Thursday, May 29, 2014

Random Thought Bytes. I'm Either A Multi-tasking Genius or A Complete Flibberty-Gibbit

Can't decide.

Every time I start something, my brain is like, "HEY, look--Yarn!   HEY! Cross-stitch!  Oooh---OIL PAINTS!" 

All my life I've always had numerous interests and projects going simultaneously, and it's showing no sign of letting up.  Oh, sure, I always eventually finish the thing, but I never work on Just One Thing, straight through.  Maybe I'm just unfocused, but I find it impossible to start one thing, like, say a fair-isle knitted sweater for Shane, and then FINISH it before starting something else.

So, my projects are all in various stages of "Look, it's almost done!"

You will ALWAYS see something like this by my chair
I am very proud to say that I DID totally just finish two sweaters that I started about 4 years ago before I got crazy with wedding cakes:  A gorgeous dark purple ribbed alpaca sweater for me and an ivory and tan fair-isle sweater for him (read: SUPER COMPLICATED YOU GUYS).  I love complicated sweaters, but when you're working a lot, the last thing you want to do is sit down at night and focus on something that requires every second of your brain and eyes for everysinglestitch in everysinglerow, or the whole thing will be wrong and no one will ever wear it, EVER, NEVER EVER.  So--those two projects are finally done.  Now, in just 4 short months, we can wear them.
Thank goodness it's stretchy; I started it 15 pounds ago.

See? You can't look away from this pattern while working on it.  Also, sorry, my phone camera has some damage to the left side of the lens--I didn't *add* that hazy effect.

I'm also doing the final detail work on a giant cross-stitch picture, which feels like a flippin' tapestry at this point.  I started working on it like 10 years ago.  OK, so I started it and then let it sit with about 2 hours of work done on it, in the corner of my bedroom, for about 5 YEARS before I picked it back up.  But still.  It's almost done.  It should be actually finished about the time that my girls both graduate, move out, finish college, get married, and no longer care that I made it for their upstairs living room.  But the grandkids might love it.

I also decided to finally dive into my Cookbook Project this year, which consists of me poring over every recipe card and cookbook I own, and compiling all of our favorite recipes into one book that I wanted to have printed in hard-bound loveliness as a graduation present for my oldest.  Her graduation is next week, so, um, yeah....It does have about 208 pages done, though, but then SPRING! Yay, plants! Time to start seeds and keep track of garden chores and order fall tulip bulbs.  So, maybe I'll give it to her as a going-to-college gift.  Or Christmas.

After I finished my lovely purple alpaca sweater, with the somehow very limited quantity of yarn I bought on a trip to a New Jersey alpaca farm (I was visiting my aunt--I'm not Martha or anything), I still had some yarn left.  So I made myself a pretty hat.  And then some mittens.  And another hat.

Then I realized--Hey! I have tons of various quantities of different yarns.  Like, a WHOLE YARN STORE WORTH of my own multicolored crazy closet FULL of yarn.  Guys.  I have yarn from sweaters and afghans I knitted in 1988.  It's literally a whole closet.  It looks like a yarn store, only it'd be more like that "Check This Out" tent/sale booth that someone's sitting in front of in a folding chair, out in the corner of a gas station parking lot...


It occurred to my grasshopper brain that, HEY--I have a ton of yarn.  I have a ton of time.  I love to knit.  I can only wear so many sweaters (and believe me, I have a LOT of sweaters).  Why not make all that yarn into hats and/or mittens?  It was that, or make a king-sized afghan with one million different-colored stripes...

THEN, we went camping last weekend and I spent about 5 days away from technology, which is probably a whole other post (if you have never turned OFF your phone and computer--and left it off--for 5 days, I highly recommend it).  We spent one morning browsing our favorite farmer's market, and there was this awesome hippie chick with dreds, selling...hats.  The same hats I love to make.  FOR SIXTY DOLLARS APIECE.  What?  Are you even kidding me right now?   Another lady was selling mittens for $55 a pair, and there was a sweater hanging there, with some basic cables in it, just like the ones I make as gifts.  And it was $460.00.  American. Dollars.


