Thursday, December 25, 2008

john mayer likes MY cake

Squeeeeeee!

I have to say, the John Mayer "Tree-o" is a much better idea, and I'm jealous that I didn't think of it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The LavenderLily Christmas Spectacular!

With music by the Pacific Fleet Rock Band.

Hey, guess what? I'm married to the guitar player! Aren't you jealous?


They rocked so hard, they blew out the power!
(This was the second take of this song - the first time, the power was out for the whole thing. It was really a shame, because it was the best solo I've ever heard Brian play, ever. This one is pretty kickass, though, too!)

Sticker art by Brandon:



(I love how the angel is the only one who's actually on the ground, but my favorite is the sideways sheep.)

And for dessert: kabocha pie! (For the record, it tastes very similar to pumpkin, but has the texture of sweet potato.)


Don't forget the Christmas cookies:


(Yay for food-coloring magic markers!)

And of course, the Christmas Palm Tree, and flip-flop stockings:


(I bought the stockings and wrote the Hawaiian spellings of our names on them. Palaina=Brian, Keli=Kerry, Palanakonu=Brandon, Kaakakona=Jackson)

Merry Christmas, everybody!!

I bet it doesn't smell any different than any of the other three Fender Strats in my house.

Me: "I just don't see how someone could get knocked up and not take it as a wake-up call that they should change the way they live their life."
Brian: "You did it. Twice."
Me: "I was MARRIED. It's not getting 'knocked up' if you do it on purpose."
Brian: "So they ARE mine? Wow! Jack, I'm your real father!"
Me: "Haha. Who else would it be? I never have any kind of social interaction with...well, anyone."
Brian: "I don't know, you just baked a cake for John Mayer."
Me: "Oh, when have I ever met John Mayer?"
Brian: "Twice, apparently."

Ba-dum ching.

Me: "For the record, you know, I didn't bake a cake for John Mayer. I baked a cake to enter a contest that John Mayer is running, to try to win a guitar for you."
Brian: "Well, yeah. 'Cause, see, I would actually play it, not just sniff it."
Me: "I never said I would sniff it, I said I would sleep with it under my pillow."
Brian: "Liar! You never sleep."

He's right. I would totally sniff it.

hi, I'm Kerry, and I piss off my neighbors. it's what I do.

I was unloading groceries from the car to the garage today, and the dog that lives two doors down started barking at me. I rolled my eyes a little bit, but whatever. It's a dog, dogs bark at people. That's fine.

The dog's owner was also taking bags out of her car, and she yelled at the dog. He kept on barking, and I heard something that sounded like a slap. Did she just hit that dog? I thought. Nah. The dog barked at me again, so I looked up, and I saw her put the dog down on the ground, hold it down, and hit it. When he got up, he barked at me again, and she picked the dog up by the collar, lifted it up in the air, and carried it inside the house. I head some muffled screaming.

So I called the Humane Society.

Maybe it was an isolated incident, I don't know, but, um, WTF????? How am I supposed to ignore that?

So now I have a neighbor who obviously has anger management issues, and a violent temperament, mad at me. I don't care, I know I did the right thing.

Monday, December 22, 2008

john mayer likes cake

I found out yesterday that John Mayer is having a holiday cake contest on his blog. The winner gets an autographed signature series Stratocaster. The deadline is tomorrow, so I got right on it. If I'd had more time, I would have done more - for example, I really wanted to make footlights out of gumdrops - but seeing as how I've already been grocery shopping three times in the past week, I figured I'd just go for it with what I had around the house.

And so, I present to you: the Gingerbread Mayer Trio. Ta-dahhhhhhh!



Brandon decorated the "audience" around the sides of the cake. It might be hard to see it, but the audience members are all holding orange or yellow sprinkles, which are meant to be lighters. The instruments are all solid chocolate, decorated with royal icing.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

well of course, why else would he need a flashlight?

Brian: "What do you think Santa is going to bring for you?"
Brandon: "Toys."
Brian: "What kind of toys?"
Brandon: "A flashlight."
Brian: "What do you need a flashlight for?"
Brandon: "To see the boogies."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

candies!



I finished my Christmas Chocolates. The ones I'm giving as gifts, anyway. I'm still going to make some more for us, but I had to have the gifts finished and sent out by the Post Office deadline (to get packages from HI to the mainland by Christmas) today. And I'm happy to say that I got them done, wrapped and in the mail on time. The milk chocolate ones were rushed and kind of sloppy (Kerry Vincent would be appalled), and I got chocolate all over the counters, the stove, the outside of the microwave, my clothes (even though I was wearing an apron), my arms, my face, and the floor (which would probably explain how I got it between my toes) - but I got them all done.





