Saturday, December 20, 2014

Gallery of Birthday Cakes

I thought you might enjoy a look at some birthday cakes from the past decade (There were half-birthday cakes as well, but we'll save that for another post). To long time readers of the blog, you can feel free to skip ahead.

(Minimal decorating skills, but look at that happy baby!)
 Second (Cake skills are improving. Danny had a cold, poor little Rudolph-nosed baby)
 Fourth  (Cars)
I made dozens of those cookies until I got enough perfect for the cake. It took weeks. The cake was an orange sponge with fig filling. That was the last time I did anything exotic beneath the icing.
 Fifth (The Day the Earth Stood Still)
Never. Doing.This. Again. EVER. Hundreds of decorated cookies, the Washington Monument from sugar cubes, and the spaceship. INSANE. Still, Danny loved it, and it was one of his favourite movies at the time. The original. For fuck's sake, I shouldn't have to point that out.
 Fifth (Science)
What you can't see is how the sugar on the light-bulb really sparkled making it look like glass. I'm glad I did this cake pre-energy efficient bulbs because I don't know I would do those swirly bulbs in cake.
 (And the entire Periodic table in iced cookies)
I can't say enough nice things about those food colouring pens. I can't imagine piping this in icing.
 The Siege of Troy
Arrgggh. This cake gave me so much trouble. The icing wouldn't set, the cake fell apart, and as Danny likes to tell it, "There was some swearing I heard when I was trying to sleep." Yeah. But hey, the black and red pottery warriors came out well. There were also golden "Mask of Agamemnon" cookies on sticks. Those were cool. That was the year Danny wanted a copy of Chapman's Homer. I found him one, but it wasn't easy. I ended up ordering it from Waterstones. Thank goodness for the Internet and overseas shipping. He's still amused by it-Chapman was a bit of a blowhard, and it makes for good reading (but not in any way, shape or form a good translation).
There was a Greek Mythology quilt that year.
 The Trojan horse in cake sounded like a good idea at the time.
 Sixth-Monopoly, with iced cookies for the properties
(There was a Monopoly quilt to go with it).
 Chilly Willy the Penguin
(This was the year Danny went crazy for Woody Woodpecker and his friend, Chilly).
With current events added to keep the cake educational
And finally, this year when I asked what Danny wanted for his Birthday cake, I got a response straight out of last semester's study of WWI with a Christmas theme as a bonus.
Pro-tip: dental floss makes convincing barbed wire, in a pinch. I skipped the football and went for the iconic drawing that appeared in newspaper accounts of the truce at the time.

 When constructing a cake like this, skewers are your friend. I baked the cakes well ahead and then let them chill making slicing into shapes easier. This is two 8x11 cakes. The fence-posts are gingerbread scraps left from the gingerbread house. To decorate the cookies, I iced in white and grey with royal icing then used food colouring pen to draw on the details. The Christmas tree is an old earring. When making a cake that needs to withstand this sort of assembly, I use a recipe that is all butter and egg yolks. It is a firmer, sturdier cake that still tastes nice against the very rich decorator's buttercream icing. There's a time for fancy layer cakes, but Birthday cakes aren't it.

I wanted to keep the cake as respectful as possible (Acknowledging that trench warfare and cake don't typically go together). I understand the cynical impulse to mock the Christmas Truce, but I just can't. Of course it has entered into folklore 100 years later, and there probably weren't any impromptu football games in the No Man's Land, but that doesn't diminish what the Christmas Truce has to say-there were human beings in those trenches who'd been trying to kill each other, and for a day they acknowledged that, and were able to see each other as such, rather than a dehumanised, "Enemy." I tried to keep that in mind as I made the cake. 

I wonder what I'll be baking next year? 

Hey, everybody...only 5 days 'till Christmas! 

A Decade

Danny turned ten today, which seems incredible, though I suppose every parent feels that way.  I had a planned C-Section, late in the afternoon which left me anxious all morning before it was finally time to arrive at the hospital. I'd had an ultrasound where the technician calculated that Danny was some insane size like 10 lbs+. When he was born I was surprised to see he was 6lbs.8 oz. Must have been the technician's first day on the job or something, because she was waaaaay off.

"He looks like someone, who is it?" I asked Mr. ETB.
"Hubert Humphrey?"
"No, that isn't it."

It took us a few days, but then it dawned on us just in time to send out the birth announcements.

Uncanny, no?
 Well, from that angle he does look a bit like Humphrey. Strangely enough, that was my MIL's first reaction as well.
 The knit waistcoat and shorts were made by my husband's grandmother for him in 1960. When Danny was born we were given a box of hand-knit baby clothes from long-gone granny. They were so beautifully made, with such perfect tiny stitches. I have them carefully packed away for Danny's children someday.

