Friday, May 28, 2010

Close encounters

Jellyby meets Roomba.  Is it friend or foe?

She's yet to decide.  But I've been entertained by their pas de deux all afternoon.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gifts from the Garden

I've been toiling all week in the yard like a tireless garden gnome; raking, weeding, mowing, weeding, trimming, weeding . . . the list of chores seemed interminable, and I was a very very grumpy gnome.  Just when I was going to dig myself a hole and burrow in it, some very cheerful things appeared:

Not only did our garden yield gorgeous peonies, but the mailman brought me a very exciting early birthday present from three very thoughtful garden fairies.

What is this exciting present?  Well, it arrived in a chic faux bois box . . .

and inside was a brochure for a certain charming garden center that happens to be owned by a certain store I love . . .

and below the brochure was a faux bois gift card!

Great friends are people who know just exactly what you'd love, who anticipate desires before you even articulate them.  And my great friends realized that what I'd love is an excuse to shop at Terrain, the garden center that was recently acquired by Anthropologie.

Maybe I'll assemble my own little terrarium:

Bird Finial Cloche
Bird and Nest Cloche
Or maybe I'll acquire these whimsical bamboo garden markers:

Bamboo Garden Markers
Or maybe I'll wait to do my shopping until later in the summer, when I go to Philadelphia to visit my SIL (and soon-to-arrive niece!), and I can visit Terrain at Styer's in person!

Image Source: Sugar Pond (aka the fabulous Mrs. Bellpepper)
Image Source: Oh Joy!
Have you visited Terrain?  I'm so excited to see it in person!


Cut It Out

As you might know, I'm kind of obsessed with paper crafts.  (My wedding, after all, had a paper cut motif, and I lived above a Paper Source for eight years.*)  So when I read about party impressario David Stark's pop-up "purely paper flower shoppe" at West Elm in NY, I got a little flushed.

So. Much. Paperliciousness.

David Stark Sketchbook
Everything from the flowers to the trowels and watering can were made from recycled paper.

Design Sponge

Of course, nothing this cool happens in Boston, so the closest I will get to this amazing paper terrarium is online.  Boo.
David Stark Sketchbook

Naturally, I had to do a little bit of browsing through David Stark's blog, which, as it turns out, is full of paper love.  Look at these cut-out, pop-up centerpieces he created for an event:

The whole vignette is crafted from paper, including that immense topiary.
David Stark Sketchbook

It turns out David and I are total kindred spirits (Yes, in my fantasy he is my new bff so I call him David, sometimes D.  "Oh D."  Any "Office" fans here?).  He loves paper almost as much as I do: his blog is full of citations to amazing paper artists, like Su Blackwell . . .

Su Blackwell via Decor8
. . . and Robert The.
David Stark Sketchbook
David Stark Sketchbook

D and I are such kindred spirits, in fact, that he too planned a whole event around paper cuts . . .
David Stark Sketchbook
complete with a little Chinese man who appears to be cutting a menagerie out of paper plates.  (Sadly, none of the little Chinese men at our wedding did that.)

I know it's a little weird to have a favorite event designer (though I imagine that quite a few of you out in our little blogging community have one).  I think he might be mine.

Who's yours?

*Speaking of our wedding, it's featured on CasaSugar today!  


Friday, May 21, 2010

Cake Pops

I am of the opinion that anything tastes better on a stick.  Chicken?  Meh.  Satay?  Yum.  Cheddar?  Meh.  Cheese on a stick served by girls with outlandishly loud striped fezes?  Delish.

German chocolate cake from a box mix?  Meh.  On a stick?  Not bad.

After cooing over Bakerella's darling creations for a long long time, I finally had an occasion to make cake pops.  I made them sparkly like miniature disco balls.  And they were so very purty.

For all of their fancy schmanciness, cake pops are fairly basic and easy to make: just crumbled cake and frosting mixed together, rolled into a ball, and put on sticks.  Bakerella's recipe, available here, calls for boxed cake mix and canned frosting. Easy.

