31 August 2010

I repeatedly have to remind myself: you are not writing a food blog…you are not writing a food blog…there are thousands of fabulous food blogs already…no one wants to hear about your ugly chicken marinated in diet coke...blog about something else…you are not writing a food blog…

But Y’all, sometimes I can’t help it.  The force is too strong. I can’t contain it. This cake busted out of the oven like some kind of Liza Minelli, all sparkly and crazy eyed, making jazz hands, dancing as fast as she can and singing Cabaret songs as LOUD AS SHE CAN in hopes you will forget who her mother was and that creepy phase when she married a gay guy who had way too much plastic surgery but it’s ok because he made her feel special.

This cake deserves to feel special, too. This cake deserves your love. You can’t turn down the volume on this one: this is The Liza Minelli of Cake.

Note: There is zucchini in here, so really, this is basically health food.

*If you are not a chocolate person: this is probably going to gross you out.
*If you are a chocolate person: get ready to blow your mind! This cake is so easy to make, and so decadent that it’s hard for me to eat more than a sliver. Look, I realize you probably don’t know the severity of my chocolate addiction, but let me tell you something; for me to say suggest "a sliver" is pretty effin profound. This is serious business.

•    1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
•    4 large eggs
•    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•    ½ teaspoon Louisiana Hot Sauce
•    1 cup sour cream
•    1 box Devil’s Food cake mix (18.05 oz, preferably with pudding in the mix, but no big deal)
•    1 large zucchini, shredded and laid on paper towels to absorb excess moisture
•    Half a bag of mini semisweet chocolate chips
•    Optional: 1 cup chopped pecans
•    Optional: ½ tsp cinnamon

  • Grease and flour a 13”x9”12 cake pan.
  • Heat oven to 350°
  • Mix wet stuff til its good and sloppy.
  • Mix in box of cake mix until it’s well incorporated.
  • Mix in the zucchini, chocolate chips, and anything else that’s strikes your fancy. Don’t overbeat.
  • Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cake. 
  • Cool completely.

Ingredients (slightly altered from this recipe from Bakerella)
•    1 cup chopped peanut butter cups + plus more for garnishing (I used 2 bags)
•    8 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips
•    1 cup heavy cream
•    1/4 cup peanut butter
•    ½ teaspoon salt

  • Bring cream to a slight boil and then pour over chocolate chips. Whisk until chocolate melts. Add peanut butter and salt and whisk until smooth. Let it cool until thick.
  • Remove cake from 13x9” pan, turn on to flat surface and cut in half to make 2 cakes.
  • Slather ganache on one half, stack the layers, then smooth a thin layer of ganache all over as a crumb coat. Let it set 15 minutes.
  • Go back and spread the rest of the ganache. Allow it to set for another 15 minutes then gently press remaining chopped peanut butter cup pieces all over top and sides of cake. Place in refrigerator for about an hour to set.
  • Remove, serve, tap dance!

26 August 2010

Y'all, I could sure use some help on this one...
As mentioned earlier, my office is moving. This leaves me with access to hundreds of pounds of old letterhead, envelopes, business cards, brochures, etc. When I say old, I don't mean vintage, I mean it's no longer current. It's not cool and weathered looking what-so-ever. Some of it will be used, but most of it will end up as scratch paper or in the recycle bin. This annoys me to no end! I was positive google would lead me to something to do with all this wonderful paper, but after hours of research, I’m coming up empty handed. Surprising, right? I even called a couple local children's charities to see if they would want the letterhead for doodle paper (apparently not). Anyone out there have any good ideas that would capitalize on large quantities of paper?   Most of the items are printed with blue/green/brown colors on decent quality white paper.  Sometimes card stock, sometimes not. It varies.
This really shouldn't be that hard, but man, I am coming up flat! Any ideas out there? Would really love to hear what you think.
Many thanks in advance!

