Sunday, August 22, 2010

How sweet it is to be loved by you

 Birthday Cupcake Test
Since BabyT's 1st birthday is coming up next month, I had to find a cupcake recipe without dairy. And for a while we thought she might also be allergic to soy, but we've given her tofu a few times recently to test that and she tolerates it well with none of that telltale redness on her hands and mouth.

However, when I was looking for recipes, we thought she was allergic to both dairy and soy, so I found this simple recipe for Vegan Chocolate Cake. It works really well as cupcakes, and I added a teaspoon of cinnamon just to make it interesting.

I've made them twice now, and they come out great each time. The fascinating thing is that they don't have any dairy or eggs - they just use baking soda and vinegar for leavening.

Personally, I don't care for frosting. I like plain cake donuts, and I've asked frou-frou cupcake joints to give me unfrosted cupcakes. But some people think it's heresy to have an unfrosted cupcake so I figured I should research frosting recipes since other people besides BabyT and me are going to eat these birthday cupcakes.

Dairy-free frosting recipes are harder to find. A lot of them use Crisco, which is just gross, or lots of eggs. BabyT is ok with eggs so far, but I didn't want to overload her with a ton of egg whites since they're pretty allergenic. We haven't yet given her a whole egg, though she's definitely had things with egg in them.

So I was quite pleased to find this Vegan Chocolate Frosting recipe. BabyT and I made a trip to Whole Foods to buy the good dark chocolate (Scharffenberger) and grapeseed oil.

I can't recall if I've ever made frosting before. If I needed some, I used that nasty shelf-stable Betty Crocker stuff in a tub (shudder) or just made a simple powdered sugar glaze. The stuff I made today was *serious* frosting.

I melted the chocolate into the oil in the microwave instead of a saucepan, so that I could use the same glass bowl for freezing and whipping the mixture.

It turns out that I shouldn't have bought unsweetened chocolate, because it took a ton of the agave nectar plus some additional powdered sugar to make the frosting mix sweet enough (and I prefer things to be not that sweet!). Next time, I'll try the bittersweet or maybe even the semi-sweet.

I had a small hiccup at the whipping stage - when I froze the mix for 15 minutes and then used my hand mixer to beat it, it turned all gross and oily. I was very depressed (that was some expensive chocolate!) but figured I'd stick it back into the freezer for a while as per some of the comments on the recipe post.

Bingo! With about 40 minutes in the freezer, the mixture hardened, and then when I beat it, it turned into a gorgeous, fluffy light brown frosting. It was an amazing transformation.

For the first time in my life I used a pastry bag and made some small frosting "poofs". Clearly I need more practice to make these look like fancy cupcakes. Also, I realized that I couldn't just use a ziploc bag instead of the pastry bag. The ziploc split and the frosting oozed everywhere except through the tip. Sigh.

I frosted some using a spatula, and those looked fine, too, so that's probably what I'll do for BabyT's birthday cupcakes.  At Whole Foods, I bought some pink nonpareils, which are colored with beet juice.  I don't really get the idea behind "natural" junk food.  I mean, you're decorating a cake, which isn't exactly health food, so who cares if the tiny sprinkles are made from all natural ingredients or not?

So I think we have a winner here, both with the cupcakes and the frosting.  We're having two parties for her - one with her baby friends here in Seattle, and the family party in Tucson, so I'll get to make these cupcakes twice more.

Any tips on using the pastry bag?  I was trying to get an elegant swirly cone of frosting on top of the cupcakes but I'm not sure how to do that.  Mamas out there, what did you make for your baby's first birthday?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I will find a way and I will have you

When I was a kid, I LOVED back-to-school shopping - all those new writing implements, pristine notebooks, folders, planners, yay!

I would start out perfectly organized, using my best handwriting for my notes (this was in the Dark Ages, before laptops were common). In college, I even had a system of using multiple colored pens and highlighters to take lecture notes. And those were some pretty notes. It pained me to put them in the recycle bin after lugging them from house to house for 10 years without using them.

