Friday, September 28, 2012

Cubicle kitchen: Nutty Cake Balls

Cake balls are so deceptive.  The are composed of some very simple steps, but each of those steps adds up to total a process that I would hesitate to call easy.  I started off so innocently on Saturday morning after breakfast with my box of cake mix, but I ended up working on these on and off almost through dinner.  It's the fridge time that you just can't rush.  Could certainly divide some of the steps among a few evenings after work if you had an office potluck on Friday, and you felt your co-workers deserved it.

And then another layer of deception, because after spending a day baking, mixing, chilling, rolling, chilling, dipping, sprinkling, and chilling some more, I took a look at my cake balls and thought they looked kind of ugly.

Okay, so they don't look so bad in the photo.  But they're a little big, and surrounded by the dirty bowls and with my hands covered in batter and chocolate, they looked a little more sloppy than perhaps I had imagined in the beginning.  But then, I have a tendency to imagine cookbook-type photo shoots.  And that rarely happens.

And, of course, no one really cares whether it looks like a truffle in a Parisian chocolatier's window or a truffle in the dirt waiting to be sniffed out by an intrepid pig.  They just see chocolate, frosting, and cake goodness.  I ended up with enough 'inventory' for three separate deliveries of cake balls this week.  On Monday, 16 cake balls disappeared within two hours of being left out.  That may well be a record.  And today, the third and final day, they disappeared at almost the same rate.  Plus, I also had several in-person visits to my desk to berate/thank/congratulate me on such a tempting treat.

There are lots of possible combinations, between the cake, frosting, and chocolate coating.  But I think I'll give myself a little break from this 'easy' treat for at least a week or two.  Besides, my co-workers would probably prefer something at least pretending to be healthier next week.

Nutty Cake Balls

(Adapted from Bakerella)

Makes about 50-60 cake balls

  • 1 box of Butter Pecan cake mix
  • 1 can of diet root beer
  • 1 can of cream cheese frosting
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (this is approximate, and of course you can use a different nut, like pecans)
  • various chocolate for melting, I used white chocolate, dark chocolate, and butterscotch chips, and milk chocolate Candy Melts, not sure how much, but at least a bag of each to be safe
  1. Bake the cake according to the directions on the box, but substitute the can of soda for the oil, eggs, or any other add-ins.  
  2. Allow the cake to cool completely.  You can utilize the fridge for this, but don't cheat and wait until it's just warm, it should be completely cool.  This helps with the texture, so the cake doesn't disintegrate into the frosting.
  3. Take your beautiful and cooled cake, and rip it to pieces in a large bowl.  Mix in the frosting, and half of the nuts, saving enough to sprinkle on the cake balls later.  You can use a spatula, or your hands, just try to make sure everything is well incorporated.  At this point you might like to place the bowl into the fridge to chill a little more to help make the next steps a little less messy.
  4. Take the cake/frosting mixture and roll into balls, using about a tablespoon for each one.  Place balls on a cookie sheet or other tray, lined with parchment paper.  As you fill a tray, again, place in the fridge to keep them cold.
  5. In a bowl, melt your first round of chocolate.  You can do this with a double boiler or in the microwave, but be careful in the microwave.  Use 50% power and stop frequently to stir.  White chocolate in particular will seize up very quickly, and often chocolate will continue to melt after heating as you stir, reaching the perfect consistency.
  6. Take out one tray of balls.  With a fork or spoon, dip one ball at a time in the melted chocolate, making sure to coat completely, then replace on the tray.  Sprinkle with chopped walnuts and place back into the fridge or freezer.  This is best done in small batches at a time, both for the sake of keeping the chocolate warm and the cake balls cold.  I found that after about 6 the process devolved into a bit of a mess.
  7. Repeat the previous steps as many times as it takes to get every ball coated and delicious.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Reclaiming the ridiculous

The teenage years are pretty much your earmarked era of unfortunate fashion choices.  It's expected that you will naively submit to a lot of trends that don't age well, and you get a sort of pass on judgement (but not on mocking).

I feel like while I did participate in some questionable trends, I wasn't fully able to realize my potential for making myself look ridiculous, partly because of my weight.  I just didn't feel comfortable in some things, even when I was able to find my size.  This is my excuse now when I find something that I want to wear, even though I know I've entered that phase of life when really you should stop making fashion faux pas.

Like, say, last week, when I found a pair of hot pink corduroy shorts in the clearance section of Kohl's. I knew I had to try them on, and told myself it would almost certainly end there.  But when I put them on, I just couldn't help it.  They were silly, and they made me smile.  And at 70% off, I decided that they didn't need to be particularly practical.  So I bought them.

I haven't worn them yet, but I'm thinking they'll be perfect with some black leggings, pink sneakers, a t-shirt and jacket for going on the Hill Country Yarn Crawl.  Because first of all, it's an outfit that reflects the fun of the event.  And I'm going to put faith in my fellow crafters not to judge me too harshly.  I'm still a child at heart, after all.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hello, yellow!

