Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Apple Cake

I love apple cake, and up until this year I never had success making it taste right.  I tried different recipes and even got a new Bundt pan, but it always tasted like my oil had gone rancid (even with a brand new bottle).  Come to find out, I just don't like the taste of baked goods with vegetable/canola oil and I'm really glad I tried it again, substituting coconut oil.  There's enough spice in there to mask any coconut flavor, and I have substituted some of the oil from the original recipe with applesauce so it's not as heavy. It's based on this cake recipe and -- I kid you not -- 14 apple cake recipes in my high school band cookbook (#applecountry), and this glaze recipe.

Apple Cake with Bourbon Brown Sugar Glaze


For the Cake: 
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 Granny Smith apples (3-4 cups diced)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
¾ cup applesauce (I use cinnamon)
½ cup coconut oil (preferably the liquid kind)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs

For the Glaze:
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1½ Tablespoons bourbon
½ cup butter
2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
⅛ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup heavy cream
⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups powdered sugar, sifted


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a Bundt pan or tube pan.
  2. Use an apple peeler/corer/slicer and further cut down the slices with a knife, or leave the skins on and dice the apples with a knife. 
  3. In a bowl, mix together the cinnamon and apples. 
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, applesauce, oil, vanilla, and eggs in a large bowl. Add in the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Fold in the apple mixture with a rubber spatula.
  6. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  
  7. Allow the cake to fully cool in the pan, then turn wrestle it out onto a plate. 
  8. For the glaze, combine the brown sugar, bourbon, butter, corn syrup and salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cream, raise the heat to high, and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. After 1 minute remove the pan from the heat and the vanilla and then the powdered sugar. (I sift mine right into the pan). Stir vigorously to make the mixture as smooth as possible.
  9. Let the glaze cool in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup for 10 minutes. Then give it a stir before you pour it slowly along the top of the cake so that it drips down both sides. Enjoy!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Fall Crafting

We were in transition for a few falls in a row and I just wasn't feeling creative.  But this year I met some wonderful, crafty gals in my new town and they are just inspiring me right and left.  Mostly Shey.  She sees something interesting and can figure out how to make it.  And her craft room is super clean even when it is not doubling as a guest room.  My fall crafting binge started when Shey posted her progress on hot gluing pinecone scales to paper cones in order to make trees for a benefit auction.  So then I wanted to try it, and she showed me how (and told me to bake the pinecones in the oven to get the bugs out first).  Here is the tutorial if you want to try it.  I love how you can sit and hot glue stuff mindlessly while chatting with a friend.

Each day when Bowen and I meet Olivia getting off the bus we are greeted with acorns.  Back in September when they were green we'd collect them, but eventually they turned brown.  So then I wanted to have evergreen acorns and Shey gave me the idea to spray paint plastic eggs and add pinecone scales to the top.  And then our friend Pam wanted to learn, so we had dueling glue guns at her house.  And she introduced me to Kara, who also likes to make stuff and doesn't think it's a big deal to own a jigsaw.  Love that!

I did oil-rubbed bronze spray paint on several and glued twine onto another, and then I had the idea of covering a styrofoam egg with brown paper bag pieces.  And once that one was finished I decoupaged a styrofoam pumpkin from the dollar store.  I used tacky glue to hold the pieces on initially, then brushed Mod Podge (watered down a bit) over the top.

And once that was finished I decoupaged a pumpkin with book pages, and I have another waiting patiently to be just today covered another one in sheet music.  (I started this post days ago and keep getting interrupted).

Somewhere in there I decided to paint the exterior doors navy blue, and then realized my old fall-toned wreath would look like a raging UVA fan weird with the blue and also was dry-rotted.  In the spring Olivia and I had pulled grapevines out of a holly tree in our woods, and then wound it around itself to make wreath bases with no particular project in mind.  Those were still just hanging in the garage, so I bought some silk flowers and went to work with my trusty glue gun.  I tell you I haven't touched that thing in years, and now I have had to restock on glue sticks twice.  I finally got long ones that need reloading only half as often.

