Red Velvet Holiday Cupcakes...Yum! - December 2010

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Holly
For the holidays this year I thought I'd amp up my attempt at "Martha Stewartness" and make some holiday cupcakes. Cupcakes, just make me happy because they are these little works of compact art and yummy to boot!

I got the design idea from an office neighbor (thanks Misty!) who brought in these beautiful chocolate cupcakes with "holly leaves" on top of them. Honestly, when I saw them, I was just giddy, because I knew I would have to try to make them. And a big thanks to Misty for lending me the very cool holly leaf gum press.

Here's my interpretation of them with a Red Velvet Cupcake - perfect for the holiday season!

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Holly Leaves and Berries

Makes 30 (1 cupcake) servings. Prep Time: 20 minutes; Cook Time: 20 minutes

Cupcake Ingredients

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened - yikes, I know...these aren't exactly healthy...but they are worth it!
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 bottle (1 ounce) McCormick® Red Food Color
2 teaspoons McCormick® Pure Vanilla Extract

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe follows)


1.  Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.

Mix the Dry Ingredients
2.  Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed 5 minutes or until light and fluffy.

Beat in Eggs
3.  Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in sour cream, milk, food color and vanilla.

Add the Sour Cream

Mix in the Red Food Coloring
4.  Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until just blended. Do not over beat.

5.  Spoon batter into 30 paper-lined muffin cups, filling each cup 2/3 full.

Be Careful to Not Fill Too High!
6.  Bake 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cupcake comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire rack 5 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely. 

Ready for Frosting
6.  Frost with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting


Beat 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened, 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened, 2 tablespoons sour cream and 2 teaspoons McCormick® Pure Vanilla Extract in large bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in 1 box (16 ounces) confectioners' sugar until smooth.

Note: I used a frosting decorating bag - I sooo recommend this - it makes your cupcakes look pretty darn professional. This was my first try at it and after a few missteps, I was a cupcake decorating addict!

Source: McCormick®. Nutritional Information (Per Serving) : Calories: 272; Fat: 12 g; Carbohydrates: 38 g; Cholesterol: 63 mg; Sodium: 178 mg; Fiber: 1 g; Protein: 3 g

Fondant Holly Leaves and Berries

Note: You can make these ahead and put in the refrigerator to set.

What you'll need:
  • Green fondant
  • Red fondant
  • Edible sparkle dust
  • Fondant roller
  • Holly leaf cookie cutter/sugar press

1.  For the holly leaves: Place the green fondant on a cookie sheet or hard, clean surface. Use a fondant roller to roll out the fondant to the desired thickness. Hint: don't make it too thin or the "leaf" will be to flimsy to work with and it may break.

2. For the berries: Do the same above with the red fondant and roll 3 little balls for each holly leaf.

Red Fondant (Rolled Out)
Holly Berries
3.  To assemble the holly leaves and berries: Gently press the 3 holly berries above so that they stick together.

4.  Take a small amount of the frosting and put a it on the center of the holly leaf.

5.  Place the berries on top of the frosting so that it is "glued" to the holly leaf.

6. Voila! Pretty realistic and festive holly leaves with berries!

Holly Leaves with Berries
7.  With the frosting, holly leaves, berries and final cupcake, I did everything via an "assembly line" - just makes it easy.

Cupcakes...Cupcakes...Cupcakes Everywhere...Oh My!
8.  To give the cupcake a little extra holiday "sparkle", I sprinkled edible gold sparkle dust over each cupcake.

So the final cupcake, I think came out pretty darn good...don't you think?

Festive Holiday Treat...Yum!

Blue Spoon Cafe...Post Thanksgiving Trip to Madison, WI – 2010

Culver's Blue Spoon Cafe
On Friday we went to Madison, WI for the weekend - our favorite nearby getaway. We actually stay in Middleton, which is about 5-10 minutes away from downtown Madison and has a cute downtown. And if you are a mustard connoisseur, it is home to the National Mustard Museum ( strange but true...and heck, what's not to love about mustard!

Last year while staying in Middleton, purely by accident, we found a great cafe: The Blue Spoon Cafe ( Interestingly enough, it's owned by Culver's, but is not fast food - we just loved it.

We loved it so much on our trip last year, that we went to their other location in Prairie du Sac, WI - another cute downtown and headquarters to Culver's Restaurants ( The funny thing is that while we were there, I wanted to see the headquarters building. So we drove up to the building, apparently their brand new headquarters building, and we, OK, me, peaked in the window. Suddenly, someone came to the door and invited us in - it was actually the owners of Culver's - Craig and Lea Culver - and they were there on a Saturday, decorating for Christmas! They were so nice and gave us a tour of their new facility - Larry and I got such a kick out of it!

But I digress...

So this year we were quite excited to go to Middleton and go the Blue Spoon Cafe, only to find that it was permanently closed. I was completely thrown because it was so yummy (custard pancakes!) and packed with people.

The good news is that the Prairie du Sac location remains open and just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Apparently the Blue Spoon Cafe is a test concept cafe and I hope they consider branching out to other locations...say Illinois :), because it's really, really good. And I hope they re-open in the Madison area, because it fits the area to a "T" - great food, artsy and just plain cozy.

