Palm Springs

20 Feb

Coconut Mojito at Parker Hotel

My Seakettle posts might give the false impression that I spend all my time baking. (so. many. desserts!) In reality, though, a pie chart of my time would be happily split between creating things (including desserts, but also websites, gifts, decorations), and traveling. Oh, and squeeze in a little time to do research for those two things — actually, make that a lot of time — since I’m a maximizer to the max. (And let’s just leave cleaning and grocery shopping etc. off my happy pie chart. The more you travel, the less frequently you have to do those things!)

Anyway, I’d love to document our crazy travels here on Seakettle, if you wouldn’t mind hearing about them! We can test it out with Palm Springs. Let me know what you think!

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Palm Springs is in the desert, about an hour and half east of LA. It has a long history as a resort town — a warm winter escape for the rich and famous (and the old and ailing). True to form, it was 80 degrees when we visited in January. (In fairness to the San Fernando Valley, it was even warmer at our house.)

Greg and I have driven past Palm Springs many times on our way to Arizona, but never stopped. After seeing Palm Springs popping up in my feed reader and realizing that people are flying to California just to visit Palm Springs, I figured we better go see what the fuss is all about!

Palm Springs Resorts

Things We Loved:

Resort-hopping
Even though we weren’t staying at one of Palm Springs’ chic boutique hotels, we enjoyed wandering around their public lobbies and gardens. The courtyard at the Saguaro is bursting with color and bass (and bocce ball!). The Ace pool is also hopping, but we just wandered through their macrame-riddled lobby and past the giant ACE sign in the parking lot. Their dark bar looked like a cool retreat from the Palm Springs heat! We also enjoyed the quirky lobby and beautiful grounds at the Parker Palm Springs, where you can enjoy a cocktail (coconut mojito!) in any number of little outdoor seating areas.

Mid-Century Everywhere
I couldn’t quite afford to buy the furniture, but I definitely appreciated the mid-century vibe oozing out of every shop and restaurant in Palm Springs. Dazzles is a fun and jam-packed little shop. I also loved browsing the fancy curated furniture galleries just to see some of the unusual mid-century pieces!

Bacon Tasting
We enjoyed brunch — particularly the bacon flights — at Cheeky’s (even though we’re convinced that they labelled the slices incorrectly)!

Milk Shakes
I can’t remember the last time I had a milk shake, but in Palm Springs we bought them twice! Great Shakes had tons of super delicious options, plus an adorable mini donut on top. Cuteness. A bit outside of town, we headed to Windmill Market & Produce for their famous date shakes. I assumed I wouldn’t like them (I didn’t even order my own.), but it was SO good!

The View from Mt. San Jacinto
The aerial tramway ride was a bit pricey, the staff was unfriendly, and we were packed like sardines (Sunday midday), but the views from the top were wonderful. It’s 30 degrees cooler at the top and a completely different world — more like hiking near Yosemite than a mile from the desert! Wear tennis shoes (my bad) if you plan to leave the building at all — it’s a downhill series of switchbacks right off the bat. You can sign up for a free wilderness permit to hike away from the crowds (at the bottom of the hill, head to your right to the ranger station), though the city views are to the left (where all the people are!).

The Proximity to Joshua Tree National Park
Having never previously stopped at Joshua Tree, either, Greg and I spent the last night of our long weekend camping there. It’s such a beautiful desert landscape! The Joshua trees are cool, of course, but my favorite plants were the chollas. I could write a whole post on our day in Joshua Tree, so maybe I will!

Palm Springs

We have to go back for:
• Hiking, particularly to Palm Canyon and McCallum Oasis
• Visiting the date farms, in season
• A picnic with lunch from The Sandwich Spot
• Staying at one of the boutique hotels
Modernism Week (happening now!)
• Dinner in a restaurant. Ha! (We had waffles for dinner — homemade, in our hotel room, without utensils! It was amazing.)

If you know of any hidden gems in Palm Springs, please share!

Toy Animal Valentines

14 Feb

Toy Animal Valentines

This Valentine card idea and printable from Sarah M Style is so amazingly awesome. I assembled a few for my adventure-and-animal-loving husband and hid them with treats around the house!

I even happened to have the miniature animals (from Michaels) and pre-cut pieces of twine on hand. Expect to see the animals in the leading role of a future project…

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Raspberry and Custard Crepe Cake

13 Feb

Raspberry and Custard Crepe Cake

Since this is the week of pink and red desserts, I thought I’d share my crepe cake from the baby shower I hosted back in June.

Slice of Raspberry Crepe Cake

I couldn’t throw a French party and not pay homage to the crepe. Crepes are woven through my happy memories of Paris (as gelato is through my memories of Italy).

