Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My love affair with food

Growing up I had the privilege of a lot of good home cooked meals. Both of my parents were (and still are) good cooks. My mom is Japanese and so she would always make us authentic dishes along with "American" dishes. I remember when I was younger, I had friends over and asked if they wanted to stay for dinner, but they pointed out that I eat "weird food", then asked if I even like "normal food". I thought it was a really funny question, mainly because I never thought of my mom's ethnic cooking as weird. I grew up on it and when we went to Japan we ate all sorts of other ethnic food, a lot different from what you would experience in America. So I was always up for trying new foods. I love it too. My philosophy about food is that you should like everything, you just have to find the way you appreciate it. It's also a great way to bring people together.

I have been fortunate enough to marry into a family of amazing cooks. My in laws are all about good food. This has in turn helped motivate me to learn to cook for my husband when we were first married. The week after we our honeymoon we moved to Chico. We were only there for a few months while my husband went to school and managed a company to sell for his dad. I was bored since it really wasn't long enough for me to find a job and at that time we had money for him to take classes. So I spent my time teaching myself to cook. It's now something that I enjoy and love to do with my kids. I love experimenting with new flavors and techniques and over the years I've been able to compile some good dishes.

A couple of years ago, my sister in law made a beautiful recipe book for my husband's family. She took family recipes and collected pictures of everyone growing up and memories from everyone about the dishes and published a family cook book. She spent a year or so on it and the result is amazing. It was a labor of love and art for her. My mom would always check the book out when she would come to visit us and peruse the recipes, especially since she loves my in laws' cooking. So for her birthday this year, I decided to try to make her one. I was surprised at how many recipes I was able to come up with especially since I only included ones that I thought she would use, so I have a lot more that I could easily add.

When I came up with the project I was envisioning a lot of different looks and ways to make the recipe book for her. It wasn't until a week before she came to visit that I finally had a layout that I wanted to do. I was able to finally finish it a couple of hours before her arrival. I was really excited about the result and I know she loved it. The best part about it was that I spent less than $10 on the entire project! I did the binding myself and got the how to from the Little Birdie Secrets blog. I also added a personalized front page for my mom. Since I only had a month to compile everything, I didn't have enough time to make a lot of the dishes to take pictures for the book, so instead I did a title page of each category and put a picture of one of her grand kids on the adjacent  page. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Guest Blogger: Photo Editing made easy

This month's guest blogger is my sister in law, Kayla. She is talented in many ways, but she's here to show off her talent in photo editing, which I think is a huge part of getting perfect pictures. She also has her own photography business and great experience and has even done my family's portraits. Enjoy!

Hey I'm Kayla! 

I am over here at: Love Like Crazy where I talk about real life, photography and what ever else I am doing at the moment.

I am a wife of a Pre Med student, a Medical receptionist, a blogger, a Photographer and a writer. (to name a few) and I wanted to thank Joyce for letting me do a guest post! Your blog is always so awesome to read and I am honored to be apart of it!

Now lets get to the good stuff:

I know a lot of people love photography and want good quality looking pictures with out buying the expensive programs... like Photoshop

I have become very fond of Picasa, a free photo editing program from google. It was the only thing I used until I was able to get Photoshop.

So those of you who want quality pictures that have some fun editing tools and some easy touch ups this post is for you.

In my film photography class I learned a lot about exposure and contrast. Those same things can be done through this program. I find that in each photo shoot I do there are some pictures that look like a total failure... That is before I spice the heck out of them!

Some of the "worst" pictures can become the BEST. Its easy play around with your pictures more and you will see what I mean. AMAZING contrast is in even the lightest shot and can be reclaimed.

