Saturday, September 22, 2012

Berry Streusel Muffins

Happy birthday to me!

I woke up this morning and my husband asked me what I wanted for breakfast that he could make. He knows me so well. Without that caveat, I probably would have suggested something like brown butter glazed cinnamon donuts. I did, however, want muffins so he's going to do the dishes. He also gave me this for my birthday present. It's it sweet?

Thank you, sweetie. I LOVE IT.

However, back to the recipe. This muffin recipe is based again on the Big Beautiful Muffins recipe from the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, but includes the streusel topping from the coffee cake I made not that long ago. Since people in my real life keep saying that they don't know how I get my baked goods so light and fluffy, I thought I would do a more detailed description with more pictures than I typically post. I think the main tip I have to offer about almost any baked good is DO NOT OVERMIX. And I'll show you here what I mean by that.

First, get out all your ingredients. This will accomplish several things. First, you'll see if you're missing anything. My lovely sweet husband is not above running to the store mid-recipe for me (thank goodness), but it's really not my favorite way to get something baked! Also, now is a good time to melt that stick of butter. You'll use the additional 2 tablespoons later.

Next, put the dry ingredients in a bowl or stand mixer. I'm using my Kitchenaid, but this recipe comes together pretty easily with just a whisk and a wooden spoon if you want to go that route. Mix the dry ingredients well.

Then mix the yogurt and eggs in a separate bowl using a whisk. That's the melted butter there on the left. It should be slightly cooled before you add it to the mixture so it's good to melt it early.

Next you'll add the yogurt and egg mixture to the dry ingredients.

Do you see how much unincorporated flour there is there? You can click the picture to make it bigger if you can't see it. Here's where you add the melted butter. I would just let that turn seven or eight times on the lowest speed once the butter is added. You should still have a little bit of unincorporated flour when it's time to add the berries.

See that little bit of bright white near the center? That's still a bit more flour. Here's where I pull out the mixer blade and start adding the batter to the muffin tin. Most people would think it didn't look ready, but continuing to mix from this point is what gets you gluey, gummy, dense baked goods.

Now it's time to make the streusel topping. Just add the 2 tablespoons reserved cold butter, the 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, the 1/3 cup of sugar and the 1/3 cup of flour to a small bowl and smush with your fingers until the mixture resembles course crumbs with a few bigger chunks. If you have a pastry blender, you could also use that. I couldn't find mine so I washed my hands and fingers it was.

Then just sprinkle the topping on your muffins, dividing evenly among the muffins and bake!

Yum! Birthday muffins!

Big Beautiful Berry Streusel Muffins

adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook and
makes 12 muffins

3 cups all-purpose flour + 1/3 cup for topping
1 cup sugar + 1/3 cup for topping
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups plain lowfat yogurt (I used Greek yogurt because that's what I had, but regular plain works too)
2 large eggs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold for topping
1 ½ cups frozen mixed berries, rinsed and drained
½ teaspoon cinnamon for topping

1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously coat a 12-cup muffin tin with vegetable oil spray. This is not the time for fancy cupcake papers. If you must, add them after baking for a cute flower-like effect. Any muffin recipe with yogurt will badly stick to the paper, rendering them unappetizing at best and inedible at worst.

2. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk the yogurt and eggs together in a medium bowl. Gently fold the yogurt-egg mixture into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in the melted butter.

3. Fold in the berries.

4. Use a large ice cream scoop or measuring cup to divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Prepare topping per directions below and sprinkle each with approximately 1 tablespoon of the topping.

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Test with a cake tester or toothpick.

6. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.


1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar
2 tbsp. cold butter
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1. Mix topping ingredients until crumbly, smushing with fingers. Sprinkle over unbaked muffins.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lining Dresser Drawers

So, you might have noticed that we bought a couple of new dressers recently. Well, not new, but new to us.

The longer one has ended up in the office and it's mostly filled with the stuff I need to keep Dog River Biscuit Company running. The tall one was supposed to be Doug's, but we were feeling lazy and didn't want to move my George Nelson dresser to the other side of the bed so his clothes are now in my old dresser and my clothes will be in the new one.

