August LootCrate

Remember how I decided to get Ryan a subscription to LootCrate for his birthday?  The August box arrived yesterday!
Theme: HEROES

What’s inside:

  • HEROES booklet
  • Shwings – shoe accessories
  • Deadpool Magnet
  • Groot Funko POP! figurine
  • Monthly button
  • TMNT Leonardo’s bandana glasses
  • TMNT Leonardo kidrobot figurine
  • Sonic the Hedgehog air freshener
  • Digital Loot card with codes for 3 games/apps

After July’s VILLIANS box, Ryan was a little hesitant if it was the right fit.  It was cool and all, but he didn’t really associate with the posters and socks.  After seeing the loot this month, he’s now excited.  When he had time to sit down and check out the items, the first thing he did was put on the TMNT Leonardo glasses.  He said that Leonardo was always his favorite character, so it was fitting that he received this particular set (I saw on other unboxings that the other characters were included in the crates too).

My personal favorite item of the box was the Shwings.  I don’t wear lace up shoes, but I would totally rock these (if he’d let me have them).  It’s funny, as each item was being pulled out of the box, I was wondering if it was like Mary Poppin’s carpet bag.   The box didn’t look that big, but more goodies kept coming out!

We’re (I am, at least) excited for next month!

It’s a jungle out there

We may not have the variety of vibrant flowers that you will find in farmers’ markets in the Pacific Northwest, but there is something to be said about the access to tropical fruit!

My childhood home is nestled in a jungle.  Ok, that’s an exaggeration, it wasn’t always.  Through years of overgrowth, the jungle has taken over.  My parents grew all sorts of plants.  Pulling up to our house, you would immediately notice the wall (it was a fence) of Surinam cherries, stalks of tall orchid plants, and a large monster of Bougainvillea.  Looking closer, you’d see a small garden of carrots, green onion, Hawaiian chili pepper and lemongrass.  Walking around to the back, you’d see a large Money Tree, kalamungay, a star fruit tree, and a trifecta of large shade trees fruiting lychee, avocado, and jackfruit.  Clusters of banana trees, adorn the corners of the yard along with ti leaves in green and red.  Coming around the other side, a unique sight, a mountain apple tree snaking up a retaining wall, too tall for us to reach the fruit, but perfect for our elevated neighbors to snag a shirt full of pommes.  There’s an old trellis once the support for bunches of the tiniest grapes you’ve ever seen, now displaying a collection of colorful orchids in all shapes, colors, and sizes.  Below this, large basins filled with water lilies.  We used to have an outdoor shower, now it’s the watering system for an assortment of potted plants.  There’s a small path with a hopscotch game paved in the concrete that is obscured by a short plumeria tree on one side and an ‘Ohi’a Lehua tree on the other.  So even when the plants weren’t overgrown and all over the place, it still felt like a jungle to me.

Even with the variety of fruits we had growing in our yard, my mom used to wander around Chinatown during her lunch break and come home with exotic fruits like pitaya and rambutan, and bags full of tamarind.  It was always exciting to see what she would find. Granted some of these were probably imported from Thailand or wherever, but I knew people who had this stuff growing in their yards (imagine their jungles!).  This was maybe 20 years ago.

Today, I’m sure you could still walk into Chinatown and find this sort of stuff, but with Farmer’s Markets popping up routinely, why risk being chased by rats and homeless people?  Also, it’s become hip to uncover the unusual.  Look at brussels sprouts, kale and quinoa.  Acai bowls have a permanent space on menus at every cafe.  No one eats iceberg lettuce anymore because mesclun greens and arugula is much more flavorful.  Instead of finding a harvest of pitaya (which isn’t difficult, many stalls at the farmer’s market offer both white and pink varieties), you can find “pitaya bowls” loaded with granola and sliced fruit!

