Friday, March 30, 2007

A Bit Off Topic -- Feminism

Recently, the lovely ladies at Lunapads opened their blog to guest bloggers on the topic of "What Feminism Means to Me." Being an active blogger, feminist and Lunapads user, I leapt at the opportunity. They posted my entry and kindly sent me a set of Lunapads as a reward.

If you find the story slightly familiar, it's only because relates to number 1 of my recent Five Things You Don't Know About Me entry.

Update on Deb's Delectables: We're still hammering out the details on the redesign, so it may be a while before that happens, but I am taking orders via email.

I will be back again soon with a product review, garden update, bread baking adventures and a triplog from our recent visit to John's parents' house in Utah. Not necessarily in that order.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Fun Custom Chocolate Project for Deb's Delectables

Recently, I had the pleasure of gaining a new client as well as a pretty cool custom chocolate project. Brittany Allyn, currently on tour with George Jones, had been watching the Deb's Delectables site for signs of life while we were re-doing the kitchen and working on the site's redesign. She sent me a very nice email asking if I would consider making my special butterflies to help promote her new CD. (If you look in the upper right corner of this blog, you'll see one of the butterflies.)

I responded that I'd be happy to take on the project. It's been a while since I've had some fun custom work, and I really enjoy creating and mixing colors.

Brittany sent me a copy of her CD (you should buy it, the music is lovely!) so I could match the color of the butterflies "stained glass" parts to the cover.

Matching the color was quite a challenge for a number of reasons. First, there are many shades of blue on the cover. To account for the range of shades and hues, I matched many of them in white chocolate and made demos against the dark chocolate.

One of the biggest challenges was being able to achieve a true blue, not a blue-green. The main issue there is that most of the really nice food colors are made with water, which you cannot use with chocolate. Chocolate needs an oil-based or powder color. Since I didn't have a lot of time on my hands (more on that below), I drove to Candyland Crafts, to find a powder or a close blue color.

I bought two kinds. One turned out to be more of a green-blue, albeit marked "Blue." The other was a bright blue powder that did the trick when I mixed it with a light violet colored white chocolate I had colored earlier.

Another challenge I encountered while matching the colors was the issue of brightness against the dark chocolate. I really wanted these butterflies to POP! However, all the colors that were closest to the hues on her color really didn't stand out against the dark chocolate. I chose a very close color to the butterfly on Brittany's cover, then I lightened it a bit to stand out against the chocolate. That seemed to work the best.

Then, I made a short movie describing a few choices and sent it to Brittany for her thoughts. She got a big kick out of the use of a video to communicate with customers, and shared the same opinion I had on the brightness factor.

When I'd gotten the go-ahead, I made a large batch of the winning color, so I'd have extra in case of broken butterflies and/or future orders. Then, I carefully painted the interior depressions of the butterfly molds, set the blue, then filled each mold with the dark chocolate. Half of the chocolates were on lollipop sticks, while the others were not.

These butterflies were super-fragile, and some broke during the making (one broke during delivery, but I included extras just in case -- I've been through this before). You can watch a short movie I made about it here.

Earlier that week, my father called to say that my elderly and quite ill grandfather was fading fast, so I knew I was under the gun to get the chocolates done and out the door. The day after I'd finished the chocolates and shipped them to Brittany, my birthday -- March 15, my grandfather passed away. As John and I flew to Florida for the funeral, I prayed that the fragile butterflies would arrive safe and sound in Nashville for Brittany.

When I checked my email this morning (we arrived home last night), she said only one broke, but she happily ate it. "They taste as wonderful as they look," she said. It was nice to hear it. Most of the time, I get, "They're too pretty to eat!"

I hope to make many more butterflies for Brittany, and I hope her album flies to the top of the charts.

If you'd like to see my Picasa Web Album of the project, just click here.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Dim Sum with The Girl Who Ate Everything

During the Chinese New Year celebration, I had a delightful lunch with Robyn at Dim Sum Dynasty in beautiful, downtown, scenic Ridgewood, New Jersey. It was a blustery, cold winter day, with snow still underfoot, but the sun shining brightly.

It was my first time enjoying dim sum, so I was very happy to have such an experienced guide. If you're not familiar with dim sum, here's how it works: the waitstaff rolls carts filled with a variety of fried, steamed, baked, and otherwise cooked items on small plates of one to three pieces. The staff stop the carts (one at a time) in front of your table, telling you what they have, until you either give in and take some or say you'll pass. Until the next cart comes and you do the same.

I wasn't sure what I'd be eating after this stop, or if it was the only stop, so I just chose a few crunchy, fried bits. This is a deep-fried crab and shrimp puff that was one of the best things I've ever tasted. It came on a dish of three, which I shared with Robyn (who was smart enough to get a steamed shrimp and spinach dumpling to offset all the fried goodies.

The other outstanding item was this shredded taro and shrimp snack. Like the puff, it was deep-fried and crunchy, with a sweet, fresh shrimp filling. After eating these, I vowed to visit that place with Robyn again.

We also had a few unremarkable spring rolls and Robyn's steamed dumplings.

While everything tasted fantastic, unfortunately, I was terribly sick with heartburn all night. It happens to me when I eat fried food not made at home. Maybe it's the choice of oil? I'm not sure, but John made me promise to lay off the fried food since it made me feel so awful. Too bad, it tasted fantastic.

Oh well. Robyn, next time, I'm sticking to the steamed bits of Chinese loveliness.

