Archive | June, 2012

Of Birthday Cake and Sunflowers

28 Jun

Today is the one-week-aversary of my birthday, so I figure I’ve procrastinated long enough in getting these up.

We keep birthdays pretty low key around here – no drunken debauchery, no huge parties and definitely no surprises. All of that energy gets funneled into one thing: the cake.

I love cake. I especially love birthday cake. I have a folder full of potential birthday cakes, and I looooove scouring food sites for the next cake. And never, not ever, do I bake the same cake twice.

This year I picked a lemon-blueberry cake with Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, based on a recipe over at Plant Food Fabulous. Sounds like the perfect summer cake, right? And it included two special challenges: lemon curd from scratch and the frosting. Lemon curd has always intimidated me, and I’d never attempted a buttercream, let alone a meringue buttercream.

And mostly, it really *is* the pefect summer cake and I would recommend it to anyone. I pulled off the lemon curd and the frosting came together really well.

However, no one warned me about what happens to meringue buttercream when you live in Las Vegas in the summer.

This is what happens when you try to make this cake in the summer in Las Vegas – a place where the A/C can never keep up. And you guys, this is the good photo.

Lesson learned: If it’s 80+ degrees in your kitchen, your frosting will go from lovingly whipped and chilled to oil slick in about two seconds. Piping was impossible – the top of the cake looked like a kid made a ring of dribble sandcastles. The sides were all kinds of messy, and I couldn’t even coat the very bottom layer, because the frosting kept melting and falling off. And, it took about 6 times in and out of the freezer to even get this.

But, it is a seriously delicious cake.

And then my husband brought me sunflowers, which I adore:

Aren’t they gorgeous? I’m experimenting with ways to preserve them for use in an art piece I’m working on. Of course, that kind of experimentation is very delicate and may require several more bouquets of flowers. *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*


Banner Day!

19 Jun

It doesn’t take much to make me happy (this may or may not be a lie). At the very least, it doesn’t take much to delight me. Finding the perfect piece of metal on the ground, the way Draya’s tongue lolls farther and farther the more tired she gets, that sort of thing.

The delivery man has a special place in my heart, though. This is what he brought me today:

A brand spanking new cutting mat! (Do you like how I put my knife there, so you would know what it is?)

I’ve been cutting on the same battered – and very small – mat for years. It’s crusted with paint and medium and who knows what else. There are chunks taken out of it because it’s been used so much. So it was high time for a new mat. Bonus: because this isn’t that horrible dark green, I’ll actually be able to see the lines I’m cutting!

Cut Paper Father’s Day Card

14 Jun

This is one of the only times that I haven’t been home to celebrate Father’s Day with my dad. (Las Vegas suddenly feels impossibly far away!)

I wanted to send him something kind of special – but he’s the kind of guy who just buys stuff when he needs/wants it. And he’s definitely not the kind of guy who wants sports gear (he still uses a weight set that is at least 30 years old), or movies – and none of that is special, anyway.

But art… art is special.

Since I’ve been experimenting a lot with cut paper lately, I thought it might be kind of cool to make a card for him (with the added benefit of avoiding the card racks at Target). The beach has been a special place for my family since before I was born. At least twice a year (Spring Break and Thanksgiving) we all gathered, even when my sister and I moved away. And what is my dad’s favorite thing to do at the beach? Fish. Well, it’s kind of pretend fishing. If he puts the poles in the water, he can sit down on the beach and smoke his cigar in peace.

All of that was the inspiration for this card:

It started with a simple sketch. I love really graphic, bold shapes, so I chose to incorporate those as much as possible – as in the clouds. You can see that I’ve placed little X’s on all the spots that are going to be cut out. Without this, I am a lost paper cutter – once you get down close and see only lines, it is incredibly easy for your eyes to shift, and then it’s all over.

And here is the piece halfway through. With my first ever paper cut, I learned that you must start at the center and work outwards, especially if you have delicate linework. Otherwise, the movement of your hand back and forth across the paper turns those lines to mush. (We don’t talk about that experience anymore.)

This was the end product. I broke out my watercolors and spent a few hours (yes, hours!) creating the perfect color and texture for the background, which also forms the rest of the card.

But, of course it needed an envelope. A sheet of vellum coated with matte gel medium turned out to be just about perfect (although you can see here my distaste for actually measuring things). I used a piece of colored tracing paper to cover the card inside the envelope, both for extra protection and to preserve the surprise!

Rustic Root Vegetable Dog Treats

8 Jun

A few months ago, in the midst of my sourdough bread flurry, I decided to try my hand at homemade dog treats. I’ve never felt great about dog biscuits, and although my dogs love rawhide, I don’t like them to have a ton of it. Also, we have lots of veggie scraps in this house, even with keeping a stock bag in the freezer. And my dogs love fruits and vegetables. Draya would shank you in the back to get a piece of banana; Bronx seems to feel the same about carrots.

