Sunday, October 20, 2013

Homemade Marshmallows

If there is only one thing I love about Fall, it's the cooler weather.  For me, cooler weather means lots of things.  Football, beautiful colors outdoors, fires, grilling, crock pots of chili and hot chocolate.

In the spirit of the season, I started thinking about Smores and grilling, and remembered some gourmet marshmallow's I'd seen mentioned on the Food Network.  If you've never heard of them, look them up--- they're called "Plush Puffs" and they look truly amazing.  After some searching, and realizing they aren't available anywhere in Alabama, and realizing the cost (and risk of melting) of shipping seemed like something I didn't want to chance, I thought "maybe I could make some marshmallows."  How hard could it be, right?

Then I started researching homemade marshmallow recipes. I found plenty of recipes, and the reviews were mixed on most of them.  I decided to go with a trusty Alton Brown recipe.  I am generally a fan of most of his recipes that I've tried, so I just trusted that he'd know what he's doing when it comes to marshmallows.  I found his recipe here.  Then I gathered my ingredients.

Homemade Marshmallows:
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I actually forgot this when I made my marshmallows, and they were still good)
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray

Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.

In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows. (Don't forget the vanilla, don't forget the vanilla!) If you do forget, like I did, it won't destroy your  marshmallows.  Mine were still delicious.

Also, I got confused on the recipe here, so let me help you out.  Don't worry, you didn't forget to add some ingredients.  The powdered sugar and corn starch will be used in the next step.  Don't waste your time re-reading the first part of the recipe over and over.  Trust me.

For regular marshmallows:  
(I made these.  If you want mini-marshmallows, click on the food network link at the end for instructions.)
Combine the confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. 
As an extra step, I lined my baking pan with parchment paper.  It helps with clean-up and I don't like to use non-stick spray directly on my non-stick pans.
Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
Waiting for the marshmallows to set are the hardest part of this recipe.  At least that's my opinion.

Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Read more at:

After the marshmallows were finished, and I discovered that I hadn't butchered the recipe too badly, and that my fluffy treats were indeed edible, I started wondering.  "What should I do with all of these marshmallows?"  I immediately thought "Smores, duh."  Then I realized I didn't have a chocolate bar handy, and I wanted to use them right away.  On to plan B.  Hot chocolate!
Now, you don't have to get all fancy with your hot chocolate, but if you want something other than the ordinary packets, I have a great recipe that someone gave me a few years ago.  It's homemade hot chocolate with a touch of cinnamon flavor.  Delicious.  I thought it might be a good combo with my fancy marshmallows.

I can't credit the original source for this, because it was given to me from someone else, so if this is your original recipe, I'm so sorry!

Someone else's delicious Hot Chocolate Mix:
(serves 4)
3/4 c granulated sugar
3/4 c powdered milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c cocoa powder
4 oz bittersweet chocolate (or you can do what I did, and improvise with a mixture of bittersweet & semi-sweet--- that's what I had in the pantry)

Mix your dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. (sugar, powdered milk, cinnamon, cocoa powder)
Chop the bittersweet chocolate into chunky, consistent pieces.  I tried to make it about the size of mini chocolate chips--remember, it needs to melt easily in your hot chocolate.  Add chocolate to dry mixture. Mix well.  Store in an airtight container.

To make your hot chocolate, add 1 c of hot water to 1/2 cup of hot chocolate mix.  Top with your yummy homemade marshmallows, enjoy!

These marshmallows were the perfect compliment to my hot chocolate.  They were nice and melty, and I imagine they will be really great roasted and added to Smores, after I go buy a Hershey bar!

My next project will be trying different flavors of marshmallows.  Peppermint. Cinnamon. 
Vanilla. Lemon. Pumpkin.  

Don't be intimidated by this recipe.  It is super-easy, and waaaay better than store-bought marshmallows.  Plus, you can impress your friends by making them.  I think a combo of hot chocolate mix, marshmallows and a coffee cup would make great small (cheap) gifts for your friends at the Holidays! 

What are your favorite things to make in the Fall?  Have you tried any new recipes?  Have you conquered the perfect homemade marshmallow?  I want to hear about it!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's in the bag

I was purging my makeup/beauty products, and it made me realize I might have a problem. Although I don't really wear a ton of makeup, I have WAY too much. I think it's because I get suckered into those "free gift with purchase" and BOGO sales.

Anyway, I started looking through all of my products, and realized I use the same over and over. I thought I'd share my "holy grail" makeup and skincare products.

