Archives for February 2012

Recipe: Bear’s Chocolate and Raspberry Mousse Cake

Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake
At the beginning of the summer Bear and I had this cake that we haven’t been able to get out of our heads. It was a sponge cake layered with three different versions of chocolate mousse, and the effect was rich and chocolatey while also being so dang edible I could have eaten three pieces in a row. It is a very rare chocolate dish that makes me want seconds, and this was exactly the right level of richness to make me go all Cookie Monster on it.

As the months passed Bear kept thinking about this cake and how he’d make his version a little bit different. Instead of layers of milk, white, and dark chocolate mousse, Bear decided to make a milk chocolate ganache, a raspberry white chocolate mousse, and top it with a dark chocolate glaze. It is sick. In the best possible way. Totally sick. The change in textures between the three different fillings keeps things interesting and the flavors are bright and beautiful.

There are several different components to this cake that would make typing out a recipe pretty complicated, but all you really need is the Raspberry Mousse. A simple sponge cake recipe – even a boxed cake would be great – sings when filled with this mousse and topped with your favorite chocolate frosting.

Raspberry Mousse

1 C heavy cream
1 1/2 T powdered pectin
3 oz sugar
1/2 C egg whites
1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin powder
1/4 C cold water
4 oz white chocolate, melted
1 1/4 C strained raspberry puree
3 T lemon juice

Whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Reserve in the refrigerator.

Combine the pectin powder with sugar. Add the egg whites. Heat the mixture over a simmering water bath until it reaches 140 F, stirring constantly to make sure that the egg whites on the bottom do not get too hot and cook. Remove from the heat and whip until the mixture is cold and has formed stiff peaks. Reserve the meringue.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and set aside to soften.

Stir the melted white chocolate into the raspberry puree. Make sure the raspberry puree is not colder than room temperature. Add the lemon juice.

Place the gelatin mixture over a bain-marie and heat until dissolved. Do not overheat. Quickly add the gelatin to the raspberry mixture. Gradually fold this mixture into the reserved meringue. Fold into the reserved whipped cream. Refrigerate for about 2 hours to set.

If you serve this mousse by itself – in lovely glasses, say – you should add more sugar until it’s sweet enough to eat alone. This recipe is quite tart to act as a great companion to the sweetness of the chocolate and cake. But sometimes I love a tart dessert all on its own.


Year of Pleasures: Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby
A Hobby Lobby opened by us! A HOBBY LOBBY!! I was there the morning it opened like the total craft nerd I am. Hip hip hooray.


Getting back on the horse

Atti sleeping
The last few weeks have been tough around here. I know, I know, when are they not, right? Such is my lot in life.

Some of it is just the stuff of every day life – the chaos of a new puppy, the entire family having the flu for two straight weeks, the filth that develops when the whole family has the flu for two straight weeks – some of it is quite a big bit of health news that deserves a whole post of its own another day, and some of it is stuff that we actually planned and signed up for. The fact that it all comes at us at once, that is just classic ‘how we roll.’

Atti’s fourth birthday, coupled with some ramping up of some of the symptoms of my endometriosis, made us reevaluate where we’ve been with the whole fertility thing. We’ve been trying for baby #2 since Atti was still baking in his little plastic box in the hospital, knowing that the odds were everlastingly against us and the best possible chance we had was immediately after a pregnancy. But that hasn’t worked out for us. I have a whole bunch of friends who went through endometriosis and once that first child came they became pros at it. I have two different friends who tried for YEARS, had their first child and then had three more in three years. Not so much for us. Not even a pregnancy, let alone one that stuck around.

As each month went by, the pain came fiercer and fiercer. When I had maxed out on advil and I had used up the last of the painkillers from Bear’s wisdom tooth surgery, I knew it was time to face going back in for help. Kaiser has many virtues, especially when you’re the parent of a child with special needs, but doctors who have the time to listen to your concerns and consider your entire history are really not available. My OBGYN is perfectly nice, but is also under pressure to crank out the visits so I can’t exactly sit down and tell him every single thing we’ve been through. He wanted to put me straight onto drugs that would increase my fertility until I insisted on treating the endometriosis first.

