Sunday, May 31, 2009

Drawer pull collage

How amazing is this idea? Various assorted knobs forming a collage — so easy! Could be a great way to spice up some standard IKEA or Target furniture.

This seems to be the work of Italian designer Alessandra Baldereschi, as shown at the Salon Internazionale Del Mobile, found via The Selby.

Let Bygones be Bygones

Forgive the poor cell phone photo quality of these pictures! Mom and I were visiting Bygones Vintage in the Carytown section of Richmond yesterday. If you've never been, GO. It is the best vintage store I've ever visited, at least in Virginia. I've been shopping there faithfully since 2002 and it never lets me down.

They only sell clothes and accessories, rather than a thrift store or a general antiques store that has some clothes. They organize the racks by size, they have an entire formalwear room and they have quality reproduction clothes and accessories, as well.

Mom and I were visiting Richmond to try on wedding dresses, but if this yellow dress came in white and didn't have a 22" waist, my search would be over. I LOVE this dress and if one of you is a skinny minnie with $58 burning a hole in your pocket, you need to go buy it right now.

Friday, May 29, 2009

My Very First Dinner Party

Well, I had my very first dinner party, a dance-themed "So You Think You Can Dance" TV-watching party. My mom, a former dance teacher, was in town, so it seemed like a good time to try out my hostessing skills. A few of you will know that I've been planning little parties since about 10th grade, but this was the first time I made all the food! Pressure!

I spent a significant amount of Wednesday night piecing together my homemade "Let's Dance" banner. It didn't look professional by any means, but it looked homespun, which was my intent. I decorated with an old sheet I bought at the Gift and Thrift in Harrisonburg to use as a tablecloth for a party I planned two years ago.

I accessorized with flowers from Trader Joe's, a portrait of my mother in college and a set of porcelain bird shakers.

I tried to give all the food items a dance spin on the menu. This was southwestern "High-kick" pasta salad. We also had "In the Limelight" pepper chicken.

With chips and salsa. Get it? SALSA!

Pink grapefruit soda was rechristened "Ballet Slipper Soda." I also made key lime martinis (and of course, the first one was horrible. My ultimate hostess blunder: I didn't try the first one because I thought it would be impolite to make my drink first. So of course, it was way too tart and strong and by the time I made mine, I had perfected it. Oops).

The handwritten menu. At the very last minute, of course.

And, the piece de resistance — chocolate chili tango cupcakes by Amanda. They were AMAZING and paired quite well with my store-bought lemon pirouettes (get it? PIROUETTES!). I served them on my antique store loot: silver dessert plates!

I think that, drink disasters aside, the party went quite well. Of course, in hindsight, I wish I'd had a spelling bee-themed dinner party, but there's always next year!

Curtains, curtains everywhere

Well, we've finally hung up some curtains and four whole pieces of art! LOL. We're getting there. 

This is our bedroom. I'm in love with these sheers, which were discontinued at Target. They let the PERFECT amount of light in. The painting was a project for one of my drawing classes in college.

I dug out my beloved "A." That awesome vase was from a home decor store called Space in Staunton. The inside of it is bubble gum pink and the top is cracked like a dinosaur egg.

I have a weakness for silhouettes; these were from a defunct store in Dayton, Va.

And, curtains in the guest room! Loverly.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Anthropologie Tabletop Terrarium

Speaking of Anthropologie, how perfect is this tabletop terrarium? My mom made terrariums when I was growing up and it's one of those ludicrously easy projects that I keep putting off and putting off. She even gave me her '70s-era instruction book but I didn't like the sketchy pictures; I wanted step-by-step details. 

Get your own: $168 (ouch).

Treasure Hunting: Plantiques and Village Thrift

I've always been a lethal combo of packrat + history buff so every few months, I get a big itch to go treasure-hunting. When I was a kid, I used to make my mother pay the entry fee to the antiques tent at the Virginia Highlands Festival and then I almost never bought anything. Living in Staunton, Va. didn't help either; I spent most of my downtime getting lost amongst the piles of antique scarves and stacks of LIFE magazines.

