What's Up, Cupcake? Menu

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quilting progress

I've been making good progress on my quilt project.

I completed all of the inner squares and laid them out to be combined with the inner white borders.  

It's about the size of a twin sized quilt so it's getting pretty large to sew - I admit that I get bored easily doing these long, straight stitches, but I'm almost to the point where I can decide how to proceed with the actual 'quilting' aspect.  Should I take it to a professional, freestyle it on my machine or do it by hand?  I can't decide!  Any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cross Stitch Completion

Here are a couple of pictures of the recent cross stitch pattern that I finished.  It came together pretty fast but I did have to tear out some of the stitches that I put in that weren't centered in the scroll.

I love the shamrocks scattered throughout and the color gradiation.

Now time to finish off some other cross stitch projects!

Monday, March 28, 2011

A daunting task

As you know, I do Irish dancing and I'm to the point where I've had a solo dress for about the last year.  While owning a custom solo dress is a dream come true, as with most things, I start thinking about a more updated model.

After this last St. Patrick's Day, I decided that there was just something about my dress that needed to change, and that was the green sleeves.  I love the green and the lace pattern but I started to think that a solid colored top with green accents would be more 'mature' looking.  The problem? I don't have the money to go out and buy a new dress.  These dresses generally run between $1000-$2000 and I just can't justify that cost.  How could I update my current one?

I started to peek at the seams and thought it might be easy to just replace the current green sleeves with black velvet, but could I find the same thing?  The dressmaker had sent me a swatch for each fabric she used so I took the black velvet to the store.  JoAnn's was a bust so I decided to postpone my search for another day. We were off to buy food for the pets, when lo-and-behold, there was a Hancock Fabrics in the same parking lot!  I didn't know there was one within even a 10 mile radius so I begged the hubby to drop me off while he picked up animal food.

I promptly located the velvet section but alas, the black they had didn't match and mine had a bit of a stretch to it.  As a last resort, I asked an employee if they knew where I could find a similar fabric.  He started to lead me to what I assumed was the same velvet section, but no! There was a stretch velvet row!    I practically squealed with joy and instantly picked up the fabric to make the sleeves.

Draping the fabric over the current sleeve. Trying to gather courage.

Now, the hard part, do I really want to slice and dice my pricey dress?  I laid the fabric out but just couldn't bring myself to it. So... I called my mom.

My mom is a sewing master.  She went to fashion design school and while I was embarrassed by her skills when I was a kid (why couldn't I have a cheap, grocery store costume at Halloween like everyone else?) I've learned to value her expertise.

She came over and we instantly set to work.  She removed the old sleeves and traced a new pattern for the velvet version.  I removed the black embroidered cuffs from the previous sleeves and my mom reattached them to the new velvet sleeves.  It took a couple of hours but...

Voila! The new and improved dress!
I love the 'new' dress.  I think it looks sleeker and more elegant.  I'm looking forward to my next competition in a couple of weeks and testing out the revised dress.  What do you think?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sweet Treats Saturday: Snickerdoodles

Sugar cookies coated in cinnamon and sugar? What could be better??

I had all of the ingredients for this quick dessert handy, and a hungry houseguest.

These were a little crispier than the Snickerdoodles I've had in the past. The recipe wasn't kidding when it said do not overcook.  I recommend erring on the side of 8 minutes (depending on your oven heat) but regardless, they still cool pretty crispy.  They're still delicious and the leftovers that I brought to work were gone before noon.

Adapted from Martha Stewart

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 stick or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, plus more if needed
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 400°, with one rack in top third and one rack in bottom third of oven. Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.

Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs, and beat to combine. Add dry ingredients, and beat to combine. 

In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the ground cinnamon.

The cinnamon and sugar mixture on the right. Ready to coat the cookie dough!

Use a small ice-cream scoop to form balls of the dough, and roll in cinnamon sugar. Place about two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are set in center and begin to crack (do not look for a brown cookie - that means it's cooked too long), about 8-10 minutes.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sweet Treats Saturday: Sticky Toffee Pudding

I meant to make this during the holidays but I never had the time.  Sticky Toffee Pudding is one of my favorite guilty pleasures.  When I can make it to the UK, I try to enjoy this as much as possible as you just don't find it anywhere around the California Bay Area.  It is pretty easy to make though, but best served fresh out of the oven and warm.  I think it's a good excuse to host a dinner party.  So that's just what I did...

