Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lots of work, lots of payoff... and oh yeah, happy belated Memorial Day!

Eric and I had a heck of a weekend.  On Saturday we went to a wine and blues festival with a friend.  On Sunday we spent the afternoon with Eric's brother and nephew, mostly shopping, mostly for Eric's brother... with a quick stop at AC Moore for me.

Sigh.  Always a dangerous store, that AC Moore.  A stencil, a dozen skeins of yarn, several packets of beads, some vegetable seed packets, and one Bakerella Cake Pops book later, we checked out.  And then I got obsessed with the idea of cake pops.  They're the hot thing, and I've been seeing them everywhere.  They're so cute!  And they looked so easy.  Ha.

So at 10 p.m. on Sunday, Eric and I were at the supermarket so I could buy cake stuff.  We came home, and I baked a white cake in a 9x13" pan.


And then, per Bakerella's instructions, I let it cool overnight.

Meanwhile, I'd gotten these rainbow star sprinkles to decorate the pops.  The supermarket was completely out of anything in blue besides this; they were overrun with red and green.  In case we want to make Christmas cakes ahead, maybe?  Well, my nutty husband and I sat and split up all the stars so I could use the blue and white ones on my pops.  Yes, we're insane.



On Monday, Memorial Day, Eric and I went to lunch with a friend I hadn't seen in way too long.  From there, we went to Home Depot for a bunch of 2x6" 8' wood and some 2x4" stakes... and then came home, and Eric built this, after clearing away all the weeds from the area.


While he was doing that, I was making my very first ever cake pops.  Deceptive, terribly deceptive.  They looked so simple.  So cute and easy.  Those suckers are seriously labor intensive!  And that's not even including doing crazy sprinkle-separating.

First, you crumble the cake into fine crumbs.


Then you mix in icing (I used vanilla), 'til it's all mixed through, roll it into balls (I made mine bigger than the recommended 1.5" diameter, and was kind of glad I did... fewer to fight with.  So far it was still pretty easy, though I'm not a fan of playing mudpies, really.


And then they need to fridge. While they were fridging, I melted some dark chocolate I had.


Good stuff.  And you know, I have a double boiler.  But I thought rather than digging it out, I'd do it the "easy" way and melt the chocolate by microwaving it.  Only I forgot I've never been really good at microwave-melting chocolate, and much prefer a double boiler.  Well, the first bowl of chocolate turned useless when I overheated it and it just kept getting stiffer instead of more liquid.  So... second bowl.  More chocolate.  This time it worked better, though it was still finicky to work with and I really should've just dug out the double boiler.  Next time.

I learned some other things too.  It's really not easy to keep those balls on the lollipop sticks while swishing them through the chocolate.  It's also not easy to cover them in "one swipe," as recommended by Bakerella, and so it's not easy to get a nice thin, even coat of chocolate.  I also learned that drawing icing is not as easy as it looks.  As Eric put it, when I try something brand new like this, my artistic flair sometimes exceeds my skill level.


Practice should fix that, right?  Right?

Meanwhile, this time around, I ended up pretty much with melted chocolate everywhere.  I ate so much chocolate, I made myself nauseous.

Anyway, I did a whole bunch of 'em, Memorial Day themed, and then set up 6 in tiny flower pots to wrap as a gift.


And I wrapped 'em up.  I wanted to bring them over to our neighbors who shoveled the snow off our walk several times this winter.  It was really the least I could do.


OK, that really looked cute.

Of course, Eric and I had to taste test a couple, just to make sure.  Wow!  I'd never had a cake pop before, and they taste like, as Eric put it, chocolate-covered cupcakes.  Yum!

Before I could bring them over, though, Eric had finished that garden box... and then, Eric being Eric, he was on a roll.  He needed soil.  Lots of soil.  Over half a ton of soil.  Thirty 40-lb bags of soil.  And a bag of rocks.

We came back, gave the neighbors their gift, and made them happy.  Then headed into our own yard, to fill the box with soil... or almost fill it with soil, since it could still use a few more bags.


It's really going to be nice.  The rocks are going to be along the front, to make a border where the dirt hits the driveway.  And he's forming a brick walkway around the left and back of the box for us to use in gardening.

Then all it'll need will be the plants!

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Meg's been featured!

I entered a giveaway at bouffe e bambini, for Southern Inspired Treats, billed as organic, all natural dog treats with a southern flair.  Well, I won!  A whole pound of them.  I chose the peanut butter cookies for Meg and received them a few days ago.  They came packaged in a pretty gift box tied with a brown satin ribbon.

(If you have any dogs or dog owners for which you need gifts, trust me, these are the way to go.)

In the box, and apparently every box that leaves Peyton's kitchen in Jacksonville, FL, was also a real cotton boll!


I have no idea why or how, but I knew what cotton grew like, though I'd never seen a boll in person.  Eric, on the other hand, not only had never seen one but had no idea how cotton grew, so it was especially fun to receive.  It's now residing in my craft room/office, just 'cause it's so cool.

I haven't eaten any of the treats, though apparently I could without harm, since they're all made with organic, human-grade ingredients.  I do have to tell you, they smell amazing.  Every time I go anywhere near the box, which we've got hidden on top of the fridge, Meg goes crazy for them, so I can't get an actual photo.  I've therefore stolen the product photo from SIT's Etsy shop.


