Thursday, March 28, 2013

I made my own cup sleeves.  I made several of them, in several sizes.  I got the idea from Martha (...she has good ideas).  But Martha's cup sleeves are pink and have hearts.  I was not ready for hearts and pink.  Not first thing in the morning.  So I made mine blue with a nice grey stars.  

I'm happy.  I like them.  In some way, I feel that every time I use one I am helping the earth just a little.  Just before I made these I got a call from an environmental organization. They called me to ask for more money to stop Starbucks from using so many disposable cups.  I have to say, I didn't give them any money.  I just don't know how they are going to stop Starbucks from using disposable cups.  How would that work?

So, since I'm not helping fight the evil Starbucks (no, I don't think Starbucks is really evil at all), I figured I would help the environment in my own way.

So here's what I did.

I printed the template from Martha...

it did not help.  I like a nice big cup of coffee in the morning.  I had to make my own template.

I decided the best plan of action was to use a sleeve that I already knew would fit.

A Starbucks sleeve is a good size, but I wanted my sleeve to be wider.

I widened the sleeve with chalk on the felt.

*Here's a tip - fold the fabric in half before you cut.  That way you will have an even width around the whole sleeve.

I used pinking sheers to get a nice zig-zag design (it also prevents fraying, not a huge problem with felt but good to do anyway).

I pinned the sleeve to the cup to get a nice fit, then sewed up the sleeve, trimmed the extra fabric.  Now the basic sleeve is done.  All I need is a little "bling."

I cut out a couple of grey stars.  It kind of reminds me of a summer night with the fading light in the sky and the stars coming out.

I used fabric glue to attach the stars.

I placed the star so that if I hold the cup with my right hand the star shows on the other side.

I'm happy.  I really need to make some more.  This is a great way to use up some of my left over felt.  I'm thinking new colors and new shapes.  I wish I had wool felt, that would be really cool.  What colors and embellishments would you like?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

I saw this recipe a couple of years a go in Martha Stewart Living (and yes, I know I just posted a MSL rant, but I still make her cakes and really, still like her) and kept it.  Get the recipe here.  I save all the recipes that look really good to in my recipe binder to remind myself make them.

I actually tried to make this recipe a couple of years ago, but had terrible results.  I'm not sure what I did, but the cake never rose, and came out to be a wet, soggy mess.

I read somewhere that upside-down cakes were very popular at one time, and they were made with all different fruits.  In our day, we are most familiar with the pineapple upside-down cake, but this cake only became popular in the 1950s because it was so easy to get pineapple in cans.  I made a plumb upside-down cake once and it was good too.  Wow, the possibilities are endless.

Because rhubarb is such a seasonal ingredient I can only make this cake when I see the rhubarb stalks in the grocery store.

Well, I saw them just a couple of weeks ago and decided to try the recipe again.

This cake is really special.  It has the soft, wet rhubarb and butter at the bottom, then a nice cake layer, and finally a crumble layer on top.  When it is baked you then flip the cake over (just like any upside-down cake) and you get them all in reverse.  At first, I was not convinced that the crumb layer was important.  It seemed excessive and unnecessary.  I was wrong.  The crumb layer adds a nice little bit of texture to the cake. I lost quite a bit of the crumb layer transferring the cake from the wire rack, to cool, to the cake stand, but it was still good.

Tips for Making the Cake

As far as the instructions go, I have a few tips.

First, be sure to use a stand-mixer.  I know I'm always talking about how much I love my stand-mixer, but I really want you to understand that the mixer helps me to actually enjoy making this cake.  There are a lot of different ingredients that need to be added at different times and it is nice not to have to hold a mixer and try to add wet or dry ingredients alternatively   

Next, be sure to put an old cookie tray on the rack under the cake to catch drippings.  My cake was so full that when it cooked the filling overflowed and dripped all over the bottom of my oven, thus rendering the oven unusable until I could clean it.  It is a messy process.  I had a couple of days when every time I tried to cook something in the oven, my smoke alarms would get set off.  I have no idea why it took me so long to realize I needed to clean my oven!

Also, when you bake the cake, the recipe gives a very vague description of how long to bake it: "about one hour."  I found that the cake needed one hour and fifteen minutes to be absolutely done.  The best way to know is to put a toothpick in it, and check for spring-y-ness (you know what I mean right?) as the recipe indicates 

Finally, when you cool that cake on a wire rack, be careful how you transfer the cooled cake to a plate or cake stand.  As I said, I lost a lot of the crumb topping in the process.

This cake is best when totally cooled.  We couldn't wait, and had some while still a little warm and the rhubarb was very hot.  After the cake cooled completely it was even better.  The flavors had a chance to settle and really find their "happy place" (because that's how flavors work.  hehe jk).

This cake was so good that I'm very sad we only get rhubarb for such a short time.  There are so many good things to make with rhubarb, this cake, pie, ummm  and other things too.  I'm actually contemplating planting some rhubarb in my garden (I'm not much of a gardener), so I have my own.  I don't want to be dependent on the grocery stores.  A friend told me you can only pick rhubarb on "R" months like March and February (?).  Guess if I do grow my own I will have to figure all that out.  I don't want to poison myself.

So go...make this cake (if you can find the rhubarb) and enjoy a great cake.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Martha Stewart Rant

Martha Stewart drives me crazy.  She sets these unrealistic standards for women.  I have been reading her magazine, Martha Stewart Living, for over two years and, although I love the magazine and the ideas, there are just a few aspects of this periodical that are really ridiculous.

