Friday, February 28, 2014

How to Make "Orange is the New Black" Prison Cheesecake

The hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black is based on a true story: an upper-class white girl, Piper, goes to prison on 10-year-old drug charges. There's lots of fighting, gratuitous nudity, and even a transgender inmate. But the producers didn't include something the book emphasized: prison cheesecake. 

Apparently, inmates often fill their hours by concocting microwave creations, relying entirely on ingredients from the prison commissary or those smuggled in by the kitchen staff. Piper specialized in cheesecake, and lucky for us (maybe), she included the recipe in her book.

So being the cheesecake fan that I am, I had to make it.

What You Need

Here are the instructions, excerpted from the book by Piper Kerman:

  1. Prepare a crust of crushed graham crackers* mixed with four pats of margarine stolen from the dining hall. Bake it in a Tupperware bowl for about a minute in the microwave, and allow it to cool and harden.
  2. Take one full round of Laughing Cow cheese, smash with a fork, and mix a cup of vanilla pudding until smooth. Gradually mix in one whole container of Cremora**, even though it seems gross. Beat viciously until smooth. Add lemon juice from the squeeze bottle until the mixture starts to stiffen. Note: This will use most of the plastic lemon.
  3. Pour into the bowl atop the crust, and put on ice in your bunkie's cleaning bucket to chill until ready to eat.
*I used one cup of graham cracker crumbs. This made for a crumbly crust, so I'd suggest using 3/4 cup. 
**This proved to be the most difficult ingredient to track down. I finally found it at Wal-Mart. Since it's non-dairy, it's not in the refrigerated section; it was down the coffee aisle, hidden on the bottom shelf, at my store. Cremora comes in different size containers: I'm guessing prison doesn't have the jumbo size, so I used about two-thirds of the 22-ounce bottle.

The resulting mixture was surprisingly smooth, although I did cheat and use my KitchenAid. It wasn't entirely cheesecake-like, though. More like marshmallow creme, but not quite as sweet. To be perfectly honest, it kind of grossed me out, probably because I knew it was primarily coffee creamer. That said, if I was in prison, it would be a welcome treat. (And my husband thought it was halfway decent.) 

My verdict: Save this for your Orange is the New Black viewing party. Otherwise, it will sit untouched in your fridge. It's been in mine for a week. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Bargain Hunter's Guide to Goodwill

I've been shopping at Goodwill since elementary school. I bought my first pair of dress-up cowboy boots at Goodwill (which I still wear, by the way) around age 5. That was in the early 90s, way before people began nodding with appreciation when I told them, "I bought this at the thrift store." (They were more likely to feel sorry for me, in my sparkly Goodwill vests.) And it was definitely before there were songs glorifying thrift shopping. 

As a child, I hunted for Barbies and Beanie Babies. As a teen, I shifted my search to anything bearing the Abercrombie label. Now, it's housewares and designer clothing. I have learned a few success strategies along the way...

1. Know your Goodwill employees

There are three types of Goodwill employees: 1) Teenagers who are there only because they need a job (or perhaps got in trouble) 2) The power trippers, who wield the pricing gun like a weapon 3) The people who truly love what they do. The power trippers are the ones to avoid. Overpricing is their M.O., and store policy is their law. If an item doesn't have a price, you should approach either the teen or the passionate employee. 

A few months back, I found an adorable Madeline doll I wanted to buy for my niece. It didn't have a sticker. The power trippers would have told me no sticker means no sale (or named some ridiculously high amount). But a teenage boy at the desk sold it to me for a quarter.

2. Look for $_.99 stickers
If the price ends in .99, it means the item is salvage, purchased in bulk from a store like Target. Goodwill buys pallets of salvage for a set price, without knowing what's inside. Usually, it's from Target, although I suspect one Goodwill in my area buys from Forever 21.

Sometimes the items are slightly damaged. I found, for example, a mercury glass lamp from Target that was slightly rusted on the bottom. Other times, salvage goods are just clearance items that never sold. (At the end of a holiday season, I often see Target decorations at Goodwill.) And finally, if you hit the jackpot, you'll find items that simply have damaged packaging. I once found a perfectly intact lampshade that was still for sale at Target. A few months ago, I bought a Target starburst mirror with a damaged box for $12.99. 

Not every Goodwill sells Target salvage. So before you drive all over town, give your local stores a call. The employees will be able to tell you if they receive surplus shipments. 

3. Time your visits.
My Goodwill usually restocks in the evening. That means I find the best stuff around 8 p.m. Others load up the shelves in the A.M. (My mom says her best finds happen at 9 a.m., when the store first opens.) Figure out when your store's staff does most of their work, then swing by around that time to secure the best stuff. 

