Monday, November 16, 2009


For anyone wanting to venture out into the land of fondant, here is a great recipe and instructions:

Marshmallow Fondant
16 ounces white mini-marshmallows (use a name brand - quality does matter)
2-5 T water
2 lbs powdered sugar (use a name brand)
1/2 c shortening

First you melt the marshmallows and the water in the microwave slowly (30 seconds at a time) so that it melts without overheating. When you dump 3/4 of the sugar on a WELL greased counter top and pour the melted marshmallows on top. With your hands well greased (just embrace the Crisco at this point, trust me) start to kneed the marshmallow mixture, remembering to pause to re-grease your hands. Kneed for 5-8 minutes until nice and uniform.

I failed to re-grease my hands, so a few minutes in I was a marshmallow mess, which caused me to get marshmallow cream all over my kitchen because I couldn't it off my hands. I recommend re-greasing every 2 minutes as you kneed, even if it isn't sticking yet. Because once you notice the sticking, you are too late.

After letting the fondant sit in the fridge for 2 hours (well greased in a zip-lock bag), it was perfect to be rolled out and put on the cake. I was really impressed with how easy this was to make and how managed it was.

Friday, November 13, 2009

creamy tomato soup

I love eating soups in the fall when the weather turns cold and you just want something warm for dinner. Last night I made one of my favorite soup recipes while throwing together some carrot cake cupcakes for next week. This soup is my absolute favorite tomato soup recipe and very simple to make. Enjoy!
Creamy Tomato Soup
⅓ c red onion, diced (you can also use a yellow onion)
1-2 T olive oil
1 T garlic, minced
4 c chicken broth (you can also use chicken bouillon and water)
2 cans peeled, diced tomatoes
8 oz tomato sauce
8 oz cream
fresh basil
fresh parmesan

Sauté onion in oil for 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add chicken broth, tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil. Add cream and cook for 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with fresh basil (cut into strips) and parmesan cheese (grated on top).

Monday, November 09, 2009

ikea miracles

After spending two hours in the car trying to get to Ikea when it should have taken 40 minutes (thank you, poorly designed Boston roads), my friend Sarah and I hopped out of the car excited for our Ikea shopping trip. She recently moved into a new apartment, so we were on the hunt for curtains and some artwork for her walls. We planned to head to Ikea on Friday night after her husband got home and after my eye appointment was over. Despite the fact that I couldn't read anything close up, thanks to dilated eyes, I was thrilled to be heading to Ikea.

We first stopped off for some sustenance (hot dogs and chips) and ate our dinner while winding through the top floor displays. Every few minutes we would find a trash can and dispose of a wrapper or napkin. Sarah made a comment about us being like Hansel and Gretel, leaving little crumbs along our path. Quite apt actually.

By the time we were on the second floor, we were on a roll finding great curtains for her living room, the perfect curtain rods, and some new lights for my dining area. Although the real fun started when we moved into the As-Is area near the checkout. If you have ever ventured into this area, you are in for a real treat. Sometimes there is not a lot to look at, but this time we really scored.

At first I kind of wandered around seeing if there was anything of potential. Then I spotted on some great colored textiles, so I went over to sort through the random textiles in large bins. I found my beautiful curtains at Ikea this way over two years ago, so I was hopeful. The first great find was a queen size linen duvet, that was the exact same color of Sarah's curtains for only $5. This meant we put back her $30 drapes and got this duvet instead. We are going to cut it into four panels and make them into curtains for her dining room. Total cost: $5.

After I found this great duvet (which some other guy wanted, but I was already holding), I spotted a huge red pile of fabric. After a fellow shopper overhead me asking myself what this could possibly be, she helped me hold it up (it was way too big for one person to hold) and we found out it was a huge L-shaped couch cover. It was a beautiful cherry red color and the fabric was very thick (not a thin, cheap cover). I then found matching couch cushions and realized that this could cover my current love seat quite well. Sarah and I measured the red cushions while I had my husband at home measure our couch and we soon realized I could totally pull this off. So we picked out two back and two bottom cushions and threw them in our already full cart. Total cost for extra large cover and four cushions: $24.

One last textile that caught my attention was a beautiful yellow corduroy fabric. We pulled it out of the bin and saw that it was a pretty big chair cover and would be great to cut up and make into pillow cases and cushions. Total cost: $9.

For awhile I have been looking something I could paint in chalkboard paint and use in my kitchen to write down groceries. Mirrors and frames were too expensive for something that I was going to paint over, so when I walked past some returned cupboard fronts, I was inspired. A lot of the cupboards had molding, so I could tape off the molding and then paint the inside square chalkboard for an instant framed chalkboard. Sarah and I hunted through the stack of returned boards to find the perfect square for my kitchen and a large rectangle for her currently empty kitchen wall. Total cost for mine: $5. Sarah's total cost: $9 (for two boards).

