Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What I made this weekend

My classmate and good friend Erica, decided to throw a little concert this past weekend to benefit Airshine Music, which currently includes piano and choir instruction. She is hoping to expand the programs and open a school this summer with numerous teachers...percussion, violin, etc. I admire her courage to dream big and  was excited to attend the concert to hear her play and support the cause. There were probably around 15 or so of us sitting around her red piano in the courtyard of her building listening to her play ABBA, Chopin, Debussy, and a Disney favorite...to name a few. The evening was titled Blackout Shuffle and was inspired by the blackout that we experienced in San Diego back in September. Instead of sitting around the television and radio, Erica was able to play and sing for her neighbors. There was electricity this time, but the stars and the moon came out as well to make the perfect combo.

She asked a few of us to volunteer to make baked goodies for a raffle, and of course I was excited to make a special treat. It had been awhile since I made my friend, Cristy's, favorite coconut cake...maybe not since a bridal shower??? Anyway, it is the most simple, delicious treat ever...if you like coconut that is!

Cristy's Coconut Cake:

The best part about this recipe is that you use a boxed cake mix...so easy!

Follow instructions on box to make the Vanilla cake batter
Add 2t of coconut extract to cake mix
Bake 2 8-inch rounds according to the Vanilla boxed cake instructions (a tip here...I always grease the inside of the cake pans and then flour them so the cake doesn't stick)

At this point, let the cake rounds cool and then I recommend freezing them (wrap them in some sort of cling-wrap or ziploc bag). It is easier to frost a frozen cake :)

For the frosting, mix together:
2 sticks butter (room temp)
2 8oz. pkgs cream cheese (room temp)
Additional coconut extract (to taste)
Approximately 3c of powdered sugar

Once your cakes are nice and cool (or frozen) frost the cake in between layers and all around...don't be shy, there is A LOT of frosting so pile it on thick!

And the final decorative touch! Toast some coconut in the oven until perfectly brown and sprinkle on top!


If you don't enjoy this cake right away, I would stick it in the fridge to keep it fresh.

Well, I didn't win my cake during the raffle, but I did win the GRAND PRIZE! Lucky me :) I walked away with a gift basket that included a history of Jazz book (I love jazz...I even took a class at UW on the history of jazz!), a music CD and an iPod shuffle (that matches my car!) I felt pretty blessed, not just by the gift, but to be able to enjoy a night of music under the stars!  A perfect end to the weekend.

Monday, January 23, 2012


So excited to have my iPod shuffle back...now maybe I'll be more motivated to go for a run :) And, love that my Mom included a few extra goodies...a beautifully crocheted dish cloth and some seeds for lettuce and herb container gardening! Sounds like a weekend project! Love you Mom!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A little culture

My Thursday night class, Schools in a Pluralistic Society, is turning out to be much better than expected. Last week we wrote a cultural autobiography, describing our ancestry and how it influences our lives. My mom grew up on a dairy farm in South Dakota and consequently, grew up in a home of early mornings, frequent baking, gardening, sewing and 4-H. After moving away from home and out to Washington, she kept quite a few of these traditions/hobbies. Even though she's a little too old for 4-H we always went to the fair and walked through the livestock and craft/quilting exhibits. She definitely is not an early riser these days...preferring to sit in bed and read while sipping on her morning latte...so spoiled :) However, she passed on to me the desire to keep up with some of the family culture, which has led me to container gardening, baking (in fact, last night I made these delicious cookies!), and sewing. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to receive a sewing machine at Christmas. I don't consider myself a serious seamstress, but I've dabbled in making tote bags, quilts, kitchen accessories and APRONS, lots and lots of aprons.

Just when I thought I was through with aprons, I found a pattern I couldn't resist...in fact half of the fabric pieces had already been cut out. Where did I find this half-started gem? At Grandma Hoogestraat's farm house in South Dakota this past summer. The fabric is beautiful and I bought a little ruffle at JoAnn's for 50% off. It's a bit "old fashioned," or maybe I should say "vintage," has a better connotation. :) The directions were a bit difficult to follow, but like I said I've made my fair share of aprons, so I was able to piece it together and improve it a bit here and there. I love it, not because of the vintage design, but      because of where it came from. A half started project from my Grandma that I was able to finish...keeping the family tradition and culture alive!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Market Tote

While browsing the Sew Mama Sew blog, I stumbled across a tutorial for this tote bag from Bijou lovely. I was nervous because this was the first structured bag that I had made, but the tutorial walked me through step-by-step and was so easy to follow! I gifted this one to a friend who loves the yellow/gray combo, and now need to make one for myself :) which rarely happens! The only improvement I would make to the original would be to add interior pockets for a cell phone, keys or whatever. Otherwise it is the perfect bag to take to the market, school or playground. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Resolved to....