4. Hit more than one location
Don't give up if your local Goodwill is subpar. Inventory varies from location to location, so take a trip across town to scout a better thrift shop. Some stores focus more on furniture, others on clothes. Some carry Target salvage, others don't. My general rules: Goodwill's in wealthier areas are best, and the longer the store has been open, the better the selection. (In the words of my mother, "It takes 'em a while to get junked up.")

5. Find the right brands
Goodwill employees recognize moderately expensive brands, like Banana Republic of Express, and super high-end brands, like Prada. They mark both up. (I've seen stretched-out, faded Polo shirts for ten bucks. Ridiculous.) The in-between, less recognizable brands, like Free People or French Connection, are the bargain hunter's sweet spot. Because employees don't recognizes the names, these garments are often cheap. I once found a brand new Nanette Lepore blazer for $8.

6. Check the garment return rack. 
Outside the Goodwill dressing room you'll find a garment return rack, inevitably loaded down with designer goods. Somebody has already rifled through the aisles of clothing for you, and pulled out the most stylish stuff to try on. (And lucky for you, it didn't fit her.) 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

20 Decorating Trends from the 1990s We Should All Forget

Growing up, my family's kitchen was the epitome of 1990s chic: a hunter-green sponge- painted border, goose contact paper lining the drawers, linoleum flooring. It's a look that should remain only in my memory, along with these 20 trends that should be banished for good: 

1. Wallpaper borders

2. Oak kitchen cabinets

3. Brass light fixtures

4. Oddly shaped Whirlpool tubs

5. Overstuffed sofas

6. Ivy-themed kitchens 

7. Obnoxious beds-in-a-bag

8. ANYTHING in hunter green (bonus points for an accent wall!)

9. Elaborate faux finishes and sponge painting

10. Pouf valances

11. The stuffed animal "pet net"

12. Hollywood vanity lighting

13. Inflatable furniture

14. Silk flower arrangements

15. Giant wooden decks (the more tiers the better!)

16. Celestial motif

17. Super-vaulted entryways with THIS chandelier

18. Dusty rose carpeting

19. Track lighting

20. Plaid sofa slipcovers

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Cookie Dough Oreo Cheesecake

Cookie Dough Oreos are officially on supermarket shelves. Of course, I promptly snatched up a package at Target, dug in the second I got home...and was kind of disappointed. 

They ARE better than most of the limited-time Oreos I've had in the past (I always buy them, but rarely like them). But they still don't really taste like cookie dough. As my sister put it, they have "a fake/manufactured cookie dough taste." Let's just say there's no risk of me digging the creme filling out by the spoonful.

In my opinion, any kind of Oreo, even the original ones, is best incorporated into a baked good. So I decided to whip up a Cookie Dough Oreo Cheesecake. Can you really ever go wrong with cheesecake? I think not. 

I was not disappointed.

I crushed up several Cookie Dough Oreos for the crust, then chopped up the rest and stirred them into the cheesecake batter. To make up for the Oreos' lacking flavor, I layered some actual cookie dough between the crust and the cheesecake. This was not a mistake.

What You Need

24 Cookie Dough Oreos, divided
2 Tbsp butter, melted
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature 
1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow creme
1 egg
1 package pre-made chocolate chip cookie dough (I used Toll House Chocolate Chip Lovers)

Put It All Together

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
  2. Coat a springform pan with cooking spray. 
  3. Crush 14 Oreos in a food processor, until finely ground. Mix with the melted butter, and firmly pack into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then cool for 10 minutes.
  4. Press the cookie dough into a half-inch thick layer on top of the crust. (I used about three-fourths of the dough in the package.) 
  5. Beat the cream cheese and marshmallow creme until smooth. Add the egg, and mix well. Chop up the remaining Oreos, and stir into the cream cheese mixture. 
  6. Pour the mixture over the cookie dough, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool completely, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Which Upgrades Boost the Value of Your Allentown Home?

Kitchen remodel: Yay or nay?
My husband and I have spent the first year of our marriage in project turmoil: We've updated the kitchen, added a coffered wall to the master bedroom, built a patio, installed new light fixtures, replaced the basement paneling with dry wall (a project under way even as I type). And we often ask each other: Do you think we're adding any value to the house by doing this?

We both know this isn't our permanent home, which means we have to consider things like resale value and "Will potential buyers really like this change?" At last, we have a firm answer: has published its annual Cost Vs. Value report, which analyzes the cost recouped from various home remodeling projects, down to the city level. 

