Friday, November 30, 2012

Turtle Cheesecake - A Fail and A Fix

This cheesecake started out as any other chocolate cheesecake I've made. I smashed up some Oreos and got cracking on the cheesecake bit. This time, however, I was trying to rush getting it done and didn't really read the recipe very well. I knew I wanted to 2/3rds the recipe, so I got that bit right, but I totally messed up the order. And this is where things fell apart.
Turns out, my cream cheese wasn't so much as softened and room temperature and straight out of the refrigerator. Also, the eggs are the last things to go in. Whoopsa daisy!  While the mixture looked okay, it wasn't the same consistency as usual. I popped it in the oven anyway.

I got it out of the oven and it was a complete mess. The middle sunk and there were cracks everywhere. I wasn't too worried, however, as my plan was to make caramel, stir in crushed up pecans, cover the top of the cake with this and then drizzle melted chocolate over it.
I started on the caramel. I was afraid that I would cook the sugar too long and make the caramel rock hard, so I opted for cooking it until it was just barely yellow. Then I added in the cream, gave it a stir and realized it was not what I was hoping for, given that it didn't even look like caramel.
A friend was going to be at the house in T minus 15 minutes, so I just went with it as there was no way I could just serve the cheesecake as is. So I mixed in my pecans and topped the cheesecake. Now it wasn't just ugly, it looked gross.


There's nothing a little melted chocolate can't fix, right!?! Uhhh, wrong. This was still a disaster, but with few options, I served it anyway.
Unsurprisingly, it was not at all what I was hoping for. The cake bit turned out okay, but the topping was pretty awful. It was more like a sugary candy with pecans that kind of melted in your mouth, but was hard enough that you definitely needed a fork to stab through it.
There was no way I was going to eat another piece of this. I didn't have enough cream to make a full batch of caramel, so I made a half of a batch. Once that proved successful (I let it get a bit darker this time around), I chipped the topping off of the cheesecake with a fork.
Then I ate the topping, just to see how awful it was ;)
Next I topped the cheesecake with crushed up pecans and drizzled the caramel on top. I didn't mix the pecans in this time as I knew I wouldn't have enough caramel to cover it all. 

 Then I topped that with drizzled chocolate.

 Finally, I ate a big piece to congratulate myself on my victory over ruined caramel!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Toy Story Alien Hat

One of K's best friends turned three on Monday. The little boy loves Toy Story - his favorite character is Buzz Lightyear; in fact he was the cutest little Buzz you would ever see for Halloween. The mom is one of my best friends and is amazing at sewing. Just as for this little guy's older sister, I knew I didn't want to sew something, so I decided I would crochet him a hat.
I scoured etsy looking for cute hats for him when the idea of a Toy Story themed hat popped into my head. While there were a few patterns, including a Buzz, I fell in love with this alien hat. I think it is so cute, yet totally goofy.
The pattern was pretty good, but the shape of the hat, in my opinion, isn't as good as it could be. Mine ended up being a little tall, which makes the antenna on top a bit odd. Anyway, I started with the hat.
Next up was the antenna. It started with a little ball stuffed with filling.
Then was the bit that holds it up. After making it, I found it drooped a bit.

The instructions say you may want to put a pipe cleaner in to make it stand a bit straighter, so I did...
and it worked perfectly!

The next step was to make the ears and eyes.

Finally, I just had to sew them all on to the hat and it was done!
I kind of reget not putting the ears more on the side of the hat, but I think it turned out quite cute. We saw the birthday boy yesterday, so I gave him his hat. His mom liked it, but he wouldn't really have much of it. He's usually okay with hats, but not this one...maybe it's because we were nice and toasty inside? Maybe he just has to get used to it first? I don't know, but I hope that he ends up liking it at some point.
Happy third birthday, Yuuto!!

