Monday, December 28, 2009

New Hobby

I haven't been blogging here about food because I hadn't been cooking much at all lately. And when I did cook it was just 'make do' meals; nothing new or special. There just seemed to be too much else going on to get ready for the holidays. What I was doing a lot of was sewing, but couldn't make a peep about it until now because I didn't want to spoil the surprise of what I was making! I made two purses for Christmas presents. The one in the top picture was for Gretchen and the one in the bottom picture is Rachel's (being modeled by her).

The bag pattern is from Amy Butler and it's called Birdie Sling. The fabric on Rachel's bag is Amy Butler as well, and the fabric on Gretchen's is Joel Dewberry. I highly recommend the pattern... if you know how to use your sewing machine then it should be easy to make this bag because everything is spelled out very clearly in the pattern. Even things I had never done before, like the pleats, were no problem.

This isn't really a new hobby... I've been sewing since I was in 4-H as a kid. I just haven't been doing it very often. But I'm kind of on a kick right now.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


I haven't posted for quite awhile, due to lack of time as well as lack of any blog-worthy recipes. But today I was looking through some old photos on my external hard drive, and felt like sharing some of them and writing.

As many readers know, we have two dogs in our house: Foxy, a Shiba Inu, and Stitch, a Greyhound. We adopted Stitch from a local rescue group after his 5-year racing career. But a few years ago, for a few months, we had a third dog: another Greyhound named Cal. We were only his 'foster parents' for a brief time before he went to his permanent home, but based on the number of pictures I have of him he was obviously really special to us during that time. (The pictures I'll include below are only a small sample of the total.)

We never would have considered bringing a third dog into our home. Foxy was notoriously aggressive towards other dogs, and it took weeks for her to warm up to Stitch. Foxy was adopted as an adult dog from the humane society, and I don't know what her issue was with other dogs, but any time we were on a walk and passed by another dog she would growl and lunge at it. Jason adopted Stitch while we were still dating, before we lived together, and we knew we would need Foxy to accept him if we were ever going to spend time together with our dogs in the same place. We used to meet on neutral territory at a local park to get Foxy used to the idea of just being in the same area as Stitch. With most dogs you start out with letting them sniff each other, but with Foxy she didn't want Stitch to even come close, and would snarl at him if he did. So we literally had to started with just being in the same vicinity. Then, at separate sessions, gradually we would move closer to each other. Eventually they worked up to being able to sniff each other. Then Foxy decided that she would tolerate him being around her as long as he left her alone. Their relationship is pretty much like that to this day. He generally leaves her alone, and she tolerates his presence.

So anyway, with Foxy being so difficult we would have never considered bringing another dog into the picture. But we got a desperate call on Jason's cell phone from the Greyhound adoption group rep, Maria, one November afternoon (we were actually at an OSU/Michigan party), BEGGING for help. A group of dogs had just come in off the track and needed temporary housing for just a week before they could go into the prison program to live with and be trained by inmates. This was around the time of Thanksgiving, and the people who would normally take in foster dogs had plans to go out of town and couldn't. We were reluctant to do it, but Maria was desperate and we knew it would only be for a week, so we decided we would try to make it work.

We went straight from the OSU/Michigan party to pick up Cal from a local vet's office. Cal came off the track with horrible teeth (many Greyhounds do) and while at the vet's office that very day he had a big tooth pulled. He was on pain medication and would have to eat soft food for a few days. We were also told that he had worms, and consequently had bad diarrhea. At this point I was starting to feel slightly duped since none of this was mentioned to us over the phone. But he looked so sad and sickly and my heart went out to him. There was nothing we could do but take him home with us and take care of him as we had been asked to do. And he was SO SKINNY. Greyhounds naturally are very slender dogs, and it is normal to see one or two of their ribs. But on Cal you could probably count at least six ribs. He really was a sad sight.

We brought him into the house, with Foxy and Stitch on leashes so we could pull her back if she tried to attack Cal. We did have to restrain her a bit until she got the idea that it wasn't okay to go after him. She did growl at him a few times when he came too close, and fortunately he got the message to stay away. And then they were fine. And I had another moment of anguish when Cal walked into our living room, promptly lifted his leg, and peed on the side of our couch. He was definitely a handful.

He whined a lot during that week. It was understandable, considering his life had been turned upside down and he was probably scared, plus he was in a lot of physical discomfort due to his tooth issue and the worms. There were a few nights I slept on the floor next to his crate because it seemed to calm him down somewhat.

After a long, stressful week, he went to a local women's correctional facility where he would live for a few months. There they taught him basic commands, how to play with toys, how to go up and down stairs, and that it's not okay to go to the bathroom inside the house. (Remember that Greyhounds grow up on the track learning none of these things.) They did a fantastic job, and eventually it was time for him to be "paroled." But since the rescue group didn't have an adopting family lined up for him, they asked if we would consider fostering him again until he could be adopted. Cal had a great personality and actually got along pretty well with Foxy and Stitch, so we agreed. We knew most of the previous difficulties we had with Cal were probably due to him being fresh off the track and not healthy.

And we were right. When he came to us the second time he was a transformed dog. He had gained some weight and learned how great it is to live with a human who loves you. His personality sparkled. He was so goofy and funny and sweet. We really could have kept him. We thought long and hard about it. He was a great dog for our little 'family.' But we just couldn't bring ourselves to commit to being a three-dog family. There were too many issues, not with Cal himself, but with having a third dog. Such as not being able to transport them all in one vehicle. Little things like that that made us hesitant. So we decided to keep taking him to adoption events, and see if anyone came along who had just the right place for him in their lives.