So which projects in Allentown, PA, give you the most bang for your buck?

Entry door replacement (steel)
Average job cost in Allentown: $1,202
Resale value: $1,112
Cost recouped: 92.5%

I'm guessing this takes the #1 slot for one unfortunate reason: Allentown has a lot of crime. 

Attic bedroom

Average job cost in Allentown: $52,195
Resale value: $47,762
Cost recouped: 91.5%

More like an attic apartment: According to the report, this project entails converting an unfinished attic space to a 15-by-15 foot bedroom with a 5-by-7 foot full bathroom, complete with four new windows, a dormer, carpeting, and air-conditioning.

Deck addition (wood)
Average job cost in Allentown: $10,152
Resale value: $7,868
Cost recouped: 77.5%

Despite spending half the year swallowed by the polar vortex, Allentown residents love their decks! How big a deck are we talking? Sixteen by 20 feet, made out out of pressure-treated wood, with a built-in bench.

Minor kitchen remodel
Average job cost in Allentown: $19,455
Resale value: $13,997
Cost recouped: 71.9%

To qualify as a "minor" remodel, you have to replace your cabinet doors with new raised-panel ones (leaving the old cabinet frames intact), install new hardware, replace the wall oven and cooktop with energy-efficient models, abolish any trace of laminate, install a "mid-priced" sink and faucet, repaint the trim, update the wall color, and put in new flooring. So much for minor updates, huh?

Entry door replacement (fiberglass)
Average job cost in Allentown: $2,863
Resale value: $2,041
Cost recouped: 71.3%

Yet again, security = priceless.

Major kitchen remodel 
Average job cost in Allentown: $56,471
Resale value: $39,998
Cost recouped: 70.8%

I'm kind of scared to report what's required for a major kitchen overhaul: semi-custom cabinetry (including an island), laminate countertops (odd, I'd expect granite, minimum), double stainless sink, an energy-efficient wall oven and cooktop, ventilation system, built-in microwave, dishwasher, garbage disposal, custom lighting, resilient flooring, and painted walls, trim, and ceiling. 

Backup power generator
Average job cost in Allentown: $12,028
Resale value: $8,004
Cost recouped: 66.5%

Hurricane Sandy, Winter Storm Pax, the occasional earthquake: A backup system has you covered. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

I Need These Appliances, NOW.

I have nothing against stainless-steel appliances. They're clean, shiny, new. But I also like historic homes, and well, a gleaming stainless fridge isn't exactly period appropriate. Luckily, "period appropriate" doesn't have to mean vintage. Big Chill brand appliances look old, but have all the modern conveniences.

And they come in eight incredible colors. I love color. 

There's the retro refrigerator, which comes in standard or studio (read: compact) sizes:

I like this color, jadite, but other options include orange, red, baby blue, and even pink! 

And check out the pink stove! I'm dying!

These appliances might seem a little kitschy. But that's only until you see them in a well-appointed kitchen. They look totally classy. Even Scarlett Johansson agrees. She chose the pale yellow appliances for her kitchen:

The jadite set brings a touch of whimsy to this all-white kitchen:
And by itself, even the pink fridge isn't too much.

For color-phobic folks, there are always the white Big Chill appliances...

Paired with an apron sink, they look totally authentic.

Or there are the gray ones, if you prefer a vintage take on stainless...

I love them all! Now if I can just get past the $4,000 price tag...

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Research Reveals How to Dominate Pinterest


Pinterest is the social-media version of Hobby Lobby: a giant inspiration destination, with a gazillion ideas that make women squeal "I want to try that!" You'll find everything from Mason jar desserts to outdoor wedding lanterns made fromyou guessed itMason jars, all of which adds up to hours spent carefully curating your boards (and hoping your boyfriend doesn't see the one devoted to the wedding he doesn't know you're planning).

So which pins are most likely to catch other women's attentionand make you a Pinterest sensation? Apparently, this is a subject of interest even to scientists. A new University of Minnesota study analyzed the Pinterest content that gets pinned, and repinned, most often by female users. Here's what they found: 

1. Food and drink
2. DIY crafts
3. Home decor
4. Women's fashion
5. Weddings
6. Hair/beauty
7. Kids
8. Humor
9. Design
10. Health and fitness

Want to get more play on Pinterest? The researchers' advice: Follow lots of other pinners, create lots of boards and pin like mad (users with 4,00o-plus pins were the most popular), and post on the topics listed above, without focusing too much on any one area. That said, if you are going to zero in on a topic, you should make it food: If up to 35 percent of your pins are food-related, you're more likely to have lots of followers, the study found.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Does Power Lead to Sinfulness?

