Every Day, You Inspire People You Have Never Met

It isn't very often that an unexpected package arrives on my doorstep. I had just ordered my 2015 World's Most Super-Amazing 100% Awesome Cat Calendar, but I wasn't expecting it to arrive so quickly. When I opened the package, I fully expected a black cat in a felt fish costume to be staring back at me; instead, I pulled out a large, shiny print that read, "Every day, you inspire people you have never met" and at the bottom: "Love, Etsy."

Love, Etsy? Etsy sent me a gift? A large, gold foil and letterpress poster is not inexpensive! After opening the packaging, I discovered two post cards: a thank you card, and a miniature version of the poster.

As it turns out, the poster and thank you note were for my contribution to the Etsy blog in 2014: "6 Tips for Beating Burnout". The second post card was blank, and I am encouraged now to pass on this message of inspiration to someone else in the Etsy community.

It got me thinking again about how much we might feel inspired by people, but for one reason or another, never let them know. Maybe I shouldn't say "we". Maybe other people are a lot more vocal about their feelings than I am. Every day I have opportunities to tell people how I admire them: their work; their accomplishments; their positive attitude; their amazing cooking skills, or their beautiful home. It certainly made a difference in my day to feel appreciated - it is definitely time to pass this sentiment on.

Now it is time for me to decide who to mail this lovely post card to. In the meantime, I challenge you to think about who inspires you, and what you could do to let them know that they are admired. 

The 6 Kitchen Tools That Changed The Way I Cook

Over the years as I have gained more cooking experience and with it, confidence in the kitchen, I have acquired more tools to improve the cooking process. I am by no means a gourmet chef, and my choices in this list probably reflect that. I make basic, from-scratch recipes that are practical, but a little adventurous. The tools in this list are easy to acquire, easy to use, and serve many purposes. I have included my Amazon affiliate links to help you find the same tools I use, if you are interested.

Here are the six kitchen tools that have changed the way I cook:

Wooden cooking utensils: this is more of a personal preference for me, but a few months ago I was cooking sandwiches and noticed my plastic spatula was starting to get a little melty on the tip. The thought of melting plastic in my food was a little too much, and I've started to use wooden cooking utensils whenever I can. Sometimes it's just not possible, like when cooking an omelette and you need some flexibility; however, using wooden utensils when cooking puts me a little more at ease. Wooden utensils also don't scratch pots like metal utensils can, nor do they react with acidic foods like metal utensils can.

Immersion hand blender: the primary reason I bought this was because my full-size blender died, and I really love making smoothies 2-3 times per week. I had enough Amazon shopping points to get this Hamilton Beach hand blender for free, so I went for it. I'm so glad I did. I started using it to crush frozen blueberries and mix them with my soymilk for breakfast smoothies, but now I use the whisk attachment for making shakes, batters, and whipped cream (now that my handmixer has also died). Earlier this month I used the immersion blender attachment to make Julia Child's potato and leek soup (which is awesome, by the way), and it worked amazingly. This immersion blender was one of my best uses of Amazon points; however, if I were to buy another, I would go for one like this immersion blender from Cuisinart without the plastic case around the blade.

Fine grater / zester: I bought this KitchenAid Fine Grater / Zester primarily for grating garlic and ginger, but I use it most often for zesting citrus. Previously I had been using my smallest cheese grater, which resulted in some scraped knuckles from time to time (plus it wasn't quite fine enough for what I wanted. What I like about the fine grater / zester is that it has the sliding attachment for holding foods for you (no more scraped knuckles!). What I don't like about this particular model is that it can be a little difficult to clean. The key is to clean it quickly and not let the grated leftovers dry around the holes. I would eventually like to buy a Microplane Zester/Grater, which has much better reviews.

Dough blender: I bought this dough blender on a whim from a friend's Pampered Chef party, and I'm so glad I did. I had my pie crust in mind when I bought it (which it is perfect for), but I also use it for cutting butter into cookie dough, biscuit and scone dough, and on occasion when mashing pinto beans or even potatoes! This one by OXO looks comparable if you can't order through Pampered Chef.

Parchment paper: we never used parchment paper growing up. Even now, my mom isn't very familiar with the uses of parchment paper. Since I started buying it a few years ago, I use it for lining pans when making custard, lemon bars, or scones; I've used it to make cupcake liners when I had none; I wrap baked goods with it when gift-giving; etc. Since it's heat-resistant, it's been a lifesaver when baking with old, nonstick pans.

Electric coffee grinder: this electric coffee grinder was another tool I got for free using my Amazon points. I switched to a french press coffee pot in 2012, and quickly learned that course-ground coffee beans work much better in a press pot than finely ground, pre-packaged coffee beans. I've been using this Krups coffee grinder almost every day, and it'd held up very well. I also started using it as a mini food processor to finely grind things like food-safe lavender buds; cloves; citrus zest; nuts; dried bread for bread crumbs; rosemary leaves; sugar (for superfine baker's sugar); rose petals (for soap making); etc. Is there anything you've used your coffee grinder for that's made your life easier?

