A Day at the Biltmore

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What seems like ages ago, my sister and our mutual besties and I hopped in the car and took a road trip to Asheville, North Carolina, and visited the fabulous Biltmore Estate. The place was gorgeous, from the architecture to the beautiful gardens to the stables to the food – oh, I could go on and on and on about the fantastic food – but that wasn’t nearly what made the trip so memorable for me.

What really made that trip stand out in my memory…was just how happy a trip it was.

You never appreciate a group of friends until they call you up to drive four hours to tour a fabulous house, eat delicious food, and shop for dip mixes. Until they crash your house for a fondue party just because. Until they accompany you to a chocolate cooking class where you all know you’re going to eat so much you’re sick afterwards, but that won’t stop you anyway. Until you realize that, even at a distance, it’s so easy to fall back into that laughing ease. And that you talk and laugh that entire trip as if no time has passed since your last get together, and though you can’t remember what you talked about or what that joke was that made you all shriek with laughter in the car, you remember just how happy it was.

Love is an awesome, awesome thing. I love these awesome ladies and the laughter we always seem to share.

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Happy weekend!

KCS

Millionaire’s Shortbread

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What’s there to do on a rainy Hawaii afternoon except take a long luxurious snooze…and bake up something delicious and full of butter, chocolate, and salted caramel?

I’m not much of a sweets person, but when it comes to sweet treats, I am an absolute sucker for anything that brings a little salt and savory into the mix. The buttery shortbread layered with the super sweet caramel topped with chocolate and sea salt just touches all the right taste buds for me! To seal the deal, I sprinkled a little bit of local flaky sea salt over the top.

You can buy flaky sea salt in your spice section, but since salt water isn’t exactly rare around here and local companies pull it fresh from the sea, for relatively cheap, you can walk off with a bag of it. Which, naturally, I did.

Millionaire’s Shortbread

For the shortbread layer:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the caramel layer:

  • 1 14-oz can sweet condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter

For the chocolate layer:

  • 12 oz milk chocolate chips

Finish with flaky sea salt.

How to make it:

1. Preheat your oven to 350F.

2. Butter a 9×9 inch square pan, and then give it a light coating of flour. This is an essential trick to prevent sticking, and I’m kicking myself for not trying it on other baked dishes.

3. Cut the butter up into small pieces. Mix the flour, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl, and then use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the mix, until it starts forming a pebbly texture. If the pastry cutter isn’t making headway with the mixture, you can press it around with a fork.

4. Press the mixture into the bottom of the pan, and bake it for about 20 minutes. Then take it out of the oven and let it cool while you’re prepping the caramel layer. Oh, and turn the oven off. You’re done baking.

5. This right here is all you need to make your own caramel if you don’t have a jar of it at home. Heat up a large sauce pan and combine the milk and butter in the pan, stirring it constantly. If you don’t stir it, chunks can stick to the bottom and burn. Let it boil, but keep on stirring until the mixture turns a lovely pale toffee color. This usually takes about 15-20 minutes. And right now, you’re probably wondering why you shouldn’t just go buy a jar of caramel. Go ahead – it’ll still be yummy.

6. Spread the caramel layer over the shortbread layer evenly, and let that cool as well while you’re making the chocolate layer.

7. This is the easiest part. If you have a double-boiler, great, but if you don’t, heat water to a simmer in a small sauce pan and stick a pyrex bowl on top of it with the chocolate chips in it. Stir them lightly with a spatula as the chocolate chips melt. Voila – easy melted chocolate and no fancy equipment required.

8. Spread the chocolate over the cooled caramel layer.

9. Sprinkle a little sea salt over the surface of the chocolate, both for garnish and for an extra spark of taste.

10. Let everything cool for 5-10 minutes and then set the pan in the refrigerator to let it cool completely. I came back and cut them after about an hour and they came out tasting pretty fantastic!

Serve and enjoy. These go absolutely great with a cup of coffee or with a little pour of dessert port.

KCS

The Coffee Farm

Coffee is kind of a way of life as far as my family is concerned. We’re Swedish in origin. The average Swedish citizen drinks at least four cups a day*. When all of us are visiting my parents, both coffee pots are running pretty much at all times. And then we go walk to my parents’ favorite coffee shop in the afternoon for a cup, a sit down, and conversation. We call it fika, a get together with friends, family, and coffee, and usually a treat.

*Note: if you’re not a Swede, Norwegian, or Finn, don’t try to keep up with us on the coffee.

It’s been fun to see how the love of a good coffee and getting together – along with leaving your shoes outside and other traditions I once thought of as Swedish – are also prevalent through Hawaii. Locally grown coffee is in high demand throughout the world, and thanks to the fertile volcanic soil, is absolutely delicious.

When my sister was visiting, we took the opportunity to take her to the Green World Coffee Farm about fifteen minutes up the road from us, and we had no end of things to be excited about. First of all, they grow their coffee and they roast all their coffee right there in the store, making it some of the freshest coffee you’ll see. And it’s accompanied by a selection of art and locally {and sustainably!} made goods you can purchase, and served up with coffee house tunes as well.

And you can’t help but love the creative names. The Sexual Chocolate, by the way, is full-bodied dark-roasted chocolately decadence! And you don’t have to order it with Eddie Murphy’s shout and mike drop, but it’s good for a laugh.

On top of that, you already know about my love for coffee shop design both out and about in Hawaii and in our home, and the Green World Coffee Farm gave me some great designing ideas – and definitely some counter envy! That beautiful counter under the coffee carafes is solid monkeypod recovered from a mill in Waialua – one Scott and I are trying to track down in the hopes that we can buy some for our own breakfast bar at home!

