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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

THE BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE EVER

So who doesn't love a good chocolate cake?  I'm sure there is someone out there.....but, I believe the vast majority of us wouldn't pass up a slice of chocolate cake.  This recipe, my friends, was "touted" as "the best chocolate cake ever".   While I can't necessarily say whether that's the absolute truth, I can say.  It was excellent!
I brought this to Easter dinner and everybody gave it two thumbs up.  The best part if you're going to give it a try,  it begins with a box cake and the added ingredients only make it better!

INGREDIENTS:

1 box Devil's food cake mix
1 small box Jello instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
½ cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups mini chocolate chips

BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:

1 cup shortening (Crisco)
4 cups powdered sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

DIRECTIONS:

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray the cake tins (9" round) with nonstick cooking spray.  In a very large bowl, mix together everything but the chocolate chips.  The batter will be thick.  Once mixed; stir in the chips.

Pour the batter into the cake pans.  Use the cooking times on the back of the box as a guide; add additional minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Mine were finished in 35 minutes.  

For the frosting, cream the shortening until fluffy.  Add the sugar and continue creaming until well blended.  Add salt, vanilla, and cream.  Blend on low speed until just combined.  Beat at high speed until frosting is fluffy.  

Enjoy!

recipe c/o:  www.kevinandamanda.com

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

VENICE

This year's Mother/Daughter vacation was truly a dream come true.  I've wanted to visit Venice for a long time and the Loire valley in France turned out to be equally as magical.  Since there is so much to share, I decided to break this post into two parts.  First up, Venice.
We flew into Marco Polo airport (via Frankfurt) and took the express bus into the Piazzale Roma which is the main transportation hub for the city.  From there, we hopped on one of the water taxis to our hotel.   Finding the right transportation into Venice took a lot of research.  But, I'm happy with the choice that I made.  I purchased the bus tickets right from a machine in the airport and we were at the Piazzale Roma in just about 30 minutes.  From there it was about another 30 minutes to our hotel......but, what a 30 minutes it was!  The Grand Canal was amazing!                             The hotel I selected (Hotel Violino D'Oro) worked out well.  It had a complimentary breakfast included and was within ten minutes of St. Mark's square.  We were furthest away from the Rialto bridge, but we found that area to be the most congested so it all worked out great.     We'd start the day early, with full bellies from breakfast and go all day long.   As always, I had a planned itinerary for each day, with some wiggle room if needed.   I had one organized tour planned (a visit to the Doge's Palace and Secret Itineraries), but the rest was "self-guided".
 
We purchased full day water taxi tickets another day (the most economical) to expolore two of the many surrounding islands.  We went to Murano, which is known for it's glass making and Burano for it's lace making.    Both were very unique.  My daughter and I favored Burano....it's so colorful!  Another "must see" for me back in Venice was St. Mark's Basilica and the Campanile.  I really enjoyed going up in the Campanile.  The views were amazing! I highly advise purchasing the tickets online so you can "skip the line".   Not only did we not waste time standing in line, but it allowed us to plan the rest of our day, knowing when we needed to be back for our reserved time.                                                            

We walked on average seven miles each day.  Walking is truly the best way to see the city!  There was one other water taxi ticket we purchased since there was a church I really wanted to see (Basilica dei Frari or Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari) on the other side of the canal and we had been walking in circles (BTW...google maps is not the best way to navigate, it gets very confused with all the water).   We also did what many guide books and blogs recommend and that's to get lost.  It truly was fun, and we were able to find our way home each time.  We also found some great hidden gelato shops off the beaten path!                                                                                                                         
I guess my best advice is to be prepared for crowds.  And, in a city with as much water as it has, and tiny little streets, alleyways, and bridges, it's crazy!  Especially when people want to stop for selfies on the bridges.  We've been really lucky avoiding the peak travel season by traveling in April/May each year.  I thought by traveling right after Easter we'd miss the crowds.  Not true.  It was crazy.  And, we ran into a celebration which I wasn't aware of on April 25th.  Liberation Day.  A holiday commemorating the end of Nazi occupation during WWII.