So today when I got the treasure-hunting itch, I had no idea where to go. I used to thrift a lot around Newport News in college, so I hopped into a few of those. But I also went to Plantiques in Hilton Village, a lovely antique store that rents each room to a different vendor (much like my other fave, 17 East Beverley Antiques in Staunton. The selection is perfect for the Anthropologie lover who's craving the real deal. While there, I spied:

A retro futuristic bread box, handily labeled as such.

This stack of mini tin trays with a sort of mod-meets-folk art bird motif. Very trendy, very now.

This awesome garden thingy. I seriously have no idea what its purpose is, but it was lovely.

And at Village Thrift on Warwick Avenue, a stack of '60s-era National Geographics. Get 'em while they're...collecting dust. 

Today I'm having my first dinner party, so stay tuned for pics from that. Also, I'll reveal what treasures I actually took home with me!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ann Wood's whimsical home

Go to Design Sponge for the most whimsical home I have ever seen. It's Ann Wood's home in Brooklyn and it seriously looks like Never Never Land all grown up. 

Better letters

This picture is from the National Stationary Show, but I thought it served as good inspiration for decor. Letters are abundant right now; you can buy them in wood, metal, cardboard, etc. at Urban Outfitters and Michaels. But a row of them, hung with ribbons, seems a little more creative, if maybe a little girly. I'd love to try this with our initials somewhere at the wedding, too. 

The Men in the Grey Suits

I not-so-secretly have a major crush on the fellas in "Mad Men." How much do you love this bridal party made up of men in gray suits? I'm kind of hoping this is what Sean and his man friends will look like the day I walk down the aisle.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The air smelled of spices

Bust out your spices! Have I got a dunch for you: Moroccan-spiced chicken with couscous! If you've ever gotten a whiff of these spices working together, you can understand why Columbus set sail. The recipe comes from Martha Stewart Living and I made one big adaptation: I used boneless breasts rather than meaty pieces, just because.

When we went to buy these spices (none of which we previously had), Sean said, "Ugh! More spices?!" He's right; they are expensive, but worth it. You will need: cinnamon, coriander, turmeric, cayenne pepper, cardamom (yay, cardamom!) and ground cumin. If any of you are ever in Harrisonburg and you have an hour to kill, call the fine folks at Blue Nile Ethiopian and reserve the coffee ceremony. They grind the beans right in front of you and roast them with cardamom. It is delicious. Seriously. 

So I mixed the spices together with olive oil to form a spice paste, which I then rubbed into the meat. Speaking of things that would have horrified me just two months ago:

Ew. My hand looks like a tale from the crypt. Albeit a delicious, spicy one!

I then placed lemon wedges around the chicken breasts and baked the chicken at 450 degrees for 30 minutes. My apartment smelled amazing and the chicken made a very satisfying sizzle. The only bad part? My lemon pieces literally melted away, so they weren't available for garnishing.

Mmmmm. Spicy, delicious chicken with boxed parmesan couscous. I find it very cathartic to fluff the couscous with a fork; does anyone else love that feeling? 

I think, in hindsight, the meal needed a little more color so I may add some veggies to the couscous next time. But otherwise, it was delicious and spicy and EASY. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Web site crush: Valet Mag

I was searching for examples of great gray suits (for men) and stumbled onto Valet, which is an amazing style web site for men. Not only does it celebrate the classic, stylish male but the web site itself is subtle and elegant. Seriously, this is a handsome web site.

I love a well-dressed man. Not a metro man or a trendy man, per se; I like the old-fashioned run-with-the-bulls-then-come-home-and-dress-in-my-best-linen-suit man. Sigh. They just don't make them like they used to.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Invitations Handmade with Love

How inspiring is this handmade cut paper invitation? This is a concept that could work for anything — wedding invites, shower invites, thank you cards, art projects. Super cute, sophisticated and simple. 

Interview: Amanda of Is This Thing On? v.2

Amanda assembling her strawberry cupcakes, with real strawberries inside.

If you're just joining us, this is part 2 of my interview with Amanda of Is This Thing On?. You can find part one here.

Newly Domesticated: When did you really get into baking? Why?

