Tuesday, October 21, 2014

This Takes the {Cookie} Cake

Todd and I drove to the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina this weekend to visit family and enjoy a little hiking.  In South Carolina the leaves are just beginning to turn, but that transformation is well underway just a bit north.

We hiked on beautiful paths...

...and through lovely valleys in the shadow of the mountains.

We saw lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and waterfalls.

Huge trees - virgin hardwoods!

Smaller ones, too.

We enjoyed the sights...

...while staying clear of some less-than-friendly locals!

Todd's dog Borga came with us.  She can be a real pain to take on trips, because she's high-strung to the extreme.  She always cries en route to our destinations and then once there, too,  if kept in the crate.  However, she usually calms down after a nice walk, and she always like to pose in our pictures.

We had clear days and beautiful nights. 

It was a great trip!

We've been really, really busy lately, and I've only had time for one Halloween baked item:  a cookie cake baked in a 9" cake pan.  Now, if you grew up in the midwest, or at least in central Indiana, you knew the Original Cookie Co. in the Greenwood Park Mall. The OCC always had these amazing gigantic cookie cakes that I'd salivate over.  I never bought one, but had slices at the occasional birthday party.  With ice cream or without, the giant cookie cake never failed to satisfy.  The center was soft.  The outside edge was crisp.  The frosting was tooth-achingly sweet.  What's not to love?  Learning that I could make my own at home was proof that knowledge in the wrong hands can be very dangerous indeed! 

Not very spooky?  Perhaps you didn't notice the terrifying Halloween funfetti sprinkles I used!

It was so easy to make.  I used this recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction, just changing up the sprinkles. 

I piped buttercream frosting around the edge and in the center. 

It was really, really good - soft in the middle, crispy on the outside edge, just like the OCC, but fresher and, dare I say, tastier?  I recently made a batch of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and learned that they, too, have a giant cookie cake version.  I think I know what my next post-holiday baking project is going to be! 

Have a great week!

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Mini Chair with Flair

I know that I have a lot of hobbies.  I don't have the time or energy to work on all of them, so I usually pursue one single-mindedly while the others languish, and then I move on.  Hobbies that have received my laser-focus include knitting, baking, insect collecting, photography, embroidery, writing, learning a foreign language, studying a specific period in history, puzzles, quilting, woodworking, bird watching, gardening, exercise, card-making, kayaking...the list goes on and on.  Some things overlap...I always have a puzzle going, a knitting project on the needles, and a book or two that I'm mid-way through.  Still, it's a handful trying to devote enough time to each hobby to assuage the guilt I feel for the money/time I've spent on half-finished projects that I push out of sight because I'm just not interested in finishing them in the moment.  Well, I've gone and added another hobby to the teetering stack.  I've fallen in love with miniatures. 

I've actually been interested in miniatures for a long time, but didn't think I could afford to indulge.  Then I discovered that I could make a lot of the furniture with a simple scroll saw, and many interior items with polymer clay.  Now, I'm not interested in dolls or traditional dollhouses.  What really inspired me was a Brambly Hedge-style tree house, found here.  I loved the fact that most of it was built from scratch.  For those who don't know, Brambly Hedge is a woodland creature-filled world sketched in a style somewhat similar to Beatrix Potter's.  Here are some photos from one of my books, showing the hollowed-out trunk:

The interiors are delightful - overstuffed and charming.

All of these little items can be crafted by hand!  To practice, I built my first piece:  a tiny overstuffed chair for a future living room.  The tutorial itself is here.  I'll just show you the progression of the piece, built completely with foam core and cardboard.  My chair isn't nearly as realistic or fancy as hers (real piping!), but it's much better than I expected it to be.  I hope I'll keep improving!

Shown next to Todd's iPhone for scale.  The chair is a little less than 3" tall.  The cushions are removable (squeal!).  I am in love with it, even with my many mistakes.  It was a fairly quick project...one hour plus a day to dry for the initial frame, and then a Saturday afternoon spent adding the arm supports and fabric.  I'm going to make another one soon, and as soon as I get some polymer clay...watch out!  Todd and I are going to start on the tree house rooms soon, too.  We're still trying to locate plywood that's the optimum thickness.

I also made a pop-up card for a friend's birthday last week.  Sharks can be so charming, can't they?

I hope you've been able to do something creative recently.  Have a great week! 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Browned Butter Takes the Cake

When the weather dropped alarmingly into the 40s and 50s this week (gasp!), I realized how spoiled I'd become with South Carolina's warm weather.  I closed all the windows, washed a load of thick sweaters and swaddled myself in layers, then cranked the heat up.  I bemoaned my lack of fingerless gloves and wrapped up in a blanket when Todd and I ate supper on the sun porch.  He laughed and then reminded me of many of the things I love about fall.

Like...cozy fires down by the pond.

We love to play Scrabble down there when it starts to get chilly.

The night sky is so beautiful...

Todd won, but only because he had some extra help (ahem):

Another fall favorite:  early morning hikes.  I love to gather little bits of twigs, leaves, and berries for bouquets.

I love to see the leaves starting to change.

Other little reminders, too.

And look at these strange, beautiful flowers I found pushing up through the pine needles!

I don't feel quite so chilly when I'm distracted by these things!

I'm doing quite a bit of fall baking.  I found an amazing apple cake recipe last week and have made it multiple times in various forms.  

Bundt cake.

Mini bundts.


Now, I don't traditionally like apple cake.  I find it disconcerting to bite into a soft bit of cake and come across a chewy - but usually hard - morsel of apple.  I have to admit that I love this recipe, though.  It's become one of my favorites!  The apple slices are incredibly tender and flavorful, the cake is spicy, and the browned butter frosting takes it way, way over the top.  It is best in its traditional bundt or mini bundt form.  The batter is incredibly thick, so the cupcakes didn't rise, but spread, and sank in the center.  I thinned out the frosting a bit and piped a healthy amount on top to hide the sinkhole, but the cupcakes are so dense and sticky...I'm going back to the bundt.  Very soon.   The original recipe is here, at the Cookies and Cups website.  Now, because I can't leave well enough alone, I added a cup of cinnamon chips and additional spices (1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of cardamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg) to the cake batter.  I also decreased the powdered sugar in the frosting by a half cup to let the taste of the browned butter really shine through.  You really, really need to try this recipe.  It's amazing.

I've been knitting, too.  I finished one project...

...and am starting on a pair of those fingerless gloves I've been needing.  I also pulled out an old handknit, the first sweater I ever made for myself.

Here's the detail:

This sweater was a major splurge for me.  I had the yarn custom dyed in England because I wanted a cheerful minty-green and white sweater for winter and early spring.  Sigh...isn't it beautiful?

The sweater itself is very light, with three quarter-length sleeves.  It was an easy stockinette knit and didn't take too long, even with fingering-weight yarn.

I decided to make it a small sweater for my goal weight.  I was sad to fold it up and put it away in 2011, but I was so happy to unwrap it recently and wear it around.  I'm still 15 - 20 pounds away from goal, but I think the sweater will still fit then.  Hooray for handknit sweaters!

Have a great week!