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Wedding Dress That Wasn't

I have been debating literally for months of how to write this post, what to say, or even if I should bother posting it at all, but given the fact that we were at a wedding this weekend, I figured it would be good timing - it is, after all, something that I made.
Way back in July, I made a little yellow dress as a practice run for a wedding dress. The bride decided that she wanted a few changes - the biggest of which was the neckline. She decided that she didn't like the elastic-gathered neckline for the wedding dress and instead wanted it to fall flat, but without changing the rest of the dress much. I figured this would work with a few pleats, but was really unsure given that I hadn't had (and still don't have) much experience making grown-up clothing. I figured we could give it a shot - and I did.
The bride picked two fabrics - a lace to go over a satin. Before even getting the dress layers together, it was clear that the neckline would have to be taken in heaps. 
This was even more obvious once I got the layers put together.
The bride came for a fitting and we pinched the middle front together. It seemed it would work, so I went ahead and sewed on the satin bias neckline. It looked so pretty.
At the same fitting, we realized that since the sleeves were done in the lace fabric only (no lining), it would look better if there was a stitch holding the lining to the bodice of the dress.
We also decided on the placement for the pockets, which were lined in satin and the topped with the satin bias, just like the neckline.
The bride came again for another fitting and was still not super pleased with the neckline, so I took out the satin bias, added two more pleats and then put the bias back on. To hold them down a bit closer to her body, I sewed the pleats down in the inside of the dress.
I sent the dress off to the bride and looked forward to getting some photos of the wedding emailed to me way back when we were in the States in August. Instead I got an email explaining that while she really liked the dress and loved the details, as well as the work we did on the dress, she still didn't love the neckline and had someone else make her dress.
At first I felt so rejected! To be fair, she was extremely nice throughout the entire process and even in the email, but still, my dress was not the winner. I had put in so many hours not only cutting and sewing (which I was compensated for), but also in planning and thinking about the dress. After a while, I decided to look at it as really good practice for my sewing. I learned quite a bit and also gained a lot of confidence in doing the dress, so it wasn't a complete waste. Also, it was a good reminder that we don't always win!
On to happier news - my brother-in-law's wedding was absolutely lovely. As I mentioned, I wore a kimono. After getting my hair done, I went to the dressing studio where a little old lady dressed me in my husband's grandmother's old kimono. The lady was extremely efficient, but man oh man, did she pull that thing tight. It was early in the morning and while I was getting my chest squeezed like I'd never felt before, I kept yawning. Part of me wondered whether I was yawning because I was tired or because I was totally lacking oxygen. I still don't know. By the end of the day, it all loosened up enough that I could actually take a breath. It was such fun to wear, but it was also really nice to take it off. 
The wedding was in a Christian chapel (although neither of them are Christian, this is just kind of what you do) and the bride wore a beautiful wedding dress. 
While we were enjoying the reception, the bride and groom left to go change into new outfits - this is also very normal for a Japanese wedding. She came out wearing a hot pink dress that I thought really suited her.

During the reception, the newlyweds took off again for a final change of clothes - this time into traditional hakama and kimono. They looked amazing!


The bride wore a jacket-type of thing over her kimono that was so super beautiful.
K did an awesome job of being the ring bearer. He ended up walking down the aisle holding his uncle's hand with one hand and the rings and a train in the other. Then gave the rings to the pastor and came running to me. He looked really nervous the entire time, but he did it. At the reception, they asked K and the flower girl to roll out the wedding cake to the bride and groom. We told K that everyone would be looking at him, so he had to smile the whole time. He totally cheesed his way down the recption hall pushing a cake on a trolley. It was hilarious!

Friday, November 23, 2012


I've written a few posts before about how I teach English to three little girls. Each lesson they earn points and with their points, they can "buy" little prizes. If they save up to 200 points, they can request me to make some little felt thing. The items are up to the individuals, so I have gotten some odd requests - Santa, a bear face, a hamster (which the mom told me is very much loved), macarons, roses, and this time Totoro!! The youngest girl requested, "a really fat Totoro! But I want him to have a pocket and I want the pocket to say his name." Hmmm...

I started by checking the internet for photos of Totoro.

Once I found an easy enough image to go off of, I checked my felt stock and found that I had just enough gray, plus black and white. What a relief - I didn't even have to go to the fabric shop to buy anything. I cut out Totoro's body and then got to work on all the details.