We had our first St. Patrick's Day performance last Friday so I made a light dinner for some of my Irish dancer friends before we headed out to the venue.  This dinner consisted of potato soup, some brown bread (also featured earlier this week), and for dessert, Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Gooey goodness...

I made the pudding itself before everyone arrived, and heated up the caramel sauce just as they were arriving.  By the time we were finished with dinner, everything was at the perfect serving temperature.

The recipe I used for this Sticky Toffee Pudding was a new one to me, but was by far easier than some I made in the past.  You only have to heat the dates for a few minutes and they're pretty much ready to go.  Some I've done before required over 30 minutes of cooking, so it was a nice, quick alternative.

I love this dessert because although it has dates, you would never know it.  It's impossible to get my husband to eat fruits and veggies sometimes, but he said he would gladly consume this and count it towards his fruit intake.

Everyone that came for dinner was asking for the recipe afterwards, which I take as a sign of success.  Now the hubby is begging me to make it again.

From Chow.com
For the cake:
1/2 pound dates, pitted and coarsely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
For the cake:
. Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Coat 8 (6-ounce) ramekins with butter and flour; set aside. (I used 7 but 3 of my ramekins were slightly larger)
. Combine dates, water, and baking soda in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and set aside.

Not exactly pretty, but this is the dates mixture after it's reached a boil before adding it to the batter.

. Place salt and flour in a medium bowl, whisk to combine, and set aside. Bring a medium pot of water to a simmer over high heat for a water bath.
. Combine butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until light and airy, about 5 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
. Add vanilla extract, then beat in eggs one at a time, just until incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in date mixture until well combined, then stir in flour mixture until just incorporated (don’t overmix).
. Divide batter evenly among prepared ramekins and set them in a roasting pan or baking dish (you will likely need to use both a 13-by-9-inch dish and an 8-by-8-inch dish to fit them all). Pour simmering water into the bottom of the baking dishes until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Very carefully place the baking dishes on the center rack of the oven. Bake until the center of each cake is just set and a cake tester inserted into the middle of each comes out clean, about 50 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the toffee sauce.

Batter in the ramekin water bath ready to go in the oven

For the toffee sauce:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter 
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream
For the toffee sauce:
. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When it foams, add brown sugar and vanilla extract or seeds, stir once, and heat until bubbling and the color of maple syrup, about 5 minutes.
. Carefully add cream in a slow stream while stirring, and cook until the sauce bubbles up and increases in volume, about 2 minutes; remove from heat.
Finishing and Serving:

Cooling before removing from the ramekins and adding caramel sauce.

. When the cakes are finished, remove the ramekins from the oven and place on a cooling rack to come to room temperature. Once the cakes are cool, run a knife around the perimeter of each and invert to remove from the ramekins, then place upright on a serving plate. Serve the cakes at room temperature or slightly warmed, covered in warm toffee sauce.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Featured Friend Friday! Tasia from Sewaholic

Whew, it's been a crazy week!  We had our major performances yesterday and of course, my camera battery died.  I'll try to scrounge up some pictures of highlights but until then, here's a new Featured Friend Friday!  This time, I met with Tasia of Sewaholic.  She's an awesome seamstress and creator of one of my favorite blouses, the Pendrall blouse that I made in a polka dot print.  She just released a new pattern for a skirt that I can't wait to try out!

I hope you enjoy the interview and be sure to check out her site and her great patterns!

Tasia in her fantastic Pendrall blouse!
What inspires you?
Everything! Sewing is constantly on my mind. I'm always thinking of new ideas, of things I want to make, details to test and add to garments. Fabric is a major source of inspiration for me. I love touching new fabrics, and imagining what they could become. Especially when the seasons change, and the tweeds and wools are replaced by bright prints and soft summer voiles! I'm also inspired by the technical side of sewing and love buying vintage patterns just to see how they go together! Currently I'm working on a vintage vogue dress pattern from the early fifties. It has the most fascinating tab-and-button construction! I'm inspired by fashion magazines, by the fabulous projects made by other sewing bloggers, by trends and themes. The best part about sewing is knowing you can take any trend and make it your own. Want a maxi-skirt for summer? If you sew, you can make one in the colour you like best, with the fabrics you like to wear, and you can make it to fit you perfectly! That's a wonderful sense of freedom. You're not limited to what's in store, at the price you can afford, in the sizes the store carries.

