Thursday, April 29, 2010

Too Cute to Eat

Full disclosure: I have a true love for the Muppets.  I can recite the entire Muppets Take Manhattan movie; I used to have Kermit and Miss Piggy posters in my room when I was a pre-teen.  When I was a kid, I thought that the Muppets were actually real, like that someday I would be walking around town and run into Fozzie Bear at the post office.  I've obviously grown up but I still have a soft spot for Jim Henson creations.  They are the kind of entertainment adults create so that they can enjoy watching shows with their own children.

You can only imagine my excitement when I saw these Muppet cupcakes, which were actually made for a wedding in England.  They are perfectly crafted and are absolutely adorable.  Who would want to eat them?

Check out the post from Cupcakes Take the Cake for more pictures of this beautiful dessert!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On this rainy day...

I really like Yellow Owl Workshop's stamp sets.  One of my favorites is the Rainy Day set with a stamp for rain and one with an umbrella.  It totally reminds me of Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain, simultaneously commonplace and romantic.  On a rainy day like today, it's nice to think about making art out of inclement weather.

(Image from Yellow Owl Workshop website)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

81 Years Old...

Today is my grandfather's birthday.  He's 81 but he looks much younger, and acts much younger too.  He loves gardening, the casino, sudoku, his new iTouch, fresh bread for breakfast and his family.  We had cake for him tonight and even though he made us promise not to get him presents, Anthony and I bought him a Topsy-Turvy, one of those hanging garden contraptions that are shown in 5-minute commercials on cable television after 10pm.  He loves to garden but has a hard time getting down on the ground to dig, weed and pick the vegetables.  This tomato plant-grower will sit on the back deck and hopefully produce something, although I doubt that 300 pounds of tomatoes will sprout, like the commercial claims. 

Since my grandpa's new favorite thing to do at the casino is to play keno, I made a special card for him:

He seemed to love it.  Here's my Poppy being a good sport and posing with the card:

Happy birthday to the best grandfather--I wish for him many more years of happiness and a thriving garden this summer.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

 (Photo from From Me to You)

Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and with today's weather in the Northeast, it feels like the Earth sending us a treat.  There's a slight breeze and the sun is warm but the air is crisp, my favorite kind of weather.  I'm using today to think about what I can do to reduce my footprint in the world, like remembering that I put cloth bags in my car for when I go grocery shopping and actually taking them into the store with me.  There are lots of small things that we can all do to make a difference and I need to start being more conscious of that. 

My favorite Earth Day memory is from my junior year in college.  One of my good friends on campus was president of the student club SEA (Student Environmental Association) and I somehow got roped into being the secretary that year.  We really wanted to do some fun activities and the club members (who were basically a bunch of our friends) were on board.  In the fall, we collected bottles and cans from the townhouses where senior parties were thrown--by Sunday mornings, there were hundreds of cans from the Thursday, Friday and Saturday night parties.  I also arranged for the head zookeeper from the Beardsley Zoo to come and speak in February. He brought many animals and we had a pretty decent turnout.  But for Earth Day, we thought that it would be a great idea to sell plants in the campus center to students, faculty and staff.

The big problem with this was that we didn't have any money to buy the plants in the first place.  I had been working on some other fundraiser projects and I knew that companies, large and small, were usually willing to donate to a good cause.  I called the local Home Depot store and the manager promised us 200 plants as long as we could pick them up.  The plants were in small, spongy planters, like the ones that are sold at elementary school plant sales and were all different colors.  I didn't have a car yet (it took me another 6 months to save up for one) so I had to borrow a friend's Pontiac to load up the plants, get them to the campus center, bring them in, arrange them on the table and make sure there was at least one SEA member there at all times to sell them for 50 cents each from noon to 4:00pm. 

The event was extremely successful--we sold every plant and people kept coming by while we were cleaning up asking for more.  We donated the money and for a few days, felt really good about our contributions.  I remember how stressful it was to get everything ready in time and still go to class, do homework, go to my job and go to meetings for other organizations I was in.  It seems so silly now but we all were thrilled when Home Depot offered all of those plants for free.  Thinking back on it makes me smile and wish I had window-boxes to plant some cheerful flowers of my own.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lovely Surprise

Tonight, after we ate dinner, Anthony and I were clearing the table when he disappeared.  He came back a few minutes later with hands behind his back.  He had a present for me, one that he thought he could hold onto until my birthday (July!) but decided that he wanted to give to me now.  I put out my hands and he dropped a heavy book in my hands, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

I've been talking about this book for months.  I look at it every time we are in a bookstore; I read Mark Bittman's posts on the New York Times website.  Not only was the surprise lovely, it was so nice to know that he pays attention to what I like and am obsessed with!  It was very thoughtful and that's the best part about it.  I can't wait to make a huge batch of cookies as a thank you! 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Making Seven-Layer Cookies

I'm finally ready to post about the seven-layer cookies that I made for Easter two weeks ago.  I knew that it would be a challenge before I even started--the recipe said that from start to finish, the cookies take about twelve hours to make and I learned quickly that twelve hours was not an exaggeration!