Since Bakerella's cake ball recipe is all around the interwebs, I thought I'd give my two cents on a less well-examined part of the process: how to anchor the sticks onto the balls and candy-coat the cake pop.  After you roll the cake balls, Bakerella recommends putting the balls into the fridge or freezer for a few hours to allow the balls to harden up a bit and come to hold their shape.  She also recommends -- and this is a step that I think quite a few disappointed cake ball makers seem to gloss over -- handling the dipping process in small batches.  Take a few balls out of the fridge/freezer at a time.  Heat up only small quantities of candy or chocolate melts at a time (a microwave makes this step fast and easy).  This is important because if you let the cake balls come to room temperature, they'll lose their solidity and won't hold together.  You'll end up drowning your cake balls in candy melts because they'll fall right off the stick.

 Cake balls don't swim, and you'll end up with a cake pop casualty on your hands.

Bakerella suggests that you can create a secure cake pop just by putting a popsicle stick right into the cake ball.  From my experience (and that of others who have experienced cake pop casualties), that's not enough.  To anchor the sticks securely to the ball, dip the end of the stick (about 1/2 to 3/4 inch) into the candy melt BEFORE putting the stick into the cake ball.  This helps the stick fuse to the inside of the pop and also makes a ring at the bottom of the cake ball that serves as a base for the ball to rest (see photo).  Put the cake balls with the sticks in them back in the fridge/freezer for a few minutes to allow the candy coating to dry and work its adhesive magic.

When the candy "ring" at the bottom of the pops is dry and the stick feels secure, you're ready for dipping.  Dip and swirl the pop slowly in the candy melt.  Make sure that the candy coating just overlaps the "ring" at the base of the cake ball, so that a bond is created between the two.  To get an even coating on the cake ball, slowly swirl the stick as you lift the ball diagonally (almost horizontally) out of the candy melt while tapping -- very very gently -- the stick on the rim of the container the melt is in.  The combination of the swirling and tapping will distribute the candy coating evenly around the cake ball.

A few seconds into the swirling and tapping, the candy coating should solidify slightly.  The coating will be less liquid than solid and will not flow easily off the cake ball.  At that point, you can, if you wish, sprinkle edible glitter or jimmies on top of the cake pop to make it pretty.  It's important to get the timing just right though: if you put the sprinkles on before the coating is sufficiently dry, the weight of the sprinkles will pull the coating right off the cake ball, forming a gross lava-ish flow, but if you allow the candy coating to dry too much, then the sprinkles won't stay on.

BTW, if you are using a light colored melt on a dark colored cake, be prepared to dip twice, allowing the candy melt to dry between the first and second dip.  Obviously, wait until the second dip to add the sprinkles.

Although this process sounds complicated, after a few tries, it becomes pretty manageable.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the candy coating dries quickly, so I was able to dip, wrap, and package the cake pops all in one afternoon.

I enjoyed making the cake pops and loved seeing people's reactions to them.  They are pretty damn adorable.

In all honesty, though, I like them more for their aesthetics than their taste.  I probably would have enjoyed them more if I either a) made the cake and frosting from scratch so that both were less sweet and more palatable or b) were a five-year-old kid.  That being said, many guests seemed to find the cake pops quite delicious, which confirms my initial hypothesis that anything on a stick (or that is candy-coated) is guaranteed to be a hit.

Have you tried making cake pops or cupcake pops?  How did they turn out?


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Best. Present. Ever.

A wonderful friend bought a very special present all the way back from Paris. Pour moi.

It's a little jewel box of perfection.

In the form of rainbow macarons from Laduree.

The luscious colors . . . the glossy, crisp exterior . . . the melt-in-your-mouth interior . . . and the delectable flavors (cassis?! blackcurrant violet?! bergamot?!).  Sigh.

Could anything be more beautiful?


Monday, May 17, 2010

B is for . . .

a BEE-AUTIFUL baby shower!

