Mid-Week feel gooders #2

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With my days getting busier than ever, I feel even more compelled to take a break and ogle at beautiful objects/places/crafts. There is just so much creativity in the world, and hardly much time to truly value any of it. Sometimes I wonder what the purpose of life really is. It certainly cannot involve just working your life away. There is so much to see, so much to take in and most importantly, so much to appreciate!

Okies, before I get lost in my thoughts, I shall cut myself short and leave you with some stunning finds that will surely recharge your batteries.

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1. Gorgeous Light and Shadow Painting by Rashad Alakbarov. Would love a small one for my home!

2. Cheery Magnolias on a Dictionary page by FauxKiss.

3. The Bangalore Wallflowers have been transforming blank walls into beautiful pieces of art. They work in collaboration with the community and encourage people to contribute ideas and participate in the painting process.

4. I once owned a bag almost identical to this one. Hand made from recycled plastic. I bought mine from a small market in Manila. Dying to get my hands on another one.  

5. Would you have the heart to put a fork into this lovely plate? This Malaysia based mother of two creates lovely designs with edible items to get her daughters to eat. She provides step by step instructions on her blog- www.eatzybitzy.com.

6. Yes, I believe Unicorns exist! Digital Drawing by SnowSkadi.

7. Art installation made by Ronald van der Meijs from 5,000 repurposed bicycle bells set on steel pins. As the wind picks up, the bells gently ring against one another!

8. The Magic Mountain Lodge in Chile. What an amazing experience it would be to spend a couple of nights here!

9. Paper art by Jen Stark that will blow your mind.

Have a lovely rest of the week! :)

xoxo

Drab to Fab – DIY Hutch Makeover

This is an old DIY project that I didn’t find the time to document earlier but is one of my favorites for sure. The husband had this OLD boring brown ugly traditional dated hutch. I honestly didn’t care much for it and was all set to toss it. Instead, I decided to do a little experiment with the old piece. Never thought it would fit in a contemporary setting but well, take a look at the results. :)

Here is a picture of the top half of the hutch just before we got started on it -

hutch-before

(Yes I know the husband’s taste in furniture is definitely questionable!)

I decided to paint it an ivory white so it would add more dimension to the room and create that illusion of space as opposed to what it was currently doing – occupying all the space in our tiny dining space and looking quite hideous at the same time! Since it is a big piece, it did take time to take it apart, sand it properly so the surface was all even and then finally paint it. This was way before I had gotten comfortable using spray paints so we went the traditional route and spent about two weekends painting away. I bought brand new knobs from Cost Plus World Market and love how they look. I was initially looking for animal face shaped knobs for that whimsical touch but couldn’t find them anywhere. These ones work pretty well for now, especially the tiny patterned ones. Instead of using a traditional pull out knob for the drawers, I decided to use two small ones.

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A fresh coat of paint and pretty new accessories did the trick! I love how it looks now and at some point I might remove the mirrors from the inside panel and experiment with some chevron patterned wallpaper for an interesting look. But that’s another project…

I recommend using Spray Paint as it is faster and far more convenient. Refer to my post Furniture Makeover DIY for details on what paints to use and tips for painting furniture.

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photo 4

before-after-hutch

Easy Two Ingredient Chocolate Mousse & Our Oscar Party

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It’s that time of the year again…when we settle down in front of the telly and watch the starlets of Hollywood walk down the red carpet. I personally love watching the red carpet pre-Oscar coverage so I have sort of started a custom of making a party out of it. Husband and I invited only! We make some yummy treats, sip cocktails and make a night of it. The main features tonight are a rich and creamy Chocolate Mousse and Tequila Sunrise that the husband concocted.  (Winner combo!)

