Thursday, March 19, 2015

Pi Day Car Bomb Whoopie Pies

When you're a professor and spend every waking minute with other Ph.Ds things sometimes get a little nerdy. Luckily, when you're a professor, you dig how nerdy your friends are. So, when 3/14/15 rolled around and I was invited to a "Pi Day" party at which we would make a toast at 9:26:53 (yes, down to the second) to celebrate this once a century occurrence of 3.141592653 I was obviously very excited.

The assignment was to come up with a "Pi themed pie" but it was specially requested in the invite that we be creative with our pie selections. To avoid a table full of the same pies, our hosts recommended pizza pies, fruit pies, pot pies, any pies! I first considered making an apple pie, because apple pie is simple an delicious, but after a lot of pondering (when I probably should have been prepping lectures) I decided I wanted to do something more creative. Perhaps a pie I'd never made before? Perhaps, a whoopie pie?

The first thing I did was look up whoopie pie on Wikipedia. A California girl, I've never even a seen a whoopie pie in real life, much less made one. The recipes I found seemed simple enough. Chocolate cakey cookie, white frosting. I can do this. But then, that seems awful boring... It was then that realized that this would likely be the only chance to make a St. Patrick's Day dessert. After all, I like to maximize my holiday spirit (and my holiday spirits).

So, I pulled up my car bomb cupcake recipe from years ago and set to work trying to make an Irish Car Bomb Whoopie Pie to commemorate the overlap between Pi day and St. Patricks's Day.

Car Bomb Whoopie Pies
Makes 20. 

1 box Pillsbury Super Moist Dark Chocolate Cake Mix
3 eggs
1/2 bottle (6-oz) Guinness Draught Stout

Preheat oven to 350˚. Combine cake mix and eggs 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. Let batter sit for at least 10 minutes to become more stiff. Liberally grease or line 2 baking sheets Spoon out batter into approximately 1 to 2 oz portions on cookie sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes. Remove cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on wire racks. Makes apx. 40 cookies

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. Should be the consistency of thick syrup/loose honey.

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.

Match cooled cookies into pairs of equal size. If cookies are uniform you can skip this step, but let's be real, they're not. 
Using a small offset spatula or butter knife, frost one cookie from each pair with Bailey's frosting. Sandwich frosting between cookies and set aside. Repeat until all cookies are made into sandwiches. NOTE: I just barely had enough frosting to make all 20 sandwiches. So, if you like more frosting, rather than less in your whoopie pie, plan to double your frosting recipe. 

Place wire racks a cutting board, cookie sheet, or other large, easy to clean flat surface. Remove chilled ganache from refrigerator and dip each sandwich to cover half with ganache. Place on wire racks and chill until ganache is firm. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Updating the craft room closet

Last weekend the sun came out for the first time in ages. The college students in town put on their swimsuits and binge drank to celebrate. Your Professors, on the other hand, enthusiastically set to work cleaning and updating our homes.

My weekend task was to deal with the craft room closet. This space was quite literally the first thing that I made a mess of upon arriving. Anything the movers didn't know what to do with I shoved in the closet. Then, as the months went by, I just shoved more and more things in the closet, since it was already beyond hope. 

By the end of winter it looked like this. You can see that there isn't really much in it (although I didn't photograph the piles of junk on the floor) because the space just wasn't well designed for what I need. 

I started by taking everything out an assessing the situation. Three hanging rods, two shelves, a dozen mismatched hooks, and three colors of paint (fun fact, this closet has been both pink and mint green in it's past). Since this is a craft room and not a bedroom, it was clear to me that what I really needed was shelving. 

To the lumber store I went in my little tiny Echo and asked the young man in the lumber yard to help me put my 8' board lengths in through the window. "I'll just hold them with one hand while I drive," I assured him. "I'm not going far." He mumbled something under his breath and wandered off. I drove home cautiously. 

At home, I unboxed the fancy miter saw my parents got me for Christmas and set it up in my basement. To make the 2 shelves I cut 6 lengths of 1x4 and 2 lengths of 1x10 and 2 lengths of 1x8. I screwed the 1x4 in place in the closet. 

