Bookspiration · Food & Cooking

Bookspiration: Uncommon Grounds

I’ve finally finished the behemoth book Uncommon Grounds, and am happy to say that I learned a lot. It’s quite possible my coworkers don’t feel the same joy I do, since upon starting the book I’ve been spouting out all kinds of random facts to them.  In my defense, we are in the coffee business, so telling them interesting things I learned should be perfectly acceptable. I also should get an award for finishing the giant coffee history book, but perhaps that’s just my opinion.

Anyway, in honor of Uncommon Grounds I wanted to do a coffee tasting (I may or may not do coffee tastings all the time, but that’s beside the point 😉 ). I chose to give the medium roast coffee, Guatamala Antigua, a try. I tried this Starbucks coffee in a French press when I first started working as a barista, and after it was mentioned briefly in Uncommon Grounds, I thought I should give it another go. My palette for coffee tasting has improved a bit, so I was hoping to be able to recognize the notes of cocoa and soft spice this time around. Because the Guatamala Antigua pairs well with caramel, I decided to try it with one of my favorite treats: Stroopwafles!

20140428-190055.jpgI found some stroopwafles at my local grocery store, and though they weren’t the brand I normally get, I purchased them. The last time I went to the fabulous DeBoer Bakery in Holland, MI, a cashier recommended putting a stroopwafle on top of a cup of coffee or tea so that the caramel in the center would warm up, so that was a must for this tasting.

20140428-190107.jpgAfter waiting for the press to finish, it was finally time to try my pairing. I poured some coffee into my cup and set a stroopwafle on top. In that moment, it was like dreams were coming true. *sighs happily* I smelled the coffee and slurped it, noticing the medium body and acidity of the roast. Then, I tried a bite of my stroopwafle and…MY DREAMS WERE DASHED! The stroopwafle tasted quite stale, and it paled in comparison to stroopwafles of my past. (Chad and I were fortunate enough to try stroopwafles in Amsterdam a couple years ago, and since then the best brand I’ve tried is Daelmans. I’ve decided to make amends for the serious sadness of this tasting by getting proper stroopwafles and trying them with another press of the Guatamala!)

Despite the heart-breaking taste of the stroopwafles, the Guatamala Antigua paired so well with caramel that it actually improved the flavor of the stroopwafle. Good coffee and food pairings are supposed to compliment each other that way: the food should bring out the best of the coffee, and the coffee should bring out the best of the food, so that you’re sitting there wanting to take bite after sip after bite after sip.

20140428-190116.jpgI didn’t finish my stroopwafle, but I finished the delicious Guatamala. I’ll keep you posted on how the next tasting goes, and I’ll share some of my favorite facts from Uncommon Grounds, too! What’s your favorite coffee pairing?

xx

Learning · Projects · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Wine & Canvas

Lately, a couple of my friends have been talking a lot about Wine and Canvas, a one night class in which everyone learns to paint something fun while enjoying a yummy drink. You just go to the website, choose your location preference, and then choose a day that has a painting you like and register. (You also pay $35.00, but the canvas and paints are provided.) I really wanted to give it a try, and so I was was super excited I was able to rope my sister into doing a class with me last night!

paintingWe chose to do a painting with sunflowers. Above you can see us getting started on our paintings. I love sunflowers–mostly because they remind me of my mom, but also because they are so pretty and represent summer, my favorite season!

20140423-180409.jpgThough we moved at a super fast pace, the class took a lot longer than we anticipated–a little over 3 hours! We were really surprised at how quickly we moved from step to step, wishing we had more time to work on details, but not wanting to fall behind. Simultaneous with our feelings of being a bit rushed were feelings of being super tired–especially by the time we finished the flowers and were painting our backgrounds. Alcohol + concentrating on painting = drowsy ladies!

20140423-180418.jpgDespite it all, I had a lot of fun. The best part was hanging out with my sister, but I am also happy to have a painting that’s not all that bad for a memory. (Of course, I see a dozen things I would’ve tried to touch up had I had the time, but I still liked the way mine turned out for the most part.)

painting 2Here’s a picture taken by the women who put on the event showing some of the ladies who took part in the class. We are hiding in the very back row on the left!

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy painting with acrylics was, and would like to try more in the future. Do you like using acrylics? Have you ever taken a Wine and Canvas class, or would you?

Bookspiration · Food & Cooking

Bookspiration: Dame Eyola’s Lemon Tart

This weekend was full of Easter treats! I made some super easy, dangerously yummy Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Easter Eggs, some pretty pastel-colored deviled eggs, and a lovely lemon tart.

