Friday, February 28, 2014

Cupcake Chronicles: Volume 2

As you may have imagined, I chose to perfect lemon cake first.  And it only took two weeks. :)

For a lemon cake, you really can't beat the recipe I tried last week.

For a lemon frosting, I used this recipe from  I noticed in the reviews that people were saying it was too strong, so I knew it would be just perfect.  (They are correct, however, that one recipe is enough for two dozen cupcakes.)  I did make two little changes, however: I added maybe 2 drops of lemon extract, and I colored the frosting yellow.

My big piping tips hadn't come in the mail yet, so I was still using my Wilton #21 (instead of #1M).  I tried a few swirls and roses:

...But I mostly stuck with this technique:

It's so easy and looks good, too!  Especially with the yellow frosting, it looks kind of like a sunshine.

These were pretty universally voted as fabulous.  I brought them to church on Sunday (so I wouldn't eat them all, because if they were in the house, believe me, I would) and my friends all enjoyed them, too.  One guy even ate three.

This weekend, I get my first chance to decorate a cake!  My sister is baking my mom's birthday cake and I'm decorating it.  I'm going to attempt the Rose Cake from I Am Baker.

Love and Zest,
Leah Joy

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

101 Things Update - February 26

Yet again I find myself beginning with apologies for my absence, which is why I've decided to write only a few times a week instead of 5.  Finding something interesting to post every day is very difficult, actually, and I'd rather not post anything at all than fill up the pages of this blog with drivel.  I want to keep the Monday Rant, but the truth is that most of the time I don't feel like ranting.  When I do, though, believe me, you'll know. :)  (Dear Comma Police, please forgive me for that last sentence.)

Other than that, you'll get 101 Things Updates, some Cupcake Chronicles, and anything else I do that's interesting, but nothing that isn't at least a little bit interesting. :)

Without further ado...

Number 49 on my 101 Things in 2014 list was to replace the old switch plates and outlet covers.  Some of ours were missing, the wrong color, or looked like this:

I'm really not sure why I waited a year and 2 months before changing these out, because it cost me $3.60 to change all the ones that needed it.  Even for a notoriously cheap woman like me, that's a good deal.

Some of them ended up looking like this:

...But I still think that's an improvement. :)

Number 61 was to replicate these mugs using my Porcelaine Pen.

Personally, I like mine better:

Finally, number 79 was to reread the Anne of Green Gables series.  I have a box set of the 8 books, and if you don't count the days in between books, I read them all in 7 days.  I also learned that there is apparently a 9th book called The Blythes are Quoted, but it's very obscure and not at my library, so I'm still going to count this one as completed.

Several other items are very close to being completed, or at least are one step closer.  I've been practicing piping frosting, of course (#12); my curtains are finished but the curtain rods are not hung (#13); I have dirt, a clay pot, and organic lemons (#22); a couple more days reading Spirituality for the Rest of Us (#52); I finally purchased coconut oil so I can make cinnamon chips (#60, #81, #82); and I've checked The Hunger Games out of the library (#101).

I have more cupcakes to show you later this week, and next week, I'll hopefully have a birthday cake (and a pot of dirt) to display! :)

Love and Lightsabers,
Leah Joy

Friday, February 21, 2014

Cupcake Chronicles: Volume 1

Once again, I have abandoned this blog for a week, but I promise, not forever!  Something I have discovered about myself is that if I don't write a post in the morning, I will not write that day. I might write one in the afternoon for a future day, but not for that same day.  So this week, on Monday, we had a bad storm coming in the afternoon, and it was grocery day so I had to rush out and get them in the morning.  On Tuesday, because of the aforementioned storm, I had 8 inches of snow to shovel off our driveway so my husband could get to work.  On Wednesday and Thursday, I had my own self to hie to work, and that brings me to today.  

