Friday, October 25, 2013

Lemon Marshmallow Meringue Pie

I know, I know, I’m supposed to be writing about pumpkin, apples, cinnamon—not lemon, the most summery of fruits. But this recipe was practically begging to be made, all because of a bag of lemon-flavored marshmallows. And a slice of pie I ate a year ago.

Let’s start with the mallows: I’m a sucker for novelty foods, especially those involving marshmallow. So, naturally, when I spotted Lemon Meringue Campfire Mallow Bursts (i.e. off-brand fruity marshmallows) at Wal-Mart, I HAD to buy them. Usually, flavored mallows disappoint me. Take Jet-Puffed Pumpkin Spice Mallows, for example, which taste like plain marshmallows that have been spritzed with pumpkin-scented room spray. 

But, WOW! These no-name marshmallows are amazing. The lemon flavor is intense and authentic, so good, in fact, that I nearly ate the entire bag in an evening. Which is why I melted them down into marshmallow crème to use as a topping for my lemon pie.

That brings me to the actual pie: I once had a piece of lemon meringue pie with marshmallow fluff instead of traditional meringue on top. I’ve gone back to the restaurant that served it, hoping for a second slice, but the place never had it again.

So, I’ve been forced to recreate it. I started with a basic graham cracker crust, then borrowed a lemony filling from a Bobby Flay dessert. Finally, I whipped up a batch of homemade Cool Whip, which I combined with my homemade marshmallow crème (these are the things I do when my husband is out of town).

The final result: a tart, beautiful pie, with just enough sweetness to bring me back for more. 

Lemon Marshmallow Meringue Pie

What you need

The crust
1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup white sugar
6 Tbsp butter, melted
½ tsp cinnamon

The filling
1 ½ cups white sugar
6 Tbsp cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
½ cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup cold water
3 egg yolks, well beaten
2 Tbsp butter
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 Tsp lemon extract
1 Tsp lemon zest (optional)
3 drops yellow food coloring

The topping
1 bag of marshmallows (I used lemon-flavored ones)
2 tsp light corn syrup
1 pint heavy whipping cream
½ cup powdered sugar
1 Tsp lemon extract
1 drop yellow food coloring

Put it all together
  1. Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Combine the graham cracker crumbs and sugar with the melted butter, and press into a 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 7 minutes. Cool completely.
  2. Make the filling: Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan, then slowly incorporate the lemon juice and cold water. Add the egg yolks, and mix until smooth. Next, add the butter; gradually stir in the boiling water. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. After boiling for 2 minutes, remove from the burner, and stir in the lemon extract, zest, and food coloring. Allow to cool half an hour before pouring into the pie crust. Refrigerate for at least half an hour.
  3. Make the topping: Place the marshmallows in a microwave-safe bowl, and drizzle the corn syrup on top. Microwave for 30 seconds (no longer or the mallows could burn), and stir until the marshmallows are smooth and creamy. 
  4. Whisk the whipping cream until soft peaks form, then gradually stir in the powdered sugar until fully incorporated. Add the lemon extract and food coloring. 
  5. Use an electric mixer to combine the marshmallow creme and the whipped cream mixture. Spread evenly over the chilled pie. Chill for another 4 hours before serving.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Do We Yawn?

My husband and I often play a Google game: We type in the beginning of a question, then let Google fill in the rest. It's always funny (and sometimes disturbing) to see what's most often on people's minds. So, I figured, why not do a service to society, and answer these most burning questions? (I know this isn't about decorating or baking. But this interests me, so there!) 

So, Why Do We Yawn?

Just looking at this kitty may make you yawn.
Until recently, the answer to this eternal question would have made you yawn: Scientists simply didn’t know why we open wide when we’re tired. Lucky for you—you curious Googler, you—a 2013 study review from India summed up all the newest research that points to potential purposes of yawning.

Theory #1: Yawning is like a shot of energizing caffeine to your body. According to the researchers, “evidence suggests that drowsiness is the most common stimulus of a yawn." No surprise there. But bedtime isn’t the only time drowsiness sets in—it may also be induced by boredom, which stimulates your sleep system.

So, when you brain is nodding off, yawning may be a way to spike your heart rate and boost your arousal, much in the same way that caffeine does. How? The physical motion of opening your mouth compresses your “carotid body”—a small cluster of sensory receptors in your carotid artery—and this may trigger the release of alerting hormones.

Theory #2: Yawning is a way to cool down your brain. In a recent study, researchers found that three minutes before rats yawned—yes, they yawn too!—their brain temperature was higher than normal. After they yawned, their brains dropped a few degrees. Another study showed that as room temperature rose, parakeets started yawning more frequently.

And, finally, research in humans revealed that when people placed a cold pack on their foreheads, they yawned less than when they held a warm pack to their head. (The scientists note that it may not be so much about brain temperature, though, as the arousing effect of feeling cold.)

