loves it, and I hope yours will, too.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bread
(click here to print recipe)


8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 T. flour
1 egg
1/4 tsp. orange oil (click here for more info.) or 1 T. orange zest
Pumpkin Batter:
1 2/3 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease a 9x5x2" loaf pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the filling ingredients.  Beat until smooth.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.  In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, oil, sugars (white and brown), and eggs.  Beat well.  Stir the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture until just combined.  Don't overbeat.  Spread half of the pumpkin batter into the greased loaf pan.  Spoon cream cheese mixture over the batter, then put remaining pumpkin batter over top.  You can swirl them together a little with a knife if you want.

Bake for 80-90 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool bread in pan for 15 minutes, then remove to rack to cool.  This bread is best enjoyed the next day (if you can wait that long!) so that the flavors meld completely. 

I linked this post to The Inspired Room 31 Days of Autumn Bliss Day 30 & 31.