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March 31, 2012

Photography | Painting Backdrops

I take most of my photos on our sun porch.  It has pale yellow bead-board paneled, brick painted walls and with windows on three sides.  The light is great, but I often have trouble getting a nice clean backdrop because of the windows or the painted brick.  I decided to paint some backdrops to give my photos a more professional look.

I painted my large canvas a pale powder blue - this blue has always been my signature color.

I purchased all of the paint colors I need to mix custom colors whenever I need them.  I'm able to paint my large canvas or smaller foam boards any color that I need at a moments notice.

I'm storing them in this little box in my workshop/utility room to keep them handy.

My blue board at work!  I love it.  I can't wait to try other colors on my foam boards.



March 30, 2012

Chocolate Cake... not from a box! (and it tastes amazing)

After a long hard battle competing against the mighty boxed cake, I have finally done it.  I made a cake that I think actually tastes better than my husband's favorite (and frequently requested...) cake from a boxed mix.  Why bother?  It totally bugs me that he has liked the boxed mix rather than my 'from scratch' chocolate cakes.  It is the same reason I continually make cookies other than is favorite chocolate chip.  Plain and simple pride. 

He has confirmed that he indeed likes this cake better.  I win.  It might have to do with the fact that Emma helped me make it... she's got his number!  So, I guess... we win.

I was inspired by Tessa from Nine and Sixteen - I used her "Love Me Forever Chocolate Cake" recipe as a starting place and added a couple of twists like using a hot cup of coffee instead of boiling water.  I also used melted butter instead of oil.  Not sure why, just thought melted butter would add great flavor.  Thanks for the inspiration, Tessa!

This recipe makes half a normal sized cake.  I am big into halving recipes - there are only two of us after all, and someone is going to be eating the cake until the platter is clean.  That someone is me, so I like to move the finish line a little closer to avoid having to buy new clothes. 

A Very Good Chocolate Cake
that's better than the box

1 cup sugar
7/8 cup flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons of melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup of hot coffee

In a mixer, combine sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, soda and salt.  Stir to combine.  Add egg, milk and melted butter.  Mix on low until combined.  Add vanilla and hot coffee.  Beat for 1 minute on medium high.

Line a 8-inch round baking pan with parchment paper, or spray it with non-stick spray.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Let cool.  Frost with Chocolate Frosting.

Chocolate Frosting

1 1/2 stick of butter
1/4 cup of milk
1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa
pinch of salt
4 cups of powdered sugar
1 tablespoon of good vanilla

In a microwave safe bowl, heat butter and milk together in the microwave until the butter is melted, about 45 seconds.  Add cocoa and stir to mix.  Pour mixture into mixer bowl.

Add pinch of salt, powdered sugar and vanilla.  Mix together on high for 3-4 minutes until shiny.

Here are some more step-by-step photos of my process:



March 29, 2012

Jill's Kitchen | White Marble, Stained Island, Cream Painted Glass Front Cabinets & Polish Silver Hardwar

After a year of building and a lifetime of dreaming up the perfect kitchen, Jill's (my sister) kitchen (and house) is done!  Last week we ventured to St. Louis for my niece's birthday party and to stay at the new house.  Let me tell you, this kitchen is stunning - really the centerpiece of the entire home.  She incorporated all of my favorite finishes - cream painted cabinetry, dark walnut (huge) center island with marble counter top, vaulted coffered ceiling, polished silver hardware and glass front cabinetry.  I am so in love - and majorly jealous. 

Isn't the hood fabulous?  I also love the runner - ballard designs.  I'm going to pick on up for my own kitchen.
Coffered ceiling - beautiful.  Never underestimate the power of a ceiling.  Room changing.

March 28, 2012

Cranberry Scones with an Orange Glaze

Emma and I drizzling the glaze over the warm scones... oh my.
Have you ever had something that you just can't get it out of your head?  Maybe it was something crumbly, moist, tender, light, tart and drizzled with a sweet glaze warm out of the oven?  I thought so.  One of my favorite treats at Verrill Farm is their scones, specifically Cranberry Scones with an Orange Glaze.  When I go there in the morning to do my grocery shopping, I can hardly resist them with a hot cup of coffee.

Cranberry Scones
with an orange glaze

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2 cups plus 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice

In a mixer, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt using the paddle attachment.  Cut the cold butter into 1/2 inch pieces.  Add the butter to the dry ingredients and mix on low until the butter is mixed in and is the size of peas.  In a separate bowl, mix together eggs and whipping cream with a fork.  Turn the mixer on low and slowly add the cream and egg mixture.  Turn off the mixer once added.  Fold in cranberries. 

Put some flour on the counter.  Turn the dough out onto the floured surface.  Add some flour onto the top of the dough, then pat it out into a disk - about 8-9 inches in diameter.  Cut the disk into 6 pieces like a pie. 

Separate the pieces and put them on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15-17 minutes. 

To make the glaze, stir together orange juice, zest and powdered sugar.


There are endless possibilities of scones - if you have a stick and a half of butter, cream, flour and a couple of eggs, you can make scones.  Just add some fruit, nuts, spices, chocolate or whatever you can come up with.   

After you mix the dough together, dump it on your floured board.  

Kneed it just a couple of times to form it into a disk.  

It should be about 8-9 inches in diameter and about two inches tall.

Cut into six pieces, like a pie.

Onto a baking sheet.  I love baking on a Silpat because it insulates the bottom preventing them from burning.  

Now for the glaze.  An orange and powdered sugar.  Simple.

Squeeze the orange over the powdered sugar, stir...

Done.  Again, so simple.

After 15-17 minutes they are done!  Umm... hot out of the oven.

Ready for some drizzle.

I'll add this to my long list of things I've learned to do while holding Emma.  

Tell me you're not baking these tomorrow morning.  The are about 30 minutes start to finish.  So worth getting up a little early.

Flaky, crumbly, tender, moist, sweet and tart.  What kind of scones are you going to make this week?



March 27, 2012

Around Our Town | Winston Flowers in Concord, Ma.

Since moving to Concord almost a year ago, I've come to love so many of the local businesses and resources (like Verrill Farm that I wrote about last week).  High on the list is Winston Flowers.  There are five other locations in the Boston area, but it is far from a 'chain' florist.

What I love most about Winston is that it feels like a flower market.  All of the blooms are displayed in the front of the store in masses - giant bunches of daffodils, tulips, muscari and blooming branches for Spring.

I love that most of their flowers are seasonal - except for the $15/dozen roses that are handy to pick up for any occasion.

I know when I walk in the store it will give me that feeling of Spring, the Holidays, Autumn... or whatever the season might be.

They foster my love of potted plants with their selection of planted daffodils, ferns and other botanicals with unique containers.  Look at how everything is displayed - I would love a greenhouse or a workshop that looks like this someday... maybe a project for my sun porch? 

I get so much inspiration when I go in - little ways to display blooms, and ideas for centerpieces and tables.  I've purchase several of their pots and come in on a regular basis to get the seasonal plant that fits in that particular container - one of my favorite things to do when we have a guest coming to stay with us.
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