What is your craft space like?
Half of our spare room is mine, for sewing and blogging! I've maximized my space by hanging thread racks on the wall, using bookshelves and boxes for storage, and keeping fabric stored away in the closet. Having a bulletin board for swatches, sketches and a calendar helps keep me super organized - and therefore more productive! I love the natural light, and I love the thread racks. I long for more space, or a space I can call my own. Don't we all wish for more sewing space?
Her totally organized craft space
Swoon! So practical and so colorful!

I'm so envious of her organization
Let us in on your stash... what’s coming, what’s in progress, what are you stumped with?
Ooh.. What's in progress is my Vogue dress, in lovely turquoise wool and the most expensive button I've ever purchased! What's coming? A Sew-Along for the Crescent skirt, my most recent pattern design! I'm looking forward to leading another Sew-Along after the first one was so much fun. I'll sew a skirt along with the group, for demonstrations and of course, because I can use another skirt in my wardrobe! After that, I'm hoping to whip up one of the Vogue re-issue patterns I got recently. There's a dress pattern from the forties with a fantastic draped, gathered, and sash-tied bodice that I can't wait to make up! Colette Patterns' Crepe dress is still on my mind for spring, I love the idea of no closures and a bright contrast sash! And of course, I'm working on the next pattern for Sewaholic Patterns. There's always lots of sewing in my world! 

What am I stumped with? Pants. Everything to do with pants - wearing them, sewing them, designing them. It's a challenge I'd love to tackle, as so many people who sew are terrified of sewing pants! I know that a lot of that fear comes from fitting issues, especially us who have a curvier bottom half. So I'd love to create a pants pattern for pear-shaped women, that would make it easier for us to get a great-fitting pant. Once you have the pattern and the fitting done, sewing pants is a breeze! So that's where I get stumped - solving pants for me and for pear-shapes everywhere.
What is your favorite craft to work with?
Sewing! By far. I have great intentions of learning to knit, but there's just so much sewing I want to do first! I don't scrapbook, or embroider, or bake. I sew, and sew a lot! There's always something new to learn, a new technique to explore, a tricky fabric to master. With sewing I feel like there's no limit. Tailoring, sewing lingerie, fitting different bodies - every challenge is an opportunity to master a new skill!

What is your favorite thing that you’ve created so far?
Good question! Can I have more than one favourite? My favourite project, start to finish, was the Picnic Dress. It's pink, it's flowered, it's so delightfully girly and pretty. The full skirt is so fun and the bodice fits like a glove. I'm really proud of the hand-picked zipper and the waist stay, two authentic vintage details! Although I haven't worn it yet, I'm looking forward to warmer weather so I can take Mr Sewaholic on a picnic and dress for the occasion. 


My second favourite thing I've created is the Pendrell Blouse. It was a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, taking a design from concept all the way to printing and selling a pattern! There's no way to describe the feeling when I see someone else make it and love it. And despite the fact that I've made this blouse nearly a dozen times, I still want to make more! It still happens that I'm at the fabric store, see a gorgeous cranberry stretch silk georgette (!) and think, that would make a great Pendrell! 

Where can I read more?
Twitter: @SewaholicDotNet
Ravelry (although I haven't actually knitted anything, just added a few projects to my favourites!) TasiaKnits

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bundle of nerves

Tomorrow's the big day! More brown bread has been baked, green krispy treats have been made, cooking up some Champ...

What's the reason for a jumble of nerves? Well, the usual St. Patrick's Day performances as required being an Irish dancer.  This would seem like old hat, but last year I avoided the public displays of dancing (aside from competitions and minor performances) by escaping off to Ireland for St. Patrick's Day.  Not too shabby right? This year, I didn't have that excuse so I'm performing in a few numbers with my dance school.  It's not the usual competition numbers and I've only been doing them for a couple of weeks so I'm just trying to remember the jumble of steps going on in my head.  I do want to know why three steps in one dance I'm doing all start with the same sequence? Not that I don't like the steps but it just adds to the nerves! Anyways, I'll just keep practicing tonight when I'm not... prepping for the big presentation that I have at work first thing tomorrow morning! What?! Yes. I'm a bundle of nerves.

So, since I'm stalling a bit but can't focus on a particular crafty writing topic, how about I show you some of my favorite finds on Etsy?  I found some things on the trip to Seattle, and in general through Etsy's addictive treasury, so here are a few of my favorite finds.

Vintage inspired jewelry from Lauren Blythe Designs.  I love this ring and I picked one up in green.  I also had to have her Nautical Necklace.