So when I first read the recipe for this super easy Chocolate Mousse at Eat Live Run, I couldn’t believe that the ingredients consisted only of chocolate and water! Seriously, I was a little flabbergasted. Once my shock subsided, I decided to test the recipe. Now I am even more in shock because not only does it look perfect, it tastes JUST like Chocolate Mousse made the traditional way. I used 72% dark chocolate and you can add some sugar if you like your mousse sweeter. I didn’t add any and love the way it tastes.

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This fabulous recipe, Jennifer Lawrence in her gorgeous red Dior and Lupita Nyong’o in the powder blue Prada sure look like winners tonight!

Recipe by Herve This & Heston Blumenthal

Adapted from Eat Live Run

chocolate-mousse

Ingredients
4 servings
265g bittersweet (%70 cocoa solids) chocolate, chopped
240 ml water
4 tbsp sugar, optional

Method

  • Place a large mixing bowl on top of another slightly smaller one, filled with ice and cold water (the bottom of the large bowl should touch the ice). Set aside.
  • Put chocolate and water (also sugar if you’re using) in a medium-sized pan and melt the chocolate over medium heat, stirring occasionally. I added a tablespoon of dark rum to this mix for a nice bold flavor. 
  • Pour the melted chocolate into the mixing bowl sitting on top of ice and water, and start whisking with a wire whisk (or an electrical hand-held mixer) until thick. Watch the texture as you whip and make sure not to over-whip as it will make the mousse grainy. If the mousse becomes grainy (which is possible at your first try), transfer it back into the pan, reheat until half of it is melted, pour it back to the mixing bowl and whisk again briefly. I got it right the second time around.
  • Garnish with orange rind (optional but it tastes so good!)
  • Divide into serving cups, chill for about an hour and serve.

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Mid-Week feel gooders #1

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I am a lover of pretty things, beautiful places, yummy food and innovative functional objects. Very often, in the middle of the workday, I take a couple of minutes off just to look at things that make me feel good. Helps me stay stimulated and the feel good factor doesn’t hurt either.

Here are my top mid-week finds to help get you through the rest of the week -

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1. Aren’t these table mats lovely? Find the simple DIY tutorial at Design Sponge.

2. Bioluminescent Phytoplankton. Maldives, you are on my Travel wish list. 

3. Very cool rug from Loomrugs.

4. Chocolate Baileys Mud cake that I am dying to try. Find the recipe at Citrus and Candy.

5. Spring-ready sandals from Anthropologie.

6. Cheery and colorful prints by twoems!

7. I just cannot get over this wallpaper print. Available at Tangletree Interiors

8. Paleo Coconut milk Panna Cotta from Culinarystorm that looks so pretty, I might not be able to eat it.

9. I am a little obsessed with pendant lamps these days and absolutely love these ones from Urban Outfitters

Happy mid-week browsing! :)

Love at first sight… 7 places that took my breath away!

Some places are unforgettable. They permeate deep into your heart, find a cozy corner and refuse to leave. Just the thought of them sets off a hundred different emotions in your mind. I have a long list of places embedded in my mind and I long to revisit these places some day. Until I do, allow me to share some of that joy I feel at the thought of these places.

1. Windermere, Lake District National Park, UK

England’s largest lake and one of the most picturesque places I have visited. We spent a couple of nights by the banks of the lake and it is one of the places that is permanently etched in my mind. Sit by the banks and just zone out to the world. This is one place you can do so very easily! Oh and if you are in the area, do drop in to see Dove Cottage, where William Wordsworth lived for a considerable amount of time and also where he wrote one of his most famous poems – “Daffodils”! If you visit in the spring, you can actually see the carpet of daffodils that inspired the poet. The adorable cottage is open to visitors for a small fee but is very well maintained and the guides do a pretty remarkable job of giving out information.

