Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tie-Dye Cake-in-a-Cake

My mother-in-law had posted a link to this Rainbow Tie-Dye Surprise Cake recently, and at first, I was skeptical that the inserts would actually work. Then I started to think about it and could see how, if you were careful, it could be really neat.

The example in the cake is a "5" but then if you were to use a 7 or a 4, it'd probably be a good idea to put the numbers in upside-down, then flip the cake to decorate it. I was thinking about musical notes and all of the other fun stuff you could hide in the cake, and I really wanted to try it.

Then reality struck:

1) I don't have any cookie cutters. I know; it's difficult to believe. But back when we downsized to move into the trailer, I got rid of EVERYTHING, including my collection of cookie cutters.

2) I don't have the Gigantor pan (which is a Wilton Long Loaf Pan, retailing for $15-20) in which she baked her cakes, nor was I particularly motivated to buy one. Or cookie cutters.

So I had a different idea, and here's what I did.

First of all, I did NOT put the batter in five bags and pipe it. I just blorped it down in spoonfuls, then used a knife to swirl each of the three layers. Also, I only used two cake mixes total, rather than the four called for in the original recipe.

Used my fancy-schmancy trimmer to take off the rounded parts. I hate wasting cake, so of course we've been snacking on this stuff.

After I trimmed the top off, I cut off the edges and then cut the cake in half lengthwise.

After I did this, I realized that instead of putting the insert in "right side up," I needed to lay it down. The batter only barely covered it, but once it was cooked, the cake had risen enough to cover it completely, though with no wiggle room (meaning, I couldn't keep an extra amount in the bowl to lick).

Crumb coating. Since I was using fondant, this wasn't a "must," but especially with white frosting, starting with a crumb coat makes the outer frosting look smoother and less muddy.

See? So clean and beautiful.

This rolled fondant recipe is the one I always use. It's super simple, and it tastes good. Well, that's a relative proposition. If you're one of those people who doesn't like things that are super sweet, you probably wouldn't like fondant. But homemade fondant is miles away better than store-bought, which a friend said tastes chemical-y. This stuff doesn't. It's just really sweet.

The good news is that even if you don't like fondant, using it helps seal in the moisture of the cake AND the frosting. You know how some frosting develops a slight "shell" when it's been exposed to the air? A cake covered with fondant won't do that.

Then, also, there is the benefit of having a smooth surface to the cake. You can do that with frosting, if you're super patient and/or talented, though. I mostly do it because it's fun.

Someone asked me if this was a King Cake. I thought of that as I was coloring it, but it also has orange in it, so it's not quite the right palette.

I made 4 colors of fondant, rolled it out, and sliced it with a pizza cutter.

Did this bundle thing.



I really do like the way this turned out. I used the extra fondant in some chocolate chip cookie things, thinking it'd make for a nice color. But instead, it just melted and made the cookies super chewy. That works, too. :)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Graze boxed snack delivery review

There are all sorts of delivery services advertised online: meals, age-appropriate toy boxes, tea, razors, snacks, you name it. A couple of weeks ago, a friend told me about ordering a box from Graze for $1 (the normal price is $6, but there were coupons all over the internet for $5 off), so I decided to try it.

Unfortunately, I got distracted in the process of ordering and the page timed out, then I wasn't able to find the coupon later. However, one good thing about appearing to reject a website is that they typically come back begging. I received an offer for a free box, and that's the kind of offer I can't refuse.

Graze is a "healthy" snack delivery service that includes four (4) 200-ish calorie snack packages per $6 (including shipping) box. Your options are to have the boxes delivered every other week, every week, and you can also custom order boxes. There is a bit of customization you can make over time as you "like" or "trash" certain snacks, but you're pretty much stuck with whatever they choose to send you within those parameters.

Within about a week of my order, I received this box.

Actually, four individually-packaged snacks might have fallen out, and even I'm not Type A enough to consider that a "mess," strictly-speaking.

Although this box was free, as I sampled (and shared) the snacks, on my mind was this primary question: Are each and every one of these snacks worth $1.25 each? Would I pay just over a dollar for any one of them at the store?

While I realize that they were delivered to my front door and so there is a bit of convenience there, 4 snacks don't go a long way in a family of 3. So this is not saving me a trip to the store at all. The deal then becomes: Am I happy enough with their choices to make it worth my money?

The contents were varied and interesting.

I ended up eating two of these, and sent the other two to work with James.

My medium-adult-sized hand versus the snack box size.

