Holiday Treat Gifts

There are always people that you want to send holiday wishes to during this season but don't want to spend a fortune on gifts.  Cards are nice for all of the families, couples, and distant friends.  Food gifts, though, are perfect for those you see frequently and should get something a little more substantial from you.  When you spend your time and energy creating something enjoyable for them, they will be very appreciative of the gesture, not to mention the amazing eats!

This Christmas I decided to make some festive red velvet cupcakes for the first time.  I adorned them with little holiday toppers, boxed them up, and trimmed them with some festive baker's twine.  Off they went to all of those on our list that needed a little holiday cheer...And they got great reviews!  I would definitely recommend this recipe.  Keep it in mind since Valentine's Day is coming up quickly.


For cupcakes:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons red food coloring
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons distilled white vinegar

For frosting:
4 ounces butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2½ cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
* Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a standard muffin/cupcake pan with liners.
* On medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to high and add the egg. Scrape down the bowl and beat until well incorporated.
* In a separate small bowl, mix together the cocoa powder, vanilla extract and red food coloring to make a thick paste. Add to the batter and mix on medium speed until completely combined. You may need to stop the mixer to scrape the bottom of the bowl, making sure that all the batter gets color.
* Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add half of the buttermilk. Add half of the flour and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl and repeat the process with the remaining milk and flour. Beat on high until smooth.
* Again, reduce the mixer speed to low and add the salt, baking soda and vinegar. Turn to high and beat for another couple of minutes until completely combined and smooth.
* Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a thin knife or skewer inserted into the center of the largest cupcake comes out clean.
* Next, make the frosting. Using the whisk or beater attachment for your mixer, whip the butter and cream cheese on high speed for about 5 minutes, scraping the bowl down as necessary. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the powdered sugar until all is incorporated. Add the vanilla and mix to combine. Increase the speed to medium high and whip for a few minutes until the frosting is light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as necessary.

* Cool for 10 minutes and then remove cupcakes from the pan and place them on a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.
(Recipe from the Brown Eyed Baker)


Updated Holiday Bread

I don't really care for fruit cake, but the traditional panettone is pretty big here in the UK. It's a little lighter than a standard fruit cake.  I'd much prefer a moist coffee cake, though, to panettone or a dense loaf of dried fruit.  When I got a bunch of persimmons in a recent veg box delivery, I thought I'd make more of an updated version of holiday bread. I had never cooked or baked with persimmons before, but I figured I would give it a try.

This recipe came out amazingly well.  It was moist with the perfect amount of holiday spices.  Even the extra loaf that I made with raisins incorporated into the batter came out great.  So, I decided that this should be the replacement holiday recipe for getting into the spirit of the season.  It's got the flavor to conjure up cozy evenings at home, and it's perfect to give as seasonal gifts that people will actually love to eat.

Persimmon Bread

* 5-6 persimmons to make about 1 cup of pulp
* 2 tsp baking soda
* 3 cups sugar
* 1 cup vegetable oil
* 4 eggs
*1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp nutmeg
* 1 1/2 tsp salt
*2/3 cup water
* 3 cups flour
* 1 to 1 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
* 1 cup chopped peanuts (or preferred nuts - optional)

* Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two loaf pans (3 x 6 inches in size)

* Cut persimmons and remove center if tough.  Blend the persimmons in a blender on puree until the are smooth.

* Push puree through a sieve over a medium sized bowl. Add baking soda and let stand for 5 minutes to thicken.

* In another medium bowl, combine sugar, oil, eggs, cinnamon, and salt.  Blend together until smooth. Then, alternately mix in the pulp, water, and flour.  If preferred, mix the raisins into the batter. 

* Pour batter into the loaf pans to fill about halfway.  Add the nuts on top of the batter if preferred.  

* Bake for 1 hour until a toothpick comes out clean.

* Remove from the oven and let the bread sit in the pan for another 10 minutes before removing.  Enjoy!


Quick Sticky Bun Breakfast

I woke up last Saturday morning craving our typical weekend carb-loaded breakfast, but I didn't really want to go all out in baking something.  I decided to peruse my bookmarked recipes for something that was quick and easy (i.e. ready-to-eat in about half an hour with the least amount of dirty dishes possible).

