Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wedding Cakes

With summer finally here, wedding season is also in full bloom. And with weddings comes wedding cakes.

I’ve been making cakes for a while now so this isn’t to say that I’m incompetent or anything. However, with every wedding cake a certain, how should I put it, level of expectations is put into place, both by myself and the spouses-to-be. No cake is perfect unless it is a fake, and even those have issues probably only noticeable to the decorator, but nevertheless the strive for perfection for someone’s wedding day is always there.

No matter how many wedding cakes I do I always get nervous and begin overthinking details that really are quite simple. Scrollwork for instance is really not that difficult to achieve unless you are aiming for scrolls that are all exactly the same, in which case use a template in the form of a press not unlike a cookie cutter. Borders, dots, word piping, all of these little things I don’t really think too much about when decorating a party cake I get all flustered while applying these techniques to a wedding cake. Of course, there is good reason.

Wedding cakes are traditionally white. I don’t make very many white frosted cakes because the margin for error is practically not there as white shows every imperfection and every crumb and if the wedding is outdoors anything that might be blowing in the wind. Yes, white is evil. Now camouflage or chocolate… Anyway, so to counteract some of these, we decorators have a few tricks up our sleeves, but more than that there are things called decorations we usually use to hide any imperfections that may arise. Of course lighting plays a big role too, as bright light will show off every tiny crack and divot while low light will make it look flawless. And then there is the issue of heat, which we all know can melt the frosting right off the cake, or humidity which can turn a perfect fondant cake into something that looks like a pansy in heat.

Most cakes should be set up no more than two hours before they are to be viewed and eaten, but this isn’t always possible to accomplish. I know when I did my sister’s wedding cake, which was an eight tier monster that had to be driven ninety miles in the middle of winter over icy roads and set up six hours before the wedding for the photographer, I had to make sure I had everything with me to fix any mishaps that may occur until the event. But once I set everything up and fixed the areas that didn’t travel so well which of course meant they wanted to be the back of the cake (and yes brides, there is ALWAYS a back to a cake) it stayed in perfect form for eight hours, and probably would have been fine for a couple hours longer, until we cut it up and served it. Of course, we had cut wedding slices thinking guests might want to try all three flavors, but there ended up being over half the cake leftover in the end. Then again, this cake was enough for 300 people and there were about 150, so I’m not too surprised.

But still, wedding season is here and wedding cakes are needing to be made and with our lovely unpredictable Northwest weather we decorators never know which trick we are going to have to pull out of our sleeves. I just hope that for the cakes I am doing I’m able to put a smile on the newlyweds faces and fulfill their dreams of a wonderful wedding. After all, they chose me out of all the decorators and bakers out there.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Garage Sale Finds

Do you ever take a look at a garage sale from the car window and judge whether or not to even bother getting out and inspect the merchandise closer? Unless you are in a hurry, why not get out and see what they have as you never know what you will find.

While driving around to check out a few garage and estate sales on Friday before we went to The Lion King, our first yard sale we pulled up to I said, “It’s all fishing stuff,” and sure enough it was. But as my partner was looking for a new tackle box we checked it out anyway. His mom said she’d like to get one for the boy who couldn’t come because his parents honestly believe that they would all go to hell if the kids saw The Lion King as he likes to fish too. The prices seemed a little high, until the seller informed them to open the boxes which were all loaded with brand new tackle. He said when G.I. Joe’s went out of business he snatched up a great deal on fishing gear. Suddenly the $25 and $15 prices for the tackle boxes they were looking at didn’t seem so bad considering they had a couple hundred dollars worth of new tackle in them so they paid for their stuff and we continued down the road to the next one.

We drove a bit and followed some signs to the next garage sale, which when we pulled up had a makeshift banner proclaiming ANTIQUES. Walking up the driveway into the garage we came upon a beauty of an old sewing machine that looked a lot like the one my grandfather used to use. But since none of us needed a sewing machine I just admired it and we moved on to look at some of the other stuff the lady was selling. My partner’s mom of course found stuff she had to have and my partner was back looking at the sewing machine again. It’s beautiful vintage black gold styling, the solid maple table it was attached to, the fact that it was plugged in and a piece of fabric in it to test it out, the $35 price tag. After his mother paid for her stuff, we all were talking about the machine and the lady said she’d take $30 for it or for $35 she’d throw in the bench, which she quickly went into the house to get. I still said I want it, but I don’t need it, and then the lady took the seat off the bench to reveal a dozen different feet, at least twenty bobbins and tons of other sewing stuffs. My partner’s mother handed her $35 and said, “We’ll take it.”



Well, my partner’s mother drives a Jaguar and there was no way the machine was going to fit in the trunk, so I gave the lady my name and phone number and said I’d be back in a couple hours to pick it up. We did, however, put the bench in the trunk and continued our garage sale adventures. I offered to get cash to pay her back but she insisted on not accepting any money, touting that it was too good of a deal to pass up. Well, after picking up the machine I decided to research a little more on this particular model and dated the machine to be built in 1948 in Elizabeth, New Jersey and also found that in top-notch condition these machines sell for between $50 and $100. The tables sell for about $10, maybe $15 if you have the coordinating bench. Okay, so this wasn’t that good of a deal, but the machine is still in perfect working condition.


So then I had to test it out. I plugged it in, turned on the light and pressed the knee pedal to start sewing, fiddling with the various stitch lengths and it seemed to sew perfectly on both the front and the back. Then I figured it was like my 1963 Singer Touch & Sew in that moving the stitch length lever all the way up made it stitch really close and wanted to see exactly how that was possible as the 30 stitches per inch length was closer than I’d ever use and it started sewing backwards! I know this seems a geeky thing to get excited about, but I’ve never used a sewing machine that actually sewed backwards and forwards and now I can’t wait to get it cleaned, possibly serviced and start using it, mostly to see if this beast can handle quilting. It only does straight stitches, but if this really is like the one my grandfather used for his upholstery work, I’ve got a feeling it’ll take it like a champ.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Recycled Art

While at the Vancouver Farmer’s Market this last Saturday they were also having the Recycled Arts Festival in the adjoining Esther Short Park. This of course meant we all had to go check that out too.

The idea of reusing trash and turning it into treasure is by no means a new concept, but it seems that people get cleverer at how they transform those found objects into works of art: Old wine bottles melted to form spoon rests; marbles turned into rings and pendants; chip bags and candy wrappers turned into clutches, handbags and purses. My partner, his mother, sister and I all enjoyed walking from booth to booth and checking out either the merchandise being sold or the idea booths for how-to projects you can do yourself.

Being of crafty peasant stock myself, there were a good number of items showcased I could easily replicate with stuff I currently have on hand. Then again, I could easily improve on some of them too, or at the very least personalize those items to better suit my particular wants and needs. The first thing that comes to mind is repurposing some of my old screen tees I no longer wear because they are unraveling in certain areas or don’t fit well into market bags. And anyone who knows me knows I have a lot of screen tees so that would be a lot of market bags!