When I was in Seattle I saw a shop that had the cutest little earrings!

The Bumbling Bird sells them on Etsy for a ridiculously low $12. Even cuter is their 'baker' necklace with a little muffin tin and whisk. Love! I've added it to my wishlist.

So hopefully your St. Patrick's Day plans are a little more light-hearted! What exciting things do you have planned? And what are your favorite shops to browse on Etsy?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Brown Bread Bake-Off

Last year when I was in Ireland for St. Patrick's Day, I was reminded of my love for Irish brown bread.  Immediately after I returned to the States, I went on a hunt for a recipe to satisfy the void left in leaving the homeland.  I tried so many recipes and found one that seemed the closest to what I had loved... only to lose it when we moved recently.

I had a vague recollection of the recipe's ingredients but couldn't find it anywhere!  I narrowed it down to 5 recipes, then 3, and this weekend I tried two of them.  The recipes were:

Recipe 1: Irish Brown Bread from Sunset Magazine
Recipe 2: Irish Brown Bread from Family Fun Magazine

All I could remember from the recipes was that it was mainly stuff I had in my kitchen regulary except one ingredient. Was it buttermilk or non-fat yogurt? I couldn't remember so I tried both.

Recipe 1: Yogurt based
Recipe 2: Buttermilk based

Both recipes only required one bowl and were extremely easy to put together.  Recipe 2, which used buttermilk, was a lot stickier and seemed to make a bit more, so I made it into two loaves.

Recipe 2: Slightly less golden in color

Recipe 1

I cooked both recipes at the same time in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes.  Recipe 1 came out a bit more golden in color (though it's hard to tell in the pictures).

Recipe 1: Sprinkled with the occasional oat

Recipe 2: You can see the larger amount of oats that were required.
Both recipes called for rolled oats though the type wasn't specified, so I used regular cooking oats.  Recipe 2 required a bit more which you can see in the final product.

In the end, it came down to taste.  Of course I had to enjoy it with some Irish butter...

The winner?

Recipe 1 from Sunset magazine!  This was definitely the recipe that I had used before and the bread came out much more moist than Recipe 2.  That's not to say that Recipe 2 was bad.  It was still delicious but was just a bit drier and more dense than Recipe 1.  I included both recipes above so you could decide for yourself.  They're both so quick and easy to make.  I've included Recipe 1 below with any additional comments that I had.  I recommend enjoying this with some butter, honey or jam, cheese or dipped into some delicious potato soup while you're celebrating St. Patrick's Day.  Or, if you love wheat breads like me, use this for some tasty sandwiches.  I'm looking forward to making this every couple of weeks to keep fresh bread in our house.

By: Sunset Magazine

1  cup  all-purpose flour
2  tablespoons  sugar
1  teaspoon  baking powder
1  teaspoon  baking soda
1/2  teaspoon  salt
1 1/2  tablespoons  cold butter or margarine
2  cups  whole-wheat flour
1/4  cup  rolled oats (you can use regular or quick-cooking; I used regular)
1 1/2  cups  plain nonfat yogurt
Milk (as needed)

1. In a bowl, mix all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in butter until mixture forms fine crumbs. Stir in whole-wheat flour and oats.
2. Add yogurt; stir gently. If mixture is too dry to hold together, stir in milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, just until dough holds together; it should not be sticky.
3. Turn dough onto a lightly floured board and knead gently 5 times to make a ball. Set on a lightly greased baking sheet. Pat into a 7-inch circle. With a floured knife, cut a large X on top of loaf.
4. Bake in a 375° oven until well browned, about 40 minutes. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or cool.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sweet Treats Saturday: Sugar Cookies

I have a tendency to be a lazy baker.  I love recipe that require throwing ingredients together, scooping them out on a tray and throwing them in the oven.  This has left my cookie cutter collection a little dusty as I hate rolling out cookie dough.  Very few things can entice me to roll out cookies. However, St. Patrick's Day is one of my favorite holidays and seemed like a good enough reason to try a new recipe.

You mean I can't just scoop the dough out?

Brown Eyed Baker makes rolled sugar cookies look so easy that I decided to try the Dorie Greenspan recipe that she posted.  I made two batches of the dough because one just didn't look like enough, though after I started rolling it out, I found that it really did make about 40-50 2" cookies.  Now I have the second batch chilling in the fridge for a later project.

Well that wasn't so bad...

Alright, it was actually pretty easy.