The high point of Danny's birthday was being let loose with a canister of Silly String

Then, we went to the railroad museum to use the train simulator

The Union Pacific Train Museum in Council Bluffs is a regular stop on birthdays.
Oh look, I'm blasting dynamite to lay railroad track through the mountains. The sound effects were great.

Then, it was off to the posh hotel for a pool party and cocktails

Yes, I do have the best cover-up ever. Thanks for noticing.
But then, it was time for cocktails in the lounge
 Post-pool hair ain't pretty, but at least I dressed for cocktails unlike slobs that showed up in track suits, or flannels and jeans.

Then, we feasted on homemade curry (Yep, I'm the caterer too). 
All in all, it was a good time. Here's to many, many more decades. I love you Danny, I sure am glad I get to be your mama .


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Coco Peru Shops For Panettone

Almost Chistmas. Let's go shopping for panettone with Miss Coco.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Then, and Now

The menorah Danny's using has been in our family more than fifty years. 
 Here's a photo of my sister lighting it circa 1960. Dig that wallpaper (click photo to enlarge). It was eventually replaced by gigantic op-art orange flowers. There's a reason Judi's hair is so short. Our mother would go to cut our fringe and then want to, "Even it out a bit." Half the time we ended up looking scalped. This looks like one of her better efforts. It doesn't even look like her-for a minute I was sure it was our youngest cousin, but she would have been too young to be trusted with candles at that point.  I remember that table too-it was a foldaway we kept for parties as our kitchen table was round and only seated four. Every gathering, the metal table with the laminate wood grain would get shoved into the kitchen or living room at some strange angle so that some poor soul at the edge would have to contort themselves getting in and out of the seat...but we always fit everyone in without resorting to the dreaded, "Children's Table."
I always wanted an electric menorah where you just screw in another bulb for each night, but I've yet to buy one. I'll have to check the sales in January for one.
I have no clue how Danny managed to get the dreidel to balance long enough for a photo-but he did.
 We've saved some older Christmas ornaments as well. These pine cones have lost most of their glitter, but I still remember the warm autumn day when I took two year old Danny to the park to collect them. We went home with a large bag, and went crazy with glitter and glue.
Not long after the pine cones, Danny made this Godseye from craft sticks and yarn.
Each year, we adorn our tree with gingerbread men that Danny decorates. The copper cutter is really a clown (notice the pointy head) but he's been in my family since my mum was young, and I can't imagine using anything else. I do remember the first time it dawned on us that it was a clown, not a gingerbread man. My mother looked at him (after struggling to roll out some very stiff dough) and remarked, "I wonder why the gingerbread man is a pinhead?"  Ah, memories.
The Cars ornament was a gift from our insurance agent. After the tornado in 2008, we were at the office a few days later filling out paperwork. Danny was still in a bit of shock at the whole thing (as were we) and she wanted to do something nice for him.
"Danny, do you like the movie Cars?" She asked.
He nodded that he did. Di went to the cabinet, and brought out this ornament, left from the previous Christmas. Let me tell you, he clung to that ornament through the hotel stay, and all the clean-up and putting back together at home. The following Christmas, Danny got his first tree, and this was the first ornament hung. It was just a silly, plastic ornament, but it meant a great deal to him then, and it still does hanging front and centre on the tree.
Living up to the, "Like a good neighbour" slogan.
Of course our tree is filled with birds. Sometimes I wonder what the birds at the feeder think peering through the window at all the birds on the tree. "They get gingerbread?! I'm going to get those bastards."

We got to talking about what my favourite holiday presents were as a youngster. Strangely enough, I don't remember all that many presents as I think most of the time my parents just gave us money. The things that stick in my memory were the strange gifts, like the year I was eight, and my mum bought me a Frank Zappa record. I don't know why either, but after a few weeks of listening to, "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here" I'm certain she regretted it. I'm sure she didn't regret it as much as the Revolutionary War reproduction fife the following year. I never did get very good at playing it without screeching. I gave it to a neighbour's kid when we moved from Boston in 2001. I doubt he ever got good with it either. One Christmas, I woke to a 10 lb. candy cane sitting on the piano bench (we didn't have a fireplace at that house). I suspect it was a gift from one of my dad's customers. We had to chip at the thing with a hammer to get pieces of candy, which was fun until Valentine's day rolled around and we were sick of looking at peppermint. I'm sure it was binned shortly after, and I regret not having a photo of it as I've never seen another like it. One year someone made us matching crochet granny square vests out of pink and white angora. I never wore mine-I can't imagine my sister did either. Then, there was the year my dad brought home a balloon, and a bottle of Benedictine. I was ten. I think he forgot it was Christmas eve, and kind of panicked and bought the first thing he could find at his last customer of the day. Can you imagine presenting a child with a bottle of booze today? Yes, it was a very small bottle, and the drinking age was much lower than it is now, but still. I tried some to be polite, I remember it as medicinal. B&B would have been an entirely different story.

