Mardi Gras is a wonderful holiday.

Anything that celebrates excess and insanity is right up my ally.

Granted, it’s followed by 40 days of giving up something that’s difficult, but isn’t that sort of a wonderful thing in itself.

The history of Mardi Gras is an awesome one. Started as a pagan holiday for the spirit of fertility, the festival developed into a massive party of excess and ridiculousness that was the last hurrah for Christians before the 40 days of Lent.

Mardi Gras is celebrated across the globe and is also called Carnival. In the United States the epicenter is New Orleans, where traditions and foods and a fantastic parade are yearly occurrences.   The first recorded New Orleans Mardi Gras parade was in 1837.  Louisiana is the only state where Mardi Gras is an official holiday and their enthusiasm is clear by this year’s 7AM parade start time.

One of the decedent edible portions of a New Orleans Mardi Gras party is King Cake. King Cake traditionally has a baby figurine inside of it. Sometimes this figurine is other things (a bean, a king figurine, a coin) but in my experience it has always been a baby.  With my lack of baby figurine I baked a coin into cupcakes this year for the same meaning. Tradition is the person who has the piece of cake with the baby is the King or Queen for the day (or night in our case).

For a traditional King Cake, there are many recipes.

I personally am a fan of King Cupcakes.

With Mardi Gras having beads and masks and signature colors of green,yellow, and purple, decorating cupcakes is an easy task to get creative with.
What you’ll need:

1 cupcake pan
2 icing bags (or ziplock baggies)
icing tips
stack of cupcake liners in your choice of colors
1 thing of white icing
green food coloring
yellow food coloring
colored sprinkles
1 box cake mix

Mix the cake mix as directed on the box.  Follow instructions for cupcakes.  Line the cupcake pan with selected liners.

Put your baby figurine (or coin) into the cupcakes after they have cooled (you can cover it with icing).  Let cupcakes cool.
While the cupcakes cool mix small bowls of colored icing – green and yellow.  Make sure to leave most of the icing white in the container.

When the cupcakes are cooled, frost them initially with white icing.

Decorate with piped masks and beads and phrases.
When done decorating with icing, dust with the sprinkles.

And there you have it- King Cupcakes!

For videos and lots of information on Mardi Gras, the History Channel is awesome. Below I’ve featured a map and information about places that celebrate Mardi Gras in famous and over the top ways.

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It is hard to be domestic with 12 hour work days.  6 AM to 8:30 at night is a long shift to be out, even with the wonderful meals and beautiful sites that are Snowshoe.

Hotels are nice but weird. I didn’t even have to do basic domestic things like cook  (even though I have a nice little kitchen) or clean.

Besides the lovely hair-tie that was left on my bed. Absolutely freaked me out. But I digress.

So this week I thought I’d post on the historical side of the spectrum and provide a few pretty views.  Never hurts to change it up a little, right?

Snowshoe resort is beautiful.  It’s located in Pocahontas County, W.Va. which is quickly becoming my favorite place in this state despite its lack of cell phone service. Pocahontas County is rural to the extreme.

I’ve worked on two multimedia projects for the Pocahontas Times, located in Marlinton, W.Va. and everyone knows everyone.  One of the men who was in the shoot this weekend knew both of my former interview subjects as well as everyone I’ve met from the paper.

The county itself is rich with history but Snowshoe was only developed in 1973.  The resort opened the next year and has gone through bankruptcy, operation by a court- appointed trustee, and massive developments.

In 2008 the resort listed over 150 acres of skiing.

Logging and railroading were predominant industries in the area at the time of its development.  Many trails and lodges have strange names that come from the lingo of that time and those industries.  They include:

  • Gandy Dancer- a man who lays and maintains railroad track
  • Hoot-Nanny- A small device used to hold a crosscut saw while sawing a log from the underside
  • Powder Monkey– A dynamiter
  • Ballhooter– a man who rolls logs down a hill to skid road or landing

The lift we’ve been shooting on most of this weekend is Soaring Eagle Express and it’s fantastic to look at (and driving me crazy because I cant ski this weekend).  It was developed and purchased in 2006.

It’s going to be sad to leave tomorrow but I won’t be sad that I can actually see my apartment and bed.  Though neither of those seems to have as rich a history or anticipated future developments.

Haircuts. In this lovely preview post I’m going to talk to you about how fearful I am.  And how badly I need one.

