Sunday, October 30, 2011

Recipe tip: Pumpkin Chocolate Whoopie Pies

As the Everyday Food fairy continues to grace us with our complimentary subscription, I figured it was time to start trying some new recipes. Specifically, we wanted to take a new dessert to our friends' house this weekend for dinner, so I opted for these very fall treats: Pumpkin Chocolate Whoopie Pies.

At first I was worried they sounded complicated, as it involves making both the cookies and the chocolate frosting from scratch. But if you're looking for a medium-difficulty dessert -- somewhere between whipping up a batch of brownies from a mix and making an apple pie from scratch -- these are the way to go. And just about everyone seems to love anything involving pumpkin puree, even though somewhat shockingly this was the first time I'd ever opened a can of pumpkin puree.

The great thing about these whoopie pies is that they're really two desserts in one, so if you decide not to go the whoopie pie route, you can still have some killer pumpkin cookies.

Another observation: I followed the recipe to a T, and I wound up with twice as much chocolate frosting as I needed, so next time I would make half as much. I'll give you the complete recipe, though, so you can make the call on how much frosting you'd like. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Chocolate Whoopie Pies
(makes 10 whoopie pies)

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup pumpkin pie puree
1 cup light-brown sugar
1/3 cup unsalted melted butter, plus 1/4 cup at room temperature
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 3/4 cup powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, pumpkin pie puree, brown sugar, melted butter and 1/4 cup cream. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and whisk until combined.

2. Drop dough in 2-tablespoon mounds, 1 inch apart, onto two parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake for 14 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cool completely before frosting.

3. Using an electric mixer, beat room temperature butter, 1/2 cup cream, cocoa powder and powdered sugar on medium-high until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Spread filling on flat side of cookies and sandwich together.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nursery progress: Modge Podge in the house

I have heard so much about Modge Podge on the Internets in the last couple years that I finally decided the nursery gave me an opportunity to try it out. It also helped me achieve my goal of adding those desired bright pops of color to the nursery's overall neutral palette of gray and white.

I decided to line the back of an inexpensive IKEA bookcase (this white Billy bookcase we bought a few weeks ago, to be exact) after being inspired by this post from IHeart Organizing about revamping a bookcase for bathroom storage. Even though Jen stenciled and painted the back of her bookcase, I decided the paper and Modge Podge route would be easier for me to tackle.

Then, inspired by this post from Young House Love about lining the drawers of their nursery dresser with pretty gift wrap, I did virtually the same thing to the inside of our nursery dresser drawers.

For both the bookcase and the dresser drawers I decided to use the same paper to create a consistent look. I figure the curtains are the biggest statement piece in the nursery, and I don't want to go too crazy with too many conflicting patterns in our relatively small room. I found thick single-sheet wrapping paper at World Market with a modern orange pattern (5 sheets at $2.69 each). I got my first-ever bottle of Modge Podge at Jo-Ann Fabrics (16 oz. for $8) a couple weeks ago.

If you've never before worked with Modge Podge, I have to say that it is a shockingly forgiving substance. It's sort of like Elmer's Glue (the old school kind), except something about its water-based make up means it's even easier to work with and glides on smoothly. When it dries it's perfectly clear, so you don't have to be worried about applying perfectly even coats to still get the results you're hoping for.

Here are my Modge Podging supplies all laid out: my giant bottle of matte finish Modge Podge as well as a foam brush I picked up in a bulk set from Michael's years ago.

After cutting the five pieces of gift wrap to fit in the bookcase backing and dresser drawers, I spread a thin layer of Modge Podge onto each surface and then immediately placed the gift wrap inside, taking care to press down firmly on the middle of the paper first and then smoothing the rest of the paper from the middle out to the edges of the surface to prevent bubbles.

I gave a little bit of drying time between getting the paper to adhere to the surfaces and then putting a layer of Modge Podge over the paper to protect the paper's surface, but I have to say that the hour or so I allowed for drying was not enough. If you are striving for absolute perfection -- absolutely no air bubbles -- definitely take the advice of the Young House Love folks and give yourself four hours of drying time between gluing the paper in and then sealing it.

In all honesty, as I approach the final stretch of pregnancy my patience is waning and my sense of urgency in regard to completing all projects is only increasing, so I decided on the express route (i.e. not striving for perfection). The good news is that there are no visible air bubbles on the back of the bookcase, but there are some inside one of the three dresser drawers.

