Sunday, July 8, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake: Day Two

(This is the look I came up with the night before)

As gorgeous as the inspiration cake is from my post from day one, I know my limitations. I know what I can do and what techniques I can pull off and which ones still need more practice. I didn't want to take on too much so I sketched out my idea first and then attempted to recreate it. 
This was my first real time working with gum paste. I had dabbled before but never really had that much practice with it. I followed the instructions on the package and let it cure. I had a figure mold that I was hoping would make the job easier, but for me it was a big fat fail. For some reason the gum paste would stick in the mold and tear when I tried to take it out. I tried it again, this time making sure that I greased the mold first. Again, it tore. It might have had something to do with the obnoxious heat, I am not sure. I ended up freestyling the form and the head and hand molded them. In the end it worked out beautifully.  
I added additional detail that I didn't include in the original sketch (like the bow in the back, which I love). 
For the cake I used a recipe for a doctored up cake mix. I chose chocolate. For the filling I had a jar of strawberry-champagne jam in the fridge from Cost Plus World Market that I used for the filling. I thought the champagne flavor was appropriate for the French theme I was going for. I made a vanilla bean frosting for the under-coating for the fondant to stick to. 
I had intended to use royal icing to do some of the detail but in the end was too tired and lazy to make some. I used fondant and gum past to complete the details (such as the trim around the bust, the red mouth and the details for the up-do). I was very pleased with the results and can't wait to explore some more ideas for next week.
Below are pics of the finished product...bon appetite!
(Marie Antoinette, just in time for Bastille Day)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Spring Garden Tour 2012 (aka Too Hot to Handle)

A post from April 22, 2012 that wasn't posted for lack of pictures. The camera went missing for a bit.

A few years back, my mum, grandmother and I took the garden tour. It is put on by the Modesto Garden Club every year (which I found out today is the largest garden club in the US....who knew?). Last time we took the tour the weather was a little warm and I was wearing the wrong shoes. By the end of the day I was pretty uncomfortable and, towards the end, it made for a somewhat miserable trip. This was unfortunate because some of the homes chosen to be on the tour that year were homes in Modesto that I had always secretly spied on from afar and was now afforded the luxury of seeing them up close.
When my grandmother wanted to know if I was interested in going again this year I thought I would give it another go and made sure to wear the right shoes and the right clothes so that I wouldn't make the same mistake as before.
The valley has had a pretty mild spring. Just last week temperatures were more like those that you would find in the winter months. Just the day before yesterday it was only 75 degrees, today it was 92.
It started out well enough, the walk wasn't all that unpleasant and some of the gardens were lovely. I was able to realize another dream today as well.
When my brother and I were younger my mother would treat us to frozen yogurt and then would drive us around the older neighborhoods in town while we licked our cookies and cream or chocolate mousse and we would gawk at all the beautiful homes and wonder what it would be like if we actually lived in them. Every time we did this my brother and I would beg our mother to take us to the 'castle'. There is a house in Modesto that looks just like a castle. It is made of brick, has turrets and a massive front door. If my brother and I dreamed of living anywhere in town, this house was it.
This house was on the tour today and I was able to finally see it up close. I strolled past the koi pond, skipped around the tiled swimming pool and ate cookies by the outdoor fireplace. It really was a silly old dream come true.
After that, things started to go downhill pretty quickly.
I began to not feel well. I made the mistake of staying up a little too late the night before at a party and the next morning didn't give myself enough time to eat breakfast or to properly hydrate myself. I began to pay the price for it. I tried to fight through it because there was no way that I could complain to my mother or my grandmother. I was the youngest one there, I couldn't be the first to wimp out. We made it through the first leg of the tour (and I swear that we were the only ones that actually walked the whole thing) and stopped at the Yogurt Mill to cool down. I knew it was worse than I had thought it was when I wasn't able to finish my treat. At the next house, I didn't go in and waited in the car...I was no longer sweating...uh oh.
Luckily my mum recognized how miserable I had become and took me home. I ended up sleeping through the rest of the tour and the rest of the afternoon.....ugh, I'm pretty pathetic.
Maybe next year I'll get it together so that I don't embarrass my mother and my grandmother.