Take for instance this picture... first is the original.

second is the edited one.
ya when I showed the husband that one he did not believe me.

well contrast! Add some dark contrast and you start to see the blue in the sky and the yellow of the setting sun... make the tree black to contrast between the white. If colors seem to bright or wrong, tone them down a bit with the saturation tool. Use it the opposite way to create more real-life color.

or too much sun?

 turn this:                                                                                      into this:
I LOVE sun flares... so that is what those dots are. Its what happens when the sun reflects on the lens just right. I like to use them, because it helps draw the eye in.

 again light and dark contrast adds a bit of color and makes it not so washed out.

this pic the denim is really pale and boring...
 add some dark tones and bright one... CONTRAST and see the perfection! Makes the colors just POP.

which grapes would you eat? ha

and some pictures just need a tiny bit of work...
 to make them pop.

After editing:

before (above)

After (above)

Before                                                                                                 After

This one is cool because I was able to use a new setting in Picasa. Its the comic book tool and it makes those little dots in the picture, giving it a "comic book" or "vintage" effect, I like.

Sometimes cropping can save a picture. Like in this one, you would have had no idea someone was holding up this flower pot...
put see the depth and contrast in the edited one? 
It looks better too because the main subject is bigger and taking up more of the space in the photo.
It looks so much more professional. 

and of course you have to keep in mind while you are taking the pictures some basics.
like the layout. Try not to put the main subject in the center of the frame. 
try to take pictures at random different angles.
GET CLOSE. Close ups are always good never be afraid to get too close.

always remember! *** you always should have bright white and dark black in a picture that means your contrast is good. If you have black and white (dark black and bright white like the first picture above) then you are off to a good start. That means you have good contrast!

A whole ton of the photo editing process helps when you know also how to use your camera settings but that is for another day.

Photography is a blast the more you play around with your camera settings and with the editing programs you will discover more and more new and interesting ways to make your photographs look unique and professional!

Happy Shooting! :)

-Kayla Ann 
Love Like CRAZY!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gender Reveal Dinner

I don't know if you know this but I love to throw parties. With that said, baby showers and wedding showers are probably my least favorite to attend. I like having things relaxed and fun so when I do throw them I try to make it more of a social than lots of games. But that's just me. Since I'm currently pregnant with my third child I wanted to throw a party for the baby. I wanted one that would include all of our family not just the women, since Jed refuses to have a co-ed baby shower (I personally think they're more fun). So for this little bundle of joy, I did a gender reveal dinner.

I wanted to have neutral colors with hints of pink and blue, so I did a yellow and white chevron design with a black chalkboard for the background. I chose to go with chalk writing (chalkduster) because I wanted to tie in our "we're expecting" announcements too (above).

I think it was a lot of fun and I think it was a great way to get everyone excited about it. I sent out packages to family that lives far away so they could be included in the game. I sent a pink tiara and a mini bowler hat with simple instructions to put in their votes.

Here are their results:

Since this was just a dinner, I kept the decorating to a minimum, especially since we had it over at my in laws' house. I made centerpieces for the tables. I filled vases with different candy that could be a description of the baby and yellow flowers.  (Note to candy corporations: come up with a candy name that can pass as a girls name.)

For the actual dinner, I had a buffet of foods that I have been craving throughout this pregnancy. 

I had everyone tally their vote on a box that I painted with chalkboard paint. Afterwards, I had them get into the groups that they thought it would be. I then passed out their props so they wouldn't be guessing because they didn't want to wear a tiara. The groups were evenly split.

After dinner we played a game. I had a list of "old wives tales" and we went through them to see what it would predict we were having. It predicted a girl.
Here's a list of the questions and answers:
1.            Do you crave the heals of bread or the middle?
Heals: Boy
Middle: Girl
2.            Hands Chapped/Dry or Softer?
Chapped: Boy
Softer: Girl
3.            Eating more or sick/nauseated?
Eating more: Boy
Sick: Girl
4.            Can people tell you are pregnant from the back?  Or are you pregnant all over?
Just from back:  Boy
All over: Girl
5.            During the pregnancy, have you been crabby or happy?
Crabby: girl
Happy: boy
6.            Carrying low or high?
Low: Boy
High: Girl
7.            Do you crave sweet foods or sour/salty foods?
Salty/Sour: Boy
Sweet: Girl
8.              Is the heartbeat high or low:
High: Girl
Low: Boy
9.              Which side do you lay on when resting:
Left: Boy
Right: Girl
10.            During the pregnancy, have you been clumsy or graceful?
Clumsy: Boy
Graceful: Girl
11.            Show me your hands.
Shows them palms up: Girl
Shows them palms down: Boy
12.            Has the husband put on weight during the pregnancy?
Yes: Girl
No: Boy
13.              Pick up a single key.
Picks it up by the long narrow part: Girl
Picks it up by the round part: Boy
Picks it up in the middle: Twins
14.              Did the older sibling say Mom or Dad first?
Mama: Girl
Dada: Boy
15.              Consider the Mother’s age at conception and the year or conception.
Both even or Both odd: Girl
One is even and one is odd: Boy

