Oops!

I totally did it again. I’ve been so busy in life: new job, planning a garage sale, cleaning house, possibly hosting Turkey Day at our house. Very exciting things.

I also made a Twitter account. It’s @niftyfoodie. Add me if you’d like. I tweet about more than cooking! :)

I have been cooking and taking pictures, but blogging? Nope. Obviously…

My apologies to those who read my blog. I promise to have great posts this week! Stay tuned…please don’t leave me. :)

8/29/05

This date is forever embedded in my mind. It’s the day that Mother Nature tried to take away my hometown, New Orleans.

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Mother Nature came in the form of a major hurricane.

It was devastating to the area, but thankfully, not to the point to where the city couldn’t come back.

I think Katrina proved to New Orleans that the city is not ready to take on a full-on category 5 storm. Because of that, the Corps of Engineers is working day in and day out to protect the city from what is called “100 year storm”. Many people are against the Corps of Engineers, but from working with these dedicated people for almost a year and a half, I can attest that the people who work there are amazing, intelligent and determined to reach this goal!

It’s relieving to see all of the efforts out in the New Orleans area, because the damage that occurred 4 short years ago was really scary. I remember not being able to talk to my own family for days after the storm, because the cell phone towers were absolutely flooded with calls. Eventually, cell phones were only able to get through to 911 since things were pretty crazy.

I remember religiously watching CNN from my dorm room in awe, because so many places like the mall I went to as a teen was flooded with alligators swimming around it. I remember trying to find out what happened at home. I was so scared because my parents live right off the Mississippi River levee. Thankfully, my parents’ home was fine, but as for my grandmother and aunts? It was absolutely terrible. Their homes were flooded almost halfway up the first floor. They have since recovered, but it was a horribly painful process to get their houses back to normal and many priceless items were destroyed in the flood.

When the storm was over, while school was still closed, our basketball arena became a limbo place for New Orleans refugees. They couldn’t keep so many people there, so it became a rest place for a few hours before you were sent to either Shreveport or Houston, TX. So, my friends and I spent our afternoons volunteering there, making sure people received MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) and understood where the buses would be taking them. I met so many hopeful people there, but it was, at the same time, very upsetting, since these were people I probably passed everyday when I would be home.

6 months later, I decided to finally go home and face it in person. My mother drove me to the Lakeview area, which was right next to a levee breach. I took some pictures of what I saw.

neworleans2This home was right across the street from the levee breach. You can see the water line on this home very clearly. (Just look at the brick that has an orangey hue.)

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You can see the water line very distinctly here, as well as if you look very closely, you can see a white “X” painted on the house to the right of the door. That meant the house was searched for bodies or animals. It listed the date above it when the search occurred, which looks like 9/21. If anything was found, that would be posted on the house as well.

To this day, you can drive by parts of New Orleans where homeowners opted to keep these marks on their homes, in memory of what happened 4 years ago.

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The area of Lakeview had many expensive homes around there. Many of the homeowners simply abandoned their homes, deciding not to return to the city. It was overwhelming to return to what was left. So, insurance companies offered very small amounts of money to buy the land back. This house was easily over $200K pre-Katrina.

It’s really crazy what happened 4 years ago, but every time I drive back home from Baton Rouge, I see more and more places still coming back. It’s great to see the spirit of New Orleans at its highest ever, and I hope it stays that way for a long time. There is no place like home. :)

Dear MyCokeRewards…

I used to be a devout coke drinker and points collector. I would save every 20 oz. cap, every 12 pk. box piece and even embarrassingly raid the recycle bin at work when I saw a bunch of 12 pk. boxes in there for codes. I was dedicated and determined to get a huge load of points!

Then it happened. A visit to the dentist explained it all…I had 8 cavities, 3 of which were so deep, they had to do a root canal and crown. Dang soda, you cost me over $3000 in dental services because I loved you so.

So, we broke up. Cold turkey. I forgot about all 1700 of my points (yes 1700) and decided to go to water and juices. In the past few months, all I had my mind on was the wedding and cleaning the house. I forgot about my reward points….until last night.

I thought about my 1700 points and thought, oh nice! I should redeem these for a killer prize (or two).

I could have won free movie tickets for a date night, free flowers from 1-800-FLOWERS, a Nike gift card, or even a really nice OXO garden tools kit.

However, I forgot about a 90 day inactive account clause. I logged in only to find that my balance was 0 points. I’m heartbroken. Sure, these items were worth about $25, but I was counting on you, MyCokeRewards.

