Budget Breakfast That Whips The Competition, Hands Down

I am kind of a fan of the most consistent drain on urban American wallets ever.  Of course I'm referring to Starbucks, the evil geniuses who suckered me in 13 years ago with the lure of their vanilla skim lattes.  You see, I was a nice, east coast girl, raised to worship at the altar of Dunkin Donuts for her caffeine needs.  I drove by Dunkin's headquarters on my way to school each day, and my small town had four separate Dunkin locations.  It was a big deal when a Honeydew shop dared open its doors.  Therefore, when I went away to college and became friends with a Seattle native, this coffee house culture she spoke of sounded so exotic.  My fellow east coasters and I decided we had to see it for ourselves, so we packed into the old car I had sweet talked onto campus and made our way to the only Starbucks in the area, which was a good 25 minutes away.  We were prickling in anticipation, as if we were half expecting to see the cast of "Friends" lounging on vintage settees when we walked through the doors.  Having been coached on the lingo, we nervously placed our orders as though we were about to be scorned by the Soup Nazi despite the fact that the barista was just another poor college kid.  After an eternity, we had our drinks in hand, and I was hooked.  We would regularly make the drive out to that random Starbucks throughout our college years, as much for the time together as for the coffee.

After graduation, we went our separate ways, and I landed in Washington, D.C. for grad school.  By this time, the Starbucks invasion had begun, and I ended up living across the street from a Starbucks, which was when they were really able to sink their claws into me.  A trip to Starbucks went from being a sweet reminder of outings with friends to a hard core habit in short order, and a very, very expensive habit at that.  As the years went on, Starbucks stores seemed to multiply like Duggars, and soon they were on -- literally -- every block.  I stopped in regularly for breakfast, always ordering a skim latte, and generally some kind of unhealthy pastry for breakfast.  I rationalized it as my treat before the grueling workday (and night) ahead, and that kind of stress and sleep deprivation makes most rationalizations seem like a stroke of genius.

However, when I quit my job last fall, thereby draaastically slashing our income, Starbucks was one of the things that immediately hit the chopping block.  We made coffee at home, even grinding and brewing Starbucks beans, but it just wasn't the same.  Then came the Christmas Miracle of 2010.  My mom was looking for gift ideas for me, and my lovely, lovely husband suggested a cappuccino machine.  He found this relatively budget machine, and it has been AWESOME.  We use Starbucks espresso and I have perfected my milk frothing technique.  It most definitely brings all the boys to the yard.  So now we buy a pound of coffee once a month or so instead of a grande latte (me) and a grande iced coffee (hubs) each day.

But something was missing; I still kind of liked the idea of a little breakfast pastry every so often.  I really love scones, but they are tough -- often too sweet, too dry, and way way way too calorie dense.  I wasn't sure I could find anything that would actually be worth the effort.  I should have known, though, that of course one of my favorite bloggers would come through for me.  These scones are so delicious and flaky, and totally unrelated to the "blueberry" flavored, dry, leaden behemoths I would normally find at Starbucks.  With just a few tweaks of the recipe and less than an hour, I have a cheaper, fresher, healthier, and WAY more delicious coffee house breakfast without traveling any further than my kitchen.  Awesome.
Here's what I did:

Ready When You Are Blueberry Scones
(Slightly Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/4 c all purpose flour (NOT self rising)
1/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp baking powder (aluminum free)
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 c fresh blueberries (or other fruit of your choice)
1 c buttermilk
*additional cinnamon sugar for dusting

1.)  Dice butter into small cubes and place in freezer for 15 minutes.

2.)  Preheat oven to 375°.
3.)  Combine the ingredients, other than the butter, blueberries, and buttermilk, in a food processor and pulse to blend.

4.)  Add the frozen butter cubes into the food processor and pulse again until it has a sandy texture -- this only takes a few seconds.
5.)  Transfer the mixture to a mixer and add in the fruit and buttermilk (start with a little less than a cup of buttermilk and add in the remainder if you need it).  Mix on low until just combined.

6.)  Turn the dough out onto a floured counter, and knead/pat/roll it into a 1" thick rectangle.  Try to touch it as little as possible -- the butter needs to stay cold in order for them to turn out light and flaky.  Cut the rectangle into 16 little triangles.

7.)  These scones are best at their freshest, plus they freeze really well, so I only bake one or two at a time.  The rest I put on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and freeze them.  Once they're pretty solid, wrap them individually in plastic wrap and stick them in a freezer bag, and you'll have scones standing by whenever you need a quick hit of coffee house without dropping $5 on breakfast.

