Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why We Don't Celebrate Halloween

In the never ending myriad of mommy war topics, this is one that I get tired of explaining. So I'm doing it here, once and for all.

Why don't we celebrate Halloween?

I don't know.

Honestly, I can't explain in words what it is that makes me not want to participate. But there is just something that we cannot get past.

I don't really see anything wrong with Halloween. Dressing up is fun. Candy is fun. Free candy is REALLY fun. But...there's just something about it that doesn't sit right with me.

So does this mean that we don't do anything in October? Not true! This year, October has been SUPER crazy busy for us! We got to meet firefighters and climb in a firetruck. We went to a fall festival at my mom's school. We went apple picking with my sister and brother-in-law. We went to Maker Faire. Our church held a Harvest Party last week that we went to. We have even carved pumpkins. Two in fact.

I have never gone trick or treating. Travis went every year. Before we had kids, we would go to Halloween parties, and hand out candy to the kids. But something changed when we had kids, and now, we don't celebrate anymore.We talked, and prayed, and talked, and prayed, and prayed some more about how to handle this holiday. And we decided that its just not for us.

We still let Penelope dress up, but this isn't a far cry from every day - she LOVES to dress up.

I have noticed one thing this year. It seems to me (and it could just be me) that the decorations and costumes have gotten a lot more scary. There seems to be a lot more ghouls, ghosts, and skulls than in past years. When you have a child who is very sensitive to this sort of thing (she was afraid of Tinkbell being chased by a cat in The Great Fairy Rescue), you tend to avoid them. Our neighbors throw a block party on Halloween. We went last year and had a great time. This year, however, we probably won't be going because they have put up a HUGE floating skull ghoul that I'm sure would scare Penelope. It's unfortunate because we really did have a good time last year, but the last thing I need is a 3 year old waking up screaming because she had a bad dream.

So why don't we celebrate? Is it because of the pagan history? Is it because of the weird spiritual aspects that always seem to come up? Is it because, in some weird way, I want to continue my non trick or treating streak? Is it because we don't want our kids to have tons of candy? Is it because of the fear factor?

Maybe. It could be any of these, or something else. It could be a little of each one. Like I said, I can't really explain why we don't. It's just the decision we made for our family.

So if you wanna go trick or treating, you won't get any judgement from us. We get its a personal preference, and I'm not trying to convert anyone. Just be safe and have a GREAT time!!!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Adventures in Cake-ing

I recently did a wedding cake for a good friend. She picked a 2 tier square chocolate cake with strawberry filing and cream cheese icing. She didn't want anything super elaborate for decorations. Just a simple pink paisley pattern in a couple of places to stand out against the white. This is probably one of the most simple cake designs I've done, and yet, its given me such problems!

1. I tried to make a practice cake a few weeks ago that failed miserably. For whatever reason, the cake dried out super crazy fast and tasted awful. I was in the middle of bridal shower planning, so its very possible that that had a lot to do with it.

2. The paisley pattern she wanted came from a cake stencil pack I got at Michael's. We decided to try this spray on edible coloring. Wilton calls it "Color Mist", Duff Goldman calls it "Cake Graffiti." Either way, its essentially edible spray paint that one uses to color a cake, or in our case, stencil on a couple of paisleys. Lemme tell ya something. These things are not for detail work. If you're going to color an entire cake, or cupcakes, it works fantastically. If you're trying to do something more detailed, these will not work (or maybe I just need more practice.) Plus, the stuff gets EVERYWHERE! My fingers were pink by the end of it. It was really tough to get a precise, clean pattern without pink everywhere else, no matter how hard I tried.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about

Oh yeah. That's pink

3. After realizing that the colored spray wasn't going to work the way we anticipated, I spoke with my bride and I decided to buy some gum paste, and cut the paisley pattern out of that instead. I would then use the pink spray to color the gum paste pieces so it wouldn't go to waste. This came out so much nicer than I anticipated and I was really happy with the results. After spraying them and letting them dry, I took some silver petal dust and lightly brushed them to make them a little sparkly. It ended up looking really nice. I also piped on the dots instead of trying to cut them out of the gum paste.

