Friday, July 31, 2015

Project: Painted Canvas Bag

Allie and I painted this canvas bag to use for groceries. But, I think it would make an adorable purse!

 We started out with a plain 100% cotton canvas bag that I got at Hobby Lobby for $2.99.  It is 13x13x5 inches, so it is a good size bag.
 I made a quick sketch of starfish and then we went to town painting.  We used three colors of blue fabric paint - light, medium and dark.  We outlined the starfish with the dark blue, then created a shadow with the lighter blues.
We used the handles of the brush to paint circles inside the starfish -- to look like texture.  Simply dip the opposite side of the brush into the paint and then dab it on.  When it was dry, I outlined the images with a black fabric pen.
 Allie suggested we make a starfish peeking out of the pocket... So we did that too!
 I also painted a scalloped rim along the edge of the bag to give it a little more pop....
And here it is ready to go to town!  It would be adorable for groceries or to take to the beach, or to the library....
linking to

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Petal Cake with Description

Repost from 8/26/13
Petal Cake for 85th Birthdays
Jon's parents celebrated their 85th birthdays last week and we wanted to make them a special cake.  I found a photo of a similar cake online and thought it was beautiful and a little different than a standard border piped "Happy Birthday" number.  With a little further research, I found that it was called a petal cake, after flower petals and it was quite easy to do.  The main trick is to use stiff frosting, so that it will hold peaks.  Some bakers alternate colors, like on a rainbow, but we wanted to do an "ombre" or gradient of Jon's mother's favorite colors.
There are some wonderful tutorials and directions out there, but of course, we modified ours to fit our needs.  Here are some links for those: Culinary Culture blog has a beautiful blue ombre tutorial, Bird on a Cake has an elegant all white version, and the Boy who Bakes has a video on youtube.
Attached is our version...
We used piping bags because I have them and am comfortable with them, but you don't need them.  You can make piping triangles rolling a piece of parchment into a cone or you could simply fill plastic quart sandwich bags with frosting, sealing them and snipping a hole in the side.  If you can pipe a dollop or dab, you can make this cake.

We started with 3 layers of cake (2 marble and a chocolate middle.  We filled buttercream frosting between layers.

Then we did a crumb coat (meaning we used enough frosting to coat the cake, but wasn't concerned with appearance).  We set the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes to set and the we were ready to decorate.
We made a double batch of buttercream frosting and tinted four shades of orange - from yellow orange to deep orange. I was careful to put the tiniest of orange in the yellow, just so the colors would coordinate.  I left the white pure...
 Then, we started our process.  It was long and drawn out, but produced great results for a special occasion. I piped dollops or dabs up the cake and across the radius of the top.
 Then, Ashley went to work, smooshing and smudging each dab.  She started at the bottom and worked her way up, cleaning the spoon in between each smoosh.  We used a baby spoon because our dabs were tiny, but you can do this with any size dab, just use a similar size spoon to the dab.
We went all the way around the cake, leaving the top unfinished.
The big question was, "how are we going to do that last row?"
It was simple.... I just piped dabs on top of the previous tail and Ash made the tiniest of indentations to suggest a tail.  It blended surprisingly well.

 The cake was a hit... Everyone loved it.  They all wanted to know how we did it. I couldn't keep it a secret, but they didn't seem to believe that it was really that easy.  Time consuming, yes, but not complicated.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Recipe: Summer Salad

Repost from the summer of 2013
In an effort to eat more main course salads this summer, I made in interesting variation on a few favorites for dinner.  I call it Summer Salad but it's based on so many favorites; Chef's Salad, Greek Salad and Wedge Salad.  I started out the meal, intending to do a Greek Salad, but Ashley reminded me of her dislike of Feta Cheese. No problem, I'll just substitute Goat Cheese.  Bad idea, (the only cheese Ashley dislikes more than Feta is Goat's Cheese) better make it with Cheddar. 
At the grocery store, the lettuce that was offered didn't look too great, so I resorted to buying a head of iceberg lettuce, something I haven't done in a while.  I'm a lettuce snob and prefer leafy greens to iceberg.  (I must mention that iceberg does have a luscious crunch that hits the spot sometimes.) I thought I'd do a Greek Wedge type salad.
When I got home from the grocery store, I realized that I forgot cucumber!  Darn it.... So, I tried to come up with an alternative.... avocado!
Then, Jon mentioned that he wanted meat with dinner... OK.. I had some salami.
So, voila a not quite Greek, not quite Wedge, not quite Chef's Salad.  I made a homemade blue cheese dressing that was delicious - made with pureed cottage cheese.
Summer Salad - makes 4 servings
1 head iceberg lettuce, cut in quarters and then in slices
8-10 pepperoncini
20 - 25 Kalamata olives, pitted
1-2 tomatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
8 slices salami cut in quarters
8 slices deli ham, sliced thinly and chopped
4 small pitas, cut in quarters

Wash and prepare all vegetables.  For each salad, use 1/4 of each ingredient. Layer ingredients on a plate, starting with the lettuce and using the pepperonicini and pitas as garnish.