Unfortunately, despite my desire to make (fast, easy) crepes more often (expressed last time I made a crepe cake), there has been little of it. There certainly hadn’t been another fabulous layer-upon-layer crepe cake, until I decided to throw a French-themed baby shower.

My only hesitation in choosing a crepe cake was that they’re often a lot shorter than their traditional two-layer counterparts, and (silly as it is) I love a show-stopping cake. I tried to counteract this by using 20 crepes and globs of filling, but I’d advise going a bit thinner with the filling for stability’s sake.

Raspberry and Custard Crepe Cake

This cake definitely takes work, but it’s worth it. The recipe can be broken into steps and partially made ahead — something to love about any recipe! I made the crepes weeks ahead of time and froze them (in a stack, without anything between them), then made the custard a couple days ahead and kept it in the fridge (actually, my mother-in-law made the custard, which she used to make mini eclairs for the same party). I assembled the whole cake the night before the party, but it would really be better assembled the day of. The jam soaked into the crepes more than I would have liked. It does take some time to assemble, so if you’re as buried in details as I usually am on the morning of a midday party, you might want to save it for a less-rushed evening event or a birthday dinner.

Slice of Raspberry Crepe Cake

I couldn’t find a crepe cake recipe that met all my criteria (without chocolate or alcohol or lemon), so I pieced one together. You can use anything you want between layers of a crepe cake, really, but I thought this combination was the perfect mix of light, fruity, creamy dessert!

To assemble crepe cake:
Crepes, 15-20 of your favorite recipe (we like this for the batter, sometimes skipping browning the butter)
Vanilla Custard or pastry cream, your favorite or the recipe below
Raspberry Jam, preferably seedless
Optional garnishes: raspberries, whipped cream, powdered sugar

1. If your raspberry jam isn’t seedless, warm it briefly in the microwave before using a spoon to push it through a fine strainer.

2. Center one crepe on plate or cake stand. Spread a thin layer of raspberry jam over the first crepe. Top with a second crepe. Spread a thin layer of custard over the second crepe.

3. Repeat with as many crepes as you have, remembering to save a pretty one for the top.

4. Garnish with fresh whipped cream and raspberries or powdered sugar, if desired.

5. Refrigerate briefly, or serve immediately. Cake will be slightly soggy on the second day.

Raspberry and Custard Crepe Cake

Vanilla Custard Filling
Makes about 3 1/2 cups

Note: I’ve had a few disasters with custard-making, so you may want to watch a few videos if you’re also new to it! It can be tricky to heat the eggs without getting scrambled egg chunks in your finished product (and many recipes call for straining the final product to make it as smooth as possible).

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups milk
5 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 tablespoon vanilla

1. Heat milk in large heavy saucepan until bubbles appear around edge.

2. Beat egg yolks and sugar in large bowl with wire whisk or mixer until pale yellow and thick. Beat in flour until well mixed. Gradually beat in hot milk; pour all back into saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, over moderately high heat until mixture thickens and comes to boiling; lower heat. (Mixture will be lumpy in the beginning, but lumps disappear during cooking and stirring.) Continue cooking 2 to 3 minutes, over low heat, stirring constantly. Mixture will be quite thick. Remove from heat.

3. Stir in butter and vanilla. Place a piece of wax paper directly on surface of filling to prevent skin from forming. Chill at least 2 hours. If filling becomes too stiff after it’s chilled, gradually stir in 2 to 4 tablespoons cream or milk, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Initial and Heart Sugar Cookies

10 Feb

Initial Cookies

We already know that I’d be lost without my letter cookie cutters (exhibit a and b), but here’s another project to confirm it! I made these initial and heart sugar cookies for a sweet cousin-in-law’s bridal shower over the weekend.

Frosted Initial Cookies

I’m sure it’s the graphic designer in me (letters already fill my brain and my house), but I believe many occasions can be perfectly celebrated with a little food typography. Sure, wedding bells or wedding cakes would have worked, but would they have been as meaningful as the appropriate letters? (It’s definitely the designer in me that thinks cookie cutter fonts are too limited. Maybe it’s time for an upgrade?)

Initial Cookies

If you’re thinking of making a batch of heart cookies for someone special on Valentine’s Day, maybe you, too, want to throw a few letters into the mix?

For recipes, I’ve been using and enjoying Bake at 350′s almond sugar cookies and almond royal icing. I decided to skip piping the edges of these, making them much faster to ice, but also less precise.

Initial Cookies

I hope you aren’t over all the trends embodied in these cookies (blush pink! ombre!), because I am certainly not. I think they’re perfect for cookies — just keep me away from investment pieces… like say, a sofa!