Amanda: I really got into baking last summer. I made a batch or two of cupcakes with Kate of Domestic Empress in summer 2007, and I guess that piqued my interest in the whole cupcake world. But… I stuck to the box mixes for about a year after that and only made cupcakes for parties and actual events. 

My cupcake “A-Ha moment” came in summer 2008. I was taking a course taught by a professor who encouraged, really demanded, that we bring some sort of snack to each class meeting. For some insane reason, I ended up making three batches of cupcakes in a period of six days. I think those cupcakes all involved box mixes in some way, but they went over really well. That’s when I became addicted. Since that then-uncharacteristic burst, I’ve made cupcakes, or some other really ambitious baked good, about once a week.  

ND: How do you come up with new cupcake ideas? What is the creative cooking process?

A: I get most of my cupcake ideas and recipes from the blogs I read. Cookbooks also provide really great jumping points. Following recipes to the letter is fun, but I like messing with them too. I mean, what cupcake won’t taste better with a bit of white chocolate ganache between the cake and icing?

Usually I start with a theme or an occasion and then try to choose flavors and decorations from there. The Hokie Hi-Hat cupcakes are a perfect example of this: a friend decided on his PhD program so I started with one of his favorite cakes and went from there. Other times I start with a flavor that I just want to bake. Like right now, I really want to bake a chai cupcake that I found on my cupcake calendar. Sadly, I’ve been moving that recipe back for months because it just doesn’t really fit. One day… 

Slicing up onions for orange chicken with vegetables.

ND: Biggest cooking blunder?

A: A few weeks ago I dropped an entire batch of lemon cake batter on the floor. It was so disappointing that I lost all words. I knew I should be crying or cursing or something, but I just couldn’t believe that it actually happened. I stared at it, took a bunch of pictures and then started all over again.

Flavor-wise, I completely failed on the dry run for Christmas party egg nog cupcakes. I didn’t have rum in the house, so I used bourbon. And I ended up eating four of the six cupcakes that weekend since I was just making them to test the recipe before the party. Something about the combination of bourbon and overwhelming sweetness has completely turned me off and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to drink bourbon again. However … the rum version was a big hit at the party.

When it comes to the savory, I usually slightly mess up each thing I cook. I’m the girl who burns rice to the pan and forgets about the chicken in the oven. Cooking isn’t as exact as baking, so I think there are more opportunities for me to totally fail. I take advantage of those opportunities more often than I’d like.  

Amanda's biggest cooking triumph: Deer Tracks Cheesecake.

ND: Biggest cooking triumph?

A: Hmm… that’s tough. I’d probably say that the dishes I made for Daring Bakers challenges have been my biggest triumphs. Each month, the Daring Bakers send out a challenge recipe for the members to make, bake, and blog. I joined the DBs in February, so I’ve only completed two challenges so far (lasagna & cheesecake). The lasagna was okay and my taste-testers loved it; I, on the other hand, did not. The cheesecake was so ridiculously good, though, that I would have to say that was my biggest kitchen triumph. I was really scared going into the challenge, but I was really impressed with the results. I made a chocolate, espresso, heath cheesecake after the flavors in Gifford’s Maine Deer Tracks ice cream. I might still be in love with that cheesecake.

Amanda's homemade pasta, laid out to dry.

ND: Favorite cookbook or recipe you'd like to share?

A: I highly recommend "Cupcakes by the Cake Mix Doctor" by Anne Byrn. Each recipe starts with a box mix and results in amazing cupcakes. No one has to know. If you want to try out some of Byrn’s recipes before you invest in the book, I have a tag dedicated to the Cake Mix Doctor on my blog.  

ND: What is something you want to try, but intimidates you?

A: Oh… I would love be able to make pastries, the fancy, light, airy pastries that the pros are so good at. I’ve always just assumed that I would fail miserably and end up with wet, flat, nasty dough, so I’ve never tried. Each time the Daring Bakers put up a challenge I get equal parts nervous and excited that it will be some fancy shmancy pastry. Hopefully next month!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Fettucine with Asparagus and Ham

Today we had Better Homes & Garden's Fettucine with Asparagus and Ham. This recipe is notably unsauced, relying on the four chopped roma tomatoes, asparagus and ham to pack the flavor. Does it work like that? Let's just say I ended up adding a little olive oil to the finished product.