I say "will be" because they are currently scattered all over the bedroom while I finished the other project that I thought would be fun to do on this dresser--lining the drawers.

I got the idea from here, but I did it totally differently, mainly because someone in the future may not be so enamored of my choice in paper or might want to fully restore the piece. I try never to do anything irreversible to a vintage piece of furniture, but that's just my hang-up. You do what's good for you. The Mod Podge thing was intriguing, just not for me.

I did, however, very much like the idea of putting brightly colored paper inside my drawers. My notion was to have some 1/4" plywood cut at Lowes (since we don't have a saw) and then use Easy Tack to cover the inserts with gift wrap. This way it's possible to take the inserts out at a later date and since I used Easy Tack, removing the paper won't even be hard since it's repositionable adhesive. That's the theory anyway.

The first thing I did was measure the inside of the drawer, subtracting a 1/4" from each of the dimensions so I could be certain that the inserts would be easy to get in and out. It worked out to 14" by 36" for each drawer.

Then I collected my materials.

I already had the Easy Tack left over from another project and I always have a huge stash of gift wrap so all we needed was the plywood inserts.

It was lucky that the lumber cutting guy was having a bad day. He was having a lot of trouble getting his measurements right, but we waited politely and he ended up giving us nine pieces for the price of what would have been seven, even though we really only needed five. I'm sure we'll find something to do with the extra four. And because we had to wait so long, he didn't charge us for cutting.

Then it was time lay out some high tech protectant on the floor (newspaper) and get to cutting some gift wrap.

The inserts are 14" by 36" so I cut each rectangle of gift wrap to 18" by 40" to leave two inches on each side for wrapping.

Unfortunately, we didn't get a picture of this, but once the gift wrap was cut, I picked up the plywood and sprayed the entire sheet of gift wrap with Easy Tack. Then I gave the edges of the plywood a spray, just to be sure the wrap would stick on the underside. I didn't have any trouble with the wrapping paper wrinkling, I'd guess because I had it on a flat surface and was using pretty heavy duty gift wrap.

I started folding at the ends, folding the corners into triangles like you would to wrap a present. It worked pretty well, but if I did it again, I might fold the corner over the edge and then fold the sides and the ends over it. It might have created a neater corner, but truly, it looks fine the way it is.

And, of course, a gratuitous puggle picture.

Finally, I slipped the inserts into the drawers. This particular drawer has removable drawer dividers so I just slid those in after it.

Leaving out the trip to the hardware store, the whole process took about two hours. Of course, I started it while I was making granola this morning so I had brief breaks for granola stirring.

All in all, I'm quite pleased with how they turned out. I didn't have enough of any one wrapping paper to do all the drawers so I chose to do them each in a different paper. I'm definitely liking the final result!

As for the budget break-down:
  • Easy Tack (already had, but you can get it at Michaels for $7.99, less with one of their ubiquitous coupons)
  • Gift wrap (already had)
  • Plywood ($13.36)
  • Grand total ($13.36)
Not bad for a totally easy project that will brighten each and every day!

Homemade Granola

I've never been a breakfast person. When I was in high school, eating breakfast used to make me queasy. If I could eat breakfast around 10am, that would be fine with me. That's completely independent of coffee, of course. Coffee must be consumed within 15 minutes of waking up or the waking up part never really happens. 

And then I get a headache.

I do, however, like granola. I've always been a fan of granola bars, muesli, grape nuts, anything sort of carby, crunchy and sweet/salty. So when I saw some homemade granola at a farmer's market stand in Staunton, Virginia (the very best place on earth go here), I thought, "Well, I can do that." I vaguely remembered Alton Brown making granola in one of his Good Eats episodes years ago so I went and found the recipe. When I looked at it though, I remembered why I had never made it before. Coconut. Ick. And shredded, sweetened coconut to boot. Double ick. There are very few things I won't eat. Coconut is one of them. Like most things I won't eat (tofu, tempura, eggplant), it's a texture thing. 

