Friday, December 31, 2010

goodbye 2010

This year has been, well a year.  It always seems to simple and trite at the end of the year to sum up what's happened and make goals for the new year to come.  But, it's human nature, I suppose and I am one of those list-makers, goal-setters kind of people.  So, I will look back and then forward, knowing that I don't really know what this year will bring any more than I knew how 2010 would shake out. 

Whatever your resolutions for the New Year, thank you for reading my blog-even when I am sporadic or post too many pictures of my dining room.  Thanks for your wonderful encouragment and delicious compliments on my cooking, baking and decorating.  I wish you all good things in 2011 and beyond and hope that you will keep stopping by to see what's going on in my corner of the world. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Oreo Truffles Recipe and tips

I've had several people email and ask me for the recipe for the Oreo Truffles, and a lot of people visit that page on my blog, so I though I would just put all the information here for easy, holiday baking access.  The recipe is really so simple that it's almost not a recipe.  Also, some people refer to them as Oreo "balls" but I think truffles makes them sound tastier and maybe like they took longer to make than they actually do. 

The first time I made them I did so under the misguided theory that because I don't really like Oreos, I wouldn't be tempted to eat these little chocolate covered bits of goodness.  Rarely have I ever been quite so wrong.  These taste amazing-and have the richest texture and they are cute to top it all off. 

Here's how to make them:

1pkg Oreos crushed (don't use crumbs-actually crush the cookies)
1  8 oz pkg cream cheese
Chocolate for melting and covering the truffles

Mix the cream cheese into the crushed Oreos.  I generally use the smallest size Pampered Chef scoop and scoop out as many little round truffles as I can, shape them and stick them in the fridge to chill.  Don't rush to coat them in the chocolate because the colder they are when you start dipping, the easier the whole process will go. 

I use the Wilton brand candy melts for white and color and the Baker's semi-sweet for Chocolate.  The ones I really love to make (and eat) are the Golden Oreos covered in semi-sweet chocolate. 

Another tip, from one of my best friends, is when you are melting the chocolate, add a tablespoon of vegetable shortening to the chocolate-it make is smoother to dip and shinier when it's cooled off. 

These little sweeties are all dressed up for Christmast in their red ribbons.  You can add sprinkles, non-pareils, sparkling sugars, whatever you want to make them look festive and even more delicious than they already do!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Getting in the Christmas Spirit with Hooked on Houses

Well, I missed the first blog-link-party-extravaganza that Julia at my all time favorite blog, Hooked on Houses,  hosted.  In an attempt not to skip holidays, I don't put up any Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving, but that often means I am not finished (or satisfied with what I've done) until well into December.  The room that holds most of my Christmas goodies is the dining room because, well really, it's the most finished room in the house.  Here's a shot of my china cabinet with my small collection of dishes (all different)

Last year, I had that garland (which I got for cheap at Target from Smith and Hawken) on my dining room light, but this year, we added an advent wreath to the table and the combination of low hanging garland and tall taper advent candles seemed to be less than advisable.  Here's how the table and the light look:

I had big plans to get this runner all cute-d up for Christmas with felt snowflakes, but sadly, my idea didn't quite work out the way I planned.  For now, the felt runner is lonely without the boost of the white snowflakes, so we will see what happens.  My refurbished sideboard is making its first Christmas appearance and looks pretty spiffy draped in red and serving as home to my cute peppermint candy tree. 

Remember how icky that used to be?  I do-you can check out the before in this post
Of course, nothing in this house would be complete without a little bit of Lego fun, so here is a new addition to my decor, the Lego Advent Calendar. 

Let me tell you, this little piece of Danish ingenuity was well worth the price.  My first grader has been up and dressed for school in record time since his opening the Lego piece is contingent on being ready for school.  Brilliant, I tell you!

I am participating in Julia's Link Party-go see more by clicking on this button!


Monday, December 06, 2010

Christmas Card 2010

Oh Holy Night Religious Christmas 5x7 folded card
Make a statement with Shutterfly Christmas photo cards.
View the entire collection of cards.

