Wednesday, April 29, 2015

From That, To This: The "Bee-Day" Cake

More so than cooking, I love to bake. Not only is it a de-stressor, but it is also a great procrastination tool. My friends in undergrad used to tease that they could tell when I had a big assignment due because I was making cookies or a cake or a pie. They didn't directly encourage the habit, but let's just say they never turned down the Nutella cookies when they came around.

With the semester coming to a close, I jumped at the chance to put off my studies and bake a cake for my roommate's birthday this weekend. We both have a shared love for puns and he has an affinity for bees [inside joke], so the decor was an obvious choice: A "Bee-Day" Cake

For the cake itself I used a chocolate cake recipe that my friend Sara shared with me a few years ago. Normally, I'm not a fan of chocolate cake (cue looks of shock), but I love this recipe. 

1 cup cocoa powder 
2 cups boiling water
2 and 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter (at room temp.)
2 and 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs (at room temp.)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

  • To begin, preheat your oven to 350. 
  • Bring two cups of water to a boil and add cocoa powder and stir until smooth, then set aside to cool. 
  • Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl and set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, mix butter until creamy (I usually just use a spoon, but a mixer on medium speed will make the job so much easier). Add sugar to butter and continue mixing until it is light in texture. Add eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly between each egg, and then stir in the vanilla. 
  • Begin to add in flour mixture and cocoa in sections (about one quarter of each at a time) and mix until well combined. (Again, a mixer will make this easier, but it can be done by hand.)
  • Add batter to greased baking sheet (or sheets depending on the size and layers you want). I used a pan slightly bigger than 9x13. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick can be pulled clean from the center of the cake. The sides should begin shrinking from the pan at this point too. Remove from oven and let cool.

Once your cake is cool, you can decorate it however you choose. Honestly, this is probably my least favorite part. I am horrible at icing cakes, and I really don't like icing (there are no exceptions for this one). Plus, I can never get the icing to be smooth and never like the way it looks (perfectionist probs). But what's a cake without frosting, right? So, I frost the cakes I share :)

This time I used a cookies 'n cream frosting which was a nice compliment to the chocolate cake. Betty Crocker has fun pouches of icing for writing on desserts, which is what I used to scribble write "Happy Bee-Day" on the cake. The icing I used is technically for cookies, but it worked for the cake too. It also came in handy for the candy bees I found on pinterest.

Yellow Peanut M&Ms
Black Icing
Almond slices

As you can probably see from the photos, the bees were easy to make. All you need to do is use the icing to make stripes on the peanut M&Ms and also use it as an adhesive for the almond slice wings.  

I made each bee separately and randomly placed them on the frosted cake and it was good to go. Voila, the "Bee-day" cake is complete and ready to share.

What's your favorite birthday treat to bake? Do you have any decorating tips to share?


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Succulents and Teacups

Before moving to California, I had never heard of succulents. Once in Berkeley, I just walked around the neighborhood and there were succulents everywhere. My apartment had even inherited multiples of them that now pleasantly reside in pots on our patio. Needless to say, I fell in love with these unique little plants.

And what's not to love? They're beautiful in shape and color. They can easily be planted in a variety of pots. And they require very little care, which is a must for notorious plant-killers like myself.

As I was introduced to succulents, they seemed to become somewhat of a buzz on the internet. They may have always been a trend and I just hadn't noticed (very likely), but boy do I love seeing how people plant these little guys!

This week I made a stop to Flowerland to ask a question about succulent care. (My echeveria grew taller than expected and needed a little more light, but it's not dying which is super exciting!) Obviously I had to buy another succulent while I was there, so I thought I'd share how I plant my succulents in teacups. It's really easy.

All you really need is soil, a teacup, and your succulent.

I used G&B Organics Plain Potting Soil which works fine for me. Other websites suggest making your own mixture, so you could try that too. What is important is making sure there is enough drainage. Ideally, you should have a hole in the bottom of the teacup, but if not you should put in porous rocks or even pieces of terracotta pot to collect extra moisture.

My teacups are from Anthropologie last winter (I got them on sale for less than $3 each!) They don't have a hole in the bottom, so for this new plant I chose to "drill" a small hole. I may go back and add one to the first cup at some point too. We shall see.

As for the plant itself, there are so many different shapes, sizes and colors! Look around. See what you like. Just make sure it will fit in whatever you want to plant it in - teacup, pot, etc...

The planting itself is basically like any other flower. Remember to break up the roots a little before putting it in the cup with the soil. Succulents don't require as frequent watering as other plants, but you should still make sure water them every 4-5 days. Also be sure that they see enough light but beware that placing them directly in the sun can harm them.