(The 'Castle' on Magnolia)

Let Them Eat Cake: Day One

(Gorgeous cake from Cake Opera Co.)
When I stared back to work, baking came to a complete halt. In fact, I haven't taken on a cake project in over a year! Can you believe that? Last year I made the mistake of taking on two cakes in the same weekend. Although both turned out lovely, I was exhausted. I also realized that I wasn't being compensated nearly enough for the amount of work that actually went into making a cake (A good article for those that really have no idea is THIS one from Mother of Cakes). I stepped away. I didn't think that I would be gone so long. There were a couple of times that I thought about breaking out the ol' cake supplies and building a cake just for the heck of it but ultimately I lost the motivation because I would remember just how time consuming it was.
For some reason now, in the middle of a valley summer in a house without air conditioning, I have found the motivation.
I don't know if you know this but Style Me Pretty has a cake gallery with over 1400 photos of different wedding cakes and today I looked at them all and saved some to my Pinterest board for inspiration. Towards the end of the album I reached these gorgeous cakes from Cake Opera Co. and knew that I would have to try to recreate them.

(I really LOVE this one with the white wig)
Now for those that have seen my cakes on this blog might be thinking, 'Jen, you're cakes are awesome but they are a little elementary to those edible sculptures that the Cake Opera Co. has created. Girlfriend, I think you might be out of your league on this one.' (I believe that all four and a half of my readers use the word 'elementary' in everyday conversation because they are all gifted and brilliant. They also are not so snobby to immediately follow it up with a 'girlfriend'.)
This is why I have to try.
I set aside my other little hobby and made way for cake to take over.
I started to crochet again and found a terrific toddler sweater pattern that I was able to use as a base for creating my own. The pink is for a 2T, the blue is for a 0-3 months and the striped one will be for a 0-3 month as well. These little puppies whip up in no time at all. 
I went on a little shopping spree today but found some great deals so I didn't spend all that much money. My eyes lit up when I found the Circle Cutter at the Hobby Lobby and using the weekly 40% off coupon (that can easily be pulled up on a smartphone) made it a steal. I picked up the CK Gum Paste Mix at Edward's Cake Supply. Wilton makes one as well but is a little bit pricier. I have several recipes for gum paste and have always been leery of using it. I love the way that it looks when done right. I bought the mix because it seemed simple enough to make (just add water) and the entire bag was comparable in price to the tylose powder (that would have to be added to other ingredients to make gum paste) that I had originally gone in for. See that figurine mold in the back there? That is my little secret weapon for the cake I want to make. I have a lot riding on that little mold, it better not let me down. 
The gum paste was a breeze to mix up and clean up was easy as well. I have read that gum paste, if stored correctly, can last up to six months. I made sure to date mine. Gum paste has to cure for 24 hours before using. Later tonight when it is cooler I will bake up the cakes and mix up my marshmallow fondant. I am going to try to make do with the cake pans I have for the body of the piece but I am thinking I might have to invest in a doll pan. I might have to make another trip to the Hobby Lobby. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Food Break Up

