Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sasha's Top 10: Valentine's Day Roundup



Valentine's Day is less than a week away, and boy I've been surfing Pinterest like I have a room full of baby furniture that I don't want to assemble!  Or something.

Anyway, I'll be the first to admit, there's a lot about Valentine's Day that makes me gag.  I don't go in for artificial sugar, y'know?  Food coloring, heart vomit and sparkly, glittery, "LOOKIT HOW IN LURVE WE ARE, SHNOOPY SHNOOPY!" are really not my thing.  That said, it can be a fun excuse to show a certain someone or someones in your life how much they mean to you - said someones to include significant others, children, good friends, cats or even thy sweet self.  Also chocolate.  There is SO MUCH CHOCOLATE lying around this time of year, and that can only be a good thing.

So I've compiled a collection of Valentine's Day ideas that I actually quite enjoy.  I think there's something for everyone here, so I hope that no matter who you are or who you're with, you'll find something you can enjoy here.


These decadent cupcakes are perfect for you, your sweetie or your best friend.  They're impressive to look at, easy to make, and Lemon Sugar lays out the whole recipe for you.


Step-by-step instructions on how to create your own edible chocolate cups, to fill with whatever kind of berries or deliciousness you want, really.  Or you could spend lots of money for the same thing at Godiva.  I vote handmade, of course!


If, like me, you're actually capable of getting sick of all the ooey-gooey sugary crap you have to wade through this time of year, this simple technique will be just the thing!  Easy, and healthy and bite-sized!  The darker the chocolate you use, the more anti-oxidants you get, you know.


An easy, personalized gift - perfect if you have kids, or are in a polyamorous group relationship.


Oh man, I would TOTALLY have my husband, who shall remain nameless, wake up to this on Valentine's Day!  If Valentine's Day weren't on a workday this year.  Instead, I think I shall blunder around trying to put clothes on right-side-out before the sun rises and save this for another year (and the idea for another holiday!)


No really, you have GOT to check out this guy's Etsy shop.  There are many more cards where these came from, each one as geeky and great as the last!  I don't care what you think of Valentine's Day, if Yoda Cupid and Heart-Throb Lando don't make you smile, then man...I can't help you.


I love these printables.  Lovelovelove them!  They're cute without being cutsey, they're literary and they really mean something.  If you don't know how to express your love, you can't go wrong letting the bard do it for you, with these free printables.



Another quick, healthy snack that still gets the "look, we're going for pink things that are vaguely heart shaped and sweet" thing across.


I love this wreath, because it fits the theme with a nod to the lingering winter.  


These free printable cards say things like "You are pretty much my favorite husband," and "You're the one I want to be next to when you're on your computer and I'm on mine."  They're awesome cuz they're true!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Recipe: SUGARY SUGARY BUTTERCREAM!!!

Buttercream frosting recipe


Now I'm not saying I'm above eating cake frosting with a spoon out of the can, but let's face it:  making your own buttercream is the way to go if you've got a few extra minutes (which you do while your cupcakes are baking).  It is stupid simple, all natural and ridonkulously tasty.  Here's the recipe I use.

SUGARY SUGARY BUTTERCREAM

Ingredients:
  • 1.5 cups (3 sticks) butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
Method:
  • Beat the butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
  • Sift the sugar over the butter and mix together.  Start on low speed so you don't poof a cloud of sugar right into your face, and then increase to full speed.
  • When combined, your buttercream should be frosty and spreadable.  If your icing is more crumbly than spreadable, add more butter 1 tbsp at a time until you reach the right consistency.  If your buttercream is still buttery and slippery, sift more sugar into the bowl, 1/8 cup at a time, until it looks how it's supposed to.
  • Splash in the vanilla extract and mix everything up well.
Tips and Variations:
  • Your buttercream will be the color of whatever butter you used - likely the yellower the better.  It takes coloring well, though.
  • For some color and added flavor, try adding pureed strawberries, raspberries or blueberries.
  • For still more flavor (but not necessarily much in the way of noticeable color), try adding some mashed banana or banana extract.
  • A small amount of beet juice will get you a nice, vibrant red or pink without actually tasking of beets.
  • A small amount of tumeric will get you a nice yellow color without actually tasting of Indian food.
  • For April Fools cupcakes, dump in the tumeric and add some curry powder.  MUAHAHAHAHAHA!!!
Basic Non-Ugly Icing Technique:
I am not a professional cake decorator, and I do not have children who require Martha Stewart-level birthday confections.  I do not own a piping bag, and if I did I wouldn't know what to do with it (ALL those NOZZLES!).  But here's a cheap and basic way to ice cupcakes that comes out a bit more polished-looking than haphazard slathering.  I also used this technique to create the dots around the base of this cake.
  • Let your cupcakes cool completely before icing, or your buttercream will become a melty, runny mess (or at the very least, be hard to spread evenly).
  • Transfer buttercream into a ziplock bag and snip a tiny bit off of one corner.
  • Squeeze the buttercream out onto the top of each cupcake in a spiral pattern.  If you work from the outside in, you'll be able to form a nice peak in the center.
  • You can leave the spiral pattern as-is.  This will also give you a good, even base if you're inclined to smooth everything down with a butter knife.

Monday, February 3, 2014

CUPCAKES!!! With a snazzy free printable.

