Thursday, July 24, 2014

celebrating with honey-pear cake

I can hardly believe it, but last Friday Strider and I celebrated our six month anniversary! 
Time has absolutely flown since January, and we've loved every minute of being married. That being said, I definitely wouldn't turn down a second honeymoon/vacation right about now (in my dreams, right?).

I know it may seem silly to celebrate a milestone as seemingly unimpressive as six months (I even had a few people comment to that effect), but to us, it was worth a small party - aka just the two of us. I recognize that it's just a blink when compared to many couples' time together, but truthfully, I hope I never stop finding reasons to celebrate us. Be it 6 months, 6 years, or 6 decades, my prayer is that we will always take pause in celebration of our marriage, to just stop all the craziness of daily life just long enough to take true joy in our commitment to each other. And what better way to enjoy that moment than with a good meal and of course, cake!

Adapted from The New Midwestern Table cookbook by Amy Thielen, this Honey-Pear Bundt Cake was seriously delicious! And yes, I did make a tiny bunting just for the occasion then strung it up with embroidery floss and chopsticks. Though certainly not as glamorous as the one in the book, my slightly adapted recipe is as follows:

- 4 Anjou pears
- 2 sticks + 2 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temp
- 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp honey
- 2 Tbsp spiced rum/cider
- 2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cup + 1/3 cup sugar, separated
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 6 eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

- Preheat over to 400F and prep a 10-cup Bundt pan with a light coat of butter and flour
- Peel, quarter, and core the pears. Heat 2 Tbsp of butter over medium high in a large skillet, add pears and cook 5 min, add rum and Tbsp honey, cook additional 10-12 minutes.
- Set a colander over a bowl and pour pear mixture over. Reserve liquid and let cool.
- In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flower, baking powder, and salt.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat remaining butter and all but the 1/3 cup white sugars together until light and fluffy. Add eggs two at a time, mixing after each addition, then add vanilla and remaining honey.
- In three additions, add flour mixture to egg mixture, being careful not to over-mix.
- Gently fold in pears then pour batter into pan.
- Bake at 400F for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 325F and bake another 50-60 minutes.
- Cool for 20 minutes before turning out onto rack.
- While the cake cools, heat 2 cups of the pear liquid, remaining 1/3 cup sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan. Boil until the mixture condenses and becomes slightly syrupy. Cool 10 minutes.
- Setting your cooling rack and cake over the sink, use a pastry brush to glaze the cake with the juice reduction. I did 4-5 applications letting each cool slightly in between so the glaze was soaked in and coated the top well.
- Serve warm and with a glass of milk. Yum!!

Friday, July 18, 2014

quick & affordable room makeover

A fun project popped up out of nowhere this week (which did wonders for my continued avoidance of our cluttered second bedroom) and was so successful, I just had to share. My sister and I were discussing The Nesting Place and I mentioned how inspired I felt to be more creative in the ways I decorate our little home. sister and her new hubby landed an awesome, albeit temporary, house to rent while it's on the market, and she started telling me how discouraged she felt because:
     - there's so little they're permitted to do (no painting, etc.)
     - they don't want to invest a lot of money in a short-term location
     - she felt overwhelmed because the house is so big, she didn't even know where to start
Sensing the opportunity for a sister-team-up-project, I immediately began trying to convince her that we could do something substantial AND that it would be both significantly easier and less expensive than she imagined.
We decided to focus on the rooms they live in most, in order of priority, and go with small accents that make a big impact but won't break the bank. Since her husband loves to cook, we set our sights on the kitchen/dining room area. Before pictures from two angles below:
This was also a great starting point, because one of their biggest eyesores/frustrations was the dining chairs' upholstery. A real steal off Craigslist, the set is beautiful and definitely made of quality wood...just styled to a *different* taste than theirs. Though a bit nervous about it, Carly agreed to us reupholstering the seats. We found a gorgeous bolt of deep red fabric at Hancock Fabrics that she knew the man of the house would be okay with...and to top it all off, it was 60% off! Once we had the fabric, it took less than an hour of actual work to redo all six chairs. Check out the before and after below (or after and before because I didn't think to put them the other way around)...amazing or what!?
Aside from chairs, we knew a few details would really add a lot for a little effort: window treatments (for the dining area & the kitchen sink), a rug, a nice centerpiece, and a few small colorful accents. We spent one afternoon searching for the best bargain pieces we could find then one afternoon to bring it all together. After photos below:
Clearly, I'm not a pro-home-photographer by any means, but it's quite the improvement, right? Considering that they aren't able to change the things that they'd really like to (wall color, countertops, cabinets), choosing a color palette they both like helps personalize the room and make it feel more like home but without a major investment in a temporary space.

