Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Step one

Christmas is over... time to move on to other things. Step one starts today. Who knows what the step will bring. Joy, sorrow, happiness, pain... all of the above. You can't predict what life holds for you. You can only accept what you are given and keep moving forward. Here we go...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Winter Wonderland Cakes

Since I enjoy cooking and baking so much, I often receive gifts related to these hobbies for Christmas. And last year I received this cute little cake pan from my husband...

What a great way to make a winter wonderland cake centerpiece! I pulled out this pan today and got a box of cake mix out of the pantry. Yes, today was more about the prettiness of the dessert, not the actual baking. I made the mix according to the box directions, but I only baked the cakes for about 30 minutes. I made sure to grease and flour the molds to try and prevent the cakes from sticking. When they came out they looked like this...

I had enough batter to make two batches. In my two batches I only lost one chimney. Success! I cut of the bottoms of the cakes, so they could sit flat. The bottoms also make for a delicious snack. 

Next step was to top with powdered sugar. I decided sifting the sugar would be the best way to make it look like the houses were dusted with snow.

This is what it looked like when I put it on the table...

It still seemed like something was missing, so I removed the middle house and added a Christmas tree candle.

Pretty cute! And I got to use my cake stand again!

Friday, December 9, 2011


Have I mentioned I have a thing for pugs? I love their squished in faces and foldy skin. They slobber, snort, and snore. Our six year old pug can lick the air for hours at a time. And yesterday, we brought home our newest addition... Rocky!

We had been planning on adding a pug puppy to the family for quite a few months, but had a hard time finding one. But it seems as though the time we put in looking for one paid off... I mean look at that sweet little face. PJ, our six year old pug, is getting used to the puppy... he mainly wants to lick him. Rocky is a bit timid around our big oaf of a pug, but he doesn't seem to mind him too much.

Pugs and Kisses!

Hopefully these two puggys will become best friends.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday thoughts

It's December! I love so many things about the holidays... the Christmas tree, the decorations, the music, the desserts... I could go on and on. But it seems lately as though there is so much more focus on the shopping. I love to give gifts, and yes, I definitely also enjoy receiving them. But I must say sometimes it just feels like it is getting out of hand. Some of the holiday commercials have gotten so obnoxious. There is a TJMaxx commercial that I just can't stand!! People dancing around the mall telling everyone to go buy their sweaters somewhere else. Yuck. And the latest Lexus car commercials are just ridiculous. Because we are surrounded by the commercialism of the season, it is pretty easy to become cynical. All this running around to get everything done can make it very easy to miss all the wonderful,  small things that the holiday season can bring!

My favorite things that my husband and I have started this year is our simple advent calendar. I made it thinking it would just be a cute decoration, but it has become my favorite thing of the season. We decided to fill it with fun little holiday events to enjoy together. He fills the even days and I fill the odds. It is quite fun to to open the little door and see what each other has come up with for the day. Our ideas so far have included watching a holiday movie together by Christmas tree lights, enjoying peppermint hot chocolate in front of the fireplace, and my favorite so far... perform a random act of kindness for someone. Just a simple way to remember what the season is actually about. Remember to slow down and enjoy the little things.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Cranberry Bliss Bars

Starbucks is part of my life... I admit it. Quite a few of my friends and family members could tell you that I am a grande non fat no whip mocha girl, except in the summer when I get the iced version. Stopping at Starbucks before I head off to work is part of my daily routine. I have tried to break the habit, or cut back, but I always find myself reverting back to my old ways. I am a huge fan of their red holiday cups and I also enjoy a pumpkin spice latte from time to time.

However, I have never tried their famous cranberry bliss bars. They have never called out to me, even though, I know they are a popular holiday treat. This past weekend we hosted our traditional tree decorating dinner, and I thought it might be fun to attempt to make my own bliss bars. (I'm very grateful that my family doesn't mind trying out my initial attempts at recipes!) So I found a recipe online and they came out really well... although I can't compare them to the original. I'm tempted to buy one from Starbucks this weekend just to compare. 


