Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Best Eyelash Curler

I've never been one to regularly use an eyelash curler. I've bought and tried different ones from drugstores and Target, but I never was impressed with the results. So, for years I've just gone without. A couple months ago I decided it was time to give it another try. I kept reading that the shu uemura eyelash curler was the way to go. So, I bought it. And let me tell you it is THE best eyelash curler I have ever used! It actually curls my lashes, without pinching my eyelids, and the curl lasts all day. It's also been my new trick for looking more awake in the mornings, because it widens and opens up my eyes. I never thought that an eyelash curler would be my #1 makeup tool but it's quickly becoming my favorite! (Tip: it's a little cheaper to buy it directly from shu uemura)

P.S. Have you ever wondered why we always open our mouths when we put on mascara? "When you widen your eyes, you create tension in a muscle connected to your jaw," says Ellen Marmur, professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai medical center. Opening the mouth is a natural response to relieving that tension. Mystery solved:)

Monday, January 28, 2013

2013 Reading List

After I shared my favorite reads of 2012, my sister asked what books I had on my 2013 reading list. I have never sat down at the beginning of a year and planned out what books I wanted to read, because I like to read whatever I feel like in the moment--the books I hear about or the ones I see that pique my interest. But then I realized that the books I slowly pile onto my nightstand are the ones that I subconsciously plan to read sometime in the next year. For some reason the books I own are always the last ones I get around to finishing. I think it's something about the deadline of a library book due date that pushes me to read those books faster than my own. In any case, these are the books that I have on my nightstand. Most of them I've actually even started, but I hope to finish each of them this year. Do you plan to read certain books each year? What's on your to-read list?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cinnamon Swirl Banana Bread

Since there will always be an overripe banana lying on a countertop somewhere, I'm a firm believer that you can never have enough banana bread recipes. This variety includes a swirl of cinnamon sugar throughout the center of the bread--delicious! Another bonus of this bread is that while it's in the oven baking, it fills your home with that comforting scent of baking bread, cinnamon, and bananas--all in one! Happy Friday:)

Cinnamon Swirl Banana Bread
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup light brown sugar
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas
1/3 cup vanilla yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
for the cinnamon swirl:
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the brown sugar and butter with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended - about 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. With a spoon, stir in the mashed banana, yogurt, and vanilla. Slowly add the dry ingredients. Do not overmix. Batter will be thick.

Spoon half the batter into the prepared loaf pain. Sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Top with remaining batter. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan on wire rack. Remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack.

source: recipe from sally's baking addiction, originally adapted from recipe boy

P.S. 7 other banana breads that I love!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Recipes I Tried & Liked

I share a lot of recipes on this blog, but I don't share as many as I easily could. For whatever reason--I couldn't get a good picture, or I didn't have any good light, or I had a very hungry husband who I could not make wait any longer for dinner while I tried to get a couple of good shots--some recipes that I really like don't end up on the blog. In order to keep track of these recipes, I have a board on pinterest called "recipes I tried and liked". I reference this a ton when I need to pull a recipe that I'm comfortable with and that I know will be good. Here are some of the recipes that I've tried lately and really, really liked. (You can find the other recipes I've tried & liked here

What good recipes have you tried lately?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Weekend + 2 Years

This past weekend we were able to host my oldest sister and her family. They had not been to visit us since we moved into our new house, so it was fun to give them a tour of our home and a glimpse into our life here. The kids are 3 and almost 1 1/2, so it was a weekend filled with toys and laughter and fun! One of my favorite parts of the weekend was when my niece was swinging on the swing in the backyard. She is quite a talker, and once she was on the swing she just went full speed telling us about everything--singing her ABCs, how much she likes falling asleep to the sound of the rain, etc. It's so fun to be able to see these kids' personalities coming out!

Also, I realized that last week marked two years of writing on this little blog.  This space has changed a little from year to year, and it finally feels like I'm in a good rhythm.  Posting three times a week seems to work the best for me with my schedule right now, so that's what it will be.  I've learned a lot about myself through blogging and connecting with other bloggers, and it's been so fun!  Thanks for reading along and for the comments and the friendships! xx

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Do You Have Rain Boots?

