Posted by: zebe912 | November 26, 2008

Hey Babycakes

Baby Cake, singular, actually.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of making the baby shower cake for a friend of mine. I had done a cake for her pre-wedding bash and so I really wanted to do one for her now, as well. The only problem was that I didn’t know enough about their baby plans to really customize the cake the way I wanted. I went through many photos to get inspiration. Luckily, just about the time I was deciding, another friend got some good intel for me and I was able to make this cake personalized just as I’d hoped.



I had to take these pics with my cell phone which doesn’t have a flash for some reason.  The good photos are on friend #3’s camera so I don’t have them to post.  The blocks have baby’s initials in the theme colors of the nursery (well 2 out of 3 since they changed the middle name 2 days pre-shower and no one knew) .  Jungle animals to match the nursery; Yankee’s logo, baseball, & bat as a nod to dad; and then Baby Dem (complete with donkey) & 100% USA baby because both parents work in politics.  Onesies were decorations for the shower, and I happened to find some sugar form onesies so those and mini baby bottles are “scattered” on the cake as well.

Many thanks to the other bloggers & forum-pals who helped me brain storm ideas for this cake.  It took lots of ideas merged together to make this one work.  Congrats L & CA!!

Posted by: zebe912 | November 22, 2008

NFR: Mickey

I actually received this as part of an email promotion from a local coffee company/cafe. Since one of my friends/readers is finishing up her trip to Disney, I instantly thought of her when I read this. So, since it is just some light reading for a cold & dreary Saturday, I thought I’d pass it on:

Can you tell me who since his birth in 1928 until his current age of 80 has been on every presidential ballot? He has received close to 20,000 votes in each election, but if elected he could not serve as President of the United States? It is your friend and mine… M..I..C…K..E..Y…..M..O..U..S..E! The famous mouse turned 80 this week. Can you believe it? He hasn’t aged at all!!

Mickey Mouse. You say the name and 9 times out of 10 it will illicit a smile, someone singing the song or you may even get sucked in to someone’s story about their trip to Disney World. Regardless, he is synonymous with fun, laughter and being a kid! I came across some interesting facts about the mouse when I found out it was his birthday.

* Walt Disney was afraid of mice.
* Mickey Mouse was originally going to be called Mortimer Mouse.
* Mickey Mouse was the first animated character to get a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
* The League of Nations presented Walt Disney with a special medal in 1935 to recognize the fact that Mickey Mouse was seen as “a symbol of universal good will.”
* Walt Disney was known as the fastest animator on the planet. In one day he could produce 700 images for a film. He averaged one drawing per minute.
* Mickey Mouse is the world’s most reproduced image.
* In Australia Mickey Mouse means “excellent, first rate.”

::Insert annoying sales plug here:: And happy birthday to the big guy – who still is a kid at heart, even at 80.

Posted by: zebe912 | November 19, 2008

A new favorite

I like going wine tasting. I like to drink wine, even though it doesn’t always like me back. I started out, like most, only liking really sweet white wines. I’m still a white fan, but usually I like something more dry these days. I may have taken a step back up the sweetness scale though, because I have a new favorite.  cooper_web

The best part is that this is made right here in Michigan so by drinking it, I am supporting the not-so-great economy here.  🙂  I remember tasting both of these “greeter” wines at Bowers Harbor a couple of years ago.  The wines are named after the dogs that live(d) at the winery and greet the guests as they arrive at the tasting room.    It was a nice surprise to open a bottle of it and taste it again recently.  I was fortunate enough to meet both Otis and Cooper when I was there too!  If you like an easy drinking, and refreshing white, with lots of fruity flavor, see if you can get your hands on a bottle.

Posted by: zebe912 | November 10, 2008

Spaetzle, a flash back

When I gave up wheat flour, and went through many less-than-successful gluten free recipes, I thought spaetzle was forever gone from my diet.  Tonight, since we were having pork chops, and I was really craving these little noodley dumplings, I decided I had to give it a try.  I found one recipe that at least gave me a start.  But if I’ve learned anything from all the ruined GF recipes, it is:


It sounds dumb, because with wheat flour, you just through AP in everything and it turns out great.  But if you use just rice flour or just tapioca flour, you end up with some weird flavors and textures.  I’ve found that I usually need 3-4 flours/starches to resemble a texture I want to put in my mouth.  So, here’s my version.  I was SO happy with it.  The texture and the flavor were perfect (aside from the fact I over salted my water). It gave us three big servings, which probably should be 4 reasonable ones 🙂

1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup millet flour (or another whole grain you like)
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1/8 cup sweet rice flour (1/8 cup=2 TBSP)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 eggs
2-4 TBSP water (more or less to achieve the right consistency)

Heat water to boiling in a sauce pan while completing these steps:

Combine dry ingredients in the bowl. Slightly whip eggs & stir into dry ingredients. Add water until the dough is about the consistency of cookie dough or just a little more moist. Use a potato ricer, colander, or spaetzle press to drop portions of the batter into the boiling water. Scoop out with a slotted spoon, toss with butter & serve.