I continue to feel like I am failing to walk the walk when it comes to being a crafty blogger.  Or maybe I'm not knitting the knits.  Except I promise that I am, and here is the proof!  My spoilee received her package over the weekend, filled with things in her favorite color, yellow.

First, I made a pair of mitts using a pattern that I've used at least three times before, Susie's Reading Mitts.  I liked the idea of making the decorative border at the wrist and fingers in brown to make them like sunflowers.
Sunflower Mitts
Nice effect I think, particularly with the picot edging as the 'petals'.

And I really couldn't send a yellow from the Lone Star State and not reference  the Yellow Rose of Texas, right?  The best flower pattern I could find for my purposes came from a super-cute tea kettle cosy with a bouquet of them on top, the Rosebuds Tea Cosy.  I whipped up a single bud along with the leaves, and then made a quick i-cord to attach to a key ring.
Yellow Rose of Texas Keychain
Instant floral keychain!

Aside from the knits, I also crafted in other ways.  My spoilee has been hexipuffing.  I swear, non-knitting readers, this is not a drug reference, it means she's making little hexagonal pillows which all gather together to form the most gorgeous quilt of scrap fingering yarn ever.  So my spoiler needed mini-skeins, hand-dyed, but of course.
Kool-Aid Mini-Skeins
I used Kool-Aid, with various mixes of lemonade, orange, pineapple, and any other flavor that came close to yellow-orange.  The best part was creating individual tags for each skein with a picture of something she liked that could be the colorway for the yarn, like Cheese Doodles for the overtly orange one in the top left-hand corner.

And then, I used one of my secret weapons: decoupage.  Using that, I was able to put colorful new covers on three mini-notebooks.
Paint Chip Notebooks
I took paint chips in every shade of yellow from Home Depot, making anyone working there probably horrified at the idea of my room of exploding sunshine.  Then I used the decoupage to apply them to the covers.  I like the simplicity of the stripes, but the slate gray circles were the most fun.

So there you have it!  I feel better now, proving that along with posts, I've been busy with knits and purls as well.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Froyo files: Tomunchi

I've been as far south as San Antonio for froyo, and the other week I was up near Georgetown when I made a familiar request to make a detour for frozen yogurt on the way back down to Austin.  There were a few options, but this was the most on the way, an important factor when the only real reason to stop is for my own obsession with froyo.  And hey, we had just had dinner, so it only made sense to have dessert, right?

Tomunchi: 1701 West Parmer Lane  Austin, TX 78727

When I visited: Saturday, September 15th, around 8 pm

Cost per ounce: 36 cents

Number of flavors: 10

Sorbet options: 2, but not labeled as such

Nutritionals provided: Not that I found

Experience: Before I ever set foot inside, I liked this place.  That's because, unlike many others, Tomunchi has their daily selection of yogurts posted on their website.  I spend so much time searching for current flavors at other places.  Before leaving the house for a shopping trip that may include froyo, I like to be able to see what's on offer and decide what I want.  Some places have the info on Twitter or Facebook with varying levels of consistency, while others just provide a complete list of possible flavors and leave you to take your chances.  So I liked knowing what I had to look forward to.

Apparently this local business has been around a while, long before self-serve frozen yogurt was a 'thing'.  But the set-up is the same: wall of flavors, bar of toppings, and they also do smoothies, bubble tea, and other fruity dessert dishes that look really tasty.  It took a few minutes to get some sample cups because the man at the counter was serving someone else one of those delicious bowls of fruit.  And we had to wait for one of the 'windows' to have it's yogurt put into place, but these are the kinds of things I've come to expect at any place, just a minor inconvenience.

I knew Dad would gravitate to the Coffee, which had a good flavor, not too creamy.  I've had some froyo where the coffee flavor was almost completely lost in the dairy.  In my opinion, Berry Austin has the best in the city with Capital Coffee, but this was certainly good. He also showed minor interest in Strawberry and Chocolate.  He likes the classics.
I meanwhile, indulge in the 'weird' flavors, like my beloved Taro, along with some Tart and Strawberry.  None of the flavors were the best I've had in my tastings, but they were all good, and just having Taro always puts a star next to any froyo place for me.  And the fact that there's bubble tea also makes me happy, because I love bubble tea, despite the fact that I rarely indulge in it due to being about as calorific as a Frappuchino.  I prefer taking the time to eat a bowl full of yogurt and fruit (as you can see) to sucking all my calories through a straw.  But man, those bubbles are so much fun.

Worth a revisit? Next time I'm up around there I might stop in, particularly since my employer happens to have some offices fairly close by.  The price is the probably the best in town, and the yogurt was good enough.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Cubicle kitchen: Dark Chocolate Dipped Pineapple Marshmallows

You might think that this week's office treat was sort of an afterthought.  After all, I've already made pineapple marshmallows, and this batch was really made for swapping purposes, I just happened to have enough left over to bring in.  But really, I thought quite a bit about what to make this past week, and had every intention of making some sort of fudge, or perhaps cookies.