The kids by this time were really anxious to know what we were having and what was inside the box. 

For the actual reveal, I decided to do balloons because it was easier to do; plus for the baby's first birthday I'm planning on a balloon themed party (yes I know it's ridiculous that I already have the theme, but I have themes planned until all my kids are at least five and that includes the kids to come). I have seen it where people revealed it by making cakes or cupcakes and have the filling inside either pink or blue. (We did this for Jed for work) 

Jed's big contribution to the party was that he really wanted to pass out candy cigars as party favors. Since this was his only request of course we did it. I found chocolate cigars on Amazon with the best deal. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

25 Things to Do With Boys: Make Any Day a Special Day

Hi, it's Hillary again! I'm working on my own baseball team at my house, I've got three boys now! So in honor of that, I'd like to share some ideas of activities to do with my boys to make any day a special day. I don't know about you, but I love to create special moments with my boys "just because" so hopefully they'll have a lifetime of good memories with their mommy. I want to be remembered as a mom who had time to play with her children and have fun.  Some of these they can just do by themselves, but the idea is to do them together so that you are having fun being a mom and creating memories with the kiddos.

  1. Go on a dinosaur hunt-We did this for the boys' birthday party recently and all the kids loved it! It's like an Easter egg hunt, only you round up all the dinosaurs you probably have laying around and hide them in the yard. 
  2. Create an obstacle course-Find things you have laying around the yard or the garage that would work. Old tires, hula hoops, boards you can balance on something or make a ramp out of, something to jump over, a box you can crawl through, etc.
  3. Paint with water-Get a bucket and a big paintbrush and paint away! Great on brick walls, sidewalks, etc.
  4. Blanket fort-We all remember doing this as a kid, right? 
  5. Read somewhere new-I don't know about you, but most of the time we're sitting on the couch when we read books. Find a new place to read books. Every once in a while we'll pile blankets on our backyard swing and read books out there in the morning. Or in your blanket tent with flashlights! Use your imagination!
  6. Baking soda and vinegar-Grab a box of baking soda and a spray bottle of vinegar (preferably outside so the mess is easy to hose down!) and have fun mixing!
  7. Put on a puppet show-If you don't have puppets already, make some out of paper bags or old socks.
  8. Get out for a walk-This sounds simple, but get out and let your kids pick the direction of your walk. Go at their pace and look at all the little things they want to stop and look at. You'll be surprised at how much they notice.
  9. Bake with the kids-Even my two-year old loves to help dump ingredients in a bowl. 
  10. Shaving cream-Buy a can of shaving cream (or steal some of your husband's) and have fun making foam creations. Add a few drops of food coloring or powdered paint for even more fun!
  11. Paint with chocolate pudding-Very fun to paint and eat!
  12. Find a new park you've never been to or rediscover one you haven't been to in a long time
  13. Go bug hunting-Find friendly bugs in your yard and be brave enough to let them crawl on your hand
  14. Find a river with lots of rocks to chuck. My boys never grow tired of throwing rocks in water.
  15. Star gaze-Lay out a blanket in the backyard and get some hot chocolate going and watch the stars come out together. Teach them about wishing on shooting stars or ask them what they would wish for if they saw one.
  16. Play with oobleck. Recipe found here.
  17. Have a dance party. Turn on music with a good beat and let yourself go! Dancing and singing with kids is the best because the more enthusiastic you are, the more fun it is for them!
  18. Go on a picnic-In your backyard, at the park, in the living room, in your blanket tent, etc.
  19. Bubble fun-Fill a cup half-full with water, and put a squirt of dish washing soap in. Add a straw and blow away!
  20. Make believe their bed is something else.-For a while my son's bed was Noah's ark and we had to get all the animals on it and feed them all. You could also try fishing off the bed. 
  21. Make believe their room is something else. Imagination is one of the best parts of childhood. We often imagine my son's room is a jungle and we name all the animals we can. Or that there are clouds, not just any clouds, but clouds that you can smell or taste...we like strawberry the best.
  22. Ride the city bus-You don't even have to have somewhere specific to go, but my kids love the adventure of getting on the bus, or the light rail train!
  23. Build something special-Our favorite is to build a train track, then take all our building blocks and build tunnels for the trains. And then for an extra special touch we gather our dinosaurs (or stuffed animals) along the track so they can watch.
  24. Fun with beans-Dump a bag or two of beans into a bucket or other container and add a few scooping tools-cups, spoons, etc. Works with corn meal as well.
  25. Butcher paper-Get a big piece of butcher paper and draw a road, trace around your kids, make giant origami, etc.

