Saturday, August 29, 2009

what's in that can? round 6

Buying baked goods in Japan is a lot like reaching into a box of Bernie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. The savory stuff looks exactly like the sweet stuff, and if you can't read the labels, there's really no telling what you're going to get. One time I bought a cellophane-wrapped piece of baumkuchen (a kind of cake that I understood to be sweet and kind of creamy), only to find that it tasted like black pepper.

That said, today we picked up treats for the boys at 7-11 on the way home from sushi at More's. Brandon got ice cream, but I wanted to get something smaller and less messy for Jack. I settled on a sandwich of mini pancakes with an indeterminate filling. We could tell what it was as soon as we opened it, although it still needed to be tasted to determine whether it was sweet or savory. Jackson LOVED it. What do you think it is?

Monday, August 24, 2009

time to kill, time to quilt

For the last two weeks, I was bringing Brandon to swimming lessons every day. And for the last three weeks or so, I was re-reading Harry Potter. I finished reading on Thursday, and swimming lessons ended on Friday. The thing about reading such a long series, especially one that's so engaging, is that when you finish, you just kind of look up and think...okay, what now?

So now, with no daily activity to attend and no Harry Potter to read, I all of a sudden have nothing to do. I actually cleaned my kitchen yesterday. I have stainless steel counters, so cleaning them - really cleaning them - involves clearing them off and scrubbing with a Brillo pad. It took all morning. I even ran the self-clean cycle on my oven. I don't think it was 100% effective, though, since it didn't run quite as long as it's supposed to - Japanese power is slightly different than American, and it's an American oven, so the oven timer isn't accurate, it's a little faster than it's supposed to be. I haven't cleaned up all of the ashes yet, though, so I don't know for sure how effective or ineffective it was.

I spent most of Saturday working on Jackson's quilt. The whole thing is an exercise in futility, since he despises blankets. He absolutely cannot be covered up by ANYTHING while sleeping. This is a problem, since it is obscenely hot and humid, and the air conditioner is correspondingly strong, and we don't have a thermostat - it's either too sticky to sleep, or too cold. We had to move Jack's bed so that it's no longer in the direct path of the arctic chill, but still, he has trouble sleeping in his room.

But anyway. The quilt. A room just isn't a room without a comforter or a quilt, whether it actually gets used or not. So I decided to make one for him. This might be complete madness; I'm not much of a quilter. Actually, I've never made a quilt before. There is an excellent reason for this: I don't do precision. I don't cope well with tedious tasks. As a matter of fact, tedious things make me have to pee. (Don't ask me why, I don't know, it's just always been that way.) This is why I don't, generally, sew. I mean, I have a sewing machine, and I wouldn't want to go without one. I can do alterations and I make curtains every time we move. Basically, my sewing is motivated by a desire to save money; a feeling of, "oh, I could do that" - not a love of the craft itself. Cake decorating and knitting, I enjoy enough and care enough about to put in the effort to be precise. (Or at least to attempt precision.) But sewing, not so much. I don't have the patience. So I don't quilt.

But I decided to do it this one time, because I know what I want and I already had a bunch of fabric I could use. (I don't sew much, but I do have a fabulous fabric stash. Go figure.) So I bought a few more prints (apples for AppleJack - get it?, palm trees b/c he was born in Hawaii, birds because he loves birds, etc), carefully planned it all out on graph paper, and started cutting on Saturday morning.

By the time I went to bed on Saturday night, this is what I had:

I still have to put the border on it (multicolored polka dots on a white background) and then put it all together with the batting and the backing. And I have to find batting. But I think it's pretty good for a non-quilter's day's work.

Today...I clean the floors. And go grocery shopping before the enormous aircraft carrier pulls in to port and all of the sailors on board go to the commissary and buy all of the food.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

pirate cupcakes

At Brandon's swimming lesson on Thursday morning, I was handed a flier that said that Friday's lesson would be a Pirate-themed "family fun day". A short lesson would be followed by time for families to join the students in the pool, and then there would be a potluck.

Now of course I could have just brought regular old cupcakes. I could have done that, if I'd been anybody other than me.

If I'd had more time to prepare - say, if this was a pirate-themed birthday party that I had spent a few weeks planning - I would have obtained a toy pirate coin (to make impressions in the fondant) and some gold luster dust, and topped mini cupcakes with little gold fondant coins. But I can only get luster dust through internet-order (does anyone know of a cake supply shop in Kanagawa? I'm willing to take the train), and I had less than 24 hours to work with.

I whipped up a batch of marshmallow fondant, because I knew that would be more efficient than using buttercream - I mean we were talking about 4 dozen mini cupcakes here. I rolled it out, used my smallest biscuit cutter to cut out rounds, and attached them to each cupcake with a dab of icing. (Confession time: I used a tube of white Wilton decorator icing. And boxed devil's food cake mix. Both things that I would never do if it hadn't been a last-minute project.)