25 August 2010

1,200 Names for Yellow

My friend said his shirt is blue. I said, it's cobalt. He said, that means blue, right? And I'm all, yeah, but it's specific. And he's all, ok, you keep busy being specific about my shirt and I'll keep busy eating this here fish sandwich. And then I go, it's pecan crusted catfish on black olive foccacia. And he's all, like I said, fish sandwich.

You know what this art piece is? It's 1,200 fish sandwiches.

Interesting Fact: The Dani people in Southern Indonesia have only two words used for color, roughly translating to day/light and night/dark.

Another Interesting Fact: Research indicates most American children, on average, learn 11 standard color terms by the age of five; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, brown, black, white, and grey. Eleven. That’s a lot more than the peeps in Indonesia, but eleven is surely sub sufficient. People, I ask you: WHO WILL TEACH OUR CHILDREN MAGENTA?

So the question is; why must creative types like us always divide and conquer our colors? Why must we label and compartmentalize something as delicate and wonderful as the petal of a flower, or the color of the sky before the storm? Of course, some product pushing sales departments do it to describe their wares and maybe even boost sales (would you rather buy a lipstick called 45605C, or Juniper Sunrise?)…but I tend to think there is something bigger underneath it all.

Of all the colors that intrigue and perplex, yellow is the top of my list. Our associations are so extreme and contradictory; it's the color of sunshine and happiness in our culture, while in many parts of Asia, yellow is the color illness and grief. To me, yellow means school buses and rubber duckies and buckets of buttery popcorn. It means tennis balls and taxi cabs and the convertible sports cars of men in a mid-life-crisis. It's the cautious color of street signs and crime scenes. Watch an old Western Movie and you can't go five minutes without someone getting called a cowardly "yellow belly."  It's even an ethnic slur. We have so many interpretations of this color, I thought it would be interesting to see if our perceptions carried through in our names.  Internet, meet 1,200 names for yellow.

They say Eskimos have 18 names for snow. This is 1,200 names for yellow. Every single swatch falls within "yellow" on the color spectrum, as defined by Maerz Paul's "A Dictionary of Color" 1930| McGraw-Hill| New York
She’s rather old. Born 2003, just as I was finishing up at Le Super Pretentious Art School. At the time, I thought it was right to give her an equally pretentious name; Ekphrasis: Yellow: Nomenclature. Seriously, I just buried my face in my hands after typing that.  I can’t believe I was ever so full of myself to name a piece with not only one but TWO colons! And not only one but TWO words that don’t even appear in standard dictionaries. From Wiki:

Ekphrasis is the graphic, often dramatic description of a visual work of art. In ancient times it referred to a description of any thing, person, or experience. The word comes from the Greek ek and phrasis, 'out' and 'speak' respectively, verb ekphrazein, to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name.

Nomenclature is a term that applies to either a list of names and/or terms, or to the system of principles, procedures and terms related to naming - which is the assigning of a word or phrase to a particular object or property.

So, really, I should have named her Bigass List of Names for Yellow.

And while I scoff at the idea of it now, it seemed a pretty good idea back then.  Half the swatches came from typical sources like paint manufacturers, apparel catalogs, botanical guides, cosmetic companies, etc. The other half came from myself and a group of friends who made our own color identities ("ooo! this yellow is the color of my friend Karen's Labrador, let's name it after him" and suddenly Duncan 878 was born)....they were all recorded and referenced in a 42 page catalog no one will ever find interesting but me. But that's Ok. I’m cool with that. I know the ‘real art’ is the catalog and not the thing on the wall. I like my catfish sandwich, no matter what you call it.

I love the center swatch on the bottom right image, named "The Thin Squealing Noises of Children on a Play Ground Making Fun of Life" courtesy of Iona O.

Notice lower left square contains three colors containing the term Saffrom, but they are nothing alike. 

