Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 274 & 275]

This first pic's a rather dull one of the swamps of Jersey. Nothing much to see here.

There's a dinky little carnival going on up the street from us. We took a trip up there so I could try to photograph something a little different from my norm. Unfortunately it's been unseasonably warm today so there wasn't much of a crowd and most everyone there looked rather bored. At least no one hassled me about taking lots of pictures.

Pretzel-stuffed Chocolate Chip Banana Cupcakes With Peanut Butter Frosting

Since we now have the added expense of my husband's fancy new/old car I'm trying to crack down and put us on a real budget so we can rebuild our savings. As part of that savings plan I'm trying to use up what we already have on hand before I go out and buy more. While I might have preferred to try one of the fancy new recipes I've discovered at Pinterest I instead made an effort to come up with something fun using ingredients I already had in the house. Not to mention that I've had some overripe bananas browning on the counter for over a week. Thus was my latest cupcake creation born.

I used my trusty banana cupcake recipe and the melt-in-your-mouth peanut butter buttercream recipe from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes. My unique twist came in the form of adding some chocolate chips to the cake batter and a delicious pretzel nugget at the center of each cupcake. Trader Joe's sells some peanut butter-stuffed pretzel bites that are then coated in a thick layer of chocolate and they are amazing. Sweet and salty heaven in a bite-sized serving! I, being the cheap person that I am, instead found a knockoff version at Aldi for a fraction of the price and stocked up when they were selling them a few months ago. I'd say they are just as good as the original and just as dangerously addictive.

As expected, the cake baked up nice and fluffy and the peanut butter frosting was a great match for the banana flavor. The best part is that the pretzel remained crispy and added a nice surprising crunch to each cupcake. While I won't make these on a regular basis because I'm loath to part with more of my pretzel bites they were a fun experiment and the flavor combination was as appealing as I'd imagined.

Pretzel-stuffed Banana, Chocolate, and Peanut Butter Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used melted butter)
2 eggs
1 cup mashed banana (about 2 large)
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
12 chocolate covered peanut butter pretzel bites

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Line 12 cupcake wells with paper liners.
2) In a small bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, and salt.
3) In a bowl, whisk together sugar, oil, and eggs until smooth. Add banana and vanilla, beating well. Add flour mixture, beating until smooth. Fold in chocolate chips.
4) Scoop about one tablespoon of batter into each cupcake well. Place one pretzel in the center of each cupcake and top with remaining batter until covered. Bake in preheated oven 22 to 28 minutes or until tops of cupcakes spring back when lightly touched. Let cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on rack.

Peanut Butter Frosting
Recipe from 125 Best Cupcake Recipes by Julie Hasson

2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tbsp heavy cream or milk

1. In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together confectioner's sugar and butter until creamy. Add peanut butter, beating well, Add milk and beat until smooth and creamy. Pipe onto cupcakes.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Pull Apart Sweet Lemon Bread

The alternate title for this post is, "How Pinterest is ruining my diet." Since I became addicted to the site just a short week and a half ago I've pinned about 80 recipes I'm dying to make. I've already gotten a few good dinners out of it including an easy spicy tomato egg dish perfect for a weeknight, black bean tortilla pie from Martha Stewart, and these indulgent grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon, apple, avocado, and pepperjack cheese:

The recipe I saw and just knew I *had* to make was a luscious-looking pull apart sweet lemon bread. Those flaky layers of dough interspersed with citrus-flavored sugar and that lemony cream cheese topping just had to be killer. My instincts were right as this is one of the best recipes I've ever made. Seriously. If you have a fear of baking with yeast this is the recipe to try to get you over that fear.

Yes, there are a lot of steps and yes, it is time consuming but it is so worth it. If only my traitorous stomach would have allowed it I could have happily eaten half of the loaf in one sitting. The dough is sweet, but not too sweet. The cream cheese topping is tart but not too tart. Everything about this recipe is spot on.

The only change I made was a minor and unnecessary one. I happened to have some Fiori di Sicilia on hand, a citrusy vanilla flavoring. Since I thought it would lend an extra fun kick of flavor to the dough I added a splash.

