Thursday, November 19, 2009

I've Moved!

In preparation for the impending holiday baking (and recipe) overload, I'm attempting to make an honest woman out of myself and moved out on my own.

Here is where you can find me at my very own site from now own: The Misanthropic Hostess.

Just in case you need some incentive to buy into the paradigm shift, I'll leave you a parting thought below (recipes for which can be found in the new location).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Hostess and the Great Outdoors

It’s been a while. Nearly six months in fact. While my baking sheets can attest to the fact it has been a long recovery from Royce, I really have no stinking excuse for my negligence when it comes to chronicling both my misanthropy and my hostessnes.

So, I’m moving on.

Movin’ on in fact, to the next thing: Project Redwoods.

Somewhere between the windowlessness of my office and the fact that our economy is in the pits, I decided that it would be an adventure to go camping this summer. No, no big fancy European trips for us this year. Cannes will just have to live without us and they’ll surely miss us in the Berkshires (wherever the Berkshires are). Charge up the flashlights and get out the hotdog sticks because we are taking on the California Redwoods. For a week. In July.

Now, after nearly 10 years of relations, my husband and I have never been camping together (not unless you count that night we spent in the tent in my parent’s backyard for my cousin’s wedding). The following is a list of our existing camping supplies:

1. Tent

2. Sleeping bag (1)

3. Lantern

To some, the fact that we have little shared experience and barely a humble structure to keep our heads dry would be a deterrent. Not me, in fact, this type of plan-it-out, multi-phase project is exactly what the Misanthropic Hostess has needed.

Of course there is an Excel workbook with checklists and timelines and relational budgets.

Of course I have a notebook with product reviews, recipes, maps and activity ideas.

Would you expect any less?

The first two considerations I had when I began planning this odyssey a couple months ago were (in this order): 1) what I was going to wear; and 2) what we were going to eat. I will briefly address the former so we can get it out of the way. As I mentioned above, I grew up camping. And I liked it a lot. Well, mostly. Save for one thing. I hated, HATED camping clothes. They were old, mismatched and generally had me looking like I was waiting for a flood. I realize no self respecting six-year-old should have such wardrobe concerns, but much to the chagrin of my mother, I did. It’s just the way I was born. As an adult, I fully understand how inappropriate and impractical wearing my prom dress to roast marshmallows may be. But don’t think for a minute one of those spreadsheets doesn’t lay out in careful detail exactly what I’ll be wearing every day (with contingencies for weather and activities, of course).

Now concerning the food.

Not to sound like Seinfeld, but what’s the deal with camp food? When camping as a kid, we ate real food like spaghetti and grilled steak. As I’ve been researching what to plan for our five nights in campfire heaven, I have come across some very strange camp recipes. It would be one thing if their weirdness was disbursed here and there or perhaps limited to the earning of some form of scouting merit badge. The thing is, odd and cutely named dishes appear to be the norm among the camping crowd. I don’t know about you, but spending a day breathing in the fresh outdoors and engaged in vigorous outdoorsy activities does not need to be topped off by anything called ant flambe, beansaroni soup or peanut butter dump cake. I’m not kidding! Peanut Butter Dump Cake! This is supposed to be a nice week in the woods, not Survivor.

So, herein lies my first camping challenge: what to eat for dinner.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gingerbread Royce's 15 Minutes

Gingerbread Royce has taking on a life of its own. In fact, I think Royce's dance card is significantly more full than my own this holiday season.

GR, that charming devil, was featured in both the online UCLA staff and faculty newsletter and the online version of the alumni publication; UCLA Magazine:

Extreme Makeover

I also just got an email that GR made an appearance at the UCLA Athletic Department Holiday Party yesterday. It warms my heart that something I made took its place next to pie. I like pie.

Since I've now finished my holiday baking (of course I have photographic to come) and the holiday cards are all in the mail, I've had a few moments to turn my thoughts toward what I could do to top Royce next year. I can think of only one thing: Yule Log. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Royce In Situ

If you’ve ever watched the food pornography that is the Food Network, you’ll know that the most exciting part of those wild edible structure competitions is when the competitors have to move their creation from work space to display table. My adrenaline gets pumping more while watching “the transfer” than when they announce the brackets for March Madness. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll admit (even if it’s just to yourself) that just like there is joy in seeing the underdog upset a top ranked team in round one (as long as it isn’t UCLA), there is some pay-off when the structure doesn’t quite make-it.

Well, I’m happy for me (and sad for the adrenaline junkies) that Gingerbread Royce’s trip to its final destination was very uneventful. Indeed, it made it to UCLA all in one piece. More or less. I can’t vouch for how it looks now, a week later, but when I left it, Gingerbread Royce was whole.

Here she is, finally at home.

