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Follow the Red Brick Road…

This is not my usual post.

No yummy treats for you.  Sorry.

Instead, I want to share with you a delightful trip I took to one of the most amazeballs cities ever.

Recently, I visited Boston on business.  Because that’s the kind of person I am now.  Someone who goes to Boston on business!  I’m a total adult now, it’s no big deal.

I work for a research institute at a university and our primary activity is an annual conference.  One of our future conferences will be in Boston, so my boss sent me there to look at hotels.  In between my meetings, I was able to see quite a bit of the city and absolutely fell in love with it!  It’s basically a wonderful land made of brick and I want to share it with you.

I stayed at the Omni Parker House, located in the heart of downtown Boston.  It falls directly on the Freedom Trail, across the street from the King’s Chapel.  It’s one of those super historical hotels that make you feel like you’ve walked into the lobby of the Tower of Terror (minus dust, cobwebs and plummeting elevators).  It’s actually the longest continuously operating hotel in the U.S.

Lobby of the Omni Parker House

Super important people have stayed there.  Like Charles Dickens and Emeril Lagasse.

Guess what else?  They invented the Boston Cream Pie.  Actually invented it.

And because I was such an important guest, they had one waiting for me in my room when I checked in.

I’m important enough for Boston Cream Pie. True Story.

Walking around Boston is a like stepping back in time.  Only next to every aging brick building is either a glass sky-rise or a Dunkin Donuts.

Dunkin Donuts is a big deal there or something.  They are everywhere!

I did the requisite walk along the Freedom Trail (which is a literal red brick trail that winds through Boston hitting all the historic landmarks).  My favorites were Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere’s House, and the creepily old cemetery at King’s Chapel.

This is Faneuil Hall – complete with statue of Samuel Adams (who I dutifully thanked for all the beer).

Paul Revere’s House – I didn’t go inside but enjoyed looking at it from the cobblestone street.

It’s creepy and old. Like, seriously old.

Every day I was there I managed a stroll through the Boston Common, which was beautiful because leaves were just starting to turn!  On the day I visited the Park Plaza Hotel, I walked through the Public Garden and yet another creepily old cemetery (because seriously, creepily old cemeteries were everywhere).

Boston Common – Makes me miss fall!

Boston Public Garden – usually there are Swan Boats here, but I assume they fly away for the winter :)

Near the Public Garden was a landmark I knew I had to visit while I was in Boston.  On Beacon Hill, across from the park, is Cheers.  The outside is the same as the show, but the inside is completely different.  I didn’t care – I had myself a couple beers (Sam Adams Oktoberfest) and a cheeseburger and enjoyed listening to bartender rant at customers in his Bostonian accent.

Fact: There are two Cheers locations. One is on Beacon Hill and has the original entrance featured on the show. The second is at Faneuil Hall.

One of my final outings was to visit Harvard University.  I took the subway, which is an amazingly efficient way to get around and made me deeply ashamed of our public transportation here in California.  Seriously, why don’t we have Subways?

I didn’t take any pictures because I was trying to walk around as though I was a genius who obviously attends Harvard and has super-smart ideas about art and politics.  So when I decided to sit down at a café across the street at a table next to some guys talking about economic theory, I tried to hide the fact was actually reading Fifty Shades of Grey on my Kindle.

I did buy myself a Harvard t-shirt!

Brushed Embroidery Cookies

For the past few months, my husband and I have been attempting to buy our first home.

Maybe it’s just me or maybe it’s just the current market…but house hunting so far feels like some form of cruel punishment for crimes I swear  I didn’t commit.

It’s been the same thing every time.  We look at a house and I completely fall in love with it.  I spend most of my spare time on Pinterest and dreaming up ways to make my new house absolutely perfect.  I have every room planned and paint colors picked out…

And then we don’t get the house.

Because investors keep using their piles of cash to steal my house.

It’s frustrating and super depressing.

And then my husband is all patient and logical and says things like “it wasn’t supposed to be our house” and “our house is still out there” that make me want to kick him but domestic violence is frowned upon so I don’t.

Instead I just pout about it and he cuddles on me until I love him all over again.  And then we watch Doctor Who and have a wonderful evening where I’m not thinking about evil investors with piles of cash who keep steeling my house.

Since I can’t decorate my house yet, I have to settle for decorating cookies.

Recently I’ve discovered brushed embroidery.  This is basically a fancy shmancy method to creating delicious little works of art.

