Monday, August 31, 2009

Blueberry Boy Bait: Success, then Failure


I'm not sure you understand. I'm sure she'll correct me, but I can't remember ever seeing my mom make a cake from scratch, ever. If you remember your childhoods, most of our moms made funfetti cakes. So for me, this was a HUUUUUUGE accomplishment.

I made Smitten Kitchen's Blueberry Boy Bait recipe. Apparently, the original recipe was created by a teenage girl in the 50s for the Pillsbury Baking contest. She said she named the cake for its special powers.

I'm the kind of person who like for things to look just like the picture. And when my brown sugar was coming out in these cookie-sized clumps, I immediately got stressed. Is it wrong that my brown sugar is rock hard? I'm guessing yes, but I'm not sure what to do about it.

The recipe was by far the most complicated mixing I've done thus far. In one bowl, I combined flour, baking powder and salt. In another, I combined brown sugar, granulated sugar and TWO STICKS OF BUTTER. Omigod, so much butter.

When I went to make this cake, I realized I only had one stick and I had to go out at 9:45 p.m. to my nearby Target to buy more. To answer your inevitable question: Yes, the check-out lady DID judge me.

I was supposed to mix the butter and sugars with my hand-mixer on medium-high speed. Funny, but all that mush slows it down quite a bit.

This is the part of baking that always stressed me out. The idea that I will NEVER get batter or dough out of that mess. But thankfully, adding eggs always saves the day.

After adding the eggs, I poured a third of the flour mixture and half of a cup of whole milk and mixed.

Once that first bit of flour and milk mixed in, I added the rest of each and mixed until it looked ready to go. Then I folded in half a cup of blueberries.

Once the batter was safely spread in my greased pan, I sprinkled more blueberries on top and the element that makes this cake magical: sugar and cinnamon! I popped it into the oven at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes and TA DA:

MY VERY FIRST HOMEMADE CAKE! Doesn't it look pretty? And edible?

But my joy, it was short-lived. Because this cake was destined for a pot-luck event and I needed to get it into a portable container. And here's where my "newly domesticated" title reared its ugly head: I had NO IDEA how to get that cake into my container.

In most cases, you would flip upside down. But with this cake, the cinnamon sugar needed to be on top. I held the pan up and loosened the sides. I wiggled it, tried to ease it out with my hands, but realized quickly that wouldn't work. So I picked up the pan and tried to slide the cake, like a sheet, into the waiting glass container. And because the laws of physics were working against me, look what happened:


My first thought (after my sentiment stated above) was, "Well, of course." So I had to take my very first homemade cake to this potluck event, where it had to compete with a berry torte and a strawberry cheesecake, and let me tell you, it lost. Some people took slices, but I mean...c'mon. This was obviously the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of cakes.

Thankfully, it tastes delicious, so I'll be nibbling away at it for breakfast for the next few days. So this will be the first thing I've made that I will deem an epic success AND a tragic failure.

And Sean told me that, had I made this cake for him before the engagement, he would have been persuaded to marry me. So single ladies, best get baking!

Just so you don't think I can't make paninis

In panini-making, it seems the bread makes all the difference. 

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Christian Louboutin's Ernesta heels

So, I'm sure we're all in agreement that these should be my wedding shoes, right? Feel free to start sending me checks; we'll need about $873 for the Christian Louboutin Ernesta T-Straps. Siiiigh. 

Friday, August 28, 2009

California Backyard Wedding

OMG, I'm swooning for this wedding posted over at Once Wed. So whimsical and lovely. I wish we'd found a venue that gorgeous; hopefully we can make it work.

Pathetic Pesto Panini

First of all, let me offer an apology for my lack of posting. Life happened, as it so often does.
In the past week, I:
  • Took engagement portraits (which I will hopefully be able to post sometime next week!)
  • Covered night meetings
  • Read a really good book and as a consequence, did little else.
  • Just plain did not cook or clean or do anything domestic.

But I decided to jump back into cooking last night. We just got a George Foreman Grill, and I always liked making paninis on mine. Last night, I thought a chicken pesto panini would be good. Truthfully, I did not plan for this in any way. I also was not really thinking about the key to paninis: everything needs to be flat and squished. Anyways, you'll see what I mean.

We had chicken breasts ready to go and after a few minutes of deliberation over whether to trim the breast into smaller pieces, I decided maybe a whole chicken breast panini could work.

This. was. dumb. Why would a big piece of chicken be able to flatten to panini levels appropriately? I'm sure it's been done, but as you'll find out, it wasn't going to work in this case.

But foolishly, I marched on, and just pounded it a little to get it closer to flat.

While I marinated my chicken breast in pesto, I whipped together pesto and mayonnaise. This is easy and seems fancy. I recommend doing it for everything, if you don't already.

This doesn't look quite right, does it? Let's run down the problems, shall we?

