Birthday Scheming (Or Time to Annoy Tim)

It’s that time of year again: Time to Annoy Tim.

See, Tim’s birthday is Thursday, and he hates too much attention so obviously his friends and I are scheming to horrify him with a big birthday display at the bar.

We’re leaning toward a big beer tower like this.*

IMG_8768.jpg

But with Sierra Nevadas…

and less Mardi Gras beads.

Our friend, Bobby, requested I make the whole thing totally over the top, so naturally I ordered grosgrain ribbons and plastic puppies of all kinds to adorn the tower of Sierra.

Tim loves dogs, so I thought some plastic pups would be perfect.

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He did give me these wine doggies, after all….

I’m also working on dessert ideas. I’m leaning toward ice cream sandwiches with his favorite Heath bar and coffee ice cream in the middle.

This recipe for the chocolate cookie is the front runner for the cookie part right now.

I’ll get back to you with updates when it all comes together.

* I found the photo on Pinterest, but I can’t find the link to the original source.

Pastel es Buena (Or Pablo Escobar, Manuel Noriega, and My Tres Leches Cake)

Friday I promised to hook you up with the recipe for the tres leches cake I made for Nicole’s Taco Bell themed birthday party if it wasn’t a disaster. I only had one bite because I generally consider cake to be a complete waste of calories, but I didn’t hate it.

Also?

A few people sought me out to tell me I should open up a bakery so I’ll take it as a sign that it didn’t seriously suck….

I must tell you, though: it absolutely resembled Manuel Noriega’s* pock-marked face at one point in the baking process.

Remember him from the 80s?

Dictator from Panama?

De Facto ruler of Panama? Source

Infamous drug trafficker and CIA informant?

Embroiled in the Iran/Contra scandal?

No?

Oh well.

He was super infamous back then, and his face totally looked like my cake.

See?

Do they make Accutane for cakes?

Do they make Accutane for baked goods?

Sorry, cake, the skewering was necessary to get the tres leches to sink into you properly.

Manuel, I really don’t know what else to say except that when you make a lot of money working with Pablo Escobar and the Medellin, sometimes you end up rotting in prison (but Jesus and your mom still love you, so that totally counts for something.)

Besides, we ALL had awkward pasts.

I know I did….

Second grade was not a good year for me.

Second grade was not a good year for me.

The fact that this is my father’s favorite picture from my childhood leads me to believe one of two things: 1) Love TRULY makes a person blind or 2) The man was hoping his only child would die a virgin. (If you know my dad either of these would be plausible hypotheses, by the way.)

I digress.

We were talking about cake.

Once you cover it up with whipped cream and toasted coconut, everyone forgets about the cake’s awkward adolescence.

When doesn’t whipped cream, toasted coconut, and a smattering of edible flowers fix everything, though?

Edible flowers and talking Taco Bell dogs make everything better.

Everything that isn’t fixed by a bottle of Bacardi and the talking dog from Taco Bell, I mean.

So, anyway, I know I’m saying all this stuff about how I basically hate cake and that it looked like an imprisoned Panamanian at one point, but the truth is that I scoured the internet for a tres leches recipe that would be as addictive as the cocaine that caused Noriega’s problems, and this one truly, truly sounded SO much better than the others.

And that’s why I picked it.

In the end, the birthday girl LOVED it.

Toasting with tres leches.

And that’s all that matters.

So here’s the recipe. I found it on Chow.

Get some.

*There’s also a Mexican field hockey player named Manuel Noriega, and a Mexican actor named Manuel Noriega Ruiz, or so the internet says. Just in case you were wondering….

Nostalgic About Nicole and Paint Fumes (Or A Gift Wrap Round Up)

I had this funny moment while I was wrapping my friend Nicole’s birthday present today: I realized when I started this blog three years ago, I was high on paint fumes from a bathroom remodel gone wrong, and I was WRAPPING NICOLE’S BIRTHDAY PRESENT. (My first post ever is HERE.)

Crazy, right?

