Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Peach Dandy

The other day while talking with friends in my favorite giant time-suck, World of Warcraft, we started naming off what we were drinking/what we would like to drink/the craziest drink they'd ever had/heard of/watched commit a crime...
...basically a giant conversation about alcohol. I don't remember how it started, I don't remember how it ended. And I don't even remember how we got to this point, but it was determined that a Peach Dandy would make a ~lovely~ name for a cocktail, and that if it did not exist, it should.
I googled it. It does not, in fact exist. So I went about making sure that it would, since I loved the idea of holding up a glass, grinning and saying "Sippin' on my Peach Dandy here!" Believe it or not, these sort of random notions actually form most of my existence. I decide something should exist, usually ridiculous in nature, and then work to make it so.
So I set about thinking what might really make a Peach dandy work. And of course, somehow there had to be peaches in it in some fashion because it's in the name and I didn't want to be accused of false advertising. But frozen fruit? Puree? Juice from the fruit itself? Peach liquor?? These were the things deviling my mind. And then, because a cocktail is mixed usually I decided to throw something else in. And I was lame about it and decided it should be brandy for the singularly stupid reason that it, yes, rhymed with "dandy".
After some more thought and the arrival of my latest addiction, a batch of Monin syrups (no high fructose corn syrup for the win!!) I realized that I could create something that wouldn't be disgustingly sweet, would taste like peaches, and would probably be something nobody had concocted before. So last night I set about crafting Round One of the Peach Dandy Experiment.

It was started with 1 oz. of Monin raspberry syrup (I got it in my head that raspberry and peach made awesome desserts, so they would go nicely here), 1 oz. of the 99 Peaches peach schnapps, a bunch of ice, and enough sparkling club soda to fill the glass. Upon sipping it I discovered this was actually a reeeally good concoction, but because it was in a bigger glass I lost the taste of raspberry and nearly the taste of peaches.
Cut to tonight when the husband officially requests I make him this drink I have been thinking about for a week, and I spring in to action. This is the official recipe for making your own Peach Dandy:

~1 oz. raspberry syrup
~1 oz. peach schnapps
~1/2 oz. brandy
~ice to fill bottom third of glass
~3 oz. club soda (NO QUININE OR SALT!) or enough to fill to top of glass

Stir with a spoon to mix together, sip liberally. If you make this up in a highball glass, double everything in the recipe. It will be slightly sweet, with a definite flavor of peaches, a more subtle flavor of raspberry, and a slight touch of depth from the brandy. If you're feeling creative, go ahead and put a full ounce in, but it might overpower everything else, so I only did enough to compliment.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Further Adventures in Buddhist FAIL

It is time to talk about the real world and real-time application of skills that we think we might've learned well...and discovering that we have not.

First off, yours truly grabbed a job! I know! After 12 months and only 3.5 weeks of playing The Game, I managed to snag a job as a call center monkey! It makes money, we'll be able to afford things again and save money for once, and it gets me off unemployment.
However, I would be lying if I didn't say I hated the idea of going back to a job as a phone monkey. I know we should be grateful and whatnot, but I was already on serious burnout when I was laid off from my last job and this one will be twice the stress of that. I need a surefire plan to get me out of this place and in to my new chosen profession as a programmer.

This aside, however, you needed to know that to understand why I was in training with 3 other strangers.

