Monday, April 14, 2014

The Best Little Chocolate Cake Recipe EVER!!

Life is short. You really should eat dessert. 

Not every single day, mind you. Or maybe you could, if you only had a small taste. There is something really special about having a cake to look forward to. Either after a meal, or with coffee in the afternoon, cake takes an ordinary day and makes it feel like something special is happening.

The Easter Version
But, cake is one of those things that you really have to make from scratch. Have you ever read the label of a cake in the grocery store? Here is a really good piece on what's in a supermarket birthday cake. I'm not from the school of thought that says that every mouthful of food you ever eat must be as pure as the driven snow. But, the ingredient list on some of those cakes was pretty scary! And it turns out that baking a basic cake isn't very hard. If you can manage with a cake mix, you can make a cake from scratch. And this recipe is a perfect beginner cake, because it's so easy to ice.

Let me give you the sales pitch on this cake ... it's one layer only, so it's quick to make (you can have a complete, decorated cake in 1 hour, from start to finish); you can switch out the chocolate, to suit different palates. I've made it with both dark and semi-sweet chocolate (and I think you could switch it to milk chocolate if you had to, although I haven't tried that myself); you ice it in 2 seconds flat with a ganache (which is way easier than icing a cake with buttercream); and then you make it seasonal with candy or sprinkles appropriate to the time of year! What more could you want? Here's the recipe:

The Easter Version

The Cake:
1 cup flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup salted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup warm water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. With butter, grease an 8 or 9-inch round cake pan. In a small bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa, and baking soda. In your mixer, or a larger bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and water. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until the batter is smooth. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to a rack to completely cool.

The Valentine's Day Version
The Ganache:
8 oz chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup of light cream
1 tbsp sugar (only for dark or semi-sweet chocolate)

Place chopped chocolate in a microwavable glass bowl. Melt it in the microwave in 20 second increments. Add the cream and sugar and stir until it is well combined (at first, it will seem like it isn't combining well - don't panic, it will after about a minute). Set the cake on a rack over a baking sheet and poor the ganache over top. You may need to spread it with a spatula ... or you can just let gravity do the work and have it run down the sides. It may seem a wee bit runny, but will set over the next hour or so. Top with candy or sprinkles if desired.

**Note: this past weekend, I made this cake gluten-free by switching Bob's Red Mill gluten-free baking mix for the flour. It worked really well. 

You can get the printable recipe HERE.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Clearing the Clutter in Your Hallway for Spring!

Most of us are in the midst of our spring cleaning. You may have already tackled the attic and dusted the blinds, but an often neglected or purposefully passed over area of the home is the hallways. We run through these spaces so often, but never spend enough time in them to realize the mess that keeps piling up.

For many families, the hallways are the areas that build the most visible clutter, from shoes and coats to dust and other allergens. Without some attention, these areas of the home can be the silent disturbance in an otherwise tidy living space. Give your hallways some extra love this season by focusing on these three areas of clutter build up.
Displaying Clearing the Clutter in Your Hallways for Spring.jpg

Wasted use of space
One of the most common problems that results in cluttered hallways is an inappropriate use of space. Because your family does not spend leisure time in the hallways, many people overlook this when planning the construction and design of their home. Luckily, there are some quick fixes that can free up space without remodeling your entire home.
The hallways are often the homes for your staircase, so rethink how you use that item to create more usable space in your home. Install shelving and add hooks along a traditional staircase to create storage. You can also look into items like a Salter Spiral staircase kit to give your hallways a quick and easy face-lift.
Rearranging hallway furniture can also open more space up. Opting for one or two complete storage pieces instead of a few little items and nick-knacks will make your hallways more clean and useful.

