Homemade Mini Donuts

I am a donut freak. It’s a problem. I pretend I make them for my kids, but the truth is, that’s not the whole truth. Imagine my excitement when a few years ago, at Target, I ran into a Sunbeam mini donut maker, at Target, on sale! I bought it, used it a few times, forgot about it, recently rediscovered it, and now, the obsession is real. It’s pretty easy to make cake donuts at home, but they don’t always taste so great. So, here are my 3 current favorite recipes, that taste awesome, with a few slight adaptations/ changes.

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The first recipe I love is from the blog Crunchy Creamy Sweet. It’s actually a recipe for donut muffins, but works great in the mini donut maker. It’s super easy, really fast, and egg-free for those with allergies. It could easily be modified to be dairy free, if you just use almond or hemp milk, instead of regular. Here are the directions and slightly-modified recipe, for making them in this maker (you could also easily use a donut pan like this, in the oven):

Ingredients

For the mini donuts:
    1. 1/2 c granulated sugar
    2. 1/4 c unsalted butter, melted
    3. 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice or allspice
    4. 1/4 tsp of cinnamon
    5. 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    6. 1/2 c milk
    7. 1 tsp baking powder
    8. 1 c all-purpose flour
For the cinnamon sugar coating:
  1. 1/2 c unsalted butter, melted
  2. A generous 1/2 c granulated sugar
  3. 1 tsp cinnamon

Yield: 9-10 mini donuts

Directions

  1. Plug in and preheat mini-donut maker. The green light that says “bake” comes on when it’s ready, after a few minutes. (If you’re using an oven pan, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.)
  2. Technically, you’re supposed to mix the ingredients together in stages, but I throw them all into the bowl, whisk a minute or two until smooth, and call it good.
  3. Grease the donut cavities with nonstick spray, on both sides. Use a regular kitchen spoon, heap it full, to fill each cavity. You can also put the batter into a gallon ziplock, cut a corner, and pipe the donuts into the donut cavities.
  4. Bake in the donut maker for 4 minutes. (Or the preheated oven for 15 to 17 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center of each donut comes out clean.)
  5. Lift them out gently with a fork and let them cool on a plate for a minute or two.
  6. Prepare the coating: melt butter in a small bowl; in another small bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon.
  7. Dunk each one in melted butter, completely covering it, and then roll in cinnamon sugar. I roll and roll and roll those suckers, to make sure they’re generously coated with the cinnamon-sugary deliciousness.

They taste best eaten right away, and they remind me a bit of cinnamon sugar elephant ears, but still pass the taste-test for pretty darn good, up to a couple of days later, as long as they’ve been sealed tight in a tupperware container. There’s also an awesome version of this for pumpkin-lovers, here. (For the pumpkin donuts, I use pumpkin pie spice instead of the ginger, nutmeg, and cloves, and add some extra cinnamon to the batter.)

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The second donuts are so pretty to look at, and super fun to make. They’re my daughter’s favorites, because she loves anything with sprinkles. The original recipe is from Sally’s Baking Addiction. I slightly modified the recipe (I hate nutmeg in donuts), and made the directions fit the mini donut maker.

Ingredients

For the mini donuts:
  1. 1 c of flour
  2. 1 tsp of baking powder
  3. 1/4 tsp of baking soda
  4. 1/4 tsp of cinnamon
  5. 1 egg
  6. 1/3 c of brown sugar
  7. 1/4 c of milk
  8. 1/4 cup of plain yogurt
  9. 2 Tbs of melted butter
  10. 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
For the chocolate and sprinkles coating:
  1. 1/2 c of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  2. 2 Tbs of butter
  3. 2 tsp of light corn syrup
  4. 2 tsp of water
  5. Sprinkles!!!

Yield: 9-10 mini donuts

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Directions

For the mini donuts:

  1. Plug in and preheat the mini-donut maker. The green light that says “bake” comes on when it’s ready, after a few minutes. (If you’re using an oven pan, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.)
  2. Technically, you’re supposed to mix the ingredients together in stages, but I throw them all into the bowl, whisk a minute or two until smooth, and call it good. Be sure to melt the butter before mixing it in.
  3. Grease the donut cavities with nonstick spray, on both sides. Use a regular kitchen spoon, heap it full, to fill each cavity. You can also put the batter into a gallon ziplock, cut a corner, and pipe the donuts into the donut cavities.
  4. Bake in the donut maker for 3 minutes. (Or the preheated oven for 9-10 minutes, or until the edges are slightly brown.)
  5. Lift them out gently with a fork and let them cool on a plate for a minute or two.
For the chocolate glaze and sprinkles topping:
  1. Place the chocolate chips, butter, corn syrup, and water into a bowl and melt in 20 second increments in the microwave, stirring after each time, until melted and smooth. It only takes 40 seconds when I make it.
  2. Dip the tops of the donuts into the glaze, and either sprinkle sprinkles on top, or dunk the freshly-glazed donuts into a bowl of sprinkles.

