Episode 14: Sweet Tea


Today’s episode turned out to fit beautifully with the September challenge over at Gauche Alchemy, so I decided to run with it! While not all of the songs are strictly “country,” they all have some aspect of down home earnestness, a twang to go along with the back-beat, or something else that makes them fit in my head; there’s even a bit of the rolling zydeco rhythms in there in tribute to my beginnings in Louisiana. And an apology for my voice, today, I’m still getting over the cold that prevented me from putting out an episode over Labor Day weekend as planned. Hopefully we’re back on track again with this episode and I’ll find a good time for the “missing” set of songs to fall into place 🙂

Sweet Tea—Kim McLean 
If You Feel Froggy—Freighttrain Jones
That Texas Girl—Late Model Humans
Mercury In Retrograde—Sean Wiggins
Space monkey—Jim Hodgson
Rolling Back To You—Codie Prevost
Hard Way Home—Runaway Dorothy
Need a Little Squeezin—Copper Box
Zydeco Junkie—Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band
Strip Tease—Musical Spa
As Far As My Heart Can See—Norma Jean Martine
Evelyn’s Green—She Swings, She Sways
One Monkey Don’t Stop The Show—Dann Schumann

Of course, this isn’t my only contribution to this month’s Gauche Alchemy challenge. To go along with the music I painted up an old pair of lace ankle boots into appropriate dancing shoes. Check out today’s post over at gauchealchemy.com to see and read more about my project and find out how to enter your own inspired creation for a chance at this month’s prize.


And on a technical note, can I just say how much easier it is to create this podcast now that I’ve started using Adobe Audition?! When I started podcasting I used Garage Band because it came on my my Mac and it was fairly user-friendly. Since Minnie the Mac finally gave up the ghost last year, I was kinda dreading how I was going to put the episodes together and, truth be told, it was part of the reason I kept putting off relaunching the podcast. I know a lot of people use Audacity (the fact that it’s free helps) and I downloaded it to edit some songs for our wedding last year. It’s okay, but it wasn’t as intuitive as I’d hoped; even reading the help and tutorial files didn’t help all that much.

Now, Audition is cheap, but since I subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud service anyway for Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Lightroom and (more recently) Premier Pro, it was nothing extra to download Audition as well. And even though the process of putting together the podcast still involves selecting and rearranging the playlist to the point where I’ve listened to the whole thing about 5 times before it’s all said and done, using Audition means that the actual putting-together of the show takes about as long as listening through it all once more time. Even the transitions that took forever to fiddle with in Garage Band are automatic in Audition, to the point where I maybe have to tweak one each show.

So, you know, if you’ve ever thought of creating your own podcast on whatever subject or in whatever format, I can’t rate Audition highly enough for making the technical aspects super simple.

[/end PSA; no affiliate links just a really happy customer :)]

In Front and Behind and Somewhere In Between

In The Studio

So, did you hear the news? Gauche Alchemy has decided to continue their blogging even while the shop is on hiatus by running challenges each month and I’m happy as a clam to remain part of the Alchemists who get to work on those challenges as well! Of course anyone can participate in the challenges and there’s even a link-up for submitting your own take on the month’s inspiration with a prize: this month is a punchinella pack! You have until the 31st to come up with something, so still plenty of time.

This first month’s inspiration was Frida Kahlo–what a way to start, right?!

I’ve long admired her as a human being and as an artist and have read a spectacular biography of her that went so much deeper than the Salma Hayek movie ever could (though it was pretty faithful in many ways). Despite the various physical infirmaties that tried to cage her in, she stood out in life and art in a way that definitely leaves an impression. It was that presence that really inspired my project this month and took me somewhere I’m not usually all that comfortable:

In front of the camera.

Head over to Gauche Alchemy to see the rest of the pictures.

Head over to Gauche Alchemy to see the rest of the pictures.

I started by creating a floral crown, like the flowers she often wore in her hair, but it grew from there, encompassing wrist and ankle. Now, I ramble on quite a bit about the meaning behind the piece and the thoughts it stirred up in me over on the Gauche Alchemy blog and I encourage you to read about it there, and keep in mind that I wrote it all up back before the end of July. Had I written it this week, I don’t think my feelings would have changed, but the passing of Robin Williams a few days ago just reinforces what I’ve come to believe about the balance of creative gifts and our mental and/or physical health.