After that I thought my pillar candles could use a little visual softening, so I made little grapevine wreaths for them, too. I love how the tendrils add personality.

Then Shey had a group of gals over to make burlap banners that spell out "thankful." They're just layers of fabric bonded together using fusible interfacing.  It was fun to work on a project all together, each with her own style.  I didn't finish mine that night, but a few girls who couldn't make it got together separately and I finished mine.  I love that a bunch of friends have these banners now, and I'm so thankful for friends who don't just paste a label on me as "the crafty one."  People are so supportive it makes me want to finish projects and actually do the things I have pinned for later.

The burley tobacco basket is from our trip to North Carolina this summer
There's another cone tree up there.  Browsing through Pinterest I saw a Christmas ornament covered in pistachio shells, which got my wheels turning.  I had my little helper crack shells while I glued them on the cone.  These brown paper cones are from Hobby Lobby, but you can also make them out of cereal boxes.

I have made countless trips to the local craft stores.  They are my happy place, and using my 40% off coupon on a set of plunger leaf cutters really makes my day.  The kids have been asking for pumpkin pie, so I tried out making a leafy crust.  Except I had it on the top rack and the leaves got a little singed, but we forced it down anyway.  I am hoping that this year at Thanksgiving they will eat something other than rolls and pie.  One of them likes stuffing now, so that's hopeful. (Insert eye roll).

I have a bunch of UFOs (unfinished objects) sitting around precisely where they were when I lost steam or got distracted.  Last year I made the big sweater pumpkin with the leaf, and this year I found the sleeves to that sweater and also a hat I had thrifted to become a pumpkin.  So I cut some sticks for stems and skipped the leaf part in order to actually finish.

Other UFOs include a pair of button-up legwarmers I'm knitting during soccer games to calm myself. I am that mom who screams directives at her child during the game.

Shey wanted to make stars out of grape vine, so she made this jig and she and Pam came over to pull some vine.  We couldn't get the open-centered stars to come out like Shey wanted, but I made a bunch of these criss-crossed stars with her jig.  Not sure what I'll do with them, but I'm starting to think toward Christmas crafts now!  I even bought a cross-stitch kit (one of the buildings in Santa's Village).

And in the spirit of keeping things real, please know that I'm not creative in every way.  Here is my car during Trunk or Treat, and the kids' costumes were store-bought. Halloween is my decorating/crafting kryptonite.

Not everything I make turns out awesome.  I had a picture in my head where I was going to wrap grapevine around a paper cone and it would just stay in place like it was wire, but it didn't.

Nailed it!


Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Red Dresser

My dear friend Molly in Pennsylvania suggested I visit our Goodwill Outlet (since we have one) so one morning during preschool I did just that.  Well, despite the GPS I took a wrong turn, which wound up being a very right turn.  I found a Krispy Kreme.  Tank up!  The outlet is a little rougher than the retail stores.  The clothing is unsorted, so I dug through bins of books and clothing, and then the angels started singing when I spotted this dresser.  I love Federal style furniture, and when I saw it had some chipping veneer and heavy gouges where a drawer pull had come loose I knew it was a good candidate for chalk paint.  Fortunately it fit in my minivan without removing seats, but a leg came off in the process.  I filled the gouges and spots where the veneer was missing, sanded the top a little, and glued & clamped the broken leg. And then I remembered to take a "before" picture.

Our first floor has mostly neutral decor. I like to use texture and contrast for interest, and usually I add color with accessories, but I wanted to try a pop of color since this will be in the middle of the living area.  Nearby there is a set of dining chairs I painted olive green, and I love using that color with a rich, warm red.  Yes, year round not just at Christmas.  I already had a can of red latex paint for another project, so I decided to add Plaster of Paris to a cup of that in order to "chalk" it. Chalk paint is porous, so it needs to be sealed with furniture wax, but that gives a silky finish unlike regular latex.