 

My very first attempt at brushed embroidery

The basic technique involves piping icing and then using a damp paint brush to brush the icing.  The resulting effect is pretty stunning.  I will admit this is a time consuming project since each cookie has to be decorated one at a time (each cookie took me an average of 2-5 minutes once I got the hang of the technique).

 

For these, I added additional piping to create a more ornate look

I used two tutorials in order to learn this technique:

I used the recipes for the cookies and icing from The Decorated Cookie.

For the base icing, you must let it dry completely before doing the brushed embroidery (I let them set overnight – about 12 hours total)

Here a couple excellent examples of extraordinary brushed embroidery on other blogs:

from Sprinkle Bakes

From Sweetambs

Harry Potter Cupcakes

I’m a total Fangirl and I’m not ashamed to admit it!

Well ok, maybe I keep some of my fandoms well hidden.  But overall I would say I’m still a perfectly normal adult woman who just happens to have a slight obsessive nature when it comes to popular culture.

Let me explain further.

According to Urban Dictionary, there are two definitions for Fangirl:

  1. (derogatory) a female fan, obsessed with something (or someone) to a frightening or sickening degree.
  2. (playful, good-natured) less extreme, a female fan who can laugh at their own passion for their particular interest (or even obsession).

I am most assuredly the second definition.

I mainly place myself into four fandoms:

  1. Whedonites: Fans of all the work of Joss Whedon – although my personal favorites are Firefly and Buffy.
  2. Whovians: Fans of the greatest show ever to be on television in the history of the world, Doctor Who.  I think I would even leave my husband for David Tennant if he ever showed up in a blue police box.  For our anniversary, my husband even got me a plush Dalek who says “EXTERMINATE” and “you would make a good Dalek”.
  3. Bronies: I know I should call myself a “pegasister”, but I thing Brony sounds a bazillion times cooler.  You have all seen my Brony Birthday Cake, so you know me and my husband are both huge fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
  4. Potterheads: Harry Potter…I don’t think further explanation is necessary.

Since I’m a very nostalgic person I often find myself drifting back to previously read books despite stacks of unread books lining my bookshelves.  Which is how I ended up re-reading the entire Harry Potter series for the eleventy millionth time.  I also forced my husband to re-watch all of the movies.

Harry Potter was my first fandom and it will always be special to me.  I’m part of the generation that grew up alongside Harry, Ron and Hermione and waited anxiously for the books to be released.  I went to midnight book releases and movie premiers (yeah, I even dressed up a few times because I am THAT committed).

Which brings me to these:

I made these cupcakes to bring to the midnight viewing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.   Since moving to California in 2004, I’ve attended every midnight release with Alex Roque and an assortment of friends we picked up along the way.  We were the crazy people sitting on blankets along the sidewalk for hours and hours drinking coffee and playing Apples to Apples.  And this was the last movie, so I thought it needed something special.  And nothing says special like cupcakes.

The recipe was nothing special (chocolate cupcakes spiked with a copious amount of espresso and vanilla frosting).  The decorations were all made with fondant I tinted with gel food coloring.  Piping was done with chocolate melting candy.  On the scarves I used edible writing pens.  For the shield I made edible paint my mixing gel food coloring with corn syrup.

 

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A small note on the Ravenclaw scarf: I chose to stick with the movie colors of grey and blue even though the book shows their colors as bronze and blue.

Whimsical Birthday Cupcakes

Fact: Being an adult can really suck!

There are definite perks of course (yes, I can eat ice cream and pizza WHENEVER I WANT); but overall you have all kinds of responsibilities like bills, laundry and grocery shopping.

Adult activities are TERRIBLE!  Like buying a house!  What should be an exciting endeavor is in fact a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

I might have enjoyed my childhood a bit more had I realized how precious those carefree years really were.  Peter Pan really had the right idea…why grow up?  Of course, until we discover the location of Neverland, I will continue to age and spend money on things like mortgage payments and health insurance.

My good friend Alex Roque recently celebrated her birthday and I am convinced that deep down inside, she will never grow up (one of the many things I love about her).  She did, after all, celebrate her birthday chasing Peter Pan around Disneyland.

For her birthday party, she had a very adult sit down dinner at an Italian restaurant but with a touch of whimsy!  Centerpieces included tiny lace crowns, favors were little jars of fairy dust (sugar), and I made her some shimmery flower cupcakes.

