Monday, December 19, 2011

Next time I'm sticking with cupcakes

In which our heroine forays into the realm of cake pops.

A blue angry bird after taking a nose dive into the red candy melts.
 My first mistake was in thinking that I could attempt cake pops, without a dry run, starting at 10pm the night before the birthday, after a day spent assembling furniture for Baby Girl's room (so many of my fiascos seem to center around furniture purchases) and trying to find her floor again in time for the party the next day.

The Eldest is turning 11, and having heard me mention the Angry Bird cake pops I'd seen online, asked me to bring those in to school for his birthday.  I looked at the recipe - cake crumbs and a tub of frosting dipped in candy melts, how hard could it be?  Never mind that the only dipping I've ever done is into a chocolate fountain... I had confidence and to spare.

Maybe I should have suspected things were headed south when I tasted the unholy mix.  I had a very moist white cake... and it tasted like raw cake batter.  Which might be ok if you're a cake batter person.  I am not.

Then there was trying to get these balls of dough to stick to the lollipop sticks (tip:  dip the end of the stick in candy melts and let harden before sticking it into the dough ball and freezing it.  Don't know why it helps, but it does).  Maybe I got too generous with the pops - they were a good 1.5" across, and kept falling off the sticks.

No matter, I got the hang of it, and had a half dozen blue birds cooling in a block of styrofoam when they toppled over into the red candy coating.  It was about 1am by then, I was running out of steam and starting to panic.
White chocolate chip eyes, trimmed candy corn beak, black frosting details, feathers from melted candy piped onto waxed paper and cooled. And a skull fracture.

Made more red birds ... then looked over at the blues to notice their heads had all cracked.  Did the candy coating shrink when it cooled, or did the dough expand as it warmed?  I didn't know and didn't care to find out.  It would have to do.

To add insult to injury, though, the dough started extruding out of little holes in the candy coating (think of toothpaste in a tube), looking for all the world like the birds were pooping tapeworms on each other.  Yeah, you really needed that simile.

Well, I am used to cleaning up messes, so I pulled off the tapeworms and called it good.  And then went to deal with my other task of the evening, editing a 16-page computer vision grant proposal due in the morning.  While Baby Girl had a croup attack.  At about 5am I thought seriously of taking her to the ER (no, it was not epiglottitis, but I was convinced it was - I am not my rational best at that hour) but was fortunately too tired to actually follow through on that.  (She's fine, thanks).

The kids actually like the way the pops taste (they got to eat all the outtakes) so it's not a total failure:  I made a treat they want to eat but which I am not even tempted to touch.  And they are kinda cute, if you don't look too closely.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thank heavens for Norwegian dairy farmers

Norwegians may be debating the cause of their national butter shortage (yesterday on NPR I heard it blamed on miscalculated over-exporting to the US), but no-one is arguing that you can just substitute margarine.  Because you can't.

Ginger Snaps

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
Sugar for rolling

Cream butter and sugar well.  Beat in egg.  Mix in molasses. 

Stir flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt together and add to above mixture.  Mix well.  Shape into 1 inch balls.  Roll balls in sugar and place on baking sheet.  Bake in oven preheated to 350 F for 10-12 minutes.  Makes 6 dozen.
(from Jean Pare's Company's Coming: Cookies)

You also can't just eat one of these things.  The Man of the House calls them Ginger Crack because of their addictive qualities.  One secret to good cookies, besides the butter:  high quality ginger (and cinnamon, but mostly the ginger).  Someday I'm going to get around to trying to make these with fresh grated ginger.

And for an extra fancy touch, dip half in melted white chocolate, place on waxed paper, and chill to set.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I love having a candy-apple-red front door.  Especially at Christmas.

Last night a friend came over with her daughters for some emergency help with dress alterations for a school concert, and while I pinned and stitched, she gave my wreath a makeover.  I'd had the ribbon on hand for three years, picked up at an after Christmas clearance for mere pennies.  And she didn't just make a new bow, this artist friend, with her draping and tucking, made a statement.  I mean, just look at the old bow - faded, bedraggled old thing:

 It was one of those things I didn't even bother to put on my to-do list since there wasn't a hope of getting to it.  And I am so absurdly happy with it that I had to blog about it, another thing there isn't room on the list for.  But the family packages got mailed out yesterday, the cookies for tomorrow's "family traditions" party are baked and cooling, and I am going to indulge myself in a little sitting back and enjoying the season. 

We always put up the tree the day after Thanksgiving - ostensibly to get as early a start on the Christmas season as is decent, but really, it's the one chance we have to do it, since weekends in December are always jam-packed with activities.  I am usually eager to deck the halls, but this year, with my newly minted garland, I was a bit reluctant to put Thanksgiving away.  But the kids couldn't wait, and so by evening's end, the tree was trimmed,

the stockings were hung,

and every possible spot was draped with mistletoe for lots of kissing.

Have you ever heard of Holiday Specs?  They're cheap plastic holographic lenses that transform lightsources into fun shapes.  A local grocery chain mailed us a snowman pair years ago, and they've become a holiday tradition: on Friday night, we light the house and run outside in our pj's in the dark, to look at the house through our magic spectacles.  They've gotten a bit beaten up over the years, but still manage to make our minilights look like snowmen.

Little Brother with his spectacles on.