Friday, March 25, 2011

Yes I was uninspired, but.... not despair, my creativity was not totally dead turtle pizza (inside joke).

We were recently invited to a "re-birthday party" for a friend's bird. Chi-Chi's story is a great one, and if you're interested in the story, click here. Basically, Chi Chi was sick and about to be put down, but at the last minute his various caretakers decided to take him home and make him comfortable until he died....except he didn't, thanks to an intensive feeding regimen, lots of love, and physical therapy. Every year on the day he was supposed to be put down, his caretakers host a party, where he perches on people's shoulders and quite obviously is very proud of himself.

I wanted to make a special dessert. Since I had already brought parrot cupcakes to another party, I wanted something new and exciting. I have long admired Bakerella's cake pops, but admit that they seemed waaay above my level of baking skill. I couldn't wrap my mind around them exactly, couldn't see how they would work....BUT...they were just the right kind of impressive for this party, especially if I could fashion pops that looked like the birthday boy himself, so I decided to go to the library and check out Bakerella's cake pop book. Of course, it had been checked out. Boo! With only a few days to go before the party, I decided to scour her website for tips and tricks. I went to Michael's and dove right in, buying melts, an edible food pen, lollipop sticks, fondant, and foam blocks....I guessed I was doing the cake pop thing.

Turns out, cake pops aren't necessarily hard. They definitely require meticulousness and patience, something I often lack, but I was committed to making these pops awesome. I followed Bakerella's directions fairly well. I made a red velvet cake 2 days before the party. I baked it at night and let it cool all night and all day the next day (day before the party). The night before the party, it was time to work. I started by breaking up the red velvet cake. I started doing this in the pan I had cooked it in. Stupid. This made things difficult, everything was sliding everywhere, including bits of red cake which ended up all over the table and on the kitchen floor. Next time, I will scoop the cake into a bowl before crumbling!

Much easier to mix in a bowl!

Since I had that run-in with the cake, I decided to scoop the frosting I was using out of the cannister into a separate bowl so I could soften in a bit by stirring. This was smart! It made mixing the frosting into the cake much easier.

 Making the actual cake balls was very messy work! I wanted ovoid shaped balls instead of round, since I thought the oval shape would look more parrot-like. I found the more you rolled the cake ball in your hand, the better the frosting and cake crumbs came together. I did have to wash my hands after every 4 or 5 cake balls. I wonder if those plastic bag-type food handling gloves would help or hinder? I was also paranoid that the more I handled the cake, the weirder it would taste (would it taste like I had been touching it? Gross, but you know what I mean!) I shouldn't have worried, they tasted great in the end. Once the cake balls were done, I followed the instructions for the lolli sticks, dipping them in candy melts, then sticking them in the cake balls. That works and is, in my opinion, one of the most important steps. In future, I would not skimp on the candy melt coating on the sticks as I did this time.

While the cake pops were firming up in the freezer, I decided to work with the fondant I had bought. I had never in my life used fondant and was skeptical. I had to google to figure out how to work with it, as I had this solid rectangles I had bought from Michael's (which was great because they were already colored, so no mixing of colors needed!). While I had looked for candy that could serve as Chi Chi's wings I also decided to fashion a wing-shaped cookie cutter. I didn't have anything small enough, but I had some copper sheets left over from the wedding (I embossed tags for mason jar lanterns....yeah, I'll put that on the wedding blog some day!) I cut two 1/2'' wide strips from the sheets (which around 4x4'') and bent them to look how I wanted - kind of like this: D - and then taped them into place. Totally unprofessional way to handle making your own cookie cutter, but I figure for single use, this solution was a decent one!

my homemade fondant cutter

Working with fondant turned out to be gloriously easy, just roll it out and cut your shapes. Yay! In no time I had 35 pairs of wings. I decided using the red and blue fondant stacked together would not only be colorful, but the most accurate representation of Chi Chi's side and wing feathers.  I took a small paint brush and dabbed water on the blue bits to "paste" them to the red. This worked very very well, though in the future, I might try working with a q-tip or smaller paint brush, as I did have an excess of water on a few of the wings. No real harm done though.

Now it was time to dip! I melted some green wilton candy melts and found that the green wasn't vibrant enough. I put a good bit of kelly green food coloring in the melted candy, and that helped. I could've put in a lot more, but remember that thing I mentioned, that whole lack of patience thing? Yeah, it was rearing its head right about now! Point is, I got the melts to a satisfying green color and was ready to dip.

