or: What a Drag It Is Getting Old

Hey, guys?  This whole maturity thing is a buzzkill.  (Side question: do the Who still sing about hoping they die before they get old?)  Gone are the days of drinking-as-a-competitive sport, all-nighters, and greasy food whenever you darned well felt like it.

Okay, so I exaggerate somewhat – I was never much of a drinker – but this is my pity party, and I’ll embellish if I want to.

Last week, I made margarita cupcakes, and did I pile them high with swirls of tequila-lime-salt icing?  I did not.  I made a ridiculously small batch of icing, and demurely spread an even layer on each cupcake.  They still tasted fine, but didn’t feel as fun.

The weekend before that debacle, I saw a commercial for Robin’s Donuts new summer blended drink: a s’mores mocha.  My inner five year-old shrieked joyously, and the next day, I managed to con my friend into making a detour while we were out.  They had signs for it posted in the windows, and those marshmallows looked good enough to eat (obviously), and then I saw the nutritional information right beside the picture: “starts at 560 calories”.  I hate when people misuse the word “literally”, so when I say I literally froze, I mean it.  I wanted that chocolate-marshmallow-graham concoction so badly, and (with apologies to V.N.) what d’ye know, folks – I just could not make myself do it.  Cringing, I ordered a black coffee (and a Ghostbuster; I’m just old, not dead).

In light of these involuntary displays of maturity, I was intrigued by the recipe for Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins on Sally’s Baking Addiction.  I like oatmeal.  I like blueberries.  And no refined sugar?  Sign me up!

Sure, they’re sweetened with honey, and sure, a surfeit of sugar isn’t great for you no matter how natural the source, but honey is a lower GI sweetener, so I figure, it’s a trade-off.

Blueberry Muffins 1

The batter turned out super-thick thanks to letting the oats soak in the milk for the prescribed time.  This recipe makes great use of time: in the 20 minutes of soaking time, I had everything else pulled together, ready to add the oats and milk.  How efficient!

Blueberry Muffins 2

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They baked up so nice and tall.  The whole house smelled like blueberry-oat-cinnamon magic (I did increase the cinnamon to about 1 tsp), and it was divine!

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I really think these are no-fail.  I followed the recipe to a “T” (cinnamon notwithstanding), and they baked up perfectly, no overbrowning or mushy middles.

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Just wholesome, blueberry-studded goodness.

My test audience couldn’t keep their paws off these.  I’m told they’re wonderful with just a little smear of butter on each half, but are excellent naked, too.  If you haven’t already preheated your oven, do it now!

I’m sure my self-imposed health martyrdom – if you can really call less-frosted cupcakes healthy – will come to an end soon enough, but I’ve got this recipe in my back pocket the next time I need a healthy snack or dessert.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

 

I should preface this by saying that I had a whole post planned out: “A Tale of Two Cupcakes, or: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Blurst of Times.”  However, cupcakes the second were more or less inhaled in record time, and may not have photographed as impressively (this is what I tell myself), and instead I was left with a bunch of pictures of cupcakes the first.

Well, then.

I had had some inklings of these cupcakes bouncing around my brain for a while, now, but I was inspired by the lemon-mascarpone cake on Life, Love, and Sugar.  It looked really good, but I didn’t want to fuss with making my own lemon curd from scratch, and unless you’re feeding a crowd (I’m usually not), whole layer cakes are an annoyance to store.

I started out with the golden vanilla cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and added some lemon zest and juice, plus just a hint of lemon extract in addition to the vanilla.  Oh, and maybe just a drop or two of yellow food colouring.  Once they had cooled, I used my trusty corer and filled the insides with jarred lemon spread.

(Quick aside: I had a childhood friend who would eat peanut butter and lemon spread sandwiches for lunch.  Shocking, I know!  Schools used to allow peanut products on their property.  We were made of tougher stuff then.)

