Friday, March 30, 2012

Thomas the Train cake

Just for fun, I want to share with you a cake I made last weekend.

Thomas the Train!

I turned a sheet pan full of homemade tender yellow cake into a train. I thought of Thomas in geometric shapes, lots of rectangles and a few circles. I used a knife and a biscuit cutter, chopped up the (frozen) cake without abandon. There were about 1/4 cup of scraps left. Nailed it. Glued the pieces together with some chocolate butter cream, coated the train in more chocolaty butter cream and popped him in the freezer. A few hours later I pulled the body of the cake out, hard as a rock and rolled out a big round piece of fondant and draped it over the cake. Slowly the cake came together, I made his face out of gum paste and let it dry separately.

A few hours later, Thomas the Train looked like a train, I was pleased, there were no epics, just a cake for a happy little boy's birthday.

I am trying to weasel into every birthday party, baby shower, and random occasion that might require a cake. I love decorating cakes and hope to have a calendar full of cake making in the coming months.

Friday, March 23, 2012

DIY: Chalkboard Cabinet Door

A couple weeks ago a good friend and I went to our local ReStore and rummaged through the plethora of random cabinet doors that line a wall of the building. I had this chalkboard with salvaged knobs in mind for weeks. We each toted three different doors home for various projects. This week we got together and spent the day making chalk boards with knob hangers.

I found mismatched knobs.

She spotted ceramic faucet levers.... and what I think is a toilet flush.

Want to try it? Not much I can't explain to you that isn't straight forward.

I would suggest that you do salvage solid wood cabinet doors to start with, not the cheap press board. Sand the finish, down to bare wood. We sanded by hand for about ten casual minutes. Just enough to knock down the rough spots and create a good surface for paint.

Take your knobs, figure out where you want them and drill out the holes just big enough to fit the hardware.

Drills... you are going to need your big girl panties for this part.

Paint the border a contrasting color. I (we) choose white wash which gave it a weathered look. Tape off the the painted area and use a chalkboard paint to coat the face of the cabinet.  

Just like that! A project under $10!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What Spring Brings

Welcome Spring!

It might still be frigid outside but I can hear the birds chirp from every room of the house. The sun is peeking through the clouds on a regular basis. The daffodils are blooming one by one, color is gracing the landscape. A friend stopped by while I was mowing my lawn and we both took a moment to enjoy the smell freshly cut grass. I am watching a friends dog, a black lab, he wants to be outside 99% of the day which helps me get out and take in the changing of the seasons. My bikes are getting tuned up.

My energy levels are reflective of the season, I feel like I am ready to burst with joy yet cautious of the coming months because it still could snow. Storms are always brewing but looking past the impending dark clouds, there are always blue skies.  

That's the way that the world goes 'round.
You're up one day and the next you're down.
It's half an inch of water and you think you're gonna drown.
That's the way that the world goes 'round.
-John Prine

I have blossomed into a new season of my life, Winter was harsh, but like most things, they pass, seasons change.  I am a believer that all things happen for a reason. Out of darkness comes light and light lets us see a bit clearer. 

Miscarrying our first baby was hard in so many ways, the burden was heavy and it still haunts me as it will for a long time I imagine. That is okay, life is humbling, we can deal with the best of intentions. I keep on reminding myself that there was reasoning behind the whole mess, the baby was not healthy for reasons beyond our control. Why did it happen? We will never know and I don't need to know. 

I know that looking back is futile, looking forward is downright exciting. Everything changes, that is just the way that the world goes round. I am a stronger person. I have not found the words to describe how I feel these days, it will come to me slowly, right now I am enjoying the new light I have on life. The heavy pressure that I put myself through, the fight for perfection, the years of self restraint and guilt are slowly letting go. I am coming to understand who the true Michelle is. I am comfortable with her, I am comfortable with me. I would not wish this experience on anyone nor do I ever want to do it again. The personal growth that came from the events of the last few months and years have been priceless and now I know that every thing happens for a reason.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Smoked Cheddar Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread

First we eat then we do everything else.

M.F.K. Fisher

Another seamless recipe from Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America's Best Bakers

This bread can be as simple as stirring four ingredients together and getting the oven warm. Simple leaves time for everything else.

I kept this Irish soda bread simple but incorporated a few more savory accents. I craved the hearty nutty flavor that whole wheat flour imparts so I used 3 cups of whole wheat pastry flour and 1 cup of all purpose white flour. A dollop of sour cream replaced some of the buttermilk without making the bread heavy. Lots of diced smoked cheddar cheese studded the dough.

The finished loaf was incredible that evening. The crusty was crisp and the interior was hearty. A recipe worth keeping in the kitchen. And yes, first we ate then we built a bon fire in the back yard.

This Tuesdays with Dorie group recipe can be found with Cathy of My Culinary Mission  and Carla of Chocolate Moosey.

Or for all you fellow cookbook nerds get yourself Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America's Best Bakers

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Life has been pretty full the past couple of weeks. Whirlwind. We are all busy living, filling the days. That is what life is, filling the time the best that you can.