Dipping was tricky - it's tempting to spin the pops to get the excess candy melt off. I had to learn not to spin too hard or your cake ball will spin right off the stick. I found cradling the ball in a spoon and spinning worked nicely. Tapped of excess - again, not too hard, I totally lost one or two cake balls this way. Once dipped, I stuck an orange tic tac in the middle for a beak - yeah, it took forever to come up with the beak solution even though it should've been the easiest part - then stuck the cake pop in a foam block to dry.


Once dry, I stuck the wings on with candy melt "glue." I dipped a toothpick in the green melt, painted some on a wing, and stuck it to the side of the cake pop. This worked ridiculously well despite my skepticism!

The day of the party, I drew on eyes. I actually hated to food pen I used, it just never seemed to work right, so if I make these again, I'm upgrading the food pen!

Lastly, I arranged the pops nicely in styrofoam, made a sign so people would know the cake pops were supposed to be Chi Chi, wiped a few oil drips from the pop bases (more on this later) and packed everything to go.

They were a SUCCESS! Someone at the party said it was the "best dessert" they had ever tasted. I imagine this is a slight exaggeration, but I will say that they were a hit at the party and everyone wanted to try one. I was nervous about eating one because I'm my own worst critic - would the fondant be sticky? the dessert too sweet? The cake mix called for a lot of oil, and on a few cake pops, I didn't completely coat the base with candy melt and a few drops of oil squeezed out - would the whole pop taste oily and gross?

I'm happy to say, that they were delicious! While I might avoid oily cake mixes in the future (if possible) the red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and candy melt combo was delicious. Even the fondant and orange tic tac added a little flavor!

Outcome: Success
Changes in the future: Definitely. New pen, less oily cake, streamlined production process
Overall: A+


I'm sure some of you saw this hilarious (and maybe slightly offensive to some) blooper on Jeopardy!

I actually missed it, but my sister facebooked it and had me watch the video. As a bird nerd and Jeopardy! lover, I found it incredibly funny....funny enough to warrant a MS Paint drawing, something that has been long absent from this blog.

Here you go.

You're welcome, ha ha.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Morning Distractions

When I graduated from college, I already had a job, and yeah, I felt special. Sure, it was a temporary one, but I was CERTAIN it would turn into my career. Oh optimistic college grad, how stupid you were!

When I did not get rehired by a different lab at the end of the summer, I didn't worry - there had to be something out there for me to do, right?


By Thanksgiving I was desperate and turned to retail, Ann Taylor Loft, specifically. This was probably the worst possible choice since the job came with a ATL charge card and a 40% discount. I was making a little more than minimum wage, but I had a closet full of smashing women's business casual wear.

Luckily, the clothes lasted longer than the job, which I kept after being hired at the cancer hospital. I was eventually let go when a new management team came aboard - the new manager told me that she thought I lacked "commitment to the ATL retail team" and that she couldn't "trust a person who worked 8 hours a week." Never got what that was about, but I do know that manager lasted about 6 weeks before getting fired, and the manager who took her place later tried to hire me back. I guess my clothes-folding skills and the humor I brought to the job were still discussed among the remaining employees.

Anyways, that was years and years ago, but I'm still rocking a lot of the clothes I bought during my ATL stint, even though I am not as lithe and athletic as I was in those days (when I could still run without the hindrance of shin splints, before I met Jamaal and he introduced me to soul food). Yes, some of the clothes are a bit snug, but usually with the right amount of layering or a camisole underneath a shirt, I look presentable, so ATL clothes are in my rotation on a regular basis.

Today was one of those days I slept horribly late despite setting the alarm on my phone. I woke up at 7:20, despite my desire to be out of the house at 7:15. Fail. And of course we're getting one last winter blast here in Boston, so I have to set aside a teeny bit of time to brush my car off. I leap into the shower, get out and put on my makeup, skip drying my hair, pull on a pair of corduroy pants and a button down that is a little tight in the ol' rack. BUT, that's OK, I have a wrap sweater, a navy wool one that I could live in all winter if I had to. I put everything on, look fairly pulled together, and reach for my tweed coat....but I'm missing a button. Eff.