I am pretty intense when it comes to making candy.

When I was a little kid, my mom's friend taught us how to mold chocolates. She used to make "gingerbread" houses out of chocolate. We never got that intense, but we did make lollipops for just about every holiday you can imagine. Christmas, obviously. Easter, for sure. Valentine's Day, naturally. St. Patrick's Day? Independence Day? Arbor Day? Yeah, probably. Birthday party, Halloween party, Graduation party, Girl Scout meeting... yes, yes, yes and yes. Any excuse to go to the chocolate store and buy a couple of bags of Mercken's. We'd get a couple of pounds of light, a couple of pounds of dark, and it would hang (in the shopping bag we brought it home in) from the back of one of the kitchen chairs across from the stove. Naturally, the bags would somehow end up open, and nibbling would ensue until the candies were made.

And the molds...oh, the molds! That was my favorite part about going to the chocolate store...looking at all of the molds. An entire store full of them! Flowers and bunnies and crosses and hearts and flags and cars and stars and Christmas trees and Santas and presents and snowmen and...well, you get the idea.

When I lived in New Orleans, I had a friend (who turned out to be a complete psycho, but that's beside the point) who decorated cakes. I mentioned to her one day that I used to make chocolates when I was a kid and that I was thinking about starting up again, and she told me about Szabo's, the party store over by the Westbank Expressway, that had all kinds of cake stuff and candymaking supplies. I wasn't into cakes as of yet, but it was beyond awesome to have a chocolate store to go to again. They didn't have as many molds as the store I grew up with in New York, but they had enough.

Now that I live in Hawaii, I haven't been able to find a candymaking supply store. Oh, they have the requisite Wilton stuff at Ben Franklin and WalMart and even a small sampling at the Exchanges, but I can't find a store that has the good stuff - the Nestle and and the Merckens and, oh my God, the molds. Although I probably have all of the molds I need (for now), so I just buy my chocolate on the internet.

Even though I have molds in the shape of flowers, hearts, Easter eggs, bunnies and even shamrocks, I only actually make chocolates at Christmastime. I just don't have that kind of time anymore! So as a rule, my chocolates are more about taste than looks - they are far from professional quality. I don't have the skills and I don't have the time to practice them. I am slowly getting better, though. Very, very slowly.

When I started back up with molding chocolates, I started simple - just solid candies. Then I started using the Wilton candy fillings that came in tubes (which seem to have been discontinued). And then, for some reason, one year I decided to make my own fillings from scratch. And I keep on coming up with more and more ideas, and now it's to the point where it's kind of like my Thanksgiving menu - absolutely ridiculous, but I can't bear to cut anything out. And every year I add more. (Although now that I think about it, I didn't make any with nuts this year, so I guess I did cut some out!)

The fillings that I made this year are:
  • semisweet ganache (aka chocolate truffle)
  • caramel
  • maple creme
  • raspberry creme
  • mint creme (aka peppermint patty)
  • coconut
  • dark chocolate nougat
  • peanut butter
I tempered my chocolate this year, and holy cow, what a pain in the @$$. I think I'll be going back to Mercken's coco melts from now on. (Assuming I can get them in Japan...I know I'll be able to get the Wilton stuff at the Exchange, but to be honest, I don't really like it. It's Mercken's or nothing when it comes to "confectionery coating".) Anyway, it's just easier to melt in the microwave and be done with it. A LOT easier.



Here are the recipes for the fillings:

Chocolate Ganache
I use a recipe I got out of Bon Appetit magazine. It calls for 9oz of bittersweet chocolate, but I found that when I used bittersweet chocolate, it was just too, well, bitter for me! So I used a 4oz bar of semisweet, a 4oz bar of dark (both Nestle Chocolatier) and a 1 oz square of Baker's semisweet (because I had some handy). I don't roll my truffles, I use a mold and fill them the same way I do the rest of the fillings - with a pastry bag.

Caramel
Caramelize 1 cup sugar, add 3/4 cup cream and 1 tsp vanilla. Easy-peasy!

Mint/Raspberry/Maple/Etc Creme
Creme fillings are basically a buttercream with half the butter/shortening, or twice the sugar (depending on how you look at it.) I used palm oil for the sake of longevity, but you could use butter (if the candies are going to be eaten quickly or kept in the fridge) or even - *shudder* - Crisco.
  • 1/2 cup butter or shortening
  • 1 pound (about 4 cups) powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp (approx) water
Cream the butter/shortening and water with an electric mixer (I use my stand mixer with the whip attachment). Add sugar, one cup at a time. Add additional water, if necessary.