IMG_0480

Pretty Deviled Eggs ❤

IMG_0481

Sweet treats: top left and right: Chocolate Peanut Butter Easter Eggs (made for work, but definitely sampled at home!), bottom left: my mom’s amazing carrot cake, and bottom right: too many desserts! Carrot Cake, Lemon Tart & Cheesecake.

I decided to make the lemon tart in honor of Dame Eyola from The Neverending Story. The recipe is sort of a glorified lemon bar recipe, but I figured Dame Eyola grew fabulous fruit, so why not glamor up a lemon bar recipe with her in mind?

IMG_0478

Dame Eyola’s Lemon Tart

Ingredients

1 1/4 c. chilled butter                                     2 c. sugar

2 c. all-purpose flour                                     1/4 c. lemon juice

1 c. powdered sugar (plus a little extra for dusting)

4 eggs                                                                candied lemon zest

                                                                          blueberries (for garnish)

IMG_04311. Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Then cut butter into flour and powdered sugar until crumbly; press into an ungreased tart pan. Make sure you spread the crust high enough over the edges that you’ll have a high “wall” for holding in the lemon filling later. Bake for 30 minutes.

IMG_04352. Meanwhile, you can make your candied lemon zest. I didn’t take any pictures of the process, but it’s super easy and wonderful directions and pictures can be found by clicking here. Basically, you zest a lemon (the directions say to peel and slice the zest, but I just used my zester), boil the zest in a sugar-water simple syrup, drain it, dry it, and coat in more sugar. Can’t go wrong! Set your zest aside and make your filling. Squeeze out the lemon juice from your zested lemon (it should equal about a 1/4 cup, at least), or use lemon juice from a jar. Then blend eggs, sugar and lemon juice together.

IMG_0441

Here is my crust after pulling it out of the oven.

IMG_0443

3. Slowly pour lemon mixture over crust. (Be careful!–I got a little over excited and some of my filling spilled over the sides of my crust, leaking through the bottom of my tart pan and onto the counter! *cries*) Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes; cool.

IMG_0445

Here is the tart after cooling.

IMG_0447

4. Once the tart has cooled, sift some powdered sugar on top for decoration.

IMG_0449

5. Next, add your pretty candied lemon zest.

IMG_0453

6. Lastly, add some blueberries for a nice, colorful contrast. The tart will taste best chilled, so I recommend keeping it refrigerated for at least an hour before serving.

IMG_0455

Oo la la!

IMG_0475

Enjoy!

I had a lot of fun making and eating Easter delights over the weekend, and was happy to make Dame Eyola’s Lemon Tart: a spring treat that was book-inspired! Did you enjoy any special treats over the weekend?

Bookspiration · Projects

Bookspiration: The Neverending Story

“So you think it’s a hat I’ve got on my head? Not at all, dear boy. It all grows out of me. Just as your hair grows out of you. That should show you how glad I am you’ve finally come. That’s why I’m flowering and bearing fruit. If I were sad, I’d whither. But come now, don’t forget to eat.” –Dame Eyola

A couple of months ago we had a bad snowstorm in Michigan in which the wind was so strong the snow was blowing sideways. Looking outside, I was reminded of a scene from the movie The Neverending Story, and proceeded to do a little research on the movie. Come to find out, like many movies, The Neverending Story was first a book, and–as often happens–the movie strayed from the book in several ways. I decided to give the book a read, and enjoyed a light-hearted, imaginative tale.

When it came to thinking of a project to go along with the book, I thought I should try an oil pastel. It’s been ages since I’ve used oil pastels as a medium, and I thought they would be a good way to illustrate the colorful, dreamy world created in “The Neverending Story.” Initially, I wanted to do an oil pastel of the lion Grograman, also known as The Many Colored Death. Grograman changes colors depending on the color of the sand upon which he stands, and he is an important part of the main character, Bastian’s, journey in Fantastica. After seeing several cool renditions of Grograman online, however, I decided to change characters and instead illustrate the Dame Eyola.

20140418-195322.jpgThis was my first time trying oil pastel with a person as the subject, and I am pretty out of practice! But it was fun trying to bring the mother-like woman who looked like she was “wearing a broad hat covered in fruits and flowers” to life. In the book, Dame Eyola tells Bastian some kind words we could all use now and again. For example, she sings to him:

“Regardless whether good or bad,/you’ve suffered much and traveled far.

Take comfort for the trials you’ve had./We’ll take you just the way you are” (357).