I pull out my down coat....but it's supposed to reach 40 today, I think, I'll die of heat stroke on the red line...I pull off the sweater, pull on the down coat, and intend to shove the sweater in my purse.....but that never happens. Instead I rummage through the fridge to find my leftover pad thai, dig a business-sized envelope out of the pantry for Jamaal, look for my ipod, look for my phone, look for my ID badge, which was in my purse the whole time, and then jet out the door to clear off the car.

I realized I forgot my sweater when I was parking at the T garage. Ugh. Normally this would not be a tragedy, normally, this would not even be worthy of a blog post, normally I would not give a buttons are kinda gaping open and my shirt rides up when I sit down....and I'm not alone in my office like I thought I would be today, I'm in the presence of several pairs of scrutinizing eyes. You can see my can see my little fleshy bits sticking out around my waist. UGH x 2 Luckily I keep a shawl at work so I can cover up some of my wardrobe issues, but still. I feel a little naked. Oh and a little squishy, ha ha. Guess I better take a run after work...and lift some weights. Ha.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Solemn Vow

If I ever have the chance (privilege I guess?) of procreating with the Jamonster, I solemnly swear I will not

1. post on Facebook every day about being knocked up - this includes daily updates about morning sickness, what the baby 'wants' to eat, what I want to eat but can't, getting kicked, getting fat, maternity clothes, and any gruesome birth details.

2. be creepy about it - e.g. posting ultrasound pics on Facebook with the babies bits pointed out with "it's a girl!" or "it's a boy" on there, be weird with people about birth, baptism, godparents, comparing pregnancies, etc.

3. leave myself out in the open for comments, whether critical or supportive.

This might be snarky, and it might be especially snarky coming from a non-parent, but the amount of pregnancy stuff I see from people is a bit shocking and totally annoying. I think it's absolutely wonderful when someone says they're expecting, whether via blog or email or facebook. I'm happy! But when it is EVERY.DAY. I guess there comes a time when I just need to block their newsfeed from my page....but I'm writing this down now so if someday I find myself in a pregnant state, I do not do the very things that used to annoy the heck out of me!

I also vowed with my sister never to drive a minivan. I'm really going to try my best to avoid the van. No offense to van drivers out there, because honestly, as much as I personally dislike minivans, you're still waaaaay better than those mega SUV's.

OK, rant over.

PS I am watching the oddest movie on Netflix streaming, "City of Joy" with Patrick Swayze, which was highly rated. Very odd, very odd.

PPS I just checked my wallet and I don't have enough cashola to get my car out of the T garage. BOOO

PPPS I am making dinner for me and my sister tonight and I'm excited. The end.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


It's been almost a month of procrastination and sloth.

I've decided that I'm back.

I'm in the mood to get.stuff.done!

I'm in the mood to finish up my wedding blog (yeah, I know we already got married, but the blog still gets traffic from brides-to-be looking for ideas, so I'm committed to finishing it up and putting all my DIY stuff on there).

I'm in the mood to CLEAN. Major pantry revision coming this weekend, stay tuned.

I'm in the mood to CRAFT..kinda...sorta...ok I'm still getting there.

I'm in the mood to HELP! It's time to clean out the old storage unit and get work clothes to a women's back to work program, time to dry clean those bridesmaid dresses to donate to local prom dress charity, it's time to donate things to a local special needs school that runs a thrift shop, it's time to knit squares to make blankets for women in Uganda, it's time to put together hygiene kits for church...and I still wait for the call to help the people of Japan in ways other than donating money (though donating money is a good way to help! Here is a link. I'd add to that list Church World Services - members of my church have been on mission trips and seen their work in action. This is the group that collects our hygiene kits!). Ready to help.

Oh, and I'm ready to garden. Yeah. But I need to wait on that a bit - a few more weeks.

I think that despite my sheer exhaustion from our "spring ahead" daylight savings adventure, the additional daylight has done me good (and if you know me at all, I hesitate to ever call myself exhausted, it's not a term I use lightly....but I use it here because it's been years since I've fallen asleep at work, and this week, it happened!). I also decide to start taking control of the crap in my life, like fitness, and money, you know, the unfun junk that I like to avoid. I also got a haircut. My head feels lighter. ha.

So yeah. Yay for gettin' my groove back. It had to happen.