Off the Grid

After an intense and fulfilling week (hence the lapse in posts), I am taking a deserved and desired vacation! The hubby and I will be joining his brother, sister-in-law, and their awesome three-year old daughter for a week in Edisto!

I am really looking forward to being unplugged, enjoying nature, and spending quality time with family. Sadly, this probably means another dry spell for the blog, but rest assured I will come back refreshed and brimming with new ideas!

Until then …

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The Cake is Not a Lie

Somehow, this blog always come back to food! At least this time I have a legitimate excuse: my hubby’s birthday! I really wanted to do something special and make him a cool cake. It gave me the perfect opportunity to try out this recipe for homemade fondant from marshmallows!

I have never used fondant or made fondant or really made any design cake, so what possessed me to try all three for the first time during the busiest work weekend of the year is beyond me. And here is the design I chose:

The Storage Cube from Portal 2

The Storage Cube from Portal 2

Crazy, right? This is from one of the hubby’s favorite video games: Portal 2. Of course, I planned to simplify the design and just go for a straight up cube, but still — way too ambitious! Needless to say, I have learned a TON.

Making the fondant actually turned out to be the easiest part. Simple recipe, just three ingredients: marshmallows, powdered sugar, and food coloring.

You get the marshmallows moist, pop them in the microwave for 10 second intervals until they are melted, and then add your dye of choice. Stir together with a greased spoon. I used the spoon to mix in the majority of the powdered sugar and finished incorporating with my hands.

Still in the sticky phase!

Still in the sticky phase!

This is a messy, sticky endeavor, but it was fun. And let me tell you, I got a great upper body workout kneading and folding that fondant! I made four colors for the cake: white, gray, blue, and also a small portion of pink. You see, for Portal fans, the Companion Cube is really popular.

Companion Cube

Companion Cube from Portal and Portal 2

But, I really didn’t want to make him a giant pink cake, so I took some liberties with the designs and combined the two cubes. It also saved me from having to replicate the Aperture symbol!

To make this cake, I used 8-inch square pans and two boxed cake mixes: red velvet and confetti, two of the hub’s favorites.

I dyed the confetti cake blue ... or tried to!

I dyed the confetti cake blue … or tried to.

I like to bake from scratch normally, but with all the decorating I had to do and my tight schedule, I went for boxed cake mixes. This was a great chance to try out some boxed cake mix hacks I had read about, and they really helped! I used milk instead of water, melted butter instead of vegetable oil, added one extra egg, and rounded off the butter by a few tablespoons. The cake turned out dense and moist and delicious!

Lesson #1 — Stacking requires the cakes to be level. I had to MacGyver up a solution of hiding caramel squares in the corners under lots of frosting to stop my cake from leaning and sagging because I just stacked them as they were without trimming.

Lesson #2 — Make the fondant the day you make the cake because it is tricky to store and a pain to re-hydrate after it has been stored. When I got ready to use the fondant a few days after I had made it, I basically had to spend 10 minutes on each batch, microwaving for 2-3 second intervals and kneading it back to the original consistency.

Once that was finished, I got my work area prepared:

Parchment paper and cornstarch puff.

Parchment paper and cornstarch puff.

The cornstarch puff is AMAZING. It makes the fondant easier to work with and smooth, and it prevents the fondant from sticking to the rolling pin or board.

Lesson #3 — Having the right utensils is key. All of my knives are serated, and that just doesn’t work well with cutting smooth lines in fondant. It also would have made my life easier to have more cookie cutters in different shapes to help in my design.

So much easier than freehand cutting!

So much easier than freehand cutting!

I did make myself little paper stencils for the many components of the cake design. Even still, it took about four hours to roll out the fondant and cut all 75 pieces.

Each side of the cube had 14 pieces.

Each side of the cube had 14 pieces.

Lesson #4 — Don’t stack fondant when you store it.

