Have a Cuppa Love

It’s been a couple weeks since the launch of Cuppa Love – Cupcakes for Clean Water.  This week is our first official “Sales Week,” meaning now is the time to purchase cupcake vouchers for anytime thru the end of 2014.  I am updating and posting info on the Facebook page, but thought it would be handy for non-FBers to also post here.  So, if you’re local (Portland Metro Area) and in need of a sweet fix for a sweet cause, be sure to sign up this week!

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Also, for those of you who haven’t heard, I am hosting a completely *free* tasting party {ladies only} this Thursday, August 14 from 7-8:30!  I need a headcount today in order to prepare enough cupcakes for everyone, so again, if you’re local, and want to come, please email me!  I will host another when we get closer to the holidays for kiddos as well.  Here is just a little smattering of some of the deliciousness you might get to enjoy at the party:

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Lord bless!
Monique

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…And this is it!

I gave you a teaser this week of something big in the works.  Well are you ready?

I can’t hear you!

ARE YOU READY?

Ok.  That’s more like it.

I’m thrilled to announce that I am partnering with my beautiful and inspirational friend, Kristen Greene, in her ongoing missions to bring medical relief and clean water to the rural regions of Ethiopia.  I first met Kristen several years ago at a jewelry party fundraiser.  Her story burrowed deep into my heart – she was first exposed to the harsh poverty in Ethiopia when she adopted her two precious children from rural Bachira, ET.  After God brought her daughter and son home to a life of health and safety, Kristen had an indelible urge to go back and do more.  She has since headed up several relief efforts through fundraising to provide a maternity clinic, pediatric clinic, and an ambulance to this impoverished region.  Kristen has such a deep love for the people of Bachira and surrounding communities, and no project is too big for her to tackle!  As I’ve gotten to know her through these fundraisers and our growing friendship, Kristen has taught me what it means to be eternally-minded and others-focused.

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Children of Bachira – including Kristen’s kids’ biological brother – at their current water source

Needless to say, immediately I was HOOKED.  Not being one to splurge on fashion, Kristen’s fundraisers gave me a fun, tangible way to help aid the efforts in Ethiopia while shopping for presents I’d otherwise be buying at the mall.  Since then, all the ladies in my family know what to expect each Christmas.  Buying jewelry to aid these life-giving projects was just a no-brainer!

Recently Kristen expanded her fundraising opportunities to include a revolutionary new makeup line.  I happily signed up to host a party, which was a raging success – thanks to many of YOU!  Hugs and kisses to all you dears who helped bring clean water to more than ten impoverished children.  Yes, a few dozen tubes of mascara did THAT!

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Well, you might say I was high on fundraising…because midway through the party I got an itch.  An itch to do more.  Lots more.  What could I do?  What was my niche?  How might  I channel my own passions and creativity to make a difference in these precious lives, long-term?

Friends, this is where the rubber meets the road.  Unto good works.  It’s what I strive to be about.  It’s about doing things that God created me to do – with the talents I owe only to Him – in a way that blesses others and draws them near to Him.  Now, some might argue that the pastimes of a homeschooling housewife are trivial.  Not big enough for God’s work.  I beg to differ.

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Enter Cuppa Love – cupcakes for clean water. 

Yes, you heard that right!  This Fall I will strive to help push Kristen’s clean water project over the finish line, to be fully funded, by making and selling my very own custom, gourmet, cupcake creations.  For the past few years I’ve enjoyed making cakes for my family and friends.  Word of mouth turned that into friends-of-friends.  Soon I was getting requests to go into business as a baker.  Legally speaking, selling my cakes for a profit won’t be possible anytime soon.  But what I can do (and yes, I did call the state to verify) is hold bake sales, up to three times per year, to benefit a non-profit.  Sing it with me – HALLELUJAH!

 

So how does it work?  I thought you’d never ask.  Here is a handy-dandy info sheet I created.how to order pic

Come August 11, I will release Order Forms for our first Sales Week.  Cupcakes will be available in dozens (for regular size) and double-dozens (for minis).  I’ll even have gluten-free and paleo options!  To say I’m excited is a vast understatement.  Up till now, baking has been just a fun, creative outlet…so to think this little hobby ‘o’ mine could serve to improve, even save, the lives of Kristen’s Ethiopian family and friends…it’s humbling.  It’s thrilling.  It’s Unto Good Works.

Today I am launching Cuppa Love on Facebook – be sure to check it out and ‘like’ my page to receive updates about the first upcoming Sales Week!