We are going on our sixth consecutive day of rain and I have about had it! I have been saying I need new rain boots for a while now (my cupcake rain boots from my college days are long gone), but this week of rain has really put me over the edge. I hate having wet shoes/pants, so the time has come to finally buy some rain boots. Do you have any? I want a pair of Hunter rain boots, but I just can't decide the color!  I've narrowed it down to these; what do you think?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tunnel of Fudge Chocolate Cake

For the past couple of months I have been craving chocolate cake - like a rich, thick chocolate cake with chocolate icing. I saw the recipe for this cake a couple of weeks ago and knew it was the one. We had friends over this past weekend for dinner, so I used that as an excuse to make this cake. And let me just tell you it was one of the best chocolate cakes I've ever had. The recipe does this crazy thing where the very inside of the cake is like molten chocolate cake, hence the "tunnel of fudge". The rest of the cake is a perfect blend between moist chocolate cake and fudgey brownies, and then it's topped off with a ganache - hello delicious!  

Tunnel of Fudge Chocolate Cake
to prep the pan:
1 Tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

for the cake:
1/2 cup boiling water
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups flour
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp salt
5 eggs, at room temperature
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 1/2 sticks (20 Tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature

for the glaze:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup light corn syrup
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and melted butter. Use a pastry brush to evenly coat the inside of a 12-cup bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, pour the boiling water over the 2 oz of chopped chocolate. Let stand for a minute, then whisk until smooth. In another medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, confectioners' sugar, and salt. Combine the eggs and vanilla in a liquid measuring cup and beat lightly.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar, brown sugar, and butter. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add in the egg mixture just until combined. Add the chocolate mixture and mix until incorporated. Blend in the dry ingredients until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the edges of the cake begin to pull away from the pan.

Allow the cake to cool on a wire rack for 1 1/2 hours before inverting onto a cake platter. Allow to cool completely, about 2 more hours.

To make the glaze, combine the cream, corn syrup, and chocolate in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until smooth. Blend in the vanilla. Set aside for about 30 minutes, until slightly thickened. Drizzle the glaze over the cake and let set for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

source: recipe from annie's eats, originally from Cook's Illustrated Entertaining Holiday 2010

Monday, January 14, 2013

DIY Coconut-Citrus Sugar Scrub

Last winter I shared one of my winter skin care tips for battling how DRY my face gets in the winter. Today I'll share my little tip for keeping the rest of my skin moist and smooth, even during the winter months: sugar scrub! Sugar scrub is the easiest thing to throw together at home, especially since you probably already have most of the ingredients. Sugar scrub in its most basic form is sugar and some sort of oil; I like using safflower or sunflower oil because it doesn't have a scent like olive oil tends to have. A few drops of essential oil gives your scrub a fresh scent, but the best part of this sugar scrub is the coconut oil. Organic coconut oil is an excellent moisturizer for all types of skin, but especially for dry skin. Coconut oil can also prevent wrinkles and sun damage that is caused by sun exposure.

DIY Coconut-Citrus Sugar Scrub
1 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup safflower oil
10 drops essential oil (I used grapefruit)
2 Tbsp coconut oil

In a bowl, combine the sugar and the oil. Add more or less oil depending on how oily you like your scrub. Mix in the coconut oil until well combined. Add the essential oil to get the desired strength of fragrance. Scoop mixture into container. To use, slather across hands and body for fresh, smooth skin; rinse with water. Not recommended for use on face.

(coconut oil info from well-being secrets

Friday, January 11, 2013

Favorite Reads of 2012

At the end of each year, I like to take note of the books I read--which ones I liked, which ones I didn't, how my selection of books has differed from year to year, etc.  Here are my 7 favorites from this past year:

This was hands down the best book I read last year!  It's a true story of the friendship between a little boy who begs on the streets of NYC and a businesswoman.  The story is so heart-breaking and touching--there were several nights that tears were streaming down my face as I read this.  It made me realize that I am so unaware of the poverty that grips the lives of so many here in the U.S., and also how even the littlest things can have the biggest impact.