Welcome December

If you are like me, you may have missed November completely-it seems like I just turned the calendar to the month that contains Thanksgiving and now all of a sudden it's the one that holds Christmas!  EEEEK!!  We spent the first December weekend doing appropriately Christmas-y things like church, forcing our kids to stand out in the cold and have their once-a-year-so-you'd-better-smile-or-we-will-be-out-here-all-day pictures (better known as the Christmas card photo. 

This year, we revisited a place we had enjoyed several years (and one kid) ago for the taking of the photos-the PAGODA which is really cool looking and completely out of place in Eastern Pennsylvania.  It's also just cool and a little scary if you are afraid of heights or the combination of your adventurous 6 year old and 87 steps and a steep, rocky incline.  But, it is cool:

We also went to another favorite spot of mine, Glicks Greenhouses for their annual Poinsettia show, which the kids loved and I loved, too:

We hung the lights, watched The Santa Clause and baked cookies.  All in all a perfect Christmas weekend, but now it's back to reality December Monday, which includes more running around, laundry (doesn't every day?) and a bunch of stuff I would rather not do-but pretty soon it will be Christmas weekend again!  I have to get my dining room in order so I can show it off-the only problem with using the dining room for all our meals is that it generally looks like we eat all our meals there! 

Happy December Monday!

Monday, November 29, 2010

yummmmm..... nutella cookies

As I mentioned in the last post, I have a lot of butter in my house right now.  That can be dangerous, I know, but it also makes whipping up a batch of cookies pretty simple and painless (unless you count the calories-but at Christmas that just seems cruel).  So, when I saw this blog party linked on one of my favorite blogs (Anything Pretty) I knew just the cookie I wanted to share. 

My kids LOVE Nutella and they come by it honestly.  We always have it in the house and my kids actually prefer it to peanut butter when it comes to lunchbox sandwiches.  Many of their friends have been confused over the years by their "chocolate sandwiches" and many more have been converted to Nutella fans after having lunch at our house.  But, back to the cookies.  I found this recipe several years ago, on the Food Network-it was actually for Halloween but we love them anytime and especially at Christmas. 

Here's how they looked last Christmas after we piped some snowflakes onto them and added those sweet little round sprinkles:

You can find the original recipe here:  Giada's Hazelnut Chocolate Smoochies  I have made a few changes and don't usually use the kisses because we like the cookie in its natural state. 


1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (recommended: Nutella)

1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup orange sprinkles, or orange sugar

1 (9-ounce) package of chocolate candy kisses, unwrapped (recommended: Hershey's)


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another medium bowl, place the chocolate hazelnut spread, butter, and both sugars. Using a hand mixer, cream the ingredients together, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and blend until incorporated. Stir in the dry ingredients, just until incorporated.

Shape the cookie dough into walnut-sized balls. Rolls the balls in the orange sprinkles or orange sugar, pressing to adhere. Place the cookies on a heavy cookie sheet about 4 inches apart. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven. Quickly place a chocolate kiss in the middle of each cookie. Return the cookies to the oven and bake for another 3 minutes. Cool the cookies on a wire rack.

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Dare to DIY

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cinnamon (and other) Scones from King Arthur Flour

One thing I love about this time of year is that I can shamelessly load my cart with tons of butter and blame it all on the baking.  I mean, really, you can't expect to be able to bake anything unless you have several pounds of (preferably Land O'Lakes) butter in your fridge and freezer, can you?  I certainly can't. 

Once you've stockpiled your butter, it's time to get serious about baking and planning for baking.  Last week, while innocently searching the web for a cinnamon scone recipe, I found the promised land (insert angelic voices singing here)  the KING ARTHUR FLOUR WEBSITE and lost myself for hours in their recipes, their blog and then their shop where they have all kinds of amazing things I never knew I even needed for baking.  Gourmet ingredients meets cool baking tools and acccessories and they even have gluten free stuff that will make baking for my mom (who has celiac) a lot simpler.

