Thursday, December 30, 2010

Another staycation project: the pantry!

Pretty much everything in the house has been neglected for the last 2 years while I was finishing my degree.  You saw how bad the gift wrapping closet got - wait until you see the pantry!  I mentioned my pathetically-overstocked-but-incredibly-underused pantry the other day while making honey Nutella Rice Krispie treats, so now it's time to show you.  Are you ready?  Ok, here goes:  There's flour on one shelf, sugar on another, peanut butter at both ends of the 2nd shelf, sideways cereal boxes, and way too many small appliances in there.  Why, oh why?  Don't even get me started on the spice door.  I can't even tackle that because it requires more brain cells than I'm willing to devote today.

To alleviate the worry of flour or sugar falling on my face every time I open the small cabinet above the stove, I wanted to move those big tubs to the pantry, but where?  Every square inch is used, ineffectively.  So the first thing I did was take out the bread maker and ice cream maker and put them in the garage.  I don't want to get rid of them because I use them, but I don't use them enough to need them in the kitchen all the time.  Then I moved the trash bags to the floor - that, along with taking grilling boards and cleaner out to the deck box cleared about half of a shelf.  Score!  Then I started trashing and sorting.

Expired things went in the trash.  Soon-to-expire-but-haven't-been-eaten-since-Christmas-2006 went in the trash.  Things I bought on a whim (probably hungry while grocery shopping) went in the trash.  Then I consolidated all the pasta boxes into my new pretty glass jars from Ikea!  

I just love the way that looks.  I'm a nerd, I know.  Moving on...then I just made sense of all the mess.  I organzied all the cans and jars in nice little rows.  Then I added the flour and sugar containers on my new 'baking' shelf.  I took out all the things we rarely use, like vinegar, molasses, and small baking stuff like baking soda/powder, cocoa powder, Pam, and vegetable oil and put all that in the litle now-vacant cabinet above the stove.  Can we talk about the vegetable oil for a sec?
None of it is expired.  Only 2 of them are open.  Why?  I think I must buy it when I'm planning a baking project, without checking the cabinet first to see if I have it, but this is pathetic.  The good news is that I won't have to buy any until 9/2013 when the last one expires, unless I naturally use it all before then, which I can't see happening :)

Here's the new and improved small cabinet, full of baking supplies.  It's not really that full; I used the 'pull everything to the front to make the shelf look more full' method used during my days at Target.  

...and here's the new and improved pantry:

It really doesn't look that different from that angle - here's a better view:

Now when I want a Nutella and banana sammich, I knew just where to reach to get my Nutella :)  Hopefully this layout will last!  Also, here's hoping a method for organizing those spices will come to me in my sleep tonight!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gift wrapping closet

The armoire that houses all of my gift wrapping supplies used to have a system, but it's been slowly getting messier and messier...

After sifting through the mess to find supplies to wrap Christmas gifts last week, I was tired of the mess and started thinking of ways to clean it up.  Naturally, Ikea was my first thought but since I was just there a few weeks ago and it's soooooooooooo far away, I tried to find other options, both at online retailers and local stores like Bed Bath and Beyond, Lowe's, Target, and such.  No luck.

Everybody sells the hanging sweater organizers, but no one (except Ikea) sells bins that are the right size to fit into the cubbies so you can use them for storing things you want out of sight - except for this pastel version, which made me want to throw up:

I gave up after searching through website after website, knowing that if I just typed in and clicked US I'd be that much closer to finding the perfect storage solution.  So that's just what I did.

This is why I love Ikea - they tell you which bins/baskets fit in each of their larger storage pieces:
Why don't more stores do this?

Anyways, when I was there last time, I picked up 2 sets of black CD boxes to organize some of Dave's shenanigans in the office, like printer cartridges, memory cards, tapes for our camcorder, etc. - little stuff that I don't like sitting out.

I thought these would be perfect for the gift wrapping supplies, but at 6x6 they are a bit small to fit everything.  I remembered seeing a 12x12 box in the same Kassett line of products, which is too big, but I couldn't remember other options, so I searched around to see what other sizes they sell.

I found these:

They are 7x11, which sounded perfect, but when I measured the organizer I already had in the armoire, I found that it was 10 1/2 inches wide, so these wouldn't fit :(

Luckily, Ikea sells one that is a perfect match to these boxes!  They saw me coming!
Sweet!  Monday morning I decided to get up early and head up to Ikea!  But I stopped on the way to have lunch with my Bonnie at VA Deli!  It's the best lunch spot in Fredericksburg, in my opinion.  It's in the heart of old town Fred, and they have the best chicken salad!

Once I got there, I tried not to look at everything because I knew I'd end up with a car full of stuff to bring home.  I did get some glass jars for pantry storage - I hate that pasta sits in a cardboard box with glue drippings until I use it.  Blech.  So I'm going to start storing it in glass jars, along with teabags, cereal, and other things - I'm not going crazy buying a ton of glass jars until I know that I'll use them, to avoid yard saleing them if we don't use them.  OH, and this guy jumped into my cart:
 I'm not afraid to say it, I still sleep with a stuffed animal.  How cute is he?