As with the others, they’re best eaten the same day, and pretty good the next day, after being sealed tightly in a tupperware container.

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Last, but not least, chocolate cake donuts, glazed. These are AMAZING freshly out of the donut maker, and pretty great the next day, too. These were my husband’s favorites. The original recipe is from Buns In my Oven. This time, I didn’t change anything from the original recipe, except, of course, I used the donut maker instead of a pan in the oven.

Ingredients

For the mini donuts:
  1. 1 c of flour
  2. 1/2 c of sugar
  3. 1/4 c of cocoa powder
  4. 1/2 tsp of baking soda
  5. 1 egg
  6. 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
  7. 1/4 c of milk
  8. 6 Tbs of sour cream
  9. 1/4 c of vegetable oil
For the glaze:
  1. 2 c of powdered sugar
  2. 6 Tbs of whole milk
  3. 1 tsp of vanilla

Yield: 10-12 mini donuts

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Directions

For the mini donuts:

  1. Plug in and preheat the mini-donut maker. The green light that says “bake” comes on when it’s ready, after a few minutes. (If you’re using an oven pan, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.)
  2. Technically, you’re supposed to mix the ingredients together in stages, but once again, I throw them all into the bowl, whisk a minute or two until smooth, and call it good.
  3. Grease the donut cavities with nonstick spray, on both sides. Use a regular kitchen spoon, heap it full, to fill each cavity. You can also put the batter into a gallon ziplock, cut a corner, and pipe the donuts into the donut cavities.
  4. Bake in the donut maker for 2.5-3 minutes. (Or the preheated oven for 8 minutes, or until the tops spring back when touched.)
  5. Lift them out gently with a fork and let them cool on a plate for a minute or two.
For the glaze:
  1. In a small saucepan, over low heat, combine ingredients and melt together until smooth.
  2. Place a wire rack over a cutting board, cookie sheet, or wax paper. This part is messy and you’ll be glad you have something to catch the glaze drips.
  3. Dunk the donuts fully into the glaze and place on the wire rack to cool. I recommend pouring the glaze out of the saucepan into a bowl, to let it cool and coat the donuts more thickly. Move quickly, before it gets too thick!

Again, these are best eaten the same day, and pretty good the next day, after being sealed tightly in a tupperware container.

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There you have it, something great to go with your morning coffee, a fun treat for the weekend mornings, or a cool trick to make your kids think you’re the bestest.

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(As usual, all of my photos were taken with my iPhone 6. Here’s a tutorial on how I take and edit my photos.)

 

The Luxury of Staying Home

Once a mom, no decision is easy. There’s one main decision, that seems to plague moms (and parents in general, high-five to stay-at-home dads!), and generate the so-called “mommy-wars:” Go to work, miss moments. Stay home, miss the stimulation and contribution of work. I thought I had the best of both worlds, when I started and ran a business from home. My business was creative and artistic. I built it alone from nothing. My items, that I made with my own two hands, were sold in Nordstrom, worn by countless brides on their special days, and featured in many print and online publications. I was so very proud. But, with the birth of my second baby who didn’t love to sleep, something had to give, or I was going to lose myself. So, I sold it. And I miss it.