1)Face Cleanser: philosophy purity made simple lotion or gel cleanser.

2) Moisturizer: philosophy take a deep breath

3) Eye cream: philosophy eye hope

1) BB Cream: Lumene Vitamin C+ Illuminating Anti-Age BB Cream, SPF 20

2) Eye Shadow: POP Beauty Lid Bronzer and Too Faced Natural Eye

3) Lip Gloss: Neutrogena MoistureShine Gloss in VitaPlum

4) Eye Shadow Primer: Too Faced Shadow Insurance

Aaaaaand that's about it for brand loyalty for me.  I have so many things, but these are the ones I reach for over and over.

I am still on the lookout for the perfect mascara and the perfect translucent powder.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Catching up.

It's been a while since I've posted, but I've been busy working on little projects and not writing.

Let's play catch up.

Since I last posted, I've done a few little things.

1) I re-organized the kitchen with a few random things from Ikea. (Organized the spice drawer, I hung some pots & pans, and I cleared clutter off my counter-tops with a few baskets and hanging rods.)

2) I painted our guest room and guest bathroom, and hung a little wall-art in there. Then I decided I needed to hide that hideous, but fun, chalkboard in the guest room. You know, because we were too lazy to take it down and replace the chair rail. Basically, I did a guest room re-design.

3) I organized the laundry room a little-- added some wall baskets for cleaning towels, and got the shelf in order.

4) Made a roman shade inspired by this Pinterest idea for the living room, and finished my wall art in there. (I also added an antique sewing machine as a side table, and bought a new lamp and new sofa!)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Springtime Ponderings

I love Spring. I don't know if it's the extra sunshine, the birds chirping or the sense of hope and something new, but this time of year, I always get super-motivated. I get motivated to get my house clean and organized. (again.) This year, I've already completely rearranged our entire bedroom/relaxation area. Our bed is now in the Sunroom, which I thought would be a semi-bad idea, but it's actually been wonderful! The sunshine coming through the windows in the morning helps me wake up. And since the room is smaller and open and airy, I found that I actually sleep better. There's no clutter in the room to distract me.
I also get motivated to eat healthier and take care of myself. I do think this is directly related to the additional sunshine and the desire to be outdoors. And because of the warmer temperatures outdoors, I tend to crave different types of foods. I want fruits and salads more than hot meals. Nothing makes my mouth water more than a fresh pineapple, watermelon or a good spring mix salad.
I also get a little shopping urge. I'll just blame this one on my childhood, and getting a new Easter dress every year. Here are my latest splurges: Veanna by Tommy Hilfiger
Chambray shirt, by Gap

What are you craving this Spring? Have you been doing a little spring-cleaning?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Favorite Things

I just heard "My Favorite Things" on my Pandora station, and it reminded me that I've been meaning to blog about my favorite things for quite some time. If nothing else, to give me a reference list when someone asks me for gift ideas. :) There aren't too many things I actually NEED, but rest assured you will (hopefully) never find me without my favorite things. Some of these are beauty products, some are random household items and some are little luxuries.

1) purity made simple cleanser This is by far the best thing for my skin I've ever used. It cleans without drying, and actually removes my eye makeup.

2) Neutrogena MoistureShine Lip Gloss, Vita Plum.
I've used this lip gloss for years. The color used to be called "Dreamy", but they changed it a few years ago to Vita Plum. It's still the same color, and the perfect lip gloss to just add a little bit of color/shine. (And it's pretty cheap!)

3) Scunci No-Slip Grip The Evolution Hair Ties
Disclaimer, these are NOT ouchless... they will likely break your hair. But you know what they will NOT do? They will NOT fall out of your hair while you're exercising. They will NOT fall out of your hair when you swim. They will NOT fall out of your hair while sleeping. So for me, they're a winner.

4) The Comforter bubble bar from Lush. This is one of my little luxuries. This is the absolute best bubble bath I have ever experienced. Perfect, fluffy, lightly scented bubbles that do not leave a sticky film on my skin that leave me wanting a shower. If you haven't tried the bubble bars, try them immediately. The bath bombs are pretty amazing, too. But the bubble bar has totally ruined me on bubble baths. I will never buy another bottle of liquid bubbles again.

5) Excedrin Migraine. This is truly a miracle-worker. It makes my head stop hurting when nothing else can.