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2. Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan, India

I have always loved had this strange love for Tigers. I remember doing a ‘Save the Tiger’ campaign in school and getting extremely passionate about the cause. Never having seen a tiger out in the wild, I knew I had to visit Ranthambore some day. I was fortunate to visit with an old and dear friend on a spur-of-the-moment trip.  We stayed at the beautiful Nahargarh Palace, located at the outskirts of the park. Fortunately we had booked a late afternoon safari to take us into the forest. Our guide was extremely optimistic but hours passed with no sign of any Tigers. We did see a lot of Spotted Deer, Peacocks, Crocodiles, a Bear that dashed into the woods after spotting our jeep and some really exotic birds. Towards the end of our safari, our guide drove through some super windy roads and took us to a spot where we saw not one but TWO gorgeous Tigers! :) I am going to hold on to that moment for the rest of my life. If you are a wildlife enthusiast, do add Ranthmbore to your list of places to visit right away.

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3. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Lucky enough to have been able to call this city my home! Even though it was for a short while. As you enter Newcastle, it captivates you instantly. It’s like a city out a storybook. I suggest you take the train into the city because the Central station is stunning and the location is perfect if you are looking to explore the city.  I have spent so many afternoons just ambling around the city, going up and down the architecturally stunning Grey street, shopping for fresh produce at Grainger Market, walking down to the Quayside to sit on the Millennium Bridge and collect my thoughts…so many happy memories! The city is a perfect blend of old and modern, it is best known for its nightlife and culture. I promise you will not be disappointed if you choose to visit Newcastle.

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4. Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Oh Yosemite! Where do I begin? You were such an unexpected surprise! Despite having lived in the area for over 4-5 years, the husband had never visited Yosemite so I didn’t have very high expectations when we did visit last year. As we drove into the park, I was stunned! The high rock structures are so enigmatic. They almost call out to you and beg you for your attention. I had to immediately pull over because I couldn’t focus on the road.  The views of the half dome and the valley are just spectacular if you are able to drive up to Glacier Point. It was so surreal, I had to sit down for a moment or two just to take it all in. I look forward to visiting the park in every season.

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5. Lake Wembanad, Kerala, India

Serene. Exquisite. Mesmerizing.  Lake Wembanad is the place the visit if you just want to escape from the crowded city life. We spent a couple of nights at the Malabar Escapes property, Purity and it was so magical! The views were just breathtaking and the food, exceptional. The lake is a well-kept secret because you don’t see the regular sea of tourists like in other parts of Kerala. It is the perfect getaway if all you want is a couple of days off to just let all the stress from everyday life melt away! I can never forget the gorgeous night, eating dinner under the stars as our houseboat called Discovery drifted away into the backwaters.

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6. Taal Volcano, Philippines

I have had the fortune of visiting the island country twice. My aunt and uncle who lived in Manila at the time organized a trip for us to Batangas, which is located in the Southwestern part of the island of Luzon. The drive itself was very scenic but the highlight of the road trip for me was the Taal Volcano. It is the second most active volcano in the Philippines and my first caldera volcano sighting! It looked so calm and peaceful floating on the lake… but has had some of the country’s largest and deadliest eruptions. Taal Volcano acts as the parent to Vulcan point, which is the world’s largest volcano in a lake (Main Crater Lake) on a volcano (Taal Volcano). And the main Crater Lake also happens to be the largest lake on an island (Volcano Island) in a lake (Lake Taal) on an island (Luzon). We got a lovely view of the volcano from the Tagaytay Ridge.  I do hope to go back some day and hike up to the Volcano.

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7. Zermatt, Switzerland

If I could go back to one place right now, I would choose Zermatt. This quaint city in Switzerland stole my heart the instant I stepped out of the Glacier Express! It is a car free city and you can stroll or bike around without a care. You might encounter a horse-drawn carriage every now and then but most vehicles are kept out of the city and are mostly battery operated. The Matterhorn is visible from almost anywhere in the city and looks SO majestic. Walk around, take a hike into the mountains, hit the slopes, sip some delicious hot chocolate and fall in love with Zermatt, I know I did!

