Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Getting Organized: The Coat Closet

I'm maintaining two new year's goals right now; blogging twice a week and getting organized. Alright! :) And while I'm doing this, Joe is finishing prepping the living room floors for hard wood. Earlier we went running at the YMCA for our 1/2 marathon training and I finished a cake so I'd say it's been a very productive night so far! Too bad they aren't all like this. Oh well. This isn't really a long (or very interesting) post but I just wanted to share that I am in fact starting to organize small spaces around the house.

This weekend while Joe was on his way home from St. Louis, I went on a house cleaning spree. The kitchen needed the most work after finishing the puppy birthday cake, then making a huge mess on a failed hummus recipe. Then I did some laundry and actually PUT AWAY the folded clean clothes. When I went grocery shopping on Sunday morning I picked up a couple things I'd need for my two little organizing ideas that were floating around in my head. I started with the coat closet. Here is the before:

Not completely offensive, but also not super functional. The previous owners had 2 little hooks on the door that I had been hanging my scarves on. Then on the shelf above the coats we had been throwing all of our gloves, hats, more scarves, and who knows what else. The floor of the closet had gym bags, tennis balls, tennis rackets and a few other odds and ends.

The first order of business was to completely empty the closet and remove the 2 door hooks. Then I vacuumed the carpet and dusted the shelf. Next I unwrapped and hung up the first of my organizing purchases. A cheap, clear plastic shoe organizer. I actually got this idea from Mom and Dad since they also have a shoe rack hanging in their coat closet. It's just so good for taking advantage of unused space!

With the shoe rack in place it was time to start putting things back in. Pretty much everything that had been on the shelf went on the door organizer. The gym bags and tennis rackets went on the shelf and the only things left of the floor were the vacuum cleaner and Joe's work bag. There were a few items that didn't make it back into the closet at all, like the scarves. But I had a plan in mind for them anyway. Here's the finished coat closet!

The 2nd organizing tool I bought was this funky little coat hanger that is supposed to be used for ties or belts. My plan was to use it for all my scarves. And since it came as a 2 pack, I was actually able to use one for Joe's ties as well.

All I did was gather all my scarves (there were 15, yikes) and start putting them on the hanger.

Then it got placed in our closet  next to my purse holder and jewelry organizer.

Do you guys get excited about having things organized and neatly placed? I do! But I am easily amused. These projects made me feel like our house is a little less chaotic, and I'm happy to say that I have been using them everyday and putting things back in their place when I'm done with them. Funny story though, on Monday morning, I went to get my gloves out of the coat closet and although I KNEW that they were now on the back of the door in the shoe rack, I still got scared and jumped when I opened the door because when I first saw the shoe rack it looked like someone was in the closet! Needless to say I felt pretty stupid. Oh well. I guess that's it for tonight! Hope you all are having a great week and staying warm. It's been freezing here in KC! Talk to you later!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Playful Puppy Birthday Cake

A few years of sending baked goods to work with Joe finally paid off! One of Joe's coworkers has twin baby girls who turned one yesterday, and he and his wife asked if I would make a cake for them. I said I'd love to, so they sent me a link to the party supplies they were ordering so we could figure out a cake design. The party theme was "Playful Puppy Party" and I thought it would be fun to recreate the little dog house with the puppy out front. They thought that sounded good too so it was time to get to work! I got to use my new square cake pans that I got for Christmas and they worked great. (Thanks Liz and Lance!) I baked three 8" square cakes and made fondant on Wednesday and Thursday nights then started assembling the cake on Friday.

I started the assembly by covering a cake board with green fondant for the "grass". Then I sliced each cake in half so there would be 6 layers and started stacking them with chocolate frosting in between. After they were stacked and refrigerated for a little bit, I carved it into a rough dog house shape. I had to use part that I cut off to add a peak to the roof.

After it was carved, I covered the whole cake in vanilla Swiss buttercream and tried to get it as smooth as possible. My last task for Friday night was making all the parts for the little puppy so they could firm up some overnight.

Saturday morning I did a little more work on smoothing out the buttercream before starting to try and cover the cake in fondant. I actually had to make a little more fondant on Saturday morning since there wasn't quite enough to cover the house. I also had to cover the cake in panels of fondant instead of how I usually do it which would be draping one large sheet of fondant over the cake. After the sides were covered, I cut a bunch of little shingles for the roof and put them in place. I thought that making shingles like that would hide imperfections better and allow me to cover the edges of the fondant panels on the sides. It also adds some nice texture to the cake.

After all the fondant was on, I decided to paint all of the fondant with thinned food coloring. I did this for 2 reasons. One is that it's a good way to get rid of all the cornstarch left on the fondant from rolling it out and two, it adds depth and dimension to the otherwise solid fondant colors. Here is how it looked after being painted.

