Posts in Category: Hausfrau

Today’s lesson

After hanging the laundry to dry, do not

It’s no Tangled Tower but it’ll do

Today is my Ellie’s 9th birthday. We’re not doing a birthday party for her this year, but I still wanted to make her a special cake. She’s absolutely crazy about Harry Potter right now so I decided to do a cauldron-shaped cake.

There wasn’t much to it, really. A cake mix, a can of dark chocolate frosting, and a can of coconut-pecan frosting (like you’d use on a German chocolate cake). Yes, I cheated. But I’m solo parenting this week so I gave myself a break. I have a couple of fluted tube pans, which are kind of like small Bundt pans. I baked the cake in those two pans. Turned them out and after they cooled, cut the rounded top off one of them. That cake became the bottom half of the cauldron, sitting on the cut part. I stacked the other cake on top of it (frosting in between of course), then put the cut-out circle on top for the rim of the pot. Frosting that was a pain; it just wanted to crumble. If I’d planned ahead I would have frozen the cakes which might have made it a little easier.

Dark chocolate frosting on the whole mess, then spooned the can of coconut-pecan into the hole in the middle for the potion. A few sour gummy worms for effect, and done. It’s nothing fancy, kind of a mess if you look closely, but she’s really happy with it. And that’s all that matters to me. :)

(Note: Tim has our camera in Thailand, so this was taken with my phone. Sorry for the poor quality.)

Getting My Crafty On

I don’t do much crafting, but once in a while the need arises. A couple of days in early January found me hunched over my sewing machine busily creating.

We all received Kindles for Christmas. They should help cut down on the number of books we have to move overseas, so we’re really happy to have them. To help guard against catastrophic accidents, I wanted some way to protect the girls’ when they weren’t in use. I did a lot of looking but couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for: a padded storage case or sleeve at a reasonable price. Since that doesn’t seem to exist, I decided to make some.

Let me interject here: a seamstress, I am not. I know how to work a sewing machine and I can follow a pattern, but it’s not something I’ve ever really worked at enough to be good at it. But I was given a bunch of fabric scraps a couple of years ago, so I went through those and pulled out some pieces that I thought might suit the purpose. I dug around some more and found an old mattress pad that we weren’t using and really didn’t need. It took quite a bit of playing around, but I eventually came up with a design and pattern and made three cute padded drawstring bags. The girls love them, and I’m really happy with how they turned out. I wouldn’t want to do any serious gravity testing on the Kindles with them, but I think there’s adequate protection from everyday bumps and knocks. They should also be good protection if they’re in a backpack with other stuff. Best of all, my total cost was exactly zero since I was able to find everything I needed around the house.

I liked the bags I made for the girls so much that today I decided to make one for myself. But since I can never keep things simple, I decided to make mine slightly smaller and out of some difficult-to-work-with material, a silky synthetic that I cut from a shirt I got in China on our first trip there. (The shirt didn’t fit me anymore and was falling apart.) This did make it a bit more difficult. The silky cloth kept slipping and the smaller size made for smaller tolerances on my seams, less room for error. It also frayed LIKE CRAZY. If you decide to try this for yourself, I’d recommend sticking to a non-silky cloth and a longer length unless you’re a more skilled seamstress than I am.

Just in case anyone cares to know how to make one, here you go. These instructions are for how I made the girls’ bags, but the pictures were taken while making mine.

Supplies:

  • fabric for the outside (I recommend cotton blend)
  • fabric for the lining (I used something silky on two, fleece on one, a smooth cotton on another. You could also use the same fabric for outside and inside.)
  • something to use for the padding in between. (I used an old mattress pad but you could also use quilter’s batting, a old blanket, or anything else soft and squishy.)
  • something to use for drawstrings. (I cannibalized the strings from a couple of drawstring backpacks we had lying around. You could use ribbon, shoelaces, whatever.)

I first made two pattern pieces out of paper. When I made the girls, I used one that was 8 1/2″ x 9 1/2″ and another that was 8 1/2″ x 13 1/2″. After making mine today with a too-small pattern, I can say that 8″ x 8 1/2″ and 8″ x 12 1/2″ would probably be just about perfect. If you’re better at cutting than I am you can just cut the fabric without the pattern pieces, but as I said: I am no seamstress.

Lay out your outside fabric, folded in half with right sides in. Pin the bigger pattern piece on top and cut so you end up with two identical pieces for the outside. Do the same with the lining fabric and the smaller pattern piece, then use the smaller pattern piece again to cut out two pieces of padding.