Martha's Month

First, there is the "Martha's Month" page.  What is up with that?  It is a whole page in the magazine dedicated to what Martha is doing in her month.  When I look at this Calendar I have to ask myself: Is this real?  Is Martha really out there with a trowel tilling her vegetable garden?  I think not.  More likely  she has instructed one of her many employees to "Go till the vegetable garden."  In fact, she probably does not even have to do that, there is probably some person in her employment who keeps track of what needs to be done in the garden, and they tell the unsuspecting employee or employees to till.  My point is, the magazine makes Martha out to be this super efficient women who manages a huge farm in Maine, while at the same time she does a TV show and a million other things.  Take a step back and think about it, the reality is probably very different.  Not to mention, who cares?  Do I really care that Martha is taking a hike, or celebrating some relatives birthday? No.

I read an article in the fall about how Martha needs to cover her shrubs with burlap.  Ok, good idea.  She lives in a cold climate.  But then I saw the pictures and it was nuts.  She had, literally, miles of shrubs that needed to be covered.
Now, the magazine did not talk about the people who worked for her, but her blog did. She gets some props for that.  But really, is this anything like the real people of the world who have to prepare their garden for the fall?  I'm not sure about you, but it just seems bit rude to flaunt her giant house and her huge farm with its hired help.  Maybe people like to see that.  Kind of like, "see how the other half lives."  To me, it just looks extravagant.
When I think about the current division between the wealthy and the middle class in the United States right now, it makes me even more upset.

This video is really eye opening concerning the wealth distribution in this country.  When I think of the wealth Martha Stewart has, compared to me (a hard working teacher) it makes me a little angry.

Martha's Parties

Another thing that drives me crazy in MSL (Martha Stewart Living) is that she showcases parties she has at her houses.  Be it an Easter party for her magazine staff, a Christmas party, or a long weekend on some Island in Maine (another house in Maine?  Really Martha?) she throws these elaborate parties, and the truth is....nobody looks like that are having any fun.   

I have heard a rumor that she is actually not a very nice person at all.  I guess you have to be pretty tough to have a huge enterprise like the Martha Stewart Ominmedia.  But if you are going to throw a party and make your staff come, at least show them a good time.

Again, these parties are so grand that they exceed any budget of a middle class woman.  Forget about how much time it would take to make the intricate table of hand died eggs, chocolate Bunnies, or hand made gingerbread villages, what about the cost?
Martha had a birthday party and this is the description:

"Sixty-four friends and family members, five delectable meals, and a weekend party at Skylands -- when it comes to celebrating her birthday, Martha doesn't do small."

Yeah, I get it, Martha has money, time and lots of people to help her.

Martha Cleans Her Toilets Twice a Day*

I don't watch a lot of TV.  I don't have cable, or the time.  But once in a while I watch a video online and sometimes I like to see what Martha is up to.

So I was watching an segment of her show about cleaning the toilet.  There she is with a nice, ceramic toilet on a table and she shows you how to clean it.  Great.  Then she tries to sell you some products for cleaning your toilet.  Not so great.  Do we really need to be sold products during the show, not just on the commercial break?  Does that mean it is not really a show at all, but one long infomercial with some extra stuff thrown in?  (I'll leave that for you to ponder.)  But the worst part is that at the end of showing us how to clean the toilet (using disposable products) she tells the audience that she cleans her toilets once or twice a day.  This is the best way to keep your toilets clean.

Ok, really Martha?  You clean your toilets twice a day?  Have fun with that.

I'm sorry, but I have better things to do with my day then clean the toilet all the time.

*I can't find the video I saw, so I can't double check this fact, it is just from my memory.

MSL Subscription Service

Which brings me to my biggest gripe of all.  If she has all this money and time and can have a million parties .... Why does she send me a bill every month telling me I own her $19.95 (or whatever) for a magazine subscription that I have already paid for?!!!

I have called customer service so many times.

Here is the scenario: I pay my bill (in fact, I paid for two years ahead because the first time I got a bill I thought my subscription would be canceled).  I figure: "I'm set and I don't have to think about my subscription any more."  Then, the next month, I get a little letter from the Martha Stewart Omnimedia telling me I am "overdue" and must pay right away if I don't want my subscription canceled.   Dude, I JUST paid!!!  I have TWO YEARS before my subscription will be canceled.  Why are you sending me bills????

It does not happen once, no it happens Every. Single. Month. For two years.

And then....(this is the kicker) ... after two years of annoying letters and three or four calls to customer service  I pay for my third year subscription AND MY MAGAZINE IS LOST IN THE MAIL!!!!  I never get the March issue.  (I called, again, they will be sending me a new issue but it will take two to three weeks, well after March has come and gone).

I was sent a customer service survey and boy did they get it.  I told them my problem and I also told them that, although I love the magazine (besides the silly, Martha stuff mentioned above), if they kept bothering me  with bills I would cancel my subscription.  Although I may be canceling my subscription if this problem is not worked out, the truth is...

I Still Love Martha

I know I just vented all my complaints about Martha and her company, but in the end I still love her.  When someone calls me a "Martha" I take it as a compliment.  When I get her magazine, I love the crafts and ideas. And when I see her products in stores they really are pretty great.  She has a great sense of style, fabulous organization ideas, and, damn it, she is an amazing business woman.  If she offered me a job I would take it in  a heart beat (as long as it is not cleaning her toilets).
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