Saturday, April 28, 2012

And just like that...

K's 2nd birthday party has come and gone. It was a lovely day, but I'm knackered. I'll post more about the party next week, but do you remember these sugar cookies? This is what they looked like before seven pairs of little hands got to them.

And the pièce de résistance:

A Thomas cake, of course.

Tell me, what party doesn't benefit from heaps of balloons?!?

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Party Prep 4 - Marshmallow Pops

T - 2 days until the Thomas party. We're getting down to the wire here, people. So far for party desserts we have just the two types of cookies - sugar and oatmeal. I thought one more small thing would be nice, so I made some white chocolate covered marshmallows.

A while back, I wanted to do cake pops but had neither the lollipop sticks nor a stand to put them in while they were drying. While in the US, I bought some sticks so that problem was solved. I bought some green flower foam from the ¥100 shop and things were ready to go.

The marshmallows I bought were about half the height of a standard American marshmallow and slightly rounded at the top. I thought the shape was quite cute.

As for the chocolate, when in the US I debated buying candy melts to get a nice, even color for the chocolate coating, but decided against it (they are heavy and I knew I was nearing my weight limit and I thought I could just dye the chocolate myself). If given the option, I'd definitely recommend buying the candy melts and using those. I was able to dye the chocolate using gel colorings, but I couldn't get the color to mix in perfectly - it looked speckled. Additionally, I ran out of the red chocolate but still had marshmallows left. I dyed a second batch of melted chocolate, but I added more dye than the first time, so the colors were slightly off.

That being said, these were a breeze to do. I think I finished about 60 of them in 20 minutes.

First stick your marshmallows on the sticks. I put my finger on the top of the marshmallow where the stick would meet it so that I didn't poke through the marshmallow. Then melt your chocolate/candy melts (I think these would be delicious with dark or milk chocolate too, but color was key here). I did this in the microwave using 20-30 second intervals and stirring after each one. I used 3 bars of white chocolate and I think it took about 1.5 minutes to get it almost all the way melted. Add dye if necessary and stir to make sure there are no clumps. Then swirl a marshmallow in the chocolate and stick it in the foam. I made holes in the foam first, but I found they were a bit wobbly which scared me. The second time around I didn't do this and they were much more stable. Then just let them sit to harden. Done. Seriously, this is dead easy and quite tasty.

And they look adorable. I think I'll put them in glasses to look kind of like flowers for the party.

Next up is the cake. Fingers crossed I can pull this one off.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Belt it Out

K is a skinny little guy. For his age he is a bit on the taller side, but under 25 pounds. Over the past few weeks he has shot up, thus making all of his pants comically short. We bought some pants the next size up, but they are really big in the waist. Like fall-to-the-floor-while-walking big. A belt was in order.

I figured GAP would have belts for toddlers, but no such luck. I tried a few other shops, but still nothing. So I went to the fabric store and picked up some supplies.

I finished the ends of the cord (what is that type of ribbon-y cord thing called?!?), slipped a set of D-rings on and sewed up the end. Voila! A belt is made.

I think this was the least time-consuming, yet useful thing I've ever made. They had heaps of cute ribbon/cord stuff at the shop, I'm thinking I might go back at some point and make one for myself.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Party Prep 3 - The Evolution of a Piñata

My dad is Mexican. Along with my love for enchiladas, a big part of my Mexican-ness is definitely the necessity for a piñata at any birthday party. Birthdays equal piñatas. In Japan, however, no one knows what piñatas are. That didn't stop me for K's 1st birthday, nor will it stop me for his 2nd.

(This was last year's piñata - a "1". I obviously took the photo backwards, I have no idea why.)

Because we live in a condo, last year we did the piñata at the park. It was hilarious. Kids saw what we were doing and full of confusion, started gathering around. It took a bit of encouragement, but eventually everyone that was there took a few chances to whack the "1". When the candy fell out, it was a rather polite scene. Each kid took a little bag of candy and left the extras on the ground. I had to beg people to take two bags of sweets. It was hardly the full-on mad scramble for candy of my youth, but baby steps here.

Because of the Thomas theme, this year I made a (drum roll, please) Thomas piñata.

He started off as a bunch of cardboard, a half of a plastic egg and a plastic cup.

He then got a few layers of paper mache.

Then the cut up crepe and tissue paper.

And finally a face. Ta dah!!

His face is a bit large, but close enough in my book.

Fingers crossed K doesn't spaz out when I make him hit his favorite train!!

