Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Pippa Bag – Part Duex

“Oh no I did-n’t!”


I did.


I loved my first Modalu Medium Pippa bag in shark so much that when I saw the croc version in the dark taupe color called oyster… well, we all have our weaknesses.


(Pippa’s backside. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

I did resist the first two availabilities of the bag last spring and summer before it sold out both times (self pat on the back) but when it came back again in September I heard that little ‘ugly American’-Californian voice in my head with the bad British accent say, “Why the bloody hell not?” (apologizes to all proper speaking Brits out there).

(love the three big, deep sections)SONY DSC

Besides, the psychological impact of seeing the price in pounds made it much easier to send my order across the pond. I have lots of tricks for justification.

Still, I haven’t taken her out for a spin yet. I wanted to save her debut for a trip we had planned to take to DC this week to visit our friends and congressman but we opted for a spring invitation instead. Dark croc in the spring? I don’t think so. Now I’m feeling a little guilty because I really didn’t need a new bag especially since my travel plans did not come to fruition.

Do I feel guilty enough to return her? No.

When I do get a new bag, I like to admire what I love about it for awhile until I take the plunge to expose it to all the nasty elements in the world.

pippa picnik

And like a good mother who worries unnecessarily I know when I remove all the protective plastic strips on the name plates, it’ll be open season. It’s like anything new you want to keep pristine – the new car - until you set the first coffee or soda in the clean cup holder and it inevitably spills.


Then that ugly American-Californian voice with the bad British accent speaks to me again…

“Bloody hell. We need to go Christmas shopping!” and out the door we go - in my new car - with a grande misto, decaf, non-fat, no foam.


Happy hunting.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Jeana's 89th Birthday/Thanksgiving Dinner

The best MIL in the world!

Taken with my iPad. 8 mm HD app. 70's style. Edited by Reel Director app.

Music ~ "The Brothers Go To Mother's" by Joey Altruda

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Best Pecan Pie and Painted Dough Cut-Outs

"Of Pie I Sing" - A remembrance, a recipe and an idea
Funny how we tend to keep the traditional childhood foods in our adult repertoire - especially if one is the host or hostess preparing the fare - unless we make a conscious effort to break the proverbial cranberry mold.
My childhood Thanksgiving dinner consisted of the good, the bad and the mysterious. My mom would toil over the turkey rising at dawn to put the bird in the oven after the previous night’s ritual of making the stuffing. My job was to stuff celery sticks with two kinds of cream cheese. One was tinted pink with pimentos. It was my first introduction to cream cheese. I didn’t like it then and I still don’t but playing with it was fun. Mom taught me to make a squiggly pattern by running a serrated knife over the surface. When I think back, this was probably my introduction to making foods look pretty or “plating” as it’s now called.
My aunt brought mixer whipped mashed potatoes that could have hung wall paper and gravy with little dark hard bits that tasted funny. I later learned these bits were cooked organs disguised by the cute sounding name of “giblets.” No wonder. I love my aunt with all my giblets but this was “the bad.”
My grandmother was a true mid-west farm woman born in the late 1880’s which meant she could cook and bake circles around most. She made the pies. They were the good and the mysterious. In the 1960’s in Southern California there were two kinds of holiday pies – pumpkin and mince meat. I made my way through the bland pumpkin thanks to a generous dollop of something new on the table called Cool Whip. I instinctively knew this wonderful white puff would be wasted on that dark, gelatinous mystery pie that the adults were eating. ‘Mince meat pie’ are words you just don’t hear anymore. I decided to Wiki-ed it to find out what’s really in it. You can explore it on your own. I think it’s better that way.
Having my own family and needing a second pie besides the pumpkin variety I found something equally dark and mysterious but utterly decadent and delicious - pecan pie. That wonderful sweet, crunchy – slightly chewy goo that won the hearts and epicurean palettes of my men thus becoming the holiday pie of choice at our table since the mid 90’s. And as you might know, if you read my last post, it also doubles as the Breakfast of Christmas Decorating Champions the morning after Thanksgiving.
Perhaps it will become a tradition in your home for dessert …. or breakfast. :)
For the crust:
Martha Stewart‘s recipe for Pate Brisee is my absolute favorite and is fool proof.
This adapted recipe makes crusts for one deep dish pie, one regular pie and cut-outs for both.
Deep Dish Pate Brisee
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 pound unsalted butter (3 sticks), cut into small pieces
3/4 cup ice water
In a food processor, place flour, salt and sugar. Process to combine. Add butter and process until mixture resembles course meal, about 20 seconds worth of pulsing. Add 1/4 cup water at a time in a steady stream through the feed tube with the machine running just until the dough holds together. Test the dough after adding 1/2 cup total. The dough has enough water when it holds together when squeezed in your hand. If it is still crumbly, add more water.
Turn dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Press into a flattened circle and wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a round 1/8 inch thick and fit it into a deep dish 8" or 9" pie plate. Decorate the edges* or crimp. Chill 1 more hour or wrap and freeze until needed. If frozen, thaw in refrigerator until ready to use.
To prepare the crust for the pecan pie:
Preheat oven to 400 F. Prick bottom and sides of shell, fit it with a round of parchment paper or foil and weigh it down with rice or beans. Bake shell for 15 minutes. Remove paper or foil liner and weight and bake for an additional 10 minutes. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk with 1/4 tsp. of water and brush sides and bottom of shell with egg mixture. This will keep your crust from becoming soggy. Return shell to oven and bake for 2 minutes more. Remove and fill with the pecan filling that follows:

