Thanksgiving





















In the still of Thanksgiving morning, while my husband took the turkey out of its brine bath and prepared it for roasting, I made the table pretty with apples, pears and dried leaves from our maple tree, set out all the desserts I'd baked the day before, filled tiny jam jars with cranberry orange compote, and lit the candles.

Later, after our friends and Jamie's parents arrived, I was too busy visiting with everyone, baking the casseroles, sampling apple cider hot toddies, mixing up biscuit dough and making gravy to remember to take any pictures.  In fact, the only photo I took all weekend that wasn't a still shot, was of my husband in his pajamas, about to put the turkey in the oven, and a few quick pics with my phone.

I love the photos of our dining room table - which my husband just finished building, sanding and staining in time for the holiday.  It was our first Thanksgiving in our house, and we began our own traditions, creating beautiful memories.  It was a freezing cold weekend, not rising above 20 degrees in four days, but we were warm inside, with the oven working hard to brown the turkey and bake all the side dishes.  There was cornbread casserole and green beans, roasted brussel sprouts with maple syrup and bacon, mashed potatoes with gravy, biscuits and salted honey cinnamon butter, cranberry orange compote, and my personal favorite, sweet potato casserole with brown sugar pecan streusel topping.

My husband made his grandma's traditional holiday dish, holupchi, also known as cabbage rolls, which are steamed cabbage leaves filled with rice that's cooked with bacon and vinegar.  More vinegar is poured over the rolls and then they're baked until soft.  It's a fantastic dish from Eastern Europe.

For dessert, I made pecan bourbon pie and blueberry crumb pie, almond pound cake and salted caramel sauce, salted maple ice cream and pumpkin spice bourbon ice cream.  A few pumpkin cake truffles dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt.  And later in the weekend, an apple crisp with apples my father-in-law brought from North Dakota.  Today, I have a crockpot simmering full of sweet, spiced apple butter, made with the rest of the apples.  It tastes of all the flavors of Thanksgiving.






Cardamom Chocolate Cake with Cardamom Ginger Buttercream






It's my first time to host Thanksgiving, and I already have the table decorated with apples, pears, and dried leaves from our maple tree.  Candles left over from our wedding.  Mismatched cloth napkins and bits of ribbon to tie around the silverware.

My husband and I have cleaned the house from top to bottom, there are freshly washed sheets on the guest bed for his parents, and the pantry is stocked with groceries for Thursday.  Tonight, I will start some of the preparations, like making the custards for two batches of homemade ice cream, but will do most of my baking on Wednesday.

In the fall, I like to use warm, aromatic spices.  My usual baking blend is cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves, but for this cake, I thought I would let cardamom play a leading role.









Cardamom is commonly used in Indian cooking, but it also lends beautiful flavor to Scandinavian baked goods as well.  With my Danish heritage, I grew up with a love of almond-flavored cakes and pastries, and a red fruit sauce my mom would make every year that was flavored with cardamom and cinnamon sticks.

The spice pairs wonderfully with chocolate, so I baked a cardamom infused chocolate cake, so light and moist, which I frosted with cardamom ginger buttercream.  Little bits of candied ginger and mini chocolate chips are sprinkled over the cake, and a few homemade pumpkin cake truffles dipped in chocolate and topped with sea salt add a fancy flourish in their gold foil wrappers.








Upon first taste, the cardamom and ginger are surprisingly and pleasantly exotic.  The mildly sharp heat of the candied ginger cuts through the sweetness of the buttercream.  The dark chocolate cake is mysterious; its seductive layers filled with the creamy buttercream are unexpectedly light and airy.

I was feeling frustrated the morning I baked and photographed this, after a batch of muffins I made didn't work out, and this cake not looking quite like I wanted it to, even though it tasted fantastic.  So the decorating is a little messy, but I'm sure you'll forgive me for that.  This is a week to be thankful.










Cardamom Ginger Chocolate Cake
printable


Cake.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, special-dark cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons cardamom
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
Buttercream.
  • 2 cups unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2-4 tablespoons cream or whole milk
  • mini chocolate chips and chopped candied ginger for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease three 8-inch pans with non-stick spray (I used two 8-inch and two 6-inch pans, then split each of those in half for a total of 8 layers between the two tiers).  In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry cake ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients and mix on low for 30 seconds then on medium for 3 minutes.  Batter will be thin.

Divide batter between the cake pans and bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely in the pans set on wire racks, covered loosely with a clean towel.

For the buttercream, beat the butter, cardamom and ginger until smooth.  With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar and meringue powder until combined.  Add the salt, vanilla and cream; whip on medium high for 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy.