Later, Dame Eyola talks to Bastian about choices he’s made on his journey, saying, “You went the way of wishes, and that is never straight. You went the long way around, but that was your way. And do you know why? Because you are one of those who can’t go back until they’ve found the fountain from which springs the Water of Life…” (365). I liked this conversation because I think it can be applied to anyone. No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes. But we’ll get through it on the crazy path we make for ourselves, and there are people (perhaps not sprouting fruit from their heads and bodies like Dame Eyola!) who will help us on our way.

xx

Food & Cooking · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Chuao Honeycomb Dark Chocolate

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about chocolate, but believe me: it hasn’t left my heart. It’s just that I haven’t had many opportunities to indulge in specialty chocolates lately. Fortunately, yesterday I went to World Market and came across Chuao chocolate bars. I saw a Honeycomb flavor and knew I had to try it!

20140416-195420.jpgOn the package, there is a description of the “experience” of eating this chocolate bar: “Crunchy bits of golden, caramelized honey mingle with deep dark chocolate, like secret lovers meeting on a warm summer night. Sweet and decadent, the Honeycomb bar will charm you, one nibble at a time.” Phew! Is it getting hot all of the sudden? I’m surprised a chocolate bar that sexy doesn’t melt just from the description! 😉

20140416-195428.jpgBefore trying the bar, I knew that I liked a couple of things about it: Firstly, Chuao ethically sources its cocoa. Secondly, Chuao chocolates are 100% natural, without hydrogenated fats, artificial preservatives, artificial colors and flavors or artificial sweeteners.

20140416-195435.jpgI broke off a hunk to split with Chad, and observed the little crispy bits of honey visible. I had sort of hoped there was going to be actual honeycomb covered in the dark chocolate, but upon reading more carefully I realized there were only caramelized pieces of honey. (Out of curiosity, I looked up how much honeycomb costs, and it can range from around $11 to $30 and up for just 8 ounces!)

Any tiny bit of disappointment at feeling misled by the picture was replaced with pleasure as I took my first bite. The dark chocolate was rich and lovely, and the bits of honey lightened the overall feel of the chocolate in my mouth. The texture actually reminded me a lot of sea foam chocolate, which of course got me looking up recipes for sea foam, which led me to finding this nice video with an easy recipe for honeycomb sea foam:

Overall, I enjoyed the Chuao chocolate. I’d be interested in trying their Pretzel Toffee Twirl Bar or their Whisky Pairing bonbons. Which would you like to try?

Projects

Lovely Easter Ideas

In anticipation of Easter, I decided to give an easy DIY a try:

Easter Egg Strip ArtSource

This Easter egg made from paper strips on minted.com is apparently a craft for children, but I thought it looked cute so I made it anyway! 🙂 Here’s how mine turned out:

IMG_0410

And here are some other Easter-themed ideas I’d like to try:

bunny rollsMaking cute little bunny rolls… (Source)

DIY love eggs…making pretty DIY love eggs… (via thesweetestoccasion.com)

   pastel deviled eggs

…and making pastel-colored deviled eggs! (Source)

Are you going to make anything fun for Easter this week? Please share your ideas!

Bookspiration · Food & Cooking

Bookspiration: Chocolate Maple Roll Cake

I was thinking more about A Tale for the Time Being, and how it takes place with Ruth in Canada, and Nao in her diary in Japan. I decided to make some sort of recipe that combined something common in Japan with something common in Canada, and after a few sad experiments with my takoyaki maker I had to give up for a night. However, that was yesterday, and this is today. I thought some more about my fusion experiment, and decided I should make a roll cake!

The first time I ever had a roll cake was in Japan, and I loved how light and subtly sweet it was. So today I asked myself, “What if I made a roll cake that had the airy, softly sweet elements that the ones I tried in Japan had, and somehow incorporated maple into it?” I did a little research, and came up with a recipe that created a lovely cake. I hope you like it!

IMG_0400

Chocolate Maple Roll Cake

Ingredients:

IMG_0368

Chocolate Sponge:

butter, for greasing

3 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cocoa

sugar, for sprinkling

rose from your hot husband (optional)

IMG_0379

Maple Cocoa Whip

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 Tbs cocoa

4 Tbs maple syrup

Directions:

IMG_03701. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and grease and line a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Use an electric whisk to whisk together the eggs and sugar until thick.

IMG_0371

2. Sift together the flour and cocoa in a separate bowl before folding a little at a time into the whisked egg and sugar mixture.