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Party Prep 2 - Red and Blue Oatmeal Cookies

The countdown for K's 2nd birthday party is officially on! In just a few days, I have to pull all of my ideas together and crank out a Thomas party for 20.

As I mentioned before, this Thomas party is going to have a lot of red and blue, as colors seem to be quite easy to focus on as a part of the theme. Going along with this, I decided to take a spin on the classic Oatmeal Raisin cookie and make mine Oatmeal, Cranberry and Blueberry cookies.

You can't really see the red and blue too clearly, but they are quite tasty nonetheless. I used this recipe, but I left out the walnuts and substituted about 1/2 cup each dried cranberries and blueberries for the 3/4 cup of raisins. I figured a bit more color couldn't hurt. Also, the recipe recommends chilling the dough, but I didn't do this (I've got heaps to do!!) and they are still nice and plump. The recipe is quite simple and delicious.

And I like that you can basically justify eating them for breakfast. It's just oatmeal with dried fruits, right?!? I'll have to make another batch after the party so I can munch a few more (for breakfast).

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Happy Birthday, Papi

Earlier this week my dad turn 70!! Yikes, that sounds quite old - it hardly seems true. When we were visiting, my dad seemed as busy and active as ever. He still works full time, volunteers, sits on countless boards, basically runs a radio station, is a prominent leader in the Latino community and still found the time to play trains on the floor with K, and take him to the park, to feed the ducks, and to the train museum. What a great man, dad and grandpa!!

As it was his birthday, a present was certainly in order. While we were there, my dad got a new digital camera. It's small and thin, the perfect size for getting crushed at the bottom of a bag.

Hopefully this little case keeps it nice and safe.

I used this pattern and I would totally recommend it to any of you needing a camera case. It comes in a few sizes and was easy to put together. The most challenging bit was connecting the lining to the exterior. The bag is so tiny that the opening couldn't fit around the base of my sewing machine. It got done, however, so it's not that big of an issue.

I just sent the case off to my dad yesterday, so if you see him in the next week or so, mum's the word!!

Happy birthday, Papi!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Party Prep 1 - Sugar Cookies

Now that we are back, preparation for K's 2nd birthday has begun. Over the weekend I started on the pinata and today the baking began - frosted sugar cookies!!

The party is going to be a Thomas the Tank Engine themed extravaganza, with a lot of red and blue. The cookies aren't quite finished yet -- the tops still need to be done -- but this is how they will get put in the freezer until next week when I thaw them out and decorate.

This might sound totally anal, but the cookie cutter had 23 little scallops on it. This totally bummed me out since I wanted the outside to have red and blue alternating dots - an even number of scallops would have been perfect. Unfortunately, the dots are a bit off on one part. It's the part I see first when I look at the little guys. It's bumming me out, but hopefully it will be less noticeable once the tops are decorated.

Can you see it?!? Gaaaa!!!

After much trial and error in the sugar cookie arena, I have settled on this cookie/icing combination. I started with three different recipes for each the cookie and the icing. I mixed every combination of cookie/icing and tasted all of them at the same time (as did Y and two good friends). It was a lot of cookies, but I'm pretty confident that these are a lovely combination.

I've made them many times in the past year...

For birthdays:

For little brothers:

For hen's nights:

For Halloween:

And for Christmas:

They are pretty foolproof and with a bit of practice can turn out really cute.

This is my tried and true recipe*:

170 grams room temp butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine the butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla. Sift the dry ingredients. Add slowly until incorporated. Form into a 4 inch x 4 inch square, wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. Flour a surface, roll out to 1/4 inch and cut. Cook at 180C for 5-8 minutes. Cool and decorate.

1 1/2 tablespoons of meringue powder
440 grams powdered sugar
5-6 tablespoons water

Put meringue powder and sugar in a bowl and whisk together. Add the water slowly until desired consistency. Add color as necessary (I use gel colors - they are amazing).

*Neither of these recipes are my own. I found them somewhere online, but have no idea where. I completely apologize if the originators of these recipe drop by and see these.


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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Meringue Topping

K and I are back home. Back to Y (yay!!) and getting back to normal - tonight marks night three of making dinner. We are not yet back to our normal sleeping habits though. K's jet lag is awful. He was raring to go at 3am and then proceeded to scream, not cry, scream, for about an hour before getting back to sleep. There was no consoling him. It was awful.