Dust and allergen build-up
It is crucial to remember your hallways during your regular dusting routine. Storage units, stairs and floorboards collect a lot of dust and other allergens in this frequently passed through area.
There are a number of great spring cleaning lists that include the items that many of us forget about on a regular basis. Some of these items include washing lighting fixtures and their switches, washing seat cushions and washing rugs and mats.
If your family suffers from spring allergies, your whole family will notice a big difference by cleaning these areas regularly. Be sure to take some allergy medication or wear a mask before cleaning to prevent allergy symptoms.
The common home for clutter
As every family has experienced, everyone throws their things in the hallways at the end of the day. This can cause stress-inducing clutter by making your space congested and unpleasant to look at.
Avoid this by making it easy and fun for family members to place their things neatly in the hallways. Create cubbies for each family member, using elements of their own personality to make it more fun and creative. Think of the space as lockers you would have in school.
Have a daily motivation board that everyone can add too to keep the space inviting and express the love and pride you have in your family. Setting limits, like only one coat in the hallway at a time, can also cut clutter and keep the space neat.

Author Bio:
Tina Hamilton is a journalist, blogger and organization enthusiast. You will usually find her writing, reorganizing a desk drawer, or walking along the beaches of Southern California.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Coconut Cake

We are big lovers of coconut in this house and Coconut cake has become our traditional Easter dessert. It's such a yummy recipe, but I fear my lousy photographs don't do this cake justice. It doesn't look yellow, like it does in these pics ... just a lovely white. The addition of some Easter candy eggs gives the cake a real seasonal look.

Here's my recipe for Coconut Cake:

3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 eggs, at room temperature
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1.5 tsp almond extract
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 pound icing sugar, sifted
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 9-inch cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment and dust lightly with flour.

Cream the butter with sugar. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. The mixture might look curdled ... don't worry.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the coconut (I do this with a spatula).

Pour the batter evenly into the cake pans (smooth down the tops) and bake in the centre of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack (but still in the pans) for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out to finish cooling.

For the frosting, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extracts. Add the icing sugar and mix until just smooth. To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides.

ABFOL One Project at a Time 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Weekend Away Packing List

I just got to spend the weekend away. It was technically a working weekend, except we laughed so much that it feels wrong to call it work. And I rarely travel without my family, so the luxury of worrying about no one other than myself was a real treat!

There's another bonus to a weekend away: you get a chance to get away from it all, but without all of the effort required to prepare for and recover from a full-on holiday. But that's not to say there isn't any effort - if you prepare correctly and have a plan for when you get back on Sunday, your weekend away won't end up causing you more stress and aggravation than it was worth!

Here are the things that I think are critical to pack for a weekend away:


  • Outfits for each day (depends greatly on the agenda for the weekend)
  • Shoes for each outfit
  • Undergarments
  • Pajamas
  • Workout clothes
  • Running Shoes
  • Swimsuit
  • Jacket/Coat (seasonal)

Toiletries (I keep small containers of each of these always packed and ready to go):

  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Soap
  • Skin care
  • Hair styling product
  • Lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Perfume
  • Nail polish remover
  • Brush/comb
  • Q-tips
  • Bubble bath
  • Razor/Shaving cream
  • Make-up
  • Sunscreen

Medicine (I keep this in a small cosmetics case in my handbag all the time):

  • Advil
  • Vitamins
  • Band-aids
  • Cough drops
  • Cold medicine
  • Tums
  • Visine


  • Sunglasses (remember to grab these if you are leaving on a cloudy day)
  • i-Phone charger (forgot that this weekend - doh!)
  • Kobo (similar to a Kindle) and/or book
  • Pencil case (contains some pens, pencils, a highlighter and notepaper)
  • Travel information (reservation numbers, maps, e-tickets, etc.)

Things I Never Take:

  • Hair dryer (I don't usually blow dry  my hair, but if I need to, the hotel always has one)
  • Travel iron (hotels always have an iron as well)

And the trick for getting back on track once you get home on Sunday night?

Unpack your suitcase right away!

It's that simple and takes only about 5 minutes. Throw the laundry in the laundry pile and put everything else away. This will make your Monday morning run so much more smoothly!

Is there anything my list is missing? Let me know what things you think are critical for a weekend away.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Cleaning 2014

If you live just about anywhere in Canada, you've had a hard winter. Especially on the prairies, and the east coast. Doesn't it feel like it's been going on forever? I'm so done ... in fact, I've been done for weeks. Mother Nature apparently doesn't really care how I feel though. She's difficult that way. 