Once I was satisified with the general shape/style of the details, I got to sewing. I started with the white tummy and then moved onto the gray chevrons. Then I wrote "Totoro" in fabric marker on the pocket and sewed that in the middle. Next were the eyes and nose. Then the line above the nose, the mouth, and his whiskers. Finally I sewed the front to the back.

As I was going, I stuffed difficult to reach spots - his ears, feet and hands - and once I was close to finishing, I added heaps more stuffing.  

I didn't want to distort his shape, so I didn't stuff him super full, but he's definitely plush.

Of all the felt toys I have made for the girls, this is my favorite. He turned out so cute! At first I was confused as to why she requested the pocket with his name. I showed it to Y and his response was, "because it's cute." Good enough for me. K fell in love with Totoro, which was odd since he's yet to even see the movie, and kept saying that I couldn't give him to the little girl. "No, K's Totoro." I said if he really wanted one I would make him one too, but I think he might be over it already.

The little girl was super stoked. Her smile when I gave it to her was one of the cutest things ever. Luckily, I snapped a quick photo!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cinnamon Bread

I haven't mentioned it yet, but K and I have been spending the week in Yokohama with Y's parents. We arrived Tuesday afternoon and have been having a lovely time. Y's younger brother is getting married tomorrow, which is why we are here. K is the ring bearer and will wear a tuxedo. I will wear a kimono for the first (possibly only) time in my life - I am so excited!!
Whenever we come to their place, I always like to bring some treat. This time since it was just K and I and we were flying, I figured something easy to take would be best. I settled on bread because I could just wrap it up, shove it in a suitcase, and not really worry about it. Y's mom and I both love cinnamon, so a cinnamon bread seemed perfect. Following a recipe from my breadmaker book, I made a basic sweet dough. 

Halfway through the cooking time, I took it out and rolled it into a long rectangle.
Then I spread some melted butter on the top and then covered that with a lot of cinnamon and sugar.
Then I rolled it up and cut it in half.
And put it back into the breadmaker, cut side up. This is how the cookbook showed to do it, but since there is a glaze on top (also in the original recipe), wouldn't it make more sense to turn the rolls 45 degrees, so the cut sides were facing a pan? That way when you cut it, every slice would have a pretty little swirly pattern and glaze.
Based on how much it rose, I wonder if there would be some issue with doing it this way - I might have to give it another go at some point.

Since this was a recipe specific to my breadmaker, I won't write it out. But as above, it was just a simple dough - flour, brown sugar, salt, butter, egg and milk - with butter and cinnamon sugar to make the rolled part. The glaze was supposed to be egg white, powdered sugar and a tiny bit of lemon juice, but the raw egg white bit creeped me out (I told this to Y's mom and she was totally not freaked out at all and said it was the standard here) and I substituted egg white powder instead.
Luckily the bread made the trip in tact and my mother- and father-in-law were pleased. Yahoo!!!
Wish K luck taking the ring up the aisle tomorrow morning!! 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Reusable Swiffer Sheet

I love my Swiffer. I think it is the most amazing invention ever. I can clean the floors of the entire condo in less than 10 minutes and I can even do it while K is napping. The only problem is that our Swiffer sheets are sometimes pretty lame. Every once in a while, our grocery store has the good brand, but not all the time. And if there is one thing that sucks, it's crappy Swiffer sheets - they don't work!!

Now that it is getting colder, I have been wearing socks around the house. I realized that some of my fluffy, fleece-like socks collect a lot of dust and hair. I went to our 100yen ($1) store and found legwarmers of the same material - perfect!!

Since I bought them as a tube shape, making these took roughly one minute. First I measured the Swiffer head by stripes, sewed up one end, and then I sewed a second line on the marked stripe. The final step was to cut a slit into the middle of the tube to fit the Swiffer head into. This slit can be rather small as the fabric stretches a lot.

I took my new Swiffer sheet out for a test drive and it picked up all the stray strings from a sewing project I'd just finished and some dust to boot. Success!

I saved the bit I cut off of the leg warmer and sewed up one end of it. I thought it might work well as a dusting mitt.  

Once the little sheets have done their job, I just pull off all of the dust and hair (gross!!!!) and throw it away, then pop the sheet into the wash. Since the legwarmers obviously came as a pair, I made two sheets - one to use while the other is in the laundry.