Now that the Modge Podging is complete, one question remains: What to do about those pesky holes on the sides of the Billy bookcase? Granted, a few sets of holes will be filled in when I install the remaining four shelves. But most of the holes are going to be visible if I don't do anything. Although we have a Billy bookcase in a wood tone and we have the holes exposed on that one and it doesn't bother me, the holes are so much more prominent on this white bookcase. So, I feel like I should do something to make them less visible. One option would be the putty them up, but that seems semi-permanent and thus defeats the purpose of adjustable shelves. An idea from my in-laws is to cover them with ribbon, and I have orange ribbon that rather perfectly matches the gift wrap color.

But maybe you all have other ideas. What would you do? Suggestions welcome!

Monday, October 24, 2011

75% cooked

I share this quick post because, after looking at a couple pictures of me 30 weeks pregnant, all I can think is, "This is getting for real, people."

And yes, it's official: I am starting to hit my students (accidentally) with my stomach. And this baby will not stop jumping. Watching my stomach jump all around and subsequently laughing out loud is my new favorite past time.

I have an actual mini-project post to share with a weekend update, so stay tuned.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My pregnancy essentials shopping list

As I've been adjusting to this new stage of my life, I've had to adjust my shopping habits, too. Here are a few items that have been essential for me the first 28 weeks of my pregnancy.

1) Body pillow

This is the one item I already had-- it actually traveled with me to college -- though it has been resting in the guest room for nearly five years. I only started sleeping with the body pillow around the time I hit 20 weeks and my belly started to feel more defined. That's when I knew it was time to adopt side sleeping.

This is what our bed usually looks like now when I wake up: body pillow laying sideways across the bed. I sleep with the body pillow in two ways:

1) with my legs wrapped around it and my body turned to either the right or left side (I switch whenever I get up in the middle of the night to pee, which is always once, usually twice, and sometimes three times)

2) with the body pillow wrapped around my stomach like an inner tube as I lie on one of my sides

If you have a keen eye and a good memory, you may notice something else in the photo above: a new headboard! We finally bought an actual bed frame. This is one of those items left over from the summer to-do list that we wanted to take care of before Baby Awesomerod's arrival. Specifically, I'd been on a mission to find an upholstered headboard for some time now because I'm going to try breastfeeding, and we're going to try having the baby sleep in our room in her Pack N' Play in at least the very beginning. I wanted something soft to lean against at all hours of the night, and this bed frame from World Market fit the bill. Plus, at $400 it was the most affordable but still nice-looking one we could find. Extra bonus points for waiting until now to buy this: we used our 25% friends and family discount last week, so we saved $100. Booyah!

OK, back to business....

2) Bra extenders

Here's something you already know about pregnancy: your boobs will grow. One thing I did not realize as much is that my rib cage would also expand thanks to extra fluids, lung expansion and the growing uterus that seemingly crushes everything else in my body.

In the first half of pregnancy before your belly is proportionate to your boobs they will seem especially large. Lots of women I've spoken to have claimed to have needed a new bra in the first trimester. This was definitely not the case for me. Plus, I love my bras and want to extend their life as much as possible. My rib cage expansion is the main thing I needed to figure out how to work around. I know I'll have to change at the very end of pregnancy/early postpartum period to a nursing bra (or simply a different size bra) but I still have not broken down and purchased a new bra thanks to the wonder of the bra extender.

Jo-Ann Fabrics carries bra extenders in all kinds of styles -- three hook extenders, two hook extenders, magnetic extenders, traditional hook extenders. Frankly I found it a little overwhelming as I sifted through their collection to find the one that would work with the majority of my bras. So now I simply transfer my bra extender among my different bras. This investment of a few dollars has been well worth it.

3) Step stool

I'll admit that as a short person I've made some stupid decisions in the kitchen, jumping up onto our counter tops to grab items from high shelves. Now that I can barely bend over I decided that jumping on counter tops is probably not the safest practice, so I picked up one of these $15 folding step stools from Bed Bath and Beyond.

In retrospect, it's silly that I didn't get one of these sooner, seeing as it folds up so compactly and will fit in the nook between our fridge and the cabinet. But at least it will also be a good kid-friendly item to have in our house when we have a toddler.

4) Gilligan & O'Malley pajama bottoms from Target

Specifically, I picked up two pairs of these Slub Pajama Pants. Slub seems like the perfect word to describe these. I like the slub around my house wearing these with my belly feeling totally comfortable.

