Peter Pan Party Aftermath Post 4 (Or I Like My Flowers With a Side of Sprinkles)

If you’ve been following my flower saga, you know arranging flowers is not my thing. One of my best friends usually does my birthday flowers, but she’s living in Cabo at the moment. So not only did she miss my birthday festivities, but she also couldn’t arrange my flowers this year. (Tragedy. Twofold.)

So, I was on my own and wanted to do this ditty with peonies and hydrangeas.

Yeah, well, it turns out peonies are out of season. Peonies are my absolute favorite, and I was so tired and just generally overwhelmed that I almost cried at the florist when I learned this. Now before you think I’m just a silly, emotional girl you should know I don’t often cry unless there’s a really good reason. I’m usually really good at being a robot and stuff, but there’s just a lot happening at the moment, and the peonies were sort of the last straw.

The selection at the first florist also just generally sucked, so I had to find another florist. At this point I had been in the car for about two hours picking up spare crock pots and whatnot, and I did not relish heading deeper into the valley to hit up another florist. But I also hate ugly… so I did it anyway.

The second florist had a much better selection and the woman behind the counter was so sweet that she gave me a few free snapdragons (love!) and a birthday rose (double love!). She really turned my day around, and that was absolutely awesome.

I don’t have great photos of the final arrangements, but here they are in action and stuff.

People have to lean around my enormous flowers to be sociable. A small sacrifice for aesthetics, really.

If you want to do something similar, you can see a breakdown on the sprinkles and vases here — and you can order the suckers here.

Here’s a close-up of the flowers before I steadied them by stuffing all kinds of paper towels into the inner vase.

Here’s the Leaning Tower of Lilies before I fixed it with wads of paper towels.

And thus ends my flower saga. Until next time….

Peter Pan Party Aftermath Post 2 (Or How to Age Paper)

I used to draw. Then I started high school and thought it would be appropriate to fill my schedule with heinous things like extra AP Chemistry and AP Calculus classes — all while swimming, skiing, serving on student council, working on the Homecoming float committee, blah blah blah, etc. College was a similar story. Come to think of it, so was grad school. And don’t get me started on my life in the entertainment industry….

So, you get it. I’m a masochist. And a maniac.

I didn’t draw for YEARS and when I tried to take it up again recently, I was frustrated that I wasn’t very good at it. (Big shock.) I have decided it doesn’t matter if I suck. I need to be patient with myself because I’m never going to get better at drawing if I don’t actually draw. I’m sure this mentality could be applied to other areas of my life, but I’m not that evolved yet.

So, anyway, since I’m trying not to be all dead inside anymore, I thought it would be a good idea to make the decorations for my Peter Pan Birthday Party. I should point out, however, that it’s hard for me to go halfway, so I went totally overboard on the decorations and the baking, but you can’t give up overachieving overnight. (Or maybe ever, actually.)

Albus is concerned about my to-do list — mostly because he doesn’t see “Spoil Big Dog with Hikes and Kisses” anywhere on it.

I came up with the idea of making a map of Neverland and aging the paper.

Here’s How I Did It:

You can use black tea or coffee to age the paper. Since I’m not much of a tea drinker, I didn’t have any in the house. I opted to go the espresso route for aging instead. (I do so love my espresso – and my DeLonghi espresso machine. It’s magic.)

I preheated the oven to 200 while I watched Twin Peaks and made a freehand sketch of a Neverland map. You’re supposed to print or draw on the paper before aging it and then pour the tea or coffee over the finished product. Since I had done my sketch in pen, I was afraid the pouring method would smudge the drawing too much.

If your’e wondering why this drawing is on my floor it’s because there were white chocolate-dipped marshmallows covering every surface of my home. I had to sit on my floor while drawing this.

I decided to use a pastry brush to carefully apply the espresso around the ink instead. I also had instant espresso powder leftover from this Bittersweet Whiskey Cake a while ago. I sprinkled a little instant espresso powder in a couple of spots to give the paper areas of darker aging. I brushed those areas with espresso as well.

My paper-aging tools. Riveting, right?

While the paper was still wet, I distressed the edges with my thumb and forefinger to give it more of an aged, vintage-y feel.