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What used to be harder for me than missing a business desperately, that I grew and ran for almost 5 years? When people told me, “you’re so lucky to have the luxury of staying home.” It’s such a pat and dismissive little phrase. I scream inside, “don’t you know what I gave up to stay home‽” I know it’s fortunate I can stay home with my children. Not everyone gets that choice. The fact it’s a choice at all is in itself, a luxury. I completely get that. But, I can’t help but thinking that there is nothing luxurious about being covered in bodily fluids that aren’t even my own (I suppose my own would still be gross, but someone else’s seems worse somehow), biting my tongue and taking a deep breath when yet another double tantrum starts and the screaming leaves my ears ringing for hours, answering “why” seventy-million times, holding 2 toddlers at once, because one is jealous if I hold just the other, cleaning up poop…so much poop, being caught up in the “nap-trap,” being so tired the very thought of getting dressed makes me want to cry, not having a hair cut in 6 months, budgeting very carefully and putting my needs last, not feeling excited about new work and contributing to my household in an obvious financial way, never drinking my coffee while it’s hot, feeling a bit like my own thoughts, feelings and personal/ career development is on hold, giving up a realized dream of building my own business that I put so much blood, sweat and tears into, and not having a single finished conversation or thought with a friend. It’s sometimes, a very isolating and lonely existence, and luxury is the last thought that comes to mind.

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But, then my almost-three-year-old pretends she’s a puppy, licks my 13 month old’s face, and they both collapse in giggles so hard, that I do, too. My eldest says to my youngest, with such innocent sincerity, “I’ll always take care of you. I love you, sister.” My heart can’t stand the amount of love and laughter it just got to feel, and I realize: this is a luxury. It may not be so in the conventional way one thinks about, but my days are full of laughter, new beginnings, and so very much love. I get to wear sweats if I want to, while little hands slip theirs into mine, and soft, chubby cheeks nuzzle into my neck. I get to cure pain with a kiss. I get to watch my children get to know each other and become friends. My days are all different, and as slow or fast as we decide to make them. I get to bake cookies in the afternoon, make volcanoes erupt on the kitchen table, and have dance parties. I get to document it all with my old, nearly-forgotten and now-revived love: photography. I’m not using my degree in a conventional way. It’s not glamorous. I still yearn for a creative job again, and will constantly be looking for ways to “have it all.” But, my life right this moment? It is luxurious, in its own special way. And I’m so very grateful I get to experience this luxury.

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(Once again, all these photos are taken with my trusty iPhone 6. Here’s my post on iPhone photos.)

Nikon FE – A Camera Review

I swear this is not a photography blog, but I am really interested in taking photos. In my post about iPhone photos, I mentioned my “big camera,” which is my 1970s Nikon FE, a second-hand, 35mm film camera. My husband got it for me as an anniversary gift, a couple of years ago from a local camera shop. While I use my iPhone camera much, much more often, sometimes I like to snap some shots with my film camera, and here’s what I think of it.

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Things I Love

It’s film. One of the things I love most about this camera is admittedly, purely subjective and emotional: I find film photos beautiful. I love the simplicity of taking it “old-school,” and the fact they’re not digital. It reminds me of simpler times, and fills me with nostalgia as I remember being a little kid, taking a roll of film in to be developed, and waiting with bated breath for the prints to come back, seeing them for the first time and smiling as I relived the moments that had passed weeks and months before, rather than just moments before. I also think there is something magical about the way light blankets and wraps itself around faces in film. There is so much dynamic range in the light captured with film, that just isn’t the same with digital. Faces seem more life-like, and the images blow up to large sizes quite beautifully. On a technical side, film is also a little more forgiving with focusing and over/ under-exposing.

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It’s inexpensive. This camera cost $220 for the body and the Nikkor 50mm 1:1.8 lens. For a digital SLR that shoots full-frame (35mm shots) like this one, it would be something like a Canon 5D, which for the body alone on an older model, is around $1,200. (Granted, the Canon does things like take video, and auto-focus, and a lot of other things that the old SLR doesn’t.) For simple photo-taking SLR requirements, it’s hard to beat the price of the Nikon FE.

It’s easy to use. It’s easy to load and unload film, comfortable to hold in my hand,  the body of the camera has texture and doesn’t slip out of my hand, it’s not too heavy, has a built-in light meter that’s easy to read, and while it doesn’t auto-focus, it has a split-image rangefinder spot that makes it incredibly easy to focus.

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Caveats

It’s film. Growing up in the digital camera age, I’m used to instant gratification, so waiting a week or so to have film negatives developed, and scans to a CD processed, is a bit difficult. In a world of cameras that hold thousands of shots, it’s also hard to remember that there are only 36 shots and then I’m done. I have to think carefully and wait for the perfect moment to press that shutter, and I can’t delete any “outtakes.”