I would also caution you to keep an eye on the dough for those first 15 minutes and if it starts to brown too much be sure to cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking process. Mine was perhaps a tad too brown and crispy around the edges by the end, not that I let that stop me from devouring it.

Pull Apart Lemon Loaf
Recipe from Clockwork Lemon

Sweet Yeast Dough
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (You might not use all of this)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup whole milk
2 ounces unsalted butter
1/4 cup (2 fluid ounces) water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia (optional)
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Lemon Sugar Filling
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Zest of three lemons
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted

Tangy Cream Cheese Icing
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Make the dough: In the microwave heat the butter and the milk together until the butter melts. Set aside to cool slightly. While it is cooling mix two cups of the flour with the yeast and the sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Then add the water to the milk mixture and stir in the vanilla extract and optional Fiori di Sicilia.

2. Pour the milk mixture over the flour mixer and stir until combined. Turn the mixer on low speed and add the eggs one at a time, mixing each egg until it is combined. Add another 1/2 cup of the flour and the salt and mix until combined.

3. Sprinkle the dough with 2 tbsp of flour and knead it with the dough hook for 3 minutes. The dough will be sticky but should become soft and smooth from the kneading. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm place 45-60 minutes or until doubled in size.

Make Ahead Tip: If you want to make the dough the night before you bake it just gently deflate the dough after its first rise, place back in the bowl and cover it with plastic. Stick it in the fridge overnight (it will continue to rise, but at a much slower rate). Plus you get added flavor in the bread from the benefit of a slow, cold rise. The next day take the dough out and bring it to room temperature before proceeding with the next steps.

4. Mix the sugar, lemon zest, and orange zest. It will draw out the citrus oils and make the sugar sandy and fragrant.

5. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan or spray it with baking spray

6. Forming the loaf: Deflate the dough with your hand. Flour a work surface and roll the dough into a 20″ by 12″ rectangle. This part is a lot easier with a ruler on hand. Use a pastry brush to thickly coat the dough with the melted butter

7. Use a pizza cutter, pastry cutter, or a sharp knife to cut the dough crosswise in five strips, each about 12″ by 4″ (it might not be this exact size, but try to make the five strips be equal sizes). Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons of the lemon sugar over the first buttered rectangle and gently press the sugar in. Top it with a second rectangle, sprinkling that one with 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon sugar as well. Continue to top with rectangles and sprinkle, so you have a stack of five 12″ by 4″ rectangles, all buttered and topped with lemon sugar.

8. Slice this new stack crosswise, through all five layers, into 6 equal rectangles (each should be 4″ by 2″.) Carefully transfer these strips of dough into the loaf pan, cut edges up, side by side. it might be a little roomy, but the bread will rise and expand after baking. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until puffy and almost doubled in size, 30 to 50 minutes.

9.Bake the loaf for 15 minutes and then check to make sure that top isn't browning too quickly. If it is, just cover the top of the loaf with tinfoil and continue baking. My loaf took a little over 40 minutes to bake completely. When done, transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes.

10. Meanwhile, make the cream cheese icing. Beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar in a medium bowl with a wooden spoon until smooth, then add the milk and lemon juice. Stir until creamy and smooth. Spread over the warm bread (you might want to put some plastic wrap or parchment paper under the bread to catch the drips)

11. Eat!


Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Galaxie Revealed! A Photo A Day [Day 273]

I finally convinced the weather to cooperate so I could take some pictures of my husband's Ford Galaxie 500 in all its glory. I think this qualifies for this week's theme of "vintage" too.

I considered somehow blurring out the license plate number but I'll trust you all to not track me down and stalk me based on my revealing that personal information. Thanks.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 272]

This lengthy post will attempt to explain why I'm the way I am. Some of you may have noticed I'm a bit... odd. I only have my parents to blame for this and my bizarre half-German upbringing. Case in point: these charming illustrations in a popular German children's book, Der Struwwelpeter. It amuses me that this sort of thing was once sanctioned for children as cautionary tales about the consequences of misbehaving. Let's just say that the Germans are big on making sure children obey their parents.

In the first panel, we see Struwwelpeter himself, shunned by society because of his poor grooming habits. That outfit probably didn't help either. You can see his unruly, unkempt hair and his unsightly overgrown fingernails. Do you want to wind up like icky Struwwelpeter, kids?