If you’ve never seen pitaya — dragon fruit — in real life, you will think I played with the color options on the image.  Well, I can’t say I didn’t, but it was only to make the picture match what I had in front of me.  My camera on the “normal” setting made the colors appear muted and dull.  It really was this vibrant fuchsia!  It stains like crazy, but why wouldn’t you want hot pink lips (and fingers, and blouse, and pants, etc)?

I hope if you’re ever in Hawaii, you stop at any one of our Farmer’s Markets (they not only have fresh produce, but some stalls offer fresh-baked goods and/or specialize in prepared food items that will knock your slippahs off) or cafes to try the locally grown foods.

Preschool Year 2

It’s amazing how fast kids grow. One day, she is your chubby faced toddler not wanting you to leave the classroom, the next, she’s waking up every hour asking if it’s time for school. No dear, it’s 3am.

See the difference between first day last year and first day this year? She was one of the tiniest kids in the class, but now look at this big girl.

She went in like a pro: put her sleeping mat and extra clothes into her cubby, grabbed breakfast, and said her goodbyes to daddy, mommy, and brother.

I’m so proud of her!

Fancy living needs fancy cookies

As I’ve said before, being out in Hawaii kinda sucks for buying fabric.  But it doesn’t just apply to fabric, it goes for anything, really.  A vendor Ryan works with calculated that things cost something like 230% more in Hawaii than in Texas.

Say a tube of toothpaste is $2.00 in Texas (Just say for example, don’t even get me started on extreme couponing and how with your store card it’s 1.60 and with your 60 cent double coupon plus the manufacturer coupon for 40 cents makes it totally free and you can get 10 of them. STFU.), here the same brand and size would be $4.60. Other thingsn to put into perspective, milk is 6-7 bucks for a half-gallon! Seriously.

So when it comes to other “luxury” things, like Cheryl’s in Ohio or anything from Milk Bar in New York, buying the ingredients to make it ends up costing the same as if you were to just order it off the website and pay the exorbitant amount in shipping fees (oh free shipping you say?  let’s not forgot the offer is only for the 48 contiguous states, so regular shipping still applies, and for good measure, add $15 for handling.  You know, I’ve mailed lots of things, both locally and to the mainland.  It takes the same amount of effort no matter where the intended destination.  Just sayin’.

A few weeks back, while in Orlando, I tried Cheryl’s butter cream frosted sugar cookies.  I had never heard of putting frosting on a cookie, and it shocked the vendors.  It was like telling me you’ve never heard of frosting on a cupcake (I’m pretty sure that’s standard?).  C’mon, why would you put frosting on a cookie?  Frosting is not like icing, it doesn’t even and it would look like a mess if you packed them up.  Whatever, I took 2.

Why had I never had these cookies before?!  I don’t like soft cookies.  Keebler Soft Batch cookies would taste better if maybe they were cooked.  And what is up with frosting on cookies?  But these worked.  Soft sugar cookies with frosting.  It wasn’t just any frosting either, this wasn’t like birthday cake frosting, these weren’t smearing and getting all over.  I would describe it as “frocing” it looked and tasted like frosting, but was more stable like royal icing.  LIGHTBULB!  I know why we don’t have these in Hawaii — frosting isn’t stable in the humidity.  Well, I could definitely do something about that.

 

Soft sugar cookies with pineapple buttercream frosting

**Sugar cookies – adapted from Skip to my Lou

Duncan Hines French Vanilla cake mix
2 large eggs
1/3 c. vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix ingredients well.  It gets thick, but you will want to make sure there are no lumps.  Using a small scoop or teaspoon, make balls about the size of a half-dollar.  Flatten slightly onto a prepared baking sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper.

Bake for 11-13 minutes.  Unless you want a crisper cookie, do not let these brown.  Makes 3 dozen.

**Pineapple buttercream frosting – adapted for Hawaii humidity from Heather Homemade

1/3 c. salted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 c. powdered sugar, slowly adding another 1 1/2 c. until desired consistency
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp of pineapple flavoring
2 1/2 Tbsp milk
5 drops of yellow food coloring

Mix all ingredients together with a hand mixer until smooth.  Frost cookies.

