Thursday, January 30, 2014

Instagramming in the Kitchen: Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Bars


This past week, I had a professional development day with the rest of the fine arts department of Norfolk Public Schools.  Art professional development is always pretty fantastic.  We spend a few hours in a studio workshop, take a long potluck lunch, and then spend a few hours listening to a guest artist, often local, talk about their work.  That potluck lunch, though, always intimidates me.  Art people tend to make really great food, I have noticed.  In the past, I've usually contributed bags of chips or fruit trays.  This year, however, I decided to go big and make something for the dessert table.

I found this recipe, Chocolate Chip Salted Caramel Cookie Bars on Two Peas and Their Pod. I followed their recipe for the chocolate chip batter exactly, but instead of using the caramel pieces they called for, I made my own thick caramel filling.  I happened to have all the ingredients for homemade caramel on hand, and I looooooooove to make caramel and have a hot spoonful of it. 

To my happiness, when I went to grab my Gladware container at the end of the lunch, all of the bars were gone- not even a crumb left!  It's definitely a great, rich dessert that you can make ahead- as they need to be refrigerated- and then bring to a party.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Bars

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bar Batter
Ingredients can be found here

Caramel Filling
1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
1 stick of salted butter
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
Fleur de sel, for sprinkling

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease a large 11 x 7 baking pan (I used a deep glass Pyrex dish). 
  2. Mix the chocolate chip cookie bar batter according to the recipe on Two Peas and Their Pod
  3. Pour half the batter into the greased baking pan.  I used a spatula to flatten the dough to an even, 1/4" layer.  
  4. While you could use any kind of melted caramel for the inner caramel layer, I love the creaminess of fresh homemade caramel.  To make this, I first melted the butter into the sweetened condensed milk in a deep pot on low heat.  You want to use a much deeper pot than what you need to hold the liquid, as it will boil and bubble considerably.  Stir the mixture while the butter melts.
  5. After the butter has melted into the sweetened condensed milk, add the sugar and bring the heat up to high.  The trick with caramel is to stir constantly and get prepared to stand there and stir for a while.  Have your phone handy, have a beer nearby, whatever will help that do go by quickly.  
  6. Once the mixture reaches a rolling, foamy boil, bring the heat down to medium and allow it to simmer, again stirring constantly.  Stir until the mixture is an amber color and feels "thickened".  You can always test caramel by letting a few droplets of the mixture drip into a glass of cold water- it should harden in the cold water.  This process takes anywhere from 12-20 minutes.
  7. When the mixture has thickened, pour it over the chocolate chip batter and sprinkle lightly with the fleur de sel.
  8. Add the rest of the chocolate chip batter over the caramel.  I scooped tablespoon sized balls of dough out the mixing bowl and spread these out evenly over the caramel.  Keep in mind that you want about a 1/4" of pan at the top, as the caramel will bubble up while it is in the oven.  Don't overfill the pan.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes.  The top cookie layer should be golden brown.  The bars will look at bit puffy, not unlike a souffle, when you pull it out, but it will sink down as it cools.  
  10. I allowed the bars to first cool at room temperature, then put them in the refrigerator until I was ready to cut them.  The caramel layer is very thick and creamy, so cooling is essential to getting them to cut into pretty squares.  
I hope you try and love these!  They are incredibly rich and delicious.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Zhushing and Reorganizing For Free


This week, Norfolk got some snow (maybe three inches?) and some very cold temperatures.  I grew up in the west suburbs of Chicago, where that kind of snowfall happens from November until March.  In southeast Virginia, though, that is an extreme, and my district gave us two snow days.  I spent one of these snow days deep cleaning our apartment and beginning to work on one of my home resolutions fro 2014: beautiful organization.

I started with the living room.  We have several basic three shelf wire shelves (you can find them at Home Depot or Lowes).  Two of these have a home in our kitchen, where their utilitarian appearance works well.  However, this one didn't really match with the rest of the living room, but it's the perfect size and height for that area. 

I had been thinking of making a basic slipcover for the wire shelf and my day off seemed like a great time to start.  I have a pretty big stockpile of fabric and though that this basic muslin would do well.  To make this simple, no sew slipcover, I draped the fabric over the table, letting one end touch the floor in the back.  I then cut the end that was draped over the front so that the fabric just touched the floor, with no puddling.   Next, I folded the top ends on either side, just as if I was wrapping a present.  I used simple straight pins to hold the fabric in place.

It's a simple, temporary solution that makes that table blend in much better. 

I added several items to the table to organize our "on our way out the door" essentials.  After looking through our place for some items to use for organizing, I found an apothecary jar for Wick's dog treats and bones, a silver tray for gloves and scarves, and an antique tobacco tin for dog baggies.  Right now, I'm storing summer hats on the shelves the slipcover hides, and I figure that when the temperatures shift, I can swap the scarves out for sunglasses.  I pulled some decorating elements, including two photographs and a brass rabbit, to add some pretty to the table as well. 

I'm loving that area of our living room right now.  If I could, I would do something about those awful cable cords, but those are an unfortunate reality of living in an apartment that was built in the 1920s.

