Your offering pleases me.

There are squirrels who like to visit my garage. In the mornings, I have to give my garage door a little yank so I don’t end up with an armful of squirrely biting when I open it up. I often hear them scampering off before I open the door.

This morning, I opened the door and waiting for me right by the hole where they come in, was a sprig of fake flowers!

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(Apologies for the blurry picture – it was early and I don’t think Richard was quite awake yet.)

Very thoughtful of them. It was gone when I got home from work, so some squirrel has a very well decorated nest!

ETA: They brought them back! The next morning, the flowers were waiting for me in almost the same, exact place!

 

TA DA!

Done!

Kind of. I thought the books with brightly colored spines would take up the whole shelf space in my living room. Alas, there are more black, white, off-white, and multi-colored spines than I thought and I’m left with nearly two empty shelves still! I’m thinking I’ll finish them off with black books to make the colorful books pop more, but I haven’t decided what to do with the rest of my books that go on the shelves in my bedroom. If I’m not careful it’ll look really bland and dark in there!

And if you want to see me put these all together, here’s a video! I was thwarted by my technology (I couldn’t get far enough away with my iPhone to video the whole width of the shelves and it cut out while I was doing the blue books and I didn’t realize it until I was done with them. Boo, Richard III!), but it took me long enough to do it that I’m going to make you watch!

Or at least give you the option of watching. Hope you like it!

If you see any out of place books, feel free to give a shout – I mostly just wanted to get them on the shelves and up off the floor, so I did it pretty quickly. I expect I’ll spend the next month or so staring at it while I watch TV and leaping up to adjust a book here and there…

ETA: Is it me or does the back of my pink shirt look like an angry face?!

It’s going to get worse before it gets better…

It’s like doing one of those little shifty tile puzzles in here. I’ve just gotta keep my head down, my game face on, and power through these bastards!

Keep your fingers crossed that I have a finished project to show you tomorrow, otherwise it may mean the books have become sentient and taken over my apartment during the night.

Happy birthday, Mom!

Except her birthday was actually on the 10th. I told her happy birthday then, don’t worry, but we didn’t celebrate with cupcakes until yesterday and I didn’t want to give away the surprise by posting about them until now. I made Grapefruit Cupcakes with Honeyed Italian Meringue Buttercream. It wasn’t until I was halfway through that I realized I was actually making Ina’s Lemon Yoghurt Cake that I made two weeks ago just with the lemon zest and juice replaced with grapefruit zest and juice! Because I’d made that cake, I didn’t have the yoghurt to make this cake. So I used buttermilk instead and it seems to have worked all right.

I can’t taste much grapefruit flavor, though, which is a little disapointing given how lemony the lemon version of this cake is, but it’s still a perfectly acceptable cupcake. The recipe calls for Italian meringue buttercream which I’ve attempted in the past, usually to mixed results. I seem to have overcome my troubles with it this time, though, and got it right off the bat! I even, as you can see, made an attempt at frosting a pretty flower (it’s the technique of the Wilton rose, but I don’t think it looks much like a rose the way I’ve mangled it) – somehow the first one I tried looked the best.

Not as bad as I feared they might be, but I still need practice. When are we going to take that cake decorating course, Mom!

Tagliatelle, penne…same difference!

Next on my recent tour of pastas was Tagliatelle with New Potatoes, Green Beans, and Pesto. I couldn’t find tagliatelle at the market and couldn’t remember what it was like – from the picture where I found the recipe, it looks like I should have chosen fettuccine? But I don’t have a good track record with fettuccine, so I went with penne instead. Pasta is pasta – I’m not a connoisseur yet.

I ended up making my own pesto – I was planning on making the spinach one that goes with this recipe, but I didn’t have spinach, so I ended up throwing in what I did have which was probably two bunches of flat leaf parsley and one bunch of cilantro with garlic and parmesan. It was okay – I think it was a bit bland because I didn’t have as much stuff as I should have to balance out the olive oil. It needs the bulk of the spinach.

Thank you, Google Translate!

Because without you, I wouldn’t have discovered this delicious cake because I, alas, don’t speak Russian. It’s a cake with vermouth and grapes, of all things. I was intrigued, to say the least, and since I had grapes left over from my pizza earlier, this seemed like a good way to use them up.

It was very yummy – the vermouth really brings out the sweetness of the grapes! Just one tip – don’t try to be extra clever like I did. The poster of the recipe said that instead of tossing the grapes with the tablespoon of flour, she just poked them into the batter after it had been poured into the cake pan. ‘Silly poster,’ I thought, ‘they’ll all just sink straight to the bottom of the cake if you don’t toss them in the flour.’ And on I went on my merry way.