OK, I guess, it doesn't matter.  Maybe the artisans just make that stuff, drag it all to town, set up the booths, watch people read those price tags and choke on their organic coffee, then tear it all down and go home...But the point is YARN.  I have yarn, and I have time, and I'm always knitting.  So, I think I will start making hats in all kinds of colors and fun patterns and pile them up, then either sell them online (I haven't ever been on Etsy, but I know it's out there, waiting to suck me in, like Pinterest did), or give them as holiday gifts.

Not that I'm the first person to think, "Hats.  Yes.  We're going to be so rich."

Either way, I win, because it gives me something to do in the evening, AND it will clean out that closet and all those baskets full of yarn, AND keep me from owning 75 sweaters.  So it's like I'm doing us a favor, because I'm also keeping my closet emptier, which means we won't need to remodel the bedroom to accommodate all my sweaters, which is also a win.  Right?

Oh.  Also, I'm studying French!  Yes, for real.  Because I feel like it, and also because we're planning a long trip there next year, or possibly retiring there someday (shh, I didn't say that out loud), and I want to be able to say more than "Hello, your food is lovely. Where can I charge my phone, please?"

(On that note, if anyone speaks actual fluent French, keep me in mind for later when I can't find someone to converse with.  My cats and my kids are already tired of listening to me...)

And, no...I haven't had coffee yet today.  This is just my regular brain after a weekend of camping and getting enough sleep...

I need to go, I have a hat to work on, lawns to mow, a garden to plant, and a French lesson, plus a graduation cake and a party to plan, and my mom gets here Tuesday for two weeks, so June will be crazy busy, and I may not be around here much.  But I will think of you all fondly while I'm picking colors for each hat.

Thank YOU for listening, too.  Just realized this is a rambl-y post about sort of nothing, and for some reason, it made me think of that SNL skit that Will Ferrell did of Harry Carey, so HEY, here's a laugh for you.  Have a great day!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Insomnia, Anagrams, and Sleepless Thought Processes

Sheep are way, way overrated.
We celebrated Mother's Day by staying at a night at a nearby town on a lake and treated ourselves to a lake view and a couple of meals out.  It was lovely.  Except for the part where I didn't sleep ALMOST AT ALL, ALL NIGHT.

This isn't really a surprise, because I've dealt with insomnia all my life.  I handle it by reading in bed or by getting up and making lists of everything that my brain keeps trying to remind me about.

What made the other night memorable is that every time I rolled over, my mind was working on a blog post using the word "INSOMNIA" as an anagram, totally without my permission.  Which must mean I'm creative even when I'm not awake, right? Or that my mind just never SHUTS UP.

This is what it sounds like to have insomnia.  Let me know if this sounds familiar.

1:35 a.m.  

OK.  Anagram for "insomnia".  "I" is for...what?...I?  I...Iiiii...can't sleep?  Yeah.  That works.  OK, next letter.

"N".  Hmm.  "N" is for....umm...No sleep for you?  OK.

What's the next letter?  "S".  I don't know.  Sleep?  I'm not good at these.  Shut UP.

My neck hurts.  This stupid hotel pillow is giving me a neck ache.

I could rip this pillow open and make like TWO WHOLE REGULAR HUMAN pillows out of it.

I wonder how they'd put that on our bill... "One destroyed pillow = $150.00".

I should have just brought my own pillow.

I wonder what that would look like, if I walked through the hotel carrying my pillow.  I'd look like a kid at a sleepover.

I should have brought my body pillow too, because you might as well bring EVERYthing you need.

I could wear footie pajamas to make it official.

Do they make adult footie pajamas? I think they do.  They'd probably be too warm, though.

