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Friday, February 28, 2014

mr. turtle and mr. beaver

if you look around our house, you'll notice that leko has a lot of toys.  (he's just a little bit spoiled by us and by his grandparents.)  it's funny, because leko likes to keep certain toys in certain rooms of our house.  each toy seems to have its own domain.  some stay in our living room, some stay in our kitchen, and some stay in our office.  there's even one particular pink ball that he dunks in his water bowl in our bathroom each day.  but, there are two refillable little plush cat nip toys that always seem to stay in our bed.  (one is a turtle and the other is a beaver.)  they are the cutest things, and he just loves to play with them in bed.

the other day, i sat down in bed for a few minutes, and leko jumped up in bed with me.  he started playing with mr. turtle and mr. beaver, and then decided to take a nap on top of them.  i guess they made good pillows.  it was just too cute.  of course, i couldn't resist taking a few pictures.  that furry little guy sure knows how to melt our hearts!

have a great weekend!
love, laurie

Thursday, February 27, 2014

kitchen basics: baking soda vs. baking powder

next in our kitchen basics series, we're taking a look at the difference between baking soda and baking powder.  baking is a science, and different ingredients react in different ways.  so it's important to know what chemistry is happening in your recipes.

although baking soda and baking powder may look similar, they are not interchangeable.  in fact, they each work differently in recipes . . .

baking soda is sodium bicarbonate.  when sodium bicarbonate is heated, it produces both carbon dioxide gas and sodium carbonate.  the carbon dioxide gas is a good thing because it is what makes cakes and other baked goods rise.  however, the sodium carbonate is not so great because it can give baked goods a metallic taste.  luckily, that metallic taste can be neutralized with an acid.  therefore, baking soda is often found in recipes with acidic ingredients (such as lemon, buttermilk, or yogurt).  the acid helps to eliminate the metallic taste while still allowing baked goods to rise.

baking powder is a mixture of baking soda, acid, and cornstarch.  any baking powder that is labeled "double acting" will release a small amount of carbon dioxide gas when stirred into a batter or a dough, and then will release more carbon dioxide gas when heated.  therefore, baking powder is often found in recipes with non-acidic ingredients (such as whole milk).

simply put: baking soda needs an acid and baking powder has an acid.

see, science can be fun (and tasty)!

. . .

are there any kitchen tips/tricks that you would like to learn?  leave a comment or send me an email to let me know what you would like to see next in the kitchen basics series.

happy cooking!
love, laurie

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

a historic red caboose

we absolutely love the little town where we live.  it is so quaint and charming, and there is so much history here.  while we were out walking on sunday, we noticed that there was something new sitting on the railroad tracks outside of the train station in our neighborhood.  a 1959 red train caboose was just recently donated to our little town by the canadian pacific railway.

a local man in our town, who retired from the railroad company, found out that the historic caboose was scheduled to be scrapped.  so, he pushed for our town to get involved.  after a bunch of campaigning and negotiating, the canadian pacific railway agreed to donate the caboose to our town.

our town plays a pretty historic part in the delaware and hudson railway, because the first steam line came from our town back when the railway changed from gravity to steam.  our town plans to restore the historic caboose.  once restored, it will be used for public events and put it on display for kids to learn about its history.  i can't wait to see how it turns out!

love, laurie

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

a walk along the river

the weather has been cold and gross lately, and the forecast is calling for it to continue being cold and gross this whole week.  however, we did manage to get two nice days this weekend where the temperatures actually rose above freezing for a little while, and the sun came out to melt some of the snow.  it was glorious!  spring, i'm ready for you!

since it was so nice outside on sunday, we took advantage of the break from the winter weather and took a walk along the river.  we absolutely love the river that runs behind our house.  it's so peaceful and serene.  the river banks were so pretty all covered in snow, and the river glistened in the sunlight.  there were even a few ducks out and about too.  

it was so nice to get outside and breathe some fresh air.  we stayed out as long as we could until we started to freeze, and then we headed home to cuddle up on the couch and watch a movie with leko.

love, laurie

Monday, February 24, 2014

national cupcake day! (and confetti cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting)

i'm not one to follow all of the "national _____ days" but i was pretty excited when i found out that today is national cupcake day.  what a great excuse to eat a cupcake, and a great way to start off the week!

cupcakes are sweet all the time, but they are extra sweet when they support a good cause.  today our neighbors in canada are celebrating national cupcake day today by holding cupcake parties and bake sales in order to help raise money for animals in need.  all of the profits from the cupcake fundraisers go to SPCAs and humane societies around canada.

what a great idea!  we love cupcakes and we love animals.  talk about a match made in heaven.  you don't have to be in canada to participate.  if you want to get involved, you can find out more information here.  (i bet leko is going to want a tuna flavored cupcake to celebrate today!)

if you want to make some festive cupcakes of your own to celebrate today, here's a great recipe for confetti cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting.  i just recently made these cupcakes last week for a co-worker's birthday, and they were a huge hit.  you can't go wrong with a classic!

