Thursday, December 31, 2009

So long 2009!!!

You know, it was the best of years... it was the worst of years...

I guess, in reality, 2009 was a year of transition. That made it a tough one, but one that paved the way for a 2010 with nothing but exciting possibilities.

I always make resolutions, some I keep and some I don't, but I'm going to do something different this time. Instead, I'm gonna make a list of things I'm looking forward to in the coming year. So here we go.

1. Being ready to buy our own home by next year.
2. Finishing my thesis film and getting my masters.
3. Working on a business plan to open my own bakery (after my thesis is done).
4. Continuing to take better care of myself, mentally and physically.
5. Loving my family and friends (and especially Not-So-Ex, who is both).
6. Taking one family vacation and one getaway for just Not-So-Ex and I!

Ok I guess that'll do it! See you all in 2010!!!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Wrapping up what I learned this year

So I came into work this morning ready to finish up my "What I learned this year" series. I walked in and got settled and turned on my computer. And nothing happened. So I tried again and again. And nothing EVER happened.

Now it's four hours later, and I am lucky enough to be typing on a rigged up laptop since my motherboard is apparently shot so I'll be needing a new computer. Luckily, I haven't been here long enough to accumulate a bunch of stuff that makes it devastating to lose my computer. In fact, with the exception of all the time I had to waste this morning, I couldn't care less.

But anyway, instead of focusing on one thing I learned, I'm gonna to do a few and talk a bit less about what led me to each lesson. There are a couple reasons for this. One is that I want to spend tomorrow's blog on something fun. The other is that, quite frankly, the looking back takes a toll on me. And I swore I wouldn't let that happen anymore.

But here we go...

Lesson #3: Remember who is in control.

There is only one person who controls your life and that is you. If you're unhappy, it's because of you. If you're happy it's because of you. Now I'm not saying that in some cases, such as depression, there aren't other issues at play. There are. But it is up to you to deal with them and seek the help and treatment.

Lesson #4: You are not alone, nor should you be.

There is no new problem under the sun. No matter what is happening, someone else has been through it. If you choose to shut others out, you will regret it. When you're facing something, find others in your personal life that understand. Also, seek help of whatever type you think is needed. I needed the help of a personal therapist, a couple's therapist, and a psychiatrist before I could see out of the pit I was in. Some people do support groups and other things too. Seek any help you feel necessary and follow through.

Lesson #5: "Beware of who you listen to; Beware of who you believe" (borrowed from Greg Dulli)

During any given day, a person receives messages from a million different places. There are the things your friends, loved ones, co-workers, and other random people tell you. There are the things you hear from the media. But, most importantly, there are the things you tell yourself. You control what messages you believe and take to heart. Pay attention to the messages that are coming in and block the negative ones. Now this doesn't mean that, say if your boss tells you that you did something wrong, you just choose not to hear it. But it means that, in that same scenario, you hear that you made a mistake and not that your boss said you were incompetent and couldn't do anything right. There's a big difference there.

I would also say that, if you find a voice that is always negative or cruel or judgemental, get it out of your life in a hurry. Life is too short to spend it trying to change someone's mind. Surround yourself with voices of love and kindness (and of course give like in return) and you'll be surprised how bright the world can become.

Lesson #6: Sometimes you have to shut up and walk away.

Boy I learned this one the hard way. There are some things that can't be explained. There are some things that can't be fixed. Or even helped. If I could rewind time several months, I would rectify a mistake and shut my mouth and walk away. The truth will always come out, it didn't need my help. Instead I dug in and tried to "help". Instead, I shoulda walked away from the situation and taken care of myself and my life and let the parties involved work out theirs.

Anyway, life is always a live and learn thing. So hopefully someone will learn from this and not have to go through things the way I did.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What I learned this year (pt 2)

Lesson 2: Do no harm

During the divorced years, I had a ring that said "Live as if now is all there is." And that was very much how I lived my life. Now my children and their growth and well being came first, but my only other priority was to enjoy life and get as much out of it as possible.

However, there is a problem with that priority. When you live as if there's no tomorrow, you live a life expecting no consequences. But, in real life, there will always be a consequence.

Instead of living life to enjoy, I was living life to grab all I could. When I say that, I must clarify that it was never about accumulating money or even things, since I am not a particularly materialistic type, it was this fear that I may miss an opportunity... an experience, and never get that chance again. And in the rush of all this grabbiness, others got hurt.

At the time, I thought it didn't matter. So what if a person I didn't even know got hurt by my choices. But, you know what, I did care. I may not have shown it, but it effected the way I felt about who I was. It effected the value that I placed on myself.

The fact is that, while I am secure enough in myself right now to say that I don't care what anyone thinks of me, I will always care what someone KNOWS about me. No matter who they are or how well I know them.

I can't undo past hurt. But I can work to ensure that my present and future actions never cause another person pain. And hopefully that will lead to a good life rather than a grabby one.

A brilliant kitchen experiment...

So yesterday I got it in my head that a champagne cupcake would be perfect for New Years. So I scoured the internet a bit and came up with a game plan. The result was absolutely delicious, but not quite as pretty as I would like. I'm gonna continue to work on the recipe, but I wanted to share it anyway, since it just tasted so damn good.

For the cupcake itself, I found inspiration in a pear and champagne cupcake. While I'd love to try the exact recipe, I decided, for now, to modify it for strawberries instead. This is due, in part, to the line from Pretty Woman about strawberries and champagne. That one line from the movie makes up approximately 50% of my knowledge about champagne, with the other 50% coming from the one time (before last night) that I ever drank champagne (which was a zillion years ago in college).

