Monday, January 30, 2012

Vanilla Ice Cream

My in-laws gave me an ice cream maker for Christmas, and I made ice cream for the first time a couple of weeks ago!  I was surprised at how easy it was, and this ice cream is some of the best vanilla ice cream I've had.  We made brownie sundaes with hot fudge sauce one weekend, and this past weekend we had deep dish chocolate chip cookies with ice cream on top. 

Vanilla Ice Cream
1 cup whole milk
a pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a saucepan.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk with a paring knife, then add the bean pod to the milk.  Cover, remove from heat, and infuse for one hour.

To make the ice cream, set up an ice bath by placing a 2-quart bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice and water. Set a strainer over the top of the smaller bowl and pour the heavy cream into the bowl.

In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks.  Rewarm the milk then gradually pour some of the milk into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour.  Scrape the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.

Strain the custard into the heavy cream.  Stir over the ice until cool, add the vanilla extract, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly.  Preferably overnight.

Remove the vanilla bean and freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

source:  recipe from david lebovitz, adapted from The Perfect Scoop

*ETA:  I have had several questions about what type of ice cream maker I use.  I have the Kitchen Aid ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchen aid stand mixer.  You can purchase it here.  I have been very happy with it and would recommend it!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Blueberry Muffins

Last weekend it rained--all weekend.  I ended up loving it because it was the most relaxing weekend we've had in a while.  To start things off, I woke up Saturday morning and made these muffins.  There's nothing like fresh blueberry muffins, still warm from the oven, for breakfast.  I'm sharing them today just in case you're hoping for the same kind of relaxing weekend that starts with a homemade muffin.

Happy Friday!

Blueberry Muffins
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3 cups + 2 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 egg + 2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk
1 3/4 cups fresh blueberries
sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.

With an electric mixer on medium-high, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add whole egg, yolks, and vanilla; mix until well combined.  Reduce speed to low; alternate adding reserved flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with flour.  Gently fold in berries.

Divide batter evenly among greased muffin pans; sprinkle generously with sanding sugar.  Bake at 375 degrees until light golden on top, rotating tin halfway through, about 20-30 minutes.  Cool in tin on wire rack 15 minutes before turning out muffins.  Store in airtight container.  Makes 12-18 muffins.

source:  recipe from Martha's Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Winter Skin Care Tip

One of the things I dislike about winter is how dry my skin gets!  Typically my skin texture is normal to dry, but in the winter it gets SO dry.  I've been using this overnight mask a couple of a times a week, and I love waking up to a soft, moisturized face!  It has avocado oil and Japanese seaweed in it and smells really fresh going on.  I just put it on my face before bed and it moisturizes through the night. 

What do you use to help get rid of dry winter skin?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Strawberry-Flax Smoothie

Let's talk about breakfast.  You already know I don't really like eating breakfast, but I'm trying to eat it more so I have energy throughout my day.  For a while I was eating fruit & yogurt parfaits and then I was eating handfuls of this granola and then I was just tired of being in a granola rut.  This morning I made this smoothie and it has 14g of protein!  Hello easy, fast breakfast that I can drink while I work!  

Strawberry-Flax Smoothie
1 cup frozen strawberries
3/4 cup low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup fresh orange juice (from one orange)
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp flaxseed meal

Mix all ingredients in a blender.  Blend until smooth and frothy.

source:  recipe from Real Simple, February 2011

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Morning Energy Boosts

Last night I was going through some old magazines and I found a great article on some tips to boost your energy in the early mornings.  I am definitely not a morning person, and these tips go right along with my January goal to boost energy!

1. Let the sun in and stretch.  Exposure to light helps stop producing melatonin (the hormone that induces sleepiness).  Stretching as your first activity of the day will increase your body temperature and blood flow to your brain.

2. Look at something you love.  In the early morning we're in survival mode so our body feels like it's under threat, and that saps our energy.  If we put something in our room that makes us feel grateful (flowers, photo of a loved one, etc.), we can trigger positive emotions that will fight that energy drain.