So yeah, I was in training with 3 other strangers.
It is my most recent understanding that the best policy is to shut up and listen, and this has served me VERY well each time it has been instituted. You learn about people, and if you aren't thinking about what you're going to say or a similar story then you start to get that deeper hearing that sneaks in and tells you what they're not saying, what the odd inflection means, and most of all, when words seem put together oddly that don't really say what they were trying to say. You start to understand what's going on.
I really do like two of the people that I'm with, and so far just about everybody has been really nice to chat with. I think it'll be a good group of people to work with, even if I don't plan to stay there forever (or possibly even more than a year)
But, bless his soul, there is this one gentleman...
He is above all things very eager to help. There are many theories on this that have flopped through my head, such as - he's older and wants to prove he is useful and knowledgable, or that he's simply of the opinion that he's been around and knows answers to just about everything. He tells stories, he laughs, but about halfway through the second day there was something about him starting to get on my nerves.
I finally pinpointed it when he kept insisting that our soon-to-be manager was watching us constantly, and that she was out to nab us for the slightest infraction; he was afraid. I think all of us were, as we'd had some half-truths plied on us by the contracting group that had gotten us in the door with them.
At one point he was talking about how he was certain (he is ALWAYS certain, he knows these things in his bones apparently) that we were going to tracked and recorded and yelled at at every turn. Oh, not to worry! I told him, happy to try and assuage the fear I was sensing, I had it in writing that there were no call metrics! He could relax about that.
And he looked at me, and raised his metaphysical thumb, jammed it on that metaphysical button that I had and said "You don't know what you're talking about, they're going to record us, otherwise why would they bother to keep statistics?"
Well, there are a TON of reasons to keep statistics, the least of which is to know how many more people you need to hire in order to lower call times. But I realized it would take too long to explain it, so I said simply that it was a condition of my employment that I be told exaclty what the metrics were, and I was told there were no metrics.
I was then informed that I was lied to, and the button got jammed in further.
At this point I decided I hated this indvidual, who had very little positive to say and did nothing but speak out of his fear. I could see it infecting the others, as well, which was what was really starting to get to me. I had answers. I could calm them down with some of the answers I had. But this man would not let me because it went against his need to live in the middle of his fear.
I came home, spewed my vitriol about this man and how he'd been nothing but negative, taken up the time complaining about his scheduling and voicing his fears, how he'd questioned my competence and wouldn't listen to me... and my husband curled up in a corner and said let's order pizza, it's been a bad day and I can't think.
We had pizza, and I did my best not to spew more vitriol on him. But we ended that day both afraid that this job would be a bad one, because the man (who I came to call Ex-Military) had gotten to me, and had made me realize how many holes there were in the information we were given, how much our stories didn't jive. I went to bed with my stomach roiling, whispering to myself "tomorrow will be better... tomorrow will be better... tomorrow will answer more questions".
I did a breathing exercise on the way to work in the car, trying ot ignore the fact that traffic was going to make me later than the 15 minutes early I desired to be. The GPS conspired against me to take me down a one way street with a turn that didn't let me pull in to work as I desired. I was a wreck when I got in the door... top that off with setting off the door alarm as I walked in to the call center area, and my morning seemed shot. I had to listen to ex-military spout his stuff about how we would all be busted, how everybody was on the ball and seemed worried about not doing well (um... possibly a side affect of wanting to be good at your job? Nope, not here apparently.)
This day went MUCH better, as we got to talk with more people and my sphere of understanding expanded as I'd hoped it would. I opted not to eat lunch with the group as I'd busted my feet up marching around in high heels the day before and I had welts on the balls of my feet from it. Also, I needed a break from Ex-military, as I couldn't take his know-it-all negativity while I was trying to enjoy my food. Instead, I sat in the atrium and had lunch, talked iwth several coworkers who were outside the call center, and was complimented on my Hello Kitty bento box. I got a very good feeling about all of this and began to think that this could be a good place to work long term.
I want it to be known that during this time I tried, I REALLY tried, to generate compassion and loving-kindness for this guy. He was obviously worried, felt he needed to prove something, and was only hearing his fears in what was being said around him. If there was a case for compassion, this man was the poster child.
I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. I wanted to smile and understand and not let it get to me, and perhaps the fact that I have decided there was a way my compassion should manifest itself doomed it to come out the way it would be expressed by me.
At one point I knocked my tea over on to my notebook then snagged it. Ex-military made a big deal about the fact that it had happened, sighing and getting up saying "You're going to need a paper towel, here, I'll go get it..."
And I snapped. I snapped that he was taking his angst and making such a simple accident in to a big thing, within which he was martyring himself in some fashion. I snapped. I looked up at him, informed him he needed to sit down immediately, and then I pulled out tissues. When the rest of the people (including both instructors) voiced surprise I tried to play it off with a smile and a simple mumbling that I didn't want to take a bunch of time away from training. But they knew, they saw, and I imagine it stuck with them.
This was not the right way to handle it, and I was upset at myself for barking in the middle of training like that. It wasn't representative of who I really was, and it certainly didn't do anything to change the dynamic between this gentleman's negativity and my irritation. It didn't even relieve it, and the logical part of my brain immediately calculated using Fuzzy Math that it was an unnecessary expenditure of emotion and energy with pretty much no return.
At this point I was feeling much better and let my husband know, who perked up immediately now that he knew his lovely wife would not be in a living hell (self-inflicted or otherwise) for the purpose of paying the bills. I explained I was still having trouble with the same individual, and that in addition to his usual shenanigans, he had actually stopped our training dead for an entire half hour demanding to get clarification on his part time schedule. More fear, yes, but also a survival-esque self preservation selfishness rang from this act, and I think perhaps in this case I would not be the only one that wanted to exit it. My loving husband hugged me and said it sounded like it sucked, and we talked about how scared he must be, then we moved on to talking about training and interesting things to come.