Number 12 on my 101 Things in 2014 list is to learn to pipe frosting.  I'm very serious about this one, as serious as one can be about cupcakes. I'm not trying to learn how to transform a cupcake in a high heel or a unicorn, but I do want to make presentable cupcakes!  That's why, after my first attempt, I cannot check this off my list.  See Exhibits A and B, below:

Are they terrible?  Well, that one might be, but they're not absolutely dreadful.  And they still tasted fine.  But I want to be good at this!  Exhibit C below is probably my best attempt:

Now, after decorating these cupcakes, I learned that apparently I have too small of piping tips for a cupcake, which usually makes it harder to get a nice swirl.  This made me feel better, and after some research, I ordered a few jumbo tips that will be here soon.  

I really want to be good at this, so until I have perfected a few techniques, I will be bringing you the Cupcake Chronicles, an overly-dramatic but alliterate title for a two-faceted venture.

Goal 1: Learn the basic techniques of piping frosting and making it look good.
Goal 2: Test cupcake and frosting recipes and build up an arsenal of delicious recipes.

For this first test, I made these Lemon Cupcakes with Pomegranate Frosting:

Absolutely delicious.  I halved the recipe (see #85 on my list) for both the cake and the frosting.  This cake is an absolutely perfect lemon cake, which makes sense since it has lemon zest, fresh lemon juice, and lemon extract.  And even while I thought it was perfect, no one else thought it was too much, so it really is a perfect lemon cake recipe!

The frosting is really delicious, too, although 13-year-old boys who are picky about fruit might not like it.

Now, I have plans to try a new cupcake recipe (or just one that I really like) nearly every week until I have achieved Goal 1 (and by that point, Goal 2 will probably be done, too).  Some weeks I might not have time, and some weeks I might make a birthday cake instead, but I mean to perfect the art of simple cupcakes.

And after that, ooh, maybe I'll do scones!

Love and Frosting,
Leah Joy

Friday, February 14, 2014

Homemade Flour Tortillas

If you've been reading my blog this week, you're probably wondering why on earth I would spend 4 days with very lovey, Valentiney posts only to write up a review for tortillas on Valentine's Day proper.  If you've ever had homemade tortillas, you're not wondering at all.

This was on my 101 Things in 2014 list, and I made them (along with a batch of taco meat) for a special dinner for my husband last night.  Why not on actual Valentine's Day?  Well, first of all because I needed something to write about today, but also because if they were horrible, then at least I wouldn't have ruined Valentine's Day. :)  

But they were not horrible.  They were so very very delicious.  And they were easy.  I used my new griddle (Thanks Dad and Mom!) so I could cook 3 at a time, and still use my frying pan for the taco meat.  When I tell you that these are easy, please know I mean it.  They have several steps, like mix, then let sit, then divide into 12 pieces, then let sit, etc., but the hardest step is rolling them out, and that's not even hard, because the dough isn't too sticky. 

The only problem I had with these is that they aren't as flexible as store-bought tortillas, but I still really doubt I'll ever purchase tortillas again, unless I throw a giant taco party and don't have any milk in the house or something.

I can attest that these are delicious plain or with tacos, jam, or Nutella.  (Emphasis on 'or'.)

Love and Roses,
Leah Joy

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine's Day Truffles

Valentine's Week is almost over, but I saved the yummiest post for today!  Number 38 on my 101 Things in 2014 list was to make and sell truffles for Valentine's Day.  After making several different kinds for our Christmas parties with the help of my sister, I also took several photographs for 'publicity'.  I loaded them into a Facebook album and re-shared the album every once in a while.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles
Coconut Truffles
Dark Chocolate Truffles - available with cocoa dusting, rolled in almonds, or dipped in chocolate
White-Chocolate Lemon Truffles
Chocolate-Covered Fruit Creams - available in lemon, orange, strawberry, and peppermint
I only ended up selling 5 boxes, and while it would have been nice to sell more, I'm also okay with that number.  For this project, I ordered 100 1# candy boxes from Nashville Wraps (very pleased with their service, by the way, and I couldn't find a better price anywhere else), and I also, of course, had to purchase ingredients.  The price of the 5 boxes I sold just covered all my expenses, so while I didn't make any money, I didn't lose any money, either.  Plus, I still have all the extra boxes, so if I do this again next year, I won't have to factor in that very large cost, and can start making a profit more quickly.