It has been two full weeks and I have to admit, I haven't been perfect. I was super excited at losing seven pounds so quickly but then nothing. Not another pound. I had almost given up yesterday completely when I shoveled a sugar cookie and two fun sized candy bars down my throat...but then a funny thing happened. The crap food didn't satisfy me the way that it used to. I was looking  for that satiated feeling after eating a fatty, carb filled, nothing but sugar, piece of garbage. It didn't happen. Instead my mouth rolled over each piece of chocolate as if it were a foreign object. It tasted strange, almost plastic like. The chocolate felt like it was coating my tongue like candle wax.
I had found out that my favorite foods were no longer worth it.
I will miss you cheap milk chocolate. I will miss you sugar cookies (you are now far to sweet for me). I will miss you Flaming Hot Munchies. I may miss you most of all. McDonald's? I am so sorry to leave you behind. Your french fries and chicken sandwiches got me through a lot of emotional battles and for that I will forever be grateful to you for standing next to me as a fellow soldier. These goodbyes are bittersweet.
A few years ago I quit smoking (for the most part). The Mr. can't stand it and it really is an immature behavior as well as being one of the worst things you can do to your body. I had dodged urges for a cigarette for months. At one point I couldn't take it, I bought a fresh pack. I indulged in a pricier brand because I told myself  'If I am stupid enough to buy these awful things then I should have to pay for it out of the wallet as well.' (I fully believe that the government should tax the sh*t out of nicotine. Hike up packs to $15 a piece. It would help the deficit and if it forced people to quit because of the price to smoke then it ends up a win-win.)
I unwrapped the plastic coating and pulled back the paper surrounding the cigarettes. Each one lined up perfect, each one matched the neighbor next to it. I pulled one out and could smell the sweet earthy aroma wafting from the tip. I flicked my drugstore lighter and singed the end of it. I inhaled.
It tasted gross.
I inhaled again.
Still gross.
I repeated this process until the cigarette was nothing but the filter. I felt sick. Where was my mellow buzz? Where was that thing that takes the edge off? I had craved it so much and fantasized how it would make me feel. What a let down. All I had was stinky hair, stinky hands and a dry mouth. My head started to spin a little bit, but not in the way I had hoped. I could feel my stomach wanting to evict its tenants. I managed to keep everything down but it was an effort and now I felt awful.
Cigarettes had betrayed me and now junk food had followed suit.
Just like cigarettes, I am sure I will still have moments of weakness. Like that awful boyfriend during the time of bad decisions,  I am sure that I will have urges that I cannot control, duck into a convenience store or run to a vending machine. I am sure I won't think twice to suck down a Butterfinger without chewing. The difference this time is that the feeling that I will be hoping for will no longer be there.
Fine junk food, if that is how you want to be then I don't need you.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hits and Misses: 17 Day Diet

I have completed my first week and have said farewell to seven pounds! That is a pound a day if you need some help with the math. So far it has worked out well because I actually get to eat, I actually get to eat food! What a novel concept. All those diets that I have tried before, I should have known something wasn't right. This one is working for me. 
It hasn't all been sunshine and roses this week though. While I haven't had too many cravings, I have found the hardest part for me is to make sure that I eat often enough. That and that I make sure that I eat enough protein as well. 
Today I will touch base on the hits and misses that I have experienced so far this week. 
In the last post I have explained some of the misses. One being Faux Mashed Potatoes. I had done quite a bit of research to look for recipes that would hopefully make me feel like I wasn't depriving myself. And by research I mean I spent hours and hours on Pinterest, but you probably guessed that already didn't you? 
I stumbled across the recipe for the for the faux mashed potatoes, read the reviews and thought that I had found what would be a staple in my diet for at least the first 17 days. I was mistaken. Now just because it was a miss for me doesn't mean that others will have the same experience. In the reviews that I had read lots of other people actually enjoyed them. For that reason I am including it here: 

Faux Mashed Potatoes
(modified from I Breath...I'm Hungry)
1 head cauliflower
2 Tbls heavy cream
1 Tbls butter
2 ounces Dubliner or other sharp cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Clean and trim the cauliflower, breaking it into medium sized pieces. Place in a microwave safe bowl with 2 Tbl of cream and 1 Tbl of butter.  Microwave, uncovered, on high for five minutes. Stir to coat cauliflower with cream/butter mixture. Microwave for another 4 minutes on high. Remove from the microwave and put into a high speed blender or food processor along with the cheese. Puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You can adjust the cream and butter to your preference. 

The modification that I made to this was that instead of the heavy cream and the butter I replaced both with Greek yogurt. This most likely accounts for texture of how my attempt turned out. My cauliflower was pretty grainy. I also replaced the Dubliner cheese with about four ounces of reduced fat cheddar cheese.
I also experienced two hits. One came from the 17 Day Diet book and the other came from my own creation. 

