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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What’s Changed?

I was chastised recently by someone for not updating the ol’ blog since August. “Well,” I responded, “if you can add a few more hours to each day, I might just do that.”

His response to me in turn got me to thinking. “What’s changed since you were keeping up with it so often a couple of years ago? You were working and had two kids then as well.” (That’s paraphrased, but the general idea of what was said.)

What’s changed you ask? Well, a lot to be perfectly honest.

One thing that has changed over this year is a new commitment on my part to exercise regularly, be healthier and hopefully, as a result, lose some weight. That takes time. And it’s paid off, too. At this writing I have lost about 35 pounds since the beginning of January. How I’ve done it is probably a completely separate blog post, and if you’re interested, I’ll work on that. But suffice it to say at this point that it takes time and focus to be able to do it.

Also this year, I have taken the plunge. I have put myself out there. I have begun taking orders and selling my pies and desserts. As it turns out, it seems that people like what I make and are willing to pay me for it. At this point this is just a side gig and something that will hopefully help pay for camps the kids want to attend and our vacations. I am mostly selling to friends and family and was very unsure about it when I started. However, Thanksgiving was very encouraging in every respect; from the number of orders I received (even some calls from complete strangers who found either my website or Facebook page) to the fact that I felt like I could have taken on a few more. So as anyone who has been involved in any size of small business venture knows, it takes a lot of time and brain power to set things up and keep them going.

Another thing that has changed is the age of my kids. As a young mom, you think that as they get older and more self-responsible that they become lower maintenance and you’ll have more time. Then you get to the point where they are older, and so are you, and you realize that you were WRONG! Even with our house rule of only one sport per season in addition to piano, I still find that we are so busy now with their school work, activities and involvements that it cancels out the time that I’m not spending changing diapers and taking care of many of their day to day needs that they now take care of themselves.

But mostly, what’s changed is my perspective. I want to live life with my husband, kids and extended family and not have to take time to write about it.

God has really placed on my heart over the last couple of years the fact that I only have one life to live. I only have one shot at this parenting thing. I only have these kids in my home for such a short period of time. I only have one chance to experience this season of life with my husband. There are no do-overs. There are no guarantees of tomorrow.

So, as I live this life the Lord has given me, I realize that I don’t have to stop and write about every little bit of it. I simply don’t have time. I don’t have to blog every recipe I make with photos, a write up and a well-tested and edited recipe. Those things take a ton of time that I really don’t have. I would much rather spend that time watching my son’s or daughter’s swim practice, or help them practice piano, or spend that one hour after the kids are in bed and before I crash on the couch with my man just relaxing and watching some TV.

So, there you have it. You asked, “What’s changed?” My answer: “A lot, but mostly my perspective.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The great tomato sauce catastrophe of 2012

I am so happy to have discovered a good farmer’s market not too far from my home.  I can get up on Saturday mornings, make the 15 minute drive and come home within an hour or so with everything from smoked chicken to pain au chocolat to fresh tomatoes and okra.

pain au chocolat Pain au chocolat is a dark chocolate filled croissant.

In fact, it’s become such a thing this summer that pain au chocolat (or as my husband refers to it, “the breakfast of the gods”)  is our standard Saturday morning breakfast and smoked chicken and veggies from the market is our standard Saturday evening supper.  We don’t know what we’ll do once it closes for the winter months.

Several weeks ago, I went to the market and had in mind to get a bunch of tomatoes to make and can some tomato sauce.  As it happened, one of the vendors had a box full of blemished tomatoes (which we later weighed at 15 lbs) for about $5.  PERFECT!

I got my tomatoes home and later that afternoon, the kids and I got to work cutting out the bad parts and prepping them for cooking.  I used this recipe as a guide and found it all to be pretty simple.  I used my absolute biggest stock pot and even still, it almost wasn’t big enough.

IMG_1893 IMG_1894

The only hitch I encountered with actually making the sauce was that I didn’t have and couldn’t seem to find anywhere a food mill. But I finally came up with a solution involving a colander and a ladle that seemed to give me my desired results.


That was the only hitch.  Until….


I had placed the hot/sterilized jars on the wire cooling rack that you see in the picture.  I filled them all.  Then, one by one I picked them up to up on their lids.  All the while, not realizing that the last row of 3 full jars were on the back edge which was beyond where the foot of the cooling rack touched the baking sheet below.  SO, when I picked up the final jar in the next to last row the wire rack finally tipped sending the 3 jars in that final row spilling all over and down the back of the range.

I cleaned up the top of the range the best I could.  Then, my hubby, saint that he is, set to work the next day….





… and still more cleaning.

It actually took him several hours to get all the sauce cleaned out of all the nooks and crannies in, around, and behind the range. 

I love that man!

But the result?  Did I get my tomato sauce?

Why, yes.  Yes, I did.