So if you are in the Prairie du Sac area, go to the Blue Spoon Cafe for breakfast or lunch - you'll be in for a real treat!

Thanksgiving - 2010

Ready for the Big Feast!
Once again Larry and I hosted Thanksgiving for Mom, Dad, Eric and Ma May - six people, and a heck of a lot of food...leftovers here we come!

All Set and Ready for Company
Somehow the stars aligned on Thanksgiving for me - it was a breeze and so relaxing. I have one hyphenated word of advice on how to do that: pre-planning.

I cleaned the house the weekend before and shopped for food, and set the table, made the pumpkin pie, gravy stock, and stuffing on Wednesday - just reheated them up the next day!

Festive Fall Pumpkin Pie
(need to use a crust protector next time, though)
On Thursday, I got up, had a leisurely breakfast, popped the turkey in the oven, and cut out the pieces of cheese with cookie cutters for a nice presentation for the cheese and crackers - soooo easy to do, and it looks really nice.
Cheese and Cracker Appetizer

Use Leaf Cookie Cutters for a Fall-Inspired Look
Mom and I divided up between the two of us the menu - so it was nice that she was doing the sides and I had my things to do - it just made it easy all the way around.

I actually had so much time, I really didn't know what to do with myself...a nap perhaps?

While the guys watched football....

Dad, Eric and Larry
...the ladies chatted.

Mom and Ma
Dad and Me
My only last minute prep was to make the gravy (using the stock and drippings from the turkey), brush the rolls with olive oil and herbs and heat up and reheat my made-ahead items.

The turkey came out perfect (I just realized I didn't take a picture!) and all was well with the world.   

The only "bad" thing that day was the temperature just tanked - it was frigid by the time everyone left - that's our lovely weather in Illinois!

It was just a lovely day.

Fall/Thanksgiving Decorating - 2010

Outside Fall Display...A Little Worse for the Wear
I think I mentioned in an earlier post that fall took me by storm - we had so much going on that I felt like I was on a wave, with no way of getting I just went along for the ride.

Fall is my favorite season - hands down. I love the earthy colors, the sun (typically) is always shining, and when it gets a little brisk, you can put on a cozy sweater, stomp on the crackling leaves, smell the crisp air, just enjoying the outside.

Living Room
I love to decorate inside and outside the house - unfortunately, this year's photos of the outside are post-first frost - sorry folks, this outside shot (above) looks a little sad...

At least the inside of the house is climate-controlled, so you get a better idea of what I did. To follow is a breakown of my fall decorating projects for the fall/Thanksgiving.

Living Room Mantle

Living Room Mantle
For the mantle, I like to use either things found in the backyard or just natural stuff in general - I'm not a big fan of artificial items, but I will say nowadays there are some things I've seen at Michael's or Hobby Lobby that look pretty darn realistic - so to each his/her own.


Urn Display
I picked up these black urns at Michael's a few years ago - much cheaper than antique ones! Depending on the season, I switch out what's in them.

For this year, I have branches, Chinese Lanterns (real - love these!) and feathers. As I said, I really like to keep things natural looking/use natural pieces. I was hoping to find some new lanterns this year, but no one had real ones in the area, which was a pity, because fresh ones are very vibrant in their orange color - these are actually from a farmers market in Cambridge, WI, that I picked up a few seasons ago and just try to use until they disintegrate...

Wheat Swag

Black-Bearded Wheat Swag
I just love this wheat swag - it was so simple to do and took me about three minutes to do. Just take a small bunch of wheat (I use the black-bearded kind because it was a little more dimension with the black than just the plain wheat), secure with a rubber band right beneath the base of the wheat and fan out. I then make a bow to cover the rubber band. Fall-colored ribbons accent the wheat for a warm glow.


Mantle Hurricanes

Glass Hurricane with Hazlenuts
For the candle arrangement, I used 3 glass hurricanes with ivory candles. I recommend having grouppings of anything in odd numbers - a good trick/tip that designers always seem to recommend - and I have to say, it completely works better visually.

The candles are unscented Chapel candles by Tag, Ltd - love these! Tag sells to places like Crate & Barrel and we are very lucky in the Chicago area to have 2 Tag outlets! These candles are excellent: great slow burn, no drip, and a really nice glow.

For the fall/Thanksgiving, I usually add nuts - here I used hazlenuts. Nuts are inexpensive, natural and add a very warm touch to the display.

Front Door

Shaved Wood Wreath
For quite awhile I've been using a grouping of Indian corn with a bow - this looks really lovely and is a very quick and easy display.

But since we were going to the Country Living Fair in Ohio in the fall, I thought maybe I'd find something new for the door. And I hit the jackpot, because this is perfect - its natural (wood shavings) and is a great warm and toasty rust. Plus it's great for both fall, Halloween and takes you right through Thanksgiving.

The wreath is from Nest ( in Grand Rapids, MI.

Thanksgiving Centerpiece and Table Setting

Thanksgiving Table Setting
For the centerpiece, I just added just updated the Halloween centerpiece: just deleted the blackbirds and added red birch branches.