The recipe called for cooked ham, but since deli ham was what I had on hand, deli ham is what went in the dish. I don't think we suffered for it.

Obviously you cook the fettucine. Duh. But in the meantime, you set some asparagus in a tablespoon of hot olive oil and cook until tender, then add the tomatoes and ham. Stir the mixture until heated throughout. Easy enough, right?

Then you drain the fettucine, toss it back in the pot, add the veggie/ham concoction and stir that up with some salt and pepper. Plate it, top it off with some parmesan and you're good to go.

This was a very light, very summery pasta dish. I ended up adding a little more olive oil, but if you can manage to twirl the fettucine AND stab a little of everything, you'll get a forkful of flavor. I am not quite that talented with the fork-twirling, but I'm sure most of you are masters.

The part that I actually marvel about is that four years ago, I didn't eat tomatoes OR asparagus. But look at me now! Climbing picky-eater Mt. Everests every week!

Interview: Amanda of Is This Thing On? v.1

As some or most of you know, I am by trade a journalist and so my curiosity never dies. That said, I wanted to introduce my interview series with other people about their experiences in that most noble endeavor: cooking.

Today's interview is with Amanda of Is This Thing On?. I met Amanda in college; she has now just completed her master's degree in English from the University of Maine and moved back to the Bad News, so hopefully she'll be coming to teach me how to bake. She specializes in cupcakes and I would like to announce that she has graciously agreed to make my wedding cupcakes! Anyway, the interview is pretty long, so I am splitting it into two parts.

Amanda's Hokie Hi-Hat cupcakes: meringue dipped in candy melts to create "the DQ effect."

Newly Domesticated: Why does baking appeal to you?

Amanda: I love baking because it allows me to check out of my busy, complicated grad school life and focus on manageable steps that I know (or hope) I can handle. Baking and blogging about it makes me feel good at something. Cupcakes are the perfect baked good because I can be creative with flavors and decorations without a huge amount of risk; since I’m still following basic recipes, I’m not as on-my-own as I am when cooking. 

ND: What are your earliest memories of cooking?

A: Cooking was always my sister’s thing. She had the Easy Bake Oven and the dreams of culinary school, and I didn’t really want to be involved in the kitchen. I remember one particular time in middle school when my aunt was trying to teach me how to make a pie. I was adamant about not being a pie making person, and I think — again — I just shoved my sister in the direction of the kitchen and got away with it. I used to think I just wasn’t a good cook, but I realized that wasn’t really true in college when I started cooking for myself. 

ND: Are you self-taught or were you educated?

A: I was all ready to say self-taught, but I think it’s more accurate to say that I’m blog-educated. My mom taught me some of the basics about cake and icing, but since I didn’t really start baking until I lived alone, I’ve learned the most from food bloggers. I have a tab on my iGoogle homepage for cupcakes and one for cooking, and I check them about half a dozen times a day. It’s a little bit out of control, but I just can’t get enough! Some of my favorites are How to Eat a Cupcake, Pioneer Woman and Cupcake Project

Outside of my foodie blogs, I have quite a growing collection of cookbooks. Over the past year, I’ve started reading them like novels. Old cookbooks are the best. Even if I don’t make any of the recipes, I really enjoy reading the ingredients and instructions. I laughed at myself the other night when I realized I was reading a cookbook in bed before going to sleep. So, even though I’ve not taken a course on baking or cooking, I guess I’ve been getting an education from a number of sources.  

Amanda's Maple Bacon, Fauxtress and Blueberry Ricotta cupcakes. Amazing, no?

ND: What do you like best about cupcakes?

A: I love the size and portability of cupcakes. Since I take most of my baking projects to other people, they have to be easily moved, stored, and eaten. I used to just drop them off in the English Dept. with a post-it note advertising their flavor(s), and that would be impossible with a messy cake that had to be cut and plated and blah, blah, blah.

Cupcakes are also really forgiving. In each batch, I have between 12 and 30-some chances to make a really cute cupcake. I can make 15 really awkwardly decorated cupcakes, photograph the 3 successful cupcakes and no one has to know that I practiced on most of them.