. . .

confetti cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting
prep time: 10-15 minutes
baking time: 18-20 minutes
yields: 24 cupcakes
adapted from annie's eats

cupcake ingredients:
1 cup whole milk
6 large egg whites
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup salted butter, softened
1/2 cup multi-colored sprinkles

frosting ingredients:
1 cup salted butter, softened
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
3-4 cups powdered sugar

preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  line two cupcake pans with 24 cupcake liners.  to make the cupcakes, in a measuring cup whisk together the milk, egg, whites, and vanilla.  set aside.  in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and sugar.  add the butter and mix at low speed until the mixer resembles wet sand (about 30 seconds).  gradually add in the wet ingredients.  beat until combined, but do not over beat.  gently fold in the sprinkles. pour the batter into the prepared cupcake pans, filling each about two-thirds of the way full.  bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean.  allow the cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.    

to make the frosting, combine the butter, vanilla, milk, and half of the powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer and whisk together until combined.  gradually add more powdered sugar until you reach your desired consistency.  use a piping bag to pipe the frosting on top of the cooled cupcakes.  decorate with additional sprinkles.

love, laurie  

Friday, February 21, 2014

our new nephew!

when ryan's brother and sister-in-law came to visit in october, we found out that they were having another baby.  (their first son davis was born in 2012.)

well . . . we are happy to announce that jeremy and stephanie welcomed their second baby boy into the world yesterday morning!  we are looking forward to meeting our new nephew.  congratulations, jeremy and stephanie!

grant james houser
february 20, 2014

. . .

{photos by ryan's brother jeremy}

Thursday, February 20, 2014

kitchen basics: how to make cake flour

next in our kitchen basics series, we're taking a look at cake flour.  cake flour lightens cakes and makes them super soft and delicious.  there is usually a box of cake flour on hand in my kitchen.  however, it always seems that when i find a recipe that calls for cake flour, i'm all out.  luckily there's an easy way to make cake flour.  you only need two ingredients: all-purpose flour and cornstarch.

measure out 1 cup of all-purpose flour.  remove 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and put them back in your flour container.  replace the 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.  sift the all-purpose flour and the cornstarch together 5 times.  this will incorporate the cornstarch into the flour and aerate the flour.  voila!  homemade cake flour!

. . .

are there any kitchen tips/tricks that you would like to learn?  leave a comment or send me an email to let me know what you would like to see next in the kitchen basics series.

happy cooking!
love, laurie

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

chocolate beet cake with beet buttercream frosting

we didn't put a lot of thought into what we were going to do for dinner and dessert on valentine's day this year.  at the last minute we decided to order take out from a local italian restaurant for dinner.  then, for dessert we decided to bake a cake.  we wanted to try a new recipe for dessert, so we made this chocolate beet cake with beet buttercream frosting.

since i'm not a huge fan of beets, i was a little bit apprehensive about how the cake would taste, but much to my surprise, i could not taste the beets in the cake or the frosting at all!  the cake had a wonderful flavor and a really great texture.  it was so light and fluffy.  the buttercream frosting was tinted the perfect shade of pink from the beets.  (ryan and i both thought that the frosting even had a little bit of a raspberry flavor.)  beets are loaded with vitamins, so this recipe is a good way to sneak some good stuff into your dessert!  :-)

since it was valentine's day, we made the cake in the shape of a heart.  we didn't have a heart-shaped cake pan, so we divided our batter between one square pan and one round pan.  once the cakes cooled, we turned the square cake so that it looked like a diamond.  then we cut the round cake in half and put each half of the round cake up against the two top edges of the square cake.  it made the perfect heart shape.  we covered the cake in the pink beet buttercream frosting and added a few festive heart-shaped sprinkles around the edge of the cake for decoration.  perfect for valentine's day!

ps: since it was so last minute i didn't get any really great photos of the cake, but i did manage to snap these two pictures.  you get the idea.
. . .

chocolate beet cake with beet buttercream frosting
prep time: 10-15 minutes
baking time: 40-45 minutes
yields: two 9-inch round cakes
adapted from joy the baker

cake ingredients:
1 (15 oz.) can low-sodium beets in water
3/4 cup salted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

frosting ingredients:
4 tablespoons salted butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon pureed beets
2 - 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  open the can of beets and drain the beet water into a glass measuring cup.  set the beet water aside.  puree the beets in a blender until smooth, adding beet water as needed.  set the pureed beets aside.