I tried once more and finally to generate compassion for this individual that drove me nuts to listen to, and something miraculous happened while I was parking my car in the building's garage and heading in on Friday morning. I realized... I had it. I had compassion for the guy. I could hear in his voice and his words why he was doing what he was doing. I had the deeper hearing, and knew perfectly well that everything he said came out of a desire to NOT be afraid, but being unable to escape it. I also knew that there was nothing I could say or do that would change that state. He was the only one who could do that, and I was powerless. I could have this compassion for him... and I did not have to put up with it, either! A favorite phrase of mine is empathize but do not condone... that is to say, understand it, but you don't have to agree with it. It was okay that I wasn't smiley happy peaceful with this guy. I didn't have to be. I just had ot understand, and i had to understand that I had no control, and to just give it up. Let go.
He was the first person I met in the morning, and with this understanding tucked under my arm with my lunch bag, I smiled and watched and listened. I realized how miserable it must be to be that worried constantly. I realized he was probably trying to make conversation, and possibly thought that we would all have an empathic meeting of minds over fears about being disciplined at work. At one point I watched him literally shut his mouth and refuse to talk when our manager's manager came in to the room. He was midway through a story and we were waiting for our instructor to show up. There was no reason at all to be afraid of chatting, as we weren't expected to be doing anything. But he wouldn't talk until she left. I was surprised by this level of fear. And at that time I also realized that he had a fully formed world around him that I could not penetrate - things were a very specific way, a way that he had seen and understood or dreamt horrible things about. And at that point I stopped talking to him unless directly engaged, as I was simply a puppet in this setup and there was no need to really do anything but what he expected. Anything else would simply confuse him, and he would forget it immediately if it didn't fit in.
The final straw came at lunch. I had taken great pains to pack a lunch in one of my beloved bento boxes. I took great pride in today's preparation, as it was particularly cute and entirely pink. Thinking that some might think the Hello Kitty top was a bit childish, I covered it with a napkin, and proceeded to eat.
As this meal was taken with my fellow trainees, they joined me a bit in to it. A few minutes later and Ex-military asked, with a voice obviously full of an upturned nose, what the "purple things" were. Crackers, I advised. Then my other fellow trainee asked about the entire thing, so I happily explained to him about Bento boxes in Japan and how lunches are put together, and how it wasn't ~quite~ complete but it was Friday and I'd decided I wanted an all pink lunch box. My other fellow trainee smiled and nodded and seemed interested in the notion.
The moment I finished, however, since it wasn't familiar to him and because the table didn't seem to agree with him, he promptly began tearing apart the contents, saying that the "brown stuff" looked gross, and that the whole thing didn't make sense, but I was free to do whatever floated my boat.
Thank you, I do, I informed him. Also, the brown stuff was hummus, which I'd made myself, and it was actually a really wonderful lunch and I was enjoying it. I smiled at him. Smiled him down, in fact, and he dropped his head and began to eat, silenced.
I couldn't help it. You can make fun of a few things about me, but for the love of god don't tell me I'm stupid or make fun of something I've created. I will destroy you. It's a serious and major character flaw. And since he had stuck his thumb on the button for mocking something I had created, I chewed him up and spit him out.
While still seething a bit over being told my lunch looked stupid, the last of the trainees sat down, told me it was really cute, and that she really needed to start packing her lunches like that. We got to talking about the logistics of getting stuff together, and about how it was cheapre and healthier. Ex-military just ate quietly and watched the back and forth, his control over- and distribution of negativity in to- the situation completely unseated.
I told myself that it was the final day, that after that I would never have to see him again unless I found myself working the weekend at highly unusual hours. I lit out of there with a singular joy, happy that I would be free of someone so ruled by fear (it wouldn't bother me if I didn't recognize myself in it, yes, this I know...) but there was one parting shot. As we were leaving, Ex-military turned around to us and said that all he had heard from people was about being afraid of being busted. And that was it. The bitch in me could not let this go, because it was my Friday and the last thing I heard was not going to be negative shit from some delusional miserable person.
No, I said, I had not noticed that. And one of the other trainees nodded at me and said that had been their impression as well, that people were pretty mellow. He spoke up to argue again and I cut him down, stating that it was just regular chatter you hear at any workplace. He spoke one last time to argue and at that moment it occurred to me that I didn't have to actually listen to him at that point. So I piped up cheerfully that I hoped everybody had a really awesome weekend, that I was parked upstairs and I would see them all Monday. And then I high-tailed it out of there.
Fail. Fail, fail, fail.
Understanding of something and actual practice are two different things. I let this person get to me, and in retrospect I realized it was because I needed for them to be a certain way, I had an expectation that things would be a certain way and that what he did broke up those expectations. I don't know that I could calmly allow for negative Nancys in my day in the future far more easily, but at least I have a grasp on why this failed so heavily. It went beyond compassion right down to me and my mindset and my personal world view. So in this, perhaps he was delusional but I was certainly operating under my own unbreaking views. I was the one that could bend. I did not. I became miserable as a result. Cause and affect pretty much directly realized right thar.
I don't know if this is something I'll be clever enough to internalize for later, but I really hope I do. It got so bad it affected my sleep, my emotions and my physical health (by the end of the 3rd day the emotionally roiling stomach became a tumultous digestive tract) and no one should have that kind of power over me when I know better. It's moments like these where being utterly skooled liek a n00b becomes my M.O., and all the calmness I thought I had generated, all the things I was utterly sure I had perfected for dealing with the world, completely fall apart. I suppose these are good things to see, and to know that one is that vulnerable and delicate in the hands of others still.
I had a serious fail. It's embarassing. But the only way to deal with it is to acknowledge it, forgive myself, and move on. And perhas sit in loving-kindness meditation and try to send some out, especially to the poor guy who is so afraid that his interactions with the rest of the world are spoken entirely out of his fears right now.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Actual Conversation # 98 -wherein the synchronicity of dreams isn't really discussed