You could even print these out, cut them into strips, and put them in a jar. Then pick one every day to do, or on rainy days, or whatever! If you're really ambitious you could decorate the jar as well. Leave it somewhere the kids can see it so they'll remind you to pick one often! Now go enjoy childhood all over again with your kids! 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

French Macarons

French macarons have been all over the internet for some time now. I've tried making these before but they didn't turn out but I've been meaning to give them another go. I was invited to a potluck and the theme was green food. I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to try making them again. I have to say that after reading up on them and different techniques, I realize where I went wrong the first time. I really liked the taste of them. They still weren't perfect, but practice will (hopefully) make perfect. :)

I got the recipe from The Extraordinary Art of Cake {click here for the recipe} although I substituted almond flour for the ground almonds and I added cream of tartar to my whipped egg whites ( I also ground 3 oz of pistachios which was perfect to leave enough for a garnish). Her site is incredible and she is ridiculously talented, so you should just check it out. I also looked up a basic technique {here}. Here are some of my own tips: make sure to give them enough space on the sheet, try to make them the same size and perfect circles will take time, and last of all let them cool completely before removing them from the cookie sheet. 

I made pistachio macarons for the potluck and filled half with caramel buttercream and the rest of them with lemon buttercream and raspberry jam. Personally, my favorite was the lemon buttercream but I think the fan favorite was the caramel filled ones. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How to Flood Icing

 I have always wanted to try flooding cookies, because they make some of the most gorgeous cookies. The only reason I haven't tried this technique is because my family isn't a huge fan of sugar cookies and frosting. They complain (even my kids) that it's too sweet so whenever I've shown a picture of cookies I want to make to my husband he always talks me out of them. This year for Elijah's birthday cake I really wanted to incorporate his pilot that was part of his theme, so I thought that Elijah's cake would be the perfect chance to finally try out this technique.

I did this the day before Elijah's party so it would have time to set. First, I transferred the outline of the pilot and paper planes onto rolled out fondant using piping gel. I then retraced the images using royal icing in the coordinating colors. I thinned out the icing and flooded each part. I have to say that I was a little nervous about how this would turn out since it was my first time doing it and if it didn't work I was going to have to figure out some other way to decorate his cake last minute. I'm really happy to say that it turned out great! (Well, I think so :) ) I got the recipe {here} from Joy of Baking and she even includes a video to show you the technique (it's the last five minutes of her video). I actually watched {this video} for the how to.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Paper Plane Party

I know today is supposed to be guest blogger Friday, but I've been absent for about a month so I thought I would do it this week. Sorry if you were looking forward to a guest blogger, I'll have one again next month for you.