The colors came from all sources, including a number of anonymous visitors who saw it in a gallery in 2004. Some really interesting stuff came out of the wood work… Golf Leaf, Nacho Cheese, Julie Andrew's Underwear, French Pink, Forsythia, Yosemite, Pigskin, Polar Bear, Moon Dance, Murmur, Chicken Liver, Liberia, Little Dipper, Yellow Matter Custard Dripping From a Dead Dog's Eye, Butter Finger, Ugly Deposits of Nicotine On Fingers And Teeth, That 70's Color, Forbidding Skies…

 It was fun. I have enjoyed her for many years. Now the time has come to say goodbye.

My office is moving. Sigh. As much as I love it here, nestled on a perch above the train tracks, we are moving offices a few blocks down.  Upside: I’ll swap my view of the train tracks for a gorgeous Chagall mosaic. Downside: less wall space.  This means my gigantic art piece will be coming down.  I have no space for her at home, so before banish her to a box in the dark, I thought I would share her with you and give her one last day in the sun. Thanks for looking :)

New Project: Starting on September 21st (my birthday) I’m starting something new! Over the next couple weeks I’ll be painting my own color swatches and sticking them into a drawer next to my bed. Every night I plan take a new swatch card out and give it a name. Perhaps on the back I’ll write the date and what inspired me to give it that name. Or maybe not.  I don’t know. This isn’t a manifesto, just an exercise in creativity and a way to eventually look back and survey a year through bits and pieces of color. Anyone else who feels like joining in the party, feel free. This could be the start of something interesting….

23 August 2010

 I call it Swiss Candy Jewelry because it loosely resembles Swiss cheese and the Haribo Gummi candies they sell all over central Europe.
Similar to the process used in the Sparkling and Melting Flowers, this tutorial uses the magical properties of #6 recyclable plastic.

* Five #6 recyclable plastic cups
* Heat source (like a well ventilated oven)
* Chain or wire to use as necklace base and links
* Pliers

Cost: Free for me (I already had cups leftover from a party and an old junk necklace, but I imagine this could be assembled for less than $10)

Time: 60 minutes for the blue statement necklace, 20 minutes for the pink pendant

1.    Remove the bottom and top rim of the plastic glass.
2.    Cut rounded shapes, roughly the size of large rose petals
3.    Punch holes

4.    Warm in oven at 180F (see bottom of previous post concerning plastic in the oven)…watch it carefully, it will shrivel and buckle quickly (mine took 25 seconds)…working in small batches in an outdoor toaster oven would be a good idea
5.    Remove from oven and sift out pieces with at least one sturdy hole towards the top (be prepared to discard quite a few)
6.    Assemble jewelry making supplies, including pliers and chain or wire, long enough for your neck
7.    Link individual pieces on to the chain/wire, making sure that individual pieces curve outward and not directly against your neck (could get itchy)…if you want to know more about basic jewelry assemblage, check out this tutorial
8.    Ta Da!

Variation in pink.  I love the contrast between the round/opaque/ vintage pearls and the very thin/translucent/modern plastic.  Also love asymmetrical jewelry of any sort…try it, it’s not so easy to find the right balance!

20 August 2010

I can't stand ketchup. Smells like rancid jam. And what's with the crud that forms around the squirt hole? The only thing I like about ketchup is that it's loosely affiliated with ketchup cups, which is the core of these flowers, as well as one of my most shameful childhood past-times: laughing at the screaming children who found body parts in their lunch.

Our school lunchroom was probably the same as yours: crowded and smelly. Hot lunch was free so hardly anyone ever brown bagged it, except on Clam Chowder Tuesday. The line was overseen by Mrs. Krenshaw, a woman whom my friend Heather’s dad once described as "a cross between a wildebeest and Dom DeLuise" to which we said "who is Dom DeLuise" and he would say "WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON'T KNOW DOM DELUISE" and we were all "HUH" and then he decided to show us by tying a napkin around his neck and telling us jokes he saw on The Dean Martin Show the night before.


