Dennis helped me make pickles earlier this month! This was actually a bit of an experiment since I used Splenda instead of sugar because of the whole low-carb diet thing for him. I wanted to see if it would muddy the color or clarity or taste. The amount I used in the carrots, beets, and fennel is so small I'm sure it won't matter, but we've been wanting to make sweet pickled red onions ever since we had them on some tiny Moroccan spiced lamb burgers at one of our favorite local restaurants, The Hob Nob in Alameda. And now that we've perfected the recipe and method for making flax bread buns, it's lamb burger time baby!

Pickles with washi tape labels? Yes please!

The beets are spiced with clove, cardamom, star anise, allspice, and cinnamon. The fennel is just my plain picking spice blend, the recipe for which can be found here. The carrots have some of the pickling spice blend with extra whole cumin, coriander, mustard seed, and bay. And the sweet onions have star anise, cinnamon, and bay.
I had a handful of each kind of veggie left and I was going to make a mixed jar, but I ran out of vinegar by the end of the day. (These are big jars!) So I put them in a tupperware in the fridge and poured vinegar over them the next day for quick pickles instead! Om nom nom.


Blind Spots.

I've been thinking a lot about my business situation lately, and I think I need some advice... Being semi-self employed and freelancing instead of having a usual 9-5 job has a lot of rewards, a bit of peril, and a definite learning curve. Even though I've kept this blog up for 6 years, and my etsy shop for 5, I feel like I still have a lot to learn. This has always just been a fun little side job, an outlet for my creativity really, but now it needs to be something more substantial. Having more time to focus on it now, I have seen it grow so quickly in a short period of time that I know I can make it into exactly what I need if I get over a couple key personal hurdles.

My biggest "blind spot", if you will, is in the realm of advertising. I'm a pretty shy person by nature really, and I've always just left it to etsy to advertise my shop, and blogger to get people to my blog. I've never been the kind of person to try very hard to stand out, and I need to change that behavior when it comes to my business. But really, I have no idea where to start, so I was hoping you all might have some advice to share, or some help to lend. I'm going to start small... Very, very small, and work my way up. First of all, I now have a mailing list! Check out the sidebar for the sign-up form. I'll be using it to send info on new projects, upcoming shows, and coupons, and I know myself well enough to know that I won't be sending out too many newsletters so don't worry about me spamming you to death! Anywho... Now you must all know by now that I am a huge dork, so this is the first piece of advertising I have come up with:

Okay, you can stop laughing now. Yes, this is one of those posters with the tear-off strips. I designed this a couple weeks ago when my new printer arrived, and just printed and cut 2 of them. (Mine say "Designed and crafted right here in Oakland" because I'm intending to hang them around town.) See what I mean about starting small? I've also got some new business cards printed up:

And these little guys are coupons for returning customers that I'm putting in my packages. They've got a thank you note and a code on the back in the same style as my cards:

(I used moo for the printing, www.moo.com.)

I've looked at buying some ad space on other websites, but I have such a limited budget right now that they all seem a little too pricey. So I was wondering if any of you lovely readers would be interested in trading some ad space? I have quite a good readership these days and it keeps growing (for the stats see the new "Advertise" tab at the top of the page), and if you have a site with comparable stats I'd love to do a straight-up even trade. In case you haven't noticed, I've cleaned up the sidebar to make room for some new sponsors, and moved the How-To's and Recipes links to the tabs at the top, and I've also added a couple new tabs. I'd love any feedback or advice you guys can offer, and please send me an e-mail at ohthecuteness@hotmail.com if you're interested in teaming up for advertising! And heck, if you wanted to print that flyer up there and hang one on your community bulletin board, send me a pic and I'll send you a coupon for the shop! Just click on the image for the larger version.

I also recently learned about this little doodad on Amazon... Apparently you can become an "associate" and basically build you own mini amazon shop, stocked with all the stuff you love. And when you refer people to an item in your shop, you get a little commission when they buy it. I think it's pretty cool, and since I'm always posting links to books and other stuff I blog about, I figured why not? So now when I link to a book it will still take you to Amazon, but it will be in my own little bookstore and if you buy it from there you'll be supporting my business! You can also check out the entire little shop under the link at the top called "My Bookstore". Hope you like my selection! ^_^


Prepare for incoming cuteness...