So here's the recipe I used:
For cupcakes:
2 3/4 cups of flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
2 sticks of butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c defrosted frozen, sliced strawberries
1 cup champagne
  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. In a small bowl sift flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. In mixer (or large bowl), cream butter and sugar until well mixed and airy.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure each one is full incorporated before adding next.
  5. Slowly add in flour mixture - I do it 1/3 at a time - making sure it is fully incorporated.
  6. Stir in vanilla and champagne.
  7. Stir in strawberries.
  8. Bake for about 16 minutes.
Mine sunk in the middle. While, in general, I don't mind it too much because it makes it easier to frost them, I want to be able to make them perfect so I did a bit of research to see why they sunk. I think the reason is because they were mixed too much after adding flour. The one thing I've learned about making cupcakes is that you want to get as much of the ingredients mixed in BEFORE adding flour and, once the flour is added, mix just enough to ensure everything is incorporated and stop. So, next time I make these, I will add the strawberries after the eggs and mix 1 c flour, 1/2 c champagne, 1 c flour, 1/2 c champagne, and 3/4 c flour.

Now to the frosting... I started with my basic cream cheese frosting and added a few tbsp of fresh strawberry juice and a ton of champagne. The big problem is that my champagne was chilled so, when I added it to the softened cream cheese and butter frosting base, it didn't appear to be making it liquefy too much so I just thought "woo hoo! Keep pouring". But the cold champagne was just cooling and thickening the cream cheese and butter. When I added the sugar and kept mixing, it got thinner and thinner. The end result was delicious, but much thinner than I would normally want. So next time I'll cut down on the champagne quite a bit.
For frosting:
1 stick butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar (sifted)
2 tbsp strawberry juice
some champagne (yes I applied liberally)

Monday, December 28, 2009

What I've learned this year (pt 1)

So this has been an incredibly tumultuous year. A lot of bad choices came home to roost and, in some cases, I was able to begin the process of rectifying some of those bad choices. And, of course, in some cases, I have found that there is no rectifying. I have previously stated that I have no interest in looking back but, leading up to New Years, I have decided to share some of the lessons I learned.

Lesson #1 - If you feel it, say it.

I have a family that tends to be incredibly resilient. I am lucky enough to still have all of my grandparents, even though they are all in their 80s and 90s. But death is a part of life and we have had some close calls lately. And, between last year, in which my dad had a cancer scare, and this year, in which my grandmother fell and broke her hip, my mom has been hit hard.

A little background on my mom here... She is a smart, dedicated, deeply religious woman who is far too good at most things. From not long after my birth, she realized that her only child was an independent, stubborn little free spirit that was, on one hand, very similar to her but, in the areas that weren't similar, was her exact opposite. We clashed often and she has always had a difficult time dealing with a daughter who does everything in the wrong order.

Growing up, I learned to show love in the things you did. For one thing, my family is big on gifts. But, as far as non-monetary things go, we always got together for every birthday or event imaginable and each event included huge dinners. Our presence and food was our way of showing love.

While love was always in the actions, it was very rarely spoken. I used to say that I grew up in a cold home. But that's not true. Love was shown, it just wasn't always spoken and, for a long time, I saw the actions not as acts of love but as the things that everyone does. It never occurred to me that some families don't gather to celebrate everything together. And it wasn't until my divorce, when I was occasionally excluded from some of those get togethers, that I saw them for the gift that they really were.

However, my grandmothers injury (and the realization of her frailty that came with it) hit my mom hard this year. She found herself facing the thought of losing someone that mattered that much and it scared her. I felt for her in the days and months that followed as I found her, for the first time, letting her guard down and admitting her own weaknesses. I tried to offer as much support as I could, even if that sometimes just meant listening without asking for anything from her.

This Christmas, while still containing the little stressors and bickering that comes with every big holiday, was especially joyful for my own little family. We were together, which was the most important, but we also had the means to provide for a beautiful, simple Christmas for our kids, our families, and each other.

But the best gift I got was not wrapped, or even tangible. It came via email after all the presents were opened and the chaos had died down. It was a short email from my mom that said she just wanted me to know that seeing me so obviously happy had made this an extra special Christmas. She told me she was proud of me for working with Not-So-Ex on our relationship and putting things back together again. And she told me she loved me.

During the divorce, I often felt that my family's love was revoked when Not-So-Ex and I split. I thought they needed to be able to put me in a nice little category to be happy. But, what I realized later was that they just saw my unhappiness no matter how hard I tried to hide it. And they wanted more for me than that. They loved me far more than I loved myself and they wanted me to be happy.

It sounds silly but seeing there on my computer, in black and white, that my parents loved me and were proud of me brought me to tears.

So anyway, lesson #1 has been learned by both myself and my parents. If you feel something, say it. You may not get a second chance. Tomorrow is promised to no one and love should be shown AND voiced as often as possible.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas at the multiplex...

So yesterday, like every Christmas, was a very busy day. The morning was all about Santa and all the stuff my kids somehow tricked him into believing they deserved. There was box after box of clothes, some of which inspired incredible jealous in yours truly (especially my daughter's shirt that says Cupcakes Rock). Tons of little toys were there too And, the biggie, The Beatles Rock Band set.

After all the opening, Not-So-Ex headed back to bed and the kids and I opened up the Rock Band stuff (which took FOREVER and caused some bloodshed) and had so much fun playing together (Rena took the mic, Hunt was on drums, and I picked up the guitar) that we were almost late for the next party.