I'm too warm right now.

2:20 a.m. 

That heater has been blowing on high for like 3 hours in this hotel room.

Now I can't hear anything but that HOTEL ROOM HEATER BLOWING ON HIGH.  It's drying out my eyeballs.

I have to go turn it down.  If I don't turn it down, we will possibly all be smothered by this continuously blowing hot air.

It's really loud, too.  How can everyone sleep through that racket? Maybe it's relaxing to them.  Like white noise.  Maybe it could drone me to sleep...

That's not relaxing at all.

OK.  I turned it down.  But the fan won't turn down.  Apparently that sound is what that fan sounds like all. the. time.  On ALL the settings.  But at least I think the TEMP is down.

Hopefully I didn't just turn on the A/C.  I don't know, because I was just randomly turning dials in the DARK.

Now in two hours we'll all be freezing.  And it will still be loud.

3:48 a.m.

Why is there a light on outside?  It's shining right in through that drape.  I swear it's shining right in my EYES.

Who left the drapes open?

I should have shut the drapes while I was up.

I wonder if it's quieter on the balcony?

No.  It's like 36 degrees out there.  Plus, if you go out there, you'll wake the whole family up opening the sliding door.

Maybe if they woke up and moved around a little, they'd snore less.

I wish I had ear plugs with me.  That might help.

No ear plugs.  Wow.  Are you a bad packer or what?  Now every single sound will be magnified a million times.  Especially that heater/air-conditioning unit that sounds like it's going to continue filling this room with air nonstop until we leave.

I wonder if you can get sick from too much hot heater air blowing into a hotel room? Probably not, but I bet it's pretty dehydrating.

Great.  Now I'm thirsty.

Wow, that bathroom door couldn't have squeaked any louder, and I loved ripping open that securely wrapped cellophane cup for my drink, in the dark.  And yet, no one woke up.  Amazing.

4:10 a.m.

I'm still too hot.  If I take off my pajama bottoms, the kids might notice and possibly wonder why I have no pants on, right?

I can not physically lay here for one more SECOND in these pants.

OK.  No pants is better.  I feel cooler already.

I should have gone while I was IN there...

If I get up and walk to the bathroom in just a shirt, what if my kids are awake?  I could be responsible for some terrible childhood issue caused by seeing your mother in no pants.

Tomorrow's Mother's Day, so it's not a good day for me to cause new issues.  It can wait til morning.

5:39 a.m. 

Is it is me, or is the sun coming up right now?  Why didn't I close the drape when I was up?

And...yes...there's the TV coming on at 7:30 a.m..  Tah-dah...MORNING EVERYONE!!!

Back to the anagram, I never seemed to get past the "S", so I thought I'd do it for real, now that I'm awake, (although not fully rested yet).  This is what an insomniac's night feels like:

I  -  I can't sleep.
N -  No sleep for me.
S  -  Some people are asleep and snoring, right now.
O  - OMG why can't I just SLEEP?
M  - Maybe if I put in ear plugs I won't hear anything.  Then I could sleep.
N  - No ear plugs available.
I  - I still can't sleep.
A  - Ahmigash...the sun is up.

Today it's finally lovely outside, the lawn needs mowed, and there are a million other things I should be doing, but my eyelid is developing a "tic", which means that what I need right now is a NAP.

Friday, May 9, 2014

BUT I DON'T LIKE BLUE...And Other First World Problems

"New and Improved"

Am I getting old, or is it really necessary for food marketing companies to keep changing things that are PERFECT THE WAY THEY ARE ALREADY?  Can't some things be left alone, to just exist in their already perfect state? Is it me, or does anyone else feel like they could really get behind a food label that says: "XYZ Product…EXACTLY the way you remember it!!" Then I wouldn't be subjected to late-night snack surprises, which everyone knows is a bad time to surprise anyone.