6) Blue Bell Birthday Cake Ice Cream. You can't always find this in stores, but when I do, I experience the excitement I felt as a kid when I heard the music for the Icee Man. It's the perfect combination of vanilla ice cream, chocolate cake, chocolate icing and sprinkles. YUM.

7) Jergens Original Scent Cherry-Almond Moisturizer. I don't know what it is I love about this lotion the most. I do love the smell--- it's nostalgic for me. And I love the texture of the lotion.

8) Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Shampoo/Conditioner. I love the smell and the tingle of this shampoo. And it's been really great to my hair. I buy the jumbo bottles when they have them on sale at Ulta, and I only buy shampoo a couple times per year, so it's worth the money.

9) Vinegar. I use this for everything. I use it on bee stings/bug bites, as a cleaner, in my shampoo. There's a great website with lots of vinegar tips on it that I absolutely love. Go there. I always buy this at Sam's Club. It's the best deal I've found on the big gallons.

10) I do a huge majority of my shopping on Amazon. We're a Prime subscriber, so we also get free movies and books on our Kindle sometimes. Free two-day shipping? Win. Excellent customer service? Win. Cheaper prices on almost everything? Win. One-stop shopping, without leaving the house? Win.

11) Gain Original Scent or Apple Mango Tango. I recently bought Tide because I had a coupon, and I just ran out. I went back to the Gain I generally buy, and my clothes smell SO good. And the house smells SO good. There's just something about the way the scent of Gain stays on my clothes. And it's great at removing the stains, too.

12) Some of my favorite things can't be purchased, and they are indeed the most treasured. Good times with my family and friends are high on my list. I wouldn't trade anything for the time spent with those I love, and I hope that I never take those things for granted, though I know I do at times. Here's a short list of some of the "things" I have collected from these memories that I will always treasure. (Though there's no way I can list all of them.)

a) My "evil blanket." Those of you who have been to my house know what this is. It's my fuzzy pink and teal blanket, circa 1980s that has traveled with me to ball games in high school, all through college, and now rests in my living room. It was given to me by Dot--- my great aunt, and is still one of my favorite possessions. It's called the "evil blanket" because it's almost impossible to sit under this blanket for more than 15 minutes without becoming a pile of uselessness, and sinking into a sleeping coma for the rest of the day.

b) The "strum stick" that my grandpa made. It's not really a strum stick, but he made it the same size and shape as one. (For those who are curious, this is a strum stick.) He got a strum stick as a gift, after wanting one, and then decided it didn't play enough like a guitar for him. So, he made one... with 5 strings, and all of the different notes. Basically, he put a guitar handle, frets and strings on the frame of a strum stick (which he made.) The guitar strap is a drawstring taken from a pair of his pajama pants. This is truly one of my most prized possessions, because I remember his excitement when he first made it. It's special because it was his, and that's enough for me.

c) The old Army photo of my dad. He looks so young and handsome, and it's always been one of my favorites.

d) All of my old photos. I have a lot of photos--- some from when I was a kid, actually quite a few. My grandma always seemed to have a camera in her hand when we were kids, so we have tons of photos to capture all of our awkwardness, but also the memories-- things we may have forgotten about if it weren't for the photos. She doesn't take as many pictures now as she did then, but she's always armed with her camera, still. She unfortunately has record of every bad haircut I've ever had.
I took a lot of photos in college, and have a scrapbook to remember all of our fun times. It's definitely not a "Creative Memories" scrapbook-- I didn't have the money for all of that stuff when I made it, but it's perfect, because it captured so many memories that have shaped the person I am today. I was so fortunate to be surrounded by my best friends in college, and we had a lot of fun growing up together. I'm so thankful for the years I got to spend so much time with them!

e) The little pink bible given to me by my grandparents. It has red stains on the cover from the time I was obsessed with stamp pads and ink, and it must have gotten touched with the red ink I used to create my library back in the day... but I love that bible, just because it's from them. It's one of the tiny new testaments that the print is so small you need a magnifying glass to read it, but I will always hang on to that one.

f) Ugly mosaic tile thing that Daniel and I made on a date when we were dating. This thing is so ugly and ridiculous--- it's a heart with wings with a random mosaic tile design on it. We didn't have much to choose from, and we didn't have a theme, so we just put random tiles on it. It has our initials on it, and it's special because it was one of the first things we made together. I'll never think it's beautiful, but it will always remind me of one of our earlier dates, and the time that we spent making it. If I had it to do over, I'd definitely make it look better, so we could have a pretty memory, but I definitely don't want to throw it away.