Eventually Cal got a family of his own, with a few young children who loved him a lot. (They even changed his name to Guido. But he'll always be Cal to me.) In the meantime, we had a lot of fun with him. I know we made the right choice, but I still think about him and what a great dog he was. Here are some pictures that show you a little more about our time with Cal.

This is Cal.

We always thought Stitch was a big dog, but Cal dwarfed him.

Obviously Stitch and Cal felt pretty comfortable with one another.

Foxy also tolerated him surprisingly well.

Cal was not supposed to be on the furniture, but there was no stopping him. He loved to make himself comfortable, especially when it meant curling up next to you (or on you, in my case).

We were able to transport all dogs in the same vehicle once.
We took them up to Walton Lake in Jason's parents' SUV.

So handsome.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


So in my last post I mentioned how the margarita jello shooters made me want an actual margarita I could sip on. I found a great recipe and wanted to record it here.

The main component is homemade sour mix. To make, dissolve 1/4 cup sugar in 1 cup hot water. Then add 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 3 tablespoons lime juice. Chill.

To make the margarita, mix the components using this ratio:

1 part triple sec
2 parts tequila
4 parts sour mix

I used a shaker and served on the rocks.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Margarita Jello Shooters

For some reason I had a craving for jello shots a few weeks ago. I had never been a big fan of jello shots, or shots in general, I guess because I prefer to enjoy my alcoholic beverages in larger quantities over a longer period of time! But I had tasted some delicious margarita jello shots at an OSU/Michigan party a few years ago, and decided it might be fun to make some myself.

They were easy to make, and DELICIOUS. Which was a problem, because I wanted to just keep eating one after another. Eventually I gave up on the margarita jello shots and made myself an actual margarita to sip on. So the verdict was that the recipe was a success, but better suited to an occasion where there might be a large crowd to help me enjoy them. Like an OSU/Michigan party. =)

The recipe I used is here.

And from there I found this fantastic web resource of a bunch of OTHER alcoholic jello shots. I'm looking forward to trying something else before too long.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Coffee Ice Cream

I don't have a photo to post with this entry because the photo is still inaccessible on our home laptop that won't take a charge (note to self: get your butt to MicroCenter and get this taken care of!). But I wanted to go ahead and post the recipe before I have to return the cookbook to the library.

This was my second attempt at making homemade ice cream. The first recipe I made was the easiest one I could find (a no-cook basic vanilla) just so I could get a feel for the use of my new Cuisinart ice cream maker (purchased as a 'reward' to myself for all the hard work Jason and I had put in on our flooring project over the past six months). The basic vanilla was good, but this recipe was OUT OF THIS WORLD. A custard-based ice cream really does taste richer and creamier, and while it requires a little more effort I think it was totally worth it. I also used really good coffee beans: Kona. They were pricey but I just love the flavor so much.

The recipe comes from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz. The book has great recipes and is also an excellent resource about the basics behind making ice cream at home. I may have to buy this book because there are so many recipes I still want to try. This one was messy and complicated: lots of bowls and pans and careful choreography to move between them. That's what I should have taken a picture of rather than the finished product!

1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups whole coffee beans
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon finely ground coffee

Warm the milk, sugar, whole coffee beans, salt, and 1/2 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan. Once the mixture is warm, cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.

Rewarm the coffee-infused milk mixture. Pour the remaining 1 cup cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm coffee mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, and then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Press on the coffee beans in the strainer to extract as much of the coffee flavor as possible, and then discard the beans. Mix in the vanilla and the finely ground coffee and stir until cool over an ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, and then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


This post is totally unrelated to food, but that's okay right? I wanted to share a new purchase and recommend a website if you are interested in making a similar purchase!

This weekend is the annual Dublin Irish Festival. Jason and I love to go every year. It's a great place to hear some fantastic music, running the gamut from "Celtic rock" to classic bagpipe-and-drum corps. We also like to watch the Irish dancers, enjoy beer and food, visit the "Celtic Canines" exhibit, and browse the vendors' booths.

This year we were pleased to find a booth that sells Irish dog accessories! While our greyhound Stitch doesn't have an Irish heritage, his "dad" Jason does. And I have a Scottish heritage, so I also love all things tartan.

We settled on a Martingale collar (a special type for sighthounds; it has a double-loop so the collar can't slip off their skinny heads) with a beautiful orange and white knot design and shamrocks on top.

If you are interested in an Irish-themed dog collar or leash for your dog, please check out the vendor's web site: We enjoyed talking with the owner, Heather, because she is also a greyhound owner! In addition to the dog accessories, Heather sells jewelry and belts for humans.

Here is Stitch sleepily modeling his new collar.

"You came over here to rub my belly? Here, let me move my legs out of the way for you."

"Oh, that's not what you came over here for? SIGH."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Quick update

I wanted to apologize for the lack of posts lately. I actually have a cache of pictures and recipes I want to post about and was just waiting to get around to it, and then... the computer zonked out on me at home. The computer itself is fine but it has stopped receiving power from the A/C source and the battery has completely died. This happened before and the technician determined that we needed a new A/C adapter. Things worked fine for awhile and now the exact same thing has happened again. So I need to get some power to the laptop and as soon as I can access my photos I will post! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Heart Sea Gummies

I was just taking some of my Sea Gummies supplements after eating lunch, and decided to share my love of them with anyone who cares to listen.

Sea Gummies are made by Trader Joe's and, as you can see from the picture, are an Omega-3 dietary supplement. According to, the benefits of Omega-3s include:

" . . . reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke while helping to reduce symptoms of hypertension, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain and other rheumatoid problems, as well as certain skin ailments. Some research has even shown that omega-3s can boost the immune system and help protect us from an array of illnesses including Alzheimer's disease."