Then it was just time to add all the finishing touches! I was very happy with how this cake turned out and for the first time ever, I was done well ahead of time. :) I delivered the cake and a couple cupcakes for the birthday girls. Everything made it there in one piece. Thanks to Tony and Robin for letting me make your girls' first birthday cake, it was a fun one!

I have another special cake to make this coming week that I'll share on here. It won't be a super fancy cake, but it will hopefully be the first of many special ones. I'll explain more when I post it on here :) Have a great week!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mean Green Soup

Training for a half marathon is hard, and we're not even done with week one. ugh. I'm regretting not running at all for the last 2 months or so. Oh well, no one to blame but myself. Though the running is hard and my legs are sore, I do have to say that overall I feel less tired and lethargic during the day so that's a nice change. However it has not made me want to get up and go to work in the morning any more than I used to. I guess it can't make everything better.

To go with this new training program, Joe and I have also started trying to eat a little healthier. I finally made some more of the energy bites that I wrote about in my 2nd blog post ever, and we've been stocking up on fruits and veggies. I saw this soup recipe in a Reader's Digest magazine at Mom and Dad's over Christmas and thought it would be a good way to incorporate lots of dark, leafy greens into our diet. I forgot to copy it down over Christmas, but Dad was nice enough to scan and email it to me. Thanks, Mom and Dad! Now I have to say, this is not the most appetizing looking soup. Maybe we can blame my not so great photography or the fact that I didn't have any natural lighting when I was taking pictures, but really I think it's just a bright green soup and it's not pretty. Despite it's appearance, it was delicious. Joe even really liked it and there was plenty of it leftover to take for a couple lunches this week. So if  you can get past it's looks, I highly recommend trying this, especially if you're like me and the thought of eating lots of soggy cooked kale or collard greens does not sound good to you. Here's the recipe!

Mean Green Soup (It's actually called Anna's Perfect Green Soup in Reader's Digest)
Serves 8

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 cup arborio rice
1 pound raw greens; kale, chard, mustard greens, collard greens)
14 cups gently packed raw spinach (about 12 oz.)
4 cups vegetable broth (I actually used chicken broth)
big pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring until onions begin to brown. Reduce heat to low, add 2 tablespoons of water and cover. Stirring frequently, cook onions until reduced and caramelized, about 25 minutes.

The onions cooked even more after this.

2. Meanwhile, combine 3 cups water, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt and the arborio rice in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

3. While the rice and onions are cooking, trim the tough stems or "ribs" from the greens. (I used kale and collard greens).Wash well and coarsely chop.

All these greens get hidden in the soup!

4. When the rice has cooked 15 minutes, add the 1 pound of greens, but not the spinach. Stir and return to a simmer. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, add the onions, spinach, broth and cayenne. Stir together and return to a simmer. Cook until the spinach is tender but still bright green, about 5 minutes.

A little blurry, but this is after adding the kale and collards. They reduce a lot as you'll see in the next pic.

This is after adding the onions and the spinach, and just before I blended it up.

5. Remove from the heat and use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. You could also puree the soup in batches in a regular blender. Once smooth, stir in the lemon juice. When you serve the soup garnish each bowl with a little olive oil. We also needed to add some salt to ours since I didn't add enough in the first couple steps.

That's it! All of the caramelized onions really add flavor so it doesn't taste like your just eating cooked greens. I think next time I'll add some garlic too. There can never be too much garlic! I hope that you give this a try and that you enjoy it. Please let me know if you do or if you come up with any good variations! Now it's time for me to go work on a 1st birthday cake order for this Saturday. You know I'll share pictures when it's done :)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

New Goals for a New Year

We're a couple weeks into 2013 now and it's been a good year so far :) Well, if we don't count the fact that I'm going on 2 weeks of being sick, then it's been a good year so far. Of course this time of year always brings about an evaluation of the previous twelve months and what things might be good to change in the next twelve. Typically we call these "resolutions" but I think this year I'll call mine goals. To me, a resolution sounds so definite and if I fall short then I've broken my resolution. But a goal is something I can continuously strive for and isn't necessarily a lost cause if I fall off the wagon now and then. This year, I have a few areas of goals: personal goals, home goals and blog goals. We'll start with the personal ones I guess.

Personal Goals
1. (This is actually one Joe and I are both doing). Do one *good* push-up every night the first week of the year, then 2 every night the second week, etc. So by the end of the year, I'll be able to do 52 real push ups, with some breaks in between sets of course. I wanted to do this because I have to do push-ups every week in my pilates class and they usually aren't very good. Plus, it's something I can just do at home before bed. So far, Joe and I haven't missed a day and I'm happy to say that the push-ups are actually getting easier.

