Monday, September 30, 2013

Autumn Baking: Salted Caramel Butter Bars

I think I finally cracked the caramel code. After successfully making caramel from scratch four times, I now have the recipe memorized and the technique down. Let's just not talk about the two times I burned the dickens out of the sugar or nearly set the house on fire when the cream boiled over, mmm-kay?

The problem is, I have an electric range and the element heats very unevenly. So I have to be really careful where I put my thermometer or one section of the sugar syrup burns before the other section is fully carmelized. The trick is to gently swirl the pan once or twice once the sugar melts and to put the thermometer on the hottest part of the element. 

Oh, and don't ever walk away. Even for a second to put laundry in the dryer. Just don't. 

Anyway, I put my newfound caramel-making skills to good use with this recipe for Salted Caramel Butter Bars for Doug's coworkers on Friday. This is by far my favorite recent recipe. There's just something divine about the salty-sweet combination of caramel and coarse sea salt. Oh, and these are pretty rich so cut them small!

Also, the plate is vintage Mikasa Pivotal Antigua designed by Ben Seibel, the porcelain cup is vintage Rosenthal Romanze designed by Bjorn Wiinblad and the placemats came from Pottery Barn a few years ago. Since y'all always ask about the vintage stuff I use in my photos!

Salted Caramel Butter Bars with Homemade Caramel

adapted from Cookies & Cups and America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

1 lb. salted butter (room temperature)
1 cup sugar
1½ cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp vanilla
4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup water
2 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tbsp coarse sea salt

Bar Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325°
  2. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugars. Using mixer on medium speed, beat together until creamy. Add the vanilla and beat until combined. Sift the flour into the butter mixture and beat on low speed until a smooth soft dough forms.
  3. Spray a 9x13 inch baking pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Press one-third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust. Wrap remaining dough in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator.
  4. Bake crust until firm and the edges are a pale golden brown approx 20 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool about 15 minutes.
  5. While the bottom crust is baking and the remaining dough is chilling, make the caramel filling (instructions below).
  6. Pour the caramel filling over the crust. If you are going to salt the caramel sprinkle it on caramel layer now.
  7. Remove the remaining chilled dough from the refrigerator and crumble it evenly over the caramel.
  8. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is bubbly and the crumbled shortbread topping is firm and lightly golden, about 25 - 30 minutes.
  9. Let cool completely (overnight is best) before cutting into squares.
Filling Instructions
  1. Pour the water into a large saucepan. Add the sugar to the center of the pan, taking care not to let the granules adhere to the sides of the pan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Once boiling, uncover and continue to to boil until the syrup is straw-colored and registers 300 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes. Reduce to medium heat and continue to cook until the syrup is a deep amber color and registers 350 degrees on the thermometer, 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, bring the cream and salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan. (if the cream simmers before the syrup reaches a deep amber color, remove it from the heat and cover to keep warm.)
  4. Remove the sugar syrup from the heat. Very carefully, pour about one-quarter of the hot cream into the sugar syrup and let the bubbling subside. Add the remaining cream and vanilla and let the bubbling subside. Whisk the sauce gently until smooth. Serve warm or cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Outfit Post: White Jeans for Fall

The house has smelled like caramel for over a week. It's not a bad problem to have, but I now have my homemade caramel recipe memorized. More about that on Monday. You might think that's a weird lead-in to a fashion post, but it's relevant, I swear.

See, fall is my favorite time to bake. The weather has finally cooled down. I can open the windows. I get to use pumpkin and cinnamon and apples and nuts. I always feel guilty for not using strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and peaches in the summer, you know? But no more! Anyway, so I've baked something pretty much every day for the last two weeks. Good for Doug's coworkers, our gaming group and our church friends, bad choices for breakfast.

The point is that I had to get out of the house. Can't bake if you're not home, right? And that meant that I had to put on real clothes. Because Juicy sweats, a t-shirt and a fleece pull-over are not appropriate for leaving the house unless you're in college. I haven't been in college for...a while.