Omega-3s are a type of "good fat" typically found in fish. Most people don't get enough Omega-3s from their diet so it's a good idea to supplement. A common form of Omega-3 supplement is fish oil capsules. I tried these for awhile but experienced a gross side effect: fish burps. This problem is so common that some manufacturers produce Omega-3 supplements (such as Coromega) that claim to have no fishy aftertaste, but I still wasn't completely happy with those.

The Sea Gummies are great because they are not made from fish oil. Instead they contain a "marine algae extract" which is another source of Omega-3s. They taste like a less-sweet gummy bear! That may be my favorite part: I can eat some after a meal and I get a little bit of sweetness that makes me feel like I've had a mini dessert. All while getting the health benefits of omega-3s. It's just another reason why Trader Joe's gets an A-plus in my book.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Raising Awareness

This weekend, June 6 and 7, are Batten Awareness Days. I am writing here to raise awareness about Batten Disease because I know a beautiful little girl who has it. Celia and her family attend my church, and Celia's Aunt Vicky also used to work with me.

What is Batten Disease? From the website of the Batten Disease Support and Research Association:

Batten Disease is named after the British pediatrician who first described it in 1903. Also known as Spielmeyer-Vogt-Sjogren-Batten Disease, it is the most common form of a group of disorders called Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinoses (or NCLs). Although Batten Disease is usually regarded as the juvenile form of NCL, it has now become the term to encompass all forms of NCL. The forms of NCL are classified by age of onset have the same basic cause, progression and outcome but are all genetically different. Over time, affected children suffer mental impairment, worsening seizures, and progressive loss of sight and motor skills. Eventually, children with Batten Disease/NCL become blind, bedridden, and unable to communicate, and it is presently always fatal. Batten Disease is not contagious or, at this time, preventable.

If you want to read about Celia's story, you can read this entry from her blog.

What can you do about Batten Disease?

You can support Batten Disease research.

1. Visit the BDSRA web site to make a donation.

2. Register your Kroger Plus Card for BDSRA. Here's how:

Just sign in to or create an account at for your Plus card and do the following: Click on Edit Kroger Community Rewards information and input your Kroger Plus Number located on the back of your card. Enter the new NPO (non-profit organization) code for BDSRA which is 83592 and click on Confirm. To verify you are enrolled correctly, you will see our organization's name on the right side of your information page.

3. Visit GoodSearch to learn how a few mouse clicks can earn extra money for BDSRA.

You can support Celia.

1. Visit the Care for Celia web page to make a donation on behalf of Celia.

2. Keep Celia and her family in your prayers.

3. Tell others about Batten Disease and ask them to pray for Celia as well.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sick Day/Old Drafts

I stayed home sick from work today because I woke up with a killer sore throat. While trying to rest but unable to sleep I thought I would catch up on some blog posts. I was looking through some of the drafts of posts I had started but never finished, and I started thinking about "finishing things"... Jason complains from time to time that I "start things but don't finish them." He's right about that, but I'm not quite sure exactly why I do that (or rather, DON'T do that!). It could be a number of reasons: I'm easily distracted; I have so many interests that it's hard for me to focus on just one thing at a time; I attempt to take on more than I can handle; I spread myself too thin; I'm a perfectionist so I would rather have something unfinished than finished poorly.

I think that any of those could be accurate statements about me, but I think that the root of the problem is that when I look at these works in progress, I don't seem them as projects that have been abandoned, but rather things that just have not been finished yet. I think that maybe I just operate on a slower timeline than other people for finishing things, and I am okay with that.

So anyway, I had a few unfinished blog posts. Most of them were about recipes that weren't really that great anyway, so I just deleted them. But one of the draft posts made me laugh, because it was my notes from our vacation last summer. Each day I logged in and made little notes about stuff that we did or things that happened, with the intention of eventually writing a vacation recap. But I didn't want to spend the time to actually write the recap while we were on vacation, and when we got home I was a little daunted by the enormity of the task, so I just let it go. But I wanted to share the notes because I think they are funny to read, especially without the context behind them!

To give a little background: Jason and I had driven down to Nags Head, NC with our two dogs to celebrate him being finished with taking the bar exam. One of my coworkers teases me because when I returned from our trip and I was asked how my vacation was, I responded with something like, "It was nice but there wasn't really anything to do there..." He said, "well isn't that the point? You are just supposed to relax!" He's right, but I need a little mental stimulation in addition to my relaxation time. And unfortunately Jason and I have different desires when it comes to vacationing. I like to go sightseeing and do things that I couldn't normally do in my daily life in Ohio... not sit in a bar for hours and watch a televised sporting event while my husband slowly gets drunk. But marriage is about compromise, so he has learned to humor me when I want to do touristy things, and I have gotten a little better about at least TRYING to relax and have a good time doing nothing. And I think our Outer Banks vacation had a decent balance of the two. Judging from my notes below, apparently the most notable thing was where and what we ate. So there, I've brought it back full circle to my food blog. :-)

to recap:

- newport news hotel, stitch nervous

- dinner at baileys (?), french fries/tall beer

- forgot toothpaste/toothbrush

- arrive at rental unit, directly behind office

- stitch's stairs freak-out

- walk to slammin sammys for lunch

- nap

- groceries at food lion

- walk to red drum for dinner

- drinks at slammin sammys but last call at 11

- wake up around 7, drive around next morning (Monday) to orient, park and walk to beach just for a few minutes, go home because forgot cell phone

- coffee and bagel from dunkin donuts

- wake jason up and we head to beach around noon

- head back after about 45 mins because so hot, eat sandwiches/leftovers for lunch

- jason naps while I... read?