Okay, I know this is just a gratuitous kitty post, but can you blame me? Look at how effing adorable these two are:

At times, I kind of hate living with cats, what with the puke, the claws, the hair. But this is not one of those times. I kind of want to re-create these pictures with me and Dennis doing the same poses, which could be kind of hilarious. Buddy (the white cat) is Precious' (the back cat's) son. They usually keep away from eachother or little squabbles break out. But they snuggled on the couch together with me literally all day, and magically did not bolt when I picked up the camera as most cats will do when you try to capture the cuteness. Mission accomplished. Please feel free to leave gratuitous squees and d'aawwws in the comments. You're welcome.


Watercolor Party!

My friends Alex and Patrick have their birthdays a week apart, so we celebrated by going to my friend Vanessa's house to celebrate. Alex wanted an art party so she brought over watercolor paper and gouache, and we noshed on vegan pizza and root beer floats and proceeded to paint portraits of eachother. None of us had ever done watercolors before. Hilarity ensued.

The birthday girl, how I love her. She's one of my most fabulous and fashionable friends. She wanted us to do a timer portrait because, and I quote, "Our parents used to do sh*t like this."

Such a handsome group of people. We had so much fun. I got to paint a portrait of Vanessa's dog, Carlton haha. I think that Alex's portrait of Vanessa was the hands-down winner and I'm thinking of commissioning a portrait from her. Vanessa's portrait of me is super sweet, and I love that I wore my glasses that night. The ones in the bottom corners were made later, one is Alex's pro-life poster child (it started with a conversation about not painting teeth and spiraled out of control from there), and the other is a round of "exquisite corpse" where you draw a body part, cover up all but the edges, and pass it around. Very surreal.


Happy Valentine's Day!

Hmm, I wonder who did this lovely piece of yarn bombing?

It had to be more than one person, all the strips are so different...

Isn't it just the cutest thing ever?

If you're local you can go check it out on the corner of Piedmont and Linda, across from the movie theater. ^_~


Coupley Crafty Time!

One of the things I truly love about Dennis is his willingness to share in my hobbies. We used to craft together a lot more before he got so into Magic the Gathering, which I personally think is an awesome hobby and I'm glad he's doing so well at it. I've chronicled some of our crafty exploits here, here, here, here, and here. Yup, that's a lot of cutesy-pootsy crafting together. But all those posts are a little old, and when I mentioned to him how much I missed doing art with him he told me I should bust out the Hama Beads (also known as Perler Beads and fuse beads), so we could work on something together. Oh Dennis, you are awesome!

For those of you who didn't have the pleasure of playing with these beautiful little choking hazards as children, they're basically little plastic beads that you arrange on a pegboard and then melt them together with an iron. My generation seems to have a penchant for taking these nostalgic goodies and crafting great pixel art pieces straight out of our favorite old-school video games. And we were following suit...

And yes, we were watching episode after episode of Star Trek while making video-game art with a child's toy. Coolest couple ever? Probably.

Dennis made a character from Chrono Trigger, more specifically the guy who gets turned into a toad. You may have to stand back from your monitor to get a clearer view. It's like pointillism in that way.

And mine is going to be pretty big so this is just one side. It's going to be a coin bank that looks like one of the question mark boxes from Mario Brothers. I've got two sides done so far.

Happy Valentine's Day!


...Little help?

Hey everyone, I need your help with something! So, Dennis got laid off a couple weeks ago. Don't worry, we're fine. In fact, we're doing great. Having him home more is a pleasure and he's using this time to do some soul searching, plus he's been helping me with my business stuff more often. Anywho, we are designing a new little notebook to sell in the shop and we need your opinions on a couple things... It'll have this graphic he designed on the front:

Inside it'll have a grid printed on the 20 or so pages with columns for "When", "What", "Where", "How Much", and "Notes", and it will be a stitched binding like the mini notebooks already up in the shop, with this design hand-stamped on the cover. I'm envisioning light-colored recycled kraft paper for the cover, and maybe white ink, or a deep red or blue, for the graphic. What do you think? Our main question is about size. I was thinking of making it 6.5 x 8.5 inches (so we don't have to do any paper cutting and it will therefore be less expensive), but Dennis thinks smaller is better so you can stick it in a smaller bag, or maybe even a pocket, something more like 4.25 x 6.5. What would you guys prefer? Everyone to leave us a comment or e-mail about this will not only be helping us out, but I'll give you a 10% off coupon to the shop! Thanks in advance!