from Creating Clever

Resolutions...I usually have one or two in the back of my mind that I never fully commit to, like giving up sweets...really? like that lasts more than 24 hours. Another year, I tried to take a picture everyday and post it on a photoblog. I think I made it into February before that one fizzled out. This year I started out with a week of unlimited hot yoga for $10, which I succeeded at going 5 times...wow! However, I soon learned from the NY Times that yoga is dangerous (not really, but can be if you push yourself too hard) and that more specifically hot yoga gives you wrinkles (that depressing piece of information came from my brother who heard it from his friend who owns a non-hot yoga studio...maybe just trying to eliminate the competition?). Anyway, the reality is I don't have $15 to spend on a class with my Grad student budget. In fact, I don't have a lot of money to spend on anything right about now. This sad realization has led me to many brainstorm sessions...how can I save, or even earn a little cash in my life right now? Mostly, I've tried to think about how I can somehow sell things I already have...ridiculously overpriced textbooks I'll never read again, old clothes/shoes, or take my crafting to the next level and open an Etsy shop. The Etsy shop has been on my mind for some time and I may have some product in the works...the Grad school life just doesn't lend a ton of "extra" time for crafting.

So, my next money-saving thought was, why not commit to only buying used clothes for the next 6 months? I mean, I know I can get away with not buying clothes for 3 months or so, but then I get restless and dive head first into a shopper frenzy hopping from Nordstrom Rack, to DSW, and TJ Maxx. So the 6 month time frame will be a bit more of a challenge! You may be thinking...hmmm...what about the more personal stuff...like undergarments or swimsuits. I have the perfect solution. I can purchase "new" items with money earned from consigning my "old" items...pretty genius, huh? Luckily, I haven't purchased anything new this year...December was a different story :) I'll keep you all updated on how it turns out...in fact I made my first thrift purchase of the new year today...an adorable blue and white-ish striped dress. Crazy to think that I could be wearing it in the next few weeks here in San Diego (the Washington winter would never allow this!).  I also posted a picture of another thrift steal from a few months ago, Stuart Weitzman pumps. And we're talking maybe worn once, Nordstrom tag still intact, made in Spain, classier than ever, probably from the 90's heels. I LOVE them so much and guess what...only cost me $6.99...incredible I know! 

So it's possible, I'm a believer, sold on the idea that I can thrift it for at least the first half of the year to reduce financial stress! Who knows...maybe it will become a way of life!? very unlikely :)

 ...pretty hot, I know :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Vintage Crafting

While visiting my Grandma in South Dakota this past summer, I rummaged through the attic and found this treasure hidden away:

My Grandma has quite a few embroidered flour sack dish towels that I just love. The simple designs add a kind of elegance to the kitchen. The flour sack towels can be found at a local bakery for sale...I happened to purchase mine this Christmas while at Sluy's Bakery in Poulsbo, WA, famous for their bread, donuts and Scandinavian treats. The hot iron transfers still had life left in them and easily stamped onto the towels. I made a few for my Mom for Christmas, including the pears below and I just finished the strawberries for my own kitchen...it's always hard for me to hold onto my crafts, typically I end up finding my project is the perfect gift...not this time :)

If you're interested in purchasing a towel or two, let me know and we can figure out the design and colors!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fisher Fair Scones

Fisher Fair Scones...a classic Walker family tradition and let's be honest, my sole reason for attending the county fair. The fair has always been an important family tradition. Some of my earliest memories from my childhood include going to the Kitsap County Fair.

First off, we had to enter something into the fair to get free admission. One year, I entered placemats, another peanut butter cookies and surprisingly, one year I won a Grand Prize ribbon for my vegetable figure (in case you're having trouble picturing it, imagine a Mr. Potato Head like guy made solely out of veggies)...must not have been much competition in that category!

My mom also used to bake brownies to serve at the Young Life BBQ Beef Booth. This was another favorite of mine, because I would get to "taste" some of the brownie batter and any scraps of the finished product that didn't find their way into plastic bags to sell. YUM! The YL Booth was our chosen lunch spot due to the delish sandwiches and corn on the cob. My mouth is watering just thinking about that meal :)

Then we always made our way to the livestock. When your Mom grew up on a Dairy Farm it is a must to visit the Holsteins. I enjoyed the cows, but LOVED the horses. I remember being jealous of all the girls showing off their 4-H horses. I think I typically ended a visit with a request to move out into the country so that we could raise horses.

Finally, our trip was not complete without a trip to the Fisher Fair Scone trailer. What goes on in that trailer is pure magic! I don't know how they do it in such a small space, but the cutest little Grandpas and Grandmas bake up the most incredibly delicious, melt in your mouth scones slathered with butter and homemade raspberry jam. They are most perfectly browned on top and bottom, while being warm and soft inside. Every, year I would savor one, two, maybe even 3 scones...depending on how many days I made it to the fair. One year I remember buying a whole dozen to share with family over the next few days.