For the cake
1 cup butter, softnened
1 cup packed brown sugar
zest of one orange
1 tsp vanilla
3 large eggs
1 & 1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice 
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
1/2 cup of white chocolate chips

For the frosting
8oz cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
4 Tbsp butter, softened
zest of one orange
1 tsp vanilla

dried cranberries
chopped pistacio nuts
chopped white chocolate bar

Preheat oven to 350° and grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, vanilla, and orange zest and mix until well combined.

In separate bowl, sift the flour, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Add this to the butter mixture and mix until well combined.

Fold in the chopped dried cranberries and white chocolate chips... or as I like to call them, the bliss.

Spread the batter into the pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. The batter will be very thick. After removing from the oven, allow the cake to cool.

(When I pulled the cake out of the oven the batter was, for lack of a better word, boiling. I have no idea why, and after a couple of minutes it was fine, and looked like a normal cake. I will be making this again soon to see if that happens again.)

To make the frosting mix together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, and softned butter until well combined. Fold in the orange zest and vanilla. Frost the cake, and then top with more bliss!

Enjoy the bliss! These really did come out delicious. Thank you to my baking addiction.com for sharing the recipe!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Easy Oreo Brownies

Look at these ingredients... 

See anything you like? What if you put all those ingredients into one brownie? You get oreo heaven!

It couldn't be easier... follow the directions on your favorite brownie mix box, but omit the water. Instead of the water you will be adding about 1/2 cup of cookies and cream ice cream and 1/4 cup of fudge syrup. After you mix those ingredients together pour half of the batter into a greased square baking pan, and then put a layer of oreo cookies on top of the batter.

Then pour the rest of the batter on top and bake as directed on the box. You won't be sorry.

I found this amazing oreo idea on pinterest

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fall Leaves

While California might not match the east coast in terms of fall color, I still marvel at the beauty of fall. The colors are amazing, and who doesn't remember the joy of jumping into a pile of leaves as a child. A walk around the neighborhood on a beautiful fall afternoon is a great pick me up...

There is something about the fresh crisp air and the crunch of those leaves that is pure happiness...

The days are going by fast... soon it will be rainy and cold and the trees will be bare. This was a perfect day to take the pug for a walk and remember the joy of walking through the leaves.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Peppermint Wreath

Well Thanksgiving is over, which means Christmas is coming! How does this happen? Every year it seems as though the holidays come faster and faster! Must be because I am getting older and older. Thanksgiving weekend is when my husband and I traditionally get out our Christmas decor and start decking the halls. This year I decided to make a few things including the previously posted advent calendar. My next project involved a glue gun and candy-- A peppermint wreath!! Doesn't that just sound adorable?

I bought a styrofoam wreath and covered it in red ribbon and then proceeded to hot glue on a bunch of red starlight peppermints, with an occasional green one thrown in there for whimsy. The green ones, by the way, are delicious!

It actually turned out really cute. Finally, I tied a bow with some fancy ribbon and glued it in place as well. I need to work on my bow tying skills, but it isn't too bad.

So I have this really cute wreath covered in peppermints. But I didn't plan ahead and figure out how to hang the thing. So if you decide to make this, perhaps add some sort of hanging device onto the styrofoam before you cover it in ribbon and mints! Also if you are planning to hang it outside, I would think you would want to paint it with some sort of sealant so it won't melt. I'm planning on hanging it indoors... if I can figure out how.

Friday, November 18, 2011

time goes by

There are a few events that us childless women often dread... the baby shower and the child birthday parties are included in such events. I often have to gear up for such things... knowing the questions of "Do you have kids?" or "When are you going to have a baby?" are very likely to occur.  (Plus baby showers often involve shopping at what I consider the scariest store around... Babies r Us.)  I don't want this post to sound bitter. I'm not bitter towards any of my friends and their gorgeous children. I love to celebrate with them and see their babies grow. There was just something that occurred at the last baby birthday party I attended that may have thrown me over the edge. But sometimes we need that extra push.