Stack the outside pieces right sides together. Put one of the padding pieces on top of the fabric sandwich and line up the bottom edges. Put a piece of the lining on top of that, right side up, and pin it together with just a few pins. Turn it all over and repeat the process on the other side: padding then lining, right side up. Pin all six layers together securely, removing the extra pins as you go along. You might have to fiddle around a bit to keep everything lined up. Big quilter’s pins are helpful.

Once you’ve got everything pinned, sew the long sides and the bottom. Begin at the top where it’s just the two outside pieces. Carefully help the needle along where it transitions to all the thick layers. Oh, and you should probably have a heavy-duty needle in your sewing machine.

Sew the long side, then the bottom, then back up the other long side. Trim your seams with pinking shears and cut away the corners so you won’t have big lumps when you turn it right side out. (Don’t turn it right side out yet, though.)

Then you just need to make a channel for the drawstring. Turn over about 5/8″ around the opening and press.Then, turn it down again until it overlaps the padding and lining.

(This is where it got rough on the one pictured–I made the outside pieces too short so getting those two folds was a real pain.) Press and pin, then sew all the way around so that the drawstring channel/hem covers and closes the lining and padding across the top.

(With the one pictured, I ended up adding a zigzag stitch over the edges because I was afraid they would come apart.) Press again if necessary, then sew a seam maybe 1/2″ down from the top of the bag so that the drawstring isn’t right up against the top. Just be sure you leave a big enough channel for the string. Turn the bag right side out. Use a seam ripper to carefully open up both side seams between the hem you just made and where you sealed off the lining and padding. Thread one drawstring through from one side and back out the same hole, then do the same with another drawstring and the other hole. Trim and finish off the ends of the drawstrings if needed (mine were nylon so I melted them with a match), tie them together at each side and you’re done!

Pictured are my bag (the red one), Ellie’s (striped) and Micah’s (flowered). Bethany’s isn’t pictured because I used a completely different method making hers. It turned out fine but the way I did these ones was simpler. As an added bonus, the girls can fit their iPods in the bags with their Kindles and I can fit my reading glasses in with with mine.

The Tangled Tower Cake

We celebrated Bethany’s 10th birthday a few days ago. She wanted a “Tangled” theme for her party. I went a little crazy on the cake.

Oh, the insanity.

They say you should never see how sausage is made. If you feel that way about architectural cakes, stop reading now. If you want to know how I did it, read on. (Please forgive the slightly fuzzy pictures–the battery in my camera was low and I didn’t realize it.)

First, credit where it’s due. The beginning of the idea came from here: http://bit.ly/ilJhm3.  I liked the basic idea, but I didn’t want to have a styrofoam base; I wanted cake. After I pondered how to make that work, a friend put together a dowel in a piece of plywood with another thin round piece of wood with a hole in it that could be threaded onto the dowel (thanks, Bob!). I then drilled a hole in the center of a large plastic platter I had so it could also go over the dowel, and added some extra supports for the plate. I used a little hot glue to hold the plate, plywood and supports together.

I made up two cake mixes. I baked one round layer, one small bundt-shaped pan, and 18 cupcakes. I bought a package of eight pecan pinwheel rolls and one huge cinnamon streusel-topped muffin, plus a pack of large waffle ice cream cones. (I got the muffin after I took these pics–it was from the Target bakery).

I started by cutting the layer in half and putting it around the dowel. I put a little icing (http://www.wilton.com/recipe/Buttercream-Icing) over the layer then threaded the bundt cake over the dowel onto the layer.

This is where I made a big mistake. I took the paper off a cupcake and threaded it onto the dowel, upside down, so it rested on top of the bundt cake. As I built the tower, it slowly sank. I should have either (a) used a bowl cake, (b) stuffed the center of the bundt cake with more than one cupcake, or (c) used a non-edible support of some kind there. Lesson learned: gravity always wins.

Once that cupcake was in place, I started building with the pecan spinners. I used a Pampered Chef “corn cob knob” to pre-drill holes in each one, then threaded them onto the dowel. I used a bit of icing as mortar, and reversed the direction of each one as I built.

 

I topped it off with another cupcake, then the jumbo muffin (with its paper still on). I tested it by putting the ice cream cone on top–the height was perfect!

