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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Basil Infused Vodka

Basil = Summer time. It's totally true.It's not quite summer time yet, but close. I bought a bunch of fresh basil the super market, as it's still a bit too early to hit up the farmers market for some. Or my neighbor Jamie, who I am sure will have some I can steal this summer like last. (won't you lend me some extra?) Right now my bunch of basil leaves are sitting in a window sill in a jar of water. They are much happier that way than they would be in my fridge. I had a little project in mind.

A vodka project. Yes. Which is what led me to go down to the liquor store at 9:30am yesterday (kind of amazing there is a liquor store in my neighborhood that opens that early, don't you think?) I needed some vodka, and a little rum for a rum-caramel banana bread pudding (what  mouthful- delicious though! Post coming soon).

I wanted to make some basil-infused vodka. It requires some patience, it needs several weeks to pick up that basil-y summer-y flavor. I can be patient.

I probably should have picked up a nice bottle of expensive, high quality vodka. But, I'm not that kind of girl. You could give me a glass of rubbing alcohol and tell me it was the good stuff and I am quite sure I would believe you. And I would probably drink it and pretend to enjoy it. Because I want people to think I have good taste. Now you know the truth about me. Please no one take advantage of this and attempt to feed me rubbing alcohol, OK? Thanks.

Easy as anything:

Fresh basil, a mason jar, cheap vodka


Then just seal it up, and put it somewhere dark.

That's pretty dark.

Now just wait a couple weeks (I have read different sources that say anything from 3 days to 5 weeks, so I am going to check on it after a week and make the call one way or the other), giving it a shake periodically. I'll let you guys know how it turns out. Any suggestions for basil infused cocktails when the time comes?

UPDATE: project "basil, meet vodka" was a success. I strained out the basil leaves the other night, and concocted a summery drink that was pretty darn yummy (if I do say so myself). Post coming as soon as I get my new laptop charger in the mail...technology problems abound so far this month.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Copy-cat Hack

Have you seen all the great two-toned Ikea Rast dressers that have been all over design blogs recently? The Ikea Rast, a little unfinished pine dresser that sells for only $29 (down from $39 last year), comes ready for staining/painting and creativity. Don't they just look so much more sophisticated with a bit of white paint and some dark stain?

My original idea for this project wasn't to just reproduce this two toned look, even though I liked it. A while back I bought this stencil  planning to use it to DIY some patterned curtains with paint. I ended up buying plain gray curtains instead, and liked their subtlety after I started adding more patterned and colorful elements into my living room. So the stencil sat in my room unused.

When I bought this little Rast dresser (off craigslist, and walked it home similarly to how I got my kitchenaid mixer recently) I was planning to stain the outside a rich deep walnut or esspresso color, and paint the drawers with a white background, and then a paint on the pattern from my stencil in a contrasting color.

Little side table make over

A few weeks ago I picked up a little side table at a local thrift store for around $5. And made my friend Brooklyn carry it home for me. To be fair, I would have carried it, but I was already carrying a bentwood chair and a big drum shade.

Yes, we stopped a girl walking down the street and asked her to take our picture. Turns out she was on her way to the same store.

Both the little table and the lamp shade were items I picked up for an area of my living room I am currently trying to improve.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Love Craigslist

I finally got myself a Kitchenaid mixer yesterday, glory be to Craigslist.

I had been trying to track one down for so long, but couldn't quite justify the price tag of buying one new.  Luckily, as Kitchenaid mixers are huge, heavy, expensive, and not often used by people who don't do much baking, it happens fairly often that they appear on craigslist with an ad that sounds something like this: "I got this mixer as a wedding present, it's great! But I never use it, can't lift it, and it won't fit in my kitchen."

The one I finally ended up with has been used all of 3 times, and I got to test it out before buying it. The seller included all of the attachments she had, and the original recipe book. The model is not the popular Artisan, but the Classic, which is a little less expensive and lower in wattage. However, having studied the reviews I feel certain the Classic is just what I need. It wasn't free, of course, but it was a lot less than I would have to pay for a new one, plus located not that far from my house.

I was truly holding my breathe and thinking it was too good to be true when the seller responded to my email. Whenever one was listed in my area I would send an email, oh so hopeful that it might be mine. But every time, no response. But yesterday, finally, it all worked out. And, since the apartment I would have to go to to pick it up was only 2 miles from my house, I could walk there, and then take the train back most of the way with the new mixer in hand.