Then came the in-laws, where the food is mind-blowingly good, and then on to my maternal grandparents. After the presents at Mamaw's, we had a little time for the kids to play and such, then we hit the movies.

As we were buying gift certificates at the theater for various family members, I went ahead and picked up tickets for Sherlock Holmes on Christmas night. I grew up on the books, so I was pretty psyched, especially since I am madly in love with Robert Downey, Jr (the whole damaged artist thing is so my type *sigh*). And we weren't disappointed. The film varies greatly from the books, but, if you go with an open mind, you'll still have a blast. Which is always a good thing, since there will clearly be at least one sequel.
And, speaking of sequels, a preview was shown for Iron Man 2. At the very least, it looked interesting since Mickey Rourke is involved. But he still creeps me out. LOL
And, while on the subject of movies, I desperately want to see Nine! I love musicals (I know, I know) and there's just something awesome about sparkly musical movies! But it's interesting to see Goldie Hawn... oh wait... that's actually Kate Hudson... never mind. LOL
So anyway, maybe I'll luck out and Not-So-Ex will decide that scantily clad chicks singing (I said singing, not dancing... that would lead to a whole different thing in his mind! LOL) will be a great choice for a date night! I'll keep my fingers crossed!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Last minute Christmas recipe...

So today turned into a cupcake day. After the fire last night/early this morning, I tried to go to work, but any time I heard an ambulance or fire truck I worried about the kids. So I gave up on work and headed home after a few hours.

But, since I had extra time, I got to play around and found a new Christmas-y recipe. So I present, Eggnog Cupcakes!

The cupcake itself is based on Amy Sedaris' cupcake recipe:

Eggnog Cupcakes

1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter
1 ½ cups of sugar

Beat well, then add:

Add 2 large eggs
2 Teaspoons of pure vanilla
½ teaspoon of salt
2 ½ teaspoons of baking powder
2 ½ cups of flour
1 ¼ cups of eggnog

Beat well, fill cups, and bake at 375 degrees for 18-20 minutes. You should get 24. I got 22.

For the frosting, I used my standard cream cheese frosting with nutmeg, cinnamon, and rum extract added, plus using eggnog instead of milk.

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese
a little cinnamon and nutmeg
eggnog as needed
4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon rum extract
DIRECTIONS:
1.Beat softened butter and cream cheese until well blended.
2.Add everything else. Beat until creamy.

Super sleepy pre-Christmas hazy Paige

So I headed home yesterday determined to get some serious cupcaking done. But, of course, I was running short on some of the things I needed so I only ended up getting 3 dozen done. But hopefully I can make up for lost time tonight.

Also, we got in Pushing Daisies from Netflix. I loved the show and Not-So-Ex had never seen it. So we parked ourselves on the couch and both had a ball. But I have to say that the best part was when my daughter came down and joined us. It's funny to see her growing up and enjoying the same things her momma does. When we ran out of episodes, we were all sad.

But then came the night. And a house fire across the street from our house. So the night was spent with lots and lots of flashing lights coming through our windows. And that means that Paige is exhausted. But, luckily, my office is no man's land today so I'm gonna finish up my work and head out at noon to do some more cupcakes and, hopefully, a little nap.

Everyone have a wonderful Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A split second of irony...

As Not-So-Ex and I were plugging up the new Blu-Ray player, we had a bit of a flashback.

Our first Christmas, which was a week before our first marriage almost 11 years ago, I got him our first DVD player. Actually, that's not quite true. I gave him some DVDs and then we picked out the player together (although I paid). When we started using it, it would say "hello" when you first turned it on.

Years passed and the DVD player went from saying "hello" to saying "hell". And that seemed appropriate at times. Then came the divorce.

So here we are, re-married for two months and plugging in a new blu-ray player. And it immediately said "hello". And we're gonna keep it that way!

The awesomest of the awesome

So an ever so brilliant friend of mine, Jacque Jo, posted a link on Facebook Saturday morning to an article that was so stereotypical of West Virginia that even I was offended (and, my friends, it takes some real work to offend me). Since my blog is rarely devoted to such subjects, I forwarded the link to an equally brilliant bloggy friend, Buzzardbilly, to let her eat the writer up with what I knew would be an intelligent and justifiably indignant response.

Time passed and more and more people heard about and read the article in question, which received such a negative response that it has since been pulled from the "news" site.

While Jacque had posted it on facebook, she didn't blog about it until today. And the actual author of the article left a comment. So check out a very interesting blog post!

Monday, December 21, 2009

A little woo hoo!

I've been down the past couple days. It happens to everyone, but I'm a bit annoyed with myself that I allowed it to continue as long as I did. Today I took a little extra time to get up and moving and it appears to have worked in my favor.

So, to celebrate, here's a list of things I'm thankful for PLUS a really killer cookie recipe!

1. The internet. I did about 95% of my shopping online this year and I am so glad I did! Things are starting to roll in now and I don't feel that panic that I won't be able to find what I need. And, even better, the cupcake and cookie boxes that I ordered arrived today, which is gonna make the rest of my baking much easier!

2. My job. I am loving my new gig! And it's nice that, on mornings like this one where I need a little extra time, I have both the time necessary AND really kind and considerate supervisors and co-workers. So it's not major.

3. My heatherns. My kids are older so Christmas isn't necessarily that magical time that it used to be. But, instead, it's a lot of fun. I'm really looking forward to Christmas morning and that time of just lounging and playing.