While the thought of peanut butter and lemon spread together still makes me want to retch, lemon spread on its own is tangy and delicious, and did not make the cupcakes soggy – most important!

Instead of a mascarpone icing, I made one of my new favourites: the whipped cream-cream cheese icing from Brown Eyed Baker.  It’s just fluffy and perfect, not too sweet, and if you have some left over and can manage not to eat it by the spoonful on its own, it goes great on fruit, toast, you name it.

What’s that?  Quit waxing nostalgic about peanut-permissive schools and get to the pictures?

Lemon Cupcakes 1

 

Cue the striptease music…

Lemon Cupcakes 2

Lemon Cupcakes 3

Lemon Cupcakes 4

The cupcakes were moist on their own, but the lemon filling helped keep them moist over the next couple of days.  And after sitting, fully assembled, for 24 hours, the flavours melded and the filling was just a bit less tangy and became almost an extension of the cake (flavour-wise, not texture-wise).  I’m not sure about the best of times, but these were pretty darned good!

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Remember my twinchies?  Gah, that seems like forever ago.  (“Time’s fun when you’re having flies.” – Kermit the Frog)

Anyway, I had so much fun making them that when another round of the twinchie swap appeared on Craftster, with send-outs in September, joining in was a no-brainer.  I might be a bit late in posting these, but think of them as undiscovered gems.

My partner had a variety of themes offered as suggestions, and I was thisclose to running with Bob’s Burgers – can’t you just picture Louise’s bunny ears immortalized in four square inches of felt?! – when I saw that she also had Muppets on her list.  In that moment, the first coherent thought in my brain was, “Beaker!”

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That was followed a split-second later by, “Bunsen!”

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It wasn’t until I began trawling the internet for source images to use, scrolling past picture after picture of Dr. Honeydew, that I realized with a start that he bears a striking resemblance to my dad’s old boss, only slightly more green.  I tried to find a picture of him, but came up empty-handed, so you’ll have to take my word on this.

With Bunsen n’ Beaker done, how could I round out my quartet?  Statler and Waldorf would have been fun, and practically begged to have a note included in my swap package complaining about what terrible needlework this was (“Ha ha ha!”), but they didn’t feel as iconic to me as some of the other Muppets.

Iconic Muppet?  Why, that would be…

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Miss Piggy was the most challenging of the four, I found.  Her various pieces felt a bit more jigsaw-y to me than the others, and trying to capture that heavy-lidded look on a very small canvas wasn’t easy.  But the sparkly fuchsia background seems perfect for the self-proclaimed star of the show, and there’s a joke in there somewhere about casting one’s pearls before swine, but I haven’t found it…  (Comments welcome below.)

Knowing that my partner had already received a Kermit twinchie in the previous round, I couldn’t grab for the low-hanging fruit for my last piece.  Instead…drumroll, please…

Muppet Twinches 3

Big Bird!  Stitching him up made me so happy!  The bright yellow and blue felt, the thin lines of blue and pink around his eyes to make them pop…and those fun little feathers on top of his head to add some texture to the whole deal.

All together:

Muppet Twinchies 1

They made it to my partner with all their embellishments intact, and had me envisioning an entire installation of felt Muppet portraits…

Thanks for looking! 🙂

Let me start by saying I’m not a big fan of social media.  I don’t care what your lunch looks like, what 144-character brain dropping has just emerged unbidden from your cranial cavity, or what pages you “like” if not actually like.

I realize, too, the irony of posting that on WordPress, which I believe is technically billed as a social media platform of sorts.  And yes, it’s tremendously flattering when someone likes (or at least “likes”) one of my posts – but I do this more for my own amusement than any third-party corroboration, so while a “like” is a nice bonus, it’s not my primary goal.

One of my complaints about social media, especially Instagram, is how carefully curated it can be and what a false sense of reality it provides.  After all, when’s the last time you saw an #ootd featuring sweatpants with defunct elastic and a fine coating of cat hair?  I’ve come to realize, though, that I’m guilty of the same thing.  I don’t post sunken cakes on here, or scorched cupcakes, or curdled frosting.  But we’ve all had recipes that just didn’t quite work out, right?

