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iLove blackberries

For those of you who haven’t been within earshot of me this week, I finally got a new phone. This is a very big deal. Since I try to keep my blog more about things I love than things I don’t, I’ll try to keep this rant brief:

I hated my BlackBerry. Oh, how I waited for that contract to be over. Having track balls ruined by tiny bits of beach sand, the ever-blinking red LED light, the daily battery pulls, having to follow Crackberry on Twitter, rapidly running out of BlackBerry Messenger friends to talk to…It was not for me. I love my new phone so much I want to spin around and toss it in the air like Mary Tyler Moore. And I would, except I don’t have insurance for it yet.

As you can see, I’m a bit unhinged. To celebrate the fact that “blackberry” now means “delicious fruit” and not “chubby device that needs seven minutes to display one simple image,” (deep breath!) I’d like to make the perfect blackberry dessert.

Hit me. What have you made with blackberries?

liz lemon bars

Someone recently asked me why I love baking. There are a lot of answers to that question, but really it’s for the smell. And at the risk of offending any nearby loaves of freshly baked bread, I have to say lemon bars are the best-smelling thing to put in your oven. Lemon is a very welcoming smell, and when it spreads through your whole house as it bakes (mingled with browned butter and lots and lots of sugar), you feel very at home.

Lemon gives baked goods a refreshing, crisp flavor. Even when bogged down with a can of sweetened condensed milk (!), these treats manage to stay juicy and light. That said, camera-friendly they are not. If these lemon bars joined Match.com, they’d have to rely heavily on their sense of humor to distract from the profile pic.

I modified Martha Stewart’s Creamy Lemon Squares to make this recipe. I like a little more oomph in the crust, so I made one with Trader Joe’s Vanilla Joe Joes. Besides…I feel a little squirmy just doing exactly what Martha tells me to. I’d love to hear how they turn out in any variation you try!

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the bardsey kitchen

A great post on The Kitchn caught my attention today. It’s a feature on Lisa Zador, who has (beautifully) turned her kitchen into an homage to her mother.

This resonates with me for several reasons. For one thing, as I’ve said before, you’ll find it much easier to be creative when you’re surrounded by things that inspire you. But on a more personal level, I instantly thought of my own favorite kitchen, the one I’d love to model some day when I have the space (and the freedom to redecorate). It’s Grandma Joyce’s: large and inviting, busy but organized. The setting for many childhood memories.

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pearsauce cake with brown sugar frosting

I suppose I asked for it. Trader Joe’s heard me whining about its rigid rules for seasonal goods and got rid of the cranberry apple butter. March 26, and it’s gone again, until fall. How I’ll manage to enjoy this entire glorious summer season without jarred cran-apple butter, I don’t know. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears.

All was not lost. As I’ve said, that store is the place to be if you’re looking for baking ideas. I left with a four-pack of pearsauce and some TJ’s neufchatel cheese. This is what I came up with:

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trader joe is my boyfriend

After prowling Renegade Handmade last weekend, I ended up flipping through the I Love Trader Joe’s Cookbook at Urban Outfitters. In case I haven’t mentioned it before, seventeen times probably, I love Trader Joe’s. So does Cherie Mercer Twohy, apparently. There’s an important lesson to learn here: If you’re looking for inspiration, spend time in a place full of things you love. Trader Joe’s is good for browsing, and you won’t believe how many cooking and baking ideas will hit you as you walk the aisles. With or without this book in hand, the store is a great place for inspiration.

In particular, I have a few favorite things I always buy at TJs, and a few ideas and suggestions for how to use them:

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handy fires and nifty buttons

Speaking of finding inspiration, this afternoon I visited the Renegade Handmade Store on Division Street. Among seven thousand things I wanted to buy, I found this book, How to Build a Fire: And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew. By the end of the title page I had tears in my eyes.

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get inspired

I’ve often said I struggle with what I call “the blank slate.” I have friends who can walk into an empty home, look at the bare walls, and just start dreaming up a plan. I find that daunting. I’m much more useful after a few ideas are kicked around, and I start to see what will and won’t work about each of them. Then I feel the juices flowing.

I used to assume this means I’m just not creative. But I’m trying to think of it differently these days. If I don’t have the knowledge or experience to design complex recipes from scratch, I can take what I like about two or three of them and combine them. If I see a beautifully textured wall hanging in a store that audibly laughs at my budget (For the people, please, Anthropologie!) I can try to figure out how to make something similar.

The secret is to surround yourself with things that inspire you. If you can’t begin to imagine your dream kitchen, keep an eye out for simple, small kitchen components. One can lead you to dream up another, and before you know it you have an entire scheme you never would have imagined while staring at the blank slate.

a few of my inspirations:

This “Butterflies Framed Art” in Anthropologie’s Spring 2011 catalog caught my eye. I’m not completely in love with the frame…but I like how simple the piece is. I have a few ideas for a replica I’d like to make and hang over my headboard.

Then we have this, same catalog:

Ever hear the expression, “Let booze light the way”? No? Well, this “Found Decanter Lamp” is fantastic. I love that it takes up so much space, and I can just imagine how the light reflects off of the glass when it’s turned on. I used to have a beautiful lamp made from a Bombay Sapphire gin bottle, and it cast pale blue light onto my desk. The search is on: I must find the perfect large decanter and turn it into a lamp.

Okay, one more. Look at this, from the same photo:

As soon as I noticed it, I thought of my growing collection of wine cork bottles. Imagine a round mirror like this with rows of wine corks extending from the center, making the same sun/flower pattern. If I can find the right mirror, I’m going to attempt it.

All of this from two pages of one catalog! Seems easier now, doesn’t it?