The second panel illustrates the consequence of playing with matches after little Polly's parents expressly forbade her to do so. Even her poor cats begged her to stop but to no avail. The ensuing conflagration results in Polly "burnt all up from tip to toe" with her poor cats crying over the pile of ashes left behind. The good news is her beautiful shoes survived intact.

The third panel is a simple but enjoyable story of a hunter whose prey decides to take revenge upon him by stealing the hunter's own gun and turning the hunter into the hunted. Perfectly normal.

I saved the best for last. The fourth panel is my absolute favorite of the stories included in the book. You see, young Conrad has the unsanitary habit of sucking his thumbs. As always in these stories, his parents have told him to cease his nasty ways so as to mold him into a respectable human being. Of course, not only does Conrad disobey his parents but he also continues with his horrid habit as soon as his mother leaves the room. The natural consequence of this is that a tailor runs into the room brandishing sharp, pointy scissors and chops off both of Conrad's thumbs. There. Problem solved. The boy will never disobey like that again. Such is the German way of solving problems. :)

French Toast Loaf

As soon as I saw Gingerbread Bagels post about her French Toast Loaf I put it at the top of my baking list. I was so eager to make it that I planned to make it that very weekend. But that was almost two weeks ago. What took me so long, you may ask? It seems that Texas Toast is a valuable commodity only sold in select stores. It took me over a week of hunting to track some down in my area after trips to four different grocery stores. Who knew fulfilling my lust for sugar and butter could be so difficult?

This masterpiece is a combination of all of the things that make French toast good: fluffy bread, cinnamon, oodles of sugar, and more butter than I care to mention all tied together with an eggy base. Aside from tracking down the necessary ingredients it was a piece of cake to make. Just follow the directions to layer everything in a loaf pan and the next day you'll have breakfast waiting to go in the oven.

My only complaint is that mine didn't turn out as cohesive as hers. The filling bubbled out everywhere and was almost a little too runny. I might try it with less butter next time to help prevent that and to cut back on the calorie punch at the end. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I only got four servings out of this. What can I say? Those two weeks of anticipation gave me more time to build up my hunger. That and I still had strawberries left on my plate after I finished the thin slice I'd first carved out for myself so I simply had to go back for seconds. If you do the math you'll realize that means I ate about half a stick of butter with each portion. Ouch! Try to not hold that against me.

It's also a little tricky pouring the batter between each layer after you've taken the time to press them all down as much as possible. She says the reason for not doing this as you go along is so the bread can be as compact as possible, but I had trouble doing it without tearing a lot of my bread. Might be the reason for my slightly crumbly final product. I'm also not entirely sure I evenly distributed the batter in the process. Still, the idea is wonderful and the result is a tasty breakfast dish that you can proudly share with your family. And, let's face it, considering how much butter there is in this you're better off sharing it.

French Toast Loaf
Recipe from Gingerbread Bagels

12 pieces Texas Toast or a thick sliced bread (stale/day old bread)

9 ounces light brown sugar (a little over 1 cup packed)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 ounces unsalted butter, thinly sliced

10 ounces heavy whipping cream
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix together the brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Set aside.

Whisk together the heavy whipping cream, eggs, vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. One it’s whisked together, pour it back into a measuring cup.

Take a loaf pan and liberally coat it with non stick spray.

Place 3 slices of bread on the bottom of the loaf pan. Sprinkle 1/3 of the brown sugar cinnamon mixture on top. Put 1/3 of the butter slices on top of the brown sugar cinnamon mixture.

Put 3 more slices on top and press them down really firmly. Sprinkle another 1/3 of the brown sugar cinnamon mixture on top of the bread. Add 1/3 more butter slices on top.

Place another 3 slices on bread on top. You’ll need to really smash it down. Sprinkle the remaining brown sugar cinnamon mixture and add the remaining 1/3 butter slices on top.

Lift the bottom layer of bread slices and pour in some of the batter very slowly. Continue lifting the bottom layer of bread slices all the way around the loaf pan and slowly pouring in the batter. Allow it to soak into the bread. Do not rush this process.

Lift the next layer of bread slices and carefully pour in some of the batter. Lift that layer of bread slices all the way around the loaf pan and slowly pour in the batter. Let the batter soak into the bread for a couple of minutes.