I had a kitchen disaster this week, while attempting beet chips, which led to lots of raw beet scraps. And I always keep a jar of chopped carrot peels in the freezer. Then there was that lone banana, staring at me from atop the flour tin, accusing me of not eating it before those spots showed up. Whatever could be done?

Dog biscuits. (Don’t you think Rustic Root Vegetable Dog Treats sounds so much more Martha-y than Vegetable Scrap Dog Biscuits? Me, too.)

There are a billion dog treat recipes on the web (beware: many of these contain a lot of sugar and salt), but I use a super simple base that I can alter according to what veggies I’m using.

My base is just cornmeal, flour, a bit of oil or applesauce, and egg (I’ll provide measurements at the end of the post). Everything else is determined by what I have on hand, usually.

Can you believe how pretty that dough is?? This is the result of a banana, and both beets and carrots.

The hard work is done – now I just roll out the dough, cut it into rectangles (because it’s rustic, right?), and place them on a cookie sheet treated with cooking spray. This dough doesn’t spread or rise, so you can fit a ton of treats on one sheet.

Once they’ve cooled, they can go into whatever container you choose. But don’t forget: dogs deserve garnish, too.

The last step, obviously, is the taste test. You can see that Draya didn’t hesitate to chomp hers. Bronx likes to smell his treats before he accepts them. As you can see, these are dog-wag approved!

Now for the recipe!

Dog Biscuit Base

1/2 cup cornmeal
2 cups flour (can be white or whole wheat)
6 tablespoons oil (can sub applesauce, or omit completely)
2/3 cup water

Dog Biscuit Options

1/2 rolled oats
1-2 eggs (I have found that if I use 2 eggs, I can leave out the oil)
chopped parsley (fresh or dried)
chopped mint (fresh or dried)
peanut butter

Warning: Onions and garlic are horribly poisonous for dogs, so never ever use them in your biscuits. The ASPCA has a great list of other foods to avoid.

I usually just eyeball these extras, and if the dough is too wet or dry, I adjust the amount of flour. I have also found that making a puree of the vegetables/fruits/herbs is easier to work with.

Roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch, then cut the biscuits and place them on the baking sheet. Bake at 325F for about 60 minutes. The biscuits should be dry to the touch and have little-to-no squish when you push down on the middles. Turn the oven off, and allow the biscuits to cool inside the oven. They should come out completely dry and crunchy, but if your oven is wonky (like mine) you can just stick them back in for another 15-30 minutes.

Once cooled, store them in an airtight container.

Las Vegas Farmer’s Market, Part 2

5 Jun

You may think this a bit excessive, but, oh, this melon is soooooo worth its own post.

I present to you, the Santa Claus Melon:

Not knowing a whole lot about melons, we selected this one based on the vendor’s recommendation. He described it as having a texture similar to watermelon, and a flavor like a honeydew crossed with a cantaloupe. I detest cantaloupe, but if you only fed me watermelon and honeydew for the rest of my life, I’d be a happy camper.

The melon has a firm rind, but was super easy to cut – and it turns out, the rind isn’t very thick at all. And it’s beautiful.

You can see that it is honeydew colored closer to the rind, and almost cantaloupe colored near the center. And the flavors and texture follow the same pattern!

One more picture for good measure – don’t you think those seeds look like little popcorn kernels? So cool.

Las Vegas Farmer’s Market

4 Jun

Also known as the Ten Vendor Market with No Local Produce and Some Overpriced Food and Junk.

I shouldn’t have had such high hopes for the farmer’s market – I live in the desert, for cripes’ sake. But that little piece of me who grew up on the North Carolina State Farmer’s Market held out hope.

Alas, only two out of the ten vendors were selling produce. One guy was clearly selling stuff he got off the wholesale grocery truck. There was a farm from California there, selling their own stuff. But, California? They had some really amazing and unusual melons – along with strawberries, and the usual suspects. We couldn’t possibly pass up the chance at just-picked berries. And, after getting a thorough melon rundown, we picked out a Santa Claus melon. Neither of us have any idea why it’s called that – but it is deeeeelicious.

And, as if to make up for the lack of amazing veg, the whole park was nearly filled with peacocks. From the action we saw, I’d say it’s mating season. I got some pictures – circumstances prevented perfect technique, but I think you’ll get the idea.

The birds were amazing. We also found this beauty, who wasn’t terribly happy about the camera (but at least I wasn’t chasing her, like the kids were).

But the produce is supposed to be the star, right?

I have some really beautiful shots of the inside of the melon to share, but that will have to wait for another day. I’ve got to pull out my paints and try to capture those birds on paper!



Cut Paper Birthday Card

2 Jun

I’ve posted this in a couple other places already, so some of you have seen it. This is the birthday card I made for my husband this year, in it’s almost-finished state. It still needed a bit of cleanup and to have the backing attached, but you get the idea.