(Scene: We are on our way in to a restaurant to share dinner and somehow we have come around to the topic of being in each other's lives. Naturally, I take the non-macabre route, and...)

Me: You know, I used to have nightmares once a week where I was crying at your funeral *said with great fervor, hoping to impart to spouse their importance to my psyche to have such a horrible thing happen in recurring fashion*
Bob: That's so weird, because once a week I used to have dreams where I would hide inside a coffin and listen to you cry....

*husband crosses street without missing a beat*
*yours truly doubles over laughing and cannot walk for 30 seconds*

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In honor of Portal 2-liday... seems only fitting that the game most people are seriously buzzing about (and apparently staying home from work to download based on the slowness of my current dl via Steam) should have a celebration of its opening. To that end I invite you to find yourself a slice of lovely cake, kick your feet up, and enjoy the musical stylings of GlaDOS in what is probably the most famous song to come out of a video game EVAR.

My husband and I will be bashing our way through co-op as part of date night tonight. And yes, there WILL be cake.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sketchbook Project 2012

I have no idea how this came across my field of consciousness, but somehow I saw that they'd opened up registration for the Sketchbook Project for 2012. I had a LOT of fun last year, and would've had an absolute blast if A.) I'd had more time and B.) hadn't had to choose from what was left of the topics. As soon as I heard, I rushed to the website to put my claim in on a decent topic. Mine will be "along the line", and I'm going to do what probably just about everybody is going to do, which is draw a line from one page to the next and draw stories around it.
I'm looking forward to it because I will have a LOT more time to focus on this and there will be no last minute craziness............ okay, there will be. Some. But far less than last year! At least that's my intention.
I was surprised at how excited I got to see it again, especially after how tough it was to get it together the last time. But I guess I like the idea of having outside projects to work on. Gives me focus and impetus, which is lovely.
Forthcoming sketchinations shall be shared.

Week 16 - done already!

There was one tiny project left on Kickstarter to get funding, and it was to cut puzzles out of leftover 33 and 45 records. I thought it sounded fun, plus they were going to make raptors (I love dinosaurs) so how could I not help with this?
Funding went through this morning, and I am seriously happy about that.

I also took the time to donate some fundage while using paypal… that cute little “Do you want to donate a dollar to help X?” It had something to do with animals, so yes… yes I did.

And per usual, I ran around Orgrimmar and Dalaran dumping arcane intellect buffs on every player that could make use of it… and then once, just to be a dick, I put it on a rogue and told him he could read now. But he was being a jerk and deserved it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Origami paper love

This is what 40 cranes shoved in to an undersized envelope looks like! They're off to Paper Cranes for Japan!

For anyone else interested in at least following (as the deadline for getting these mailed out is today) you can see how it does here:

The website also has a lot of other projects going on such as one for schools in Haiti.