I hope someone at Coke will see this blog and give me my 1700 points back. It’s so doubtful, but it’s a stretch. I’m tempted to call or email but there is no contact information. I’m sure my busy soda boycotting booty is no exception to the clause, but I should be rewarded for the root canals and recycle bin digging in SOME way. :(

Sincerely,
The (now) water chugger

I might have made it to Alabama..

Now that July is over, I can say that I didn’t make it to Panama City for my local YMCA’s July Journey. I went a total of 210 “miles”, which equates to 630 minutes of workouts. It wasn’t quite what I wanted, since I had 115 miles to go, but I feel good knowing that I went pretty far in my journey.

As far as weight loss has gone, I’ve hit a bit of a hump you could say. I haven’t lost in a good while, but I have maintained. I’ll honestly say that I wasn’t really attempting in the past two weeks, so this comes at no surprise. I can’t make excuses, because excuses are for weenies. I just need to move on and get back on track!!

I need to admit, however, back on track is not easy. I’m sure it seems that way…eat less, move more, but it’s much more complicated than that. My obesity stems from years of eating out of boredom, eating from stress, etc. I turn to food very easily. My brain is pretty much on autopilot to crave a chocolate bar in the late morning and a cup of ice cream in the afternoon. It’s hard to override those cravings.

I also have to force myself to the gym. It takes a lot to walk in that circuits class and say that I will do this workout. I start to think, well, I can clean the house…I have dinner to make…Work was hard today. There are better things I should be doing, right?

To help you think that I’m not so crazy, check this out.  ABC News just published a story about a personal trainer who took the plunge to eat poorly and not exercise for a few months. Of course, he gained weight and a lot of it. Now that he’s subbed the apple for the chocolate for months and months, he’s able to truly sympathize with his clients and see what they mentally go through when it’s time to make that change for the healthy. While I don’t think this was such a good idea,  it’s good to read that someone who was perfectly healthy and fit can now understand what people like me battle every single day.

It takes a lot to kill habits. I used to bite my nails in middle school and high school…somehow I got over the habit and now I grow beautiful, long nails. So, just like that habit, I have to break these habits. The habit of snacking…the habit of having better things to do. It’s my life and it’s time to finally take over and live it the way I need to — the healthy way. :)

Have you broken a habit? How did you approach it?

Conquered THE CHEWY!

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One of my favorite Food Network shows is Good Eats. I’m a science geek, and I love how Alton goes into the science and details of why things cook/bake up the way they do. I especially love baking, so when I saw the episode when Alton made the different varieties of the ever so popular Chocolate Chip cookies, I knew I had to try one. I love chewy cookies the most, so naturally, that’s what I went with!

Unfortunately, the first time I made these, something went terribly wrong. The Chewy baked up SUPER flat and greasy. I’m not one to give up, so I decided to try again. This time, being very careful and mindful about each step. (I’m usually not so cautious with cookies!) This time, they baked up super well and I sampled 1 2 of them. They get a thumbs up from me!

The Chewy
Source: Alton Brown

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom medium saucepan over low heat. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.
  3. Pour the melted butter in the mixer’s work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  4. Chill the dough (I chilled for 2 hours), then scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets with a #20 sized scoop, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake for 14 minutes (mine took 12 minutes) or until golden brown, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Blueberry Crumb Bars

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For the What’s Cooking Ingredient Challenge, the challenge ingredient was blueberry. Since the grocery store had blueberries on a good sale, I bought a pint and decided to make the Blueberry Crumb Bars from Smitten Kitchen.

I made these in a half batch since I didn’t have a quart of berries and plus, I’m usually hesitant with any desserts involving lemon. I hate lemony desserts. I know…weird. :)

These bars were pretty good, but I still noticed lemon and I think that’s what probably made the dessert not as tasty to me. Next time I make these, I’ll omit the lemon.

Blueberry Crumb Bars (halved)
Source: Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cold butter (1 sticks or 4 ounces)
1 egg white
1 pinch of salt
Zest and juice of one half lemon
2 cups fresh blueberries
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 8×8 inch pan.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together 1/2 cup sugar,  flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg white. Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

3. In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Yields: 16 squares

A fun painting adventure!

A couple of weekends ago, I treated my mom and I to a fun way to have a girl’s night! For Mother’s Day, I told her we’d go to a painting class at a local business called Corks And Canvas, but she had to choose the painting. My mom is really into New Orleans looking houses, but those sell out quickly, so we had to book WAY in advance.

We ended up choosing a painting called “Mellow Yellow”, which was a 3 hour class. My mom painted years ago, so I knew it would be no trouble for her. However, I never was good at art, so I was a little worried.

I had little fear when we got to our station. The Corks part of the business involves bringing alcohol and drinking the night away, so it seemed very relaxing and chilled out.

