February 28, 2011

What's Cookin' - Gluten Free Baking Mixes

I love to bake and actually think I turn out some pretty good sweet treats. After I got settled in at my new job, I thought it would be nice to take something home-baked in for a Monday morning staff meeting. Then I found out that one of the ladies I work with is gluten intolerant and I just wouldn't bring a treat that couldn't be shared and enjoyed by everyone.

The Cake Mix DoctorA few years back, my Mom sent me a wonderful cookbook called "The Cake Doctor" by Anne Byrn. The concept is to use mixes to create desserts that taste like they're made from scratch. It's awesome and if you've never tried her peanut butter frosting on a chocolate cake, you have no idea what you're missing! In fact, it's so amazing, I'm just going to go ahead and give you the recipe ...

Peanut Butter Frosting
from Anne Byrn in The Cake Doctor

(makes 3 cups, enough to frost a 2- or 3-layer cake or the top of a 13x9" sheet cake)

1 C. creamy peanut butter (I used chunky and it was still great)
8 T. (1 stick) butter at room temperature (unsalted)
2 C. confectioners' (powdered) sugar, sifted
3 to 4 T. milk
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Blend the peanut butter and butter in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on low speed until fluffy (30 seconds). Stop the machine. Add the confectioners' sugar, 3 tablespoons milk and the vanilla. Blend on low speed until the sugar is well combined (1 minute). Increase the speed to medium and beat until the frosting lightens and is fluffy (1 minute more). Blend in up to 1 tablespoon of milk if the frosting seems too stiff.

The Cake Mix Doctor Bakes Gluten-FreeBut back to gluten-free baking, I was at a bookstore for an author's event and book signing where I went on the search for a gluten-free cookbook. And, behold, I found another Anne Byrn cookbook, "The Cake Doctor Bakes Gluten-Free." Same concept, slightly different mixes.

At my local Fry's grocery store, I found Pamela's Products, all natural wheat-free and gluten-free mixes in the baking section. Granted, they are quite a bit more expensive than regular cake mixes (I think the cake mixes were $5.39 and the brownie mix was a little over $6.00), but if you're looking for something easy and gluten-free, this is a very good solution.

The first one I tried is Cran-Orange Muffins. I used an orange off my tree, cranberries I had frozen from the holidays and baked them in cupcake papers. Because my store did not carry the yellow cake mixes, I used a vanilla cake mix instead and got 23 cupcakes from the mix with additions ...

I was really worried that they just wouldn't taste good because, frankly, that's all I've ever heard about gluten-free products. In fact, they were moist and delicious. I do think the fresh squeezed orange juice, orange zest and bursting cranberries played a big part in the goodness of the finished muffins. Let me just say, they were a hit with everyone at the office.

Next up, I decided to bake gluten-free brownies for a Valentine's Day treat at work.

In addition to the brownie mix, egg, water, vegetable oil and a couple of tablespoons of unsalted butter, I mixed in 6 ounces of mini chocolate chips and 2/3 cup of chopped walnuts. And they were really good! I mean really good! As with all baked goods, though, I believe in slightly under baking which keeps things moist.

We ate them for dessert at home with a scoop of peanut butter cup ice cream. At the office, they were excellent just plain. You'd never guess these were gluten-free ... just delicious!

February 26, 2011

Chestnut Hill in the House

Woo hoo! I just love getting new furniture. It's so exciting. Out of the two dining table sets we had picked out, we decided on one called Chestnut Hill. It came with 2 arm chairs and 4 side chairs and we ordered 2 additional side chairs so we can comfortably seat 8 of us. In the photos, we have one of the leaves in and yet another that we'll store until we need it. With both leaves in, the table extends to 8 feet long. And now I'm thinking I should sew a couple of table runners. Oh boy, a new project to tackle!

The pretty details on the table and chair legs look great with the antique buffet and china cabinet we already have ...

The furniture was delivered yesterday morning and I picked up a can of Scotch Gard to treat the fabric in the afternoon. Okay, we're officially ready for the holidays.

February 25, 2011

Gift Giving Treasure Hunt

On the subject of gift giving, let me back up to the beginning of January, when my niece's birthday gift was late. While I debated sending her the hand-knitted mittens one at a time as I finished them, I just couldn't do it after all. Instead, I embellished her greeting card to reflect the purple one mitten theme ...

Inside it read ...

Just cracks me up!

And even further back, when the Granddaughter was just a little thing learning how to read, she'd often say something like, "No thanks, I don't want to read -- you just go ahead and read it to me." So I came up with the Treasure Hunt Reading Game -- I even wrote about it on Hubpages a couple of years ago -- where I made up clues that led her to presents. The catch was, she had to read the clues to find them!

Now we're up to current times and what we did on Valentine's Day for the 14-year-old Granddaughter. Same concept ...