So I am currently on Lupron. This is my third time with this drug, but I manage to forget what it’s like every time. The massive mood swings, the emotions, the hot flashes. I went to the doctors office my normal self, got a quick shot, and I came home transformed into Mrs. Hyde. Our plan, that we came up with in literally four minutes worth of doctors visit, is to do a quick three month course of the Lupron, and then go onto Clomid to increase my fertility and give Bear’s few little swimmers as many targets as possible. This plan sounds great to me, but I confess I’m a little worried. No doctor has ever suggested such a thing. And I’ve seen a lot of doctors. Does that mean this guy is a creative problem solver? Or didn’t give me the time and attention I needed to make an appropriate treatment plan? I have no idea. I just know I got the Lupron I went in there for, and I’m willing to try just about anything to have another baby.

But I’ve heard that the emotional upheaval of Lupron is nothing compared to Clomid. If Lupron makes me feel like I have PMS, Clomid will apparently make me feel like I have bipolar disorder. If Bear and I stay married through all this work of trying to have another kid, we’ll all know it’s true love.

The hardest part of all this is not the medications or the treatment plans or even the mood swings. It’s that in getting proactive about my fertility, we have to open this door again and face all the loss and disappointment we feel every month it doesn’t work. During these last four years there were loads of months that it didn’t work out when it didn’t bother me. It’s easy to get caught up in the stuff of life and not pay super close attention to the big empty spot in your heart. But getting serious and really doing the work means paying attention. To my body, to my fertility, and that means to heartache. It’s so much easier to just close that door and skip merrily along, but what I really want is on the other side. So I have to be brave and face the loss in hopes that someday I’ll get to face the bounty.





Failed Knitting

Failed Knitting
I’ve been working on these handtowels from Mason Dixon knits for 3 years. I had big plans of making a big stack of them in my bathroom, even making the perfect stand for them to go on, all the while refusing to acknowledge that the yarn I had picked out for them was all wrong.

The pattern called for linen yarn, but linen yarn is really expensive, so each handtowel would have cost about $20 to make. For knitters who just love the process and the chance to work with some gorgeous linen yarn, that might not be a problem at all, but for me, balancing my craft budget amongst all my different mediums and projects, it was too much. So I cheaped out and went for cotton yarn, thinking only about how it would look and hold up, and not so much about the actual job it would do drying your hands.

It didn’t.

For months I’ve been washing my hands in this bathroom, waving them over these towels, and then walking into the kitchen to dry them on a kitchen towel. After 3 years of careful, slow, knitting, I could not bring myself to face the fact that these towels just weren’t cutting it. It was past time to move on.

When I read knitting blogs that talk about a project not working out so they unraveled the knit and used the yarn for something else, I just couldn’t imagine it. I’m such a slow knitter that it caused me physical pain to rip my stitches just to fix a small mistake. Undoing a whole project, one that I worked on for literal YEARS, made me want to cry. But I’m always telling people that a failed project is still time well spent on learning the skills. So I’ll just have to take my own advice, find some other great project for this yarn, and find a new way to dry my hands.


Miracle Foundation Primer

Smashbox Primer

For this round of BlogHer’s Life Well Lived series, we were asked, “What are your favorite beauty tools?”

It was really tempting to just get snarky and say “Photoshop.” Or I could get earnest and talk about the benefits of a positive attitude and a smile. But I think we all know what we really want to hear with a question like that. We want the fountain of youth. We want something that will transform what we don’t like about ourselves into gleaming perfection. We want something that will permanently make us over and cost no money.

I don’t have anything like that, so I’ve settled for something that actually keeps my makeup where I put it, when I actually go to the trouble to put it on.

I’ve had this little sample size of makeup primer in my makeup bag for AGES, which you can tell by the condition of the bottle, but I never used it because I really didn’t know what it was for. I never wear full makeup complete with foundation and powder, so it didn’t seem applicable to me. As part of Project Put Together I pulled it out and gave it a try and became an instant convert.