But the Recycled Arts Festival also got me thinking about something else. We as a society, at least here in the United States, seem to live disposable lives. Practically everything we use or buy has an expiration date whether it says so or not because instead of manufacturers making products built to last a lifetime, they make products built to last until the newer model comes out so that you’ll have to replace it. I’m sure this last sixty or so years we’ve been consuming disposable products will simply disappear from the history books because there won’t be any lasting impression of how we lived except for the giant heaps of garbage created from this disposable society, most of which will still be there for many, many generations to come.

Perhaps the days of manufacturing goods back to quality status will return when the landfills can no longer contain our bounty we bestow upon them. Perhaps more of our everyday disposable items will become biodegradable or compostable. Then again, perhaps the day we simply outgrow this planet and kill ourselves off due to overpopulation, overconsumption and overall abuse of our resources will happen before we come to our senses. Hopefully we come to our senses before it is too late. Until then, I’m going to rummage through the garage for some trash I can turn into treasure.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Firecracker Coleslaw

Every once in a while on a hot day you want a coleslaw that can handle the heat while at the same time giving a little as well. Have I found the coleslaw for you.

No mayonnaise in this slaw makes it a perfect picnicking plan, and a much lower fat option at that. Plus with all the colors in this slaw it is also perfect for a bright summer day. This way if you are having a potato salad for your BBQ you don’t have to feel guilty about loading your plate with both that and coleslaw. Of course, this recipe is so popular that every time we make it for family and friends they always ask for the recipe, so I figured I’d share it here with you. This is a little different than the recipe found online as I’m a tinkerer and can’t leave well enough alone, but feel free to play with the flavors a bit depending on your palate.

Firecracker Coleslaw

Dressing
1½ teaspoons salt
1 clove garlic (or more), minced
½ cup cider vinegar
cup sugar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1½ teaspoons Tabasco Sauce
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon celery seed

Slaw
2 bags shredded cabbage with carrots
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly slivered
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly slivered
2 fresh jalapeño chilies, seeded and thinly sliced

Prepare the dressing. Combine the salt and garlic in a large mixing bowl and mash to a paste with the back of a spoon. Add the next 8 ingredients; whisk until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Correct the seasoning, adding salt or sugar to taste. The dressing should be highly seasoned.

Stir in the remaining ingredients and toss to mix. Let the slaw stand for at least 10 minutes or as long as 4 hours before serving.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Night Out on the Town

Last night we saw The Lion King. It was one of the coolest shows I’ve ever seen… seriously.


So with the absence of my partner’s niece and nephew because, according to their father, their religion prevents them from swimming and seeing black people and puppets on stage because it is sinful and they won’t receive the keys to heaven, we instead took my second cousins who are really like nieces to us. As much as I love my partner’s niece and nephew, I’m really glad we took my cousins, and they seemed to have a great time too.

The evening started out with the girls not having any idea what we were doing, that is, until my partner gave them a huge clue in the form of the soundtrack to The Lion King. That seemed to be a giveaway, but they quickly turned the tables on us and said they weren’t going to tell us where we were going, but that they knew.

After boarding the MAX, Portland’s mass-transit train, into downtown, we arrived at the restaurant we made our reservations at and ate arguably the most food we’ve eaten downtown and it was so super delicious too. Out of the six of us myself and my partner’s sister were the only ones to finish our meals. While Tree’s is only open Monday through Friday, I highly recommend them, and highly recommend the Chicken and Avocado Club sandwich that half of our table ordered and we all ate some of. Two people could easily share this meal, it’s that big. We ordered a piece of chocolate cake for dessert to split between the six of us and they cut a fairly large, probably double-sized piece for us. Originally the plan was for each of us to have a bite to get our chocolate fix, but this cake was big enough for us all to have three bites each and still had half leftover, which the girls quickly devoured.

Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as dinner was over we all used the restroom and walked to the Keller Auditorium for the play where we arrived about fifteen minutes early for the show; just enough time to find our seats and check out the orchestra warming up. And once the show started we were all glued to the stage. Needless to say, we all had a good time and the girls were able to pick out some souvenirs with their own money and then went back to get a couple things for their three-year-old twin sisters because they are sweet and thoughtful like that.

It was obvious the girls were tired, as we all were, while taking the train back to our cars, but I think they had a good time, as we all did. Again, while it is sad we couldn’t take my partner’s niece and nephew, we were able to take a couple of other kids, and watching them react to the play was amazing. Makes me wish we had some of our own.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Rethinking Dog Blankets

When I put the dog blankets I made to coordinate with the quilt I just finished on the sofa, the first that came to mind was, “My, those look awfully small.” Yep.

After a full day of somewhat being used, the official word on the dog blankets is that for a small dog or cat, these blankets would be fine. However, we don’t have a small dog or a small cat for that matter. I mean, our Lucy is quite massive and while she does squeeze herself into a tiny ball and manage to get herself squarely on one blanket, the process she takes to get into that position ruffles the blanket to the point that it would need to be fixed after each nap.

I’m wondering if it wouldn’t have been better to make a one piece unit to go over both seats that maybe draped a little over the edge, as that seems to be where the blanket gets tripped up from her climbing onto the couch. Of course, with a one-piece unit that would defeat the original purpose of having one for each seat so they can both freely recline without puckering in the middle. Perhaps a little more research is in order. Or perhaps I should’ve learned how to upholster from my grandfather before he passed away, as that is a skill I wish I had in my arsenal.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dog Blankets on the Sofa

Do you have pets who like the sofa more than their own bed? If so, I may be able to help with some of the issues that arise from pet-used furniture.

When we purchased our furniture from La-Z-Boy we were told the fabric was made for heavy use, including pets and children. What they failed to tell us is that they were lying. The fabric is so weak that the act of sitting on the sofa stretches the seat cushion. Sit on it for a year and a stretch mark occurs. Two and you’ve got rips and tears all over. Add dog to the equation and you’ve got a bigger problem on your hands.


When the first major tears in the fabric happened we decided the dog should sleep on her bed instead of the sofa. This lasted about a week as we had already spoiled our Lucy too much during her formative years. So then we decided to simply put a blanket over the seat cushions to cover up the unsightly scene, and this worked well for a few months until the blanket started showing signs of wear and tear. So then we decided to switch back and forth between the old discount store quilt that was starting to fall apart and a crappy comforter neither of us cared for all too much. Eventually the quilt was on its last leg and I had to come up with something fast, especially with company coming.




So after finishing my Moda Scrap Bag Quilt, I thought about what to do with the Charm pack of the same line I’d picked up at a recent trip to Country Manor fabric store in Battle Ground. It dawned on me that if I had the quilt draped over the back of the chair-and-a-half, it’d be nice to have something coordinating on the sofa. I knew that a dog blanket was in order, but didn’t know if I necessarily wanted a one piece unit, as the sofa is a recliner (hence, the reason we went with La-Z-Boy) with two separate reclining seats. This made me think that making two seat covers might just do the trick.