The Best Pecan Pie
6 Tbls. unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 Tbl. vanilla + 1/2 teaspoon
1 cup finely ground pecans*
1 cup chopped pecans*
Preheat oven to 275 F. In a bowl set over simmering water melt butter. Remove bowl from heat and whisk in sugar, salt, eggs - one at a time, corn syrup and vanilla. Return bowl to heat over water and stir until mixture is shiny and warm to the touch. Add finely ground pecans and chopped pecans. Pour into the crust. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until center feels set, but still slightly soft (it can still jiggle). Cool at least 4 hours.
Recipe adapted from David Rosengarten
* Toasting the nuts adds even more nutty flavor. Trader Joe sells pecans already chopped and roasted. Just chop a little finer for the ‘finely ground nuts.’
* I use Nielsen-Massey vanilla and vanilla bean paste interchangeably.
* Who can resist decorating the edges of the crust with these pie crust cutters from Williams-Sonoma?
Decorative Pie Crust:
Easy as pie!
Make cut-outs from left over dough scraps.
Take one egg yolk. Choose your colors. I used cake decorating colors but regular food colors from the store are fine. Green. Yellow. Purple. Red. Orange.
Break the yolk and mix a little of the colors into the yolk like an artist’s palette.
Brush one or more colors onto the raw dough leaves. Chill to firm them up a little. This will make it easier to press them onto the rim of the pie crust without losing the detail.
Flatten the rim of the pie crust and moisten it with water. Press the leaves onto the shell rim. Fill shell with pie filling and bake according to recipe.
I’m not baking my pies until Wednesday so I couldn’t show the finished pies but I did bake some extra leaves to show you how the colors stay vibrant and glossy.
For a crimped edge shell without additional decoration I’ll bake individual leaves and place them on top of the baked pie or set one or two on the individual servings on the scoop of ice cream or on top of a dollop of whipped cream, the real stuff. Not cool whip. :)
Have a very sweet and delicious Thanksgiving!
I receive no compensation for any retail recommendations. They’re just “a few of my favorite things.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving at Williams-Sonoma

One of my favorite things to do at this time of year is to venture into my other Happiest Place on Earth – Williams-Sonoma, and see what’s new for the season or to visit things I annually covet.

Embroidered pumpkin napkins. 


They were on-sale in the store at 15% off for a limited time only, as they say.  With the heady holiday scent of the mulling spices simmering through the store they rendered me powerless to resist. 


These napkins had friends. Turkeys and squirrels.  Both so cute.

I think we all have something that speaks to us.  I had a whole conversation with these copper leaf cookie cutters.  They kept saying, “You need us, take us home.”  I answered, “Okay.”  Really, what’s the point in arguing?