Except I had just made my second big mistake. That muffin was HEAVY. Within a few minutes the whole tower had sunk close to an inch. I put another cupcake under the muffin, but it kept sinking. The tower just couldn’t bear the weight of the muffin. So I took the muffin off and threaded the little round platform on. By this time, the dowel was so sticky that the platform barely went onto it–there was no chance it was going to sink. Unfortunately, the tower continued to sink under it so I ended up with a gap between the top cupcake and the muffin platform.

At that point, it was just frosting. I did the assembly and a crumb coat the night before the party, then decorated the day of. I had to thin the icing for the tower–it was pulling the pinwheels apart. I only had 4 tips–three rosette sizes and a piping tip–so everything was done with those. I just colored my buttercream with food coloring and worked my way from the bottom up. To do the “roof,” I first globbed purple frosting onto the muffin then put the ice cream cone into it and frosted them both. I made the “shingles” with a table knife.

To do the architectural trim, I set out a few graham crackers the day before so they’d get stale and a little soft. They were much easier to cut that way. Using a small serrated knife I cut the shapes for the supports, doorway and window and placed them with icing.

I probably could have done this with just one cake mix, but I wasn’t sure exactly how it was all going to come together or what I was going to need. So I frosted the extra cupcakes and put them around the cake.

By party time, gravity was beginning to take its toll, but I didn’t really care. :)

Kumquat Curd

I love lemon curd. It wasn’t something I ever had growing up. In fact, it was one of the foods that Tim’s family introduced me to when we were dating. We used to show up at their place when the food in our college dorm was inedible, and Tim’s wonderful parents always wanted to make sure we were well-fed. There was a usual litany of foods that we’d be offered (beans on toast? sardines? tinned fruit? Little Debbies?), and I actually don’t remember lemon curd being among them. But at some point it was offered to me, probably on toast, and I was hooked. My favorite is to have it on a toasted English muffin… mmmmmmm.

I’ve recently gotten totally hooked on kumquats. I have an itty-bitty kumquat tree growing in a pot in my backyard. It’s only about three feet tall, including the pot (!).

Itty-bitty tree

 

But it put out a surprising number of kumquats. And they were HUGE:

Giant kumquat

I’ve eaten a few out-of-hand and pureed and froze some a few weeks ago. The last of the “crop” has been sitting on my counter for over a week now, and time was running out on them. It was time to try making them into something. A kumquat curd had been suggested to me at some point, so I decided to give it a go today.

Google found me plenty of references to kumquat curd, but no actual recipes. Most people mentioned using a lemon curd recipe, so that’s what I did. The results were AMAZING. I can’t wait for my tree to produce more kumquats so I can make more of it. I want to get some canning equipment so I can make it by the gallon and preserve it.

A note about the ingredients: of course, lemon curd is made from lemon juice. Kumquat puree is a lot thicker than juice. When I added it to the curd, it seemed too thick so I wanted to add something to thin it. I would have used lemon juice, but Bethany used the last of it to make lemonade this morning. So I used a little splash of lemonade, and it seems to have worked well. If you don’t have lemonade, use a little lemon juice, orange juice or water. Oh, and don’t use lemonade that’s made from a powder or mix. That just wouldn’t be right.

Kumquat Curd (adapted from Alton Brown’s Lemon Curd recipe)

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup kumquat puree**
  • about 1 T lemonade
  • 1 stick butter (1/4 lb), cut into pats and chilled

Put about 1 inch of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine egg yolks and sugar in a medium-sized metal (or heat-proof glass, like Pyrex) bowl and whisk until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the kumquat puree and just enough lemonade so that everything comes together into a smooth mixture. Once the water reaches a simmer, reduce heat to low and place the bowl on top of the saucepan like a double-boiler (the bowl should be large enough to fit on top of the saucepan without touching the water). Whisk until thickened and smooth, about 8 minutes, or until mixture is a light creamy orange and coats the back of a spoon. Remove immediately from heat and stir in the butter one pat at a time, allowing each piece to melt before adding the next. Transfer to a clean container. Alton’s recipe says to lay plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd, I assume so that it doesn’t form a skin. I just covered the container and it’s been fine. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks (as if it will last that long!).

**To make kumquat puree, wash kumquats well and remove any stems. Do not peel. Cut in half and remove the seeds, then puree in a blender or food processor until it’s as smooth as you can get it (which won’t be completely smooth). Puree can be frozen in zip-top baggies.

 

I also made a kumquat meringue pie, but we haven’t tried it yet (it’s still cooling). I’ll let you know how it turns out. If it’s any good, I’ll post that recipe too.