I started with this post from Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite websites.  The cookies looked absolutely delicious and growing up near tons of Italian bakeries, I have fond memories of these specific treats.  I wanted to make a new dessert for my Easter company and I knew that with the chefs in my family, I had to pull off something impressive.  In the end, the cookies were a hit, they looked similar to Smitten Kitchen's photos and I learned that I can be a great baker too if I take my time, read all the directions and stay calm.

I started off making the cakes, three thin almond-paste flavored layers each dyed a different color.  The batter is thicker than I expected and I had difficult spreading it on the parchment paper in the pan.  A had to help and hold the paper for me all three times.  Once the cakes were baked and cooled, the next step was to stack them after spreading strained warm apricot preserves between the layers.  The thin cakes were hard to flip over but we did it with minimal cracking.  Then, the cakes were weighted and put in the fridge for ten hours.  The next morning, I melted chocolate and smeared the top, then put it in the refrigerator to harden.  The cake was then flipped over and chocolate was spread on the other side.  After that hardened, it was FINALLY time to cut them up into the small rectangles that I remember. 

The perfect seven-layer cookies from Smitten Kitchen

My seven-layer cookies

Like I said earlier, I do think the results were great, much better than I expected.  However, they were not easy and I don't think that a busy Easter weekend is the best time for me to tackle a new, very involved recipe in the future.  In the end, I do think that these cookies earned a place in my baking repetoire.  And FYI, the colors are just as enchanting in real life as they are in the pictures--they were the perfect Easter-egg colors for the holiday!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Looking Back: SNL 2000 to 2010

Last night, I tuned into a two-hour special on Saturday Night Live: Looking Back.  I usually enjoy clip shows and since this one specifically focused on the last ten years of programming, I tuned in.  In the last decade, I graduated from high school, I graduated from college, I earned a master's degree, I moved out on my own, I've been in a relationship for 6 years, etc.  Basically, I became an adult.  And through it all, if I'm home on a Saturday night at 11:30pm, I watch Saturday Night Live.

Lately, I'm one of these annoying people who watches to see if the show will be decent.  I don't think that the current writers are extremely funny and I cringe more than I laugh during most skits.  I'm not sure what has changed except for the absence of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers as head writer and a bunch of unfunny guest hosts.  The SNL that I hold on to and still have hope for is the show as it was from about 1995 to 2003-ish.  I view Saturday Night Live as an institution--it's been on the air for decades and has survived so much while keeping a rotating cast.  I just don't think that the running fart and gay jokes are funny.  Fresh writers and new cast members should mean new ideas and a refreshing show every week but for me, that's not what is happening.

Once the show realizes they have something that really works, they go overboard.  Kristin Wiig is awesome--she is so expressive and becomes a different person in a split-second.  I read an interview with her a few weeks ago and she said that she is actually shy and that she becomes these characters so that she doesn't feel so much like she is acting.  The show knew that she was wonderful and as the female cast members left one by one (Maya Rudoph, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler), she became the female powerhouse.  And she was in every skit.  Her shenanighans got old quickly because she was overused.  Also, there are other females that are completely underutilized.  The comediennes were cast because they are funny--let them show the audience.

Another instance of this is the Digital Shorts.  Andy Samberg is funny--he has a great sense of humor and two business partners/friends that are also funny.  The Digital Shorts exploded with "Lazy Sunday," a rap parody Samberg did with then-castmate Chris Parnell about eating Magnolia cupcakes and seeing The Chronicles of Narnia on a Sunday.  Now, I really love this.  It's original and comical and people really do stuff like this in Manhattan on the weekends.  But now the show feels like there is pressure to offer one every week.  This is not true.  If they were as funny or as thought-out, yeah, maybe.  The newer ones feel forced, like they are just taking up time from the live skits.  There are only like 5 live skits as it is, with the monologue, the two musical performances and the looonnng Weekend Update.

Like I said earlier, I still have hope so I'll keep watching, but it's easy for my mind to wander back to the good times with Jimmy Fallon, Will Ferrell or Cheri Oteri when I laughed aloud at skits regularly, or even back to the classic episodes from the 1970's that still run as some of the greatest comedic moments of all time.  With Ryan Phillippe as tomorrow's host, I'm optimistic and will be standing by ready to laugh.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mary Engelbreit Accessories

This weekend, I was in Michael's Craft Store for the third time in less than two weeks.  I found the punch that I needed, found a few scrapbook paper designs that I thought would work for the project I'm completing, and as I was headed to the register, a display caught my eye.  I've never been a huge fan of Mary Engelbreit's designs.  The combination of the people and the sayings that she uses never really appealed to me, but there is no denying that her flower designs and patterns are adorable.  Michael's has started selling select items from the Mary Engelbreit line and I have to admit, I fell in love with the placemats, napkins, cupcake papers and cookie cutters.  I contemplated in front of the shelves for about ten minutes and wound up buying two packages of the cupcake papers, one of each design, and a cookie tin.  The cupcake liners I gave to my mom and aunt, who were more than thrilled and promised me muffins in the future as a 'thank you.'  And the tin is for me.  I can't wait to put a batch of homemade cookies in it!

