Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A return from the dead (or at least from the absent)

So I haven't written in forever and, the longer it went, the harder it was to come up with something that justified a post. But I finally came up with something!

I believe I've mentioned before that I am completely obsessed with Peeps, despite not liking to actually eat them (unless they're baked). This year has been no different. As soon as the brightly colored marshmallows showed up in stores, I started making my normal S'meeps and occasionally just sticking them in the oven for a quick fix.

But that wasn't enough. After talking every year about how I could make my own version of Peeps, this was the year I finally did it!

First off (and this is the part that always hung me up in the past), I had to find the perfect cookie cutter. And I did find them here. In fact, they have several different sizes and I got the x-small and the large. The size choices weren't the best because the x-small was REALLY small and the large was pretty darn big. But they worked.

Then I just had to make the marshmallows. This is my favorite recipe. The only change I made was to add vanilla bean paste so that the marshmallows had those awesome vanilla specks that I love. Oops... I made one other change too. Instead of following the instructions and covering the bottom of the pan with powdered sugar, I just coated the pan (hardcore) in non-stick spray. Then you just pour the mixture in and let it sit out overnight.

Once they've had time to sit up completely, just use the cookie cutter to cut out your peeps. The cutter will get sticky stuff on it (spraying it with the non-stick stuff didn't seem to help at all), so wash and dry it frequently. As soon as you cut one out, drop it into a bag of whatever color of sanding sugar and make sure it's covered completely.

If you choose to put the little eyes on (like Peeps), I prefer to pipe melted chocolate on them. Some say they use food coloring and a toothpick, but I just found the chocolate easiest.

And then you have your own homemade Peeps! The mini cookie cutter actually turned out nice too, since I stuck a stick in those peeps and dipped them in chocolate, making them the perfect little treat.
I started doing these at the bakery about a week and a half before Easter, which was just enough time for me to get bored with the perfect, cute, vanilla bean marshmallows. So I decided to try Strawberry Peeps (and I'm hoping to try chocolate soon). To do the strawberry, I still used the same basic recipe as above(from Smitten Kitchen), but here are the changes I made:

3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1 cup strained strawberry puree, divided
2 cups granulated sugar (cane sugar worked just fine)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 reconstituted egg whites (reconstituted w a 50/50 mix of water and strawberry juice)
1 tablespoon vanilla

Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners’ sugar.

In bowl of a standing electric mixer or in a large bowl sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold strawberry puree, and let stand to soften.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, second 1/2 cup of strawberry puree, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F, about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.

With standing or a hand-held electric mixer beat mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about six minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer. (Some reviewers felt this took even longer with a hand mixer, but still eventually whipped up nicely.)

In separate medium bowl with cleaned beaters beat egg whites (or reconstituted powdered whites) until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla (or your choice of flavoring) into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan and don’t fret if you don’t get it all out (learning from my mess of a first round). Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least three hours, and up to one day.

The result is a lovely, pale pink marshmallow with a strong strawberry/vanilla flavor (which is achieved with NO artificial flavors or colors - at least none until the colored sugar covers them! LOL)

I really have loved doing them. And they have quite a few fans at the bakery too! One day I'll manage to get the nerve to try piping some Peeps Chicks, but that's a whole nother blog entry!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Things I love about the new place

So I haven't written in an eternity and part of the reason is because we've been moving for what seems like an eternity! But we're now 90% moved in and starting to settle. It was a tough process but I couldn't be happier that we chose to do this.

So, here is my list of things I love about the new house!

1. The room! Our old place was pretty cramped. It was on the small side when we moved in and, as we added a husband and several pets since then, it was SUPER small by the time we left. But now there are enough bedrooms for the kids to each have their own and, as a result, the amount of morning and bedtime arguments are greatly reduced. It also means we have a sudden return of closet space, cabinet space, and general floor space.

2. The yard. The old place was much more apartment like so there was little yard, except out front where all we could do was hook the doggers up on a lead to give them some exploring time. Now we have a fenced back yard (especially since Not-So-Ex fixed the fence so that it actually can contain the doggers after a first day of them getting out of both their kennel and the fence repeatedly leaving me in a state of insanity rarely seen) and on beautiful days like today I can leave the back doors open and let the dogs go in and out as they wish while I carry out my normal work. This option has made Lucy much less of a black sheep, which is always good. Even Jaker loves the freedom.

3. The sunroom. We have a front room that is mostly windows and which makes it possible to bring my dwarf trees and other sensitive plants inside and keep them going through the winter. Or at least it will in theory. I do have two dogs with the run of the place. They best not eat my dwarf pomegranate tree again.

