Friday, February 25, 2011

Let there be light!

Remember a few posts back when I revealed my beautiful new closet, and joked that all it needed was a chandelier? Well, here it is! My beautiful Valentine's day gift. And I adore it. It's shiny. And bright. And wonderful. :sigh:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

You asked for it

All Hans can think about right now is getting a new iphone. For his birthday, he got an iphone.... cake.

About the cake:
1. The inside is chocolate. The recipe is from Milk and Cookies. It's good. Not great, but good. If you're looking for a basic chocolate cake recipe, this'll do you just fine. I thought it was a little drier and a bit crumblier than I'd like, but tasty. The whipped cream filling was a big hit.
2. The Milk and Cookies recipe called for chocolate buttercream icing with malted milk powder. I did not have this and for some inexplicable reason, could not locate it at our HEB. So I made different butter cream. It has four sticks of butter (!!), a bunch of powdered sugar, some vanilla, and about six ounces of melted chocolate chips. It was also just ok. Maybe too much butter.
3. Fondant. Oh, the fondant. I made three batches (which was one too many). That's three bags of mini marshmallows and three bags of powdered sugar. And a big mess on my kitchen counter. Hobby Lobby was having a sale on Wilton baking supplies a few weeks ago, so I stocked up on black, red, blue, and yellow dyes. I did some mixing to get the other colors.
4. Putting it together. It took six hours. And I didn't photograph any of it, because it was a grand old mess all over me, the counter, my hands, every where. And I certainly didn't photograph any of the many, many imperfections. Like how the black fondant kept tearing and chocolate buttercream would come peaking through. Most of the app buttons were pretty easy, but cutting letters was hard. I'm sure there's an easier way to do that. The angry birds app is my fav.

This was fun, but took sooooo loooooong. I don't know how people do this on a regular basis! Maybe it gets easier with time? And oh, I STILL have dye on my hands. Four days later. I look diseased. Hot.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Layers of pretty

I saw this Neapolitan Cake on Sweetapolita a couple weeks ago and couldn't deny the itch to make it. Isn't it beautiful?

Mine's not quite so beautiful, but I still patted myself on the back for it. It was exhaustive to make, though.

Bake yellow cake following this recipe.

Bake chocolate cake following this recipe.

Bake strawberry cake following this recipe.

And here's what you need for the icing:

1 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
8 cups icing sugar (confectioners’)
120 ml whipping cream
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water

Beat the butter and icing sugar in an electric mixer on low with the paddle attachment for about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla, water, whipping cream, salt, and strawberry oil, and whip on high speed until fluffy and smooth–about 4 minutes.

I wrapped 'em and left 'em in the freezer over night. Unfortunately, I did *not* pull them out of the freezer soon enough and that made trying to cut through them with my leveler a pain in the rear. Note to self: Give time for thawing.

I got to use my knifty new Wilton angled spatula for the icing - I will never use a knife again. And I attempted to make a star pattern around the top, but I think my icing was a little too soft for that. And I was in a hurry. Darn.

As for the cake itself, it was ok, but definitely not my favorite. The Yellow cake was a little more dense than I care for my cake. The chocolate was pretty good, but had a slight bitter aftertaste. The strawberry I can't decide if I liked - the jello flavoring was very strong.

Given that I wasn't over the moon about any of the flavors and that it took so long, I probably wouldn't make it again. Maybe for a special occasion where I need something primarily pretty. Cuz it sure was that.

Birthday surprise

Hans walked into his office today and saw this:

His co-workers wrapped everything in his office in tin foil. Happy Birthday!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Little improvements that make a big difference

After the closet project wore us out, we've been focusing on little things we can do around the house that make us feel more organized and more... clean.

Project #1: 
Spruce up the nasty trim and hardware in the bathroom. Actually, the trim EVERYWHERE in the house will need to be re-painted. For some reason, the builder thought this nasty, yellow-ish white looked nice. It doesn't. It just looks... dirty. Grungy. Grimy. So! We tackled the master bath first - all the door jams, doors, baseboards, everything. Now it's all clean and bright. We replaced all the chipped gold door knobs with brushed nickel, too. The difference is subtle, but makes the room feel cleaner and brighter.
Before -

After - 

We also finally got around to tackling our bathroom drawers. They were... a mess, to say the least. Thanks to some plastic drawer organizers from Target, the mess has been contained.