8.)  When you're ready for scones, place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet, dust them with cinnamon sugar and pop them in a 375° oven for 18 minutes.  That's it!  Make yourself a latte and enjoy!

Nutrition Info (16 servings):
170 calories
9 g fat
21 g carbs
2 g dietary fiber
3 g protein

Is it crafty in here?

Ok!  So, first project!  It seems that Easter has kind of become our holiday.  For the second year in a row, both my parents and my in-laws are coming, and this year we will be joined by my grandma, my husband's brother, and my sister and brother-in-law, as well as my brother-in-law's parents.  For those keeping count at home, we're up to 12, which is CAPACITY for this little house.  Pray for good weather so we can send everyone out on the deck, mmkay?

Anyway, I really like setting a pretty table, and this year we have the new wedding china and crystal to use.  I know that I am the only one who will really pay attention to all of these little details, but they make me happy, so there you go.  I saw these little place card holders at Pottery Barn and promptly fell in love:
However, I definitely did not love the $32 price tag for a set of 4, seeing as I would need 3 sets of 4.  So?  I decided to do it myself.  I headed to Michael's and picked up the following:
-- Mini flower pots  (actually, these were from Home Depot -- $.99 each)
-- Floral oasis
-- Moss
-- Ribbon
-- Decorative thingies -- eggs, flowers, chicks, etc.
-- Place cards
-- Glue Gun!

Yesterday afternoon, I finally got to work.  I made a prototype, and it actually came out pretty cute.  Believe me, no one was more surprised than I.
So here is what I did; your experience/taste may vary.  First, I cut the oasis into cubes, which made it easier to smoosh into the little flower pots.

I stacked the cubes in the pots and cut smaller chunks to fill in the open spaces.  I did not glue the oasis into the pots, because I recently saw this and fully intend to reuse the pots later.  Yum.  Okay, where were we?  Right, they should look like this-ish:

Then it's time for the moss, which was the most unpleasant part of the process.  It's messy, it's stinky, and the hot glue makes it even stinkier, but the gross is relatively short lived.  I pulled off pieces of the moss and arranged it over the top of the oasis, then glued everything down with a good layer of hot glue.

It doesn't have to be totally perfect; you can decorate over gaps or stick more moss in later if you find a bald spot.  Then it's time to decorate.  I snipped the flowers off of the larger wire stems, then put a dab of glue on the base of the individual flower stem, then just kind of stuck them into the moss in the center of the pot, holding it in place until the glue firmed up.
I used 2-3 flowers, 2-3 eggs, and a chick for each pot.  I centered the flowers, just kind of tucked the eggs in where they fit, and put the chick in the front.
Next up is the actual name tag.  I found little Easter themed place cards at Michael's and figured they would work fine.  I folded them over, then glued a toothpick inside.

Take your place card and just stick it into the oasis in the back of the pot.  Last step is the finishing ribbon.  (I measured out one piece, then used it as a guide to cut the remaining 11, just to be sure I wouldn't run out of ribbon, which would so be my luck.)  I folded the ribbon in half to find the center, then put a little dab of glue in the center of the ribbon.
I took the bit of glued ribbon and attached it to the middle of the back of the pot.  From there, I wrapped the ribbon around to the front, and loosely tied it once.  I stuck another dab of glue right behind the tie, then finished it with a little bow.

DONE!!  It took about two hours, start to finish, to do all 12, and saved me over 50% from the Pottery Barn originals.  Perhaps there is something to this DIY stuff....

In Which I Lose My Mind...

Well, if not my mind, then certainly my identity.  Hi, I'm Kate.  I used to be a lawyer in a very large law firm.  Those of you who have been in similar situations understand the soul sucking, pressure cooker of a "life" (I use the term loosely) that implies.  About six months ago, I managed to break free of the golden handcuffs, and since then, in addition to trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life, I have been:  1.) sleeping soundly, without awakening daily from 4-5 am to fret in a cold sweat; 2.) astounded by the fact that, huh, I guess I don't actually have an ulcer after all; 3.) going whole weeks without panic attacks; 4.) trading my 4 pm daily cry at my desk for a cup of tea and Oprah; and 5.) driving my poor, sweet husband CRAZY with various home improvement ideas that I intend to do myself because a.) we are now living on one income and b.) I need something to fill my time, despite c.) that I utterly suck at the DIY.

A very busy and important friend of mine suggested* that I start a blog to chronicle the disasters that were sure to ensue.  I figured I had the time, so why not?  Here goes...

*Ahem, demanded