I came across this recipe several months ago and decided to bookmark it since my husband loves monkey bread. When it popped up in my saved recipes, I saw that it was loaded with buttery, brown sugar goodness, and it really only required that I have a can of biscuits in the fridge.  Perfect!  I had just bought a can of biscuits from the store "just in case" anything popped up.  I must have been channeling this recipe at the grocery store.

Although my husband still prefers the traditional monkey bread to this recipe, I actually think that this takes about 50% of the effort to get 95% of the satisfaction of monkey bread.  Here it is for you to judge for yourself.


Christmas Tree Debate...Settled!

Every year my husband and I go to one of the local Christmas tree farms and get a real tree for our house. I was really wondering this year whether this was a good choice for us as a household that tries to live sustainably when possible. I knew that fake trees carry a lot of chemicals that just add to all of those already present in your home, but I wasn't completely sure if cutting down a tree every year was a good idea.

I found this great article at the National Geographic website that talks about how real trees are the more environmental choice.  Yes!  We made the right decision.  Apparently, fake trees do contribute substantially more to greenhouse gas emissions, landfill space, harmful toxins in living spaces, and water and energy usage. You have to take into account the way the fake trees are processed in factories (usually across the globe) as well as how they're disposed of after use.  Real trees can be recycled and used for a variety of things that may even improve quality of life.  I especially like the example given in the article of using the mulch in local parks and flower beds.

Of course, if you really want to go all out, you can get a live tree that can be replanted and used again the next year.  We tried that last year, but since I have quite the black thumb, I couldn't even keep the tree alive for a few months.  From now on, I'll be comfortable with my decision to continue buying a real tree every year.  Thank you, National Geographic, for approving of my decision.


Five Minute Doughnuts

I crave doughnuts.  Basically, I could eat them at least every weekend if not more.  Recently, I had these amazing melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts at a local pumpkin patch, and I knew I had to find something similar to make at home.  After searching the web for the easiest possible recipe, I stumbled over this gem that uses a can of biscuit dough.

This is the first time that I've ever fried anything in my kitchen.  I have to say that I was a bit concerned that I was going to set the whole place on fire, but luckily it was very easy with little mess.  The frying only took about one minute on each side, and then they were done!  This recipe is sure to please when you're craving some fried dough but don't want to go to all out.


Classic Britain

I recently returned to Britain from a short trip back to the states.  This time when I got back to the UK, I have to say, that it actually felt more like home.  Instead of missing all of the shopping and eating opportunities in the states, I had missed the adorable little British town I live in. What I love about living here is that each town has its own charm. In my little town, I love that the cobblestone roads get narrower the closer you get to the cathedral, Christmas trees are perched above each of the businesses in town, and the farmers market in the town square is only a five minute walk from my front door.

You can see this charm in the preservation of the old, which is many times juxtaposed with the new. Though we live in a fairly new townhouse, just across the road are several row houses built at least a hundred years ago...And it works. Britain feels pleasantly classic because of this preservation, and it's comforting to have some things in your town that you know will be there for years to come.


Pancake Day

Every year my family attends a Pancake Day event that kicks off the fall season in our local area.  Pancakes are made under a giant circus tent by the local Kiwanis Club and served to patrons from a huge conveyor belt.  It's such a fun event, and, even though I've lived far from home for several years now, I still like to celebrate Pancake Day with my own special breakfast.

This year I decided to make apple cinnamon pancakes for a hearty, warm start to a brisk British morning.  I made sure to use plenty of butter in the pan to get those nice brown skillet marks on the flapjacks.  For the cinnamon apples, I sliced an apple thinly lengthwise and mixed in about a teaspoon of cinnamon.  Then, I topped the slices with a few small pats of butter and microwaved them for thirty seconds at a time, mixing between heating.  Paired with real maple syrup, the result is a perfect stack of pancakes sure to please.


Throwing Pottery

I've been trying my hand at pottery lately.  I needed a messy activity to replace my lack of a home renovation project right now, so I opted for clay.  A few years ago, I took a pottery class that mostly dealt with coiling and hand sculpting, but I really wanted to actually use the wheel and fire some pieces. This class is the perfect opportunity to do that.  From day one, we jumped right into wedging and centering.