What would have been a fancy and sophisticated dinner with a normal group of adults turned into something much more exciting for us.  It included a dirty mad-libs card and an exciting rendition of “Happy Birthday” where I somehow flung the birthday girl’s glass of red wine across the table.

It’s ok though, because the birthday girl’s sister also knocked over a glass of wine that night so I wasn’t the only clumsy one the wait staff wanted to toss out.

But I made cupcakes, so that totally makes up for any party foul, right?

Fact: Mismatched blue cake stands make cupcakes automatically more interesting.

The flowers were made out of gum paste and decorated with petal dust, luster dust, and black pearl sprinkles.  I used white melting candy to attach the pearl sprinkles and flowers

The cupcakes themselves are two different recipes, which I did not change much.

I made White Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes from Love & Olive Oil.  The only change I made was to replace the all-purpose flour with gluten-free flour (since the birthday girl is gluten-intolerant).  I have to admit being a little worried and confused when I read the recipe and it didn’t include eggs…but these cupcakes turned out amazing and super moist!  I have some leftover frosting so I will probably be making them again very soon.

The second cupcakes were Tiramisu from Brown Eyed Baker.  I added a simple filling to these ones – I made chocolate pudding using about half as much milk as called for and adding a few tablespoons of strong brewed coffee and then folded it into some whipped cream.   I also used the gluten-free flour for this one.  Now, I know I am my own worst critic, but I didn’t think these turned out quite as well.  The cake portion of the recipe requires whipping the eggs and then folding in the flour mixture.  I have had this problem before when I made a gluten-free angel food cake – the gluten free flour just doesn’t incorporate into the eggs the way it should.  I may need to look into different gluten free flour mixtures in the future to fix this one that is a bit lighter.

How can you not feel young when nibbling on these sugary toppings and yummy cupcakes?

The Smythe-Smith Musicale Care Package

I have confession to make…I hope it doesn’t make all of you think less of me…

I read romance novels.  Regularly.  It’s a serious addiction.

But, as a housewife, I would argue that reading of any kind is far superior to falling into the stereotype of bonbon eating, soap opera watching, and nosy neighboring housewife.

I also fall into that stereotype…but my husband loves me anyways.  And who in their right mind doesn’t love a bonbon?

Let me be clear, however, as to which romance novels I read.  You will not, for example, find me reading Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts, or anything else which is likely to be adapted into a Lifetime Movie.

Not that I don’t occasionally indulge in a little Lifetime Movie Network from time to time.  Or frequently.  Don’t judge me!  Can I help it if they suck me into their tales of love, betrayal, and mystery?

But when it comes to novels, I have standards!

  • Historical romance only (generally Regency, but I also enjoy Edwardian or Georgian)
  • Intelligent heroines
  • Dialogue needs to be amusing and witty
  • Absolutely NO melodramatic bodice rippers
  • Minimal use of outlandish euphemisms (I can handle the occasional “throbbing member” but keep your “glistening swords” and “silky folds” out of my books)

As with all rules, there are exceptions.  I have one: standards may be broken only upon strong recommendation from my friend, Katie, whose judgment on romance novels I trust above all others.

It was her, after all, who found the Bridgertons…

If you are an avid reader of historical romance, then I sincerely hope you know the Bridgertons.  This book series, written by Julia Quinn, are among my absolute favorite!  So if you don’t know the eight Bridgerton siblings (famously names in alphabetical order) I suggest you find out.

Seriously, your life will be better for it.

I recently had the incredible opportunity to meet Julia at a book signing where (even though the rules clearly stated no outside books were allowed) she signed my tattered old copy of The Viscount Who Loved Me (book 2 of the series), which remains my favorite romance novel ever.

Have to admit…I was a little starstruck!

Katie discovered the Bridgertons on a lazy summer afternoon when we were in high school.  A trip to the bookstore led her to randomly pick up a romance novel, whereas I chose an anthology of re-written fairy tales.  Because all young teens spend their summers reading…right?  My book was terrible, whereas Katie would not stop bursting into a fit of giggles at regular intervals.  As she snickered about over-ripe citrus fruits and unfortunate bee stings leading to marriage proposals, I was immediately intrigued.  Luckily for me, Katie is a fast reader and I was able to steal the book soon after.  I re-read it about once a year and it is the very same book I had signed by Julia.

Since Katie had yet to read the two latest novels from Julia Quinn (a quartet about the Smythe-Smiths and their terrible musicales) I got book one, Just Like Heaven, signed by Julia Quinn to send to her.