And now that I’m feeling all nostalgic (and a little let down because I’ve run out of things to remodel around here), I thought I’d do a little Nicole-inspired gift wrap round up post.

This was a fabulous Frank Lloyd Wright book I bought her at a vintage book store… and yes, I wrapped it in pages from the Penny Saver and decorated it with a sharpie and painter’s tape.

I told you I was high on paint fumes then.

I told you I was high on paint fumes back then.

I felt like it all tied together in an architecture/design/home-improvment kind of way. (Nicole is an uber talented interior designer, and one of her favorite books of all time is Loving Frank. Her website is HERE, btw.)

And here’s last year’s gift: a copy of All There Is, a collection of short stories about love from the producers of NPR’s StoryCorps. (We were both very into love stories last spring. Who isn’t?!? ❤ )

Danny the Dino totally wanted the book.

Eugene the Euoplocephalus totally wanted it.

I deliberately used blue and orange so the gift would match her outfit for our San Diego birthday weekend to a Tigers/Padres game because I’m broken for color-coordination.

See?

Rawr, Tiger!

Rawr, Tiger, you totally match!

I’m not the only one who gets into details like that. This was her birthday gift to me last year.

And this is her gift to me!

Don’t you love how the colors work perfectly together with the lotto ticket and the bag?

I do!!! (This is why Nicole and I get each other.) The bag was also filled with goodies that were color-coordinated with my birthday invite. (True story.)

And now I will leave you with a little sneak peek at this year’s gift wrap for her Mexican-themed birthday party.

No hablo English.

No hablo Ingles, Perras!

On that note, I’m off to work on my rewrite for a few hours before making Nicole’s tres leches birthday cake.

If the cake doesn’t suck, I’ll hook you up with the recipe next week. (And don’t worry: I haven’t forgotten I still owe you the recipe for her sister Elle’s peanut butter Peter Rabbit cupcakes. You can now find that HERE.)

XOXO

Birthday Party Playlist (Or Sorry for Partying)

A few weeks ago I was on a mission to appreciate my neighborhood. I was trying to make peace with living somewhere I wanted to escape so I started wandering the streets in search of inspiration. A few blocks from my place, I came across this carved into the sidewalk.

Hollywood sidewalk on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Today, it sort of seems fitting somehow.

See, my birthday is Saturday…. and today is the 10-year anniversary of Kristin Connor’s death.

I had only met Kristin a few months before we lost her, but time doesn’t always feel relevant in the face of loss. Kristin was our friend Angela’s best friend from high school. She he had recently relocated to LA from Michigan, and we welcomed her into our displaced Midwestern family immediately. There was just something about Kristin… I can’t really describe it. She was warm. She was real. And I liked her right away. Talking to her was easy, and it was almost as if I had known her for years.

Two days before my birthday, she was killed in a car accident.

The summer of 2003 was maybe the best and worst of my life for so many reasons. And my birthday party that year was a blowout never to be forgotten.

We were celebrating. We were mourning. And OMIGOD, we were annoying the neighbors.

That day we were coming together — and we were saying goodbye. It was my birthday party.  It was Angela’s going away party.

And maybe most of all?

It was Kristin Connor’s wake.

Partiers on Dogs Dishes and Decor

Part of the 17th Street Birthday Party Crew. Santa Monica, cira 2003.

So today as I think about the friend our family lost, I want to tell a whole bunch of Michigan kids how much they mean to me.

See, it struck me as I was perfecting the playlist for my upcoming birthday party that so many of the songs on it reminded me of members of my Michigan crew. Many of them will be at my (much more civilized) birthday this year. Many will not.

But either way?

I’m thankful for them and maybe I don’t really say it enough.

So, here it goes:

Chamillionaire’s Ridin’ is for Melissa. It reminds me of the days we were rolling through Hollywood in her dirty Volvo while painting our toenails on the dashboard. Melissa has been by my side for so many birthdays, so many movie premieres… and so many goodbyes. Together we’ve mourned her Beagle, my first Spaniel, our grandfathers, my grandmother, our mentor, my cousin, Kristin Connors, and her father. We’ve laughed through the tears and we’ve danced through the pain — sometimes at Barney’s Beanery and The Bungalow — where they don’t even have dance floors.