By the way, if you haven't had the opportunity to meet and dine with Robyn, she's a wonderful companion with a sunny disposition. Her blog is a riot with the most gorgeous photos, too!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Five Things You Don't Know About Me

Well, in some cases (family and very close friends), that may not be true, but for you fellow bloggers and other happy visitors, here's my entry to the meme that's been making the rounds.
  1. I made history (with a number of other women) by participating in the first women's sabre fencing competition at the U.S. nationals. (Prior to that, my 15 minutes of fame came when I battled the state of NJ in the press for my Title IX right to fence sabre on my high school varisty sabre team. Title IX applies here because foil is not equivalent to sabre, even if there is a girl's foil team. It's simply not the same sport, albeit similar in nature. At that time, as far as I know, I was the first girl to fence sabre on a high school varisty team.)
  2. I love maps and the ability to become "un-lost," if I can find a map of the general area. Years ago, when the New York Public Library announced an exhibit on maps, I looked forward to it for weeks. I'm also very fond of my GPS.
  3. I'm great at keeping secrets, most likely because I have a terrible memory. If I don't write something down, it's gone. Just call me "Ten Second Deb."
  4. When I was little, I wanted to be either an astronaut or a lawyer. I'm neither, although I like a good debate and tend to challenge quite a few things people say if I know them to be untrue.
  5. I turn 38 a week from today. It's not bad, really. The best stuff has happened in the past few years. I can only imagine what will come next.
Feel free to do your own five things.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Great Find for Eco-Friendly Shopping

Last night, I popped into a Trader Joe's I'd never visited before, in the Pompton Lakes/Wayne area of Northern New Jersey. I was pleasantly surprised that I could purchase an insulated shopping bag for carrying freezer and refrigerated items instead of just the canvas bag I'd been carrying. Additionally, the bag is sizable enough to carry more than a typical paper bag of groceries, and you can hook it over your shoulder!

Mind you, I'd been to the Trader Joe's in Florham Park, New Jersey earlier in the day, and they did not yet have the insulated bags, just the laminated shopping bags -- nice themselves, albeit not insulated.

The insulated bags are $1.99 a piece and the laminated ones are $.99 each. What a deal for not using more plastic/paper bags every time you shop!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Two of Dorie's Waffles Altered to Suit Sugar Sensitivities

Nearly four years ago, when John and I were first dating, we went shopping with a thick stack of gift certificates to Williams-Sonoma from my first engagement. One of the items I purchased was this great heart-shapes waffle iron from VillaWare. It came with a thin booklet with some pretty standard recipes, so I added Dorie Greenspan's Waffles From Morning to Midnight book to our basket.

Over the years, two of the recipes have become our favorites: Double Vanilla Waffles and Gingerbread Ice Cream Hearts. I made both these recipes for the great breakfast extravaganza a few weeks ago. I think the vanilla ones are my favorites, but either way, they always come out great!

Luckily, waffle recipes often include a significant liquid component, so it makes it easy to swap out sugar for agave nectar, which is just what I did. If you wish to veganize these, just use margarine and soy or rice milk, along with egg replacers. It does work, albeit, not as well.

Two caveats: these recipes are not quick. If you're giving a breakfast extravaganza, like I did, start early! Also, remember that agave nectar batters brown faster, so you might want to adjust the heat of your waffle iron after the first batch.

Here are my versions of the two recipes:

Double Vanilla Waffles (makes approximately 15 small heart-shaped waffles)


1 1/4 cups milk
2 tablespoons vanilla paste (divided)
5 tablespoons butter (I used salted)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/3 cup agave nectar
2 large eggs


1. In a medium saucepan on medium-high heat, whisk 1 tablespoon of the vanilla paste into the milk. Heat the mixture until the milk boils, then cut the heat and let it sit for at least an hour.
2. In a small skillet, melt the butter until it's golden brown, swirling often so that it doesn't burn. Set the butter aside to cool.
3. Turn on your waffle iron and preheat your oven to 200 degrees F because you will want to keep the done waffles warm while you're making the others.
4. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.
5. Whisk the butter, eggs, agave nectar and remaining vanilla into the milk until well combined.
6. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined.
7. Pour the whole mixture into a large liquid measuring cup (a four-cup measuring cup works well), and pour from the cup into your waffle iron's hot, oiled grids until the batter just covers the grids. You may need a silicone spatula or a wooden spoon to gently spread the batter over the grids.
8. Close the lid and bake until crisp.
9. Place the cooked waffles in a single layer on a baking sheet in your heated oven until you're ready to serve.

These are great with ice cream, Rice Dream or any other frozen dessert.

Gingerbread Ice-Cream Hearts (makes approximately 20 heart-shaped sandwiches)


4 tablespoons butter (I used salted)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 dried mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (or freshly grated)
3/4 cup agave nectar
1 1/2 cups milk
2 large eggs (separate whites from yolks)
1 quart softened ice cream (or your favorite frozen dessert) to fill the sandwiches


1. Melt the butter and set it aside.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices to combine.
3. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, agave nectar and egg yolks.
4. In your mixer bowl, whip the egg whites until they hold firm peaks.
5. Blend the milk mixture into the dry ingredients until they are combined.
6. Stir in the melted butter to combine.
7. Gently fold in the egg whites.
8. Oil your pre-heated waffle iron.
9. Pour the whole mixture into a large liquid measuring cup (a four-cup measuring cup works well), and pour from the cup into your waffle iron's hot, oiled grids until the batter just covers the grids. You may need a silicone spatula or a wooden spoon to gently spread the batter over the grids.
10. Close the lid and bake until crisp.
11. Cool the cooked waffles in a single layer on a baking sheet until room temperature.
12. Spread half of them evenly with the ice cream, between 1/4 in and 1/2 in thick, depending on how indulgent you feel.
13. Top them with the remaining waffles.
14. Feel free to decorate the sides however you wish -- candied ginger (although they contain lots of sugar), carob chips, etc.
15. Transfer the sandwiches to a waxed paper-lined baking sheet and freeze until firm. Use small zip-lock bags to store the sandwiches when they are firm.