Some people like herbs in their spaetzle, but I’ve never had it that way, so I don’t make it that way.   You could easily add some dried herbs to the above mixture and adjust to taste.

NOTE: If you’ve never made spaetzle before and need more explaination of the actual cooking process, this blog has a good walk through and photos: Juggling Frogs She uses a spaetzle maker, but you can just push the batter through a colander if you don’t have a press or potato ricer (what I use so it is better if my batter is thicker than hers).

Posted by: zebe912 | November 2, 2008

When wool won’t shrink (and you want it to)

Last weekend, we did a whole bunch of fall things, as you can see by scrolling down.  One of those things, I said I’d blog about later:  “Lastly, I’m trying to felt a wool sweater so I can make a hat.  That post will come once I get done boiling the sweater on the stove. ”  So here’s the scoop.

Last winter I found a cute pair of brown heels on sale which my ankles will only tolerate because they are Sofft brand with arch support.

The first time I wore them, they made me think of 1920’s era clothing, probably because of the  flower accent on the straps.  This summer I found a dress on clearance, I think for $8 at a boutique (that I’m usually afraid will charge me just to walk in the door), which was close enough to the dress I pictured in my head that could go with the shoes.

Fast forward to Halloween:  I still hadn’t found a reason to wear the dress, or the shoes again for that matter.  We  just don’t dress up to go out (read: husband hates it), and if I wear a skirt to work, it MUST be long (since I crawl on the floor with kids) and heels don’t work when you are carrying musical instruments from classroom to classroom like a pack mule all day (and have already endured two ankle surgeries).  I wanted a “just in case we get invited somewhere” costume and realized that I could just be a 1920’s girl for Halloween.  At least the outfit would get one wearing that way.  I felt I was missing something if it was going to be a costume.

So I did a little research and discovered that a hat was what I wanted.  I knew I couldn’t afford to buy the one I really liked on Etsy (maybe minus the fans), and I didn’t figure it would get here in time anyway. So I decided to make one.  I searched knitting patterns, but knew I didn’t have time to finish & felt one the “normal” way.  My knitting skills just aren’t that polished yet.

Instead, I felted a sweater and made a hat out of that.  $4.23 at the Salvation Army for a chocolate brown wool sweater, a futile run through the washing machine, at least a half hour boiling on the stove to felt it down,  and a few mock ups made with fleece scraps, and here’s my brown wool cloche hat.  My mock ups started out sort of a heart shape because it was a Vneck sweater and I thought I could get away with only one seam that way.  But it was a little too Peter Pan like for my taste.  After a few trials, I ended up with matching bell-shaped pieces that got sewn together and turned right side out.  (Go figure that “cloche” translates to “bell”. Duh.)

If I’d had more time, I would have lined it, and it really needed to be stiffer (I tried, but it just wouldn’t shrink more.  Go figure. ) so I could shape the back brim better (the ribbon is supposed to sit along the brim, but it’s sort of just floating as it is.  But for a first try both felting, and hat making, and a quick effort at that, I am pleased.  I can tweak this one, or try again.  I’d still really like to knit one and then felt it so that I don’t have the side seams throwing things off.  I also want to make some sort of flower accent that resembles the shoes.

We also, never wound up with a party to go to, so it was good that I didn’t spend all kinds of time trying to create or find a perfect hat, because it wouldn’t have been worn except into a tiny bar where I was one of 3 people dressed up at all in the whole place.  I didn’t even bother with make up because we weren’t really going anywhere.  I had it on only because I had gone through the effort of making the hat and I thought it deserved to be worn.  I even had to change in the parking lot since we’d been traveling.  I do wish I had a little better photos though.  A wrap, some gloves, and jewelry would have been a nice touch too.  I hope the rest of you who made costumes (or parts of them) had better venues in which to show them off!

Posted by: zebe912 | October 26, 2008

Bobbing Apples

More so, bobbing apples into caramel, than bobbing FOR apples.  I never did like that game much.  Something about being face first in a tub of water just never appealed to me much.  I don’t even like washing my face in the sink and throwing water over my nose to rinse.

Anyway….with fall comes apples around here.  And with apples, there must be caramel.  But store bought caramels are full of sugar and/or corn syrup, neither of which I’m supposed to have.  I saw this post, and got excited that I might have a new easy way to make caramel.  But alas, I can’t track down any sweetened condensed milk that uses a natural, unrefined, sweetener.   But the more I looked at the caramel on that page, the more I really wanted some caramel to go on the last few apples in the fridge.