A little more than a month ago, I was perusing baking blogs before work – as in, at the office, but not on the clock, when a voice behind me asked what I was making to bring in for everyone.  So I showed my coworker this recipe for strawberry cookies, but voiced my doubts: those nonpareils could be murder on the teeth, and anyway, wouldn’t the cookies taste kind of artificial?  The conversation quickly turned to not being able to find more esoteric extracts at a small-town grocery store with new owners, and what ever happened to the guy who used to bag groceries there, anyway?  Construction!  Really?  And then, the clock magically turned over and I turned my attention to work, putting the whole concept of strawberry cookies behind me.

I was therefore surprised when this same coworker caught me on my way to the break room a few days later and handed me these:

Strawberry Cookies 1-2

I had honestly had no intention of making the cookies, but I had a patron of my art for the first time ever, which was terribly flattering and made it hard to say no.  How bad could the cookies be?

Strawberry Cookies 2-2

They’re pretty, aren’t they?  They’d be great for a little kid’s princess party because kids generally aren’t discerning, but they’re going firmly on my “Do Not Bake” list.  Probably.

I don’t mean to sound completely negative.  They had some bright points.  For example, the cookies themselves were nice and soft and chewy, and not at all greasy.  My parchment paper looked seriously pristine when I was done.  They’d likely be tasty using simple almond or vanilla extract.  The nonpareils really weren’t as tooth-shattering as I expected.  From a technical standpoint, the recipe worked out well.

But oh, that optimistic little instruction to stir in the gel colour?  Nothing stirs into dough that stiff – I had to knead it in with my hands.  The strawberry extract made them extremely fake-tasting, and when I put them in a container and tried to burp out the air as I put the lid on, I was caught with a blast of what smelled like a strawberry fart.  I brought in a baggie of eight to the coworker who had so kindly provided the sprinkles, and although she and her daughter apparently liked them, nobody that I usually bake for did.  After The People Who Will Eat Any Kind Of Cookie politely choked down one or two, these strawberry farts were quickly relegated to the kitchen garbage.

This isn’t meant as a general indictment of that particular website (quite frankly, her mini cheesecakes look delish, and I’ve got them on my to-try list), nor am I saying I’m a bumbling fool in the kitchen.  But as Osgood Fielding III said, “Nobody’s perfect.”, despite what filtered Instagram posts would have us believe.

Thanks for looking! 🙂

(with apologies to Paul Simon)

“Your problem is trying to be too nice,” she said to me.

“You’ll find it easier if you’ll only be snarky.

It’s just the simplest way to get yourself set free –

Just use snarky ways to leave your lover.”

She said, “Some people think that ‘snarky’ equals ‘rude’.

In fact, some puritans would have it labelled ‘lewd’.

But nuts to them!  I say, who needs their attitude?

Embrace those snarky ways to leave your lover.”

CHORUS

Just tell him, “Nope, dope.”

“Can you not, Scott?”

“Would you go away, hey,

And let me be.”

I said, “No way, Jay!”

“OMG, ewww, Lou.”

What else can I say, hey,

Except for, “Bite me.”

She said, “Don’t let your conscience tell you that it’s wrong.

I hope you’ll see the light before I end this song.”

I said, “That’s great and all, but won’t it take too long

To learn these snarky ways…?”

She said, “Just try to find your inner snark tonight,

And I believe that your man-child will be gone without a fight.”

And then she left me, and I realized she probably was right

‘Bout using snarky ways to leave your lover.

(repeat CHORUS)

Soooo, I signed up for the Be My Snarky Valentine swap on Craftster, after having to sit out the Christmas edition due to having about a dozen other things to try to get done.  But all I really have to do on Valentine’s Day is show up to work (because it’s a weekday, not because I work in a Valentine-specific industry), so I figured I could swing this one.  We each had to craft one small, snarky item plus one snarky card for our partner.