And now my friends, we’ve reached the end of the second half and fourth quarter. The clock has run out and it's all over save part where the band takes the field--or court--and plays the Alma Mater. While the trip has been entertaining, it’s time for me to switch aprons—but not Crocs—and start my holiday baking. Today: green coconut and royal icing. Tomorrow: Sparkly sugar stars and rum butternuts. Hail to the hills of Westwood...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Royce Rising

Well folks, it’s done. I promised to deliver this process in excruciating detail, and so will not disappoint as I unveil my little project.

Let us begin with Petting Zoo. Apparently her palate does not stop at gingerbread. Here you see her in her native environment snacking on neon green shredded coconut. I cut her off immediately after exploiting her digitally as I didn’t fancy the idea of cleaning up green cat yak from front hallway runner (her carpet of choice when it comes to regurgitation).

When we last left off, I had roofs and landscaping ahead of me. All of the peaked roofs were decorated using “tiles” made out of three kinds of gum wrapped over pretzel sticks. Inspiration for this came while sitting in a staff meeting looking out the window at the roof of a similar Romanesque Revival style building at that school across town. It took over 500 hundred “tiles” to cover the peaked roofs.

Of all the structural elements that had me in a quagmire, the pyramids for the tower roofs were the worst. They say there are two kinds of people—algebra people and geometry people. Unfortunately for this project, I am definitely the former. And that’s why we love the Internet. After some quick and dirty research I learned about the golden triangle. Now, ratios I can understand. I built slightly undersized models out of paper and then crafted the gingerbread pieces over them. The rise is definitely too high if you compare it to the real building (as is the pitch on the roofs of the wings). It's the thought that counts. Right?

The top of the building called for some creative license. Through all my searching, I was never able to find a real picture of Royce's roof. So, I improvised.

Then it was time to landscape. There are some home baking techniques that span the generations. Dying shredded coconut green and using it for grass has to be one of them. To this day, my husband talks about his favorite birthday cake—a re-created baseball diamond his mom made from scratch. The grass? Green coconut. Why mess with perfection? I also used sugar wafers for the walkways and spearmint gumdroppy leaves for the hedges. I had planned to make trees but realized that they would just obscure the building.

And this brings us to the big picture. I’m not completely convinced it even looks like Royce Hall anymore. In fact, once the roofs went on, it began to look quite a bit like a Spanish hacienda. Eh. BUT it’s standing, it’s big, get within 10 feet of it and all you can smell is cinnamon AND every single bit is completely and totally edible. Just ask Petting Zoo.

Alas, my work here is not done. This weekend we will attempt to take a decent picture of it and transport it to my husband's offices in Pauly Pavillion at UCLA.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Best of the Best

When not icing circles of chewing gum tiles on to pretzel sticks, I’ve been reading scholarship applications for UCLA’s Distinguished Senior Award.

Man, I am impressed.

This group isn’t going to change the world; they already are.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Always Wear Sunscreen

Remember the Baz Lurhman “Wear Sunscreen” song/speech dealio that was popular around graduation time in 1999? There is a great piece in it that goes:

“Don't worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.”

Let’s set aside just how appropriate this is when applied to our current economic conditions (because why talk about something important?) and instead apply it to the project at hand. I’ve anticipated stuff would come up along the way. You know, burnt dough, crooked walls, a national shortage of red food dye. And in fact, most of these things have happened. Of course, as is so articulately said above, it’s what we don’t anticipate that gets us. In my case it seems to be a plague of vermin. Well, one vermin. Who happens to be domestic. And have a taste for gingerbread. There is a reason Bella the Cat is nicknamed Petting Zoo. Yes, she actually ate the tips of both of the towers.

Now that we’ve had our fun, let’s get down to business. This weekend was sort of a coming of age for Project Royce. It didn’t run away or get caught up in drugs or anything (well, there was the violence with the cat), but, it did come out the end of the weekend an entirely different beast than going in.

The sunscreen speech says to "do one thing every day that scares you." And so, I mapped out the board and started building.

Then the kitchen kind of exploded. There was brick-tinted icing everywhere. Everywhere! I love that part of the project where it looks like it a tornado has just swept through town and nothing is going to work out (can you see who is in the upper left hand corner just waiting for her chance to snack).

Amongst the chaos, these were a couple of my favorite details. I finally figured out how make stained glass (add in the crushed candy only for the last five minutes). The wreath is one of two that will hang from the two front towers (you can't see here because I'm bad at taking pictures, but the stars are blue, yellow and white).

Just for reference, this is what the real deal looks like:

And while we are referencing, this is what the model looked like:

...and this is what my version looks like:


Side (please ignore Rosarita, she's helping hold up the building while it dries).

And now comes the hard part: roofing. As careful as I was about right angles, building the different roofs is going to be a challenge. And then there is the landscaping. And the keeping away of the cat. And the wearing of sunscreen...