We put a gift bag on the kitchen counter with an oh so cool gift sent by her Auntie ...

and the first note that read, "Happy Valentine's Day! To get your gift, you'll have to do a little work." Then I drew a small picture of piano keys and a music symbol that directed her to our keyboard where she found a gift bag with an iTunes gift card and a note that read, "Enjoy your music. You don't suck but the vacuum does." This sent her to the hall closet where we keep the vacuum. {Oh Lord, she didn't even know where the vacuum was. How long have we lived in this house???} The gift bag in this closet contained a $20 bill with this note, "A little spending cash for the mall. Now get some exercise." She did know where the treadmill was and found a big gift bag containing her Minky blanket.

The treasure hunt was fun for all of us and she felt very special.

Later that evening, Hubby and I exchanged Valentine's gifts. He gave me a gift bag with a lovely package of dark chocolate covered caramels and a note that read, "Happy Valentine's Day! To get your gift, you'll have to do a little work." What???

That's right, my sweet and hilarious Hubby used the same gift bags and notes and sent me on a treasure hunt for Valentine's presents. What a hoot! Mine included an iTunes gift card, a $20 bill and a gorgeous new watch.

And in case you're wondering, his unimaginative, lonely single gift bag from me contained an Aerosmith CD (loving Steven Tyler on American Idol), the DVD "A Few Good Men" (You can't handle the truth!) and a watch cap that I knitted for him. Now that's true love!

February 22, 2011

It's the Little Things

Don't you find that it's simply the smallest things that can put a smile on your face? Little things like ...

Cinnamon sugar toast. I had given away my shaker of cinnamon sugar to the Youngest Daughter last year and then got to talking to the Granddaughter about it recently. So Hubby picked up a set of salt and pepper shakers at the dollar store for us and we mixed up a small batch. One teaspoon of cinnamon to three teaspoons of sugar ... lightly toast the bread, slather on butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar goodness. Yum!

Learning something new ...

My BIL has started hosting a group of crafty friends at his house once a month. It began with the idea that we wanted to learn how to crochet from one of his friends -- I made two cotton dishcloth/potholders from the first lesson. Now we're planning to include making some charitable offerings like chemo caps or squares for afghans. I so look forward to getting together every month.

Beading ...

I made my Mom an alpaca blend hat for her birthday and included a knitted flower pin with beads stitched into the center ...

She told me she was hoping she was on my hat-making list ... isn't that sweet?

The Granddaughter has been carrying her Minky blanket around with her just like she did when she was a toddler. It's so gratifying to see that she loves her Valentine's present so much and it was worth the hours hunched over the sewing machine and the pin-stuck fingers ...

And here's a BIG THING 

Congratulations to our Nephew who proposed to his sweetheart on Valentine's Day ...

"... when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."

- When Harry Met Sally

February 20, 2011

Good Bad Words

When I was in high school during the early 70s, there was a word we used as a somewhat derogatory term when other kids were doing something obnoxious or stupid ...


I remember thinking it was such a nasty sounding word that I rarely used it myself, but when I heard somebody else use it, I practically fell to the floor laughing.

What a dink!

We were watching something on TV a few weeks ago and a guy called another guy a dink. I about fell off my chair and got into a discussion with Hubby and the Granddaughter about it. I looked it up on dictionary.com (YES, it's in the dictionary) and one of its slang definitions is "A jerk or a goof." So funny enough, it's really not that bad a word. It just still sounds kind of bad to me but I'm getting over it ...  real fast.

We drove to a furniture store in Tempe this morning since everyone is having President's Day sales and we're in the market for a new dining room table and chairs. Even though this store is unfortunately named The Dump, they have high quality furniture and pretty good prices. Since we're spontaneous and nobody thought to check the store's hours before we took off, we got there at 10:30 and they didn't open until 11:00. It seemed like the perfect time to go have some breakfast/brunch at a nearby restaurant with another unfortunate name, Crackers Cafe, that had a long line and very good food ...

The Granddaughter ordered her favorite Belgian Waffle and when she went to pour the syrup, she commented that she hoped it was maple syrup. We often go to IHOP that has four flavors of syrup on the table. Hubby/Bampa said, "What if it's butterscotch syrup?" The Granddaughter and I just looked at each other in scorn and said, "They don't have butterscotch syrup ... it's butter pecan."

He's so sure he's right that he decides to bet us -- a dollar each -- that it is butterscotch syrup rather than butter pecan. He calls IHOP, while we're sitting at Crackers Cafe, to prove he's right. The Granddaughter and I were feeling pretty smug about then because the two of us have been to our IHOP so often, the wait staff knows us there. AND the syrup dispensers have the actual syrup flavors spelled out on top of their lids -- old-fashioned maple, strawberry, blueberry and butter pecan. We're listening to his side of the conversation while he confirms that it is in fact butter pecan, hangs up, looks at us and starts laughing. I turned to the Granddaughter and said {wait for it} ...

