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toddler to little girl room: stencils are the new wallpaper!

As we wrote about the last week, our decorating brains have been hurting trying to make decisions that would last a decade in our girl Isadora’s room. We’ve been transforming it from toddler cute to something that she will (hopefully) love even as a teen, step-by-step. After choosing a paint color — Benjamin Moore’s lovely Beacon Gray — we decided to spruce up two of her walls with a pattern.

We called in a ton of gorgeous samples from wallpaper sites and were amazed at the variety. From the colorful to the clever, the choices seem endless. We kept being drawn to the simplest of patterns with classic vibes, and soon realized that what we wanted was a very basic repeat that was the same tone and color as the walls. We started exploring the idea of stencils — which at first had us cringing with thoughts of 80′s style flowers everywhere. After looking around we were pleasantly surprised to find that stencils have come a long a way! They are some very lovely patterns available, and after watching a few YouTube videos, Chad became confident that he could pull this off in Isadora’s room.

We went with Julia Allover from Cutting Edge Stencils. One kit is $53 and comes with one large repeat plus a top stencil for hard to reach spots near the ceiling. The nice thing about the “wallpaper” look is that you don’t have to worry about being perfect. It’s nice to show some slight variation in the pattern rather than perfectly straight lines.

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To create this look, we simply bought a small can of the next darker shade in the Beacon Gray spectrum – November Skies. In addition to the paint, you will need painter’s masking tape, paper towels, a foam roller, a tray and a (possibly) level. (A level is more important is you are using a more precise pattern than ours.

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The video below is what we used to guide us. The secret is to keep your brush nearly dry. After you load it with paint, dry it off on paper towels before touching the wall. Also, after filling in the stencil, wait for it to be nearly dry before removing to move. That way you minimize smears on the stencil itself. Make sure the previous painted section is dry before overlapping it with the plastic stencils.

One word of caution: Corners are super tricky. Chad used a stencil brush for those spots. Save the smallest spots — like over a door — for the very end, in case you need to cut the stencil down to fit.

The whole project took about five hours and cost less than $200 in total. We’ve never wallpapered anything before — but something tells us this was much less expensive and complicated.

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Got any questions? Leave a comment and we’ll do our best to get back to you!

real life test kitchen: ina garten’s salted caramel brownies

This post was originally published in 2012 — but in honor of both Super Bowl Sunday and approaching Valentine’s Day, we thought we could use another dose of this yumminess.

I have a soft spot for things that are salty and sweet — especially things that are chocolately, salty and sweet (like my favorite Trader Joe’s candy). So when I spotted this recipe from Ina Garten in Food Network magazine, I couldn’t wait to give it a whirl. It’s from her new cookbook, Barefoot Contessa Foolproof Recipes, which could really be the title of all of her cookbooks. Her recipes never fail. This super rich, moist chocolate brownie would be outstanding on its own. It has a bit of instant coffee in it, which gives it a nice sophistication. Chocolate chips blended in the rich the batter give it a double wallop of goodness. Then, on the top of this magic, you drizzle caramel sauce finished off with a sprinkle of course, high quality sea salt. That touch propels these brownies into the stratosphere. The caramel and the salt are not every day pantry ingredients, but they are worth hunting down and using if you really want to make an impression. I promise you that everyone who you share these with (if you can force yourself to share them) will swoon. Use cautiously as they are hard to have in the house without devouring.

Here’s my take on Ina Garten’s Salted Caramel Brownie recipe. I highly recommend you buy her new book (I just did and will write about more of her dishes soon.).