This is how I managed to get lost in Brighton carrying a 35 lb kitchen appliance. That thing is crazy heavy, and I was pretty near panic mode because I couldn't find my way to the T and my arms were screaming with strain. The only person around was an older Asian woman gathering bottles and cans out of people's trash. I asked her how to get back to Beacon street and she gave me the blankest of blank stares. I walked a little bit further, finally saw a street name that I recognized and knew would get me back to Beacon, and was so happy I think I may have squealed. Then I saw the most adorable wooden sewing table just begging to be refinished and made awesome, as well as several vintage-y suit cases out on the sidewalk. Oh how i wished I had more arms! Or a vehicle I suppose. Sadly, I only have two arms, and the weight of the mixer was enough to quickly dissuade me from even attempting to carry anything else as well.

Once I reached Beacon Street, I could see there was a train approaching, and in order to make it in time, I would have to run. Let me tell you, running while carrying a rather hefty mixer is no pretty sight.

But no matter, I have my mixer now! And it is lovely. And this weekend I will have to test it out for real and make something delicious. 

I do have my old sunbeam mixer still, it works decently, but doesn't have the power to mix thicker batters without my having to rotate the bowl manually. It is great for whipping heavy cream or egg whites, and with just a bit of attention does other jobs fine. I have just been spoiled from using a more powerful machine in all of the baking courses I have taken.  If anyone local wants the sunbeam, let me know, it's all yours.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Done with something!

I completed my first college course! Took me six years post high school to do it, but I am happy with myself. Now I have two sweet weeks before my intensive summer courses start, during which I have that type of vacation where you actually work full time and are just as busy as usual. I feel like I am living some kind of double life.

I want to celebrate my accomplishment, though I know to many it probably doesn't seem very impressive. Especially living in a college-centric area like Boston, it's easy to feel never-good-enough when it comes to academic accomplishments. But really what it is is a start. And so far the thing that is starting is good. And I am starting to think seriously about what schools I might like to transfer to in a year or so. In general, I am striving to learn not to compare myself and my own progress to others, but only to do the best I can, and make choices that are best for me.

I also like to remind myself that I no longer have to be on the other side of the city before 7am two days a week, as after this semester I am altering my work hours a bit so I won't have to take classes so early before a full work day. Which is pretty sweet, since without a car it meant leaving the house around 5:30am, and it was usually still dark out.

In summary,

Where I used to be at 5:35am on Tuesdays and Thursdays:

Where I will be now:
Ok, I didn't work as hard on the second sketch...That's not even what my bed looks like.

(yes, I drew you guys some pictures on notepad paper so this post wouldn't seem too wordy. I know the pictures are what it's all about)

I would like to bake something to eat to celebrate this first step, but I have been trying to be more diet conscious recently- and my celebration food tends to be super rich cakes, whole batches of cookies and the like. Also, I think my roommates are near giving me an intervention for making too many cookies all the time when some of them are trying to diet! Or maybe I would go out and have a fancy drink somewhere special, but I have been trying to save money, and my celebration drinks tend to turn out quite expensive! Any ideas for other fun ways to celebrate this one small step? Also, any accomplishments (small or large!) you guys have been celebrating lately?

Also, just a head's up, I have a few projects I am holding off on posting...because my laptop doesn't work at the moment. Hopefully all it needs is a new battery, which is on its way to me now. But someday soon, expect tales of a disastrous attempt to change out a ceiling fan, a side table painted a bright fun color, my first attempt at sewing a chair slipcover, and my own version of this popular IKEA Rast hack.  

Hope everyone is enjoying their rainy Tuesday! What are you celebrating?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

New blog header

Here is where I admit that I spent the morning taking photos of myself with the timer on my camera, wearing an apron, and standing next to my kitchen table pretending to cook. Because I am classy like that. It was really hard to figure out the timer.

I didn't get there in time...

I felt like Vanna White.

I really needed something to do with my hands.

So I made a sign to hold.

Sometimes I blinked.

Getting better at this.

In the end I cropped my face out...too weird?
Anyway, it may just be a temporary change, I will repeat the photo shoot with a better camera perhaps, and help from a photoshop savvy friend so the sign is more readable. Coloring the sign was fun. It felt like grade school. I used a crayon to make the word APRON purple.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bread and Herb Butter

I love bread and butter. I run into trouble when I go to restaurants that start you off with a big bowl of warm bread and some pats of butter- I eat it all until I am actually not hungry for what I ordered. It's usually worth it. I pretend not to know how little nutritional value a thing like bread and butter has. It's such a comfort food, I can tell even if it doesn't do much for my body (ok, anything) it is at least nourishing in another way. I sit on the couch with a magazine and eat some slices of french bread with butter and get crumbs everywhere and get grease on the corners of the magazine pages. I snack on some toasted sourdough slathered in butter and sprinkled with coarse salt at my desk while I study for a final or browse blogs. Tiny bread crumbs get in between the keys of my computer, causing the N key to require an extra hard push to work. It's all fine by me, I don't mind.

I was given a pot of thyme, oregano and rosemary from my mother on my birthday. I went out and bought a second one, too, and now they live on the sunniest windowsill in my living room. I remember to water them. I fuss over whether I should open the window for them, or if they get enough sun. I haven't clipped any yet.