Even if you don’t wear foundation regularly, you probably wear something on your face. A little powder, a little blush, a little concealer, and if you’re like me it’s all gone almost before you leave the house. My skin absorbs makeup like it’s oxygen and within a matter of an hour the concealer is gone, the blush is a memory, and my eyeliner is halfway down my cheek.

But when I wear the primer, everything stays put. It doesn’t feel heavy, but it still somehow provides a barrier between my skin and the makeup and keeps everything from migrating. My friends with fine lines swear it works miracles by keeping the makeup from collecting and highlighting those wrinkles, and I know it does the same for some of my large pores. But even if it did nothing for the condition of my skin, just being able to count on not looking like a crazy person with my makeup in disarray is still enough to make it a miracle product to me.

What are your favorite beauty tools? Join the conversation at BlogHer and get all kinds of great recommendations. You can also enter to win in the latest Life Well Lived Sweepstakes!


Recipe: Mexican Gumbo or Tortilla Soup

Mexican Gumbo
This recipe is really two recipes in one. For starters I made a great tortilla soup, and then by tarting it up with a few additional fixings, you get a “Mexican Gumbo.” I ordered something similar at Qdoba, a casual dining chain restaurant, and once I tasted it I wanted to do a total facepalm. Everybody’s got their own favorite tortilla soup recipe, but adding some rice and beans and making it into a stew? So simple and yet so genius. How did we all miss it for so long?

Tortilla Soup

3 links of chorizo
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
64 oz chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp red pepper flakes
diced cilantro

Mexican Gumbo
choice of beans
sour cream
tortilla chips
tortilla soup

For the soup:

Remove the chorizo from its casings and crumble into a hot pan. Brown. Toss in the onion and cook with the sausage until translucent. Add all the rest of the ingredients and let simmer for at least 30 minutes. Adjust the spice to taste.

To make into a gumbo, layer some rice and beans into a bowl, top with the soup, and then add your choice of toppings. Be sure to crumble tortilla chips on the top because that crunch is so yummy with the soup.

I went a bit easy on the spices, but if you’re going to use the soup in the gumbo you’ll want to make it a little bit spicier than you like. The rice and beans really bring down the heat level, so it can stand up to a lot more spice than if you were eating it on its own.


Year of Pleasures: Organized Closet

Organized closet
Since I had to take everything out of the closet back when we cleaned the carpets, I arranged everything all pretty once I put them back in. It’s a little bit crazy how peaceful I feel looking at this picture. I don’t need a trip to a spa, I just need to hang out in my closet for a while.


Minivan Mom

I have reached a new milestone in my life. I have become a woman who owns a minivan.

I really resisted this day. The minivan of my imagination was a place where old McDonald’s wrappers went to die. Where you drove slower than the speedlimit and shouted at drivers who weren’t properly appreciating your precious cargo. Where you cashed in any last vestige of your own personality to fall into the endless pit of Motherhood.

I may have been projecting a few of my own issues onto a hapless inanimate object.

Even though we just have Atti, having a child with motor issues means travel is COMP.LI.CATED. When I was driving my PT Cruiser around, I’d have to put Atti’s wheelchair in the trunk after lowering the handles and folding the seat down. The Cruiser has a pretty generous trunk so it wasn’t so bad, but trying to run errands where I had to stop at several different places, assemble the chair, load Atti into it, run my quick errand, load him back in the car, break the chair back down and hoist it into the car…Ug. Exhausting even to remember. And impossible to do if I needed that space for groceries. If we took Bear’s Prius to grandma’s house we had to lower the handles, fold the chair, and take off the wheels. It was doable, but far from ideal.

Then Atti got another piece of equipment. We just got a gate trainer to work on Atti’s walking, and that sucker doesn’t break down at all. It’s a huge square made of metal pipes. There’s no hauling that thing around in a regular old trunk. If we want to travel to grandma’s and use both his trainer and his wheelchair over the course of the trip, we would have had to take two cars. It was time to let go of my prejudices and face reality.