The thing is, I didn't just make marshmallows for a swap.  No, these were marshmallows with a higher purpose than most.  Because these marshmallows became Peeps.  And not just any Peeps.  Kitty Peeps.

Aren't they cute?  I think they are best photographed in groups, because I fear that if you just look at one, you might not realize that they are cats.  But I'm pretty proud of these, that this random concept I had to tie in with my swapping spoilee's favorite color worked out.  If you can't tell, it was yellow.  She even described it as 'Peep yellow' in response to my assertion that I loved 'Peep pink'.  So I thought it was appropriate.

Having whipped up the marshmallow, waited for it to set in the pan, sprinkled with yellow sugar, cut out with a cookie cutter and used a toothpick to decorate with melted dark chocolate, I still wasn't done making treats to send away.  Because while my spoiler liked Peeps in taste as well as color, she liked banana yellow but hated the actual fruit.  So to have a little fun, I decided to send her some 'ironic bananas' made of marzipan.
These are easy to make, just take some marzipan/almond paste, and work in some food coloring.  Then take a piece, roll it into a banana shape, and set on parchment paper.  I let these sit in the fridge for a little while, then melted up some dark chocolate and gave them a dip.  Back onto the parchment paper and into the fridge.

After all this, I thought that making yet another sweet treat was likely a bit much, even for me.  So when just half of the marshmallow made 27 Peeps, I deemed that as plenty and cut the rest into cubes for work.  Physically unable to bring in the same thing twice, however, I knew I had to do something else.  And when in doubt, dip in chocolate, right?
Everyone at work seemed to agree.  If only I had had some flaked coconut, I would have added that, but that's because I just can't stop myself.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Old Navy makes me feel old

I have a tendency to lament 'I'm so old!' a lot.  Mostly I'm being facetious, I know that I'm not actually old.  But I'm still shocked when I see evidence of how quickly time flies and how soon I transitioned from teenybopper awash in the trends as they took over, to the point where the 90s is considered...nostalgia.  Wow.

Particularly jarring are the latest slew of Old Navy ads.  First, it was a series themed around back to school that starred the 'kids' of Beverly Hills, 90210.  That show missed me by just a few years, the purview of say, my best friend's older sister.  And she's married with a kid now, so it makes sense that the store is looking to push her pop culture buttons to get her to make her clothing purchases there.

But now, now I see the Backstreet Boys providing the soundtrack to a parade of skinny jeans in a rainbow of colors:
Boy bands, now that was something I was right in the middle of.  BSB, 'N Sync (my personal favorite), LFO, 98 Degrees, and even Brits BBMAK, I was singing right along with them at every opportunity.  I even went to an 'N Sync concert, the Pop tour.  Back then, of course, no one would have been caught dead in these pants.

But now, here are a much older gang of Backstreet Men, as it were, putting their catchy chorus back into my head while reminding me that I have entered the second phase of my sellability as far as companies are concerned.  Now I am not the teenager with allowance to spend on CDs and magazines.  Now I am the young adult, possibly with a family and buying trends for them as much as for myself.

I know it's a little weird to be demarcating the stages of my life based on what I'm being sold and how, but it's a big part of the cultural context.  Plus, I can't help but get a little meta about myself.  It's the liberal arts student in me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Froyo files: Chill Out (Kyle)

Is it time for a froyo intervention?  I hope not.  I'm not saying every weekend should consist of three different servings of frozen yogurt, but I sure did enjoy each visit earlier this month.  And hey, if I don't try all of these places, how will you know where to get your fix?

Chill Out: 5103 Kyle Center Dr  Suite 101 Kohl Center, Kyle, TX 78640

When I visited: Sunday, September 9th, around 1:30 pm

Cost per ounce: 45 cents

Number of flavors: 12

Sorbet options: 1

Nutritionals provided: Yes, binder just to the side of the toppings

Experience: Somehow Kyle has ended up with three frozen yogurt places, a small, sweet triangle.  This one is on the same side of the street as the Target and Kohl's, so it's a perfect stop while shopping. I've been here once before, and it was fine, but I was fine passing it when I was across the street at HEB getting groceries.  The selection of yogurt is good, but none of the flavors really wowed me.

This time around, there was: Pumpkin Spiced Latte.  I'm am so ready for fall it isn't funny, even though it's not the best season for cold dessert.  What is great for the colder weather (yes, we do get colder here in Texas!) are the paninis and soups that they also have here.  I didn't try any of that this time though.  Instead, I filled up a bowl with froyo while the weather was still near triple digits.

For Mom, there was Mountain Blackberry and Mango Tango, which was a sorbet.  For some reason, there was a lot of mango around that weekend.  Of course, I say they were for her, but I also got a swirl of these, even though they perhaps weren't a great match for the Pumpkin.  Actually, the Pumpkin and the Blackberry went rather well with a little fruit, like having a pumpkin trifle layered with fruit.  Now that's an idea...