4. The kitchen and bathroom. While neither room is perfect (hopefully yet), they are VAST improvements over the last place. The kitchen has an oven that will actually hold two cookie sheets side by side (the last oven wouldn't). As if that wasn't enough, the oven even has a correct temp (old one was 50 degrees off) AND a timer! As for the bathroom, it has storage space in form of a closet AND a cabinet (old place had NADA) and some actual floor space. Probably the best part is that I can fall and not hit my head on the toilet. I know that sounds crazy, but I am tremendously clumsy and my fall at the old place scared the crap out of me!

5. The basement. Our old house had a VERY leaky basement. And I really mean it when I say VERY. One time it was up to my calves because even the drain backed up. The new house will probably have some water issues, I don't expect it to be perfectly watertight, but so far, so good. It's also a bit less perfect of a horror movie scene, which makes me quite happy. We've got our washer and dryer all set up now, so I'm sure we'll be spending plenty of time down there and I'll be happy to not expect a stabbing every time I go to change the loads over. LOL

Ok... that'll do for now I guess. While there's plenty to love, I also have to say I really hate boxes and will be thrilled when they are all gone! I'd better get back to doing my dishes now!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Why today is awesome!

So I'm sick. I have some sort of cold/allergy/crud thing and it knocked me on my butt-butt. Yesterday was one of the worst days I've had in a while because I managed - all in one day - to lock myself out of the house (while my phone was, of course, in the house), accidentally let Lucy the Asthmatic Demon Dog loose on the world for about 5 minutes, and get called into work very briefly while feeling like a sniffly zombie.

But, while yesterday was horrific, I am determined that today will be superb. And why would I expect that? Because we just got the call that my beautiful little car is finished and we can pick it up from the body shop!
My poor little baby - after the attack
Now for those of you that are out of the loop, my car that we bought not even 6 months ago was brutally attacked. She was sitting, parked, on the road by our house - minding her own business - when a big ole ambulance smashed into her. As a result, she has spent most of September in the car hospital being put back together. And, while she's been hospitalized, I've been forced to drive a rental car that, while being much like my girl on the surface, I am convinced is a male car. The rental has been fine, and is much better than having to share a car with Not-So-Ex, but it's just not my girl.

So the goal for today is to keep myself hopped up on cold meds so that I can function, rather than returning to my sniffly zombie status, pick up my baby, get myself to work for a bit, get my kiddos after school, and then have a relaxing evening. Tomorrow is one of my early mornings at work so I definitely have to get myself feeling better by the end of today! Wish me luck!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pittsburgh wrap-up

So it's been almost a week since we headed to Pittsburgh for the U2 concert and I realized that I hadn't written a thing about it. To sum up the experience in as few words as possible, it was quite the tragicomedy.

We arrived in Pittsburgh to find out that we had no hotel room. And, since we had planned on showering and cleaning up before the show, that was quite a blow. We had also planned on parking at the hotel, so that became another issue. The hotel (a Hyatt Place) was incredibly condescending and cruel, which only ensured that we will never stay at a Hyatt again. I spent a few minutes in full on break down mode, but eventually shook it and decided we could make the best of it.

So we found a parking place close to the stadium and set out to find food and a bathroom where I could change clothes. We found a packed restaurant, where they were so busy that they couldn't even promise we would get a seat before the concert started (which was about 4 hours away at that point). So, while we couldn't get food, we could get into the bathroom.

We then decided to go back to the stadium and wonder around a bit, find a place in the shade, and chill for a bit. So we got huge containers of lemonade and a bench and watched the crowd for a while. Then we eventually returned to the car to soak up some ac and charge our phones and ipods before the show.

Once we went in to the show, we got some stadium food and actually found a nice, breezy place to sit and eat. Then we found our seats and got ready for a great show.

And it was one heck of a show.

The kids loved it and Hunt realized that he really did like concerts. We sat and sang, with me leaning over to Hunt so he could hear me sing the words and would know what the songs were. Unfortunately, Rena started feeling sick to her stomach during the encores and we had to leave a couple songs before the show actually ended.

After we got out of there, I was determined to just drive on home but, of course, that just wasn't possible. We made it about an hour out of town and I decided to stop and at least see about getting a room. The hotel I tried had a lovely, very southern woman at the desk and she set us up in their very last room.