Keeping with the tradition of odd gifts, Danny looked at the strangely wrapped Hanukkah gift tonight and asked, "What is this, some sort of prosthetic leg?"  He couldn't have known how close he was, as once the wrapping paper was off it revealed a theatrical pirate's hook that you can wear over the hand. Mr. ETB bought that one. It wasn't a bottle of Benedictine, but it was close.

Now you share-what's the strangest thing your parents ever bought you?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Hanukkah

We're a multi-cultural family, which makes the December holiday season all the more festive. I don't know how other families do it, but we avoid large presents as Hanukkah opting instead for small inexpensive items. When Danny was little, he'd get a Matchbox car for each night, but as he's long outgrown that, we've went for things like interesting erasers, stickers, and items of that sort. I was able to purchase nut-free chocolate coins for playing dreidel (a 4-sided spinning top) which will be a nice treat. The holiday celebrates a miracle that occurred after the sacking of the ancient temple. There was only enough oil to burn in the eternal flame lamp for one night, yet it burned for eight. To remember that, we light a candle in a menorah each evening at sundown for eight days. It is also custom to eat oily foods symbolic of the miraculous oil. In Israel, they do a sort of jelly filled doughnut, but in the American midwest, Potato pancakes (latkes) are more common. We didn't do these at home growing up, but every restaurant had them on the menu which was good enough as I don't think a frying pan in my mother's hands could have ended anything but badly. Frozen latkes are easy enough to heat on a baking sheet in the oven, but as I learned as an adult, grating and frying potatoes isn't nearly as difficult as it is made out to be.

Through trial and error, I've settled on this recipe being best:

Applesauce and sour cream are the typical sides served with potato pancakes, but we've been taking inspiration from our Canadian friends and one year, I came up with this:
Cheese curds and gravy have no place on potato pancakes...oh, what am I saying? Of course they do!

If standing and frying isn't your style, a potato kugel (pudding) is also delicious.

If you really must fry doughnuts, this recipe is excellent. To make a filled doughnut, don't cut a hole, and after frying make a slit in the side, and fill through a pastry tube.

I let Danny finally see where I hid the wrapped the laundry hamper. I knew he'd never look there!

Happy Hannukah.

Monday, December 15, 2014

On Your Toes

"The ballet?! I thought we were going to be at the football."
We didn't really trick him. The football stadium is just down the street from the ballet, but he knew where we were headed. He'd be wearing the right colours though, were he to show up at Memorial Stadium for a Huskers game.
As they have a strict, "No photography" policy, we decided to take some photos at the parking garage across the street. The rain stopped just long enough for us to do a few snaps, then walk across the street to the ballet. I love it when the weather cooperates.
My concerns of being overdressed for a matinee turned out to be unnecessary. Because it is holiday time, there was wall-to-wall cocktail dresses, sequins, velvet and sparkles. Lincoln is our state capitol, but it is a very small town. There's a couple universities here, which does keep the population young-ish, but it is also a very, "Out in the country" feeling place. Going to a ballet is still a big enough deal that people dress for it, which is lovely. It was an exceptionally well behaved crowd-not a phone or camera in sight, and I didn't see much movement in the audience until intermission. Well done, Lincoln.

It was a relaxing weekend-before things get really busy. I have five days to pull Danny's birthday party together, which is always a bit nerve wracking. I don't obsess about Christmas, but the birthday is always a bit of a race. His quilt will be a bit late this year (as I couldn't see out of my left eye for a couple weeks, and then my hands swelled so I couldn't sew) but he's been watching the progress and understands it is getting there. I'm still dealing with (several) complications from the root canal, and as it stands, it still hasn't been completed...because I'm still having nerve related issues. Anyway, enough about that because it is a bummer. Know what isn't a bummer? Taking my almost ten year old to the ballet-he loved it! Danny loves music, and has expressed interest in taking oboe lessons. I admit to being slightly disappointed as I had hopes he'd pursue accordion to the point of someday having his very own polka band, but I suppose the oboe is a perfectly respectable instrument. We do have a piano you know-a piano that sits unloved, collecting dust. No one wants to play it. Oboe? I have no idea where he came up with that-he would have to pick an instrument with expensive reeds.

