Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Quilt: An Update

So... I'm the worst quilter ever.  Okay, maybe not ever.  It's just... do you ever start something with the good intention of following it through and then just never seem to get around to it?  I started this quilting thing at the beginning of the month and here I am a month later, not even having the task of cutting my tshirts completed.  In my defense, it's a longer process than I expected it to be, and after a while one's hand becomes tired of holding the scissors and cutting away at cloth.  Although if I haven't sung the praises of the scissors I'm using enough - they're fabulous.  They cut like champs and I'm glad that the person who lent them to me will soon become my husband because that means they'll soon reside in my household :D.  But that's an aside.  There is still much to be done.  I need to get the proper backing for the tshirts, iron them, iron the backing on to them, measure them, cut them, buy fabric for sashing, find a fabric for the packing, start sewing rows together, figure out how I'm going to assemble my quilt (tying or whatever the other method is called), and then actually assembling my quilt.  Sigh.  This is a much bigger project than I anticipated and here I am, already with study season looming again.  Where does all the time go?!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Embracing my Inner Crafitness

I've never really been a crafty person.  At least, I don't think of myself that way.  My mom is the quintessential craft-making, costume-sewing, cake-decorating, wood-working guru of all time.  Seriously, she is.  There is not a single craft that I can think of that she has embraced and not excelled at.  I chalk it up to her eye for things and her allowance for imperfections as an artist.  I, on the other hand, am a perfectionist.  And as a perfectionist I like things to be done flawlessly.  This often times leads to things taking twice as long, having to be redone, and it almost always leads to me giving up entirely on things.  How can it be that my mom paints something and goes "oh well, that color isn't what I wanted, but it kind of works" and it looks great and I will mix and mix until things are exactly the way I want and it somehow looks too forced?  How is it she'll throw together pictures, stickers, and comments and have a fabulous scrapbook page, and I will spend hours thinking about how I want my pictures displayed and which I want to use, only to give up, want to use them all, and end up with a huge collage instead of a beautifully displayed page (don't get me started on my lack of scrapbooking ability - I'm a collager, not a scrapbooker)?  That's all to say that I've spent my life in the shadow of a craft genius and have therefore never tried to embrace my inner crafty person.

Until recently.  Recently, I've had a surge of crafty instincts and a desire to change things up a little.  It started this summer with these little keychains (turned magnets when I realized how fragile the plastic is and that they'll snap if they're keychains) that I made for my friends (still haven't sent them - scared they'll break in the mail) and for my campers.  With the success of that project, I thought about other things I'd wanted or had been meaning to do that I just never got around to.  Enter my t-shirt quilt idea.  In college my friend Megan had a t-shirt quilt - a conglomeration of t-shirts from the past that are almost never worn anymore but have sentimental value.  I always thought it was such a neat idea, but never really thought about making my own.  Besides, I didn't really have enough shirts for something like that anyway.

Enter ASB.  In college I was on student government, and there you get a t-shirt for everything.  Welcome Leader?  Here's a t-shirt.  Volunteering for Admitted Students Day?  Here's a t-shirt.  Mustang Madness?  Don't forget to wear your t-shirt!  Summer Missions?  Buy a t-shirt and support our cause!  I ended up with many shirts that I love and am attached to but never wear.  As I cleaned out my closet this past summer, making room for what I call "adult clothing" (things without logos, printing, and that can be worn to work), I found myself bagging a lot of these shirts and wondering what to do with them.

And then inspiration struck.  I can make my own t-shirt quilt!  So that's what I'm doing.  Or at least, I'm going to try to.  I've never quilted before, and while I think this is probably easier than a regular quilt, it's still more daunting than say... making a batch of cookies.  Once I start, I'm committed to the project, otherwise I'll just have a bunch of cut up t-shirts sitting around my house.  I borrowed scissors from a friend (these are amazing scissors by the way) and I'm off and running on the project that I've been mulling for the past five months.  I had originally put together a complicated pattern with squares of alternating sizes, but after I started cutting my shirts I realized this will be much simpler if I go with plain squares.  Some will be squares within squares because of the size of the logo, but I'm sticking with 13 inch squares with 1 inch sashing and a 2 inch border.  It sounds fancy, but really it's not.  Because this picture shows you exactly how far I've gotten... which is not very far at all.  I've cut 10 shirts, have about 14 logos, and still have two stacks waiting in the wings to be cut.  With that first cut, I was committed, and now I'm determined to see this project through.  Hopefully everything goes well... and nothing is disastrous.

If it is, at least I have my mom to patchwork my handiwork and tell me it's going to be okay that it's slightly imperfect.  Here is what I've done so far... Even cutting the shirts is harder work than I thought it would be!

Wish me luck!  Updates on the quilt to follow (when I stop being such a lazy blogger!)