I found a pirate flag graphic on the internet, scaled it down to 1" square, printed it out on cardstock, and cut out the skull and crossbones. One cupcake at a time, I laid the two pieces down on the fondant rounds and brushed over it with some chocolate "paint" (Special Dark baking cocoa, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and milk - there's probably a better way to do it but I was improvising). Then I peeled up the stencils with tweezers, blotted them with a tissue and laid them down on the next cupcake. It didn't take that long at all, believe it or not.

Overall, I felt that they were "good enough for the last minute". To me, they looked like something a housewife would bring to a school picnic - which is fine, because that's what they were - but I have a long way to go before I get to the point where I can make a living doing this, I guess. I think they would have come out better if I hadn't been rushing.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

I am asking for opinions, which, to be completely honest, I will probably ignore

If this was your bedding set:

and you had a blank white wall behind your bed (no headboard), what would you put on that wall?

This (in the same colors as the bedding, not the ones shown):

This (again in matching colors):

or (and I know this is out of left field), this:

little-known parenting phrases that I've uttered today

"Dip the chicken nuggets in the ketchup, don't just eat the ketchup with your fingers."

"Please don't hit me with a hammer."

"Where's your underwear? You can't walk around with no pants on."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

having a daily activity eats up my blogging time

So I haven't been blogging much lately. So sue me.

I've been busy. Brandon is in week 2 of swimming lessons; every day around 11am, we make our way over to the pool at the BOQ (Bachelor Officer Quarters) for 45 minutes of songs, games, and bobbing under water. Well, Brandon does that stuff, anyway. Jackson and I sit at the side of the pool with our upstairs neighbors who are doing the same. (Turns out there's a family on the 6th floor with two boys around the same age as my boys. We met at story time at the library and coincidentally ended up in the same swimming class.)

It's tough sometimes to keep Jack from jumping into the pool - he really, really loves being in the water - but he does usually seem to understand that this particular pool is only for big kids. I did bring them both to the other pool (the one with a kiddie pool) after class one day last week, and while Brandon refused to practice the things he was learning in class, Jackson immediately imitated me when I started blowing bubbles in the water. It's a shame I wasn't able to take a parent/child class with Jack - I really wanted to, but what would Brandon be doing while I was in the pool with Jack? He's not quite old enough to be trusted to sit by the pool and read a book for an hour.

We've even started driving rather than walking. My sit-and-stand stroller is getting downright painful to steer, what with the 65+ pounds worth of children sitting in it and the center of gravity being so ridiculously far away from the handle. Plus, it's just been so darn HOT. I mean, one day last week we walked out to the 100 yen store in town after Brandon's lesson was over, and by the time we got back to our building, I literally had droplets of sweat on my arms. Like in a Gatorade commercial. I can't remember that ever having happened before.

So, despite my assertion that I would not drive anywhere that I could walk to in less than 20 minutes or so, I've started driving to swimming lessons. I've even been driving to the post office and grocery store (remember that the store is about a block away from our building), purely for the practice. We did take the car off base the other day, but Brian drove. I'm not quite to that point yet. It's not that I don't think I could do it - it's just a pretty big leap of faith to take, and I'm more scared of parking garages than anything else - parking a car is considerably more difficult when you're not sitting on the side you're used to steering from.

Brandon is still #2 on the waiting list for preschool - the same spot he was in when I signed him up in May. The economy is to blame - really. They put a halt on orders over the summer - meaning, they didn't write orders for anybody to move, anywhere. To save money. Only the people whose orders had already been written were able to move over the summer. So many, many less people than usual have transferred, and not a single student has withdrawn from the 2-day-a-week preschool program.

After all the work we did to get him using the potty in time for school, he might not be going. Stupid economy.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I had a teal car when my favorite color was purple, so now that teal is my favorite color...

So, despite the fact that we don't really need a car, we decided that we wanted one. We checked out the lemon lot (ahem, I mean, "MWR Used Car Lot") a couple of days ago and didn't see anything that really jumped out at us. I had decided a while ago that if we were going to get a car, then ideally, I wanted a Toyota Raum. Of all of the colors I'd seen it in (most of the ones around base are silver), I wanted a purple one, because we wanted our Japanese car to be as bright as possible.

I was thinking as I walked to the post office yesterday morning and saw the silver one that's always parked next to the Chapel, "I wish there was a purple one on the lemon lot".

We went to the food court for dinner, and as we walked past the Commissary on the way home, we were talking and forgot to turn down the parking lot aisle that leads to the sidewalk. So we decided to just keep walking and take another look at the lemon lot.

And wouldn't you know - a purple Raum. 11 years old, some dents and scratches - which I actually prefer, because I know it's going to get some more from me - for less than used Raums usually go for. So we bought it.

Note the nifty sliding doors. ;D

(This car here is exactly the same car, except we paid a bit more than this. And that one has a CD player - mine has a tape deck! Woohoooo!!)

I like that it's a car you can only get in Japan, I like that it's small and easy to park (well, it will be once I get used to driving from the other side of the vehicle), I like that it has sliding doors (really, I'll never go back to regular doors! I can't! I won't!) and I like that I can easily fit a stroller in the back. Or shipping boxes picked up from the post office. Or purchases from Home's or Ikea or...wherever.