Worth a revisit? There's a good variety of options, and I like that this is locally-owned and proud of it.  The yogurt is good, and they have a lot of options, but doesn't reach the level of cravability of, say, a Yogurt Spot.  I'll need to try out the other two places located within a mile of here to reach a final decision.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Feeling (pot) lucky? Well...are you?

Last week I purchased my passport for the Hill Country Yarn Crawl, yay!  I am so ready for two days jam-packed with local yarn stores.  Especially having recently added spinning to my crafting prowess, I know there will be plenty of roving as well as yarn for me to fondle and agonize over which to bring home with me.

Along with fiber, there will also be foodie goodness to enjoy, because The Knitting Nest is thinking about hosting another Saturday Night Pot Luck Dinner.  Because there's nothing better after a day full of difficult decision making and stash building than sitting down amongst fellow fiber enthusiasts and sharing a casual meal.  Perhaps comparing purchases, or just getting in a few stitches on works in progress to pave the way for those new skeins to get onto the needles even sooner.  Sounds like a perfect way to spend an evening.

If you're going to be on the Crawl and The Knitting Nest is a convenient dinner location for you, hop on over to the thread I started on their forum and join the discussion about what dishes to bring and as we get closer I'm sure Stacy (the store owner) will chime in with times, etc.  I'm trying to decide between simmering something in the slow cooker throughout the day at home while I'm galavanting, or if this is an event that calls for baked goods made a day or so in advance.  Or I could go mad with pot luck power and do both...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Putting the lit back in this twit

I've been feeling a little guilty lately about the lack of 'lit' on this blog.  It's bad enough that I can barely share my knits because they are for secret swaps, but to also not be able to talk about what I'm reading because I wasn't reading felt duplicitous somehow.

The problem with reading is that it is a mono-task.  These days, there's a premium placed on being able to do as much as possible simultaneously.  While with the right pattern I can knit and listen, reading requires my full attention.  And somehow the months slipped by without my having finished reading a single book.

My younger self would be horrified.  I used to take a book with me everywhere, and devote any spare moment to poking my nose back into my fictional world, reluctant to be tugged back into the real one.  After college, it just seems like the tugs have been stronger, and escaping into a book has become something which takes a more concerted effort.  Despite several sincere attempts in the recent past, I kept allowing books to collect dust in favor of knitting, nail polish, and of course, the time-suck generally known as the internet.

But this week, I turned a corner by turning 149 pages of a book called World of Pies.  I mentioned it earlier this week, it's the book I found at Half Price and made a serious dent in while not being selected for jury duty.  It was just a dollar in the clearance section, and aside from having baked goods in the title, I was swayed by the fact that this copy had been signed by the author at BookPeople.  If you're in Austin and haven't been there yet, I can only conclude that you also have fallen into a terrible non-reading gap, because this is an awesome bookstore.  It's two stories full of books, and they have great author events.  I used to write about them weekly for Examiner, and would invariably end up wanting to read whatever book I was writing about.

While this book starts with a pie fair, the baking influence is more indirect throughout the rest of the novel.  It's the story of a girl growing up in the small town of Annette, Texas, and along with the kind of milestones you would expect (births, deaths, marriages, war, etc.), each event is marked with food.  A few pies, of course, plenty of cakes, and some muffins, brownies, and even a frozen salad for good measure.  Sprinkled throughout the story, the recipes for these goodies are also in the back of the book, so I might try one or two out sometime.

Along with the food, there was another comforting context I enjoyed while reading, though it won't apply to everyone.  Because author Karen Stolz is a local.  Even though she's from Kansas, she lives in Austin now, and her heroine Roxanne also resides in my fair city for several years in the novel.  There's something fun about seeing a place you know, like Barton Springs, whether it shoots across the screen in a TV show or movie, or shows up in the middle of a story you're reading.

Anyway, I enjoyed this easy read.  It got me back into the groove of reading, reminding me what it feels like to hypnotically turn page after page whenever you get the chance, and to cast furtive glances towards the cover whenever you don't.  I'll give myself a day or two to transition out of the world of Annette, and then hope the sugar rush will see me through the pages of another book.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cubicle kitchen: Banana Chocolate Chip Cookie Bites

I know there are people out there for whom 'semi-homemade' is a four-letter word.  Everything should come out of the oven made from scratch.  And that is a wonderful thing.  It's a thing I aspire to.  But it's not realistic for me.  And as oxymoronic as it might be, my latest foray into semi-homemade was actually a kind of a milestone for my baking confidence.

Knitting and baking are very similar.  A pattern, a recipe.  Yarn, ingredients.  A shawl, a cupcake.  When I started knitting, a pattern was like a mandate from God.  If I wasn't using exactly the same yarn as the designer, I wanted one with exactly the same yardage per gram.  And of course, the same needle size.  But now...well, now I'm knitting a shawl for a swap with no pattern at all.

So when I had some dried banana chips that were on clearance because they had been crushed slightly, and a box of Ghiradelli chocolate chip cookie mix just sitting around, I decided to improvise a little.  The mix called for an egg and a stick of butter.  I had the butter, but I didn't feel like taking it out of the freezer to get down to room temperature.

