Things I Did With a Three Year Old

1. Went to Broad Street Market.  Aunt Tanya has a stand called Apple Dumplings Etc.  It was too hot for a dumpling but Lexi had a cookie and Emmi and I had smoothies.  I bought the Wildberry because Lexi declared that she wanted to have a “purple” smoothie but then she ended up only drinking Emmi’s which was peach.  This market is a great place to grab lunch and pick up some produce, meat, and baked goods.  It was my first trip but will not be my last!

mmm cookie

mmm cookie

Um that is Aunt Emmi's peach smoothie

Um that is Aunt Emmi’s peach smoothie

2. Went shoe shopping.  This kid loves to try on shoes, and I was in a work shoe deficit.  Now that it is past Labor Day I am supposed to wear stockings and everyonw but the people who wrote the dress code at my wok knows that open-toes shoes look ridiculous with nylons.  The trouble with women’s shoes is that one shoe does not match all. Some outfits call for flats, some for heels.  My ankle books are worn out, too.  Sheesh, that’s a lot of shoes.  I ended up with a pair of flats, kitten heels, high heels, and ankle books in black as well as a sweet pair of blue flats because they were only $8.  The best deal was either these Ivanka Trumps for $10 or these ridiculous heeled clogs for the three year old that were only $7.  Hey, the kid needs to learn how to walk in heels sometime, right?  Quotes from the shopping trip include when she left Emmi’s aisle and somehow didn’t see me in mine.  I heard her ask a stranger, “You know where Icky is?”  She can’t say “Alyssa” or “Sissy” so her pet name for me is Icky.  I’m sure the lady was baffled.  The clogs were connected with a string but that didn’t stop her from hobbling around the store in them.  After a few shuffles she pointed to her feet and asked, “Icky, you cut da tring?”  Yes, but we need to BUY the shoes first!

These boots were too tight....

These boots were too tight….

Necessary

Necessary

Competition:  Whose shoes were a better deal?

Competition: Whose shoes were a better deal?

3. Watched a movie.  Current obsessions are “Monty Ink” (Monsters Inc.) and  “Meemo” (Finding Nemo).  We were at Emmi’s house but couldn’t watch a new movie; it had to be Nemo.  Whatever.  There is nothing like snuggling under the blankets with your loved ones to watch a favorite move and eat popcorn, watermelon, and candy.  Her favorite scene seems to be the “Shark Bait Hoo Ha Haa” part.

4. Went “out ta eat.”  Kid loves to eat out.  Well, me too, so that works.  Sunday morning we tackled a Minnie Mouse pancake from my favorite diner and colored with crayons from a Minnie Mouse cup.  When I asked what we should draw, the answer was “You draw your mommy and I draw my daddy.”  Fair enough.

My mommy is actually Lexi's Grammy, so this is a portrait of a well loved lady right here!

My mommy is actually Lexi’s Grammy, so this is a portrait of a well loved lady right here!

This is mostly her daddy, but also she asked me to draw some feet.

This is mostly her daddy, but also she asked me to draw some feet.

bla bla bla

5. Baked a cake.  Well, cupcakes.  I babysat the other evening and I always give Lexi a lot of opportunities to make her own choices for activities.  Often with me her request is either “Icky you paint-a my nail?” or “Icky, we bake a cake?”  Sometimes she cannot be satisfied with baking a pretend cake in her play kitchen so we have to bake a real one.  What kind of cake should we bake? “Pink!”  Well, that’s not really a flavor of cake, child, but okay.  We decided on a pink (vanilla) cake with brown (chocolate) frosting.  Here is how to bake pink cupcakes with a toddler:

 