Adventures in low-carb cooking.

I think I may have mentioned on here before that Dennis has been on the low-carb diet for a while now. He's doing very well and has lost a ton of weight already. I tried the diet for a bit but it didn't do much for me, but whenever I cook for us at home the meals are always low-carb. He was on it for a couple years before I met him, but he was doing it the wrong way (as bachelors will do), eating nothing but chicken wings and broccoli with Velveeta cheese. Yuck. Since we've been together, I've introduced him to the wonderful world of organic veggies cooked to perfection, and lean meats cooked the right way. But I've also introduced him to the world of gourmet foods, and he's become quite the foodie, which is hard with a restricted diet. You saw a sampling of one of my low-carb yet slightly indulgent recipes in my last post, and ever since I got my new camera lens I can't seem to stop taking photos in the kitchen, so I though I may as well share a few more...

For breakfast on Sunday I made hollandaise for the first time ever. It was easy, though I added a bit too much butter. When the recipe says add only as much butter as the sauce will handle, they mean it! I made a version of eggs benedict sans the english muffin. Instead I laid down a bed of spinach sauteed with caramelized onions, then some smoked salmon, poached eggs (also a first for me, but super easy), and finally the slightly over-buttery (if there is such a thing) hollandaise and some capers. Super good, and I didn't even miss the muffin.

And for dinner that night I wanted to get chicken breast but the Trader Joe's near us was swamped and all they had were tenders. So I busted out the almond meal (which we use to make that amazing low-carb pumpkin cheesecake, and we made our own pumpkin puree for it this time, which explains the pumpkin-top shield Dennis is wielding with the carrot sword in the first picture), my jar of herbs de Provence (usually a mix of parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender, and oregano), and some Greek seasoning. I mixed a 1/4  cup almond meal, 2  heaping tablespoons of herbs de provence, and about 1/2 a teaspoon of Greek, dredged the chicken strips in egg and coated them with the breading, and fried them in olive oil in my cast iron pan.

So yummy! Has anyone out there found a good recipe for a low-carb bread of sorts? I'd like to be able to make Dennis sandwiches once in a while but bread is such a big no-no, I'd be happy to hear if you have a good one!

Oh and on a very carb-y side note I had a burst of genius borne of necessity today:
When I was in the produce section they had a box of Nilla Wafers on sale for four bucks with a coupon for free bananas, and I thought I had vanilla pudding mix at home so I naturally couldn't resist. But when I got home I found out I had chocolate, not vanilla, pudding. I knew it would be fine so I made it anyway, but then the light bulb above my head went on and I decided to take 1/2 a cup of creamy peanut butter and mix it with a teensy bit of powdered sugar and about 1/4 cup of milk to make it almost pudding-like and include it as a layer in the dessert. HOLY PEANUTBUTTERBANANACHOCOLATENILLAPUDDING BATMAN! It MADE it. Oh my sweet sneakers it was good. Do it. Do it now!


My kitchen just keeps getting fancier.

I've been on some kind of mission lately... I suppose the main objective is to make my house as colorful and cozy as possible. I keep looking around and just wishing there was more visual interest. I think I'm most at home in a place that is riotous with color, and luckily Dennis is pretty obliging in the matter. The pillows and photo wall in the bedroom are just the start of a much larger plan. Recently I started working on the kitchen; hanging more art that had been stashed under the sink before the housewarming party, preparing some garlands that I want to string about the ceiling (more on those later), and this:

I picked this up for 12 bucks at MaiDo (a Japanese stationary store in San Francisco). It's a chalkboard wall decal, and it was actually just a big black square with the frame in the center but I decided to cut the border off. It's hung in the pass-through between the kitchen and living room. We've been wanting to hand something there, but were wary of framed pictures for fear someone might run into them, so this seemed like the perfect plan. And I even made a little piece of hanging chalk:

A little dab of E600 all around, and then some baker's twine:

Et voila! I love my goofy five-year-old's cursive, and yes, those are real dinner options. I'm a fancy-pants, remember? But man, I just have to share the recipe I made for the baked fennel and leeks, it was amazing!