Of course, after I started quilting the pieces together and finished the first one, I thought that it would be too cute to simply use to prevent further damage to the sofa. They’d be better suited for baby blankets or small play quilts. However, I figured for the cost (about $6 in materials each) and relative ease of assembly I could always use these as a beta test, and use the data from how well they hold up to improve on them in the future. For now, they look pretty and coordinate with the quilt on the back of the chair-and-a-half and that is okay for now.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot about getting back into writing. Not for fame or fortune but for some sanity.

When I was a kid up until about ten years ago I wrote a lot of books. Some of them children’s books for which I also illustrated and some for young adults and even began an ambitious science fiction novel for adult readers. I think part of me likes to go back to storytelling because it was a place for me to express my feelings without them having to be directly from me and instead through characters. A little kooky? Yes.

Any artist will tell you that sanity is not part of the process, nor even part of their cognitive capabilities. It seems to be a constant search for self in which through creating we are constantly striving to be better at our craft, and in turn try to better understand why we were endowed with such abilities.

Part of the reason for me starting this blog was to see if forcing myself to write daily would entice my creativity or hinder it. Currently I have to say that it sometimes is a combination, but the act of writing daily is quite therapeutic. Besides, it helps me pace my morning coffee drinking habit!

So I think I’m going to try this again. Will I continue to write without a plot and make everything up as I go? Probably. Is that a little dangerous? Probably. However I feel the creative process each artist takes is as unique as each artist is. Some plan, others outline, some stick to a goal and others simply start because they were inspired by an idea that struck them while picking up a handful of dirt.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Roses

With so many conflicting views on how best to care for your roses during the blooming season, how should one choose? Try them all.

We’ve had roses at our home practically since we moved in. We’ve also had issues with roses for the same amount of time. You see, some roses like to be fussed with, others like to be left alone, and others still require some attention at certain times and are good to go. Knowing your roses, and which types you have can save you some heartache, but something most rose owners fear is harming their prized plants… even if they aren’t so special and should’ve been pulled out and discarded years ago. Yes, we have a couple of those.

How should I put it? When we planted the roses we originally got seven. We knew where they were going to go and figured that would be the perfect amount for the area. And we were right. However, it became painfully obvious after the first year that two of these hybrid teas were, well, underperforming. Actually, one looked like it reverted back to its original species, as if the hybridization didn’t work and the “superior” graft died. The other just, well, looked sad and diseased. Twelve years later they are still in the rose garden. Why? We just haven’t replaced them yet. That and I really don’t like killing live plants unless they are invasive weeds that must be stopped before they take over the world.

Anyway, so caring for your roses during the growing season has a few options with it. There is the old rule of cutting spent flowers down to the first 5-leaf section, which sometimes means massive pruning depending on the variety of rose you are growing. Personally I don’t really think it matters where you cut and in fact usually just deadhead the wilted flower by hand pulling or just cut it off. It is generally accepted now that the important part of deadheading is to just do it if you want more blooms. If the stalk is too tall and unable to support the blooms at the top, cut down up to half of it while deadheading, unless, of course, it is a carpet rose and supposed to be like that!

More vigorously blooming plants may not require deadheading as they simply grow and produce so quickly. Deadheading a carpet rose for instance is a matter of appearance if the plant is well established and will probably only produce a minimal difference in the amount of blooms. Of course, pruning your carpet rose may be a matter of controlling their whereabouts as they can quickly take over not only their space but any neighbors too! Don’t be afraid to attack it with gusto if need be otherwise you’ll be overrun with them.

I’ve noticed that ours do not require the same amount of water they used to, probably because they are so well established, but you may want to keep watering yours as needed. About an inch a week, either done as daily watering or as a hefty gulp once a week is what they require. Fertilizing is another thing to help them stay healthy, whether that is a simple scoop of compost every couple weeks or a slow release fertilizer. Also important is mulch. Trying to weed beneath a rose bush is, well, damn near impossible as can be seen by the grass growing directly underneath a majority of ours where even the chickens won’t tread. Two to three inches of mulch will help control weeds and also retain moisture in the ground, and yes, you can use grass clippings as mulch, as well as pine needles or bark chips. Another option is to plant chives under and next to your roses as a living mulch, which will not only help protect it from diseases, but bring forth beneficial insects and create sweeter scented flowers on your roses. Plus you can use the chives in your culinary endeavors and they have pretty purple flowers twice a year too. I was going to do this but for some reason never did. Hmmm… I should look into seeing if it is too late to do so now.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Weeds

One thing that is difficult to keep on top of when the weather won’t cooperate is weeding. That’s why it is important to take every chance you get to attack them.

Our rock garden is quite, well, how should I put it… established. I mean, we have plenty of mature plants in there with some areas left intentionally bare for growth. Years later the bare spots have been overtaken by out of control carpet roses and phlox. Sometimes I think it would be a good idea to pull out a good amount of the phlox, mostly the tall variety as the groundcover species isn’t as intrusive, and maybe the yellow carpet rose too, but at the same time having these well established plants keeps the weeds to a minimum, right? Or so one would think.

Those bare spots, even the little crevices between the plants are breeding grounds for all sorts of weeds. Some of these weeds are easy to pull, especially since there has been so much rain causing the ground to be soggy rather than brick-like. And then there is the grass growing throughout the sedums and succulents, which is nearly impossible to pull without taking a good chunk of the surrounding plant with it. For this there are two options: Pull the grass and be okay with your losses; spray the grass with a specific grass killer. I’ve tried both, and while they both yield okay results, pulling it seems to be the better option for me. You see, succulents in the summer grow quickly and any bare areas will be filled in within a couple weeks if they aren’t too large, whereas spraying the grass will definitely kill it, but leaves dead grass which doesn’t decay as quickly as one would hope. Also dead grass seems to be harder to pull up than live grass, at least to get the roots too.

So last night before it got dark I put on a pair of gloves and decided to pull all the big stuff out of the rock garden. At least if the larger weeds were pulled it wouldn’t look so horrific, and the lawn debris service was coming in the morning so I wanted to fill the cart. After I was finished with that I was able to gauge the situation better, and unfortunately the situation was only slightly improved. All I could see was the ground-hugging weeds covering the beautiful river rock and pea gravel. And from the blue sky I see while typing this post, I believe I’ll be out there on my hands and knees with my weeder this morning trying to clean it up for the summer. Wish me luck.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pride

While working the Portland Pride booth for the United Church of Christ Central Pacific Conference yesterday there were quite a few surprised people to see so many churches there, not in protest but in support of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered & queer) community. The most often question we got was, “How does that work?” Something tells me we should’ve prepared for this.