This snack was dried apples, lime-infused raisins, and dried cranberries. Except for having to try to find or make the lime flavoring for the raisins, I could have thrown this together myself from bulk items. The same held true for the yaki soba (seasoning the broad beans with chili) and the jalapeno fiesta (spicing up the nuts and salsa-fying the almonds). The chocolate orange flapjack was basically three two-bite sized soft oat bars.

All of these were tasty enough, but I knew before I'd opened the first treat that unless the flavor just knocked my socks off, there wasn't any way I was going to buy into this for $12 a month for 8 little snacks. So, these things are fine, but not "I'd pay for that!" good, so I'm not going for it.

What about you? Anyone tried Nature Box and liked it enough to keep it? Plated? Other subscription services you recommend?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Help One Now's Austin event: Cocktails for Education

Last night, James and I got to go to the beautiful home of Dan and Cathy Rourke for an event called Cocktails for Education, to help raise funds for 10 classrooms and teachers, or $25,000, through Help One Now. It is my understanding that the funds raised this evening will benefit schools in both Uganda and Haiti.

This time last year, James and I were on our way to Haiti on a learning trip with Help One Now and New City Church. You can read about that impactful trip on my personal blog, starting with the intro, the Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Days Five and Six, some commentary, Day Seven, and a little adventure on the way home. I loved Haiti. I think James did, too. I want to go back; next time, we'll take Daphne.

Since we're not in a position to travel again this year (the trip is one month after our baby is due), I was excited to have the opportunity to catch up "in person" with what Help One Now is doing.

This is the Rourkes' amazingly beautiful home on Mt. Bonnell. They were extremely gracious to open it up to host the event.

When we walked in, this was up in the foyer. The "simple" part of helping the orphaned and at-risk is hosting a Garage Sale for Orphans. Now, I see the grammatical error, which I'm sure was a deliberate choice since "were" sounds stilted, and I probably just need to get with the program on that kind of thing. However, at the time, I didn't really even notice the words; I just noticed the girl. I commented to James that I'd seen this picture online and that the girl looked a lot like Dave-Kathie Mesidor, a girl in Ferrier Village that we help sponsor. Jill Stockton overheard me and told me that it *was* indeed Dave-Kathie. I was so happy to see her! We've only ever seen her in two other photos, so it was pretty exciting to get a glimpse of her life-sized.

After looking over the auction items, we went out back for some finger food from The Peached Tortilla.

Here we have an Asian Pear Bite (pear with blue cheese, honey, and spiced pecans), Hawaiian Pork Belly Bites (with caramelized pineapple, cilantro, and Chinese barbecue sauce; I'd never had pork belly before and didn't know what to expect, but I'm here to tell you that it was DELICIOUS), and Curried Chicken Tostata (with Asian slaw and lemon curry aioli).

After enjoying a few bites, we headed back to the cocktail bar so that James, at least, could have a drink.

Their courtyard, patio, or whatever you want to call it was beyond beautiful.

The cocktail bar was set up in front of the greenhouse/potting shed. I mean, seriously. It was awesome. I got a La Croix berry water and proved to myself that even if you carbonate it and add flavoring, water is still pretty disgusting. 

Almost 9:00 PM at the beginning of June in Austin? Yep, this looks about right.

This was a Brisket Jam Spoon with tomato jam, dry-rubbed brisket, and chives. Very nice.

Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay provided entertainment the first hour of the night. After that, Lamar Stockton, local musician, lead worship pastor at Austin New Church, and director of international operations for Help One Now, told us the story of Olivia in Uganda to illustrate the importance of education to those of us who take it for granted. This segued to the live auction, which was a lot of fun to watch from the sidelines. The Hank Williams, Jr.-signed guitar went for an astonishingly low final price, but people were generous and excited about making straight-out donations, and seemed to favor local offerings.

Although we stayed out of the live auction drama, we did restock our Rebo coffee supply for a while, and we finally got a Richard Cadet painting!

After the auction, Matt McCloskey performed and dessert was served.

Lick Ice Creams provided tiny scoops. Here is Hill Country Honey and Vanilla Bean and Too Hot Chocolate. They're not kidding! I could only take one bite and James had to finish it. According to their website, it is chocolate combined with cayenne pepper, chipotle, cinnamon, and local honey. Whoo! Potent! They also had Caramel Salt Lick, which was my favorite.

Also, Tiny Pies was there with Teeny Tiny pies. This one was peach. They also had apple, mixed berry, and Key lime. Although I didn't get to try the Key lime, the other three were enjoyable.

At this point, it was already 10:30 or so, and between mosquitoes, swelling, and general expectant fatigue, we called it a night... a very enjoyable night, as well as an encouraging one. I am so impressed with Help One Now and the work it helps facilitate. I adore the mindset of, "We're foreigners; we have no idea how to help... but locals do, so we're going to find locals who are already working and we're going to get them whatever support they need." If you're ever looking for a solid charity to which you can contribute, I cannot recommend them highly enough. 

