Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Own Worst Enemy

Something interesting happened to me last night that I need to remember.

I'm taking a drafting class this semester--a subject notoriously my enemy.
Drafting has resulted in many tears and frustrations over the years, and was a subject I just couldn't master.
Rather than continue in frustration in the past, I dropped the class.
The question was whether my inability to do well was some kind of inherent obstacle (not everyone can do certain things, and perhaps drafting was just over my head somehow), or just a mental one.
Perhaps drafting was like drawing for me--I just THINK I can't do it.

I tend to have a little devil on my shoulder, grown fat and strong over time, who starts berating me in my head.
I will listen to a loop of reminders of failures, of my inability to find a niche, of "you can't", blah, blah, blah.
More often than not, and far too many times to count, that devil has been convincing.
That devil has been believable.

This semester I have the advantage of an amazing teacher who shares her shortcuts (lettering with ease when graph paper is underneath? No guide lines to draw. Who knew?!).
She uses excellent visual examples, and positive reinforcement.
She takes us through baby steps, versus teachers in the past who expected professional construction documents completed, even before students understood how to make a concept drawing.
In retrospect, of COURSE I was overwhelmed.

I knew that if I was going to conquer this beast known as drafting, she was my last opportunity.
Then, as things go, I missed a class. Then another.
I figured there was no way to catch up, and yet again I had better drop (cue negative devil on my shoulder to tell me I suck).
Then I found out it was too late to drop without a 'W' for withdrawal appearing on my record (may as well be an 'F').
Hmmm. What to do?

I decided to take my creased and smudged piece of vellum and throw a design together so I could at least get some kind of grade.
I just wanted to turn in SOMETHING.
I didn't have the right kind of circle templates or colored pencils, but I made do with a compass and some pencils my mom used to use in stamping classes.
I managed to put something onto paper.
I packed up my supply box, rolled up my now completed project, and took a trepidacious step into class last night.

What? I had to present the project to the class?
Would I be a laughing stock?

Imagine my surprise, then, when I unrolled my paper to show the teacher, and she stood there mesmerized.
In fact, when I presented, she told the class "don't be intimidated" by my coloring.
She said my coloring technique looked like oil paint, it showed dimension, and it was excellent, she said.
She asked me to give the class a tutorial on my technique.
The devil on my shoulder was in a tizzy.

My gosh...go figure.
I guess I can draft after all.
What an accomplishment. What a feeling!
Now just to starve that damned devil.


Saturday, September 26, 2009


One of my very favorite blogs is a foodie blog called Orangette.
I had read on Goodreads that the blog's author, Molly Wizenberg, has a book out called A Homemade Life, and the reviews were all in the five-star range.
So I put in a request for a copy at my local library.
The queue was long with interested readers, so after about 50 people ahead of me got the chance first, a couple of months later I finally was able to get my hands on the book.

By page two, I already knew I had to return the book.
Not because I didn't like it...but because I knew I had to have my own copy.
I wanted to read it with a pen in hand, underlining passages that moved me.
I wanted to make notes in the margins.

Orangette transformed Wizenberg's life.
She quit academia and finally found a niche that felt right: writing about food.
She also met her husband through the blog, when he commented. Go figure.

"I've never liked the word blog. It's kind of weird and lumpy. When you say it, it tumbles out of your mouth with an unbecoming thud. Plus, the whole concept is a little weird: a Web site where a person can write about whatever they want to, inviting comments and feedback from the whole world. At their best, blogs are smart, funny, and informative. At their worst, they're blush-worthy rants written at 2:00 a.m. after a bad breakup.
I tried to steer mine somewhere in between. I write about food and cooking, and in that sense, I aim to be informative, but I write about my life some, too, since it intersects with food roughly three times a day. I don't think many of us are terribly interested in recipes that have no stories or real-life context. For me, the two are inseparable. One is pale and boring without the other."

But I'll give you four reasons you need to have this book:
Blueberry Raspberry Pound Cake.

Oh. My. God.

I tried the recipe last night, and it's a total keeper.
It's light (not heavy like most poundcakes).
It pops with flavor (not flavorless like many poundcakes).
Does it have a lot of butter? Well, yeah.
Should you care? Hell no!

Live a little--experience joy.
All things in moderation, so splurge on dessert sometimes.
In fact, the book is filled with recipes.
It's basically a memoir/cookbook.