Fewer shots. Because each roll only has 36 shots, and it’s not a good idea to snap away like with a digital, sometimes I miss the shot: it just doesn’t turn out right, the focus is off, the lighting is off, the exposure is off. Sometimes that can be corrected a bit on the digital scan, in Photoshop or Lightroom, but sometimes it can’t. It also means that there are often fewer great shots overall, in total, than if I snap away with a digital.

Fewer editing options. Unless you have a darkroom and know how to use it, or want to post-process your digital scans on your computer, there’s not as much editing you can do with film photos, as you can with digital. You can, however, over or under-expose a shot on purpose, or push or pull the film in processing, for varying looks, or to try and correct a mistake in camera settings when you took your photos. These are more difficult techniques, and you don’t have the benefit of seeing how they will look, until it’s too late, and you can’t change it back like you can with a digital edit.

It’s expensive. It also can be hard to find film, and it can get a little expensive to buy and develop it, if you shoot a lot. (I like to use Ilford HP5 Plus 400 film.)

It’s slightly more difficult to use. It’s important to know a little more about photography to use an SLR camera, but you don’t have to know that much more than you do with a point-and-shoot camera. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty details, a guide like this is really helpful. In my use, the important things to know are: how to load and unload the film, how to focus the lens, a little bit about shutter-speed, and how to read a light meter.

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Again, it’s Film

It’s absolutely more work to get out the “big camera,” to think about and set up the shot, find enough light, make the proper adjustments, get subjects to be still long enough, and snap the photo at the precise right moment. It’s much easier to snap away and know one shot of many will turn out (and that’s my MO, often). With a roll of film, shots must be thoughtfully-composed because every one counts, and there’s a limit to how many can be taken. But, sometimes, especially for special moments, film is worth it. It’s almost as if film is the first draft of a moment in life, and digital images are copies of it. Film can capture things in a way that can’t be mimicked quite exactly, with post-processing in Photoshop. The dynamic range of light that film can capture, just can’t be reproduced with digital.

When a film image comes out right, it’s like I can feel it. It escorts me back to the moment I snapped that thoughtful shot. I can almost feel my baby’s chubby, softer-than-velvet cheeks, see the twinkle in her wide eyes as she experiences life with a newness only a baby can, hear her sweet baby coos as she learns to use her voice, and it takes my breath away. And I get to keep that moment, and live it again and again, forever.

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Because so much of photography is in the eye of the photographer, and because film takes so much thought, I feel like not only do film photos have soul, they capture a bit of the photographer’s soul, too. They allow an outsider to see with the same eyes as the photographer, to live in her shoes, feel what she feels, for just a snippet of time. It’s romantic. It’s pure. Film photos have a life, realness, grittiness, and emotion to them.

Film has come back in the last few years as a popular choice among some of the best photographers. A lot of people feel as passionately about the end-result of film, as I do. (It’s not to say that I don’t find digital valuable and beautiful–I DO! It’s just different.) It’s easy to be intimidated and think it’s only for pros, but I’m far from a pro, and even I have been able to use the Nikon FE to get some gorgeous shots. There’s little downside to playing around with a fairly inexpensive, used camera, and it’s a great way to learn a bit more about photography, to experiment, and to have fun, and just maybe, capture a moment forever, that also takes your breath away.

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Great iPhone Photos

I took a couple of photography classes in school, know my way around a digital SLR, and I love using my 1970s film camera, but, I’m not a professional photographer. I am a mom, and I am obsessed with taking photos of my two kids. As with many of us these days, sometimes the only camera I have on hand during a moment of magic, is my iPhone. I don’t want to pause or miss the moment to run and grab my “big camera,” and sometimes I’m not even home to be able to get it at all, or let’s be honest, just too lazy. I have figured out how to get better photos, using my iPhone camera, and a couple of great photo editing apps on my phone. Here’s how I do it.

Taking the photo:

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With this photo, I intentionally framed it so that the tub covered the girls enough to make a bath time photo, family-friendly. Processed with VSCOcam with x1 preset.

First, I take a bazillion photos. OK, maybe not, but I always take at minimum 3, usually more. If something great is happening, I take a bunch of photos, and hope that at least one is in focus. These toddlers of mine move around a lot! I don’t often use the photo burst option though, because it takes too many of nearly the same photo, and it’s too many for me to wade through when I’m selecting my favorites.

For this photo, the colors were too distracting to my eye, so I used a black and white filter. I also liked the way the bubbles looked in black and white. I also cropped it from a portrait orientation to a landscape orientation.

