Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Latest Obsession: Project Life

I have always been a scrapbooker.  Ok.  Maybe not always.  My Aunt Margaret really was the scrapbooker in the family.  She started very early with the super basic Creative Memories concept and kept completely up to date with all of her family memories and adventures.  At the time, I was into making  greeting cards.  I cranked out handmade greetings for every holiday and event there was - stamped, painted, glittered, layered and even popups sometimes.  I was awesome at it and loved it!  However, slowly but surely, she won me over and I began scrapbooking too.

I started out slow, purchased the basics and went to town.  My very first scrapbook was a scrapbook of my solo trip to Europe in my twenties. I look back at it now and cringe. It is so simple and not me. Plus there isn't one word of journaling. But the pictures are in there and the trip is documented.  As a whole, it is a great thing.  After this attempt though, my other attempts have fell very short.

One year my friends and I met once a month to scrapbook.  Honestly, I got nothing done.  I've always had a certain kind of analysis paralysis when it comes to making something permanent like this.  Especially with photos that are expensive to develop/print and then you purchase all this paper, embellishments, albums, pages, and page protectors.  It had to be JUST RIGHT, or well, I just wasn't going to commit. 

Case in point, I have had no issues committing to my husband of twelve years, but do you think our wedding and honeymoon are scrapbooked? Nope.  What if something newer and cuter comes out?  What if I hate it in five years?  In my defense, I did scrapbook our dating year to have out at our wedding so people could view our 'story' but that is it.

Other than my Europe trip and my dating life with Thew, the only other thing officially scrapbooked is #1's first birthday.  She loves that thing and looks through it all the time.  I really want to make more scrapbooks for my kids to look through.  They love looking at all the digital photos of themselves on the computer, just imagine their delight in being able to look at their photos in a scrapbook whenever they want to OR pull out for friends and family to reminisce?

This brings to me a post last week on the "Our Best Bites" blog.  It was all about how Sara captures and documents her family's memories. There are several options listed but the one that struck me was Project Life.  What is Project Life?  The best way for me to describe it is "pocket scrapbooking".  The page protectors have different size pockets in them and then you slide in photos and cutely designed cards to embelish it.  It is quick and easy. People say they get so much done in a short amount of time.  The best part about it?  NO COMMITMENT!  If they come out with newer cuter embellishment cards you can take the old cards out and put the new ones in. DONE.  This appeals to me - seriously appeals to me and my whack-o scrapbooking commitment issues.  If you want to check out project life, you'll need to go to  Ms. Higgins is the creator of project life and you'll find all sorts of great info on that site.

After doing some digging and realizing that I'd have to now purchase all new albums and page pocket protectors (I have a ton of the original Creative Memory albums, pages, and page protectors) - I started to groan. How much was this going to cost me?  Also the thought of having to print a ton of pictures off at Costco without cropping and adjusting them also left me feeling some of that commitment phobia coming back up like some bad drink I had in college. Then, I saw that Project Life was digital with Photoshop Elements or Photoshop.  What you say?  Seriously.  There are also several digital templates and kits sold by Project Life's digital shop as well as freebies that people have made and blogged about.   Go to Pinterest and search for project life freebies and tons of posts come up.  It made me feel giddy!

I purchased some templates and one kit from the Project Life digital site, downloaded a free trial of Photoshop elements from Adobe and then went to YouTube to see how in heck I could use these things.  You can also take formal project life/photoshop classes at though they do cost quite a bit, and I wasn't sure I was ready to commit to that (here we go again!).  I did find two videos on YouTube that were super helpful.  One of them is done by Jessica Sprague and she did a great job - the other one is by an Australian gal who also did a good job.  Here are the links to those:

Jessica Sprague teaches digital Project Life
Digital Project Life Basic Tutorial

Here is my first page - it's a title page, and I was really just trying to figure out to snap everything together and resize things if I needed to - it was super easy:

Now that I know what I'm doing, I have the tools, and some freebies, I'm going to tackle my son's baby book.  I already started with traditional digital scrapbooking so I think it will be a combo pack for him.  I am focused on getting that done this year as well as our 2014 year so I can just stay current.  Once I'm current then I'm going to do my daughter's baby book - she is older and I haven't even started on it yet.  Regardless with what I do with this, I know the kids will be thrilled.