After drooling onto my laptop for several hours, I finally got down to the business of making these beauties, Triple Cinnamon Scones:

I didn't have all the ingredients that they suggest in the recipe, so I used a few substitutions-making mine only double cinnamon scones because I didn't have the cinnamon filling.  I also took the "traditional" route and sprinkled the scones with cinnamon sugar before baking rather than using the glaze they suggest. 

The recipe was very easy to pull together-basically some flour, sugar, baking soda (these are scones after all) and then some 1/2 and 1/2 (how could this go wrong? I ask you!) and eggs along with the cinnamon chips.  In case you haven't seen the cinnamon chips-I used these from Hershey:

So, it's just mix the dry ingredients, cut in 1 stick of butter and then add the wet-forming it into a log of dough and then cutting it however you want.  The recipe suggested these rectangular shapes and I really liked them. 

After a little freezing (30 minutes) and then a little baking (17 minutes seemed to do the trick) you have these amazing scones:

After these came out so, so, so good, I thought it might be time to change things up a bit.  If cinnamon scones are good, why not try something a little more chocolatey?  And, if chocolate is good, isn't coffee even better?  Why, yes, I think so!!  Here's where it got interesting:

I took the basic recipe, which results in a moist scone-pretty amazing in itself.  Then, I added some Starbucks, because really-why not? 

If you haven't baked with the Starbucks VIA instant coffee-believe me, you should.  It is perfect for baking.

I mixed it with the 1/2 and 1/2 and let it sit a while before mixing it in the egg and dry ingredients:

As it sits, all the granules dissolve and it smells heavenly.  I added it to the dry ingredients with the egg:

Then, I added the chocolate chips, mixed and formed it into a log.  I followed the directions from the King Arthur website about the size of the scone dough.  It's really helpful to know you are on the right track and kind of fun to use a ruler for baking.  Those little white spots in the dough are chunks of BUTTER, yes butter. I am pretty sure that's why these are so moist when they are done. 

Again, they went into the freezer and then the oven.  The end result was yummy!  Next time, I think I will sprinkle them with a little raw or sprinkle sugar for a touch of sweet (the dough isn't very sweet at all) and a little extra crunch which makes the cinnamon ones so delicious.  Hungry yet?  Here's a bite:

Here is the recipe for the Cinnamon ones (again, from King Arthur Flour)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Too early for Christmas decorating??

Ever since the kitchen went from disaster area to nearly completed, I have been DYING to put some decorative stuff in there.  Obviously, it's not Thanksgiving yet and we are having some family here for Turkey Day, so it's still a little too early for Christmas stuff, right??  right???  I really want to pull out some of my pretty red decorations and put them in my pretty "edgecomb gray" kitchen.  Somehow, I think all my decorations will look nicer this year, without the backdrop of pink and too bright green (the green was my fault, to be honest).

But, I am showing restraint.  Waiting, however impatiently, one more week-to put out lovelies like this one:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sneak Peek at the kitchen re-do

I have been hesitant (or lazy, you choose) to post photos of our kitchen renovation because we aren't quite finished.  Doing all the work ourselves has been awesome, humbling, frustrating and ultimately very rewarding.  Of course, if the budget had allowed, we  might have considered hiring someone, but I doubt it. 

This remodel technically did start with outside help last winter when we had the kitchen roof replaced, demolished the ceiling (that's the part we did-you can see the damage here) and our contractor basically rebuilt our ceiling so that it's vaulted.  I sort of hesitate to use the word vaulted because it's a really small kitchen, but there it is. 

Fast forward to this September and the project picked up some momentum again.  I spent several weeks painting cabinets, staining countertops and generally losing my mind.  This last week, with the finish line clearly in sight, we tackled a small project and the results are amazing. 

Here is the space we started with (before renovation)  And, yes, that is one pink countertop tucked underneath the other-don't ask:

Yep, pretty bad, all things considered.  After new counters, painted cabinets and a lot of work, it looked like this:

Much better, even with the glare.  There's something about not having pink countertops anymore that just makes me happy. 