- drive to Ben Franklin to buy beach chairs/flip flops for him/spray sunscreen

- dinner at OBX brew station, wind powered

- few more groceries at Harris Teeter

- drinks at Slammin sammys

- Tues morning: wake up later, drive to get coffee and cinnamon roll around 9

- head to beach around 10:45, still freaking hot, leave around 12:30 because few groups of people spot jellyfish

- go shopping while Jason naps; get some Sanctuary Vineyards wine

- Jockey's Ridge State Park to watch sunset

- New York Pizzeria Pub for dinner

- Karaoke at Slammin Sammys and then to bed

- Wednesday; up at 7, get ready to take dogs to beach, leave by 8. Stitch gets tired, Foxy loves running back and forth with water

- Breakfast at Stack Em High

- naptime

- beach, really choppy and rough waves

- dinner at Kelly's

- drinks and us nat'l soccer game at Slammin Sammy's, but close early

- Thursday; sleep in, sunbathe on deck and get BURNED

- shower and drive up to Duck, visit Outer Barks, also buy fudge and nuts

- attempt to go to sunset grille but parking was mess, ate at Barefoot Bernie's instead

- hang out at home to watch Project Runway, decide to have night in (to Jason's disappointment), try to play Sorry but directions only in Spanish, look up card games on internet but not much fun

- at some point did laundry and found boogie boards

- Friday; head to beach by 10:30, back around 1

- lunch at lucky 12 tavern

- shop at ocean's 1/11 and jockey's ridge candies, buy more AMAZING fudge

- relax at home for a few hours, jason naps

- head to port o'call for dinner; weird antique store vibe and okay food. stay to see band in the saloon

- Saturday; Jason REALLY sunburned, sleeps in and sleeps a lot of the day. Buy hemhrroid cream to help. It had also rained and was cloudy so no beach.

- lunch from NY pizzaria again: superoni and buffalo wings carryout

- drive back to port-o-call to buy t-shirt, then take walk on beach last time

- walk to red drum for dinner and eat at bar

Pretzel Mixes

First, a house update for those of you scoring along at home: we have finished replacing the carpeting with wood laminate flooring in four out of the five rooms we are doing. The fifth room is prepped and ready to go (as in carpet and padding removed, tack strips/staples/baseboards removed, and walls freshly painted) but it's a big room so we've been waiting until we have a solid weekend to devote to doing the floor. We also still have to do a few closets (wanted to save those for last so we could try to use up scrap) and all of the baseboards (we are going to hire someone to do those for us after many frustrating failed attempts to install them ourselves without gaps). Then there are some various to-do's left, like hanging some framed items that are either new or things we took down when we painted. It still feels like our list of things to do is about a million items long, but at least it's been shortened from the ten million it felt like we started with! Someday I will share pictures here of the fruits of our labor.

Okay so onto the food. Recently I tried two different recipes for pretzel mixes: one sweet, and one savory. I think they were both from, where I was searching for a recipe to use up the rest of a big bag of pretzels. The sweet one was interesting, but I probably wouldn't make it again. I made it because I saw the recipe and was intrigued. The savory one was delicious. I made it because when I saw the recipe I immediately thought "My dad would like that!" So I made some and sent it off to him in a container for his birthday.

(The photo above is of the sweet mix, but the savory one pretty much looked just like it: stuff baked onto mini pretzels!)

Here are the recipes:

Cinnamon Bun Pretzel Mix

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg white
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped
4 to 5 cups miniature pretzel twists

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F and line a baking sheet with sides with parchment paper. (I used a jelly roll pan.) Combine brown sugar and ground cinnamon; set aside. Whisk egg white in large bowl. Add dried cranberries and nuts. Stir. Add miniature pretzels. Sprinkle with brown sugar mix and gently fold until combined, being careful not to crush the pretzels. Spread onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and stir, evenly distributing nuts and berries. Spread in a single layer to cool completely.

Bar Stool Pretzels

1 cup butter
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 envelope dry onion soup mix
1 dash Tabasco
20 ounces of miniature pretzels

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in the next four ingredients. Coat pretzels in mixture and spread onto baking sheet with sides. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Cool completely.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Another version of the Easter Cake story

I hope she doesn't mind me sharing this but my sister Gretchen also wrote a funny blog post about the cake we made for Easter, and it has some great pictures including a reaction shot. =)

Check it out here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Cake

So, I'll try to keep this brief, because the pictures really tell the story better than I could. In a nutshell:
  • I was going to my Mom's for Easter dinner. I decided to use this as an opportunity to bake a new recipe.
  • I made an easy but impressive recipe that I found here.
  • Something went wrong with the icing... I followed the recipe to a T but apparently it needed to set up longer before I used it to ice the cake. It gradually melted and slid right off the cake.
  • I had gotten an awesome book from the library called "Hello, Cupcake!" which included instructions for making some cute candy butterflies. I thought it would be fun for my sisters/mom and me to try making the butterflies and put some on top of the cake for extra decoration. See a successful execution of those butterflies here.
  • Once we realized how unsophisticated our butterflies were turning out, and that the cake was melting away into a puddle of ugliness, Gretchen and I got the idea that it would be funny to just go all out and stick butterflies all over the cake, thus making it the gaudiest Easter cake ever.
  • It actually tasted ok. I will probably make the recipe again but do it right. =)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bad Cakes and Better Cakes (but still not Good)

Bad Cake

On March 17 I had my third of four cake classes, decorating the second of three cakes we would do in the course. In this class we learned shells and dots, which could be used for decorative touches and borders, as well as to pipe figures like the clown bodies shown above (the heads are little plastic pieces on stems that you stick into the icing). I was having a very "off" night and things did not go quite as well as I felt they had with my first cake-decorating attempt. There were probably a number of factors involved but one of them was definitely the fact that I was not looking forward to doing that week's clown cake. I think clowns are creepy! But I tried to make it fun and used white, green, and orange icing in honor of St. Patty's Day.