Pour the batter on top of the bread and press it into the bread. Place the last layer of bread slices (3 slices of bread) on top. Pour the batter on top of those slices and slowly press the batter into the bread.

If you have any remaining batter, (which you probably will) carefully lift the bottom slices of bread and pour in the batter all the way around the loaf pan. Continue pouring in the batter where there are spaces that could be filled with batter.

Cover the loaf pan with parchment paper and foil. Place it on a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
Place the loaf in the refrigerator and let it to chill overnight.

The next day, remove the paper towels from the bottom of the baking sheet. Bake the loaf at 350 degrees for 1 hour and until the internal temperature of the loaf reaches 160 degrees. (keep the parchment paper and foil on)
Then remove the parchment paper and foil and bake the loaf for an additional 15 minutes. If butter seeps out of the loaf pan, don’t worry. This happens.

Let it cool for about 10 minutes. Then slide a knife around the edges and invert the loaf. Cut into slices and enjoy!

A Photo A Day [Day 271]

Just a teaser pic for a cupcake recipe I'm planning to post this weekend. Let's just say it involves a combination of banana, chocolate, peanut butter, and pretzels. Beyond that it shall remain a mystery!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 270]

Instead of being responsible and staying in tonight to save money and come up with a decent idea for a photo, I instead dragged my husband out to see Bridesmaids. While I don't think it's the greatest comedy ever made I laughed so hard I cried. At the dumb part I thought I wouldn't laugh at at all, in fact. So it was a nice break from my usual routine. Even if it means you're stuck with yet another picture of one of my cats.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 269]

"Honestly, if you're given the choice between Armageddon or tea, you don't say 'what kind of tea?'"
-Neil Gaiman

This is my grandmother's old Sammeltasse (ornate tea cup and saucer). I'm sure it's seen many a Kaffeeklatsch in its day and accompanied some kick-ass cake. Oma was quite a baker in her prime, after all. See? I do own nice, normal things.

This week's theme is "vintage." As usual, I've been ignoring it until the middle of the week.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 268]

No good ideas for today until I remembered the donuts my boss gave me to take home. I won't eat them because I'm trying to lose a few pounds but I'm all too happy to use them as props.

A Photo A Day [Day 267]

Baby's First Bath

Sorry to keep on with the teaser pics of the new car without yet revealing the entire thing. Still, this was the most fun of all the shots I took of its first trip to the car wash. A real pic will surely come soon.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 266]

The scars of your love remind me of us"
-Adele, "Rolling in the Deep"

Don't worry; I'm wearing clothes beneath the crop of the picture.

I can't claim credit for the background as I blatantly stole it from here.

Style Stitches: Everything Wristlet

Oops, I wrote this post weeks ago and then completely forgot to post it. Better late than never.

Annoyingly, my mom commissioned me to make a clutch for her friend but I just knew this month's project in the Style Stitches sew along, the Perfectly Pleated Clutch, was not what she had in mind. She's traditional so I know what she wanted was a clutch made from fancy fabric with a flap closure. Well, I departed from tradition in my fabric choices but decided I should at least appease her by finding an appropriate pattern. Fortunately, further on in the book there's the pattern for the Everything Wristlet, which looked to be exactly what I was looking for.

Because I had so much going on at the time in preparation for a Kentucky Derby party and a trip back home for Mother's Day and my mom's birthday I cheated a bit to make the project go by more quickly. I omitted all of the interior pockets and instead just cut and sewed my lining to match the outer bag. As a result, it went together very quickly so I was able to bang out this bag in just a few hours. I made the small version, which is perfect for a hand held clutch to hold the necessities.

I adore the fabric I chose. I bought the yellow houndstooth fabric a few months ago on a whim a from the clearance section at Jo Ann Fabrics. I was worried about how it would hold up since it has a loose weave but once interfaced it did just fine and looks super cute. The green flap fabric was also from my stash (another Jo Ann Fabrics buy) but I'll admit that I did go out and buy the blue polka dot lining specifically for this bag. I wanted something a little fancier than plain old cotton so found this in the clearance section and went for it. I think it adds a fun dimension and it's got a satiny finish more traditionally found in a clutch. I might try this same fabric combination for future bags since I like it so much.

