Monday, February 28, 2011

My Favorite Toy

We have been teaching our daughter to think about other people instead of just herself... quite the feat for a 2-year-old. But she is learning to ask other people questions and she usually remembers their answers. Her favorite questions to ask are: "What's your favorite color?", "What's your favorite animal?" and, "What's your favorite toy?"

When Little Sweets asks me, "Mommy, what's your favorite toy?" My answer is always, "My sewing machine."

my sewing machine

I "play" with my sewing machine as often as I can... usually it ends up being every other day. I just love having something tangible to show for my day as a stay-at-home-mom, whether it's something for my shop or a gift for a friend.

After my sweet little girl asked me a few times about my favorite toy (and got the same answer each time), she decided she could answer the question herself. Now she says, "Mommy, your favorite toy your washing machine?" Um, no. My favorite toy is definitely NOT my washing machine. I am thankful for it, but I wouldn't consider it a favorite or a toy.

My favorite toy is not my washing machine, Little Sweets.

My favorite toy is my sewing machine. What's your favorite toy?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

my Vanilla Bean Scones recipe

I have been dying to find a recipe for Starbucks' Vanilla Bean Scones since I first tasted them. I found and tried a few recipes online, but they weren't quite right. Admittedly, my newly-created recipe is not perfect either, but I think it comes close!
Vanilla Bean Scones

First, you need to get some vanilla beans and make vanilla sugar. If you've never worked with vanilla beans before, there is a great tutorial here (she also tells you how to make vanilla extract and provides a different way of making vanilla sugar). You can find vanilla beans at gourmet food stores (I got mine at World Market--love that place!), on amazon.com or plenty of other online sources.
Vanilla Bean by acfou
Photo: acfou
To make the vanilla sugar, scrape the seeds from one whole vanilla bean and mix with some sugar. You have to wait at least a week before using it so that the vanilla can fully permeate the sugar.
Vanilla Sugar
When you open the container after a week, an amazing smell will emerge!

When you're ready to make the scones, first cut a vanilla bean into 2/3 and 1/3, lengthwise. Scrape the seeds from the bigger portion and mix them with flour, vanilla sugar, salt, baking powder and seeds scraped from 2/3 of the vanilla bean. At this point, the mixture will look like a typical bowl full of dry ingredients for baked goods.

Then for the butter. When you're making pastries, including pie crusts and scones, you want your butter to be cold and cut into small pieces. That's because cold butter pieces will melt as the pastry bakes, giving it that flaky texture you want. Chop your cold butter up into pieces and add it to the bowl of dry ingredients.
Vanilla Bean Scones before mixing
Next, you'll need to "cut in" the butter. The best tool for this is a pastry blender. Here is what mine looks like:
Pastry Blender
You can also find pastry blenders with wire "blades." If you don't want/need a pastry blender, you can use two knives to cut in the butter. I used to use my potato masher but I finally gave in to buying this pastry blender because I make scones at least once a month. (Yes, I'm a bit obsessed with scones.)

Here's what the bowl will look like after cutting in the butter:
Vanilla Bean Scones after mixing
This is what scone recipes mean when they say "coarse crumbs," though admittedly I have some very large chunks in there... I get lazy sometimes.

Add some buttermilk (or a mixture of milk and lemon juice, which is what I do), eggs and vanilla extract. Stir until a ball of dough forms.
Vanilla Bean Scones dough
Here's another place where I get lazy when baking scones: I scoop the dough onto a cookie sheet as though it were cookie dough. Hence, my scones don't look like your typical triangular scones and sometimes get mistaken for cookies. Instead of scooping, you can turn the dough onto a floured surface, roll dough into a circle (or two) of about 3/4" thickness, then use a pizza cutter to cut into wedges. Separate the wedges and move onto a cookie sheet. But, like I said, I just scoop. It saves a lot of time when you make scones as often as I do.