For some reason I was having a really tough time doing the shell decoration, which is embarrassing because that is supposed to be a pretty easy one! But they just weren't coming out right. When I went to pipe the shell border on the cake I tried using a color-striping technique, where you paint strips of the dye on the inside of your pastry bag so it makes stripes when you squeeze the icing through it. I used green stripes and white icing. But I was doing so poorly on the border that my teacher actually made me stop (more than once!) and practice on our practice boards before going back to the cake. But in doing so I ended up with noticeable differences in the placement of the color stripes and in the strength of the color on the cake. Towards the end, when I got to the bottom border there is almost no stripe at all! FAIL.

The second FAIL is those awful green dots on the top of the cake. The sample clown cake they showed in the book had dots on the side of the cake, but something was weird with the tackiness/consistency of my icing that night and when I tried to do dots on the side of the cake they were actually falling off!!! So I just sprinkled a bunch of them all over the top of the cake to fill up the empty space around the clowns. Ugh, it's so ugly it seriously belongs on Cake Wrecks. You know what though? Cake is cake, and when I set it out at work the next morning it was gone by lunchtime!

One bright moment in the class happened when I was trying to add hands and feet to the clowns. The icing kind of sputtered out in a weird way on one of the hands, and it looks like the clown is giving a thumbs up!! I couldn't have done that again if I had tried! Everyone got a good laugh out of it.

Better Cake
On March 24 we decorated our "graduation" cake. This class was devoted to learning how to make roses. I thought it would be difficult because of the intricacy involved, but I never considered that I would have trouble due to hand cramps! Seriously, my hand got so tired from squeezing that pastry bag. I had a bunch of trouble with these at first. The icing was cracking, falling off, etc. I couldn't make anything resembling anything close to a flower! But towards the end of class I was able to at least put something together that had multiple petals, despite the fact that they were cracked, stumpy petals. And I was proud of myself for persevering. A lot of women in the class (yes, it was all women) were frustrated as well but one of them went so far as to give up completely.

The cake was decorated with an arrangement of roses on top, and I did dots again which were a little better this week. I will say that doing the leaves on the roses was really easy!

All in all, I did enjoy taking this class, despite my frustrations. I don't think I'll be selling cakes, which some students come out of that class wanting to do, but I think that with a little practice I could get better at this. I am looking forward to making my next cake that is NOT for class and decorating it however I like. I would also like to experiment with using different types of icing as well, because I didn't really like the icing recipe that was used for class.

I learned a lot and now own some supplies that I can use again and again. One conclusion I came to after trying a different brand of cake mix each week is that I felt the Duncan Hines mix made the best cake. I thought Pillsbury was the worst because it was really crumbly. The Betty Crocker mix was somewhere in the middle.

There are three more levels of cake decorating courses offered at the craft store, and I may choose to take another one in the future. For right now though I'm a little "caked out."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cake Class

A few weeks ago I decided to enroll in a cake decorating course. I have always enjoyed baking and this was something I had thought would be fun to do for a long time.

It's a 4-week course being offered at a local craft store. Each class lasts two hours. During the first week's class we didn't actually do any decorating but just learned about how to make the icing, how to make it in different consistencies that would be useful for different types of decorations, how to level a cake, and we got some guidance on what supplies to buy for class.

For the second class, we had to bring an 8-inch cake that had been iced with a base coat. In class we would practice techniques for a few types of decorations, and then we would decorate the cake.

In the first class we learned a few tips for baking and prepping the cake that, as one girl in the class said, were "worth the price of admission alone." One tip was for greasing the pans: rather than spraying the pan with Pam, or messing with greasing and flouring the pan, we learned to make a "cake release": mix well equal parts of shortening, vegetable oil, and all-purpose flour and then brush this mixture all over the pan with a pastry brush. It worked really well and my cake came out of the pan with nothing sticking to it.

Another tip we learned was to ice the cake with a "crumb coat" first. This is a really thin layer of icing that traps in it any crumbs on the outside of the cake. You let it set up for about half an hour, and then when you put on the 'real' coat of icing you get a smoother finish. Here is a picture of my cake with the crumb coat on it:

Now here's what I felt was the most useful tip I learned. After you put on the final coat of icing, here's how you can get a really smooth finish: wait about half an hour for the icing to set, and then place a piece of parchment paper on top of it. Rub your spatula on top of the paper to smooth out the icing. Here's a shot from before and after I did that:

So once my cake was ready to go, I had to pack up all the supplies that were needed for the 2nd-week class. And it was a LOT of stuff. That is one minor complaint I had about this course. The course itself is not expensive, but you have to buy a lot of supplies. Here's a picture of everything loaded up and ready to go to class:

In class we practiced making stars, curved lines, zigzag, dots, outlining, and writing. Then we used some of those techniques to decorate our cake. The sample cake in the book had a big ugly rainbow on it, but I decided to make a hot air balloon instead. Class was actually slightly stressful because we didn't have much time to finish everything, but I finished it when I got home.

There were a few mishaps as I was decorating... I kept accidentally putting my fingers in the sides of the cake. Exhibit A:

So when it was time to try the cake I just cut out a piece that had my giant thumb gouge in it.