If it's possible, they actually look better in person.  And in the end, the most important thing is that Meg inhales them and then cleans the floor - or couch - where any crumbs might be lurking.  I have a feeling I might not be able to purchase snacks from any other source for her anymore.  I've found her favorites, at age 13.  And really?  I trust the shop.  These treats, after all, were created because of a diabetic dog who deserved treats that wouldn't harm him.  So they've got no sugars, preservatives, or allergens.

Hey, I'm trying to eat healthier, why shouldn't the pup join me?  And she's happy.


As the winner, she's been featured on their blog too!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

They Grow Up So Fast

That pea-looking thing?  Our first pea flower!


Oh, and as for the other plants?  This green bean is trying to grow up a tiki torch.


And the others are looking pretty good too!



Artist Spotlight: Part Fifty

Wow, this is the 50th artist I'm spotlighting here at Reef Botanicals!  I've got a good one for you this week, too.  Meet John, of Rasmussen Gems and Jewelry, also known on Artfire as Gemlover.  You can tell that's an accurate moniker; this guy loves gems.


In fact, this artisan from South Carolina has had such a passion for rocks and rockhounding since he was a small child that he obtained his BS and MS in geology from Rensselaer!  That, my friends, is dedication.  He didn't stop there, though.  His passion was fostered by his wife, who bought a bunch of gemstones, brought them to John, and asked, "What are these?"


... and off John set into the world of gemology, studying to be a professional gemologist, doing lapidary and cutting his own stones, becoming certified as an accredited jewelry professional, and obtaining his jewelry design and repair certificate.


Most of his work at this point is comprised of custom pieces he makes for people, but his artfire shop is still chock full of great items.


What I really love about his work are the really unique settings  he creates, as well as the often irregular cuts of stones.


Mixed amongst those really interesting pieces are sophisticated ones like this ring.


Beautiful!  To read more about John and his work, be sure to check out his blog.  Amazing stuff on there, trust me.

A pea?!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Wow.

From one day to the next...

Flowers! ... or am I raising Audrey II?

So... the vegetable plants out back are doing great, and just a few days after we planted the flower seeds in the seed starter, we saw germination... much faster than the seed packets let on.

First came a couple of these big guys.


And then a multitude of these little ones.


See him to the left there?  Little green guy?  There are a lot of those.


And they're really hard to photograph.

But... this is today...




Still a ton of the little guys.  But what are those monsters?!


I was so excited to have plants that will flower... but now I'm kind of frightened.  If they eat the cats, I'll be really pissed off.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I Created a Monster. Perhaps Two.

So... remember the beer garden?  The cute Valentine's Day idea I had for Eric, since he loves beer so much, and I thought it'd be fun for him to have a wheat/barley/hops garden, even though he'd never really have enough from it to use in beer?  This one.


Well, it turns out Eric loves growing things.  In fact, (and this I knew before) he went to one of those specialized NYC high schools and this one had an agricultural program, so he'd been pretty good at growing things.  A good foil for my brown, thumb, really.

(And I do mean brown thumb.  I can kill cacti.  I have killed 'em... as well as orchids, Bonsai trees, California jades, and an aloe plant.)

Anyway, Eric also had a veggie garden in his yard as a kid, and he loved taking care of it.  I had no idea how much.

So... this little bitty beer garden, a fun gifty item I got him, led to this:



Yup, veggies in a seed starter.  Now, I'm not going to lie and say I don't like fresh veggies.  I love 'em.  And I'm kind of excited at the prospect.  But the seed starter led to bigger containers, of course.


And bigger.


So now, we've got this happening...



(Yes, that's still the beer garden you see in these photos.  The wheat and barley are still going strong, after a short haircut from the cats before it was moved outside.  Still no hops, but hops are tough, so we're not worrying about them.)





We've got veggies and herbs out there all over our big deck which suddenly doesn't seem so big anymore.  We've got another seed starter with herbs in it, and chamomile, which I'm really exited about because you might notice I really like tea.


And then I got in on the act too.  Flowers!  I wanted flowers.  So we got another seed starter, and I planted flower seeds yesterday.  No little compartments for me, just a sea of soil.  I want a wildflower kind of look happening; I much prefer that to the manicured, orderly gardens that make sense when it comes to veggies.  I did basically plant taller stuff to the "back" of the plot and shorter stuff to the front for better visibility.  I didn't bother with photos, since right now it's just a bunch of dirt and you can't see anything interesting, but I've got sunflowers, lobelia, Johnny jump ups, morning glories, alyssums in white and purple, a maravilla tea time mix, snapdragons, primroses, Canterbury bells, hollyhocks, scabiosa, sweet peas, and lavender.

We didn't buy the lavender; I had the seeds already.  See, two years ago, the wedding shower my sister and bridesmaids threw me was a garden party theme.


See those centerpieces?  That green watering can in the foreground is the watering can we're now using for our plants.  And those little boxes at each place setting?  Those favors were lavender startup kits.  Each one has a tiny terra cotta pot, a soil disk, and lavender seeds.  So it was one of those lavender packets, from leftover favors, that I used in my garden mix.

Once this one is ready to plant outside, I'll do it again, and plant some more!

So... yeah... I created a monster (Eric).  But I think I might become one too!  And hopefully Eric can help counter that brown thumb of mine.
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