  • Ask her to get the recipe box.  It’s stored where she can reach.  When she brings you just a recipe for sugar free cream cheese icing, ask her to bring you the whole box because this isn’t the pink cake recipe.
  • Use Paula Dean’s 1-2-3-4 cake recipe.  It’s easy and it can be converted to non-dairy.
  • Beat the butter but do not let the toddler stick her finger in the butter. Ask her to get her bench while you unwrap two sticks and begin to beat it.
  • Have her measure two cups of sugar.  When she decides to measure with a teaspoon instead of a cup, fill the cup yourself but immediately surrender it when she sees you evening off the top and shouts “No, me!” because she wants to measure everything.  Quickly dump into the fluffy butter and continue to beat for about 8 minutes, or until the other ingredients are measured. Because that will take at least 8 minutes.
  • Let her measure baking soda, baking powder, salt, and flour to make about three cups of self-rising flour.  Just use the recipe in the back of the red plaid cookbook (Better Homes and Gardens).  Let her whisk the flour together.  Ask her to go wash her hands because she just stuck her finger in some spilled sugar and licked it.
  • Ask her to count four eggs with you.  Crack the eggs into their own bowl and while she is running to the play kitchen to retrieve her tiny whisk because ALL EGGS MUST BE WHISKED AND SHE HAS A WHISK get out the milk and a liquid measuring cup.  The eggs actually get added one at a time to the butter/sugar mix and by now the butter and sugar are crazy fluffy to just let her break the yolks and add the eggs slowly to the mixer.
  • Ask her to watch as you pour milk into the liquid measuring cup.  We need one cup of milk so just ask her to tell you to stop when we get to “this line” and pour slowly, asking “is that enough” every 2 seconds so she stays focused.
  • Add the flour and milk a little at a time, beginning and ending with flour.  Tide the kid over because she is not allowed to add anything to the mixer when it is on by teasing her about the color of the cake.  “We’re making a blue cake, right?”  “Are you sure you don’t want a yellow cake?”  Just laugh when she gets panicked and tearful “NO. PINK!!!” (stomp stomp, pouty lip) Ask the kid to wash her hands because she just stuck her finger in the butter wrapper and licked it.  You can turn on the oven now – it will be several more minutes before we are ready to bake this cake.  Trust me.
  • Add pink food coloring.  Use the gel because it is better but do not let her touch the bottle or the toothpick.  “No touchy.”  Yeah, it stains.  Badly.
  • Remind her that we do not lick the batter yet, her tongue is not pink because there is not enough food coloring in the batter to turn it pink, nobody wants to see her tongue right now, and can she please go was her hands AGAIN because she just stuck her finger into batter and licked it and you promised your friends at work they could have some of these cupcakes.
  • Let her put the cupcake liners in the tins.  They are pink and she will do a great job because sorting and matching are developmentally appropriate tasks and she needs the fine motor skills practice.
  • Fix the cupcake liners that are doubled and scoop the batter into the liners.  Bake for 25 minutes at 350º.
  • Get everything into the dishwasher immediately because you hate doing dishes and you will need the mixer bowl for the icing once the cupcakes have cooled.  Clean the kitchen by yourself because suddenly your tiny helper would rather lick the scooper and put on pretend makeup and costume jewelry than wipe counters.
  • Wipe the flour dust from the sides of the cabinets and ask loudly whose fingerprints are all over the cabinets.  Agree when she declares the prints and smudges are the work of Murphy, who is a small gray cat without fingers.
  • Make dinner and eat dinner. Pull the cupcakes from the oven to cool. Play a little and then realize you better get the icing started because it is close to bedtime.
  • Take the mixer bowl out of the dishwasher.  It’s in the drying cycle so it’s hot but clean.  Curse your bad timing and slow dishwasher.  Follow this simple chocolate frosting recipe but use ¼ cup of black cocoa powder to make the frosting very dark.  The recipe is pinned on your SWEET NOMS board so you won’t ever forget it!
  • Unwrap the butter while she is washing her hands.
  • Let her measure and even out the cocoa and sugar. It’s her thing and she is REALLY good at measuring.
  • Pick out sprinkles from your epic sprinkle collection.  Having this many sprinkles doesn’t hurt anyone.  Pick purple of course.  Set up the sprinkles for her.  Ask her to wash her hands because she just swiped a handful of sprinkles and is licking her fingers.  Again.
  • Frost the cupcakes and let her decorate.  Since it takes her about a thousand years to decorate each cupcake, decorate the prettiest cupcakes for you to take to work so your colleagues have less toddler spit in their treats.
  • Agree that it is okay for “my take dis cupcake por my daddy.”  Pack a cupcake in a container so she can take it to her daddy.
  • Eat cupcakes for a bedtime snack.
  • Swiftly send the kid to do teeth, jammies, and stories because you are god awful exhausted and there is coco powder on your clean kitchen cabinets.  Bed is early tonight. Feet hurt..  Thank goodness you have cupcakes!
MMMM Cupcakes!

MMMM Cupcakes!

Custom Pottery Bridal Shower

One of my issues with weddings is that they are expensive for everyone involved.  The last time I was a bridesmaid it cost me well over a thousand dollars.  Once you do the bridal shower, a gift for said shower, the bachelorette party, dress, shoes, hair and makeup, gift for the wedding, and possibly take a day off of work thanks to trendy wedding dates, you probably don’t want to look at the statistics on the success rate of marriages in the US.  You have a 50% chance that this was just a wasted effort and cost.  And you’re lucky to get a thank you note and possibly a crappy piece of jewelry to commemorate the whole fiasco.

Knowing I am in the “elope now or never get a sympathetic ear from me ever ever EVER about what stupid flowers/colors/shoes/food your future mother in law wants you to get” camp when it comes to weddings makes most people tread lightly around me when mentioning nuptials.  Look, you can invite me to your wedding but I won’t be happy about it, okay?

Still, it seems to fall on me to take care of things for my middle little sister as she prepares for her small wedding next month.  So I threw her a shower.

2014 Emmi's Wedding Baked goods1

I guess because I have to be different, or because it is such a small wedding that there aren’t even any attendants, or maybe because Emmi dislikes being the center of attention, we didn’t do the traditional shower with gifts.