So far, the centering has been a bit tricky for me, but I've been able to create a couple mugs and the beginnings of a decent bowl.  I'm hoping to fire them soon and glaze them with some nice deep colors.  I'm thinking blues and maroons for the winter season.


Artichoke Nachos

This is a great go-to recipe for a quick weeknight dinner.  I originally got it from Sandra Lee but have since made some changes.  Enjoy!

Artichoke Nachos

1/2 package tortilla chips
1 can black beans
1 jar artichoke hearts, diced into pieces
6-9 plum tomatoes, diced 
1 scallion (green onion), diced
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, shredded
mozzarella cheese, shredded
cheddar or colby jack cheese, shredded

* Grease a glass or metal pan (8 x 8 or 9 x 13) and preheat the oven to 350 degrees

* Put a layer of tortilla chips on the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle 1/3 of each of the ingredients on top of the chips, finishing with the cheese.  Repeat this step until the pan is full and the ingredients have been used.

* Bake for 20 minutes and let cool for 5 minutes.  Enjoy with sour cream, salsa, or pico de gallo.


Mindful Living in Amsterdam

This week I spent a little time in Amsterdam, an amazing city that has a lot to offer anyone.  Besides the usual walking time around the city, I was actually surprised at how sustainable the trip became.  The tiny flat where I stayed was conveniently located within walking distance of almost everything but was also on several tram lines.  Plus, I had the pleasure of taking an eco-canal ride to explore the different districts further.  It was an electric boat that was small enough to pass through the tiny canals in the newly named UNESCO world heritage center of town.  On top of that, the city offered several organic food locations and a variety of vegetarian fare.

The best thing about being in this city was understanding the pace of living that the residents enjoyed.  With plentiful tourists and busy activities, the streets still managed to be pleasant and quiet.  Everyone seemed to be mindful of each moment they were spending in this beautiful place.  What a lovely goal to have for living a meaningful life!


Friday Favorites: Good Housekeeping Muffin Recipe

Breakfast on the weekends in my house is always a special treat usually consisting of a carb overload to make your belly nice and heavy for a late morning nap.  I've been using this basic muffin recipe for several years now as my go-to breakfast.  It's from the Good Housekeeping cookbook I received when I got married, and it's been the gift that keeps on giving.  Some of my favorite add-ins to the recipe include blueberries and cinnamon apples.  Give it a try:

Good Housekeeping Basic Muffins
(Adjusted slightly to my tastes)

2 1/2 c flour
3/4 c sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c milk
1/2 c (1 stick) margarine or butter, melted
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

* Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and grease your muffin pan.

* Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

* In small bowl, beat milk, melted butter, egg, and vanilla until blended.  Add to flour mixture until moistened.  If slightly too thick, add milk until it runs off spoon with ease.

* Add your favorite fruit, chocolate chips, or nuts to create your own flavor combination.

* Cook for 20-25 minutes and serve warm.



Gift Tags

Well, I'm starting to look at my holiday gift giving ideas to get an early start on some items.  Just thought I'd share some ideas for gift tags.  They can be a great way to add a handmade touch to your packages this year.

White pinwheel: Handmade in my home studio
Hot Chocolate: Seasonal Delights
Just for You: Handmade in my home studio using the Quickutz Silhouette machine
Red Snowflake: Hallmark
Stamped Pear: Seasonal Delights


Tailored Sustainability

I always have sustainability on my mind, but recently it's been a fairly constant train of thought.  I've been working on my thesis about sustainable housing and thinking of all the ways I try to live sustainably.  With all the hype these days, it's a little overwhelming to determine what you should really invest your time and energy into doing.

I subscribe to the idea that it's alright to tailor your social responsibility to your lifestyle and needs.  If there's no way you can walk or bike to work, then try to substitute on weekends with a walk to the market. If you're a die-hard for certain brands at the grocery store, just try a new environmentally friendly product every now and then until you find some you like.  If you can't live without drying your clothes in a machine, then aim to air dry a load of linens once a month.

It's all about giving what you can and living with the intention of leading a responsible and meaningful lifestyle.  Don't stress if every element of your house and life isn't quite up to the standard.  You can reset that standard in a way that makes you comfortable.  That's what living responsibly is about.

If you're still a little hesitant about this whole sustainble living thing, just take it at a snail's pace...