3. Get moving.  Working out in the morning can trigger feel-good endorphins and lowers stress hormones - even lasting 6-8 hours!  Bonus: people who exercise in the morning tend not to have midmorning slumps.

4. Scent your shower.  Smelling citrus, eucalyptus, or mint causes a burst of energy to flow through your body, clearing your mind and giving you a little lift.  Try Origins Grapefruit Body-Buffing Cleanser or Burt's Bees Peppermint & Rosemary Body Wash.

5. Eat a colorful breakfast.  To make sure you have a nutritional breakfast, make 80% of your plate colorful, unprocessed foods.  The rest of your breakfast should include a combination of lean protein and complex, fiber-rich carbs.

Are you a morning person?  What helps to get you going in the morning?

source: tips from Real Simple, May 2011

Monday, January 23, 2012

DIY Fortune Cookies

Happy Chinese New Year!  When we lived in China we always celebrated the Chinese New Year; it's the biggest holiday in China and it would be weird if we didn't!  But since moving back to the U.S., we've always acknowledged Chinese New Year as well.  We usually celebrate by getting Chinese food and sometimes my parents would still give us the "hong bao" - the red envelopes for children (pictured above) with money in it.  I'm pretty sure I'm not getting a hong bao this year, but Caleb and I are going out for Chinese tonight.  

I thought I'd share a fun DIY for Chinese New Year.  The funny thing is I've never seen a fortune cookie in mainland China; they are strictly in American Chinese restaurants.  But they're fun to make and since you can custom make your fortunes, these would be perfect to make for any holiday or birthday or bridal/baby shower!

Fortune Cookies
4 egg whites
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1-2 tsp water
baking spray

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Whisk egg whites and extracts together until light and foamy.  Whisk in flour, sugar, and salt and mix thoroughly.  The batter should be like a thin pancake batter - when you raise the whisk from the bowl, the batter should disappear as soon as it hits the surface.  I added the little bit of water to get it thin enough.

Lightly mist the backside of a baking sheet with baking spray.  Droop a heaping spoonful of batter onto the baking sheet and let it spread out until it's about a 4-inch circle.  (Continuing to add a little bit of batter in the middle of the circle will make the batter spread out evenly.)  Repeat to make 4 rounds of batter.

Bake at 375 degrees for 4-6 minutes, just until the edge of the cookie browns 1/4-inch around.  Remove from the oven and work quickly.  Using a spatula, transfer one round to your cutting board, placing it top-side down.  Place the fortune into the center, and fold the cookie in half.  Pick the cookie up and place the folded edge onto the rim of a mug and gently pull the corners down.  Put the formed fortune cookie into the well of a cupcake pan - this will hold the shape until the cookie cools and hardens completely.  Repeat with each cookie and batter until finished.  Store cookies in an airtight container once cooled completely.  Makes about 2 dozen.

source:  recipe from confections of a foodie bride

P.S.  If you want to make some good Chinese food, I suggest sweet & sour chicken or General Tso's Chicken.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What You Do Every Day

I read this in The Happiness Project and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.  I think these days discipline and consistency have come to be overlooked characteristic traits.  If you consistently get good grades or you are disciplined to get to the gym every day or if you make your husband dinner every night, those practices come to be expected and are rarely praised or even noticed.  But, if once in a blue moon, a student gets one A, or if you finally get around to going to the gym after a long absence, or if you make your husband or family dinner once in six months, then people are quick to notice and give praise for doing such a wonderful thing.  Of course it is great when someone makes the effort to do something that they normally don't, but let's not forget about the people who are putting in the effort every. single. day.

I want to be the type of person who encourages consistency instead of overlooks it.  I also think this is a helpful reminder for when you're stuck in the daily grind.  It might seem routine, but if you're showing up to work every day and doing what you're supposed do and doing it well, that is valuable.  If you're at home changing diapers and chasing kids and folding laundry every day, that is valuable.  Let's do a better job of recognizing the value and importance of the things we do every day!