Here are a few of my favorite items:

These are the cutest dessert napkins.  I think I would open one and use it like a doily.

The cherry plates are so cheerful.

These labels make me want to learn how to can!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sex & the City Movie, Part II

I started watching Sex & the City way after new episodes were coming out on HBO.  The show had already won tons of awards and acclaim by the time I watched my first episode, which was an edited version shown on TBS at 10:00pm on a Wednesday night.  The characters and storyline were interesting enough so I tuned in the next week too.  And soon after, I was watching Sex and the City nightly in syndication on Channel 11.  I even have the first few seasons on DVD--it's definitely an experience to watch the full episodes if you have only seen the edited and 'clean' ones on network television. 

When the first movie came out, I saw it on opening night.  I stood in line with hundreds of other ladies (and my boyfriend, bless him) so that I could sit in a dark theater for three hours and learn what has happened to these four central characters that I grew to love.  Even though I thought it was a great continuation of the series, I still had reservations when I heard a second one was being filmed.  For a split, insane moment, I thought that I might not see it at all.

Now that the new trailer is out, I have changed my mind and cannot wait for May 27.  There are very few movies that people will actually wait in line to see anymore.  When I was in high school, I remember standing in line (or arriving and finding a sold-out show) almost every Friday night.  Every release was a big one--the Batman movies, the Spiderman movies, Men in Black.  I love getting excited about the release of a new film and although the Sex & the City 2 trailer looks almost as impractical and unbelievable as the whole series was, I will be in line to see it opening weekend for sure.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Shake Shack!

I'm sure this will be the first of many posts on this topic but I love New York City.  Growing up a little less than two hours away ensured several trips a year when I was young.  Once I hit college, I sometimes made it in once a week.  And now that I'm an adult with responsibilities and a full-time job, blah blah, I only make it once every month or two.  Even though the shopping and the museums are wonderful, the parks are some of my favorite places to visit.  Once inside Central Park, it's hard to think about the pulsing city that surrounds it.  The smaller parks that are hidden behind townhouses or just come right out of nowhere while you are walking are the best.  New York City parks allow visitors to pretend like they are locals. Sitting on a bench with your shoes off while sipping an iced tea lets you blend in and experience being a 'true' New Yorker for even just a few minutes. 

Last September, A and I took a rare vacation day off together and traveled into New York on a Friday.  It was beautiful out and we walked down to Herald Square and from there headed to the Flatiron District.  Once there, I made a beeline towards Madison Square Park to claim my spot at the end of the Shake Shack line.  I had heard so much about the burgers, shakes and fries from this stand that I had to try some myself and A was totally down to help.  We sat at a small, metal table and ate and talked until the sun started to go down and it got a bit chilly, but we were having such a great time, we stayed a bit longer.  The lights went on in the park and soon, we were surrounded by families with their kids and dogs and it was just lovely.

I was reminded of that day this morning when I saw that the Shake Shack just posted its shake menu for April.  With 'Pancakes and Bacon' scheduled for Saturdays, I see another lazy New York Saturday afternoon in our future! 

(This image is from TimeOut New York, but it looks exactly like the meal we had!)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hosting A Successful Easter

Today, we had a full apartment.  A and I hosted Easter and prepared a real feast for his mom, my parents, my grandparents and my godmother.  I really wanted to make this holiday special--for weeks, I've been bookmarking different projects and recipes for the big day.  All in all, everything turned out well and everyone seemed to have a great time.  I've found that I really enjoy hosting these occasions but that I get much more stressed than I would like.  It just seems like things all need to be done at once and even with multi-tasking, I can only accomplish so much in a limited amount of time.  Below, I've been posted some photos of my holiday projects, most of them from Martha Stewart. 

First up, these are lunch-bag flower holders.  I wish that I bought a small mum to stick in there but I used small vases instead and these really cute accent flowers.

Here is what Martha's looked like:

I also made these egg-shell vases, per Martha's suggestion.  I didn't have any egg cups to put them in so I improvised.

Martha's do look better but I really like my idea to use part of an egg carton.

In addition to these, I took on a huge project and made traditional seven-layer Italian cookies.  The recipe told me that it would take about eleven hours and that was not an exaggeration.  I'll post a separate note on that later in the week with pictures.  I hope you all had a wonderful Easter and that you enjoyed this beautiful spring day!