Except that since you just set them into the batter which will become the bottom of the cake once it’s turned out of the pan, you actually do want them to sink to the bottom (which will become the top) of the cake! So either toss them in flour and then fold them in prior to pouring the batter into the pan or leave both those steps out and then just sort of poke them into the batter once it’s in the pan. It was still good, but it resulted in the bottom of the cake being extra soggy since it just sits in the juice from the grapes.

Learn from my mistakes!

Looks fancy, doesn’t it?

I tend to stick with my trusty farfalle, but this past week I’ve gone a bit off the rails in pasta experimentations!First up was (Artichoke) Heart-Stuffed Shells in a Ricotta Sauce:

I usually love Smitten Kitchen’s recipes, though it now occurs to me to wonder whether or not I’ve ever made any of her savory dishes because this…didn’t really impress me as much as her recipes for baked goods usually do. It was an awful lot of work for not a lot of flavor. I salted everything as I went and it was still very bland. I felt like it needed crushed red pepper flakes somewhere along the way or at least some lemon zest to brighten things up. I would add both the next time I make this – except that I also wasn’t crazy about the texture of the filling.

Jillian, you’ve made stuffed shells, right? Do you have a go-to recipe? Does Giada have one you’d recommend?

Oh, good, supernatural, grownup movie…

After seeing previews for this for what seemed like FOREVER, The Adjustment Bureau finally opened here on Friday. And it was really good! Matt Damon is really likable as an up-and-coming politician (despite his recent comments regarding Obama definitely losing him any points he’d gained from being on 30 Rock) and he has great chemistry with Emily Blunt. The bad guys are not completely bad and there are some very exciting semi-action scenes. It has a few problems – mostly that they kind of paint themselves into a difficult corner with their premise that makes for a bit of an anti-climactic, well, climax, but overall, it was a good movie.

Definitely worth the wait!

PAR-TAY!

We just finished up a big project at work – one that’s been stressing us out for MONTHS, now – and we decided to celebrate with a party for everyone who worked on it. Unfortunately, the weather messed up the first date we’d scheduled the party for, so we finally had it last week! I may have gone overboard in making desserts to share with everyone – I ended up with lots and lots and lots of leftovers. What did I make, you ask?

Margarita cookies – I am really not a fan of sables/shortbreads/etc., so these are not for me – I’d made them before after a stressful project and decided to make them again as they’d been well-received then. And, oops, I forgot to take my own advice about doubling the amount of zest and tequila…

Mint brownies – Yum! OMG, yum! Good at room-temperature, but pretty amazing served from the fridge. I only had an 8×8 dish, so each layer of mine was a bit thicker than originally intended. Didn’t affect the taste, though!

Pear and ginger muffins – I had trepidations about this one – it was the only one I couldn’t taste before I brought them to the party, but, pleasant surprise, they were amazing! I like the sharpness of the ginger with the soft sweetness of the pear. I bet it would be good with cinnamon, too, but you know how I feel about cinnamon with fruit. 😉

And last up was Ina’s lemon yoghurt cake – I actually didn’t have two cups of yoghurt like I thought I did, so I used a combination of about 1 cup of ricotta, 1/2 cup of yoghurt, and 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese and it still turned out really yummy! I doubled the recipe and put it in a bundt pan – it rose a bit too much, so I had to slice off the top/bottom to make it a proper bundt cake size, but it meant more for me to eat for breakfast and it was SO good. Because there was so much batter, it took longer to bake and I was worried that the bottom/top would be dry, but I’ve been assured since that that was not the case. Yay!

But like I said, I made way too much food – I basically had the whole cake left over – so I’ve been sharing with Heather and my parents, so I wasn’t left to eat all of it myself. Not that I would have minded, but I don’t think it would have done me any favors figure-wise…

Oof, fish guilt ahoy…

I saw Sunny Anderson make her Easy Salmon Pie while I was housesitting at my parents’ – oh, Food Network, how I miss you! – and it looked so good, I couldn’t resist. Also, it fit my guilt-ridden vegetarian rules perfectly – it was a recipe I could make without actually have to touch the fish (one word: tongs).

It wasn’t hard to make, though a bit time consuming. I think the most difficult thing was getting the mushroom sauce, spinach, and salmon tucked into the puff pastry. If I make this again (and I probably will, though I certainly won’t tell you about it again – it’ll just be my dark secret), I think I’ll probably go ahead and use both sheets of puff pastry and get two packets out of each. I may have to cut off a bit of excess around the edges, but at least things won’t be leaking all over the place!