So how might yawning act like a fan for your gray matter? Simple: The contraction and relaxation of muscles in your face boosts blood flow, which helps dissipate heat. And if your eyes water during a yawn—as many people’s do—more heat may be drawn from your skull.

Theory #3: We yawn to bond. You know that annoying (and embarrassing) urge to yawn because your neighbor did? Well, you can pat yourself on the back, because it may be a subconscious expression of empathy. Seeing someone else’s mouth gaping open may activate your brain’s mirror neurons, which tell your body to mimic the behavior you're watching—especially if that person is a family member or close friend.

Theory #4: Yawning shields your ears from damage. When you need to pop your ears, what do you do? You open your mouth. Likewise, yawning may serve as a “defense reflex”—a way to protect your ears in situations (like rapid altitude changes) that could trap air in your middle ear. However, because swallowing can also offer this same benefit, this probably isn’t the sole purpose of yawning, the scientists say.

Debunked Theory: Yawning is a sign you're oxygen deficient. For centuries, scientists and laypeople alike thought that yawning removed “bad air” from the lungs and increased oxygen traffic to the brain. However, studies have now shown that people don’t yawn any more than normal when they inhale high amounts of carbon dioxide—which should trigger a need for oxygen, and therefore yawning, if this theory were true.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Steal the Style: Cameron Diaz's Manhattan Living Room

I was particularly excited to read my last issue of Elle Decor, which featured Cameron Diaz's immaculately styled NYC apartment on the cover. Part of my pleasure was, of course, peeking inside a famous person's place. But even better, I recently interviewed her for a story...and she was in this very apartment while we talked on the phone!

What I love about the place: Diaz chose a warm, layered color palette, yet still managed to create a sense of spa-like calm, without the typical white-on-white sterility. As a commenter on the Elle Decor website wrote, "Her home is an aphrodisiac of gorgeous textures, making it impossible to feel cold." 

I'm not crazy about the custom wall covering, which says "cheap Mexican-inspired hotel" to me, as do the pleated lamp shades, with their outdated A-line silhouette. 

These transgressions can be forgiven, though, if only because the splashes of buttery yellow are so delicious. Check out that chandelier! Yellow Murano glass? Amazing.

Want to steal Cameron's style, without the million-dollar price tag? Here's how:

Chester Tufted Upholstered Chair

Murano Glass Style Yellow Pendant Lamp Chandelier

HeatherBrooke The Galley Cocktail Table in Glazed Gold Iron

I kind of hate the overbearing cocktail table in Diaz's design. It's clunky, and screams "hotel lobby" to me (notice a theme: Parts of this room is really bordering on La Quinta Inn for me). So, in keeping with the elements of the design that I do like, I'd opt for this...

Calloway Light Beige Linen Tuxedo Back Sofa

East End Imports Loft Wool Armchair in Orange Tweed

International Caravan Seville Ottoman

White Ceramic Buddha Head

If this creeps you out (as it does me), any solid white statue will work.

Image by Charlie Kenya Decorative Pillow

Untitled, 1957 Framed Art Print by Franz Kline

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My First Etsy Listing: Vintage Teal Dresser with Distressed Finish!

I've been interested in refinishing and selling furniture on Etsy for some time, and now that I've gone freelance, I actually have the time! I chose this adorable dresser as my first project for a few reasons:

1. That deer decal is precious! I'm always nervous about any business venture that involves throwing out money upfront (in other words, any business venture). But when I spotted the sweet deer on this chifforobe, I knew I couldn't leave it behind. So he came home with me. 

2. I won't be tempted to keep it. This is a nursery/children's item, and since I obviously don't have children (unless you count Kitty Adelaide), the urge to hoard my first piece is not strong. It's still there, but I'm fighting it.

3. Chifforobes are fantastic. You can find a standard dresser anywhere. But chifforobes are harder to come by...and so classy! They have a distinctly vintage feel, yet are still incredibly functional. 

4. It has a history. This piece was made by Lullabye Fine Furniture for Children, a company started in 1897 in the Wisconsin home of John Bukolt, the inventor of the first swinging crib. It was likely produced in the early- to mid-1900s, based on this advertisement, which features a similar 5-drawer chifforobe. (If you want to read the words, the ad is here.)

I wasn't crazy about the wood's color, so I borrowed my generous (and brave) husband's belt and orbital sanders and went to town. Then I painted it a pale teal with a satin finish, which I distressed and sealed with furniture wax. 

See the listing here! 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Oreo Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

This post is supposed to be about pumpkin cinnamon rolls. I stocked up on all the necessary ingredients this weekend, but every time I thought about dealing with yeast, my zeal for cinnamon rolls dissipated. 

Besides, I have a jar of Oreos getting staler by the second. (Without fail, my guests ask for an Oreo, and I have to warn them about the compromised quality, thanks to my non-air-tight cookie jar. That's what I get for buying a $4 jar.)