I was picking through some magazines when I came across a recipe for fennel baked in cream:

Looks friggin' amazing, but since we get an organic produce box delivered to us every other week I like to tweak recipes to use what we already have on hand. We had about half the fennel the recipe called for so I sliced and cleaned the two leeks that came in our box to make up for it. Leeks, to me at least, seem very underused and undervalued in modern cooking. I love leeks to death and encourage anyone who has not tried them to do so. Immediately! The recipe also called for cream, but I used half-and-half mostly because it was there, but also it cut down on the fat a bit. And it called for Parmesan cheese, which we didn't have, but we had an amazing garlic jack we picked up from the farmer's market so I used that instead.

So I tossed all the ingredients together with salt and pepper, dotted it with butter and cooked it as the recipe instructed...

Oh. My. Goodness. It was absolutely delicious. I've had fennel baked in cream before and, don't get me wrong it was good, but it's a little bit of a one-note. This dish, however, made me and Dennis swoon. Please make this. It's so easy and delicious, and anyone can make it. Impress your friends! You'll thank me...

Fennel and Leeks Baked in Cream
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F

2 small fennel bulbs, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 leeks, sliced 1/2 inch thick (be sure to pull the layers apart and clean them thoroughly in a bowl of water)
1 cup grated garlic jack cheese
1 1/2 cups half and half
Generous pinches of salt and pepper, to taste (Don't be shy with the seasoning!)
4 tbsp cold butter, cubed

1. Toss all ingredients except the butter together in a large casserole dish. 
2. Scatter cubed butter on top and cover with a lid or tin foil, and bake for 1 hour.
3. Remove tin foil and bake for another 30 minutes until nice and brown.

That's it! So easy and so creamy and delicious! I'd love to hear if anyone tries to make this dish. I served it with a simple green salad and salmon, but it would pair well with most any meal, and would be a very nice thing to make for a potluck. (Though you may want to double the recipe since it will go fast!)

And, just for fun, look at how beautiful this little head of lettuce is. There's a stall at the farmer's market that  love to spend a lot of time at because they sell the most beautiful assortment of greens I have ever seen... Le sigh. ^_^


All things sweet...

 As Valentine's Day approaches I've been getting a hankering to bake cute sweets and make nice things. I know a lot of people out there aren't really into V-Day, but I think it's a sweet holiday. The historical background is very romantic, and in modern times I see it as a nice way to spoil the person you love for no reason. Dennis and I usually keep it low-key and as of right now we don't even have any concrete plans but I know it will be a nice day all the same. I've been feeling kind of nostalgic lately, as I usually do during the first few months of a new year - I go through old stuff and get rid of things without sentimental value, and rediscover those items that do hold meaning in the process. I've been starting to post old pictures of me and my friends from high school on my Facebook account and everyone is loving it! That inspired me to pick up my scrapbooking endeavors:

I have two other two-page layouts of stuff Dennis and I have done that I will try to get photos of soon. This one is of Mom and Dad (obviously) from a fairly recent visit back home. I love these pictures; they're just being goofy and cute and I love that about them. I kept this page simple, with kraft mats for the photos and little brads that look like brass screw heads, and a vintage button card.

And that night our house guest, Aubrey, came home and we decided to have a girl's night since Dennis had gone out to play cards with the boys. We watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding and decided to try out the mini donut pan my mother gave me for my birthday. I always have stuff to bake with on hand so we whipped up the recipe on the package and I even managed a yummy strawberry-flavored icing for them. How freaking cute are these?!

And they were deeee-licious too! The recipe made 4 dozen little donuts, which was a lot, but we scarfed half of them that night and the other half were gone the next day. I definitely want to try different recipes, maybe an old fashioned sour cream cake one. This could be dangerous... And speaking of dangerous:

Our cat, Precious, was dangerously close to giving me a heart attack from cuteness today. She's so sweet and just rolls all over the place when she's happy. I can't get enough of this little old cat. Oh the cuteness! ^_^