The gorgeous view on our way out. Thanks for a great evening!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Nuthaus, an Update (Including the Nursery, a Work in Progress)

Several people have asked for pictures of the nursery, so we'll get to that in a minute.

First, I wanted to take you on a tour of the Nuthaus in general, so you can see how much has changed since we moved here a little over a year ago.

Changes: 1) Daphne got a desktop. 2) We never watched the TV James had (literally, we didn't turn it on in the year we had it here), so we put it out on the curb and someone took it! We use the space for the litter box that used to be in James' office, which will be the nursery. It's mostly Aish's box, and I think she likes the privacy of the fireplace. 3) I think there are more tchotske on the mantel, including a speaker system we bought solely because our laptops wouldn't play "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." loudly enough. Also, we have one outlet in the whole living room, so we have a lot of old-fashioned running of the wires all up in here.

The white shelving unit is new. We'd had the printer in James' office, and all of our school books (which are difficult to see behind the table) in the black bookshelves. We moved our school stuff over when James was re-homing some of his books, and the drawers have all of our pencils, envelopes, etc. That stuff was also on the bookshelves and fell off frequently. Don't know why we didn't think of that sooner.

James' new "office" has less privacy but a great view! He admits to missing his little hobbit hole, but you do what you have to do, and we kind of like having him around.

Our nerd robes adorn the back of the door in our tiny bathroom. Pictures courtesy a story National Geographic did on sugar and how horrible it is on both nutritional and cultural levels... But to illustrate this, they had frame-worthy art of sugary foods like cupcakes, candies, and cereal.

Still making do with not much storage of which to speak.

Finally got our corkboard "Wall of Awesome" up after "winning" the board at a Christmas white elephant exchange. We'd had a WoA in the trailer and are filling this one with Team Dave's memorabilia, much of it from our recent trip to Colorado. 

Pardon our recycling; since we have so many deliveries these days, I filled up our outside recycle bin the day after it got picked up last week! Just 5 more days and I can dump this stuff. I love how the kitchen and living room are basically one room. It makes working in the kitchen not seem like a lonely task, even if I'm the only one in there.

Our beautiful bedroom, with the wedding quilt James' mom made us and the new bookshelf we got to help make space for James' office eviction. The metal heart we watched a blacksmith make at the Celtic Music Festival and James bought it back when we were still dating. The marker picture is of James and me as ponies, a gift from Daphne on my last birthday. On the bookshelf, we have both of the flowers we wore at our wedding. Mine was a fabric flower that came with my dress, and James' was a squirt sunflower.

The only closet in the house barely has room for James' Browncoat, a couple of suits, and our luggage. Everything else is on display for the world to see.

We rearranged D's room a bit, and it's still one of my favorite rooms in the house. I love all of the color.

The bookshelves helped us to move all of D's books back into her room. We'd had a lot of them in the built-ins in the living room, but decided to free up that space for, yes, more of James' books. Also, she has room now both to get new books and for all of her filled-up drawing pads.

I don't think we ever took a picture of her "closet" before. We moved her smaller bookshelf over here to make room for the new shelves. And, yes, Harry Potter is wearing an old pair of girls' underpants both as drawers and a hat, has on a fake blonde mustache, and is carrying a giant lollipop instead of a wand.

So, here are the money shots for those of you who wanted to see the nursery. It's good that we have all of the furniture we need now, because there is no more room for anything else!

I love, love, love bright colors, so this all makes me happy. A friend said he was afraid that our MamaRoo bouncy chair thing would become sentient and Borgify the baby, and that'd be super cool. It's neat; it has several white noise settings (it also has an input so you can play MP3s), and there are 5 different movements it can make. The cushiony things in the mobile will pop out for grabbing and chewing.

During graduation weekend, my sister noticed that someone had left a dirty little minky monkey in our driveway. We put it up on the porch and left it there for 3 days. When the weekend was over, I brought it in, washed and dried it twice, and decided it would be our first baby toy. Also, we can only accommodate clothes, shoes, socks, etc. that will fit in this cabinet.

I can't wait to fill up this bookshelf!

Aish loves sitting in "baby jail" underneath the elevated crib cushion. Also, for those of you thinking, "Wouldn't there be more room for the rocker behind the door?" Maybe. But where it is, you can see out of both sets of windows, and I prefer that.

So there you have it. As James said, "We're building a home." It definitely feels more like it every day. Thanks for your interest. Just 3 months to go!