Monday, November 24, 2014

Red Velvet Cake

I really don't like Red Velvet cake.  Here's why:

1. It's not chocolate and it's not vanilla; it's in some no-man's land in between.  Just pick a side!
2. No one wants to consume an entire bottle of red food coloring in one sitting.
3. Most people only think they like it because it's super trendy.  There are Red Velvet scented candles, for crying out loud!  What do they smell like??  Mostly nothing, with the merest pathetic hint of chocolate, if you ask me.
4. There is a traditional frosting (which I don't like), but most people make it with cream cheese frosting (which I hate, because it makes me throw up).
5. The historical versions of Red Velvet cake did not use food coloring, but rather a chemical reaction.  They had a significantly less garish shade of red, but people also probably didn't die from toxic waste intake.

Okay, so you understand that I really don't like it.  Then why on earth did I make it - twice?

Well, a fellow library employee was leaving our branch after about six years of employment there and my boss wanted a party - with cake.  "Yes, we want cake!" hinted all the other employees, but not one of them volunteered to make the cake or even buy it.  So I did.  "What's her favorite cake?" I asked, innocently hoping it would be chocolate, like any sensible person would choose.  "She LOVES Red Velvet cake!" was the enthusiastic reply.

So, I had to learn to make Red Velvet cake.  I started with cupcakes the weekend before, and they actually turned out pretty well.  I chose a recipe with less food coloring than most.

I will say this for Red Velvet cake - it has an amazing texture.  And I guess if you really like the 'hint of chocolate' thing, then I can't begrudge you this cake.  However, if you only like it because it's trendy and/or colorful, I'm judging you.

I topped them with a vanilla buttercream, because I can't eat cream cheese frosting, and that was the perfect choice.  Except for where I just wanted to eat the frosting because it's way better than the cake.

For the actual party, I made two 9x13 pans of cake: one Red Velvet and one chocolate.

(Yes, I am aware that I'm not that great at writing on cakes.)

And for the record, the chocolate cake was gone much sooner than the Red Velvet cake.  Probably because I make a kick-butt chocolate cake.

My favorite part of the day, other than eating chocolate cake and then eating pizza, was that everyone kept saying what amazing cream cheese frosting I made!  I agree - the best cream cheese frosting is one that has no cream cheese! :)

Love and Cocoa Powder,
Leah Joy

Monday, November 17, 2014

Be Thrifty - Book Review/Rant

Yesterday, I finished reading (also, skimming) the book Be Thrifty - How to Live Better with Less (edited by Pia Catton and Califia Suntree).  While I appreciated the idea of the book and the ideas in the book, it was definitely not written for people like me.  It was written by people like me.  (Which is why I ended up skimming many sections.)

However, if you are not naturally thrifty, were not raised in a thrifty home, or just want to be thriftier, this book is a great resource.

With - in my opinion - one notable exception.

There was very little mention of libraries.

There was a part where it mentioned having to give up some luxuries in order to afford more necessary things.  You know, luxuries, like your daily Starbucks coffee, the latest trendy clothing, and novels.  You can save a ton by making your own coffee at home.  Instead of shelling out a fortune for the latest trendy clothes, invest in clothing that will last in both a literal sense and a style sense.  But there is no alternative for novels.  Apparently, to be thrifty you should give up reading.


First of all, I realize that not every community is blessed with a public library.  But if your community is, and you haven't checked it out yet, why the heck not?

Before I started working at our local library, I knew it had a lot to offer.  I was raised going there once a week, so I knew I could get any book and it would be mine for 3 weeks!  I could bring it back and get another!  (Or, more realistically, I could get out 10 books, bring them back and get 10 more.)  At some point, I also realized they had an extensive collection of DVDs and CDs, and these could also be checked out!  There was also a magazine room, and I mostly used that for the Consumer's Reports.  As I got older, I also learned that there were other library branches and a whole system of libraries who were friends with each other, so I could request books from other libraries in my state, and they would send them to my library for free!  How cool is that?

And now that I work at the library, I realize there's way more than that.  There are story times for babies, toddlers, and children multiple times a week.  There are completely free classes for adults on everything from painting glassware to using Facebook.  There are free classes and activities for kids and teens.  There are video games you can rent.  And while I knew there were a lot of sections of books and media, I never realized quite how many.  I've discovered a whole section of classic fairy tales from different countries in the non-fiction section.  I've discovered shelves full of exercise DVDs.  I've discovered repair manuals for just about every car in existence.  I've discovered audio books - not just of stories, but also ones to help you learn a new language.  My library subscribes to crochet and knitting magazines - and I can check these out and take them home with me!  And there's so much more!