1) The only bread I had were thick ciabatta rolls. And while ciabatta is great for paninis, it's usually better in slices. But Fresh Market was out of panini-perfect bread when I ran over there and in my laziness, I chose these instead. UNWISE DECISION, friends.

2) That chicken breast is pretty plump, huh? And also, doesn't come close to filling the roll. Hmm. That could be an issue.

3) Wow, I really can't slice tomato thinly, can I?

So I pop this behemoth onto the Foreman, and as you can guess (and see), it was five stories tall. And yet, bull-headed as I am, I still tried to close the Foreman over it. The combination of slippery mayonnaise, slick tomato, giant chicken, crazy huge bread was a disaster. I tried to close the lid and the sandwich came flying out at me, leaving tomato splatter on the counter.

I finally had to give up and grill the damn sandwich one side at a time, making it not a panini, but simply a heated sandwich.

Ridiculous. Have you ever seen something look less like its intended purpose? It tasted okay, but not panini-like. And it was a mess and a half. Oy.

So I guess we learned some lessons, huh, friends? Do not keep moving without the proper supplies. I should've learned that playing Oregon Trail.

SIDE NOTE: I'll now be tagging my cooking disaster entries as such. At some point, I'll go back and tag the archived disasters.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Prepping for Engagement Shoot

This weekend, Sean and I are going to take our engagement pics with Ryan Burke in Virginia Beach, where I'm hoping to shoot at the 15th Street Amusement Park.

On my ever ongoing quest to look at more and more wedding pictures, I came across these pics by Stone Blue Productions, also taken at the amusement park. How cute is this? I love the bright colors, the action, the obvious fun and love they're sharing.

In other news, I bought this dress at Anthropologie for the engagement shoot on Friday. It was my quarterly Anthropologie splurge.

But because life is life, guess what happened? Sean fell on the floor and in the midst of a giggle fit, I tried to pull him up. I couldn't do it and I kept trying and trying, using all my weight, and we kept giggling and I kept pulling and suddenly he let go. And I went FLYING INTO THE WINDOW FRAME. That's right. I flew backward.

So now that I bought a $100 sleeveless dress, I have a green bruise to go with it. SIGH.

Yee Haw Industries prints

Happy Birthday to my Daddy (above, imparting life lessons to Sean)! My dad is a journalist, just like me. He loves books about war, Fresh Air with Terri Gross, Celtic culture and most of all, the Appalachian mountains.

In honor of my dad, I thought I'd feature the work of Yee Haw Industries a Knoxville, Tenn.-based print shop with an Etsy store here.

I came across their work a few years ago when I was searching for information about Appalshop, a media collective my father worked for in the '80s. Appalshop was founded as part of the War on Poverty in an effort to collect and preserve stories of mountain culture. 

And in a lot of ways, that's what Yee Haw Industries does, but visually. They created a poster for Appalshop, which led me to their site. Here are my favorites in their Etsy shop:

A lovely card quoting everybody's favorite Carter Family song: $13

A Loretta Lynn poster (I'd totally order this), complete with my friend Jamie's dad's favorite phrase, "Have mercy!": $50.

And the Appalshop poster that led me to them: $30.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Charmed by Charm City Corn

Sean's sister Katie very graciously donated a Foreman grill to our cause. It doesn't infuse the meat with cedar or charcoal deliciousness, but you know what? It gets the job done and doesn't involve flipping and on a night like tonight, that's exactly what I needed.

So I sprinkled some Mrs. Dash on both sides of some chicken breasts and slapped that chicken on there and Foreman'd it up. Tonight, Sean did the heavy lifting, for he made Food Network's Charm City Corn.

I don't much care for corn. I have tiny teeth and eating it off the cob guarantees I'll spend half the day stabbing my gums with a toothpick. But Sean loves corn, and I like Old Bay seasoning, so it seemed like it would be worth a shot.

The recipe calls for boiling water and milk, which starts to look very "boil, boil, toil and trouble" after a few minutes (Macbeth fans holla atcha girl!). The milk bubbles up all crazy-like and starts to resemble many of the episodes of Mr. Wizard, but that's okay. It should look like that. You drop the corn in there and let it boil a few minutes until crisp tender.

IMPORTANT QUESTION: Why milk? We couldn't figure out what its job was in this situation...we can't tell if it altered the taste. Anyone have any clues?

Remove the corn and drain the pot, then put a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of Old Bay seasoning in the same pot. Stir that up nice and pretty.

Add the corn! Roll it around until coated with buttery, spicy, sweet greatness. I'm pretty sure this counteracts any healthy benefits the corn may have offered.

People....this corn was an epiphany. For someone like me, who has never thought corn was worth the trouble, this was a life-changer. It was so buttery, so perfectly spicy and sweet and bursting with flavor, that I regretted hesitantly taking only a third of an ear.