This month’s inspiration spurred those deep thoughts while also taking me far out of my comfort zone. In order to even attempt for my shackles to make sense, I had to wear them, to show them in place, and to embody the best I could the spirit of our inspiration. And if I was wearing them, that meant I would need help to get the images needed for the post. Thankfully (as I always am in his case), Todd was willing to help me rearrange our guest room to make a photo space and then have me coach him through the photos I needed. It is my hope that the pictures come off more as an homage to Frida Kahlo and not a mockery, if intention counts for anything…

F for Frida...

F for Frida…

I’ve been spending a good amount of time the last few weeks more focused on what I want to be creating–both in art and in life. It’s made me look harder at the current time limitations I’m under and the steps I need to take in order to alleviate those constraints. Simple put: time to work my ass off to build my personal career so I can make the time for everything else. There’s a shift in my priorities going on, now, and I hope I can keep up!

If you follow me on Twitter you may have already seen the patterns I’ve been creating as part of the Make It In Design summer school. I’ve been enjoying the challenge of the creative briefs the classes have given and have taken some steps–again–outside my comfort zone and been rewarded for it! Here’s the first set of briefs (I signed up for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced tracks) I completed, I’m still noodling over the second set but I’m excited to play with animal print and tribal-inspired designs.

For the beginner brief I went with a whimsical scatter design...

For the beginner brief I went with a whimsical scatter design…

But for the advanced brief I used some of the same images without their outlines and a painted background to create an entirely different mood.

But for the advanced brief I used some of the same images without their outlines and a painted background to create an entirely different mood.

The intermediate brief was a bit odd-theme-out from the other two, with a different palette and a call for a more geometric style to work well on swimwear.

The intermediate brief was a bit odd-theme-out from the other two, with a different palette and a call for a more geometric style to work well on swimwear.

I’ve also entered Lilla Roger’s Global Talent Search and have already turned in my round 1 assignment (I’ll share it once the entry galleries have been made public later this month). Not gonna lie: I want to be one of the 50 picked to proceed to round 2 like you wouldn’t believe. But even if that doesn’t happen (there are a LOT of people in the competition from what I understand, something like 5,000?!) I’m happy with the work I turned in and plan to do more with it on my own.

Which means I’ve been spending the rest of my time this week working on my portfolio. My current portfolio is not only sorely in need of updated project images, it also needs to be reconfigured to allow for an art licensing section so those patterns and the collections I create around them have a better chance of being picked up by buyers!

I’ve got a fire lit under me–what’s keeping your engine’s stoked as we hurtle towards fall?

Daring Bakers: Hazelnut Banana Nougat


The March 2014 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Rebecca of BakeNQuilt. She challenged us to learn to make classic nougat and to make it our own with our choice of flavors and add-ins.


My house smells so amazing right now!

You’re just going to have to take my word on that, though, since they have yet to invent smell-er-net or whatever. But seriously, it’s like toasted marshmallows (the good kind) without the bonfire smoke thanks to the various sugary components of this month’s confectionery challenge.

It’s been my experience, making candy in the south, that our biggest challenge is humidity and there’s something like a handful of clear, bright days where everything will work if you hold your mouth right. The rest of the year? Well, I remember making these sugar-dipped pear slices back at the Plantation as a garnish for Pear Clafoutis during the first few weeks there. It was, of course, summer in south Georgia and humid as all get out, and I had to store the slices in a plastic container with some powdered dehumidifying agent to try and keep them from going limp before the next dinner service.

I’ve made divinity at Christmas that I had to store in the freezer because it was the only way it would stay semi-solid. Pralines have crystallized in front of our very eyes. And more of the same. So it was with a tiny bit of trepidation that I put together the ingredients for the chocolate nougat, hoping I wouldn’t end up with a weepy, goopy mess.

I needn’t have worried. At least about it not setting.


Thanks to a random cold snap last night, we had pretty much perfect candy-making weather. And as I watched the sweet meringue whip around my stand mixer, letting it mix the 3-5 minutes to cool off a bit before adding the chocolate and other mix-ins, something strange happened. One moment it was silky smooth and belching steam like a locomotive, the next it developed that whipped look of the inside of a 3 Musketeers bar, and then–in the blink of an eye–turned to something much more choppy. Adding the chocolate didn’t smooth it out (maybe it would have, had I melted it, but that’s hindsight talking). Since the nuts and dried fruit originally called for in the recipe were either High-FODMAP or not Todd’s favorite, I used toasted hazelnuts and banana chips–sort of like Chunky Monkey meets 3 Musketeers.