Angleman's Syndrome Foundation Walk

I want to take a moment to post about something important to me and my family, and to share with you an experience I had last year, and am excited to have again this month. I got to walk in the Angelman Syndrome Foundation (ASF) Boston area fundraiser walk. According the ASF: "Angelman Syndrome (AS) is a neuro-genetic disorder that occurs in 1 in 15,000 live births. AS is often misdiagnosed as cerebral palsy or autism. Characteristics of AS include; developmental delay, lack of speech, seizures, and walking and balance disorders. Individuals with Angelman Syndrome will require life-long care."

My cousin Stacy, whose 3 children all have AS, flew into Boston with her family all the way from Washington State. They came in because for the past few years they have been participating in a study based out of Boston's Children's Hospital, and luckily both this year and last (which was actually the first year this walk existed in Boston) they were able to line up their trip with the date of the ASF walk.

This year will be the 2nd Annual Boston Walk, so I am excited to see if the turn out is even better than last year. You can read more about Stacy's family and the walk here at her ASF walk fundraising page.

Here is a glimpse at our experience last year:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Perfect Sunday- and how to a make a red wine, onion and blue cheese tart

I just had a birthday. A couple weeks ago, actually. It was delicious. I decided instead of throwing a big shindig like I sometimes do, which for me can lead to feeling stressed out and overwhelmed and can take on a bit of "must have fun" pressure, I actually just wanted to create my ideal Sunday (since my birthday fell on a Sunday this year) and not even really think of it as a birthday celebration. Luckily for me, I have a close (and yet so far away) friend from Australia who was slated to visit over the week of my birthday this year. If I could create an ideal Sunday it would definitely include having her around! (If you see her, won't you tell her to move to Boston?)

Other things my ideal Sunday would include?
  •  waking up early
  • doing a bit of organizing around the house (is it strange that this is truly one of my favorite activities?)
  • having a leisurely breakfast, either at home or at a diner
  • doing a little bit of baking in the morning- in this case a pie crust which I popped in the fridge to chill during the course of the day
  • stopping in for a fruit smoothie at a favorite local place
  • on the way to....attending a matinee of a new show at a local theater
  • and then spending the evening sipping wine with a couple friends, nibbling on cheese, and baking off a few tarts
Doesn't that sound perfect? OK, I understand that not everyone has the same love I do for organizing, or waking up early, or even making pie crusts. But to me? Bliss.

And what was that baking that I did?

Around the net...things I've enjoyed this week

Here are a few things I have seen online recently that made me smile or laugh...

1. Artist John Kascht gives some insight into his creative process, as he draws a caricature of Conan O'Brien. I love seeing other artists' processes!

2. I try to never give parenting advice, as I am not a parent, but I think I have some advice for the writer of this craigslist ad... Basically, I think he is missing something.

3. Popping a giant water balloon is way cooler in slow motion, in the same way that so many things are cooler in slow motion.

4. Because I love artist Mary Englebriet, it was awesome to get to see inside her home. To be honest I see so much more that relates to her art work and artistic point of view in the decor of her newer house than in her last- those bright pops of yellow and orange slay me.

5. As usual I adore the new spontaneous musical from Improv everywhere- Check it out!

6. One of my very favorite food bloggers to read, Joy from Joy The Baker, just posted some pretty sweet advice for a reader who is turning 21. I think this advice is great no matter your age.

Also, on a slightly separate note, a close friend of mine has started a new blog. He is a great musician and I hope he posts some of his music there. I love how our friendship has lasted and evolved over the years, we are so different in some ways, but really have a meaningful friendship. The biggest difference between us being that we have different religious views, he is in his 2nd year at Seminary in the process of becoming an Anglican priest, and I try not to talk about religion or politics here, but I'll just say I am not involved with organized religion, so it is very interesting to share our views and learn that you can believe very different things, but it doesn't have to hinder how you relate to each other. He is blogging about his studies, music and life in general, stop by and pay him a visit if you are curious. 

He sent me this song several months ago that I just love.

Oatmeal cookies for my mom

Mother's day was this weekend, and so I surprised my mother with one of her favorite things: Oatmeal cookies. I have my own personal favorite oatmeal cookies posted on this blog already, crispy with orange zest and cranberries, but I wanted to make her a more traditional soft, chewy oatmeal raisin cookie.

I am so lucky to have my mother in my life, she is the most supportive and generous person, not only is she always there for me and my sister at a moments notice, she is emotionally supportive to so many family members and friends. I think she is the kind of person that people think of when they just need someone to talk to, and she has close, nurturing relationships with so many people it is astonishing.