in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars until smooth (about 3-4 minutes).  add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  the batter should be light and fluffy.  add in the vanilla and the pureed beets to the batter (be sure to set aside 1 tablespoon of pureed beets for the frosting.)  mix until combined.  in a separate bowl, sift the dry ingredients together.  add half of the dry ingredients to the batter and mix until combined.  slowly add in the buttermilk and mix, then add the remaining dry ingredients.  mix until combined.

evenly divide the batter between two 9-inch round cake pans (be sure to butter and flour the sides of the cake pans and line the bottoms of the cake pans with parchment paper).  bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean.  once baked, allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10-15 minutes before removing them from the pans and transferring them to a wire rack to finish cooling.

to make the frosting, combine the butter, vanilla, pureed beets, and half of the powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.  whisk together until combined.  gradually add the remaining powdered sugar.  add the leftover beet water as needed to adjust the consistency of the frosting.  once the cakes have cooled completely, spread the filling between the two layers of cake.  spread the frosting evenly over the entire cake.

love, laurie

Monday, February 17, 2014

our valentine's day

 ^pretty flowers from ryan^ 
 ^a cute valentine's day balloon which leko absolutely loves^
 ^our furry little valentine^
 ^italian take out for dinner^
 ^our heart shaped chocolate cake for dessert^
 ^tickets to see the tour of jersey boys^

there was such a big snow storm on friday and we had the day off work again.  we were thrilled to be able to stay home on valentine's day!  we spent the day relaxing around the house (and shoveling the snow of course).  instead of making dinner or going out to dinner, we decided to get take out from a nearby italian restaurant (chicken parm, spaghetti, garlic bread, and salad).  for dessert we made a heart shaped cake with festive heart shaped sprinkles.  after dinner, the roads were pretty clear so we went to a nearby theatre see the tour of jersey boys.  we absolutely loved the show, it was so good!  hope everyone had a lovely valentine's day too!
love, laurie

Friday, February 14, 2014

happy valentine's day!

we don't typically exchange gifts for valentine's day, so it was such a nice surprise when i found a pretty house plant and a giant cupcake shaped balloon waiting for me in our living room.  that husband of mine is so sweet!

leko is absolutely in love with the balloon.  i'm pretty sure he thinks that ryan got it just for him!  silly kitten.

we're snowed in again today!  work was cancelled for the second day in a row, and there is even more snow outside to shovel!

happy valentine's day!
love, laurie

. . .

ps: today we're featured over here today in a group valentine's day collage.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

snowed in

^looking down on the trees in our yard from our upstairs window^

this winter sure isn't messing around.  the snow just keeps coming!  today we are snowed in with a huge winter storm that is supposed to leave us with a ton of snow by the end of the day.  work is cancelled for today, so we are looking forward to staying home with leko!  days like today call for hot chocolate and movies on the couch for sure!

love, laurie

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

chocolate chip pancake mix

sometimes you find yourself in need of a little gift for someone.  maybe you need a gift that says "thank you" or maybe you need a hostess gift to take to a party.

this chocolate chip pancake mix is the perfect thing.  it's inexpensive, and everyone loves when gifts are edible.  (plus, i have yet to meet someone who doesn't like pancakes!)

all you need is a cute jar and a few simple ingredients that you probably already have on hand.  it takes a matter of moments to throw all of the ingredients into the jar and label it.  perfect if you are running late or forgot to get a gift for someone.

if you're going to someone's house it's always nice to bring a hostess gift.

after a long day of party planning and entertaining, wouldn't it be nice for the hostess to have breakfast to look forward to the next morning?

if you want to be really nice, you could gift some buttermilk, an egg, and some butter to go along with the pancake mix.  if you're a really good friend, maybe even some maple syrup!  :-)

chocolate chip pancake mix
total time: 5 minutes
yields: enough pancake mix to make pancakes for 2 people

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

to make the pancake mix:
combine all ingredients together in a bowl and mix together.  spoon the dry mixture into a airtight container.  label the container and attach the following instructions.

to make pancakes:
pour the contents of the jar into a medium bowl.  add 1 cup buttermilk, 1 large egg, 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon of melted butter.  whisk well until combined.  heat a lightly buttered griddle or frying pan on medium heat.  pour 3 tablespoons of batter onto the griddle.  flip the pancakes when they start to bubble.  cook until each side is golden brown and they are cooked throughout.  serve warm with maple syrup.