 

The frosting by the original recipe was gorgeous.  It was a pearlescent yellow and had a smooth creamy consistency.  It also melted right off the cookie.  I added more powdered sugar and it got more stiff, but lost that creamy consistency.  I found that using a wet butter knife across the top of the frosting helped with aesthetic.  Doesn’t matter too much though when you start eating them!

I would still place an order with Cheryl’s, as there would be the benefit of flavor variety, but if I’m ever in need of a quick fix, these whipped up nicely.

On a roll

I’m still determined to make a better bread.  I’ve somehow veered away from making ‘survival bread’ and am focusing on making delicious breads to eat.  The first one was too dense, then the next one the crust was hard.  The Spanish rolls were good but not quite as buttery as I imagined. I want to make a bread that looks, smells, and tastes like what I’m imagining in my head.  How do grocery stores and local bakeries do it?  Well, I have a theory and it involves sponge and a a day of letting it sit, but I’m way too impatient for that.

Anyway,  I made some dinner rolls to go with … dinner!  Actually, after dinner.  Apparently, if you’re going to bake in Pyrex you should bring down the oven temp — the crust cooked and hardened while the inside was still dough.  Oops.  So what should’ve taken 20 minutes and consumed with the pasta I made, ended up being an hour post-meal with butter and strawberry jam.  Still good!

There’s one thing I don’t get about all these recipes.  People post them, other people try them and comment about how they love them, but when I try it, it doesn’t come out how everyone else describes it.  Is it being in Hawaii?  The ingredients here aren’t the same (Big Island Hawaiian Honey is a lot darker and actually made my bread look whole wheat)?   I don’t know exactly why.  But what I do know is that I need to boost my confidence and make some recipes that I know will turn out.

Need more chocolate

This past weekend, we went to a party celebrating my brother’s graduation from highschool.  I made cupcakes!

These are my FAVORITE cupcakes and, after a verbiose story from me, they can be your favorite, too.

Last year, for Ella’s 3rd birthday, we threw a carnival-themed party.  Ryan made a Spongebob cut out from plywood.  He cut out the teeth and placed golf tees to hold up ping-pong balls.  These were for target practice.  He helped me make a plywood Cookie Monster with a mouth cutout, and I sewed cookie bean bags to toss in.  We also had a small swimming pool with felt sea creatures and washers with magnetic fishing poles.  We made kits of PVC pipes and fittings so each kid could make marshmallow shooters.  There was a station with bubble solution and pipe cleaners so kids could make their own bubble wands.  You get the point.  They were all unmanned stations, making the parents escort the kids through the different play areas, with bins full of novelty toys.  So as the kids would play, the parents could award the kids with little toys for their goodie bags.

For dessert, I wanted to have a variety of things to satisfy every sweet tooth.  I did a fruit salad, a white cake with fresh strawberry frosting, and a chocolate therapy cake. Everything looked and tasted delicious.  But… It was a VERY hot and humid day.  Both the white cake and chocolate cake MELTED.  Cakes don’t melt, you say.  The frosting liquified and the layers of cake slid off each other.  Also, when someone would cut a slice of either cake, it was lava flow of sweets oozing down from all directions.  It was the saddest display of birthday cakes ever.

I got such rave reviews from both cakes.  I only wished that I could make them more appealing.  I did some research, the frosting needed more confectioners’ sugar to keep it’s stiffness in high humidity.  Ok, so that solved the melting issue, but there was still the problem with cutting.  Well, if they didn’t have to cut into it, that wouldn’t be a problem.  Duh!  Cupcakes!

