Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake

"Thank you so much for the pumpkin bread you dropped off!" a good friend gushed a few years ago. "We loved it." Then a pause. "I was going to make a cream cheese frosting to go with it, but I was amazed how good it tasted without anything but powdered sugar on top! Delicious."

Well, that's because it was pumpkin cake, not pumpkin bread (but honestly, lots of pumpkin cake masquerades as bread, so no biggie). The idea of it comes from Anne Byrn and her Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor book (the same book inspiring this amazing Chocolate Brownie Trifle). I'm glad my friend liked it, and I'm even more glad this cake does work without a frosting or a glaze. Its deliciousness to effort ratio is off the charts, and it's the perfect treat for this time of year. 

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake

Adapted from Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor

1 box plain yellow cake mix (18.25 oz)

15 oz canned pumpkin 

1/4 cup water

2 large eggs

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground allspice

2 tsp baking soda

1 cup chocolate chips

optional: 1 TB powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and generously grease a 12-cup bundt pan with cooking spray. Combine the cake mix, canned pumpkin, water, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and baking soda in a large bowl. Mix with an electric mixer on low for 1 minute. 

Stop, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and increase speed to medium, mixing for 2 more minutes. Scrape down sides again. Mix in the chocolate chips on low until they are evenly distributed throughout the batter. Pour batter into the greased bundt pan, smoothing the top.

Bake in the oven 42-46 minutes until it is lightly browned and springs back when lightly pressed with your finger. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Invert onto your cake stand or serving platter to to cool completely. This can take another 40 minutes. 

Finish with a dusting of powdered sugar. Note: if you add the powdered sugar before the cake has cooled, it will take on a yellowish tint. Boo. So go ahead and wait until it's cool to add the sugar.

Friday, October 15, 2021

DIY Kids' Art Wall

 I think there are some pretty cute aspects to our home. There's the DIY toy bench mom and I made (and later recovered), the $5 "Canvas Prints," the whale mobile in Gummy Bear's room... Yet the feature that gets the most notice and compliments is the kids' "Art Wall."

The compliments must be nods to my kids' vast artistic talents, since the actual holder is as simple as it comes. To recreate it, all you need is:

  • Small Command Hooks
  • Picture Wire
  • Wire Cutters
  • Binder Clips

I got everything from Walmart (except the wire cutters, which I had on hand in our basic toolbox). The instructions? As straightforward as they seem: first, determine where you want your art wall. I slipped mine in the corner of our playroom over the craft table.

As you can see, I wanted mine four layers high, so I measured the "display" area to equally space my four rows and marked the spots for the hooks with a pencil. Following the directions on the command hooks, I attached them at my marked spots. (All it takes is unpeeling stickers, pressing the hooks in place for one minute, and then waiting an hour before hanging anything heavy. Easy-peasey.)

Then, I strung the picture wires from hook to hook as taut as I could, securing them by looping around the hook and then winding the end back along the wire. Once secure, I snipped the ends with wire cutters.

Next, I put several binder clips on each wire and voila! It was ready to hold art! So simple, so inexpensive, and so customizable! 

Mum has a version of this in her home, sometimes for the grandchildren's creations but also for her own watercolors. That sloth is to die for, mum...

Happy drawing/painting/crafting!

Friday, April 23, 2021

Recover Your DIY Storage Bench

It's super satisfying to look back at a project from four years ago and think, "Yes! This was so worth it. I love what I made and use it on a daily basis." 

That's how I feel about our DIY Storage Bench of 2017. That bench was an essential part of our townhome's living room d├ęcor, holding the kids' toys and standing strong despite lots of sitting (and jumping...) on it. The cube's structure held up, only needing some occasional screw-tightening. The white finish did a great job withstanding the constant pulling and pushing of toy boxes. The cushion, though a little droopy on the front corners from supporting so many sitters, is still foamy and comfortable. Somehow, mom's crazy idea of using hardboard and attaching it with command strips worked perfectly. In fact, I never took the cushion portion off (until very recently). The only things that didn't hold up were the $5 cloth bins from Shopko. Ah, well, we can't have everything.

Now, in our new home, we put our toy-holding bench in the playroom, but it didn't vibe with the bright, rainbow look I was going for:

I knew I wanted to recover it, but we were also in the midst of covid lockdowns. So it sat, like so, until mom came for a visit a few months ago. Masks on and with my fabric expert in tow, we ventured to JoAnn's to pick a brighter cover for our bench.

Can I make an aside? The fabric we bought last time was awesome! Outdoor upholstery fabric for only $3 a yard??? It lasted like a dream, and the pattern hid any spots and dirt that must have inevitably gotten on it after years of use with little kids. Our new fabric, though adorable, was much more finicky to work with. What did we get, you ask? Mum, take it away:

This time we chose an indoor upholstery fabric that picked up the corn color in the pennants hanging on the wall. It has a classic pattern that makes a brighter, bolder statement than our previous choice. It is heavy duty and should wear well. But it was also expensive; I think it was listed at $30 a yard. (Fortunately, we had a couple of coupons and got it for half off.)  It is an indoor fabric and doesn't have the built-in protections of our earlier outdoor choice, so we sprayed it with ScotchGuard to help protect the surface from inevitable spills. Laurel's note: we also sprayed the previous fabric with ScotchGuard. One must be thorough when one has young kids...

So, how would this thicker, brighter, more finicky cloth, work on a bench cushion? Since the original cover was still smooth and taut, we opted to put the new fabric on over our old one. This was less time-consuming and saved us a lot of staple-removing, but it also meant the fabric under our hardboard was getting thicker and thicker. Would it be too bulky? Would the command strips still work?

We decided it was worth the risk and, like last time, started to staple. This bold, big pattern made it more essential that we line up the fabric just right to keep the pattern lined up and square along the cushion. There was lots of adjusting.  Also, notice that mom made sure we doubled over the fabric before stapling to avoid fraying. Nice thought, mum. 

This fabric is also much more stretchy, which is its own, special pain. Pull it too taut along the long sides, and the foam will develop a weird, wavy pattern along the staples. Leave it too loose and the bench is frumpy and prone to catch. It took some fiddling to determine the right tightness... and even then, we were wrong. I went back a few weeks later to pull it tighter at the short ends. This avoided ripples and gave the cushion a clean look.

Speaking of the ends of the bench, they were, again, much harder to arrange with thicker fabric. We cut out awkward chunks along the corners to try and avoid awkward bunching (with mom's encouraging "Trust me, this is totally normal when upholstering" to give me courage as I snipped out more and more corner fabric, praying I wouldn't take out too much.) Still, we made it, and a million staples later, we came to the moment of truth: would the command strips still attach it to the bench? Yes! Our folds of stapled fabric were just thin enough so the "velcro" part of the strips could connect and stay put. They are still doing their job a couple months later.

Truly, despite the difficulties, I'm proud of  this project.