The Post Where We Do NOT Talk About Cooking

There has been an abnormally high number of posts about food on this blog lately, and I truly hate not being balanced in the coverage of topics. To that end, we're going to babble about something else entirely. At least at first. IT might segway in to food later, but it won't be the main thrust, I promise.
For some reason yours truly was very burnt out on knitting for a bit. The very thought of picking up needles made me cranky in the extreme. Given how many projects I have going currently, this is really odd. I normally love to knit or crochet. It's just that some of these projects are taking a while and are boring and repetitive. I needed a break to do something else, except that I was so burnt out that I couldn't even really handle the thought of yarn with anything else either.
Somehow in the midst of all of this I managed to finish a nalbinded hat for my husband, probably because it was already 95% done and I just wanted it OVER with.
Instead, I changed tack and decided to work on something else entirely, in this case it was paper. I have been trying to fold cranes for the Paper Cranes for Japan project, wherein 2 dollars is donated for every one origami crane they receive. There is a monstrous flock of 30-something origami cranes bouncing around the house right now. I was hoping to shoot for 50, but didn't realize the deadline was today. So I'll be rounding them up, dropping them in an envelope, and firing them off to the post office as fast as I can. At least I'll end up helping $60 worth or so. :)
I also set up an art trade with a gal I chat at over Twitter a lot, and right now I'm in the midst of making her a charm bracelet out of beads and paper, folding up some awesome zakka lucky stars, and working on a small watercolor painting. I'm also going to try to fold up an origami snail to send her way, since she lives in the Pacific Northwest and all they ever see are slugs. I figure the break might be nice.
There has also been A Massive Spring Cleanination of this place, and I must say that I am seriously loving getting all of our crap organized. We went through our books, our DVDs and our video games and culled things we would never play or never use again. 2 large boxes of DVDs, one box of games and three boxes of books later, and I feel like that moment in Poltergeist where Tangina sighs and proclaims "This house... is clean."
That is, if we ignore all the clutter in the newly deigned Craft Cubby in the hallway and the mounds of various PS2 and USB cables tumbling out of boxes in the computer closet in the office.... oh sweet baby Jesus I am not looking forward to going through that mess, but that's coming up next!
For our next trick there will be massive amounts of Donating Things going on, as I really really want to get this stuff out of my house, BUT ... I also really want other people to enjoy and have use of it as well. I found as I was going through my books that the idea of passing along manga for somebody else to enjoy put a huge grin on my face... so anything that I didn't just love and have an emotional attachment to went tumbling in to the pile.
As an aside, if anybody's looking for the first few volumes of Tokyo Mew Mew, Mail vols 1-3 or some of The Walking Dead, they will be at the Downingtown Public Library in the next week.
The DVDs are headed to Goodwill, where I'm hoping somebody really, really wants The Matrix: Reloaded, or Volumes 1 and 2 of Witchblade the Anime. There are some other ones in there that aren't quite so quirky, like Appleseed, Lucky Star and some Kung Fu movies. The videos are going to Gamestop, in the thought that perhaps not only would someone else like to play them, but we'll have enough to go get ice cream afterward.
All of this rearranging of things will be nice, because I HAVE A JOB! Out of the wide blue sky a recruiter called me and said they had a great opportunity... and they DID. I'm headed to a place with no call requirements and no time limits, and this'll be a super awesome change from previously. We just practice our mantra of "We are not what we do". I will not be a tech support phone monkey. I am a programmer and an artist who works as one.
The important thing about these two events, however, is that because of the job, we can now seriously start pondering buying a house again! And if we clear a bunch of junk out, then there's that much less that we have to move when the time comes. It is totally a win-win. :)
In the midst of all of this I am having a tea party, where I will be having a large group of people over in my house to talk about just about everything and, of course, to drink tea. Such things make me incredibly nervous as I am out of practice when it comes to entertaining. My house is like my cuddly, warm den where I create things and try new stuff out, and its where I retreat to when the world starts putting the hurt on my brain. I don't invite people over too much because it doesn't even occur to me to do it half the time. I'm hoping this will at least be fun for everybody, as well as letting me flex my creative mojo.
Speaking of flexing creative mojo, one last thing. Because I got hired, and I got hired so quickly on the heals of creating The Game (which we already detailed elsewhere) after 11 months of no action to speak of, I decided to send an email to the lovely Ms. Jane McGonigal, of whom I have already had fangirl ravings previously in this blog as well. I just explained when we saw her, how her words inspired me, and the logistics of the game itself. Then I thanked her for helping me to shift my mindset and turn an otherwise odious and depressing task in to something fun. I figured people like to know that their work is having an impact, so even if I never got a response at least she would know that her ideas had worked.
What I was NOT expecting was to receive a reply later that evening telling me that she thought my story was quite inspirational and asking me to introduce myself the next time we might find ourselves at the same event so she could meet me in person. Wow. How cool was that?
This was followed by an email a few minutes later from her asking me to post the details of The Game on to her "super secret HQ", Gameful, as there was a competition going on to make a game out of something incredibly boring and she thought mine had a very good shot. So I did! And wow, already I've been friended by a few folks already on the site and gotten to take a more serious look around than the first time I visited it. Seeing as my goal right now is just to get in on some creative collaborations (because let's face it, people are awesome and come up with awesome ideas, but GROUPS of people just raise the bar up and beyond when it comes to creating stuff.) this seemed like a nice place to dip my toes in the water. Who knows what might come of it?
I'm sitting in the midst of a nice, creative warm happy and I really like it. The house is getting cleaned up, we're tossing out old junk, and consolidating the current junk we have. There's a sense of movement to this place now that we didn't have even this morning before we started. Besides stirring up a lot of dust, it's also done a lot for our motivation to get organized, get rid of excess, and stay focused on what we truly want.
And tonight I will be baking Madeleines and matcha tea and lime cake. There. Almost a whole entry that did not talk about cooking.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Week 15

Still folding paper cranes for the student project to donate money to Japan, I was hoping to fold 50 before I dropped it in the mail. We’re sitting somewhere around 30 right now, might cut it short and just mail out what I’ve got right now.

A really, really cool project went through on Kickstarter, one to help create artificial coral reefs using metal sculptures as the base. I’m so psyched that it’ll work! In my younger days I thought I might like to be a marine biologist, but my love of the ocean and its critters never left. You can read about the whoooole thing here:
It’s fascinating and really, really cool! I’m glad she’ll get a chance to do what she wants and help out the ocean folk as well.