As an adult, I have free access to decent office supplies at work (for job-related stuff) so I don't have any occasions to shop for stationery or school supplies. But I crave them.

I found a pen on my desk the day I returned from maternity leave and it was a Marvelous Pen. It was like the Pen Fairy had left me a present welcoming me back to work - the perfect combination of rollerball/gel pen, with a nice squashy grip and unbelievably smooth writing action. I loved that pen. Until my coworker Michelle saw it one day, and told me it was her lost pen. She knew it was a Marvelous Pen, and she wanted it back, so I grudgingly gave it back to her.

For months I sought that pen: Target, Office Depot, Staples. For some reason I never bought the right one - I knew the brand (Uniball Jet Stream RT), but every pack I bought wasn't quite right.

The Target pens were too light and plasticky and were more traditional ballpoint than rollerball.

TJ bought one pack for me at Office Depot, but those were too inky and not "gel" enough.

I bought another set that were ok, but the point was far too fine. At that point, I had enough pens that we'd never need to buy more, but the quest still continued.

Yesterday, I bought what I thought was a set of 3 Marvelous Pens. Bold, rollerball, from Office Depot, with a nice weight to them. But sadly, these are not the droids (um, pens) I was looking for either. They are too ball-pointy, and don't have the nice squishy grip.

Aaaghh. Am I destined to never find these pens again?

Monday, August 09, 2010

I'm the kid who ran away with the circus

Because I'm impulsive, and I'm afraid I'd chicken out, I already put in my application for the UCU show I mentioned previously.

It wasn't a complicated application, and I had already selected my photos over the weekend, so I just spent a bit of time answering their questions about my craft, the process to make my items and my pricing - all things I've had to either write up or think about previously.

Here are the photos I chose.  I wanted a mix of product types and materials, plus the show organizers specifically requested a group shot of several items together.

So now I just wait.  They won't post their selections until the end of September, and I have to start preparations long before that if I'm accepted, so now I'm going to focus on writing up my "project plan" for what needs to be done, and of course, making things.  Even if I'm rejected, having the stock on hand will be great for holiday sales, not to mention just fun to do.

It's nice to have something big to work towards - the world of BabyT has a lot of small, repetitive tasks that are roughly the same week to week.

So wish me luck and better sleep in the coming months so I can work on crafty goodness!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

On the road to madness

A few weeks ago, BabyT and I were looking for something to do on a Saturday while TJ was working.  We decided to attend the Urban Craft Uprising show - a few of the people I've met through Etsy were selling there, and I'd never been to it before. 

It was by far, the hippest craft show I've ever been to - lots of eco/recycled items, edgy themes, and nearly every booth had something I wanted to buy.  No crocheted doilies or country-style dish towels here! 

I spent a lot more money than I intended on a bright purple recycled T-shirt summer hat for babyT at moth and squirrel, gorgeous glittery hairpins and a big shiny cocktail ring for me from glamscience, Matthew Porter's ABC book for BabyT (should have asked him to sign it!), a screenprinted paramecium T-shirt from Katy and Zucchini, and this awesome handmade bear (for both of us!) from Maluhia Designs:

The bear was nearly as big as Trillian and they both rode in the stroller through the show.  She loves it.  I like it because it's got really cute Japanese animated characters all over it, though TJ pointed out most of them are frowny or angry (in a really cute way). 

I came away from this craft show totally amazed and excited to make stuff, lack of sleep be damned.  (woo hoo!)  And I got a tiny thought in my head.  What if I applied to sell there?  I know I swore off craft shows in the past, but this one seems different. 

And, it turns out the application process for the Winter 2010 show starts next week.  The fee to apply is minimal, and there's a huge chance I won't get in - from the numbers I've seen posted on their site, it looks like they accept less than 30% of their applicants.  So I've been waffling about it all weekend, and I even got 5 product photos together for the application.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

So in order to make this work, I need to start making things now.  On the bright side, even if I don't get in, I'll have enough product listed online for the holiday season, which is always busy.  I'm going to focus on ready-made stuff online this year, rather than custom items. 

