Rants, Ramblings and Recipes

Halloween is coming…

Halloween is just around the corner and of course the kids are starting to request their homemade costumes!  Miss M is hoping to be an ice cream sundae so I’ll have to look around online for some ideas.  I want to make it cute but I want her to be able to walk in it too!  That is always important!  Here are some of the costumes we’ve made over the years:

Happy Halloween!

Dorothy and the Engergizer Bunny

Little Miss Sock Monkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wish I could find photos of all the costumes I have made over the years…some of the best were the man eating shark costume, the organ grinder monkey costume and the panda bear.  Mareena was also a pink polka dot elephant one year and Cole had an excellent skunk costume!  I have made just about every costume my kids have worn!  I love designing them and making them special!  I hope this year’s costumes turn out great!!  Happy Halloween!

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Melanoma and Jelly Bean Topiaries

Last week was a very rough week.  I had gone to the dermatologist for my annual full body skin screening and had a small “beauty mark” (“mole” is just too gross to say) removed from my shoulder.  It was pretty innocent looking and I didn’t really take much notice of it over the last few years.  Turns out the small, innocent mole was actually melanoma.  MELANOMA???  What the heck!  Melanoma is cancer, and I can’t have cancer!!  The dermatologist removed the offending mark and some of the surrounding skin.  Now I have to see a Melanoma specialist and have additional tissue (ugh, another yicky word) removed and tested.  The good news is that this seems to be in the very early stages.  The doctor believes that the melanoma has not spread and feels that this next “excision” will do the trick.  THANK GOD I got that full body scan.  If melanoma isn’t caught early it can be DEADLY people!!  Don’t believe me?  Read this bit of info! GO TO THE DERMATOLOGIST!!!  Please and wear sunscreen every day!  And most importantly, make sure to protect your kids from the sun…most skin damage is done before age 18!!  Teach your kids good habits by wearing sunscreen!!

Okay, I am done with my rant!  During this crazy week while I was dealing with this diagnosis and feeling really strange about everything I decided I needed some projects to keep me busy.  I started with jelly bean topiaries.  I mean what could be more relaxing than hot gluing jelly beans to styrofoam?  Turns out it was quite therapeutic and made for some pretty awesome Easter decorations!  Check them out!

 

Jelly Bean Topiaries made with Speckled Egg Jelly Beans

Easter Topiaries Made With Jelly Beans!

Mantle for Easter

My living room mantle decorated for Easter

 

bunny, eggs and topiary

The dining room shelves dressed up for Easter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After that successful project I moved on to even more Easter decorating fun!  String Eggs!

String Egg

Retro Easter Decorations!

My lovely Aunt always has “string eggs” displayed at her house around easter time.  They are usually filled with easter grass and some little bunnies or chicks and are adorable.  She made them with some type of sugar water mixture but I just used good ‘ole Elmer’s glue and some water, mixed them together in a plastic bag and added the yarn.  Then I pulled it out and wrapped it around a 12″ balloon.  Hope it turns out good!  I’ll post another pic when it is finished.

I have a lot of other projects in the works.  Stay tuned!  AND DON’T FORGET TO CALL THE DERMATOLOGIST TODAY!!!  My last appointment quite possibly saved my life!

Seriously Amazing Banana Cake

A week or so ago I sat looking at the browning bananas on my counter and thought about making banana bread or freezing them for smoothies.  I took a quick look at some of my favorite food blogs and found this entry about a banana cake.  It looked easy and quick and had lots of good reviews so I made it right away.  I am sooo glad I doubled the recipe because, even double size, my family ate it in a day!  It is super moist and has terrific banana flavor. “ButterYum” shared a lovely vanilla bean icing to go along with this cake but I never got that far.  We ate all of the cake before I even had a chance to mix the icing.  Either way, it is delicious and would make great cupcakes!

Here is the recipe doubled to  make a 9×13 cake:

Cake:
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 egg
1/4 cups butter, softened
4 mashed super ripe bananas

2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

To make cake (easily mixed by hand):
Preheat the oven to 375F (see note below). Cream together sugar, sour cream, egg, and  softened butter. Add mashed bananas and vanilla extract. Add flour, salt, and baking soda; mix well. Pour into greased pan. Bake at 375F until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Here is the vanilla bean frosting recipe that I never got to…let me know if you try it!!
1/4 butter, softened
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or equal amount of pure vanilla extract)
2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
To make frosting:
Cream butter and confectioner’s sugar together until smooth. Slowly add the heavy cream; stir until smooth. Stir in the vanilla bean paste until fully incorporated. Spread on cooled cake.

Royal Icing Recipe

I have used royal icing many times but I have never LOVED the final outcome.  The photos I see of these amazing cookies decorated with royal icing look so shiny…but that is BEFORE they dry.  The cookies often dry with a very matte finish which is still nice, just not exactly what I expected.