This week actually turned out to be pretty cool. :)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Adventures in Red #40 and Yellow #5

We bake a lot in this household, although we try really hard not too. That being mostly due to the fact that yours truly knows nothing of everyday bread baking such as rolls and, well, bread, and everything about cakes, cupcakes, brownies, tarts.... the sweet stuff.
So usually when the urge to bake arises it is shoved roughly to the side because it will eventually result in me putting on weight. This is an established pattern. It is known.
Well, I realized the ultimate way around this was to figure out something utterly irresistable and delcious to make and then give it away to other people. Brilliant! The urge gets satisfied, and people start to think that you're a pretty cool person because you just randomly bring cookies to work.
Well, I got it in my head that since my birthday was coming up, that everybody who I remotely know and comes in contact with me should have to suffer the merriment of the day with me. This means something fairly damned epic needed to occur, but only because (true story) I figured I'd be dead by this year. Don't ask. I lived a rather crazy life.
I promptly declared publicly that I was going to bake up "Rainbow Unicorn Cupcakes" complete with glitter and all that jazz. This, before I even knew if such a thing was possible or that I was even remotely equipped to pull it off.
So into this landscape comes THIS PICTURE (which I stumbled across on deviantArt):

I mean the name of it is ~literally~ Unicorn Cupcakes, after all...
Upon seeing it I realized that these lovely things were what I was making for my Birthday of Enforced Merriment. Couple that with other images I found after doing a search (you would be floored at how many people have done this technique) and I finally stumbled across a tutorial talking about how they went about making these things.
When I realized it was nothing more than sectioning out the batter and putting fish-growth stunting amounts of food coloring in there, I realized I absolutely had to give these things a go.
I didn't bother with the gel dye because I had little bottles of cheapie liquid dye hanging around already, and I wanted to give them a shot. One box of white cake mix and half an hour of arduous dye mixing and resampling later, and I ended up with batter that was a deep enough hue that I was okay with it. Sloppy spooning and uneven portion sizing later and I had some strange looking mounds of wet batter in really flimsy paper cups that didn't really hold them too well.
They smelled utterly DIVINE while baking, and I had to set a timer and go sit on my hands to not pull them out too early and start icing them just to get them done! My whole house smelled of awesome cakey goodness, and knowing that there were technicolor treats on the other side of that smell made it that much more awesome.
Finally cooled, I took some cream cheese frosting (already in a jar, just regular vanilla whipped in a jar) and added just barely enough food coloring to give it a lovely lavender color. That, some purple sprinkles, some irridescent edible glitter and silver star edible glitter later, and this was produced:

If you look close enough, you can see the silver stars on top. Unfortunately you don't really get a clear shot of the blue layer because the frosting is covering it and I had portioning issues toward the end. It tasted no less awesome, though!
Usually I don't bother to do a "test run" on things I decide to cook, but something told me this time if I didn't, I would be seriously sorry. And I'll be darned, but my intuition was right! There was a lot of chaos going in to this.
For next time -
1. Each color gets its own spoon. Screw not wanting to create more to wash, just using one fork and one spoon led to a total logistics nightmare.
2. Each color gets a much bigger bowl and a more precise portion measurement than "Um, that's 3 heaping spoonfuls slopped in there now". This will regulate color so we're not left with another entire cupcake's worth of red batter, but no other colors. :/
3. Better cups for these things! I got the Wilson paper cups and they are cheapo pieces of CRAP. They folded and buckled and put giant gouges in to my cupcakes because they wouldn't sit nice and flat in the cup (and yes, they were the correct size) so I'm going to go find something else... maybe some silver foil cups to compliment the silver stars. Something stronger, in the very least.
4. Seeing how long the stars last and how a few go a long way, I'm going to ease up on being a grinch with them and put a few more on each cupcake. They come in a very teeny tiny vial, and unless I knock them on the ground in a moment of pure flailingness, they'll last a long time.
These were a LOT of fun, and now I know that I'm probably better off making my own frosting (Able to control the flavor better that way. They claim it was cream cheese but I tasted nothing of the sort) and dying it, so there won't be half a can of light purple icing hanging out in my fridge looking at me with sad puppy eyes cuz I've got nothing else for it to do. Also of note was their odd little trick where all of the colors cooked up through the center, so if you took a bite there was almost a "tie-dye" affect to them. Behold, you can kind of see it in this picture.
That put me in mind of some other things that could be done later with more colorwork in foods, possibly by something as simple as dragging a chop stick through consecutive layers of color, doing small swirls, general agitation... good fun stuff.
As an aside, when I posted this to Twitter, someone asked me if they were earth day cupcakes. I now realize they do kind of look like little maps of global warming in an entirely delicious and unintentional way!
From the reactions I'm getting, it looks like these'll be quite popular. I'm going to bring them along for the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival to pass out to folks, since many will be there. I'll also keep a few on hand in case people stop by, but definitely NOT for nomming myself. Oh no... this is one of those moments where I know I've got something really fun and that a lot of people will really enjoy getting to try on their own. I can't wait to pass these out.
Now if only I could make them as awesome as this last picture I found... multi-colored icing would only make it MORE awesome, but I think it's beyond me. For now.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Moar Food for Thought... well, no, for Lunch, Really