While we were there, we bought a couple of their used burlap coffee bean bags, the same they used to upholster the chairs in the coffee shop, with the intent of sprucing up our own coffee bar and dining area a little bit. We bought the chairs and table off Craig’s List and while they’re in great condition, they needed to be reupholstered.

I think this definitely did the trick.

Inspired by the mixture of toughness and softness in the bags and this project I pinned, I took the leftover scrap burlap and a scrap piece of plywood from one of our other projects and made a treat for the cats – and something to distract them from trying to scratch our feature wall. So far, they love it!

Both of these spots are still works in progress {so please ignore the extra piles of stuff around!}, but gradually the house is getting there! I’m amazed at how much we’ve been able to accomplish over the past year, with limited budgets and busy schedules of work and travel!

If you’re heading out toward the North Shore on Kamehameha Highway, don’t miss the Green World Coffee Farm – and pick up a coffee bag or two. You never know what you’ll be inspired to do!

KCS

Roads Less Traveled

Everyone’s heard the famous lines from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” The general argument is that he’s talking about how we should all take the road less taken, but Frost is the king of subtext. If you read his “Mending Wall” poem, where people often quote the famous line, “Good fences make good neighbors,” you can see he’s not talking about that at all. His protagonist in the poem says that the walls should be left knocked down for sociability.

I kind of feel the same way about “The Road Not Taken.” There’s a longing in the words about the road he didn’t take, and the thought that sometimes roads lead somewhere for a reason. Sometimes, following those trails left behind leads us to things that are pretty cool.

But there is a lot to be said for a trail that lies off the beaten path, one that isn’t often visited and you can have all to yourself to discover and explore.

The Aiea Heights Loop Trail is one of these. It’s a 5 mile loop at the upper end of the Keaiwa Heiau State Recreation Area, which you can only reach by taking a long and winding residential road up the hill from the freeway. And when you reach the trail, it’s full of narrow land bridges, switchbacks, exposed roots, fallen tree trunks, and a stream crossing. It’s definitely a hike for the adventurous.

But the views are worth it. I can’t describe it. I can only do my best to show you.

KCS

Sunday Currently, vol. 27

Clockwise from top left: 1) Monkeypod trees are absolutely beautiful when they’re in bloom! 2) Sand and gentle surf at Bellows – too much for paddle boarding, not enough for surfing, but perfect for bodyboarding! 3) Walking the crater rim on the Aiea Heights Loop Trail. 4) Salted caramel millionaire’s shortbread. Om nom nom!

Currently…

Reading. Here are some of my favorite reads from this week:

  • I love Amanda’s Blog Talk series, and this week she came back with “Why do you follow?” What really prompts us to follow a blogger {besides those dang Rafflecopter prompts that I now know well enough to ignore}. What do you find that really makes you feel like you connect to a blog or blogger?
  • The Pope shared a list of ten things you can do to be a happier person, and it’s awesome.
  • It’s no secret I love Regina’s business posts for creatives, and I love her series on “Who You Are Online.” Her latest post delves into the things that make an experience memorable, and it’s perfect not just for business owners, but bloggers, travelers, and anyone just looking for the right places to frequent and brands to sponsor.
  • This is the first summer in ages where I haven’t had to move somewhere new, but the wanderlust is kicking. We’re kind of hoping for an assignment in Virginia or Maryland next, and Rachel’s 5 reasons to visit Annapolis has this Army girl wondering if she can get a second Navy assignment in a row!
  • Dine x Design is the blog I wish I had the design and haute cuisine talent to write. I seriously obsess over it. And I’m kind of obsessed with these Piscolada Cocktails, too.

Listening…to a lot of Spanish guitar lately. I’ve been trying to practice guitar more regularly, and this is definitely motivation, even if I know I’m never going to sound like this.

Writing. A quick catch-up on posts from this week:

  • After the Storm – remember the two hurricanes that were supposed to hit us? Well, they hit the mountain and fizzled, and we were left with some absolutely beautiful Hawaiian weather. We took the opportunity to enjoy it and get out for a ride around the North Shore and visit some shrimp shacks!
  • Reach Out – everyone was saddened by the death of beloved icon Robin Williams. This post is just a small reminder that we shouldn’t let anyone feel as alone as he reportedly felt at the end.
  • Scratch Pancakes – no pancake mix? No problem. This is my favorite quick and easy recipe for faux buttermilk pancakes from scratch. Have real buttermilk? Just swap it in for the milk and sour cream – which is the easiest way to get that buttermilk taste when you don’t have real buttermilk.
  • The Edge of Your Comfort Zone – it’s where life begins, and it’s where I learned a whole lot about how to travel, how to adapt, and how to be comfortable in new situations while living and working in a part of Japan where almost no one spoke English and where I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Cooking. It deserves a separate call-out since I’m always making something – like the parfait featured in last week’s Sunday Currently and the millionaire’s shortbread above. Those, along with a crab and spinach quiche, my French onion soup, and a quick and easy way to make baked sweet potato fries will be coming to the blog soon!

Feeling…in love with life. I’ve reconnected in a big way over the past few weeks with things that make me happy, and even though my work is keeping me extremely busy, I feel like the joy I get from those little things keeps me powered up through the rest of it. I haven’t discovered the secret balance between work and projects and family and play, but I’m getting closer to finding something that works for me.

What’s on your mind, currently?

KCS

 

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