While I’m taking photos, I make sure to change angles if I can, refocus on little faces (or on whatever I want the focus to be), and I pay attention to the lighting. If I can get natural light on faces, that’s the best! Looking out a window, being outside on an overcast day, etc.– the normal photography lighting advice applies.  That doesn’t mean that the rules always have to be followed, though. For me, too many rules affect my creativity adversely, so I break the “rules” often. Some backlit photos, or low light, indoor photos, still turn out great.

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This photo was taken in a room with a ton of beautiful, natural light streaming in through big windows. Processed with VSCOcam with s2 preset.

Another thing that’s important, is framing the photo. Thinking about how it will look as a “big picture.” If you want a close-up of your baby, get close, get her sweet face nice and crisply in focus, and snap. Don’t rely on taking a far-away photo and cropping in closer later– when that’s done, the photo is often too out of focus and just not as nice-looking. I also prefer to see more of the scene in the original photo, so I rarely crop very much out. I think a lot of times, people rely heavily on cropping, and while it can be useful to crop a bit, photos that are framed correctly in the first place look better.

Next, it’s time to edit.

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For this photo, I cleared off the counter and used a filter I knew would black out the background, to remove distractions and give it a polished feel. Processed with VSCOcam’s b2 preset.

My Favorite Phone Apps for Editing:

Once I have taken a few photos, I go through and select my favorites, and pull them into VSCO Cam. The first thing I do, usually, is sharpen the photo just a bit. Not too much, or it starts to look weird, but enough that it makes the photo look a little more crisp. I usually choose between a 1-3 on the VSCO Cam sharpening tool (the one that looks like a triangle). I also admit that my photos aren’t always 100% perfectly in focus, so this helps. Next, I often up the exposure between 1 and 3 stops, unless I took the photo outside. I think brightening the photos up a bit gives them more life, and I like the way a brighter photo looks.

I brightened up this photo, and cropped in just a bit, to remove the distractions on the deck, and focus on my daughter’s cranky face.

Then, it’s time to add a filter.

My absolute favorite VSCO Cam filters are:

  • B2
  • X2
  • C2
  • HB1
With this photo, I wanted all focus on the sweet interaction between cousins. To do this, I removed the distraction of lots of color by using a black and white filter, I cropped in just a tiny bit, and I used a round tilt shift focus on the girls, making the rest of the photo out of focus.

Often, a photo captures amazing light, hitting things in interesting ways, and I know that a black and white filter will show the light off in a really beautiful way (I’m partial to black and white). If the colors in a photo are too distracting to me, I’ll choose black and white, too. Sometimes, if my green-eyed 2.5 year old is outside in front of greenery, I know her eyes will look amazing with a nice, lightly color-enhancing filter (I’ll probably use C2). If I take a photo that’s a bit moody, I know that one of my favorite, flatter, more muted black and white filters, will enhance that moodiness I’m trying to express (B2 or X2). I took a photo in the dark last Christmas, of my girls playing with the Christmas lights. I knew that I could use a black and white filter and that the Christmas bulbs would give off just enough light to see the girls, and make the photo look really cool.

I knew this photo would look really cool with a black and white filter. I used VSCO Cam preset X3.

After I’ve filtered the photo, I export it back to my phone’s camera roll, and I decide if I need to straighten it or crop it. For me, it’s distracting if a photo is obviously crooked, so I’ll fix that. I do any necessary cropping at the same time.

This is a selfie! I liked the way the light was hitting my face through the window that day, so I snapped a quick photo, knowing I could crop it, and use a black and white filter to hide the background, and make the light really stand out.

Occasionally, I also like to add a tilt shift/ point of focus to a photo, using “focus” in an app called Photo Editor-, by Axiem Systems. Every once in a while, I’ll also use the photo stamping tool in TouchRetouch by Adva-Soft, to remove something distracting in a photo, like an outlet on the wall behind my smiling baby, or a stray dirty sock on the floor. If I remove something, I do that before editing in VSCO Cam. It’s not easy to perfectly remove something from a photo using an iPhone tool (at least for me it’s not), so editing and using filters on the photo afterward, hides it better. If I’m adding a tilt shift, I do that as the very last step, after VSCO Cam edits, because then I know exactly how the finished product will look, and whether I want to use the tool for sure or not.

That’s it! That’s all I do to try to get, and make the best of, some great shots with my phone.

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