The whole closet was already in need of paint, so I gave all of the trim and the new shelf joists a coat of high gloss white. I realized I never finished painting the closet floor, so I gave it a little touch up job, and pulled out the gallon of Antique White I've been using to hide a multitude of sins in this house to give the rest of the closet a once over. Then, I spent my evenings after work painting various pieces of shelving (1x8 and 1x10) in high gloss to match. 
I picked up a new chain pull for the overhead light so that it could be switched on (there wasn't one when I moved in, which is mind blowing because if you recall, this room was a chocolate brown cave-- so I can only assume that the girl living in this room was a mess at all times...) I replaced the hodge podge of various hooks and clips that had been mounted over the years with two matching coat hooks spaced perfectly for my ironing board (thanks pinterest) and put it all back together. 

I was able to put about twice as much stuff back in the closet as I initially took out and it still looks better than it did. 
Closet organization for the win. Who needs to binge drink in the sun anyway?

Monday, March 9, 2015

A key hook 2 years in the making

If you know me at all you know that I am pretty much always looking for something. My cell phone, my ID, my keys, and now, my mittens. Despite my efforts to stay organized, my keys allude me about 80% of the time. When I lived in a shoebox of an apartment it was pretty easy to find the missing object most of the time. I only had 800 square feet to search. But now with 3 bedrooms, a garage, a basement, and living space, the search for missing objects has become a significant portion of my day.

In an attempt to get the key situation under control I decided I need a key hanger. About 2 years ago I saw this key hook on Pinterest and thought it was a great and very cute solution. I started saving keys for the someday project. I kept a little cache of my high school locker keys, bike lock keys from the locks cut off my stolen bikes, keys to apartments I moved out of, etc. In November the day finally came that I had enough keys! All I had to do was bend them and I would have something as beautiful as this.
I brought the keys home with me for Christmas and asked my dad for his help with the key bending. We went out into his cold garage to find pliers and he gave the first key a tweak. It snapped in half. He tried another, same result. At this point I decided that this wasn't going as planned. Perhaps my dad lacked the finesse necessary for such a task.

I went went back home to Wisconsin and tried again in my warm house, with my remaining keys. I broke one immediately. I tried warming the key over a candle first then bending, and broke another. I was beginning to give up hope. Then, I decided to give up and use one "real" key that came with my house. After all, a key to your first home seems like a good sentiment for the key holder. Of course, this one bent perfectly the first time with no trouble.

Luckily around this same time I was fighting another battle with keys my home. See, when I moved into my house I was given about 10 keys. All of them opened knobs on 3 of the 4 exterior doors and the deadbolt on the back door. The front door, conversely, had no key at all. This was completely unfathomable to someone moving from LA, but when I asked the realtor he simply explained that people don't lock their doors here. What!? Needless to say I had the lock changed so that I could lock my front door, but when I did so was given exactly one key to the door. Copies, I figured would be easy enough to get made. This is where I was wrong. I tried the local True Value Hardware, but the kid learning made me two copies with the wrong blank that wouldn't fit in the door. I tried the "Minute Key" kiosk at Menard's and got two more keys that didn't work. I went to Home Depot and the women there told me that no, they couldn't make that key. So I stopped locking my door again and hid the key away for fear of losing it, but on the bright side, at least I had more keys to play with.

When I heated it up and tried to bend it, one of the useless keys from the True Value ALMOST worked. I was just giving it a tiny final tweak when it snapped. Infuriated, I pulled out the super glue and stuck it back together. The "Minute Keys" alternatively, bent without a fight. Of course, they're the ugliest ones.

After this whole fiasco I had spent about $15 in keys and burnt myself twice. I had a scary little graveyard of broken keys to my house, car, old apartments and padlocks, and I had exactly 4 kind of ugly bent keys.

Good enough.

I went to Goodwill and paid 99 cents for this sweet "Gone Fishing" sign that I can only imagine adorned the wall of someone old man's office.
I removed the metal hanger and gave it a couple of coats of white, glossy spray paint. Then, I tried to come up with a classy way of attaching a ribbon to the back. I tried nails, I tried glue. But alas, duct tape was the answer.
Using some little baby-sized 6 cent screws and my cordless screwdriver I affixed my 4 ugly bent keys.
All in all, this is not at all what I expected, but it was 2 years and about $20 in the making, so I'm hanging it up anyway.