Side note: It's good to be cooking again. I took last week off due to a horrific series of events that I somewhat detailed last week. Highlight: opening a package of pork to find it was bad...and the expiration date was the next day. Disasters.

PB Teen Task Lamps

Love, love, love the Hi-Light Task Lamp from Pottery Barn Teen, which will run you $65 on sale. Apartment Therapy had a post on this, mentioning that all the teen decor stuff is on sale for back to school shopping right now.

It comes in white, light green, yellow, ice blue, red, silver, navy, black and brown. I'll take two in ice blue, please. 

Side note: If you like the occasionally twee and often colorful home accessories, kids and teen catalogs can be great resources. I have some very bright and very festive multicolor chevron sheets from Pottery Barn, and The Land of Nod has some very smart storage solution. If it works for kids, it'll work for you, and these kids seem to be pint-size sophisticates.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Cb2 Harvey Nightstand

Loving the $99.95 Harvey nightstand from cb2. I think it would look really cute sandwiched between a pair of twin beds in a guest room or a kids room. 

Va. Highlands Festival keeps folk crafts alive

Last weekend, we visited the Virginia Highlands Festival in Abingdon, Va. — a yearly stop when I was a child. I've included some snapshots of the goods; if you are ever in southwest Virginia in August, it's a must-stop. Vendors come from all over the south offering their wares, many practicing old-fashioned Appalachian folk arts they learned from their parents and grandparents.

One man sold these gorgeous pearl strands, $85 a necklace.

A classic glass menagerie; that booth has been at the festival as long as I can remember, and I've been going to the festival since I was a kindergartner.

Sean holds up a hand-carved walking stick from The Stickery, made by Les Smith.

Flavored honey straws fresh from a farm in Lebanon, Va.

And hundreds of flavors of jam (we saw garlic jelly, lemon meringue pie jam and more). 

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Christina Kober Eternity Ring

In my constant quest for the best unique wedding band, I also came across the Mobius Eternity ring by Christina Kober, an Atlanta-based jeweler. 

Her Etsy page says of the ring:
A mobius strip is a cool geometric phenomena, first discovered by a German mathematician, August Ferdinand Möbius. It is a two-dimensional structure with only one side. This means that like a ring, which has no beginning or end, a mobius strip has no "inside" or "outside", but has only one, continuous "side". 

A mobius strip is a representation of eternity, because it is endless and on going.
Pretty sweet, huh? I like the idea of eternity.

The Sartorialist Book

I'd love to have the new coffee table book from The Sartorialist. The blog is a daily click for me, as it should be for you. Photographer Scott Schuman has an amazing eye for natural style — not contrived, rarely trendy. Just iconic, inbred style. It's very inspirational, and I'd love to have a book I can flip through when I'm staring at my closet thinking I have nothing to wear. 

Buy the book here for $16.50. 

Wine Club and Post 200!

Today marks my 200th post and what better way to celebrate than with some wine? We had another meeting of wine club on Wednesday at the drop dead gorgeous home of Wanda and Christina Austin, co-workers of one of our core members. Their home is amazing and this dramatic bar made for a perfect backdrop.

It was Chardonnay night, so chosen because for some reason, most of us really dislike Chardonnays. We thought it was high time to find one we could imagine downing more than once, so we set out to tackle this important issue.

We had:
  • Domaine Alfred Stainless Chardonnay: This was the hands-down favorite. It was effervescent, which I love, and was very fruity and light for a Chardonnay. It didn't have that tart bitterness I associate with Chardonnay, so it was a welcome change.
  • Alice White Chardonnay: This is an inexpensive, Australian Chardonnay that Wanda called her "house wine." It was light and refreshing, perfect to have with a meal.
  • Brampton Unoaked Chardonnay: A South African wine that was lighter and citrusy. It had notes of pineapple that I could actually pick up, as opposed to normal when I just nod and smile.
  • Grand Vin de Bourgogne Chablis: Erica (our wine mistress of ceremonies) taught us that a Chablis from Burgundy is like getting a champagne from Champagne, France — the real deal. This was my pick and was the only one I could find at Total Wine. It was different; it tasted like no other Chardonnay I've ever tried. Erica said its flavors were more pure — sharp, distinct green apple, with a buttery finish. Interesting, but had a tart start.
  • Patrick Javillier Bourgogne: A white burgundy with a sharp bite. Erica taught us that white burgundies should age for three years before consumption, while sweet wines should be served almost immediately.
The spectacular bar area at the Austin home.

Three generations: Victoria, her daughter and her mother, visiting from Rochester, N.Y.

Erica pours a selection for Miranda.

Christina and Miranda pose with the crowd favorite.

The wine club gang, minus some of our faves who couldn't make the trip across the water due to horrific storms.

And to finish, an amazing homemade chocolate cake garnished with fresh fruit. Delicious!