For evidence, may I present…Exhibit A:
What?? NO.  They were FINE the way they WERE.
This, right here, is a perfect example of something that did NOT need to be improved or changed.  Sour Patch Kids were doing just fine.  They didn't need another color.  They didn't need another flavor.  We, as Sour Patch fans, weren't yearning for the flavor of …"blue".  Blue? What even IS that?  Raspberry? And since when was raspberry-flavored candy always blue?  Guys.  Raspberries are never blue.  Never.  NEVER EVER.  Everyone knows this.  Blueberries aren't even blue, but at least that's a comparison I could understand.  And while we're on the subject, there's actually a color called "raspberry”, AND IT IS THE RIGHT COLOR, so why not use that for raspberry candies?   Ok, digressing…

Anyway, I just wanted to point this out to the makers of these products.  Like, hello, people in suits:  If a product has been around for like a million years and has possibly even been identified in ancient cave drawings, then chances are THIS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT NEEDS TO BE MESSED WITH.  Leave it alone.

It's time to take a stand.  I let a lot of stuff slide.  I rolled my eyes at the new "Coke", back in the day. I was only semi-OK with it when they added blue M&M's.  I was actually excited to see a Milky Way Dark, and I *get* the idea of tropical fruit Skittles, (though it still just seems wrong).  What was great about those changes, though, was that they are options, not this in-your-face, this-is-the-new-program, kind of thing.  So, dear marketers, this is just where I'm drawing the line.  Right here.  Leave the Sour Patch alone.  I don't want to eat "blue" Sour Patch Kids.  I want my citric acid products to remain the perfect mix of yellow, orange, red, and green that they've always been.  Having those blue ones in there just throws off the whole groove.  

I jubilantly bought what was possibly the planet's last existing bag of what are now the "old, unimproved" Sour Patch...the kind that don't say "NOW INCLUDING BLUE", the other night.  I guess I'll have to start lurking on ebay, watching for any others to surface, or learn to like blue.

So, I'd just like to go on record as highly recommending that the companies go back to the drawing board on this one.  I'm thinking they could possibly consider funneling some of those extra "new/improved" dollars towards something worthwhile that needs actual improvement.  Like shredded wheat.  Because, hello--shredded wheat.  Not even the iced version helped THAT product, and that was back in like 1976.  Pretty sure the whole shredded wheat concept could use some looking into.

Get with the program, marketers.  I'll be over here, sorting out my Sour Patch Kids.

Anyone else find an old tried-and-true favorite suddenly given an unnecessary "update"?  

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Cold and Blustery Pinterest-y Monday, I Guess, and Some Cakes I Have Loved

A cake I did for a magazine photo shoot, which published in March 2013
If you've read some of my older posts, you know I quit the wedding cake business about a year ago after 12 years of pretty much nothing BUT cake.  Since shutting down the business website, though, I never did get around to uploading some of my cakes to Pinterest.

Since Pinterest is one of only two places left online where any proof of my work "exists", and I get asked a lot to show pictures, I felt like this was a Very Important Thing I Should Do.  Because, you know, people might need to see this stuff. Or I just need validation. Or maybe I don't feel like doing any more laundry or dishes today, guys. Either way, I just totally blew off like 3 hours of time, in the interest of "sharing is caring", right?

So...if you're curious how I spent the last 12 years, or you're just really bored...go there and check it out.

Allow me to toot my own horn at this link to  --> MY CAKES ON PINTEREST

Yes, It's a CAKE.  I made a hollow sugar barrel and all the other details out of sugar too.  LOVED this one so much that I took about 50 pictures of the whole process of building this, from oven to finished board.
P.S.  I'm not on Pinterest often enough to even remember my password for the site, so if you leave comments there, I should warn you that unfortunately I also probably won't see them... (sorry, just sayin')

Thursday, May 1, 2014

That OTHER Time I Was Almost Famous, When "Cupcake Wars" Called...