I decided instead to try out a substitute.  But I was still a little unsure about betting entirely on any one option.  So, instead of a stick of butter, I mixed in, along with an egg and the pieces of dried banana chips:

  • 2 tablespoons of Brummel and Brown spread
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup of mashed banana
The mashed banana made sense given my starting point of the banana chips, and peanut butter should really make an appearance at any party with chocolate and banana.  The spread was just in there for good measure.

And then, things got really wild.  Instead of dropping tablespoons of the dough onto a baking sheet, I dropped them into mini-muffin tins that I had sprayed with non-stick baking spray.  They went into the oven at the temperature specified on the box for about the same amount of time.  It made an even 30.  

My biggest fear was that they would get stuck in the pans, but thankfully my prayers I whispered over the trays as I popped the little bites out were answered:
Lovely.  Golden brown on the outside, but still soft in the middle.  Neither the banana or the peanut butter took over, but you could tell they were there.  These were so good, that after trying one while at work, I took another one to come back home with me for dessert.

Basically, things made in a mini-muffin tin are like shawls: always a good idea, whether you're following a recipe or making it up as you go along.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Working it out

If there's one feeling I never anticipated experiencing, it was positive anticipation of a workout.  Looking forward to a session at the gym.  I could always understand enjoying playing a sport, and logically understand the benefits of going to the gym. 

But somewhere along the way I realized that the sense of relief as I walk from the desk to the treadmill wasn't coming just from the sense that I was going to burn off a cupcake's worth of calories.  I mean, I love cupcakes, but unless there was one waiting for me as I stepped off the treadmill, it wouldn't be enough to keep me putting one foot in front of the other.

Aside from powering through with pop music and visions of myself as Buffy the Vampire Slayer running through the high school with a half-demon mayor chasing me, what I look forward to in my work outs is the moment when the effort and the exertion pushes everything else out of my mind.

Sometimes I can reach this point on the treadmill, but I always reach it in the group exercise class immediately afterwards.  Somewhere around the 7th rep of any given exercise, it becomes impossible to obsess about the meetings, the deadlines, and whatever other frustrations have accumulated throughout the day.  All I can focus on is getting down from 3, to 2, to 1, and rest.

It's not easy for me to stop thinking.  If I don't have something to listen to when I go to bed, it will take me forever to fall asleep because my mind just wanders from thought to thought and before I know it the alarm is going off and all I have to show for a night's rest is a collection of random ideas ranging from what to blog about next to who I really need to make sure to call before the end of the week.

So when I leave the gym, my muscles are worn out, but my brain feels refreshed, and ready to tackle that great blog idea...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Law & Order (& Knitting)

Yesterday, I became a true citizen.  In the past I may have had a passport, may have voted, but today was the true test.  Today I went in for jury duty.

Ahh, jury duty.  Everyone gives knowing condolences when they learn that you've received a jury summons, and they wish you luck in not getting chosen to serve in an actual trial.  It's as tedious as getting anything done at the DPS, but at least you get to sit down rather than stand in line.  And while the defendants obviously have a lot at stake, most jurors are just mildly annoyed to have their daily routines disturbed, whereas everyone at the DPS is worn to their last thread of sanity in dealing with whatever official piece of paper they are there to submit or retrieve.

When I first learned that I would be making the trip to the courthouse, my first thought was, 'They'll at least let me knit...right?'  I had thought that it was obvious, as knitting is generally accepted on flights, and I wouldn't expect a building to need to be any more secure than a place.  But I did read rules for certain districts which expressly forbade the fiber arts.  For example, Oregon:
On your initial visit to the courthouse, our security staff will not allow you to bring anything into the building that could be used as a weapon. Generally speaking, that includes objects like knitting needles, embroidery scissors, crochet hooks, and other objects that you might consider part of your survival kit for a long day of sitting, waiting and listening.
Thankfully, that's just the first day, and a nice judge will let jurors craft while they consider.  But still, I was hoping to only make one visit to the courthouse, and I wanted to have some kind of productivity while I was there, seeing as I wouldn't be able to get any actual work done.

I called the clerk, and she said no.  But she didn't seem sure, so my mom also called the courthouse itself, and they were more ambivalent.  So I took my chances and packed a project bag, ready to return it to the car if security decided my garroting the district attorney was a credible threat.

Huzzah!  I made it through!  And so, when we were not being addressed by the judge or one of the lawyers, I split my time between knitting and reading.  I finished a few rows of a cowl I'm improvising out of the handpsun I made during the Tour de Fleece, and got about halfway through a book I bought for a dollar at Half Price Books over the weekend.  And I ended up getting released in time for a late lunch and an afternoon's work.