2. (Joe is also doing this one with me.) Run a 1/2 marathon in April. Every year Garmin sponsors a local marathon and 1/2 marathon and we've finally decided to run it. Our training plan starts tomorrow! Time to break in these new running shoes :)

3. Go to church more often. I have to admit that over the past few years, I have attended church much less frequently than I should. When I do go, I always feel better and a little more at peace. But it never fails that something comes up or I just don't "feel" like going. The physical act of going to church each Sunday will help me be more mindful of praying and thanking God for blessings throughout the week, and that is a goal that can always use improving.

Home Goals
1. Get organized! This will be an ongoing process for me. I'd like to be one of those people that has "a place for everything and everything in it's place". A couple of house projects we have going on will help with that by adding more storage spaces to organize things, but I need to get organized in existing spaces as well. Think junk drawers, messy closets and stacks of things covering the basement. I'll try and keep you updated on how this goes.

2. Slowly start finishing spaces in our home. I don't want to break the goals down by specific rooms, but there will hopefully be a lot of projects going on in the near future. Last year we reached our goal of paying off my student loans, so this year we'll have a little more money to put toward house things. Below is the current state of our future piano room/reading room. Hardwood floors will be going in soon!

3. Put clean clothes away once they're folded! Ok, I know this is pretty specific, but I'm the worst about this! I don't see this change going well, but I'll keep trying. Putting away clothes is just the worst.

Blog Goals
1. Post twice a week. You may notice that I've already fallen off the wagon on this goal already, but I'm ready to get back on!

2. Figure out why a lot of you aren't able to comment on the blog and fix it. I've heard from several of you that this is a problem, so I'll look into it.

3. Learn how to use my camera on manual mode. I guess this could be a personal goal, but since I mostly use the camera for blog things, it'll be a blog goal. I've had a friend offer to give me camera lessons in exchange for cupcakes so I think it's time to take her up on that.

I didn't have a picture for the "blog goals" so here's a picture of some birds at our feeder this morning. I tried to get one of the Blue Jay but he kept getting scared away. 

Well, I guess that's it! I could have kept going on some of these, but you've probably heard enough. Thank you so much for reading and feel free to share your goals in the comments and maybe we can keep each other accountable! If your goal is to eat healthier then I made a couple recipes today that might interest you. I'll share them soon :) Have a great week!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Honey Bee Cake

Another fun and busy weekend has come and gone and it's time to go back to work. In the last couple days Joe and got all our Christmas decorations taken down, bought enough wood flooring to install in the dining room and piano room, went to Joe's work Christmas party, I got my hair cut and made this cake! As I mentioned in the last post, I got a few new cookbooks for Christmas so instead of just throwing them on the shelf with my others, I decided to try a recipe from one of them. This cake came from a cookbook called Vintage Cakes that was a gift from my sister, Grace. At first glance through this book, I started earmarking cakes that I wanted to try. Then the earmarking got a little out of hand so I figure I'll just have to make all of them :) The "Honey Bee Cake" was chosen because I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand!

As the title of the book implies, all of the cakes are found in vintage cook books or passed down through family members. The author wrote that this recipe first made its appearance in 1954 from the Proctor and Gamble Bakery Research Department. It's a simple single layer cake and the honey flavor really shines through. This would be a great "coffee cake". That way you can eat it for breakfast :) Now, like most people, I am trying to eat a little healthier in the new year, but that doesn't mean I want to give up baking! Instead I made this cake before going to the salon to get my hair cut. I saved one piece for me and one for Joe, then took the rest to the salon ladies. If they split it 5-6 ways then no one really ends up eating too much cake, right? Right.

"Honey Bee Cake"
From: Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (at room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk (at room temperature)
3/4 cup buttermilk (at room temperature)

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
heaping 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9" cake pan (round or springform) and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper or wax paper.

- In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, then whisk the ingredients by hand to ensure they are well mixed.

- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or just in a large bowl) combine the butter, sugar, honey and vanilla on low speed until blended. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes. Stop and scrape the bowl down often.

- Blend in the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, adding the next one as soon as the previous one has disappeared into the batter.

- With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk in two parts, beginning and ending with the flour. After each addition, mix until just barely blended and stop and scrape the bowl. Stop the mixer before the last of the flour has been incorporated and complete the blending by hand with a rubber spatula to ensure you do not over beat the batter.

- Spread the thick batter evenly into the prepared pan. Rap the pan firmly on the counter to release any air bubbles. Place the pan in the center of the over and bake for 45 minutes. The cake will turn a deep golden color and be firm on top, and a wooden skewer inserted in the middle will have moist crumbs attached. If the cake cracks on the surface while baking, that's ok. It will just soak up more glaze :)

It really is very thick batter!