What You Need:
2 sticks of unsalted butter
8 ounces plus 6 ounces Hershey’s semisweet chocolate chips (a little more than one bag)
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
3 extra-large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee granules (I used decaf Nescafe)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 to 6 ounces good caramel sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons flaked sea salt

How to Make

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 x 12 x 1 1/2-inch baking pan.
2. Melt the butter, 8 ounces of the chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium bowl set over simmering water. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature (very important!).
3. While that mixture is cooling, sift sift together the half cup of flour, the baking powder and salt in a separate bowl, and then add to the cooled down chocolate mixture. 4. In a separate bowl, stir the remaining 6 ounces of chocolate chips and the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour. Add the flour-coated chips to the chocolate mixture. Spread evenly in the prepared pan.
5. Bake for 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Don’t overbake!
6. As soon as the brownies are out of the oven, heat up the jar of caramel sauce (either in the microwave without the lid, or buy running really hot tap water over the whole thing). Make sure it is pourable. Use a spoon to drizzle the caramel evenly over the hot brownies.
7. Sprinkle with the sea salt. Cool completely and cut into 12 bars.

More Barefoot Contessa recipes we love:
Chinese Chicken Salad

Brunch Perfect Scones

Outrageously Good Brownies
Turkey Meatfloaf

adventures in beekeeping 2.0: the war is over, only the strong survive

Forgive the dramatic headline — I couldn’t resist! You might recall that when we last left our two humble hives, we had decided that the weak one needed to be merged with the strong one. It’s not a light decision, because essentially you are creating a war between the hives. The weak hive’s queen gets eliminated, and chances are a few of her drones go down with her.


Well, two weeks later, it seems that our attempt to create one, thriving hive has worked. Before placing one hive on top of the other, we covered the bottom one with a thin layer of newspaper with holes poked through it. This is so the hives could gradually get used to each others scent, and the war wouldn’t be as bloody. We think it worked, because – look! — the paper is gone! The bees ate right through it. It seems like the two have joined together nicely; we can see new bee activity throughout. On the very top level, we had placed a container of sugar water. The water is all gone and there were a ton of dead bees piled in there. We’re not sure if they drowned, or if that is where they “buried” the dead when they were cleaning house. Either way, it wasn’t as bad as we had expected.

The upshot of the combination is that we now hopefully have one really strong hive that will have a better chance of surviving the winter. The downside is it means we won’t be pulling any honey this season — they still need to do a lot of food creating to so they have a stock through the cold season.

Click here to see previous Adventures in Beekeeping posts!

real life test kitchen: chocolate chip chocolate zucchini muffins

The other day I noticed we had a lot of zucchini in the kitchen. It’s that time of year. It’s been ages since I made zucchini bread so I thought I’d grate a few of them and put them to good use. I began searching for a recipe, and steered toward the chocolate ones. Then I steered a little more chocolatey and went with ones that had chocolate chips. Then I realized I didn’t have buttermilk in the house and was too lazy to head back out. That left this recipe from Chez Chloe, which was inspired of course by one of the all time great food blogs itself, Chocolate & Zucchini. The wonder of this recipe is that it calls for FOUR cups of shredded zucchini — most only use two. This makes it extra dense but still so delicious even our fussy five year old gobbled them up. I brought a pile into work for an early morning meeting and I could see that they they helped me win both hearts and minds. Here’s my take ….

Chocolate Chip Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

What You Need:

4 cups grated zucchini
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
a shake of ground nutmeg
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsalted butter (12T or 1 and ½ sticks), melted
1 cup chocolate chips (I used ½ semi-sweet and ½ bittersweet)

How To Make:
1. Preheat over to 350°F. Grease and flour muffin tins. Grate the zucchini — leaving skin on! — I used a food processor. Place it in a sieve to drain excess water. Press down with a paper towel to help make that happen.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

3. In an electric mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs until smooth, about a minute. Add the melted butter and vanilla, beat until smooth. Fold in shredded zucchini. Add the flour to the mixture in three additions, stirring to combine after each addition. Finally, fold in the chips, stirring by hand.

4. Divide batter into into tins. I filled them up almost entirely, and make a dozen and a half muffins. Use less batter per tin if you want more.

5. Bake at 350°F for about 15 minutes, or or until toothpick comes out clean.

6. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Flip onto a plate and late cool before serving — if you can wait!