My most popular flavor was the Chocolate-Chip Cookie Dough Truffles.  I piped the chocolate drizzle on top using a little zip-lock bag with a tiny hole cut in the corner.  They turned out so gorgeous!

Two of my orders were for a full box of just cookie dough truffles.

Some people ordered a variety box, which was so much fun to put together, and looked so pretty!

Isn't that colored chocolate fun?  For Christmas, I received a set of Wilton's candy colors and was so excited to try them.  You can't use regular food coloring in chocolate, because regular food coloring is water-based.  I got to practice with the red, yellow, and green (combination of yellow and blue, actually) for the strawberry, lemon, and peppermint fruit creams.  

I bought this red organza ribbon from Hobby Lobby, which is so pretty, but I also love the heart ribbon I found there:

All in all, I consider it a success.  Nothing bad came of it since I didn't lose money, but all these good things happened:
- I got to use my new candy colors.
- I got experience in halving and quartering certain recipes that weren't as popular.
- I got experience in packing candy boxes and tying cute bows.
- I made 5 people very happy!
- I had some extras and was able to pack 2 boxes to give away, so I made another 2 people very happy!
- We still have some leftover coconut truffles, so that's another 2 very happy people! :)

Love and Chocolate,
Leah Joy

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Scratch-Off Valentine's Day Cards

Here's another Valentine's Day craft inspired by Pinterest!

These scratch-off Valentine's Day cards were also in my 101 Things in 2014 list, so I'm scratching multiple things off that list this week.

I went over to my parents' house to make these, because they have the acrylic paint and cardstock, and I'm a craft moocher.  Chloe and I got out all the supplies, ready to make a mess.

I also shopped at the Dollar Tree for an extra Valentiney effect, and I found foam heart stickers, pink glitter heart stickers, and this cute pink and red glittery heart 'table scatter' (which becomes a sticker when one applies glue to the back).

The original post had some really cute ideas for cards, but instead of printing any, we drew our own.

At some point, Claire got out of school and came over to make cards, too!

We didn't have any silver acrylic paint, and we were going to be using lots of different colors of cardstock, so we used black, because it matches everything.  In retrospect, it looks a little bit awful to have black hearts on a Valentine's Day card, but we decided to say it looks like chalkboard paint and then also to pretend that we don't hate that trend.

The paint/soap mixture dried really quickly.  Chloe was able to scratch it off after only 15 minutes.  We only applied one layer of the paint, but it might have been nicer with two.

Now let's all thank Chloe for being willing to scratch off her Valentine a few days before Valentine's Day - and also for letting me post it on here! :)

I made a few other scratch-off Valentine's Day cards (as did Chloe and Claire), but I also made regular cards for the other family members:

Plus this fabulous pink one for Claire, the pink enthusiast.

Love and Glitter,
Leah Joy

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Valentine's Hearts

I've seen this pinned a dozen times by those I follow on Pinterest, and it was also on my 101 Things in 2014 list.

What a sweet idea - and what a great way to encourage your children!  

Well, I modified it for my husband, which is why these photos are blurred out. :)  And, not surprisingly, I made a more colorful version of this project.  I've been adding one a day, so of course it's not done yet, but this is what it will look like on Friday:

Because Caleb goes to work early, I can't have the new heart on the wall before he wakes up, so instead, I make sure it's up before he comes home from work.  Here's what it looks like at this point:

Love and Dental Hygiene,
Leah Joy

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Monday Rant: Anti-Valentine's Day

Welcome to Valentine's Week - yes, a whole week!  Not just a day.  Why would you want to limit your celebration of love to just one day?  We all know my favorite holiday is Christmas, but Valentine's Day is so much fun, too.  Yet, there are some people who seem to think that it is a terrible holiday and do everything in their power to spoil other people's fun.