As most of you know, I spent about 12 years baking wedding cakes, dealing with awkward cake requests and even odder customers, built a bakery that almost took over my life, taught me to multitask like nobody's business, got to work with Gordon Ramsey/become almost famous, then closed it and came home to actually live my life...

But there was one phone call that I took, back in the summer of 2009 or 2010 (can't remember), that could have changed everything.  Who knows if it would have been good or bad?  

I remember it was hot out, and I was wrestling a 50-pound bag of cake flour out of my car in front of the bakery, when my business phone rang, with an out-of-state phone number.  Not one to miss a phone call, because--hello, that's just the kind of phone service I provide, OK?--I balanced the flour on my hip with my right arm, jammed my cell phone between my ear and my shoulder, threw my purse over my other shoulder, reached up to close the back hatch on my car with my free hand, and tried to sound like I wasn't standing in 95-degree heat holding 50 pounds of flour with one arm.

Me:  Hello, this is Stefanie, how can I help you? (almost shut the trunk, but not quite, so they can't hear the *click*)

Caller:  Hi, Stefanie! This is Cameron.  From FOOD NETWORK.  How are you today?

Me:  Hi, Cameron! I'm great, how are you?  (like he calls me all the time...)

Cameron from FOOD NETWORK:  Good, thanks.  Hey, I'm calling to see if you've heard of a new show we have on Food Network, called Cupcake Wars, and invite you to be a contestant!

YOU COULD BE FAMOUS! or fail horribly on cable TV...but either way--YAY! TV!
Me:  Oh.  Um...I love Food Network, but I don't actually *have* TV, so...

Cameron:  You don't have TV? (people always say this like you just told them you live in a van down by the river).

Me:  (my arm is starting to shake a bit, because I'm standing in the street holding 50 POUNDS OF FLOUR).  Yeah, but I've always enjoyed when I get a chance to watch cake challenge shows.  What's your show about?  

(He seems disappointed that a baker of my obvious stature in the cake world hasn't heard of his little program.  I feel just a little bit superior, but I try not to crush his enthusiasm, because I'm nice like that.)

Cameron:  Well, we call bakers, like yourself, from around the country, and you come and compete for a chance to win $10,000.  The winner has to fully design and construct a display, based on a theme, then bake and decorate a million cupcakes in 2 hours, for a big event that will be a surprise. The event will be something really important, like the Oscars or the Grammys or the Space Shuttle Landing or something.  

(Also, I think the quantity of cupcakes was actually 1,000.  But if you work alone, one thousand cupcakes might as well be one million, trust me).

I'm thinking, first of all--why ME?  I'm a WEDDING CAKE shop, not a cupcake shop.  And at that time, Lord knows, they were popping up everywhere.  You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a new cupcake shop owner in a pastel apron.  "Best cupcakes in TOWN, I promise!"

Me:  Oh.  Wow.  You know that I'm not a cupcake shop, right?  It's myself...and I do wedding cakes.  How'd you

Cameron:  We found you online, and we LOVE your work.  If you win, or even if you just compete, you get to be ON TV, and you could win $10,000! Your bakery will have a chance to be a household name.  (I'm in "Remember that baker who EPICALLY FAILED on that cupcake show?) If you're interested, you'd need to be free for 3-5 weeks to come stay in L.A., bring all your own tools, and pick an assistant to bring with you. We provide two helpers for you to build the final display that you'd need to design, and your assistant can help with everything else.  

He must have seen THIS on my website.  It was pretty cool.  But still...not my forte
I'm thinking, "Assistant?" bwahaha.  Oh Cameron.  Dear boy.  If I had an assistant, do you think I'd be working 16 hours a day and standing here in the sun holding 50 POUNDS OF FLOUR ON MY HIP?

Me:  Umm, well, it sounds pretty cool, but--aside from the fact that I don't have any assistant to bring, and I can't afford to leave my work and my family here and travel to L.A., and I don't actually make cupcakes...I also have a full wedding cake schedule through that month.  So...