I experimented with the chocolate cake.  Ok, so one recipe makes a 3-layer, 9-inch cake.  That should be about 2 dozen cupcakes, maybe?  Oh-em-geezy, I ended up making 5 dozen cupcakes with that recipe!  I wasn’t about to make that much frosting, so I cut that recipe in half.  Good thing too, it took twice as much confectioners’ sugar for it to maintain it’s structure in the Hawaii humidity.  I ended up piping it on top of each cupcake and decorating it with half a cookie.  I’ve made this recipe as cupcakes 3 times.  After the second time, Ryan said maybe I should ask for his permission if I’m going to bake again.  Not only does it make way too many to consume (rather, that you should consume), but it takes a lot of time to prep, bake, and frost.  So really, a large party is my only excuse to make this recipe.

So, there you have it.  The most delicious chocolate cupcakes!  As I mentioned, beware, it makes a lot.

Recipe — make the cake recipe, fill cupcake liners about half full.  Cut frosting recipe in half, add more confectioners’ sugar until desired consistency.

Subscribe to this idea

This year for Ryan’s birthday, I wanted to get him a subscription box.  If you’re not familiar with the concept, basically you pay a fee for a subscription, similar to a magazine and at predetermined times, you receive a box full of goodies.  Once, for Valentines’ Day, Ryan gifted me a year-subscription for Birch Box.  It was like 13 months (buy 12+1 bonus) of little gifts!  Each box was filled with new/sample beauty finds and other treats.  I honestly didn’t use much of the stuff, but you know how consumerism works.

Anyway, since then, there have been several similar companies that have popped up and each one catering to a unique audience.  Ryan has expressed interest in Bespoke Post.  In my opinion, it’s a box curated for luxury living.  Yes, I know he has aspirations to become wealthy and own a smoking chair in a library, taking annual holiday at our summer loft.  But I’ve been eyeing the boxes, and none of them really fit him.  Sure it’d be cool to have a salt block for grilling, a mini cask for aging whiskey, or a kit for detailing your car — wait a minute.  This box isn’t for me.  I definitely needed to find something else.  After all, what kind of wife and best friend would I be if I get him what he wanted?  (Inferring, that instead I get him what he doesn’t know he wanted. Duh.)

I’ve researched other subscription boxes, looked at reviews of what’s inside, did comparisons of value, and I was deciding between Fancy Box, Nerd Block, and Loot Crate.

  • Fancy Box is for those closet celeb-wannabes.  It’s like having the latest in what’s trendy, some of the subscription boxes are even curated by famous people.  The problem I had with this was the lack of usability.  People that received the box raved about how the monetary value of their boxes were 3-4 times what they paid.  But really, how often would he use an aqua speaker?  A pair of gold-rimmed sunglasses?  I could walk in to Nordstrom and pick an assortment of grab gifts from the tables on a triple point day.  Same thing.
  • Nerd Block is a subscription box full of everything nerdy.  Pop! figurines, mini puzzle games, awesome t-shirts.  That was something I could get behind.  A box of random, but really cool stuff.  We spent an afternoon shopping around for a curio to display some of his cool toys and collectibles.  Unfortunately, we don’t have an IKEA and we aren’t able to fashion a wall like Adam Savage, so for now, a shelf we bought a few years ago from Target will have to suffice.  Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, right…
  • Loot Crate is similar to the previous, but THEME-based.  OMfG.NfW.  Previous boxes showed Transformers!  And references to Back To The Future!  Adventure Time!  One lucky subscriber can win a MEGA box with gaming consoles or other really friggen’ fantastic stuff?  Ok, so we’re not lucky people and you can cross that last one off the list of pros, but I was sold.  Although he’ll deny it, Ryan is a little kid in a candy shop when it comes to this kind of stuff.

Ok, so it’s set.  He’s getting a gift that will keep giving, for the next 6-months anyway.  Happy Birthday, Ryan!

P.S.  I set the size for Mens’ XL.  I read that some of the boxes contain shirts and you will want to order a size up since they are smaller and tend to shrink quite a bit.