I guess that the difficult part for people to understand is that our church is not a gay church, we simply hold the belief that all people are welcome to come as they are, who they are, and wherever they are on life’s journey. Trying to explain that the church we belong to is mostly gray haired grandparents and that they are the most welcoming, friendly people you could ever ask to meet also seems to surprise people. But the biggest part is that so many of these individuals are where we were before finding this church… skeptical of the agenda. Of course, once we finally went to a Sunday worship service we instantly knew there was no hidden agenda, just a friendly congregation of a diverse group of people.

Getting back to the question, “How does that work?” I find that it is best to address the roots of most churches bigotry about the unknown and unfamiliar, which is that we are all human and humans make mistakes. If that doesn’t work I always go back to the original arguments I’ve held for years is that people tend to pick and choose which parts of the bible they want to believe. For the old argument that homosexuality is a sin because it says so in the bible, first I explain the translational errors that easily occur and if that doesn’t work ask them if they eat lobster, play football or wear cotton/polyester blends because some of those are punishable by death in that same book (Leviticus.) For those who urge legislators to vote against equal rights for marriage because it will lead to incest and polygamy, I again refer them to the same bible, which quite plainly encourages both. After all, if it wasn’t for incest how else would the human population have grown? I mean, Adam and Eve were the first humans and Cain had to have kids with somebody and while the bible doesn’t supply the answer it is arguably his sister he procreated with because that’s all that would’ve been available… or his mother. I usually let them decide which they’d prefer.

So, how does that work? Jesus. The gospels show that Jesus didn’t turn anyone away, and as a Christian church wouldn’t it make sense to follow the teachings and examples of Christ? Yes, this stance makes us an outcast in the wider church world, but we have a saying in the UCC that God is still speaking. It doesn’t make sense to us that God just stopped talking two thousand years ago because that is when the last books to the bible were written. We also don’t claim to know all the answers. We welcome opportunities for inter-faith discussions. We celebrate diversity in all its forms because in doing so we celebrate God’s creation and evolution of those creations. We are a place where anyone can feel like they’ve come home.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Priorities

Do you ever take on too much and end up feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything? If so, you are not alone.

From time to time I decide to start a whole list of projects or volunteer to make a bunch of stuff and it usually all happens to need to be done at the same time. I don’t know if I am unconsciously sabotaging myself or if it is just part of my nature to say yes to things I want to do, but either way I made the commitment to complete the tasks and one way or another I will.

What I find that helps in situations where there is so much to do is make a list for each project and a timeline to complete them by. Time management has never really been a strongpoint for me but if I list what needs to be done and by when it makes it easier to complete. Of course, I also have to be realistic on my deadlines too. If I have out-of-town guests, will only be home for a short period the night before two cake orders are due and a softball game and birthday party at the same time, there’s a pretty good chance something isn’t going to go according to plan. This is when making priorities comes into play.

First of all, business takes first priority. To make the orders go by smoothly, anything that can be done ahead of time I have to do ahead of time. In the case of one order it is fortunately only plain cupcakes for a build-your-own cupcake bar, and the other is for three-year-old twins’s birthday party for which they have a specific theme. Also fortunately the decorations can be made well in advance and placed onto their cakes and cupcakes, which basically means I have to only really account for baking the cupcakes and frosting one order before placing the decorations on. Simple enough with a little foresight and a good list to go off of.

Next will be the out-of-town guests, for which the house will need to be cleaned. Again, a checklist helps here, and not just any checklist but a prioritized list. What this will do is make sure that I clean the major stuff first, and if the little things don’t get done I can live with that. Think about it. If you clean the bathroom but don’t clean the office are you really going to be embarrassed? Now reverse the scenarios. Hopefully you get the picture.

Now with a softball game and a birthday party to go to at the same time, which should take priority? Unfortunately this is where I have to go with whichever one was scheduled first, and in this case it was the game. Of course, with the amount of players we’ve had turn out for practice we may not even be able to play. But if we show up for the game and only play catch and hit the ball around a few times, we may still be able to make it to the latter portion of the birthday party.

I like to simply handwrite my lists in a notebook, but it may be easier to type them out on the computer and print it out so that you can move the priorities to the top. Most of the time I put a star in front of the items to identify them as priorities. Also to keep things as simple as possible I will group like items together. For example, when the time comes to clean the windows, I do them all at the same time. I’ve already got the supplies out. Same thing goes for dusting and vacuuming. By grouping like items I streamline the process and am able to cross off multiple portions of the list, which makes me feel like I accomplished something and helps to alleviate stress and prevent Freak-out Mode from setting in.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dog Blanket: One Down

With as simple as these blankets are to assemble I should’ve gotten both finished. However, unforeseen circumstances required my attention to be spent elsewhere.


I started work on the fronts the day before, but then Chevy’s Happy Hour called and, well, we all know who is going to win in that scenario. So yesterday morning I took to finishing the two small blankets, one for each cushion on our piece of crap La-Z-Boy reclining sofa which, while sewing, I noticed the back had fallen out of place again. To give you a better idea of what I am talking about, let’s pretend like you are sitting on the sofa and decide to recline, so you pull the handle and just as you are starting to relax one whole side of the back falls off and traps you between the arm rest and back and if you’re really lucky you manage to avoid hitting your head on the hardwood floor. Anyway, so while I was sewing my partner gets a call that friends of ours need us to babysit while they pick out all the stuff they need for the contractors to work on the house they are purchasing before they move in. Jealous? Maybe a little.

I’m not saying that this particular little boy is a handful, because honestly he’s probably the easiest kid to watch, but our house is not at all child friendly. I mean, if he were to walk into the kitchen I’d have to put away the various knives just sitting out waiting to be washed. If he walks up to the sewing machine I have to be careful he doesn’t grab any of the three scissors or containers of sewing pins and impale himself and/or others. If he walks into the office to get another movie (his favorite thing to do by far… every ten minutes) I have to walk back there to make sure he doesn’t climb the shelves holding the DVDs. And to further show just how unchildfriendly our home is, we keep all the toys in the garage… behind chicken feed… next to saws (which would be his second favorite place to go in between walking to the office to stare at our DVD collection.)


Needless to say, once he arrived I didn’t get much else done. Oh, I could’ve cleaned up the place, but then I’d have to pull half of it out in order to use it again once he left. So alas, I was able to get one dog blanket done and the other is completely ready for quilting, with the top pieced together and the back piece of fleece cut to size. The quilting portion of this went by pretty smoothly, being a small piece. I decided on a simple stitch to enforce the piece stitching and quilted where I pressed the seams. Most sturdy quilts I’ve seen are done this way. Besides, it is a dog blanket, and more than likely Lucy will destroy it by being, uh, her. Hopefully it will last the summer, or at the very least, the few days my partner’s mom and sister are in town!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Chicks: 1 Week Update

Babies grow up so fast. One day they’re helpless little creatures who rely on you for everything and the next they’re jumping up and down learning how to “fly.”

The three new additions to our chicken coop and their adopted mother are doing really well. They are exhibiting some of the curiousness the other chicks we hand raised at a week old, but at the same time if they are scared will run behind Kendra who would probably protect them with her life if need be. Yesterday as I took a peek in on them to fill up their food and water I saw them trying to use their wings to fly. The wing feathers are usually the first to come in, so naturally they would want to test them out.