She has also taught me my entire life that it is more than OK to march to your own drummer, follow your passions, and not let anyone make you feel unimportant or wrong for being yourself. She is such a passionate person, and when she likes something she REALLY LIKES IT and is not afraid to let it show. Just ask her about the lengths she has gone to for her favorite hobby, standing in the pit at Bruce Springsteen concerts every time he tours- She has traveled to other states to see him, and stood outside all day in the winter to get those prime GA spots.

As I get older, I notice how nice it is to get to know your parents in a more grown up way, and it has been fun talking to her about when she was in her mid twenties and had just moved to Boston, I can tell so many ways we are so alike, and some ways we are different, but the coolest part is I can tell that if I met her 24 year old self, we would probably be friends.

As an odd coincidence, the apartment I am in now (which I found and moved to while my parents were out of the country) turns out to be just 2 blocks from her first apartment in Boston. She moved here for library school, right around my age, and found a roommate in the classifieds in a local paper. I moved back to the Boston area from the Berkshires two years ago, found my place and roommates on Craigslist, and now that I am going back to school I have even been considering programs at her old school. I currently am studying her undergrad major, too.

I love you Mom, thanks for being so awesome. You deserve lots of oatmeal cookies!

Chewy Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies
From Baking Illustrated

I stuck to the exact directions here, didn't change anything (except some comments I'm sure you'll spot), as I know that the cook's illustrated people put in much more thought and science than I do (though I did make the cookies smaller rather than larger, so I could feel better about eating several...I adjusted the cooking time accordingly). I ended up wishing I had smushed the cookies a little flatter, but other than that was quite happy with them. The fresh nutmeg is really what makes them fantastic. In the strange way in which the Stop & Shop near my house always runs out of really normal items, I could not find a single bag of raisins on my trip there, and so used dried cherries. What's up with the out of stock raisins, S&S? Also, that time I went to you for red onions, tangerines and and boneless chicken thighs and you were out of all them was way uncool, too.

These are particularly good warmed up a bit before you eat them, even just 15 seconds in the microwave- you won't regret it. Maybe served warm and with a small scoop of french vanilla ice cream?

On with the recipe...

Yield: 18 cookies
1½ cups (7½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
16 Tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1½ cups raisins

1. Adjust the oven racks to the low and middle positions and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray. ( I actually just used a silcone mat and called it a day)

2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt together in a medium bowl.

3. Either by hand or with an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugars; beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time.

4. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture with a wooden spoon or large rubber spatula. Stir in the oats and raisins. Find excuses to have to eat a lot of the raw batter.

5. Working with a generous 2 Tablespoons of dough each time, roll the dough into 2-inch balls. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them at least 2 inches apart.

6. Bake until the cookie edges turn golden brown, 22 to 25 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes. Transfer the cookies with a wide metal spatula to a wire rack. Let cool at least 30 minutes.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Thrift finds and Etsy scores equal big living room changes

I have had this growing pile of thrifted items, discount store purchases and recent projects growing in a corner of my room for some time. Big changes are under way now in the living room, I am excited to update you guys on that in a bit.

Meanwhile, take a minute to observe what good thrifting luck I had recently, from framed prints, a brand new ceiling fixture, vases, some sweet vintage trays and even some wallpaper border I plan on using for a slightly different purpose:

Some big changes have already occurred in the living room inspired by all of this, but before my living room reinvention will be complete, I am taking on a pretty big project of recovering/slip covering two chairs, and I am on the look out for a small dresser to refinish to use in the space.

Change is good.  Want a glimpse of a few of the changes so far? The reality is I can only afford to change a bit at a time, both because home decor and furniture can be so costly, and I have to wait to find the right things cheap/second hand, but also because there is work involved that I have to spread out over my weekends.

Here is one view (that is unfortunately not quite the same angle, but close enough you can tell what changed) so you can see some of the progress:



A few of the changes- painting the wall that once was a walk through to the dining room (which is now my bedroom- we previously had a chocolate brown curtain hanging to hide it) I wanted instead of trying to hide the odd little closed up doorway space, to turn it into an accent wall. I used Valspar's Simple Gray which I scored during their (sadly over now) paint sample give away. I added a Sheffield Home mirror from Marshall's, which I punched up with some sunny yellow spray paint (it was originally a champagne color).

On the other wall shown there is a small wooden shelf I picked up at goodwill for $5, spray painted Krylon's Ivy Green, and distressed to let some of the original wood tone show through on the edges. Accessories on that shelf were taken from around the house and a few were scored at Goodwill or Urban Renewals (a local thrift store in Boston) for a few dollars each.

I also bought a white plastic tray on clearance at Joann fabric to use on the coffee table, and created a vignette with it, with some cute yellow mums, a book, candle, coasters and a wooden bowl of shells.

We also have some great new art from Etsy, including this whimsical set of prints:

More to come!


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