Tuesday, March 29, 2011

See? I told ya.

Remember a few posts back when I mentioned that my house/cooking experiments don't always work? I thought I'd post one for you just to show you what a bomb looks like.

Actually looks pretty tasty, right?

False. This is supposed to be bacon and basil gnocchi. Turns out, homemade gnocchi is hard to make, and a skill I don't possess. I could not stop my dough from being sticky! I kept adding flour but it would almost immediately absorb. Lame. I couldn't even figure out how to properly score them - they'd just flatten out and stick to both the counter and the fork. Argh. The whole process was extremely frustrating. And, of course, they came out tasting too raw inside and too floury (because I kept adding flour...)

The sauce itself was pretty good - buttery, rich, with nice flavor from the prosciutto, pine nuts, and basil. Something tasted a little off about it, though, and Hans and I both ended the night (and well into the next morning) with awful stomach aches.

We won't be trying this again.

If you're more skilled than I and want to give it a try, here's the recipe from Make It and Love it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Whelp, that'll do it

The first major purchase we made as a married couple was our beautiful washer and dryer set. We splurged a little bit on these (though we still got a killer deal) because we both felt it was better to invest in a high-quality set that would last us forever than get a cheap-o set we'd have to replace much quicker.

Can you tell how much we love them?

Nearly 13 months later (that's right, barely outside of warranty), we noticed something funny happening with our dryer. Despite interminable cycles, the clothes weren't getting dry and actually smelled kind of musty. The Maytag guy had a look and determined nothing was wrong with it.

Yesterday, resident handyman Parker diagnosed the problem - a foot long, very dense bird's nest built inside the vent that pumps the air outside. No, I don't have a picture - I wish I did. He said it was completely solid, except for a tiny hole for the bird to get out. It didn't just have sticks and leave and lint, either. The bird has been bringing in chunks of thick cotton (where does he get that?) to pad his nest.
(Not ours, just an appropriate pic I found here)
The sad news is the birdie no longer has a home. The good news is, my clothes smell wonderful. I'm ok with this arrangement. 

Another Apple widow

This is what a happy husband looks like. Boys and their toys, right?

Hans has been drooling over iPads for months. But couldn't justify the expense. Then he realized that he doesn't use his MacBook Pro much anymore. He browses the internet and we steam tv/movies. So he sold the laptop on craigslist (yay, craigslist!) and he bought a brand spankin' new iPad.

He's been playing with it nonstop all weekend. If you have any good app recommendations, send 'em over.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It got better

I love this cake.

Curse you, Martha Stewart. You make everything look easier than it really is.

This is my second attempt at this decoration. The first one was far, far too ugly to share with the world. I used the meringue recipe she features on her site. Something went horribly wrong and it separately, oozing this clear, melted butter looking substance all down the cake and onto the counter. No wonder no one wanted to eat it.

This time, I used the cream cheese frosting recipe that came with this Apple a Day red velvet cake recipe (which, by the way, is the absolute best red velvet recipe I've ever made. So moist. So tangy. My mouth is water as I write this).

You use a #12 decorating tip. Point the tip at the plate/stand, not at the cake. This is a mistake I made the first time. Basically, you're making a little pile of frosting that leans up against the cake. That was an easier way for me to think about it. Here's a little tutorial if you're having a hard time picturing it. It sure helped me.

What you're seeing here are the best possible views of this cake. It's really hard to make the columns the same width and use the same amount of pressure. And, of course, I did not have enough icing. I never have enough icing.

I think with two or three more tries this will actually be a fun, pretty little cake.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Disclaimer: Not all rosy

Back in January, an article from Salon popped up in my reader that peaked my interest: "Why I can't stop reading Mormon housewife blogs." I have a similar problem, so I was curious what this non-member writer had to say. According to the author: "I'm a young, feminist atheist who can't bake a cupcake. Why am I addicted to the shiny, happy lives of these women?"

Her article attempts to answer that question. It's well worth the read, but here are some of my favorite highlights:
"It seems that a lot of popular culture wants to portray marriage and motherhood as demeaning, restrictive or simple, but in the LDS church, motherhood is a very important job, and it's treated with a lot of respect," says Natalie Holbrook, the New York-based author of the popular blog Nat the Fat Rat. "
"Indeed, Mormon bloggers like Holbrook make marriage and motherhood seem, well, fun. Easy. Joyful."
"It's not that she or I  want to quit our jobs to bake brownies or sew kiddie Halloween costumes. It's just that for G., Mormon blogs are an escapist fantasy, a way to imagine a sweeter, simpler life. "
I'll admit, I read all the blogs Salon lists. They're fascinating. These women seem to be good at everything. And I find it inspiring! I want to try that too! That recipe looks good! Oh, that's a cool sewing project!

But then yesterday someone sent me this article "What You Don't See", written by one of the numerous Gee clan (Tiffany Gee Lewis).  Again, a great read if you have some time. But she addresses the idea that all these shiny, happy blogs seem like they are just for show. She says:
"I started a blog last fall. I dragged my feet into it for many reasons. One of the main reasons I hesitated was I didn't want to be another contributor to the cyberspace guiltosphere out there. Especially where mothers are concerned, do we need one more reason to feel guilty? Because from the looks of things, other families are happier, their houses are cleaner, their marriages are better, their clothes are more stylish and their craftiness is even more crafty. Their lives are perfectly lovely, while my kids are running around screaming in their diapers."
It struck a chord - I heard someone say recently that all her friends' blogs made them look so darn happy all the time and there was no way their lives were that perfect.

