Friday, November 25, 2011

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Have you tried one of those mock Oreo recipes before?  You know the ones with the "1 cake mix" in the ingredient list.  I don't know about you, but those don't taste like oreos to me.  Oreos aren't just any old chocolate sandwich cookie.  They have to be thin and crispy and with an intense chocolate taste.

Several years ago I found the perfect cookie make Oreo type sandwich cookies with.  It's a recipe from Martha Stewart that I adjusted to fit what I was looking for.
Intensely chocolate.  Crispy.  Perfect.  You can make yours into circles if you wish.  I was feeling lazy and a quick zip a few times with the pizza cutter worked great for squares.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies:
1/2 c butter
1/2 c sugar
1 large egg
1 cup cocoa powder  (yes.  1 full cup)
1/2 c + 2 T flour

Cream the butter and sugar.  Add in the egg.  Mix in the cocoa powder and flour.   Divide the dough in half and wrap each in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate the dough for one hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Using powdered sugar on the counter to prevent sticking, roll out dough to 1/8" thickness.  Cut with 2" cookie cutter and place 1/2" apart on cookie sheets.  Bake until you smell the chocolate, aprox. 12 minutes.

I do suggest you use parchment paper on your cookie sheets because these have a tendency to stick quite badly.

I used a basic American butter cream to frost the centers.  I have four rules for better butter cream:
1.  you should use at least twice as much butter as you do cream.  Meaning if you use 1/4 cup butter you should only use 2 T of heavy cream.
2.  Use lots of vanilla.  I like to use 2 t as a starting point.  I may add more later.
3.  Use salted butter or at least add a pinch of salt to your frosting.  You won't believe what a difference it makes.
4.  Beat the holy heck out of it.  I beat my butter cream for at least five minutes and as long as ten minutes.  This makes it fluffy and light and it makes sure the powdered sugar has time to dissolve so you don't get that raw taste.

You could also use a nice ganache (Martha used ganache with mint extract), or jam, or cream cheese frosting in your cookies.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Photography Rant

Never use your flash. Right?   Wrong.

That single most used piece of photography advice available on the internet is garbage.  Any photographer who spouts it is an amateur.  If the photographer you've hired for family pictures uses it, you might want to rethink hiring them.

Have you ever seen a professional photographer at a wedding without a flash on their camera?  That's because they know something those amateurs do not.

Flash lighting exists for a reason and that reason is not every subject comes with perfect lighting. Sometimes you've got back lighting, or overly strong side lighting or just plain not enough lighting.  If you have to use a tripod because your shutter speed is that slow, chances are a human being in the photo isn't going to be able to hold still well enough either.  That's what flashes and strobes and hot lights are for.  They fill in and add enough light so you can take the picture.

This doesn't mean that I think we should all go back to the deer in the headlights straight on flash.   What you should do is learn to use it.   There are a ton of really great tutorials on the internet about flash photography.  Instead of telling yourself flash is evil, do some research.  Practice.  Figure it out.  Your camera flash can be one of your best tools if you know what you are doing with it.

For example, this is my sitting room.  This picture was taken without a flash using a tripod.  Notice how dark the chairs are.  There's no detail because of the high contrast from the back lighting.  I could mess with the contrast levels in photoshop and try to come up with something acceptable.  But why?

When I could just get my accessory flash and bounce it off the ceiling (with a Lightsphere attached) and get the lighting I need.   

Some of you may say you like the first photo.  Fine, but you have to admit that when my purpose of taking the photograph is to show the furniture and the room, the first photo doesn't cut it.

I'm not going to tell you I'm a flash expert.  I'm definitely not going to claim that all photography on this blog is fabulous. (The vast majority of is is far from not fabulous because I am fabulously lazy.) I will say this:  learn to use your flash.   Buy accessories for your flash so you can use it to best effect.  Then learn some more.

Anytime you lock yourself in the box of "never" doing something with your craft, you lose.  Don't say "never."  Say, "learn."  And for heaven's sake, check someone's credentials, including mine, before you follow their advice.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Ok, I'm not done yet, so be gentle.