Please know that I am by no means a gardening expert (or novice even). If you have questions, I am more than happy to help how I can, but I would suggest asking Google first because that is likely where I will find my answer for you :P

Happy Gardening!


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Running in Santa Cruz

About two months ago, a friend asked me if I would be interested in running a race with her in Santa Cruz. She had been training for her first half-marathon and was looking for a friend to go with her. Knowing that I enjoyed running and had done races in the past, she asked if I would want to run too. Because I didn’t know I would be running ahead of time and also just didn’t have much free time to train (there is no way in the world I could train for a half in 2 months), I told her I would try the 10k (6.2 miles).

I have run a few 5ks, one 10k and one half-marathon, but I would by no means consider myself a “runner”. I like to run because it’s a great stress reliever, but I’m not very fast or very good. With work and school this year I have not had much time to run at all, so I pretty much knew from the get-go that I would need to walk part of the race. As the race approached, I became even more aware that this would likely happen. In the past, that would have driven me nuts. I may even have just dropped out of the race or switched to the 5k, but I've learned that the real fun comes from just getting out there and being around a group of people that enjoy doing what they are doing.

The big day came 10 days ago and I was the calmest I have ever been before a race. I’m normally scared and anxious, but for whatever reason, this time I was just ready to go with the flow. I’d love to be that person who could say that with limited training I ran the whole thing and it was my fastest time ever, but alas, that is not me. I did run the majority of the race, but as expected I walked a portion (probably a mile total). Even with the walking, I crossed the finish line about 10 minutes earlier than I expected which was a nice surprise. It was a beautiful day and a gorgeous course and I loved every minute. The race atmosphere has me itching to sign up (and actually train) for another one in the area. We'll see what happens.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Black, White, and Denim

As I've gotten older and my fashion sense has matured (woah), I find myself pulled toward more plain clothing in neutral colors. Don't get me wrong, I still love a good print (I'm wearing one now), but I've definitely simplified. I think part of it has to do with looking younger. Working at a university when you aren't far from your students' age can be rough. Half of the time students think I'm a classmate until I introduce myself. I'm told I will appreciate this when I'm older... Another part is simply tastes changing over time, along with the realization that plain pieces can be mixed and matched so much more.

I didn't notice when I put it on, but this outfit is comprised of clothing from my closet that I wear constantly. The white tank top is one of my favorite shirts because it is so simple, yet the stitched pattern gives it something extra. I bought it at Marshall's this summer to wear with a maxi skirt and have been adding it to outfits ever since. 

The chambray is a go-to for layering when I am tired of cardigans and black pants can never go wrong in my opinion. I bought this pair on sale at J Crew last fall but didn't wear them until recently and for the life of me, I don't know why! They're essentially a fancier pair of jeans which means I can get away with them as business casual and they are crops that don't look like floods on me (5'8")! My teal Target flats get worn with most of my clothes. It wasn't a color that I would expect to match well, but surprisingly I find it does. They're on their last leg (or foot if you will) but I love them so much that I plan to wear them until they completely fall apart. 

Top: Marshalls, Haute Society (similar)
Chambray: Pac Sun - sold out (similar)
Pants: JCrew (exact) ON SALE!
Shoes: Old from Target (similar)
Watch: Boutique in South Korea (similar)
Bracelets: Old (similar)

 Note: Sorry for the dreary looking (and oddly sized) photos. After multiple days of sun and warm weather, the day I had planned to snap some pics decided to be cloudy and chilly (naturally). I'm also trying to get used to self-timing on my camera and focusing it correctly on timer. Nevertheless, this is my first outfit post! Not the best, but I don't hate it :) We all start somewhere, right?

I also just noticed my sandal tan line. Gotta love that year-round California sunshine.

Do you have any clothes in your closet that you just can't wear enough? Or any tips for blog photography?

I hope you all have a terrific Tuesday!


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Save or Splurge: Tassels

Many who know me know that I'm a fan of shopping. Those who know me well, know how much of a bargain hunter I am. It is rare, if ever, that I pay full price for an item, especially a "trendy" one. As much as I love keeping an eye out for the latest fad, I am very aware of how quickly trends fade and new fads arise. Why spend 5x as much on an item that will never be a staple in my wardrobe, right?

So, I shop around. Before deciding to buy something, I look at multiple stores and websites to check out my options. Often I find almost the exact same item from different stores at different prices. Other times I have found something I like even more than the piece I originally set my eyes on. It's almost like a game - a game in which I usually win a prize of saved $$$ and a new addition to my closet.