After baking, let the scones cool completely while you make the glaze: Scrape the seeds from the remaining 1/3 of the vanilla bean and mix with powdered sugar, vanilla extract and milk. Drizzle as much or as little as you'd like over the cooled scones and enjoy your yummy kitchen creation!

Vanilla Bean Scones close-up

Vanilla Bean Scones Recipe


(Click here to download .pdf file)
Yield: 30 scones

Vanilla sugar

1 vanilla bean
1 cup sugar

Scrape seeds from one whole vanilla bean and mix with 1 cup sugar. Store in sealed container at least one week before using.

Scones

3 cups flour
½ cup vanilla sugar
½ tsp. salt
1 T. baking powder
2/3 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
½ cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk OR 1 T. lemon juice + ½ cup milk (combine and let sit for 5 minutes)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a large bowl, combine flour, vanilla sugar, salt, baking powder and seeds scraped from 2/3 of a vanilla bean. Mix until combined.
Cut in butter pieces with two knives or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Add buttermilk (or milk and lemon juice mixture) to dry ingredients along with eggs and vanilla. Stir all ingredients until a ball of dough forms (may need to add a small amount of milk).
Scoop by rounded tablespoon onto cookie sheet.
Bake for 13-14 minutes; cool on a wire rack.

Glaze

1/3 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 cup powdered sugar
½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 T. milk

Combine all ingredients. When scones are completely cooled, drizzle glaze over tops.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How to make "money" online

I am a stay-at-home-mom who works 24/7 in exchange for kisses and hugs. Sometimes I want to make money too.

This post is not about a pyramid scheme or investing in an envelope-stuffing campaign or anything like that. I just wanted to share some links with you in case you want to make "money" online, too.

dollar sign
Photo: nuchylee
{Be sure to also check out my post on How to make money online for charity.}

Why am I putting "money" in quotes? First of all, I "love" quotes (remember that Friends episode?) Second of all, most of these sites don't make me literal dollars and cents but, in my opinion, what I make is just as good. So what am I talking about? I get tons of airline miles to use towards free flights, plenty of free meals at restaurants and even a little bit of real money towards Little Sweets's college savings account. With a small investment of my time, I contribute towards my family's income, even if that just means saving money on flights and meals. There's a ton of information here, but don't feel overwhelmed. Just start with one or two of these programs and see what you think.

 Here are the websites I use and recommend:


  • Mystery Guest (mystery shopping):  I have been a mystery shopper for this company for 5 years and I've gotten free meals at The Cheesecake Factory and Smokey Bones. They also have mystery shops available for free merchandise at places like The Disney Store.

    • A Closer Look (mystery shopping): I've eaten for free at Buffalo Wild Wings, O'Charley's and local restaurants. They also have opportunities for free movies at movie theaters and free stays at hotels.

      •  Ann Michaels & Associates (mystery shopping): I've gotten free merchandise at Charlotte Russe and a little bit of cash for making a quick phone call and for stopping in a local shop to ask a few questions. 

        • Thank You Network: We get at least one free flight a year because we charge EVERYTHING to our CitiBank credit cards. You can choose any airline to redeem your points with, which is why we use this credit card rather than one specific airline's card. We've also used our points for merchandise like baby gear. The conversion rate is essentially $1 in spending = 1 point = 1 cent in redemption value. A $300 flight costs you 30,000 points, which you earned after spending $30,000. It sounds like it would take a long time to earn flights, but if you charge everything, it will add up quicker than you think. The caveat here, of course, is that if you don't/can't pay off your credit card fully each month, it's probably not going to make you any "money." Also, don't pay annual fees for credit cards! There are plenty out there that give rewards and do not charge an annual fee.

          • e-rewards: This program allows you to take surveys in exchange for points that can be redeemed for airline miles, gift certificates, magazine subscriptions and more. The only caveat I will mention here is that their points are in the form of dollars, which do not equal actual dollars. For instance, you can redeem $25 for 500 airline miles...you don't actually get $25.