Have you ever been to one of these paint-your-own pottery places?  The greenware (pottery that is already fired once) is layered on shelves and you pick a plate or figurine or whatever and paint it with special ceramics paint. (A quick lesson in ceramics: the paint is not paint but a glaze – liquid containing tiny bits of colorant and minerals that will actually melt into a smooth glass coating once the item is toasted in a kiln for several hours. ) There is more technique than skill involved in painting, but it is a fun and creative way to spend an afternoon.  I may or may not have a slight addiction to painting pottery.

My baby little sister Lea and I made invitations with a cute poem and invited the 20-odd guests to just come and make something for Emmi instead of bringing a gift along.  This solved my ethical hangup with showers: I’m already getting something for this greedy bride for the wedding so I have to get her a second gift for the shower, too?

We went to our favorite outfit, a great independent store called Star Glazers.  Hey had tables ready for us, balloons, and extra staff.  You can always bring your own food and drink.

So there is always a risk that people are terrible at following directions/using a paintbrush.  I made a Pinterest board to collect ideas and bounce them off of the bride.  CLICKY!

Was I successful in orchestrating a pottery class/party in which 20 women made coordinating ceramic dishes for a mutual friend?

You be the judge!

 

 

Best Play Kitchen EVER (if I do say so myself!)

 

Okay so I’m not always known for my modesty.  There are some things I am really good at, like standardized test taking and pretending to be sweet as pie so my customers love me and baking most things (but not macarons because those are my nemesis).  But even with that in mind, I have to say that I am REALLY good at making a play kitchen for my niece.

I had the Fisher Price sink and stove and such as a kid.

I played in the housekeeping station in kindergarten.

I received a china tea set one year for Christmas.

My dolls were well fed.

It took a long time for me to give up tea parties and playing house.  It felt like the right kind of play.

In college I learned that my instincts were correct – this kind of play, which was always my favorite, is an important part of how young children develop an understanding of the world around them.  They learn to socialize and to work out problems by mimicking the actions and words of adults they observe.  It’s not just adorable when a tiny tot offers you an invisible cup of hot cocoa; it’s an important social transaction and practice making appropriate interactions with others.

I love being an auntie and I love to make stuff, so this project was a no-brainer.  I took my niece on a trip downtown and in the consignment store she fell in love with the plastic toy kitchen the store owner keeps out to accommodate the kiddies while their  spending-savvy mommies shop.  My niece refused to leave the store.  She threw a tantrum because she wanted so badly to microwave another pretend french fry.  Obviously I had to figure out how to get a play kitchen for her!

The plastic kitchens can be fairly affordable, but they don’t have efficient storage and they are garish.  I looked and priced, but I also scoured DIY websites and Pinterest.  As I usually do, I came to the conclusion that “I can make this.”

With Chuck’s help, of course.

My first stop was the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store.  This place is a gold mine for DIY-ers!  Any leftover and still functioning building materials are accepted as donations and then sold at low cost to raise money for Habitat.  In the past I have purchase shingles for our new shed, paint, tiles, and even unused tools.

The cabinet section was slightly bare but as luck would have it, they had exactly what I needed in stock.  Two cheap, plain wall cabinets for $10 and $15 each.  SCORE.  Some quick measurements and I was ready to go

You can clearly see the fridge, oven, and sink, right?

You can clearly see the fridge, oven, and sink, right?

I picked up some MDF meant to be shelving  at Lowes and Chuck found some unused paneling in his workshop.  While he sanded the cabinets and jigged out a hole for the dog dish –turned –sink, I painted a mural for the backsplash using my acrylics and sealed the image with clear spray paint.

 

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sink made from a dog dish.

I think she has a nicer backsplash than I do!

I think she has a nicer backsplash than I do!

Once the whole piece was together, Chuck painted the kitchen while I painted the “fridge” with homemade chalkboard paint and I freehanded the “microwave.”  I found baskets at a thrift shop and spray painted them in various shades of green.

The fridge is painted with chalkboard paint!

The fridge is painted with chalkboard paint!

 

Ha ha I am hilarious, I know.

Ha ha I am hilarious, I know.

The finishing touch was telling everyone what we made so they could help fill it out.  Auntie Alice and Uncle “Ded” bought some adorable Melissa and Doug play food, Auntie Emmi found perfect miniature baking supplies, while Mommy bought a princess tea set, providing props for play time.

A friend recently posted this article on the importance of play in a child’s life.  It sort of boggles my mind that someone would question the healthiness of a child’s imagination, but the article sort of take a tone of defense, doesn’t it?  I always assumed that most adults are just too busy/lazy to encourage imaginative play, but I guess some people discourage it, too.  So sad!