Saints Valentine and Germain

4 Feb

Pomegranate St-Germain Cocktail

Here’s a ruby red (er, pomegranate red) drink to dress up your Valentine’s Day party or date night!

Pomegranate St-Germain Cocktail

I’ve never met a St-Germain cocktail that I didn’t like. It’s a liqueur commonly mixed with champagne, gin and/or citrus, so, really, what’s not to like? We recently made this lovely pomegranate spin on the classic St-Germain cocktail and loved it. (I recommend making a pitcher.)

Pomegranate St-Germain Cocktail

Seeding the pomegranate takes a bit of work (and mess), but it can be done ahead of time. The seeds even freeze well! It’s the end of pomegranate season in the US, but the whole fruit will also keep for a few weeks in the fridge… so get ‘em while they’re good!

Ingredients:

Pomegranate St-Germain Cocktail Ingredients

This is what your ingredients will look like after making a few drinks. Oops.

For one drink:
2 oz. Champagne
2 oz. Pomegranate Juice
1.5 oz. St-Germain
Pomegranate seeds

Pour liquids into a glass and sprinkle a few pomegranate seeds on top. (The seeds sink at first, but most of them will float to the top eventually!)

Pomegranate St-Germain Cocktail

Cheers!

Ocean Ombre Petal Cake

2 Jan

Ombre Petal Cake

Today is baby James’s birth day! And since it’s a birthday, let’s have cake! Even though I intended to have all baby shower posts completed before James’s arrival (ha!), I’m celebrating his birth by sharing the details from the petal cake I made for his nautical shower (and ooh-ing/ah-ing over photo texts!).

Nautical Dessert Table

The basic idea behind a petal cake is this: pipe a large dot on the cake, and then press a spatula or spoon into the dot and drag it to the right. There are many, many tutorials, if you’d like to see more photos!

Frosting a petal cake

Here’s where I decided to stray from other tutorials:
If you’re using one color of frosting, the easiest and cleanest way to make a petal cake is to make a vertical line of dots down your whole cake, smear all of them, then make another line of dots. This is also recommended for ombre cakes, except you have to have 6 (or more) piping bags all ready to go and you have to switch colors for every. single. dot. I decided that it didn’t matter to me if every row of petals was vertically aligned, so I did an entire horizontal row in one color before switching to a new bag of frosting. I don’t think it took away from the cake’s appearance in the least, and it was SO much faster!

Frosting an ombre petal cake

So, to frost the (assembled cake), first coat the whole thing in a thin layer of frosting — the crumb coat. Then divide the remaining frosting into several bowls (six in my case) and color it. Start with a tiny bit of food coloring, and add a bit more for each bowl. If you want the ombre effect to look natural, don’t add too much food coloring or the transition won’t be smooth.

Fit a pastry bag with the #12 tip, fill with your darkest color, pick a spot on the bottom of the cake, and pipe a big dot. Drag the dot to the right with your spatula, and repeat. You do have to pay attention to dot size so that they’ll fit the cake vertically, since this method doesn’t entail piping a whole column of dots at once (though I’d definitely recommend that if just using one color!). You can use toothpicks as guides to divide the height and make sure that your rows are tall enough.

Frosting an ombre petal cake

If you’d like to make the coconut cake and cream cheese frosting that I made (and loved), here are the recipes! (I combined the base and frosting from two coconut cake recipes, and upped the ingredient amounts to make enough for this tall cake.)

Cream Cheese Frosting
Notes: Yields enough for crumb coat and multi-colored petal frosting on the 4 layer cake shown. Frosting can be prepared up to 3 days before serving. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat until smooth.

Ingredients:
12 cups powdered sugar
4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
8 teaspoons vanilla extract
Sweetened flaked coconut (save for assembly, see below)

Using electric mixer, beat sugar, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in large bowl until blended.

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Coconut Cake
Notes: Yields two 9-inch cake layers and two 6-inch cake layers. Coconut Cake can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours before serving.

Ingredients:
4 cups + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups canned sweetened cream of coconut (such as Coco López)
6 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
Pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides.

3. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and teaspoon salt in medium bowl to blend.

4. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter and sweetened cream of coconut in large bowl until fluffy.

5. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla extract.

6. On low speed, beat in dry ingredients and then buttermilk, each just until blended.

7. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites with pinch of salt in another large bowl until stiff but not dry.

8. Fold beaten egg whites into batter.

9. Divide cake batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

10. Cool cakes in pans on rack 10 minutes. Run small sharp knife around pan sides to loosen cakes. Turn cakes out onto racks and cool completely.