Mix It Up

Mixing bowls are a serious staple in my house.  I think I go through at least one a day from whipping up some pancakes, throwing together a fruit salad, or just mixing ingredients for dinner.  They're a great way to add style to a conventional and purpose-driven kitchen space.  Whether you go with glass, ceramics, or plastics, there's something for everyone.

Pyrex are actually my favorite all-purpose bowls but I do find it hard to mix liquids in them.  The bowls are somewhat shallow, and I usually end up wearing most of what I'm making.  The ones with rubber on the bottom suit me fairly nicely for baking.  Plus, you have to have at least one with a pour spout.


Product Photos

I've been slacking a little on blog posts this week as I prepare to open my Etsy shop.  My husband has been helping me out with taking some amazing photos of my wall art.  I do the staging, and he works the technology.  It's a perfect match!

I've been learning some great photography tips through the whole process.  Here are a few of my favorites:

* natural light is your best friend

* use natural materials and interesting textures in your backgrounds

* stage your photos to create a story

So, check out the photos of my new work and see these tips in action.



I'm on Pinterest.com!  This is a great site for those who like to bookmark their findings on the web but don't like maintaining them in list form.  It's for visual people in need of a huge pin board to see their inspiring pictures adjacent to one another.  What a simplistic, yet genius idea!  Of course, you do need to be very careful not to get sucked into it too much.  This helpful, little website can quickly become a time-consuming addiction.  So, beware!

Mostly, I plan to use my account as an inspiration board for my projects, though it has all kinds of great uses, especially for the home.  You could pin items for an upcoming party, compile recipes for baking, curate your own online art gallery, or pick paint colors that match your furniture.  The possibilities are endless.  Check out the stuff I'm pinning for a little encouragement to start your own board.


Petal Pics

I love passing by this little flower shop next door to a cafe I frequent in our village.  It always has the most vibrant plants outside for everyone to admire.  I can't help but stop and smell all the wonderful things they have available.  So, I thought I would share a bit of it for some gardening inspiration or an idea for a vase or two.


Friday Favorites: Floor Pillows

One of the first things that I learned how to sew was a pillow cover.  My sweet friend, Allison, taught me several years ago as I was renovating my first home.  I wanted to choose my own fabrics and patterns for the house to make it uniquely ours.  That's the great thing about learning to sew...a whole new world of design opens up to you.

I especially love the idea of making floor pillows because they are so easy to quickly whip up in an afternoon.  They've been really great for our cozy, little house in the UK since we have so little sitting room.  We just store them behind the sofa and take them out when company arrives.  Voila!  We have ourselves a lot more seating that creates a fun and casual atmosphere.

So, here's a link for a great little tutorial from Curbly to get you started with making your own floor pillows.


Orange Blooms Card

I've been hard at work on my collection for Etsy.  So, I thought I'd share a new photo card I've been making.  It will be available as a digital file that can be printed at home or at any photo processing store.  Send me an email at kristen.king@shortstackstudio.com if you'd like to pre-order it!

Photography by Loren Kerns


Tortilla Soup

This recipe is becoming one of my absolute favorites and has worked its way into my fortnightly dinner rotation.  The soup reminds me of some fabulous tortilla soup I used to get at a little restaurant on the Texas-Mexican border.  I've been trying to find a suitable replacement for it ever since moving away from Texas. This one is great because you just throw all of the ingredients in the slow cooker, and you're done!  I'm loving it!

Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

  • 1 pound shredded, cooked chicken
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans diced tomatoes and green chiles
  • 1 (14 oz) can hominy (substitute another half package of frozen corn if cannot find)
  • 1 (14 oz) can black beans
  • 1 (10 ounce) can enchilada sauce
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen corn
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • tortilla chips (crushed)
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 package instant rice
  • shredded cheese
  • sour cream


*Place chicken, chiles and tomatoes, enchilada sauce, onion, and garlic into a slow cooker. Pour in water and chicken broth, and season with cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Stir in corn, hominy, black beans and cilantro. 

*Cover, and cook on Low setting for 6 to 8 hours or on High setting for 3 to 4 hours.

* To serve, add rice and a dollop of sour cream to each bowl.  Sprinkle tortilla chips and shredded cheese over soup.