This weekend I was in D.C. co-hosting a baby shower for one of my bridesmaids and favorite people in the universe.  If you remember from this post, although she's having a baby girl, we were going for a chic, modern feel -- no frou frou pinks and bling for this co-ed affair.

We relied on the ubiquitous Martha tissue poms to give some pop to the space.  I used 1.5 yards of Amy Butler "Martini Dots" fabric (from Etsy seller buttercuppityfabric) as an overlay for the table.  A grey "LOVE" print from Made by Girl was the focal point of the vignette and served as a "guestbook" for guests, who were encouraged to write notes to the baby.

I made a "curtain" of grey, white, and yellow dots (with bee imprints) for the doorway to the dining room, as well as complementary cupcake flags.  (My picture taking skills left much to be desired.  Grr.)

I also made cake pops (a la Bakerella) as favors/desserts.  (I'll post about these later in the week.)  Sadly, I forgot to bring the styrofoam platforms  I made for them to stand on, so we had to improvise with a cardbox box.  Boo.

I was also hoping we'd be able to borrow a cake stand to give the cupcakes a bit more height and drama, but alas we couldn't locate one and had to make do with the kraft paper containers the cupcakes were delivered in.  Oh well.  They were just as delicious.

And quite frankly, with an array of sandwiches and appetizers (pigs in a blanket from Costco are, in a word, delish) and plenty of mimosa and beer, I'm not sure anyone even noticed the vessels the food was displayed in/on.  Certainly, I was too busy stuffing my face to pay attention!

For the patio decorations, I pinned up some of the adorable little outfits I bought for the baby, including the softest little kimono top from Babysoy, a sassy ruffly bathing suit from Target, and this darling "Lovely Showers" set from RaeGun:

Image Source: Rae Gun
I also made a number of pennants from a lovely grey and yellow wrapping paper from Smock Paper, and we strung yellow and white streamers (which survived for all of ten minutes in the wind).

Although I was skeptical initially about doing a coed shower, I have to admit that it was a really fun gathering.  We didn't do any games or the obligatory opening of presents.  We just had good food, good drinks, good weather, and good friends.  Turns out that's all you need for a great party.

And I had such a great time crafting like the busy bee I used to be (oy with the alliteration).  I have to admit, though, that it was totally insane for me to have transported a whole party's worth of decorations, as well as the cake pops and gifts, from Boston to DC.  And did I mention it was all in one carry-on, in which I also had to stuff three days' worth of clothing?  I felt like some sort of illicit smuggler/trafficker.  Only instead of Colombia, my goods were coming from the Paper Source.

Now that this shower is over, I am taking a short, but much-needed craft break.  My next project is to finish up a much overdue baby book for another bridesmaid.  Stay tuned!


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I Heart Macarons . . .

. . . but not as much as my husband does.  Go ahead and mock him for it (he also likes fruity, girlie drinks); he's not ashamed.

So when I showed him my new purchase, a gorgeous jewel of a recipe book called I Love Macarons, he temporarily forgot that he was a miserable medical resident and clapped and giggled with glee, like a little school girl.

Ok, he didn't actually giggle.  He yelled out some expletives not appropriate even for my foul-mouthed blog.  Then he may or may not have licked some of the pages.

Image Source: Amazon

And I hardly blame him.  The book is filled with the most charming, delectable photos of beautifully made macarons, in every color and flavor combination imaginable.

But not only is the book gorgeous to look at, it is actually a wonderfully informative, detailed guide to macaron-making.  Along with step-by-step (and fully illustrated) accounts of how to make macaron shells using the two classic methods (French and Italian meringue), and how to create various flavored and colored shells and fillings, the book has a troubleshooting guide, as well as suggestions for packaging the lovely confections and for using the leftover egg yolks (only egg whites are used in the making of the shells).

Of course, I had to whip up a batch of macarons.  I mean, I couldn't possibly review a cookbook without testing out its recipes, right?  That just wouldn't be fair to you, dear reader.

