Top 10 of 2011

a completely unrelated pic of my cats, Spot and Squeak

It's time for this year's Top Ten list.  I've stolen this idea from my friend, Daniel.  He came up with this over 15 years ago, and I've compiled a Top Ten every year since becoming friends with him.  He got tired of everyone complaining that nothing had happened or that nothing good had happened during the year, so he would make all of his friends do a top ten.  I find it's a great way to look back at the year and forces you to find 10 noteworthy things that happened.

The rules: Come up with a list of 10 significant things that happened to you in 2011.  They don't necessarily have to be good things or major things, just things significant to you.  You can only have 10 things on your list, no more-no less.

This year's list is in no particular order and is actually pretty lame* compared to 2009 (getting engaged, taking a trip to Mexico, getting laid off) and 2010 (finding a new job, getting married, bachelorette in Las Vegas, Kristee's wedding in Myrtle Beach, honeymoon in New Orleans, turning 30, getting tattooed with Mom and Heather), but not every year can be a winner.  I'm going to own 2012, though.

01.  fun weekend trip to Sherwood Faire with friends (hope to repeat this in 2012)
02.  Thanksgiving trip to the ER with Den to get him stitches (this was actually kind of fun)
03.  going an entire year without doing any theatre (can't let this happen in 2012)
04.  starting my blog and my other blog
05.  having my family completely fall apart
06.  saving money for a down payment on a house (now we just need to find a house to buy)
07.  not getting pregnant and finally seeking fertility help
08.  spending Christmas in Houston with my in-laws for the first time
09.  Den, Roger, & Ron starting the Royal Coin Mint at the Texas Renaissnace Festival
10.  birthday trip to Washington on the Brazos

So, what are your Top Ten lists?

*this list started out way more cynical and bitchy than it ended up (thankfully--Daniel taught me well about top ten list making), and while 2011 was certainly lackluster event wise, 2010 was a hard act to follow

Festive Solstice

Here's to brighter days ahead.


Cake Balls

For some crazy reason I decided it would be a good idea to make cake balls this Christmas to give as gifts to everyone.  They seem to be all the rage, and from several sources sounded easy enough to make.  And while they weren't complicated to make, the multi-step process proved to be about as fast and efficient as the DMV. Or maybe it was just me, but I'm usually pretty handy at baking things in the kitchen and keep things fairly streamlined.  Making three batches at once probably didn't help my efficiency much, though.  Either way, I'll probably make them again because the end product is totally worth it.

So I will now share with you the how-to's of cake balling.

You will need:
1 box of cake mix
whatever ingredients the cake mix calls for (usually eggs and veggie oil)
1 can of frosting
chocolate chips or meltable candy coating
vegetable shortening (optional)
wax paper
melon baller or spoon
baking pan(s)
large bowl
cookie sheet(s)
plastic fork
sauce pan (or something to melt the coating in)

First, bake the cake according to the directions on the box.  It doesn't matter what size or shape pan you use.  The important thing is to have cake.

Let the cake cool a little.  You want the cake to be a little warm for this next step, but not hot to the touch.  As soon as you can handle the cake, crumble the whole thing into a big bowl.
crumble the cake

It feels a little weird to essentially destroy the cake you just baked, but you do end up putting it back together eventually, and in ball form, no less!

make sure your bowl is extra large

Next comes the most fun part, in my opinion.  Add the entire can of frosting to the bowl and squish everything together using your hands.  Take your rings off if you wear any because this can get a little very messy.  My biggest bowl barely held all the crumbled cake, so I had to be very careful not to knock any of the crumbs out of the bowl.  So make sure you have a big bowl!

one can of frosting

At this point, what you have in your bowl will be similar to the consistency cookie dough.  You now want to chill your mixture.  I found the colder the mix, the better the ball.  I put mine in the freezer for about an hour before I started balling.

big ball o'cake

Now that your mix has chilled, start balling.  Put a piece of wax paper on a cookie tray so your balls don't stick.  I used a melon baller so I would have similar sized balls (who likes irregular balls, anyway?).  If you don't have a melon baller, I would suggest using a spoon to scoop up some cake mix and then using your hands to roll the mix into a ball like shape.  My melon baller made bite sized balls, and I got almost 100 balls out of one box of cake.  If you only have one cookie sheet, you can put another layer of balls on top of your first layer, just separate them with a piece of wax paper.

rolling balls

Now, put your balls back in the freezer to get nice and cold.  The next step only works if the balls are frozen so they won't disintegrate when you put the candy coating on them.  I froze mine overnight, but one or two hours should do the trick.