Now, it might seem pretty pointless for a happily-married woman to argue that you should love Valentine's Day, too, no matter what your current romantic situation, but just hear me out.  This will only be my 3rd happily married Valentine's Day, meaning that I have spent a lot of Valentine's Days un-married.  I've had single-and-happy Valentine's Days, dating-and-happy Valentine's Days, dating-and-wondering-why-I'm-still-dating Valentine's Days, single-and-lonely Valentine's Days, and once in college, I even had the classic single-and-still-got-3-unsolicited-Valentine's-cards-from-creepy-guys Valentine's Day.

So I get it.  I get that that 'evil' redhead rejected you 5 years ago and you still can't get over it and be happy.  I get that you were only trying to be nice to those guys who didn't seem to have any other friends and they took it the wrong way.  But I'm here to remind you that there is more than one kind of love!

Some of my favorite Valentine's Days were spent with my family and friends!  My mom and sister and I would get out the craft supplies and make Valentine's cards for our family members.  My little brother would share his leftover Halloween candy (kid is a health nut).  My dad would buy us flowers and chocolate.  And we'd bake cookies and eat conversation hearts.  I'd give cards and cookies to my best friends.  Does that really sound so terrible?

We're celebrating love here - and it doesn't have to just be romantic love!  We can celebrate friendship and family!

Now, for those last few remaining skeptics: yes, you in the happy relationship who persists in remaining anti-Valentine's Day because "it's just a holiday thought up by greeting card companies".  Think again - because that's not true.  Look it up.  (That is true, however, for Sweetest Day.)  Besides, you don't have to support big businesses, greeting card companies, or any business at all to celebrate Valentine's Day.  Make a homemade card.  Bake cookies.  Do something special for your loved ones: take a walk with them, watch a movie together, take them out for dinner - whatever makes them feel loved.  Take time out of your day to notice them and love them!

Now go forth and celebrate love!

Love and More Love,
Leah Joy

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tips for Insomnia

If you're like me, you've probably heard just about every insomnia trick out there - and tried most of those.  If you're new to the game, I thought I'd share everything I've tried.  These have been recommended to me by various friends, medical professionals, and WebMD.  Many of them directly contradict each other because every person is different; what works wonders for you will be someone else's sleepless night.  I am not a medical professional at all; these are just based on my personal experience.

  •  Melatonin (does not work for me, but works great for some)
  • Do not spend time in bed that is not for sleeping.  Do not sit in bed to read a book, work on your laptop, take a nap, etc.
  • Read a book in bed before going to sleep.  Stay up as late as you can - until your eyes can't stay open anymore.
  • Take it easy during the day - don't stress yourself out over anything, not physically, mentally, or emotionally.
  • Work yourself really hard during the day so you are bone-weary at night.
  • Journal before bed to get your thoughts out.
  • Massage your calves. (I haven't actually tried this one, but it's been recommended to me.)
  • Take a quick power nap in the afternoon - no more than 20 minutes.
  • Eat a small snack before bed that involves a little protein and a little bit of carbohydrates, i.e. cheese and crackers, or pretzels and a yogurt.
  • Limit screen time in the last couple hours before bed.
  • Lavender.  Take a bath with lavender bath salts (or soap, etc.) or have something lavender-scented near your bed.
  • Bananas - there is apparently a natural dose of melatonin in one banana. If I didn't hate bananas, I might try this.  Also, avoid apples later in the day, because they are nature's coffee, or rather, sugar-rush.
  • SleepyTime tea - or any other brand's equivalent of that.  It's a blend of chamomile tea and other teas - and depending on the brand, comes in different flavors.  I've just recently started using this (I bought SleepyTime Peach) and I'm finding it works wonders (other than the whole 'drinking a cup of tea right before bed, so I have to get up in the middle of the night to relieve myself' thing).
  • If you have a cold, too, try NyQuil for a night.
  • Exercise - but not in the last few hours before bed.
  • Try sleeping somewhere else.  If you're not sharing your bed with someone else (or if they're really nice and don't mind), turn your blankets and pillows around so your head is at the foot of the bed.  Or try the spare room bed or couch for the night.
  • If you're tossing and turning, try getting out of bed and doing something else.  This one rarely works for me, but may work for you.  Try organizing a drawer, reading a book, or cleaning something.
  • Try going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning.  I know it's hard, but training your body that this is when you sleep can help you build good sleeping habits.
  • Have a bedtime routine to remind your body that it's time to sleep now.  Again, building good sleeping habits.
  • Sleep with a fan or a white noise machine on.  
  • Keep a notepad by your bed to write down those thoughts that are keeping you awake.
  • Wash your sheets and pajamas.  I haven't heard this from anyone else, but it helps me relax; I love the smell of clean laundry.
Finally, if it's been a while and nothing is working, go see your doctor.  Two years ago, I was prescribed a generic version of Ambien that I took for about 5 nights.  After that, I was fine for a few months.  Of course, that's my personal experience; yours could be very different.