While I typically find Valentine’s Day a bit annoying (and hence the appeal of a snarky swap), I’ve always liked the aesthetic of conversation hearts.  Heck, I don’t even mind eating them, although they tend toward chalky.  I’ve even been known to paint my nails in the same colours and stage ridiculous manicure shoots at my desk:

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(Seriously, what did we do before smartphones?  How did we document the inanity?)

So it seemed like a no-brainer for me to incorporate them into my snarky swap package, somehow.  Fortunately, my partner said she likes pastels, so I thought a mini felt garland might be in order.

Garland 2-2

Each heart is about 3 inches across at the widest points – I didn’t think to measure them – and are spaced 4 inches apart, with 6 inches to the hanging loop on each side.  I cut out two hearts of each colour and then applied fusible interfacing to one before sketching on my snarky sentiments to embroider.  Once they all said something, I sandwiched the ribbon between the two hearts, and blanket-stitched around each heart to secure the ribbon in place.

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I’m also a little particular about the colours being in the proper spectrum order, or at least as close as you can get.

Because I’m a cross-stitcher at heart, that’s the approach I used for my card.

Garland 1-2

I had some sparkly white Aida left over from my mom’s cat ornaments which was just perfect for my background.

Whatever your Valentine’s Day brings, I hope it’s better than Ralph’s. 🙂

Fun fact: the eggman was actually Eric Burdon.  Shudder.

Ever since SiriusXM introduced its Beatles channel last May, it’s been my mom’s channel of choice.  I like them as much as the next person, but not on a 24-7 (excuse me, 24-8, as the station itself says) loop.  In any case, it seemed like a great theme to go with for her birthday.  Remember when themed birthdays were only for kids?  Me, too, but there’s no denying that having a theme makes everything fall into place nicely.

I dusted off my rudimentary and extremely rusty card-making skills for the occasion.  As soon as I found the main image in the course of a random Google search, I knew it had to be used somehow:

Beatles Birthday 2-1

I’m almost chagrined to include a picture of it in all its amateurish glory, but it served as a nice introduction to…

Pressies!  Back in October I discovered some wicked Sgt. Pepper-print fabric on Spoonflower, so hello pajama pants!

(A word about Spoonflower: while I love the fact that I found this fabric, it was $20 USD/yd, and because it’s printed to order there were wide empty white strips all around my 3 yards, which feels like a bit of a rip-off.  Also, they use yards instead of the vastly superior-and-slightly-larger metre, which also feels like a bit of a rip-off.  Those extra 10 cm make a difference!)

Beatles Birthday 1-1

And look, their little Scouse heads just about line up perfectly.

I used McCalls 4244, which at this point I can assemble without the instructions.  The piqué knit I chose is slippery – and surprisingly heavy – and required a ton of pins plus a steady hand on the sewing machine.  But ah, the drape!  As I spent, oh, minutes and minutes (ha!) guiding it through the machine, I started musing how many Beatles song titles could be greatly improved by the substitution of “pants”.  “I Want to Hold Your Pants”, “Maxwell’s Silver Pants”…and don’t forget, “You know I need someone’s paaannnntssss…”

At this point, I’m sure someone across the pond is reading this, sniggering at my obvious misuse of the word.  “Everyone knows pants are what go under your trousers!”  Sit tight, because I’ve got you covered, too.

Behold, Beatles knickers.  (To go with the pants, of course.)

Beatles Birthday 5-1

These are the midrise briefs from this pattern, and have very generous sizing.  I used fold-over elastic for the waistband, but went rogue and finished the legs but turning the edges under and running a zigzag stitch.  My reasoning was twofold: a) the FOE was a little fiddly to work with given the slippery fabric, and b) Fabricland only sells prepackaged cards of FOE at $6.49 for a yard – again with yards!  Since this particular view and size called for a total of 66.25 inches between the waistband and leg openings, that would have brought my total cost for elastic alone to $19.47 (unless I feel like sewing short ends together to make the proper length).  No, thank you.