IMG_0376

3. Once everything had been evenly incorporated, pour into your prepared pan and bake for 8-10 minutes, until cake springs back when lightly touched. (Be extra careful here–I got a bit distracted and cooked mine slightly too long!)

IMG_0377

4. Once the cake is finished baking, wring a clean dish towel in hot water and spread it on your workspace. Line the towel with wax paper or parchment paper (though wax is probably better! I used parchment and the cake stuck to it a bit). Sprinkle a little sugar along the paper, and then flip your sponge on top. Carefully peel back the parchment that was on the bottom.

  IMG_0382

5. Cut off the edges of the cake.

IMG_0384

7. Carefully roll up the cake, “hamburger” style, and set aside with the seam facing down.

IMG_0385

8. Next it’s time to make some fabulous whipped cream! I was so pleased with how mine turned out. Pour the heavy whipping cream into a bowl and add the cocoa. Whip until fluffy peaks start to form and the cream gains a whipped consistency.

IMG_0388

9. Next, fold in the maple syrup. Try your best to resist sticking your face in the bowl once everything has been mixed together because the whip. will be. YUMMY.

IMG_0389

10. Carefully unroll the cake and spread ample amounts of the maple cocoa whip inside, leaving a little space at the edges so it doesn’t ooze out too much.

IMG_0392

11. Re-roll the cake, and add more of the maple cocoa whip on the outside.

IMG_0393

12. Drizzle a little bit of maple syrup on top.

IMG_0396

13. Sift a little cocoa powder on for a final touch (I got a little carried away on one end, but who’s going to complain about extra cocoa!?).

  IMG_0402

14. And enjoy! My cake was cooked just the teeniest bit too long, so it wasn’t quite as spongy and light as I would have liked, but my maple cocoa whip cream was so heavenly that I didn’t mind at all. Let me know if you try the recipe and how it turns out! 🙂

xx

Around Town · Food & Cooking · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Vander Mill Ciders

Earlier this week we finally got out to Vander Mill Ciders in Spring Lake, MI for lunch. I had heard good things about Vander Mill Cider and their food from a coworker, so I was excited to give it a try.

IMG_0293The inside of Vander Mill is very spacious, with simple, natural decor.

IMG_0294I loved the pretty little table settings!

IMG_0296I decided to go with their Perpetual Blizzard IPA to drink, and I was not disappointed! As described on their menu, the IPA had a “hoppy, fresh orange aroma followed by clean malt and fruit flavors with a slightly peppery orange finish.” Can I please have 5 more? Just joking. Mostly.

IMG_0304To eat, we chose the Purple Pig pizza. At first we were leery of trying it because of the cabbage (which is funny considering all the wild pizza toppings we’ve tried in Japan!), but the friendly waitress convinced us to give the pizza a try and we were glad we did.

IMG_0308Mmm, roasted pork shoulder, a garlic Béchamel, fresh Winesap apple, local honey, sliced cabbage and mozzarella cheese!

IMG_0312Chad and I split the pizza, but we couldn’t even finish half of it because it was so filling! (We may or may not have finished it off for dinner, though 😉 )

IMG_0315We had a great first experience at Vander Mill Ciders, and would like to go back to try more of their ciders, as well as other items off of their very appealing menu! Have you tried any new restaurants lately?

Bookspiration · Projects

Bookspiration & Onigiri Needle Felt DIY

I recently read a book recommended by one of my sisters-in-law called A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. I really enjoyed the writing style in the novel, which goes back and forth between a woman living in Canada, and the found diary of a Japanese girl. I think what I appreciated most about A Tale for the Time Being was the way the novel reflected not only the cutesy parts of Japan or the importance of tradition and ritual, but also the darker sides, like suicide and severe bullying. As you could probably guess from the title, the novel touches a lot on the idea of time, and on several levels. For example, in one part of the Japanese girl, Nao’s, diary, she writes about temples:

The temple was a special place. There was the smell of moss and incense, and sounds, too–you could actually hear the insects and birds and even some frogs–and you could almost feel the plants and other things growing. We were right in the middle of Tokyo, but it was like stepping into a pocket of ancient humid air…that’s the way the temple felt to me, like a core sample from another time…” (46).

And later Nao writes about the past:

The past is weird. I mean, does it really exist? It feels like it exists, but where is it?And if it did exist but doesn’t now, where did it go?” (97).

She also writes about the present:

Life is fleeting! Don’t waste a minute of your precious life!

Wake up now!

And now!

And now!” (63).