Because this recipe has already appeared online (on her blog), I'm going to reprint the recipe here.
The book says her mom got the recipe from some book about food processors.
The blog says her mom got the recipe from Bon Appetit Magazine.
Perhaps both are true.
All I know is this cake is really really good.

Blueberry Raspberry Pound Cake

5 large eggs
1 2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 ¼ cup (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, at room temperature, plus a bit more for the pan
2 Tablespoons kirsch (cherry Brandy)
2 cups plus 8 Tablespoons cake flour, plus a bit more for the pan
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup fresh blueberries

Generously butter a 9-cup Bundt pan, and dust it with flour, shaking out the excess.

In the bowl of a food processor, blend together the eggs and the sugar until smooth and thick, about 1 minute, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the butter and kirsch, and blend until the mixture is fluffy, about 1 minute, stopping once to scrape down the bowl.
Add 2 cups plus 6 Tablespoons flour, baking powder, and salt, and pulse twice or so to just combine. Do not overmix.
The batter should be very thick and very smooth.
(note: I just used a hand mixer, as I don't have a food processor)

In a large bowl, toss the raspberries and blueberries with the remaining 2 Tablespoons flour.
Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter into the berries.
Transfer this finished batter to the prepared Bundt pan, spreading it evenly across the top.
Place the Bundt pan on the center rack in a cold oven, and turn the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
(note: the book doesn't say this. I put the pan in a pre-heated oven)

Bake until a toothpick or knife inserted in the cake’s center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 25 minutes.
(note: check after an hour. The recipe in the book says bake one hour to one hour and 15 minutes)

Cool the cake in the pan for 5 minutes; then invert it onto a rack to cool completely.
Serve at room temperature, with tea, ice cream, or whipped cream, as the weather dictates.
(note: if you can't wait, like me, it's good warm too)

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Thursday, September 17, 2009


Last night I took the first step toward checking off things on
my bucket list.

The first item on the list (not that I have to check off in just worked out that way):
"Learn to Knit".

Last night I took size 13 needles and a ball of wool/acrylic yarn to the Knitting Club at the county library in La Mesa.
They meet Wednesday nights from 6pm to 8pm (when the library closes).
They have been meeting for one year so far, and are all ages.

I was a little scared, but was instantly welcomed, and one of the ladies was kind enough to set her own needles aside and show me what to do.

At first it felt really awkward, and I kept wanting to hold the needles from beneath instead of placing my hands on top of them.
Finally, I got the hang of it a bit, though there is still lots to learn, like purling, and reading a pattern.
I'll get there.

At one point, when we were all talking, the lady who was teaching me leaned over and whispered, "I hear the needles clicking, and I can see out of the corner of my eye that you're going to be a knitting fool!"
Said with a wink in her voice, it was definitely a pat on the back.

Slow progress, but I can already tell this is going to be fun
First attempt at knitting

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Girly Cupcakes

For debs' party, I knew right away that I was going to bake cupcakes instead of a cake.
I bought a Wilton cupcake tower (I have to say I am disappointed in it. It's so...small. Costco has a different type that I may try for the future).

Anyway, to go along with the theme of the party and everyone looking like debs, I decided the cupcakes should look like debs too.

There were a few options, like using a cake decorating tip to do frosting hair (the tip where the frosting comes out like spaghetti),
or I could snip some pieces of fruit roll-up or something.
Instead, I decided to use the idea of piping chocolate onto waxed paper, as seen in the book Hello, Cupcake!, by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson (a great book for decorating ideas).
Debs has dark hair underneath, and very light blonde on top, so (using a ziploc bag) I first piped milk chocolate on the area that would be close to the face, then I used white chocolate for the majority of the rest.

I let the hair chill a few minutes, until it was firm enough to peel off the waxed paper, then the hair was placed atop the frosted cupcakes.
I used a cream cheese frosting that was tinted a very pale pink for skin color, made by adding a small amount of Wilton red paste color.

For the cupcakes themselves, I decided on chocolate banana (debs favorite coffee flavor).
I was going to make the devil's food cupcake recipe by America's Test Kitchen, and I so wish now that I had followed through on that.
A day before the party, I was running so short of cash and time, I (and I'm mortified to say this) ended up using a boxed mix and adding mashed banana to it.
It was horrible.
I always bake from scratch, but I was really down to the wire on the last few dollars, so I tried to save a few bucks.
I won't do that again.
But I digress.