I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I am a foodie. I've got a support group, I talk to a counselor. I only watch 5 hours of cooking shows during the week anymore and I try to be really selective and make sure it's not one where somebody's going to whip out a black truffle and start shaving away, causing me to go "OMG I MUST MAKE THAT!"
Hi, my name is Helen, and I am and addict....
...but I digress...
There are days when The Muse (aka The Bitch, aka She Who Disrupts my Afternoon by Making Me Obsess about Crochet Thread Width and Related Projects on Her Whim - true story) likes to have me play with pencils. There are other days when it's watercolors or ink. Still other days it's yarn and fabric, or film.
Today though, is a rare day. One of these usually only spins around about once every two weeks or so, sometimes only once a month. Today she decided I would be making food and it would be creatively done and tasty.
This meant when my husband got up, so did I. I constructed for him a lovely themed bento with lots of healthy things in it. I even pulled out and used my miniature cheese cutters to make a face for the meatball, and clouds for other things. It was awkward, but cute. I am now also assured via IM that it was completely delicious, even with awkward face placement!
But then... well, see, that wasn't enough. Generally speaking we have to do TWO projects, usually back to back, before the overwhelming need to create like some crazed maniac subsides. Today was no different, of course. But I needed to focus to work on a few things and tried to shove it aside.
A Convergence of Fortunate Events was also happening at this time, which I must now share so you understand just how neatly this all fit together.
The first is that I am currently experiencing the lovely feminine mysteries, and as such I am madly craving red meat and egg yolks. The craving of red meat has been historically documented, the egg yolks is a new thing. Healthier than downing chocolate, so I'm going with it for now. It's just unnerving that body seems to really want to absorb the very life force from formerly living things, like I'm some strange vaporous being sucking the breath from babies and wilting flowers as I pass. This hasn't started to happen yet... if it does, I'm locking myself in my room and never going out again, cuz that shit be freaky.
This led to me having a conversation with a friend in my World of Warcraft guild last night (an awesome group of folks, albeit given to repetitious jokes during raids) where we discussed our love of a good, warm, runny egg. I was already craving them, but that made it a lot worse. In fact, just thinking about it again my body is telling me it wants more. My cholesterol is going to be horrendous...
...but again, I digress...
As we talked, she told me about a breakfast her mom used to serve to her where she would put a runny egg on top of rice with soy sauce.
That image captured my mind even as I was busy eating a medium rare hamburger with a fried egg on top (blessings on you, Red Robin, for your small mercies toward my system) and I decided I would be having that in the very near future.
Fast forward to today, and insert giant grin here:
(I have already been chided for the chopsticks in the bowl... my apologies to my Asian friends, yes, I know better. IT just looked so nice when I was framing up the shot... I didn't mean to splash bad omens everywhere.)
This followed on a conversation about fried eggs, dippy eggs (the kind where you can break the yolk and dip your toast in, my normally preferred way to eat them outside of bizarre synchronistic food cravings) and scrambled eggs. My beloved admitted that he used to have his eggs fried and asked me to make him scrambled because it was easier. In a twist of irony of almost Magi-like proportions, I kept making scrambled eggs because I thought it was his prefered way of having them. It turns out he's used to fried.
Knowing this, I tried to remember how I'd seen them cooked, as it's probably been years since I attempted an egg that wasn't scrambled somehow. I do remember failing very badly at it, and thus resolved to figure out how to Do It Right.
A little too much margarine, a nice hot pan and a little rice cooker action later and we produced the awesome concoction to the right. Perfectly made, non-burnt eggs with the center still runny, over warm rice. I cheated and threw a touch of mirin in to the rice to cut the salt from the soy sauce, but otherwise it was no different than how it was described.
It was sublime. I had no idea that egg yolk would work so well with rice and soy to form a trifecta of awesome in my mouth. The soy was only really overpowering toward the bottom of the bowl where it had pooled and I started to run out of egg yolk. A lesson for next time, of course. Less soy!
So, yeah, that bowl of rice and egg disappeared in about 5 minutes. Because it was something I had to come up with ideas on as we went, the Muse seems happy for now. My egg craving is sated. AND, on top of that, I have a fast and delicious lunch to try, or something to make for dinner one night. Simplest is best, and I have been trying for simple lately. This is pretty much the epitome of simple.
And really... it is so nice to have that bitch of a Muse off my back so I can get back to focusing! I just wish all resolutions were so triply pleasing!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Because everything's better with cake (and cookies!)

I enjoy baking a lot. You mix together a strange concoction in a bowl, put it in a pan, then apply a lot of heat to it over a period of time. When you pull it out it becomes something awesome like breads or pies or cakes or something else equally nifty. I know there's complex chemistry involved, but really I don't care. I put dough in, I get warm baked good out. That is enough for me.