In closing, I thought I'd share this pin with you that struck me as so perfect it's both funny and sad.

This is why I can't sleep most of the time. :)  I can't make my brain shut up!

Do you have any recommendations for insomnia other than the ones above?  What works for you when you can't sleep?

Love and A Clean Pillowcase,
Leah Joy

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Top 10 Books/Series of 2013

Today, I thought I'd share with you my Top 10 books that I read in 2013, but then I started going through them and realized that maybe Top 10 series would be better, because I couldn't include everything by the same author... And then I thought maybe just Top 10 authors, because so many books by the same author made it into my Top 25 books. :)  So, I've subjectively narrowed this list down to 10, but there are so many more branching out, so this is more like a Top 50 list. :)  I hope you enjoy!

In no particular order:

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine may have been my favorite book I read by her this year, but I also enjoyed Ever and The Two Princesses of Bamarre.  Although I did not read it this year, Ella Enchanted is also always a great read.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale.  A princess is locked away in a tower for refusing to marry the man her father picked for her.  Her maidservant, the protagonist, is locked in with her and records their story in her book.  This is not some ordinary princess tale, though, as it includes war, starvation, sacrifice, servitude, and lots of danger.

I also read Princess Academy and Princess Academy: Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale and I highly recommend those as well.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, along with the 3 other books in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles.

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George, along with every other book she wrote!  The sequels are Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear.  She also wrote the Princess trilogy, including Princess of the Midnight Ball, Princess of the Glass Slipper, and Princess of the Silver Woods.  And the Tuesdays in the Tower and Wednesdays in the Castle books.  And Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, although I didn't read that until January of this year.

Best Foot Forward by Joan Bauer - along with every other book she's written.  I think at this point I've read them all, and there are too many to list, but they are all wonderful!

The Extra-Ordinary Princess by Carolyn Q. Ebbitt.  This was such a beautiful and compelling story.  It somehow remained unique while also whispering hints of other fairy tales.

The Wide-Awake Princess by E.D. Baker. On the other hand, this book referenced every fairy tale it could get its hands on!  After the curse is put on Princess Gwendolyn (AKA Sleeping Beauty), when her younger sister Princess Annie is born, her parents ask a fairy to help them.  She places a gift on Annie so that no other magic may ever touch her.  This means that when the whole castle falls asleep with Gwen's curse, Annie stays wide awake and must go on a quest to find her sister's true love and bring him back to the castle.  There's a sequel, too, Unlocking the Spell.  

I've also really enjoyed The Frog Princess series by E.D. Baker.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood, along with the two sequels that exist so far.

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis, along with the two sequels, Stolen Magic and Renegade Magic.  Kat is a young girl in Regency England who discovers that she has inherited her mother's gift for a special kind of magic called Guardian Magic.  Doing magic is highly improper in the high society of the 1800s and she's discouraged from it by every member of her family, but she is, after all, incorrigible. :)

True (...Sort Of) by Katherine Hannigan. Delly Pattison has been called bad so many times she's starting to believe she can never be good.  Brud Kinney wants to play basketball better than anyone else.  Then Ferris Boyd moves to town and changes both of their lives.  Be prepared to have your heart broken over this book.  It is so beautiful.  I also recommend Ida B by the same author.

So there you have it - my Top '10' of 2013.  How about you?  What books did you really enjoy this last year?  Do you have any exciting books on your To-Read List for this year?

