Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I choose pie heaven.

Two weeks ago I took a class on pie making at the Academy of Culinary Arts. My mom was supposed to go but couldn't because of a last minute meeting, so Ryan said she'd go with me. (This was more out of being nice than pure interest on her part.) It was a fun class, anyhow, and Ryan decided she was going to use her new knowledge to make the pies for her family's Thanksgiving dinner.

The pictures below are all of the pies made so far. The pecan and key lime were made by Ryan (yes - she made the pie dough from scratch!) and the pumpkin and chocolate pies were team efforts. The apple pie is mine, and I'm going to make my own pecan pies tonight. (I made a batch last night and fell asleep, so they burned up pretty well.)

Without further ado...





Key Lime

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving! And eat lots of pie.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Shiny, happy cookies.

My latest culinary endeavor was buttery sugar cookies with a simple icing for The Maple Tree's holiday open house. I was excited to try blending the icings on the snowflakes, and the above light blue one came out best. Isn't that swirl in the center great? I drizzled icings together, too, like on the stars above. It was all neat effects, and the icing dried just as I hoped - hard, shiny and sweet.

Apparently people at the open house were asking what bakery they came from. And if I do say so myself, they tasted just as delicious as they looked... which was probably the best part.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

November Charity: Community FoodBank

I'm trying something new. Each month, I will highlight a charity (it could be local, national or worldwide) and feature it on my blog. I will be making a $25 donation to that charity. It doesn't seem like much, however that is part of the point of why I'm doing this - to show that every little bit helps. I'm also doing this because charities have been hard hit by the recent economic crisis, and I'm hoping by highlighting a charity a month it will spark others to donate, too - donate money, items, time - anything to help. Choose your favorite charity and help make a difference.

This month's charity is the Community FoodBank of New Jersey Southern Branch. The FoodBank is located in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, and supplies food (and some non-food) items to charities across three counties - Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland. It also houses its own emergency food pantry. This non-profit is run almost entirely by volunteers, with just a few paid employees, and it relies on the kindness of the communities it supports to keep its shelves stocked.

Unfortunately, an influx of people in need (because of mass layoffs in the area) has been wiping out the FoodBank, and it has been hard to keep its own pantry stocked let alone give supplies to the hundreds of others it works with (these include food pantries, food kitchens, homeless shelters, etc.). Items that are especially needed include turkeys, protein of any type (canned beef stew, canned hams, tuna fish, etc.) and coats.

On Friday I dropped off two turkeys, eight packages of instant mashed potatoes, four cans of green beans, four cans of corn and three cans of gravy to the FoodBank. One of the turkeys I bought for $30. The other was free from Acme's Thanksgiving promotion (spend enough money, get a free turkey). The groceries I bought all on sale and that cost me $20. So for $50*, I supplied enough food for two modest holiday dinners for a family of six.

When I spoke to the FoodBank's director earlier this month, she said, "If everybody could donate, would donate, we'd be in much better shape." She said she understood times being tough - it was tough for her, too - but if she could pay her mortgage, put gas in her car and pay her bills, she could afford $5 or $1 or just one can of food a week to donate to a local food pantry.

That one can of food - to you, it may not seem like a big difference. But to that person it feeds for one meal, it's huge.

*I know I said I'd be donating $25 a month to the charity of choice, however if I am able to, I will certainly try to donate a little bit more than that.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Where's the snow?

They've already started.

The snow predictions.

Every year, the meteorologists go snow-crazy, with a light dusting overnight here and snow showers through the afternoon there. And then...


This year is following suit nicely. This week we've already had a few snowy forecasts, and save for a handful of flurries yesterday, there hasn't been much white falling from the sky. It's okay - it's still early in this season. Sometimes I just wish the weather forecasts would ease up, though. It's disappointing, the promise of some snow and then the delivery of barely cloudy skies.

I'm still a kid at heart when it comes to snow, waking up in the morning and quietly peering outside, the disappointment all over my face when I'm not gazing out at a world of white. There's a prediction of light snow showers today, enough to cast a snowy blanket over the area for at least an hour or two.

Let's keep our fingers crossed!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Everything is okay.

As I walked across the Starbucks parking lot this morning sipping my Peppermint Mocha Twist with the first flurries of the year floating to the ground, I knew everything was okay. It sounds trite, but in that simple little moment, I was reminded that I am happy and life is not perfect, but good.