It seemed funnier back then.

Despite working with hundreds of children each day, Mrs. Krenshaw was not the maternal type. We were petrified of her. She was never mean, outright at least, but she was loud and told us chocolate milk would give us head lice. She also told us lots of stories about her husband’s truck driving adventures  and this one time when she was in the Navy and saw some island people in Polynesia sitting on rocks eating a live octopus.  We would be all squealing and horrified and she’d gnash her teeth up and down real wide and mime the movements like she was eating an octopus the size of a car. Very dramatic. Indeed, an excellent way to get kids to eat their spaghetti.

The one Navy story she never told is how she lost the bottom tip of her left ear. Some of us speculated it was a battle wound from her Navy days while others claimed it was Mr. Krenshaw, who bit it off after coming home from a three day trucking haul so hungry, that when he leaned in to kiss her cheek, he just nipped it clean off.  If you ever saw Mr. Krenshaw, you would have totally believed that second scenario too.

Lunchrooms are a scary place for new kids, so Mrs. Krenshaw went out of her way to make them feel welcome by playing a joke. More like a hazing ritual, really.  The child would approach the line, wide-eyed and confused, while Mrs. Krenshaw would put on her friendliest voice and walk them down the line, making sure they got their tater tots and milk and sporks and napkins…all the while she was luring the child into her trap.

By the time the two of them got to the condiment station the whole room would be watching. It always went down at the condiment station. Smooth as a rhinoceros she’d go reach her hand behind the chart of triangular food groups and grab a pre-filled ketchup cup and slip it on the new kid’s tray. A moment later you would hear her yell sweet as can be "Hey now, what’s in that ketchup cup of yours? You got something there!"

…the kid would stick their finger in, dig around and pull up a small piece of something which would be later identified as a potato scrap.

"What do you have there Starshine? Is that a piece of something? What do you think it could it be?"

Right at the moment the kid held it up, right when they noticed the whole room had gone silent, right about when they were going to put it in their mouth, she would lower the boom:


Of course the kid’s head would whip around to see a chunk of her ear was missing and scream and drop the tray. Very dramatic. While the kid stood there crying and confused, Mrs. Krenshaw would laugh hysterically. I laughed too. We all laughed. I can't tell you how bad I feel about participating in the laughter. I'm ashamed of myself for ever laughing at someone in that position. I should have stopped the kid before they got to the condiment station. I should have warned them. But how do you tell someone you never met "she's going to put an ear in your lunch. but no biggie, don't worry about it."

A minute later, when the joke was obvious and the kid calmed down a little, she would call for another child to come up and fix a tray and make the new kid feel welcome. Usually it was a friendly, popular kid from the same grade level who she knew would make room at their table and take the petrified new kid under their wing. Everyone around the table would assure the new kid "at least you didn't pee your pants like the last one" and fast-growing friendships were seeded. 

Look, I question her method, but you can't beat the end result. The kids made friends fast.

My apologies to the dozens of grown adults who I laughed at as a child. Especially the one I laughed at so hard that I bit my tongue and had to go home early. To you, dear friends, this craft is not for you. Your probably still petrified of ketchup cups and will want to avoid being near them, much less crafting with them.

In honor of Mrs. Krenshaw, and her love of ketchup cups, here is real simple do-bob-thingy you can use to tie on packages. Or dress up a bottle of wine. Or wear in your hair. To cover your missing chunk of ear, of course.

Happy tater tots, ya'll.