Lyke Li’s Little Bit is for Nicole. She put it on one of the many amazing mixes she has made me over the years. It’s for all the dinner parties we’ve thrown together. For breaking into my apartment to do my dishes after I sliced my thumb instead of an eggplant. For knowing how to make me feel so special on my birthday. For her generous heart — and her kind spirit.

Juvenile’s Back that Azz Up is for my panda, Sarah. It reminds me of our last summer in Ann Arbor. We used to open the sunroof of her Explorer and absolutely blast the song while driving past civilized restaurants on Main Street during dinner hour. This song is for standing by my side at my grandfather’s funeral. For asking me to be in her wedding. For helping me out of a pair of capris with a broken zipper in a TJ Maxx dressing room. For giving me perspective on what really matters. And for years of love, laughter, and loyalty.

Kesha’s Tik Tok is for Kelley. We put it on our Camarillo Road Trip Playlist and listened to it A LOT while we were stuck in gridlock and she was carsick beyond belief. It’s for the endless talk that first night we met in the Pi Phi basement — the talk that led to so many more. It’s for being my senior spring break travel partner. For skipping chapter to watch Monty Python with me. For asking me to be her only Michigan bridesmaid. And For standing by my side for 16 years… no matter what.

Lee Brice’s Friends We Won’t Forget is for Anna. It’s for sharing her story and really, really listening to mine. It’s for pushing me to do a few more push ups. For making me change my make up, my clothes, and my hair. For our dinner parties. For reminding me how much I love country music. And for just knowing when I need a hug.

Britney’s Toxic is for Ryan. It’s for all the good talks we had about our grandpas — and for taking care of me the day after I lost mine. For teaching me about birdies, eagles, and albatrosses. For legal services rendered. And for knowing I needed to hear a little Britney on a bad day at the office.

Westside Connection’s Lights Out  is for Josh. It brings me back to the days of our endless wandering through the aisles of Amoeba Records. The days when he’d drive across LA at midnight just to watch Diggstown with me. The days of batting cages and Brett Ratner’s driver incessantly interrupting our Indian dinners. It’s for always stepping up — even when it was risky.

Huey Lewis and the News’ Do You Believe in Love is for Michael and Jody. It’s for all the support, advice, and sous chef work over the years. It’s for making me believe everything works out for the best. For showing me what it’s like to be a really great team. For including me in the Cycle for Survival in memory of Jody’s mom. And for making me a part of their family every Christmas. I’m proud to share a birthday with their son Connor who will turn one on Saturday.

JT’s SexyBack is for Katy who also celebrates a birthday this Saturday and loves her a little JT. It’s for getting me out of my house while I was helplessly waiting for my grandpa to die. It’s for finding a new home for my dog. For making our birthday special every year. For listening. And for pushing me to do the tough stuff.

Yolanda Be Cool versus DCup’s We No Speak No Americano is for Manning who played it in the car after my birthday in the ‘bu — and before he really became my friend. It’s for introducing me to Anna… and making sure we hung out. It’s for making me like lamb, calling me out on the mayonnaise to yolk ratio in my deviled eggs, and for making me laugh while we were covered in gum. It’s for always showing up when and where he said he would. And it’s for making the tough talks somehow seem easy.

Soulja Boy’s Kiss Me Through the Phone is for Angela who lost the most on August 1. The song will forever remind me of her husband singing it to her in the streets of Hollywood. It’s for the great talks we’ve had about life, death, and design. It’s for being one of the few people on the planet who understands why I come so unraveled over college football. And it’s for introducing me to Kristin.

David Guetta’s Memories is for Kristin Connors herself. It just seems fitting.

And The Victors is for everyone.

Oh, and by the way, I’m not sorry for partying. I am a little sorry about all that Lil’ Jon we played, but I will never apologize for cutting loose with some of the best people I know. I can’t wait to do it again soon.