I told you the room was small.   I am pretty happy with how things are coming together over all.   I'm not so sure about the plant.  That one was my husband's idea.  I'm not a plant hater, I just don't like them in my house.  I kill the suckers, for one.  I've managed to kill a philodendron and a spider plant among many others.  When you kill a philodendron you know you shouldn't have plants in your home.   Reason two:  I haven't the slightest idea how to use plants in decorating.   Yes, I do intend to get the poor thing a real pot sometime before I kill it.

So here's the plan for what's coming up in the near future:

The squares on the left will be the handkerchief collection.  The one on the right is my landscape photo.  I have the large frame already for the right side of the room.  It's painted deep turquoise and waiting for me to get the matting done.  I've solved the cost issue with that so it should be done by next week.  (If money and time come together correctly.)   As you can see I also plan on new throw pillows for the couch.  I was originally going to do cushions for the chairs as well, but I love the hand caning so much I'm not ready to hide it yet.  

The rug is definitely too small.  My solution for that is to sew a dark brown 12" burlap border all the way around it making the rug a 5'x7', which should be about right for the room.

The funky circles in the corner is my attempt to somehow visually compensate for the off center window.  (And boy howdy, do I hate that off center window.  There is no earthly reason for that window to be off center.  None.  Nada.  No excuse.  Just another reason to be annoyed with the people who owned this house before us.  I could tell some stories . . . .) anyway, I'm thinking right now it would be fun to put brightly colored paper lanterns there, three or four to match the space.   I'm also hoping to get the window trimmed out with moulding.

The little tables will be painted but I haven't settled on the color.  Back when the walls were ugly beige I was sure I needed them to be a light color like white or golden yellow.  Now that the walls are all light and bright, I'm kind of liking the dark brown.  I think that will be the last decision I make in the room, because I just have no clue what to do with them.  They do have to be painted though.  The stain is pretty dated and scuffed and  my children thought it would be fun to practice their knife work in the top.   "Mr. Happy Face" just isn't something I want permanently on display in the room.

Farther into the future, we hope to lay down some kind of wood floor whether it be the real deal or laminate will be determined by budget.  We're also planning on putting in a 5' set of French doors on the left.  It would be positioned just out of the frame there.  Then there's the three piece base moulding to match the living room and the crown moulding . . . .

There's always so much to do, but I'm so happy we're doing something.   This project has got us talking about the rest of the house as well.  Maybe in a year I'll have this house so cute I won't want to move.

Monday, November 14, 2011

This is what happens when you let you children help

That's a dinosaur on my wall.  If you look carefully you can see he's a biped because he has very short upper arms.   That one is thanks to my Matthew.  
He painted a triceratops for us as well.

Yes, the beige paint was really that ugly. It had this undertone of pink that really looked awful in that room.  I disliked it from the moment I painted it on the walls.  And then I mixed up paint samples and painted it again.  Not kidding.  I lived with it because I didn't have anything else to do with it.

I love the blue.  It's very light, but very blue.  We did a light grey on the ceiling.

And this is how we cut in over the stairs:
That's a 2x12 carefully supported on each end suspended over the stairs.  I take no responsibly if you try it yourself and you fall.  However, it worked really well for us.

Budget update:
chairs               $20
rug                  $40
picture frame    $20
small tables      $30
light                  $10
paint                $120

Total so far:    $240

Anyone who says paint is cheap, isn't working with my budget.   I'm almost halfway to my budget ceiling and there is still a lot left to buy.  The rug is a 3x5 instead of a 5x8 so I need canvas or burlap to expand it out (the rug is woven not pile so it will work.)  I'm still stuck on how to properly frame the handkerchiefs.   I would love to be able to take them to a frame store with color samples for the room and say "make it pretty.  I'll be back in a week."   Unfortunately, that would take over $150 to do all three.   If anyone has any ideas for me I'm ready.

I also need to figure out how to add lamps to the room.  The couch is just too large to fit side tables next to it.  I could set the couch off center in the room, and add a table to one side.  There is the perfect lamp at Target ($20 for base another $20 for a shade, but shades are cheap at thrift stores.)   Still working on it.  I may try rearranging the furniture as well to see what can be done.

Progress pictures probably will be up tomorrow.