Oh Honey, I Lavender You! A Cupcake Recipe

As you can probably tell, I get much of my inspiration by seasons.  Right now, New England is transitioning… slowly… into spring.  I’m beginning to put away my down feather parka and pull out my Barbour, and trade my leather boots for converse.  When I decided to bake a dessert for Easter this year, I wanted to incorporate the light, floral feel of spring.  Lavender was the perfect infusion match for the cupcake that I had in mind.  I looked at several Pinterest recipes, but couldn’t find one that exactly fit my vision.  So, for the first time ever, I (kind of) made my own recipe. These cupcakes are absolutely delicious, light, and have a touch floral.  I have to admit – I was nervous to bake with lavender because I didn’t want the cupcakes to taste like soap!  But if you love to bake and take small steps to try new things, this is a great spring recipe for any occasion.

Ingredients:

Cupcakes:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons of vanilla bean paste

2 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 tablespoons dried lavender

2/3 cups milk

Frosting:

1/2 cup butter

8 oz cream cheese

4 cups confectionary sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

2 tablespoons honey

Begin by taking out the eggs, butter, and cream cheese so that they have time to come to room temperature.  This is very important and I always forget this step!  Warm the milk in a small pot over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, and drop lavender buds in the warm milk (Note: I went to three stores to find dried lavender buds, and ended up finding them at a small, local, organic store.  I didn’t go to Whole Foods, but that would probably be your best bet).  Allow to steep at room temperature for 30 minutes, then, with the lavender buds in the milk, cool in the refrigerator for at least one hour.  The longer you steep, the stronger the lavender taste will be.  I only allowed my lavender to steep for the minimum time, because this was my first time baking with lavender so I did not know what to expect.  After steeping, strain out the lavender buds.  Measure the milk to make sure that you still have 2/3 cup.  If you lost some, just add some more milk.  (The straining is optional and you can leave them in, but I decided I just wanted a faint touch of lavender essence, and I think the flowers in the cupcakes would have freaked out my family!) IMG_7881

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, beat butter for a minute by itself.  Add sugar, and beat until well incorporated.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Then add vanilla bean paste (I prefer using this over vanilla extract because it gives a more natural flavor, and has the tiny bean specks that look nice and professional) and 2 tablespoons of honey.  You can add as much or little of the honey as you like.  The best kind of honey to use is natural, local honey, because it will give your cupcakes an authentic flavor and not be overly sweet.  Additionally, if you are able to find honey made from lavender flowers, that would be perfect! Beat into butter mixture until combined.

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In a smaller bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking powder.  Add this in parts to the butter mixture, alternating with the cold lavender milk.  I used an electric mixer on low speed, but you can also just use a spoon or whisk. DSC01549

After the batter is all combined, now comes the coloring!  The best kind of food coloring to use is gel, but unfortunately I couldn’t find any.  So, I ended up using about 12 drops of red food coloring and 8 drops of blue to achieve a light lavender color.  You can make these as bright and colorful as you like, or leave out food coloring all together., especially if you left in the buds.  Please note that the camera caused the batter to look grey, but in real life they were a lovely light purple.

Next, line cupcake tins.  I found both of my cupcake liners at Michaels, and I think they are so cute!  You can also find similar styles on etsy.com if you prepare ahead of time.  For the picket fence liners, I baked the cupcakes in regular white liners then placed them in the picket fence liners once cooled.  For the paper cups, I placed these on a cookie tray and filled them up directly with the batter.  This recipe allowed for 9 regular cupcakes plus 9 cupcakes in the floral cups.  The cups held much more batter than the regular sized cupcakes.  The regular cupcakes baked for about 16 minutes, and the larger cupcakes baked for about 22 minutes.  Check regularly with a toothpick, and try not to over bake because these can quickly become dry if left in the oven for too long! DSC01560

Once baked, remove from trays to cool completely.  For the icing, begin by beating room temperature butter with an electric mixer for about a minute.  Add room temperature cream cheese and beat until combined.  Add honey and vanilla bean paste.  One cup at a time, add confectionary sugar.  That is it!  I piped these onto the cooled cupcakes with a pastry bag and tip, but just using a knife would look nice and elegant as well.  Optionally, drizzle honey on top and sprinkle with lavender buds.  Voila, you have beautiful, easy, and sophisticated cupcakes!  DSC01574 DSC01577