The time just keeps on passing, it is our responsibility to fill it to the brim with life. That is all we can do, fill our cups, let them run over and share.  

Bring people into your life, let them in. Share what life has to offer.

Give more than you receive. Generosity might just be the secret to happiness. Share all that you have to offer.

I made this cake over the weekend. Not much of a looker from the shell, I left the icing a little rough, it was for a dinner party not a wedding. Slicing into the cake was delightful to say the least, four perfect layers of meyer lemon studded white cake soaked in freshly squeezed meyer lemon syrup with each layer separated with a rich lemon curd, silky smooth buttercream and dotted with plump fresh raspberries. I really wish that I had a picture of the cake once it was sliced, you are just going to have to take my word for it that this was the best cake I have made to date. If you are interested in the recipe, which I think you should be email me at ladystiles (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Falling in Love

In November of 1958, John Steinbeck, one of my favorite authors of, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Of Mice and Men, received a letter from his eldest son, Thom, who was attending boarding school. In it, the teenager spoke of Susan, a young girl with whom he believed he had fallen in love.

Steinbeck replied the same day.

Here is his beautiful letter of advice.

(Source: Letters of Note via Steinbeck: A Life in Letters)

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply—of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it—and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone—there is no possible harm in saying so—only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another—but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.



Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Topp Twins

I happened to stumble across my new favorite movie. New Zealand yodeling lesbian twins. Within just five minutes of watching the Topp Twins, these confident, brave and strong ladies steal your heart and make you smile.  They are the Untouchable Girls.

It was described to me by Alice Clark, the executive director of our local Pickford cinema as a movie in which you will smile from the beginning to end. With a description like that I had to turn it on and see what it is all about. I smiled through the entire movie then watched it again a week later. I will probably sit down and watch it again soon.

These women have devoted their lives to what they love, kept it at a scale in which they can control and found the voice of their hearts. These are truly amazing women, they are inspirational and I promise that you will smile during this documentary that chronicles their beautiful lives. It streams on Netflix for those of you who subscribe.

Have you heard of the Topp Twins? Did you see the Topp Twins, Untouchable Girls movie?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A Thank You

Just wanted to extend my gratitude to all of you, my friends, for the support. Kind words and caring gestures go a long way, we made it through some waves of emotions with the support of everyone around me. We are comforted.

We are surrounded by god people and there is not a day goes by that we are not thankful for this real gift.

I am getting back into my swing of life. Long walks, climbing, friends, trip planning and job seeking. School is on my mind as I try and establish myself, root myself and grow as a person before I have another little person growing in me.

I recently shared that we miscarried a few weeks back. I was eager and excited, shared the news with family and friends within weeks of getting the news.We were hesitant but I was thrilled and couldn't wait a minute longer to share the possibility that we had a little one on the way. I knew that miscarrying was a very real threat but that was the other 20% of people, not me. Turns out we are the 20%, someone has to be, I just never thought it would be us. I am here to tell you that it happens, it happens to real people, normal people. And guess what, you live through it. It is hard and it hurts physically, emotionally and let me tell you that it challenged us spiritually more than I thought possible. When It is all said and done, we were left with each other which is more than I could ever ask for. We gained perspective, compassion and patience. Patience.

Life throws curve balls to everyone. We all face battles big and small. In the big picture of life, we each have mountains to climb and wars to wage. There will be times of conflict and times of peace. Leave the judging up to God because you never know what someone is facing on the inside.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Rugelach - Tuesdays with Dorie

I love to bake cookies, it is no secret. I fill up extra hours with cookie making and even sell them on Etsy as a side hobby. I really thought I understood cookies. I did until I came across this recipe for Rugelach which was one of the two recipes for Tuesdays with Dori this month.

I thought I could read a recipe, until I saw the other results from different bakers all using the same recipe, recipes can obviously be interpreted differently. Regardless of the outcome, these cookies won me with complex flavors and possessed exquisite texture. The pastry dough was noticeably flaky with a tender tang that was well appreciated.

These cookies are involved, it is the filling that consumes all the time. From the apricot levkar that gets slathered onto the dough, mixed fruit filling, chopped nut filling, sugar filling, and then a spiced sugar with ground nuts to roll the cooike in once they have been assembled, these cookies take some elbow grease and ingredients.

I wanted a dessert for some friends that were bringing dinner over so I thought I would make these cookies. They tasted wonderful, a nice treat after dinner. Worht all the work? Not in my book.

All this being said I ran across Food52's manifesto. I can't help but agree and share their intent that food made at home can change our lives for the better. These cookies were a pain but int the end completely worth it.

The FOOD52 Manifesto
If you cook, your family will eat dinner together.
If you cook, you will naturally have a more sustainable household.
If you cook, you'll set a lifelong example for your children.
If you cook, you'll understand what goes into food and will eat more healthily.
If you cook, you'll make your home an important place in your life.
If you cook, you'll make others happy.
If you cook, people will remember you.

This week’s hosts – Jessica of My Baking Heart and Margaret of The Urban Hiker visit their pages for recipes. 

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