When we got back to my apartment, we quickly threw off my old cushion covers and put the red ones on to see if they would fit, and it was a perfect fit. The bottom cushions were about one inch too big, so I took my bread knife to the cushions and shaved off an inch so they would fit. Saturday morning I cut the middle corner section out of the cover, which left two arm sections. I then sewed them together, which was the perfect size for my love seat. With some leftover fabric sitting in my sewing corner I made a black and white polka dot throw pillow with red buttons.

I still need to take pictures of the new couch. The Ikea couch originally costs $899, so getting the cover for $24 was a steal. I found a tiny whole in the cover where the stitching had come undone, but sewed it up in a minute. Ben never liked the color of the couch, but we were about to spend a few hundred dollars to replace it, since structurally it is fine. I also added to bed pillow to the back cushion to give it more support. I bought this couch for $50 four years ago, so the batting in the back cushions was definitely losing its support. And now we have a brand new couch for $24.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

hair cutting tips

As a self-taught hair stylist, I picked up most of my hair cutting knowledge by seeing and a lot of doing. After watching a few hair cuts, I was able to pick up on some tricks of the trade (and best methods to thin/texturize). And after having my own hair cut every few months by different people who are just learning, I have learned which angle to hold the scissors for the best layers, what kind of texturizing works on my hair, and to NEVER EVER cut the hair near my face. If you have ever cut my hair, you know what I am talking about.

So here is a random list of hair cutting tips for anyone who wants to learn a new skill or is just plain curious:

1. When in doubt, comb.
Nothing helps you more when you are trying to get a very even bottom or layer than to re-comb the hair a few times and then look at it. You would be shocked how many times you can cut a very straight line, only to comb the hair and find numerous longer hairs who were hiding. If something isn't working, take a moment to re-wet any drying hair and comb the entire head several times to get everything laying straight.

2. Hair cutting scissors really do matter.
I have never owned a professional grade of hair cutting scissors, but even if you are cutting your husbands hair or trimming your bangs, you should buy a cheap hair cutting scissor. Trust me, it really helps make a clean cut. I recommend getting a pair for $7-10 at target (in the aisle with the hair pins and elastics).

3. Almost always texture layers.
Adding a little bit of texture on layers helps enormously. The only times I don't texture hair is when either they have super thin/fine hair or if they want a very blunt cut. But for most long layered hair styles or short hair styles, texturizing always helps. It helps the layer blend without going too short or becoming too choppy. Whenever I am getting my hair cut and something just isn't blending, I tell the person to stop layering and just texturize that area. It almost always fixes the problem and keeps the person from cutting something way too short.

4. Texturize by cutting up into the hair. Never use texturizing sheers.
For anyone who has been scarred by texturizing sheers (like when a stylist cuts one inch from your scalp, so that you have all these little hair sticking up), you know that you hate them. NEVER LET SOMEONE USE THESE ON YOUR HAIR. Instead have them use regular sheers and cut up into the ends of the hair.

5. Be aware of where you part the hair.
If you always part your hair on the same side, I recommend cutting the hair on that part so that the hair around your face will look even. If you don't like it when one stray hair falls to the wrong side, I usually trim a few of the longest pieces near the part, so that if they are on the other side one day they won't stand out.

6. Cut less length off to start with.
Hair always shortens a little when it dries, so be careful when cutting a lot of length off. I usually cut a little on the safer side, and then have the person look at the length. I am more than willing to cut another half-inch or inch off the bottom, but you don't to cut it too short from the start. Also be aware that you often have to take a tiny bit off the length to even it, so just go easy at first.

7. Never cut bangs straight across.
Bangs almost always need a little texturizing at the ends. I usually cut them longer than I want them, and then texturize them to get them the right length. If you cut them the right length and then texturize, then you might end up with a bang that is too short.

8. Use clippers sparingly on men.
Yes, clippers (or buzzers) are great when cutting men's hair. But I only use them around the neck and back of the head. If you use them all over the head, then it tends to look like they are in grade school. I recommend using these to get a clean cut around their neck where it is short and then use scissors to cut the sides and top of the head.

9. Visualize layers to get an idea of how much to cut off to get the right angle or length.
I admit that this part takes either a talent for a good eye or a lot of practice. But be aware that it really matters what angle you cut when you are doing layers, how much you cut, and where the hair is going to fall on the head. I often show people to pinch the hair where they think they want to cut it and then pull it back down towards the head to see where it hits. Doing this several times with different angles helps you get an idea of the end result. Also be aware that most people have very thick hair on the tops of their head and it thins out on the bottom. So often you need to cut at a different angle near the bottom so that the layers aren't top heavy.

10. Watching really helps.
Some of my best learning experiences were when I watched extremely closely while my hair was being cut to see the kind of angles the stylist used, how she texturized my hair, and how she blended the layers. I recommend watching very closely while you are at the salon and asking lots of questions along the way.