So I started searching, and came across the blog 101 cookbooks.  She just so happens to use natural ingredients AND had a caramel apple recipe.  Hers uses honey though, and I could tell as this batch was cooking that it was going to be honey flavored caramel and NOT the stuff I was craving.  If I wanted honey flavor, I would just drizzle some honey on my apples.

Luckily, I had assumed this might happen, and only made a half batch.  Into another sauce pan I poured the remaining cream, and worked on my agave nectar caramel.  After much stirring, we had a batch of honey, a batch of agave, and then I mixed the two together in a third cup & we had a taste off.  B likes the honey one best.  For me it is a toss up between the agave and the 50/50 mix.  I think, if I hadn’t just slightly overcooked or burnt the agave mixture, that would have been a for sure winner.  Only the slightly dark flavor of it made me not love it.

I’ve taken to cutting up my apples and dipping them in the caramel because it is so much easier & neater than trying to eat an apple on a stick.  Or, for that matter, trying to get the caramel to stick to the apple in the first place.

My Version of  Heidi’s caramel recipe:

In a sauce pan combine:
1/2 cup of cream
1/4 tsp salt
Let it heat up a bit, just until the edges of the milk begin to boil.
(While cream heats, prepare a sink or bowl full of ice water.)

1/2 cup agave nectar (OR 3/8 cup nectar and 1/8 cup sucanat)
Bring the mixture to a slow boil and stir continuously until a candy thermometer reads 250* F (note this is different than if using honey). It may still seem a little thin at this point, but it thickens quickly once cool. Place the saucepan into the ice water without splashing any water into the caramel mixture. Continue stirring for a few moments until the mix begins to thicken.

This caramel can be used to coat apples, dip apples, or could even be used as the “innards” of chocolates or other carmel based recipes.  This still isn’t healthy caramel by any means, but at least in making it, you know what you’re ingesting.

The short list of KRAFT Caramels ingredients:
Corn Syrup, Sugar, Skim Milk, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Whey, Cream, Salt, Artificial Flavor.

Posted by: zebe912 | October 26, 2008

When the gales of November came early

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they say, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early.

-Gordon Lightfoot

Today is a very windy and gusty day.  The fall gale winds always make me think of the ships out on the Great Lakes that surround this state I live in.  Namely, this song comes to mind:

If you aren’t from one of the Great Lake states, you may never have heard this song.  Its a bit long, but well worth a listen.  The song is haunting, and really gives the feel for how it might have felt to be stranded in a huge ship, out on the lake, at the total mercy of the weather. I can’t even imagine, but it gives me the chills just thinking about it.  I love it when music can really influence affect.  Perhaps that’s part of why I’m a music therapist.  🙂

So, on a lighter note, we’ve been doing some fall activities to combat the chill. Last night we carved pumpkins, so today I am roasting the seeds, and roasting some squash to make GF pumpkin muffins.  I also experimented with making my own caramel without refined sugar, which you’ll see in my next post.  Lastly, I’m trying to felt a wool sweater so I can make a hat.  That post will come once I get done boiling the sweater on the stove. 🙂

B adding finishing touches, and then helping Harriet kitty work on her pumpkin.

We actually didn’t plan the “family” to come out quite like this, but these are sort of self-characature pumpkins.  Can you guess who made who?

Posted by: zebe912 | October 25, 2008

Candy Corn Anyone?

I can’t decide whether I’d really want to wear this, but on the right person (kid) it would be really cute:

This is pretty clever as well, but surely a hat that would deserve to be worn year after year:

Posted by: zebe912 | October 24, 2008

Take the Cannoli: GF, RSF

Gluten Free (GF), Refined-Sugar-Free (RSF) Cannoli doesn’t sound like it should be very good.  But my little experiment last night with leftover ricotta cheese made me quite happy.

I started out by reviewing and converting some pizzelle recipes into gluten free form.  I have a cuisinart pizzelle iron, so that’s what I used to make the shells, rather than trying to fry shells on a cannoli tube.  I wrapped them around the handle of a thick wooden spoon & let them cool into little cannoli shells. These Italian cookies can be eaten flat, can be wrapped to make cannoli shells, or folded into a cone or bowl shape to hold ice cream.

Almond Pizzelle
Makes about 20

3/4 cup, + 2 TBSP Gluten Free Flour Mix (or use AP flour if gluten isn’t a problem)
1/4 cup almond meal (or any other nut ground very fine)
1 tsp baking powder
1 large egg
1 egg white
3/8 cup sucanat (or white sugar if you aren’t RSF)
1/4 cup grapeseed oil or melted butter
1 1/2 tsp amaretto (or frangelico)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat pizzelle iron to medium darkness. Mix all ingredients until smooth. Ideally batter should ribbon easily off of a spoon, but mine was a little thicker than that and did fine. Place batter onto bottom half of iron by the spoonful (I needed about 1 1/2 TBSP) & cook according to machine directions, or until golden brown. Remove from the iron, place on a flexible hot pad & use it to bend the warm pizzelle around a dowel or thick handled wooden spoon. Let cool a couple of minutes until firm.