So those are some of my favorite kitchen tools. What tools have improved your cooking experiences?

The Frosting vs. Icing Debate

To me, it's always been frosting. "It's the frosting on the cake!" I frost my sugar cookies, cupcakes, and brownies. In my house, we never iced anything. I've learned now that the use of this term tends to be a regional thing. Take a look at this "Frosting vs. Icing" infographic from Bite Bar - a gourmet bite size dessert bar in Toronto: you can see Michigan is very much in the red: we tend to call it "frosting".

According to the infographic, there actually are a few differences between frosting and icing, and it looks like it does go beyond semantics:

1. Frosting is more of a stiff coating for cakes (and cake fillings, cookies, cupcakes, etc.), while icing is thinner for cakes, cookies, and pastries.

2. Frosting will be fluffy (buttercream) while icing will be glossy (glaze).

3. Because of its texture, frosting will stay put, while an icing tends to spread.

4. Frosting is butter or cream based, while icing is sugar or egg white-based, often thinned with milk (See my recipe for perfect buttercream frosting)...

5. ... therefore, the flavor of frosting tends to be more buttery, while the flavor of icing is more sugary.

frosted sugar cookies
I loved reading this infographic - and not just because I wanted to eat everything pictured in it. If you're interested in the history of frosting; interesting flavor pairings; and some tips for making the best frosting possible, read more of the infographic at Bite Bar, written by Sanjay Agnihotri.

So now, it's time for a poll. What do you call it? Is it frosting or icing?

Is it frosting or icing?
pollcode.com free polls

A New Series of Paintings for 2015

I haven't formally announced this yet, but in 2015 I will be transitioning from professional paper cutting to my first loves, painting and drawing.

This is a sincere change that had to happen. While I loved paper cutting for all of the years that I did it, I now find myself needing work that allows me to express myself more freely.

This is just a sneak peek at what I'm working on. I have an entire series in the works that I'm really excited about!

I most definitely plan to share more with you as I get more of my paintings scanned and cleaned up. Two in particular I can hardly wait to digitize.

The Top 12 Posts of 2014

Happy New Year! I can't help but look back at all of the fun I had on the blog this year. Based on page views and visitor comments, these were the top 12 posts of 2014 on She Makes a Home! Thank you to everyone who stopped by for a visit.
  1. Spruce Up Your Blog for the New Year - perfect timing for the new year:tips to tweak, tidy, and re-evaluate your site for 2015
  2. What's Your Indie Business Emergency Plan? Have you ever had life's twists and turns throw your work off schedule? Do you have a plan for the unexpected? These are my top 4 tips for being prepared for anything.
  3. Vanilla Almond Buttercream Frosted Sugar Cookies - based on my popular "Perfect Sugar Cookie and Buttercream Frosting" recipe, this post features an alteration for Valentine's Day cookies.
  4. Polka Dot Magnets DIY - a colorful and useful craft, and it's even something the kids can do while on winter break!
  5. Spring Cleaning Checklist Printables - If you're like me, you won't be able to do all of your Spring Cleaning in one day. Here are two printable checklists to keep you on schedule: get your Spring Cleaning done in 1 week, or 30 days.
  6. Painting the Front Door - After I finally picked the perfect color for my front door, the next challenge was to actually paint it. I was nervous, but it turned out great. See how I did it.
  7. DIY Faux Patterned Wall Paper - I can't bring myself to commit to wall paper. Here's a simple way to mimic patterned wallpaper without damaging your paint job.
  8. Yay! I Leaned How to Digitize My Calligraphy - One of my missions for 2014 was to focus on learning new skills and broaden my horizons a bit. Not only did I learn a bit of calligraphy this year, but I also learned how to digitize it.
  9. DIY Facial Bar for Blemishes - confession: I'm almost 30 and I still break out. After getting sick of drugstore remedies, I developed my own facial soap bar with very basic ingredients.
  10. Eco-Friendly Wrapping Paper Wreath - to compliment my newly-painted front door, I made this simple and pretty paper leaf wreath with eco-friendly wrapping paper.
  11. Star and Moon Baby Shower Theme - another twist on my sugar cookie recipe, this post features star and moon sugar cookies with lemon buttercream frosting, along with my favorite picks for a star and moon-themed baby shower.
  12. Rose Petal Solid Shampoo Bars - second only to Snowed In Magazine in popularity, this rose petal solid shampoo bar tutorial was frequently visited this year! These are a wonderful break from store-bought shampoo, and extremely easy to make.

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