“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:14

Our default nature is to thirst for power. 

You need only look at the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert as proof. How did Satan tempt Christ? He tried to capitalize on the human thirst for power—and the pride that drives us to demonstrate it. Satan first told Jesus to prove he was the Son of God by turning stones into loaves of bread—an act that would have demonstrated Jesus’ power.

But Jesus refused.

Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world—an opportunity for earthly esteem and influence—if he would only kneel down and worship Satan.

Again, Jesus refused. His pride didn’t compel him to prove his power.

There’s a reason Satan’s words were called “temptation.” Power is tantalizing. Intoxicating. Tempting.

But power itself isn’t the problem. Just look at King Solomon: He was famous for his riches, and his name was known far beyond his kingdom. But God granted him this power, which he was expected to exercise with wisdom.  

It’s when we thirst for power, often beyond what God has given us, that we veer into sinful territory. This is the kind of power that breeds pride. As 2 Chronicles 26:16 says, “But when [King Uzziah] had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall.”

Uzziah’s power was God given—“the Lord gave him marvelous help”—but he began exercising this power in prideful ways; he thirsted for privileges beyond what the Lord had granted him. Uzziah personally burned incense on the altar, a task that was supposed to be performed solely by priests. His yearning for power and autonomy tempted him to assume he was above God’s law.

This is an unfortunately common theme among Old Testament kings. King Jeroboam also burned incense, rather than commissioning a priest to do so (and God paralyzed his hand). King David took a census—the modern-day equivalent of a draft—in a time of peace, because he wanted to boast at the size of his army. (God struck Israel with a famine as punishment.) When Saul’s thirst for recognition led him to take credit for his son’s military victory, God ended his reign, since his heart no longer served God, but himself.

It’s not just kings who crave power. Adam and Eve wanted knowledge—a form of power—so they ate the forbidden fruit. The Jewish leaders felt their power was threatened by Christ’s sway over the people, so they had him crucified. A thirst for power is not to be mistaken with healthy ambition. This is a desire to play God. 

Most us no longer live in a world ruled by kings. But we do live in the hierarchy of the workplace, where the thirst for power is often rampant. As frustrating as a power-hungry boss can be, I believe we’re called to be merciful to these people. The thirst for power is the mark of a fallen world, and if your boss doesn’t know Christ, he’s simply grappling with his sinful nature. His only nature.

This isn’t an attempt to justify sinfulness. But it is a challenge to those of us who know Christ: Will we respond to authorities’ attempts at power with pride—or with humility? Jesus didn’t put Satan in his place by shouting, “I could claim the whole world if I really wanted to!” He responded with scripture. He glorified his Father, instead of trying to prove his own power, in response to Satan’s quest for it.

Our weakness is an opportunity for God to reveal his power. That can happen only when we humble ourselves—not when we match one person’s attempts at power with our own. Likewise, if God has given you a position of power, you're called to approach it humbly, as an opportunity to reflect Christ, not to glorify yourself. Power itself doesn't cause you to fall. But power paired with pride does. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

6 Ways to Make IKEA Pieces Custom

Yep, this bed started as an IKEA frame.

My first trip to IKEA was revelatory: I was enthralled with the array of options and styles, the sheer size of the warehouse, and the "how is this so cheap?" prices. Then came the inevitable backlash: Some of my chairs started falling apart, and I grew tired of the college-dorm look of many of the pieces I'd purchased.

Until I discovered the Internet underworld of "IKEA hacks," clever ways to make the store's cheap pieces look custom. And expensive. Of course, these easy upgrades won't solve the whole falling apart thing, but they do save you enough cash that you can afford to redecorate every few years. I call that a win.

Gold Coffee Table

Vittsjo Nesting Coffee Tables + Gold Spray Paint



Upholstered Bed

Wooden Bed + Batting + MDF + Fabric



Gilded Drum Shades for Pendant Lights

Kulla Pendant Lamp + Gold Leaf + Spray Adhesive + 
Spray Sealer + Gold Spray Paint



Bar Cart

Vittsjo Laptop Table + Spray Paint + Acrylic Sheet + Wheels + 
Patterned Paper + Long Screws Machine Screws + Clear Acrylic Spray



Pine RAST Dresser + Primer + Spray Paint + Stencil + Gold Paint + Spray Polyurethane + Gold Hardware



More at Roost

Nailhead Side Table

Two Side Tables + Nailheads

(The project calls for IKEA's Expedit Side Table, which is no longer available. BUT, the LACK Side Table is strikingly similar, and only 10 bucks.)