The niece-let is happy to play with her kitchen and it has been encouraged to bring her toys to the real kitchen to “bake” with flour, dried beans, play dough, etc.  She also uses her tiny whisks to stir eggs whenever we crack them into a bowl.  Baby dolls under her care are sated and I’m pretty sure those pretend cookies have calories because I think I’ve gained weight.

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Bacon Apple Pie

I went to a friend’s party last night while Chuck was at the BU game.  The potluck was themed as such:

  • Any savory dish with meat in it must have bacon as a component.
  • Any savory dish without meat must have red peppers as a component.
  • Any sweet desert must have apple as a component.
  • Dishes with alcohol involved get one automatic extra point.
  • Cheating is encouraged and will be rewarded.

I have a penchant for baking, but what if I combine some of these categories?  Obviously my apple dessert contained bacon.

OBVIOUSLY.

Here’s my pie crust recipe.    Well, Actually, my SIL found it in an old pie cookbook.  Still, it’s a fab recipe.

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I know it seems like adding water to the fat wouldn’t work, but if you truly add boiling water and whisk it quickly, you get a beautful lard slurry that becomes a light, tasty, flaky pie crust.

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Lard already has a hearty meaty scent to it.  It seems natural to add bacon.

I cooked up a half pound of thick-cut bacon and crumbled it up.  Half of that went into my pie crust.

 Image

I used Cortland apples.  These are firm, white, tart apples.  I use very small, fine pieces of apple in my pie.

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The crumble is the magical part of this pie.  I don’t mix any flour or seasoning into the apples themselves.  Instead, I use my pastry cutter to blend flour, butter, and sugar (and in this case I used brown sugar and added the remaining bacon crumbles!) and douse the pie.  As the pie bakes, the crumble crisps on the top and some melts into the pie, thickening the juices as the apples bake.

 The pie is done when it’s  bubbling.

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I won a bottle of Kraken.

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Painty Painty!

I’m not blocked; I have just been busy with other stuff.  Like Pinterest, Netflix, and family stuff.  Nothing serious.  Oooh, I had one job interview.  Haven’t heard yea or nay on that yet, so that’s good.

It’s hard to get into a pattern of behaviors and tasks when one is unemployed.  I find that things just slip through my fingers and suddenly I have spent all day making my Sims grow tomatoes.  A definite weakness upon which I promise to improve.

One thing I did recently was I helped my brother move.  Moving is an integral part of the twenty-something lifestyle.  As we grow older, we tend to become less migratory and sometimes we even establish ourselves enough to be able to afford movers. A more common milestone at my age is having enough stuff to move that a truck rental is necessary.  We all have that list of pals who we have helped in the past and now owe us a favor or two.  When the time comes, we call in favors and ask friends with pickups, painting experience, or just nothing better to do to come over and spend the weekend moving.  If you are like me, you also have a huge family that may not even call in the owed favors.

I like to imagine that when we get together to do something constructive or creative, my siblings and I form a small but effective work force called the Handy Dandy Sibling Construction Company.  Together we can garden, paint, move, design, decorate, bake, and cook our way to a magnificent display of craftsmanship and old-fashioned know-how.  For all that I spent most of my childhood wishing I was an only child, I appreciate the way I can mesh my skills with those of my very different but very similar brothers and sisters.  Like most siblings, we each have unique personalities and interest, but the commonality that occurs among us is unique to large families.  We were raised in the same way by the same parents in very tight quarters; we can almost read each other’s minds as we negotiate our tasks and chat to catch up.

So, my middle little brother, Jed, moved last week and neglected to ask for a lot of help.  He called in favors to friends but not to family.  Actually, I found out about the move because his wife posted something on Facebook.  (sidenote: Facebook is an excellent tool for stalking family)  Jed helped Chuck and me move a few years ago, and he has also used a shovel quite a bit around my property, so I guess I sort of owe him.  It’s natural enough for me to demand that my younger sibling drop everything to help me when I need them; that’s just how big sisters are.  Plus, Jed is pretty much the biggest workhorse I know.  He’s huge, strong, good-natured, and smart.  It’s hard to believe we are full-blooded siblings, really.

Summer 2011: My tall, thin, hairy, blond-haired, blue-eyed little brother Jed and me (with crazy eyes). His beard is worse now.  Ke$ha would be all over him.

I suppose I felt guilty about always using Jed’s muscles, and also a bit bored and useless since I am unemployed, so I volunteered to pitch in.  Jed and his wife hated their old apartment – a dim basement hole with little light and no charm.  My brother’s new rental is awesome and as I am handy with a paintbrush/terribly lazy when it comes to lifting and hauling, I immediately volunteered to help paint.  The dining room is red so I ended up with a Dexter manicure.  Pretty sweet.

Then we painted the den/craft room with a taped-off chair rail look.  My SIL Alice, Jed’s wife, is very crafty so the room needed to be inspiring.  It took all day, but I think she likes it.  Also, I helped move furniture around and told embarrassing stories about my brother when he was not there.  As is customary, I was provided with food (Thai, Taco Bell, and pizza!) in return for my help.  Overall, it was not a bad way to spend my day.  Much better than going to two football games with Chuck.