I used piping gel for the eyes, nose, and mouth.
I also mounded up frosting to give the noses heighth.
The plan was to roll fondant balls in iridescent powder and make pearl necklaces, but I ran out of time.
Later, I saw that King Arthur Flour sells sugar pearls, so I may use those for something in the future.
So, I was at a client's house the day of the party, and it was the last day of a week long dog-sitting job.
I baked the cupcakes the night before, in some amazing black and white polka dot liners that I bought through the A Cupcakery.

Debs likes black and white polka dots, so that was also a theme that was going on: I ordered both 11 and 16-inch balloons on eBay (some black with white dots, some white with black dots), and had them filled with helium the day of the party at a local party store.
Most of my gifts were placed in polka dot gift bags, and/or tied with polka dot ribbons.
It was perfect that debs showed to the party dressed in a black and white dress.
Not polka dots, but black and white.
Two of the gifts she was given were $50 gift certificates to the Black and White Store.

But back to the baking.
The night before the party, I also made the cookie dough, and left it to chill in the refrig.
I finished at 2am, then set my alarm for 7.
I had to wash the sheets, pack my car, sweep the floor, clean the counters...AND finish all the decorating before my client's came home at 3pm.
I was expected at the restaurant at 6:15pm.
Busy day.

In the morning, I started cutting out the cookie dough in star shapes, and baking the cookies on lollipop sticks.
I needed to make more dough (I made 20 magic wands).
They turned out great.
As I was baking cookies, I was also decorating cupcakes.
At 2pm (seven hours later), I was STILL decorating cupcakes, and had to make a mad dash to sweep and pack up my bags.

When my clients arrived at 3pm, all my clothing and all of debs' boxes filled with gifts were sitting on the livingroom floor.
Cake batter was on the handle of the refrigerator door.
Cookies were now cooled, but were all along the kitchen counter on paper towels.
The sheets were washed, but the bed was not made.
The dishwasher hadn't yet been emptied.
Where did all the time go?

Sadly, my client was not amused.
Most clients would have been understanding with my not being finished (shoot, most house-sitters don't wash the sheets, or any of that).
This client, however, is a bit OCD with the cleaning.
I offered to finish up, but she said she'd do it, then gave me a cold silent treatment.

In the tense environment, I hurriedly packed up my car, but I had so much stuff that it took an hour.
And it was soooo incredibly hot that day!
I was miserable.
I finally threw off my heels and opted for sandals until I got to the restaurant later that night.

The cupcake faces were all slightly different, and really quite adorable.
All were chilling nicely in the refrigerator, so I took them out and placed them in an awesome Snapware three-tier carrier that my friend Jen loaned to me for the occasion.I have got to get one of those.
Their website only shows two-tier carriers now, so I don't know if the product has been discontinued.
I hope not.

I wish I could go back in time and take a photo of the decorating, but I was so rushed and stressed and needing to escape that tension, that I didn't get one.

Um, remember how I said it was hot?
Well, at the same time the A/C in my car is going out.
During the drive from my client's house to Tracie's (so I could frost the magic wand cookies) all the decorated faces that took me so many hours to create...
they melted.
Melted off.


What to do?
All we could do was make jokes about aging.

Here's one that is partially complete, so you can get the idea of what they looked like originally
Face cupcakes
(flickr sizes these poorly, so you have to click on the images to enlarge)

Debs in the middle, with several of the guests holding their debs fans.
It was later in the evening, so some people had left, and most had removed their costumes.
Pig's 50th 096

Tracie has more photos to send me, so I'll post more later.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Planning the Party: Bucket List

To organize debs' party, I emailed back and forth with Tracie and debs' two sisters.
Debs husband wasn't in the loop as often because we couldn't take a chance that debs would see my name on the computer (we couldn't have her sniffing out the surprise), but I did talk to him on the phone on occasion.
We started talking in February. The party was August 29.
We all decided that for the 50th, we'd give debs 50 gifts.

Some of the 50 gifts were $50 certificates.
I gave her a 50-cent piece.
We thought of (but ended up not giving her) 50 truffles, or a certificate for a
50-minute massage (the possibilities are endless).
Some of the fifty gifts, were actually several gifts, in buckets.
You know, "kick the bucket", and "bucket list".