So that's where my mind has been lately... take it as a little food for thought for your Friday :) I hope you have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cranberry Chocolate Coconut Granola

The granola recipe I shared last week is my go-to basic granola, perfect for making parfaits and for a quick and easy breakfast.  Today's granola recipe has become one of my favorite snacking granolas.  I'm sure it would be delicious with yogurt as well, but for now I've packaged it in little cellophane bags for Caleb to take to work and in little containers to have on hand here at home for afternoon snacks.

Cranberry Chocolate Coconut Granola
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
3 Tbsp canola oil
1/2 cup honey
2 Tbsp ground flaxseed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add the coconut to the pan in an even layer and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and toasted.  Transfer to a large bowl and wipe out the pan.  Return the pan to the heat and add the chopped walnuts and almonds.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 3-4 minutes. Stir in the oats and canola oil and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the oats are lightly toasted, about 3 minutes.  Transfer the oat mixture to the bowl with the coconut. Stir in the honey, ground flaxseed, cinnamon, and salt.  Spread out onto prepared baking sheet in an even layer.  Bake, stirring every few minutes, until the granola is light golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.

Press the granola gently into a thick slab on the baking sheet.  Let cool to room temperature.  Break the dried and cooled granola into small clusters into a large bowl.  Add the dried cranberries and chocolate and mix to combine. Store in an airtight container.

source:  adapted from annie's eats, originally from America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

DIY Gold Leaf Catchall

When Caleb and I were Christmas shopping last month, a gold leaf platter from Martha Stewart's collection at Macy's caught my eye.  I thought it was so pretty and would be perfect as a catchall on my bedside table, but I didn't really think it was worth $76.  A few weeks later, I found this little glass leaf dish at a thrift store.

I didn't know what kind of paint I could use on glass, so I just bought some Martha Stewart multi surface paint at Michael's.  A paint for every surface - genius, right?!  Leave it to Martha!  Anyway I painted my little dish while Caleb was out of town last week, and I'm really happy with how it turned out!  And it only cost me $2.50 :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Year of Blogging

Today my blog is 1 year old!  A year ago I started blogging because I was bored, work was slow, I didn't really like where we were living, and I was tired of winter.  I found that blogging helped me focus on the things in my life that I did like, so that I would quit thinking about the things I didn't like and couldn't change.  My blog has been the creative outlet that I didn't even realize I needed, and I love it!  It's been so much fun connecting with and getting to know other bloggers.  I appreciate everyone who reads my posts, tries the recipes, and leaves me sweet comments.  All of that really makes my day - so thank you for being a part of this blog!  Here's to another year :)

(image from here)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

In continuing my goal of making more ingredients from scratch, I knew I should probably make some chocolate syrup. Between my frequent cravings for chocolate milk and the iced mochas I make in the summer, I go through a good amount of Hershey's chocolate syrup.  This took only 10 minutes to make, it's more chocolatey than the bottled stuff, and there's no preservatives or corn syrup!  

Homemade Chocolate Syrup
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and cocoa powder and whisk briefly to break up any lumps.  Stir in the water and salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.  Once the mixture reaches a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.  Stir in the vanilla.  Store in the refrigerator.

source:  recipe from annie's eats, originally from 52 kitchen adventures

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Little Things

This week seemed so incredibly long!  It was mostly due to the fact that Caleb was traveling for work this week, a situation I was less than thrilled about.  Instead of moping and feeling lonely, I got my butt into gear and got so much done!  I've learned over and over again that it's my attitude in response to life's circumstances that really makes the difference.  Here are some little things I chose to find happiness in this week.

