Monday, November 28, 2011

Alton Brown is my hero...

I surprised myself twice in the last few days. First, when I bought cocoa mix on Black Friday, since other than 2 exceptions (caramel apple spice and pumpkin spice latte, both from Starbucks) I don't like hot drinks. Second, when I found the perfect recipe to use said cocoa, since I knew I wouldn't drink it: brownies! I don't like brownies either.

Is it shark week?

The cocoa powder I bought is s'mores flavored - World Market had it and peppermint cocoa on sale (buy one, get one free) and both sounded good for some reason. Unfortunately they were out of the peppermint so I picked up 2 s'mores.

All the way home I thought about how I could use this cocoa powder in a baked good:  something neutral that would taste good with the added s'mores flavor, but something that needed cocoa powder. That seemed like a tall order when I Googled 'recipes using cocoa,' which is like Googling 'bugs' and expecting useable results.

Speaking of bugs, I'm OD'ing on nostalgia - you can't just walk into a room and say BUGS:

Most of the recipes were cakes, and I'm definitely not a chocolate cake fan so I kept looking. Then my eyes stumbled upon this Alton Brown cocoa brownie recipe - it has no other major flavor that would compete with the s'mores and only made an 8x8 pan of brownies rather than a huge cake that we don't need sitting around the house - you know?

Brownies it is.

Tonight, in a true fit of procrastination (I should be reading a book about feminism) I decided to make my s'mores cocoa brownies. Here's the recipe:
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar, sifted
  • 1 cup brown sugar, sifted
  • 8 ounces melted butter
  • 11/4 cups cocoa, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions, from the Food Network website:
  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square pan.
  • In a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs at medium speed until fluffy and light yellow. Add both sugars. Add remaining ingredients, and mix to combine.

  • Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8-inch square pan and bake for 45 minutes.

  • Check for doneness with the tried-and-true toothpick method: a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out clean - it took mine about 75 minutes to be thoroughly solid.
  • When it's done, remove to a rack to cool. Resist the temptation to cut into it until it's mostly cool.
Here they are all cooled off (actually chilled for a couple days):

Still not a brownie fan, but these did satisfy a craving ;)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fall Bucket List: Bonus project inspired by Pinterest

I was planning to include this project on my winter bucket list - because the fall one was so fun! - but I realized that if I waited until it was technically winter to make it, it would be the most pointless holiday gift in the world, since winter starts a few days before Christmas! Duh, Kristen.

I got the idea from Pinterest, naturally, and looks like this:

It is a wedding invitation that has been cut into strips, curled, and stuffed into a clear glass ball ornament. So cute, right?

Dave's brother recently got married - as in 2 months ago - so we thought this would be a wonderful gift to commemorate their first Christmas as a married couple. It's so sentimental!

We used both their invitation and response card and got to work!

I used my 4x6 Creative Memories paper trimmer to cut both pieces into strips, each about 1/3 inch wide. I can't say I measured each piece, and the important part is to get the lines of text, so whatever size works for you, go for it!

Once our strips were cut, Dave wrapped each one around a pen to curl it...

...and then we stuffed them into the ornament:

Originally we thought we could strategically place certain pieces so the most important ones were on the outside, but that's way too Type A for this project since the pieces fall where they want. Unless you have experience with inserting ships into bottles without breaking or maiming them, 'good enough' is going to have to do. Eventually we realized that it isn't the specific words that make this sentimental, it's the act of bottling or containing this sentimental item and its memories -mushy? yes.

Once all the pieces were in - and we ended up with a bunch of strips without text that just wouldn't fit - we used a pen to try and move some pieces around to make sure the whole ornament was full.

The finishing touch was the layered ribbon we added so they can hang it from their tree. Their colors were brown and gold, so we went with that theme:


How cool!?! Hope they like it :) Congratulations Rich and Cindy! Also, hope you don't read my blog, because I just SPOILED your Christmas present! ;)

PS - I had to share this picture - do you see the eye staring at you from inside the ornament? CREEPY! We need to call Zak Bagans to come check out our house, pretty sure it's haunted... :)

Fall Bucket List: Complete a project inspired by Pinterest

The Fall Bucket List is winding there is only 1 item remaining: read a non-textbook book. Piece of cake! But first, let's talk about Pinterest-y projects.

I actually over-achieved on this one and completed two projects inspired by Pinterest! It's amazing - stay tuned for project number 2! Not that kind of number 2. Dirty.

The first project is inspired by this project:

I love that fact that she painted them both white and relied on paper to increase the level of festive! I ran to Lowe's to pick up some cheap terra cotta pots and saucers in various sizes that looked proportional - this was not very scientific, just what looked good to me while standing there in the garden center...

I think these 4 pieces might have cost $7? That could be a total lie, but I think it sounds right. Anyways, then I went to Hobby Lobby to pick up some Gorilla Glue and spray paint. Apparently this stuff is the go-to glue for crafters and DIY'ers, which makes me feel bad for Aleene, who used to be the queen of the craft glue jungle.