Explorer

I love driving more than anything.  I have control of where I go and feel untouchable.  The mystery of only being able to see the outside of the world makes my imagination run wild.  For the first two years of college, I wasn’t allowed to have a car on campus.  The small city of Providence was distant and detached from my life.  I stayed within the perimeter of the campus bubble, because I was still getting used to this new environment.  This year, I brought my beloved Jeep to school and began some small explorations.  First the grocery store, then a nearby lake to go for runs, then a downtown juice bar.  Each time I go for a drive, I see a new building and travel down a new street.  The houses in downtown Providence are quaint, close together, and unique.  In learning more about my tiny city, I realized that it’s important to look around, wherever I may be.  Sure, someday I would love to travel to Australia and Ireland and Rome, but for now, Providence has hidden treasures of its own that impress me every day.DSC01050 DSC01059 DSC01062 DSC01064 DSC01067 DSC01072 DSC01073 DSC01074 DSC01077

Sweater  – ASTR (Nordstrom)

Jeans – Joe’s Jeans

Sunglasses – Ray Ban

Necklace – Claire’s

Hat – Urban Outfitter’s

Bracelet – Ettika

Shoes – Vans

Don’t get SAD, get glad

We really need to work on January. All throughout November and December, life is filled with beautiful lights, glittering snow, Nutcracker shows, and red wine.  Then before we know it, the clock strikes midnight and we have to dump out the champagne, think of a New Year’s resolution, and drink up some kale juice.

When I first read about SAD (seasonal affective disorder) on an article online, I rolled my eyes and x-ed out of the page. Well, until I realized that I have a case of SAD.  I just spent the past three weeks interning at an insurance company – my first job in the “real world”.  When I drove to work at 7:30 in the morning, it was dark outside, and when I left at 5, it was dark again.  I quickly became exhausted, sick, and had little motivation to do anything but sleep. I bailed on friends who I haven’t seen in a long time and bailed on activities that I wanted to try out myself, like soul cycle and going on a walk with my dog.  At the end of my internship, I came to the conclusion that I can’t let SAD be an excuse to be sad! So this weekend, I put on a fuzzy outfit and tried some new ideas to make this SAD feeling go away.  Here are some ideas that I have been using:

  1. Start each day with something you look forward to.  For me, that definitely means food and a good drink.  I don’t drink coffee, but I’ve become a huge tea freak lately.  To warm myself up, I like to make a nice hot cup of green tea.  My favorite at the moment is the Kokomo Green from David’s Tea.  It’s fruity enough so you don’t need to add any sweetener, and it brightens the morning because it’s so refreshing.  It contains pineapple, papaya, mango, rose petals, marigold petals, and cornflower petals.  If that list of ingredients could sound any more delightful, let me know.  If you’re not big on tea, try squeezing a lemon into some hot water.  How many times have you read that Victoria’s Secret models drink it every morning?  Go ahead, now’s the time to do it!
  2. Bring in some life to your life.  Winter is often related to cold… and death… how pleasant!  So I bought some little succulent plants to put in my window.  They pretty much don’t die, and it’s nice to see some green around (besides that kale juice I mentioned earlier).   If you have a pet, give them some extra love.  Maybe they’re experiencing SAD as well.
  3. Play some new music.  I’ve been listening to Vance Joy (Just saying – I discovered Rip Tide before everyone else… I’m a hipster accept it) and his music is perfect for snuggling up on a cold day and drinking that warm tea.  I’m also enjoying “The Long Way Around” by Jackson Browne.  If you have a favorite playlist that you’ve forgotten about, put that on repeat.
  4. Treat yo self.  Okay this might not be the best advice, but as a materialistic shopaholic, retail therapy is a legitimate therapy for me.  However, the trick is to buy items that will last, and that aren’t to show off.  Maybe I didn’t need that $35 Dior lipstick that I bought last week, but every time I pull it out of my purse I feel slightly more glamorous than the “business casual” outfit I scrounged together in my morning slumber.  Treating yourself can come in forms other than spending money.  I also created some homemade face masks (try mixing warm honey with a spoonful of nutmeg and leave in on your face for 10 minutes.  Amazing.) that were free and allowed me to wind down and calm my mind.  Most importantly, when you treat yo self, make sure you take a moment to appreciate and acknowledge it.
  5. Get outside and get moving.  I know, I know.  Not something that’s easy to do in 5 degree weather.  Some ideas to make it easier on yourself:
  • Walk to that cute coffee shop before work (maybe to try some new tea?).
  • Try to get the treadmill at the gym that’s next to a big window, or if you have one at home, move it next to a big window!  Pretending you’re outside is good enough.
  • Call up a friend and suggest that you meet up to go shopping at an outdoor mall, cute shopping street, etc.  That way you can go outside in intervals!