Here is the royal icing recipe I have been using lately.  It produces a nice icing and dries hard to the touch.  It tastes good but does not produce a shiny finish when dry.  I did try coating the cookies (after they had dried) with a bit of corn syrup mixed with a touch of water.  I just used a paint brush and brushed this little mixture on the finished cookies.  It gave the cookies a lovely shine and dried to a nice “un-sticky” finish.

Royal Icing

3/4 cup of warm water

5 tbs meringue powder

1 tsp cream of tartar

2 lbs of powdered sugar (sifted)

2 TBS corn syrup

Beat water and meringue powder using a wire whisk until bubbly (about 30 seconds).  Add cream of tartar and whip for another 30 seconds.  Add powdered sugar and beat with paddle attachment for about 10 minutes.  Add corn syrup and mix for just one minute more.  Add warm water as needed to thin out the icing for flooding cookies.

I use a #3 tip for piping the outline and a #4 tip for flooding the cookies.  I usually have toothpicks on hand to add food coloring and also to aid in the flooding of the cookies.

Sugar cookies decorated with royal icing.

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Really Amazing Sugar Cookies

My sister gave me this sugar cookie recipe and now I use it exclusively.  It has a fantastic texture and is so easy to work with.  It doesn’t call for refrigeration prior to cutting out the cookies but I find 10 – 20 minutes of refrigeration right before rolling out this dough makes things even easier.  This recipe makes a ton of cookies but I often cut the recipe in half if I only need a small amount.  (don’t forget, you can freeze the cookies after they are baked and save them for a rainy day!)

Large Batch Sugar Cookies

2 cups softened butter

3 cups of sugar

2 eggs

1 TBS vanilla (I only use pure vanilla extract)

1 tsp almond extract

5 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 TBS baking powder

2 tsp salt

Preheat oven 400 degrees

Cream sugar and butter together until light in color and fluffy

Beat in eggs and extracts

In a separate bowl, sift together all dry ingredients

add dry ingredients to butter/egg mixture one cup at a time until soft dough forms

divide dough in half and begin to roll and cut

If you find the dough is a bit sticky, refrigerate for 10 – 20 minutes.

Sugar cookies with fondant details

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How to build a cupcake stand

This past weekend was my sweet nephew’s christening.  He is almost six months old and such a sweet baby.  I just love him!  My sister asked me to make a cake for the occasion and, of course, I said yes!  My baking skills have definitely improved over the past couple of years and my Home Economics teacher, Sweaty Betty, as we called her would probably never believe it!  (do they even have Home Ec  in high schools any more??)  At any rate, I was searching for a great vanilla cake recipe but after reading tons of reviews I just couldn’t decide so I stuck with good old Betty Crocker.  I am almost embarrassed to say I used a box mix but I just didn’t have the time or money to test a bunch of different recipes.  I made the box cake mix with a really nice almond buttercream icing.  The filling was fantastic.  I made white chocolate raspberry ganache which gave the whole thing an extra layer of flavor.  It was really delicious and was just the right texture.  I also made some cupcakes to go with the cake and then I decided to make a stand for everything.

I have seen tons of photos on the internet of adorable cupcake stands and I decided it was about time I make one.  I hit our local Michael’s craft supply store and bought all of the needed items.  They were not cheap!  I think I spent over $50 for everything!  I do love the way it turned out though and it is reusable so it was well worth the cost!

Custom made cupcake stand

Here is what I did:

I purchased Wilton cake bases in three sizes 10″, 12″ and 14″.  I bought 1/2″ ribbon and double sided tape to cover the edges.  The ribbon matches the cupcake liners perfectly!  I also bought two small hat boxes.  I removed the lids then covered the hat boxes with a heavy weight white fabric.  I used double stick tape to attach them to the cake bases.  I like how the cake stand turned out but I definitely would have liked the middle parts to be a bit shorter.  I am going to look around for other options for the center pieces.

With Spring just around the corner we have lots of events coming up so I will definitely use this stand again!  It will be easy to customize using wrapping paper or fabric and ribbon.  I’ll be sure to share the results!  .

royal icing decorated sugar cookies

chocolate and vanilla heath bar cupcakes with almond buttercream

Christening Cake~vanilla cake with white chocolate raspberry ganache filling

It’s easy to make Cookie Pops!

Just a quick post to share some cookies I made over the weekend.  My neighbor’s little boy had a bad fall and broke his elbow earlier last week and after surgery and a few days in the hospital he came home in a little soft cast.  I decided he needed something to cheer him up.  Here is what I made for him:

Sugar cookies with fondant details

The school bus cookie pop

The firetruck cookie pop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These little “cookie pops” were made using my favorite sugar cookie recipe and homemade marshmallow fondant.  I love decorating cookies this way!  It is easy to create cool details and tons of colors.  I always frost the cookie first with icing made from powdered sugar, corn syrup and a little water.  I sometimes add a flavoring (raspberry is my favorite) to the icing to  give it an even better taste.  The fondant details are fun to make using my little set of modeling tools and I attach them using a touch of water.  I had my husband deliver the treats after I packaged them in cellophane bags and he said our little neighbor was enjoying them before he was even out the door.  I am so glad!