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Assemble cake:
1. Using a knife or cake leveler, cut the dome off the cake layers to make them as flat as possible.

2. Place one 9-inch cake layer, cut side up, on cake plate. Spread 1 cup cream cheese frosting over cake layer.

3. Sprinkle 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut over.

4. Top with second 9-inch cake layer, cut side down.

5. Spread cream cheese frosting over the top of the 9-inch cake.

6. Place a 6-inch cake layer, centered and cut side up, on top of the frosting.

7. Spread cream cheese frosting over the small layer.

8. Sprinkle coconut over the 6-inch layer cake.

9. Top with the last layer, cut side down.

10. Frost the whole cake and press coconut into the sides, or go crazy making ombre petals!

Ribbon Christmas Card Display

6 Dec

Ribbon Christmas Card display

Every Christmas season I seem to grapple with the wonderful challenge of Christmas cards — how can I display them so that they’re all visible, yet organized and undamaged?

Last year’s solution was my favorite yet, and one that I plan to use again and again. I simply stapled wide strips of gold ribbon to the top of a door, and used small magnets (one on the front, one on the back) to hold the cards in place.

Hanging ribbons for Christmas cards

It worked like a charm — you could see and read all the cards (by tucking the magnets inside cards that open), and plenty of cards fit in an otherwise unused space (plus the ribbons could have easily been longer or distributed across two doors). No one will ever see the very top of the door, so I didn’t have to bother with removable adhesive — just a nice, strong staple! Even with a lot of opening and closing, the ribbons did great (though I’m not sure I’d recommend using them on a front door). Afterward, I took the ribbons off the door and rolled them up for this year!

Hanging Christmas cards

We haven’t gotten our first card yet, but I can’t wait! I love getting real mail. I’m a little sad that we’ll be gone for so much of Advent; we’ll actually receive most of our cards in a stack after Christmas, instead of getting them a few at a time. (If you’re planning to send us a card during the two weeks before Christmas, I’d be more than happy to give you my parents’ address!) But I can’t complain — it’s a real joy to receive any Christmas cards, in any fashion!

Sand Dollar Cookies

5 Dec

Sand Dollar Cookies

While you may be up to your elbows in flour, I doubt this is the holiday cookie recipe you’ve been looking for! But hey, if we can have Christmas in July, maybe we can bring a little July to Christmas?

I just wanted to share this method for turning your favorite sugar, shortbread or snickerdoodle cookies into sand dollars. My mother-in-law made them for my sister-in-law’s nautical shower, and they were an adorable beachy addition to our dessert table.

Sand dollar cookies

After cutting circles of your favorite dough (a glass makes a great substitute for a cookie cutter here), add five almond slivers to the top of each cookie in a star pattern. (It helps to have an image handy.) Then sprinkle the cookies with cinnamon and sugar (about 1/4 cup sugar + 1 tsp. cinnamon) and bake as usual.

The end result is a batch of cute and sandy cookies!

Happy Thanksgiving!

28 Nov

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin cheesecake with chocolate acorns

Greg and I are hosting Thanksgiving in our tiny apartment today, and we’ll be enjoying this layered pumpkin cheesecake topped with chocolate acorns for dessert! Greg is working on the turkey as I write, and a butternut squash galette and a pumpkin “stuffed with everything good” will both be making appearances, as well.

Pumpkin cheesecake with acorn decorations

It’s shaping up to be a great evening, and we hope your day is full of equally wonderful company and food! We are so thankful to all of you for reading, and for supporting us in all our crazy endeavors.

Message in a Bottle Shower Activity

25 Nov

Note Paper Labeled by Week

I hesitated to set up this Message in a Bottle activity at Trish’s nautical baby shower, as I had already sent out Message in a Bottle invitations. But what the heck — it’s such a cute and easy idea!

Messages in a Bottle

The note on the chalkboard reads: “Share your wisdom and encouragement! Leave your messages in the bottle for Trish to open after the baby arrives!” And the pens, paper and twine all sat on the desk below for guests to do just that.

Notes in a Bottle

I sometimes have a hard time thinking of general well wishes to write to moms- or brides-to-be (especially after just writing it all in the card that’s attached to their gift!), so I appreciate having a prompt (like the ABC cards I used at a previous shower).

Notes in a Bottle

While this activity didn’t have a prompt, per se, each note was for a particular week after the baby is born. Instead of opening all the notes on the shower day, Trish can open one per week for the first several months of her baby’s life (if she has time, can remember and can find them in the haze of sleep-deprivation!). I like the idea of sharing encouragement and wisdom along the way, rather than all in one day!

Childhood Photos of the Couple