And, if you’d like more info about the clean water project, visit Kristen’s page.

In His love,
Monique

DIY custom closet doors with bookcase

That’s quite a mouthful, and I suppose it ought to be, as my most complex DIY project to date.  Remember when I hinted at more projects in the boys’ room?  Well, this is it!

My kids’ new shared bedroom has an enormous closet.  The opening is 72″ across.  YAY for storage!  But BOO on bi-fold closet doors.  When open, the doors extend way out into the room, cutting into usable space.  The only place for our cozy rocking chair happens to be in a corner by the closet, so with it there, the right hand door wouldn’t open more than a few inches.  Scoot chair–open door–retrieve item–close door–scoot chair.  A workout, maybe?  Functional…Not so much.  I’ve been wanting to replace those doors with sliding bypass doors, but I didn’t want to spend a fortune on a new set.

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Big fat closet (minus the old doors) – out with the old and on with the new!

That’s when my dear handyman (affectionately referred to as “Mister Joe”) tipped me off to a diamond in the rough – the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.  It’s like everything you ever wanted in a thrift shop…but all for the home!  We’re talking furniture, appliances, hardware, you name it.  They had stacks and stacks of used doors.  Thankfully I thought to bring a tape measure along, so finding just the right pair was a snap.  It cost a whopping $10.  Then, I happened to spot a good ol’ fashioned, working overhead projector (dating myself here –  we used these way back when I was in high school.  Yes.  I’m thirty now.  Be nice.)…SCORE!  I ended up spending just $30 for the perfect set of doors, the projector, and a few assorted picture frames.  I also made friends with a retired trucker, who saw me struggling to tie down the doors on top of my Explorer.  He spent about 15 minutes professionally strapping those babies down so they wouldn’t fly off on the freeway.  Just out of the pure goodness of his heart.  He thought I was hysterical when I asked if he had been a Boy Scout.  🙂

So, thanks to my trucker friend, the doors made it home in one…er…two pieces.  My vision was to build/embellish the fronts, which is another reason why I liked the old flat-faced doors at the ReStore instead of new paneled ones you can get at Home Depot.  The right-hand door, the one by our rocking chair, would transform into a sliding, forward-facing bookshelf.  The left-hand door, which would slide behind the right, would receive some custom paint in the form of a scripture verse.  Doing this would boost the functionality of the room, while bringing in our two favorite funky colors.  When you have  a closet taking up a quarter of the wall space, might as well put it to good decorative use!

Now, construction time.  First step was to sand down the doors and prime them (these were a medium-stain oak, and I wanted white to match our trim).  Then, because the bookcase on the right-hand door would cover the pull-cup handle, I filled that hole using a piece of scrap wood, cut with a 2 1/8″ drill bit.  A little all-purpose spackling putty smoothed it off.  unnamed (14)
Doors all primed and ready to paint.  Note my high tech system for keeping them off the floor to paint the edges.  Paint cans.  Keepin’ it real folks!
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Filled and putty-ed (puttied?  whatever!) hole

Next, paint.  I painted all sides of the doors except the front-right, which was about to receive the bookcase treatment. 

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Verse door base is painted; bookcase door is awaiting shelves

Now, carpentry!  I purchased 1×5″ poplar boards from Home Depot and had them all cut to my specifications – five 30″ wide shelves, two 72″ high sides, and ten 30″ dowels to hold the books up.  I measured and fastened the side boards first, using a counter-sink drill bit and screws (so they wouldn’t stick out and scrape anything).  Then I measured and attached the five shelves – further apart on the bottom for taller books, and closer together on top for shorter books.  I used a bead of wood glue as well as counter-sink screws for these.  After the glue dried, I caulked all the seams.  This whole part was new territory for me.  I prayed a lot that I wouldn’t completely destroy it.  Definitely could have used Jesus’ hands-on carpentry expertise here.  🙂
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Counter-sink drilled holes (left) and screws in place (right)
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Shelves all built (left) and caulked (right)

After construction, I painted the entire front of the bookshelf door.  I didn’t bother to prime the shelves, since I wasn’t concerned about paint sticking to bare wood.  After a couple coats, I fastened on the previously painted dowels (counter-sink again).  I did these one side at a time, which helped get all of them evenly tight on both sides.  One or two dowels were cut just a smidge too short, so I filled the slight gap on one side with a bit of putty.  Gave the whole thing a 0nce-over with touch up paint (cover all those screw heads!), and the bookcase door was DONE.