4. Power and water. The big storm that hit over the weekend knocked out the power, water, and phone for much of my family. I have a family of survivors so I knew they'd be ok, and they are, but now the discussions are all about WHERE to have Christmas since all the usual places are without power and water. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

5. Fire alarms. So the day everyone comes back from the big storm filled weekend isn't exactly the best time to make a few buildings' worth of state employees stand out in the snow, but it does give some state employees the opportunity to talk to the chick that makes cupcakes about ordering some for their kid's birthday right after New Years. And that makes the cupcake chick happy!

Alright that's gonna do it for now! I better do some actual work despite the fact that I'm just DYING to go home and start filling up those cupcake boxes!

So now for the recipe! Over the weekend I made shortbread for the first time and it was perfect! I cut mine into hearts and snowmen, so you don't have to stick to the simple squares. But here's the recipe!
INGREDIENTS:
2 cups butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
DIRECTIONS:
1.Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
2.Cream butter and brown sugar. Add 4 cups flour gradually. Mix well.
3.Roll to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into 3x1 inch strips. Prick with fork and place on ungreased baking sheets.
4.Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 20 to 25 minutes.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Wow...

That's pretty much all I can say right now. When I went to bed last night, it was rainy and I thought, "Gee... looks like the snow may not come after all." Boy, was I wrong.

We're super lucky though. Since we're right in downtown Charleston, we still have power and cable and everything so we're all snug. However, the rest of our families aren't so lucky. I'm worried about my grandparents especially. They're in their 80s and 90s and are without power and, in the case of my maternal grandparents, without phone as well. The last time the phone was out, my grandmother fell and broke her hip and was unable to get help for a while, so we're all a bit on edge.

But, to get back to the good side, our blu-ray player is still working! And it couldn't have arrived at a better time. So, once Not-So-Ex gets back from the store, the plan is to spend the day on the couch and in the kitchen, baking up a storm again. And probably some internet Christmas shopping too. Not too bad at all.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The payoff to the touch of death story...

So, yes, I kill DVD players. When I mentioned it yesterday, I couldn't tell the full story cause I didn't want to ruin the surprise for Not-So-Ex. The day before I brought about the demise of our DVD player, I took our family another step in the direction of the modern age and bought a Blu-Ray player to go with our new HDTV.

No, I didn't know that the DVD player would be so devastated by the knowledge that it would be replaced that it would choose to give up the ghost rather than be moved from the living room to the bedroom, but whatever. I went ahead and gave it to Not-So-Ex as an early gift, since he already gave me the gift he got me.

When he opened it, he said,
"Awesome! It streams Netflix and everything.
It's perfect. Once I get it hooked up, there will
be some rules though. You are never, ever to
touch it with your touch of death. If you need
to play a DVD, ask Hunter (our son) to put the
disc in. Maybe, after a while, I'll let you use the
remote. But you're gonna have to prove that it'll
keep working. We're keeping this one for a good,
long time."

Touche, Not-So-Ex.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's official... I have the touch of death.

Ok folks, I want to be clear about the fact that I should never, ever be left alone with certain electronic devices or they WILL mysteriously give up the ghost with little to no notice.

For a while, it seemed to just be mixers and, to an extent, I can understand why they wouldn't wanna hang out with me. But I think going through 6 in less than 6 months is a bit excessive though. I will admit though that I use them hard and frequently.

However, the newest addition to the frequent death club is something that I use just like everyone else. I am no harder on them than Not-So-Ex, yet it is my presence that causes their sudden death. Yes my friends, to a DVD player, I am the angel of death.

Last night was a prime example. I was psyched to get home and finish decorating my cookies while I watched "Inglorious Basterds." Not-So-Ex had a friend he wanted to go see, so I mixed up a batch of cookie dough to refrigerate overnight, fixed the icing for the cookies I had already cut and baked, then settled in to watch the flick as I iced.

I sat down, turned on the DVD player and started dipping the cookies in icing. A moment passed and I looked up to see a message on the TV saying there was no disc in the player. Irritated with myself for not checking to make sure the disc was even in there before getting my fingers coated in icing, I washed my hands and investigated further. Yep, the disc was there. Nope, it wouldn't read it. In fact, it wouldn't read any disc. *sigh*

And I'm not even gonna pretend it's the first time that's happened. When Not-So-Ex moved in with me, I had managed to break each of the three DVD players I already had. So then his three moved in. There is one still living, located in our kids' room... far from my dangerous reach.

So... ashes to ashes, pixel to pixel... or something like that.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My recipe for the perfect evening

So I had a decent day at work yesterday. Nothing spectacular, but nothing not spectacular either. I headed home expecting a standard, good evening with the family but I had no idea that two particularly wonderful guys had planned a wonderful evening for me!

My first hint came as I was walking up to my house and smelled the familiar, if somewhat out of place, smell of burning charcoal. Yep, Not-So-Ex was willing to risk the cold temps to make Hunt and I cheeseburgers on the grill. And, while Hunt may have played a part in the choice of the main dish, the side dish choice was picked just for me. What is the perfect choice to accompany a cheeseburger? Tater tots. Oh how I love them!

As if that wasn't enough to make me melt, Not-So-Ex told me to go on upstairs and take a good, hot bath while he was making supper cause there was stuff for us to do after we ate. So I took a completely uninterrupted bath (and stole one of his clean shirts to hang around the house in without him complaining) and headed downstairs for dinner. This is when I saw the final piece to the perfect day... two absolutely awesome movies (The Hangover and Inglorious Basterds) to entertain us for the rest of the evening. Well, actually, to entertain us tonight too since we only watched The Hangover before hitting the bed.