Friday, October 16, 2009

It Was the Worst of Times...

When the boyfriend is away, Christine will... study and blog.  I wish I could say "play" but really, there is no "playing" happening in Christine's life right now.  With a big exam right around the corner and all the other busies of life, there just doesn't seem to be time for it.  But in a few week's time I'll be lazing and chillin' and hanging out with the best of them. 

That's all to say that I thought it was time I write something, since I tend to be a notorious blog neglector.  I have great dreams and aspirations when I start them, I just never get around to saying all that I want to say or I realize I never had that much to say about that topic after all.

Take, for instance, this blog.  I really want to write about cake.  I really do.  I want to be able to bake and create and share my treats with friends, family, co-workers, and church people.  I just don't have the time, the energy, or the will power at this point.  And I'm not really feeling motivated either.  You see, the last couple of things I've baked were disastrous endeavors.  I've seriously never done anything so bad.  It was especially odd since I'd made all of the recipes before.  I made blueberry scones that ended up tasting like baking soda, blueberry boy bait in which all the blueberries sunk to the bottom and was over-baked, and blueberry frosting that I accidentally made with salted butter that ended up tasting like nothing but butter.  So you could see how I might be a tad bit discouraged here.  Well, I hope to break my streak of baking disasters, and if I study enough this weekend I'll be baking some pumpkin bread.  I was given a recipe from a friend that I hope to try, but I'm going to add in a little addition (a cream cheese filling that I normally put in my loaves of pumpkin bread) and see how it turns out.  I could only find the huge cans of pumpkin, so I'll be making a double batch.  If all goes well I already have a couple people in mind that I'd like to give/send them to.  So here's hoping that (1) I get all my studying done tomorrow so I feel free enough to bake and (2) the pumpkin bread cupcakes turn out well :D

As a side note, I think I'll have to take up blogging about something about other than just cake, since I haven't been baking that often.  What, though?  Maybe just random thoughts from life.  It is my blog, after all, and I guess I can do whatever I want with it...

Monday, September 21, 2009

How Sweet It Is

My boyfriend, T, and I are dessert people.  It has been an essential part of our relationship from the onset of its development.  On our first date we had cupcakes AND gelato.  On our second date he took me to a mediocre restaurant, not because of their food but because of their great dessert.  Ironically, he subsequently declared he was full after eating and told the waiter we wouldn’t be getting dessert, which prompted an accidental outburst of “what?!” from me (he had after all, promised me cake)… which earned me a slice of chocolate cake (he’d promised!).  Anyway.  Like I was saying, we’re dessert people.  Which I love.  How unfun would it be to love cake and ice cream and all sorts of sweet treats and have to enjoy them by myself?  I mean, sure I’d get more to myself, but sharing certainly is caring… Ahh, I'm digressing, and that's all besides the point.  What I'm trying to say is that as dessert people, I often find that our little random thoughtful gifts for one another often come in the form of cake.

As a matter of fact, for our six monthiversary a few months ago he actually sent me a cake at work.  Some girls get flowers, I get cake.  And I must say, that’s the way I like it.  He found this bakery online that mails cakes to people.  They call themselves "Bake Me A Wish."  Believe me, this was a wish come true on my part.  :)  Even more awesome, I’d say, because the cake I received was actually pretty good... way better than I would think for having been shipped cross country.  It has to be left out for a little bit to defrost, but they do a good job of packaging the cake so once defrosted it looks as good (for the most part) as it tastes.  The cake I had was a chocolate fudge cake with a chocolate ganache and chocolate buttercream filling.  Sounds like a lot of chocolate but it was a little (super rich) slice of heaven.  That chocolate ganache man... it's one of my favorites.

The service itself was one of the things that impressed me the most.  I mean, who thinks to send cakes?  I guess it makes sense since you can order and send just about anything else these days.  I wonder how a bakery would do if they started taking and fulfilling online orders, similar to something like FTD.  Hmm... food for thought.  Anyway, like I was saying, this online service is pretty great.  Through Bake Me a Wish you can send cakes to friends across the country who’s birthday you couldn’t be in person to celebrate or even to a loved one who is serving in the military overseas.  You can say “here’s a birthday present that will stay with you forever – on your hips!”  Okay, just kidding don’t say that, but seriously how awesome is it that?  Check it out and send a little cake love to someone :D

This is how the cake comes to you...  You just take it out of the big box it was sent in, unwrap it, and defrost it for a few hours.