Lemon Cupcakes for the Critics and the Crazies (Or How to Make Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Filling)

My grandmother is a perfectionist. She can make a perfect pie and find fault with it. She’ll be serving slices to guests while grumbling about some perceived imperfection no one else notices. I’m the same, really. I can’t write, cook, paint, draw, or do an arm balance without thinking about how I could improve it next time. Or how it doesn’t measure up. I am capable of criticizing anything I do. (Obviously, the disease runs in the family.)

When my mother asked me to make my grandmother’s birthday cupcakes this year, I knew I would have to practice first. There would be no trying a new recipe on nana’s birthday.

My grandmother loves lemon, so I decided to make lemon cupcakes with a lemon curd filling. On my first attempt, I frosted them with a seven-minute meringue frosting but decided it was too sweet.

If I’m being honest, I kinda hate seven-minute frosting.

After some deliberation, I finally settled on a lemon cream cheese frosting instead. I was initially afraid that would be too much lemon, which is why I tried the meringue first, but a slight hint of lemon flavor in the frosting was the perfect way to tie it all together.

Here’s my nana with my creation, sitting beside my uncle who is being strange.

My gene pool is rife with crazy, so I fit right in.

My grandma told me they were the best cupcakes she had ever eaten, so I guess my practice paid off. Even I was slightly pleased with myself for once.

The recipe is below.

Lemon Cupcakes
Makes 24 cupcakes

2 ½ C flour
½ tsp salt
2 ½ tsp baking powder
¾ C unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ¾ C sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
1 ¼ C whole milk
2 T lemon zest

Preheat oven to 375. Place cupcake liners in pans.

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing to blend after each addition. Add vanilla and mix thoroughly.

Add half of the flour mixture, followed by the milk, and the remaining half of the dry ingredients, mixing to blend after each addition.

Add lemon zest and mix to blend.

Transfer batter to cupcake liners and bake at 375 for 16-18 minutes, or until the tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Lemon Curd Filling

3 T cornstarch
1 C cold water
1/2 C sugar
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
3 T cold butter, cut into small cubes
1 T lemon zest
4 T lemon juice

Whisk cornstarch into 1/3 cup of water. Transfer the mixture to a medium saucepan and whisk in the remaining 2/3 C of water. Add the sugar and cook over medium heat, until the mixture bubbles and thickens to a gel-like consistency, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low.

Stir a few tablespoons of the hot cornstarch mixture into the slightly beaten egg yolks, a few drops at a time, whisking constantly. (This will prevent the yolks from cooking.) Whisk the yolk mixture into the remaining cornstarch mixture and cook over low heat, about 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in cubes of butter until they are melted. Next, add lemon zest and juice, whisking to blend. Transfer to a bowl and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Note: this makes too much filling for 24 cupcakes, so I might make 2/3 of the recipe next time. The original recipe is from foodess. I modified it slightly.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

2, 8 oz packages of cream cheese, room temperature
½ C butter, room temperature
2-3 C powdered sugar
2 T lemon juice (or 1 tsp of pure lemon extract)

Cream butter and cream cheese. Mix in vanilla. Add 2 C of powdered sugar and add remaining powdered sugar by ¼ cupfuls until you reach the desired consistency. Add 2 T of lemon juice. Chill the frosting until it reaches a spreadable consistency.

After the cupcakes have cooled and the curd has thickened, transfer the curd to a pastry bag (or a freezer bag with a corner cut off). You can either inject the lemon curd into the cupcake directly or you can remove some of the cake with the end of a straw to make more room for the curd. (I prefer the latter approach. I usually poke the cupcake a few times with a straw to remove some cake from the center.)

After you have filled the cupcakes, frost, and serve.

Yum.

Just As Long As It’s Not Red Velvet (Or How to Make the Best Chocolate Cupcakes Ever)

My good friend’s birthday was last week and instead of bringing a present, she asked if I could bake cupcakes instead.