A lot of women will tell you their identity comes from their hair.  That’s one of the reasons hair cuts can be so terrifying; our whole lives we’ve subscribed our beauty to our locks, and they are about to disappear.

Myabe that part is just me.  I hate haircuts. As a control freak who doesn’t deal well with letting other people be in charge a haircut is an absolutely terrifying experience.  I’m allowing someone who  I barely know to take into their hands scissors and MY hair.  For the next hour or so I’m their canvas, and I don’t like it.

I had the same hairdresser from age baby to age 12, and I have been unable to get over my fear of other hairdressers since then.  I trusted Lynn, even if she did chop my hair off like a boys and give me straight across bangs.  In therapy later in life I’m blaming my mother for both of those things. And the 90’s.

Some people love dying their hair, cutting it, changing their identity. Do you subscibe to my fear or are you in that clique? Or are you sane and somewhere in the moderate group that just gets their hair cut and doesnt agonize over it?

What era has your favorite hair style or cut? What was the best hair cut you ever had (and if it was near Pittsburgh help a girl out and tell me how to get there). Do you cut your own?

So my lovely friend Evan pointed out to me that my flowers were cheating the other day.  Clearly using fake flowers is a cop-out so I set on forth to improve on my earlier post.

Using flowers of four petals (think the shape of a four leaf clover) I cut out scraps of fabric.

I cut out five for one thinking it would be enough but I think the one I used six with looked better.  I made them all the same size so that as I layered the flower would still look full.

To give them shape and to keep them stiff I used hair spray. I used a basic cotton fabric I had left over from the 7 Dwarves Hats I created for Halloween, the petals were a little soft and lighter on one side; I liked the more finished look to the dark purple so I decided not to alternate sides.

I pushed all the petals together while the hairspray was still wet which gave a wrinkled effect and held the flower up in the later stages.

I then glued the petals just like I had done with the fake flowers.  It required a little more hot glue because of the thickness of the fabric and the lack of a center whole where the stem had been.

Overall I’m pretty happy with these have turned out.  I’m excited to do this with patterned fabrics like old floral prints my mom has but I haven’t been by to raid her stash yet.

I HATE BEING SICK.

As I mope around my apartment hating my couch the thought repeats.

I HATE BEING SICK.

Maybe because it happens so infrequently to me it annoys me more. My roommates though college have always had weaker immune systems than me and they don’t seem as aggravated by bedrest.  I need to be up doing something, finishing something, interviewing someone.  I can’t just sit still.

The one perk of being sick is chicken soup.

So as I sit here moping about having to lay here with Halls, Puffs, and Robitussin I can smell the wonderful smell of chicken soup heating up. And while I would normally attempt to pretend to be domestic here and take a shot at it from scratch, today it’s canned.

Getting up to open the can was enough work, okay?

Chicken soup can be made in a variety of different ways but generally included chicken broth or stock, chicken pieces, and vegetables.  It’s considered an homely remedy and some claim is scientifically proven to be somewhat helpful (it’s debated).

And since I am not walking to the library the history of this domestic art is only aided by vague internet sources. Sorry guys.

Chicken soup started with the use of old, strung out hens.  That old-school thought that everything is useful, even the old ladies who laid the eggs. Waste-not-want-not. It’s considered an age old remedy.

Soups are said to be ancient, and there is no sure place of origin.  Sites list Jewish Culture, Russian Culture… Aliens could have invented it from my sources. Sorry again. This cold medicine makes me really drowsy.

So I’m going to give up the search for concrete history and just eat my Progresso. Keep yourselves warm.

I hate failure. It’s frustrating, aggravating, a bunch of words with “ing” on the end.

And I’m not very good at starting in stages.

This weekend I made an attempt at cake pops.

And because I am insane and don’t know how to start slow I got ambitious and wanted to make these AMAZING Muppets pops.

Now, I was going to start slow. I was going to read a variety of instructions. And I was going to eventually work up to complex stuff. But then the Muppets happened.  I figured the rainbow connection would cause me to be instantly amazing at these or that Chef would pop out of nowhere and speak gibberish and finish them. I’m a five-year-old.

Cake pops seem to be a recent phenomenon- popular on baking blogs and in circles of girls I know, but not present in my mother’s version of The Joy of Cooking, which is like the Dictionary of cooking to me. And if this tells you anything about my childhood, I tried to read the Dictionary once.