My downfall, though, is that I seriously enjoy taunting my friends with pictures of what I have baked so that they might drool while I enjoy a slice of it. It isn't nice, but I'm not always a super nice person, and it's nice to know that people would be interested in having cake if they come over to your place. Especially if it's something you ~made~.

Recently I posted several pictures of things I made and people asked me for the recipe. I happily promised them I would share it and then..... never did. Which is my bad, because they're very good recipes and I really did want other people to enjoy them. SO... to make up for that, and to promote more posting of pictures of baked goods on the internet, I am posting the recipes here for use! Trust me... these things are goooooood...

Our first recipe is for Honey Madeleines. These things are bitchin', and make for an excellent breakfast with a cup of coffee:

1/4 cup butter
2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
-powdered sugar for sifting

Preheat over to 378 degrees F. Lightly butter 12 madeleine molds. (or if you're me and have a mini-mold tin, you butter 18. There's enough to fill both equally well. If you don't have a madeleine pan, you can use a tartlet pan or butter the snot out of a muffin pan.) In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the 1/4 cup butter. Cool.

In a bowl, beat eggs and sugar unti pale and thick (this may NEVER happen. As long as you start to get a nice blanket of bubbles and the sugar seems integrated in to the egg, you'll be fine) Stir in melted butter and honey. Sift flour and baking power onto egg mixture, then fold in.

Spoon mixture into prepared molds. Bake 10 minutes, until light golden-brown. Leave in molds for 2 minutes, then turn out and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Dust them lightly with the powdered sugar. Makes 12 (or, once again, 18 if you're me)

The next recipe is for Green Tea Cake with Green Tea and Lime Buttercream, and even as I sit here typing this out, I'm having to brush the flour off of the pages from the last time I used it. This stuff is slightly less bitchin, but only because it takes longer and it leaves you with a LOT of baked good to get through. I would recommend making this when a big group of friends is coming over, because they will enjoy it and take all of it off your hands and not leave it around to tempt you constantly. Kind of like my trial-cake did with me. :D

For the cake~
2 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Matcha green tea powder
1 and 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oi
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup plain yogurt (greek yogurt is awesome for this)

For the buttercream frosting~
grated peel of 2 unwaxed limes, plus the freshly squeezed juice of 1
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 cups confectioners' sugar, plus extra to thicken
2 teaspoons Matcha green tea powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F

Prepare 2 8-inch round cake pans, greased and lined with backing parchment or waxed paper.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and Matcha powder.

In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, vegetable oil and eggs until smooth. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the yogurt, mixing just until incorporated. (This is SERIOUSLY important. If you overmix, you will have a very flat, brownie-like cake. Once again, don't be like me kids!)
Pour the batter in to the prepared cake pans. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes.

To make the green tea and lime buttercream, beat together the (ROOM TEMPERATURE) cream cheese, lime peel and butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Sift in the sugar, add the Matcha powder, and beat until smooth. (At this point your kitchen will smell fantastic and citrusy. It only gets better from there) Add enough lime juice until you have a thick, spreadable consistency. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Beat in a little more sugar if the mixture looks too thin.

Slice each cake in half horizontally with a serrated knife and remove the baking parchment. Place one layer on a plate and spread a little less than one quarter of the buttercream over it. Repeat with the remaining layers and spread the remaining buttercream over the top of the cake. (Of note... you will not have enough to frost around the sides at this point, which is okay. It's supposed to be more of a tea-cake -pardon the pun- than a birthday-style cake. If you really want those sides covered, make a double batch of the icing and have fun.) Refrigerate for 20 minutes to set the buttercream. Serves 6 to 8 people.

~a quick note, if you have an Asian grocery store they will probably have powdered matcha in their store for you to use. If not, try buying some online via an import place or Whatever you do, do NOT put regular green tea in your coffee grinder and pulverize it! The quality will be poor and the flavor will be bizarre. Matcha is an entirely different type of tea using different processes to make it that way. You really do need the powdered for this recipe.

I hope people have fun making a mess in the kitchen trying these things out, and I want to see PICTURES! Spam me with pictures! I love seeing what other people are making and how they get creative in different ways when using the same basic raw ingredients. And most of all, I hope everybody enjoys the hell out of these after they bake them and that it does not bring on any guilt or fits of jogging whatsoever following their consumption.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Actual Conversation #97 - wherein April Fool's Antics are discussed

me: You know... I realized I had no desire whatsoever to send out my usual "I have Hodgkins/I'm pregnant/I'm going to leave Bob and become an interpretive dance star" email like I usually do.
It feels empty, Bob, that space where being a shit used to reside....
gru: K, well fill it up with joy and teddy bears or something? :-)
me: Can it be kittens instead of teddy bears?
gru: That's fine
me: I'm sated.
gru: Yay!
me: How many kittens can I fill it up with before you get mad when you come home and find them?
gru: I don't know, sweetie.
me: Okay. It is now a SCIENCE EXPERIMENT!

(no kittens were harmed in the having of this discussion)