But with my newfound confidence at adapting recipes to suit, I decide to try it without the coconut. Several evolutions later, mostly to make the finished product a little less sweet, here's what I arrived at. I eat it pretty much every morning now. Yay for breakfast!

Homemade Granola


3 cups rolled oats
2 cups whatever tree nuts happen to be on hand or on sale (slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, chopped pecans or a combination)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup apple juice concentrate (defrosted)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried fruit (raisins, blueberries, cranberries or a combination)


Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts and brown sugar. Stir well, making sure brown sugar is well incorporated.

Next add apple juice concentrate, maple syrup, oil, and salt. Pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color. At the 15 minute mark, add the dried fruit and stir.

Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Let cool and then cover tightly. Keeps up to one month tightly sealed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Never Ever Use Pledge

I'm cleaning the second piece of furniture I bought this weekend and I was just reminded of something I learned when I took my first refinishing class about ten years ago.  Today I noticed that the mineral oil component of my mineral oil/mineral spirits blend was not sinking into the top of this dresser. So I gave it a second going-over and got this:

See that yellow-ish stuff? Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, use Pledge on your furniture. That is build-up from weeks of Pledge usage over the years. The first coat of cleaner must have loosened it so that the second coat started pulling up all that junk.

Pledge contains a chemical called dimethicone. As it explains on the ingredients page for Pledge on the manufacturer's website, dimethicone is a silicone film former. The problem with this is that though it will look nice for a few minutes, when you apply it week after week, it builds up and makes a grody coating, especially because dust in the air will stick to it, ensuring that if you don't do it every week, the piece will rapidly begin to look kind of dirty, dingy and dull. There is no reason for this.

Just dust your furniture with a microfiber cloth. You don't need to use a special product. Plus look at all those chemicals. Do you really need all that in your life? Your furniture definitely doesn't.

Project: Refresh a Wood Dresser

Sometimes I go on Craigslist and recoil in horror:

I see this sort of thing a lot. This is an Art Deco sideboard, the best feature of which was probably its pretty (possibly exotic) wood veneer, which is now covered in white chalk paint. Originally, this sideboard was a mass market piece of furniture and not a masterpiece so painting this isn't exactly a tragedy in and of itself. It's just that: 1) I would have painted it differently and 2) If the veneer was intact (as it seems to be), I wouldn't have painted it at all. It just makes me wonder if people don't realize how easy it is to make wood look 1000% better than it did before with very little effort. So I thought I'd show how I do it.

At some point I'll do a post about how I make decisions about vintage furniture. There are a series of steps I go through to decide whether or not to buy something, whether to refresh it, refinish it or paint it and whether to keep it or sell it once I'm done. However, that's not this post. For now let's assume you have a piece of wood furniture that you want to keep, but is just looking a little rough around the edges. Like this one:

It looks pretty good from a distance, but this piece has several problems. First, it's just dirty. I always assume these pieces have been in a basement somewhere and do you really want to put your clothes in that? Not me. Second, it has some obvious scuffs and scratches and wear marks. Here are a few examples of damage:

Definitely fixable with this method
Possibly fixable with this method
Definitely not fixable with this method
The first picture is just some kind of scuffy mark. It will come right off with steel wool. The second picture is a scuff with what is possibly veneer damage. I'll just treat that and see how it looks when I'm done. The third picture is a gouge in the veneer. It's deep, it's ugly and it's not going to be fixed today. If you have furniture with a lot of this type of damage, you're probably going to either pass (not buy in the first place), refinish or paint. But since this is the only real blemish on this piece and I need storage, I'm not going to be too picky about this today.

Now, you'll need to gather some supplies.