Speaking of investment, here's the project breakdown. Sneak peek - it comes in under $150!
     New upholstery for six chairs = $30 (%60 off the original price)
     Area rug = $39 (the splurge with the $ saved off the fabric)
     Centerpiece = $12 total (placemat from Pier 1, vase/marbles/candle from Dollar General)
     Window treatments = $30 (two rods, two sheers, and the sink valence from Walmart)
     Candle tray on island = $7 clearance item from Pier 1 (candles to-be-added)
     Cookie jar = $14 from Walmart
     Window votives = $4 each from Pier 1
Total cost = $140

And the best news of all...her husband loved the surprise! Considering the time, money, and energy spent on this quick makeover...I'm counting it a success on all counts!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

piles, pasta, pages

Confession: my craft room is an absolute, Armageddon style. I almost took a picture as documented proof of my insanity. I decided this week that I needed to get our life better organized so naturally, I started by pulling all our giant storage bins out to sort through and re-organize. It was a great idea...for about 3 hours. Our Christmas bins are immaculate, but now the rest is in giant unfinished piles. True to form, I found myself leaving Hobby Lobby yesterday with another "but it's just one more teeny project" in hand (now sitting on top of all the piles). Did I mention that the other tutorial project I promised is also still not completely done? Sometimes, I find myself insufferable and just feel very blessed to have a husband who doesn't even blink at my giant fortress of crazy.

On a more productive note, last night I cooked the Pioneer Woman's Best. Ever. Lasagna. from scratch and it was absolutely fabulous. Meanwhile, our 90 degree kitchen had me meditating on the phrase "slaving over dinner". Please don't hate me for saying it, but I'm really looking forward to autumn and winter again.
As a glorious distraction from my "disorganization castle", I've read three books this week:

A Great & Terrible Beauty - interesting and a quick read, this book really does have a little bit of everything: 1800s England, gypsies, magic, boarding schools, friendship, murder, mystery, and feminism. BUT...and it's a big but...I don't know if I'd necessarily recommend it to the young adults for which it was intended. It was pretty dark and had a couple scenes with too much semi-veiled sexuality for me to be comfortable with. All in all, it was a decent story but it would definitely fall in a "let's read it together so we can discuss things" category if my child was involved.

Now for two well-worth-a-glowing-recommendation selections.

First is Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie Shankle.
The very true account of her experience with
motherhood, Shankle's writing is delightfully
engaging, extremely witty, and obviously heartfelt.
The book is based on the upset of her expectations
with the reality of her life as a mom, and overall, it's
just wonderful. I highly recommend to any not-yet- or
already-moms. I imagine her stories are exactly what
my mom would say when asked to recount the truth
of mine and my sister's childhoods.

Next is The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith. Know
as "The Nester" this blogger-decorator is almost too
cool for words. It's Christian homemaking meets interior
decorating meets inspiration. Based on her experience
of moving 13 times and never getting to really settle down
in the home she always pictured herself owning, Smith
writes about creating a sense of home wherever you
live...even if you're just a renter. She's smart and funny
with a keen eye for decorating and simplicity that strikes
a huge chord with another blogger you might know
(hint - me!). I read it in one sitting at Barnes then
checked it our at the public library three days later just
to go through it again and make notes. Brilliant and
quirky, it's an uplifting read for almost anyone.

Other than a week-long Harry Potter marathon with Strider, that's about where we're at. 
Some great reads and lots on my to-do list for this coming week!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

deciding on happiness

First and foremost, I promise that I haven't fallen into a black hole. I am still here, just with very little time or internet access to share things. 10- to 12-hour work days pretty much mean I don't get anything else done: a non-frozen dinner is my biggest daily accomplishment. But, I just keep reminding myself that this is just a season. However, I do have a cool tutorial I'll hopefully be sharing soon, and in the meantime, enjoy this awesome little quote I've been really meditating on lately. And now...back to work!

Monday, June 23, 2014

unceasing prayer

Probably five years ago, I was driving through the county with my little sister and one of her close friends in the back seat. Her friend lives in a very rural area and we were blasting music with windows down, being silly. We approached a stop sign and saw a white van coming from the other direction. Suddenly, my sister yelps and points out that the driver in the van was her friend's dad. As we passed, they both waved wildly and called out to get his attention, but his straight-facing vision never wavered. His lips were moving slightly but we couldn't hear any music. Laughing, we passed unnoticed. As we did so, her friend stated, "Oh, he's probably just praying! He's always doing that!"

At the time, it seemed so strange, that we all laughed and went back to our jam session. But for some reason, that moment has always stayed with, and been ever more present in my mind of late. Though I know this girl's parents to both be truly wonderful examples of Christ, it was still so bizarre to consider that he might be praying aloud while driving alone down a country road. Yet, what a more perfect model of I Thessalonians 5:17.

16 "Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."    1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This always seemed like such an impossible command. How could God expect us to actually pray "without ceasing"? I've heard a lot of sermons on how this intendeds for us to be in a "spirit of prayer" throughout the day. But what if we take it literally. Yes, stay in a spirit of prayer, but how many of us take time periodically throughout the day to pray, not just during our set aside devotional time or during crisis. Like those quiet moments at stoplights, during a TV commercial, waiting in line at the grocery store, or while folding clean laundry. Let's just say it's not usually the first thing that my brain defaults to, don't know about you.