It's similar to our Independence Day with lots of pomp and branches of the military in St. Mark's square.  It was fun seeing it....but it obviously brought in the crowds too. 
 My second piece of advice is to start early.  The large groups didn't seem to make their way out until about 10:30ish.   Getting up as early as we did, we took advantage of the quiet streets early in the mornings.

We spent 3 days and 4 nights in Venice and personally I thought that was the perfect amount of time.  Don't forget to try some cicchetti while you're there.  It's Italy's version of Spain's tapas.  It was perfect for us on a couple of occasions.  Try a glass of wine, a bellini or aperol spritz with it and you're good. 

Because we had an early morning flight, I chose to splurge on our departure with a private water taxi to the aiport.  It arrived at a pier literally three minutes from our hotel and took us to the airport.  It was a great way to end our visit!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

SONG LYRIC COASTERS

Drink coasters have been one of my "go to" housewarming gifts for several new homeowners.   This time, I tried a new design using song lyrics as the theme.  I thought this individual would appreciate the song theme due to his love of music.  How did I choose the songs....well, who doesn't love a classic Lennon and McCartney song?
The process is a transfer process.  Which involves creating the image you want to use, then you need to flip the image.  That is then transferred to a standard tile.

I worked in my Silhouette software, but I've also done this in Microsoft word.  In this case, I captured the lyrics I wanted to use.  I broke the words apart, used different fonts, then I flipped the image so the words were the mirror image when I printed them.
When printing you want to use a laser printer.  For me, the easiest thing to do is go to Staples and use their laser printers.  If you use your standard inkjet printer at home, the image will smear or bleed. 
You need two  products for this project.  First, is Liquitex professional matte gel.  It is the key ingredient to transfer the image onto the tile.  Mod Podge is used afterwards to seal the image onto the tile and create a nice finish.  I will tell you that I've attempted to use Mod Podge for both steps, but I've found the Liquitex so superior to Mod Podge that I would definitely invest in it.
There are several good videos out there that step you through the process, so I'll let you view those.  I will tell you in advance that it takes 24 hours for the transfer to occur properly, plus after you remove the paper, you'll need to allow them to dry properly before you apply the Mod Podge.  I used two coats of Mod Podge and allowed 24 hours drying between each coat.  With that said, you need to give yourself a good 3-4 days for this project.  Additionally, the one video I watched suggested that for the Mod Podge to be fully cured it takes 28 days before it is dishwasher safe or heat resistant.  I don't know if that is a true, but it is something you may want to consider and budget your time accordingly.

The final step I took was to put cork on the back of the tiles to provide protectors for table tops.  You could certainly put a whole sheet of cork, or use felt.  Whatever you choose, this is a nice finishing step.

I found my tiles at Home Depot.  They usually have several types available that can be purchased individually.    Be sure to rinse your tiles in clear water to remove any dust or residue and let them thoroughly dry before you begin the transfer process.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

SHRIMP TARTLETS APPETIZERS

I love these little phyllo tart shells!  This is the second appetizer recipe I've made using these.  They allow for plenty of creativity in the way of fillings, and they have lots of eye appeal too!
The centerpiece for this appetizer is shrimp.  You can literally have these made in about 20 minutes.

INGREDIENTS:

1 pkg. phyllo tart shells (15 count)
1 7.5 oz carton cream cheese spread (with onion/chives)
cocktail sauce
1/2 tsp. worchestershire sauce
1/8 tsp. lemon juice 
1 pkg. medium size peeled and deveined shrimp, tails removed

DIRECTIONS:

I cook my shells per the package directions.  Let them cool.  Take approximately 6 oz. of the cream cheese mixture and place it in a bowl.  Add the worchestershire and lemon juice and blend with a spoon.  