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Ta Da!

For the left-side door, which would slide behind the bookcase, I created a graphic text art piece in Word.  Now I’m no graphic designer, so Word does me just fine.  I’m sure there are some fantastic programs for creating word art out there, but this works for little ‘ol me.  The verse I chose was Proverbs 17:17 – A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.  I mish-mashed a couple versions to get the wording I liked best, and that would make the most sense to my little boys.  After measuring the area  I wanted for the text (factoring in the pull-cup handle that would remain on this door), I did a little dividing to get the measurements into inches on a standard page.  Then I created a rectangular outline of those dimensions and pieced together my verse with a couple different fonts and effects.  Here is how it came out on paper (well, on an ink-jet compatible transparency sheet that is!):

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Then, I propped up the door, set up the projector, and taped down my transparency.  I used pencil to trace it out on the door, and then laid it out on the floor again to paint.  Since the door is a good 36″ wide, I tried to always start my words from the middle and work my way out, to avoid smudging or smearing.  At one point I had to laugh because the door said this:

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Almost there!

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That’s more like it.

The first coat didn’t come out quite perfect so I did go over it one more time.  Then it was *finally* time to hang these doors!  After removing the bi-fold doors and hardware, I installed the sliding door tracking.  That was simple enough.  Getting the doors to slide on their tracks was trickier.  First, the bookcase door was FAR heavier than before.  I was sweating, panting, and fighting it all the way.  Then, to my dismay, once the doors were up I could not budge them at all!  As it turns out, they were a quarter inch too long for the opening.  BUMMER.  Enter our terrific neighbor, Dave, with his circular saw to make all things right with the closet-door world!  After Dave trimmed the doors down, they went up without too much fuss and slid nicely.  Phew!

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I don’t have a picture of Dave rescuing me from closet door doom, but I have to give him a shout-out.  This was taken last Christmas – our annual tradition of begging Dave to help haul the ginormous 14-foot live tree into the entryway.  We owe him.   A lot.

All right, back to the project.  One little thing I learned when installing new sliding door hardware is to pay really close attention to the wheel brackets which go on the top of the doors.  I didn’t realize when fastening these on that two of them have a deeper inset, allowing for the front door to slide with just the right distance from the back door.  I thought I was going crazy when the doors didn’t budge after I thought I’d gotten everything up just-so.  The instruction booklet was not my friend, to say the least.  I was so relieved when I finally figured it out!

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Look closely at the depth of this part when you’re installing the hardware!

For those of you patient souls who actually made it to the end of this way-too-long tutorial – here is the finished product!  I have a few little finishing touches to complete, now that they’re up and I can see them in action: add trim to the headrail so the tracking is concealed, and add a little lip to the bottom of each shelf so skinny books can’t slide out.  But overall I am thrilled with the end result!  The boys are loving them too.  My soon-to-be-first grader can read the whole verse out loud, which just makes this mama’s heart burst with joy.  And, as a bonus, the boys are building massive muscles every time they slide the bookcase door.  It’s a beast!  But even the 3-year-old can do it, the little hulk.

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So, what do you think?  Does this inspire you to find creative ways to maximize the form and function of your space?
My neighbor’s daughter has already requested a set of these doors for her room.  I hope she gets ’em!

In His image,
Monique

Bacon Makes it Better

You know it’s true.

Sorry, vegetarian friends, but bacon.  It just makes everything better.

Including ice cream!

Last year I ventured into the world of bacon desserts, beginning with chocolate-covered bacon.  It did NOT disappoint.  Wowza.
But that is another post for another day.  Today, it’s all about ice cream.  I mean, summer’s here and all…time to bust out the frozen treats!  Well, truth be told, I come from a long line of hard-core ice cream addicts, which means there is no inappropriate temperature or climate for enjoying it.

Anytime is a good time for ice cream.

Anytime is a good time for bacon.

Need I say more?!

Oh, I suppose you might want the recipe.  So here you go.  I modified my recipe from the one I found here on the Food Network.  I have a tried-and-true method of making my ice cream so that it is just a wee bit less bad-for-you…one I have been using for several years to keep my heart-conditioned hubby happy and healthy.  How’s that for alliteration?  Anyway, I took the base concept but trimmed it down.  You know, with bacon in it and all, you could stand to cut just a *few* calories and grams of fat.  Right?  Or just go hog-wild (baaaad pun) and make the custardy goodness from the folks at Food Network.  Either way, you will be so very, very delighted.