Tracie took mini buckets and stuck Tootie Pops in foam, and made little labels on each pop that said "Fifty Sucks".
She wanted to use Blow Pops and say "Fifty Blows", but I nixed that idea ;).

I gave her three buckets.
One was a mini metal orange-colored bucket, tied with an "over the hill" ribbon, and filled with "old people" stuff: reading glasses, cat butt gum, gummy maggots, a little Maxine pillow, saying "Old age is a state of behind", Mood lipstick, and a concealer that featured a wizard on the front of the package with a magic wand (purchased at Target).
Especially funny is its message "break open in case of emergency".

Another bucket was a pink plastic sand pail, with its own little shovel.
This was her whimsical bucket.
Inside: bacon-flavored dental floss, a lady robot wind-up toy that danced, pig-shaped paperclips, post-it notes saying "When Pigs Fly", and a package of windmill-shaped cookies to celebrate her Dutch heritage.
I can't remember what else was in there.

Her sister gave her a bucket filled with retro candies, like Poprocks.
She also found one of those flip signs that used to be popular in the 80's, where drivers flash other drivers messages.
She also gave debs a crazy book called Furverts, about stuffed animals having sex. Um, it's not a normal family, lol.

For an inspirational bucket, I filled a larger metal Ikea bucket with paper filler (all the paper filler I used had inspirational words printed on it. I bought it at Tuesday Morning).
I tied the bucket with cute pink ticking fabric stamped with crowns and Paris
(from the etsy shop of Homestead Treasures).

Inside I put a blank journal
as well as a little book with a photo of the Eiffel tower on the cover and inspirational sayings within.
I had "wish" magnets of a dandelion being blown
(from the etsy shop of Craft Madness).

Following the bucket list theme, the chick-lit book, Next Thing on My List, plus a Disney bookmark saying "Get your sparkle on".

A book about Wishing Traditions around the World.

A Mary Poppins Pig pencil case
(from the etsy shop of Rohmer), filled with a drawing pencil and portable watercolor brush, to entice her to bring art back into her life.

I had glittery gold and pink pencils, and several fun ink pens.
I included star-shaped stickers, in sparkly gold and in a glow-in-the-dark.
I had so many ideas for candy, like whimsical candy necklaces, or star-shaped gummy candy, but instead opted for making "magic wand" cookies.

A separate gift, two more books (gosh, I gave her a lot of books, huh?), these by Keri Smith of the wonderful blog, Wish Jar Journal.
Keri has several books, but I got debs How to be an Explorer of the World, and Living out Loud.
I thought she might enjoy doing the exercises with her kids.

I didn't see all the gifts debs was given, but I know she got a tee shirt with an image of Audrey Hepburn on the front,
a magazine from the month and year of her birth,
mugs, magnets, and shirts from places she used to work, as a nod to her history.
She got a Victorian-style cat ornament in glitter, wearing wooden shoes.
A collection of pinback buttons: "I see Dutch People", "Will Write for Chocolate", "Guac the Casbah" (all from Cafe Press), and a handmade brooch with the model Twiggy's face.
She got make-up, clothing store gift certificates, restaurant gift certificates, a little album for photobooth many fun things.

I wanted to emphasize wishing, and hopes, and dreams, along with "wishing on a star".
If you plan a party with this theme, other possible ideas: rose-colored glasses, shooting for the moon, twinkly lights.

The point of these posts is to show you how much fun it can be to develop a party theme, and to be detail oriented about finding gifts and decorations to mirror that theme.
It's so important to really think about what the birthday girl wants.
In the beginning of our party discussions, the party planners had very differing opinions about "hip" places to hold the event, and what the evening should entail.
In the end, we discussed how important it was not to be swayed by the kind of things each of us would think was fun...what was important was what DEBS would think was fun.
Debs loves travel, and Paris, and writing, and inspirational dreams.

Still more posts about the party soon.


Monday, September 07, 2009

I'm Back!

Whew, sorry for the big gap in posting.
I've been spending most of my time organizing a surprise birthday party for my friend debs.
It's really great when friends read my blog and are my Facebook buddies, but the sucky part is I can't share with you the things I make, or my ideas...
because they'll be seen by the intended recipients.

Anyway, I'm going to draw this post out several days because there is lots and lots to share about this party, and I really hope it inspires you to do something fun for someone you love.