We usually brine our turkey using Alton Brown’s recipe which is super but I find the juices that run off the turkey too salty to make into gravy so I’m considering a turkey rub that goes on 24 hours before cooking.  Sounds interesting doesn’t it?  It has fragrant notes of chili and paprika.  Yum!


WS also has some recipes online that look delicious.

Another must have is the mulling spices.  You do know about W-S mulling spices, don’t you?  You must get a tin for yourself and a friendBesides making the best mulled cider by just simmering a couple heaping spoonfuls in cheesecloth or a large tea ball in a pan or crock pot, you can simmer this all day long for the fragrance alone.


But my favorite bounty item this Thanksgiving is this ~ our heirloom tomatoes from our garden.  Picked today.  To which I truly give thanks.


Hope you’re enjoying the anticipation of the holidays!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Combining Holiday Decorations On Your Stairs Saves Time, Energy and Calories


I’ve gotten quite a few search referrals on decorating the stairs for the holidays so I’ve edited a post from last year that gives a great idea to make it easy for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Have you ever thought about how to simplify Christmas decorating when just coming off of the whirlwind of Thanksgiving entertaining? My normal routine after having hosted Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings the day before is to crash the morning after. My breakfast will include coffee, pecan pie (if my boys haven’t gotten to it first) and any two or three extra-strength pain relievers. It’s become my “transitional tradition” over the years. It takes me to the next level of fa-la-la-ing decorating for Christmas that’s scheduled to commence later this morning. If I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed I’ll tackle it after lunch of, um, more pie.

I always start with the hardest thing first, the stair bannister garland. I stand at the bottom and look up. I know what’s coming…big boxes taken out of the crawl space under the stairs from the closet, coats displaced on living room furniture, stepping on little pine needles until I’m finished and can vacuum. Blessed be my Dyson. It’s the most cumbersome task but after 23 years of doing the decorations dance with my banister the morning after Thanksgiving it still gives me the most holiday spirit when it’s finally up. But this changed last year, or at least the morning after part.

Thanks to a conversation I had a year ago while sitting on the Tesoro bleachers when I went back to see the marching band perform where football players happened to be on the marching field (old music boosters joke), one very savvy multi-tasking marching band parent told me she puts up the garland on the stairs before Thanksgiving and then adds raffia and colored leaves for the fall decorations.


Hearing her say this was like my personal V-8 moment. Why hadn’t I thought of this all these years?!? So I tried it. Not only did the backdrop of muted greenery with glowing, sparkly lights and rustic look of the leaves and raffia add tremendously to the warm and cozy celebratory feeling during our Thanksgiving dinner , it made the task of beginning the Christmas decorating the day after much more pleasant and manageable and therefore, reduced my pie consumption as well.

Benefits all around.

Do you do anything special to make the holidays easier?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cookies Gone Postal

This week I received a couple of disgruntled emails.

These two readers have been following my blogging baking adventures as of late and feel deprived and left out of the baking loop, so to speak.

It seems I have forgotten college boys cannot live on Physics and Chemical Engineering classes alone and need chocolate chip cookies sent from home.

These cookies are my grandmother’s recipe. She made them. My mother made them. I make them. They are crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. I have never tasted or seen any other that even come close to resembling them. Based on looks alone, I sometimes wonder if they are the only ones in the world. This is such a lonely thought to me.

When they’ve cooled on the rack I stack them like my mom did. I remember being eye level with them on the pull-out bread board.


It reminds me that I was once a daughter. Something that I miss. Even more so during the holidays.

I wonder if one day they’ll mean anything more to my boys as they do to me but I suspect they already might. It’s the one thing they ask for when they haven’t been home for awhile.

I can’t give out the recipe because I’m afraid of being tarred and feathered. My mom gave the recipe to someone once and they accused her of purposely leaving something out of the recipe since they didn’t turn out like hers. You see, the cookies rarely come out the same from one batch to the next or even on the same baking sheet. They are an enigma and we haven’t been able to figure out why.


My two cookie deprived children will be filtering in a day apart just before Thanksgiving. One arriving by plane, the other by train or doing the college transportation norm - grabbing a ride down with a friend coming this way. It will be a short visit consisting of Thai take-out one night, Thanksgiving dinner and then just a couple of leftover meals but I’m grateful they’re both able to come home at the same time.