Fill each shell with cream cheese, top with cocktail sauce and finally the shrimp.  Sprinkle on chopped parsley.  Chill thoroughly before serving. 

Serve with slices of lemon. 

Enjoy!  

recipe adapted from:  www.tasteofhome.com

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

CATHEDRAL LENGTH VEIL

Sometimes I create items specifically for a client, other times, I just create for the sake of creating!  This is one of the latter.  I just had a vision for a cathedral veil with a very dramatic hemline that I just had to create.  It's now available on my Etsy shop and I'm hopeful there's a bride out there who loves it as much as I do!

This particular cathedral veil is exceptionally wide which will create a wonderful framework for the bride's gown.  It has large appliques around the perimeter and a centerpiece medallion drawing the eye up the center back. 
I used a different applique for the medallion and the side detailing.  I love the florals and leaves!  This veil is made of  a diamond white tulle and matching lace appliques.  It compliments the majority of gowns today since many brides are choosing a "bridal white" or "light ivory" for their gowns.  

                                      

Thursday, February 21, 2019

ANTLER JEWELRY HOLDER

Sometimes I just have these brainstorm ideas out of the blue.  Many times, I pursue those ideas.  This is one of those out of the blue ideas!

It started with antler sheds....you see we have lots of these in our household.  My husband has made many things for us and family members with them over the years.....but yet, we still have lots of sheds.  SSSsssoooo, one day I thought about other uses and the idea of a jewelry holder came to mind.  As it turns out, after looking over the internet, other people have had this idea (great minds think alike).  What I didn't see however was the manner in which I thought it should be displayed.
To me it called for a statement piece for a base.  So why not a beautiful piece of granite?  I went to a local granite company and asked if they had any scrap pieces.  As it turned out I had a lovely gal show me around the scrap piles and I picked out three pieces which she gave to me free of charge.  I wasn't expecting that!
Here's where I had my husband help me take my vision and make it into a reality.  I had him break the granite into a reasonable size creating jagged edges along the way.  I wanted something completely irregular.   That he achieved with hammer and chisel.

The next was drilling the hole into the granite to secure the shed.  This took quite some time, and included purchasing a granite drill bit and a water bath during the process.  Granite is extremely hard, and the process needs to be done slowly to avoid burning out the drill bit.

Next up, I added the paint and leather and jute strips for some artistic touches.  And finally, I cut out a piece of leather for protection and we secured it with rubber cement to the underside of the base.
When I had this idea for a jewelry holder,  I was actually thinking of our daughter; as it turned out she loved the idea.  In fact, she has been struggling with ways to organize her jewelry, using all sorts of closet organizer ideas, but never really liking any of them.

I may find as she's putting it together, she may need some tweeks along the way to really make it functional.  I added the jute, and leather to act as break points,  and I also added some flat head beads on the backside of the antler with the same intent.  I knew without something all the necklaces would slide down the antlers....it needed some means of separation along the curves.   So, with the exception of some additional functional improvements, the result is exactly as I pictured it in my mind.

The best part, our daughter has a truly unique jewelry holder that was created and gifted with love!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

BROWNIE CUPCAKES FOR TWO

I love desserts and because of that, I decided to start looking for some recipes that I can make for two.  Since I have very little self restraint, having tons of leftovers is BAD.  So, I found a recipe just in time for Valentine's Day which makes a total of 4 servings.  WooHoo!!!
The recipe is super simple and the end result is just as you'd expect.  Chewy, Chocolatey, and Moist!

INGREDIENTS:

¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup butter, cubed
1 egg
¼ cup sugar
¼ tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:

In a microwave, melt chocolate chips, and butter, stir until smooth.  Cool slightly.  In a small bowl, beat egg and sugar.  Stir in vanilla and chocolate mixture.  Gradually add flour; fold in pecans (I used about half of what the recipe called for).

Fill paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full.  Bake at 325 for 20-25 minutes or until tops begin to crack.  Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.    ENJOY!