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Rainy Day Cupcakes with Banana Buttercream Frosting

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After a VERY long dry spell, it is finally raining! I love rainy days and thunderstorms make me happy. They fill me with a sense of nostalgia and bring back some really precious memories. I am reminded of all the yummy treats my mother would whip up just because it was raining! So to celebrate the rains, I spent the morning reminiscing and baking cupcakes.  Also, what better way to commemorate the season of love (oh the rains make me all fuzzy!) :)

Even if you don’t like the rains, try these Rainy Day Cupcakes because they will totally lift you up and brighten your day. Enjoy a cupcake or two with your loved ones, and feel the spirit of the season!

These are really easy to make and all you really need is two large bowls. Took me less than an hour to make and less than ten seconds to wolf down a few.

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Here is what you need -

A 12-cup muffin pan, paper liners, 1 bowl, a whisk, a measuring jug that holds at least 1 cup, measuring cups and spoons, a fork and a spoon or spatula.

The recipe below makes 8 cupcakes. 

Ingredients 

For the cakes -

  • 1 1/2 cups (195 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup (79 ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup (79 ml – 118 ml) reduced fat (2 %) milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Frosting -

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) soft butter
  • 2 cups (400 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Line 8 standard-size muffin cups with paper liners. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water to the 4 empty muffin cups (this helps to make sure the muffins bake evenly).

  • Combine flour, 3/4 cup of the sugar, baking powder and the salt in a large bowl with a whisk. Whisk well.
  • Next, add vegetable oil to a measuring jug that holds at least 1 cup. Add the egg then fill the jug to the 1-cup line with milk (this should be 1/3 to a 1/2 cup of milk). Add vanilla extract and whisk with a fork until combined.
  • Add milk mixture to the bowl with flour and sugar then use a fork to combine. Do not over mix.

cupcakes

  • Spoon the batter into the paper liners. I generally use an ice cream scoop so that all my cup cakes turn out the same size.
  • Bake these for about 15 to 20 minutes or until tops are no longer wet and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cake comes out with crumbs and not batter.
  • Once done, let them cool on a wire rack and work on your frosting.

I decided to make Banana Buttercream frosting and although I have never made it before, it turned out quite well. In fact, it was so good that I think I prefer it to any other kind!

  • With a hand mixer, cream together the banana, butter and vanilla extract.
  • Beat in the powdered sugar one cup at a time, until you have a rich and creamy frosting.  I added some blue food coloring but you can choose to not add any.
  • Frost your lovely cakes and prepare to watch them get demolished.

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This one is for all my loved ones out there.
Love, hugs and kisses!

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Road Tripping through the South

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Road trips are awesome! They are so spontaneous and it is so nice to not have a plan for once. I must confess, I am a planner. I LOVE to plan! Before going on vacation, I have a long list of places to see, what to eat, where to eat and so on. This was the first time I left home without a plan and I was pleasantly surprised.  All I knew was that we were flying into New Orleans and flying out of Charleston, SC. With minimal planning, a car booking confirmation and a GPS, we left home.

So after a lovely few days in New Orleans, we decided to drive out East towards the Emerald coast in Florida. We quickly drove by Mississippi on the I-10 East and made a quick stop at Mobile, Alabama for lunch. However, being Christmas day, the entire city was shut and there wasn’t a soul in sight. It felt like driving through a movie set! I would definitely love to visit the charming old city again some day. We continued our drive towards Pensacola from where we decided to take the scenic Florida State Road 399 towards Panama City, FL. This state road is on this sliver of land with the most gorgeous white sand beaches on the Gulf Coast! I definitely recommend taking this slightly longer route towards Panama City. The views are breathtaking and the beaches are magnificent. We were so blown away by the emerald green water, that we decided to stop at Panama City for the night. Luck was definitely on our side as we managed to get a room right on the beach! It felt really special waking up to that view. emerald-coastRejuvenated after that stay, we left Panama City and decided to head further East across Florida to Jacksonville on the East Coast. This was probably the longest stretch of driving we did on this trip. Tired and hungry, we arrived at Jacksonville downtown late in the evening and decided to stay overnight. The next morning we made a quick stop at Anheuser-Busch Brewery, which is just on the outskirts of the city. They conduct tours of the brewery everyday so we decided to go see it. It is quite a large set up and our guide was pretty thorough, she answered a lot of questions and gave us very detailed information. The tour ended with some free beer! After that slight detour, we continued North on the I-95, vaguely heading towards Savannah, GA. We stopped for lunch at Brunswick, GA and ate at the most adorable place called The Indigo Coastal Shanty! The food was probably the best we had on the entire trip and the hospitality, very impressive! (What would I do without yelp!)