{cute post-its to brighten my to-do list}

{delicious soup for my lunches: recipe here}

{getting my craft on with multi-surface paint}

{daisies to combat the dreary weather outside}

{catching up on holiday thank you notes}

What little things brightened your week?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

Peanut butter and chocolate were meant to go together, and that's all there is to it.  Instead of making the traditional peanut butter cookies with the Hershey's kiss on top, we made the same dough but pressed a Reese's cup in the center of the dough before baking.  We think these are definitely the better version of the two!

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 bag of Reese's peanut butter cups

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place bag of Reese's peanut butter cups in freezer until ready to use (this allows the wrappers to come off clean).  Sift flour, baking soda, and salt with a wire whisk and set aside.  Beat butter and peanut butter.  Add sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla.  Add flour mixture and combine.  Roll dough into 1 to 1-1/2 inch balls and then roll the balls in granulated sugar to coat.

Press rolled balls into greased cavities of a mini muffin tin.  Press an unwrapped Reese's peanut butter cup into each. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.  Let cool in pans for 5-10 minutes.  Remove from pans and allow to finish cooling in wire racks.  Makes 2-3 dozen cookies.

source:  recipe from bakerella

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

DIY Nail Polish Rack

A while ago I saw an idea on pinterest to turn an old spice rack into a rack for nail polish - brilliant, right?  So for about eight months whenever I went thrifting I looked for an old spice rack.  FINALLY I found one!  When we were at my parents' house over Christmas, we took it apart, sanded it, and painted it.  (This was a joint effort of my sister Kristin and her husband Matt, Caleb, and myself.  But honestly Caleb did most of the work.)  I am so happy with how it turned out! 

To make your own nail polish rack, you will need:
- a spice rack (I got mine for $2.50 at Goodwill)
- sand paper
- primer
- spray paint 

Hello ugly spice rack!

Sand the entire spice rack.  

Spray on primer & spray paint, following directions on cans.  
And try not to stand as awkwardly as I am.

Finished product!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Fruit & Yogurt Parfait with Homemade Granola

In an effort to keep my goal of eating breakfast, I've had to make breakfasts that I'm actually interested in eating. Lately I've been making a fruit and yogurt parfait with homemade granola.  In a mini trifle dish or small bowl, layer vanilla yogurt, granola, and a fresh fruit of your choice.  Repeat the yogurt and granola layers and top with more fresh fruit.  I like to use bananas, blueberries, and strawberries.  The star of this parfait, though, is the homemade granola.

Homemade Granola
4 cups old fashioned oats*
1 cup finely chopped almonds
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Whisk together oats, almonds, walnuts, coconut, cinnamon and salt.  Set aside.

In medium saucepan over medium heat, melt together butter, oil, honey, and brown sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture begins to boil.  Carefully whisk together so it's well incorporated.  Remove from heat and add the vanilla extract.  Pour the warm mixture over the oat mixture and toss together with a wooden spoon.  Make sure all of the oat mixture gets moistened by the sugar mixture.

Spread mixture onto prepared baking sheets and place on the top two racks of the oven.  Bake at 325 degrees for 25-30 minutes, removing from oven and tossing oats on pan twice during baking.  To ensure even baking and prevent any burning, rotate the pans halfway through baking.  After removing from oven, let the granola cool on pans before storing in an airtight container.  Keeps for two weeks.

*Make sure you use old fashioned oats.  Using quick oats will make your granola sandy instead of crunchy.  Plus old fashioned or steel-cut oats are healthier!

Source:  granola recipe adapted from joy the baker

Monday, January 9, 2012

January: Boost Energy


One of my goals for the year is to read through The Happiness Project and work on the 12 areas specified in the book. I won't always make the same goals that are in each chapter; rather, I'm going to use the principles and research from the chapter to help me make goals for myself.

January is about boosting energy, both physically and mentally.  I thought about the times during the day I feel the least energetic and the things that seem to suck the energy out of me.  Then I turned those around and made a list to prevent my most common energy-drainers.

1. Decrease caffeine.  I've eliminated my morning cup of coffee.  This may seem counter-intuitive, but I'm willing to feel a little draggy for a the first few days so that in the long run I'm not so dependent on caffeine for my energy.