We have a cousin who is a car dealer, so he set out to find us something great and we got this car for a really great price. It is so awesome to have people who know what they’re doing take care of you in an area where you know nothing. Hooray for help. Atti is thrilled because it came with a DVD player installed, and I’m thrilled because I can just lift the back gate and toss in all the equipment I’ll ever need. The space we suddenly have is kind of a crazy adjustment. I feel like Atti and I are just rattling around in there.

But mark my words, I will not get stickfigures on the back window. That is just too far for me to go. Maybe instead I’ll get flame decals and put those on the side.


Tutorial: Machine Applique

Machine Appliqued Quilt
I think it’s safe to say that I am a fan of machine applique. In all my earlier tutorials I’ve offered tips and brief instructions, but today I thought I’d get a little more specific. I made this quilt for my dear dear friend Sara and her new little pumpkin Emerson. In her family foxes have special meaning, and in my family trees have special meaning, so I designed this little image to show Em that Auntie Tree will be watching over him.

Appliqued Quilt Step 1
The first thing you need is some fusible web. I go through this stuff faster than milk. It’s basically a double sided tape that becomes sticky when you iron it. This will hold your pieces tightly in place while you’re sewing around them.

Appliqued Quilt Step 2
Iron the wrong side of the fabric onto a piece of the fusible web. The backside of the web is a thick white paper, so once I’ve ironed and it’s cooled, I sketch my shape right onto this paper and cut it out of the fabric. Just remember that your image will be reversed, so be careful about lettering. If you don’t want to worry about that, you can sketch your image on another piece of paper and cut the fabric out using that sheet as a template.

Appliqued Quilt Step 3
With all your pieces cut out, remove the paper backing and position them as you want to sew them. On the fox you can see how I added details beyond just the silhouette. The ears and tail will be made in white fabric, but the line of his hip will be outlined with stitching. When your pieces are in place, iron them down.

Now it’s time to sew. First of all, this does not need a fancy sewing machine. If you can adjust your stitches, you can machine applique. You’ll need thread in an appropriate color – I usually match mine to the fabric, but you can get a great contrast effect too – and some kind of a stabilizer. The stabilizer keeps the fabric stiff and flat so that the stitches don’t pull too tight and create a big puckery mess. You can get it at any fabric store, but I’ve always used flattened coffee filters. It does the job super great and really can’t get much cheaper.

This is the back of the piece I’m showing you here so you can see the coffee filters in action. Just place one behind the area you’re appliqueing. Set your stitch to a zig zag stitch with a really short stitch length so that the zigs are almost right on top of each other. If you want a thick line of stitching, set your stitch width wide. Not so thick, not so wide. I normally like to keep the width in proportion to the shape I’m sewing. Smaller shapes get a thinner width. Sew around the edge of each shape so that those little raw edges get all covered up in pretty little stitches.

Stitch on one shape at a time, starting with the pieces that go underneath, and layering the other pieces on top. To add in details like the fox’s eyes and hip, just use the same stitch and go over the line you drew. Once you’re done with your applique you just tear off all these coffee filters, give it a good iron, and use it however you want to.

Appliqued Quilt Step 4
This time I put it in a quilt. A couple of borders, a little bit of patchwork, some stipple quilting, a little binding, you know, no big.

I don’t know what it is I find so satisfying about machine applique. Those smooth satin stitches are just so neat and orderly, I love them. And of course the chance to personalize everything appeals to the blogging ego in me.


Mascara on the go


I leave the house without makeup more often than I don’t. But on those days when I don’t I’ll catch a glimpse of myself and think I need a nap. Not really, it’s just that my eyelashes aren’t doing it on their own anymore.

For those days when I don’t feel like makeup, and then regret it when I leave the house, I keep an extra tube of mascara handy in the glove compartment of my car. It’s a simple solution, but it makes a difference.