Since I couldn’t possibly send just a book, I decided to put together a care package.  I recently posted about how I create gift baskets and care packages are much the same.  Using Just Like Heaven as inspiration, I put together my Smythe-Smith Musicale care package.

Package included: signed copy of Just Like Heaven, music note coffee cozies, Lady Grey tea, and decorated tea cookies.

The tea cookies (which is really just what I chose to call them, they are really just frosted sugar cookies) were made using recipes from The Decorated Cookie.  I used the color flow technique to cover each cookie with the grey frosting, and then before they had set I piped on top with the light blue frosting.  In the future, I will likely thin out the piping frosting quite a bit so that it blends into the frosting a bit more, creating an even surface on the cookie.

Here is a short list of some of my favorite romance novels

It should be noted that Kresley Cole falls under my “exceptions” for romance novels.  The Immortals After Dark series is a modern-day paranormal romance series and is absolutely hysterical!   No sparkling vampires here…but you do get a bat-shit crazy soothsayer Valkyrie with an obsessive crush on Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs and witches as competitive with their Xbox as they are with their spells.

Lemon Ricotta Tart with Raspberry Mousse

California has spoiled me forever.

 

I know I seem every bit the native Californian (at least that’s what I like to tell myself) but I was actually raised in Washington State.  And no, it didn’t rain all the time.  It may come as a shock to many of you…but there is actually an entire Eastern side of the state that doesn’t perpetually reside beneath constant cloud cover.  Eastern Washington is, in fact, categorized as an arid desert.  My hometown of Wenatchee had four very distinct seasons featuring freezing white winters, blindingly hot summers, and very little rainfall.

 

Growing up in Wenatchee brought me to the conclusion that I don’t like weather.

 

The lack of seasons was a very important factor in my decision to move to Southern California when I graduated high school.  Maybe it’s because I hate change of any kind, but I like my temperatures to remain relatively constant throughout the year.

 

Hence, California has spoiled me.  I was completely useless during this year’s heat wave.

 

Despite my hometown reaching well above 100 degrees every summer, I now begin complaining of excessive heat once temperatures reaches the mid 80’s.  I recently spent an entire Saturday afternoon fanning myself on my couch (in my air-conditioned living room) watching Harry Potter and The Help and refusing to leave the house.

 

My husband and I even escaped to the mountains for a weekend of camping.  Although the afternoons were still pretty warm for my taste, the evenings and mornings were blissfully cool.  It was super relaxing, lounging by the fire crocheting granny squares for an afghan I’ve been working on.  Because everyone crochets when they camp…right?

 

My husband made a fire from scratch (no matches or lighter fluid) and as you can see he’s very pleased with himself.

Morning coffee by the fire? Yes please!

 

But back in civilization, the drastic increases in temperature (and in California I admittedly use the term “drastic increases” loosely) completely saps any desire to bake my usual dessert of choice…cupcakes.

 

Summer is the time for light and fluffy mousse tarts.

 

Omnomnom!

Despite searching, I was unable to find the perfect summer tart recipe.  So, I had to get a little creative.

 

The final recipe is an adaptation of Martha Stewart’s Raspberry Mousse Pie and Sprinkle Bakes White Ricotta Tart.  And it was DELICIOUS!  It was light, cool, and made from fresh lemons and raspberries!

 

I’m of the opinion the lemons and raspberries should always be baked into tarts together.  I’m also a great lover of lemons and blueberries, especially when in muffin form.

 

This recipe is slightly more complicated than your average tart.  It is done in three stages and will take most of the day from start to finish.  But don’t run away yet!

 

It can certainly be made the day before you plan to serve it (this is what I did).  Most of the time needed for this recipe is allowing each layer to cool before the next one is added and then allowing the mousse to set completely, so it’s not a significant amount of “hands on” time.  And trust me, the end result is well worth it!

 

I cut you a slice! But then I ate it (sorry).

Lemon Ricotta Tart with Raspberry Mousse

Adapted from Sprinkle Bakes and Martha Stuart

Tart Shell

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp water
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Liberally butter a tart or quiche dish and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt.  Add butter pieces and cut into flour mixture until fine crumbs form.  Add yolk, vanilla and water and mix completely until dough forms a ball.  Press dough into buttered pan (using flour if dough is sticky).  Chill shell for 40 minutes.
  3. Prick the tart shell with a fork and bake for 20 minutes.  Let shell cool completely.