For the candy coating you can either use chocolate bark (or another meltable candy coating) or chocolate chips with a little vegetable shortening mixed in.  You want to melt the candy coating either in the microwave or on the stove top.  If you use the stove, use very, very, very low heat so you don't scorch the coating.  Make sure whatever you melt the coating in is deep enough to dip your balls in.  I used the stove top to melt my coating.  Some brands recommend adding a small amount of vegetable shortening to whatever you're melting to thin it out a bit, just follow whatever directions are on the package.

be sure to use very low heat if melting on the stove top

Before you dip your balls, take a plastic fork and break off the two middle tines, leaving only the outer two tines.  This will make it much easier to retrieve your cake balls from the melted candy coating, without either scooping too much coating up with the cake ball or not leaving enough coating on the bottom to cover the whole ball.

my "custom" ball dipping fork

Dipping the cake balls proved to be the most tedious part of the process for me.  You want to dip the balls one at a time because if you dip multiple balls, they get too warm and disintegrate in the melted candy coating.  Balance one cake ball on the plastic fork and lower it into the coating.  I used a spatula to help maneuver the ball around to get it fully coated.

one ball at a time

 Tap the fork on the side of whatever is holding the candy coating to let any excess drip off.  Place the dipped cake balls on another cookie sheet covered in wax paper.  They will set pretty quickly because the balls are already so cold, but if you want them to set even faster, put them in the fridge for about 15 minutes after you have an entire tray done.  I would not recommend double stacking the dipped balls until they are fully set.  And as you work your undipped balls may start to warm up.  If they start to get too squishy, just put them back in the freezer for 15-30 minutes until they firm up again.  You also may have to warm up your coating a time or two to keep it nice and liquidy.

candy coated balls
This is where things got tricky for me.  I spaced my cake balls really close together on the cookie sheet before freezing them in order to maximize space, but there was no way I could place them as close once I had dipped them in chocolate because they would've ended up touching and sticking together.  So it ended up taking me almost 3 days to dip one batch of cake balls.  It went something like this, melt chocolate, dip some balls, put dipped balls on cookie tray, fill up cookie tray, put undipped balls back in freezer, put dipped balls in fridge, wait, repeat.  My system did get a little better on the next batch, but my first batch almost killed me.

finished cake balls

Now you're ready to enjoy the fruits of your labors!  And I think all the work is totally worth it!  Of course, if I had been better prepared for the sheer volume of balls I would produce, I would've made sure to have more room in my freezer and fridge, and I would've bought an extra cookie tray to speed things up.  There's no reason why it had to take me 3 days to get all these done!!!

Have you tried making cake balls?  How did they turn out?  Are you doing any holiday baking?


Twice as Nice

Den and I want Christmas tree shopping last night.  On the way to the store he said he hoped they still had trees and I said I couldn't imagine them not having trees.  Well, store number one was completely out of trees, so we headed to store number two, where we found two remaining trees.  Small, nicely shaped, and oh so sad and alone outside the store.

take us home, please!

Den ran in and paid for one of the trees while I stood outside thinking how lonely the last remaining tree would be once we took it's friend away.  I stood there feeling guilty for breaking up the pair and feeling sorry for the tree we would leave behind.  So I went in and paid for the other tree.  We now have two Christmas trees.  What is wrong with me?!?

I still need to decorate them.  As cute as Pigger and Butt-Naked are, they are not going to live in the trees this year.  It's a good thing I have plenty of ornaments and lights.


Rained Out

Dickens on the Strand happened down in Galveston this weekend.  Den and I planned on going Sunday, but unfortunately it rained.  And rained.  And rained.  Which is actually pretty good, considering we've been in a drought for the last year.  But the weather would've done a number on our Victorian outfits and those things don't come cheap, so we decided to stay home.

But we didn't let our entire Sunday go to waste.  Den had the great idea to head over to Cole's, the local flea market.  And what a day it was!  I put on my galoshes, hoped the rain would wash the blood off them, and headed off on a grand adventure.

bloody boots
the boys are ready to go

slow day at the flea market...where are all the people?

puppies!!!  I always feel sorry for flea-market animals, though....

ahhhhhhhhh!!!!  that puppy ate my finger!!!!

fresh produce

yes, it's December 4th and I'm comfortably wearing shorts outside, and yes, my legs are just that white

my big purchase of the day; a $12 chandelier....not sure what color it's going to end up

puppy; if I could liberate you, I would

yes, I'm still in America

corn in a cup with sour cream and butter; best mid-day snack ever.  Den added hot sauce to his

my flea-market face

chickens--you will be liberated, too

I found all the people; the game was on in the food court

ok, I'll liberate you, too

a room full of cars, perfect for the boys; they have everything here!

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