They started us off by sketching basic outlines on the canvas.

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Then, step by step, our instructor would tell us what areas to paint, what colors to blend with, etc. Here’s my mom with her mad blending skills!

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After all of the painting was done, we had to outline everything. Let’s just say I’m not very good at outlining hehe! You can tell my mom has a lighter touch, but I still think it looks really good! Can you guess which one is mine? (pretty easy…)

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Mom and I had so much fun with this class that we plan on coming back for more! I definitely recommend a class like this if you have one in your area. :)

Wilton Course 3: Class 2

I’m really enjoying Course 3 so far. I’ve learned a lot of new buttercream techniques ,and while I know a good bit about fondant, I have also learned a few new tips and tricks as well. The thing that was the most fun was making the fondant rose (with Gum-Tex mixed in, essentially making it into gumpaste).

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I really enjoy making gumpaste/fondant flowers. In Fondant and Gumpaste, I learned how to make the carnation and fantasy flower, which I really enjoyed. So, I’m happy about making some of these flowers for my future final cake!! Our teacher is giving us the freedom to make whatever for the class, so I’m excited about the design!

We also made a present cake at the end of the class, which was really cool to make. I was a little afraid of bows, but these are easy peasy. Ignore the cracks in my bow though, because my gum-tex fondant was drying very quickly on me. :( The kleenex in the bow is to help it set in a bow shape, rather than falling in.

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For this cake, I wanted to do a simple yellow cake. For this, I turned to Joy of Baking. I would say this cake wasn’t that impressive tasting, so I’ll keep on searching for something more promising next time. :)

I covered the cake with homemade marshmallow fondant – recipe here.

Yellow Butter Cake
Source: Joy of Baking

Ingredients

  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup (240 ml) milk
  • 2 teaspoons (8 grams) pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups (300 grams) sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (20 grams) baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
  • 12 tablespoons (170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into pieces

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C).  Spray two 9-inch x 1 1/2 inch (23 x 3.75 cm) cake pans with Bakers Joy, line bottoms with parchment paper, then spray again with Bakers Joy.  Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl lightly combine the egg yolks, 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk, and vanilla extract.
  3. In the bowl of your electric mixer combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds or until blended.  Add the butter and remaining 3/4 cup (180 ml) milk.  Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened.  
  4. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake’s structure.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Gradually add the egg mixture, in 3 additions, beating about 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the egg.
  5. Divide the batter and pour into the prepared pans, smoothing the surface with an offset spatula.  (Pans will be about half full.)  Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in center.
  6. Place the cakes on a wire rack to cool, in their pans, for about 10 minutes.  Then invert the cakes onto a greased rack.  To prevent splitting, reinvert cakes so that tops are right side up.  Cool completely before frosting.

Cake Decorating

wfmwbannerKRISTEN

This is a really late post, but this WFMW is not as broad as usual. In cake decorating, you learn how to work with many different mediums. Buttercream, Meringue, Royal Icing, Fondant, Gumpaste, Modeling Chocolate–just to name a few.

Honestly, there are advantages and disadvantages to each one, but my favorite (so far) is fondant. The only problem? Fondant isn’t cheap…at all! At least the pre-made stuff isn’t.

So, when I found a Marshmallow Fondant recipe online, I was skeptical. I was afraid of the sticky gooey disaster, but let me tell you, that stuff comes together!!

Another advantage, marshmallows and powdered sugar are DIRT CHEAP as opposed to a box of fondant! Oh, one more thing….you can flavor it with extracts. No need for hard-to-find candy oils, like you do with regular pre-made fondant.

Here’s the latest cake that I made with Marshmallow Fondant for my Wilton course, and if you’re curious, check out the recipe here!

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Pardon the kleenex and torn ribbon there. It’s been a while since I worked with fondant!

Marshmallow fondant works for me in cake decorating. To see what works for other bloggers, check out We are that Family.

Writing it all down

wfmwbannerKRISTEN

Since starting my diet up again a couple weeks ago, I’ve found that my best weight loss comes from a week when I remember to log EVERYTHING I eat. I started using a notepad that I found at the Dollar Store to fit in my purse,  but when I went to Border’s this weekend, I decided to upgrade!

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This is a log that holds 6 months worth of food/work-out logging with room for goals and things like that. I really like this book so far, and highly recommend it. Had I been smarter, I would have checked Amazon because they are only $6 on here, whereas regular price at Border’s was $15. :

Food logging definitely works for me in helping me lose the weight. What works for you in your diet/fitness plan?

To see what works for other bloggers, check out We are that Family!