Then I set the paper in the oven to dry.  Since it was too big to fit in the oven with the door closed, I left the door open and dried the map one half at a time. It really didn’t take long to dry the paper, and this was probably because it was 200 degrees in my oven and about 110 degrees in LA that afternoon.

Here’s the map drying and stuff. (And, yes, I know my oven door is filthy.)

Despite the drawing itself not being Dali-quality (my fave), it came out mostly OK. Here it is in action.

Map and table runner situation.

Oh, and the table runner is actually wedding wrapping paper from Target. Since the table was too long for one sheet, I taped two pieces together in the middle and used the map to (mostly) cover up the seam.

My plan was to use a v-cut on the ends of the paper so the runner would look like this:

I adore v-cuts — and basically everything about this tablescape. (Photo Courtesy of 100 Layer Cake)

but somehow after four trips to my friend’s house to drop off desserts, napkins, and salsas, I had forgotten the yardstick I needed to make the cuts and she didn’t have one. I decided not to bring it back on my fifth trip and to accept that everything was not going to be executed according to my vision. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses. I think I’m learning that.

So there you have it. I aged paper. And I made a drawring. More on the dessert table and the floral arrangements later….

[And if you want to check out the blog post I consulted for paper aging instructions, it’s here.]

Playing with Candy (Or How to Dip and Decorate Marshmallows)

When you’re prepping your birthday party candy bar, it’s probably best to listen to happy music like Mtume’s Juicy Fruit (if it sounds familiar it’s because Biggie sampled it for Juicy). Or Michael’s The Way You Make Me Feel. It’s also a good idea to wander into your bedroom to make sure your enormous dog isn’t eating anything like, say, the remote control to your hanging lanterns.

Well, I thought it looked like fun. Also, you were playing with candy and you weren’t giving me any.

So anyway, today I decided to experiment with marshmallows and sprinkles. I used white chocolate and corn syrup as agents to attach the sprinkles to the marshmallows. I think I prefer the white chocolate method; it adds more flavor, it dries faster, and it basically just works better all around.

I played around with the sprinkles I happened to have in my pantry for this draft, but I will likely discard most of the dipped marshmallows for a variety of reasons. My green gum balls are supposed to arrive from Amazon on Monday, and I intend for them to anchor the candy bar. Once I have them in the apothecary jar, I’ll have a better idea of my actual color palette.

I dried the marshmallows on a cookie sheet to prevent them from sticking to the table. I still managed to make a big mess of things anyway.

By the way, if you decide to use melted white chocolate chips as a dipping agent, make sure you add Crisco to the chips, otherwise you will never achieve the proper consistency to adhere the chocolate to the marshmallows. Remember my cake pop disaster? Yeah, the same principles sort of apply to marshmallow dipping too. Also, if you want to dip both ends it’s best to dip one end, let it dry for a bit, and then dip the other end. (I found that less of the sprinkles slid off that way.)

Now that we’ve covered white chocolate and gravity, it’s time to move on to the next part of the candy bar: the gummy crocodiles. While I was on a quest for affordable sprinkles to fill the vases for my floral arrangements, I found amazing gummy gators. Since a flesh-eating crocodile (croc/gator, close enough) is featured prominently in Peter Pan, I thought it was only appropriate to buy every box they had… even if they only had two.

I love gummy anything, and these “gummi” gators are super yummy. (I had to sample a few — you know to make sure I’m not poisoning my party guests or whatever.)

It’s quite likely that most of our partygoers won’t know the book as well as I do, so I’m making little cards with quotes from the novel explaining the more obscure details of the party décor. For the gummy gator/crocs, I’m going with this passage:

“’I have often,’ said Smee, ‘noticed your strange dread of crocodiles.’

‘Not of crocodiles,’ Hook corrected him, ‘but of that one crocodile.’”

Oh, and speaking of crocodiles, this croc will be chasing my watermelon Jolly Roger carving.

Amazon had other plastic crocodile options, but this one seemed appropriately feisty. And just basically, bad ass.

I’m going with this quote for the pirate ship/plastic croc display, “’It liked my arm so much, Smee, that it has followed me ever since, from sea to sea and from land to land, licking its lips for the rest of me.’”

This greedy croc has stolen my suckers.

Once I wrestle my suckers back from him, I have plans for the confections that likely involve hanging them from trees with ribbons. More on that later….