I swear I musta done something right to be such a lucky chick!

Just in case you're interested...

I found this old pic of my quilt! This was taken at least 5+ years ago, but you can get an idea of just how beautiful it really is!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Real gifts

My paycheck finally hit the bank today, which was so incredibly needed since I kept waiting to buy all the Christmas gifts. So I immediately logged some serious online shopping time and my check card, which is now hiding in tears at the bottom of my purse, felt the burn.

As I was choosing the gifts for my kids, I ended up thinking a lot about my past Christmas memories. I remembered when my parents would do anything in the world to get me that one big toy I wanted. The top story will always be when my incredibly religious mother broke her "no shopping on Sunday" rule to try to get me a Cabbage Patch Kid. Fights broke out... things went insane... and my mom left toy-less. To this day, while the no shopping rule has long since been dropped, Mom will say she didn't get a Cabbage Patch Kid that day because she was somewhere that she knew she shouldn't be.

Next I started thinking about the gifts that really mean something. And there was one that came to mind.

I was around the same age as my daughter is now (pre-teen) and, coming up to Christmas, my mom kept telling me that Mamaw was so excited about a Christmas gift she had for me and, no matter what, to make sure I thanked her. She told me that it may not matter much now, but one day I would really value it. On Christmas day, I opened the package to find a full, beautiful quilt that my grandmother had hand-quilted just for me. It had butterflies on it and she even picked all of my favorite colors. And, even as a pre-teen, I didn't have to act like it mattered. It mattered more than I could say. She even embroidered my name and the date in the corner of it.

Many years later, I was sitting on my bed painting and a little spot got on the quilt. I tried and tried to wash it out, but couldn't. I went to Mom sobbing that I had ruined Mamaw's quilt. The fact that Mom couldn't even see it until I pointed it out several times didn't stop the guilt.

Over the years, the spot faded dramatically and even I had to really look to find it. But now my daughter sleeps under that quilt. Now THAT, my friends, is a gift!

Monday, December 14, 2009

More cookies and such...

So I totally wish I had spent my weekend like this...
But, unfortunately, it was a somewhat busy one since I finally started my holiday baking in earnest. I mentioned my first batch of sugar cookies yesterday, but today I wanna talk icing. Those who know me, or have at least heard me mention it here, know that I have a pretty bad shake. It's an inherited thing, which is irritating but livable. So, when it comes to pretty edibles, I do my best to compensate.

Sugar cookies are one of my favorite things to do at Christmas. But I only do them at Christmas. They are just too much work to do any other time. I've learned exactly what I can do to keep my shakiness from resulting in crappy cookies, but every year I hope to try a little something different. Anyway, here's what works for me.

First off, pick a recipe. I've used a zillion different ones. But these, these, and the ones in my last post, have been successful for me. Once the dough has been refrigerated overnight, roll them out between two sheets of either parchment paper or wax paper. Doing that keeps you from having to add flour, which will eventually lead to brittle dry cookies. You can bake them right on the parchment paper, but not the wax paper. Trust me on this one. The wax paper smokes like hell!
Yes, my beautiful little geek girl decorated them like power stars from Mario Bros.

Once they're baked, let them cool completely, then ice them. I like icing that dries hard so that I can stack them. The standard icing for that is Royal Icing. But I don't like using it because it has raw egg whites in it. So the one that I use, which still dries nice and hard and shiny, is this one. To actually ice them, you can use a million different methods. Some people thin the icing out (just add milk) and paint it on the cookies with a paintbrush. Some pipe a thicker frosting (just add more powdered sugar) around the edge, then use a thinner version and just pour it, letting the thicker edges keep the thin icing inside the lines. I simply put the frosting in a bowl, turn the cookie upside down, dip it so that the top and sides are completely covered, try to let the excess drip off, then put it on wax paper to dry. Now there will still be a lot of excess icing that will run off as the cookies dry but, once completely dry, you can just break off the excess.
Anyway, that's what works for me. I'm gonna try some new decorations this year (like the little stars on top of the trees) and have tried some new recipes. I'm working on some chocolate cut-outs and, if they're successful, I'm sure you'll be seeing them soon!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A cookie kind of weekend...

So Friday was all about finally getting the television. I think I mentioned before that my Mother-In-Law told us to pick out a tv and she would get it for us as a family Christmas gift. Well Rex had been studying what was available and we braved the crowds to go to Target to pick out our tv. Once we got there, the 36 in tv we wanted wasn't there. But there was a great deal on a 42 inch tv, which made it the same price as the smaller set we wanted, so now I am sitting here watching Monty Python on a HUGE screen!

Saturday was a party day. The Father-In-Law's job has a big Christmas party for the kids of the employees and we went with the whole family. So we had a ball, despite Rena being involved in the race tracks first head-on collision between a car running on the track and a car that wasn't racing yet (it was a bizarre situation that involved Rena sitting in a car waiting for her turn and another kid getting turned around, hitting the gas instead of the brake, and the other car ended up sitting on top of Rena's).

Now the rest of the weekend is all about cookies. Every year I make a zillion Christmas cookies. This year, I'm going to cut back because there will be cupcakes too. But I love my cut out sugar cookies. Especially since I discovered last year that, if I cut out and bake the cookies and then cover them in royal icing, I can give the kids those food coloring based markers and let them decorate the cookies. I'm really excited to do that again this year. Plus, since I've been working more with piping on the cupcakes, I'm hoping I can maybe really do some decorating on some, but that may go to the wayside once time gets tight!
Luckily I had more than one rolling pin...