Since last year, Elijah has been asking for an airplane party for his birthday. I had the theme picked out for the year but I didn't plan too much just in case he wanted to change his mind, which every three turning four year old does at some point. But the airplane idea stuck, so after Chloe's birthday I started to plan out his party. I have to say this was easier to plan since plane parties are so common. I had a lot of fun with it too. It reminded me of being back in grade school folding airplanes and using poster board. I do have to admit while this was the most cost effective party I've done so far, it probably was the most time consuming. It took me about a solid week of non stop working to do everything for his party. (I really need to learn not to procrastinate!) I got pretty much everything that I wanted to do for this party (which is a first) so was really happy how everything turned out.

I wanted to make his party a little different than all of the ones I've seen, so I made his theme a paper plane pilot program. My sister in law, Bonnie, is incredible and ridiculously talented with graphic designs and she made me invitations for the party. I wanted the pilot to look like Elijah, which he was really excited about. He also chose to have Elijah Airlines and wanted everything to be blue. I also used the graphics from the invite throughout the rest of the party decorations.

 I made a poster to greet everyone at the front door.

 For decorations, I made {paper plane garlands} and strung them up to go into a point over the tables. I also strung a few planes up throughout the house. 

I really wanted to have airline posters of different destinations for the party, and luckily I have family members that travel. A HUGE thank you really goes to my sister in law, Annie, since I used most of her pictures of Europe and Costa Rica and Alaska to make the posters. My other sister in law, Kayla, contributed Hawaii for me and I had the rest of them. I put up the posters around the house.

 Sadly I couldn't find a good picture from Japan except for these two

I also made cloud and planes mobiles to hang up in his room, where we had all of the games in. 

For the games, I wanted them to go along with learning to be a pilot, so for the first game we played red light green light to "learn how to take directions" and earn their compasses. The kids had a blast with it. Each round they had to do something different to get to the "air traffic controller" and the first person to get to them got the next turn of raising the flags. 

(this was the kids doing the kangaroo hop)

The next game we played was "learning to navigate a plane on the ground" so they had to go through an obstacle course riding little airplanes and they were able to earn their survival toy which was a paratrooper. The kids had fun going through the obstacle course, but I think they had more fun playing with the paratroopers which they had races throwing them down the stairs. 

 (Jed showed the kids how to do the obstacle course)

Our last game, they had to check their "flight skills" and make their own paper airplane and do a plane toss. The little kids got to stand on a stool and even Chloe was able to get hers to fly through the holes. 

After the last game, the kids earned their wings and their pilot licenses.

For this party I made the food table really simple. 

Over the table, I made a "Happy Birthday Elijah" garland using the same technique as the paper plane garland.

I decided to do "pilot pop" for drinks and found {this tutorial} for the pilot hats ( I was planning on making a hat for Elijah too, but ran out of time). I also made labels for all of the drinks using the same graphics from the invitation.

 Elijah had been asking me for rice krispie treats so I made them for his party and covered them in melted vanilla. I tried to make them look like paper planes. I did the cake for his party and have to admit that this might be my favorite looking cake that I've done so far. I made fondant cutouts of clouds and paper planes and even made one of the little pilot in the paper plane then piped on dashes after the planes to show their flight patterns. His cake was dark chocolate filled with blackberry jam and cookies and cream buttercream and covered in blackberry chocolate ganash. 

Since I had an extra 15 minutes before the party I quickly sewed on a paper plane to a shirt for Elijah. (I like when even their outfits fit the theme, I know I'm ridiculous) It was a really good thing I made the shirt for him too, because he pretty much ruined it with stains and it was only $3 for the the shirt so I'm okay with it. :)

For party favors, I made little " pilot suitcases" out of cereal boxes with each child's name. I filled them with "an advanced flight manual" which was a booklet of how to make complex paper planes. (You can find directions all over the internet for them) and I did a "complimentary of Elijah Airlines" bags of homemade cinnamon and sugar pretzels and honey roasted peanuts.

I also wanted to add another thank you for everyone who helped me with this party and all who came!