My favorite baby girl turned one last week. She had the most perfect birthday party to celebrate... beautiful food and decorations. Cupcakes and presents. Everything a little one year old girl could want. As the parents set up the slide show, I moved my chair to a prime spot. Gorgeous pictures of the little one appeared on the screen. Happy smiles, beautiful pictures of the family of three, and a year of documented firsts... first smile, first laugh, first tooth, first pigtail...  All things which I want to experience and haven't yet. Which led me to have a small melt down. I did my best to hide, but ended up in this tiny kitchen, crying in the corner. (Next time I will look around and plan an escape route!) 

I say sometimes we need that extra push. Seeing that beautiful video of my favorite little one's first year made me realize how quickly time goes by! My husband and I have talked about options... it is time to look into them....

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Advent Calendar

While it may seem that I am crafty, because I am slowly organizing my "craft room", I really am a newbie when it comes to things that require scissors and glue. I usually stick to making things that come in a kit, and that have directions... such as a cross stitch kit, or a paint by number type project. The farthest I have ventured away from prepackaged crafts is to make a wreath or two. I have been wanting to change that lately, and organizing my room was the first step. Step two was today when I discovered my new favorite store... Joann's super store! So much better organized than the Michael's near my house. And there were actual employees around to ask a question or two. Oh, I can see myself getting into plenty of trouble at this store...

I went in with a plan... to gather items to make an advent calendar for Christmas. This would be an even better project if I had a kid, but I'll figure out a way to make it fun for my husband and myself. Now I did not come up with this idea on my own... no that is what pinterest is for. But I saw an advent calendar made from a muffin tin, and thought that it was probably something I could handle. And I must say, although it is far from perfect, I LOVE how it turned out. It was a fun project that allowed me to practice using a paper cutter, as well as these fun things that punch out shapes. (I don't even know what these things are called!) And, since each day is magnetic, the "doors" can be removed and I will get to use the mini muffin tin year round, so that is a plus!

So what you need for this little project is a mini muffin tray, magnetic sheets, decorative paper, some stickers and decorations, and glue. I found a paper cutter very helpful, but if you have a steady hand, I guess it wouldn't be necessary. I also enjoyed using the paper punches. They were on sale, so I got a circle and a Christmas tree one.

I cut my decorative paper and the magnetic sheets into 2 & 1/2 inch squares and glued them together.

These were then easily applied to the muffin tin, each one covering a hole. I trimmed the corner pieces a bit, to make it look a bit better.

Then, the fun part of decorating each day. This is when I decided that I love paper punches.

Look at how it came out!! 

Not bad for my first attempt at something so crafty!! I think I will use a plate stand to display it in on my kitchen counter. Now I just need to decide what each day should hold. I'm thinking maybe my husband and I can alternate days, and fill every other day with either a treat, or maybe write down a holiday activity to do together. In any case,  I'm very happy with my new advent calendar!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Comforting chocolate chip cookie bars

It is easy to try and get fancy when baking. There are so many fun things to try out there, and fun ways to decorate them. But when I'm feeling somewhat sad, or need a comforting pick me up, there is nothing like a chewy, gooey, chocolate chip cookie. And when I'm too lazy to actually roll the dough into balls, nothing beats a chocolate chip cookie bar. Especially a soft and chewy one. Are you drooling yet? Plus, you get the joy of snacking on the dough... that right there is enough to remove a bit of gray from your day!

So my weekend needed a bit of brightening and I thought this would be a good way to do so.

   2 cups all purpose flour, plus two tablespoons
   1/2 tsp baking soda
   1/2 tsp salt
   3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted, and slightly cooled
   1 cup packed brown sugar
   1/2 cup granulated sugar
   1 large egg
   1 large egg yolk
   2 tsp vanilla extract
   12oz package of semi-sweet chocolate chips

Grease a 13 by 9 inch baking pan and preheat oven to 325 degrees. If using a glass pan lower oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in medium sized bowl.