Frost the cooled cakes with the buttercream, and sprinkle with the chocolate chips and candied ginger.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Her Last Day Cake









Last Tuesday was my friend Becca's last day at work, before she moves on to a new, amazing adventure.  It's not like I won't see her again, but the office won't be the same without her, and I already miss her and her dog Charles.

Becca shares my love of all things vintage, but more importantly, cake.  Every time I brought in a new creation, she was the first one to enthusiastically try it, and kept a running mental list of her favorites.  She always preferred the ones with fruit, or custard, or jam, rather than the rich chocolatey cakes, so for her, I baked a fluffy white cake full of juicy plump raspberries, their juices bursting throughout the cake and staining it a pretty pink.

A crumb coat of lemon buttercream was all this cake needed, and I garnished it with a few flowers and shimmer-dusted raspberries.  It seemed like her, pretty and sweet, a bright spot in everyone's day.













Raspberry Cake with Lemon Buttercream
printable


Cake.
  • 2 3/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 9 ounces fresh or frozen raspberries (if frozen, do not thaw)
Buttercream.
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk or cream
Cake.
Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray three 8-inch pans with non-stick spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

In a separate bowl (clean and grease-free), whip the egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Whip for another minute or two until the whites are not quite stiff, but stay on the beaters when you lift them up.  The whites should still be quite wet, not dry.

Add the milk, sour cream, vinegar and vanilla to the dry ingredients and whisk vigorously for about two minutes until well combined.  Gently fold in the whipped egg whites in three additions for a light and airy batter.

Divide the batter between the pans.  Scatter the raspberries over the batter.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until risen and a toothpick comes out clean.  Set the pans on wire racks, cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and cool completely before frosting with the lemon buttercream.

Buttercream.
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the butter with the lemon zest until smooth.  With the mixer on low, add the powdered sugar and meringue powder, until combined.  Add the lemon extract and cream, and whip on medium high for 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy.

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Brownie Bottom Cheesecake







My husband has fallen asleep on the couch, by the warmth of our fire, and in a few minutes, I need to wake him and coax him upstairs.  I feel as though I might fall asleep as I write this, but I need to share this cheesecake recipe with you before I go to bed, without much ado.

It all starts with a fudgy brownie bottom layer - the most perfect dark chocolate brownies.  Then, a handful of chocolate chips and toffee bits, drizzled with caramel sauce.  And creamy vanilla cheesecake on top.  Each bite, chewy, crunchy, creamy.  Each bite, orgasmic.  This really might be the best cheesecake I've ever made.

Garnish it with chocolate chip polka-dots, if you want to be a little fancy.  I always like to be fancy.

It's just over a week until Thanksgiving, can you believe it?  I have my menu all planned out, and of course, there's just as much dessert on my list as there is savory food.  As it should be.

Our dining room table, which my husband built, is finished and ready for dinner.  A choir of chairs, each different from the next, collected from antique markets, surround the table.  I can hardly wait for this weekend so I can take a few photos in the light.  These dark evenings are far too short, and when I leave the office the sunlight is already gone.

I made a little "thankful tree" with some branches in a glass jar.  It's a tradition I've meant to begin for a while, and our first Thanksgiving in our house seems like a wonderful time to start.



Brownie Bottom Cheesecake
printable


Brownie.
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened, special dark cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup toffee bits
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce
Cheesecake.
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 envelope gelatin
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
Brownie Layer.
Preheat the oven to 325.  Spray the bottom of an 8-inch spring-form pan with removable sides with non-stick spray.

Melt the butter in the microwave or in a saucepan.  In a bowl, combine the sugar, cocoa powder, salt and espresso powder.  Pour the butter in and mix together with a wooden spoon.  Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg.  Stir in the flour just until moistened.

Use a spatula to spread the batter evenly into the pan.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Set aside to cool completely, then sprinkle with the chocolate chips and toffee bits.  Drizzle with the caramel.  Refrigerate while you prepare the cheesecake.

Cheesecake.
Pour 1/4 cup cream into a microwave-safe dish.  Add the gelatin and whisk with a fork to combine.  Let stand for 5 minutes; it will be thick and clumpy.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds to completely dissolve the gelatin.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the remaining 1 1/4 cups cream with the vanilla at medium-high speed until soft peaks form, gradually adding the powdered sugar as the cream thickens.  Add the cream cheese and gelatin mixture and beat until smooth and thick with no lumps, about 2-3 minutes.  Immediately spread over the brownie, smooth out the top, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 4-6 hours, or overnight.

If you like, garnish the top with chocolate chip polka dots.

Yields 10-12 servings

Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen

Before and After: Our Living Room Renovation






Today, I'm finally sharing a few photos of one of our renovation projects - the fireplace wall in our living room.  After having lived with the mess and partially-finished projects since last winter, it's still sinking in that it's finally finished, and every time I walk into the room I feel a mixture of relief, awe and absolute contentment at how it's turned out.