Son2 has always said this is his favorite holiday at home. He loves waking up in the morning to the familiar holiday aromas wafting upstairs from the kitchen. I’ve already been asked “what’s for dinner” and specific pie requests have been made and noted. The menu has remained the same from one November to the next but there’s comfort in knowing what’s at home hasn’t changed. Kind of like the chocolate chip cookies - these sweet, creviced, addictive rounds of our collective generational childhoods that are going postal. Today.

I’d love to know what says ‘home’ to your family.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mini Cupcake Spiral Tower (Autumn, Fall)

Mini chocolate cupcakes decorated with over-sized dragees and fall themed fondant cut-outs literally reached new heights in my kitchen for a fall open house party this past weekend.

fall mini cupcake tower

We’ll get ‘up close and personal’ so I can show how you how I made this.

fall mini cupcake tower

It’s not as complicated as it looks. Trust me. They’re just a bunch of little ol’ chocolate cupcakes dressed up all fancy like.

fall mini cupcake tower

The number of cupcakes needed depends on the size styrofoam cone that is used but the cupcakes bake up rather quickly at 10 minutes in the oven per batch. One recipe of batter makes approximately 120 mini cupcakes. I used about 150 mini cupcakes.

For the wrappers I used Wilton’s gold foil candy cups which are smaller than mini baking cups but still lined with paper. The candy cups are a true ‘pop-in-your-mouth’ bite whereas a cupcake baked in a mini baking wrapper takes a bite or two.

I used our All-American chocolate cake recipe and the accompanying chocolate icing. Mini spiced cake or carrot cake cupcakes would have been very good too but I was specifically requested to bring the chocolate cupcakes. (I really do need to post those recipes again soon but I’ve never taken a good, well thought out photo when we’ve baked the cake and I feel it’s the least I could do.)

For the fondant decorations on top of the cupcakes I kept with the fall theme.

Pumpkins and fall leaves came to mind.

fall mini cupcakes

I didn’t want the use of too many patterns on the display so the third cupcake would be plainer but still elegant. It would be placed between the pumpkin and leaves rows.

fall mini cupcake tower

I made the fondant leaf cut-outs with the same fondant plunger I used for the grape leaves on the wedding cookies. I took rolled fondant I had colored red and yellow and marbled them together as I did for the fondant leaves cookies and ran the steamer over the leaves as for the Halloween bats cookies to tack up the fondant.

I then flicked strawberry Disco Dust over the leaf cut-outs. The strawberry color is a mix between a warm red and gold. When the leaves were less tacky, I dusted them with super gold luster powder.

fall mini cupcake tower

fall mini cupcake tower

For the fondant pumpkin cut-outs I used a cutter I had from the Williams-Sonoma piecrust cutter set. By the way, the Christmas cutters are as cute as can be. I can see them now on a Christmas mini cupcake tree, can’t you?

Back to fall and the pumpkins ~

fall mini cupcake tower

fall mini cupcake tower

Thinned royal icing piped with a 1S piping tip made the tendrils and stem. I believe it is the smallest opening made on a tip or at least the smallest I’ve ever found.

For the swirls on the dragee cupcakes I used a larger long tip. No number on the tip but the equivalent plain round tip is a large number 3. I also don‘t know the size specifications of the dragees except to say the container should have read ‘obscenely decadent.’

Of course, I had to give them a slight sprinkle of gold Disco Dust.

mini chocolate cupcakes

With the cupcakes complete, here’s what you’ll need for the structure...

fall mini cupcake tower

  • 1 styrofoam cone (I used one with a 5 inch base, 21 inches high)
  • decorative foil to cover the cone
  • 10” round cake cardboard
  • silk fall leaves
  • floral pick for the top
  • box of regular tooth picks
  • glue gun

Take the styrofoam cone and center it on the cake board. Draw a circle around the base of the cone.

fall mini cupcake tower

Tip: Having a larger diameter cardboard circle to place the cone on will add support and stabilization to the structure when pushing toothpicks into the styrofoam and especially when the finished structure is being moved around or transported.

Wrap the cone in decorative foil or paper. I used gold foil to blend in with the fall colors I used in the color palette and with the gold foil cupcake wrappers. I wanted everything to shine.