After I had slaved over my fondant, I put it up for the night, thinking it was okay to stack them because they seemed dry enough and were dusted with cornstarch. My fatal mistake — forgetting I live in the South. Darn humidity! I had to scrap pretty much all of my white pieces of fondant because they got stuck together. 😦 And many of the thin gray pieces became so brittle that they cracked as I handled them.

If I had planned a little better, I would have had time to roll out more, but sadly I did not. The pieces that did survive looked good, though!

Not bad for my first time writing with icing!

Not bad for my first time writing with icing!

After I iced the cake, it was time to place the fondant!

My Companion/Storage Cube from Portal.

My Companion/Storage Cube from Portal.

I never know when to stop, so I ended up adding black icing to the edges. In hindsight, I think it looks better and more like the Portal cubes without, but it was a good exercise in icing.

Straight lines are hard.

Straight lines are hard.

This cake was a trial, for sure, but I learned SO MUCH, and bottom line — Bryan loved it! 🙂

Happy Birthday, baby!

Happy Birthday, baby!

Suitcase Side Table

This is another idea I saw on Pinterest. Oh, my sweet, sweet addiction to that website!

Anyway, I just happen to have two beautiful dusty blue vintage suitcases sitting around my house. Why? We used them in our wedding to hold our guest favors. See?

March 31, 2012

March 31, 2012

I snatched up these cuties the moment I spotted them in Ole Towne Antique Mall, but they have pretty much been sitting in a closet since the wedding. It’s a matching set with a large suitcase and a smaller one that fits inside.

Miss Penny modeling the larger suitcase!

Miss Penny modeling the larger suitcase!

When I saw this pin and read the full post, I just knew it was the perfect solution for my suitcases! I love them, and they have special meaning for the part they played in our special day, and now I have a way to incorporate them into our new home. Nifty!

Checklist on this project:

  • Suitcases
  • Drill
  • Table legs
  • Screws and washers
  • Black spray paint

We already had the suitcases and drill, so we headed out to Lowe’s for my other supplies. Let me tell you, table legs are expensive. We needed four 16-inch legs and four 24-inch legs, and at $10 to $15 each, we were looking at $100 just for the darn legs!

Thank the stars I grew up with the handiest woman on the planet: my mother, Margie. I sat there in that lumber aisle thinking, “What would Margie do?” She would find a way to do it cheaper. Behold, my crafty alternative:  $3 for a 48-inch dowel rod and $2.50 a piece for adorable, carved feet.

We had one dowel rod cut into four 12-inch pieces. By the way, they will do measuring and cutting for free at Lowe’s on wood you purchase in the store. Add on the carved 4-inch feet, and we had 16-inch table legs for about $3.50 a piece! For the taller legs, we bought two dowel rods and had them each cut into three pieces: 20 inches, 20 inches, and 8 inches. We ended up with four 20-inch rods and two 8-inch rods. I’m sure I’ll find a use for the leftovers someday!

Supplies.

Supplies

After we screwed the feet into the dowel rods and sanded things down, I spray painted them black. Remember, don’t try to get it all done in one coat. The paint will look much better if you build up the layers in multiple coats.

All in all, we spent about $35 in supplies (wood, sandpaper, spray paint, screws, and washers). We drilled holes into the bottom of the suitcases and also into the top of the table legs. Then, we secured them together with a screw and a washer. Voila!

They could be stacking tables!

They could be stacking tables!

I love my new suitcase side tables, and it was a fun project to do with the hubs. How great that we could re-purpose these sentimental items into something useful for our home — and only two weeks late for our anniversary! 🙂

I need better table toppers!

I need better table toppers!

Suitcase side table!

Suitcase side table!

Spring has sprung!

It is finally here. Warmer weather, storms and showers, green sprouts and flowers — you can’t help but feel energized and renewed!

I seem to be more aware of spring’s arrival this year as I watch the season transform our neighborhood. There are azaleas of every color and wisteria hanging from the trees! Even the clover and wildflowers in the grass of our backyard makes me smile.