The hanging organizer was only $5.99 and I bought 2 sets of the 2-pack boxes at $5.99 each - so the whole closet organization project only cost me $18...and it made such a difference!

As soon as I got home I got to work.  I pulled everything out of the closet and put it into 4 categories, labeling each box with my Dymo:
  • Mailing supplies
  • Tags and tools (like scissors, scotch tape, wrapping paper cutter, etc.)
  • Tissue Paper
  • Small boxes

I also labeled 2 hanging bins (already owned) for medium boxes and gift bags.

Then I put everything back into the closet!  Here is a before/after shot of the hanging organizer side:
...and the wrapping paper side:

What can I organize now?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Honey Nutella Rice Krispie Treats

Cupcake Project posted a recipe for honey Nutella Rice Krispie treats a few days ago - doesn't it sound tasty?  I showed Dave and his eyes got big, so when I went shopping for my cupcake supplies and Christmas pies I picked up a box of Rice Krispies.  We already had honey and Nutella in our pathetically-overstocked-but-incredibly-underused pantry.

Here's the recipe (which we doubled):
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup Nutella
  • 4 cups Rice Krispies
That's it.  3 ingredients.  Stef (author of the blog) didn't actually use Nutella or Rice Krispie treats - she went for higher-end varieties of each, so substitute as you wish.

Here's how you make them - add honey and Nutella to a microwaveable bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.  Stir to combine them - if they're not ready, put them back in the microwave for 10 seconds at a time.  

I stopped microwaving mine when it was the consistency of melted chocolate morsels.  

Then I added my Rice Krispies and stirred it all together. 

I transferred it to a 9x13 glass baking dish and put it in the fridge to chill - when they've cooled down we'll cut them into squares and try them!

EDIT:  They are fantastic!  It's like a chocolate Rice Krispie treat - next time I'd do more Nutella and less honey, maybe a 3 to 2 ratio instead of 1:1:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

YES!!! Richmond Typography Map is here!

At the beginning of December, Blue Elephant posted this picture on their Facebook page.  They had me at typography.

How nerdy and awesome is this?  I immediately told Dave I would LOVE to find this under the tree from Santa, but that I didn't know when they'd be available for purchase.  I hoped they'd be out before Christmas, but the closest thing to a time frame I could get was "a few weeks," so I tried not to get my hopes up.

Then last week, I was googling around to see if any other merchants had it in stock, and found a blog on the website of a local design firm, studioSavvy, saying it was available!  YES!!!  I guess the shriek I let out was a big enough hint for Dave to get online and snatch one up before the first 250 signed and numbered prints were gone!  Nice job, buddy!

It arrived just the other day and has been taunting me from inside its mailing tube under the tree ever since.  I got to open it Christmas Eve, and it is more awesome than I expected.

I have the perfect place for this in the foyer at the top of the stairs, but I won't bore anyone with the whys and hows for now...until I get it framed!

Vintage NYC subway sign

Last weekend I took a solo trip to Williamsburg.  I took my last final that morning and was free from all deadlines, projects, and homework, so I decided to head east  and spend the day with myself, and by myself.  Hanging out with people is loads of fun, but alone time is fun too :)

One of my first stops was the world's best TJMaxx at Monticello Marketplace.  I'm not sure why I'm giving this TJMaxx the title of world's best, but every time I go there, they have such awesome stuff!  Unique finds that I've never seen at other stores.  Maybe I just lucky, but who knows.

This time I found a sweet art piece that would be perfect in the home of any NYC resident or lover.  It was a wrapped canvas print of a vintage subway sign.  Even though I've never been to NYC [not because I haven't been invited - Mo, we'll get there soon! :)], I gasped when I saw it.  I have seen pieces like this online for hundreds of dollars - but this one was just $59.99!  What a deal!!

The print was very similar to the pair pictured below, which hail from Restoration Hardware and sell for $795!

I left it at the store since I obviously couldn't use it, no matter how awesome it was, but if anyone out there has ties or a love for NYC, needs some vintage decor, and has approximately 8 square feet of free wall space, this is the piece for you!

After visiting Target (of course) across the way in the same shopping center, I walked around to some of the Mom&Pop stores.  Stamp 'n Memories caught my eye because it looked like a scrapbook store, and I had been worrying about where I'd be able to find Virginia or Richmond scrapbook items since Memories Galore recently closed.  I was in luck!  They had a whole section of local items, and I picked up a few :)

The rest of the day was spent at the outlets and the General Store buying Christmas presents and in Colonial Williamsburg just walking around and relaxing.  I went to the W&M bookstore to pick up something and 3 people asked me if I worked there.  I was wearing my JMU sweatshirt that day - and to answer all 3 of these people I said, "I think they'd fire me for wearing a JMU sweatshirt to work here - I'm in enemy territory."  I don't think they got it.  I thought it was funny.

My favorite purchase of the day?  This Abbey Road sign for Dave from the General Store - he just opened it and I think he loves it :)

Not very Christmas-y, but yummy!