There really is nothing more comforting than a hot, fresh out of the oven scone. One day this past week, I went to bed in a somewhat sour mood and woke up thinking that the only way to brighten my day would be to fix up a batch of Fisher Fair Scones...and it's true, they never fail me.

While you can buy the Scone Mix at stores in the Northwest, I haven't seen them down here in California. The recipe below is one that I found online and tweaked a bit. It's a pretty accurate replica of the original! Enjoy!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Embroidery and Family

This past summer my Mom and I drove out to South Dakota to visit family. I was amazed by our  road-tripping skills, such as, sleeping at rest stops in the middle of the night for three hours, playing putt-putt, drinking milkshakes at an old school diner, and efficiently packing the cooler with sandwich fixin's and veggies (there were a few unhealthy snacks too) :) We were a fabulous team taking turns behind the wheel, while the other navigated and played DJ (aka chose which audiobook to listen to next).

The 2 1/2 day drive was well-worth the quality time spent with my Grandma, Uncle and his family. I loved being back at the farmhouse that is filled with memories from the time spent there as a child: sleeping in my mom's old bedroom, watching lightening strike the yard, be-friending the kittens (by bribing them with fresh milk and bacon fat), exploring the old barn, baking yummy goodies, taco pizza from pizza ranch...It's a little different now that I'm older, but I still enjoying fixing a fresh cup of tea or coffee and sitting down at the table to chat about whatever comes to mind. The conversations are what I value the most...especially the stories surrounding my Grandma's life....she just celebrated a birthday this past June and has so many experiences and wisdom to share from her last 90 years.

As we all get a little bit older, the roles begin to shift. My mom and I take over most of the cooking and cleaning, while Grandma sits in her chair by the table folding plastic grocery bags :) I love being able to serve her in these small ways. We also were able to put a fresh coat of paint on the kitchen and dining room walls, giving the space a fresh and bright look/feel. Another highlight was the fact that my Grandma used my Nook to read The Help...she LOVED using it! Too bad she isn't technologically savvy enough to operate her own (downloading books, etc). I've also become a crafter of sorts and enjoyed browsing the attic for treasures. I walked away with a bag of fabric for a scrap quilt and some embroidery fabric stamps, which I most recently used to make dish towels for my mom for Christmas! (Now I'm thinking about making some to sell on Etsy???)

I cherish time spent with family, especially my grandparents. It was a tremendous blessing to be able to love and serve my Grandma for those 10 days.

Enjoy the slideshow of pictures that I think capture the essence of my Grandma's farm!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

When life hands you lemons...make lemon bars!

I'm a little embarrassed to say, but yes, this is the second time this week that I have made lemon bars. However, the second time was more social in nature because I was able to teach my friend Jen, over at The Arizona Russums, a thing or two about baking :)

First of all, I grew up loving my Aunt Pam's lemon bars. Occasionally, she would bring them to family gatherings and I would always over-indulge. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've specifically requested them for parties/gatherings. Her lemon bars had the perfect ratio of shortbread crust to lemony goodness.

Recently, I tried Ina Garten's lemon bar recipe. I typically love anything that Ina makes, but her lemon bars fell short. The lemony goodness (I don't really know what else to call it...the topping?) was too thick and gooey, almost like the filling in a lemon jelly donut. So I went to one of my most visited cooking blogs, Smitten Kitchen for help and I was not disappointed. She too, had tried Ina's recipe and also wasn't a huge fan of the proportions. Lucky for me, she had posted her revisions which decreased the amount of topping to an almost 1:1 ratio. You can find the recipe over at her blog or down below with a few of my added tips.


Lemon Bars
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
These are bold and tart lemon bars, ones I feel are best in smaller doses than Ina Garten suggests. I’ve made a few changes to the recipe–increased the salt in the crust, reduced the sugar in the lemon filling and an encouragement to grease your pan, as mine were all but cemented into their non-stick pan. For those of you who like the 1:1 crust to lemon layer ratio, use the second option (Smitten Kitchen alterations).

For the crust: 
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
For the full-size lemon layer: 
6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons)
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
[Or] for a thinner lemon layer: (this is the topping that I prefer)
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (3 to 4 lemons)
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet.
For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into the greased baking sheet (I greased the baking sheet and then lined with parchment paper to ensure sticking was not a problem), building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.
Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
For the lemon layer, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes (I baked the thinner topping for 20 min), or about five minutes beyond the point where the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.
Cut into rectangles and dust with confectioners’ sugar.


The stars of this dessert are the fresh California lemons...I have a few leftover, but think I'm going to freeze the juice to use at a later date :)

While Jen's lemon tree wasn't quite producing fruit, this orange tree was in full bloom!


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