I wasn't sure how Oreos would taste with pumpkin, especially Birthday Cake Oreos, which have been lingering around my house for months. But I plunged ahead. (Don't be alarmed by the colored dots in the photos. Those are from the Birthday Cake creme filling.) 

I found the recipe on Something Swanky, but modified it slightly. The recipe calls for Oreos crumbled on top, which I did, but with an extra flair: I tossed the cookie pieces in butter, then covered them in yellow cake mix, creating a crumb-like topping. I ditched the chocolate chips on top, since that might be TOO sweet (if that's even possible).

My first tester was a sugar fanatic like me, so she, of course, wanted a second serving. But the true test was my husband, who had just eaten a steak (which to him is the definition of culinary heaven). He gave me a fist pump, which in Frank language means a job well done (and also means I'm apparently married to a teenage boy). 

Oreo Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars

What you need

The crust:
20 Oreo cookies + 5 for topping
2.5 Tbsp butter + 2.5 Tbsp for topping
1/3 cup yellow cake mix 

The filling:
2 (8-oz) packages cream cheese (I used lower-calorie neufchatel) 
1 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (I just used cinnamon)
1/4 tsp salt

Put it all together
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8" square baking dish with foil, then lightly coat it with cooking spray.
  2. Crush the 20 Oreos for the crust in a food processor (I hand-crushed them for a chunkier crust), then toss with 2.5 Tbsp melted butter. Press into the prepared pan, and bake for 10 minutes.
  3. To make the filling, beat the cream cheese (at room temperature) with the sugar. Once smooth, add the pumpkin puree, followed by the eggs one at a time. Finally, incorporate the flour, spice, and salt. Pour the mixture over the crust.
  4. Crumble the remaining 5 Oreos, toss them in 2.5 Tbsp melted butter, then coat them in the cake mix. Sprinkle evenly on top of the pumpkin mixture.
  5. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely, then cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours before serving.

Monday, October 7, 2013

For Sale: Houses So Tiny They're Adorable!

When I was a kid, I fantasized about living in our laundry room. I imagined a twin bed tucked into a shelf, drawers under my box springs, shelves over my head. It seemed so cozy.

Now, my fascination extends to tiny houses. Like "under 1000 square feet" tiny. There's something so appealing about a compact space done right. It feels functional, yet whimsical. Conservative, yet playful. (And I like the idea of minimal cleaning!)

These listings from across the country fit the bill: super small, and super adorable.

11513 30th Avenue NE | Seattle, WA

670 square feet
2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom
Built in 1927

1850 Ardmore Road NW | Atlanta, GA

995 square feet
3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
Built in 1942

2800 Westwood Avenue | Nashville, TN

723 Square Feet
1 bedroom, 1 bathroom
Built in 1940

189 Milner Avenue | Albany, NY

783 square feet
2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom
Built in 1940

706 51st St. S | Birmingham, AL

740 square feet
2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom
Built in 1940

4700 Portland Avenue | Minneapolis, MN

980 square feet
2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom
Built in 1924

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

My Color Obsession: Royal Blue

My whole life I have adamantly hated blue. Until I found this purse:

It was waiting for me on the T.J. Maxx clearance rack. (Side note: Has anyone else noticed how pricey T.J. purses have become? I miss the days of $25 bags.) I fell in love with the rich, sumptuous jewel tone, especially when paired with the slightly irreverent gold spikes. 

When I decided to refinish a credenza left behind by our house's former owner, I took inspiration from my handbag-of-the-moment. I opted for royal blue ("Royal Breeze") high gloss. This was going to be a statement piece (or as my husband might call it, a glowing blue beacon in the corner of the room). I love it. Which is a good thing, because Home Depot kindly gave me a full gallon of the paint, instead of the pint I asked for. 

Next came this Loloi rug, purchased from Tuesday Morning for just $150 (compared to a list price of more than $350). (The colors match in person. I promise.) 

Then came trouble. I realized it is almost impossible to find royal blue (or even cobalt) accessories. For months, my living room has felt incomplete, all of the blue notes clustered on one side of the room. 

At last, I found these Cynthia Rowley lanterns, which I hung from my mantel (again, they do coordinate in person). 

This still leaves one part of the room without blue. A few interesting possibilities...

Gates Lacquer Side Table

I've recently become obsessed with lacquered finishes (so Hollywood regency!). 
And I can't resist a funky end table, especially one that looks like a bird cage.

Hillary Thomas Rock n' Rolla Blue Velvet Finial 

I love unexpected flashes of color in a room. Even better if it's from a natural (read: non-gaudy) source, like these agate stones. What better place than the tops of your lamps?  

Anglepoise Original 1227 Desk Lamp

Industrial elements keep a room from feeling too frilly or contrived. A carefree color, like cobalt, keeps industrial accessories from feeling, well, too industrial.

Handwoven Stanza Cobalt Wool Rug

Coral pattern is as wild as animal print, but without the boudoir vibe.