I could never figure out why there was a big open space next to that cabinet, but maybe it was because of the configuration of the old countertops?  It would be hard to reach there over that L shaped pink structure that was there before. 

We purchased a sheet of MDF, which I had never worked with before.  It's actually pretty amazing and if you are painting it-a perfect material for a few small shelves.  We were lucky enough to already have shelf brackets on hand that we had picked up at our local builder's surplus store so it was just a matter of elbow grease to get this done. 

First, we measured; next my husband cut the MDF to the right size for the shelves we wanted. 

A few coats of the same paint that I used on the upper cabinets on the sink wall (Minced Onion by Benjamin Moore) and the shelves were ready to go in.  Leveling things in an old house, and especially this section of our house can be tough.  This section of our kitchen used to be a porch and has a decided slant to it, so it's definitely a bit of a challenge. 

My husband installed the brackets:

And, then the shelves finished off the whole thing:

It's kind of hard to believe it's the same space, but it is!  Here's a side by side of the very before and after:

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Public Service Announcement for all Lego enthusiasts and Target shoppers

It's been well documented on this blog that my youngest child, my son, loves Legos.  He eats, breathes and sleeeps legos and will regularly inform anyone who is listening that he wants to be a Lego designer when he grows up.  In fact, readers of my blog also love Legos because this post has gotten more hits than anything else I have ever written.  The cute photos of those chocolate minifigs went so far around that I got them sent TO ME.  Pretty cool, internet-thanks for that!

Anyway, with that information in mind, you can imagine my excitement when I found this at Target yesterday:

Thrilling, really-it's a Target gift card with a Lego set right there.  The very best part is that the Legos really are free.  The only charge is what you put on the gift card, so the Lego set is a bonus!  I grabbed it, stuck it in the cart with all good intentions of putting it in my son's stocking and honestly, patting myself on the back a bit.  Score!!  cool Lego stocking stuffer, right?? 

Not so much.  Here begins the PSA.  If you purchase this really cool gift card (the little plastic box is actually the gift card-cool!)  Do NOT,  I repeat, DO NOT  leave the gift card on the counter, completely visible, right next to the sink.  Because, if you do, when your Lego kid comes home and you tell him to wash his hands right away, the Lego gift card will be RIGHT THERE!!! 

He was totally excited and did have fun putting together "Bullseye" the little white Target dog, but yeah, not so much for the stocking stuffer.  Oh, well...  Maybe someone can learn from my mistake.  Here is what it will look like when it's finished (hopefully, for you on Christmas morning)

Christmas Card Photos thanks to Shutterfly

I have been using Shutterfly for pretty much all of my digital photo printing and organizing since shortly after I (finally) went digital.  Honestly, I had used another company when I was still using my beloved film camera, but once I was all digital, I made the switch to Shutterfly initially based on the fact that they didn't send me emails threatening to delete my old photos if I didn't place an order soon.  On their website, they state their policy pretty simply:  "Shutterfly has never deleted a photo."  I like that!  I also love that I can get my printed photos at my local Target. 

So, I was pretty excited when I found out that they are giving away 50 free photo cards to bloggers everywhere just for writing a 150 word post about their cards!  Count me in!  I love their cards, so it's not hard at all to write about them, and to spread the word that if you have a blog, you can get 50 cards (FREE) as well.  Here's the link for the promotion: 

Now, the worry about getting the perfect shot with 3 kids has begun.  I just finished up an awesome project about local parks and we found this spot in one of them:

I love white birch trees, especially a whole bank of them.  When we found this particular spot, both of my daughters said we should come back and take our Christmas card picture here (I was so proud). 

In years past, I have taken a group shot of all three of my kids together.  Honestly, it's been getting tougher and tougher every year.  The odds of getting everyone looking at the same time, and smiling and not doing bunny ears is statistically very low.  This year, for the first time ever, I am seriously considering changing over to one of the collage cards and taking individual shots of each kid and then putting those photos on the card. 