But anyway, here's the first recipe I'm trying for the sugar cookies (from allrecipes.com of course). I will warn you that an hour of refrigeration will not cut it. Let it sit in the fridge overnight. I tried to roll them out the first time after about 2 hrs and the result was just pure frustration. But then I tried again this morning and all was lovely! And, since the rolling out process sucked last night, we got to eat the mistakes and they were definitely tasty!

INGREDIENTS:
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
DIRECTIONS:
1.In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
2.Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
3.Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cake and charities... what could be better?

If you don't already read the blog Cake Wrecks, you definitely should. Even on the worst days I'm guaranteed at least a little giggle (back in the cubicle days, it generally brought laughter loud enough that I had to explain to my co-workers).

Anyway, I checked in for my morning snicker and saw this. Instead of buying all the standard holiday trappings, they are donating to a different charity every day for the next two weeks and inviting their readers to do the same. They suggested the idea of each reader donating a dollar to the days charity, which would raise like $80,000 each day! Can you imagine? They're even willing to listen to reader suggestions of charities!

I don't know that I can do a dollar every day, but I'm gonna try. And I'm kinda psyched actually. Reading all about it really brightened my morning after the crazy no-doors-will-open-and-security-is-gonna-freak-on-you morning I had. But that's a silly story that will come later I'm sure. Once I've had enough time to tell it with maximum hilarity.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

And she's back!!!!

OK, I was down yesterday. I'll admit it! I let the wrong voices have sway and my mood plummeted. But it's ok. I can admit the truth of the matter and move on. And there seems no better way to celebrate my back-ness than with a list of things I'm thankful for!

So, without further ado, today I am thankful for...

1. Space heaters - My office gets chilly. But this morning, after freezing as I walked to work, I settled into work, flipped the heater on, fixed a mug of hot tea and sipped away as I watched the snow coming down outside to the soundtrack of the Beatles songs filling my office. Seriously, how could that lead to anything but a good mood?

2. Other people's delete buttons - Ever sent an email and immediately wished you hadn't? Yeah, me too. I shouldn't be allowed email access on mopey days. LOL

3. Work I understand - Starting a new job always involves a steep learning curve. But today they started having me score grant applications. While their ways may be new to me, the world of grants I understand! And love. So today's been spent with words like "collaboration" and "objectives" and "need". That is the equivalent to a big, warm, fuzzy blanket to me. The heart and soul is totally warm and snuggly today!

4. Real friends - I have some truly great people in my life. And it's never clearer than on my bad days. I can be a real challenge when I've decided to only see the bad. But they were kind, understanding, and pretty damn helpful yesterday (and every day before and after yesterday too I'm sure).

5. Home - During most of the 3 years I was divorced, I lived in a very white apartment. It was nice enough, but it was never homey. When I first moved to my current place, I was shocked at the difference between the two places. But I have to say that it's home now. It took a while. And it really wasn't until Not-So-Ex helped me kind of rebuild (in the sense that he helped me put my life and my home back together) that it became home. It may be messy and dog hair covered, but it is home.

6. Family - Anyone who knew me during the divorce knows that I held on to this terrible bitterness and anger with my family. It was strongest towards the ones I was closest to, but it was present, to an extent anyway, with the entire family (and that's a lot of people). That has changed. When Mom emailed yesterday to ask if she could take the kids to do some Christmas window shopping, it was nice that she actually could just drop them off when it was done. She actually knew where I lived. That wasn't the case a year ago. And it's a beautiful thing.

Alright! I think that's gonna have to do it for now. I have another grant to read and a meeting soon so I better get back to work! Hope everyone else's day is awesome as well!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cupcake shipping experiment #1

So I've been toying with the idea of shipping my cupcakes and a dear friend agreed to be my first guinea pig! I overnighted her 1 dozen cupcakes in the little foil containers with plastic lids.

And this was how she received them. Not good, but ok. And apparently still tasty.
So I'm gonna have to keep trying.

The new gig...

So today marks one full week at the new job and I have to say that I couldn't be happier. My office has been made my own now with a cupcake on the wall and bunches of black and white photos on the walls. No Snoopy yet, but he will come soon I'm sure.

I have to admit that, around the time I was offered this job, I was waiting to hear on another job as well. In all honesty, I hoped I would be offered the other one, since it was located a bit further from the Capitol grounds and, while that would present some challenges transportation-wise, it would also help in some other ways. When the other job was filled, I had to trust that there was a bigger picture. And that definitely seems to have been the case.

I have made a serious effort of late to remove the negative voices from my life and from my own head. I have worked to focus on the positive aspects and, luckily, there is a lot to focus on these days.

On one of my first days, my new boss sat me down and explained that I would be gradually learning my three grant programs and, for the time being, would be doing some tasks that the secretary, who will be going on maternity leave soon, would normally handle. He was concerned that I would find it boring but felt that, in the end, I would be able to learn my programs from start to finish.

One of those boring tasks is entering charitable donations into a database. While it is repetitive, I also found it beautiful. I entered donation after donation, each one making me feel better about where I live. There was one check for tens of thousands of dollars that would go to feeding and clothing families that couldn't provide for themselves. There was another check for ten thousand going to a small town theater. And then there were tons of smaller ones as well. Every single check going to a non-profit that only wanted to help others. With every check processed, I felt my cynicism shrink. And that made me happy.