So today I'm headed out to some estate sales, not because I need anything, but because I need to stay the heck away from the boiling sugar syrup. Have a great weekend!

Shirt: J. Crew Factory | Vest: J. Crew last season (this season at J. Crew Factory, this season at J. Crew) | Necklace: Stella & Dot | Jeans: Lands End Canvas old (similar, similar) | Belt: Target old | Boots: Frye

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Field Trip Thursday: Hillwood Museum in Washington, DC

One of the perks of living near Washington, DC is that there are a plethora of options for taking in amazing homes, museums and art. And sometimes, you can do all three at once!

Yesterday I went with a group of people from my church to visit Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Washington, DC. It's located in an upscale neighborhood near the National Zoo in Upper Northwest. Despite the fact that I have visited many museums and even several private homes with tremendous art collections in Washington, I had somehow missed Hillwood.

Hillwood was the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the heiress of the Post Cereal fortune. Ever heard of Grape-Nuts? Yeah, that Post. She served on the board of the company for many years after her father died when she was 27 years old and she was a noted philanthropist, giving away as much money each year as she spent.

In 1953, she bought Hillwood and went about turning it into a proper setting for her vast collection of 18th and 19th century French and Russian antiques and art. It was impossible to discuss every object we saw in the hour-long tour we took, but some outstanding objects are in the collection, including amazing portrait of Catherine the Great, two Faberge eggs and many exceedingly high quality pieces of French furniture and porcelain.

I highly recommend you visit when you're in the area. In case you're not convinced, here is some eye candy to entice you!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Autumn Baking: Pumpkin Spice Doughnuts with Maple Glaze

The temperature was 45 degrees this morning when Chester and I walked Doug to the train station. I had to put on a sweater! I think autumn is officially here.

And with autumn comes pumpkin recipes! It's a little hard for me to want pumpkin in the middle of summer. With the cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and such, it's just such a cold weather flavor profile, don't you agree?

Last year I made doughnuts for the first time. My inaugural outing was maple bacon doughnuts. They were super tasty, but those are yeast doughnuts so they took quite a while to make what with the rising time and all.

These? Criminally, stupidly, dangerously fast. Not, like, weekday morning fast(they make quite a mess), but definitely every-weekend-from-now-until-spring fast. If you start heating the oil while you mix the ingredients, you'll be eating doughnuts 35 minutes later.

These are doughnuts of the cake/old fashioned variety. If you're into fluffy raised doughnuts, this is not the recipe for you. But cake doughnuts are my favorite so you'll hear no objections from me. The recipe I based them on came with a buttermilk glaze, but I modified it to include some maple syrup, just cuz.

Oh, and the plates pictured are Ben Seibel for Iroquois. The pattern is Harvest Time and I've got several of them up in my Etsy store.

Glazed Pumpkin Spice Doughnuts with Maple Glaze
adapted from Barefoot and Baking
(about 2 1/2 dozen, plus doughnut holes)

3 1/2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 cup sugar
2 tpsp butter, melted
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup pumpkin puree
canola oil (for frying)

Maple Glaze
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup maple syrup

  1. Heat 2 inches of oil in a dutch oven over medium high heat. 
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, spice and sugar. 
  3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together all the remaining ingredients except the oil (it's for frying). Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients in. Mix all together until the dough is well combined. I used my stand mixer, but you could definitely do this by hand.
  4. Turn out onto a well floured surface and roll the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick (this may seem pretty thin but they puff up a lot when frying). Cut with a doughnut cutter or drinking glass. I used two different size biscuit cutters.
  5. When the oil is hot (I use a candy themometer--it should read between 360 and 375 degrees), gently slide the doughnuts into the oil, frying the first side until the edges are lightly browned and the top starts to crack, about 45 seconds. Carefully flip the doughnuts over and allow to cook until lightly browned on this side too. Remove and place on a wire rack over a baking sheet covered with paper towels.
  6. Whisk together glaze ingredients until smooth. Dip warm doughnuts in the glaze and then allow to air dry on a cooling rack.
Enjoy with a tall glass of milk or a cup of coffee!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Operation Upcycle: Chalkboard Peace Globe