            • emiles: Watch a 30-second commercial and/or answer a couple of questions for 5 airline miles. Sounds paltry but they add up! You're also going to get access to coupons or special deals, though just like with real coupons, don't be sucked in to something that you weren't going to buy anyway or it's not worth it.  

              • Bonus Airline Miles: Go to your favorite airline's website and check out their frequent flier program. Click on the link about earning miles with partners. Most of them have links to online shopping programs where you can earn bonus miles just by clicking through their links. The ones I have used are Delta (shopping), Delta (dining), Hawaiian and United


                  • UPromise: Their college savings program gives money towards college savings accounts when you shop through links on their website. Since we joined in 2003, we have contributed $266.66 to college savings plans for my nephews and my daughter. (Yes, that's a lot of online shopping... the big bucks came from booking vacations on travel websites.)  

                    • Another way to earn money with UPromise is by registering all of your grocery store cards. When you buy certain products and scan your card at the grocery store, you will automatically get the bonus dollars added to your account. 

                      • Many retail stores have online reward programs (cash back, free products, etc.) such as Pampers and Best Buy. Don't forget the real-life version of these programs at stores like Babies R Us, Panera, PetSmart, CVS and of course the traditional punch cards (buy 12, get 1 free). I know that all these programs are collecting my demographic and purchasing information, but I figure it's worth it. Plus I have a specific email account set up for all the junk emails I'm going to get... that way they don't get in the way of my real emails.


                        I can vouch for these programs because I've been using them all for at least 2 years. There are plenty more like them that I have not tried, such as The Grocery Game, Huggies and Bing. Also check out Rat Race Rebellion for a ton of links to other work-at-home opportunities. Again, I can't vouch for these links because I haven't tried them out myself.

                        One more tip on making "money". Saving money is also making money. My Sweets and I have lived on a budget since we got married 9 years ago, thanks to my dad's guidance in teaching me how to budget. Living on a budget is actually very freeing to me, not constraining like it may appear to be to those who have never done it. If you're a Christian, you can understand this concept: living with freedom in Christ makes Christianity not about following a set of rules but accepting the fact that we are fallen and sinful, yet have been forgiven by His sacrifice: We have been freed. Living on a budget has set us free to truly enjoy tithing, saving and spending without second thoughts or guilt about where the money has gone.

                        Now, if you made it this far..., how do you make money--real or the kind in "quotes"?

                        Friday, February 18, 2011

                        Custom Orders: Baby Gifts by SweeterThanSweets on Etsy

                        I've recently been asked by a few friends to make some custom orders. I wanted to share them with you here because they won't be for sale in my shop. I love making things specifically for a customer and it gives me ideas of what people actually want to buy.

                        First, a photographer friend asked for a set of satin flower headbands for the newborns she photographs to wear. So fun! Little tiny new people will be wearing my creations in their baby pictures! I made the satin flowers with a clip on the back so that the headbands and flowers can be used interchangeably to match baby's outfit. I bought the headbands themselves from this Etsy shop (they are super soft and stretchy). I'll probably make another set available on my shop for other photographers or new mamas who can't get enough headbands for their baby girls. (Check out my other satin flower headbands here.)
                        handmade satin flower headband set

                        Here's a baby shower gift set for a new baby boy, complete with a hooded towel set, two burp cloths, a onesie and a sensory circle blanket. I really loved making this set and another one with the same fabrics will be available soon. (A girl version, minus the blanket, is already for sale on my shop.)
                        handmade gift set for baby boy

                        Then I made a big sis/lil sis set for a friend of mine from elementary school who is having her second daughter soon. I just love pink, green & brown together!
                        handmade big sis/lil sis shirts

                        And for a little boy who loves tractors and is turning 2 soon, a John Deere tractor shirt. The green and yellow background is actually made of felt, so it's soft to the touch. The back of the shirt has the John Deere logo appliqu├ęd at the top. This one actually will be for sale on my shop because my friend's little boy needs a short-sleeved shirt. A 1-year-old birthday shirt is already available online.
                        handmade John Deere tractor 2nd birthday shirt

                        Are there custom orders you want me to make? Or any ideas of other things you'd like to see in my shop? I'd love to hear from you!