He's a dink!

I'm telling you, we laughed hard! He paid off his dollar bet, then we went to The Dump and picked out two tables ...

Even though the one on the left is nearly twice as much in price, I'm thinking we like the details on it a little more. The table legs are prettier and look more like the antique buffet and hutch it will share our dining room with, and the chairs are more comfortable. We did go to two other furniture stores afterward, but these are our top two picks. Still deciding, but we'll probably just call and order one of them tomorrow for delivery to get in on the holiday weekend sale. What do you think?

February 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Happy Birthday to my Mom ...

 ... a quilting, sewing, baking, 
crafting, creative dynamo!

We love you bunches!!!

February 16, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Forget Waldo, Where's Louie?

Sorry, can't go wordless today. I was putting makeup on in the bathroom, glanced over at the bed and thought, "What is that?" 
Yep, it's Louie's muzzle and nose sticking out from between the navy blue sheets. This guy is a burrower. He crawls under the blankets and tunnels his way around until he's comfortable. 

After I took the picture, I kissed him on the nose. He never moved.

For more Wordless Wednesday fun, click here.

February 14, 2011

Minky Love

During December, the Granddaughter and I were walking through the fabric department at Hobby Lobby when we passed a display of Minky Dots and she was mesmerized! She was rubbing her hands over it, ooohing and aaahing and said, "Nana, I want a blanket made from this for Christmas." I truthfully told her that I was already so far behind on my gift making, it would be impossible for me to get a blanket done in time for Christmas. Sweet and unrealistic, she thinks I can do anything, so she gave me this look of disbelief and said with just a hint of sarcasm, "Well, how about for Valentine's Day?" Alrighty then!

I was in the fabric department at JoAnn's right around Christmas and it was definitely my lucky day. Minky fabrics are regularly priced around $13-15 per yard but they were on sale for half-price and I had a coupon for 15% off my entire purchase. Anticipating making her the requested blanket for Valentine's Day, I bought two yards each of Minky Dots in blue and regular Minky in zebra stripe ...

These Minky fabrics are incredibly soft -- the ridiculous kind of soft that triggers thoughts of Minky underwear -- and they're very popular for making baby blankets. They run about 58" wide and I bought 2-yard lengths so I'd have pieces of fabric around 58" x 72" to work with. They're such a nice weight that they're warm and cozy without needing batting in the layers.

It's a little bit tricky to sew because of the stretchiness so I found the best way to deal with it was to use a lot of pins and place them close together.

First I pinned the pieces and sewed them wrong sides together, leaving a section open to turn the blanket right-side out. Then I pinned again and topstitched around the outside edge.

I also used the embroidery machine to make a label for her blanket. Her nickname has been Baby Girl since the day she was born ...

I hand-stitched the label to the zebra side. I hope she likes it ...

Happy Anniversary to my middle sister and her sweet hubby
and a Happy Valentine's Day to everyone!!!

February 13, 2011

Saturday Project and Cheap Meat

When we got our big screen TV for the family room a year ago, we moved the 32" flat screen onto our bedroom dresser. The only problem with that is there is no cable connection near the dresser. We have had an old TV/VCR/DVD combo on a wall-mount in the bedroom and Hubby finally decided he was ready to switch them out. He ordered a flat screen wall-mount on-line and this was his Honey Do project yesterday. I was the lovely assistant and photographer. =D Here's the old TV and wall-mount as he was preparing to take it down ...

Hubby made a cardboard cut-out of the new TV so we could see how it fit and decide where to place it ...

Here's the new wall-mount and the flat screen face down on the bed with the mounting brackets on the back ...

The old and the new wall-mounts on the wall. Yikes, look at the dust on the old one. In my defense, you couldn't even get a feather duster under that TV -- not that I ever tried ...

And other than figuring out how to hide those wires, we're ready to watch ... okay, what are we watching???

I love that we can tilt the TV up or down, turn it toward the left or right, or simply push it back flat against the wall ...

So do you ever check out the manager's specials in the meat department at your grocery store? I was at Albertsons last week and whipped through the meat department to grab some chicken thighs when I saw a clearance rack full of already seasoned racks of baby back ribs. The original price on a rack of ribs was around $25.00 and they were marked down to around $5.00 each. Then they had made them buy one, get one free. No kidding. I got two racks of ribs, ready to bake, for just over $5.00. An hour and 15 minutes in the oven and ...

This is four meaty, juicy, flavorful ribs on my plate with a pile of salad. What a fantastic dinner and I still can't get over the price. Even the butcher that came out and talked to me said he was going to take a stack of ribs home and put them in the freezer. I think I'm going to be checking the manager's specials a lot more often!