I can tell that Kendra is anxious to get out and stretch her wings and legs but also doesn’t want to leave her babies unattended so the next clear day I’m going to kick the big girls out of the coop for a while and let Kendra and the babies explore the run area free from the other seven hens. While she won’t be able to play in the grass, at least she will have a protected area to teach her chicks some new things.


While I was originally thinking it would be best to wait until the chicks are three weeks old before taking them out of the brooder cage, I don’t know if Kendra can wait that long. We’ll see. If the chicks look big enough to fly out of the way of the big girls next week then we will, and if not I guess they’ll have to stay in the cage with mama. There are a couple places on the cage where I could take the wire mesh off as there were holes for the old feeder (it’s an old ferret cage from my partner’s dad) that would be perfect for the little ones to climb through to get away from the big ones. If need be I’ll do that and leave the cage where it’s at so Kendra can have some leg room and the little ones will still have a protected space.


But for now they all seem to be enjoying learning how to be chickens from their mother. They scratch the floor and peck for food and are quickly learning how to use their wings to jump higher. Unfortunately we still haven’t named the Speckled Sussex. Hmmm… perhaps Kennedy, but with Tara still in the picture that could be awkward. Maybe Miss Calendar? Glory? Drusilla? Darla? Ahhh! Too many names to choose from!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dog Blankets

Dogs can be quite messy. Dogs who are allowed up on the couch are doubly so.

I’m not exactly sure what possessed us to buy new furniture the day after getting a new puppy, but then again, logic doesn’t always factor into decisions, does it? For the first year we were relatively surprised at how well the furniture held up. The second year was a completely different story.

By year two, our La-Z-Boy reclining sofa was quite stained from, well, anything that made contact with it. Elbow grease seemed to be the worst, but was in competition with head grease, as was obvious from the chair arms where one would put their own arms and by the top center of the back where one’s head would rest. This was pretty much a weekly maintenance to clean the crustified grossness, which if anyone has tried cleaning micro-suede knows the near-impossibility of actually getting it to look clean, let alone be clean, thanks to the incredible lack of hiding anything liquid without looking like a poorly done watercolor.

So one evening while sitting down to watch Jeopardy, I took one half and Lucy, our Great Dane, took the other. Apparently it wasn’t comfortable enough for her standards so she did what any normal dog would do and started scratching the couch to fluff up the bedding so to speak and immediately I see she had also torn a hole in the fabric. Before I could stop her she started another one. Well, at this point I’d had enough of her being on the sofa and kicked her off and onto her bed, but the damage was done and within a couple days would be ten times worse.

The original hole was now a foot-long tear with the other three not far behind, and without even realizing it there were a couple on the other side of the sofa too. Needless to say, we kept her off the couch to prevent it from completely falling apart, but then nuts and bolts and parts that hold the thing together started falling off, the recliner handle no long lifted the foot rest portion which now had to simply be grabbed and pulled up, and the back fell off from compromised rivets apparently made from tinfoil. I kid you not, this $1800 sofa is a piece of crap and if it wasn’t so darn comfortable… Anyway, since they were falling apart anyway, our efforts to keep the dog off waned and at night we no long put a dining room chair over the sofa to prevent her from sneaking up there at night. Instead, we put down an old quilt we used to have in the bedroom that my partner’s mom picked up at TJ Maxx not long after we moved into the house, if for nothing else, to hid the embarrassing rips and tears and ghettoness of the sofa.


Needless to say, this blanket-wrapped seat idea was supposed to be a temporary solution until we could find a slipcover for the sofa. Unfortunately finding a slipcover for this type of reclining sofa that was falling apart anyway and probably will completely collapse like a poorly built Lego tower next time we sit in it was crazily impossible, and the cost of custom slipcovers were more than a new sofa. Alas, the ghetto look of an old quilt-covered-cushion will have to stay.



But, after finishing my framed 9-patch quilt in Moda’s Frolic line by Sandy Gervais, I think I’ve come up with an idea for the charm pack I picked up a couple weeks ago. I am going to make new cushion covers. I figure a simple sew-together of the precut fabrics in a square, frame it in the same natural cotton muslin and back it in an orange fleece will not only keep the sofa looking nicer, it’ll tie in to the quilt I plan on putting on the back of the chair-and-a-half. Perhaps I’ll also do this for the fall quilt I plan on making so I can switch it out for the seasons. First I need to make these two and see if they’ll even work out. If not, they’ll probably end up in my Etsy shop! Then again, if they work out, I may make more to put in my Etsy shop for sale! After all, isn’t our Lucy worth the effort?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Quilt: Finally Finished

After many weeks the quilt I’ve been working on is finally finished. Now what?

Yesterday afternoon I started cutting, sewing and pressing the bias tape for the border to the quilt that I have been working on. Over the previous week I had finished the quilting, utilizing the “in-the-ditch” and “straight-line” stitches, well, combining them, to create little 1½ inch squares over the entire design, which works well with the framed 9-patch. Of course, I put the quilt stitches I used in quotations because a majority of them were not in-the-ditch nor straight. Alas, I attest that since the fabric used from the Moda Scrap Bag is called Frolic, I frolicked my quilting too.


With the bias tape ready I realized I forgot to double my measurements and had to cut and make more. I’m kinda stupid like that sometimes, but fortunately it would have just been one more strip since I cut way more than I initially thought I needed, but was six inches short. I trimmed off the excess batting and backer fabric to make it even with the front of the quilt and carefully pinned the border onto every other square to keep it in place while sewing. Once that was done a debate over which type of stitch to use for the border began. I was thinking of doing a zig-zag stitch and even entertained digging out some of the various drop-in pattern cartridges, but in the end I decided to just do a straight stitch to go with the rest of the quilt.


Surprising myself and even my 1963 Singer Touch & Sew Deluxe Zig-Zag Model 600 sewing machine, I encountered no problems sewing the border on. After tying off the ends and snipping, I loaded a needle and thread to stitch up any areas that may have been missed and found only two small sections which sewed up quickly. When I was done, I showed my partner then threw it into the washing machine and subsequently the dryer. After taking it out I noticed two other small areas (all of these were less than an inch) that needed stitched up and immediately attended to those. I have to say, I really love how the fabric puckers and really makes those squares pop.

So after snapping a few pictures and being glad to have finished this project my mind immediately went to, “Well now what?” And that’s when I remembered I had bought a charm pack of Frolic while in line at the Country Manor quilt and fabric shop in Battle Ground. Hmmm… what can I make with that to coordinate with the quilt?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Preparing for Guests

When out-of-town guests are expected it can be quite stressful to get the house prepared for them. Of course, starting early can eliminate most of those hurried day-of cleaning jobs a majority try (and usually fail) to pull off.