It's time for the second installment of Operation Upcycle! I'm in the process of taking a few things here and there that I have laying around and spiffing them up. It's a fun way to learn new skills and push myself to try new things! The first project I did was adding some green and gold decorations to vintage teak bowls.

I hadn't intended to do two painting projects in a row, but the next item on the docket required some supplies that I needed to order online and they haven't arrived yet so when I saw this nifty globe on Deepest Ocean Blue, I knew what I was going to do with the old globe I had laying around.

DIY Painted Globe by Deepest Ocean Blue

The globe had been in my Etsy store, but it's a very basic mid century globe without any amazing decorative characteristics and it just hadn't sold after a few months.

I wouldn't have changed a single thing with how Nikki did her project except that 1) I don't have a Silhouette machine and 2) I bought some chalkboard spray paint that has been sitting around for a while and I hadn't had a chance to try using it yet. So if you have a Silhouette machine, go here and follow Nikki's instructions, which are great.

In order to do my project, I used the same font Nikki used, which is Lobster. You can get Lobster free online from I used Photoshop to lay it out on an 8 1/2" by 11" transparent background in case I wanted to change the height or width of the letters, but I didn't end up needing to do that so you could use something as simple as Microsoft Word.

I printed it out on full sheet Avery label paper that is designed to be removable. I used a tiny square to make sure it would stick enough to paint over, but not enough to damage the surface. My to my relief, it worked great.

Doug trained as a mapmaker prior to the advent of computer software so he's a dab hand with an Exacto knife. Lucky for me because Exacto knives and I don't, ahem, exactly get along.

So Doug trimmed along the edges of the letters and then peeled the backing and stuck it to the globe.

Then we took it outside, balancing it on an old drinking glass to spray paint it.

The chalkboard spray paint requires two coats, but it dries pretty fast so I was able to recoat every half hour, flipping the globe between coats to get both the top and the bottom.

I waited 24 hours, then peeled off the letters. And yay! The edges were nice and crisp. There was a tiny bit of seepage in one spot, but it came right off with a q-tip and some nail polish remover, which didn't damage the globe's surface.

According to the chalkboard paint instructions, you need to cover the entire surface with chalk and then erase it to prepare it for regular use.

I tried it out with some chalk too, just for fun.

You can still kind of make out the outlines of the continents if you know what you're looking for, and the mountain ranges are still visible because of the relief on the globe, so it could be fun to label each continent or use it to test your geography skills.

Also, I positioned the letters over the Middle East and North Africa because I think we can all agree that area could use a little peace right now.

So have you tackled any upcycling projects lately?

Linking up to: Making Home Base | Handy Man, Crafty Woman | New Nostalgia | Give Me the Goods Monday | The Shabby Nest | DIY Showoff |Uncommon Designs | Liz Marie Blog | Blissfully Ever After | Design, Dining & Diapers | Crafty Scrappy Happy | Craftberry Bush | The Shabby Creek Cottage | Link Party Palooza | The Creative Connection | Serenity Now | Share Your Creativity | Dear Creatives | Simply Create

Monday, September 23, 2013

New Living Room Gallery Wall: Musical Art

I think most kids are familiar with the concept of musical chairs. There's a ring of chairs, with one more kid than there are chairs. When the music starts, everyone walks around in a circle. When the music stops, everyone tries to sit in a chair, resulting in one kid being left standing. That child is out and the music starts again until there is just one kid left. That child wins!

Well, that's what I did much all the art in our house over the weekend.