4. I went to Joann's to pick up some gum paste. When I got home, I started working on the next cake to go in the oven. I had checked the fridge earlier to ensure I had enough eggs to make the cake BEFORE I left for Joann's. Yeah, well, it turns out, I didn't. There was 2 dozen eggs in my fridge. One had expired weeks ago, and the other were hard-boiled, which I didn't realize until I opened the carton and saw them dyed red (it's a Greek Easter tradition). So, after being home all of 20 minutes, Penelope and I got our shoes back on and we headed back out to Publix. I bought 18 eggs and an extra box of cake mix...and I am SO glad I did.

5. I finally get home and get this cake going...again...this time, with a fresh 1.5 dozen eggs. I put everything in the mixer, let it spin for a minute or so, and begin pouring it into the cake pan. That's when I noticed that the cake batter was awfully thick. I've worked with this batter before so I know what the consistency is supposed to be like. I thought maybe it was because I was doubling a recipe (2 boxes of mix instead of one) and it just came together weird. I also noticed it made less than it usually does. Again, assuming it was a weird discrepancy from doubling the mix, I popped it in the oven. 35 minutes was done. Now folks, this is a 10in square cake. The 6-INCH CAKES take 40 minutes to bake. I also noticed that it hadn't risen very well and seemed like it wasn't cooked all the way. I pulled it out of the oven, let it sit for 30 minute to cool, and then tried to pop it out of the pan...and it stuck...horribly. Now at this point, I'm really confused. My cakes NEVER stick. I used a knife to work around the edges of the cake and keep trying to pop it out. Finally, it comes out and is very dense, very crumbly, and just doesn't look right, not to mention a part of the bottom had remained in the pan. I let it sit for a few more minutes to cool, and hopefully harden up a little bit (it was still quite warm at this point), and finally realized that I'm not going to be able to use this cake and I'll have to make another one.

6. Again, I add my cake mix, oil, and water to my mixer. I'm about to add the eggs when I noticed something. Only 3 eggs of my 1.5 dozen are gone. Remember, I'm doubling the batch, so I need to add 6 eggs total, not 3. That's when I realized what happened with the other cake. I only used half the eggs, so there was half the fat and less liquid. That explains the consistency, the fact that it didn't rise properly, and the incredibly dense fall-apartyness of it. At this point in the day, I'd been at this so long that I did the only thing I could do - I laughed - uncontrollably. I could not believe that I had forgotten to add the extra eggs. Thankfully I had picked up 1.5 dozen eggs and an extra box of cake mix so I didn't have to go back out. After I composed myself, I got the last 2 cakes in the oven (double checking my egg count with each one).

7. I let the cakes sit overnight to fully cool. The next day, I started making my strawberry filing to go in between the layers. It's a great recipe that creates a nice gelled filing that is very true to the fruit flavor. I looked at my recipe and decided to triple the batch to make sure I had enough for all the layers (3 filing layers in each cake). I started the strawberries, water, sugar, and lemon juice (to brighten the flavor) and kept an eye on it while it boiled and the strawberries fell apart. I strained it, per the directions, and added the appropriate amount of cornstarch and water slurry and allow it to simmer for 5 minutes. Within a minute or two, I realized something was wrong. Usually at this point, the mixture has started to thicken and gel. This had not happened yet. Understanding that sometimes doubling or tripling a recipe means you have to add more cornstarch/water to get it to gel properly. I added 3 times the amount the recipe called for, and still nothing. At this point, I also noticed that there were bits of cornstarch in the gel - it was falling out of solution. I realized that I was going to have to start over. So Penny and I went to Publix, and got more strawberries and I made some more. I decided this time to make 3 single batches instead of one tripled batch. This worked MUCH better and I was finally able to get the cakes filled and crumb coated. Ironically, the crumb coat icing came out perfect and I was able to get it coated and hardening in the fridge pretty quick. I'm still not quite sure what happened with the filing. I'm just glad that I finally got the cakes crumb coated.

8. I decided to wait until Saturday morning to ice the cakes. I had a really long day on Friday and was worn out by the time I got back from the store. I let the cream cheese for the icing soften and get ready for the cake. I made the icing and for whatever reason, it was quite soft. I was super worried that it was going to melt on the way to the wedding. Thankfully, mom, Travis and I had figured out a way to transport it and keep it cool to ensure it made it to the site (it was a 90 min drive).