Another bonus with this is that I can print the 12x12 pages and have them developed at Costco. I will then use my current paraphernalia to create the books. I'll adhere the pages to thicker pages and use page protectors to protect it.  I can also use some of my embellishments if I want to on these pages too since the protectors and albums are built for it. These are all vintage Creative Memories and no longer are available for purchase.

I hope this has inspired you to check Project Life out or maybe just start organizing your photos. Whatever it has done, it's a good thing....

Until next time,

J.K. Sasse

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Easy Peasy Apple Sauce

I know I have been MIA around here but January is kicking my butt!  Work is crazy, home life is equally crazy, and I have some important events coming up that I can't wait to share with you but it will have to wait.....but I'm excited!!!

Today, I am on all day long conference call (this was my last week as well) and I needed a snack ASAP when they all went to get a quick lunch.  It wasn't my lunch time yet but I felt left out. Of course I wanted peanut M&M's my candy addiction of choice these days but um, I have to weigh in tomorrow, so not an option.

I went into the kitchen and I saw the 2 applesauce packages I bought with a coupon yesterday. They are unsweetened - blech, but I had an idea.  Why not doctor it up with some yummy stuff? I'm so glad I did because this is just way too awesome not to share.....

Cinnamon Sweetened Apple Sauce
Serves 1

2 individual servings of unsweetened all natural applesauce (can use bulk)
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 packages of splenda
good sprinkle of cinnamon (probably 1/2 - 1 tsp)

1. Empty apple sauces into a bowl.
2. Add vanilla, splenda, and cinnamon.
3. Mix well and let the flavors combine a bit.

Eat and enjoy!!!  It really is so yummy and it still counts as a power food because you did not add any sugar!  This is the bestie best best snack ever!

I promise that I have been hoarding up on posts, I just haven't finished them.  I will be back as time allows - so hang in there with me!!

Until next time,

P.S. did you notice the name change on my blog???  I'm still thinking about it.. we'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Triple Chocolate Cake

Every year for Christmas, my family celebrates the birth of our Savior with a "Happy Birthday Baby Jesus" cake (Baby Jesus cake for short).  We do the whole she-bang, there are candles, we sing happy birthday and everything.  Some of my family members even put a baby Jesus on their version of the cake - I have yet to find one that is food safe, so if you have any ideas, please let me know.

So the dilemma was on, what do I make.  It has to be gluten free, it has to be good so my gluten eating guests will love it and not know the difference but most importantly I had to make it ahead of time since I would be gone the entire day on Christmas Eve.  I asked fellow GF bakers what their recommendations would be and finely settled on a devils food cake from Gluten free on a shoestring. This worked for me because I already had all of the ingredients and it would be a cinch to make.  I did however bake it in a 9 inch round pan and it took three times as long to bake it.  I know it was in the oven for over an hour and then lately because GF baked items can be so finicky, I will shut off the oven and let the baked good sit in there while it cools off, I did this for another 20 - 30 minutes or so.  It really is up to you and your oven.  If you under bake the cake, it will fall inwards in the middle and no one wants that.  So you have to play it by ear and make sure to test it to see if the middle is completely cooked. I do this with a clean toothpick to see if any cake batter is still on it - crumbs are ok because they are baked, but any ooey gooey batter is a definite sign that it needs more time in the oven.

I baked the cake on a Monday and once it was cool, I wrapped it tightly and froze it.  In the winter time in MN, that means I put it out in my garage until I needed it.  This worked fabulously!

I needed to serve the cake on a Wednesday, so I choose to wait on the frosting until that day, but honestly, in hindsight, I did not need to do that and it caused a lot of extra work for me on Christmas morning.  Live and learn. 