Cupcakes

We're kicking off the busy season at work today.  I won't go into details (they're the boring kind, not the "if I told you I'd have to kill you" kind), but the season goes by the acronym "SWT."  The "S" stands for summer - not that it's REMOTELY summery here in Kyiv at the moment, but it's essentially us gearing up for the summer.

So I decided to celebrate the kickoff by bringing cupcakes to work.  Cupcakes with RIDICULOUS CUPCAKE TOPPERS!!!  Muahahahahaaaaaaa.......

Free printable cupcake toppers


Folks, this is my first go creating printables, so please pardon the crude design.  I rather dig the crude design, actually.  I feel like toppers for cupcakes meant to celebrate the insane season at work sort of ought to look like they were drawn in crayon by a 4-year-old.  I figure none of you will have much use for cupcake toppers that say "SWT," so I'm just including a sheet of all-purpose "OMG" toppers for download.  If you DO happen to be in my same boat, though, and actually want SWT cupcake toppers, send me an email and I will totally hook you up.

Free printable cupcake toppers

You'll find cupcake topper printables online in perfect cirlce-shapes or even scalloped flowerdy-shapes.  These require a special paper punch to cut out neatly.  I do not own a special paper-punch (I'm a scrapper, for sure, but I am Not.  A.  Scrapbooker).  So I designed these to be cut into squares on straight lines between the suns.  Like with scissors.  You're welcome.

Cutting Q-tips for cupcake toppers

A lot of people tape these to lollipop sticks.  Some people tape them to cut-up popsicle sticks.  I figured I should be able to find toothpicks at the grocery store, but I was WRONG!!!  I've seen them at restaurants, I looked in all of the logical places, but the score wound up Kyiv 1, Sasha 0.  Fortunately, decapitated Q-tips will also do, in a pinch.


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Saturday, February 1, 2014

I miss blogging!

Sasha returns!
I'm back!

I’ve been thinking lately about reviving the ‘ole blog.  I dunno, I miss it, it was fun.  And it gave me a neat impetus to keep doing creative things, whereas left to my own devices (and now that I like…have a job and stuff…), procrastination can really take over (remember that quilt I started 5 years ago?  Yeah, it’s still going).

So here’s what’s changed since last we met:

1)   I am no longer a poor, broke grad student.  I am now a comfortably middle-class diplomat.  Before I had a flexible schedule and my program, frankly, was not a good fit, so this blog was a much-needed distraction that I was able to make time for.  Now I have a 9-5 job and will need to be more disciplined if anything is to come of this.  Before I was crushingly poor – which frankly was part of the fun of the blog, trying to find ways to live the good life on a shoestring.  Now I have, like…disposable income and stuff.  It’s still somewhat disconcerting.

Kyiv, Ukraine - St. Volodymyr's Cathedral

2)   I no longer live in Madison, WI – or the U.S. for that matter.  Soon after we last spoke, I spent a wonderful couple of years in Ottawa, Canada and I’m now living in the utterly fascinating, if somewhat more grim and gritty, Kyiv, Ukraine.  And let me tell you – as wonderful an experience as it is being here, there will be times when this blog will be a welcome distraction from all of that.

3)   I am pregnant.  Ayup!  Expect baby projects.  But I promise they won’t ALL be baby projects.

Subversive Cross Stitch

4)   I actually haven’t been knitting a lot lately.  Lots of people knit in Ukraine, but there’s not the sort of yarn culture like there was in Madison – no yarn stores cum coffee shops…in fact no yarn stores at all, that I’ve found.  Most folks buy their stuff online, which is just not as fun.  I’ve been dabbling in cross stitch, cooking up a storm and have some simple sewing projects that I’ll be blogging about soon, but I promise there will also be plenty of knitting (stay tuned for a new free pattern and giveaway coming really soon!).

Paleo birthday cake

5)  We went Paleo.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  And I’ve actually been super bad about it since getting knocked up (I’ve been having a hard time gaining weight, so my only real option here is cake, know’m’sayin’?).  I promise to keep this blog 100% Paleo-evangelism free.  But you will, from time to time, find some nifty gluten-free recipes and stuff.  I like to say my approach is “Laidback Paleo;” for instance coming soon will be a post about The (now not-so little) Blonde Lightening Bolt’s amazing grain-free birthday layer cake topped with SUGARY SUGARY BUTTERCREAM!!!  (And yes, that is an ice cream bowl made of dark chocolate in the background.  Don't worry, that tutorial will totally happen).

6)  I have given up my feminist ways and accepted my husband, who shall remain nameless, as my lord and master.  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!  Kidding.


So what hasn’t changed, I hope, is the general ethos.  Better living through makin’ stuff.  Punchy, irreverent feminism.  Occasional references to swords.  I may not have a hilariously negligible budget to contend with, but living the ex-pat life offers its own hurdles to creatively overcome, so you’ll all be privy to that.  And I may not have blue carpet anymore, but I sorta like to think that I’ve traded that in for the more metaphorical blue carpet of embassy-issued furniture (about which more later).  Fundamentally, here at Sasha’s Blue Carpet, we’re still all about living the good life.  And as any good crafter/grad student/ex-pat will tell you, the only way to live the good life is to make it from scratch!