As I read the novel, I felt like I could relate to so much of what was written–I’ve felt what Nao describes whenever visiting temples in Japan, I’ve wondered about how the past sometimes feels like a dream, and I often try to “wake up” and be a positive part of the world.

I decided to use A Tale for the Time Being as inspiration for a needle felt project after making my first one over the weekend There is a scene in the book in which Nao goes on a picnic with her grandmother at the beach, and they talk about the nature of existence:

A wave is born from deep conditions in the ocean,’ [Nao’s grandmother] said. ‘A person is born from deep conditions of the world. A person pokes up from the world and rolls around like a wave, until it is time to sink down again. Up, down. Person, wave” (194).

On their picnic, one of the things they bring along to eat is onigiri, or rice balls. So, I made an onigiri needle felt!

IMG_0336

Let’s Make a Needle Felted Rice Ball!

IMG_0317Gather your supplies: a foam block, 36 and 38 gauge triangle needles, and felt in white, dark green, black and pink. Then set some white felt flat onto your foam block before rolling it into a triangle shape and poking it with your 36 needle in every direction as you go.

IMG_0319

When you reach a thickness you like, spread out the felt so it can be blended in with your needle so that no lines are showing. Keep poking all around to make the triangle an even shape.

IMG_0323

Once you’ve gotten a seamless shape that you like, you can adjust as necessary with your needle to round the edges more to make them cuter. Then go over the triangle with your 38 needle to smooth it out.

IMG_0325

Next you’re going to add nori, or seaweed. Pull off a piece of green foam about half the width of one length of the white triangle, and long enough the wrap around the triangle with room at the top on either side. Then use a toothpick to wrap the edges of the green foam so they are clean and not fraying, poking the felt with your needle as you go to keep the felt in place (and pulling out the toothpick each time). After “cleaning up” all four sides of the nori, it’s time to attach the seaweed to the rice ball!

IMG_0326 IMG_0328

Position the seaweed so that there is enough room at the top of the triangle to add the face, and then poke with your needle all around to secure.

IMG_0330

Next, cut off two small bits of black felt and roll each one into a tiny ball. Secure the little balls to the rice ball to create eyes.

IMG_0333

To make the mouth, cut off another piece of black felt, and roll it into a thin line. I rolled it tightly and secured one end of the felt with my 38 needle while poking the felt all around (twisting as I did so) with my 36.

IMG_0335

Secure the mouth to the rice ball, adjusting over several minutes to form it into a smile. Lastly, roll two small balls of pink felt and added them for cheeks.

  IMG_0339

After going over my rice ball and tucking in flyaways with my 38 needle, I put him next to the radish I made for company!

IMG_0341And voila! A cute onigiri needle felt friend! Who wouldn’t like poking something repeatedly until it became something cute? 😉 xx

*I’ve decided to start a bookspiration series sporadically throughout some new posts that use books as inspirations for crafts and recipes. I hope you enjoy the posts!

Food & Cooking · Seen

I Spy…

Spring!

It may still be cold, but I’ve been finding bits of springtime (or creating bits of it!) all around me 🙂 Firstly, I’ve been spying it outdoors…

20140408-191246.jpg

Is that water? Oh my gosh, that’s water! THE ICE IS MELTING in Grand Haven! HURRAH!

20140408-191218.jpg

This ice was melting from the inside out, creating a little cave!

20140408-191233.jpgBright skies = happy days

Secondly, I’ve been creating a springtime atmosphere to “spy” indoors…!

20140408-191325.jpgNothing like whipping up some Lemon Poppy Seed Scones for a nice spring day. I made my first-ever batch with a nice (cute!) mug of coffee nearby.

20140408-191333.jpg

The recipe said to cut the scones into twelve triangles, but I chose to cut the twelve in half again because they were so big. The scones were fantastic!

20140408-191341.jpgI may not be able to start a garden just yet, but I was able to make a cute radish needle felting craft with one of my Whimsey Box kits. I had never heard of needle felting before, but now I’m in love with it. I can’t wait to show you a tutorial featuring the other needle felt cutie I made!

20140408-191348.jpgThere was invigorating spring lemon scent in another of my Whimsey Box kits: homemade lotion and hand scrub.

20140408-191356.jpgI also decided to make some Vanilla Pistachio Cream Puffs because I thought the bright, pastel green color created a nice, light spring feel.

20140408-191403.jpgThe cream puffs were yummy, too, so I decided it would be best to get them out of the house and bring them to work 🙂

Where have you spied spring?