I'm not 100% happy with the finished bag but that's all down to my lack of skills. As with the checkbook cover, I had a devil of a time top stitching around the curve of the flap, probably because of that darn Peltex, so I wound up ripping those stitches out and left it off. I'm sure the bag would have looked more finished and professional with the top stitching but it just didn't work for me. I also may have installed the snap a little too low since there wasn't really enough room for me to stitch around it. There must be some trick to maneuvering the sewing machine foot around or over obstacles like that or maybe I should have switched to a zipper foot. Anyway, what's done is done. I'm hoping that because she doesn't know the stitching's supposed to be there she won't miss it.

I also skipped the final top stitching around the top of the finished bag because it came out all wonky when I tried. Instead I took advantage of the loose weave of the houndstooth fabric and hand stitched some nearly invisible stitches to close the lining and hold it in place.

The book suggests adding a broach to the flap for some added glamor and I think it makes all the difference here. I managed to find a cool thrift store with a large array of cheap broaches to choose from. This one only cost me $2 and really helps make the finished bag look more, well, finished and polished.

I do like the pattern and think the arrangement of the pieces and the Peltex works great. I hope to revisit this not only to work on those top stitching skills but also so I can try it out with the inner pockets. I look forward to having a cute clutch of my own since I was cruely forced to give this one away.



Do You Pinterest?

I'm sure many of you hip to the blogging world have already heard of Pinterest, a website where you pin things you find interesting from anywhere on the internet. Hence the name. Anyway, I signed up months ago and never did anything more with it than selfishly use it to keep track of a few photography ideas and recipes. It wasn't until I found myself with some free time last week that I really dove in and started to experience all the site has to offer. Now I'm absolutely addicted! I've whiled away hours browsing others' pins and have added over 200 new pins in the past four days. Madness! It's a site chock full of beauty, style, and inspiration. I'm even using it as an outlet to plan that dream wedding I never got to have because I was too frugal and practical when my actual wedding rolled around to splurge on anything nice like a dress, flowers, or a cake. Since I find myself regretting that so much (although not regretting that we were able to afford to buy a house a month after our court house wedding) it's been fun to pin pictures of pretty dresses and centerpieces even if I'll never get a chance to use those ideas.

You do have to request an invite and wait for approval if you want to set up an account but I have yet to hear of anyone being denied one. I guess that's just a way to make us all feel more special for being granted the privilege of using the site.

If you already have an account please look me up. I haven't done much in the way of following new people yet so I'd be happy to follow you. You can also browse my pins even without logging in if you want to get a better idea of how my crazy mind works. :) I've found it's a great way to organize my enthusiasm for the beautiful things and places in life. What German doesn't like a little organization?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 265]

This is the interior of my husband's new car, a '67 Ford Galaxie 500. He's in love with it and I can't count the number of times we've been stopped in the past week by folks drooling over it or sharing their own Galaxie stories. It's definitely an eye-catching car with a lot of history.

We've started joking that with all the old-fashioned levers and buttons it's as complicated to drive as a Tardis.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 264]

This is how we cut fruit around my house. Perfectly normal, right?

Excuse the hideous wallpaper in the background. It came with the house.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 263]

"The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend"
-Henri Bergson

I thought this picture would be totally unusable but managed to find some Picnik editing effects to make it look all spiffy and whatnot. Don't even ask me what I did because I lost track about ten clicks in.

A Photo A Day [Day 262]

Why is the rum gone?

I'm glad one of my shots turned out to be usable or else this would have been a waste of perfectly good rum. It looks more impressive when you click on it to see the larger version.

Another one that didn't come out as I'd envisioned but it'll do for this week's theme, which is "fruit."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 260 & 261]

Feeling a little silly today. Don't be a blockhead.

I'm a little embarrassed by this next one so didn't bother to post about it yesterday. Not embarrassed by the notion that I'd ride a ladybug and spur it on with a fly swatter but embarrassed by how it turned out when compared to the vision I had in my head. I totally ripped the idea off of a much more talented guy I follow on the 365project.org site. You can see his version here.

This is another of those challenges where everyone starts with the same image and edits as they see fit. Here's the original:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 259]

Where shall I go next?