So all's well that ends well.  But it's probably not going to get ripped from the headlines for an episode of 'Law & Order' anytime soon.  I can just see the look Jerry Orbach's Detective Lennie Briscoe might have made testifying in front of a jury of knitters.
Sorry, Lennie.  Go on, tell me all about the perp.  I'll finish those purls up later.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Froyo files: Berry Austin Central

It was a froyo-filled weekend.  Not only did we hit up Tutti Frutti in a return visit as part of our Friday evening errands (checking out Michael's for crafty goodies and then doing the grocery shopping for the weekend), but then we got to two previously un-reviewed purveyors of froyo.  Including the second of the two Berry Austin locations.  The first, you'll remember, I visited on Labor Day.

Berry Austin Central: 5523 Balcones Dr, Austin 78732 

When I visited: Saturday, September 8th, around 1 pm

Cost per ounce: 44 cents

Number of flavors: 10, minus 1 that didn't have anything in it at the time

Sorbet options: 2

Nutritionals provided: Yes, on the flavor cards by ounce

Experience: This is one of the places I've been to several times before I began blogging.  It has two main things going for it:

  1. It's a stone's throw from Gauge, a fabulous yarn store in North Austin.
  2. The yogurt is good, and they have Mom-approved options.
You have to ask for the sample cups here, which always makes me feel a little awkward.  But it is general idea of this genre of food retailer, so I'm getting better at asserting my 'rights' without guilt.  After all, the more I try, the more I end up really 'having' to have in my bowl, so it's in their best interest anyway.

In sampling all of the options, Mom had a conundrum this time around, because they have a really good Capitol Coffee flavor that she liked, but she also loved the Mango and Raspberry Pomegranate sorbets, as well as the Pineapple.  She didn't dare mix them, so she just went with the fruity ones.  I did the same, but included a little cameo appearance by Cake Batter, because it tasted too darn good in the sample cup to pass up.  It's one of those flavors that is usually good, but not always great.  This was the latter.

I love the decor here.  Like the Downtown location, the wall of frozen yogurt dispensers is plastered with porcelain and plastic.  But this location takes it even further, with collages of Austin awesomeness in the tables as well as little mini-wall separators that create more defined seating.  This is a place that knows how to be Austin weird, and backs it up by serving quality yogurt.

Worth a revisit? Every time you're at Gauge, it's worth stopping by.  In fact, it's kind of dangerous because it makes me want to go to Gauge even more and then I invariably end up adding to my stash as well.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Froyo files: Berry Austin 2go Downtown

My lone request for the three-day weekend was that I wanted to get some frozen yogurt.  Preferably somewhere I hadn't been to yet.  Thankfully there are still a few options in this category that made my request relatively simple to fulfill.  Eventually this might get a little tougher.  Then I'll just have to find something else to review here.  Like Austin cupcakeries!

Berry Austin 2go Downtown: 200 Congress Ave, Austin 78701

When I visited: Monday, September 3rd, before 3 pm

Cost per ounce: 44 cents

Number of flavors: 8, though one was out of order

Sorbet options: 1

Nutritionals provided: Yes, on the flavor cards, by fluid ounce

Experience: Strolling through downtown after catching an independent film at a local, independent movie theater, it felt so quintessentially urban and Austin, I was loving it.  This was just a few blocks away, perfect location from Violet Crown and a few other prime downtown destinations.

I've been to the other location further North, and was pleasantly surprised to see that the same funky decor was featured here, with white plates and other things stuck onto the walls.  It's fun but still clean.  The space feels a little narrow as you navigate down the wall of yogurt, but it is downtown.  And they have a little patio out front that let us take advantage of a sunny Labor Day.

I got my sample cups to make sure I choose all the best flavors and combinations.  Surprisingly, Dad didn't need to sample, he went straight for the Chocolate.  He wished there was Coffee, but he got some Pineapple instead.  I'm not going to try and understand his froyo style, to each their own.  I also got some Pineapple, as well as a Mango sorbet and some Coconut.  The Mango really was delicious, the standout.  I sort of wish the Pineapple had been a sorbet, but it was also good.

Another thing I like here is that they have kid-sized cups, which aren't as ginormous as the ones you find in other places, so it's easier to judge just how much yogurt I want without leaving my cup only half full.

Worth a revisit? You probably don't want to deal with downtown parking and chaos all for the sake of froyo, but once you're in that area, I would definitely stop in.

Friday, September 7, 2012

My 'short' list for Sarah Lawrence fall registration

Tonight, nervous first years and seasoned seniors alike will wait, likely until the wee hours, to learn the fate of their attempt at the first round of registration for classes this semester.  If they are lucky, the computer filled their three course slots with their first choices and tomorrow they can enjoy their Bates brunch without a care.  If not, the rest of the night will be like their first college cram session as they search the courses with openings for something that might possibly replace in their hearts the class they didn't get into.  I wish I was there with them, my emotions flitting between hope, fear, nervousness, excitement, and a craving for brunch lingering beneath it all.  Instead, I can only read the course catalogue with jealousy and nostalgia.