Chocolate Pizzelle
Makes about 20

3/4 cups gluten free flour blend (or use AP flour if gluten isn’t a problem)
1/8 cup (aka 2 TBSP) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 oz bittersweet or semi sweet chocolate shaved or chopped very fine
1 tsp baking powder
1 large egg
1 egg white
1/2 cup sucanat (or 1/4 sucanat with 1/8 cup agave nectar, OR 1/2 cup white sugar)
1/4 cup grape seed oil OR melted butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat pizzelle iron to medium darkness. Mix all ingredients until smooth. Batter should ribbon easily off of a spoon. Place batter onto bottom half of iron by the spoonful (I needed about 1 1/2 TBSP) & cook according to machine directions, or until golden brown. Remove from the iron, place on a flexible hot pad & use it to bend the warm pizzelle around a dowel or thick handled wooden spoon. Let cool a couple of minutes until firm.

***NOTE*** For both varieties I used a mix of leftover flour blends I had from other recipes. Any GF combination will do, but make sure that there’s some xanthan gum in it. If not, add about 1/8 tsp or so.

Cannoli Filling
1 cup ricotta cheese
3/8 cup Agave Nectar (aka 1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP)
Inside scrapings of one vanilla bean

Chopped marachino cherries, very well drained
Chopped chocolate
1/4 cup whipping cream, well whipped

Drain ricotta cheese, or squeeze in cheese cloth until nearly dry. Add agave nectar & combine until smooth. Cut down the length of a vanilla bean and gently scrape the insides into the cheese mixture & fold in. Add chopped cherries and/or chocolate to cheese mixture, if desired. Reserve some for garnish. For a lighter consistency, fold in the whipped cream. Place the mix in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, before piping into shells.

***NOTE*** If you use refined sugar in your food, then you can use the original version of this recipe.

Posted by: zebe912 | October 8, 2008

Cottage, Ranch, or Pasture??

Depending on who you ask, this is a recipe for either Cottage Pie, Rancher’s Pie, or Shepherd’s Pie. I’ve always known it as Shepherd’s Pie, so that’s what I’m calling it. Two restaurants in our area have very yummy versions of this, but since it can also be known as Poor Man’s Pie, I see no reason to pay $13 for a serving of it when I can make a whole batch for well under $10.

I started by braising an English Roast last night in my cast iron dutch oven (yea wedding present!).  I browned the meat on both sides, then added a chopped potato, a couple of carrots, an onion, 2 stalks celery, and some garlic.  I added about a cup of water and let it simmer for the rest of the evening (2-3 hours).  I chopped it up and stuck it in the fridge over night.  This was the most time consuming part.  The rest of the recipe took under 30 minutes:

Tonight when I got home from work, I chopped up a few more potatoes, & carrots, boiling them (with some frozen corn) until they were soft.  The potatoes then were mashed with some butter & milk.  The rest of the veggies were set aside for the inside of the pie.

I based the “innards” of my pie on this recipe, subbing my roast for the ground beef.  I began by browning a chopped onion, and a clove of garlic in a bit of oil.  I then added the chopped roast from last night and poured in the beef broth and sauces.  (I decided not to use the curry this time around since I wasn’t sure how that would go with ketchup and Worcestershire.)   I only chopped up one tomato, and I’m still not sure that I even want that much.  The ketchup gives enough tomato “essence” that I don’t really need chunks of tomato to chew on.  But nutritionally it’s probably good they were in there.  My cooked carrots and corn went in the pot, and then my cornstarch.  (I actually used potato starch since I have that for my gluten free baking.  It seems to thicken up more evenly and quickly than corn starch.)

The directions on Allrecipes says to simmer for 3-4 minutes.  I wish I’d done it longer.  I think the flavors really needed more time to mingle.  So maybe next time I will reduce the amount of thickener/starch, and  plan to simmer the mix a little longer.

Finally these innards got dumped into my casserole dish.  I used my ice cream scoop to place the mashed potatoes on top (WAY easier than trying to spread them with a spoon or spatula & everything still got covered).  A few minutes under the broiler, and this was ready to go!

I might add more Worcestershire next time, or some salt, but this was great for a first try.  B & I were both really glad I’d had time to cook up the roast instead of having to use ground beef.  I like having something solid amidst all those cooked veggies.  I think this would be fun to put in individual ramkins for serving as well, but B had to eat before class so I couldn’t play around too much.

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