Anyway, while we were on holiday, Saturday mornings meant breakfast with my mom's friends. We usually headed to the same bakery/cafe for coffee and morning sweets. It is our first Saturday morning at home and I'm having Indulgence withdrawal. On our last Saturday morning breakfast gathering, we decided that I would bake up a cake in the afternoon and the friends and their significant others would come over for a little party.

Before I had arrived at my parents', one of my mom's friends loaned her the Food Network Magazine March (?) edition - it was the chocolate edition. She left it with my mom in case I wanted to do some baking while I was there. Everything in it looked AMAZING. It was the perfect occasion to make something from the magazine. So the Flourless Chocolate Cake with Meringue Topping was born.

I had the help of my little brother and his girlfriend, while my parents helped by taking K off to the train museum for a few hours (I imagine it was his best day ever - he rode on a Tomas train!!).

I also had the help of a KitchenAid mixer. My word, does this make life so much easier! You have no idea what I would do to own one of these.

The cake was very decadent and extremely delicious. The gathering ended up turning into quite the party. One of my friends from college stopped by, as well as my old high school math teacher, his wife and son, who is my little brother's roommate. We polished off three bottles of champagne, about a half of a handle of cake vodka (more on this amazing vodka to follow at some point), and countless beers. With all of those people, we were left with only one slice of cake. It was eyeballed by many, but it seemed no one wanted to take the plunge. Just as well, my mom and I split it the following day.

The party was such a great time and I am so stoked that we were able to go out with a bang!

On a different note, for those of you following the birthday present saga, I tried it on the table when we got home and it fits PERFECTLY!!! Thank goodness! I will post photos once the little guy turns 2 and sees it for himself.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

K's Birthday Present (Part 3)

I have been really bad at updating the blog - our final week in the US has been a bit busy. At the end of last week, however, I finally finished the fourth wall of K's house. It's a flower garden! As you can see all of the flowers are different. Some are based on real flowers and others are just random, made-up ones. I'm pretty pleased with  most of them, and just like the apples and veggies, I hope to add to the collection.

Last night, at 11:00 on the dot, I finished the entire house! I sewed all of the walls together and sewed on the roof. I also whipped up a little bag to keep it all organized while not in use. I put a few pockets on the inside of the bag for flowers, fruits and veggies and two little handles for carrying about. I can't wait to try the house out on our dining room table when we get home on Wednesday.

I will be sure to let you all know whether it works or not - that is the true test. No photos of the completed thing until K gets it on his birthday - April 30.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Personalized "Hostess" Cupcakes

Over the weekend I baked up these delicious cupcakes to take to my little brother and his girlfriend, as well as their friends, on our visit to their college. They are all super smarties in the College of Engineering and are killing it! All are Seniors, but will be graduating next year due to high demand in engineering classes at one of the best engineering schools in the country. 

The cupcakes are near clones of the original Hostess Cupcakes that we all know and love from our childhood. The main difference is that you can't peel off the chemical chocolate top and eat it last. This top is a deliciously rich ganache, and while different it tastes just as lovely as the original. I found the recipe for the cupcakes here. They were a bit of trouble to make, but they were worth it. I'd been putting off making them at home due to our lack of the delicious marshmallow creme, but here in the US, this deliciousness is in any grocery store. 

To be clear, if you are able to get the ingredients (marshmallow creme should be your only challenging one), I'd recommend making them. Although "a bit of trouble to make," they aren't particularly difficult, they just take a lot of steps. I broke it up over two days and it was no problem at all.

First you mix and bake up your cupcakes. Nothing tricky.

Next you make the delicious cream filling.

Then pipe the filling into the baked cupcakes and make your ganache.

The final step is to make the white frosting bit and get piping.

I followed the recipe perfectly and the only change I would make is to pipe more of the filling into the cupcake. It says not to overfill, but I think I was so concerned that something awful would happen, that I didn't fill some of them enough. Seriously, that filling is amazing. I would eat it by the spoonful if it didn't seem like I would gain 10 pounds or lose teeth (it's super sweet) in the process.

While I was piping, my best friend from the age of 0 (and a reader of this very blog) stopped by, so I of course had to make one for her. (Hi Julia!!!)

My little brother's girlfriend messaged me on Facebook to tell me that the cupcakes were delicious. Wahoo! They were given the official stamp of approval from the college kids. 

If you're looking for a sweet treat that is sure to bring lovely memories to the recipients, I wholeheartedly recommend these little guys! Delicious, nostalgic and cute to boot!