At this point, I split the - um, dough? - into three containers to make three different flavors. I don't measure the flavorings, I just add them little by little until it tastes right. The ones I used this year were peppermint oil, artificial raspberry flavoring and all-natural maple flavoring. Both the raspberry and the maple add color as well as flavor, and both are DELICIOUS.

Coconut
This one is also loosely based on a buttercream recipe. I used 2 tbsp of coconut oil, 2 tbsp of palm oil (shortening) and 1 cup of powdered sugar; then I added sweetened shredded coconut. Et voila!

Dark Chocolate Nougat
I started with this recipe, but had to do quite a lot of calculating, seeing as how I had neither a 12-oz bag of chocolate chips, nor a 7-ounce jar of marshmallow creme. (I had a 4-oz bar of Nestle Chocolatier dark chocolate and a 13-ounce jar of marshmallow creme.) What I came up with was this:
  • 4 oz dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp marshmallow creme
Melt the chocolate and mix in the marshmallow creme. That's it!!

Peanut Butter
Peanut Butter Cup Recipe




The official method for making filled candies is to fill the mold halfway, then use a brush to paint the chocolate up the sides. I've also seen it recommended to fill the mold all the way, let the chocolate start to set and then pour the excess chocolate out. I found it much easier and neater to just dip the paintbrush into my bowl of chocolate and paint it straight into the molds (without pouring any chocolate into the mold first).

As for making the bottoms of the candies smooth, I tried a new technique this year that I saw on Food Network - I think it was actually on Road Tasted with the Neelys when they went to see a candymaker (I remember Bananas Foster truffles...). Anyway. You pour a ton of chocolate into the mold and then scrape off the excess with a pastry scraper. I actually had better results with the back of a butter knife, since my molds are all warped.



I don't really know how to wrap this up, except to say...Merry Christmas! I hope that I've inspired you, either to try to make your own chocolates, or to go to the store and buy a box of the good stuff. :)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

maybe the Christmas Spirit is getting the better of me...

I haven't been shy about complaining about the "new and improved" Shutterfly. I've written emails to customer service to complain about problems I've had with the Share 2.0 site, and I am consistently annoyed with the new interface for editing/organizing/sharing photos. Really the only reason why I didn't just abandon ship was that I have thousands upon thousands of my pictures on their server already and it would take FOREVER to move it all somewhere else.

But I have to say, I've been having some good experiences with them over the past couple of days. First of all, the "photobook storyboard tool" has made my life so much easier I can't even fully express it in words. Putting together a book of pictures from the past year takes FOREVER - I spend hours and hours sifting through the thousands of pictures I've taken. The storyboard tool made it a LOT quicker to put the photos into categories and further narrow down which ones I wanted to use, and which ones were redundant. It didn't always choose the best layouts, but I don't mind doing that myself. For me, the benefit is really just that it cuts the time spent placing photos on pages to a tiny fraction of what it once was. Brilliant.

The other thing that I really appreciated was the way in which they apply their discount codes. Right now there's a code for free shipping on orders over $50. Well, I spent well over $50, but my order was split among three different shipping addresses. Most sites (which shall remain nameless) would declare the discount code invalid for this particular order, seeing as how there wasn't at least $50 of merchandise being shipped to any one address...but Shutterfly actually made sense and shipped for free to *one* of the addresses and charged me shipping for the other two. It makes so much sense, it took me a minute to wrap my brain around what was going on.

And with that...I am officially done shopping. (Unofficially, though, I have couple more things to buy...)

Next up, Christmas candies! I am using (and tempering) real chocolate this year (as opposed to using the stuff that's designed to be fail-proof)...wish me luck...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

how about "Hanukkah on Sesame Street, featuring Murray"?

Okay, so...Children's television shows. Holiday specials. They're either about Christmas, with no apologies (like, say, Go Diego Go); or they're about "The Holidays", generically, without naming names (like Wow Wow Wubbzy); or they do a little bit about everything (like Blues Clues). I would really like to see a Hanukkah special, that's only about Hanukkah. Or a Kwanzaa special, that's about Kwanzaa and nothing else. Just for a change of pace.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

yup, I really did it


yup, I really did it
Originally uploaded by LavenderLily.

It's our last Christmas in Hawaii, and we don't have a "normal" Christmas tree anymore...so I got a palm tree. For real. (Well, an artificial one OBVIOUSLY, but I really did it.) Still have to decorate it...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

eggnog cake



For Brian's command holiday party last night, I wanted to make something festive, and for some reason, "eggnog cake" is what popped into my head. And I instantly knew exactly how I wanted to do it, too.

I started with the same white chocolate pound cake recipe that I dressed up with coconut filling for Brandon's birthday party. It tastes great and smells amazing while it's baking, but I'll admit that it is a little dry. Dousing it with a little bit of simple syrup might do the trick, although I've never tried that particular technique. (My alcohol-free rum syrup would do nicely for this particular application, although you could certainly use simple syrup laced with real rum!)