Another aspect of living in a historic building that really affects us is the lack of closet space.  Walk in closets just didn't exist in that time.  We have a small closet in each bedroom, a hall closet, and a linen closet.  I use the linen closet to store my jeans, workout clothes, and sweaters, in addition to basic household items.  However, it was a disaster, as you can see below. 

I took some cloth covered bins that I had bought at Target a few years ago to organize a desk space in our old apartment and repurposed them to hold my workout clothes and sweaters.  I also rearranged some of the items, moving my fabric collection to our spare bedroom, putting holiday decorations in the hall closet that we tend to leave shut, and making a separate shelf area for extra towels and laundry.  So far, it has helped with daily life so much to have that space more organized. 

Lastly, I tackled my bedside table.  My bedside table tends to accumulate so much stuff- lotions, books, pens, cups of coffee, contact cases, glasses... I could go on for a while.  I decided to take a giant silver bowl that I had just hanging out in the pantry and use it to hold all of my random items to give the bedside table a more contained look.  I also use this porcelain hand my husband found in a vintage store last summer to organize rings and bracelets and decided to bring it over to my bedside table to free up some space on our dresser.

I hope to keep sharing my efforts to organize our space and life a little more beautifully.  What are some of the things you do to organize?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

New Items on Juvel Lera!

Hello! For the past few weeks, I have been working around the clock to create new jewelry pieces for my Etsy shop, Juvel Lera. I finally finished editing the pictures and creating new listings and you can now see them here!

While there are lots of fun new colors of previous items, the biggest change is that now you can buy bracelet sets.  I love to layer my Juvel Lera bracelets in a large group with other pieces to create an arm party.  A single bracelet retails for $5, but if you buy the set of four, you will only pay $15, so you get that fourth bracelet for free! 

Check out the new pieces and let me know what you think!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Thoughts on The Perfectly Imperfect Home and My Resolutions for My Home in 2014

Hello and happy new year!

Over the holiday season, I took my school's winter break as a much needed break from almost everything.  I laid on the couch and watched seasons of television with my husband, played with my sweet puppy, went to visit my parents and brothers in Chicago, and caught (somewhat) up on the stack of books that had piled up next to my bed. 

One of these books was The Perfectly Imperfect Home, a decorating tome written by Deborah Needleman, the founding author of Domino magazine.  Domino magazine was out on stands when I was in high school and college, prior to when I began to develop a strong interest in turning my house into a home.  When I first began to think about adding personality to my home, my friend, Cate, introduced me to her collection of issues of Domino, as well as the Domino book published after the magazine ended, which Needleman also had a great hand in. 

The Perfectly Imperfect Home goes well with the tips and rooms found in Domino, but I love the emphasis in the newer book on living in your home.  So many rooms and homes look beautiful in photographs, but have no trace of the life that occurs within the rooms.  They look like the rooms at the Biltmore, an estate my husband and I visited this summer, perfectly preserved and untouched with meals, guests, animals, and any other trace of life.  Needleman emphasizes thinking about your rooms as they will be used.  Perhaps my favorite pieces of advice is that if party guests rearrange your furniture for conversing, to pay attention to that and keep that layout. 

With the new year in mind, I decided to make some resolutions for my home this year going along with the spirit of The Perfectly Imperfect Home. My goals for my home this year include:

1) Layering with textiles: There is a wonderful chapter on "cozifying" that emphasizes how layers of textiles bring a sense of warmth to rooms, making you want to curl up and stay awhile.  Obviously, when you're in the early stages of putting together rooms, the focus is more on finding those "good bones"- essential pieces in great condition with classic frames that will last you for years.  I've been fortunate to find many of these items and have a good foundation laid in every room of our apartment.  Now, I would love to focus on finding rugs, blankets, and pillows that, while not essential, add to the overall experience of those rooms.

2) Glamming things up: Many of the images I find myself pinning of interiors are beautiful, over the top, feminine glamour rooms.  This is not realistic for myself, as it is not realistic for many people who live with a man or a pet.  I can't have fringe, velvet, floral, gold, white everything.  However, I believe that there are places where I can add a fabulous item here and there to satisfy this craving.  Needleman mentions in her book how the contrast of a glamorous chandelier against a rustic table brings contrast, which can ultimately enhance your appreciation and bring focus to the items individually.  This would not happen as easily if every item in the room fell into a them

3) Organizing beautifully
: Another aspect of this book that I love is that Needleman doesn't skip over crucial elements of home design like organization.  Although our home consists of just two people and a dog and is not filled with children, we still have to think about how we organize elements of life to have an easy flow on work days and to manage our chaos.  Needleman brings up ideas for organizing items like remote controls, mail, kitchen utensils, bathroom necessities, etc. in beautiful jars, boxes, baskets, and bins, but never encourages sacrificing function for aesthetics.  I love the realism of that and want to challenge myself to find those "containing items" this year.

I hope this post has inspired you to check out some of Deborah Needleman's work if you have not already!  She is such an inspiring woman and offers advice that is so beneficial to those of us that want beauty and function in the same home.  Check out The Perfectly Imperfect Home and let me know if you have any resolutions for your home in the coming year.  I would love to hear about them!