Wet paint looked raspberry pink
I know paint dries darker, and deep colors don't cover as well, but after two coats I could still see the wood filler right through it.  Also there were tiny white dots of the plaster that broke open when I would sand over the dried paint with a paper bag.  So I bailed on that idea and went to my stockist for a can of Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.  This is Emperor's Silk, which leans more toward the orange side of the reds, and that fits well with my autumn color tendencies.

Covered in one coat
After a coat of Annie Sloan clear wax I wanted to tone down the red just a bit. After looking at pictures and videos of her dark wax (also a solid wax) I decided to try deep brown Americana Decor creme wax since it is more like pudding consistency which seems easier to move around.  I applied it with a chip brush and wiped off the excess with a blue shop towel, letting some remain into the recesses.  I added more in some areas it seemed to belong, and left a bit extra on some of the flat areas just to give the appearance of age.

I was planning to Rub 'n' Buff the hardware, but once the dresser was red the drawer pulls looked good the way they were so I just put them back on. I even found an extra screw in my stash to replace the missing one.  That never happens, so in the tradition of my family I will continue to save everything potentially useful.

Are you ready for the dramatic transformation?

And here it is in its new spot, with the olive dining chairs in the foreground.  I'm so happy with it!

Friday, September 2, 2016

One year later

We're going into Labor Day weekend, which may always remind me of that time we dragged 13 bags and 2 kids through airports in 3 countries over 6 time zones, crammed everything in my parents' car, and spent the next few days getting school physicals, buying a minivan, moving our stuff out of storage and hours away into a rental house in a new town, meeting Olivia's teacher while still a little jet-lagged, and beginning the next chapter of our lives.  I cried a lot.

A year ago the friends I was current with were from far-off places like Australia, South Africa, and England.
A year ago I had to use the GPS to find the grocery store, and I was still calling it the sat nav.
A year ago we were surrounded by boxes, only to unpack and then move again when we bought a house six months later.
A year ago we started visiting new churches, and nothing felt quite like home.

This year we are in a house we love, with wonderful neighbors.  We liked our neighbors in the rental house, too, and even our neighbor playing guitar in the apartment above us in Sweden, but ultimately we love being in a home of our own again.

This year the kids will go to the same schools they attended last year.  I haven't been able to say that for a while.  Today we went to the park with another family we met through Bowen's preschool, and tonight after Olivia met her teacher we met and hung out with other school families.  (She transferred to the new school in March when we moved, but we didn't meet anyone from there until this summer). School starts next week and the kids are excited.

This year we have found a wonderful church home and we're excited to be part of what is going on there.

This year we have met a bunch of people in our new community, and every single one of them is kind and friendly and normal.  I realize that everyone is normal until you get to know them, but the people around here are inclusive and genuinely nice.  In the expat community in Sweden we made fast friends with incredible people, but I knew that was unique and I had guarded expectations in our new town.  It takes a little longer here, but I think I'm finding my people.

This year the kids learned to swim.  Swim lessons are hard to come by in Sweden.  One of my only complaints about living abroad was that I felt like we were holding the kids back, delaying aspects of their childhood that people take for granted in the States.  But now they can ride bikes in our driveway, play soccer/t-ball/gymnastics with kids who speak English, and go to the pool.  Last year we took them to Spain, Amsterdam, Germany, France, Norway, and Sweden. This year we took them camping, kayaking, roller skating, and to a baseball game.  They got to see grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  They got to eat corn on the cob and pork chops fresh off the grill.

It has been a year since we left Sweden, and in some ways it feels like so long ago. We loved our time there, the people we were with, seeing so many new places and learning about other cultures. The original plan was to be in Sweden through the end of this year, and that just blows my mind right now.  Plans changed and we rolled with it, and now we're in a different great place.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Nautical bathroom

I love being by the water, any water.  Kayaking on Deep Creek Lake, watching the boats by the marina at Saltholmen, listening to waves crash on a beach, crabbing on Urbanna Creek, fishing with my aunt on her pontoon boat, canoeing on the pond at camp, I love it all.  We dream about having a place that overlooks the water, pulling a tube behind our ski boat, watching sunsets out on the dock.