You'd think after all that baking yesterday I wouldn't want to step foot in my kitchen today.  But the opposite is true.  I couldn't wait to get in there today and bake something, although it started to feel like the need to check something off my to-do list rather than a fun, baking experiment.  I have some Andes and peppermint morsels, and want to make the cookies from the recipe on the bag, but since Dave's not a fan of chocolate and mint, both of those were out.  I'm not making the just for me - maybe I'll make some next weekend so I can share them with coworkers...

Once the mint option was out, I decided to make peanut butter kiss cookies.  These are my favorite cookie, but I don't make them often.  That way, they're a treat when I do make them.  So good!

The plan for the rest of the day is making pies for tomorrow, getting Chinese takeout for dinner, and opening our presents to each other.  Tomorrow is Christmas at Dave's parents' house!  Hope there's either a puzzle or a game of parcheesi in my future!

My first paying cupcake gig (sorta)

A coworker asked me to bake some cupcakes for his Christmas Eve family dinner.  We went back and forth, suggesting flavors for days, and when my manager got me this Cupcakes and Other Goodies recipe book for Christmas and we looked through it, we made the final decision: 

  • Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting
  • Cookies and cream with vanilla buttercream and crushed Oreos on top
  • Peanut butter cup (vanilla cupcake with a surprise peanut butter cup in the middle) with peanut butter buttercream and crushed Reese's peanut butter cups on top.

He paid for all the ingredients, so all I had to do was execute.  Phew, 3 dozen cupcakes, 3 different flavors!  I'm tired just thinking about it.  It was fun...and messy.  Here are the recipes and results.

Carrot cake cupcakes:
Cream Cheese Frosting:

Vanilla cupcakes (just drop the Reese's PB cup in the dough and it will bake around it):
Peanut butter buttercream:

Cookies and cream cupcakes:  from Cupcakes and Other Goodies recipe book
Vanilla buttercream:

Once they were all frosted and ready to go, I wanted to be goofy and plate them like they do on Cupcake Wars:

Since I baked more than a dozen of each in case of errors or baking irregularities, there were extras that were boxed up in these cute little boxes Dave got me.  He was sweet to get them for me to use for Scott's cupakes, but there was only enough space for 1 dozen cupcakes, not 3.
The ones we tasted were awesome, but there ended up only being 12 carrot cake ones, so I didn't get to taste them.  Hope they're yummy!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It was my birthday.

This month has flown by - full of birthdays, visits, baking, and work!  I'm thankful my Christmas vacation officially started at 2pm today, and my team from work took off a little early to see "True Grit," with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin.  Wow, thank you, and yum.  I was hoping to see more of drool-worthy Josh, but he was only in a couple scenes.  It was an excellent movie - I've never seen the original, but as soon as I got home, I put it in our Netflix queue.  Didn't think I liked Westerns, but if they're all this good, I'm in!

But back to December happenings...first, my mom came to visit for my sister-in-law's baby shower, and while she was here, we had a birthday celebration at Linda's to celebrate Nate's, Dave's, and my birthdays (is that grammatically correct?).  I was hoping we'd celebrate just Nate's birthday since he always has to share his birthday with us - especially since we were having another celebration for all 3 of us with our friends the next weekend, but Linda was so nice to make a separate birthday cake for Dave and me!  A german chocolate cake.  Yum.  She also made us delicious chicken alfredo.  Such a good cook!

Since my mom was here until early Tuesday morning, that meant I could spend my birthday with her!  I haven't been able to do that since they moved to Florida, so it was so nice having the day off to spend shopping and having lunch with my mom.  People might take simple things like that for granted if they see their moms all the time, but it was a treat for me.  I got most of my Christmas shopping done that day, as did she, and we had a yummy lunch at Firebirds.  She'd heard some buzz about it on Facebook and wanted to check it out since they don't have one anywhere near Florida.

The next celebration was the following Saturday night, planned by Bonnie and hosted by Joe and Sharon.  Bonnie suggested we get a shitload of Chinese food and everybody could eat what they want.  The "Gilmore girls" did it all the time, but I'd never considered that option in real life.  Apparently it was one of Dave's lifelong dreams - well, now he can check that off his list.  I suggested we base the decor on a funny episode of "The Office," when Dwight K Schrute and Jim are in charge of planning Kelly's last-minute-because-everyone-forgot birthday party.

Bonnie found gray and black balloons, and we blew them up just a little and tied some of them to white streamers, but just left them on the table rather than hang them up, in true Dwight scrooge fashion.  Awesome.  

We hung the sign I made :

And once all the Chinese food was gone, we had some cake:
I definitely won't be selling cakes in my bakery, but it worked for the theme 
of putting little to no effort into a rushed party.  :)

By the way, this is the inspiration for the cake, which looks much better.  You win some, you lose some...

Here are the birthday kids!

and an outtake:

After dinner and opening gifts, the girls played Scattergories and the boys played poker, as usual!  

After a while, I fell asleep and, as if we were at a 7th grade slumber party, that meant I needed to be harassed.  Really, boys?  

We're all another year older, but will always be 19 in our minds, I guess :)