So that was a load of advice, but it is worth a consideration.  For today’s outfit, it’s all about comfort.  When I was younger, I used to cry when my mother dressed me in turtlenecks.  Now I can’t get enough of this one. It’s so soft, a lovely oatmeal color blend, and so roomy.  These pants are called “Sateen Jeans”, and I would hardly consider them jeans.  They’re a soft, smooth texture to combat the chunkiness of the sweater.  They’re also thin and stretchy and feel like leggings.  These black booties have been my everything this winter because they make any outfit look about 15% more chic.  I’m obsessed with this Rebecca Minkoff purse.  It’s structured, professional looking, but trendy because of the matte black finish.  Thank you for reading, and I hope your SAD turns to HAPPY.

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Sweater: Free People

Vest: J. Crew

Jeans: Anthropologie (J Brand)

Booties: Nordstrom BP

Purse: Rebecca Minkoff

Shades: Ray Ban

Ring: David Yurman

Bracelet: David Yurman

Back to School Blues… or Greens?

The best part of living in New England is being able to fully enjoy each season.  My favorite season has always been and always will be fall.  It’s the forgotten season, with summer and winter hugging it so closely, and spring being such a relief after a long winter.

Fall’s details are so unique and plentiful, especially because it only lives for a short time every year (as they would say in The Fault in Our Stars: some infinities are shorter than others). Of course there are the classics: The smell of the leaves piled on the neighborhood corner that I used to bury myself in (still not sure how I managed to avoid Lyme Disease).  The huge bins of fresh apples that I pick every year and can never finish… unless I make a few apple pies.  The pumpkins and mums on everyone’s front door.  But I always take a mental note of the lesser known fall traits: The ability to keep myself entertained if I’m walking alone by finding the good, crunchy leaves to step on.  The feeling of using a new pencil eraser for the first time in class.  How the air is crisp in the morning but warms up for afternoon walks to the bakery. And most of all, the feeling of being back as a part of something – whether it’s a sports team, a group in class, or a group of friends that I missed.  I love fall because after a hot summer of working and relaxing, it’s nice to get myself up and feel important, being surrounded with beautiful autumn scenery.

This outfit is sophisticated and girly, but still young and carefree. Perfect for a long day of classes, a club meeting, or a casual interview!  I love the contrast of a basic white top with a little distress and the schoolgirl look of the plaid skirt.  Chanel flats obviously go with everything, plus a big tote to carry notebooks is always a better confidence booster than a regular North Face backpack (which… is what I normally wear to class).  Can’t you picture Serena van der Woodsen wearing this running late to Constance?

Unfortunately in the fall, life kind of… starts again.  Early mornings, late meetings, lack of sleep.  Most people turn to coffee in times of caffeine need, but I prefer green tea or this green juice.  You’ll be craving this every morning, and it won’t dye your teeth yellow!

Ingredients (serves 1)

  • 1/4 of a whole pineapple
  • 6-8 kale leaves
  • 1/2 inch ginger root
  • 1/4 lemon

Put all ingredients through a juicer, mix with a spoon, and add a few pieces of ice.  It’s that easy!  I also love juicing because you don’t have to clean the juicer it right away (if you’re in a morning rush) and it doesn’t leave your kitchen a mess.  I’m lucky enough to have a juicer, but if you don’t have one, try placing all ingredients in a blender (only use 3-4 kale leaves) with some coconut water.  Let me know what you think of this morning zinger in the comments below!

One last note: I made an instagram 2 days ago.  Check it out and follow me for more updates! @melissa.brian

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Top: Free People

Skirt: Free People

Tote: Tory Burch

Flats: Chanel

Bracelet: Local Boutique

September Style

Even though school buses are driving by my window at 7 am and I’m making daily Bed Bath and Beyond trips,  the weather is still above 80 degrees and I’m refusing to let summer slip away.  September can be the transition from high school to college, beaching to field hockey, green leaves to orange… and I love this time of the year because for me it usually means more independence and motivation. 