I think I will still take a few group pictures and see if I can use at least one on the card with the individual photos also.  I like to prove that for one day at least, they were sitting together nicely and not making bunny ears. 

After browsing through the selection of Christmas photo cards, these are my favorites so far:

With love Chartreuse (bonus that it's called chartreuse)

This one is really nice, too:

It's cute and called Peppermint Bliss

Now, all I have to do is get something for them to wear that doesn't clash, schedule some time for the photo, devise an appropriate bribe  treat for cooperation and hope that it doesn't rain.  Not too bad. 

If you've got a blog, be sure to sign up for your own 50 free cards, just follow this link and you will receive instructions on how to participate: 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Deadline and a Paycheck

I love listening to NPR-really, I do.  When I am home most days, whether I am working or not, it keeps me company.  Even though I am not always paying attention, I like to think that some sort of information or knowledge is seeping into my brain through radio osmosis.  I also really like the names of everyone who reports for NPR.  I think if I ever have another baby (which is very, very unlikely) or get a dog (again, not going to happen) I just my name it Owen Bennet Jones, just so I can say the name several times a day. 

Another, sometimes frustrating, consequence of all this radio listening is that bits and pieces, snippets of reports and interviews do often find their way into my long term memory, but they are only that:  bits and pieces.  I can't remember which show I was listening to (was it All Things Considered or Here and Now?  I wonder)

I am sharing all this, possibly boring, information because a few weeks ago I heard something that really stuck with me.  A musician was being interviewed and the reporter asked something along the line of "how did this album come together?"  The musician, half joking, answered:  "I got a deadline and a paycheck." 

Yes, so simple!!  I am deadline oriented and who doesn't want to get paid for their work?  When I have a writing job, even the most mind numbing, mundane topic (like vacuum cleaners or cell phones) I can get them done because I have both a deadline and a paycheck.  Brilliant!!!  (if you are imagining Owen Bennet Jones saying that in his British accent, you are not alone).

But, more often than not, the things I have to do are amorphous-no deadline and certainly no paycheck.  I spend a lot of my time on volunteer projects and those certainly have a deadline but always lack a paycheck.  Arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines don't really work for me-my own experience has proven that time and time again.  But, would it be possible to self-incentivize?  I am not sure.  Right now, my "to-do" list includes many things with deadlines that have to be done and will get done, but it also includes things like:

  • learn to use sewing machine (which I've had for at least 5 years)
  • hang frames in upstairs hallway (they somehow fell off over the summer)
  • organize photos on laptop (that could take literally a week)
  • write a novel (yeah, that is really on the list)
When it comes to following through, it's hard to find time (and, honestly sometimes the effort) for everything you want to accomplish and things just pile up.  In a day that also includes laundry, helping at school, cleaning out the fridge, shopping for socks because seriously everyone in the house only has one of each sock and some work thrown in, tthe things you want to accomplish get further and further aways. 

So, a deadline and a paycheck-I can dream, right?  I am giving myself a deadline to learn to use my sewing machine-otherwise it goes!  Those frames need to get back on the wall and I am plugging along on my novel this month at Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month).  None of these have a paycheck, yet-but I hope the deadline helps. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kitchen progress

Well, it's been nearly 3 weeks since I took the first cabinet door off its hinges and put it into a pile to be painted.  Since that time, we have primed and painted the face of the cabinets, primed and painted doors white, primed and painted doors green, removed the last remaining pink countertops and installed a sink.  Not too shabby for 2 amateurs.  I am especially proud of my husband's work with the sink-he refigured the pipes for the new sink and installed a new garbage disposal!  Impressive.  Here is some evidence:

First, let's take a look at where the kitchen started, way back in 2007:

Now, this is how it looked earlier this year:

This is how it looked a few weeks ago when we started taking the doors off and priming:

I wish I were better at posting during this process, but the work has been overwhelming to say the least.  Trying to get all this done while still feeding my family, managing all the activities of 3 active kids, my husband and me, plus a big freelance project has left me no time to keep this blog current.  I hope these photos will do for now.  Here is what it looked like at the priming stage:

Once the pink laminate countertops were removed, things improved significantly. 