I didn’t photograph the cake – I drew the themed-party line well before erecting some fondant-covered monstrosity in the shape of a yellow submarine, or whatever else it is one might do – but suffice it to say that a dark-chocolate cake with a cream cheese-whipped cream icing is lovely.

You say it’s your birthday?  We’re gonna have a good time!

…my true love gave to me a chalkboard ode to coffee!

I finished this at around 2:00 PM on Christmas Eve, but between washing it, framing it, and wrapping the collection of gifts that sat there mocking me, there was no way this was getting posted.

Back in the summer, I was wandering through Michaels with a friend – I can’t remember what he was looking for – when I darted down the needlework aisle to see if they had anything interesting.  Oh, and Michaels?  Your needlework “aisle” is a joke.

Due to the craptacular nature of their selection, I really didn’t find much of note, but he zeroed in on a clearance kit.  “Ooh!  If I buy this, will you stitch it for me?”  Gaah.  I hate that question, but like him enough to shrug my shoulders and nod.  It wasn’t a terribly sophisticated or complicated design, and although it was on black aida, I figured I could handle it, and then somewhere along the line decided it would make an excellent Christmas present for him despite the fact that I had four other pieces to finish.

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I just realized that because of the angle at which the picture was taken, you can’t see the solid white border along the right side, but it’s there.

Now, while I discovered when I stitched this that black aida isn’t as terrible as I remembered, it’s quite something else when the cheap kit gives you a piece of fabric with barely 2″ of clearance around the edges of the pattern, making it difficult if not impossible to grip the fabric with your Q-Snap when you get to the outside edges.  Had this been a generous cut with better Q-Snap tension, I suspect it would have been finished ages ago.  Also, the white floss ran completely out well before I was anywhere near finished – and I had triple-checked the instructions so I know that even the backstitch was to be done in two strands and not one.  Luckily, I had some white floss left over from a different kit which filled the need nicely.  Had it not been December 21-ish when I ran out, the company would have been getting a nasty letter from me.

Now that it’s done, and I can breathe again, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.  He was thrilled when he opened it yesterday, so mission accomplished.

I hope Santa was good to everybody.  Thanks for another great year! 🙂

…my true love gave to me a hoop that says “Vive le hockey!”

What do you give the guy who has, on different occasions, had this cake and this scarf?  A little hoop-framed Habs logo!  Honestly, I have let many Father’s Days/birthdays/Christmases pass without doing this – why didn’t I do it sooner?

And also, why didn’t I do it sooner?  Thursday and Friday found me stitching at work on my breaks.  This was not the first time, and will likely not be the last, but whyyyyy?!  (Also, for anyone keeping score, the lighting at this desk is not quite as good as it was at the last desk when I last tried this two years ago.  White thread on white fabric hates wonky lighting.  However, if this is the only downside to the job, I honestly can’t complain.)

I found the pattern on Etsy – the download included four different sizes, but I chose the smallest which I was able to fit into a four-inch hoop, painted by a kind soul who took pity on my last-minute frenzy and pitched in.

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Just one more present to go now – the race is on!

Thanks for looking! 🙂

…my true love gave to me: a triumvirate of cats for the tree!

Back when I got my first cat – that is, my first cat I adopted on my own as an apparently responsible-looking adult, and not a carryover from my childhood – I celebrated her first Christmas by buying one of those commemorative yearly ornaments from Hallmark, and slipped her picture into it to give to my mom.  Aawww!  Grandkitten’s first Christmas!

By the next year, she had a younger sister, and this meant either a) Photoshopping the two into the same picture, or b) being lucky enough to get a shot where they were sitting side-by-side and not trying to beat the living crap out of one another.  And then a few years after that, my parents adopted their own furry bundle of joy.  It seemed weird to give them an ornament with a picture of my cats but not one with theirs, so yay, Photoshop!  Also, some of Hallmark’s offerings had been not-so-cute over the years, so there had been a year or two with no ornament from the furkids.