It was pretty good! I'm looking forward to doing the cake for week three, although it involves creepy clowns... stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


My work is kind enough to allow employees to telecommute one day a week. Once nice perk of telecommuting is that I can whip up something in the kitchen for a meal or snack if I choose to. I took the above picture while I was on a conference call, with my work and a big orange smoothie in front of me. (That big Samuel Adams glass stein is the perfect size for a smoothie!)

One thing you may or may not know about me is that I LOVE DRINKS. I am pretty much drinking all day long. I'm the girl at the continental breakfast who has a coffee AND a water AND a juice. (However there are two drinks that come to mind that I don't particularly like... milk or tea.)

I've recently taken a liking to smoothies. I got a number of smoothie books from the library and I've been trying a few recipes. I've never been a big fruit eater, but I will drink fruit that's been blended into a drink. Take the one in the picture above... it has bananas in it. My mom will be shocked to know I actually bought bananas at the grocery store... I haven't eaten one of those since I've been old enough to feed myself! It also has mango in it. Trader Joe's has bags of frozen mango cubes that are perfect to use in smoothies.

The downside of smoothies is that the ones that taste the best often have sugary extras added, which probably cancel out the benefits of the fruit. This one had orange sherbet in it. But I could make it without adding the sherbet, or I could try it with some low-fat vanilla yogurt instead. I think I'll continue to experiment until I find something that is healthy but tasty without having too many calories (I'll have to cut back on the amount of ingredients used to achieve that last part. I certainly don't need a stein-full of smoothie every time.).

Here's the recipe for the smoothie I made today. I adapted it from a similar recipe in the book "Jamba Juice Power" by Kirk Perron. What I do is use frozen, chopped fruit, either like the frozen mango cubes I bought at Trader Joe's, or fruit I have purchased fresh and then chopped and frozen (like the banana). When I use frozen fruit I don't need to add ice.

1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup bananas
1 cup mangos
1 cup orange sherbet

Put everything into a blender and then blend until smooth!

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Breakfast casseroles usually aren't the prettiest looking dishes, but they definitely are tasty!

But first, an update on how the home improvements are coming along. As I mentioned previously, Jason and I are replacing our carpet with wood laminate... ourselves. It's been a learning experience at every step of the way. We decided to start with our old guest room/new office since it's a low traffic area and it could be our "practice room." We were able to finish putting down the floor in about a day and a half. There were a few kinks along the way but we learned (often through trial and error) some valuable tips that will help us complete the other rooms more easily.

Where we really ran into trouble was with the baseboards. Jason measured and cut all the molding, and was going to nail them in by hand, but this proved to be really a pain in the butt because the boards were shifting as he was nailing and didn't line up properly in the end. So after only doing two small boards in a corner he decided we were going to have to use a nail gun instead. We considered renting tools from our local Home Depot or Lowes, but decided to buy instead so we wouldn't have to worry about renting multiple times as we finished the floor in each room (or have to wait to put the baseboards up until we were done with all rooms so we could rent only once and do them all at once).

After doing a lot of research I thought we would end up having to get a pneumatic finish nailer and a compressor. I bounced the idea off of a college friend who is a big DIYer, and he said we could probably get away with using an electric nailer which would be much cheaper. I am a big advocate of reading reviews before purchasing anything, so I looked for an electric nailer that got good reviews. This was very difficult to find. Most people complained that the electrics didn't have the same oomph behind them that a pneumatic gun had, and often couldn't sink the nails in all the way. I finally found one that had decent reviews and purchased it. Our concern was that the biggest size nails it could hold were 1 3/16 inches (it was a brad nailer), but the packaging said it was good for trim, molding, baseboards, etc., so I figured it would be okay. When Jason started to use it though he realized that it wasn't... he was having problems with boards pulling away from the wall after they had been nailed in. (I should also mention that we lost over a week's worth of work time on this while I tried to find that biggest sized brad nail in a local store... it was like a wild goose chase.) So we decided to suck it up and buy a compressor and finish nailer when we saw a set on sale in today's Sears ad.

So here we are, hopefully with the proper tools so that we are ready to get these baseboards up there for good, and then we can move furniture in and pronounce that room DONE. And then move on to one of the other four rooms we still have to do. We did get started on some prep work for the next room last night (Saturday). We pulled up all the carpet and padding in the living room and removed all the nails/staples that were sticking out of the floor. We worked hard (there was a lot of furniture to move out of the way, and then a LOT of staples stuck in the subfloor) and ended up working on this until almost 2 in the morning.

Consequently, I didn't get out of bed until close to 11 this morning!! When I woke up I decided that brunch was in order, and fortunately I had everything I needed to make this casserole. This was a recipe I had torn out of a Kraft "Food & Family" magazine. It's very similar to other breakfast casseroles I have made in the past, but unlike other recipes it doesn't require being refrigerated overnight. It's quick and easy. I would definitely make this again. (One tip though... it took longer than 25 minutes for the center to set up. I probably had to bake it for about 35 minutes.)

Breakfast Bake
1 can (8 oz) refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
1 package cubed ham
6 eggs
1/2 cup cold milk
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Unroll dough in 13 x 9 inch baking dish; press to cover bottom of dish, firmly pressing holes and seams together to seal.

Sprinkle ham over crust. Beat eggs, milk, and pepper with whisk until blended; pour over ham. Top with cheese.

Bake 25 minutes or until center is set.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Penne, Sausage, and Meatball Bake

Bring back the gluten! This is a recipe I've had in my binder for a very long time, but hadn't made it because I knew it would be very labor intensive: meatballs are made by hand, sauce is made from scratch, sausage and pasta are cooked separately, and then everything is assembled. But it looked so tasty I knew I would make it eventually.