I bought a branch of fall leaves and cut all the leaves off so I could use them individually to circle the cake board.

fall mini cupcake tower

I first glued a row of leaves so the edge of the board would not show. I added another leaf row on top positioning them just to the inside of the mark I made prior.

Tip: The cake board I used happened to be foil covered. I bought it before I had the idea for the foliage. If I would have known at the time I was going to completely cover the board I would have bought a plain board.

fall mini cupcake tower

The last step - secure the covered cone to the board with hot glue.

fall mini cupcake tower

To assemble the cupcakes to the cone ~ It’s so simple ~ just stick a toothpick into the foam at a slight angle up starting at the base and push a cupcake onto it.

Tip: Try for the toothpick to pierce the middle bottom of the cupcake. If the toothpick sticks out the cupcake top, remove the cupcake and push the toothpick farther into the foam. You want a good toothpick/foam/cupcake ratio. You’ll get the idea.

Place the cupcakes in a pattern…pumpkin, dragee, leaf, dragee, pumpkin, dragee, leaf, dragee….

Always begin your second row starting with the first pattern on the cupcake used. For example, I began with the pumpkin so when I added the next row I began with another pumpkin cupcake slightly to the right and above the original pumpkin cupcake. This will get the pattern climbing up the cone in a swirl pattern.

fall mini cupcake tower

Tip: Where the rows start and stop will be the back of the cone because there will be gaps to fill in where the pattern doesn’t line up perfectly. That’s just the way it is. Cupcake sizes vary and the diameter of the cone gets smaller as you reach the top. Don’t worry about finishing up the pattern perfectly when completing a row. Just begin as stated above with the original patterned cupcake and the front and sides will turn out great and only you will notice the back.

Finish the top of the cone by pushing in a floral pick. All done!

fall mini cupcake tower

The above photo was taken at the cutest-ever-1923 vintage-storybook-cottage-in South Pasadena anyone has ever seen-open-house! One thing though, I should have plucked an obligatory cupcake from the front because no one wanted to be the first. When I left the open house hours later I saw people eating cupcakes but the front still looked untouched. People were reaching around the back to take them off. So funny. :)

I'd be glad to answer questions in the comments section if you have any. Wouldn't this be a fun and unexpected dessert for Thanksgiving dinner?

Have a great week!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Next Project…

I’ve been catching up this week on house and work and stocking up for my next project for an open house in Pasadena this weekend.  I was asked to bring chocolate cupcakes.  If you’ve been reading my blog this summer you know we got quite a bit of mileage out of our OC and LA County Fair wins with the chocolate cake recipe but for this special get together I have an idea in mind for something more spectacular and showy.

I began my hunt for everything I needed.. 

…Silk fall foliage picks, gold foil, gold covered boards, colored fondant, pumpkin plunger, mini cupcake papers (although I might go gold foil instead), ridiculously large gold dragees which I thought were banned in Cali…. hmmm….


… and tall towers of styrofoam.


I could have gone to Michaels or JoAnne’s for some of my supplies but I drove much farther to my Happiest Place On Earth – Shinoda!  (angels sing)

“Shinoda Design Center is a wholesale floral supply center.  If you have a resale license, business license, documentation with proof of Federal EIN, or you represent a school, charitable organization, or non-profit organization, you can apply to become a member.”


This picture is just a small corner of happiness.  It’s a warehouse of wonder!  Aisles upon aisles of floral supplies and silks, baskets, vases, candles, lights, trees, cello products, packing materials, etc. and the ribbon!  Ribbon is definitely a weakness of mine.

I love this place so much I feel like offering field trips for those who don’t have a wholesale card just to share the Shinoda love!  Anyone want to go? 

What is also great about having a Shinoda card is that you can use it next door at the OC Flower Mart.  That would be on my fantasy field trip too.

I’ve always wanted a pink flocked tree.  My idea has been vetoed by three men for the past few years.  Now with two only coming home for school breaks and the third wanting a happy wife, I feel the vote is definitely in my favor.  This may be my year!


On Monday I’ll have a post of the open house cupcake project.  It would be wonderful for any entertaining venue or even to cap off your special holiday dinners. 

In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend, friends!

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