I started to crash yesterday in early afternoon. My worries and stresses caught up with me, and I was suddenly feeling incredibly overwhelmed and anxious. Some rough things happened at work this week. We powered through and things pulled together just fine, however trying to remain calm, cool and collected through the whole ordeal ultimately took its toll. Yesterday was deadline day for one of our editions, and I continued to finish everything like I needed to, but my mind was whirring. I felt like I was in a fog. How were the next few weeks - the next few months - going to shape up?

I stayed almost an hour late at work trying to map out the next two weeks. I figured out what there was to cover for stories and how I could juggle my schedule to get to it all. I saw my free time - my crafting and baking and shopping time for the holidays - slowly slipping away. I realized one event I wanted to get into the paper was on John's birthday night, and it just simply wasn't going to get covered now. (Because I certainly wouldn't be skipping my boyfriend's birthday dinner.) That unnerved me, though. How many things would conflict? How much more would we miss?

When I got home, I tried to unwind, only to realize I had cupcakes to make for the high school's scholarship dinner Thursday night. Ryan was awesome, though - after making a great dinner, she stopped at the grocery store for me while she was running an errand and picked up a couple things I needed. I ended up making pale pink mini cupcakes with bright pink frosting (pictured above), since the theme of the dinner is "Pink Panther" because it is being held the same night as the school play's opener. The baking helped me relax (as usual) and I took Piper for a nice long walk. It was freezing, but the cold night air calmed me down, too.

Which brings us to this morning. I delivered my cupcakes, and they loved them. I went to cover a story but was told the wrong day, and that's how I ended up grabbing a quick Starbucks. With the Christmas music playing, the flurries falling, holiday decorations going up all around... it pulled the rest of the worry out of me.

Work will be okay. I won't really let it not be okay. And life is okay. I have bills, I don't much money, but I have a great family, a wonderful boyfriend, some close friends and my entertaining (albeit exhausting) dog. And I have a job - right now it's not exactly the best job, there are a lot of concerns, but I'm lucky to know I'll still have this job tomorrow and next week and next month.

It's all going to be okay.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Want a tree?

The Atlantic County Women's Center is hosting its annual "Trees of Hope Festival" from now until Dec. 18. Visitors to Cornerstone Commerce Center (New Road in Linwood) can stop in the atrium, check out the trees, and participate in a silent auction by using the bid sheets posted near each tree. There are all types, too - a tree full of stuffed bears, a little retro silver tree, a white tree popping with vibrant balls and bangles.

All of the trees are donated by area businesses and organizations. My office sponsored a tree for the second year. I spearheaded the efforts again. Last year we had a silver and blue snowflake themed tree. This year it's a cream and cranberry seashell theme. The only thing I wish is that I had some larger shells on it, too. Otherwise, doesn't it look beautiful?

My mom helped my make the seashell ornaments - I glued, she glittered. Above are just a sampling. They sparkle when the lights are turned on. There are also cream and cranberry colored Christmas balls, cranberry beads, cranberry and cream ribbon and a glittery starfish topper.

You know you want to bring this gorgeous tree home for the holidays. Go bid. All proceeds benefit the women's center, which is a safe haven for women and children throughout Atlantic County. Find out more about ACWC.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

First cookies of the season

My mom and I started baking for our holiday gift giving today. You may be thinking, "Really? Today? On November 9th?" We're actually behind where we were last year. My mom started in October and I started the first week of November. If you bake the right types of cookies that have long freezer-times, you're safe to start baking early. And with as many cookie gifts as we give out and the thousand of cookies we end up pulling off, we simply have to start early.

Today we made four cookies - crackles, peppermint pinwheels, cappuccino cookies and coconut bars. It was a rather discouraging baking day. First, my mom's crackles didn't turn out, well, very crackle-y. They're pictured above. They tasted great, though, and still looked very pretty. After the dough cooled down she was able to make the whole crackle-effect better, or at least that's what she reported to me after I returned home.

Second, my peppermint pinwheels didn't turn out nearly as nice the photo in the cookbook. I'm really bummed, too, because this was a very long, involved recipe. I added crushed peppermint to the white swirls, and I shouldn't have done that because it melted and made the cookies all blotchy. I'll leave that out next time - or make sure I crush it extra fine. The white swirls also browned in the oven, and they weren't supposed to, but when I pulled the cookies out early they weren't finished baking yet. They do taste mighty yummy, though.