I actually put them all together and then froze them which worked really well – I do thaw these out before baking them, though, so the fish has a chance to cook all the way through. One tip, though – don’t forget to prick the puff pastry before you put everything in; the bottom is a bit soggy each time and I think this is probably why.

Experiments in sweet and savory!

I love combining sweet and savory. I’m always up for bookmarking an interesting sounding recipe that combines two surprising flavors, though I sometimes have to work up the courage to try them. I seem to have had courage coming out of my ears when I made my grocery list last week because I bought ingredients for not one but TWO sweet/savory recipes.

Well, technically a third, but that has sort of fallen through because of the COMPLETE LACK OF POMEGRANATES ANYWHERE IN THE UNITED STATES APPARENTLY! More on that when I eventually get to making the dish in question later on in the week probably. Despite the fact that I do not have a pomegranate. I hate to be that person who’s all ‘This is America, we are entitled to X’ but…’THIS IS AMERICA! WE ARE ENTITLED TO YEAR-ROUND EXOTIC PRODUCE WHICH INCLUDES, BUT IS NOT LIMITED TO, POMEGRANATES. Also figs.’ But apparently, that’s not actually included in the constitution.

Okay, enough of that bitterness, on to the things I’ve actually made! First up was Red Grape Pizza with Honey, Rosemary, and Pecorino. I’ve had this bookmarked for ages! But was a little disappointed. I think my grapes may have been a little underripe because they seemed a more sour than sweet. Also, I got overwhelmed at the cheese case and bought parmesan instead of pecorino, so I don’t know if that would have made it a bit more flavorful. Someone said they saw a similar recipe that used blue cheese and I think that actually might have been nice – a bigger contrast to the sweetness of the grapes and sort of lemony-fragrance of the rosemary. It was a bust, but I think I’ll stick with my white pizza for now. (Until I manage to get my hands on fresh figs – I have a pizza recipe I want to try that uses fresh figs.)

Next up was one that I was unsure of after the fact, but everyone I gave them to loved them. Even Heather, who doesn’t like chocolate, was enthusiastic about them. Chocolate Basil Muffins. Sounds intriguing, right? I think it works – I kind of want to add something to bridge the flavors of the chocolate and the basil, but I’m not sure what that would be. Lemon zest? I don’t know. I think I either overmixed them or overbaked them because I found them to be a tad on this side of too dry (though no one else commented on that), so I ended up adding the frosting from Pioneer Woman’s Texas sheet cake to make them a little more chocolate-y and give the illusion of them being moister than they were.

Friendship bracelet tutorial!

This morning, Annette, who I met at Pax Lodge when I worked there the second time in 2003, e-mailed me to ask if I could put together instructions on how to make the friendship bracelet I taught everyone to make. Here you go, Annette!

So years and years and years ago, when I was at Girl Scout camp, we learned to make these friendship bracelets. I always liked them because I didn’t have the patience for tying all those little tiny knots over and over again and I could never get those to lie flat anyway. These are sort of woven on your fingers and create a round (as opposed to the flat, knotted ones) bracelet. They go super quick, but look really nice when you’re done.

You can make them with 3, 5, or 7 strings.

Make sure you cut the pieces extra long – your bracelet will be a little less than half the length you cut when you’re done. Then fold them in half and tie a knot.

Then secure them to a surface. I usually use safety pins, but if you have on nice trousers or a skirt or something where safety pinning something to them just isn’t feasible, go ahead and try some duct tape or something. When you get started, it’s likely that your strings will be all knotted up and you’ll have kind of a wonky-looking bit at the beginning of the bracelet; don’t worry about it – once you’re finished with the bracelet, you can always untie that first knot and retie it further down so your bracelet is neat and tidy.

At this point, I tried to take a complex series of photos to demonstrate the actual weaving/knotting technique, but that ended up being far too complicated, so I made a video.

Annette, I hope this got to you in enough time to be useful! Let me know if you have any questions or have any problems viewing the video – I don’t know what YouTube’s restrictions are internationally (I *gasp* used a clip of a White Stripes song, so it may get flagged. *eyeroll* Let me know and I’ll do one without the music.). Have fun!

Oh, ridiculous supernatural, teen movie…

The title really says it all. It didn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out – but it was beyond predictable and ridiculous. I…really can’t think of anything else to say about it. Not really worth seeing, but if, you know, your house is being fumigated and you can’t think of any other way to spend those two hours that you have to be out of the house, you could do worse. At the very least, it’s preferable to staying in the house during the fumigation. 😉