love, laurie

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

kitchen basics: buttermilk substitutes

next in our kitchen basics series, we're taking a look at buttermilk substitutes.  i never seem to have buttermilk in the refrigerator when i need it.  lots of recipes call for buttermilk, and certainly nothing can beat real buttermilk.  however, there are a few great substitutes for when you don't have any buttermilk on hand.  here are the best buttermilk substitutes . . .

milk + vinegar
put 1 tablespoon of vinegar in the bottom of a 1 cup measuring cup, then top with milk.  stir and then let the mixture sit undisturbed for 2 minutes.

milk + lemon
put 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in the bottom of a 1 cup measuring cup, then top with milk.  stir and then let the mixture sit undisturbed for 2 minutes.

milk + yogurt
stir 1/4 cup of milk and 3/4 cup of plain yogurt together.  (this makes a nice thick buttermilk substitute.)

milk + cream of tartar
stir 1 cup of milk and 1 3/4 teaspoons of cream of tartar together.  stir until no lumps remain.

non-dairy milk + non-dairy yogurt + vinegar 
stir 1/4 cup of non-dairy milk, 3/4 cup of non-dairy yogurt, and 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar together.

. . .

are there any kitchen tips/tricks that you would like to learn?  leave a comment or send me an email to let me know what you would like to see next in the kitchen basics series.

happy cooking!
love, laurie

Monday, February 10, 2014

bowling date

after breakfast on saturday morning, we decided to go on a little impromptu bowling date.  the last time we went bowling was over a year ago, so we were well overdue for some bowling.  it was nice to spend a little time together doing something fun, and the bowling lane wasn't crowded at all.  

we bowled three games, and ryan beat me at all three games!  ryan's high score was 143 and my high score was a whopping 81.  however, i did manage to get two strikes, so i was pretty happy with myself.  i didn't have my camera with me, but i did get a few pictures on my iphone . . . 

love, laurie

Friday, February 7, 2014

make your own vanilla brown sugar scrub

the winter months can be really harsh on your skin.  the extreme cold temperatures in the winter always make my skin so dry.

lots of people swear by sugar scrubs.  indeed, sugar scrubs are a great way to exfoliate and to soften your skin, but they can be expensive and loaded with chemicals.  however, you can make your own sugar scrub at home with ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry!

last weekend i made my own sugar scrub using brown sugar, coconut oil, vanilla, and honey.  it's cheap and easy to make, and it left my skin feeling so soft and silky.  goodbye dry winter skin!

all you have to do is mix the ingredients together.  it's so easy.  in the shower, you just apply the sugar scrub to your body and use your hands to gently rub the sugar scrub over your skin.  then you rinse it off with warm water and wash your body with soap as you normally would.  it's like creating your own spa-like experience right at home!

the ingredients are all natural, and they smell incredible!  the combination of the vanilla extract and the brown sugar smells like dessert!

after i made the sugar scrub, i stored it in a 12oz. mason jar.  this sugar scrub is great to make for yourself, but it would make a great gift for someone you love too.  just put it in a cute airtight container with a label and you're all set!  now, there's a gift idea for valentine's day!

homemade vanilla brown sugar scrub
total time: 5 minutes
yields: enough for approximately 6-8 uses

1 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey

combine all ingredients together in a bowl and mix together.  (if your coconut oil is solid at room temperature, simply warm it in the microwave for a little bit to soften it.)  place the sugar scrub in an airtight container.

to use:
in the shower, generously apply the sugar scrub to your body.  use your hands to gently rub the sugar scrub over your skin.  rinse with warm water and wash your body with soap as you normally would.  (be careful, the coconut oil may cause the bottom of your tub/shower to become slippery!)

love, laurie

Thursday, February 6, 2014

snow day!

there was quite the snow storm yesterday!  in total we got somewhere between 8 to 9 inches of snow!  by far, that was the biggest snow storm that we have had so far this winter.  when we woke up we were shocked to see that there was so much snow.  we were even more shocked to find out that work was cancelled for the day!  (it's really rare that work is actually cancelled.)  so, we had a fun snow day at home!

we had such a nice day around the house.  we made buttermilk chocolate chip waffles covered in strawberries for breakfast, did a few loads of laundry, and shoveled the driveway and the sidewalks.  in the afternoon, we bundled up and took a little walk around our neighborhood.  later in the evening, we cuddled up on the couch with leko and some hot chocolate for a movie marathon.

it was such a nice treat to have a day off from work and to enjoy some relaxing time together!

love, laurie