This is the cake all ready to eat.  It's a little sad that the decorative parts of it get a little messed up in transport, but it still tastes quite yummy.  Especially that chocolate heart in the middle.  I was the talk of the office that morning...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Brulee (said like Goulet)

I love all desserts.  Cake especially, but desserts in general.  This past week I found the crème brulee man and had one of his delightful little treats.  The first time I encountered him, he was not with his usual cart (he normally sells it from a cart), but rather was selling his sweet treats from the 4505 Meats booth at the Thursday Ferry Building Farmer’s Market (good stuff, check it out – Tuesdays are fruits and veggies, Thursdays are for food).  I had lavender on Thursday and it was pretty good – the lavender flavor was light and the crème brulee was creamy perfection.  As a result of this wonderful first experience, I was determined to have a second and try more of his flavors (he does vanilla, frosted flakes, coffee, lavender, and probably a few others, but those are the only I’ve been exposed to).  I found out Friday afternoon that crème brulee man would be in Hayes Valley on Saturday, and since T and I were having breakfast in Hayes Valley anyway, we decided to hang around and wait for the crème brulee man to appear.  We saw him and literally walked by a couple of times while he set up.  In the end I acknowledged and apologized for my stalker status, and got some yummy coffee crème brulee.  Our stalking paid off though; we’d gone into the store where he said he’d be set up and got $1 off our crème brulee AND we were the first ones of the day.  Magnificent.  Yesterday’s was slightly disappointing.  The flavor of the coffee crème brulee was excellent – strong and perfectly paired with the creaminess.  The texture, however, was a little off.  He said a few of them were too firm, so he put them aside , but the one we got was a little too soft.  More pudding than the firm creamy crème brulee.  I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, since we were the first of the day, and say that I’ll be back again for more one of these days.  I mean, really, where else can you get a quick bite of crème brulee goodness?  Yum.  If you’re in San Francisco, you must twitter-stalk this man and find him at least once.  It’s hyped and trendy, sure, but that’s part of the experience :D

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Let Her Eat Cake

As my "about me" on the side says, growing up I was never much of a cake person.  I can't even tell you when I happened upon my love for cake, I can only tell you that I'm here.  And I do.  Love cake that is.  All types.  Chocolate, vanilla, pumpkin (one of my favorites)... you name it, I'll eat it.  Well, kind of.  I don't really like fruit in my chocolate, or in my cake, but that's a different story entirely.

I think one of the funniest thing about my love for cake (baking it, eating it, bringing it to others) is that others catch on of my great love and they bring me cake accordingly.  I have some amazing friends... so thoughtful and kind!  One of my favorite things about it is that it allows me to try cake from different bakeries that I might not normally find on my own...

Such as the lovely cupcakes that Kim brought me for my birthday from this cute little bakery called That Takes the Cake on Union Street.  In that box with the cute little logo was a mini red velvet (that I promptly ate, hence why it is not pictured here), a chocolate cupcake with raspberry frosting (the pink one), a vanilla cupcake with coconut frosting (the white one), and a German chocolate cupcake that was seriously so amazing.  I've never seen a German chocolate cupcake, and have only recently experienced German chocolate cake, and I was super impressed with this cupcake in particular.  I've got to say, in my mind this place easily surpasses Kara's or even Sprinkles.  Don't get me wrong, I love both Kara's and Sprinkles' cupcakes, but I have my gripes with both of them.  Kara's frosting tends to be a little on the oily side for me, and Sprinkles frosting is just so thick and dense and the frosting to cake ratio is a little on the high side.  That, and a fresh Sprinkles cupcake is amazingly light and delicious, but they wilt fairly quickly.  I guess that's the thing, right?  These cupcakes are meant to be eaten right away.  Except who goes to Sprinkles and just gets one for that moment?  Okay, maybe it's only me who always wants one to bring home too.  Anyway, this was not supposed to be a comparison so much as a statement of my love for this bakery.  Their cupcakes are the perfect blend of dense and fluffy and their frosting... Uh-mazing.  Their buttercream is firm and flavorful without being completely overwhelming and their frosting to cake ratio is excellent :D

One of the things I particularly enjoy about That Takes the Cake is the way they name their cakes.  Red Velvet is not "red velvet," it's "Gentlemen Prefer Redheads."  Vanilla is not plain old vanilla, it's "Blonde Bombshell."  Another thing I found inspiring is the way they pair the conventional with the unconventional, like that German chocolate cupcake.  Or their cocktail cupcakes that I have yet to taste, but some day will.  It's the little things like this that set a bakery apart and help it stand out in my mind.  The cute decor and the fantastic cupcakes also help ;)  I've only had their cupcakes twice, but believe me, I'll be back.  Especially since it's on my way home from work :D

Monday, September 14, 2009

Red Velvet

(I'm totally sitting here trying to think of a creative title for this blog post, but creativity is severely lacking at the moment.  That, or there really isn't anything witty to say about Red Velvet cupcakes)

Speaking of which, why DO they call them Red Velvet cupcakes (and why do I feel the need to capitalize it every time)?  I've always wondered.  I've read a little bit of the history of them (I'm nerdy and like to learn about things like that), and I guess it simply comes from the color... but velvet?  Are they supposed to be smooth or something?  Anyway...