The next morning, we all woke up feeling better. We lazed around in the room and all gradually took our showers and got ready. Our mood was so much better that we decided to head back into Pittsburgh where we had a nice lunch at a little diner, got our favorite popcorn, and then went to buy massive quantities of the best BBQ ever (Pittsburgh BBQ Co.). We headed home then and got back just in time to have a BBQ dinner with Not-So-Ex.

So, while things definitely didn't go as planned, we pulled through in the end.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The countdown begins...

In one week and one day, this is where I'll be:

I love U2. I love old U2 most, but I will love them till the day after I die. I love Bono. I loved early "I'm too cool to care that I'm awesome" Bono best, but I still love "I'm a super rockstar" Bono. Even when he humps the camera (which, as I explained to Not-So-Ex a very long time ago, is acceptable behavior only because he's Bono).
I mean, seriously, I even love the mullet.

I've seen them once before. I was seriously, scarily pregnant with my son. And standing and singing for two hours did not agree with my extremely pregnant status and I almost ended up in the ER. But, luckily, I made it home and had a nice, if emergency, c-section a matter of weeks later.
One of my favorite new songs during the Elevation tour.

That time, it was just after the release of their incredible All That You Can't Leave Behind album (the Elevation Tour). It was a return to their old lyricism and was kinda between the chaos of the ZooTV tour and their early, simple concerts. I was thrilled to be seeing them at just that point in time.

This time will be a little different. This time it will be me and my two kiddos. It's their first real concert and I'm so incredibly happy that I get to be the one to take them AND that its to see a band that means so much to me. It's also in the city that should probably be our second home, Pittsburgh. So, in addition to the incredible concert and a great hotel within really easy walking distance, I know where to get a great dinner and breakfast, where to find killer cupcakes, and where we will be stopping just before we leave town for BBQ. And we may even check out a new museum, if we so choose.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Where would you haunt?

So I haven't written in forever! I'm so sorry! To be honest, life has fallen into a lovely, simple rhythm. Not too much to talk about. LOL

But anyway, my beautiful geek girl and I had a much needed TV marathon the other day. It's always been one of our favorite things to do but we hadn't had anything new to watch for a while. But then one day we discovered that we both love Ghost Hunters. That's right, two of the biggest wimps in the world love watching people sit in dark haunted rooms. How bizarro!

But, since our marathons are generally provided via Netflix (and Ghost Hunters isn't available instantly on Netflix), we had to look for a similar show that we could watch. And so we found Paranormal State. Now don't get me wrong, I know this show is suspicious at best and, some would say, fake. But they're still creepy fun.

According to the show, there are two kinds of spirits. Of course there's the mean demonic kind, but there are also harmless spirits that haven't crossed over because they're holding on to something on earth. Sis and I just couldn't help but discuss where we would haunt if we were stuck. In the end, while there are all kinds of exotic locales, I chose here.

I never thought I would be so attached to this place. It's an old, not particularly well maintained apartment with a minuscule kitchen and an even smaller bathroom. And there have been some tough times here as well. But, overall, the years that we've been here have been some of the best in my life.

Part of the reason is that I think I'm the best mom that I've ever been here. I have a job, but not one that I feel the need to live at, so I'm there for my kiddos in every way. Similarly, I think my marriage may be at the best place it's ever been. We still have our moments (God knows marriage is never easy), but I know I'm with the person that was created to be my other half. And then, of course, there are the doggers that finish out the family equation. I can't imagine ever wanting to be anywhere else (although another bedroom would be nice).

So, if any future residents of my apartment hear bumps in the night, it's probably just my ghost trying to find the butter for another batch of frosting. No fears.

Well anyway, speaking of frosting, I better head back to the kitchen and finish up Hunt's birthday cake! We're having a belated b-day party tonight since we were gone camping on his real birthday. Should be a blast!

Monday, May 23, 2011

So... Much... Quiet...

So today is a super rare occurrence. I am all alone (other than the two doggers anyway) and I am clueless on what to do. I've already done some straightening up, taken the dogs out for a bit, gone into work for a minute, and watched last night's Treme. I anticipate lots of DVR clearing, some Netflix viewing, and plenty of sleep in my near future.

At least tomorrow is my long day at work so I won't have as much alone time. The bakery continues to be awesomely busy, which makes me happy. I also have a lot of freedom, which makes me even happier. Like over the weekend, for example, I text my boss and say we should do a special cupcake since the world was gonna end that day. Did she hesitate? No. Her response, "It needs to be black and have red frosting." And it did. It was a blast!
The Doomsday Cupcake!

Anyway, I guess that's all for now. The rest of my time will be spent obsessing about how I can make sure we can afford another family vacay during the summer...