Homemade jarred tomato sauce

All told, I figure I spilled about 1 1 /2 pints of tomato sauce, but the remaining 8 pints will be wonderful come winter-time when we are desperately missing the Farmer’s Market.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

R2D2 Cake decorating steps & tips

A reader emailed me the other day and asked for more pictures and instructions on how I decorated the R2D2 cake for my son’s birthday (posts here and here).  So I went back and dug up some more pictures and decided to post more detailed instructions and tips here for everyone to see.

I used this “vintage” Wilton R2D2 cake pan that my mother in law used for my husband’s birthday cakes when he was a kid, around 1980. 

R2D2 cake pan

1.  Be sure to thoroughly grease and flour your cake pan and remove the cake from the pan about 10 minutes after removing from the oven.  This particular Wilton cake pan has lots of little indentions for R2D2’s different features.  If you’re not careful, some of them may end up staying in the pan.  Not that I know from personal experience or anything.

2.  Make your cake a couple of days ahead of time.  Once fully cooled on a wire rack, wrap the cake in paper towels and then plastic wrap and place back into the cake pan (after you’ve washed it) and either refrigerate or freeze it until you’re ready to use it.

4.  Make your icing and mix your colors maybe the day before you decorate. 

**Spreading out these steps helps me to better manage my time so that I don’t spend as much time all in one day.

5.  You will need four colors of blue using a light blue, such as Wilton Sky Blue, for your base color. 

R2D2 cake colors numbered
Start by mixing your regular butter cream or cream cheese icing.  I think it only requires 1 recipe worth.  I would say take about half of it and mix your #4 or lightest blue color.  Put about 1/4 aside.  Then mix more blue to make it darker for your #3 blue color.  Put some of that aside, and mix more blue and possibly 1 teeny tiny drop of black to get your #2 blue color.  Finally pull some of that out to mix in more blue and probably just a little black to get your #1 darkest blue color.

6.  I do not frost the cake before decorating.  A) It would cover up the detail of R2D2’s features which would make it way more difficult to decorate and 2) We tend to not like tons of icing.  Using just the icing for decorating the cake to icing ratio is much better for us.

7.  Pretty much, I would decorate it in order from 1 to 4 and then white using the patterns as pictured on the pan’s insert.  Stars in some areas and the back and forth snake type pattern in other areas. 

R2D2 cake pan insert numbered 2 
First, using a number 4 (or 5 or 6) tip, outline everything. 

R2D2 outlined 
Next, using either the number 17 or 18 decorating tip, begin filling in the areas as numbered above.  I use the smaller #17 tip for smaller areas and the larger #18 tip for larger areas.

R2D2 partially filled 
8.  Finally, after all the blue is done, fill in the white areas and use red M&M’s or Skittles for the lights on R2D2’s “head”. 

R2D2 cake 4

If I have baked the cake a couple of days before and made the icing colors early, then decorating only takes me a couple of hours.

Best of luck to you!!!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Darth Vader Sandwich Cookies

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that we are pretty big Star Wars fans around here.  So it wasn’t any stretch for me to do an R2D2 birthday cake for my son two years in a row. 

Yep.  Even though I made one last year, when we decided to go play laser tag with some friends for his birthday this year, it just seemed natural that another R2D2 cake would be in order.

R2D2 cake 4

But what to do with it…. that was the question.  As I’ve said before, instead of goodie bags full of junk that gets thrown away, I’d much rather send the kids home with a party favor that consists of a home baked treat of some kind.  But what could I do this year, other than iced sugar cookies, with a limited amount of time?  That was the question.

So I pulled back out my Star Wars cookie cutters and I wondered to myself, “You know, I’ve always wanted to make homemade Oreos… I wonder…”

“Google,” enter stage right.

So, I found (and “Pinned”) a blog post where someone had made green tea Yoda sandwich cookies.  I showed them to Nathan to see if he would be interested.  “No,” he said, “but I do want Darth Vader ‘Oreos’.”

Well, okay then. 

With a plan in place, I set to work.

I know that Bridget at the Bake at 350 blog had made homemade Oreos before, so that was the first place I looked.  And, in fact, it was the recipe I decided to use. 

I’d say it worked out pretty well for me.

Darth Vader-eos close up

Darth Vader-eos platter

DV Cookie Party Favor Bag

May the force be with you.  And my new 7 year old.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Strawberry Pie

Spring and early summer is time for berries.  I believe I have, on several occasions, on this here blog  thoroughly established my position on berries and pihhh and how the two just go together like peas and carrots.  Or like berries and pihhh, I suppose.

Here is just one more example.

I give you the Strawberry Pie.

Strawberry Pie

Strawberry Pie

Strawberry Pie topped with whipped cream

Strawberry Pie topped with whipped cream

Strawberry Pie topped with whipped cream

Strawberry Pie topped with whipped cream

It’s a treat we have enjoyed in my family as long as I can remember.  When my Nana would make a Pecan Pie for my dad, knowing that I didn’t like pecans, she’d almost always make me a Strawberry Pie. 