While it is still a week and a half away before my partner’s mom and sister arrive, it is time, nonetheless, to start top to bottom cleaning of the house in preparation. By spreading out the cleaning duties over the course of a week, you are almost guaranteed to have a clean home to present. Then again, some of us just like to say we are going to clean the house and at the last minute when they call and say they are in Troutdale and should be there in about fifteen minutes start to frantically vacuum and do dishes and sloppily clean out the toilet.

Even though they will have a hotel room I still want to make sure the house is clean for them while they are here. Plus, any time you are going to have company it is a good excuse to clean the places we generally forget about, like the dust on the window valences and Wades of England miniatures and the bookcase. As much as I abhor dusting it seems like not such a horrendous job if the big job is done a week early and again the day of your guests’s arrival (and yes I realize I put the s after the apostrophe, and yes, this is still correct English and actually preferred despite what your word processor’s grammar checking device may say.) Of course if we simply dusted once a week we wouldn’t have the hideous amount of dust, thanks mostly to our dog's constant skin allergy flare ups and ever present yeast infections. It is especially troubling that after completely vacuuming the house it looks as though it hasn’t been vacuumed in weeks within minutes of putting the Filter Queen Princess III back into the coat closet.

Things like washing the windows, mopping the floors, tidying up junk mail into Keep and Toss piles and keeping up on laundry are all easily accomplished when done ahead of time and kept up on. Washing or dry-cleaning the drapes, or simply vacuuming and Febreezing them if they aren’t dirty can also be done a few days before. By giving your sofas a good vacuuming and spot cleaning and a good spray of Febreeze a couple days before means only having to quickly wipe them off before your final vacuuming of the floors on the day of arrival. Keep up on dishes daily and wipe down all surfaces in the kitchen thoroughly, including those rarely used appliances. You can have a spotless kitchen, but your blender may show signs that you neglected the Island of Less Used Appliances. Most of the time a slightly moistened hand towel will be enough to wipe off the excess dust and moisture spots of these appliances, and if done a few days before should keep them looking nice.

Don’t forget about the underused areas or, in our case, the highly used yet often forgotten while cleaning areas, such as the office and bedrooms. Most of the time when we have guests, we simply close the doors to these rooms and pretend like they don’t exist. The big challenge will be the office, as we both seem to just park crap that won’t fit elsewhere in the house in this room whether or not it should belong in it.

Now as for the main bathroom, I’m not sure if we will be able to spruce it up and repaint and at least put in a new tub & shower surround, but we can still make sure the counters, sink, toilet and floors are cleaned as best as they can be. The day before or day of is best for most bathrooms as these are areas that receive a lot of traffic. If you have bath mats, especially light colored bath mats that show dirt easily, wait to put them out once they’ve been washed and dried until right before your guests arrive.

And now if you are actually having guests stay at the house, having a clean and relaxing guest room is important. Wash the sheets if it has been awhile and Febreeze any soft surfaces to freshen them up. If the room is a multi-purpose room, like for me it is a craft room, a cake storage and decorating room and a guest room, have most if not all of your various stuff put away for your guests. This isn’t always possible, but keeping a majority of it stored out-of-sight will help your guests to feel welcome. Of course, having a few things out will also let them know that you are allowing them into your space so they don’t feel so welcome they stay for an extended amount of time. Then again, sometimes this doesn’t make a difference and you have guests stay for two weeks longer than they anticipated and funnily this doesn’t bother either of you if you need to get a few things out of the room. Also, don’t underestimate space under a bed or futon in a guest room as temporary storage while you have guests.

By doing a majority of the cleaning ahead of time, you can save yourself a migraine on the day that your guests arrive. Make sure the dishes are washed, do a quick wipe down of hard surfaces and vacuum and both you and your guests can relax when they get there… unless you’ve got plans for being out of the house practically the entire time they are there!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pulled Pork

During the summer, do you ever have days you feel like having traditional barbecue but the thought of cooking all day makes you, well, decide to grill hot dogs instead? This recipe will help, as long as you plan a day or two ahead.

Traditionally my Pulled Pork recipe calls for slow cooking for 32 hours. This may seem like a long time, but I guarantee exceedingly excellent results with this method. Of course, if you decide to go the traditional route more power to you. By cooking down the pork in this fashion, it is possible to get superbly flavored meat that is much leaner than typical.

I’ve found that more fatty cuts, while remaining quite juicy, also taste a little to lardy for me, and I’m a firm believer in pork fat. However, I am quite certain the reason for this is because I prefer to cook my Pulled Pork in a crock pot rather than a smoker or the oven, both of which would reduce the fat rather than disperse it into the whole mix. That is why I use sirloin roasts or something similar if it is cheaper. But the real secret is in the spice rub.

Pulled Pork, Slow Cooker Style

3-5 lbs pork sirloin roasts
1 cup water
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup dark brown sugar

Directly in the crock pot, combine all of the spices and brown sugar. Coat each roast thoroughly in the spice rub and space evenly around the crock pot. It is okay if they touch or overlap. Pour in 1 cup of water, put the lid on and set on low, cooking for at least 24 hours. If you are starting it in the morning for dinner that evening, it can be cooked on high for 8 hours, but the results will vary slightly. Sometimes I start mine on high for 4 hours then turn it down to low for the next 20-24 hours. About a half an hour before serving, take two forks and shred the meat. Don’t worry about the excess liquid as it will all be absorbed by the pulled pork. Serve with your favorite barbecue sauce (ours is Sweet Baby Ray’s) on a good quality bun and some delicious coleslaw on top.

Coleslaw

1 lb shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix
¼ cup mayonnaise
½ teaspoon pepper
juice from half a lemon

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and allow to rest at room temperature for about ten minutes or up to the day before in the refrigerator. I usually test the acidity of my lemons before putting the juice in and if it is highly acidic or juicier than usual, I opt for a little less. Most of the time just a once-through squeeze is enough, but I recommend tasting it with a less and adding more if needed. It should have a tart background not a sour overtone.

While you can make this as a closed face sandwich, we usually eat ours open-faced with a fork using a toasted onion bun on the bottom, pulled pork, barbecue sauce on top of that and topped with coleslaw. If you eat it as a handheld sandwich, be prepared for a mess!

Cooks Tip: If you prefer a fattier cut of pig, simply do not add water to the recipe as the fat will produce plenty of liquid. You might not notice how fatty the pork is when it is finished, but any leftovers will quickly be underneath a congealed orange mass.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

New Chicks: 3 Day Update

Well, it has been three days since we stuffed three chicks under our broody hen. So far I’d say this experiment is working out beautifully.

While most people would frown upon experimenting with live animals, we both were pretty confident that Kendra would take to the new chicks. Why we were confident is beyond me. It must be from the sheer fact that she has refused to give up hatching out some babies, and also the fact that her breed is proven to be one of, if not the best parents in the chicken world. This would also apply to Dominique cocks too, who, if we still had Xander, would be right there with the chicks helping Kendra out. Of course, if we still had Xander, we wouldn’t have had to go buy chicks. I miss Xander… I do not miss his crowing.