With stuffed tummies, we headed out North on the US Route 17 that passes through all the small towns along the coast of Georgia. Just off of highway 17, we came across The Smallest Church in America in South Newport! The church is very neat and looks really pretty with all the Spanish moss hanging from the trees around it. It was quite exciting to just stumble upon it :)! That’s what makes road trips so much more special. You end up seeing a lot more than you ‘plan’ to! After another quick stop and a 50-mile drive later, we arrived at Savannah, where we decided to stay for 2 nights. Getting a hotel room last minute was not easy since it was a long weekend and Savannah is a very popular tourist destination in the area. Do plan ahead and make hotel reservations if you are planning to spend some time in Savannah! We had the option of just skipping the town but the husband and I was so drawn by the quaintness of the city that we just had to stay.Savannah-1Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia and is a city with so much character and history! I am always fascinated by old cities so Savannah quite a treat for me. The historic downtown area consists of 22 park-like squares. Most of these squares are named in honor or in memory of a person or historical event. We walked through about 12-15 of these squares and each had a different story to tell. One of these squares was the famous Chippewa Square made popular by the bench scene from Forrest Gump. A visit to The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is definitely recommended, as is a stroll down Jones Street. Southern Living Magazine declared the street the prettiest street in America! It was a fun day of sightseeing, great food and very interesting martinis at Jen’s and Friends.

The next morning, we headed out to the Bonaventure Cemetery and the Wormsloe Plantation. The cemetery has featured in several movies and is eerily beautiful! Large oak trees draped with Spanish moss, arches and stunning statues make it so picturesque.  We spent some time walking around and then decided to leave for Wormsloe. The Wormsloe Historic Site is a real visual treat. No photographs can do justice to the beauty of the oak lined avenue towards the museum and tabby ruins. Noble Jones, one of the founders of Georgia, established the plantation. It is quite well maintained and the museum is quite interesting. A visit to Savannah is incomplete without visiting Wormsloe Plantation. It is definitely a MUST DO!Savannah-2With that picture in our minds, we set out for Charleston, our final destination. Charleston is the oldest city in South Carolina and again like Savannah, it has some magnificent old buildings. We spent the first afternoon walking around the busy downtown area on Kings Street just to get acquainted with the city. It reminded me so much of streets in England, with narrow cobbled streets and gorgeous buildings dating back to the early 1800′s.

The next morning, we decided to walk around the old parts of the city and the Battery for a clear view of Fort Sumter. This is the location of the official start to the Civil War. Having worked closely on a book on the American Civil War, I was terribly excited to see Fort Sumter! The Battery Park is also home to some of the most gorgeous Southern Mansions, as well as American Revolution History. Just a short walk away from here is the famous Rainbow Row, a series of 13 colorful historic homes in Charleston. They looked so cheery and bright, I couldn’t take my eyes off them! :) We spent the rest of the evening on the busy Bay Street visiting some local bars and restaurants.Historic-CharlestonThe following day, we returned home feeling relaxed and invigorated. In 9 short days, we experienced different cultures, pace of life, scenery and food. It was quite an unforgettable vacation and although we were a little sad to be back, we found comfort in the fact that we have so many more places to explore and so many more road trips to look forward to! :)