And let’s be honest, things are just cuter when they’re small.

And people are less likely to refuse a cupcake because they are “being good.” It still happens, but not nearly as often as when I bring other sweets. Okay… I’ll stop listing the cupcake pros now.  

From the Massie kitchen

Today's recipe comes from Elizabeth "Betsy" Massie. I met Betsy the first day of kindergarten; she had moved from Michigan and I had moved from New Jersey. She said I was the only one without the Southern accent. I would imagine both of us have fairly thick accents these days. 

About the cake, she says: "Here is my favorite hot fudge cake recipe. If you cook the fudge like it says, you need a VERY large bowl because it bubbles. I usually cook it on high on the stove. 

Oh and another thing. All you need to do to make the cake is the cooked pudding and the cake mix. Don't add eggs or oil or anything else."

Betsy's Hot Fudge Cake

  • 4 oz. chocolate cooked pudding
  • Chocolate cake mix
  • 6 oz or 3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 cups confectionary sugar
  • 1 12 oz. can of evaporated milk
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
4oz choc. Cooked pudding
Cook until thick; cool 5 minutes.
Stir in 1 box chocolate cake mix (don't use mixer)
Bake 30 minutes at 350*F.

6oz or ¾ cup milk chocolate chips
1 stick butter (melt)
add 2 cups confectionary sugar
add 1 12 oz can evaporated milk

Cook on medium 18 to 20 minutes in microwave

Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla

Hot Caramel Cake
Vanilla pudding, yellow cake mix, butterscotch chips 

Paper Wisteria at Anthropologie

Take my breath awayyyyyy!! 
Paper wisteria tree at Anthropologie, as designed by Ruthi Auda and posted at Once Wed.

When I was six, I was in a production of The Mikado that featured a paper cherry blossom tree. It was the most magical set piece and this completely reminds me of it. I think this tree, which obviously would take a lot of skill and imagination, would be amazing at a wedding, party or in a nursery. Can't you imagine a baby girl sleeping under those branches? Sigh.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

This is amazing.

Brian & Eileen's Wedding Music Video. from LOCKDOWN projects on Vimeo.

A Cup of Jo featured this wedding music video today. It is amazing and you HAVE to watch it. That is all.

Meatball subs and Salad Dressing Help

After the panic and trauma and fear of the unknown that I now associate with cashew chicken, I was happy to make something comparatively easy and comfortable. Sean had a hankering for a meatball sub, which was his favorite sandwich at Subway before I moved in and insisted we eat at home all the time. 

I'm not sure this demands any cooking explanations. Frozen meatballs + marinara + cheese + sub roll. The end. 

But sometimes easy is exactly what you need. I'm pleasantly full and I didn't ruin anything, so I consider this a good day.

But I do think I could use your help. Sean doesn't much care for salad, but I quite like it and it's a great side for something like a meatball sub. Why doesn't he like salad? Because he only likes one thing in his salad: lettuce. 

In case any of you didn't know this, you should know the challenges I face as a new cook: my beloved hates condiments. Salad dressing, dips, ketchup, etc. He hates all of them. He'll eat some other veggies in his salad, such as tomatoes, but I'm wondering if anyone has a suggestion for a simple, light dressing that would not offend his palate but maybe make salad

Any suggestions welcome!

Cute Cupcake Accessories

As if cupcakes couldn't get any cuter! Cupcake Social sells adorable accessories for cupcakes, including patterned cupcake liners (both normal and miniature size!), toppers and even special candles. 

Shown above:
  1. Pretty Pastel Tulip Liners, $4.75 for 75
  2. Red bicycle topper, $3
  3. Little Boy Blue cupcake liners, $20 for 375

No-Sew Napkins

I will be shamelessly swiping this idea from Backyard Wedding. The bride bought vintage sheets (durable enough to absorb) and with pinking shears, cut them into pretty, edged napkins. 

Much less time involved than sewing and perfect for someone like me, who would like to incorporate different patterns without spending a fortune on fabric. Also, it will help out my poor crafty friends who would otherwise get roped into sewing napkins for me!