That was my inspiration for updating the kids' bathroom.  This is how it looked when we bought the house.  Not bad, but certain elements started annoying me: the checkerboard floor, bleach-spotted Formica, flat-panel drawer fronts, teal and navy accent tile, towel bars that look like plastic...
Part of me wanted to rip it out down to the studs, but I'm too practical.  Most of it was in good shape so I just tweaked the surfaces.  Here is how it looks now.

It's hard to pick my favorite part, but I think the flooring made a big difference.  Since the existing tile was in good shape I was able to lay peel & stick vinyl planks over the top.  Score it with a knife and snap it off, or use shears to cut rounded edges - pretty easy.

Another big difference was neutralizing the navy and teal accent tiles with Rust-oleum Tub & Tile epoxy paint.  I sanded down the shiny tile glaze to give it some tooth, then taped it off and rolled on the paint in one big stripe (right over the grout) with a narrow foam roller.  Those are now a bit whiter than the other white tiles on the wall, but they no longer scream for attention.  I also rolled this paint on the edges of the vanity cabinet doors and drawers, covering the yellowed melamine edging.  (Originally I was planning to add 2" trim strips to each door/drawer for Shaker style, but the cabinet already projects as far forward as the vanity top so I didn't want to give it an underbite).

Weathered wood is popular right now, so in addition to having great flooring options I also found pre-stained rustic lumber to frame out the mirror.  A scrap piece became the towel rack along with galvanized dock cleats.  The kids actually hang up their towels now.

I added an anchor-shaped towel hook to the left of the sink.  How did this house go 19 years without a place to hang a hand towel by the sink?  Or knobs to open the drawers?  Here are the knobs I chose -- chrome like the faucet, with a rope detail as a subtle nautical element.  Other sources...
Shower curtain - HomeGoods
Vanity top paint - Valspar Smoky Pitch (with primer below and shellac over top)
Walls - Valspar Shark Loop (a lighter shade of the vanity top)
Whale and anchor art & anchor hook - Hobby Lobby
Vanity light fixture - Lowe's
Sign on the door - eBay

Monday, May 9, 2016

Aussie Bites

I was doing fine without a Costco membership (nothing against them, but I tend to overspend when I go there) until I visited my parents recently and tried Aussie Bites.  They're kind of like muffins, but much more nutrient-dense.  They're about $10 for a box of 32, so I asked Google if mere mortals could make these at home.  The first recipe I tried turned out great, but after reading comments I did soak the chia seeds in water before adding them to the bowl. They took a bit longer to bake but held together well.  I also substituted sweetened flaked coconut and salted sunflower seeds, and added kosher salt because of how it makes these oatmeal cookies amazing.  Most of the ingredients I had on hand and I found the rest at Aldi, so now we can make them whenever we want.  Also my kids like them and they don't contain nuts, so that's two additional points. (Gluten free, too, and can be dairy free if you sub coconut oil for butter). DIY Aussie Bites for the win!  Thank you, Rachel Farnsworth, for working out the original recipe.  Here is my version...

Aussie Bites

Yield: 24

1¾ cup rolled oats
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup dried apricots
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup ground flaxseed
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup shredded coconut
¼ cup quinoa
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ cup honey
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup canola oil
½ tsp vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 24-count mini-muffin pan.
  2. In a small bowl combine chia seeds and 1/4 cup water while chanting "Cha-cha-cha-chia" with your 4-year-old. Set seeds aside. Chia seeds will absorb water to make a gel-like exterior with super powers.
  3. Pour 1 cup of rolled oats into a food processor. Process for about 1 minute until oats are pulverized.
  4. Add in the remaining ¾ cup rolled oats, sugar, dried apricots, raisins, flax seed, sunflower seeds, coconut, quinoa, chia seeds (minus any excess water), and baking soda. Pulse until apricots and raisins are in small bits.
  5. Pour in honey, melted butter, canola oil, and vanilla extract. Pulse just until combined.
  6. Divide batter among the prepared muffin cups.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-18 minutes until golden brown.
  8. Remove pan from oven and let cool in pan on a wire cooling rack for 10 minutes. Remove muffins from tin and let cool completely on the wire rack.
  9. Once completely cooled, store in an airtight container for 4 to 5 days.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Chalk painting dining chairs