In large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and mix well. Fold flour mixture into the butter mixture. Don't over mix. Fold in the chocolate chips. 

Place batter into baking dish, and smooth out with rubber spatula.

Bake until top is light golden brown, and is slightly firm to the touch... about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack until at room temperature. Cut into bars and enjoy the yumminess!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A wee bit of crafting

I had the day off of work today and I spent part of my day at the craft store. I had time to just wander the aisles and see what fun things were available to me. I had a small little project I wanted to complete today, and I also wanted to pick up some storage options for my craft room. I'm excited to complete this room and have made quite a bit of progress already in terms of cleaning it up and clearing it out. I also managed to get a couple of things on the wall!! Here is a look at some of the fun stuff I picked up today:

Love these cute inexpensive jars!

Finally got some decorating tips to help frost
cupcakes and cakes!

Some simple storage options-- I love the flowered boxes!
Love the boxes, hate the handles.
I'm hoping a little paint will take care of that.

But my main goal today was to put together something simple I saw on Pinterest... a cork board picture frame. I thought it would be a fun way to display some pictures and such, but also be just a bit prettier than a standard bulletin board. So simple to do...

I found three white wall frames and some cork board sheets. I just removed the glass from the frames and kept the cardboard that came with the frame. The cork sheets were a bit big, but were so easy to cut.

All you need

The cork sheets came in packs of six, and I just used three sheets per frame to make sure there was enough thickness to actually push a pin into them.

Two completed board frames

So after they were hung on the wall by my husband (I have no patience for getting things level or straight or centered) they looked like this:

Finally something is on the wall!! Next up is to organize my bookshelf!

Friday, November 4, 2011


At some point last year, my husband was washing the dishes (yes, I am a lucky lady), and he dropped and broke one of my large glass mixing bowls. A few months later he thoughtfully replaced it with a large glass kitchenaid mixing bowl that fits on my stand mixer. For some odd reason I didn't take it out of the box until today. Oh my goodness this bowl is amazing because of one simple thing.... it has a spout!! My kitchenaid was great before but now it is fantastic!!

Let me explain why I am so excited for this spout. I'm making cupcakes for Mr. Barren Baker's birthday gathering tomorrow night, and for whatever reason, I have never learned a good way to fill the cupcake papers. I have tried spooning the mixture, pouring it out of whatever bowl I had mixed it in, and also spooning it into my small measuring cup and then pouring from there. I always made a huge mess and would get way more frustrated than I'd like to admit. What a time saver this bowl is. Took a bit of practice, but I was done filling the cupcake papers in way less time than ever before, and there was no mess. I tell you, it is the little things that make me happy.

As for the cupcakes... I made two different kinds, both out of Martha Stewart's cupcake book.  I stuck with simple, because I had never attempted a Martha recipe before, and I do find her a bit intimidating. First, I made her yellow buttermilk cupcakes, which came out pretty good.

I apparently pour my cupcakes much more generously than Martha because the recipe supposedly makes 32, but I only got 24. 

The other cupcakes I made were her devil's food cupcakes. The only thing I changed was I used light sour cream. Oh, and I'm pretty sure my Hershey's cocoa powder isn't "dutch processed." YUM!! I mean YUM!!! Martha, I will never doubt you again. While making them I was questioning her...why must I melt butter with the sugar in a saucepan instead of creaming the butter and sugar like I usually do? It was way more work. But apparently worth it!

Don't these look super healthy?

Melting the cocoa powder in water seemed excessive... couldn't I just add the cocoa powder to the flour. Apparently not, because I'm telling you these cupcakes are truly devilish!

 A must make... I can't wait to make the frosting and decorate them tomorrow. I'll be posting pictures of that later...

I can happily say I have finally made a Martha Stewart recipe and I am now able to pour out my cupcake batter without getting irritated. Both of these are "good things."

 (Actually the devil's food cupcake is better than a good thing.)