Here's the supply list:

  • Disposable aluminum loaf pans from the dollar store
  • Baby oil from the dollar store (you can also get mineral oil at the hardware store, but baby oil works just fine)
  • Odorless mineral spirits (I use an environmentally friendly version that doesn't stink)
  • Wood stain (probably several colors because the right color right out of the can is never going to happen, but I'm just showing one here)
  • WD-40 (because this piece has metal drawer gliders)
  • Paste wax (in the cleaning aisle at the grocery store or hardware store)
  • Lint-free paper painters cloths (not environmentally friendly, but you can't wash Minwax-soaked towels or rags because they can spontaneously combust as they dry! True story! This happens! Bad!)
  • Rubber kitchen gloves
  • A screwdriver (for hardware)
  • 000 steel wool (sorry, not pictured since I had to send hubby out for more. Oops!)

The first step is to pull out the drawers and dust off the whole piece inside and out. You don't want 70 years of accumulated dust on your clothes, right? I also use this step to check for sawdust (possible insect damage), loose screws on any metal drawer glides and to unscrew the hardware on the drawers. Old metal finishes could be damaged by the mineral spirits so you don't want to leave hardware on.

Drawers, sans hardware, and gratuitous puggle picture
Then, pour a 50/50 blend of odorless mineral spirits and mineral oil (baby oil) into your aluminum pan. Here's where I remove my jewelry and don gloves. I suppose you don't technically have to, but mineral spirits dry out my hands. For this whole dresser, I maybe used half a cup of each.

Take one of your lint-free cloths and dip it in the mixture. Pick a less conspicuous spot (I usually use a back, bottom corner) and check to make sure the finish won't be damaged by the mineral spirits and mineral oil. Most wood finishes will probably be fine, but if you're working with a painted piece, you could have problems. Also, if it has a thick or yellowed finish, you're probably looking at damaged polyurethane, in which case, the only thing you can do it strip it or paint it. Don't use this method on polyurethane. You'll just make scuff marks and it won't help.

Next, get a piece of your steel wool in one hand and a lint-free cloth in the other. Working in sections, with the grain, apply a thin layer of the mixture with the steel wool and immediately wipe it off with the cloth, scrubbing lightly with the steel wool when you hit a spot that's a little more stubborn. You'll probably get something like this.

Here's where I figured out that this was probably exposed to smoke in the past. This was on the side wall of the piece right in the middle--not a place that gets handled a lot. The reason this matters is that this information altered how I decided to treat this furniture. Typically, once I'm done cleaning a piece, it will get a couple thin layers of clear tung oil finish just to seal up the pores of the wood and provide it with some extra layers of protection. However, with a piece that has been exposed to smoke, I will often wait a couple of months, treat it with the mineral spirits/mineral oil again and then finish it. The reason is that the tar and soot has seeped into the wood and will need some time to work itself out. I don't want to seal that junk into the wood so that's why this piece won't get that step today.

Anyway, continue to rub the mineral spirits/mineral oil over the whole piece, changing out steel wool and towels as they get too dirty to use. Once you've been over the whole piece, use just a little bit of mineral spirits on a clean cloth and wipe down the whole piece with it, just to get any extra residue left over. If it's still really dirty, probably you need to go over the whole piece again with the steel wool.

Once it's clean (drawers too), I like to coat the sides of drawers with paste wax. Often, especially in our alternately hot and humid and cool and dry climate in Virginia, expansion and shrinkage of wood with the seasons pulls the drawers a little out of square. These ones are in pretty good shape, but just so they don't rub against the sides and bottoms of the inside of the cabinet, I apply this paste wax with a lint free cloth. This is the stinkiest step, but it's not that bad. I did all of this inside the house with the windows open today.

Next, take your WD-40 and spritz a little on the tracks inside the case. This ones were especially squeaky and sticky so this made a huge difference to the function of the piece.

And that's it! Just put your drawer hardware back on, put the drawers back in the case and your furniture is ready to use!

Now, just to go back to the spots above that we looked at in detail up top, here's where we ended up.

I was pleased to discover, once I'd cleaned it all off, that I didn't really need the stain on this piece. There are a couple of wear marks on the stringer at the bottom of the case, but I actually like that in a vintage piece so I left it. The one spot that needed some attention was the veneer damage on top so I took the cheater's way out and used a stain marker. They have them at hardware stores and Home Depot.