Unless you’re a vegetarian.  Then you need to repent.  😉

MAPLE BACON CRUNCH ICE CREAM

Ingredients
Ice Cream Base:
2 c. low-fat plain yogurt (I make my own)
1 c. whole milk
1/2 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. sugar

Bacon Brittle:
1 T. salted butter
5 strips bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
1 c. sugar
1/2 t. baking soda
1/8 t. chipotle chili powder (really!  Fear not – it really is amazing!)

Method
Whisk together all the ingredients for your ice cream base, stirring 2-3 minutes to dissolve sugar.  Refrigerate while making the brittle.

In a medium saucepan, melt sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly until all crystals are dissolved, being careful not to burn it.  Remove from heat, stir in butter.  Carefully stir in baking soda and chili powder.  I went light on the chipotle, not sure how strong it would come through.  Next time I will use more.  The smoky-ness brought out the bacon flavor beautifully.  It was not spicy or weird at all!  Now, gently stir in your bacon crumbles.  Pour onto a baking sheet (I, of course, used my silicone-coated pan.  If you don’t have one of those, or a SilPat, use parchment or make sure to grease up your pan so your brittle will not stick).

Allow to set 15 minutes before lifting/breaking it up.  I put the pieces in a big Ziploc bag and let my 6-year-old smash them up with a mallet.  Great little tension reliever there!  Who said bacon wasn’t good for you?  And sugar too, for that matter.

Now, get out the ice cream base, and your ice cream maker, and churn away.  Add the brittle right at the end once your ice cream is starting to look like soft serve (20-30 minutes).  Of course, during that lengthy waiting period, feel free to snack on your meaty brittle to your heart’s delight.  The original recipe says to use only a third of the brittle in the ice cream.  I disagree…use at least half, or more…as much as you can keep from devouring in a half-hour!

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Bacon Brittle: words fail me.

The candy part of the brittle will partially dissolve into the ice cream, giving you not only a crunch but also a caramel-y ripple.  Add to that the smoky, salty bacon…my eyes were rolling back into my head!

The next day, I had another revelation – waffle bowls.  I have a waffle cone maker so this was a snap.  I’m sure most <sane> people don’t own all the gadgets from an ice cream shop, so feel free to just buy these if you want a truly off-the-hook treat.

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The Ultimate Breakfast Dessert

Hope you try it – and love it!
Monique

DIY color block curtains

It’s the first non-kitchen post!  Whee!

This diy project is so neat, and since my first attempt was a success, I just had to share.  If you have a room in need of new window treatments, or you’re pulling off a tricky color scheme (like me), this is the project for you.

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I give you, painted curtains.  Say what?  That’s right.  Painted.  So, just a little background:  my two boys (“Boo”, 6, and “Roo”, 3) recently moved into a shared bunk room.  Up ’til then, Boo’s bedroom was red.  Lots and lots of red, with black/brown/blue/white.  Roo’s nursery was blue with red/brown.  I figured I’d keep the red thing going when they moved in together…but, my baby has a mind of his own.  He decided at a very early age that he loves…wait for it… orange.  With a passion.  A color previously banned from this Oregon Duck affiliated home.  Indeed, he is fearfully and wonderfully made. 😉

Red and orange.  Could I pull it off?  Could anyone pull it off?  Gulp.  Well, this mama was gonna try.  First I visited my local paint store, and selected a shade of red and orange that didn’t scream hatred at each other.  These are the ones I picked:

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“Stop” (left) and “Carnival” (right)

I knew it would be important to go with a really light, tangerine-y orange to not fight with the red.  I actually like this one.  Again, this coming from a girl who has been fiercely indoctrinated against anything Beaver-hued.  Oh, the sacrifices we make for our children.

Then, I found a neutral color that would allow both bold colors to pop.  This one happened to be in the running way back when we were choosing colors for our house’s exterior.  I guess I really like it.  It’s not quite brown, not quite grey.  Somehow both cool and warm at the same time.  The ideal base for mediating two adjacent bold hues of the color wheel.

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“Dry Dock”

The plan was to paint all four walls in matte Dry Dock, and then use the red and orange in semi-gloss to paint accents throughout the room.  Flash forward to curtains.  I wanted my accent colors to come through in the window treatments, but it’s hard to find red *and* orange drapes…let alone in the exact shades I picked.  What to do?…I stumbled upon Beckie’s blog, Inferrantly Creative – with a fantastic DIY blog post on painting curtains.  I didn’t want stripes all the way up, just a couple big bold ones on bright white fabric.  I wanted room-darkening, but not blackout.  And I wanted grommets – black ones.  Beckie used Ikea panels, and you can too, but my style vision was a bit too picky, so I headed for the fabric store, snatched up nine yards of white canvas drape liner, and got to work.