2. Eat breakfast.  I usually skip breakfast because I'm either drinking coffee or nothing sounds good to me, but then by late morning I'm so hungry I can barely think straight.  Just a little breakfast each day will hopefully give me enough energy to work efficiently until lunchtime.

3. Start strength training.  Not only is it good for me, but hopefully starting my mornings with some weights will give me a little boost.

4. Take more walks.  Walking triggers the body's relaxation response and helps reduce stress, but a 10-minute walk also provides an energy boost.  I work from home so I can easily pop outside for a quick walk when I need to clear my head or get a little energy boost to help motivate me.

5. Make a list of nagging projects.  There are things that I've been needing to do for a while (renew my passport, organize our vacation photos, etc.) that I just keep putting off.  Every time I think of these projects that are either time-consuming or annoying, I just get overwhelmed and put them off some more.  I need to just write these things down and start tackling them one by one.

6. Organize the pantry.  When I'm making a grocery list or cooking dinner, I can't even see to the back of the pantry to know what food I have in there.  It drives me nuts every time because I have to pull out all my cans and jars to find what I'm looking for.  I need to come up with a better system.

7. Tidy up before bed.  Nothing drains me more than waking up in the morning and finding a cluttered living room or kitchen.  I need to take five minutes at night before bed to put things away.

8. If something takes 5 minutes or less, do it now.  All of these little things pile up and end up taking big chunks of my time.  If it's something simple like responding to a quick email or filing that important document, I can take the couple of minutes and do it right away to save me time later.

9. Get rid of unnecessary stuff.  I know we have things that we could stand to throw away (that perfume I never wear, the old can opener that doesn't work), so I need to take the time to go through drawers, cabinets, and closets and purge.  Planning to buy a house and move soon is also a big motivator!

What do you find boosts your energy?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Recap of 2011

This week I've been caught up in making my goals for 2012, organizing the house after a 10-day holiday, and thinking about all of the projects I want to get done this year.  I need to chill out for a second and look back on 2011!  Because this blog is a scrapbook of sorts, I want to go over some of the highlights of the past year, especially because some of them I never blogged about.

At the beginning of the year I started this blog as a creative outlet for myself.  

The first few months of the year we were busy getting plugged into our Bible study and opening our home to many people, mostly college students.  I was also in two of my closest friends' weddings.  
I also failed at taking pictures of our life - whoops.


In May we went to the beach twice: once with my family and once
with Caleb's family.  We had gorgeous weather both trips
and loved the time we were able to spend with our families!

In the summer Caleb was looking to switch jobs, so we were busy traveling for different interviews.
This picture was from the 18 hours we were in Nashville.

Our favorite part of the year was our vacation to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons!  

August marked the arrival of my first nephew!  He is the sweetest little boy!

At the end of the summer, Caleb accepted a job and two weeks later 
we moved away from our first home together.

In September I ran my first race!

In November we visited Caleb's grandparents' farm.

We were able to spend Thanksgiving weekend with my whole family!

We celebrated our second married Christmas together with lots of Christmas activities.

Looking back, this year did not turn out like we expected.  Caleb was enrolled to go back to school for his MBA, meaning we were staying where we were for a few more years.  Then everything changed: Caleb got a new job, we're living in a different state, and we're looking for a house to settle down in here!  I'm so thankful that our lives are ultimately in the Lord's hands, and that He is in control - not us!  We are so incredibly happy where we are and praise the Lord for all He's blessed us with!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

DIY Sequin Tote

When I saw the idea for a DIY sequin tote on Anna's blog, I knew I had to make it!  I used sequin trim and a canvas tote from Hobby Lobby, and I attached my sequin trim in horizontal stripes with hem tape (above tote).  Then I saw this tote and wanted to make own version.  Using more of the same supplies, I ran the sequin trim around the handles and down the length of the tote on both sides (below tote).  Such a quick and easy DIY, and I always need another bag!