Making cork coasters

So after seeing this blog post from the Mother Nature Network I decided it would be a good way to use up my champagne corks that won’t work in the wine cork bath mat I have planned for an unplanned future date. I mean, the blog post makes it sound so easy.

I sliced up the champagne and beer corks into circles and glued them down to some plastic disks that I cut out of some lids saved from yogurt containers and other such things. So far I’ve completed three coasters.

The lessons I’ve learned so far are:

  1. Cutting corks a uniform width is freaking hard
  2. I’m good at cutting my finger nails with a knife
  3. The glue doesn’t hold forever, one of the first ones I made already lost a cork
  4. This might not be the best way to use up these corks 😦

Making a care card

My uncle has been in the hospital for cancer treatment and I’ve sent him a few cards and a knitted hat to let him know that I am thinking of him.

This weekend my Dad was in town and we decided to do something silly for his brother / my uncle. We took paper and markers with us out to “Oasis” Texas, this crazy food complex out on Lake Travis in Austin.  There were plenty of statues and scenery to make silly signs for and then take our pictures with the signs.  They are now printed out and headed in the mail to Pittsburgh to my uncle! I hope he enjoys looking at them as much as we enjoyed taking the photos.

OMG, I have a bottle tree!

So, I’ve seen strange items in front yards around town that are used to display empty glass bottles. I mean this is Austin after all.  Then, I went to the yard art show at the Lady Bird Wildflower Center and saw a bottle tree there.  It was AMAZING. I had to have one. In fact, I knew way back in August that I needed this for my front yard.

Needless to say, I didn’t really have the proper tools to execute such a large project on my own. Luckily for me, I know some people that do. Recently, my father-in-law toted down his welder and torch from Fort Worth so that we could make my bottle tree and I could have the most “Austin-y” yard on my street.

We made the tree out of rebar on Saturday, and even took a break to attend the Circle Brewing grand opening party.

We cut a thick piece of rebar in half to act as the main trunk and then cut the thin pieces of rebar to varying lengths to make the branches.  And of course by “we” I mean my father-in-law. He also heated up the rebar so that I could bend it and he welded all the pieces together.

Welding and torch setup:

Bending some branches on the tree:

Cutting branches in action:

A certain husband had to hold up the bottle tree for quite a while once it got unweildy:

The following day, they set the main trunk piece in some concrete in the front yard amongst our cedar trees:

After the concrete had some time to set, I added the bottles I’ve collected for it so far.

My bike basks in the shade of the bottle tree:

Try to ignore our messy garage in the background and what appears to be dead grass everywhere:

And finally, a close up:

Yep, it’s awesome. I’ve got room to grow as I get more bottles.

A HUGE thanks to my father-in-law and husband for humoring me and creating a bottle tree for me!

Making stout into cake

Yes, I really did bake two cakes this week. The second one was for my husband’s birthday. This is the second time I’ve made this chocolate stout cake from use real butter.  Yes, the recipe really is in that blog post after you scroll past all of the pictures.

This year, I changed two things from what I did last year. I substituted half of the butter for applesauce to make the cake moister (which worked) and I used a milk chocolate icing that my husband bought rather than the fudge icing I used last year. I recommend the fudge icing. Both years I used Guinness in the cake because we happened to have some and it’s not fancy enough for my local beer snob to drink.

Guinness, butter, and applesauce, oh my!

Heating the stout and butter, and then after the butter melted, adding the applesauce:

Mixing in the cocoa powder:

Mixing eggs and sour cream:

Adding the chocolate mixture:

Ready for the oven!

Out of the oven!

First layer iced:

Done!

Making a breakfast birthday cake

I got to do some more baking recently for a coworkers birthday. This baking was special because the celebration had to be at 9:30 am.  So instead of a dessert cake, I came across this Cinnamon Apple Cake recipe from Cooking Light that is perfect for breakfast! Also, I was amazed by the insane number of outstanding reviews it had, so I knew I just had to try it. An added bonus is the fact that the cake is relatively low in calories.

My husband bought the largest organic Fuji apples I have ever seen so I ended up chopping up just two of them and still had way more than the 3 cups called for. To make apple chopping easy, I used my peeler / slicer / corer contraption from Williams Sonoma, given to me a few years back by my mother-in-law. That thing rocks if you bake with apples often!

So many apples…

Dry ingredients combined:

(P.S. My apple corer contraption is the same red as my Kitchen Aid mixer, another awesome baking gift from my mother-in-law)

Mmmm… apples all cinnamon’d up and ready for use!

Folded into the dough – I noticed this recipe seemed to have more apples than dough, which of course makes it delicious. Also, I used extra apples. I spread some on top too because I had so many. And maybe I ate a few of the chunks.

The cake was baked in my 9” springform pan and that worked out just fine. I think next time I will bake it for a bit longer because I don’t think it was quite cooked all the way. I subtracted the 5 minutes for my larger pan as the recipe suggested but I think that was too many.

It earned rave reviews from my coworkers (and myself). Definitely worth making again.

Making the best of crazy Texas weather

When we first moved into our house, it hard a front yard full of lush green grass (St. Augustine for those of you familiar). Needless to say, it didn’t live very long under our care. We tend to feel that grass shouldn’t require two waterings a week in such a drought prone area.

Once the front corner of the yard completely died, we installed a little corner xeriscape garden:

Look at all those tiny little plants!  Well, we chose a rough time to plant this garden as the next spring and summer we experienced an extremely harsh drought. We tried watering the little plants, but quite a few of them didn’t make it.  In this photo, you can see what was left (and how big it got):

With those native plants not surviving, you can imagine how our stupidly thirsty grass fared (especially since we didn’t water it)! The next year even more of our lawn died. I decided it was an excellent time to finish the front yard xeriscape that I had planned all along!

Let me just say, I got us into a lot of work. I always underestimate these things. We pulled out the dead grass / weeds, leaving just the grass under the cedar trees that had managed to survive the summer. Then we edged the area with black landscape edging and laid down weed cloth.  We also collected free rocks from rock and dirt piles at a local cemetery to line my new xeriscape (three loads, in the trunk of our Ford Focus).  We collected plants from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center fall plant sale and went to town planting them, including the Mexican Plum tree that rode home in the back seat of the convertible with the top down. The craziest plants we bought there were these itty bitty assorted wildflowers.  We planted them thinking they’d get maybe 2 feet tall and the four plants that survived that winter turned into MASSIVE wildflower bushes 4 – 5 feet across and almost as tall!  Of course, they were aided by the fact that the spring and summer after they were planted was incredibly rainy and we lost almost no plants this time. In fact, all of the plants grew way more than we expected, even after reading their descriptions!

Now after a year and a half of the front yard xeriscape awesomeness we created I had to prune some of the massive bushes back so that they don’t look absolutely ridiculous this coming year. These Texas hardy plants all seemed to have survived the four days straight of freezing temperatures without us covering them.  Hooray! Plants I don’t have to water AND I don’t have to cover. WIN WIN.

In addition to planting plants, I like to plant large pretty rocks.

And from today, buds on our Mexican plum tree!