Eggplant Parmesan
(from The 17 Day Diet)
1 lg eggplant (peeled)

4 egg whites

1 c. grated parmesan cheese

4 cloves garlic

Spaghetti sauce (or low-carb marinara)
Pre-heat oven to 400F. Cut eggplant into 1/4" slices. Beat egg whites and 4 tablespoons of water until foamy. Dip eggplant in egg mixture, then into FF parmesan cheese, pressing cheese into eggplant. Place eggplant on prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with minced garlic. Spray vegetable spray over the top. Bake 30 minutes, then turn and bake 20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Cover with sauce, bake another 20 minutes and serve.

This was amazing and turned out to be the perfect Thursday night dinner treat. This next recipe is all me and I am pretty proud of it. It really is as easy as they come. 

Leafy Tacos
1 pound ground turkey
1 pkg low sodium taco seasoning
Bell pepper, sliced 
Red onion, slicedRomaine leaves 
Salt and pepper to taste
Fat free sour cream
Fresh salsa
Fat free shredded cheese 
Prepare turkey meat according to the directions on taco seasoning package. Remove meat from pan. In seasoning left behind from the meat add about a tablespoon water and saute bell pepper and onion. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use romaine leaves as 'taco shells' and add meat, sauteed vegetables, sour cream, salsa and cheese. 

Good stuff. I was able to eat four guilt free because I didn't have to worry about the taco shells. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Incredible Shrinking Woman

As you may have guessed by the lack of posting, I am again in the working world. No more wiling away my time catatonic in front of Pinterest ('See More Pins'? It begs me. How can I not?) I have redecorated my house about a gazillion times thanks to that website, all in my head of course. And just like every other pinner out there, I have both fantasized about glorious baked goods and exercise regimens...simultaneously.  Talk about setting someone up for failure...
But I digress. 
With this new job is the attempt at a brand new me. The Mr. spent a few weeks visiting his family in the Midwest so I took that time to reflect inward. I wanted to make some changes. One was to become more like a duck and let everything run right off me and not let myself get affected by things that I had limited control over. I have a few moments where anxiety takes over and I start to freak out but for the most part I am much more relaxed. The other was make some superficial changes. I am now a blonde thanks to Cocodoodle. I haven't figured out if they truly do have more fun but I will keep you updated. The other was to again try to battle the bulge. 
Being a little plump growing up, I had been on every diet imaginable since about the age of nine. Just at the start of the year I dropped 10 pounds in 10 days doing the Master Cleanse. Not the healthiest of means to lose weight, but effective. Within 3 months the weight had gradually crept back. I overindulged quite a bit with the Mr. away and vowed to myself to be strict in my eating habits when he returned. Over the course of three weeks I melted away 10 pounds just by watching what I ate and the portions that I consumed. 
My new boss at my new job mentioned that he had lost 40 pounds on the 17 Day Diet. He wouldn't shut up about it. I let it go through one ear and out the other for a few weeks until a friend of mine had mentioned that it was working for her sister. I did some research and read the reviews. There wasn't a bad one out there. I bought the book and waited for its delivery. 
I started the diet four days ago and so far have lost five pounds. 
Amazing, right? It takes a bit of work but it is doable. Let me share some of what works for me. 
Planning is EVERYTHING for me! 
The night before I started I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, chopping vegetables, bagging up fruit, baking hand held egg cups, making beefed up broccoli meatloaf and faux mashed potatoes. I was excited for the next day. 
I am not an egg fan and dressed these eggs up as much as I could. The first day I let myself believe that they were delicious, the second day they 'weren't that bad'. By the third day, I could barely look at them. The egg cups were a success, but like I said I am not that much of an egg fan. 
Onto the meatloaf and mashed potatoes. The meatloaf was ok. I made it with ground turkey and doubled its size by added shredded broccoli. In the end all I really tasted was the broccoli. I need to work on that recipe still. The faux mashed potatoes, in my opinion, weren't fooling anyone. Pulverized cauliflower still tastes like cauliflower to me...yuck!
As long as everything is planned out it is an easy diet to stick to because you can actually eat. 
Tonight is Eggplant Parmigiana. Mmmmm...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