First off, this was a biiiig birthday.
The dreaded big 5-oh.
Debs said she didn't want a party, she just wanted to leave the country (she and her husband and kids are on a cruise, where debs and Bill will renew their wedding vows after 20 years) and stick her head in the sand.

Okay, so I figured half a century doesn't come along every frickin' day, and I opted not to listen to her.
In order not to piss her off though, I figured I'd make the party as wacky and weird as possible, that way she'd hopefully spend most of the night giggling.
And that's exactly what happened.

I was able to get messages out to a few of her old friends and to her sisters via Facebook.
I also contacted a few people from her job.
I enlisted my friend Tracie, debs' husband Bill, and debs' two sisters to help me plan.
At first it was really frustrating, because I worked and worked on trying to figure out a venue, and nothing was falling into place.
A lot of fun events were mid-week, for some reason.
With debs working full-time, and one sister in Los Angeles, that wasn't going to work.

Should we go to a place like Dave & Busters or Boomers, where we could take photobooth pics and play Skee Ball?
Debs loves playing Skee Ball when we go to the fair every year.
Champion of the Universe
No, something didn't feel right about that choice.

I found a Beatles cover band playing in a local casino (debs loves The Beatles) but Tracie was out of town that night, and her kids couldn't be in the concert area as it was 21 and up.
Ditto The Stagehouse to see The Disco Pimps (a band that plays disco tunes), or The Shout House (a dueling piano bar).

The old movie Funny Face was playing in Balboa Park (Audrey Hepburn is a debs fave), so I thought we could picnic then see the movie.
Sadly, the Museum of Photographic Arts no longer has their vintage photobooths, but I still thought the location had potential.
But it was on a Thursday night, and the other party planners thought we needed an environment where we could talk and mingle (not sit quietly and watch a movie).

I loved the idea of going to The Murder Mystery Cafe, because I knew the characters would include debs in the plot.
The other party planners didn't think she'd like that.
But then her (younger) sisters thought we should rent a Hummer limo and bar/photobooth hop. Back in the day, maybe, but today "we old".
We're too tired to hop, lol.

I LOVED the idea of seeing Richard Cheese, but he was appearing on a weeknight also, and it was too soon to get the party organized.
If you haven't heard of Richard Cheese, he sings current songs in lounge version.
He's so wonderfully wacky.
Check out this video.
By the time I even found out he was going to be at House of Blues, most of the event was sold out.
Had he played here late August, that would have been perfect.
Sigh, I really hope he doesn't retire as he is threatening to do, because I really do hope to see him live one day.

Anyway, after I came up with 30 options and they all had something wrong with them, everyone was getting a little stressed that it was down to the wire and we had better decide.
Wanting to help, Bill and her sisters chose a local restaurant, but I decided no, it couldn't be a "normal" location--it had to be a place where we could show up in costume and the waiters would play along.

We opted for a mostly gay bar/restaurant in Hillcrest called Baja Betty's, chosen especially for the personality of the waiters.
It was the perfect place.
You see, sixteen people showed to the party, and we all showed up dressed like debs.
Her sisters snuck into her closet and wore two of her old 80's outfits, and wigs in "news bobs" (debs used to be a television reporter and anchor).
Her daughter wore one of debs' old pageant gowns (debs was Miss Pacific Beach in the Fairest of the Fair pageant, the year Tracie was crowned Fairest of the Fair, then later Miss San Diego).
fof- debs (2)
Her daughter also had on a brassy 70's-style wig with banana curls at the sides.

Really, what could be more perfect?!!

Her husband wore a strand of pearls and a hideous curly blond wig with a little bow at one side.
I wore a platinum wig and kitty ears, with pearls and ribbons hanging down.
I walked into the restaurant, and no one even blinked.

So along with wacky, we focused on the positive--the theme was wishes, hopes, dreams.
Debs used to give seminars for Barbara Sher's inspirational book, Wishcraft, so in essence it was a Wishcraft party.
Barbara Sher even sent an autographed copy of her newest book.

I made up favors for everyone in little metal buckets from Ikea--filled with pads of paper for bucket lists, a mini Skee Ball game, and a glittery pencil for the ladies/a disposable fountain pen for the guys.
I also made star-shaped sugar cookies with royal icing and edible glitter on a stick (magic wand cookies), so everyone got one of those also.

Tomorrow I'll tell you about the gifts in buckets that we gave to the birthday girl.

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