Oh, and I can blog about it!  I tried to come up with a short list of the courses I would have thought about taking this semester/year, but I ran into the same problem I always did upon first scanning my options:
  • Kinship: An Anthropological Story
  • The Power of Words: Language, Hegemony, and Social Inequality
  • Migration and Experience
  • The Anthropology of Life Itself
  • Holding Up Half the Sky: Chinese Women in History
  • Digital Zeitgeist
  • Hunger and Excess: Histories, Politics, and Cultures of Food
  • Activists and Intellectuals: A Cultural and Political History of Women in the United States, 1775-1975
  • Revolutionary Women
  • Fops, Coquettes, and the Masquerade: Fashioning Gender and Courtship from Shakespeare to Austen
  • 20th-Century British Literature
  • An Introduction to Shakespeare
  • Studies in the 19th-Century Novel
  • Campaigns and Elections: 2012 Edition
  • Theories of the Creative Process
  • Drawing: Translating an Invisible World
  • Digital Documentary Storytelling: Development and Production
  • Character Development Drawing for Animation, Film, and Interactive Media
  • Beginning Painting: Form and Image
  • Black-and-White Photography
  • Is Journalism What We Think It Is?
  • Words and Pictures
  • Memory and Fiction
  • Place in Fiction
  • Writing, Radio, and Aurality
  • Nonfiction Laboratory
That's 26 courses.  That's more than I took in four years total!  Of course, if I was really planning out my registration, these would then get cross-referenced with the schedule for each class to try and narrow things down.  But I won't go quite that far for the sake of this intellectual indulgence.  I'll just wallow a little in my daydream of winning the lottery and making a huge donation to the school in exchange for setting myself up in my Titsworth dorm room and spending the rest of my days writing conference papers, reading books, and arguing about hegemony and the diaspora.

And eating brunch.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cubicle kitchen: Cocoa Almond Crescent Cookies

How can I justify making almond crescent cookies?  It's not Christmas, it's not even Christmas in July.  I have no fancy excuses, I just had almonds, and I wanted to make crescent cookies.  So I did.  And thankfully no one seemed to care that these were seasonally inappropriate, they just ate them and made the expected noises of tasty satisfaction and gratitude.

Please bear with me as I define my own recipe-writing standards.  Having bookmarked and saved a number of recipes from other blogs, websites, forums, etc., I'm going to try and amalgamate what I find to be good presentation.  Let me know if you have any suggestions.  I work in technical documentation, and I know customer surveys are important!

Cocoa Almond Crescent Cookies

(Adapted from Simply Recipes)

Makes about 36 cookies


  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 1/2 cup, minus 1 Tablespoon, all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon cocoa
  • 1 cup ground cocoa roasted almonds*
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar, for sprinkling
*I used my blender to grind up the almonds.  You can use a food processor, just make sure not to go too far and make almond butter.  You can also use almond flour for a finer texture, and of course non-cocoa roasted almonds if you don't have them.

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the extracts and mix.
  3. Add the flour and ground almonds, mixing thoroughly.  I added 1/2 cup at a time, alternating between flour and almonds, and mixing with each addition.  Add the cocoa and mix thoroughly.
  4. Take a Tablespoon of dough and roll it into a crescent shape, placing it onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  The cookies won't spread, but leave some space.
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Using a sifter or fine strainer, sprinkle powdered sugar over the cookies.  Allow to cool and enjoy.
Note: Next time I try this, I'll make the cookies smaller, at least half the size would be perfectly acceptable.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

There's no crying in running!

If it wasn't for rain, I could have watched Andy Roddick's final match in the comfort and safety of my own room.  I could have maintained some dignity knowing that only the cat and my father would know just how many tears I shed.

But no.  Instead it rained for most of Tuesday night and the final point was called this afternoon while I was running on the treadmill in the gym before my group exercise class.  I made sure to tune one of the TVs there to ESPN2, and prepared myself for a run fueled by emotion rather than adrenaline.

It was Andy's last service game, and I imagined that I could ensure that he held serve by running with just a little more determination.  It worked, but it was only to be followed by what everyone knew was almost certainly Andy's last professional game.  I couldn't hear the crowd, and had only the best efforts of the closed captioner to relay the commentary to me, but I could feel what everyone in Arthur Ashe was feeling.  I was right there with them.  And when it was all over, I was just as distraught as Brooklyn in Andy's player's box.  Only I didn't have any sunglasses to hide behind, and I was running on a treadmill in the middle of the gym.

It turns out that you can't really sob and run at the same time, while I was running it was like my body refusing to give into a complete bawling breakdown.  That makes sense, you need your lungs to taking in air, after all.  But the tears still came, and I must have looked more than a little ridiculous to anyone who happened to see me.  But the gym is like a crowded train, most people tend to avoid actually looking at anyone else.  That's what I tell myself, anyway.

Afterwards I took a moment to go ahead and be a big baby about it.  You guys, this is Andy.  This is Wimbledon, this is the Davis Cup, this is the US Open, this is 150 pounds.  I needed a moment.  And then I splashed some water on my face and went in for a little Fitness Fundamentals, where I was happily able to keep some sense of decorum as I lunged, lifted, and crunched.