Of Owls and Strollers (Or I’m Planning a Baby Shower)

So, it’s 2:34 am and there is a band of drunken revelers on the sidewalk below my window. They’re too drunk to know they’re actually yelling at each other and not just having a regular conversation. Also there are about 15 of them. My dogs are yelling back. I sort of wish I were drunk on the street disturbing dogs and the peace, but I’m in my jammies blogging and listening to The Righteous Brothers.

Why am I writing when I should be sleeping? Well, I can’t come home and go straight to bed. Ever. No matter how tired I am. I need all of this time to unwind after being with people. Sometimes I feel so wound up at midnight or whatever that I’m temped to go running. And then I remember I don’t run.

See, I just returned home from a baby shower planning dinner, and I now have my marching orders. They involve finger sandwiches, cupcakes, and sachets. Mercifully, there are no cake pops involved.

During the planning session I learned all kinds of scary things about being constantly kicked in the ribcage and having a tiny person mashing about on your bladder day and night. And I learned about strollers.

My friend showed me hers. It looks like it’s on hydraulics. After witnessing a brief demo, I informed her that she will have to install speakers so she can play Dre while she pushes the kid around the 90210. (Yes, that’s really her zip code.)

She also showed me another stroller by the same company. And it has a video. The video involves the sort of techno music you’d hear at a rave where people wear glow sticks, Ed Hardy, and too much cologne. You HAVE to watch it. The thing has space-aged lights. And it charges your iPhone. You absolutely cannot make this shit up.

So I guess strollers have gotten sick since the ’70s. I mean, mine looked like this:

The fat baby in the rickety ride is me. The bear next to me answers to, “O.J.” even though there’s an apple on his bib.

I’m sure the thing was all dangerous by modern standards but it had room for friends… whether I wanted them around or not…

I am the big, bald bully on the right.

I’m not saying things were better in the ’70s or anything. Because people responsible for my wellbeing did let me out of the house looking like this:

There are many crimes against aesthetics happening all at once here.

So anyway, I have nothing helpful to say tonight except that I’m going to make owl cupcakes like these:

Photo courtesy of jennycookies.com

They’re based on the owls from Hello, Cupcake which is a totally fabulous book that I happen to own.

And my sachets will be inspired by these darling little owl pillows I found on Pinterest:

Photo courtesy of April Foss on Etsy.

Just to reiterate: there will be no cake pops at this party.

I’m saving that horror for my birthday party the next day. The guest list for that is at 135 and counting. More on that later. There will be crocodiles involved….

My Evening of Epic Fails (Or I Screw Up My First Attempt at Cake Pops)

“I don’t think people understand what you’re saying when you say Albus.” My mother said as she sipped her sauvignon blanc.

“Well, that’s why I introduce him as Albus Dumbledore,” I replied.

“Not everyone knows who that is.”

“Of course they do. Albus is a mighty wizard!” I exclaimed indignantly. “Besides, it’s Latin for ‘white.’ I like Latin.” (I did NOT like Latin when I was translating the entire Aeneid into English, but this is not important now.)

“I think they think you’re saying Elvis.”

This from the woman who named me Anika? I’ve been called everything from Anita to Shaniqua over the years, and I’ve been correcting people on the pronunciation of my name since Kindergarten, so she hardly has a foot to stand on when it comes to weird names for offspring – human or dog.

“Well, I nearly named him Chappy Sinclair, but I changed my mind at the last minute.”

By look on her face, it was clear this name would not have met with her standards either. (She does not appreciate Iron Eagle any more than Harry Potter, apparently.)

She’s actually right that people have called my dog everything from “Alvin” to “Elvis,” but I had no intention of conceding this. The little girl downstairs squeals, “Elbis!” every time she sees him. (Even this hybrid is probably toddler for Elvis.)

I should also mention that she doesn’t approve of Woodley’s name either. She thinks it’s confusing I named a fluffy female after a 265-pound linebacker. She’s probably not wrong.

She may have given me a hard time about my dogs’ names, but she did buy me this fabulous pink cake pop pan from Sur La Table, so there’s that.

My fancy new cake pop pan, courtesy of my mother.

I must say, my first attempt at using my new toy was even more disastrous than my attempts at dog-naming.

I was hoping to make Hedwig-like owls that looked like this:

See these perfect owls from Bakerella? Yeah, mine looked nothing like them.