What prompted me to get around to making it is that Jason had "chosen" it. I get frustrated with him sometimes because he is so picky... he complains about not liking stuff I want to make, but when I ask him what he wants to eat he can't give me an answer. So on occasion when he has complained about not liking things I've made for dinner, I've asked him to go through my cookbooks or my binder (where I keep copies of recipes from the internet or newspaper, or photocopies from library cookbooks) and flag stuff that he would like me to make. This was one of the recipes he had flagged quite a few months ago. I had to laugh when he made a comment about how it seemed like this recipe involved too much work, and I asked if he hadn't noticed that it involved a homemade sauce, and he said "no, I just looked at the titles of the recipes and that's it." (And please know that I'm not trying to make fun of my husband, I just think it's funny that something I am so interested in is just an afterthought to him.)

This recipe was from a cookbook called "You've Got It Made" by Diane Phillips. It's meals that can be prepared ahead and then frozen, to be defrosted and baked later. This dish was meant to be made in a 9 x 13 inch pan, so instead I made two 8 x 8 inch pans, cooked one right away and froze the other one for later.

I made the meatballs and the sauce on Thursday evening, and then tonight I cooked the sausages and the pasta and assembled everything. None of the prep was that difficult, but when you look at the number of dirtied pans it was really a lot!! I did have a little trouble with the sauce not thickening, but I just ended up simmering it longer than the recipe called for and it was fine. When I was assembling the dish (casserole? is this considered a casserole?) I thought I had too much meat, so I didn't use all of it. But I realized when we were eating it that I should have really piled it on there instead of worrying about making a neat single layer. Jason and I both agreed that when you took a bite of pasta with a bite of meatball or sausage it tasted amazing, but when you took a bite of just pasta with no meat it was kind of blah. So the meat is really crucial to the dish.

One more note before I give the recipe: I didn't actually use penne, as you can see from the photo... I used wagon wheels because that's what I had on hand! I also made a few other substitutions that you will probably make at your own discretion, like bread crumbs instead of the slice, dried parsley instead of fresh, shredded mozzarella instead of fresh, etc.

1 slice crusty bread
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 large egg
1/2 pound lean ground pork
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup olive oil
5 sweet Italian sausages
1 pound penne, cooked according to package directions
Carol's Spicy Vodka Cream Sauce (recipe follows)
8 ounces small fresh mozzarella balls, drained, or 1 large ball fresh mozzarella cut into small cubes
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. To make the meatballs, soak the bread and milk together in a large mixing bowl for 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, Romano, and egg, and stir until blended.

2. Add the pork and beef and mix by hand until the meatball mixture is combined. Shape into balls 1 inch in diameter. (At this point, you may refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 6 weeks.)

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Set a wire rack on a baking sheet. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Brown the meatballs on all sides, until they have formed a nice crust, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oil to the rack set on the baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. (At this point, you may refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month.) Cut the meatballs into quarters.

4. In a medium skillet over the medium-high heat, brown the sausages on all sides. Prick the sausages with the sharp tip of a paring knife on all sides to allow some of the fat to drain off. Add 1/3 cup water to the pan, lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the sausages are cooked through and the water is absorbed. Cool the sausages and cut into 1/2-inch rounds.

5. To assemble the casserole, coat the inside of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Combine the penne in a large bowl with 1 1/2 cups of the vodka sauce, stirring until the penne is coated with the sauce.

6. Spread half the penne in the dish and top with the meatballs, sausage, and mozzarella cheese. Spread 1 cup of the vodka sauce over the mixture, then top with the remaining penne and vodka sauce and the Parmesan cheese. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 6 weeks.

To Bake it Later:
1. Defrost the casserole in the refrigerator overnight, if necessary.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Allow the cassrole to come to room temperature for about 3o minutes.

3. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 20 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is golden brown on top. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Carol's Spicy Vodka Sauce
1 cup vodka
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups whipping cream
one 32-ounce can crushed tomatoes (do not drain)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Pour the vodka into a small saucepan, stir in the red pepper flakes, and let sit for about 1 hour.

2. Bring the vodka to a boil and boil for about 4 minutes. Add the butter to the saucepan. When it has melted, stir in the cream and tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the Parmesan cheese. (At this point, you may cool the sauce and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I wanted to share this web site because it's become my new favorite diversion:

I apologize in advance if any reader out there should take credit for telling me about this site. I feel like someone has recommended it to me in the past but I don't remember who. Wherever I heard about it, I'm glad because it's so much fun to look at and I've already found a few recipes I can't wait to try.

Basically the site is just luscious photographs of food folks have made, about 80-odd photos displayed on the front page in little squares that make them look like Polaroids. If you see something that looks appetizing you can click the photo and it will take you to the external blog entry about that recipe from the person who submitted it. It's entirely reader-contributed, although there are moderators who decide which submissions to post. New posts appear throughout the day.

There is a search bar if you have a particular recipe in mind and would like to search for it, but I think it's more fun just to see what serendipitously appears on the front page each time you visit. You might find something you want to try that you never even thought of.

I am addicted. The other night I was scrolling through and I was practically drooling.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Orange Dreamsicle Margarita

This is a recipe I came across on when I was trying to find a good margarita recipe (which I still haven't found, by the way). I was intrigued but didn't get around to trying it for a long time because it uses a few ingredients I don't often have on hand (orange pop and ice cream). If you like orange creamsicles I recommend this! It didn't seem very margarita-ish but honestly tasted like an orange creamsicle in smoothie form with an alcoholic kick. And I made the rookie mistake of saying to Jason as I was making this, "hmm, proportionally this just doesn't seem like it has enough alcohol in it." But like a smart girl I didn't add any more, which was good because it ended up being just right.