What are some of your favorite things? What are your favorite memories/keepsakes?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Bookshelf Makeover

I've been thinking about giving our Expedit bookshelf from IKEA a makeover for a while. The day Daniel bought it, I wanted to buy storage boxes and bins for it, but after buying the bookshelf, that just wasn't in the budget.

Today, I was reading this post, and got inspired all over again.

Here's my bookshelf this morning.
See how it looks organized, but not? Just me? It looks messy to me.

I wanted to get some baskets, to add some texture, and to add some storage for small things. I hate clutter, so I wanted the bookshelf to look neat, but still be functional. I also hate things that don't really serve a purpose.

I've been looking in stores for a while now, and searching endlessly online, and I haven't found any baskets that fit all three of my criteria:
1) The right size. (12x12x15)
2) Natural texture, not canvas or plastic.
3) Under $10 each.

I know. I'm a little cheap. I found several that were around $12, but I just couldn't bring myself to pay those extra $2.

SO, after searching again, and coming up with nothing, I decided to look at some DIY projects on pinterest. I also remembered seeing a tutorial for some fabric covered boxes on "I Heart Organizing" (coincidentally, the same post that inspired me to attack my bookshelf today!)

I saw these burlap covered boxes, and decided I wanted to do burlap.

This warranted a trip to the store. I decided first, to go to the dreaded place. For those who don't know where that is--- WalMart. One stop shopping, right? Wrong. Going there was a HUGE mistake, as always. You'd think I'd learn. After leaving there empty handed, I headed to Lowe's to pick up the supplies I needed. (Because the Home Depot website said they were out of Burlap, and I didn't want to pay $3 a yard at a fabric store.)

After almost changing my mind, and buying wood to make some wooden boxes, I picked up my supplies.

1) 10 12x12x16 Moving Boxes, $0.69 each. (Yeah, 1" too deep, but the shelf sits away from the wall a couple inches, so it works.) :)
2) 1 can of spray adhesive, about $5
3) 1 roll of burlap, 24ft x 3ft, $9.99
4) 1 grommet kit, about $7
5) 1 package of sisal rope, for handles, $6

Grand total, less than $40.

First, I assembled the boxes, and cut of the top flaps.
Then it took me about the first 4 boxes to figure out the best way to cover them in paper. The boxes I bought had red ink on them, so I had to cover them with paper. I used some brown contractor's paper that we had leftover from another project.
The best solution I found was to measure two pieces of paper to 16", and then wrap one side (inside and out) and then the outside bottom. With the second sheet, wrap the other side (inside and out) and the bottom.

Since the front and back of the box was a perfect 12x12 square, I used scrapbook paper to cover the front and back.

Then, I sprayed with spray adhesive, and laid a 15x15 burlap square on top of the scrapbook paper.

I used clear packing tape to tape the edges of the burlap. Not pretty really, but you can't see the sides of the boxes. And I wanted to conserve my supplies, just in case I wanted to make more boxes, or do something else with them.

After taping the sides and corners, I had this.

And forgive me, but I didn't take photos of the next step.
I just used the hole punch in the grommet kit to punch two holes in each box, for the handle.

Then followed the instructions to install the grommets.

The final step was to make the rope handles. I cut the rope to 12", and then tied a knot in one end, threaded it through the two holes and tied it off.

Here's the finished product.

After finishing all of my boxes, I arranged them on the shelf, and moved some books and photos around. I'm pretty happy with the final product. Not too shabby for under $40, and just a few hours of my afternoon.

As usual, there are some things I'd do differently, if I had it to do over.

1) I wouldn't use the brown contractor's paper. For some reason, it wouldn't stick to the box with the spray adhesive, so I had to use a combination of the spray adhesive and packing tape.
2) I would have cut all of the pieces to size and done each step all at once. (First, I would wrap all the boxes with paper. Then I would do step 2 on all the boxes.. you get the point.)
3) I would have covered the entire box in burlap. It doesn't really matter, because you don't see anything except the front, but I think just the idea of only the front being covered bugs me.
4) I would cover the inside with decorative paper rather than the brown paper. No big deal, but I think it'd look nice.
5) I would add labels. I will probably do this later, but I'm not sure what kind of labels I want to use.

Do you have any tips/tricks to making your own storage boxes? Idead for decorating a bookshelf while maintaining its function?

I'd love to see what you've done!