The table is our typical "formal" table. This year I also bought some chargers - gold from World Market. The tablecloth is from TJMAXX.

Flower Arrangement

Flowers in Pumpkin "Vase"
I was origionally going to have 2 of these "vases" flanking the centerpiece on the dining room table...but one of the pumpkins was horribly, and I mean horribly rotten - I almost vomited when I started to carve it! Do you think Martha Stewart ever deals with these types of decorating pitfalls???

So I used the non-rotten one and placed it on the living room end table for a little extra fall flair - crisis solved!

Halloween Table Centerpiece - 2010

Halloween Centerpiece
I wish I did a little more decorating for fall/Halloween - but we were quite the tumbleweeds in the fall, so I was a bit sparse in what I did this year.

I did manage to do a little something for the table, which I think came out quite nice for a quick attempt.

Crows Add a Little Drama
For the centerpiece, you'll need the following:

  • 1 large, glass hurricane vase (I found this at TJMAXX for $9.99!)
  • Branches (found in our back yard)
  • Additional dried items: I used dried echinachea centers that I pulled from our garden - they have a "spooky" feel to them - perfect for Halloween!
  • Black beans -  natural, inexpensive and again, great for Halloween! 
  • Black crows - I got from the Perfect Pear, in Crystal Lake - my fabulous go-to-spot for cottage-style decorating. (see my previous posts under "Local Favorites") 
Wish I had a better shots of this - but I thought came out nice, don't you think?

Chicago Marathon...Gwen Rocks! - October 10, 2010

Chicago Marathon - 10.10.10!
The weekend of October 8-10, 2010 was a whirlwind event - it was the Chicago Marathon and Gwen was running in it!

So on Friday, Saturday and Sunday we spent the weekend with Scott and Gwen, their friend's Lisa, Wendy, Nancy, Wendy and Lisa's husbands Stew and Ron. Lisa, Wendy, Nancy and their friend Sharon was also running in the Marathon - I must admit I felt like a huge sloth!

Gwen, Wendy and Lisa
During the weekend Larry and I got to experience a marathon expo - at McCormick Place - I don't think I've ever seen anything like it - packed with people really, really excited to run an obscene amount of miles and they were happy about it! Seriously though, the atmosphere was really incredible to see any and everyone coming together from all over the world to accomplish the goal of finishing a marathon - it was really amazing.

Sharon, Lisa, Wendy and Gwen at the Expo
Can you find Gwen?
The day of the marathon was incredibly exciting - we were so proud of Gwen that she was taking on this huge endeavor. My only "gripe" was that we kept on missing Gwen during the race - FINALLY we found her at mile 13 - and Gwen and Lisa didn't look like they ran 13 miles already - they actually looked giddy - I KNOW I wouldn't look that probably would have to peel me off the street on mile 2!

The fabulous news is that all the ladies finished the race - way to go everyone!

Post Marathon with Medals!
Gwen, of course, looked like she hadn't even run the race yet, she looked so peppy - what gives??? :)

Gwen and Scott
Gwen, congratulations on your incredible accomplishment - we love you!

Fabulous Find #3 - Punched Tin Framed Wall Art (Country Living Fair 2010)

Punched Tin Framed Wall Art
Rounding out my day at the Country Living Fair 2010, I found this great piece at the Great Stuff by Paul Antiques ( booth. I loooove this punched tin framed wall art - unfortunately, I don't have a place for it yet...but I will!

This also was a hot item at the fair. I saw someone lugging one around and I had to make a beeline to ask where they found it - which, by the way, is no easy task - there were so many vendors I was getting dizzy!

Finally I found it and was the last person to grab this particular half-moon version - although, this is a reproduction, and like the wreath above, I believe  these were massed produced - not quite as "real"/homemade  cottagey as I'd like - wish things were hand-made still - but, heck, I like this and darn it, I was going to get it!

Thank goodness I bought this on my way out...because it was quite heavy and awkward to work my way through the crowds, out the gates, through the field to our car - tripping several times because, I will did me in!

Looking forward to the next CL fair - it's a must see!

Fabulous Find #2 - Rooster Prints (Country Living Fair 2010)

Golden Polish
 I am a huge sucker for roosters - always have been, always will be. Not sure why, since I didn't grow up on a farm (but I am a small town girl and ironically I did marry a farm boy), but I quite simply think roosters are just these lovely, regal creatures to just admire.

So much to my delight...after trapsing through the fair...almost passing out from the heat...I came across
Eric N. Fausnacht's Fowl Images ( booth. Eric is based in Kintnersville, PA which I believe is near Allentown, PA. He was just lovely to talk to and had all these beautiful original paintings as well as prints for sale . I must have flipped through his baskets of rooster prints for 45 minutes, because 1) I can't make a decision and 2) they were all stunning!

Black Rooster with Black Mask

I settled on 2 prints, which brings to a close Fabulous Find # $10 for 2 prints - an absolute steal! They are just beautiful.

My two little gems are going into our shortly-to-be-renovated-bathroom - can't wait to use them!

Check out Eric's/Fowl Image's website because he's having a sale right now on his prints and you can take a look at his large portfolio of fowl!