Thankfully, the cake survived with only minor touchups needed. I was able to put it together, decorate it, and get it in the fridge before the wedding started. I was really happy with the outcome, and my friend was as well.

Congratulations to Jeremy and Miranda!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Craft: My Year in Temperatures Scarf: March

We have made it to April, and I have stuck with it! We saw a little glimpse of spring in this month, but still lots of drab colors. Hopefully April will be more bright and happy!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Squirrels: Part 2

Since our last meeting, the squirrels were ahead 2 to 1. Travis had gotten a cotton ball soaked in stink bomb solution into the hole. While at first, it seemed like they didn't care, we didn't hear anything from them for awhile so we thought they had finally left. We still heard them on the roof and in the trees behind the house, but not in the chimney.

Travis: 2; Squirrels: 2

Then, shortly after Christmas, they returned. We had decided enough was enough. We called a couple of pest control companies to see what it would cost to have the hole patched. Unfortunately, all the places we called (3 or 4) told us that they would not come out just to patch the hole. In order for it to make it worth while for them, they were going to need to squirrel proof the entire house. We loved that idea, but we didn't love the cost - $1,500+ - which we didn't, and still don't have in cash.

Travis has been shooting blow gun darts around the hole all week in an attempt to deter them from going back into the hole. This has not been working. Today, he came up with another idea. He remembered we have a ton of bottle rockets leftover from a firework run we made a couple of years ago. He decided to rig a launch tube from the PVC pipe used previously and attempt to aim one into the hole to scare (or possibly kill) them, which at this point, either option is 100% fine by me.

To give you an idea, this is what the above looks like:

The first pack were duds, so he went down and got out a second package. After 2 misses (they're REALLY loud!), he decided it was better NOT to tick off the neighbors (especially since bottle rockets are illegal in Georgia). On the bottom of our chimney, there is an old pipe that we are not quite sure of its purpose. It looks like an old dryer vent outlet, but why would that be attached to our chimney? If we stick something up into the pipe, we reach a block of some sort so it doesn't appear to go all the way to the top of the chimney. Travis decided to try one more thing. He stuck the bottle-rocket-loaded-PVC pipe into THAT pipe in an attempt to scare them off. We have no idea if this has worked or not. All I know is our house now smells like fireworks, and I'm getting a headache. I was also praying he wouldn't burn the house down or blow a hole into our chimney :-)

About halfway through this experiment, I remembered that there is a guy we go to church with who is super handy. An email has been sent to him and we're waiting to hear back. Stay tuned!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Craft: My Year in Temperatures Scarf: February

2 months in and I'm sticking with it! I'm also loving the reverse stockinette more than I thought I was going to. I'm excited to move on to March, and I'm excited to get more bright colors in there! These drab ones are getting old! :-)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cooking Experiment: Nomato Sauce, Ketchup, BBQ Sauce, and Sloppy Joes

Tomatoes, potatoes, and bell peppers are probably my three most favorite vegetables. Most of my recipes consist of one of these three ingredients and we probably have at least one of the three every day. They are all a type of vegetable called nightshades. It turns out, nightshades have a particular alkaloid in them that can cause allergic reactions in some individuals. I've never had a problem with them, so I've never thought twice about nightshade allergies.

Then, I suddenly had to think about it. My almost-sister found out she's allergic to nightshades. So besides tomatoes, potatoes and bell peppers, she also has to avoid chili peppers of all kinds, chili powder, cayenne powder, curry, and paprika, and a slew of other items. Suddenly, I had to rethink a lot of my recipes whenever she came over to make sure I didn't expose her to any of these things. Which is a bummer because these are some of my favorite veggies and spices.

She told me about a pasta sauce that had been created called Nomato Sauce. It's a pasta sauce made with no tomatoes, as the name implies. It actually contains no nightshades at all. But at $6.00 for 16oz, its a bit pricey. I decided to do some digging and I found a recipe for the sauce that has all the same ingredients in it as the jarred stuff, minus a preservative. After some research, I also found recipes for nomato ketchup, and nomato BBQ sauce. I told my sister, and she was immediately intrigued, as was I. I decided to give it a go

Nomato Sauce:
A combination of carrots, beets, onions, and spices all pureed up to a smooth sauce. I gotta admit, I was skeptical. I am a lover of tomatoes and figured it was going to be difficult to mimic the flavor. But, I like beets and I like carrots, so I tried to stay open minded.

