Catchup.com – Awwwgust Spring

Happy September, everyone!

Well, August just crapped on by didn’t it? It feels like August was like, 2 weeks long.

Let’s see what we’ve been up to…

meal plannin'
meal plannin’

This month, Joel and I started making a big vat of chicken, veggies, and rice stirfry (and peanuts sometimes!) on Sunday night, and packing our lunches for the week. The first three days I was like “seriously? Chicken and rice again?” but now it’s not a big deal. And since we aren’t taking dinner left overs for lunch anymore, our dinners stretch further. Now we’re only making 2 or 3 additional meals, not 5 or 6. It’s cut down on our groceries bill, take out lunches almost never happened (I forgot my lunch once – whoops), and neither of us have had food poisoning (although we’ve started the “new rice after 3rd day” rule). We’ve switched up the stir fry sauces and used hokkien noodles instead of rice a couple times, but overall, it’s the best meal plan step we’ve made. And the cost for a week of lunches = $15.00; $13 if we make our own stir fry sauce. Not too shabby.

Aging
Aging
family photo shootin
family photo shootin

Joel took family photos for our Nye family friends, which meant a day of hanging at the studio with pals and adorable kiddos, and an evening of building legos with the other Henri in my life, and holding 3 month old Amelie. Holding a sweet sweet baby in our apartment while watching Star Wars and hanging with pals? My biological clock maybe went into overdrive by about a gajillion. Let’s not even talk about catching Joel giving Amelie a tiny kiss on the top of her head.

Henri, art directing
Henri, art directing
lego castle building
lego castle building

and seriously, high 5 to Craig who will only let his kids watch the un-retouched version of the trilogy. High 5.

caramel milk drinkin
caramel milk drinkin

Joel took a two week staycation holiday a the beginning of the month, and we might have had a couple days where we didn’t move from the couch. Which was fine by me. It was so good to have him home and happy for so long – even if it did make me incredibly jealous. haha. And if you haven’t had caramel milk, then you should. You don’t know what you’re missing*.

Calamity Caking
Calamity Caking

I woke up from a dream in which I made a cake from scratch. I was low on funds, and we’ve been trying hard not to eat sugary desserts every day, but I really wanted to make a cake. So I looked through my trusty Back in the Day Bakery cookbooks and picked out the Baby Party Cake with Buttercream frosting.  Joel gave me $20 and I ran off to the store to buy flour and butter because I knew I was running low. But it wasn’t until all the butter was measure out, the eggs separated, and flours and powders sifted that I realized I was short on sugar by a whole cup. D’OH. After an emergency google, I substituted with raw sugar.

Then I read that I needed to whip the egg whites into peaks, but I didn’t have a second mixing bowl, or a second mixer, and my beaters were coated with cake batter that looked like cookie dough. I was going to skip the step, but then I remembered that women in the 1800’s made cakes with a whisk and their arm muscles. So I whisked egg whites for 10 [excruciating] minutes and sure enough, peaks formed. And as I folded them into my cookie dough, it almost immediately turned into silky cake batter. hu-fucking-zah.

I've never touched an egg yolk that wasn't runny before. These yolks were squishballs and I could juggle with them. Free range grain fed eggs forever.
I’ve never touched an egg yolk that wasn’t runny before. These yolks were squishballs and I could basically juggle with them. Free range grain and hormone free forever.

Then, my brain deflated. First, I stared at a mixing bowl filled with powdered sugar and cubed butter and thought “this doesn’t seem right. If I mix this, I’ll get a powdered sugar bomb.” And I realized quickly that I forgot to beat the butter and milk first. Whoops. So I fished the butter out, emptied the powdered sugar, and poured in the milk. How much milk? About 3x the amount I needed. So, after using an entire bag of icing sugar and some corn starch, the icing was still runny. Hind sight tells me I should have added more butter and just doubled the recipe so it would have solidified, but I only just now thought of it. And I ended up with green icing.

DSCF2377

DSCF2378

I was really not looking forward to eating the cake. It smelled yum, but the process and the icing made me think it was going to be a dried out mess.