With the spurts of cleaning I have gone through lately, I have to say that the feeling of spring has definitely sprung in my home. I emptied out half of my closet and donated it to the local Goodwill. A couple of days later I followed up with a second trip after I eliminated two bags of shoes and whittled my collection to only 17 pairs. No room is safe in the house because I want to get rid of everything. At least everything that I don't need or haven't touched in the last year or two.
Yesterday was the day that I tackled the front room. I used another Pinterest find to help me navigate my way with a weekly cleaning schedule. I was able to manage the daily chores that were recommended in about 30 minutes, give or take. The cleaning for the living room on the other hand took me hours to finish. I am hoping that after the first week it will get easier. The only substitution I made was for Thursday. I don't have children which means I don't have a kid's bathroom. I subbed this day out for the office and spare bedroom and will pretty much follow the guidelines for the living room and master bedroom.
With the front of the house clean, I decided that it needed just one more touch. I headed out to Trader Joe's and picked up a bunch of flowers. Can you believe that this gorgeous bouquet only cost me $9.99?
Last night I took on another project from Pinterest. I made a spring wreath. I had debated on making a St. Patrick's Day wreath, since it is my favorite holiday (I have no idea why but I look forward to it every year) but decided to go with a longer lasting spring wreath instead. I know that it isn't officially spring yet but in California with its temperate weather it might as well be. I used a couple of ideas learned from the pins I had saved. First up, because I am a cheapie, I made my foam wreath (found HERE) instead of forking out for the high price I saw it for at the local craft store. I took it one step further and took a wire hanger from the dry cleaners and stuffed it in the middle of the foam to reinforce it. I found out the hard way when the last wreath I made ended up more oblong than round. Next I followed THIS tutorial. Instead of using a flower garland I used inexpensive fake flowers I found for 50% off at the Hobby Lobby and stuck pins with yellow heads through them to attach to the wreath. I was very happy with the results (although I still struggle making bows, grr...).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mrs. Clean

(What I used to think...I am starting to change my opinion.)

One of the little spats the Mr. and I get into repeatedly is over housework. Who should do it? How clean should the house be at all times? How much does our working schedule play into how much time each of us spends on keeping things tidy? That sort of thing.
He likes things military clean, I on the other hand don't mind the mess. If you ask my parents or any of my former roommates, my living spaces might have been a little...hmm...what's the right word? Scattered. Yes, that term will do nicely, thank you. 
I am not a disgustingly messy person by any means and as much as the Mr. likes to make the comparison to me and a person that we might see on Hoarders ('See? They have boxes of yarn throughout the house that they won't get rid, just like you babe.') I am in no way unsanitary. Besides, we BOTH make the mess. His expectation is that I be the primary one to clean it up. 
I used to take his reasoning as some barbaric, outdated, sexist, 1950s nonsense. Now that I am the housewife, I really don't have any recourse. After being the housewife for a whole week and attempting to keep the house spic and span I have to say, I really don't mind it. It gives me something to do during the day and it gives me something to plan out before I go to sleep at night. What really excites me about taking on these new domestic duties is that I can finally start putting all those pins in Pinterest to use. I have a board completely committed to 'Tips for the Home'. I thought I would try some out over the weekend. I want to share with you what worked for me and what gave me only so-so results. 

I gathered the needed ingredients: 
Dawn Dish Soap (apparently Dawn is the answer to everything according to Pinterest, but it has to be Dawn)
Hydrogen Peroxide
White Vinegar
Baking Soda
Vanilla Extract

The DIY cleaners I made with those ingredients were: 

Let's start with the microwave cleaner. It was very, very simple.
Mix 2 cups water with 1 tsp vanilla extract. Heat on high in the microwave for 5 minutes. Wipe down microwave with a clean dishcloth. 
This method in the end worked well. It wasn't as simple as wiping the microwave down when done, it did take a little bit of elbow grease but I had a spotless microwave in the end without having to use any sort or soap or other chemical cleaner. I give this tip a B+. 