I didn’t even get to the decorating part, because I ended up with THIS mess.

Albus is ignoring the Chernobyl-like disaster in the foreground and heading straight for the un-sullied cake pops on the counter. Even my dog doesn’t think the others are edible.

I think my first mistake was using a strawberry cake mix for the cake pops, as it was not nearly dense enough. (I’m starting to believe “cake” is a bit of a misnomer and the base of these balls is really more of a cake/cookie lovechild.) My next mistake was purchasing Ghirardelli white chocolate chips to coat my cake-y creations. Despite adding shortening to make the melted mess thinner, it was just too thick and sticky to properly coat the crumbly cake.

Desperate to find another coating substance, I scoured the internet this morning and discovered another option on Bakerella. It turns out it was hidden within another one of my pins. (Oops. I probably should have READ the post first instead of simply pinning the photo at first sight.) Bakerella suggests using Merckens Candy Coating for the pops. I guess I’ll be looking for a new cake pop recipe and then dipping those in Merckens next time.

I’m not really sure what to do with my cake pop rejects. I’m leaning toward feeding them to the squirrels downstairs even if they are the sworn enemies of my poorly named dogs.

Oh, and don’t get me started on what went wrong with THIS watermelon shark carving last night….

This Jedi-eating watermelon monster was supposed to be a shark. Alas, my Shun Sumo Santoku knife was just too big for the finer details.

Have you tried making cake pops? Did you make an epic mess like me?

Can’t They Have Pork Now? (Or How to Make Cola Carnitas in a Slow Cooker)

Cola Carnitas Tacos are decidedly not for dogs.

“They look sad. Can’t I give them some pork?” It was my mother’s first night in Los Angeles, and we were enjoying carnitas tacos and cocktails while listening to a little Sinatra. The dogs were not exactly begging, but I must admit they were looking at my mother rather imploringly from across the room.

“That’s how their faces look — and no, you may not.”

“Your momma’s mean,” she told the dogs as she stuffed her mouth with taco.

For the record, I most certainly am NOT mean. I feed them fancy fish biscuits and venison dog food — plus I make them homemade peanut butter popsicles! I just don’t feed them from the table because Albus does not need additional motivation to put his feet and face on my table during dinner.

I was eventually able to convince my mother that the dogs definitely were not sad and absolutely did not need to be fed from the table. They did get some pork in their bowls with their morning meal, however….

“Can’t they have some pork now?” She asked as I was preparing their breakfast. I rinsed the meat to make sure it wasn’t too spicy and placed it in their bowls. She smiled triumphantly and turned to the dogs to tell them, “Gram Gram just got you some meat.”

My mother (called “The FP” by her friends, which is short for “food pusher”) has now gone on to Honolulu for a week, and we have all been properly spoiled, stuffed with pork, and are in need of a very long nap.

If you’re into easy, yummy ways to cook meat, the recipe is below. Just don’t let your mother slip it to your dogs under the table….

Slow Cooker Cola Carnitas Recipe

5 lb pork shoulder (sometimes called pork butt)
3 medium onions
2-12 oz bottles of Coke (I prefer Mexican Coke*)
3.5 oz of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce**
1 fresh Anaheim chile, diced***
4 garlic cloves, peeled

Slice the onions in half and place them on the bottom of the slow cooker. Dice the Anaheim chile. Place the pork on top of the onions, fat side up. Pour the cola into the slow cooker. Add the chipotle chiles (with the adobo sauce) as well as the garlic and chopped Anaheim chiles.

Turn the cooker on the low setting and cook for 8-9 hours. Once the meat is tender and cooked thoroughly, remove it from the cooker and place it on a plate. Remove the excess fat and shred the tender pork with two forks.

Serve on warm corn tortillas with your choice of toppings. I used guacamole, salsa verde, my variation of pico de gallo, cilantro, and cotija cheese.

*Mexican Coke is made with sugarcane instead of corn syrup. It’s available at many grocery or specialty stores.

** I included a link to the chipotle chiles in adobo sauce from Amazon… just in case.

*** If you can’t find fresh Anaheim chiles, you can omit this ingredient. The chipotle chiles are incredibly flavorful and are more important to the recipe.

Why did you let the nice lady leave? She gave me meat. And presents.