First, I measured and cut my curtains.  These would be lined easily by just doubling them over.  I ironed, pinned and stitched the top 4.5″ wide, which would later give me room for grommets.  Next I hemmed them (shorter on the lining side).

Last step before painting was the grommets – this was ridiculously easy.  I bought two packs of black/bronze colored ones, roughly measured their spacing across the top, and followed the package directions to cut out circles and snap them in.  This was my first time making grommet-top curtains, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never go back.  They slide so nicely, they’re quiet (plastic, not metal), and they look sharp too.

Now, for the fun!  I laid the two lined panels face-up on plastic tarping, separating the lining from the front by bunching it up above the curtain-tops.  I measured, marked, and laid a straight edge down where I wanted my lines to be.  Then I blue-taped the lines (make sure your tape sits *above* and *below* where you want your stripe to be!), and burnished the tape with an old Uppercase Living plastic doohickey (to avoid paint seeping under the tape).

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Now – paint!  I rolled on my red and orange stripes (use matte paint) with a mini foam roller, going over and over until no white fabric showed through.  I pulled up the tape after each stripe was complete (still wet), so there wouldn’t be any seepage.  The lines came out perfect.  That was a relief!  When you paint fabric, there’s really no going back…so, whew!
**live and learn tip: try to do your painting on the smoothest, flattest surface available.  I used the floor, and unfortunately for my curtains, my hardwood has beautiful grooves and hand-scraping.  The grooves kinda show in the paint, but not too terribly bad.  Still, the flatter the better.

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I let the paint dry overnight, then in the morning set to work sewing the side seams.  I didn’t do this before, concerned that the paint might soak through to the lining and look weird.  It ended up being a pretty big strain on my poor sewing machine, though, so just a warning: sewing machines do not like painted fabric.  We survived all four seams (just folded over and pressed like a hem), and the curtains were ready to hang!

Now, if all my rambling made you forget the end-product, head back up to the top of this post and check’em out.  Pretty sweet, huh?   They block out just enough light to darken the room softly, and the colors play together nicely.  No clashing.  Victory!   Rred and orange living together in harmony at last!  Best part of all – my boys love them.  And that’s what matters most!

To be continued…next DIY project will feature a custom sliding bookcase + Bible verse art in the bunk room.  You haven’t seen the last of red and orange!

In Him,
Monique

Double Chocolate Muffins (allergy friendly)

Problem: you’ve just made a tasty Thai recipe that required half a can of coconut milk, and the remainder needs to be used within two days.  What to do, what to do?  Not being one to waste, I decided to try my hand at some dairy-free baking.  I have a friend who was recently diagnosed with dairy and gluten allergies (boo!), so I figured a little allergy-friendly treat would brighten her day.  Enter my good ol’ Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free flour, some cocoa powder and extra-dark chocolate chips…and…bam!  Decadent, dairy- and gluten-free muffins!

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They are so easy, and don’t have a trace of that signature gluten-free-cardboard texture we all love to hate.  I hired my hubby as a blind taste-tester, and before learning they were DF and GF he thought they were pretty good.  After I let him in on my little secret, he said “WOW!  Well in that case, these are amazing!”

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GLUTEN & DAIRY FREE DOUBLE CHOCOLATE MUFFINS

Ingredients
1/4 c. sugar (can be unrefined, coconut…whatever suits your fancy)
1/4 c. coconut oil
1 egg
1 1/4 c. sifted GF flour (that’s sifted prior to measuring, for all you bakers out there like me who have ever wondered)
1/2 c. cocoa powder
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. coconut milk
1 c. extra dark, dairy free, chocolate chips (I used Guittard)

Method
Preheat oven to 375F.
Cream together sugar and coconut oil.  Blend in the egg.  In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.  Add half to the oil mixture, stirring to combine.  Mix in milk.  Mix in remaining flour, and fold in chocolate chips (reserve a handful to sprinkle on top if you like).

Fill paper-lined baking cups 2/3 full.  My recipe made a dozen exactly.
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Bake about 20 minutes, and cool on a wire rack.
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Sound like a decadent breakfast?  I think so!  But almost completely guilt free!  Remember, dark chocolate is *good* for you!  Antioxidants, yes please!

In Him,
Monique