What sticks out to me even more now is that his daughter's first reaction to such focus was prayer. It was her initial, unquestioning assumption that he was praying. To me, that loudly proclaims that he must demonstrate such unceasing devotion during all circumstances and times of day. I can only hope that someday I will be such an honest example to my children. What a goal to keep in be known so profoundly as a wife and mother devoted to constant communication with Christ! For now, I'll start line at Walmart seems like an opportune time to practice.

Sidenote, I've been singing this song in my head all weekend...and love it!

Friday, June 20, 2014

current reads

I'm in the midst of what feels like a giant stack of "to-reads" lately, despite the fact that I have very little free time to actually sit and devour chapters at a time. Regardless, here's what's currently on my nightstand...a bit of sample platter with food, fiction, and faith.

The Food: 
I'm Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown (2002)

Extreme wittiness meets kitchen science meets passionate foodie. I've never read/watched much of Alton's stuff prior to this so I was surprised by just how much I appreciate his style. Given to me for free in a large box of "throwaway" cookbooks, this was an instant keeper. The science is fascinating and really helps me understand the "why behind the what" when cooking. I've got probably 30 pages to go yet but I have no doubt it will be a handy resource on my shelf for years to come. If only high school chemistry had made so much sense!

The Fiction: 
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry (2001)

Recommended by my cousin's smart and savvy husband, I figured this was really worth a shot. I'm only a little ways in so far but it is interesting. Not an immediate "I'm hooked!" but definitely intriguing.

The Faith: 
Feminine Appeal by Carolyn Mahaney (2003)

I snagged this one off Amazon after reading a fellow blogger's very positive review. Although I don't necessarily agree with 100% of Mahaney's views, I think her intention is good and that she makes a lot of great suggestions. Sometimes her tone is a bit too harsh/judgmental regarding women who make or are put in difficult situations requiring life choices other than those Mahaney feels are best, but overall, it has sparked a fair bit of interesting dialogue (between me, myself, and I). So early in our marriage, I am looking for & appreciating almost any Biblically based advice on marriage/wife-dom as I can. Which led to...

The Christian Homemaker's Handbook by Pat Ennis & Dorothy Patterson (2013)

This was a bit of an impulse purchase during a recent stop at the Christian bookstore. It looked interesting and at least sounded like exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for right now. I haven't even started it yet but I hope it contains lots of great advice and spiritual encouragement. Reviews are a bit mixed on Amazon.

What's on your nightstand? Read and have opinions on any of these?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

cloth napkins - version 2

Cloth napkins...take two, AKA "the pillow method". In this post, I shared one way to make cloth napkins, but today, I'd like to demonstrate another variation. Because they're two-ply, today's napkins use twice as much fabric, but they're actually a bit simpler sewing-wise.

First, collect your fabric. As a reminder: the general sizes are 22" x 22" for formal, 20" x 20" for dinner, 17" x 17" for lunch, and 10" x 10" for cocktail. Allow for your desired seam allowance on all sides then cut out your squares. As with the first batch, I did 18" squares with a 1" seam allowance on all sides, so each piece was cut to 20" x 20". Unlike the other tutorial, you will need two squares per napkin, either in the same fabric or in coordinating pieces.

Lay your squares with the right-sides facing each other. This is a sewing 101 idea that seemed crazy when I first started learning - the catch is to remember that any time you are sewing like this, eventually the pieces will be flipped inside-out. I don't know why but that seemed crazy to my younger self, sitting bewildered in front of a Singer.

Pin the edges and sew a 1/2" seam all the way around, pivoting at the corners by raising your machine's presser foot while the needle is in the lowered position still in the fabric. Turn the angle of the fabric and lower the presser foot back down, then continue to sew at a 90 degree angle from the seam you just completed. Just MAKE SURE to leave a gap of 2-3" at the end so you have room to flip the fabric.

Clip the excess fabric from the corners then carefully turn your entire project inside-out so the right sides are now out and your seam is hidden inside the napkin. At this point, I like to iron everything to make sure it lines up before final sewing passes. (Side project: If you were making a pillow, just leave a larger gap in the hem then after flipping, stuff with a pillow mold or Poly-Fil before closing. This is a great beginner project!)

Finally, place a pin to hold the inside-out seam gap in place then sew around the napkin edge to secure it. As with the other style napkins, I chose to do a single line stitch at the 1/2" and at the 1/4" mark. Final result below.

As with the other napkins, just fold them into quarters and stack them up for everyday use. 

Because this version uses twice as much fabric, I only made two napkins this go around. I plan to use both versions for a while and see which ones we prefer and which hold up best for use and washing. 

Do you have a favorite napkin method or some family napkins that you love?