Let me walk you through what we've done...

My husband and I bought this house, our first house, less than a year ago, and moved in just a week before Christmas.  Here's the living room a few days after we moved in.  Aside from the mess, you can see how different that wall was.  Beige tile around the fireplace.  Useless dry-walled cubbies everywhere.  I hated everything about that wall, but could see the potential.







Before starting any major renovation projects, we spent our Christmas vacation, and the weeks following, painting the entire inside of the house.  We covered up all those brown walls with a pretty, soft grey; in addition, we painted every door and every bit of yellowed, dirty trim with a coat of fresh white paint.

With the painting done, I started sketching my vision for the fireplace wall.  The drywall and cubbies would have to go.  I dreamed of classic built-in bookshelves flanking the fireplace and a beautiful mantle.  So one Saturday, we tore that wall down to the studs.

That was one of the hardest work days I've ever experienced, and to be honest, it was scary making such a drastic change, not knowing if we'd be able to re-build the wall and make it look beautiful and professional.
 






I initially thought we should move the gas fireplace to center it on the wall, and build large bookshelves on either side.  But the hassle, and expense, of moving the gas line was too much, so we decided to leave it where it was.

My husband re-built the frame around the fireplace for shelves and cabinets, and put up cement board as a backing for the brick.  We used brick veneer, or "thin brick", and I'm proud to say that I put up every single one of those bricks myself.

With the brick finished, and the shelves painted, it was all starting to come together.









Since we didn't move the fireplace, we needed to figure out what to do with the empty space on the right, and there were a few possibilities for that space.  A coat closet (but we already have one), an empty space for a bench, which would look lovely, or a little reading nook for a chair and ottoman.

But when I found a set of old metal lockers on Craigslist for $80 in good condition, I knew they were too good to pass up.  I sanded the rust off and spray painted them black.  My husband built a wooden base for them, with felt pads underneath, so they could be moved around more easily - they're unbelievably heavy.

The lockers are now filled with our DVDs, printer paper, and a few other things - they're perfect for storage.







After finishing the drywall, texture and paint, my husband built the open shelves above the lockers, and they're just right for storing extra pillows and blankets.

The last major project was the floor.  We knew we wanted to get rid of the shabby carpet and install hardwood, and we found an affordable option in bamboo in a medium/dark brown color we love; the color contrasts so beautifully with the light walls and white trim and adds so much warmth.  After the floors, we installed freshly painted baseboards, and I fell in love with our house all over again.

All the final details are just as important as the major projects.  We mounted the TV (and speakers, too, against my will, but marriage is about compromise...) to the wall and ran the wires through the wall, under the floor (through the crawl space), and back up to the bookshelves where all the equipment sits.  I still need to come up with a way to semi-conceal the electronics, but it's a small price to pay for clearing the floor of a bulky entertainment center.

We decided it was time to choose new furniture together, since our old couch is pretty worn out, so we picked out a sofa and love seat in a pretty shade of oatmeal grey.  It looks beautiful against the area rug.  Everything else is from here and there, collected over time, and it all fell into place so beautifully.







Now, you may think that I forgot to mention the mantle, but I was saving the best for last.  Again, my husband took my sketch for a mantle design, and a compilation of photos, and built the mantle of my dreams.  That crown molding, those corbels, the decorative accent in the center!  It all takes my breath away.

After he built it, I painted and distressed it a little, and then it was ready to be installed onto the brick.  I cannot get over how much I love this feature.  It's classic, elegant, and vintage, and I want to sigh with happiness every time I look at it.

I'm also proud to say that we did not, at any point in all of this, hire help or contract the work out - we did it all ourselves.  And I think we can appreciate the results so much more, knowing that our sweat and tears and aching muscles made all this happen.  I had no idea when I married my husband that he was such an accomplished handymen, and I'm reminded every day of how fortunate I am to be with someone who works so hard to create a beautiful home for us.







I'll leave you tonight with the last photo below, a view of the living room leading into the kitchen.  As you can see, the new hardwood stops at the steps, but we hope to finish installing the hardwood on the rest of the main floor between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Also of note, is that this house only came with the step on the left.  The railing extended all the way to the wall on the right, but I thought it would be so much more elegant and open to have steps on each side for a double entrance.  So we cut down that portion of the railing, and my husband built the step on the right to match the one on the left.

After the floor is done, we plan to get rid of the railing and do something else there as well - but I don't think I'll tell you what just yet.

Read Next: Our Kitchen Update


Paint Colors:
"Gray Palisade" - all walls, except for the wall behind the TV
"Wheat Bread" - wall behind TV
"Swiss Coffee" - all white doors, baseboards, cabinets and trim