Outfit Particulars:

 Newish 3 piece beaded suit-Hand-Me-Ups
Velvet and silk coat-Filenes, 20+ years ago
Sara Coventry earrings and brooch-Antique store in WI
Aurora Borealis necklace-Another antique store in WI
Brooch on coat-Marshall Field's about 30 years ago
Velvet and silk Nick and Nora scarf-Goodwill
Laura Ashley shoes-Goodwill
1940 suede bag-Thrift World

Danny's wearing:
 Vintage Orlon cardigan from Thrift World
Pinstripe trousers-K Mart
Broadcloth shirt-K Mart
Tie-nicked from his papa
Christmas braces (penguins) Salvation Army
Snow-globe pin-Hand-Me-Ups

Danny had a haircut yesterday-not obvious, is it? I saw the pile of hair on the floor as evidence, but it mostly came off the front so we can see his eyes. I decided long ago that hair wasn't somewhere I needed to exert parental control. If he's happy washing and brushing it, then so be it. The kid is stylish-he even makes that belt full of eppi-pens and other medications look chic.
I could look chic if I wanted to...but first I have to get this booger out of my nose, so pardon me for a moment...
Oh crud...I dropped it on my coat.
Have a great week!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Pants? Can't Be Bothered

Don't you worry though, I've got tap pants underneath.
It was the day I'd designated for spreading Christmas cheer-that is, I went to deliver homemade jam and Lucia buns to all the people on my list. It was an unseasonably warm day-the sort of day that makes you wonder where the blizzard is that almost always follows this sort of warmth. As it looks like we may never get winter, I went ahead and wore my vintage skating costume knowing I wouldn't be getting anywhere near ice soon...because there isn't any!
What do you mean, "No owl?" I'm wearing a rather large one round my neck. See?
The saffron buns came up especially nice this year.
A tablet attempted to get fresh with me at the store. You have to watch out for those voice-recognition perverts. And you know it is exaggerating. Perhaps six inches, at most.

 Speaking of Naughty Lists, I'm afraid Father Christmas is a bit lecherous as well.
Outfit Particulars:

1970's skater dress-Goodwill
Tights-can't remember
Owl Pendant-Hand-Me-Ups
Earrings-Big Lots
Poinsetta brooch-K Mart
Hair flower-Tiff and Tam
Waistcoat-Esprit, years ago
Boots-K Mart
Vinyl 1970's bag-Goodwill
Belt-Thrift World
Satin coat-Neiman Marcus (by way of Thrift World)
 We bring walkie-talkies to the mall to report naughty children to Father Christmas. I had a security guard rolling his eyes, and a mother laughing so hard I thought she;'d pee her pants. "Come in Sandpiper, I have a naughty child in aisle four. Do you read me?" Great fun.

There was a quick stop at the library as well. 

I made what I *hope* will be my last trip to Hobby Lobby for a while to get more food colour decorating pens for the cookies atop Danny's Birthday cake. Somehow, I left with a cart full of other stuff like seashells (I thought the landlocked kid might like some shells in his Christmas stocking) blown glass figurines, and educational toys. I may wish to re-think a kit that builds a working trebuchet. Ten year old boy+catapult=nothing good. Oh well, we have insurance.

Here's this year's gingerbread house. Not my best work, but acceptable.
I shouldn't do things in a hurry. Still, Danny's happy with it, and the dining room is fragrant with spices. I don't know what happened with the green icing. Thank goodness for candy to disguise could say they were (wait for it) Lifesavers.
 This 1950's cocktail dress is my first choice for tomorrow's ballet. It fits perfectly, and the weather continues to be warm. Still, it is a little...boring.

 This is second choice. Less flattering due to all the sequins, but less boring. It would be difficult to accessorise.

 This is a three piece silk and bead outfit with palazzo pants. The blue is much deeper than the photo suggests, and the beading less obvious. This would be the most comfortable option, but a tad too respectable looking (for me).
The caftan is going to a birthday party at a posh hotel next week, but I couldn't resist showing it to you. I'm going to glam the hell out of this thing.

I'll probably decide as I'm getting dressed, but I have a large can of super-hold Aqua Net and some beautiful rhinestone hair combs so I guess it will be an up-do.

The perfume decants arrived today, but I haven't had a chance to sit down and do a proper assessment. As there's precious little of the Djedi, I want to chose a day when I can take notes, and not have to be around anyone. I don't think wearing it in a crowded theatre would be polite. I did catch a whiff of the vintage Guerlain Vetiver, and now I'm re-thinking giving it to Danny and keeping it for myself. I forgot just how much I love it.

Hope your weekend is going well and that no electronic devices try to get fresh with you.