This week’s project is a christening cake for my nephew, James.  I am so excited to make this cake and have been trolling the internet looking for inspiration.  I haven’t quite decided on the cake yet but I will post photos when I am done!

Two sick kids and a trip…oh, and my favorite granola bar recipe

My son woke up at 5am crying because his throat felt “like it was on fire”.  I touched his forehead and, sure enough, he had a fever.  I gave him a dose of ibuprofen and he crawled into bed beside me.  I called the doctor and after dropping my little girl off at school we went in.  The strep test proved positive and got me thinking.  If he was positive for strep than my little girl couldn’t be far behind.  I called the school and let them know I would be picking my daughter up.  They probably thought I was crazy, I mean, she had NO symptoms but I knew in my gut she would!  When I got my girl in the car she said “Mom, my throat hurts a little.”  I said, “I knew it!”.  We went to the doctor for the second time today and again the test came up positive.  A mother’s intuition should never be doubted!

Now here is my dilemma.  I was supposed to go away for the weekend and visit some friends.  Can I really leave my children when they are both sick?  The guilt may just prove to be too much for me.  It’s just that this is the only weekend that isn’t booked with one event or another for the entire month of March and well into April.  I really could use a little girl time away from the constant demands of “regular life”.  I was so looking forward to dinner out with the girls, sleeping in with no chance of being awaken by a hungry child or a needy dog and attending a yoga class then shopping all day long!  My wise little six year old told me to listen to my heart…ugh.  If I did that my kids would never leave my line of vision!

So here I sit, writing into the blogosphere hoping the answer will come to me.  In the meantime, I will share one of my favorite recipes: Homemade Granola Bars.  I make these incredibly easy and delicious granola bars once a week.  My husband loves them for breakfast on the go and I often put them in the kids lunches, too.  The best thing about these bars is their versatility.  You can add your choice of nuts, dried fruits, chocolate chips or even mini marshmallows.  They always turn out great!  If you have picky eaters you could even drizzle them with a bit of white chocolate and add a few sprinkles!  That would entice even the most finicky child!  However, to keep them healthy I use unsweetened dried blueberries and whole grain flour.  The oats offer a great source of fiber, too.  You could even substitute Agave syrup for the honey.

Awesome Granola Bars

2 -3 cups Old Fashion Oats

1 cup whole wheat flour (or white if you prefer)

1/2 cup packed brown sugarEasy to make granola bars for a healthy breakfast!

1 tsp cinnamon (more if you really like cinnamon)

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup canola oil

1 beaten egg

2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 -1 cup chopped nuts (I use pecan or walnuts but any would be great)

1/2 – 1 cup golden raisins (I also use cranberries, dried blueberries or dried cherries…all are awesome)

1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut  (totally optional…my kids don’t like the coconut)

 

Preheat to 350 degrees

Use cooking spray in a 9×13 glass pan

Mix all ingredients thoroughly and pat into greased pan.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Let cool for a few minutes then slice into bars.  Keep tightly sealed to maintain freshness.  Mine have never lasted more than a few days but they probably would keep for a week if tightly sealed.  Enjoy!

Yummy granola bars...with chocolate chips and raisins!

 

 

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I’m Ba-ack.

It has been quite a long time since I have posted to my blog.  Mainly because I wanted to create a more professional looking site with widgets and backlinks and all that “high-tech” stuff I see on other blogs.  The problem is, when I take time to research those things I lose time to actually write, which was the whole point of my blog in the first place.  So I have decided to get back to the part I like, writing, and leave the rest to my husband…if he ever finds the time!

It has been a horribly long and cold winter here in South Western Pennsylvania and I am so ready for Spring.  Last night we had the most incredible thunderstorm with hours of pounding rain, booming thunder and shots of lightning.  It was truly amazing and a little weird considering it is still February.  But, it did make me feel like Spring is a little closer and maybe there will be some warmer weather on the way.

For my first post back I thought I would share some of the things I have been making and baking over the past few months.  I also have three cake orders coming up so I will definitely share those as well.  I may even try my hand at a tutorial using my new android phone!  It is an amazing little thing and I am really enjoying the process of learning how to use it!

Jesus Cake for my Sunday School Class

Homemade Marshmallow Fondant Cake Topper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I loved making this cake for the kids and they loved eating it!  The cake was a traditional vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream filling.  I use the Alton Brown buttercream recipe found on Food Network’s website.  It is easy and delicious without being too sweet.

Barbie Cupcakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I made these chocolate fudge cupcakes with gumpaste Barbie toppers for my niece’s birthday party.  Then I made a tiered Barbie cake for her “real” birthday!  I used printouts of Barbie head’s and logo to cut out of gumpaste.  It worked so well and opened up a whole world of possibilities when doing cakes.  So much fun and I think I get better with each cake.

 

Barbie Cake

So, the one thing that desperately needs to improve is my photography!  My goal is to really work on that going forward!  Glad to be back at my blog…I have missed it!

 

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