Lemon Ricotta Filling

  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 ¼ cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 3 egg whites
  • Lemon zest from one lemon, finely grated
  • Lemon juice from one lemon
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Combine cream cheese, ricotta, and sugar in a large bowl and cream together.  Add egg whites, lemon juice, and lemon zest.  Mix at medium speed until combined.
  3. Pour into cooled tart crust and bake for 20 minutes

Raspberry Mousse

  • 1 ½ tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ¼ tsp powdered gelatin
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries (plus extra for garnish)
  • ¼ cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 cup cold heavy cream
  1. Place lemon juice in a small bowl and sprinkle with gelatin.  Let sit until gelatin softens, about 3 minutes.
  2. In a blender, puree raspberries until smooth.  Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a measuring cup (you should have ½ cup of puree, if not puree additional raspberries as needed).  Discard solids.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine raspberry puree and ¼ cup sugar over medium heat.  Cook until bubbles form at edge.  Add gelatin mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until gelatin dissolves, about 1 minute.  Transfer to a small bowl and let cool to room temperature, 20 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, beat heavy cream and 1 tbsp sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until firm peaks form.  Gently fold in cooled raspberry puree until combined.
  5. Pour over cooled tart and smooth top with a spatula.  Arrange raspberries on top of desired.  Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours or overnight.

Devil’s Angel Food Cake

Today, I’m feeling positively sinful!

I have just purchased the most perfect pair of taupe knee-high boots and am currently contemplating acquiring a brown pair of boots as well as a new purse.  Yesterday I enjoyed a delightful dinner of pizza, breadsticks and chocolate ice cream after completely ignoring a sink full of dishes.  I believe that covers pride, greed, gluttony, and sloth.

I think times like these are necessary for a woman to keep her sanity…even a self-proclaimed housewife like myself.  I can’t be June Cleaver every day after all; though tomorrow I shall put on my pearls and apron and try very hard to be.

I have a busy Saturday planned baking cupcakes for a friend’s 30th birthday party, so my apron will certainly see plenty of action.  Decorations have already been prepared (greatly helped by the Cake Cricut my friend got me for my birthday last year), baking begins this evening, and the bulk of the work will be done tomorrow morning (hopefully before it gets too hot with this heat wave we have all been having).  You will have to wait for that post, as I am sure these cupcakes will make the cut to be included on the blog.

But, back to being sinful.  If one is going to be sinful, this is certainly an excellent choice of dessert to do so.

Image

I made it for my father-in-law’s birthday.  Some years ago he had requested an angel food cake with chocolate frosting.  I had made a simple angel food cake and covered it in chocolate ganache.  He requested the same this year, but I decided to take it quite a bit further.

Image

You can use just about any chocolate angel food cake recipe to make this cake.  I chose one from Food.com.  The frosting is simply chocolate ganache which has been beaten into submission.  Constructing the cake is very easy…but the final product is devilishly delicious!

Devil’s Angel Food Cake
Adapted from Food.com

Ingredients

  • ⅔ cup sifted caked flour
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 ½ cups sugar (divided)
  • 12 large egg whites, at room temperature (about 2 cups)
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 12 oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • Fresh Raspberries (optional)

Directions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Sift together the cocoa, ¾ cup sugar, and flour.  Set aside.
  3. Beat egg whites at a low speed in a large mixing bowl (be sure it is clean and dry) until foamy, about 5 minutes.  Add vanilla, cream of tartar, and salt.  Gradually increase speed to medium while beating in remaining ¾ cup sugar.  When sugar is incorporated, continue beating until stiff peaks form.
  4. Sift the dry ingredients over the whites in thirds, gently folding in with a spatula after each addition.
  5. Pour the batter into two 8 or 9 inch baking pans.  Cut through to remove air pockets.
  6. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, until top springs back to the touch.
  7. Let cake cool about 10 minutes.  Run a knife around the side of the pan and invert onto a cooling rack.  Cool cake completely before frosting.
  8. Heat heavy cream on medium high just until it starts to boil.  Remove from heat and immediately pour cream over the bittersweet chocolate.  Let it rest for about thirty seconds to one minute, and then stir until completely mixed and glossy.  Allow the ganache to cool.
  9. Reserve about ¼ to ½ cup of the ganache.  Whip the remaining on medium high speed until it is thick and at spreading consistency.
  10. Take half of the whipped ganache and spread it over one cake layer.  Place the second layer on top and then top the whole thing with the remaining whipped ganache.
  11. Drizzle the reserved ganache over the entire cake and garnish with fresh raspberries.
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