Series

Lately

November 25, 2015

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Last Saturday, instead of taking the bus home from the Upper West Side, I walked through the park. A lot of the trees still have color and leaves, which was super surprising, but really fun to look at. Right as I was about to leave, I passed this spot of grass that was completely covered in leaves. Sometimes living in the city feels so different from living at home, but these kinds of things make it feel more familiar.

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First Something Corporate and then Jack’s Mannequin, Andrew McMahon is now the front man of Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. Something Corporate was my first “real” concert (I was 14 and chaperoned), and seeing him live again was nostalgic and still so much fun. Whether or not you know his music, I  recommend his documentary,”Dear Jack.” The film documents Andrew’s battle with Leukemia and the role his music played in that. It’s now available on Netflix and is both heartbreaking and really inspiring. A few years ago, Andrew started the Dear Jack Foundation, which raises funds for all types of organizations that help young adults battling the disease. He is a  remarkable human and all of his projects are worth checking out.

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When searching for a treat-related gift a few weeks back, I discovered Sugarfina. This place is so much fun! They just recently opened their first New York location in Columbus Circle, but everything is available online as well. The store design is so smart and cheerful. Each kind has its own designated space on a bright white shelf that makes the colorful candy pop. So far I’ve had the The Bubbly Bears and the Single Malt Scotch Cordials, which are both unexpected and awesome flavors. Their branding is spot on.

 

Recipes

The Best Brownies

November 23, 2015

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With Thanksgiving just a few days away, it’s hard to think about much else besides getting home and spending time with my family. One of the things that I love most about being home is spending time with my mom while we cook and bake together. I look forward to learning a new recipe from her and being able to try it out in a full size, not New York style, kitchen. This brownie recipe is one we’ve made together for a family gatherings since high school and is the only one I ever use because it is proven to be the best. It originated from a Hershey’s recipe (this recipe no longer exists online) and has grown into a super rich, extra chocolate final product.

You’ll Need:

3/4 cup of cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon of baking soda

2/3 cup melted butter – divided into 1/3 cups

1/2 cup of boiling water

2 cups of sugar

2 eggs

1 & 1/3 cups of flour

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1 cup of semisweet chocolate (I used Trader Joe’s chocolate pieces)

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9×13 baking dish. 

Stir together cocoa powder and the baking soda in a large bowl and add 1/3 cup of the melted butter. Once combined, add the boiling water and continue stirring until the mixture thickens. (My mom swears that the key to this recipe is mixing everything by hand. There is always a designated stirrer.)

Add the sugar, eggs, and remaining 1/3 cup of butter and stir until smooth. Add the flour, vanilla, and salt. This is where the stirring gets tough – make sure to blend completely. Add the chocolate pieces and spread evenly into the baking dish.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Let the brownies cool completely in the pan placed on a wire rack. 

I think these are best served warm with vanilla ice cream, but they are incredible on their own as well!

Recipes

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

November 20, 2015

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With the holidays coming up (Thanksgiving is less than a week away!), I have sort of gone on a baking kick. I spent one summer a few years ago testing out tons of different cupcakes recipes, and now it seems like my choice of baked goods are of the breakfast variety. My absolute favorite breakfast baked good is the chocolate babka from Breadworks, a bakery in Pittsburgh. This babka is not like the New York version – it’s more of a sweet bread with chocolate pieces throughout. It’s only available four times a year (which is exciting because it used to be limited to twice!) and after the last time I had it, I thought about trying to recreate it. I had never baked with yeast before and I know that sometimes it can be tricky. This led me to searching for beginner-level recipes that use yeast and it seemed that cinnamon rolls were the answer.

After checking out a bunch of different recipes, I decided on this one from Sally’s Baking Addiction. Just like her post explains, these were really easy to make. I was extra careful to measure correctly since I had never made a real dough before. The only change I made was to the glaze. Instead of a tablespoon of strong coffee, I used a tablespoon of Dave’s Coffee Syrup and two tablespoons of milk. I was really surprised at how easily they came together and how well they turned out. I made mine the night before I planned to eat them and this is what they looked like when I took them out of the refrigerator to rise at room temperature before baking.

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Although most store bought cinnamon rolls are tasty too, the dough in this recipe is what makes it special. It ends up being perfectly fluffy and it holds its own up against the cinnamon and sugar. The glaze, especially with the coffee component, combined with the filling adds the perfect amount of sweetness. I haven’t tried other recipes, but with this one, I don’t think I need to.

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Something about cinnamon rolls just feels cozy. These were the start of a perfect Sunday last week and the end result was so great that I’m thinking of variations that I could make this weekend. These cinnamon rolls would make the perfect breakfast on Thanksgiving and could only be made better by being paired with my family and the holiday issue of Real Simple.  Happy Friday!

Stationery

Card Making

November 17, 2015

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I love card shops (this one is so, so cool) and I have been known to buy the perfect birthday card for someone almost a year in advance. A card is such a simple thing, but finding the perfect one makes me so happy. Over the years, I’ve started to create my own paper products (cards, gift tags, labels – stuff like that), and more recently, I’ve started to learn different techniques. There is now a Paper Source four blocks and 3 avenues away from my apartment (there are none in Pittsburgh yet), which I think has contributed to my love of all things paper. Typically, I go with the A2 luxe cards in Cream and I chose the envelope color depending on what it’s for. My favorite go-to envelope color for every day cards is the luxe Blush. Both colors are really soft, and with the cream, it’s a little more subtle than a bright white. In the photo above, I used Cream (left), Pure White (middle), and Paper Bag (right). Overtime, I’ve accumulated kind of a lot of supplies, but in a tiny apartment, I have to be careful to keep my collection at bay so that everything fits in my craft bin (that’s a thing). Because of this, I’ve learned that you can do a lot with a little.