See what I did there? Gorilla Glue => Queen of the Jungle? No? Ok, moving on...

I wiped down the saucers where I intended to glue the pot to moisten it - this was recommended on the glue bottle, to maximize the effectiveness of the adhesive:

Then I glued the pieces together and stacked books on top to make sure they sealed firmly...
I believe a person's book collection gives you a peek into their soul. What do you infer about me from this shot?

...but didn't finish reading the directions. You might notice in the next photo that the glue expanded. A lot. When I went back to the instructions on the bottle to find out why, I noticed that it clearly said to be conservative with the glue because it may expand up to four times its original size while drying. Oops...luckily it didn't cause a problem, just makes the seams between the pot and sauce look less clean. Lesson learned.

Here's the paint I bought - white primer, dover white gloss paint, and a clear sealer to protect the paint surface:

And a whole shitload of coats later, here's the cake stand! What happened tot he little one? Well, this spray paint novice thought the little white plastic piece in the nozzle was just there to make sure no paint accidentally sprayed at the store or in a truck, so I pulled it out before painting. Yeah, DON'T do that! That little, ittybitty piece is VITALLY important!

So long little cake stand - RIP.

But your big brother looks fabulous! I think we'll use him this weekend to display a bowl of pumpkin dip and some ginger snaps/Nilla wafers at our faux Thanksgiving dinner with friends - all dressed up with a fally napkin or piece of scrapbook paper...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fall Bucket List: James Madison's Montpelier

Remember this post, where I talked about how Facebook could be used for good rather than evil? Well I'm back with the next installment. Except it's really more of the same: more free stuff! Wahoo!

The day of the Great Earthquake of 2011 (is that title dramatic enough? I can't decide...), James Madison's Montpelier's Facebook page used their routine Tuesday Trivia game to pose an earthquake-related question:

To be honest, I didn't know who said it but my gut told me that since the page was owned by curators at James Madison's family home and it was said during his lifetime, he probably said it. Then I Googled it to be sure. Yep, James Madison said it...and I won 2 free admission tickets to tour Montpelier - score!

So on a beautiful fall weekend when I had no major school deliverables, Dave and I schlepped up to Orange County to tour JMad's home. On the way we made a pit stop at a unusually busy gas station off 64 - based on the VT stickers/facepaint/attire, I assumed this is a main intersection on the route between Richmond and Blacksburg? It was Tech's Homecoming weekend, so I'm going with that. The parking lot beamed with Hokie pride...except in our car, since Dave and I thought it would be festive to wear JMU shirts since we were visiting the home of the namesake of our alma mater. We stood out during that pit stop, for sure! At one point I asked Dave "We're in enemy territory...are we safe?" Haha

Thankfully we made it out alive, with drinks in hand, and continued our journey. When we arrived at the gatehouse, the security guard asked if we needed tickets, so I told her we already had them. She needed to make sure I was telling the truth, so she asked to see them and then gleefully exclaimed "OH - Duke (the guy in the back)! We have contest winners! They're famous!" Haha - she was goofy!

She rolled out the red carpet for us handed us some maps and gave us directions to the visitors' center and sent us on our way :) The loooooong drive up to the house provides ample opportunity for photo keepsakes like this one:

Once in the gift shop, we killed some time until the next tour started by perusing the gift shop. I saw a few books I wanted to buy (surprised?) and we found a pewter ornament of the house that we wanted to pick up for our JMU Christmas tree. We waited until after the tour to buy stuff so we wouldn't have to carry anything around...

After a brief movie explaining the phases of construction on the home and the political rise of James Madison, we were off on a short walk to the house:

Only a few rooms are furnished and decorated as they would have been while the Madisons lived there because it had owners who renovated it through the years. Most rooms were empty, some were in progress with open walls and all so we could see how the house was constructed, but the rooms that were set up how the Madisons would/may have had them were awesome! The wallpaper was very ornate and they had white noise playing in the background while the guide was talking, so we could hear the clanking of dishes in the dining room during one of Dolley's dinner parties, and card games going on in the parlor room. It's the little details that make something like this worth it. And I know I'm a dork for having thought about that...I'm ok with that.

No photography was allowed inside, but I snuck this my class that week we talked about Aristotle and his views on government and education, so this quote on the wall in Madison's study, where he once spent a winter reading over 400 books to research the best kind of government should be established in America, really struck me:

Helped me make the connection between ancient government systems and ours, and that although they are very different, at their core they have the same goal. The tour ended on a rooftop terrace overlooking the property. The Madisons frequently held parties on the terrace...if I lived there, this would be how I started each and every day. Check out this view of the Blue Ridge Mountains:

We took a walk around the backyard and gardens on the scenic route back to the visitors' center, and found this bronze statue of James and Dolley hanging out in the backyard... we posed with them:

The garden wasn't looking too festive since it's fall, but this sleepy kitty caught my eye... did this sundial:
2:30, in case you were wondering :)

We exited through the gift shop, after picking up our ornament. I didn't buy any books! Can you believe it? But I did order 2 from my phone in the car on the way home. Dork.