Ohhhhh, was I wrong. It was the best cake I’ve ever had. It was the big cake version of their Old Fashioned Cupcake, which was life changing. So, I dubbed this cake Calamity Cake. It took us a week to eat it (will power was strong), and if I could make another one today, I would. Except I’d make sure I have all the ingredients first.

Calamity Cake eating

taco partying
taco partying
Lettering
Lettering by Joel
More lettering
Lettering by me
Gallery hangin - it's been at least 2 months, and the pictures haven't fallen yet. SCORE.
Gallery hangin – it’s been at least 2 months, and the pictures haven’t fallen yet. SCORE.

Our gallery wall, which we first hung in like, May? Fell within two weeks. Now, to hang photos on our cement walls, we have to use adhesive backed hooks and sticky tack. First, the adhesive has to dry on the hook for 24 hours. Then, it takes a lot of measuring and planning and measuring and planning and then sticking the adhesive hooks and hoping they were in the spot you want them to be in. Then it takes at least 2 weeks for the hooks to cure to the wall before you can hang the frames. Then you have to sticky tack the corners of the frames for extra support. It’s a long process. I just wanted the frames up, and we were tired and just wanted it done, so we skipped the measure/plan/measure/plan step and just fixed the hooks wherever and decided to move the frames around until it looked good. So that’s my long winded explanation about why the frames aren’t evenly spaced and why we don’t have a print in that long brown frame yet. Normally the spacing would drive me crazy. But, a) it’s finally a gallery wall and b) it’s so much better than staring at a white wall.

book readin' (what a sweet surprise gift! I've been reading Shirley Jackson since I was 10. love, love, love her, and the SJ bond I share with my mom)
book readin’

I went to the post office to get what I thought would be the FBI background check for my visa, but I also got a surprise package from my mom. Mom introduced me to Shirley Jackson when I was 9 or 10, and I’ve been in love ever since. I have well worn and well read copies of Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons in my books at home. Most people don’t know that in addition to writing horror stories, she wrote hilarious accounts of her time raising four children and trying to be a house wife. So good.

  • visa finishing – FINALLY. After many theatrics and dollars spent, my finger prints have been submitted. My medical exam is done. NOW all I have to do is wait. Wait, and wait, and wait. And I’m very much looking forward to not having to spend any more money on it.
  • Work – someone here made a big decision about his career, and I couldn’t be more proud or excited for him.
  • It’s officially been a year since I moved from the States. Which means it’s been a year since I’ve driven a car, hugged my family, eaten McDonalds, or lived with air conditioning.

And the views weren’t too shabby

yesssssss
yesssssss
ohhhhh
ohhhhh
mmmhmmm
mmmhmmm

And now it’s September! It’s spring, I’m recovering from stomach flu, I’ve been in Sydney for a year now, and we’re on the track for a good month. Fingers crossed errryone!

*I’m a milk fan, which is great, because people here drink milk like it’s water. And so, there are heaps of flavours to choose from. Yuummmm

Back to Cakes

In March of 2012, I was a mess.

Mess.

Like, moving out of your boyfriend’s apartment and back in with your parents, unemployed, emotional, drunk, extremely fragile mess. I joke now about my tendency to hole up in bed, in sweat pants, watching Teen Mom on repeat, but this is where it started. And I did it for about 30 hours a week, when I wasn’t obsessively rearranging my bedroom or using any opportunity to just get obliterated, in an attempt–I mean, in the worst possible way possible–to get on with my life. Basically, I was trying to dig myself out of the hole that was my life, but I just dug myself in deeper.

It was around this time that my mom and her best friend Sue went to visit Sue’s son Matt and his wife Mandy in Savannah, GA. Mandy took mom and Sue to one of her favorite local eateries, Back in the Day Bakery, and mom brought back some of their Old Fashioned Cupcakes for my dad and me. I have a very distinct memory of that day, as I often do with food that changes my life.

I was unshowered and in my pajamas and had just cancelled all my work plans when mom presented the adorable paper box to me, tied with red and white string and hand stamped with the bakery’s name. The box had a couple greasy spots on it, which immediately intrigued me. After all, grease spots most often forecast a delicious treat. Inside the box was a small cupcake covered in pink icing and white sprinkles. I grew up hating frosting and hating cupcakes because they were mostly frosting. But, I didn’t care. Suddenly I needed to eat this cupcake. I peeled the paper and shoved it frosting first into my face.