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This is really all I needed to make the cards above – the only thing missing is the embossing tool (this is similar to what I have). My go-to tools are a fine tip glue pen, glitter (this is the best set ever), embossing ink, embossing powder, a stamp and a dobber. These are some of the variations that can be made with the above:

Glue Pen + Glitter

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This card is the most simple and easy to make. My handwriting is not the best, but I’ve found that a glue pen is actually very forgiving. Once you add the glitter, it looks nice automatically. I’ve also learned that to get the best results, have the glitter chosen and ready to go before you use the glue. I’ve had the same glue pen for about a year and a half and am just now running out – I’ve written something as along as a full quote and something as short as one word, like this one. When writing something longer, it helps to go word by word and to apply the glitter as you go. The glitter and glue pen options is a great way to design the cover of a folded card.

Glue Pen + Embossing Powder + Stamp + Embossing Tool

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This one can be made with any kind of stamp and embossing ink (or even glue). Similar to any other kind of stamping technique, this card is really simple, but has a more luxe look from the powder. The trick I’ve learned as I have practiced embossing is to gently press the stamp straight into the ink pad and to pull it away the same way. My instinct is to wiggle the stamp around to get the most coverage, but what happens is that the ink bleeds onto more of the stamp outside of the image and this makes the lines of the stamp less pronounced. I usually stamp 2-3 times, pour the embossing powder, and repeat so that the ink does not dry in the process. I also try to touch the surface of the card as little as possible because trace amounts of the powder will stick and melt where it shouldn’t when it’s time for the heating tool. After I have the number of stamps that I want, I tap the edges of the card against whatever surface I’m using to shake off any excess powder. If you are using the heat tool, it works best to hold it a few inches away and to move it slowly around the paper. After a few seconds, the powder will start to melt to create the foil effect. If you aren’t using a heat tool, the same thing can be done with glue and glitter.

Dobber + Ink Pad

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This is the technique I’ve experimented with most recently. The dobber and ink create a sort of watercolor / ombré effect. When I tried this, my first thought was to dab the card with ink and gradually create a darker bottom and dab only a bit at the top. The problem was that the circular shape of the tool was visible each time. What I’ve found is that the best way to create a more fluid look  is to use the tool almost like a marker. Here, I moved the dobber back and forth horizontally, almost like coloring in a large surface, and repeated in the areas that I wanted to be more saturated. It took me a couple of tries to get the effect that I wanted, but I love how it gives the paper a completely different look. This would be a cool technique for recipe cards or invitations.

I really love finding the perfect card for a birthday or special occasion because it feels like they can articulate a feeling in the form of a keepsake. There are so many amazing options already, but there is something about hand making something with someone in mind that makes it even better.

Recipes

Ina Garten’s Cinnamon Baked Donuts

November 9, 2015

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A morning person at heart, a lot of what I love about the weekend is being able to have my coffee in a real mug, not a travel mug at my desk, and enjoying a pastry (any kind, I am not picky) from a great bakery nearby as the first activity of the day. Lately, my appreciation for the donut has grown with all of the great options in the city. After almost a year and a half of living on the Upper East Side, I finally made it to Glaser’s Bakeshop. Glaser’s is known for their black and white cookies, but their donut is what makes me go back weekly (at least). They make the best simple cinnamon sugar donut I’ve ever had. When given the choice, I will almost always go with chocolate anything and donuts are not exempt from that, but this is an exception.

After trying the donut from Glaser’s for the first time, the Saturday morning donut has become my go-to. I recently bought this donut pan to try to make some different variations at home. On a rainy Saturday in October, I tested it out with a recipe for a plain vanilla donut with a Nutella frosting. They turned out well, at first, but after a few hours, the icing sort of absorbed into the donut. The base didn’t seem to hold up to the glaze and it tasted a little bit more cupcake-y than I would have liked. It was a fun first try, but I knew that it wouldn’t become a replacement for the options I have in my neighborhood.

For my second attempt with my donut pan, I wanted to try something more foolproof, and I looked to the standard from Glaser’s. Theirs is fried, but the principles are the same – a light cake base with a cinnamon sugar coating. I figured a baked version wouldn’t be too far off. After a bit of research, I found this recipe by Ina Garten and Trial #2 with the donut pan was much more successful. Ina Garten’s recipe is pretty perfect (as always). The only differences that I noticed were that the recipe yielded 18 donuts, rather than 12, which was probably due to the size of my pan, and rather than dipping the donuts in the butter, I used a brush. I tried the dipping technique first, but it made the coating a little bit too thick. With a light coat of butter, the donut held just enough of the cinnamon sugar mix.

The donuts are light, but still feel like a treat. Whether it’s the bake time, the pan, the ratio of ingredients, or all three, something made the outside feel a little bit crispy, almost like the fried version. The sweetness of the topping and the flavor of the actual cake go really well together and when I served these at a brunch with friends, it was pretty much unanimously decided that this recipe is a new go-to.