This picture is not from this year ... because we are still under snow here. But, it's melting. But I believe things are about to change ...

I know, I know. We've been here before. People seem to have given up and resigned themselves to the idea that winter may never end. Surely there's another cold snap coming ... or a snowstorm ...

Well, all is not lost people. All is not lost.

See this? This is proof that the weather is going above freezing on Thursday ... and it appears to be staying there. For like at least 10 days. I could weep with joy! 

[Sorry Prairies, you're not quite there yet ... but by next week you'll see some improvement. And East Coasters ... you officially win the award for enduring the Worst Winter EVER - stay safe on Wednesday ... it gets better after that.]

And see this guy? He's the World's Dumbest Robin. Every spring, he thinks he sees an adversary in our dining room window and proceeds to peck at the window for about 3 weeks. All. Day. Long. That's one tiny little brain in that tiny bird's head. But today, he came back! I'm so happy to see that dumb little robin. A sure sign that spring is on the way!

I am filled with hope.

And so, the spring cleaning will commence today. I have lots of spaces that need a huge re-org ... and some that just need a tiny spruce up. I'll be shampooing rugs and washing curtains. I can't tell you how much I look forward to this each year. It's not my fault - I was born this way. I'm so excited! 

So by the time these little lovelies make an appearance, my house will be in tip-top shape!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Scrapbooking - How to Catch Up When You Are Hopelessly Behind ...-

Hello lovely readers. Long time, no write. There are a few reasons for this - none of which are particularly good, but they are the only excuses I have. I happen to be completely and utterly obsessed with the Winter Olympics right now. As I type, I'm waiting to see if our ladies will take the gold in curling ... and then there's the Women's Hockey Gold Medal game after that. For those of you who are not Canadian, our country will completely shut down around noon EST to watch this hockey game. Just in case you were planning on calling anyone or anything. [Amendment: we won gold in the curling; and I'm having a heart attack watching the hockey - just in case you were curious.]

Another reason I've been blogging less is that I've been spending quite a bit of time on a few new year's resolutions that I set for myself. One of those resolutions was to catch up on my scrapbooking. And that was a mighty tall order. Let me give you the back story ...

I started scrapbooking in 2001. At the time, I was a young mother of two little children and I took MILLIONS of pictures. I wasn't too shabby about getting them into photo albums of one kind or another. Then I went to a Creative Memories party and an addiction was born. I loved the journalling aspect of scrapbooking. I was already finding that I had forgotten details from my childrens' infancies, and journalling seemed to be the answer. I also liked how scrapbooks could contain memorabilia - I'm a big saver of ticket stubs, programs, artwork, invitations, locks of hair, etc. I finally had a place to put all of these things. And then ... the best part of all ... I met my dear friend Julie, who was a fellow addict and army wife ... and our husbands were both deployed ... and we could scrapbook together until the wee hours if we wanted ... and we did ... and before I knew it, I had an entire album done. And then I did another and another and got all caught up right back to when I'd gotten married 7 years before. And I made a few to give as gifts. I was on fire!

Flash forward to 2009. 3 kids now and 4 military moves under my belt, I still had managed to keep a pretty decent grip on our photographs and memorabilia. I was a bit behind .... I was scrapbooking pictures from late 2007 ... but nothing a bit of nose-to-the-grindstone couldn't sort out. But, that summer we were posted and thrown into a very new situation (won't get into the details here, but let's just say life was lived at warp speed for the next two years). I don't think I worked on my scrapbooks even once during that time. It has been two and a half years since he retired from the military and we moved back to our hometown - we haven't been nearly as busy, but this time has been filled with much-needed rest. All of that is to say ... As of December of 2013 I was still back in 2007 scrapbook-wise.

This winter, I decided to finally get back at it. Why? Because my children LOVE our scrapbooks. They pull them out constantly. I can't tell you how heart-warming it is to find my teenagers sitting on the couch together looking back at pictures and laughing about some great time we had. I read somewhere that cultivating good memories is a massive happiness booster. And family scrapbooks are an excellent way to do this!