Today, I am finishing up the painting of the cabinets-more photos to follow. There are too many for one post at this point.   

Friday, September 24, 2010

some summer highlights

I am feeling a little nostalgia already for summer 2010 and it's only been fall for about 2 days.  Of course, it doesn't help that we have been sweating it out around here this week, with hot and humid days and not much cooler nights.  I feel somewhat responsible for the return of the heat since I did take all the window unit air conditioners out last week in a fit of wild abandon where I was sure the summer was over. 

This summer, we didn't stray too far from home, thanks to our never ending kitchen remodel.  We joked that our "vacation" should be sitting on my son's bed and looking out at our new kitchen roof because that's where our vacation budget went.  But, we did make the most of the time we had.  Let's run the highlights:

one kid turned 13:

Another kid turned 6:

We took some great day trips and we went to all 3 outside movies at our local park.  We have decided that we don't really care which movie we see, as long as it's outside:

We finally got the firepit I've always wanted.  Of course, because we live "in town" we aren't technically allowed to have any kind of open burning.  Also, we only have what I lovingly call a "postage stamp" for a backyard, so there's no chance of adding a landscape feature type firepit.  Instead, I picked up this lovely tabletop grill at Target, on clearance for $4

And, it worked great.  We had an awesome night of roasting marshmallows and making smores.  3 of my family members actually used nestle crunch for their smores, which I think is sacrilege but if they can live with themselves, I guess it's fine.

Monday, September 20, 2010

getting busy in the kitchen!

I seriously feel like September has knocked me out!  Between school starting, and then a four day weekend, then a 3 day weekend and oh, just for fun, one more 3 day weekend-I am on the verge of exhaustion.  But, the days are still warm, the nights are cool and there's a lot going on in my kitchen-both of the cooking variety and the renovation.

First, the renovating:

The countertop was relatively easy to sand, stain and seal-thanks to much internet searching and reading the blogs of others who have successfully put in butcherblock. 

We decided on a stain (minwax provincial) which looked like this when we tested it:
I did one area with the wood conditioner and one without-just to see the difference.  Honestly, there wasn't much difference in the color, but when I removed the tape, I noticed that the stain had bled underneath on the part without the conditioner.  The section I conditioned seemed to take the stain better.  That was just my mini-science experiment to see what the conditioner does to the wood.

Then, I impatiently (because really what other way is there?) got to the business of staining and sealing the piece of countertop.  It didn't take long at all except for the incredibly long drying times between coats.  It was some of the longest 8 hour spans of my life and I have been in labor twice-just saying. 

This is the final result.  I am in serious love with the finish on the counter and I *think* we have come up with the colors for the cabinets, though I know I will have paint remorse for a while after they are done. 

Yesterday, we made the trek to IKEA (okay it's only like 40 minutes, but still) and got THE SINK.  Yes, the double bowl, domsjo sink from IKEA!!!  Of course, it is still in the box in my living room, but at least it's here.  We also got the rest of the countertops and they are keeping the sink company in the living room. 

Soooo.... while we make our plan of attack for painting the cabinets and installing the counters and the sink, I thought "why not give my new counters a try?"  I mean, for the last week, I have babied the countertop, but if I am committing to having butcherblock in my entire kitchen, they better be ready to take a beating. 

Enter-pumpkin scones-the famed starbucks recipe from  After tracking down some elusive canned pumpkin and convincing myself that it's okay to mess up my new counter, I got down to baking. 

It actually caused me a little harm to make my new counter this messy, but I forged ahead, thinking that if it can't stand up to a little flour and sticky scone dough, I better not have this in the rest of my kitchen.  Thankfully, just a little dish soap on a towel and it was good as new. 

Now, I am on to filling the freezer with as much bulk cooking as I can stand.  Today, 6lb of ground beef's worth of chili:

Now, the weather can get cooler-because I am ready!