Here's a couple of the best cookies:

I haven't done the cappuccino cookies yet - I was so upset about the stupid pinwheels that I decided I'd hold off on that dough until tomorrow. (All I have left is to bake the dough - it's a slice and bake recipe.) The bar cookies my mom made earlier turned out really well, although I didn't taste them.

When we bake, the most important thing for my mom is that the cookies look pretty. The most important thing for me is that they taste good. And even though our cookies today didn't go as planned, they still meet both of our requirements. We're now about 25 dozen cookies closer to Christmas.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Rain, rain go away...

It's been raining for forever. Or at least for four days, which is far from forever, I suppose... but you know how when it's damp and dreary and gray, it seeps into your psyche and you just forget what the sunshine is like? That's how I'm feeling right about now.

I have another headache and I am driving up to John's in a little while to spend the evening with him. We were going to go to Second Saturday in Collingswood, but walking around in the pouring rain on a chilly night isn't really my cup of tea - or John's. Instead we're just going to grab dinner and (I hope) rent a movie and stay in. Rainy nights are nice for snuggling and movie watching, no?

Oh, and I hope we can grab some hot chocolate at Starbucks.

So, I know I just blogged about Starbucks, but I forgot to talk about a couple of exciting things going on with the company. And just to get it out of the way - I do, I love love love Starbucks. (As though you couldn't tell.) They serve consistent, quality fare at all times, and what more can you ask for? It's nice to be able to rely on something, even if it's as simple as a cup o' coffee. I frequent the local, independent coffee place in my town, too, but it's actually pricier than Starbucks. Anyway...

Starbucks is starting a new philanthropic effort. (Starbucks) Red launches on Nov. 27, and when you buy certain (Starbucks) Red products, a portion of the proceeds is donated to the Global Fund, to help save lives in Africa. Read about it right here. It's mainly just a countdown, though - no hint at what (Starbucks) Red is really about.

It gets me to wondering - what will these products be? A special coffee blend or flavored beverage? Classy mugs or tumblers? Totally different items made specifically for the cause, like apparel or accessories? I'm definitely thinking the company will stick to what it does and what it does well, so its graphic design and idea teams must have been pretty busy as of late. I'm envisioning mugs and tumblers, yes, and probably journals and pens, too. Maybe a sampling of cards, a cool new Starbucks gift card design, and some special coffee blends. I can't see them bringing in new stuff that's been foreign to the store in the past.

Starbucks also just started its Starbucks Gold Card. As the website says, it's the card for "people who really love Starbucks." There's a $25 membership fee. The Starbucks Gold Card will afford you 10% discount on most purchases, a free drink in-store if that's where you purchase your membership, a free birthday beverage, discounts throughout the year, special offers and free WiFi access in-store for up to two hours every day.

Inarguably, this is a good deal for those who frequent Starbucks. I'm tempted to get it myself, however I recently promised myself I'd stop going to Starbucks so often - it's down to once or twice a week. It's a very expensive habit, and I don't have money to be squandering, even on something as quality and delicious as Peppermint Mocha Twists or Pumpkin Spice Lattes. So I don't know if I'm going to become a Gold Card member yet. But it's sure tempting.

That wraps up my nice little free advertising for Starbucks! I'm going to go get ready to leave for John's now and try to enjoy this lovely rainy weather.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Peppermint Mocha Twist

John and I had our first Peppermint Mocha Twists of the holiday season today at Starbucks. I don't remember the Christmas drinks coming out this early last year. The store isn't decorated yet, though - that happens the day before Thanksgiving. Or the day after? Something like that.

I like the holiday cups. I think last year's might have been slightly cuter, but these are pretty neat, too. Nothing can be worse than those weird cone wreaths from a few years ago. I don't know what Starbucks was thinking.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Get out to the polls and vote today. You'll be making history.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Happy Haunting

Ryan and I threw a lovely little post-Halloween bash Saturday night.

It was a small gathering, but of all quality people, so it made for a fun time. There were friends from across the board - John and his crew, a sprinkling of college folk and my coworker Eric. Plenty couldn't make it for various reasons (work-related, apartment moving-related, hung over from Phillies celebrating and/or Halloween night related). Nevertheless, I think everyone had a pretty good time.

We did, however, have a slew of leftover alcohol, most of which wasn't even tapped into. I guess another party is in order.

Thanks to Joe for the photos!