Unfortunately I didn't have meringue powder for her royal icing recipe so I started surfing the web for some alternates.  I stumbled across a delicious sugar cookie icing on Allrecipes.

I modified it just slightly by adding more milk instead of more corn syrup to loosen it up.

1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tsp milk
2 tsp light corn syrup
1/4 tsp almond flavoring

In a bowl, mix the confectioners' sugar and milk until smooth.  Add in the corn syrup and almond extract.  Add your food coloring for the desired color (in this case, green).

If it's too thick, add a dash of milk at a time until it reaches the right consistency.

Feeling festive yet?

I loved the iridescent sheen of the icing.  I filled a few but didn't like having so much icing on such a little cookie.  I decided to just decorate instead, adding sprinkles to some of the cookies while the icing was still wet.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dancing my socks off

The life of an Irish dancer around St. Patrick's Day...

Sorry for the radio silence on the blog front, but I've been rehearsing non-stop for our upcoming dance performances.  The first one is tonight, and then we have about a week break to get ready for the big day and following weekend.  Some dancers from our school at performing at separate shows, so it's just been an adventure working around the different routine's and layout to fill in where dancers should be.

On top of all this, the hubby and I snuck away to Seattle last weekend for a dance competition and to stay with a good friend, Jonelle, who lives in the glorious Pacific Northwest.  It was my first time in Seattle for non-work related reasons, so I was excited to finally see the city as a tourist.

Feeling crabby?

The weather was (surprisingly) beautiful.  I think it rained in the night while we were sleeping, so we generally woke up to blue (and sometimes greyish) skies and enjoyed that for the rest of the day.

It's true... Coffee from Java Bean in Ballard

My dance competition went well.  A few hiccups on the slippery floor, but those things make you a better dancer, right?  Or at least give you scars to show off.  I won second place in a trophy special and received a really cool clover backed trophy.  I'll take any trophy but it's even more exciting when it's a design other than the typical angelic lady.

When I wasn't competing, I was tasting the delicious foods (and coffees) of Seattle with friends.  My former boss and good friend had also recently moved to Seattle, so we met up for lunch on Saturday.  We had a delicious burger and local beer at Hi-Life, then moved on to some cupcakes at Cupcake Royale.  The shop was very cute and served a mean cup of coffee as well as ridiculously cute shirts.  I really wanted the 'These Cupcakes are Taken' design, but restrained myself.  Their salted caramel cupcake was heavenly and ranked at the top of my list until...

Cupcakes from Cupcake Royale

Yellow Leaf Cupcake!  We spent Monday in the downtown Seattle doing touristy things like visiting Pike's Place Market, the first Starbuck's, and eating at Matt's at the Market.  Afterwards we swung by a cupcakery recommended by Jonelle: Yellow Leaf Cupcakes.  They were incredible!  They had amazing flavor creations like Pancakes and Bacon, Boston Cream Pie, etc.  Their menu rotates with over 100 varieties and sell out constantly.  We were in the shop around 1pm and they had already sold out of a handful of their flavors.  Lucky for me, they had a Spring cupcake available.

Spring cupcake from Yellow Leaf

Yellow Leaf Cupcake Company has a tendancy to combine flavors within their cupcakes.  The Spring cupcake was a perfect example of this.  The cupcake itself was a layer of strawberry, lavendar, and vanilla flavors (and how cute did the middle look?), and it was topped with an Italian buttercream.  It. was. AMAZING!

We had a chance to speak with one of the owners and he talked about their great concept with us.  They really are dedicated to quality cupcakes, and judging by the empty wrappers surrounding us, we were sold.  Wishing I could take a cupcake home with me was actually made possible by the fact that they made Cupcake-cotti.  They take any leftover cupcakes and bake it again turning it into a crispy biscotti like creation.  I had to take a bag home.  They also sell: cupcakes in a jar!  I didn't pick this up but was tempted.... very tempted.  I think I'll just have to plan another trip to Seattle to test this one out. Lucky for me, there seems to be a lot of Irish dance competitions going on in that area.

So that's where I've been! I'm hoping to get some craft time in this weekend, but as usual, it's filled with dance lessons and a bunch of other plans.  In my downtime I've been working on my St. Patrick's Day cross-stitch which should be done this weekend.  I'm looking forward to finishing off the Colette Spring Palette Challenge as the weather is starting to turn into the perfect opportunity to wear the creations.

Thanks for hanging in there readers and check in tomorrow for some delicious St. Patrick's Day sweet treats!
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