You can pick up Hans' six-compartment single tray organizer for around $4. I opted for the removable, mix and match trays so I could pull my makeup out as needed. You can nab that at Target for $12.

Before (mess!) -

After (ahhhh. That's nice) - 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

Hope you all had a "love"-ly day.

My pretty roses.

I did *not* take a picture of my less-than-pretty chocolates. Sun and chocolates don't mix, folks.

Big closet reveal

Maybe you remember me drooling over closets back here. Ever since we moved into our house last June, we haven't used our master closet - we've used the office/extra room as a giant walk in closet. Our closet doesn't look so bad when it's empty. But it was clearly designed by a man, not thinking about what goes into it. It's very long, almost ten feet. But it's very narrow - 42 inches at one end and 55 at the other. It had this weird little... shoe cubby built in at the back, which was nothing more than an excellent breeding ground for spiders. And with hanging racks built on both sides, once you hang clothes on either side there was no room left to walk. It's safe to say that the closet was my least favorite part of the house.

And now, I love it. I sigh a huge sigh of relief and happiness every time I walk in. In one day (I worked, Hans didn't), we tore out all the shelving and hanging (big demo project with Paul's help), made a trip to Ikea to pick up some lovely, lovely solutions from their Pax wardrobe line and added two coats of white paint (to get rid of the musty smell and make the walls just feel *clean* again). Then we built the wardrobe - and man! That thing is a monster. At 40 inches wide, it barely fits in that back space. Like a glove, man, like a glove. It took us several hours, several mess ups and maybe a few curse words before we finally got it in there. Then we picked up some Rubbermaid shelves and hanging rod at Home Depot and installed that on the left side. We originally planned for additional shelves on the right side, but we've found that we already have enough space for all our clothes (and some to spare) and we really like being able to actually walk in the closet, turn around, see everything, change, do a little dance, whatever. There's something to be said for purposeful blank space.

I think I'd like to add a chandelier, and maybe a mirror. Then it'll really be my favorite room in the house.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Adventures in fondant

Fondant scares me. It sure looks pretty, but I'm confused as to how to work with it and I don't particularly like the way it tastes. Nevertheless... it must be done. So I'm trying to learn!

This homemade fondant was surprisingly easy to make, and not too difficult to use. I used an entire bag of mini marshmallows, added two tablespoons of water, and microwaved for about 2 minutes, but at 30 second intervals with mixing in between. Then add 1 teaspoon vanilla and mix well. Now, you're going to add in about six cups of powdered sugar, but it takes some real elbow grease. And literal grease. Grease up your counter top space liberally with Crisco or other shortening. Start by adding as much powdered sugar, slowly, as you can to the bowl and really working it in to the marshmallow mixture. I only made it about three cups. Then dump it out onto your greased surface. Here it helps to also grease your hands up pretty well, so it doesn't stick to them either. Continue working in the rest of the powdered sugar by hand. Knead it by hand until it's stretchy, but doesn't break when you pull at it. If it's too dry, add a very little bit of water (maybe half a teaspoon at a time).

Form the dough into a smooth ball and coat it with crisco. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight. You can also choose to work in color before you refrigerate. It takes a lot of kneaded to get the color worked in solidly and not in a marble pattern. Husbands are good for this.

I left the majority of my fondant white and after rolling it out, draped it over a strawberry cake. It went on pretty smoothly and I tried to start at the top center and secure it smoothly outward. As you can see from these less-than-glamorous pics, I had a hard time cutting off the excess. I'll learn, I'm sure.

I was left with a lot of fondant, so that's what I used for the pink hearts. I added several drops of red gel coloring and worked it in. Then I just rolled it out and freehand cut out some hearts with a knife. Fondant cutters or even cookie cutters would have been more helpful. Then you just secure those to the cake with a few drops of water - it acts like glue and really sticks pretty hard.