Wow.

What a cupcake. Even after a 10+ hour journey in a non-air tight container, this cupcake was perfect. It had the most amazing texture. The best flavor. And it tasted real. Like the first person to have ever created a cupcake had made them in their kitchen from scratch and had delivered it to me. There was no fake sugar taste that accompanies most frosting. It was real butter cream–and all you could taste was butter and sugar. And the cake was moist and had the perfect crumble. Even the sprinkles were tasty. You could taste the attention to detail. It was incredible.

I remember when I was done eating it, I was sad. I was sad all the time back then, but this was a new, different kind of sad. I had a Lester Burnham moment and thought, “This will be the highlight of my day.” And I took a picture of the empty wrapper.

IMG_3531That cupcake, and the three more I ate immediately after, lifted my spirits in a beautifully weird way. Like, the fact that I could love something that I had so long hated made me feel like change within myself wasn’t impossible. Like I had been judging things too quickly. It was cupcake empowerment. Or it was a massive sugar high. But either way, I felt better than I had in a long time.

As with most sugar highs, the feeling was short lived. Most unfortunately. However, a few weeks later, Mandy sent my mom Back in the Day Bakery’s first cookbook that had just been released, signed by chef and co-owner, Cheryl Day. I leafed through it, hoping to find the recipe for the cupcakes that shone a light for me. And lo and behold, there it was. And that to die for butter cream frosting, too.

I took a few hours and I read the cookbook from cover to cover. I didn’t have much baking experience beyond one cobbler recipe, Toll House cookies, and Betty Crocker box mixes. I had attempted a from scratch cake and icing the summer before, but it was still pretty slip-shod. But the Days presented baking and cooking in such an accessible, and funny way that made me want to roll up my sleeves and try. So that’s what I did.

And I loved it.

That first batch of cupcakes helped in a way I didn’t fully realise at the time. Baking gave me an outlet, something to focus on. Following precise instructions gave my brain a break from worry and grief. And looking at the plate of cupcakes, frosted and sprinkled, knowing they were as delicious as the ones made in Savannah, gave me a shot in the arm. I had created something. And it was damn good. And it made everyone who tried it happy. It was the fulfillment I needed in a dark time.

I baked all summer. Some fails, some awesome successes. It was centering, calming, and exciting, even when it made me want to rip my hair out (see: double boiling). But I was productive. As I baked and cooked, life felt easier. For those moments I was in the kitchen, everything was good. And that’s how it’s been since.

Setting down to make something from scratch never fails to make me feel good and right about the world. And I give all the credit to that first batch of cupcakes, and that first cookbook that brought me some hope–something I got to tell Cheryl Day herself last summer when I finally got to go to see the bakery in Savannah.

I haven’t had many chances to bake since I’ve been in Sydney. Mostly because I didn’t have a mixer or pans, and also because I’m still learning my way around Fahrenheit and Celsius and that whole “metric system” thing. So when Joel and I were looking through Back in the Day Bakery’s new cookbook, Back in the Day Bakery: Made with Love, which my mom so awesomely sent to me, and I noticed how wide his eyes got when he saw the Caramel Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting, I knew I had a baking project ahead of me. Yesssssssss.

First, there was plotting. I went to Victoria’s Basement, a kitchen and homewares store that sells items at deep, deep discount, to buy supplies. Then there were 3 trips to grocery stores to find all the ingredients. With Joel gone for two evenings, I knew I had plenty of time in case I screwed up and had to start all over. I measured out my butter and put it out to warm, and then, it began.

There was a minor catastrophe while making the caramel sauce (hello seizing caramel and 40 minutes of stirring over low heat to smooth things out), and I might have rushed things and burned my fingers and over baked one of the layers a tad, but overall, the cake was delicious. And it brought back all the good feelings that that first round of cupcakes brought.

DSCF1671DSCF1683And I’d say it was pretty damn good.

DSCF1688If you need me, I’ll be in the kitchen.