1 1/2 ounce tequila
1 ounce triple sec
3 ounces orange pop
1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup vanilla ice cream
1 1/4 cup crushed ice

Process everything in blender until smooth.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Gluten-Free Experiment

This weekend I ended what I consider to be a 10-week experiment in living gluten-free, and I thought I would write about it here. I decided to try out a gluten-free diet in early December, for a number of reasons. The idea was spurred after I read an interview with Carol Alt (the supermodel, who is almost 50 and recently posed for Playboy) in which she raved about how a raw diet changed her life and gave her an amazing body and lots of energy. I didn't know much about what a raw diet was, but was intrigued by the amazing benefits she described. After doing some internet research on the raw diet I realized it would never work for me (it is what it sounds like... eating food that hasn't been cooked), but in the process of googling about it I came across another diet that people raved about the benefits of: gluten-free.

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley. Foods that contain gluten include anything made from flour, such as bread, pastries, and pasta. Beer has gluten too! Many people who start a gluten-free diet do so out of necessity, either because of a gluten allergy or celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition in which the presence of gluten causes an unpleasant reaction in the intestine.

As I was reading about celiac diesease and gluten-free diets the wheels in my brain started turning. I read that folks with one autoimmune condition often tend to have multiple autoimmune conditions. (My thyroid disease, Hashimoto's, is an autoimmune condition.) I read the symptoms of celiac disease and could relate to some of them. I didn't believe I had celiac disease, but I read that some people just felt better after adopting a gluten-free lifestyle, just as some people might thrive on vegetarianism. I hadn't been feeling my best lately, so I figured I would give it a shot and that it couldn't hurt to at least try.

It was actually very easy to go gluten-free. Yes, it required breaking some habits, like no more beer. I didn't miss the gluten-laden foods as much as I thought I would. In fact I found myself craving some foods that I rarely ate, like donuts and pretzels, rather than staples like pizza and pasta. What I missed more than the foods themselves was the convenience of them. It was always so easy to order a pizza or throw together a pasta dish when time was short. Meals now required a lot more planning. But I loved what I was eating: grilled meats, lots of veggies on the side. Potatoes. Rice. Rice krispies treats! Another benefit was that I could eat more of the good stuff, since I wasn't filling up on bread.

It was strange to find out what foods had gluten in them that you would least expect, such as soy sauce or chicken broth. Fortunately I could find gluten-free versions of each. There were also gluten-free versions of flours that could be used to bake brownies, cakes, etc., and gluten-free pastas made from rice flour. I gave these a try (using a gluten-free brownie mix and gluten-free macaroni and cheese, both from Trader Joe's) but wasn't happy with the results, so I just stuck to foods that were naturally gluten-free.

In the first few weeks I loved this diet. I did feel healthier and think I went through sort of a detox phase. Over time I relaxed somewhat and stopped caring about tiny sources of gluten in my food, like if a chicken tender had breading on it, so I was getting some gluten here or there. (Since I don't actually have an allergy I am fortunate to not have to worry about that.) I still avoided the obvious gluten sources, like bread and beer.

I don't think I would have necessarily chosen to end my gluten-free diet, if it weren't for a few factors. First, it wasn't the miracle cure I had hoped it would be. (I have suffered from sinus problems since I was a kid and I secretly hoped that maybe an undiscovered gluten sensitivity was the cause... it wasn't.) I didn't notice any major health benefits beyond the immediate detox, except for a slight weight loss. Second, I had been sick much more than I can remember in recent years. I had a major cold for a few weeks, got a few weeks reprieve, and then my cold came back with a vengeance and brought a fever with it. After spending both three day weekends in January and February (MLK JR. weekend and Presidents Day weekend) sick the whole time, I started to consider why this was happening, and I started to wonder if my body was asking for gluten.

So, on Saturday night I ate a slice of pizza. And honestly, I thought it was kind of gross. But it didn't make me sick and I didn't have any noticeable reaction to it. And then tonight I ate some pasta. I'm going to try to ease back into this, because I don't want my body to go haywire and gain back the weight I lost. I think this diet was a great experiment for me. I recognized that I don't like pizza and sandwiches as much as I thought I did, and I'll try to limit those in my diet from now on. But I definitely foresee gluten in my future. Plus I missed baking too much.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

What's Been Happening

It's been quiet around here lately... I thought I would pop in to say that I haven't given up on the blog, I've just been really busy with other endeavors. Jason and I decided a few months ago to replace the carpet on our first floor with wood laminate, and we've been taking baby steps towards that goal ever since!

What began as a lofty project has become even more so because along the way we decided to re-purpose a few of the rooms, and figured that while we have carpet ripped up and baseboards pulled off we might as well repaint the walls while we're at it. So far we've actually accomplished a decent number of tasks: moved the workout equipment out of the small room in the basement and into the larger part of the basement, moved our guest room furniture into that small basement room and started to transform it into our new guest room, ripped up carpet and prepped the subfloor in our old guest room (which will be our new office), painted the old guest room (just finished that today!), ripped out the carpet and prepped the subfloor in the hallway, painted the hallway, and painted the living room and installed new blinds, curtain rods, and curtains. It feels like we've done so much, but we've yet to even start on the floor itself! We have a three-day weekend coming up so hopefully we can finally start on that.

So anyway, I've still been cooking occassionally, but just haven't taken the time to post about it. Maybe in the near future I can post some before/after pictures of what else I've been busy with.

Happy New Year!