I don't know about you, but lately I have been seeing tassels everywhere. They're on shoes, purses, dresses, scarfs, and just about everything else in stores. I've been loving the subtle flair they can give to an item or outfit. I also like the variety of materials and colors they are found in.

As jewelry, tassels can add interest to an otherwise simple outfit without having to be as dramatic as your typical statement pieces. For example, check out Fran's use of a tassel necklace with her gorgeous red dress. Stunning.

I've been perusing and comparing (aka shopping) some tasseled jewelry to share. Here are some of the items I found. There's a high chance that a pair of tassel earrings will be somewhere in my near future...

Something to keep in mind is the saying "you get what you paid for". Sometimes the cheeper option is made with less quality. While it is nice to save money, you have to be aware of the fact that the bargain piece may not last as long. For example, the less expensive tassel jewelry I've posted (all on the left) is from Forever21. Forever21 is a great store for those looking for the latest trend, but their quality can vary (though I usually have success with their jewelry). The pieces on the right are from Nordstrom and Shopbop which tend to have higher quality items but also higher prices. When it comes to staples rather than trends, I still shop around, but usually opt to pay a little extra for quality when purchasing an item I know I will be wearing a lot.

What are some trends you've been noticing? Any favorite tassel pieces to share?


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

From That, To This.

Cooking is something I have always enjoyed doing. Not only is it fun, but for me it's also a pretty big stress-reliever. However, between school, work, and other responsibilities, I don't always make time to try new recipes. To fix this and get my creative (cooking) juices flowing, I present to you: "From That, To This"- a part of the blog where I will share a new recipe I've tried every week or so. I am hoping that this might hold me accountable to try making new foods and to focus energy on something fun!

Quinoa and Veggies.

Roasted veggies and quinoa have been my "go-to" as of late. Especially beets. I just can't get enough of them! The color, the taste, yum! So, today I thought I would share a meal I have eaten way too many times this month.

1 small beet
1/2 sweet potato
1/2 avocado

(Not Pictured)
olive oil
baby spinach

 Preheat oven to 400°F. Wash vegetables. Cut beet and sweet potato into about 1/4 inch thick circles. Place them on a baking tray and lightly drizzle olive oil on top. (Keep the vegetables on separate sides of the tray.) Sprinkle salt and pepper over the beets and sprinkle cinnamon over the sweet potatoes. Place the tray in the oven and cook for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are at desired softness. 

While the veggies are in the oven, combine desired amount of quinoa along with two times as much water in a small pot on the stovetop. I usually make 1/4 cup quinoa which means I add 1/2 cup of water. If you want 1/2 cup quinoa, add 1 cup of water, etc. Bring the pot to a steady boil on medium heat setting.

I recommend adding spices you like to the pot as the water is boiling. This time, I used salt, pepper, and lots of cumin and it came out great. Other times I've just used pepper. The quinoa is cooked when the water has all evaporated. 

Note: the time will vary based on how much quinoa you chose to make. I recommend keeping a close eye on the stove as it tends to cook faster than expected. Burnt quinoa is no bueno.

Now that the cooking portion is complete, all you have to do is fill your plate with the quinoa, beets, sweet potatoes. I also added half of a sliced avocado and some baby spinach to mix in some raw vegetables with the cooked. Salt and pepper to taste.

Very simple. Fairly quick. And really tasty. 

 Feel free to leave any comments, feedback or questions. I hope those who try enjoy. I'd love to hear any suggestions or how you make it your own!


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Better Late Than Never

I have been talking about starting this blog for a while now. I’ve written outlines and plans and topics. I’ve shared the idea with friends and family to keep myself accountable. I’ve even made creating it a New Year’s Resolution… twice.

And yet here we are, over 2 years later, and I am just now writing my first post. Oy.

To be honest, I think a lot of the delay came from chronic perfectionism and un-realistic expectations placed on the blog by none other than yours truly. I wanted the design to be perfect. I wanted to have 10+ posts ready on the sidelines. I wanted to be skilled in something that I had not even pushed forward and tried. Silly? Perhaps. But that's me I suppose...

That is where the title of the blog (which I naturally spent months agonizing over) comes in. This is my blog. This is a space for me to reflect and share and grow. It’s a space to share random happenings in my life as they happen and as I learn. No phony exaggerations, no fancy flourishes, and a few likely typos/grammatical errors. Just me.

So, here goes nothing. This is me - Simply Sarah.