I baked the cake in a 9.5 inch springform pan and torted it (split it in half to make it into two layers), although you could easily bake it as two separate layers; I just wanted it to be a bigger cake (since it was for a party) and the only big cake pans I have are springforms.

For filling, I used eggnog ganache. I used this recipe, and added a dash of rum flavoring. I don't know if I did something wrong, or if it's just the nature of this particular recipe, but it didn't set up nearly as firm as regular ganache usually does, and I couldn't get it to whip up, either. It came out kind of creamy, almost custard-y. Kind of perfect for a cake filling, actually, although it did start to run out after the cake had been cut.

As for the icing, I decided to go with a butter buttercream, because this cake was all about flavor. I briefly considered doing a Swiss meringue buttercream, but decided against it since I had never tried one before and in order to make it taste the way I wanted it to, I'd have to be switching out some of the ingredients. When experimenting, I like to start with a recipe I'm already very familiar with! So I started with the Wilton Class Buttercream recipe and made some significant alterations.

(I left out the meringue powder because I thought I had a sensitivity to it - the frostings I've been making lately have been making my tongue kind of numb and tingly - but it happened with this frosting, too, so I think it might actually be the powdered sugar! Anyway, I think the meringue powder might have made the frosting a little easier to work with - at the very least, it would have crusted, which would have made it possible to get it a lot smoother - so 1 tbsp of Wilton meringue powder is an optional ingredient in this recipe.)

Eggnog Buttercream
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 pound (about 4 cups) powdered sugar
1 tsp rum flavoring*
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
eggnog

Cream the butter, flavorings, and 2 tbsp of eggnog. Add the sugar 1 cup at a time. Add additional eggnog, a little at a time, until it is the consistency you need.

*I'm sure that if you wanted to, you could use real rum, you'd just end up using less eggnog to get the proper consistency, because you'd probably want to use more than one teaspoon of rum ;)

Real butter buttercream is tricky as far as consistency. You'll think it's too stiff, and then it melts and gets too soft. I had a LOT of trouble covering the cake - I guess I made the frosting too thin, because it kept on sliding off the sides of the cake. Luckily I was going more for flavor than looks with this cake. :)

However...I am who I am, after all, and I did do some decorating. I thought about doing a puffy-star Christmas tree on top, but then I remembered that this was a "Holiday" party, not a Christmas party. So I did a snowflake instead.

First of all, Wilton piping gel is a PITA. It simply would not pipe evenly, so my lines turned out kind of lumpy. Ah, well, every snowflake is different, right?


I covered up some of the imperfections on the sides of the cake (there were plenty!) by piping randomly-placed stars of different sizes. They were supposed to represent snowflakes, so I let the Martha Stewart snowflake cake inform my design and put smaller stars at the top, medium in the middle and larger at the bottom. (I used tips 14, 18 and 133.)



My local craft store only had edible glitter in green, purple and orange, which would have been fantastic if this had been a Mardi Gras party, but it wasn't so great for my snowflake cake. So I made my own. Very very easy:

Edible Glitter
Brush pasteurized egg whites (I used Egg Beaters) on a sheet of waxed paper with a pastry brush. Allow to dry. Crumple up the paper and shake the flakes into a container. Sprinkle on your cake. Ooooooh, shimmery!!



All in all, not the prettiest or most professional-looking cake I've ever made, but it's up there with the yummiest. The leftovers are even better, because I love the texture of refrigerator-hardened buttercream. Everyone else seemed to like it, too - I even had one person who claims to hate eggnog tell me that they liked the filling, which I thought was odd, since it's VERY eggnogg-y, but I'll take the compliment.

Enjoy!!!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

an open letter to butter

Oh, butter, you yellowy, sublime stick of milkfat, semi-solid at room temperature, with your smooth, delicious taste...let us never part again.

When I bought those sticks of Crisco, and that tub of palm oil, I swear to you, it meant nothing to me. I bought the Crisco because I was taking a cake decorating class, and I wanted to learn the way you're "supposed" to do it before I started branching out and experimenting on my own. I bought the palm oil in an attempt to replace the Crisco with something natural and unprocessed. But even the organic, sustainably harvested palm oil has a chemically aftertaste, and no amount of artificial butter flavoring could make it taste like you.

So, butter, even though you will never be able to create a pure white frosting, and even though real buttercream is difficult as all get-out to decorate a cake with, and cakes iced in real buttercream need to be refrigerated, I swear to you that you will always have a place in my kitchen. Because damn it, butter, you taste amazing.