Wednesday, March 31, 2010

faith, hope, love, and overstimulating fabrics

As a bright-eyed Positive Psychology student I get to study peoples strengths. One of my favorite lines of research looks at the characteristics that seem to be valued and related to happiness across cultures and generations. Of the 24 "character strengths" two that seem to be among the best predictors of happiness are hope and love. And spirituality isn't far behind. So, when I saw a pattern for a "Faith, Hope, and Love" baby quilt I was full off nerdy enthusiasm! That was, until I realized it was made out of religious fabrics. I don't want to make a social statement with my baby gift, I just want to spread a little joy.
My cousin just had her first baby, and although I love my cousin dearly, she's a bit of a handful. I decided, as I browsed quilt patterns, that if any baby is going to need a little faith, hope, and love it's going to be little Lilja (pronounced LIL-YUH).
Since I don't follow directions well, and didn't like the Christian fabrics the pattern was trying to hoist on me I set off in search of an alphabet panel to make my own. As it turns out there weren't many alphabet panels made this year. After hours of scouring every quilt shop and JoAnns in the inland empire I finally found the "Maizy" print with letters on it. I didn't much care for the coordinates, though, so I spent another month tracking down fabrics from the far reaches of the state (and my stash) to put this one together.
I ended up using 8 inch blocks of 5 different fabrics (I bought 1/4 yards of all but the one with the big print, which I got 1/2 yard of, just to be safe) to make this 40x40 snuggly baby quilt.
I cut each letter out of the "Maizy" panel and appliqued them onto each 8 1/4 inch square using Heat n' Bond light, then used a tight zig-zag around the edge of each letter to prevent fraying. Once all the letters were on I pieced the top together. I used half of a 1.25 yard cut of Hobbs Heirloom 80/20 batting and a 1.25 yard cut of JoAnns brand "minkee" to back the quilt. I tied each corner with #5 perle cotton and bound it by hand.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Starting off with a Bang: The Car Bomb Cupcake

I know St. Patty's day has come and gone, but we still have one precious day of March left to pretend to be Irish, and I couldn't wait a whole year to share my favorite recipe of all time: The Car Bomb Cupcake. Inspired by a very difficult and very time consuming recipe that turned everyone's favorite St. Patty's day drink into a cupcake, I decided to simplify and lighten for my own version of these amazingly festive treats. These cupcakes take all the best parts of a Car Bomb: Guinness Draught Stout, Jameson Irish Whiskey, and Bailey's Irish Cream, and make them into a dessert your friends won't soon forget (and I promise, there is not enough alcohol in them for your friends to forget).

1 box Pillsbury Super Moist Dark Chocolate Cake Mix
3 eggs
1/3 cup canned pumpkin
1 bottle (12-oz) Guinness Draught Stout

Preheat oven to 350˚. Combine cake mix, eggs, and pumpkin in a large bowl and slowly mix in beer. Mix well for 2 minutes on medium speed, being sure to scrape the sides of the bowl to incorporate beer into all the batter. Line 24 cupcake cups with paper liners and fill each to 2/3 of the way full with batter. Bake for 18-22 minutes. Remove cupcakes from the oven and allow them to cool while making the ganache.

Whiskey Ganache
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup milk
3 tbsp Irish whiskey*

In a double boiler bring the milk up to a simmer. Add chocolate chips and stir constantly with a wire whisk until the chocolate is smooth and melted. Remove from heat and stir in whiskey. Cool in the refrigerator for about one hour, checking every 10 minutes or so to make sure it hasn't set up too much.

Bailey's Frosting
16 oz (one container) Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Vanilla Frosting
4 tbsp Irish Cream

Chill frosting before using. With an electric mixer whip frosting well before slowly adding the Irish Cream. If frosting gets too loose add powdered sugar to thicken it back up.

Assembling your cupcakes
With a small spoon (if you have a grapefruit spoon use it!) remove a 3/4 inch section from the center of each cupcake. With a spoon, fill each hole with chocolate ganache. Allow a minute for the chocolate to settle and seep into the cupcakes, then go through a second time and fill them up to be flush with the top of the cupcake.
Using a piping bag if you have one (or a ziplock bag with one corner cut off if you don't), top each cupcake with a generous swirl of frosting.

* Don't try to get away with using whatever whiskey is in the house if you have any friends that know anything about whiskey. They'll call you out on it if it's not Irish whiskey.

Ready for a real mess?

My whole life I've been a mess-maker. As a little girl I got in trouble for puff-painting my own bedspread and melting chocolate in Tupperware on the electric stove, and now my roommates roll their eyes when I pull out my Dremel tool or the Kitchen Aid. I have always been curious and creative, and have finally decided to share my adventures, and sometimes misadventures, with the world.
I'm a graduate student in Positive Developmental Psychology at Claremont Graduate in Southern California, but was born and raised north of the SF Bay Area. You can't be a grad student without being a bit of a nerd, so be prepared for a good smathering of psychology talk and random facts, but then, you can't be raised in Sonoma County without loving good food, good wine, and good friends, so that ought to make up for some of it.
I hope you get as big a kick out of the messes I make as I get out of making them, and who knows, maybe you'll even get inspired to head out into the world and make a little crafty trouble yourself.