……………..

Painting for Jed made me reminisce about my oldest little brother’s last move, too.  As I was painting the den in Jed’s new home, I recounted this conversation between Jon, his wife Angela, and me:

Angela: I want the living room to be red and tan, with a white chair rail.  Can you help me pick out the shades of paint?

Me:  Of course!

Angela: Should we put the red on top or on the bottom?

Me: Your couch is red, so I would say the red paint should be on the top.

Jon: I read on the internet that if you have a darker color on the top half of the walls, it makes the room seem smaller and the ceiling seem lower.

Me: It’s your living room, not a palace ballroom.

Angela: Trust your sister.  She is right.  We will buy the paint and the chair rail tomorrow when you are at work.

Jon: Chair rail was invented to protect the plaster walls in dining rooms from being dented by chairs being pushed into them.  The living room does not need chair rail because it is not a dining room and we have drywall, not plaster.

Angela and me:  Shut up.

Jon says he does not understand the chair rail but he also freely admits that aesthetics are lost on him. Good thing he is so easy-going!

Xoxoxoxo I love my brothers and their wives!

BETTER Bay Biscuits

Not EVERYTHING we entered in the town fair’s baking contest won a prize.  But we did well enough.

I’m competitive about a lot of things, but not sports because I don’t “do”  “sports.”  Baking is more of an art form than a competition, but I still enjoy submitting my creations every year.

I found out last night that my apple rhubarb pie won the official apple pie contest, so I get to take it to the State Farm Show.  All night, I was like,

They called me this morning to be sure I could participate next January.  Not a problem, since I already try to go to the PA State Farm Show every year.  Yes, our state fair is in January.  We don’t have scary kiddie rides or painted ladies, but we have looots of kids in FFA and 4-H who are competing for prettiest cow awards, or something.  It’s a grand time.

…………

I had a brief conversation friends yesterday about homemade food.  The consensus was that we would all be rotund if we bothered to bake and cook at home all the time.  On those occasions when you do cook or bake, it is important to go all the way and not “Sandra Lee” your recipe too much, especially avoiding high fructose corn syrup and fake gravy.  The exception in this recipe is bottled salt-free seasonings, which I adore with cheese.

These biscuits, which won third place in their category in the 2012 Manheim Farm Show and are on display until Friday night, do take advantage of a no-salt dried spice medley, but they have way more butter and cheese than that skinny wench Sandra Lee would ever allow in her recipes.  It pairs nicely with soups of all kinds and since they bake up in minutes and you don’t even need to soften the butter first, you won’t be pressed for time when making them.

BETTER Bay Biscuits

2 c. flour

1 T. baking powder

1/4 t. baking soda

1/2 capful Mrs. Dash (can use more)

1/3 c. butter, slightly softened

Shredded cheddar (Start with at least a cup.  More cheese = more biscuits.)

3/4 c. buttermilk

Butter, melted

1. Start by mixing the first four ingredients (the dry ingredients).  Whisking these together beaks up any clumps in the flour.

2. Use a fork or pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour mixture.  If you’ve never made a pastry before, it may seem like it’s not working.  The goal is to break the fat (butter) into tiny pieces (no bigger than a pea) that are completely coated in flour.  Once the liquid is added, you are done, so do your mixing now.  don’t stress out if it seems very dry or like there is too much flour. There’s enough!

I don’t have a pastry cutter and I do kind of wish I had one. Some alternatives include a food processor (I’d own one but I have no desire to clean it), a fork, two knives, or just your fingers. Only use your fingers if they are cold – you don’t want to melt the butter. Just pinch the large chunks of fat into smaller chunks. It’s fun. My hand model, sister, and co-baker, Emmi, is using a fork.

3. Add the cheese and gently toss into the flour mixture.  The cheese is also a fat (for the love of the goddess do not use low-fat cheese in this recipe – just use less cheese) so you want to coat it with the flour mixture a little bit as well.

4. Make a well (hole) in the center of the mixture and pour the buttermilk into it all at once.  Use a fork or wooden spoon to juuuust mix the liquid into the dry ingredients.  It you have more than a few tablespoons of dry ingredients at the bottom of the bowl, add some more buttermilk.  DO NOT OVERMIX.  As the butter melts in the oven, it will incorporate extra flour. It’s better to be a bit dry.

5. Drop dough onto a cookie sheet.  I usually make 1/4 c. biscuits but you can also make smaller 2 T. biscuits if you eat like a bird, are for some reason simultaneously watching your weight AND eating pastries, or if you are feeding a crowd.

6. Bake @450º for 10 minutes.

7. Brush baked biscuits with melted butter.    The remainder of the stick you cut up in the beginning of the recipe should do it – about 2-3 T.  Just melt it in the microwave while the biscuits are baking.

mmmm melted butter…..