Baked goods are much better than birthday presents. I mean, who needs another scented candle anyway?

She didn’t give me many instructions aside from, “I like pretty much any kind of cake… just as long as it’s not red velvet.”

I’m with her on the red velvet front. I personally hate it. Besides, it will forever remind me of that scene in Steel Magnolias where Ouisa hacks the butt off of the armadillo groom’s cake and serves it to Drum.

Photo courtesy of pichouse.

My god, I love that movie…. So much, in fact, that I will watch the remake on Lifetime next month.

So, anyway, my head was filling with ideas until she added, “Oh, and I don’t like cream cheese frosting.”

Uh oh.

Cream cheese, mascarpone, or some combination of both serve as the base for almost all of my favorite frostings.

Before we even hung up, though, I had an idea… the chocolate ganache filled chocolate cupcakes I had planned to make for Connor’s baby shower.

I had most of the ingredients. I know the cupcakes are good. And the seven minute meringue frosting doesn’t involve cream cheese.

The recipe doesn’t really have a downside except that it makes 24 cupcakes and is not easily halved. There were only going to be 10 of us at the party, so that would mean a lot of leftover cupcakes. Luckily, my neighbors were throwing a pool party that afternoon, and they invited me to join them. So I stopped by for a beer before heading to the birthday party and I brought them the surplus cupcakes. Problem solved. With neighborly hospitality and beer.

If you’re in the mood for some seriously good chocolate cupcakes, the recipe is here.

Just a heads up if you’re going to make them: you should make the ganache before making the cupcakes because it takes a while to cool. Plus, there’s a good chance you won’t need all of the ganache. Depending on how aggressive you are with the whole pushing the tops of the cupcakes down with your thumb, you can get away with only using half or three quarters of the ganache. (I have never used all of it, but perhaps I’m not removing enough cake from the cupcake.)

What if Baby Connor Doesn’t Like Owls? (Or How to Throw an Owl Themed Baby Shower)

Even though the owl shower is on hold for now, I  figured I’d tell you how we’re going to do it. And hopefully Connor likes owls, ‘cuz the guest of honor is now attending his own shower, which is actually kind of awesome.

Menu

Mint and Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

These simple sandwiches are oh so delicious. And easy to make.

I recommend using Persian cucumbers because I think they’re more flavorful than English cucumbers. I also think the sandwiches are better open faced because the bread can be too overpowering otherwise. The recipe is here.

Albacore and Artichoke Sandwiches

Albacore and artichokes are awesome with basil. Really.

Canned albacore in oil is a great substitute for Italian tuna in this recipe. Though the recipe calls for lemon juice and lemon zest, it’s also nice with lime. You can check out the recipe here.

Other sandwiches to complete the finger sandwich menu might be:

Roast Beef Sandwich with Horseradish Mayonnaise
Recipe here.

Turkey Sandwich with Cranberry Relish and Blue Cheese Butter
Recipe here.

I’d also throw in some prosciutto, mozzarella, and melon skewers as well as a salad.

Drinks

Mimosas
Lavender lemonade
Recipe here.

Desserts

Owl cupcakes. (Tutorial here.) For the base of the cupcakes, I would use these banana cupcakes.

These owls are blue and yellow because baby Connor was basically a Michigan Wolverine at conception.

Chocolate Ganache-Filled Chocolate Cupcakes with Seven Minute Meringue Frosting
I have made these many times, and Connor’s mom, Jody, digs them. They are amazing. The recipe is here.

Shower Gift

Owl Sachets. (Tutorial here.)

These lavender-filled owl sachets smell better than they look. For real.

You can get really elaborate with the decorations and go with a woodland-inspired rustic look for the cupcake stands as well as the flowers or you can keep it simple. If you’re looking for more owl baby shower ideas, you can check out this board I created specifically for Jody’s shower.

And this board includes a ton of owl ideas for a shower, a birthday, or a sorority party. (Fun fact: both Chi Omega and Kappa Kappa Gamma have an owl mascot.)