Nomato Sauce
I was surprised at the consistency and color of this sauce. It's texture is almost like crushed tomatoes, and the color is a vibrant red because of the beets. I was also surprised by the taste! It actually tastes like tomato sauce! You can tell its not QUITE the same, but its close enough that I doubt few people would notice. It fooled my 2 year old! The carrots keep it sweet, while the lemon juice gives a bit of tang, and it finishes with a slight beet flavor. I was really surprised by this and I look forward to letting my sister try it! It only took me about 30 minutes to make, which isn't bad considering a good tomato sauce can simmer for an hour or more.

Nomato Ketchup:
This recipe caught me by surprise. Jellied cranberry sauce? Halved pears? Corn syrup? This is gonna be one super sweet ketchup!! I added everything to the blender and then took a whiff before blending. It smelled like ketchup!
Nomato Ketchup
This one, too, was a surprise. It actually tasted like ketchup! It's hard to believe that there was all that fruit and no tomatoes. The flavor was a bit strong, and I think it may have to do with the fact that I was a short a little on the cranberry sauce, pears, and carrots. My cans were 14.5oz and the recipe called for 16oz. This one will have to be played around with a little bit to get the spice levels right, but its definitely tasty and would be a great substitute for ketchup! And it was SO easy! Just put everything into a blender and puree! It has a great smooth texture that's just like ketchup

Nomato BBQ Sauce:
Since the ketchup recipe made SO MUCH (read 4 cups!), I found this derivative of the ketchup to make BBQ sauce. I love BBQ sauce and I love the flavor of meatballs simmering in BBQ sauce. The first time I made this, I just tossed everything in the blender and mixed it all up. I found the soy sauce to be quite overwhelming to the point where I would want to halve it at least. After looking at it again, I realized that you're actually supposed to cook this one for 10 minutes, which will allow the flavors to blend together, the brown sugar to melt, and lessen the sharpness of the soy sauce.

Nomato BBQ Sauce - 1st batch

The second batch was much better. It was still very flavorful and you could definitely taste the soy sauce, but the brown sugar melted into the sauce and counteracted the tartness of the soy sauce. It was also a much darker color. I could definitely imagine having this on ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, or chicken. Travis said the flavor was a bit strong for him, but he's not a huge BBQ fan.
Nomato BBQ sauce - 2nd batch. Look at the color difference!

Nightshade Free Sloppy Joes
So, now that I had all this sauce, what in the world was I going to do with it all? I remembered that my sister told me that she really missed sloppy joes. So, I decided that I was going to try to make nightshade free sloppy joes using the sauces that I had made today. This sloppy joe recipe is one of our favorites, and the meal in general has a very distinctive flavor. I wasn't sure how well it was going to turn out since I wouldn't be able to add any chili powder, and the only substitutes I could find were all nightshades.

I followed the recipe using the nomato sauce instead of the crushed tomatoes, nomato ketchup instead of regular ketchup, and leaving out the bell peppers and chili powder. I ended up having to add 1 1/4 cups of water as the sauce simmered, and I think it toned down the flavor a bit. Next time, I will probably try vegetable broth or chicken broth to help maintain the flavor.

All in all, though, it was really tasty. While it wasn't an exact flavor match, it was pretty darn close, and using broth instead of water may help to keep the flavors strong. It definitely didn't taste bad, and my family (including the 2 year old!), ate more than half of what I made.

The overall verdict:
Nomato Sauce:
Easy to make, beautiful color, quite tasty. This one gets a solid 4 stitches

Nomato Ketchup:
Great texture, slightly strong flavor. Tastes really good as part of a recipe. This one also gets 4 stitches

Nomato BBQ Sauce:
Strong soy sauce flavor, but much better after simmered. Definitely tastes like BBQ sauce. This one gets 3 stars.