These biscuits are rich, buttery, and cheesy.  The Mrs. Dash contains onion, celery salt, citrus peel, and garlic, which are all typically found in seafood seasonings, but there is no added salt, which would make these biscuits too salty.  Butter, cheese, baking soda, and more butter all add enough salt.  BTW I usually use salted butter for this recipe, and I have substituted Earth Balance products as well.  I still use cheddar, but as an aged cheese it contains little or no lactose and when I am baking these just for my own enjoyment I do try to eliminate as much lactose as possible. Lactose intolerance sucks and sometimes I just give my baking away because I can’t eat more than one serving.  I suppose you could also substitute vegan “cheese” and make these into vegan biscuits.  I bet they would be delicious with non-dairy parmesan…

This is *the* award-winning biscuit at the Farm Show. YUM!

I usually make these to pair with soup, not fish.  Soups and biscuits seem to go hand-in-hand.  Try with creamy potato or hearty chicken noodle.  Or some concoction you made up from the crap in your fridge, like I did this afternoon.

Sneak Peek!

My middle little sister and I have sore feet and fuzzy teeth today.  We have been baking almost nonstop since Sunday morning!

The town in which I live hosts a fair every year that celebrates the farming traditions that built the local economy.  There are livestock auctions, terrifying kiddie rides, food stands hosted by every volunteer organization in town, and dozens of contests in which any county resident can enter.  The items that can be entered into each contest include but are not limited to goats, pigs, cows, sheep, soybeans, feedcorn, various garden produce, preserves and canned goods, decorated pumpkins, homemade lard, indoor plants, photography, textiles, cut flowers, and baked goods.  As I have not sewed much in the last year, my garden is pathetic, and my sole houseplant is not currently blooming, I only entered a few cut flowers and a disgusting amount of baked goods.  My middle little sister, Emmi, lives in the county, too, so she came over to contribute to the baking.

I dropped off some flowers on Sunday, but the baked goods are not judged until Tuesday at noon.  Tonight, we went to the show to drop off cookies, brownies, cake, and pie totaling 14 entries in all – 6 for Emmi and 8 for me!

Since we were there, we trotted over to the flower displays and guess what?  My mums won 4th place and my Russian sage and iris each won 1st in their categories!  That would be $10 in my pocket, people.  And yes, I have an early-blooming iris that usually reblooms in October.

Tomorrow I will go to the show again to see which of our baked goods entries won prizes,  Keep in mind, anyone in the county can enter so really I could be up against some steep competition.  Or not.

I’m too tired to write more.  Here is a sneak peek at some of our delicious food:

Weddings Part I: DIY Cupcake Tier

At my age, everyone is having babies and getting married.  Weddings in general make me barf.  Well, that’s an exaggeration.  I usually only gag.

If I’m a total cynic about weddings, it may be because I was raised by wedding cynics.  My parents recently celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary and they eloped, only telling a handful of people of their plans.  Chuck and I announced our intention but didn’t invite anyone to our 30 second JP ceremony in Arlington, Va.  Best decision I ever made.

I have been a bridesmaid two and half times and that’s really enough for me.  The cost, the stress, the cost, the scheduling, the cost, and the general nonsense are really too much.  Chuck recently sent me this funny article on being a bridesmaid.  I can’t say I’ve ever had it this bad, but I don’t want to try.

Chuck has missed several weddings in the past several years due to football.   These include the weddings of two of my brothers.  Before you jump to conclusions and call him selfish, please remember that weddings are pretty darn selfish as well.  Chuck likes to remind people that he only has about a dozen football games to attend each year so as long as an event takes place outside of those days, he will attend.

Out of 12 grandchildren, four of us are now married, but this was the first of my cousins to be wed.  I have to say, she did an excellent job at keeping it beautiful, low-key, and budget-friendly!  It was my honor and privilege to bake a “cutting” cake and 4 dozen cupcakes for this wedding.  I also designed and built a tier for the cupcakes and I made custom toppers for each of the cupcakes.  This helped coordinate them as there were a few other bakers also contributing.

Here is how to make a cupcake tier:

1.  Make cardboard discs:  You can buy these at the store but I have tons of clean cardboard left over from my new kitchen cabinets.

I used some twine and pens to make three compasses. This way I was able to make six circles, two of each size. I decided to double the cardboard to reinforce it.

Just use the pens as a compass to make perfect circles!

Use craft glue to stick two circles together. I made sure that the “grain” of the cardboard went in opposite directions.

2. Cover the discs to make them pretty.  I used wrapping paper, but I suppose you could use contact paper/shelf liner as well

Use a gluestick to adhere wrapping paper to one side of each disc.

Trim the wrapping paper to 1/4 inch.

This is too much. It needs trimmed.

This is perfect

Use hot glue to fold and adhere the edges of the paper

I used decorative ribbon to trim the edges of the discs.

Just hot glue the trim along the unfinished edges.

clean and simple!