* 1 funky old cook book you never use anymore
* 1 paper ketchup cup
* 1 muffin liner with edges and center snipped/fringed
* scraps of cookbook paper snipped and fringed (varies widely depending on paper thickness, here I used wide 18” of paper 2” wide + a square for the center)

Cost: Free

Time: 2 minutes if your handy with a glue gun

1.    Dab hot glue on ketchup cup bottom
2.    Wrap a square of book paper to cover the ketchup cup
3.    Insert ketchup cup through the center of muffin wrapper and glue in place
4.    Take excess muffin fringe and fold upward to frame the center of the ketchup cup

5.    Run a bead of glue along your paper fringe and roll the ketchup cup along the rim
6.    Fan out your paper and muffin wrapper fringe
7.    If you plan to string it on a package, punch 2 holes along the bottom rim
8.    Run a ribbon through holes, slap on a box, and ta da!!

Have Fun!
Well hot dog, I'm on Design*Sponge!  And check it: not just once, but twice in 24hours.

Special thanks to Grace Bonney for the kind words, and to Kate Pruitt for putting it all together with such panache!

And special thanks to YOU for reading my self-indulgent ramblings and leaving comments.

Good or bad, I love feedback like the fat kid loves cake.

Hell, who am I kidding?

I am the fat kid. And I still love cake.

16 August 2010

On Blueberry Hill

Do y'all know that song? It’s an oldy but a goody from Fats Domino (note to self: Fats Domino is excellent name for a small yippy dog)
it goes...
   I found my thrill on blueberry hill
   On blueberry hill when I found you
   The moon stood still on blueberry hill
   And lingered until my dreams came true

My dad used to play it all the time while looking downward and giggling to himself. It was weird. Like some inside joke between school girls. I thought it was odd how fond he was of some random song, but hey, sometimes it’s okay to see your parents acting goofy. Downright charming, even. Never thought much of it.

Years later I saw  this PBS special about ‘Pioneers of Jazz’ or some business, and people were talking all about Blueberry Hill being the #1 make out song back when my dad was in high school. Apparently Blueberry Hill was some code name for Getting Busy

Suddenly Dad doesn’t seem so charming after all.

Neither does the song, and yet I sing it in my head every summer when I get to go blueberry picking in Michigan. If you have never been, you really have to go. Southwest Michigan is called “The Hamptons of the Midwest”…except nicer. And cheaper. And no one plays polo. Or wears madras plaid. And there is no P Diddy white party. However, there is an over-abundance of Jimmy Buffet tribute bands and Church Lady fish boils, and, get this: parking violations are only $10.

Hot Dang you need to get your butt to Small Town Michigan!

So we took the 90 minute car ride to a fantastic family run U-Pick farm outside South Haven called DeGrandchamp’s (note to self #2: DeGrandchamp is another great name for a small yippy dog). South Haven is also home to the National Blueberry Festival, another August in Michigan pastime you won't want to miss.

After 20 minutes in the orchard, two of us picked a whole bucket of gorgeous berries!  Just look at them!  Would you believe we got that whole bag for $4.00? Amazing. Now busy pouring over my favorite foodie blogs in search of new and exotic recipes. Blueberries are so good for you, I wonder if there is a way I can sneak them into unexpected stuff? Not just muffins or pie, but maybe, like, marinara sauce, or roast chicken, or peanut butter sandwiches.Hmmmm.......

13 August 2010

Two of my favorite verbs: Melting and Sparkling

Aren't they just the most beautiful words? And so fun to say out loud. And this project combines both! You get to melt some plastic AND make sparkly flowery jellyfish lookin thingies! It’s like Shrinky Dinks but funner and cheaper and sparklier...ooh la la!

No clue how to use these beauties yet but I feel more are on the way. They are just too pretty. And easy too:

*Get yourself some #6 plastic cups or containers (you probably have some in your recycle bin already--the #6 will be inside the triangle on the bottom of the cup).
*Cut down the sides to make the petals.
*Melt the petals by exposing to low heat.