Nightshade Free Sloppy Joes:
Even though the flavor wasn't an exact match, it was still very tasty and still sloppy. If I could find a good substitute for chili powder, this would be very awesome. 4 stitches!

My Almost-Sister's Reaction:
She loved it all, and was so happy and grateful that I was able to find these recipes! She told me that sometimes she'll beg her fiance to make her spaghetti or pizza with tomatoes because she misses the flavor so much - and like a good fiance, he refuses. Now, he doesn't have to! I sent the rest of the sloppy joes home with her so he could try them, and while he doesn't care for sloppy joes, he said he they weren't bad and he was thrilled that they now had a way to incorporate some tomato based recipes into circulation for her sake.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Craft: My Year in Temperatures Scarf: January

I've made it a month! I've kept up with my scarf for an entire month! Woot!! I'm actually quite proud of myself because of that. I'm thrilled with how its looking, but I tell ya, Georgia has some WEIRD weather! I've had to purchase an additional 5 colors of yarn because temps got over 70 degrees a few weeks ago, but then dropped below 40 last week. It's definitely making things interesting!

So here's the current color list:
T(F)                Color

75-79 Caron Simply Soft Watermelon
70-74 Caron Simply Soft Grape
65-69 Bernat Satin Foliage
60-64 Caron Simply Soft Blue Mint
55-59 Caron Simply Soft Autumn Red
50-54 Caron Simply Soft Passion
45-49 Caron Simply Soft Dark Sage
40-44 Caron Simply Soft Dark Country Blue
35-39 Caron Simply Soft Grey Heather

Pretty much the 60-80 degree range is the same sort of colors from blue to red, but they're brighter. Blue Mint is a nice bright blue. Foliage is a great green. Grape is a bright purple, and Watermelon is a bright pink.

I've also decided to do 5 row of white between each month. I want the stripes to look deliberate and not just another color variation. There was at least once in January where the temps stayed in the same range for 3 days so it just looks like a large stripe. I decided 5 would give a better break. Anyway, here's the January update!

January 2013
Stay tuned for more! Temperatures can start to warm up in Georgia as early as February! This gonna get super interesting! :-D

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Craft: My Year in Temperatures Scarf

Now that I've got my first sweater under my belt, I've decided that I'm actually enjoying knitting - not as much as stitching - but still enjoying it. I found another sweater pattern for myself (and one for Travis, and my brother, and and and...) that I'm planning on starting on Monday during our weekly KAL. While perusing Ravelry yesterday (I've been told NOT to do that!), I stumbled upon this.

Ravelry: My Year in Temperatures Scarf

Now, I totally understand that I do NOT need any more projects! (1 current stitching WIP, 2 commissioned pieces I'm about to start, and 2 others sitting on the back burner) But I just couldn't resist this! It's something that you have to start soon after the new year or you get horribly behind. And its only knitting one row per day, which won't take very long at all. And if I get behind (ya know, because of the birth of a baby, or something), it won't be hard to catch up!

So, here's how it works. Each day, you knit one row that corresponds to the high temperature of that day. I'm actually going to be doing it a day behind, because I want to knit the ACTUAL temperature of the day before, not the predicted. The creator also suggests using 5 white rows at the beginning and end of the sweater, and 2-3 rows in between each month. Since I don't really have a lot of scrap yarn because I'm new at this, I got to go buy yarn and create my own masterpiece! I'm so excited!

So, for now, here are my temperature ranges and colors:

Temp (F)
55-59 Caron Simply Soft Autumn Red
50-54 Caron Simply Soft Passion
45-49 Caron Simply Soft Dark Sage
40-44 Caron Simply Soft Dark Country Blue

I've decided to divide my temperature ranges into 5 degree intervals, and use different shades of blue, green, purple, and red. Since it doesn't get much colder than 40 during the day here in Atlanta, I decided to stop there for now. If it does ever dip lower, I'll figure something out :-)

I started on this last night, and am already loving it! After talking to Travis, and doing my 5 rows to start, I realized I wanted a bigger front and end block on the sweater. So instead of 5 rows of white, I did 20. It gives me a nice block of white at the beginning, and I think I'll do 3-5 rows of white in between each month. I'll figure that out when I get to the end of January. I hope to post monthly progress pictures so you can watch this thing progress!