Wildflower sounds better than weed.

Wildflower sounds better than weed.

When we bought our home in November, most of the plants were in hibernation. We had no idea what type of flora our home had, if any. Luckily, we did have some beautiful fall leaves.

Our front yard in November.

I didn’t even mind all the raking!

Our first Christmas in the new home was made even more special by the pine cones and sprig of holly I gathered from our yard to decorate. We have several lovely holly bushes that I think are beautiful. The red berries are festive in winter, but the rest of the year you still get to enjoy the rich green leaves!

Our second discovery came towards the end of winter — two giant bushes of pink camellias right under our main window!

Camellias in January.

Camellias in January.

I adore camellias! After that, I couldn’t wait for spring to arrive so I could see what else our yard had in store. Well, the wait is finally over! Turns out that we have four bushes of white double azaleas in the side yard. 🙂

White double azaleas in April.

White double azaleas in April.

I have  just fallen in love with these sweet, little flowers. How is it possible that I have lived in the South for 16 years and never knew about double azaleas? All you ever see are the big ones!

We also have a pink Indian Hawthorne bush next to the front steps.

Pink Indian Hawthorne.

Pink Indian Hawthorne.

I have to admit, I had this wiry little bush marked for demolition in the summer — he looked so sad in the fall when we bought the house. Now, I think I will keep him around!

But the biggest surprise of all has been my miracle bulbs.

photo-2

At Thanksgiving dinner with my husband’s family, right after we bought the house, I was given a very sweet gift by a family member: five lily bulbs taken from their beautiful garden.

In all the hustle and bustle of settling in to the house, I have to admit that my little grocery bag of bulbs was put in a garden bench and forgotten! We didn’t remember them until LAST WEEKEND! Four months out of the ground with no water or sunlight, and wouldn’t you know that they were still alive, growing right through the plastic bag.

So, I planted them in a hurry, and look how they have persevered!

I believe they are Trumpet Lilies.

I believe they are Trumpet Lilies.

I wish I had taken a before picture … they were such sad, blanched, starving little things. Just one week and a good rain storm later, and they are not only alive, but thriving. It is truly amazing!

To me, that is the real wonder of spring. Yes, it is dazzling when color blooms so suddenly from dead leaves and dormant branches, but the real beauty of this fireworks display is the very simple realization that no matter what, life always finds a way.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Mug Cake

Back from my burnout! And it’s time to resume my 7-Day Microwave Mug Challenge! I am putting off Meatloaf in a Cup, once again. Let’s have dessert: Chocolate and Salted Caramel Mug Cake!

I have high hopes that the salted caramel aspect will set this mug cake apart. To be honest, the Brownie in a Mug and Nutella Mug Cake ended up tasting pretty similar. Delicious — but similar.

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg – beaten
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 salted caramels

1) In a small bowl, beat the egg. Add the milk and vegetable oil. Whisk until combined.

2) In a regular sized mug, combine the  flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder and salt.

3) Pour the wet ingredients into the mug. Stir until smooth.

4) Drop the caramels into center of the mug, one at a time. I didn’t have salted caramels, just plain old Kraft caramels, so I simply sprinkled a pinch of sea salt on top of the caramels as I added them.

3) Microwave on high for 1 minute and 30 seconds.

Here is the original from The Family Kitchen at Babble.com.

TheFamilyKitchen

TheFamilyKitchen

And, here is how mine turned out:

ShinyHappyPeebles

ShinyHappyPeebles

Salted Caramel Chocolate Mug Cake

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Mug Cake

The best part is the caramel. I would actually recommend adding 3 caramels to the mix.

Unfortunately, this recipe did not stand out as I had hoped. It was good, but not different enough. I must admit I am bored with mug cakes for now. Oh, well. It’s probably for the best. I’m going through flour and cocoa powder much too quickly!