It's not great, but it was all I was willing to do today.

The other spots that I pointed out, though? Gone.

There's a little bit of a dark spot, but nothing you'd notice form 5 feet away
Here's the finished piece. By the way, this is a six drawer dresser from the Broyhill Brasilia collection made in 1962 in case anyone cares. I love the hardware and the top drawers especially.

Once I get it all loaded up and get the bookcases organized, I'll take another picture. In the meantime, it's a lot better than this:

Chester thinks so too.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A-Hunting We Will Go

There are days when you hit eight thrift stores and find nothing worth the time and effort. And then there are days like today.

I was feeling a little meh about going anywhere today. It was hot, we were expecting a storm to roll through at some point and after two days of baking dog treats for Hampton Bay Days and then an event in Warrenton last night, I was pretty tired.

Sadly, my husband's work schedule has been wonky the last few weeks and today was going to be his only day off so I didn't want to waste it puttering around the house. When he suggested we hit a couple of thrift stores, I wasn't that excited, but I went along.

Since I'd already been to Yesterday's Rose in Fairfax, the Fairfax Goodwill and the Humane Society Thrift Store earlier this week, we decided to make the trek out to Annandale to the Salvation Army there. I'd never been except to drop stuff off so I didn't know what to expect (and truthfully didn't expect much). Then I saw this:

Honestly, I pretty much started to hyperventilate. The Salvation Army greeter must have thought I was going to fall over and die or something. When I was done having my conniption, I explained that this piece is a Broyhill Brasilia dresser. It was made in 1962 in North Carolina back when North Carolina still actually made furniture and didn't just ship it in from China. This is also arguably one of the most desirable American-made lines from the mid century period. And it was sitting on the floor of a random Salvation Army store in Annandale, priced extra-low. The greeter was flabbergasted and told me he thought it was interesting, but that some kid whose mom was redoing his room had turned it down earlier in the day. Thought it was weird looking. His loss is my gain!

People, this thing has dovetailed drawers and runners. It has built-in drawer dividers. It is in pristine condition. The drawers stick a bit, but it's nothing a little paste wax won't fix. Look, you can barely get an IKEA dresser for that price. The ubiquitous MALM is $149. This dresser is gorgeous. I'm in love.

Oh, and I also bought this:

You can go get that on Etsy, if you're interested. It's a very nice cheese board designed in Denmark. Clearly from the 1960s. Just the glass dome alone is well worth the price.

I'm keeping the dresser though.

Caring For Wood, Part 1

Any time I bring home a piece from a thrift store or antique store, whether I'm planning on keeping it or whether it's going to be listed on Etsy, I like to clean it with whatever means are available for that particular material. As a result, I bring home a lot of wood and glass because they're some of the easiest pieces to clean up and make pretty. Sometimes pieces just get a good dusting, like this vintage toy boat. But sometimes there is actual damage, stains or dents that need to be addressed.

Take this mid century Danish teak cheese and cracker tray.

Truly, it's in great shape. The dome is perfect with no chips or cracks. The butcher block center has a couple of tiny knife marks, but I'd bet it wasn't used a whole lot. However, it probably sat on a painted shelf, either at the thrift store where I got it or at the home where it came from. See those marks?

It's just little scuffs of white, probably something like paint. I knew when I saw them in the store that I could get them off pretty easily.

Here's my little tool box for general cleaning.

Since this board is teak, some might be tempted to use teak oil on it. However, teak oil isn't food safe. Oh, it's fine for things like outdoor tables and chairs, but I wouldn't use it on a cutting board or anything else that will directly contact food. Enter Kerf's Wood Lotion. It is a food safe blend of waxes and oils scented with lavender that I use for cleaning and conditioning anything with a natural oil finish (that would be mostly Danish oil and teak oil). You don't even need gloves to work with it and it smells really good. This is not a good thing to use for anything with a shiny finish (anything polyurethane, painted or waxed). Basically, it needs to be able to seep into the grain of the wood so any finish that seals the grain needs to be treated differently. I'll cover what I do for those sorts of pieces in a future post.