So I needed a plan. I had years of photos on the computer that needed editing, culling, etc. I had them backed up, but that was the only thing I'd done with them in years. I spent an entire day (and I mean entire - from the minute my kids left for school until the minute I went to bed that night) at the computer sorting out all of my digital images. I deleted, edited, named and sorted hundreds and hundreds of photos. Then I backed them all up, because I would actually die if I had to spend another day of my life doing this again.

Then I made a list of the scrapbook projects I want to tackle this year. I've already done the two that are highlighted (and I forgot to include a third on my list - I completed an album for my son from his trip to the Canadian Scout Jamboree last summer)! I think this list is a bit too ambitious for one year, but I'm going to give it my best shot. And I've been amazed by how quickly I've made progress - it's only the middle of February after all.

But I'm also facing piles of stuff like this ... this laundry basket is full of childhood photos and school documents from both my husband and me. Piles like this almost make me want to cry. I can't bear the thought of tackling this project quite yet. 

Thankfully, most of our memorabilia was filed in this lovely little thing. The problem was that each of the monthly files contained ticket stubs, etc. from about 6 years. 

 So I sorted out a couple of years at a time ... and have added the photos that I've printed from each year to this handy little purple basket.

I also spent some time sorting through my stickers and other embellishments (I even had some lovely friends pass on some of their unused stuff to me). I wanted to get a sense of what I owned - it had been an awfully long time since I'd looked at it. I sorted all of these things into logical categories, using dividers I had made from old file folders. 

And thankfully, I've hung onto our calendars so that I can double check dates of when things happened! 

Then I took an individual year (in this case 2009), and sorted into manageable chunks, sort of in the order I think the pages will go in the scrapbook (I'm very much a chronological scrapbooker). I even added any stickers or embellishments that I had purchased specifically for a given group of photos. So the entire scrapbook was in a couple of piles on my craft table.

And then I just got to it. Here's my 2013 album. This one is done in "Project Life" which has taken some getting used to, but I like it very much.

If you are not a scrapbooker, I imagine you are no longer reading this post ... but if you are a scrapbooker (particularly of the lapsed variety), I hope that I have motivated you to get back at it this year. I know that my kids get so much out of our albums. And who am I kidding? So do I!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pumpkin Muffins

I'm a big fan of muffins ... especially for kids lunches. They're compact, filling and can be full of nutrition if you choose carefully. But no one wants a muffin that tastes like a "healthy" muffin. You know the kind I'm talking about - they taste like someone figured out a way to make the yellow pages into a muffin - when there's no hope of swallowing it without the help of a beverage. So I've been on the hunt for healthy and TASTY muffins and I've hit the jackpot with this one!

I recently had to make 6 dozen of these little gems for a Girl Guide camp where I was the "Camp Cook". A total of 45 girls - all with varying degrees of picky palate - and these were a hit! In fact, the last few remaining muffins were given out as rewards on the last morning. And they're packed with nutrition! 

Here's what you need:

2 cups of all-purpose flour
1-1/3 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cups of rolled oats
2 tbsp pumpkin pie spice
2-3/4 tsp baking soda
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups of pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1-1/3 cup brown sugar
1-1/3 cups white sugar
1 cup of canola oil
2/3 cups unsweetened applesauce
4 eggs
1-1/4 tsp vanilla extract
decorating sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. 

Combine the flour, oats, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, baking powder and salt with a whisk and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine pumpkin puree, brown sugar, white sugar, canola oil, applesauce, eggs and vanilla extract. Mix well and then add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture. Mix well.

Pour batter into prepared muffin pans. Top each muffin with a pinch of decorating sugar (this gives the muffins a sweet "crunch" on top). Bake for approximately 30 minutes until the a toothpick inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean. 

This is a large recipe that makes 24 muffins - wrap each muffin in plastic wrap and freeze for an easy addition to the lunch box.

You can get the printable recipe HERE.

Miz Helen’s Country CottageEnjoy!