While we were living in Sweden I developed an obsession with painted furniture, specifically chalk paint with dark wax.  I love the look and couldn't wait to transform some of our many brown pieces of furniture.  My friend Debora let me use her chalk paint, wax, and brushes while we were home for a visit, and I was hooked.  When we moved back to the States one of the first places I found was my local Annie Sloan (ASCP) stockist, but I didn't buy any right away.  While we were renting I mulled and planned and thought about different colors and furniture pieces.  It wasn't until we bought a house that I could actually visualize a plan for wall color and furniture.  And until we move all I can work on is furniture.  Back in our previous house (before Sweden) we used our dining room as an office, so we sold our dining table and chairs.  I'm happy that we'll have a central (read: utilized) dining room in the new house, especially since it gave me an excuse to scour Craigslist for dining furniture.  I scored this set of eight shield-back chairs and a table, marking the first time I was truly thankful for getting a minivan.

Our full garage at the rental house
And when we had a warm day February 1st I was excited to get outside and paint!  Rather than add brown furniture to our brown dining area I wanted to paint them a color that would look good with both fall tones and beachy blues.  Green is my favorite color, but the Annie Sloan greens didn't look like what I had in mind, so I gathered green things from around the house and matched them to colors on a fan deck.

And then I had a very helpful conversation with Debora, where she sent me this picture of her chair painted ASCP Olive (with Primer Red accents, for the record). 

This looked much better there than on the paint chip or even the sample on the wall at the stockist (although I love it with the peacock-y Aubusson Blue).

Debora reminded me that chalk painting is a heckofalot easier than traditional sand/prime/latex painting.  So I bought a can of Olive and got to work.  Bowen (age 4) was so tickled to watch me paint.  He kept saying things like, "Mom, you're so GOOD at this!"  It was the encouragement I needed; bless him.

70 degrees a week after a foot of snow
And I loved it!  But then I had to decide if I'm going to wax or use another type of topcoat.  Wax gets into the porous surface of the chalk paint, creating a durable bond.  I have read a lot in the past year, including complaints about getting a consistent finish (too much, too little), showing fingerprints, having to be rewaxed.  But I also like the look of dark wax in the recesses, giving an antique looking patina.  (I'm aware of the irony of painting antique chairs to look antique, kinda like blow-straightening hair before curling it).  I decided to try General Finishes High Performance water-based top coat because I could just brush it on and be done, and we finally live in a location where I can just drive to Woodcraft to buy it (joy!).  But it goes on drippy and after two coats the satin was a little shinier than I was going for, so I took the plunge and bought the Annie Sloan wax and brush.  Even if you're dark waxing you apply clear wax first, so after we moved into the house we bought (!) I spent the first mild weekend doing nothing but painting and then waxing the remaining chairs.  After all, we had company coming and I needed those chairs.  Waxing was okay, not awesome but not that difficult.  I worked in the sunshine so that kept it soft and workable.  I was going to buff them later to give a little more sheen, but never got around to it.  I'm happy with how they turned out.  Here they are in our dining room at night, so it's not even obvious that they are green.  So much for having a pop of color.  Apparently I really like neutrals.

The far chair on the left side of the table is the one with poly

We actually eat dinner in this room every night, which makes me happy since I didn't want to have a room that was only used a few times a year.  I also wanted comfortable seating at the table, so these seats have new 3" foam pieces wrapped in batting and covered faux leather (read: wipeable).

Yes, yes I did buy brown and olive chairs and spent countless hours transforming them into brown and olive chairs.  But I like them so much better this way.  Whatever keeps me off the streets, right?