                        Saturday, February 12, 2011

                        A Sweeter Valentine's Day (with a Heart Cake)

                        Let me preface this post by saying that I am not a huge fan of Valentine's Day. I really don't like all the commercialization of this "holiday," I don't get mad if my hubby doesn't spoil me, and I don't really get why we're supposed to be romantic just one day a year. Plus, how romantic is romance when it's compulsory?

                        BUT we were going to a dinner party last night. I had offered to bring dessert. It's a few days before Valentine's Day. And we had all hired babysitters. So I decided to go for it and make this cake I saw on i am baker.


                        Now, this is not the most beautiful cake I've ever decorated. In fact, it was one of the messiest. But with the red velvet crumbs, it made it look like it was supposed to be messy. Anyway, this cake is all about the inside... so here it is:


                        heart cake inside

                        Such a fun surprise inside the cake! I've never made a cake like this and I would never have been able to figure out how to do it on my own. Thankfully, all I had to do was follow i am baker's tutorial and if I can do it, you can do it, too.

                        I have to admit, I committed a total party foul by cutting this cake open before the dinner party. I had to get pictures before it was devoured. Plus I wanted to make sure I hadn't put it together upside-down or anything. =) I shoved the piece back in and smoothed the frosting over it and it was barely noticeable. Everyone forgave me.

                        Here's a close-up of the red velvet heart:

                        heart cake close-up

                        So in spite of myself, I wish you a Happy Valentine's Day!

                        Wednesday, February 9, 2011

                        Giveaway: Win one of my hooded baby/toddler towels

                        Update: Giveaway Winner Announced


                        I've partnered with the blog Discovering the Me in Mommy to give away one of my hooded baby/toddler towels!


                        Amy Butler hooded baby/toddler towel from SweeterThanSweets

                        Amy Butler Love Arabesque Baby/Toddler Hooded Towel and Washcloth Set (BOY or GIRL)


                        How to enter:


                        P.S. I would love for one of my friends to win it. =)

                        Saturday, February 5, 2011

                        Life Described. In Only 6 Words.

                        I recently read about a challenge from an online magazine called Smith about writing your life memoir in only 6 words. It began because of a legend about Ernest Hemingway. When he was asked to write a full story with only 6 words, he replied, "For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn."

                        In 6 words, here's how I'd describe my life in the last 8 months or so, since I rediscovered my love of creating:
                        Mommy needed to find herself again.
                        What's your 6-word story?

                        Tuesday, February 1, 2011

                        Little Sweets Turns 2! (and the Giant Cupake Cake)

                        Why is my Little Sweets obsessed with cupcakes these days? Well, I'm not sure, but it might kind of be my fault. Maybe.

                        giant cupcake cake
                        ...First came the giant cupcake cake...
                        giant cupcake and regular cupcakes
                        ...and then, teeny tiny (i.e., regular-sized) versions
                        of the giant cupcake cake!

                        I've been slowly adding clothing in my Etsy shop and I am planning to make some birthday shirts for bigger kids (up to 5T for now). So I had to practice, right? (More will be available soon, for boys and girls!) Wow, did the cupcake theme go over well in this house. It's still going.

                        In case you're interested in making this giant cupcake cake for your own little sweets, I used a Wilton pan and followed these directions from Oh, Sugar! to make the candy cupcake liner. Yes, all the other little sweetses who came to the birthday party, that is indeed pink candy. Super easy to make and in my humble opinion, the cupcake liner turned out MUCH better than if I'd tried to frost that part.

                        Oh, and the "confetti" was royal icing that I piped in big blobs on waxed paper. I put them on the cake upside-down so the smooth part (the part that was touching the waxed paper) would show. Very easy and very cute!