So yeah, that's the plan.  We'll see where this path takes me...

Thursday, August 05, 2010

It'll chew you up

 No one ever told me how much fun it is to introduce food to a baby. Except for the milk and soy intolerance, we give T a lot of different things to try. Sometimes it takes 2 or 3 offerings before she'll actually try something or decide she likes it.

Meals are fun and relaxed (I love Baby-Led Weaning! no stress!) - I plop bits of things down on her high chair tray and she eats them, or not. What she doesn't eat, the dogs eat. Lately she's been eating like a CHAMP - Miss Baby finished a pint of blueberries in about 4 days. Which is no small feat since we cut them in half, and she picks them up one by one. It's like watching a mini zen master doing active meditation.

Breakfast takes a long time - BabyT signals the end by picking up the things on her tray and deliberately dropping them over the edge, or sweeping everything off her tray with her arm, which I think is pretty funny. (Ask me again later.) Sometimes we spend 45 min to an hour eating so it's also a nice time for me to catch up on email while I sit and make sure she doesn't choke. (I have some paranoia about choking.)

Before we started T on solid foods I read most of Ellyn Satter's book "Child of Mine" and really liked her philosophy around the "division of labor" regarding meals. It's my job as parent to provide a range of healthy options, and BabyT's job to decide whether and how much to eat it.

No power struggles about how much she's eating. No "airplane" games or coaxing her to take "just one more bite". Babies and toddlers have great inborn sense of how much they need to eat, and over time will consume all the different things they need (as long as you offer a variety of food groups, etc).

The few times we tried to spoonfeed her in order to get her to take her iron supplement (massive FAIL), it was stressful, and I felt like this horrible, food-pushing mother. So I quit. It's easier to just shoot the supplement into her cheek during changing time - she hates it but at least I'm not also making her eating experience miserable. We usually follow it up with some milk and lots of snuggles and cheers so she gets over it pretty quickly.

Current favorites are ham and sausage, and of course, blueberries. Our girl likes her meat. Which I'm sure she inherited from her daddy. Oddly, she also likes really garlicky hummus, and the spicy black bean soup I made. I guess all those salt 'n' vinegar chips I ate when I was pregnant made a difference :)

I'd love to hear your suggestions on what to feed a baby who's gotten good at feeding herself.  We can't quite just give her what we eat yet, due to the milk/soy issue, but we're getting close.  I'll just need to modify what I cook sometimes.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Fifteen there's still time for you

I had a crazy thought last night when I lay in bed trying to fall asleep.  I'm closer to BabyT's 15th birthday than my own.  (14 years vs. 20!)  How the heck did that happen?  When did I get old?  It was long before my conversation with TJ last week that began with "I was listening to NPR, and ...".  Because dude, only old people listen to NPR.  Arghhh.

Anyway, I must have been a resilient 15, because that was a tough year for me.  The kind of stress I was under then would send me to bed for weeks if it happened now. 

Let's see, there was senior year in a high school I was *SO* done with, the stress of applying to (and getting into!) a decent engineering college, extracurriculars after school and every freakin' night of the week, dealing with the obligatory horrible high school breakup and resulting drama, a weekend job at Arby's, and the usual teenage angst with my parents and life in general. 

It would have made a world of difference to know with certainty that all that stuff would come together and I'd have the life that I wanted.   I often marvel at how lucky and blessed I am, and how much easier life seems to be now, even with the current not-sleeping, baby-hubby-work-house-dogs-craft craziness.  I feel like I have choices and leisure time, rather than everything barrelling down the train tracks at 150mph with every decision and activity needing to lead to the Right Choices to set me up for future success.

Wow, do I not want to relive my teenage years.  And hopefully I'll have the grace, strength and understanding to guide T through hers.  And I'll be even more OLD then.  Sigh.

When did you realize you got old?

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