Finished edge. Fold over the edge and stick it in the back when you construct the tier.

Ta Da!

3.  Construct the layered tiers.

I used canning jars and glue to make the tiers, but you can also use dowels, soup cans, TP rolls, or paper cups. Double-sided foam tape is also very helpful for sticking the glass to the cardboard.

4. Add the finishing touches!

Cupcake Toppers – I only made 1/3 of the cupcake for this wedding. To coordinate the cupcakes made by three bakers, I made these cupcake toppers using circle punches, scrapbook paper and embellishments, toothpicks, and hot glue. Super easy and super cute!

I only brought 1/3 of the cupcakes to the wedding. This is what 4 dozen cupcakes looks like!

This is the cupcake tier before all of the cupcakes were added.

This is what 144 cupcakes looks like. All but about 10 fit on this tier.

Dessert table complete!

More wedding musings and photos to come, and then Farm Show pictures!

Gannon at Bloomsburg, OR, Hershey Park is Still Awesome

I did not manage to get to last week’s game.  Due to the occasion of my cousin’s wedding, we had house guests.   The wedding was on Friday (and I promise to discuss weddings further in a future post) so Chuck was able to attend! My oldest little brother, Jon, and his wife stayed with us for the weekend.  On Saturday, instead of venturing out to enjoy the foliage and watch Bloomsburg thrash Gannon, my brother and I spent the whole glorious day at Hershey Park.

This amusement park is home to some of my favorite memories.  My first trip was with the Daisy Girl Scouts at the end of my kindergarten year.  I almost died on the Comet, an old wooden roller coaster.  My skinny little self held on to the lap bar for dear life on every camel hump- since then, they have added lap belts to this ride as well.  One year my family went to the park and we ate concession food (a huge treat!) for lunch, paying for it with the change Mom collected from the laundry all year.  Sometimes I went to the park with Aunt Mary, Mom’s baby sister.  Once, Mom, Dad, and every single one of us kids wore a purple t-shirt so it was easy for us to find each other.  Dad thinks it’s hilarious/practical to wear eye-catching clothing (like a neon yellow hat or shirt) at the park.  He figures it’s the best way for everyone to find him again if we get separated.  Really, it just made me grateful when Jon and I were permitted to roam the park on our own.

Jon is my oldest little brother, only 21 months younger than me.  He and his wife live three and a half hours away so whenever they come up to visit family (most of my immediate and extended family lives in central PA), they bring the dog and stay in my guest room. My cats hate their canine “cousin” but otherwise it is always a fun time.  Growing up, we were best buds.  Now he is my favorite house guest and roller coaster partner.

I did not take any photos this weekend because my brother is incapable of being serious when having his picture taken. This is the face he makes when you ask him to pose. It means “this is dumb so I am going to make a face and you will know I am a supremely sardonic being.”

Are you a roller coaster person?  The most frustrating thing about visiting amusement parks, besides the long lines, is finding a riding partner who likes roller coasters.

After breakfast on Saturday morning, I dressed for the park and came downstairs to ask Jon if he was ready.

“I can wear my sandals?” he asked excitedly when he noticed my flippies.  “I wasn’t sure.”

We grew up mostly barefoot, and both of us still prefer to be as shoeless as possible.  Jon is a major MANdal  proponent.  His current mandals are Invisible Shoes (Huaraches), which are pretty darn cool.

Here is how to have an awesome day at Hershey Park with your brother instead of going to a football game:

  • Have an awesome grandma who hooks you up with free tickets.  Mine has a friend who works at the park.  If you don’t have an awesome grandma, go to AAA or the grocery store to get discounted tickets.
  • Get to the park on time.  Arrive at or before 10am, when the park opens.
  • Run or speedwalk or just match your brother’s loping pace to get to the rides with the longest lines.  Dodge strollers.  Circumvent families with children on leashes.  I recommend you queue up for Fahrenheit first as the trains only hold 12 people at a time and the line is often loooong.
  • Meet up with friends!  My uncle just happened to bring his kids to the park on Saturday, too.  Bumper cars are the best with a large group!
  • People watch while you are waiting in line.  I spotted a delicious pair of Amish teenagers in full rumspringa gear – English clothing with terrible bowl cut hair.  My cousin Joelle is single so of course I tried to get her to exchange numbers with them. She was pretty sure they weren’t her type.
  • Eat funnel cake.  It’s no more expensive than any other funnel cake you would find at a fair or carnival.  We had chocolate funnel cake with chocolate chips and chocolate syrup.  Be jealous.
  • Wait to ride the Comet until dark.  It’s better at night, when they turn on the lights.  Ride the Great Bear and the SkyRush during the day – the views are spectacular.
  • Do not sit on your huaraches when you ride The Claw.  They might fall out of the seat when your butt lifts up.   True story.
  • Bring a bottle of water.  I threw a 32 oz. Fiji bottle in our backpack.  The security guard who checks bags will hem and haw over the size, but the square bottle will confuse him.  If he questions you, remind him that you only brought one water bottle into the park for two people.   Also, it was just filled with filtered water from my tap.  Don’t have a cow.
  • The green car on the Lightning Racer roller coaster usually wins.
  • Stay until the park closes.
  • Pretend you are not exhausted and old.  Then sleep all day on Sunday.