The other two items there are a bit of 000 steel wool and some white cloths. This is a very fine steel wool that you can get at any hardware store. The white cloths are lint-free painter's rags. These are better than paper towels for any kind of finishing or painting because they don't leave little filaments of paper or cloth in your finish. They come in a big box at the hardware store. Mine are made by Scott, but there are plenty of other brands.

To start out with, make sure your piece is free of dust. I use a microfiber dusting cloth for this, but really almost anything you use for dusting will work. Next, a small bit of steel wool (just pull off a piece) and wet it with the Kerf's. You don't need a lot. Use it to lightly scrub the scuffed marks.

Superficial marks like these will come right off.

Next, run off the rest of the piece with the steel wool, paying particular attention to any marked or scuffed spots until the whole piece has been treated. Don't scrub too hard or you might end up with shiny spots.

Let it sit for 10-15 minutes until the wood lotion sinks in a bit. At this point, look at the piece and see if there are still a lot of wet spots or if the whole piece is pretty dry. If the piece is dry, you might want to add a second coat. Around here (humid Virginia), small like this one rarely need a second coat, but if you live somewhere like Arizona, chances are you might need to add a little more.

Once you're confident the wood has been conditioned, wipe it down with your lint-free cloth.

Just rub it around all the surfaces, paying particular attention to edges and end grain since they won't absorb as much lotion as the long exposed grain on flat parts of the piece. You may need to let it sit again for 10-15 and then run it down again, especially if you did a second coat. Now you've cleaned an conditioned your piece. This one was about averagely dirty. Just a little bit of storage grime probably.

Now it's all clean. If a piece of wood has been in a home with a smoker, sometimes a cloth like this will be almost black when you're done. If that happens, wait a month and repeat this process. Sorry, but if you've seen Mad Men, you know that people SMOKED in the 1960s. Wood absorbs the soot and tar so you might need to clean it a few times before it's ready to be used again.

And here's the final piece, ready for sale. I already have several of these, but the glass domes are so pretty that I can never resist them when I see them in the thrifts. I hope someone likes it enough to make it theirs!

I have a couple pieces of furniture that we bought over the weekend to fix up today too so I'll post what I do with other kinds of finishes later in the day.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Easiest Coffee Cake

When I was a kid, my mother sometimes made a Bisquick coffee cake from the recipe on the box on weekend mornings. It must have been pretty simple because she didn't really do a lot of baking. At least, she's not crazy-obsessed like I am. Compulsive baking must come from my father's side.

So this morning, when I realized that it was already ten and I hadn't had breakfast yet, I did what any normal person would do and I made coffee cake.

What? Normal people don't do that?


In my defense, we're out of bread (so there's some in the bread machine), we're out of granola (which is on the to-do list for later in the day) and my container of yogurt was somehow expired so it was either make something or eat potato chips.

Since my store brand box of baking mix didn't have the coffee cake recipe on the side, I went ahead and Googled up a recipe, landing on this one.

Um, maybe it was the store brand baking mix, but this recipe was seriously broken. I had to add an additional 1/3 cup of milk before it formed anything other than a powdery mess. The topping also needed an additional tablespoon of butter. And 45 minutes of baking time. Thus, my revised version.

The Easiest Coffee Cake
Adapted from

2 c. Bisquick or other baking mix
1 c. milk
2 tbsp. sugar
2 c. frozen mixed berries, rinsed and drained
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8 inch square pan with cooking spray. Mix above ingredients except berries. Spread in pan. Sprinkle berries evenly over batter. Put topping over berries.


1/3 c. Bisquick or other baking mix
1/3 c. sugar
2 tbsp. cold butter
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Mix topping ingredients until crumbly, smushing with fingers. Sprinkle over berries. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes. Test with a cake tester or toothpick. Eat (all of it yourself). Serve while warm.

Mine took 45 minutes to bake, but 5 minutes to come together. So simple. Seriously, this is what you make when you remember at 7 AM that you were supposed to bring something for coffee hour at church at 9 AM. EASY.
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