- While the cake is baking, make the glaze. Add the honey, sugar and butter to a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until combined. Bring the mixture just barely to a simmer. Turn off the heat but leave the saucepan on the burner to keep warm.

- When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and poke holes all over the top of the cake with a skewer. Pour half of the glaze over the cake, evenly sprinkle the almonds over the cake, then pour the rest of the glaze over the almonds. Place the pan back in the oven (still at 350) for 5 more minutes. Cool the cake on a wire rack for about an hour. Then turn the cake upside down onto a plate to remove it from the pan (not the serving plate), and turn from that plate back right side up onto your serving plate.

Holes poked, and 1/2 of glaze poured on.

I guess that's kind of a long recipe, but it really did go quickly to make it. The hardest part was waiting for it to bake then cool! I kind of regretted only saving myself one piece before bringing it to the salon. It smelled amazing!

In my next post I'm hoping to come up with a list of goals/resolutions for myself and for the blog in the new year. My idea is that if I share my list with all of you, I'll be more likely to hold myself accountable. We'll see! That's it for tonight, I hope you all had a great weekend!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Joe and I are really ringing the new year in with style. We're staying home from work with terrible colds/sinus infections and moping around the house. :( We can at least be thankful that we stayed healthy through the Christmas break. Our trip to Ohio and back to see my family for Christmas also included a couple stops in St. Louis to visit with Joe's family, as well as a side trip to Illinois to celebrate my sister and her fiance's engagement with a party thrown by his family. As you can see, there was lots of family time, but that's the way it should be at Christmas! I won't go into too much detail about our trip, but I will give a somewhat quick recap. Unfortunately I was a bad blogger and didn't take very many pictures, so instead I'll sprinkle a few shots of our Christmas decorations at home since I never got around to writing a post about them haha.

Our  Christmas card display over the piano.

My wedding ornaments from Joe's Grandma got a tree of their own. I love all these ornaments!

The first 2 nights of our trip were spent in St. Louis at Joe's parents. Joe's mom took me and Joe's two sisters to see the musical "Wicked" on Saturday, and it was awesome! I'd never seen it before, and I'm glad that I have now. It was fun to see the backstory to the Wizard of Oz as imagined by the author. Hopefully it will come to Kansas City one day and I can drag Joe to see it with me.

Nut crackers and stockings hung on the dresser. You'll see in another picture why I couldn't really hang the stockings on the mantle.

Sunday morning we headed to Ohio. We needed to be there by 4:00 to be in time for Grace's piano recital and we were just in time. Grace played 3 songs (1 solo and 2 duets) and did an amazing job with all of them. Mom even played one of the duets with Grace and she was great too. We spent the next few days at Mom & Dad's. We all got up early on Christmas for presents then just relaxed the rest of the day and played some new games we got. We even got a few inches of snow in Ohio on the day after Christmas which threw a wrench in some travel plans, but it all worked out ok. On Thursday night we checked out a local winery and brewery with my family then went out to eat in downtown Lebanon.

Sara and Andy on Christmas morning. I wasn't able to get a decent picture of everyone else, and I think I would get in trouble if I posted the pictures that I did get :)

Me and Miss Mollie. She never misses a chance to get in on the action. 

Friday morning we all loaded up and headed to Bloomington, IL for the engagement party for my sister Sara and her fiance, Andy. The party was at Andy's brother's house and it was really great to meet his whole family and spend some time getting to know them. On Saturday morning we had brunch at Andy's parent's house in Peoria, IL then it was time for Joe and me to head back to St. Louis for one more night before going home. We celebrated Christmas with Joe's family on Saturday night and played some more new games. Finally on Sunday it was time to head home.

Our Christmas tree and the poinsettia garland I made. 

We decided to have people over on New Year's Eve, so Sunday night was spent making a few appetizer type things and trying to get all of our gifts and travel stuff unpacked and put away. Monday brought a full day of snow to Kansas City, and I left work after half a day to avoid bad road conditions. Of course this also gave me more time to get ready for our friends to come over that night :) We had a great New Years Eve, but Joe and I both woke up sick on New Years day and unfortunately it has only gotten worse :( Hopefully a good night sleep will help. Well, sorry for the long winded post, but I guess there was just a lot to share! I hope you all had a great Christmas and New Years as well. Before signing off for the night I just want to tell all of you thank you so much for reading the blog this year! Knowing that you all read it and enjoy it (I hope haha) is what keeps me writing. I'm hoping to keep the posts coming pretty steady this year, and thanks to a few new cookbooks I got for Christmas, there should be an abundance of cakes and desserts :)