Cameron:  Great!  You can email me for details.  Here's my address.  Do you have a pen?

Me:  Oh.  Well, actually, I'm standing here in the street, holding 50 POUNDS OF FLOUR right now.  Can you just email me a link?

Cameron:  Sure. I will email you the audition application right now.  Hope to hear from you soon.

And we hung up, with him somehow still convinced that I'd want to drop everything and jet off to L.A. with my non-existent assistant, to make one million 1,000 cupcakes, on cable TV. 

Another of my large cupcake deliveries.  I remember being so worried about how wobbly this stand was!
Long story short(er), I did go ahead and fill out the application and send it in, but I rebelliously refused to make an introduction audition video and send it, possibly because I was busy working on 5 weddings that weekend and had no time. I did look up the show and saw some of the other auditioning bakers, and sure enough, they were all big cupcake bakeries from big cities, where baking 1,000 cupcakes was what they do every day before breakfast.  I'd never made more than like 200-300 cupcakes at one time, and I thought THOSE were a challenge...
Like THIS?  See?  Two to three of these PER SEASON doesn't really qualify me.

THIS was more my thing.  I LOVED hand painting these beautiful feathers

Or THIS--ivory with appliques, which looked so pretty at this particular venue
Why didn't someone call me to do one of THOSE?  

I wasn't really interested in getting famous (or infamous) in the cupcake world at the time, so I wasn't sorry that I didn't pursue this offer.

Plus, I talked to some friends in the cake industry who'd done these challenges, and they said that, not only were the competitions so stressful that you absolutely want to kill yourself before you're done, they throw in drama (because what reality show is complete without it?), and expenses (like, you pay your own way and your ingredients are *not* free, or something), so that by the time it's over, if you didn't win (or throw yourself on a cake knife), sure--you were ON TV--but you're also BROKE AND STRESSED OUT BEYOND BELIEF.  One went so far as to say, "Seriously? If you win, that $10,000 prize will just cover what it cost you to be there."  

I also heard that, to make it interesting, they would randomly throw in a fun Secret Ingredients for the bakers to deal with.  I heard the words..."salmon" and "beef jerky" bantered around, in the same sentence as "cupcakes".

What the..HECK?  Beef jerky??  Are you even kidding me?!?  So, even if I'd had a) the money or b) the patience or c) an assistant, I'd have still totally been that baker who got on TV and had them say, "Today's secret ingredient is...beef jerky", and I'd have untied my apron and been like, "I'm out."  I'd have voted myself off the show.  

Plus, I'd have had no idea how to build a theme-related cupcake display to hold one million 1,000 cupcakes and reflect the Oscars or the Superbowl or whatever, and then try to tell two L.A. guys in flannel shirts how to built what I want.  I pictured them standing there, toolbelts ready, and me staring at a blank "sketch" paper, going, "Ummm..." while the clocking is ticking, tick tock ticktockticktockTICKTOCK YOU ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME ON CABLE TV, AND THE WHOLE WORLD WILL REMEMBER YOU FOR THIS.

One of my other friends was like, "Stef.  Maybe that's why they called you.  So you could be *that* one.  You know...the one who everyone remembers because they told the judges to bite off, or gets cut from the first episode because they forgot the baking soda in the cake batter and then punched their assistant in the face?"  


Oh, yeah, Cameron.  I'm on to you, baby. 

Obviously, I didn't hear from them again.  But, I didn't really expect to...

I know--it's been four years, but I finally Googled the show and saw some of the displays for the first time ever:  (source for photos below = Google Images.  Not sure it matters, but I'm sure someone would say it does)
What?  See?  There's no way I'd have been able to design THAT--

So, now you know...the rest of the story.  (And if you get that reference -- *high five*)

Ever have one of those Fork in the Road phone calls? Ever have a chance to epically fail on cable TV?