Nice and cool straight out of the fridge, it’s perfect in these warm spring and summer months.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mother’s Day at The Ballpark

If you follow me on the Twitters or have read this blog for a while, you might have noticed over the last couple of years that we’re pretty big Texas Rangers fans around here.  So it should be no big surprise that we chose to spend Mother’s Day out at The Rangers’ Ballpark in Arlington (my favorite sports venue other than those located in College Station) watching our Texas Rangers take on the Angels of Anaheim.

Now, as much as we’re Rangers fans, we also have a bit of a soft spot for a particular Angels left fielder who is a Texan, Vernon Wells.  So this is how we looked on Sunday evening…


Apparently, we like #10… regardless of the team. :)

What a fun evening it was watching a resounding Rangers win with Nelson Cruz hitting a Grand Slam and even getting to see Vernon Wells hit one out as well.  I’d like to think that we were his lucky charm. 

I hope you had a nice Mothers’ Day as well.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cookies for an Eagle Scout Court of Honor

My oldest nephew received his Eagle Scout rank a couple of days before Christmas this last December.  Just a couple of weeks ago, we attended his court of honor as his troop leaders awarded him his pin and he, in turn, gave both of his parents a pin and also a special “Mentor Pin” to his grandfather (his mom’s and my dad).  It was an incredibly moving moment and I cried like a baby.

My sister has 4 boys and has resigned herself to the fact that she will never have the opportunity to plan a wedding for a daughter.  She decided that the reception following my nephew’s Court of Honor was about as close as she’d ever get.  It would, after all, include cake and punch. 

In addition to the cake, she wanted to have some cookies using the Boy Scout Fleur-De-Lis shape and she asked me to make them.  She had the cookie cutter, she just needed me to get them done.

Boy Scout Fleur De Lis cookie cutter

So I spent a cold and rainy Saturday when we didn’t have anywhere to be making cookies.


Rather than traditional royal icing on the top, my sister requested that I use a glaze and then maybe just outline them with icing.  I think she somehow thought that this would be easier.  Personally, I think outlining and flooding with royal icing would have been just as easy, but I wanted to do what my sister wanted.  So I did a little research and this is what I found for a glaze…

Sugar Cookie Glaze

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
10 drops food coloring (if desired)

Sift confectioner’s sugar.  Whisk together confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup and water until it makes a smooth and thin paste.  Add coloring if desired. 

One tip I have read is that you should stir the glaze before each dipping, especially if using color. Otherwise it may dry with a mottled look instead of a solid color.

Sugar cookie glaze

In theory you’re supposed to be able to dip the cookies in the glaze and set them aside to dry…

IMG_1587 IMG_1588 IMG_1589 IMG_1590

I found that dipping these particular cookies did not work well because they broke easily at some of their weaker points in the dipping process.  After just a few cookies, I loaded up one of my squeeze bottles and glazed them that way.

IMG_1591 Glazed sugar cookie

Then, using the #15-17 tips, I did a simple outline of the Fleur-De-Lis in both red and blue.  I was very pleased with the result.

Eagle Scout Fleur De Lis sugar cookies

Eagle Scout sugar cookies

My family was not sorry that I’d had such a problem with breakage.  Not sorry at all.


Can you tell where the weakest point was in these cookies?

And just a word of advice…. if you decide to use a glaze on your cookies and you put them on wire cooling racks so that the excess glaze can drip off, don’t use paper towels under them to keep your counter top clean.  It doesn’t work.  Instead you get paper towel and sugar cement on your counter that you have to scrape off with a bench scraper.

IMG_1602 I’m thinking wax paper might have been a better choice here.

Since she figured that this was as close as she’d ever get to planning a wedding reception, she decided that the event required a “bride’s cake” and a “groom’s cake". 

She decorated the more formal “bride’s cake” Eagle Scout cake.

Eagle Scout sheet cake 
She had a friend decorate the “groom’s cake”.  You see, they have a lot of armadillos in their neighborhood and my nephew has a thing about shooting them.  So clearly, the other cake had to be nothing other than this…

Armadillo Cake
And yes, of course it was red velvet.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Weekend in Italy

I had the opportunity to go meet my husband in Italy as he travelled on business this last weekend. We spent the bulk of our time in Venice with a short stop in Verona for lunch. The following are just some pictures that may help tell the story of our trip.

View of Verona, Italy 

16 bridge mazzorbo to burano

Busy Saturday Fish market

Busy grand canal

Bridge of Sighs and Gondola

Gondola at Rialto

Bike on Mazzorbo

Evening gondola ride

Window on Mazzorbo

And just since we always need some comic relief, pushing the leaning tower on Burano over instead of the usual “holding up the leaning tower of Pisa” picture.