5) San Pellegrino Limonata

The perfect substitute for alcohol...sort of.

What would you add to the list?

Enjoy your lazy Sunday!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Easy jewelry access

One thing that's true about how I get ready in the morning is that I try to do it as quickly as possible while still walking out the door appearing somewhat put together. Jewelry is a big help in the put-together look, but when my jewelry is hidden away I am less inclined to sift through it. A long time ago I shared with you my hanging necklaces display, which is one organizational strategy I've tried to make myself more inclined to wear jewelry, and it has worked. I've recently added an earring and bracelet display to the mix.

It took me a while to figure out how to better display my earrings and bracelets in a way that would work for me by not taking up too much space and not appearing cluttered while still encouraging me to access my jewelry more frequently. After checking out other organizers' ideas like the ones you'll find here I settled on the ceramic egg crates from Anthropologie for my earrings.

At $14 each, they are affordable and functional. The one downside of these is that they can more easily collect dust, but the fact that I actually wear earrings now most days outweighs that minor annoyance.

I also finally picked up this acrylic bracelet display at Jo-Ann Fabrics last weekend. It was a good investment of $7.99 (less 20 percent after a coupon -- holler!).

Reorganizing my jewelry has been a silly little task on my to-do list for months now, and I'm glad that after some earring reorganization this summer and bracelet reorganization this weekend I now have a much higher likelihood of wearing these items.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Best T-shirt ever

I realize "Best T-shirt ever" may sound like major hyperbole, and perhaps it is, but I am really pleased with this purchase:

(Ignore my one rogue curl...such is my life.)

And despite the shirt's message, I am pleased to report that -- aside from a few friends' husbands, oddly enough -- I haven't had many inappropriate people try to touch my now 28-week-pregnant belly. (I am more than happy for my girlfriends to rub my belly because it's a novelty factor if nothing else. Plus I like for them to share in my happiness, and they possess all the same body parts as me.)

I found this gem through a giveaway on the blog Pregnant Chicken. While I did not win the giveaway, I did go straight to the Etsy seller DiscoBelly (awesome name) to make this purchase. Believe it or not, this is my first ever Etsy purchase, and while I love Etsy as a concept, I am determined to stay off the site unless buying a gift or hunting for some really specific item because I can imagine it could get addictive.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A special anniversary and a new lens purchase

A year ago this weekend, during the last Columbus Day tax-free Energy Star appliance weekend in Virginia, Matt and I purchased our stainless steel fridge and dishwasher. We've been thoroughly enjoying them all this time. Not only do they look great but they function perfectly and -- perhaps most importantly to us -- make hardly any noise. This is a major life upgrade.

But, last week, my typical need for cleanliness or my pregnancy nesting instinct took over (call it what you will), and I realized that I had not thoroughly cleaned the fridge and freezer in the entire time we've owned it. Yes, I have cleaned out each produce drawer several times and wiped down sticky shelves on numerous occasions, but our beloved fridge has never received the head-to-toe treatment it deserves.

So I started with the freezer and my handy Clorox wipes, which I find to be the most effective (though I once again admit, perhaps least environmentally friendly) way of cleaning out the various poppy seeds from bagels and leaves from various vegetables that get stuck in the nooks and crannies of our fridge. We're not big freezer users (yet) so there wasn't too much to sort through, and I am not someone who has an amazing system for organizing the contents of our freezer or our fridge.

The fridge is more satisfying to organize than the freezer, and completely emptying it out and leaving it spotless before throwing out expired goods and rearranging the contents of the shelves made me feel amazingly accomplished.

I documented the freezer and fridge clean-out progress using our new 50 mm f/1.4 lens (for our Canon Rebel XTi DSLR) which just arrived in the mail midway through last week. (We bought it through the site Adorama rather than Amazon because the two sites were charging the same price, but Adorama threw in a free 58 mm UV filter and lens cleaning kit -- two things I've been wanting for some time.)

Here's the (completely unretouched) photo of our freezer contents taken at approximately 9 p.m. Wednesday using our original lens
And here's the same photo taken from the same spot in our kitchen using our new 50 mm lens
Because of the lighting in our house I still had to take both photos on manual settings with an ISO of 1600. Granted, when I take photos to post on this blog or share with friends I almost always retouch them, adjusting usually the exposure and sometimes the saturation. But I wanted to show you the raw files of these images to help you get a sense of what the new lens will do. Namely, while the new lens does not have zooming capabilities, it does have a much more important feature: the ability to take better photos indoors in really low light. Though you might not be able to appreciate it in the examples above, the photos taken with the new lens have way less digital noise (i.e. obvious grainy pixels) than the photos taken with the old lens.

