Archive for February, 2011

Photo by hownowdesign via Flickr

So, Joe and I are finally thinking about settling down. Like “really” settling down. Like “buying a house” settling down. As of now, we are still very much in the tourist phase. We haven’t been pre-accepted for a loan or anything like that; I am checking out books from the library to learn about this daunting process. Note: local library, please buy some new house-buying books. Huge numbers of books about flipping and no-down-payment loans are not so applicable in the market right now!

The other thing I have been keeping my eye on are the MLS listings for our region. A few months ago I signed up with a service that emails me daily the new house listings in our area (actually three counties, as we aren’t sure exactly where we want to live yet.) An MLS is basically a database for brokers to list real estate. I find it incredibly handy, as I love to research, and it really gives me a feel for the types of options in our area, and lets me see what is really available, and what is in our price range. Now, MLS listings are generally for other brokers to reference in order to refer buyers to properties. But there are many options now for buyers to peek at what’s available, too.

So, with this in mind, I have a list of MLS listing pet peeves, things in listings that just turn me off big time! A lot of these have to do with photos.

  • Photoshopped images of the property. Eh, I don’t mind a little bit of color correction, sharpening, etc. But really, if you are photoshopping all sorts of text bubbles over the photos of the property, I am going to think that this is a rink-a-dink operation.
  • Badly taken images. If I can’t make out what you are trying to show, it is a bad picture, and don’t put it in the listing!
  • Photos of strange details. When half the pictures are of the new fixtures added to a property (sink faucets and new stainless steel fridge, I’m looking at you) it makes me think that someone did a cosmetic update to a house, but left the important stuff (roof, HVAC, etc. ) alone because it is more expensive to update.
  • No pictures of the kitchen. Especially when there are pictures of seemingly every other space in the house. Even more if I can see one tiny corner of the refrigerator in the picture of the dining room. For me, the kitchen is one of the most important parts of the house, and if the listing isn’t showing it, I automatically think it must be an absolute mess.
  • Spelling mistakes in the listing. Seriously, please just run spell check, or even just re-read what is written to make sure spell-check didn’t skip something. “Close to shoppin” “kitchen updatee” “walking closet” just scream “we don’t care!”
  • The listing is in all capitals. Which looks better: “Three bedroom, two bath townhouse with lake views,” or “THREE BEDROOM, TWO BATH TOWNHOUSE WITH LAKE VIEWS.” I think this is supposed to be attention getting and it is, but not in a good way. It reminds me of shady tv ads that play during the day for “liquidation sales” with “iPods for $20!” Not good.
  • Too-wide exterior shots. If I am looking at a listing for a townhouse, I would like to know which one in the row of six it is.
  • Drawings instead of photos. This is fine for new properties, but if the house was constructed in 2001, a drawing of the elevation is not adequate.
  • Using wide angle lenses. Yes, I understand that you want to show as much of the room as possible. But it’s just freaky and it throws off the scale entirely. “Is that bed really that close to the closet. The room must be tiny. But hey, the bedside table is ¾ the size of the bed…oh! Wide angle lens!”
  • No pictures at all, only description is: “A must-see property.” That tells me almost nothing. Also, when you say “must see” does that mean “must see” in terms of “wow, this is great!” or “must see” as in”holy cow, how can people live in such a horrible, mold-filled, flooded property! I can see the sky through the ceiling! There is a frog crawling over my shoe. And tell me again why this house costs $140,000?

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Well, it looks like I am somehow making not blogging a habit. Funny how it is. I feel all motivated, and then, whoops, there it goes out the window. 12 Days of Cookie-mas, well, it ended up being only five. That was due to my hurting my back and being laid-up for a couple of  weeks; I couldn’t even stand long enough to bake cookies, much less sit up straight to write blog posts about them. Other than that, though, I really have no excuse. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy blogging–I do–it just seems to be a lower priority than it maybe ought to be. For me, blogging isn’t particularly easy. I mean, the words flow very easily when I am actually ready to write, but all the preparation for the actual writing just takes it out of me. Since I often blog about food, not only do I need to cook it, but I need to photograph and edit the pictures. Which doesn’t take long, but by that point, I often seem to lose steam. When I do more style-based posts, it takes probably 2+ hours of work per post. I am not quitting blogging, it just really seems to take more out of me than I think one would assume it would.

So anyway, now that I’ve whined a bit, here is what I made for Valentine’s Day. I am not really much of a Valentine’s Day person. I don’t dislike the holiday, it just isn’t an important one to me. But any excuse to make desserts I will take! Funny thing about cupcakes for me–this was the first time I’ve made them. Yep, somehow to cupcake craze passed right over me. But with desserts, there really is no late! And oh my goodness were they fantastically delicious!

three chocolate cupcakes with pale pink swirled frosting and red sprinkles
Aww, aren’t they cute?

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Via Baking Bites

For cupcakes:

  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. instant coffee granules (I used decaf, single-serving packets; these actually)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup milk (I used 1%)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar

For frosting:

  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1-2 Tbsp. milk
  • 2-3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 – 3 drops red food coloring (optional)
  • Sugar sprinkles (optional)

First, we make the cupcake base. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line 48 mini muffin cups with mini muffin liners. In a large bowl, sift together dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, coffee powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.) A lot of the coffee crystals will not go through the sifter. Its okay, just discard the stubborn bits. In another bowl, whisk together milk, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, and vinegar. It will get slightly frothy. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fill muffin cups 2/3 to 3/4 way full. I found a table teaspoon works well for this. Bake cupcakes for 10 – 12 minutes until tester comes out clean. In my oven, it took more like 11 – 13 minutes, but no harm in checking at the ten minute mark. Remove the cupcakes to wire rack and let cool completely before frosting. Note: I used silver metallic muffin liners because it was for a special day, but I highly discourage this! When removing the cupcakes from the hot pans, the metallic liners will burn your fingers!

While the cupcakes are cooling, its good to get started on the frosting. Using a stand mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter. Make sure to scrape down the beater and sides of the bowl frequently. Beat in the vanilla extract and add 1 Tbsp. of the milk. Add the second Tbsp. if needed. Remember not to lick the measuring spoon used to measure the vanilla extract–it smells better than it tastes. Add a couple drops of food coloring if desired. Gradually add powdered sugar until frosting is desired consistency. I used approximately 2-1/2 cups powdered sugar, but would probably add more in the future–my frosting was a bit limp.

Once the cupcakes are completely cooled, frost the cupcakes as desired. I used a decorator bag with a medium star tip and swirled the frosting on, but I suppose the frosting could be spread if need be. Add sprinkles to top if desired.

Yield 48 cupcakes, lots of extra frosting. Send lots of cupcakes to work, as 48 is way too many for two people to eat, even though they are mini cupcakes!

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