I took the cake inside so it would start to thaw slightly so I could split the cake in half.  I started the cut with a serrated knife and then finished it with a nice long piece of unflavored dental floss. It worked like a charm.

Now that I had my two layers, I knew that I wanted to fill it with Nutella Cloud Frosting.  I started with the Nutella Cloud base recipe from Sweetapolita because this gal knows her frosting I tell you and then I changed it a bit because I love Nutella and more of it is always a good thing right?  I also love how this recipe turned out.  I've tried others that were too airy and hard to pipe and that is not the case with this recipe.

Nutella Cloud Frosting
Adapted from Sweetapolita

1 cup unstaled butter, softened at room temp
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (confectioners')
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
125g semi-sweet chocolate chopped, melted, and cooled slightly (I used Ghiradelli.)
1/2 cup of Nutella
pinch of salt
drizzle of milk as needed

1. Weigh out semi-sweet chocolate into a microwave safe bowl ensuring it is broken up.  Microwave it on high in 30 second intervals until fully melted.  You'll need to stir it often to break up hot spots.  Let cool a bit.
2. In your large mixing bowl with a paddle attachment, carefully place the butter and powdered sugar and start to mix on low until fully combined.
3. Add the salt, vanilla, and Nutella to the butter/sugar mixture and beat well.
4. Lastly add the cooled melted semi-sweet chocolate and again beat well.
5. At this time determine the consistency. If it is too thick add a drizzle of milk until it looks like how you want it.

Now that you have made your filling, carefully put about 1/2 of the frosting in the middle of the bottom layer and spread it evenly across.  Place the top layer on half and use more frosting to fill in the outside edge.  Once complete, cover tightly and place back into your freezer while you make the next layer of frosting.

I wanted this to be festive and oh so yummy. I knew it had to have ganache on top but after filling it, with the nutella frosting, it really needed a crumb coat to hide the filling and the fact that I split the cake open.  The answer?  A simple stiff buttercream crumb coat.  Now butter cream is very basic, but of course, I googled it and settled on this recipe from Savory Sweet Life.  This is another gal who knows her frostings.  I made this on the thicker side with just a drizzle of milk so that it was spreadable. Making it thicker allowed me to only have one coat of buttercream which was awesome.  She also gives tips on how making it thicker is easier to pipe onto cakes and you'll see the design much more easily as well.  Good to know!

Now that this is made, retrieve your cake from the freezer and put on a nice thin, even coat of this wonderful buttercream.  You'll be so glad that you did and when you are done, back into the freezer you must go!

Lastly, for the ganache, I referenced Savory Sweet Life again with just a slight modification.  I took her recipe and added some *GASP* butter!  Everything is better with butter and honestly this cake has so much already what is a few more tablespoons really?  Again in hindsight, I should have used Sweetapolita's ganache drizzle recipe because this ganache came out a little thick and didn't quite drizzle like I wanted to but man was it still super yummy.

Ganache Recipe
Adapted from Sweet Savory Life

1/2 Cup heavy cream
12 ounces chocolate (I used semi-sweet by Ghiradelli.)
4 Tbs butter

1. Heat heavy cream in microwave until bubbly and frothy.
2. Pour hot heavy cream over chopped up chocolate and mix until melted.
3. Add butter and with a hand whisk, whip until smooth.

Take the ganache and spread a layer over the entire top of the cake after you take it out of the freezer for the final time. As you are spreading have it drizzle down the sides of the cake like shown in the picture above or below.

I know this was a long drawn out deal, but honestly this was worth it.  The cake was a huge hit - my Dad even had two pieces.  It also holds over super well in the freezer.  It's been almost 2 full weeks since I've made the final product and we are still finishing it off.  It tastes just as good now as it did the first day we enjoyed it.

If you have any questions, please let me know and ENJOY!

Until next time,
J.K. Sasse