After flip flopping the living room and dining room, I was left with the gallery wall I'd painstakingly built hidden behind the big shelving unit with the globes on top. And while partially hidden art can be a good look, this definitely wasn't.

So down came the wall. 

And when the music stopped, we had a few losers (some vintage fairy tale prints and an Edward Hopper poster), which I have now listed on Craigslist. Couldn't hurt, right?

As for where all the rest of it ended up, well, some of it is in the hall.

Some of it is in the bedroom.

Some of it ended up on the other side of the dining table.

But most of it ended up incorporated into a new gallery wall!

If you've been reading for a while, you might think my favorite thing to do is hang pictures. I swear that's not the case. But I'm not going to say this is "done" because it seems like every time I say that, I end up changing something, like, less than a week later. Whoops.

Of course when I decided to move all the art, first I went to Pinterest for inspiration. Last time I did the gallery wall, I had the starburst clock as a jumping off point. It was a nice central element to work with. This time though, I had an elephant in the living room. Well, not an actual elephant, though for someone whose favorite animal is foxes, I do have an awful lot of elephants.

No, I'm referring here to the huge satellite photo of San Francisco that used to bisect the dining table. And since it's actually nailed to the wall, I decided that it was either leave it be or take it down permanently and I'm not ready to part with it yet.

Plus, the TV creates its own focal point, which I kind of want to diminish when it's not on. Not to mention that the thermostat and an ugly register cover are also both on that adjacent wall. Finally, family photos hang in another gallery wall in the hallway that you can see from the front door. And as we have previously discussed, I am no minimalist.

As for how to hang a pictures, there are lots of tutorials online, none of which I follow. My method is to measure the distance between the "hanging point" on the back of the frame and the top of the frame, then put pencil marks on the wall where I want my nail. It works great for me without all the hassle of laying everything out on the floor or cutting up little newspaper templates. Too much trouble.

Tune in next week, when I will have inevitably acquired another piece of art and moved everything again. 

That's a joke.

I hope.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Flip flopping: living room and dining room makeover

Sometimes you just need a year or two (or three) to admit when something isn't working. I thought that when we put in the chandelier back in June, it would bother me less that the dining table seemed kind of cramped because it would look more like a real dining room.

And it did feel cramped with six people sitting around it, which happens about every other weekend. It seemed more like a dining room, but I still craved more functionality for times when we entertain, which we do often.

Also, while I loved having my collection of globes front and center when I walked in the front door, it was really cutting up the floor plan and making the whole space look smaller. We've only got 900-ish square feet to begin with so anything that makes a space look smaller is pretty much not going to work long-term.

Finally, I wanted to restyle the shelving unit up there to display some of the mid century ceramics I've been inadvertently collecting. The photo above is a random assortment of items available in my Etsy store, but with the office cleared up, I have been storing more product in there and less in the living room.

So after much deliberation, we decided to flip-flop the two rooms. Get ready!

You can see our gallery wall there behind the shelving unit with all the pottery. I haven't moved all the art around yet, but I did get a chance to do some other styling to dress the place up for fall.

I love the lighting in this shot. It's all dark and moody!

And then there's the other side of the room.

Most of this was achieved by rearranging the furniture we already had. But I did pick up a couple of things, like flowers from Trader Joe's ($12 for three bouquets), a neutral linen table runner from Home Goods ($12) a clearance vase from Michaels ($6), and some faux greenery for the table also from Michaels ($4 on sale). The runner and vase will span seasons and fresh flowers are always nice to have around.

We still need to move the chandelier back over the table, which is going to involve a new box and new wiring (which we'll get an electrician to do for us). We'll also get a new overhead light (probably a flushmount) for above the living room area. Plus, we have art to move.

Like, a lot of art.

But so far we're really enjoying the new set-up. We had people over on Saturday (happy birthday to me) and it was nice that no one had to get up to let other people out from behind the table for the very first time!

So what do you think of this flip flop?

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