So Andy goes out the last American man to win a grand slam, and I become the girl that cries when she runs...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

On the rack: Southern Living (September 2012)

I don't read as many magazines as I used to.  Who does, really?  But occasionally there's nothing like flipping through the pages of a glossy.  Mostly I tend towards knitting magazines with pretty patterns in them, but I also like the 3 Fs: fashion, fitness, and food.  In a little mixed-media meta-ness, I thought I'd share my thoughts about various issues I pick up and let you know if I find something particularly worth checking out on the newsstand.

I've never read, much less purchased, an issue of Southern Living before.  Not out of any proactive statement against it, I guess nothing ever grabbed my attention enough that I really needed to.  But this one got me for one simple reason: I love apples.
Photo credit: Southern Living
Mmm, apples.  My appreciation for this fruit came later in life, just in the past year or so.  I even started cataloguing the different types as I tried them out, figuring out which were my faves.  Seeing apple recipes featured on the cover of this reminded me how close we are to fall, so I grabbed it.

There are some tasty looking dishes in here, I have to say.  I'm never really sure what I'll make next, I don't plan more than a week or so out for the office goodies, but I'm sure I'll have to feature something from this issue later this year.  Probably the Caramel Apple Muffins, since I love baking in cupcake tins.  Although the Caramel Apple Coffee Cake could be cupcake-ized.  I could even use my little mini-Bundt cake molds.  I also want to try making the Caramelized Apple Chips, sounds simple and delicious, though I'll probably skip the fancy mandolin and having it be a whole cross-section of the apple and just cut my own thin slices from segments.

Aside from apples, there were a few other recipes that sound worth a try in my own kitchen.  There was a page called Community Cookbook that had recipes from readers: Potato Skin Nests and Buffalo Chicken Rolls.  The first uses a cupcake tin, so obviously that's going on my list.  And I love Buffalo hot sauce.  The recipe is for either fried or baked, I'll do baked.  And at almost the very end of the issue: German Chocolate-Pecan Pie Bars. Umm, yum, that's a must-try!

I also found some of the stuff about gardening interesting, since I continue to harbor hopes that I could cultivate a green thumb despite seemingly perpetual drought.  Overall, I'm not clamoring for a subscription of Southern Living, but I'm glad I picked this up.  I don't know how much longer this will be available since it's from September, so October should be out soon, but if you find it, check it out.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Love's Labor Day weekend lost

Ah, Labor Day.  At this point almost completely devoid of any political association to labor organizations or unions, the basic idea seems to be a day of rest to commemorate all the work we do the rest of the year.  If I'm to trust in the commercials, that rest should be gotten by holding neighborhood barbecues, shopping for all of the best limited-time-only deals, watching college football and counting down to NFL football.

Hmm, I think I did my Labor Day wrong.  Because here's a rundown of some of the things I've been up to the past three days:

Watching tennis.  I did see some college football, and I did of course make sure to keep track of the score in the Longhorns' game (hook 'em!), but mostly I was concerned with my dear Andy's winning Friday night and Sunday afternoon, as well as a few other matches.  I'm still annoyed that the Tennis Channel takes the night coverage on the first weekend, since I lack the multi-million channel package that requires that particular network to be available to me.

Drafting blog posts.  Because I love you.

Organizing my online recipe database.  A few months ago I decided that I would use a Gmail account to collect recipes online.  It was recommended to me because of the labels you can attach to messages, so I can e-mail myself a recipe and tag it as being 'Sweet', 'Cookie', 'Chocolate', and 'Caramel'.  Then when I decide that I simply must make something caramel, I can scan through my options easily.  Plus, I can reply to the thread to take notes when I try the recipe and rate how it went.  So now I'm going through all of my bookmarks and Instapaper clippings, composing e-mails and then agonizing over whether caramel, butterscotch, and toffee each deserve their own label.  Decision: they do.

Baking.  Because it's a three-day weekend, not an existential crisis, people.  I'm still me, and my co-workers still need tasty treats to survive the next work week.

Knitting.  See my previous statement about this not being an existential crisis.  There's always a cycle when I'm at my dad's house.  It starts with Friday night thinking that I might possibly finish my project before returning to my mom's house and 'Oh no, I might have to go an entire day without knitting to do!' panic taking hold.  It peters out, though, as I fill the weekend with a few other tasks and end up still not at cast off by the time I'm safely with my stash again.

Going out for froyo and a film.  The big adventure of the weekend.  Went to see 'Sleepwalk with Me', I'll have more thoughts on that, and of course a review of the frozen dairy treat, later this week.  On the subject of films, I also watched the restored version of 'Metropolis' last night.  Nothing like a 1927 silent German classic of cinema to give you that warm sense of self-righteousness in your cultural consumption.

Painting my nails.  I'm actually in the middle of this right now.  Right hand needs a top coat, then onto the left.  OPI's Steady As She Rose, in case anyone is wondering.

Whew!  Who says I haven't been laboring this weekend?