Why did we get this new lens? Well, probably at this point for obvious reasons. As we prepare our lives for Baby Awesomerod, we want to be able to take a ton of pictures of her, and since she'll be arriving during almost the dead of winter, we figure we are going to take almost all our photos indoors in low lighting. We'd rather not take photos using the flash since it tends to have a rather jarring effect.  Our friends Dawn and Jon have taken lots of adorable pictures of their daughter indoors using the same lens that inspired this purchase, and Matt, being the tech guru that he is, was totally happy to buy this lens after seeing what their lens could do.

I am totally thrilled to have a clean fridge AND a new awesome lens to document our lives. Now we need to get Photoshop Elements so I can learn to do a better job at editing photos.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

How I feel about being pregnant

I can't lie. I love it. I love being pregnant for the same reason I love Thursdays: anticipation. Thursday equals almost Friday, which equals two and a half days of doing whatever you want. Pregnancy equals imagining everything that is about to come, full of anticipation.

As I now officially enter my third and final trimester, I am fortunate to have had, up to this point, an easy pregnancy. I realize this likely clouds my judgement regarding pregnancy, but at the same time I was prepared for the worst (that's my pessimism for you -- thanks, Mom, for passing that trait to me), yet I was still looking forward to it all.

Years ago my friend Emily said she looked forward to one day being pregnant, and I totally laughed at her. Society teaches us that pregnancy is nine months from hell, when the woman becomes a raging maniac with out-of-control hormones and a skewed sense of reality, not to mention every possible bodily complication and discomfort known to man. Why would anyone look forward to this? Why would any sane woman agree to go through this? As a feminist I would even go so far as to say that pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood were things I could happily avoid because they seemed like punishment for being female (somewhere along the lines of Eve's original sin).  Now two-thirds of the way through, I can say that these have so far been some of the happiest -- if not the happiest -- months of my entire life, and I cannot wait to be a mother, though the concept of childbirth is still freaking me out (more on that another time).

Now when I hear women complain about being pregnant or having a baby in the near future, it's a punch in my (size-of-a-soccer-ball) gut. If you don't want to have a baby, you don't have to, and there are ways to prevent it. If you want to have a baby, enjoy getting ready for your future.

I've been exceptionally busy, alert and self-reflective during this time so far, and I only imagine those experiences will increase in intensity in the final months leading up to Baby Awesomerod's arrival. The self-reflective element has really kicked in this past month, as for the ninth year of my life I've been placed in charge of 140 impressionable youth. I've wondered in awe at most of them because they are impressive teenagers, but I've shook my head at a few of them, asking myself what their parents did to make them that way and what Matt and I can do to avoid repeating those mistakes with our daughter.

I've also been emotional.

This is a pregnancy cliche that should not surprise you. Although I am mostly a calm, rational (and pessimistic) person on the exterior, whether I am pregnant or not I have strong opinions and emotions. But pregnancy and the anticipation of motherhood has helped bring those emotions more to the surface. This is specifically evidenced by the frequency of my crying episodes. Granted, almost all my tears shed have been happy tears, in fact insanely happy tears, something along the lines of, "Oh my god, I have a human inside me and I am so lucky and so ready to introduce her to the world."

Then there are my sappy tears, most recently evidenced by my burst of tears while driving and the song "I Hope You Dance" came on the radio. I hate that song. I despise it to the core of my being. Yet as Lee Ann Womack belted out those god-awful lyrics, I found myself thinking, "Yes, baby girl, I hope you do dance! I hope when you have the choice to sit it out or dance, you dance! Embrace the life ahead of you!" This, my friends, is out of character, but it still made me happy. And I actually did not change the channel, which is my gut reaction should that horrible song ever make it onto my radio.

Other things that I cannot handle would include this absolutely greatest Google commercial in the history of commercials.

Oh yeah, and this Pampers commercial, which, like the Google commercial above, makes me cry every single time I see it.

I'll get back to sharing mini-house projects and more organizational strategies next, but I wanted to take this little break as I embark on the final phase of pregnancy to share some thoughts lots of friends have been asking me about, but up until today I hadn't had the chance to put down in words.