Love and Literature,
Leah Joy

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

101 Things in 2014 Update: February 4

I'm sorry for being so unorganized the last couple weeks.  I finally slept last night (cue Hallelujah Chorus) and I'm going to get back on track, but I have very limited material until I actually start projects again, so the rest of this week, you'll get whatever I have on that day with no particular order.  Today, I happen to have a little 101 Things Update with a beverage theme.   :)

26. Pomegranate Lemonade.

The Original:


You may notice that mine is significantly darker in color.  This is because I added less water than in the original.  The recipe is confusing because it says it makes 2 quarts of lemonade, but then calls for 2 quarts of water in addition to a cup of lemon juice and 3/4 cup of pomegranate juice.  Well, that's almost an extra 1/2 quart of liquid there, so this recipe actually would make almost 2.5 quarts.  

I made this in a 2 quart container, so I didn't have the option of adding the extra 2 cups of water, but I liked the way this tasted without them and so did Caleb.  However, I've spent the last several years building up an immunity to lemon juice, so it's possible that this would be too strong for some people.  So you decide: if you like weaker lemonade, make this in a bigger container and add more water; if you like stronger lemonade, just add water up to the 2 quart line.  

But it really wasn't too strong in the lemon department; the pomegranate juice makes it sweet enough.

88. Jamba Juice Smoothie

I have a story for you.  Once upon a time, 10.5 years ago, I was visiting Chicago with a group from church.  We had been wandering around the city in the summer heat for hours and we stopped at a Jamba Juice for a late lunch.  They took fresh fruit down from baskets hanging around the counter and prepared everything in front of us. The resulting smoothie was the best thing I have ever tasted.  Was it really that good or were we just exceptionally hungry and tired?  I've tried to find out for so long!

Almost 4 years ago, I was in Boston and I knew that there was a Jamba Juice there, so I went to try it.  Alas, there were no baskets of fresh fruit - the smoothies were made with mixes.  It was in a college cafeteria, so I understood, but I was so disappointed.  The smoothies were fine, but not the amazing quality I had the previous time - and I had just walked around Boston this time.Would I ever know if Jamba Juice is really that delicious?

Okay, drama over, I finally found this pin full of recipes, so I picked one with fairly accessible ingredients and no mangoes: the Pomegranate Pick-Me-Up.  Frozen strawberries, frozen blueberries, mixed berry juice, pomegranate juice, and raspberry sherbet (no wonder it tastes so good!).  Well, silly me assumed that this would be a one-serving recipe, so I doubled it.  Okay, that's not actually so silly until you realize that I was making these as a beverage to accompany our chicken dinner.  So we each had a giant 20-ounce smoothie and a very tiny piece of chicken.

But the smoothies were absolutely amazing!

That's all for today, folks, but I hope to be much more thrilling in the future.  Happy Tuesday!

Love and Sleepytime Tea,
Leah Joy

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Monday Rant: Snow and Insomnia

How original, right?  I'm now on Day 16 of this current bout with insomnia.  Now, before you freak out and wonder why I'm not dead, I don't mean that I haven't slept at all in 16 days.  Most nights I get about an hour of sleep, though it's fitful and spread out over the 8 hours I spend in bed.  A few nights I've gotten as much as 4-5 hours, which feels amazing, but mostly I'm just tired all the time.  

Michigan is currently in a Polar Vortex.  We have 5-foot snow piles by the road (snowplow + shoveling) and knee-deep snow all over the yard.  I've even driven by some drifts that had to be upwards of 6 feet.  I know that it's good for the environment and the Great Lakes and all that, so I try not to complain too much, but I am sick of shoveling!  

Our roof has these cool snow 'awnings' though.

They hang down so low I have to duck to get into the garage.

You see that divot on the very right of this 'awning'?  That's from the van. 

Oh, and the good news is we'll be getting a new mail box come Spring.  For now, this guy is propped very precariously here after getting knocked off several times by the force of the snow plows.  (I took this picture  straight on to where the mail box should be.  It keeps getting knocked this way.)

But you know, it can be really pretty:

Love and More Snow,
Leah Joy