Ta-da! It's nothing fancy, but for my first foray into fondant it could have gone a lot worse. Stay tuned for my next, surprise project...

To find other fondant recipes, just google "marshmallow fondant" and marvel at the choices. The main two I worked off where The Polhamus Family and Clockwork Lemon.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bald for a cause

Dear Friends,

Meet my good friend, Etienne. We used to work together at the Paragraph Factory and she's a totally kick-butt lady. And she's about to do something rockin' - Shave her head for St. Baldrick's Day, a national cancer fundraiser. Here's what she has to say about it:

"Cancer sucks, especially for kids, so i'm going bald to stand in solidarity with youngsters who've lost their hair during treatment. Childhood cancer kills more kids in the U.S. than any other disease. Please make a donation to support research so that all kiddos diagnosed with cancer will have a better chance for a cure. Click on "Make A Donation" or donate by mail or phone to give (you KNOW you want to see what i'll look like hairless. just look at those braids!)
muchas gracias!"
I know I have some readers whose lives have been touched by cancer. Please consider helping Etienne out. If you have $20, $10 or heck, even $5 you can spare, please follow this link to donate to Etienne's campaign. It's a wonderful cause and a really neat event. Thank you!

Donate here:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snowpocolypse 2011

I know all you people up North are laughing at us crazy Texans. But it snowed today!! Today was our third-straight day below freezing - something that hasn't happened since 1997. Last night, when it was in the teens, we had freezing rain and sleet. This morning I woke up to this:
What I saw when I stepped out the front door this morning

My footprints :)

Look how pretty our street is, all covered in snow!

Our house covered in snow

Icicles dripping off Paul's truck

View out the front window

And didn't have to go to work! Austin roads are just not built for this kind of weather and the roads were super icy. According to the news, there were two fatalities and a few hundred accidents. Our roommate Paul works nights and said that coming home last night, people were sliding all over the road. It was nice to relax by the fire in my sweatpants all day. Makes all this cold weather worth it!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

'Shrine' for $200

I hit a new milestone with my swagbucks today!

With this search, ladies and gentlemen, I'm able to redeem my swagbucks for yet another Amazon Giftcard, putting my total up to $200. Yes, that's right. $200 for doing nothing but searching the web and watching videos. That means I'm {this close} to getting my KitchenAid Standmixer without having to pay anything on my own. Woot! Incidentally.. shrine? I don't know why. I think I read it on a blog and was mindlessly looking for a word to search for.

And if you're a new reader and haven't seen all my plugs about swagbucks, check out this post, and this post, and sign up here: (And help me get some referral points :))

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rough morning.

It was in the teens this morning. Dear Texas, this is not ok with me. Did you forget that you're Texas?

Anyway, that *might* have been livable, if I could stay warm and snuggled in my bed until the last possible second. No luck. Due to state-wide demand on power, the emergency plan is rolling blackouts (read more about that here). So here's how our morning went:

Power went out around 6:20 a.m. For some reason, our fire detectors did not like this and decided to go off. Loudly. All of them. Cue Hans, Edgar, and Paul running around the house trying to manually disable them. Finally, get back to bed.

7:15 a.m., power kicks back in. Good: It was starting to get really cold in the house. Bad: All of the lights turned back on and woke us up with their unholy brightness. Oh, and the house alarm system doesn't like being reset and responds with much beeping when turned back on. Lovely. Can I still sleep 20 more minutes? Yes, yes I think I can.

Get up, shower, getting ready. Definitely blow drying my hair today so I don't go out in freezing temps with wet hair. Oh wait, here comes round two of blackouts. Haha, no dry hair for you.

Going to work, fighting the ridiculous traffic one should expect when traffic signals keep going out. Good gracious, why does South Austin have so many stop lights?

Realize while riding the elevator to my office that it's probably not wise to take elevators when the city's experiencing rolling blackouts. Thankfully, I didn't get locked in an elevator (or an ATM vestibule with Jane Goodacre). But I'll be taking the stairs for the rest of the day.