It's true - a lot of these blogs, mine included - only include the good stuff. The happy stuff. The stuff that's pretty enough for print. But why would you blog the bad stuff? Should I blog about the argument I had with a friend? Or if I had a friend coping with a painful illness? Maybe sometimes these things are relevant. Maybe. But I think that they're generally very personal struggles - I don't want to air all my dirty laundry for the world (or rather, the 35 of you reading this). And I'm also trying to teach myself (a life-long struggle) to focus on the positive and the things that are going well, instead of dwelling on the things that are not going so well. Like Tiffany, I'm posting the cakes that turn out pretty. The recipes that work. What you don't see are the ten unfinished crafts stashed in the closet under my stairs. Or the cake that failed so miserably I ended up throwing it away before anyone could see it.

What's my point with this blog post? I'm not exactly sure. More than anything, just to pass along these two excellent articles. They inspired me and got the ol' wheels turning in my head. I hope they will for you, too.

Wow, these are old

I hadn't been able to locate my camera card reader for a while, so some of these are backlogged.

For the February stake youth dance, our ward was in charge. Each of the YW leaders was asked to bring 100 cookies.

Pause. And disclaimer. I'm not a *huge* fan of making cookies. They're just not my specialty. I can never seem to get the timing right - they're either uncooked in the middle or too brown and crispy.

My last foray into sugar cookies was disastrous. Despite chilling the dough for some time, it was still too soft to cut. Every time I tried to pick the cookies up, they fell apart. Then, they were so dry and crumbly that they broke in half while I tried to ice them. I think only six cookies survived and were pretty enough to give away.

This time, I tried a new recipe and it was so easy and delicious I couldn't believe I did them myself. The recipe comes from Bake at 350 (an absolutely genius cookie blog). I think the almond really does it.

3 c unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 c sugar
2 sticks (salted) butter, cold (*I used unsalted and added a tiny dash of salt)
1 egg
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure almond extract

Combine the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts and mix. Add the flour mixture in several small additions and beat just until combined, scraping down the bowl frequently.

Roll onto a floured surface, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick. Dip cookie cutters into flour before cutting shapes. These were half off at Target because it was right after Valentine's Day - woot! Place cookies parchment lined baking sheets (I love parchment paper!) and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool completely before icing.

The icing experience on this one was so much different than I've had before! She really made this easy. Check out her awesome Royal Icing recipe.

4 TBSP meringue powder (found in the baking aisle at Hobby Lobby)
scant 1/2 c. water
1 lb. powdered sugar
1/2 - 1 tsp light corn syrup
Food coloring/dye as necessary

Combine the meringue powder and water. Beat until combined and foamy.
Sift in the powdered sugar and beat on low to combine. (Do NOT skip the sifting!)
Add in the corn syrup.
Increase speed to med-high/high and beat for about 5 minutes, just until the icing is glossy and stiff peaks form. Do not overbeat. (See her blog for a great pic of what your peaks should look like).
Cover with plastic wrap touching the icing or divide and color using gel paste food colorings.

This is your "stiff" icing. Fill an icing bag with the icing, using a small, round tip. I actually used a star one because I couldn't find my round one and I was in a hurry. Outline the edge of your cookie.

Once you have completely outlined every cookie (make sure you got them all!) it's time to thin the icing. Add water 1 teaspoon at a time until it has the consistency of syrup. One blog I read said to dribble the icing from a spoon back into the bowl. If it's absorbed quickly (4-5 seconds), it's ready. If you can still see the dribble, it needs more water.

Icing bags are not the way to go with this, my friends. Let me tell you. It's so running that it was falling out the tip while I tried to fill the bag. And it just went everywhere. What I plan to do for next time, and I recommend you do as well, is to pick up some of those cheap-o plastic bottles that restaurants use for ketchup. Fill those up and use them to flood the inside of the cookie. You won't get all of the cookie flooded this way - get as much as you can, and then use a tooth pick to spread the icing all the way to the border.

Make sure you give yourself time for these to set. It's best to make them the day before, or several hours before. I made them and had to run out the door and it meant i couldn't stack them - they were too wet still.

But they were pretty and tasty and I'm no longer afraid to tackle decorated sugar cookies!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tackling the half bath

This room is a hot mess. It's all wrong, pretty much in every way.

Paint the color of nasty ground peas? Check.

Tacky, cheap wooden frame? Check.
Gold, bare bulb vanity light? Check.
Small, old porcelain sink? Check.

Know what there's no check for? Storage. There is zero place for extra towels, toilet paper, anything! Bad.

I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this yet. But I've stripped everything out and I'm almost done putting a base coat on. Here's what I'm thinking so far:

The base color is leftover from the master bath upstairs - Glidden's Eloquent Ivory in eggshell. I know I want to stencil on a pattern, but I can't decide what color to make it. I like the blue/grey look, but I wonder if it's too contrast-y for such a small space? I kinda like the metallic champagne color. Or perhaps tone-on-tone? I could do something very close to Eloquent Ivory, except in high gloss?

Then I've got to track down lighting, mirror, vanity, and sink/faucet that I can afford!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy Pi Day

A very, very happy Pi Day to you all. We (and by we, I mean Hans) couldn't let this day go by without pie. But he ended up doing most of the work himself - go him! Isn't it loverly?

And here's the very easy recipe:
1 pie crust (I like the Pioneer Woman's)
5 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (thankfully, still working through all those in my freezer from picking last summer!)
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (or a little extra, if ya feel like it)
A dash of lemon juice

Mix blueberries, sugar, flour, cinnamon and lemon juice in a bowl to coat. Pour into prepared pastry shell. Roll out top pastry, place on top and secure edges. Add vent holes. Bake at 375 for approx. 50 minutes. Allow to cool or it will be soupy! Warning: This pie tastes ten times better the second day. Cold.