So while I was inspecting their cage for piles of poop that needed to be removed, I noticed the chicks all scattered about being chicks: Exploring; eating; drinking; attacking straw; trying to steady themselves. I fortunately had the foresight to bring the camera this time and quickly snapped a few pictures before the other chickens caught on to what I was doing. I managed to get a few close-ups of the babies, including one of White Witch Willow (Willow for short) being taught how to eat by Kendra. Alternate Universe Cordelia (Cordelia for short), however, thought I was giving them treats or something and wanted in on the attention and as soon as she plopped herself in between me and the brooder cage, all the chicks ran behind Kendra and she fluffed out to protect them. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of that, for I was busy shooing Cordy out of the henhouse and instead locked up the cage.


I still had to change out the water and add more food to the feeder and figured I’d wait until my partner got home from the post office so he could check in on them while I attended to the refills. Of course, Cordelia was in his business too, curious as always for new gossip to spread and completely unconcerned for the welfare of anyone but herself. Hmmm… I think she was named appropriately.


As it stands now, the three new additions to our seemingly ever-expanding chicken addiction are doing splendidly. Of course, with these chicks being raised by a hen instead of by us they’ll probably be considered “wild chickens” and won’t take to the occasionally petting the other girls enjoy. Then again, we don’t have to constantly attend to their every need and deal with the insane amount of dust they’d fill our garage with, and in my book, that is well worth the effort to let these chickens be chickens.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Brother-in-Law

Don’t worry, this is only about a particular one. Of course, if he just happens to read this, I really don’t give a crap.

Dealing with various family dramas is like waking up; it just instinctively happens. However, I have to question those who seem to create so much drama around them as either attention-starved or seriously lacking social skills or, say, maybe a conscience. As self-centered as some people can be, nothing beats my partner’s brother and his wife. I can’t blame their newfound religion (they’re Pentecostal) so much as their using this religion to be complete asses.

My partner and his mother have been planning a trip out this way for quite some time now and bringing along my partner’s brother’s two older kids. We made plans to go see the Broadway show of The Lion King by purchasing tickets (in the fifth row back, mind you) and his mother booked a hotel with a pool so the kids could go swimming, as well as taking a trip to the Oregon Zoo and OMSI. A lot to pack into two days, but planned out to make it work nonetheless.

Then last night my partner’s mother called. Apparently The Pentecostal One has decided to lay down some ground rules. The kids cannot go see The Lion King… it’s too provocative, what with all those puppets and costumes… and the kids cannot go swimming because they don’t believe in wearing swimsuits for fear that they will not receive the keys to heaven. If you think I am joking, assuredly I tell you, I am not. As my partner is discussing this situation with his mother, I ask if the kids also cannot go to the zoo because the animals don’t wear shirts. I’m sure that OMSI will also be banned from the list of “appropriate” places the children can go because it is fact-based science.

These same parents are fine with their youngest daughter having constant constipation because they refuse to feed her real food except hordes of bananas and fast food Chinese orange chicken. These same parents are fine with their oldest daughter not going to school because she has a hard time getting up in the morning because her parents stay up until three and keep her up too, because then she is able to babysit the youngest while they go wash windows somewhere instead of getting an education, which, her being a girl, is not important because her role in life is to get married and become a nurturer. These same parents encourage their son to do well in school because his role is to get married and become a provider. These same parents are adamant that their children not go swimming because it is sinful or watch The Lion King because there are black people in it… or at least, that is what I can gather from their odd behavior.

So now I think we’re just going to ask that since the kids are not allowed to do anything that maybe they stay home with their righteous mother and father. I’m sure they will be disappointed as they seemed really excited to see The Lion King and go to the zoo, but alas, perhaps their father can explain why he thinks they will go to hell if they do. Of course, I’m sure he thinks our gayness will rub off on the kids and they will become homosexuals too because we all know that is how that works. As my partner so frequently says, “Parenthood is sometimes wasted on the wrong people.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

New Chicks

So we finally broke down and did it. We got some chicks for our broody hen.

Kendra has been broody since the last week of April, which means it has been about six weeks. A normal hatch takes three and she has shown no signs of wanting to give up, so us being the good chicken parents we are decided that when the local feed store down the street got their last shipment of chicks we’d pick up a few for her if she hadn’t gotten over her broodiness. As luck would have it three of the four breeds they were getting in were ones we wanted with the fourth being one we already had, so if we were going to get chicks that would be as good a time as any.

Now, mind you, this was a crapshoot from the get-go whether or not the hen would take to the new chicks, so just in case I made sure we had everything we needed to brood them in the garage for a few weeks. I had already put Kendra in the brooding cage inside the henhouse in the coop, which in and of itself was an accomplishment as I had wanted to put the cage over the nest boxes but as luck would have it, the cage was less than an inch too big. Instead I placed one end on the ledge to one of the nest boxes and the other on the lower of the two roosts propped up with extra 2x6s to level it out. Ghetto? You betcha. But it is in the coop and the other girls can gawk and still access two of the three nest boxes and get to their preferred upper roost. I put cardboard along the sides where the chicken could peek in just in case any got too curious and wanted to peck the poor little chicks once they were inside or Kendra since broody hens act weird and chickens don’t like weird acting chickens and try to run them off or gang up and kill them.


So yesterday I planted some flowers in the morning and just before ten decided it was time to go to the feed store to see if their shipment had arrived yet. As luck would have it, the guy had just gotten back from the post office and had barely put them in the brooder when I got there. He hadn’t even turned on the heat lamp yet! I felt bad for some of the two week old chicks that hadn’t sold, but we needed day olds if we were going to pull this off, and besides, we already had the breeds of two week olds anyway. Informing the man at the counter that I wanted one Rhode Island Red, one Cuckoo Maran and one Speckled Sussex, he went into the back room and picked them out.

I don’t know what it is about chicks, but they are just so darn cute! Hearing their little peeps from inside the box I had to take a peek at them before taking them out to the car. It seems silly because we’ve done this so many times, but it is just like getting any other pet… you just want to hold them and squeeze them and love them and call them George. Not that any of them will be called George. Actually, I don’t know what we will call any of them just yet as I haven’t really picked out names. The Rhodie will probably be a Willow of some sort because I’m uncreative like that, and I’m leaning towards Harmony for the Maran, but the Sussex I’m not quite sure what to name her. Looks like I’ll have to watch some Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes to figure out a good name!


After bringing them home, I immediately put them into a larger box with a little water and food under a heat lamp to keep them warm. The best time to introduce new chicks to a mother hen is at night after they’ve all gone to roost so we needed to keep them warm until then. I didn’t know if it would be warm enough and waited to see if I needed to move the lamp closer, but they almost immediately stopped peeping when I put them in the box which means the temperature was just right.