Unfortunately, it stayed pretty crumbly. I managed to get a few decent-sized pieces for a picture but instead of neat little bricks they’re more like field stones, so the majority got put into an airtight jar. Despite its rugged appearance, it melts nice and smooth on the tongue, so it’s not crystallized or anything like that. I tried adding a little water to a bit of it, but that just melted it, so we’ll leave it crumbly.


Besides, this way it makes an amazing ice cream topping!

Daring Bakers: Schichttorte or “Tree Cake”


Another month, another challenge courtesy of the Daring Bakers!

The January 2014 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Francijn of “Koken in de Brouwerij“. She challenged us all to bake layered cakes in the tradition of Baumkuchen (tree cake) and Schichttorte (layered cake).

Chocolate-Almond Schichttorte

Chocolate-Almond Schichttorte

The cake itself is a sponge cake and the technique in play is the multiple, thin layers baked one on top of the other, creating striations in the finished cake as each layer is allowed to brown. The sample recipe we were given used crumbled marzipan, but since we don’t really do a lot of nuts in our home, I substituted light brown sugar with a bit of almond extract for that line, and (of course) used my usual Low-FODMAP baking blend for the little bit of flour called for in the recipe (again, being a sponge-cake, most of the structure is coming from the whipped egg whites, not the gluten in wheat flour).

Before folding in the egg yolk mixture, it helps to temper them with a small amount of the whipped whites. This way you only have to "sacrifice" some of the loft, not all of it.

Before folding in the egg yolk mixture, it helps to temper them with a small amount of the whipped whites. This way you only have to “sacrifice” some of the loft, not all of it.

The procedure called for spreading 1/10th to 1/12th of the batter per layer so I tried to figure out what exactly that would be, measurement-wise. Since I had right around 8 cups of egg whites after beating to stiff peaks, and the butter and yolk mixture came to approximately 2 cups, I figured with the inevitable loss of air folding them together would bring, I’d still end up around the 8-cup mark, so 2/3 cup per layer should get me to the 10-12 layer mark, right?

Neatening up the edges makes for a better presentation overall (not to mention easy snacking of the trimmings; for quality control, of course!)

Neatening up the edges makes for a better presentation overall (not to mention easy snacking of the trimmings; for quality control, of course!)

Not so much. I ended up with 6 layers (and I could stand to practice keeping them even) and instead of the 4 minutes each layer was expected to take to bake at 450 degrees F, they took 8 minutes each. At first I thought maybe they’d start cooking quicker once the first few layers were in place–after all, that insulated surface should speed things  up, right? By the end of the third layer, though, I realized we were just going to stick out the 8-minute shifts so adjusted my timer accordingly.

I was happy to find a use for my unset Champagne Jelly--it worked very well with the combination of almond and chocolate.

I was happy to find a use for my unset Champagne Jelly–it worked very well with the combination of almond and chocolate.

Once a bit cool, it was time to glaze the cake. The sample recipe called for apricot preserves, heated, sieved, and mixed with a bit of orange liqueur, but I had a better idea. In part because apricots are High-FODMAP and in part because I had 12 mini-jars of Champagne jelly sitting around that never fully set (making them Champagne sauce, instead), I popped open on of those jars and skipped the heating, sieving, and mixing and just brushed it straight on. (But just to be safe I dunked one of the trimmed sides into the sauce to make sure the two components would mesh well–they definitely did!)

Once the glaze was on, so was the waiting--good thing I'd planned for overnight for the coating to set!

Once the glaze was on, so was the waiting–good thing I’d planned for overnight for the coating to set!

The final step was to mix up a chocolate coating from melted bittersweet chocolate chips and a bit of coconut oil and pour/spread it on. And then it got to sit for a night, as the recipe assured us that it was better if given a day to rest.

The moment of truth: would the layers look right and how would it all taste?!

The moment of truth: would the layers look right and how would it all taste?

Before our gaming group arrived, I divided the small cake into 12 thin bars and set them out prettily. When it’s cut, it looks a lot like the 12-layer cakes you see at bake sales (at least here in the south) but without frosting between each this layer. The strata give it the appearance of wood grain, which is where the idea of “tree cake” comes from–the original Baumkuchen were cooked in successive layers on a spit, creating concentric rings. I don’t have one to try it on, but I wonder if a counter-top rotisserie grill would do the trick in that instance?!