I've just spent two large paragraphs expounding on the wonders of the library, and you might be wondering if I have a point.  And I do.  Several points, naturally.

First of all, you don't need to deprive yourself of books to be thrifty.  Actually, you can be super thrifty and extremely well-read, because it's free!

Second, you don't need to stop seeing movies because you don't want to pay the rental fees.  It's free at the library!  If you can be patient enough to wait until the movie comes out to DVD, you can even avoid going to the theater all together (and save about $20 in the process).  (Side note: it is fun to go to the theater once in a while for a treat!)

Third, you can expand your musical horizons for free!  Be Thrifty recommends doing this by finding an used CD store, purchasing CDs that look interesting, and then selling back the ones you don't like.  You know what's thriftier?  Checking them out from the library, making a list of the ones you would like to own, and then purchasing those from an used CD store.  (Don't rip music from library CDs; that's illegal and very mean to musicians, song-writers, and everyone else in the music industry.)

Fourth, you can learn a new skill for basically free!  Be Thrifty recommends knitting as a great way to make handmade gifts, but also warns that it can be an expensive hobby.  True, you have to purchase needles and yarn, but the book also mentions the cost of patterns ($10 each and $50 for a book).  I have never in my entire life purchased a crochet or knitting pattern.  There are tens of thousands of free patterns available online, for starters, and thousands of patterns available in books and magazines at your local library.  They might even teach a class on how to knit, but if not, there's sure to be a book on it!  (I did appreciate the tip from Be Thrifty to find a sweater at the thrift store made with cool yarn and unravel it for your own project.)

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  Your local library is an incredible source for so many things: books, movies, music, games, and classes - both for fun and for education (and sometimes both).  To not use it is a grievous waste!

In conclusion, Be Thrifty is a great book if you're looking for ways to save money or, well, be thrifty.  If, however, you were raised by a Dutch woman with a tight budget, you can probably skip over this one on the library shelf.

Love and Advocacy,
Leah Joy

Monday, November 3, 2014

Garden Project Completed!

And now for lots of pictures of dirt!

My gardening project that I mentioned a few weeks ago is finally complete!  (Ish.)  I got the front area between our garage and breezeway doors looking much nicer, though of course you can't really tell right now.  The biggest problem was the soil quality.  It was full of rocks.  Lots and lots of rocks.  So, naturally, I sifted my dirt.  Yep, you read that correctly.  This project took me over a month (granted, I ignored it for 2 weeks straight), and it wasn't until the last two days that I realized we had an old window screen, which works way better as a dirt sifter than an old colander.  That's also why there were only two days left in the project then. :)  Alright, so let's play Memory Lane, just to make the transformation really dramatic.  Or at least sort of dramatic.  Oh, who am I kidding?  It's dirt.

This first picture was taken before we even owned the house.  You can see the soil is full of rocks, and I don't mean the large, decorative ones around the perimeter.  I don't even mean those 3 medium-size rocks hanging out in the middle.  I mean all the smallish rocks that are EVERYWHERE.

Moving on.  With a little work, our garden looked like this.  Um, yeah, I said a little work.  And this is in the fall.

But this Spring, we had lots of tulips!  That was lovely!

But there were still lots of rocks.  You can see them pretty clearly in this picture:

Finally, I never really took care of the garden, which will probably never change, but it just got overgrown.

So, this fall, I pulled out everything.  I potted the plants I wanted to keep, set the bulbs aside for re-planting later, and took out all the weeds.  Then I dug down a few inches and sifted all the rocks out of my dirt before shoveling it back in.  I took out probably about 8 5-gallon buckets worth of rocks.

Looking at this picture now, I can tell that I need to add some more dirt in the back, but I think I might wait for Spring for that.

I replanted all the bulbs I pulled out, and also added 40 more tulips, 15 hyacinths, and 40 crocuses. :)

In the Spring, I plan to add more plants - mostly perennials - so that the weeds won't have as much space to prosper.

On the other side of our breezeway door, I planted this yellow mum that I won.

And look how nice and rock-free my dirt is now!

Love and Very Small Rocks,
Leah Joy