I leave for my junior year of college in a few days, and in the meantime I’m spending as much time outside as possible.  Between my summer abroad in rainy London and Netflix binging upon return, I’ve managed to avoid that perfect Lauren Conrad summer glow.

While I don’t want summer to end, the thought of iced pumpkin spice chai lattes and riding boots taunt me.  I’m torn, and so is my fashion sense.  I think that this outfit perfectly describes the predicament I’m facing.  Combine a cozy sweater and halter crop top? Check! Flowy beach shorts in a muted autumn jewel tone print? Check! Black booties (as close to riding boots as I can handle right now)? Check!

Speaking of crossing summer and fall, I’m holding the refreshing Cosmic Cranberry Synergy Kombucha drink.  In the fall I love cranberry everything – cranberry sauce on turkey sandwiches, cranberry nail polish, cranberry juice mixed with vodka (oops!), etc.  I tried a Kombucha drink last summer in the original flavor and I was surprised by the taste.   Last week I gave Kombucha another try, and now I can’t stop drinking it!  I like the “enlightened” version because it has less of a vinegar taste and is more like fizzy juice.  My favorite is Guava Goddess, and I’ve also tried and loved Passionberry Bliss.  Since drinking Kombucha, I find myself with plenty of energy, craving less junk food and making healthier choices.  Maybe it’s more my back to school jitters than the Kombcha doing this to me, but if you haven’t tried Kombucha yet, definitely give it a try!

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Top: Brandy Melville

Shorts: Brandy Melville

Boots: BP (Nordstrom)

Sunglasses: Ray Ban Light Brown Gradient

Hat: Random store in Punta Cana

Drink: Enlightened Synergy Raw Kombucha in Cosmic Cranberry

Cape Cod Love Letter

Oh, Cape Cod.  We’ve been on and off for the past 20 summers, and only now I see your appeal.  I used to dread visiting you, but can you blame me?  You dragged me to grandma parties and distant family events where everyone had me confused with my sisters.  But this weekend I visited you with my brunette best friend (no identity confusion there), and I was able to take in everything you have to offer.  I felt your warm salt air kiss my face at the beach, smelled the blooming blue hydrangeas you proudly grow on every lawn, and ate my candy peaches one by one.  You’re the only place that doesn’t judge me for my air dried hair or sleeping in past 11.  Your colorful preppy stores make me want to replace my entire closet with Shep Shirts and printed Lilly dresses, and I can’t forget your oh so satisfying breakfasts filled with sugary donuts and fluffy pancakes.  So Cape Cod, I think we’re more compatible now and off to a new beginning.  Can’t wait to see you again next summer.

Dress: Elle

Wedges: Nine West (similar)

Bangle: Sequin (similar)

Ring: David Yurman

Earrings: LC

Bag: Rebecca Minkoff

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The Golden Summer Days

Once upon a time there was a blonde girl with a furry blonde friend.  They took a stroll in a pretty town in CT on a perfect summer day.  In between frolicking around gorgeous Victorian estates and drinking iced chai lattes, she attempted to hold her skirt in place when he dashed after squirrels.  (She also struggled with keeping the poop bag out of pictures.  With those CT taxes, you would think they could invest in more trash bins!)

My name is Melissa and this is my blog.  I’m a 20 year old college student studying economics and math, and this blog will be my outlet when I need a break from numbers and graphs.  I love fashion, decorating, baking, eating, and trying to stay healthy.  Every day I try to be inspired by my pinterest boards and create a little something to appreciate.  I take the motto “stop and smell the roses” quite literally, and I think it’s important to consciously feed your soul with moments that keep you happy. Today I looked up at the sun, put on my brightest yellow outfit, stole my mom’s floppy hat and took my friend Tucker for a walk in town.

Top: Brandy Melville

Skirt: American Apparel

Sandals: Jack Rogers

Bracelets: Sequin (similar), HermèsKate Spade (similar)

Necklace: Dogeared

Bag: Rebecca Minkoff

Earrings: From my grandmother

Hat: Mom’s closet

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