I made caramel macarons with vanilla buttercream.  They were scrumptious.  In fact, my husband, who is stunningly, sometimes brutally honest with his reviews of my cooking, declared them "just as good, if not better" than any macaron he's ever had.  Woo hoo!

If you love macarons even a quarter as much as my husband does, I recommend this book enthusiastically.  Even if you never make a single macaron from it, its darling photos make for great browsing.  I even thought about taking the book apart to frame some of the photos for display in our kitchen.  I just got to figure out how to remove the drool marks first.

Do you love macarons?  Have you tried making them at home?


Aw, Anthro, you shouldn't have!

My birthday's at the end of the month, and I received my first present the other day, from my long-time paramour, Anthro.

The card came with a whimsical candle necklace (alas, mine was broken in transit) and just the words a girl wants to hear:

Happy birthday!  Make a wish.
And treat yourself to something special!
Use this card for 15% off your
total store purchase any day in May.
Your candle necklace is for you to keep.
This little gift is for you and only you.
And cannot be turned into chocolate, flowers
or cash.  It's a one time treat, gladly accepted
in our retail stores (not online).  So bring this
note, along with your Anthro card, and enjoy!

Cupcake and discount!  Anthro always knows exactly what I want.  ;-)

Wanna see what I bought with my birthday discount?

How excited was I to score the adorable Fragrant Valley Dress on sale for $99.95!

What are your current Anthro favorites?


Monday, May 10, 2010

Sneak Peek!

Guess what I made this weekend?


Skating Rink at the Court!

My favorite dean got formally nominated as a Justice this morning!

Image Source: NY Times
Yes, she's an academic superstar.  Yes, she's a badass in front of the Court (she gave Roberts a steady death stare during the whole Citizens United argument).  Sure, she's a master power broker and peace maker (she wrangled the Harvard Law School faculty into submission for goodness sake).  But really I'm excited because:

  • She turned a mudpit in front of Harkness into an ice skating rink.  That's right -- she was the Lesley Knope of HLS.  I can only imagine what awesomeness she will transform the old, nasty Supreme Court gym into . . . . Justice O'Connor used to do her Jane Fonda tapes up there, so maybe in her honor, Justice Kagan will build a hiphop studio and hire Shane Sparks as the official SCOTUS choreographer.  Or maybe she'll kick it old-school, turn the gym into a retro roller rink, and invite Kristen Chenoweth for a skate-off and duet?
  • She put free tampons into every ladies' bathroom at the law school.  FREE tampons.  I didn't have to go to CVS for a year.  She will bring on an era of complimentary feminine hygiene products at the Court.  This should reassure the misogynist assholes: even if all the lady Justices get on the same cycle, they'll be well equipped.
  • She's just like us!  The last time I saw Dean Kagan, she was coming out of Brooks Pharmacy with a ginormous 24-roll pack of toilet paper.  Not only does the woman have a healthy GI system, she also does her own shopping.  This is not some hoity toity Justice who will forget the little people.  She'll be standing right behind you at the Walgreens.
In all seriousness (and I don't usually post about serious things on this blog), I am really excited about this nomination.  She's brilliant, fearless, and focused, but also personable and thoughtful.  I don't have any delusion that she, alone, will shift the trajectory of the Roberts Court, but I have no doubt that she's going to put up quite a fight.

It's a good day!


Sunday, May 9, 2010

A touch of Chinese chic - Pt. 2

Ever indecisive, I'm still struggling between whether to pair the Chiang Mai Dragon fabric pillow with the navy or the citrine Imperial Trellis print.


Etsy seller MilkandCookiesCanada will be making the pillows, and as I was browsing her shop today, I saw two other combos that might also work.

Above is the Chiang Mai paired with the Jordan Green pillow.  Although the print looks a lot like the Imperial Trellis, it's almost 1/3 of the price!

Ditto with this pairing, which is with the red Hank print pillow.

What do you think?

Incidentally, if you are in the market for some fabulous red Chiang Mai Dragon pillows, contact Melanie.  She's got four gorgeous, beautifully made ones to sell!

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