1 cup cottage cheese 
4 T red wine vinegar
2 T mayonaise
4-6 T milk
4 T chopped blue cheese
1 clove garlic, smashed
salt and pepper

In a blender or food processor, puree cottage cheese and milk until silky and smooth.  Add vinegar and puree again.  Add salt, pepper mayonnaise, garlic and blue cheese, and pulse until smooth.
Let sit in the refrigerator before serving.
Drizzle on salad when ready to serve.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

German Chocolate Cake - Part 2

In creating the German Chocolate Cake Recipe, I figured out that I wanted to have chocolate frosting on the cake in addition to the coconut-pecan filling. I found out that many bakers used ganache instead of a buttercream, but I liked the structural integrity that the buttercream provides.
I know that toasting coconut and pecans adds a more intense flavor, so I did that before I combined it with the homemade caramel filling.
Instead of vanilla extract, I use Kahlua to flavor the cake, frosting and filling. The coffee liquor adds a subtle flavor that is undetected as coffee.
Some recipes call for a syrup that is applied to the cake as it is assembled. This trick makes adds moistness and sweetness to a cake and cake add a pop of flavor. I made a sugar syrup and then added rum, brushed it on the cake layers before I frosted and filled it.
Because this cake was for a birthday, I wanted to make it beautiful, so I liked the sight of stemmed maraschino cherries on top. The red contrasted with the chocolate frosting, even if there are no cherries in the cake. I also liked the look of drizzled dark chocolate on top of the cake.
I wanted to add ridged sides to the cake, that was easily done with an icing comb. And lastly, I wanted the coconut-pecan filling to show through, so I added it to the top of the cake, making it obvious that this was a German Chocolate Cake.

4 oz German Chocolate
6 tablespoons water
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup + 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 eggs, yolks and whites separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon Kahlua

1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 tsp Kahlua
4 egg yolks
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk
1 ½ cups roughly chopped pecans
1 7-oz. package sweetened shredded coconut

Rum Syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons dark rum
Optional - top with stemmed maraschino cherries

Chocolate Frosting:
5 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp Kahlua
1/4 cup milk (more or less)
6 oz melted semi-sweet chocolate, cooled to room temperature
12 Tablespoons butter, room temperature

Make the Cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three 8-inch cake pans, then line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; set aside.
Melt the German Chocolate with the 6 tablespoons of water in a small bowl, using a double-boiler. Stir until smooth, then set aside to cool to room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and 1 cup of the sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and beat in the melted chocolate until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add half of the flour mixture, beating until just combined. Add the buttermilk and the Kahlua, mixing until combined, and then add the remainder of the flour mixture.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until they form stiff, glossy peaks.
Using a rubber spatula, gently fold one-third of the egg whites into the cake batter to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until there’s no trace of egg white visible.
Divide the batter into the 3 prepared cake pans, smooth the tops, and bake for about 35 - 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cake layers completely (leave them in the pans). While the cakes are baking and cooling, make the filling, syrup and frosting.

Make the Rum Syrup: In a small saucepan, heat the water and sugar, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the dark rum. Set aside until ready to use.

Make the Filling
Toast the coconut and chopped pecans in 375 oven for 10 - 12 minutes till brown and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
Combine 1 ½ cups sugar, ¾ cup butter, 1 ½ tsp. vanilla, 4 egg yolks, and evaporated milk in a 2-qt. pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer; cook until thick, 12 minutes. Strain through a sieve into a bowl to remove any egg portions. Chill frosting until firm. Then combine cake with coconut and pecans just before assembling the cake.

Make the Frosting:
Whip the butter in a large bowl. Mix in powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk until combined. (add just enough milk to make a spreading consistency) Mix in melted chocolate. 

Assemble the Cake: Remove the cake layers from the pans. Set the first cake layer on a cake plate. Brush the top of the cake layer with the rum syrup. Spread 1/2 - 2/3 cup of the coconut filling over the cake layer, making sure to reach to the edges. Set another cake layer on top. Repeat, brushing the top of each cake layer with the rum syrup, then spreading more coconut filling over the second layer. Ice the sides with the chocolate icing and the top. Create a well in the top of the cake and add more coconut filling. Then pipe a decorative border of chocolate icing around the top, encircling the coconut topping. I added eight piped dollops of frosting and placed a maraschino cherry on top of each dollop.
I drizzled melted chocolate over the sides for garnish and then piped more frosting on the base.
And here's Mark enjoying his cake!