If you're into food memoirs, definitely read this one!  Out of all of Ruth Reichl's books, this one is definitely my favorite.  The disguises she develops and wears for the restaurants she tries and reviews are hilarious!  This book is also where I found one of my favorite quotes about cooking that I shared here.

I have previously posted about this book, and it ended up being one of the most fascinating books I read last year.  It gives a glimpse of what life inside a federal women's prison is like--the friendships that develop, how the women spend their time, the dynamics between the guards and the prisoners, etc.    

This book is kind of random, but I loved it! It's about mental athletes (seriously, did you know there was such a thing?!) and their techniques in training and preparing for national and worldwide Memory Championships.  It sounds crazy and it is!  These people memorize and recall insane things like multiple decks of cards in just minutes, dates, names, anything you can think of.  The guy that wrote the book actually tried all of these mental athletes' techniques to see if it was true that all of our brains have the capacity to memorize and retain such large volumes of information.  A super interesting read if you like thinking about how our minds work :) 

Most of the books that made this list were non-fiction, which is unusual for me.  I just wasn't a big fan of the fiction that I read last year - except for this book.  It was SO good!  It was beautifully written, it was thought-provoking, and the story was unique and not as predictable as many books are these days.  This was one of those books that I couldn't put down because I was so drawn into the story and the characters. 

My favorite cookbook from this year, and one of my all-around favorite cookbooks!  Joy is awesome.  She makes delicious food and writes funny and clever things.  I have enjoyed working my way through this cookbook and several recipes have become repeats already!

This was my favorite "coffee table book", if you will.  Emily's blog is my favorite blog, and her book is like an entire year of posts in one big chunk.  The book is divided by seasons of the year, so the fashion and beauty tips for that particular season are right there with season-appropriate recipes and decorating ideas.  I love Emily's approach to entertaining and decorating, so I found her book to be really inspiring.  

So what were some of your favorite books that you read last year?  Have you found that your preference in books shifts over time?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies

One of the things we've wanted to change about our weekends is trying to make our Sundays more of a day of rest. Instead of coming home from church and making a grocery list or running errands or doing chores around the house, we want to truly have a day of rest before starting our week.  For me this means spending time doing the things I enjoy, especially reading and baking.  This past Sunday I tried the chocolate chip cookie recipe in this month's Bon Appétit.  A Sunday of warm chocolate chip cookies and the season premiere of Downton Abbey - now that is a restful way to start a week:)

Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 egg yolks
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used chocolate chips)
Maldon or other flaky sea salt for sprinkling

Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and heat oven to 375 degrees.  Whisk flour, baking powder, kosher salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl; set aside.

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, brown sugar, sugar, and powdered sugar until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.  Add egg yolks, egg, and vanilla.  Beat, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl, until mixture is pale and fluffy, 4-5 minutes.  Reduce mixer speed to low; slowly add dry ingredients, mixing just to blend.  Using a spatula, fold in chocolate.

Spoon rounded tablespoonfuls of cookie dough onto 2 parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spacing 1" apart (foil sprayed with non-stick cooking spray also works in a pinch). Sprinkle cookies with sea salt.

Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until just golden brown around the edges, 10-12 minutes (the cookies will firm up as they cool).  Let cool slightly on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks; let cool completely.  Store airtight at room temperature.  Makes 24.

*Note:  The dough lasts two days in the fridge, well-wrapped with saran wrap.

source: recipe from Bon Appétit, January 2013

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pretty Notecards + Send More Snail Mail

Each year I find myself resolving to send more handwritten notes:  thank you notes, prompt birthday cards, just-thinking-of-you notes, etc.  In anticipation of this year being the year I'm actually on top of my correspondence, here are some beautiful notecards that I have my eye on.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Favorite Recipes from 2012

Happy 2013, friends!  I've taken a bit of a hiatus from blogging for the past month, due to several reasons but mostly involving Christmas busyness and time with family, but I'm back and I'm excited for this new year ahead!  I wanted to do a quick post on my favorite recipes from 2012.  Because I only share recipes that I really liked and would make agin, tons of recipes that I try never find their way onto the blog.  But of all of the ones that I've shared over the past year, these are my absolute favorites.  If you're looking for a new recipe to try this coming year - here are my suggestions!