This year, I decided to do something completely custom and stitch an ornament for each cat.  I found these patterns on Etsy and knew I could make them work:

Cat Ornaments 1-2

Of course, the markings aren’t quite right, so I had to change the patterns up a little bit.  My muses (or mew-ses)?

Yes, apparently he’s offended by the pink sparkly ball on the Christmas tree.  I’ve given up trying to understand him.

For the most part, I altered the patterns as I went along without a point of reference, but the black-and-white has such asymmetrical markings that I used a picture to make sure she looked right immortalized in thread.

Cat Ornaments 2-2

I didn’t use a ton of backstitch, partly to expedite the process and partly to keep them more organic-looking and less cartoonish.  They’re framed in 3″ wooden embroidery hoops painted gold, and ready to be displayed.

Thanks for looking – 11 days to go! 🙂

I feel like I’ve gotten away from baking cupcakes lately.  Maybe because it’s all been done?  I don’t tend to get too crazy trying new flavours or techniques, and there are only so many ways to blog about chocolate (“No!!”) or vanilla (“Really?!”) cupcakes.  It’s a bit like watching someone’s really terrible vacation slideshow.

Whatever my reason, conscious or unconscious, I decided to make some mummy cupcakes for Halloween.  And this time I did exactly what I didn’t want to do the last time I made them: I broke down and bought candy eyeballs by Wilton.  In my defense, I saw no less a baking authority than Anna Olson use them.  I can’t explain why, but I tend to trust her far more than I do most of those soi-disant “experts” on the Food Network – she actually seems to know what she’s doing.  If these little shaped sprinkles (as the package describes them) were good enough for her, well, they’d be more than adequate for my purposes.

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Adorable, right?  My frosting process was thus: fitted with a basketweave tip, I first piped a strip across the cupcake to secure the eyes, and then added my bandages in what I hoped was a random pattern.  I didn’t want to paint on a bloody-looking mouth this time, so I left negative space instead to let my dark-chocolate cake show through.  Did you know that it’s really, really hard to randomly generate the mouth shape you’re hoping for?  After the first couple, I started outlining the mouth before adding my bandages – only to discover that my cupcakes looked like they were wearing blackface.  Ugh!  Some of them look truly horrified at that unhappy coincidence; luckily the end product turned out completely inoffensive.

All was well until I stored the uneaten cupcakes in the fridge to be consumed the next day: when I pulled them out, some of them had arbitrarily dilated pupils – usually just one, but not every single mummy had that problem.  I assumed that somewhere in the room temperature-to-refrigerated-to-room temperature cycle, condensation had formed and dripped on some eyes.  They were kind of ugly, but still tasted fine.

A few days later, I made a batch of vanilla funfetti cupcakes for a friend’s birthday, and was able to use more of my candy eyes to Minion-ize them.

Minion Cupcakes 1

(You’re not losing your mind; those are two different sizes of eyeballs.)

These guys made me smile so much, and I was determined to keep them looking good, so I kept them well away from the fridge.  But lo, by the next morning, some of my Minions were afflicted with the same ocular disorder that had plagued my mummies.

(I am so, so glad that I decorated these the day of his little birthday soirée, and that only the leftovers got bug-eyed.)

Having seen this happen with no significant temperature change, I can only guess that it’s not a condensation/temperature issue; rather, once the icing softens the eyes a bit, the pupils bleed.

Has anybody else had this problem with the Wilton eyes?  Or is there some trick to keeping the eyes looking (ha!) the way they should, short of using them immediately before serving?  At $4 a pack, I don’t think it’s worth fighting over, but I’m going to have to think long and hard before buying them again.

Oh, well.  Thanks for – ha, ha – looking. 🙂