(Recipe adjusted to my own tastes from the original by Elena on Allrecipes.com)


Screen Printing

This past weekend my husband and I took a screen printing class at the London Print Club.  It was a great beginners' class that focused on printing with water-based inks on paper.  I just really loved being in the studio full of creative people with different backgrounds interested in learning this new craft.

We brought several photographs that my husband took and adjusted in Photoshop.  Really, all of the graphics turned out fantastic, and I was very impressed by the products of this medium.  So, yes, I'm hooked and am already planning how I can accommodate this new hobby in my home studio.

Developing our images onto the screens

The fun part: using the squeegee full of ink

Time to wait

Finished products


That's a Wrap

I had to wrap up a little present along with the keepsake birth certificate I posted about earlier this week.  I was running low on some gift wrapping supplies.  So, I had to improvise a little.  Here are a couple suggestions if you're in the same predicament.

Instead of using tissue paper to wrap up the contents of a box, shred some cardstock, magazine pages, or other paper.  Add the shreds to the bottom of the box and let it stick out a little over the contents on top.  It'll make the gift feel like it's popping out at the recipient.

Missing a bow or ribbon?  No problem!  Just grab a magazine and make your own.  You just find a page with the colors you'd like.  (I used one with a fairly monochromatic layout.)

*Cut out nine strips each roughly 3/4" wide.  Cut an inch off two of the strips and two inches off two of the other strips.  The last strip should be cut down to about 4" or so.  

*Lay the side of the strips that you want upside down.  Loop the ends of each strip (except the smallest) by just pulling the end into the middle of the strip and twist it upside down.  Secure it with a staple.  

*After you loop each strip, you can start layering the strips in a star pattern starting with the longest ones on the bottom.  Glue or tape each layer on top of the other.  

*Finish your blow by looping the tiniest strip in the middle and securing with glue.  You could also add a button or an embellishment to make it more interesting.  

Happy gift-giving!


Chocolate Fix

One of the best weekend outings here in the UK includes heading out to one of the local farm shops for a little lunch and food shopping.  There are so many places to choose from, and they always have the comforting staples: tea and pastries.  Usually, my husband and I decide to bring a few of their pastries home with us to enjoy later.  On this trip to La Hogue Farm Shop and Cafe, we decided to take home a whole dozen chocolate croissants.   They're perfect for the occasional chocolate fix, especially on Sunday mornings.  If you want to make a dessert of it, you can pair them with a little chocolate fondue and fruit.

For the pre-made frozen croissants, just leave them out overnight, brush some egg wash on in the morning, and bake for 20 minutes.  If you don't live near a farm shop, try William Sonoma's frozen chocolate croissants.  They're amazing as well.  I'm telling you, these pastries are such great comfort food.  They'll make your home and your belly feel cozy and happy!


Keepsake Birth Certificate

Lately, I've been invited to so many baby showers.  I guess, it's the season for babies!  So, one of my friends was looking for a keepsake birth certificate.  Apparently, some hospitals don't give these to new parents anymore and will just accommodate a request for a signature if you bring your own.  I decided to help her out with this and create one as a gift to the new parents.  You can do this easily with any layout software and nice paper.

I used Illustrator CS5 and a new digital scrapbook kit that I bought especially for this.  I got the kit, Mod Bebe Girl, off of Design Digitals.  I still have to find a nice little frame to complete the gift, but here's the end result of the certificate:


Home Library

We've been getting our office and home studio organized lately and finally got some much needed bookshelves from Ikea.  My husband and I are both minimalists and really like basic cube shelves.  So, we opted to get a couple from Ikea since most other places here are pretty expensive.  Of course, the intention is to eventually put casters on them when we get back to the states, and give them a little more flair.

We've accumulated so many books, though, that now they are really overwhelming these shelves.  It's always nice to leave some space on the shelves and mix it up with housewares, pictures, and other interesting items.  Having an overcrowded bookshelf can be way too intense for the eye.  So, we might just have to buy another bookshelf!

Another thing I was thinking about when putting these together was the idea of grouping the books.  Some people like to categorize their books, group them by binding color, or just alphabetize them.  I subscribe to the categorization method myself.  I think it's so much easier to find the type of book you want, and then just let the books flow naturally with that section.  There's really no need to go any further with the organization, in my opinion.  You've got to leave a little bit of creativity and haphazardness in the mix to maintain that "lived in" feeling around your home.