I'll be honest, I've never really been a huge fan of red velvet cupcakes (I'm over the capitalizing, as you can see).  They're good, but they're not that good.  They've always felt a little overhyped and underwhelming to me.  That is, until I had Sheree's red velvet with her yummy whipped light fluffy frosting.  You see, I've got no problem with the cake per se.  I prefer a more clean white or yellow cake buttery flavor or a very rich chocolate flavor, but red velvet does tend to be just as good even though I can't quite place the flavor (they say slightly chocolatey, but I don't ever feel like it really comes through).  It's the frosting, however, that always gets to me.  Red velvet's frosting tends to be dense, overly cream cheesy, and sometimes it's good but most of the time I feel like it just overshadows the cake.  Or maybe that's just Sprinkle's way of doing things... because that's really the only other red velvet experience I've had.  That's all to say that when I was introduced properly to red velvet (in a form that I enjoyed, with frosting that I adored), I got a glimpse into why this is recently such a fad cake.  And I determined that I would make it myself one day.

Now, I won't post the recipe until I do a little research about copyrights (or can find a link online), but Martha does have a wonderful red velvet recipe in her book.  One of the things I particularly enjoyed about it is that it uses vegetable oil instead of butter.  Normally red velvet (and every other type of homemade cake) requires a good amount of butter.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that this one doesn't.  And despite it's lack of butter, it still turned out light, fluffy, and quite delicious.  After baking the recipe myself, I think I've determined what the flavor of red velvet is supposed to be and why it's always paired with cream cheese frosting.  I think it's the slight tartness of the buttermilk in the cake and the cream cheese in the frosting, coupled with the light vanilla and chocolate flavors in the cake and the vanilla in the frosting that come together very nicely.  Very nicely indeed.  I didn't have all of the ingredients to make Martha's cream cheese frosting (I will do it eventually, and plan on using it with the pumpkin cupcake recipe that Ginson sent me), so I went with the recipe in my America's Test Kitchen Cookbook and love Love LOVED it.  It has the same lightness of Sheree's frosting with a little more butteryness to it.  It's seriously just cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and sour cream.  A little heart attack waiting to happen.  Good thing you consume small quantities of frosting with cupcakes :)

It's official people.  I'm in love with red velvet.  Well, red velvet on my terms, I suppose.  It's too bad I won't be making them again any time soon, as I hope to not repeat a recipe until I'm done with all of them... unless there's a special request... or a trip to visit Karis (since I've promised her some the next time I see her).  We'll see!

Oh yes, one last thing... Often when I make these cupcakes I make an entire batch, bring some to work, leave some at home for my family to eat, and give out the rest to random people I know who enjoy cupcakes.  So if you have a favorite, holler and I'll send some your way the next time I make some :D

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why Cake?

You may ask.  And I would reply, "good question."  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  I was up late unable to sleep, dreaming about the red velvet cupcakes I had just made (whose goodness I had yet to sample) and inspiration struck.  I like cake.  I like to bake.  I just got this super spiffy Martha Stewart cupcakes book for my birthday.  Why not bake my way through the book and record the hidden gems that arise?  Julie did it with Julia, why not Christine with Martha?  As I thought about it more, the idea blossomed from a midnight musing to an actual arranging of ideas.  With this blog I could post a recipe I particularly loved, or put up pictures of my most recent creation.  I mean, people have photo blogs all the time, why not about what I've created in the kitchen?  I mean, sure it's edible and not quite "art" but it takes skill, persistence, and a genuine love for what you're doing.  And every once in a while, creativity is indeed involved.  So my "why nots?", left unanswered, quickly became, "okay, I will."

The one question really remains in my mind is "who really will read about my baking exploits?"  I have no idea.  But I'm eager to record them.  If there is one thing I really truly enjoy doing for the sake of doing it, it's baking.  I love to purchase ingredients, follow recipes, and watch those many different ingredients come to life in a form entirely different from it's original one (that of gooey, lumpy, mess to yummy, scrumptuous cake).  I am, after all, one of those people.  The type of people who likes to make something out of nothing.  You know, the kind who likes to interpret life through things like baking and create metaphorical allusions from every experience of life.  I'm that girl.  And I'm okay with it.  This blog will probably be a little bit of this, a little bit of that.  Maybe deep thoughts will flow from baking.  Maybe I'll just show you how wonderfully amazing my red velvet cupcakes turned out.  The beauty of blogging is that the options are endless.

I hope that answers the question.  I don't know that it really does.  I tend to get rather verbose and forget the point I was trying to make.  What was I saying?  Oh yes... why cake?

Put simply, the blog exists because I heart cake.  I really do.  And I'm here to share it with you.  (And yes, I realize that all rhymes.)