A friend told me a long time ago, "If you're not happy with your life, change it." At the time, I scoffed that it wasn't that simple. And, to an extent, it wasn't. I had to change myself first. But everything else was changeable too. I could spend every day looking at the list of what I don't have and taking what I do have for granted, or I can celebrate every single thing that I am blessed with (and that is quite a list). I think I'm gonna stick with the latter.

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas...

This weekend I planned to do very little except rest (the start of the new job and the end of the semester coinciding took a lot out of me), play in the kitchen, and watch movies and tv. Friday and Saturday I got my wish, but Sunday was my dad's family's annual Christmas party. Luckily, Dad and Mamaw both know me well enough to know my memory sucks so they called on Saturday to remind me!

While the party made it feel more holiday-ish, the fact that the family and I received two truly awesome early Christmas presents made it really feel Christmasy.

My Christmas cupcakes for the party (sorry for the bad pic)

First of all, Not-So-Ex decided I really NEEDED my gift early since he got me a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer. Now I've been dreaming of owning one of these suckers since the first time we got married! Now that the little white beauty sits in my kitchen, I'm overwhelmed! Gone are the days of yet another cheap mixer burning up or just plain breaking leaving me with half mixed frosting in the bowl. And let me tell you, I put it to use straightaway. Saturday night I mixed up somewhere around 4-5 dozen cupcakes and Sunday brought 2 more dozen, plus the accompanying frostings! And it handled them all easy-peasy.

My first batch of cupcakes with the new toy!

Secondly, my Mother-In-Law decided that she would never be able to pick our gift out for us since she decided we needed a new, large (or at least larger than our current set), HD TV!!!!! So she told Not-So-Ex to pick it out and it's ours. I am so incredibly excited! The TV we currently have in our living room was purchased on our honeymoon (yep, 11 years ago) and the set we had in our bedroom recently quit, so this couldn't come at a better time! I was hoping he would rush right out, pick one quickly, and be done with it, but that's not his style. He spent some quality time at Wal-Mart over the weekend scoping them out so I'm hopeful this next weekend will bring a decision. Or at least that's what I'm crossing my fingers for!

At this point, if the kids have anywhere near as good of a Christmas as I already am having, it'll be awesome all the way around. And that makes me happier than I can even explain. To be honest, we're due a good Christmas since the last few have been tough. But, no matter what, I am determined to enjoy every single second!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Seriously, you're gonna wanna print this recipe...

So I love to experiment with cupcake recipes. Sometimes the result sucks. Sometimes they're kinda ehhh. And every great once in a while, they're spectacular. And last night's experiment was in the later category.

It all started when I saw this blog post about Candy Cane Kiss Centered Brownie Bites. I was immediately intrigued, especially since I was gonna be baking for a baby shower at work and had a bag of Candy Cane Kisses. However, I wasn't crazy about the regular brown brownies and the white chocolate of the Candy Cane Kisses. So I decided to try a White Chocolate Brownie Cupcake with a kiss in the middle and Candy Cane Kiss Frosting. And they're fraking incredible!
First off is the White Chocolate Brownie Cupcake itself, for which I slightly modified a brownie recipe from allrecipes.com.
INGREDIENTS:
3 (2 ounce) bars White Baking Chocolate, broken into
pieces
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons water
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
12 Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses
DIRECTIONS:
1.MICROWAVE baking bars in medium, microwave-safe bowl on MEDIUM-HIGH (70%) power for 1 minute; stir. Microwave at additional 10- to 20-second intervals, stirring until smooth. Cool to room temperature.
2.COMBINE flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl.
3.COMBINE sugar, eggs, water and almond extract in large bowl. Add melted baking bars and butter; stir until smooth. Gradually add flour mixture. Pour into cupcake pans and push one Candy Cane Kiss into the center of each cupcake.
4.BAKE in preheated 350 degrees F. oven for 20 minutes. As they cool, the cupcakes will probably sink in the middle a bit, but that's ok.
Then I made up a frosting. I wanted peppermint and white chocolate and, since the kisses worked so well IN the cupcakes, I couldn't think of anything that would be better ON the cupcakes. So here is the recipe I made up, which turned out perfectly! Now don't worry about exact measurements since I'm really just guessing at what amount I actually put in there.
INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup butter
20 unwrapped Candy Cane Kisses
2 oz (roughly) white chocolate chips
1/2 pound confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 c whipping cream
DIRECTIONS:
1.Melt kisses, chips and butter in the microwave, or in the top of a double boiler. Mix in confectioners' sugar, vanilla and some cream.

Once you're happy with the taste, put it in the fridge (I actually put mine in the freezer), let it cool completely, and then mix it again. If you need to add more of anything, you can. Mine was just right after it cooled.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Random raves and rants...

It's Thursday! I'm having a bit of an irritating morning, but, all in all, the mood's still pretty good. So here are all the pluses and deltas (I still find it hilarious that people have so much trouble dealing with the word negative) of life at this very moment.

Deltas:
1. My new email was set up incorrectly so it's all screwy and my Communicator doesn't even work yet. I've had the tech guy and my boss standing over me all morning. At one point, the tech seemed to fix things only to have them fall apart again 5 minutes after he left! My boss is all irritated cause it's not working but, what he doesn't realize, is that they are already so far above the inefficiency of my previous gig that I'm kinda chill about it. They'll get it right eventually. And probably way sooner than the three weeks it took Workforce to get me going back when I first started there.

2. I'm not sleeping well. I had been feeling stress about the new gig starting at the same time I'm finishing my semester at school. Most of the stress has passed now but that on edge feeling hasn't yet. I know it will soon but, until then, I'm just really worn out. In all reality, all my stress should melt away in the next few days as my life is finally finding a nice, calm center. But, for right now, I'd just really love a good night's sleep.