Monday, July 28, 2014

German Chocolate Cake - Part 1

Our good friend Mark had a birthday last Saturday. He didn't want a celebration, but his wife and friends wanted to throw him a party. A neighbor offered to host the event and as is the norm for this group, everyone brings a dish to share.
I offered to make the birthday cake and Mark's wife suggested his favorite cake: a German Chocolate Cake.
Having never made one, I had to do my research.
All I knew was that German Chocolate Cake was German, had many layers, and had coconut in a brown frosting.
Was I wrong!
German Chocolate Cake is not German, but American! The name came from the creator of a dark chocolate baking bar, Sam German in 1852, that was developed for Baker's Chocolate Company. The product was named Baker's German's Sweet Chocolate,
In 1957, the Dallas Morning Star published a recipe created by homemaker, Mrs. George Clay. She used the Baker's Chocolate and the recipe's popularity soared.
The company that owned Baker's Chocolate (General Foods) distributed the recipe to other newspapers across the USA and sales of Baker's German's Chocolate rose over 70%.
As the recipe made it's rounds, it became known as Baker's German Chocolate and the 's was dropped, causing people to believe it originated in the European country of the same name....
Did you know that June 11 is National German Chocolate Cake Day in the USA?

There are many variations to a German Chocolate Cake. The basic skeleton that unites the German Chocolate Cake are:

  • muti-layers, minimum of three
  • coconut-pecan filling made with caramel
In addition, some cakes contain:
  • chocolate frosting or ganache on the sides and top of cake
  • chopped pecans for garnish
  • maraschino cherries for garnish
  • chocolate shavings for garnish
  • in the filling, the coconut/pecans can be toasted for a richer flavor
I searched through many recipes and came up with a few for which I based my final product:
SAVEUR posted a recipe from Nick Malgieri. It requires only the coconut-pecan filling with no chocolate ganache or frosting

Brown Eyed Baker has a recipe with chocolate icing and the coconut filling uses heavy cream.
Flour Child has a recipe for a mile-high cake
Kraft has a recipe for the original German Chocolate Cake and their Coconut Filling

Tomorrow, I will post the recipe I used

Sunday, July 27, 2014


I am so blessed to have such supportive and fun friends and family in my life. Each day I am grateful for their kindness, friendship, and love.
Ashley and Allie made dinner this week which helped me to spend time writing. Not only was the dinner delicious, but I was able to get work done!
I played tennis with a fantastic group of friends. Many laughs ensued. Best tennis.
Allie finished her summer class and we went to dinner to celebrate the completion of her hard work.
I've been working on some illustrations that are coming along well. I'm enjoying the process and hope the client likes the result.
I'm making a German Chocolate cake for a friend's birthday party. I love making food for friends. It gives me a chance to make things I've never cooked.
I did a long run this week that caused me sore muscles the next day. It was a rewarding pain but I'm so glad that I completed it.
My sister's sister-in-law had a baby! A new little angel in the family is a welcome blessing and a miracle.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Project:Beach Themed Air Dry Clay

Here's a repost from August 2012
I used air dry clay to make some beach themed artifacts.  Air dry clay can be purchased at the art supply store, some craft stores and even in pharmacies and toy stores.  Crayola makes an air dry clay called Model Magic that dries to a hard marshmallow consistency.  It is sold in pouches of various colors and you tear open the pouch, mold your shapes and let dry. The air dry clay I used is different one - but same principle.  The exception is that the artist quality can be painted on when dry and will not disintegrate.
I bought a pouch of the air dry clay and wanted to try it.  I use polymer clay which needs to be baked in a slow oven to cure.  Air dry clay requires no heat - just drying time.  The drying time is about 24 hours give or take for thickness, air temperature and humidity.  
Air dry clay is the consistency of pottery clay, although not as tough.  It is like a thick cookie dough.  You roll it, shape it, sculpt it, press it into molds or press things into it to make impressions. 
 We had a lot of fun making beach themed artifacts and making impressions and textures in the clay.
 Here is some of our work, just after we finished shaping it, but before it was dry. We made sand dollar like creations, starfish, shark's teeth, seahorses....
 All in different sizes...
 One of my favorites was the giant starfish.  This took the longest to dry, about 2 days, whereas most of  the other pieces were dry in 24 hours.
 After they were dry, I painted them with an acrylic paint wash - 50/50 water and paint.  I worked the paint into the nooks and crannies of each artifact and then wiped away the excess paint.  This gave a sun bleached look which I liked.  Who says you can't have turquoise or lavender starfish?

The fish, shell and starfish fossil really show off their texture.
I really like the look of the fossil piece

 Or even the turquoise seahorse!
Some tips for working with the air dry clay:
- Keep a bowl of water near to dip your finger in to smooth out the clay after you have sculpted it.
- Don't make the pieces too thin, as they will warp when drying (unless this is the look you are going for.)
- Use all sorts of things to texturize the clay pieces - wire baskets, toothpicks, kids toys.
- Keep unused clay in a airtight container, I used a ziplock bag, when not in use.  Break off small pieces to work with.  If the clay dries out in the time you are working with it, add just a fingertip of water.
- Prepare to get messy hands from the clay.
- Don't rush the dry time.