And so we waited until about ten at night and my partner and I walked up to the coop with chicks in hand ready to make the swap for the few eggs I had put under Kendra when I transferred her to the cage a couple days ago. As soon as we opened the cage to put the first chick in it was as if her whole manner changed and she lit up like a new mother. I pulled the two eggs out from under her before putting in the second chick and as I was putting the third chick in she was busy fluffing out her feathers to take in her babies, who instantly stopped peeping and took shelter under her. It really was quite a sight and we hoped that her instincts would still be there in the morning.

I was up all night worrying about what to expect in the morning. Would she have abandoned the chicks? Did she peck them to death for intruding on her space? What if they fell out of the cage and the other hens ate them?!? I know, dramatic, but my overactive imagination is sometimes impossible to turn off. Grabbing the camera, we both set out before my partner went to work to check on the new family. The other hens were already out and about when we opened up the door to the coop so they were at least leaving Kendra alone. Upon opening the henhouse door we saw she was still sitting pretty much in the same place we left her last night, feathers all fluffed out and making soft clucking noises. Now came the moment of truth, how were the chicks? I opened the cage and she didn’t try to leap out, which was a good sign. Moving her slightly we saw tiny legs under, which quickly scooted further in to keep warm! Success! Mama and babies seem to have taken to one another! Now comes the fun part of seeing how well she teaches the chicks to be chickens.


Side note: If you look really close in this last picture you can see a pair of legs under Kendra next to the waterer.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dreams

Most of the time I don’t remember what I dreamt about once I wake up. Lately things have changed.

This past week I’ve had some pretty vivid dreams. I’m not talking about the weird went-to-the-grocery-store-and-the-cashier-was-a-talking-human-sized-cat-who-had-a-British-accent-and-asked-politely, “Paper-or-plastic?” dream. I mean dreams that could be plots to entire novels here in a sense that there is a beginning, middle, end and character development throughout with an intriguing storyline.

If this sounds a little odd, well, I am. But the last few times this has happened I was suddenly thrust into a creative streak that seemed like it would never end until, of course, it did. Of course, this also seems to coincide with times that are particularly busy and I can’t focus on being creative, which makes me think that a job must be lining up. We’ll see how that pans out.

In the mean time I’m going to see where these dreams lead me. I’ve always thought the unconscious mind knows more about what is going on than the conscious one. Then again, there is the large talking cat at the grocery store.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

Yes, you are reading this correctly, I did indeed post sugar cookies two days in a row. Allow me to explain.

My post yesterday was mostly about the decorating of sugar cookies with royal icing and it became a little long, especially with all the pictures. So today I’m posting the recipe itself, as well as the royal icing recipe I used. It isn’t necessary to use this particular royal icing recipe, I’m just saying, royal has a tendency to taste ass-nasty but by adding a little flavor to the mix it can be a welcome addition. Of course, a simple glaze will work too, as well as buttercream frosting if you want to amp up the buttery goodness of the cookies to an extreme mouth-coating level.

Both of these recipes have been modified from their original Wilton source in an attempt to, oh, I don’t know, make them taste as good as they were easy to make. Another thing I like is how quickly these cookies come together and require no refrigeration before baking… a total plus for the spur-of-the-moment sugar cookie baker in all of us! Feel free to bake a batch for yourself, just know ahead of time, it makes a lot of cookies!

Super Easy No Chill Sugar Cookies

1 cup salted butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 tsp baking powder
3 cups flour

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer (this is where having a KitchenAid comes in REALLY handy!) Add the egg and vanilla extract until well incorporated. Mix baking powder and flour, and add one cup at a time, mixing after each addition, or do what I do and simply hold the bowl over the mixer as it is on low and scoop the flour in slowly. The dough will be very stiff, but should come together when you knead it by hand. DO NOT CHILL DOUGH!!! Divide dough into 2 balls. On floured surface, roll each ball into circle approximately 12 inches in diameter and 1/8 inch thick. Dip cutters in flour before each use to prevent sticking. Bake cookies on a parchment lined cookie sheet for 6-7 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned. Let the cookies sit for about a minute on the pan before placing them onto a cooling rack to cool completely before decorating.

Royal Icing

6 tablespoons Meringue Powder
2lb powdered sugar
12 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract

Beat all ingredients at low speed in a stand mixer for 7-10 minutes. Yep, that’s it. You should have beautiful peaks, which indicate that it is ready. Beat for 10-12 minutes on high if using a portable mixer, which will probably blow out the motor and start a fire. I’ve used both the paddle and the whisk attachments for making royal icing and either works for me. This makes the stiff icing used for piping edges and details, and if you want thinner icing simply stir in a teaspoon of water per cup of icing until it is pouring consistency. Also to color the icing stir in a fairly large amount of gel food coloring into the portion you wish to color. Personally, I like to make a lot of different colors and make everything painfully difficult because that is how I roll. If you are only icing one or two colors, you could get by with making a half batch of Royal Icing for the batch of sugar cookies.

One side-note: If you don’t have Meringue Powder, you can also use 6 egg whites in place of the both it and the water, just mix until frothy before adding sugar and extracts.

Okay, so here is a second side-note: Make sure all of your utensils are free of grease! I ensure this by putting a small amount of white vinegar in the mixing bowl and wiping it thoroughly with a clean paper towel, which I also use to wipe off the paddle and measuring spoons.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Star Wars Sugar Cookies

When life gives you cookie cutters, make cookies. When your partner gives you Star Wars Cookie Cutters, beware of how long you will want to spend decorating!


A week and a half ago my partner had to go into Portland and asked if I wanted to go, to which I responded there was nothing I needed and/or wanted except, jokingly, Star Wars Cookie Cutters from Williams-Sonoma that had just come out. I made certain he knew that I was kidding. However, upon his return with a Williams-Sonoma bag, he had indeed purchased them. I giggled with glee!


I had planned on pulling them out of the box and start making cookies right then and there, but I was in the middle of a cake order before we were meeting some friends for happy hour that night, and the weekend was filled with two birthdays and two barbecues as well as a third we were invited to. This last weekend was quite tame with nothing on the docket, so Friday I made a batch of No-Chill Sugar Cookies and let them cool overnight while we went out for what has become a tradition of Chevy’s happy hour to end the week and a spontaneous trip back to one of our friend’s houses to watch… gasp… Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Good thing there was alcohol in my system before starting this movie!


Anyway, so Saturday was absolutely gorgeous and I decided instead of working out in the sun, and seeing as I had already done yard work the previous two days, I made a double batch of royal icing and started the arduous task of decorating. I knew that it would take a while, as I am notorious for thoroughly planning and experimenting until I get just the right technique down, which is usually when I have run out of whatever I was experimenting on, in this case, cookies. While I am not well-pleased with the results, they were satisfactory and I was left with a plethora of decorated Star Wars sugar cookies to figure out what to do with. Having church the following day, I decided to bring them with us and leave them next to the money collecting jug for our congregation’s youth trip to Montana in July as a thank-you for donating. Because nothing says thank-you like Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Yoda and a legion of Storm Troopers.