3. The dogger. I love my Jakester, but he's on my last nerve right now. I think it's related to Delta 2, but the sound of him chomping on plastic hangers or the handle of my lint roller (which he destroyed night before last), kills me!

Ok... now for the pluses...
1. My script is done! Yes, you heard me right, the script that I have pondered and postponed and whined about is finally complete. Now there will still be quite a bit of fine tuning to occur. Plus some probable changes as we close in on shooting time. But it is on paper and I am pretty happy with it. And it is fraking funny!

2. Cupcaking time is coming! Now that the stress of the script is lifted, I get to do some serious cupcaking for a baby shower at the new gig tomorrow. I'm excited to do some baking and hoping it all goes smoothly. Plus I've been promising my partner in crime that I would ship some cupcakes so that I could experiment with how to ship my cupcakes without destroying them. And now I can make good on my promise!

3. My new office is just so awesome! I love it! I've spent a good part of the week cleaning and getting all my family and fun stuff on the wall. I'm hanging some lovely black and white photos that used to hang in my old apartment and I just love them. And, of course, there's already a cupcake on the wall! And I have my own candy dish too.

4. Not-So-Ex is always nearby! Right now, Not-So-Ex and I are working in the same building so, whenever I've needed help hanging stuff or needed tools or anything, he's close enough to help. Of course, while this is a plus for me, I think it would be on his delta list! But he'll survive.

OK... I think that'll do it for now. Once I get the office just right, expect some shots of the new digs! Hope everyone has an awesome day!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How almost grown Paige starts the morning...

Day 2 of new job...

Showed up on time TWO days in a row! And slowly getting going...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Vote for me 2

OK... Here's another chance to make my cupcakes #1! Cupcake Hero for November was all about peanut butter and I had 2 entries. So please go here to vote (for me)!

Just a quicky...

I am sitting in my new office! No more windowless cubicles for this chick! Woo Hoo!

It is far more than I had hoped for! Two huge windows and sunlight!

Ok... I have to go to a webinar... I can deal with a webinar in exchange for windows!

Monday, November 30, 2009

My faux Hostess Cupcake...


So I've seen recipes for homemade Hostess Cupcakes all over the place and just had to give it a shot myself. My thought pattern was along the lines of, "Gee... how tough could that be?"

Just so you know, in an ill equipped kitchen, it can be really tough.

First off is the cupcake recipe itself. I love this recipe! It makes the BEST chocolate cupcakes. However, the cupcakes came out with really domed tops. They were pretty, but harder to decorate that way.

Here's the recipe, straight from allrecipe.com.
INGREDIENTS:
2 cups white sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
DIRECTIONS:
1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Put cupcake liners in pans.
2.In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed of mixer. Stir in the boiling water last. Batter will be thin. Pour evenly into the prepared pans.
3.Bake about 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until the cake tests done with a toothpick. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
Now for the filling, I hit the blogs. As a result, I made a version of 7 Minute Frosting. This is really, really tough to do with a hand mixer that doesn't reach to the stove. You have to mix it as it cooks over boiling water. So, what that meant for me is that I would heat the water to boiling, then move the pot over to where my mixer could reach and beat until it cooled, then put the water back on the stove to heat it back up and do it again. So the 7 Minute Frosting was more like 15 Minute Frosting. And it was exhausting (even with Not-So-Ex jumping in to help). But it did turn out ok.

So, here's that recipe, which I found here.

Marshmallow, or Seven Minute Frosting

2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine frosting ingredients with a pinch of salt in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water and beat with a handheld electric mixer at high speed until frosting is thick and fluffy, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and continue to beat until slightly cooled. Use frosting the day it is made.

Once the filling was done, I piped it into the middle of the cupcake. The goal is around a tablespoon but I just pipe till they start to explode.
Then the frosting is a chocolate ganache. This recipe also came from allrecipes.com, but I used semi-sweet chocolate instead of bittersweet cause it's just too bitter for me (and I left out the liquor believe it or not).
INGREDIENTS:
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon dark rum (optional)
DIRECTIONS:
1.Place the chocolate into a medium bowl. Heat the cream in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil, watching very carefully because if it boils for a few seconds, it will boil out of the pot. When the cream has come to a boil, pour over the chopped chocolate, and whisk until smooth. Stir in the rum if desired.
2.Allow the ganache to cool slightly before pouring over a cake. Start at the center of the cake and work outward. For a fluffy frosting or chocolate filling, allow it to cool until thick, then whip with a whisk until light and fluffy.
Once they were ganached, I used the filling for the curlicues on top. I probably shoulda skipped this part cause, as those who know me can tell you, I have a really bad shake. So they weren't the prettiest. But I was ok with it.

The finished product was cool. But, next time I make them, I will wait for a really cold day and turn down the heat cause all that time spent with boiling water just killed me!

Vote for me!

So I entered Iron Cupcake for the first time last month and now it's time for the voting. My entry was the (IMO) awesome Appledoodle Cupcake.

If anyone would like to, please feel free to vote for me here! I have no chance of winning, being a small town upstart and all, but I like to think I could! LOL

You are such a fairy godmother...

This is one of those truly horrendous moments where a film was edited (badly) for content. The line is, "Hand me the keys you fucking cock sucker." But this is what we're left with...

To those of us in the film business (even just the hangers-on like me), this should be very, very scary. Or at least it should be once the insane laughter ends.