For the drain cleaner, again another simple solution. 
Pour 3/4 to 1 cup of baking soda down the drain, then pour 1/2 cup white vinegar into the drain. Immediately cover (I used a plate) and let sit for 30 minutes. Remove cover and run hot water down drain for 2-3 minutes after. 
This cleaner worked perfectly, I could not have been happier with the results. I give it an A. 

The shower cleaner I am 50/50 on. 
Mix equal parts Dawn with white vinegar that has been heated up. Fill up spray bottle with solution. Spray desired area. Let sit for 30 minutes and then wash clean. 
Let me tell you what it worked well on: 
The shower grout and tile. 
Let me tell you what it did not work well on: 
The toilet
The shower floor
The shower seats
Saying that it worked well on the shower grout and tile is a little of an overstatement. Let's just say that it worked. My grade on this one, C-. 

Last we come to the stain remover. I save this one for last because I used it last. I wasn't sure I would need it at all but thanks to the Pup's late night upset tummy, I found my opportunity. 
Mix 1 part Dawn and 2 parts hydrogen peroxide. Fill spray bottle with solution. Spray on affected area, let sit at least 10 minutes (I opted for 30). Scrub area with water, pat dry. Repeat until suds stop appearing when scrubbed. 
For me, this worked faster than the chemical cleaners I used before. It was a little bit time consuming but in the end I was very happy with the results. A-.

There you have it. Some were great and some were just so-so. I have a couple more tips I would like to try and about a gazillion other things on Pinterest that I would like to attempt. Stay tuned and I will try post updates and reviews. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sensing Sunday: March 4, 2012

Hearing: A little Bob Marley, 'I Can See Clearly Now'

Seeing: The Mr. channel surfing in the other room.

Smelling: Dolce and Gabbana, Light Blue.

Tasting:  An ice cold Heineken...perfect for this unbelievably beautiful weather.

Feeling: Tired but relaxed. I never seem to fully recuperate after the 6 miles I walk with my dad every Sunday, neither does the Pup. Getting my second wind anticipating my husband grilling ribs for dinner tonight though. The end of this week could have been completely different considering all that the Mr. and I faced in the last seven days but I am glad that it ended with such a lovely day.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sensing Sunday: January 1, 2012

Just realized that it is Sunday as well. Let's try this again, shall we....

Hearing: The One That Got Away-Katy Perry

Seeing: Some show on the History Channel that the Mr. is watching behind me on his brand new humongous television, a 50 inch plasma. I have to do a double take every time I walk past it because I haven't gotten over the ridiculousness of it yet. Good grief....

Smelling: The self tanner I applied on my legs and arms. 

Tasting: The coffee I had this morning....gross. As soon as I am done here I am brushing my teeth. 

Feeling: Still a little worn out from being so sick yesterday but much better than I was. 

Be the Best

Here we are again....

It being the new year and resolutions being foremost in mind, I have decided I will not make empty promises about updating this blog. I swear I am starting to sound like a broken record. I am hoping to update more consistently but until the day where I get paid for these little ramblings, I can make no promise to do so on a regular basis.
Ok, now that we have got that out of the way.....

Happy New Year!

I believe this is the first year that I have not thought long and hard about resolutions. Most years I sit down at least a week prior to the new year editing my list to ten things I feel I might be able to tackle. Most years I am able to say that I have accomplished at least one thing on that list. I figure I would just carry over any resolutions I made last year but didn't fulfill and only add one more to the bunch. The one that I want to make this year is a little vague but easy to keep in mind on a daily basis.

This year I want to be the best I can be.

More specifically I want to:

Be the healthiest I can be.
Be the best looking I can be.
Be the best wife that I can be.
Be the best friend that I can be.
Be the best employee I can be.
Be the best Christian I can be.
Be the best daughter I can be.

and if given the chance this year....

Be the best mother I can be.

I started this morning by shaving my legs....already off to a great start.

Here's to the hopefulness of 2012! Can't wait to see what it brings.

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