The process was a little tedious by the end–being tied to the oven for over an hour got a little old after the first few layers, but I did read through a couple magazines that had been piling up, so it wasn’t a total loss of time. Some of the participants made their schichttortes using the broiler to quick-cook mini-layers in cupcake pans–I think I’d have to employ a piping bag to make that slightly more manageable, as well as adding a filling layer somewhere in the middle. Still, it was fun to try (which is the whole point) and certainly didn’t go to waste on our guests.

Perhaps the most surprising thing was the richness of the cooked cake–sponge cakes can be very dry and this one definitely doesn’t fit the bill. It was very moist, my almond extract & brown sugar substitution seemed to do the trick, and the bottom layer cooked into a sturdy crust but didn’t burn (thankfully). And even though the cake was small to start with, a twelfth was more than enough for a serving.

Daring Bakers: Canadian Whoopie Pies


The December Daring Bakers’ Challenge had us all cheering – the lovely and talented Bourbonnatrix of Bourbonnatrix Bakes was our hostess and challenged us to make fun, delicious and creative whoopie pies! Delicious little cake-like cookies sandwiching luscious filling in any flavors we chose… What else is there to say but “Whoopie!”


This month’s challenge was perfect for answering the question of what to make for holiday desserts. For some reason I never got onto the whoopie pie bandwangon so I was glad to give these a try and see what my family thought. Since we were encouraged to play around with the flavor combination of cake and filling, I took my inspiration from a Secret Santa gift I received right as the challenge for the month was announced.

My Santa was from Canada, and she sent me (among other things) a can of Tim Horton’s English Toffee Cappuccino mix. As I was reading the sample recipe for chocolate whoopie pies I saw espresso powder as an ingredient and thought, hey, why not use the cappuccino mix instead? I also used the mix for half of the cocoa called for (only half as I didn’t want to overpower the pies for the non-coffee fans at dinner) and the end result was a nice mocha toffee coffee flavor that even Todd enjoyed.

For the filling I went with the usual marshmallow-cream filling, but I didn’t really want to use the standard vegetable shortening it called for, so I subbed coconut oil figuring it had the same texture with a much more pleasant flavor, too. On top of that, I added a generous pour of maple syrup to make it maple-marshmallow filling, in honor of the Canadian theme of the whoopie pies. Even if I never make whoopie pies again, the maple-marshmallow filling may be making future appearances in our home–it was just that tasty.

They made for very rich desserts, so some opted to split a pie among them so they could also sample some of the other desserts, too. Knowing that, I almost wish I’d made the mini-pies. Either mini or full-sized, I can see my little brother requesting these again!

Gluten-Free Toffee Coffee Whoopie Pies with Maple Marshmallow Creme Filling
Adapted from : King Arthur Flour
Servings: 8 large or 16 small whoopie pies


For the Whoopie Pies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon Tim Horton’s English Toffee Cappuccino Mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa, sifted
1/4 cup Tim Horton’s English Toffee Cappuccino Mix
2 1/3 cups Gluten-Free Flour Blend
3/4 tsp xanthum gum
1 cup milk


1) Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

2) In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, brown sugar, cappuccino mix, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and vanilla till smooth. Add the egg, again beating till smooth.

3) Add the cocoa and remaining cappuccino mix, stirring to combine.

4) Add the flour to the batter alternately with the milk, beating till smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and beat again briefly to soften and combine any chunky scrapings.

5) Drop the dough by the 1/4-cupful onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving plenty of room between the cakes; they’ll spread. A muffin scoop works well here.

6) Bake the cakes in a preheated moderate oven for 15 to 16 minutes, till they’re set and firm to the touch. Remove them from the oven, and cool on the pans. While still lukewarm, use a spatula to separate them from the pan or parchment; then allow to cool completely.

For the Maple Marshmallow Creme Filling

1 cup coconut oil
1 cup confectioners’ sugar or glazing sugar
1-1/3 cups Marshmallow Fluff or marshmallow creme
2 Tbsp maple syrup (or more, to taste)


1) (To make the filling:) Beat together the shortening, confectioners’ sugar, and marshmallow until well combined.

2) Add the maple syrup, and beat until smooth. If the filling is too thin, add confectioners’ sugar until desired consistency is reached.


Pipe or spread a generous helping of filling onto the flat side of one pie and top with another.