Sneaking in with an entry for the travel theme on the very last day. It's a pity this great theme, which is perfect for me since I live to travel, coincided with the Cindy Sherman artist challenge I was so inspired by. It's also a pity that it seems to take me until at least Wednesday to think up good ideas for any given theme so I lose out on those early days. Maybe I'll revisit this theme on my own the next time I'm out of ideas.

An amusing note about my globe: I "inherited" this from my grandmother when she moved across the country to California and it is a genuine antique. Why, when was the last time anyone referred to "French Sudan" or "Belgian Congo"? But there they are on my globe. :)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 258]

Wound up in picturesque Pennsylvania today for reasons that shall be revealed at a later date. Let's just say it involves a sleek classic car entering into our possession. You can expect to see a picture soon if the forecast cooperates.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel the need to mention that the blue sky was, unfortunately, not a part of our day. Thanks to the magic of Photoshop I was able to add one in to cover the gray dreariness we actually encountered.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 257]

Amazing how things seem to even out in life. To make up for the other night's photography debacle I got a shot like this in just three tries. Almost exactly as I envisioned it and the best part is there was little set up required and, even more importantly, little to put back after the photo shoot. I'm doubly glad this photo shoot didn't take long because it meant I could stop flashing the neighbors after just a few minutes, which I'm sure we're both grateful for.

It seems that every time I do a search for Cindy Sherman's photos I discover something new to inspire me. I loved this shot of hers as soon as I saw it and was pleased to realize we had almost the exact right set up in our house to recreate it.

Can you tell I'm loving this week's artist challenge?

A Photo A Day [Days 255 & 256]

Ugh. Horrible, horrible wasted evening on Wednesday spent trying out four different ideas for photos and not a single one panned out. Out of focus, fat arms, bad lighting, boring, I saw it all. I wound up giving up and just went with this even though I wasn't deliberately trying to do anything interesting.

Meet Lola. She is a bizarre plaster-like half-formed mannequin we picked up from Craigslist a few years back. She usually resides in our basement, where we hide most of our shameful secrets. After Wednesday's photography debacle, which mostly stemmed from my inability to look like a human being in a photo, I decided to rescue her from the dank basement and use her as my model. I initially tried to replicate this Cindy Sherman photo with myself as the subject.

Since I'd gone to all the trouble of cleaning the kitchen I figured I'd redo the shoot with Lola as the star. Although she uncooperatively refuses to move her head or arms in order to pose properly I'm happy enough that the mood of this shot captures that Cindy Sherman-esque vibe.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 254]

I'll admit I'm a bit daunted by this week's artist challenge as the artist is a proper photographer, Cindy Sherman. How could I possibly do her work justice? To ease myself into it I decided to do a photo based on a movie she directed rather than copy one of her actual photographs. I'm sure I'll give that a go later in the week but for now I present to you my own version of the cover for Office Killer (real version seen below).

(Photo source)

A Photo A Day [Days 250-253]

Day 250. Chocolate cherry malt cupcakes I delivered to my family in VA over the weekend. I plan to post about them one of these days.

Day 251. Just a repeat of the pic I posted yesterday of my little brother modeling the cupcake hat I made for a Kentucky Derby party I attended over the weekend.

Day 252. For Mother's Day, which happened to be my mom's birthday as well, we surprised her and treated her to a meal at The Inn at Little Washington (seen in the background). She's only been wanting to go there for over 20 years so I figured it's about time. My little brother even donned his suit for the occasion, looking cute and snazzy. Superb meal featuring tasty morsels of lamb, a tiny loaded potato not much larger than a pea, and an array of seven mini desserts, each more decadent than the last. Well worth spending the equivalent of half of a mortgage payment on a meal for four. I think.

Day 253. Currently accepting volunteers to come over and help me put all of those books back on the shelves.

Kentucky Derby Mint Julep Cupcakes

I realize this information will not be at all helpful to you now that Kentucky Derby Day has come and gone. However, if you happen to like mint and booze you may wish to incorporate these into your daily diet without needing to fall back on the holiday as an excuse.