Not that I'm going to be driving to Ikea anytime soon. I went there with a friend a while back and there are so many highways and toll made my head spin. Japanese roads scare the bejeezus out of me. It's going to be a little while before I attempt driving off base. But I can now, and that's the important thing. It feels like a whole new world, like the base is, well, my base, my jumping-off-point - not my whole world.

And my car is purple. Purple! Woot!

Friday, August 7, 2009

I'm really on a roll now!

More about cake decorating - yippee! I'm sure this is just fascinating for all of you, but there isn't much else going on with me right now. :D

I was having trouble with roses. The base was just wobbling back and forth and not staying put on the flower nail...lots of trouble. I remembered that they tended to come out better for me if I used the canned Wilton decorator frosting, so I went out and bought some...and the petals were, indeed, coming out smoother, but the base was still not staying put for me to put the petals on it! So, once again, I turned to the Wilton forums. And the answer was so ridiculously simple: use Hershey's Kisses. Apparently there are plenty of professionals who use this trick.

For me, using Hershey's Kisses a few times allowed me to focus on my technique in doing the petals, and I realized that I'd been doing it ALL WRONG all along - I was doing too much of an in-and-out motion and not nearly enough up-and-down.

But the best part, is that using the Hershey's Kisses showed me what I was doing wrong in making the bases - I was making them too skinny, so of course they were flopping over! Now I know to make them wider and more kiss-shaped, and they're working perfectly for me now.

So if you're having trouble with your Wilton roses, my advice is: Hershey's kisses. They're not, for me at least, a permanent solution...but they're an amazingly simple learning tool. Amazing.

The first 2 have kisses as bases. The 3rd is the first decent... on Twitpic
The two in front are built on Hershey's kisses, the one in back is all icing.

Aaaand... A "Victorian Rose"! on Twitpic
And here's a Victorian Rose, which has curved petals because it uses a different tip - the technique is exactly the same.

update that nobody will care about

Following some posting on the Wilton forums, I solved my leaf problems by: 1, adding piping gel to my icing - luckily they had some at the NEX, I got the last tub! And 2, spreading open the tip with my spatula. Not perfect, of course, but a lot better. I'm getting there:

Of course now I'm even MORE annoyed with my instructor, because 1, she said the piping gel was unnecessary and not to bother with it; and 2, she inspected my tip and declared it to be sufficiently open - she said it didn't need to be spread any farther open. Sheesh.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I've gone too long without a rant

I've spent much of today reviewing Wilton Course 1. I bought all of the books and supplies for all four courses months ago, but never got around to actually doing them. I took a Course 1 class back in November. The teacher was...subpar. We only had 3 classes instead of 4, we only did one cake, and they charged twice as much as most people on the mainland pay for a Wilton course.

So anyway. I've been reviewing. I haven't lost as much of it as I thought I had, so that's good. I've been working hard on my shells and they've improved, and I think I may have finally gotten the hang of swirled drop flowers. (Can't do them directly onto a cake, though, as I have to anchor the tip pretty hard into the surface I'm working on. Guess they'll be strictly a pipe-it-onto-parchment-and-let-it-dry thing for me.)

Then I moved on to leaves. The Course 1 student kit comes with leaf tip #67. On the first day of class, though, the teacher told us all to buy leaf tip #352 and use that one instead, because "leaves come out nicer" with that tip. I'm not sure I agree; they're flat leaves, without the center vein like tip #67 has - like most leaf tips have. But the thing is, it's really hard to bring a leaf to a point with tip #67. It's impossible not to with tip #352. It's a cheater tip.

So, yeah, that means that rather than teaching us how to do it properly, she told us all to buy the tip that would do it for us. Never mind that the necessary technique to properly make a leaf with tip #67 would allow us to use all of the other dozens of leaf tips out there - as long as we had nice pointed leaves on our final (and only) cakes, we'd all be satisfied that we'd learned something. Because we were all beginners and didn't know any better.

I'm starting to suspect that she didn't know how to make a leaf properly. So she couldn't teach us.

So now that I'm trying to teach myself, and I have no idea what I'm doing wrong, it would be really nice to have someone who knows what they're doing looking over my shoulder and saying things like, "This is what you're doing wrong..." and "Here's a hint..." - I mean, isn't that what I paid $40 for back in November? Well, that was money well spent.

Other than that, it's actually going quite well.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

*sigh* I've tried so hard to shield him from consumerism, and commercials...

Brandon, jumping up and down excitedly: "Mommy, I want to play with Bendaroos. We buy them, and I play with them. There's six colors! I can make a circus, and a zoo, and a parking lot! And...and a white lion! There's lots of things I can make!!!"

Sunday, August 2, 2009

the answer, round 5

The first time I tated Mitsuya Cider, I couldn't quite place what it reminded me of. It's kind of lemon-lime-y, fruitier than 7-Up but less sweet than Sprite. But there was something else, something that I've never heard or read mentioned in descriptions of this popular Japanese soft drink...
It's bubble gum. It tastes like bubble gum. And I like it.