I got sick on Monday and had a horrendous head cold for a few days.  Sudafed makes me totally hyper, so I went from being exhausted for two days to being mostly manic for two days.  Feeling better now.  Tonight is First Friday for Families at the LPL.  See you there!

A Post About Boating, OR, Kutztown at BU

Last Saturday was Kutztown at Bloomsburg.  Instead of going to that game, I went to the boat.

I have to do a post to explain boating.

But first I have to explain what boats meant to me before I was a boater.

Before I was a boater, boats were canoes.  Canoes are just another way you can die while camping. Canoes are scary. Boats that are not canoes are scary, too.  Ever see the Godfather? And fishing, which is what you do in boats when you are camping, is boring.  And fresh-caught trout for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, is disgusting.  I like eating fish now, but only fish I didn’t have to catch and gut.  I’m all about farm to table and low-impact food and buying local produce, but if I ever buy half a steer, I’m not going to butcher it.

Being one of seven children, I rarely experienced a hotel or motel until I was on the high school debate team.  We usually camped.   The first camping trip I remember was our trip Out West when I was four.  Mom packed me and my brother Jon (then two) into our Plymouth Voyager and caravanned cross-country with two other vehicles carrying my grandparents, Aunt Mary (mom’s baby sister, who at the time would have been nine at the time), one of my uncles, and some friends.  Like a bunch of hippies we spent three weeks driving for miles to camp in the wilderness of Colorado, Utah, and Arizona, eating the fish we caught and only using flushing toilets when we stopped for gas or visited relatives.  I remember having a blast, but I think my camping experiences went downhill once hot showers became a priority.

Throughout the years we camped at the beach and in the mountains, with family and with friends, mostly in Delaware and Pennsylvania but occasionally we trekked to the Outer Banks or Out West again.  We even camped at my grandparents’ house! I learned how to braid my hair to hide the grease if we didn’t have showers.  Once, I ate nothing but fish and peanut butter and honey sandwiches and raspberry breakfast bars for three weeks.  Bug bites, sunburn, being almost eaten by a bear, twisted ankles and torturous climbs to see pretty waterfalls  (as in, they all pretty much look the same, people!) have turned me into a disappointing non-enthusiast for camping.

Of course, I’m talking about TENT camping.  While I longingly ached for more than a sleeping bag on the cold ground, people known as “Not Real Campers” had travel trailers, fifth wheels, and motorhomes parked in the camping space next to ours.  It was like they were rubbing my nose in it!  They have TV and power and soft cushions on which they can rest.  I guess, since everyone I knew back then thought sleeping on rocks was awesome.  It’s not like I got to go into those vehicles or anything.

My Father-In-Law has a boat. Now I’m a boater.  When Chuck and I first met almost 10 years ago, I fell in love with boating.  These boats have big engines in them and you can use them as transportation, like a car.  They have flushing toilets, showers, and some even have bathtubs!  The beds have mattresses and the windows have curtains, but unlike a hotel, your view is always waterfront.  In the slip, you have cable and internet.  Everything even has cute nautical names like “head” and “galley.”  I’ve been on a boat with a dishwasher in the kitchen and chandeliers in the dining room!

When I first went on one of these boats, I immediately thought of those “Not Real Campers” in their RVs.  They are quite similar.  When you go camping, you can camp in a tent or you can camp in a recreational vehicle.  When you go boating, you can boat in a canoe or you can boat in a powerboat.  Obviously you know which one I would choose.

…….

Okay, so blah blah blah, my husband went to a football game and then did even more football stuff, and I went to the boat.  I just wanted to be sure you understood that I was NOT camping on the water.  Here is the awesome stuff I did on the boat:

  • Read more of A Dance with Dragons.  I guess I am dragging it out because I know it will be an eternity until the next book is published.
  • Did the puzzles in the newspaper.  I like the Jumble and the Crypto-Quip.  The answer is always a pun.
  • Went to a catered dinner at the Nauti Goose.  Again, I love puns.  We met new friends and saw old friend and had some very good food.
  • Took a sunset cruise and watched the sun go down while we slowly rode around on the bay.
  • Back in the slip, my FIL “practiced his religion” (this means he watched college football -the apple does not fall far from the tree) while I shared drinks and cookies with more friends old and new.
  • In the morning, we took another long boat ride.
  • Went out for “lupper” on Sunday at a new place in town called The Port House Grill.  I had the Southwest with a side of their fresh fries.  I gobbled it up so fast it was embarrassing.  Yum!

I took this picture on a sunset cruise a few years ago.