Now, how you choose to melt the petals is where it gets tricky.  There is a lot of conflicting information on the web about what happens to plastic when it melts; some say it releases toxic gases as soon as it gets hot, others say it’s safe as long as it is done slowly at a low rate of heat (usually 200F degrees or below ). Ya’ll will have to do your homework and decide for yourself.  I melted the turquoise flower up top by putting it in my oven at 180 for 45 seconds, while the yellow one was made by quickly waving it over a double wick candle. In both cases, I was next to an open door with a fan blowing outward to increase ventilation.  Moving forward, I think I’m going to buy a temperature controlled toaster oven at the thrift store and use an extension chord to take it outdoors. Designated craft oven ahoy!

09 August 2010

I'm just crazy about pedestal bowls.  I love anything on a pedestal, really.  Think it comes from working as visual merchandiser in a pretentious department store years ago (read: I'm a former window dresser who never made it to the window). My boss was a loud, rude, flaming gay man, who smelled of rum and shoe polish, and resembled Diana Ross in more ways than I can legally describe in this forum.  Not an hour went by without him screeching across an empty Lancome counter TALLER IS BETTER. MORE IS BEST…and then you would hear something being torn in half, followed by the furious clicking of an industrial staple gun.

Mr. Ross insisted we put all goods on platforms. Everything. I would spend all night setting up a sparkling display table full of elegant china and flatwear, windexing every last piece, measuring every place setting for consistency, worrying is the coffee spoon supposed to lay center to the place mat, or center in proportion to the charger plate? The difference was less than half an inch.

Then come morning Mr. Ross would stop by to inspect, inevitably disapprove, then knock it all down because It isn’t tall enough! These shrimp forks must appear taller! And why aren’t there 12 forks? I don’t care if this is a table for 4, I need 12 shrimp forks! Who the f*ck wants to eat shrimp with only 3 other people? We are selling a party! We are selling a  lifestyle!

Five minutes later, twelve shrimp forks were fanned out on napkin draped over an empty box and looking better than ever.  He was a mean old drag queen, but the man had flair. He could make an empty beer can look special.

In honor of Mr. Diana Ross, and my BFF’s wedding shower, I made matching pedestal candy dishes. Gifts in pairs are considered good luck for weddings, and BFF likes her candy something fierce.  Plus, I figure she can use them to display the shrimp forks.

Taller is better! More is best! 

03 August 2010

Matador Barbie

Check it: he got his head back and new coat of paint!
There is something awesome about taking $5 statue of something so stern and scary as a matador (not a pretty profession when you think about it)....and painting him a precious shade of Barbie pink. And oh look --he's got sparkly pink rhinestones glued to his cute little hat and shoes.  Now he's ready for to meet up with Skipper and Midge for the running of the bulls.

02 August 2010

THIRTY YEARS is how long my pantyhose and double stick tape have been sitting on a shelf, lonely, abandoned, unused. THIRTY YEARS of catching bouquets but never carrying one down the isle in a turquoise dress with matching shoes. THIRTY YEARS I have waited to be a bridesmaid.

...and now the dream is coming true!

My beloved BFF from high school is getting married (squeal!) and I am the maid of honor (double squeal!)

This past weekend was her bridal shower, and if it was any indication of what the wedding will be like, the good people of Chapel Hill better prepare themselves for one hell of a party!

Hosted by long-time friends of the bride's family, the day was filled with the most delicious food, wonderful friends, and even a new craft; fabulous cocktail rings courtesy of the Pipe Cleaner Lady and Martha Stewart (triple squeal!)

Although she has impeccable taste and her registry was filled with beautiful gifts, I could not help but stray from the list to make a few gift items, including a pair of candy dishes and a towel cake.  Everyone knows about diaper cakes, right? But I saw this tutorial on making one from towels and knew the bride would appreciate it. I also knew it would be a good opportunity to use a few of the bazillion coffee filters flowers sitting in bags all over my house! Perhaps white/cream/beige colored towels would have suited the occasion a little better, but the bride loves fresh/grassy/green colors, especially when they come in stripes like a beach cabana in the South of France. And I love them too, especially when they come on sale at a fancy French store, better known as Tarjay.
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