In the interest of full discretion I'll say that even though the idea of these is great I'd probably try a different recipe the next time around. They're not bad cupcakes by any means. Just not perfect. The cake is a little too spongy and not cake-like enough for my taste. Because my frosting didn't come together until I added nearly double the amount of powdered sugar the bourbon flavor was almost completely washed out. I don't think anyone I gave them to was disappointed but I want to do better next time. And I guess there will have to be a next time since I still have plenty of bourbon left in the bottle.

In case you're curious, happen to enjoy sugar comas and sponge cake, or flat out don't believe my wild claims, here's the recipe:

Mint Julep Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from Coconut & Lime

1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup bourbon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons minced fresh mint

Allow the mint to seep in the milk for at least 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 350. Line or grease and flour 12 wells in a cupcake pan. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg, mix thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder and salt to the butter mixture. Strain the milk into the bowl and add the bourbon to the rest of the batter and beat until well combined. Fill each well 2/3 of the way full. Bake 12-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted the center of a cupcake comes out clean or with just one or two dry crumbs. Cool briefly in the pan, then remove cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely before icing with derby frosting.

Derby Frosting
Recipe from Coconut & Lime

4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar (I had to use almost twice as much)
1 teaspoon bourbon
3 drops peppermint extract
food coloring, optional

In a large bowl, beat together all ingredients until well blended. Add any additional confectioners' sugar as needed until the right consistency is reached. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cupcake Hat Made With Real Cupfakes

For reasons I can't even begin to explain, I was suckered into attending a Kentucky Derby party and dressing the part. That means that not only did I go out in public wearing a dress (egads!) but I also wore a goofy hat along with it. I got my inspiration from this dessert-themed hat, which I saw in a series of photos from a hoity-toity British event:

(Photo source)

Of course, I had to put my own spin on it so turned it into a cupcake hat. Much more appropriate since I'm known for my cupcakes. As much as I wish I could have mastered the cascading cupcake effect I had to be realistic and did what I could with my limited crafting skills and budget. I picked up a ridiculously large hat from a thrift store and set about turning the center into a giant cupcake. I wish I could have come up with a better idea for how to do this as I'm not entirely sure it's recognizable as a cupcake but I figured my second element would help tie it together. I'm kind of embarrassed by how badly that bit turned out.

Anyway, I am proud of how my cupfakes lining the brim turned out. I loosely followed this tutorial but because I needed to be able to wear these cupcakes had to come up with a lighter solution for the "cake" portion since theirs calls for plaster of Paris. While not the prettiest, I wound up cutting up some giant sponges bought at Family Dollar into circular pieces to help fill out the bottom of each cupcake. Sorry there's no picture of this step but given the way I hacked at the sponge with my dull scissors the result was not attractive. Which doesn't really matter once it's covered with the styrofoam balls and "frosting" in the form of lightweight spackle.

By far, my favorite part of the process was chopping some 3" styrofoam balls in half and painting around the edges of each one to make it resemble cake. I found that Jo Ann Fabrics' brand of acrylic paint in ivory was the perfect match for yellow cake. At this point I wasn't sure if I should continue turning them into cupcakes or make tawny-haired Prince William dolls.

After hot gluing my mangled sponge pieces to the bottom of the paper cupcake liners I stuck each painted and dried styrofoam piece onto a toothpick, added hot glue to the bottom of each for good measure, and stuck them into the middle of the sponge.

The other fun part of the project came when piping some lightweight spackle on top with my usual 1M piping tip to create those swirls. I did this in three batches so I could have an array of colors, making sure to wash all of my tools immediately so the spackle didn't set. I simply added some acrylic paint to a bowl, scooped in some spackle, and stirred quickly before putting it into a piping bag and piping just as I would onto a real cupcake. I wish I'd had more shiny things on hand to use as fake sprinkles but I used what I had, some small sparkly beads. On the blue ones I made the mistake of trying to sprinkle some edible sparkle powder on top, but it didn't really sprinkle so much as land in giant blogs that kind of melted. Not very attractive but I didn't have enough spackle left for a do over. We'll just pretend that polka dot cupcakes are en vogue.

I wound up tying for first place with my creation so all of my hard work paid off. And now I have a ridiculous item that I don't even have the room to store in my house. Something I'm sure many of you crafters out there can relate to.