Now, Miss Piggy was my initial goal but her ingredients weren’t in my local grocery store or Michael’s craft store (weird candies, peach candy coating) so I settled (I thought) for Kermit.

Everything was going smoothly until the point where I realized, while sticking the sticks covered in candy, that the candy coating was a little thick, and the cake balls might have been a little too big. Measuring things has never really been my forte. I’m from the Italian school of cooking- just eyeball it and it’ll be fine.

Well it wasn’t fine. And for some reason adding food coloring thickened the candy coating to sludge (whoooops) and all of a sudden I had a hysterical disaster on my hands. And by hysterical I mean for my father and sister, who were both in stitches in corners of the kitchen as I attempted to adjust the giant cake balls that were falling off of the sticks while covered with awkward looking green goop.

As any fat kid will tell you, it is a sin to waste cake.  I found a solution- drizzle the goop over the cake balls and serve them. Happy Football-Game-That-The-Steelers-Aren’t-Playing-In everyone!

Ohhh how I wish I was born in an era where big hats were acceptable.

With the exceptions of royal weddings and the Kentucky Derby there just doesn’t seem to be a social occasion where they are allowed.  Easter Mass doesn’t even bring on the assortment of bright colored old ladies hats I remember from my childhood.

Sure they obstruct vision. But what priest have you ever known that its necessary to look at to get the point of a sermon?

Okay, maybe sight is important at the Derby.

Large hats have prominent places in royal portraiture.  I’m a particular fan of Marie Antoinette in the late 1700’s. Just because there were rumors she was a flirt and eventually she didn’t have a head to put that hat on doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the audacity of the things she was painted wearing.   The hats are ridiculous, have feathers, stuffed creatures, flowers, and just are loud.

But the only time I get to wear a big hat is in the summer when I’m pretending like it will protect me from my sun worshiping.

Which leads me to my modern version of outrageous hairpieces. Fake flowers.

Roman poetry has portrayed the goddess Flora with “flowers spilled from her cascading hair, like roses scattered upon a table.”

In Greek weddings the bride and groom wear crowns made of white flowers.

Flowers are a more ancient and nature oriented hairpiece than outrageous hats, even if some of the hats had stuffed birds on them.  I have a feeling kids who sit behind me in class will be glad I steered clear of towering and slightly suggestive headwear.

I started with a few sets of fake flowers and stripped them of their connecting plastic.

I bought larger clips (I always struggle because my hair is so thick.)  It also gave me more room to create the flowers which I took advantage of in my fourth attempt.

After the different petals were stripped I cut a portion of felt to be the backing and snipped two holes in it so it would slide over the topside of the clip.

I then hot glue gunned the felt in place and stuck the petals in an overlapping pattern, gluing as frequently as every other petal or as infrequently as every three (the fabric for the white flowers was thinner than the orange).

Each flower took about 15 minutes as a whole and dried almost instantly.

Hair dying is an art that can be traced back as far as ancient Egypt.  Plants have been used in ancient Greece, Egypt, and basically up until the 1860’s when a version of modern hair dye was created.

Human beings are always going to be obsessed with their appearances.  The Greeks got pretty before battle; we get pretty before a night out on the town.

Indian women today still use Henna to dye their hair.  I’m sure other women do too, but my main experience with Henna has been with and Indian friend and her constant struggle with whether or not she should put henna in her hair, as it produces a dark or red tint. I personally vote yes, because it’s not my hair.  I’m very adventurous with other people’s looks.

While we’ve come a long way with temporary dies and miniscule adjustments in color thanks to chemistry, the basic concept is the same.  Beauty is an obsession society wont get over and doesn’t attempt to ignore.

My addiction to the girls at The Beauty Department gave me an easy out with the hair dye track.  I’m a good catholic girl (the fact that I didn’t get smite-ed by typing that sentence argues for God’s forgiving nature).

We don’t do that bright hair craziness. Besides, my grandmother used to tell me never to dye my hair, and since she’s no longer around to give me advice on life I’ll try to take the one piece she ever gave me.  I once got highlights that were maybe two shades lighter- I was too frightened to go any further.  And lets not talk about the perm I had freshman year of college.

So temporary is the way for me to go with hair, always.  My anti-haircut status drives my friends crazy.  I think the last time I had one was probably a year ago at least.  SO in preparation for the fact that I am going to be chopping it off soon (I’m going to have panic attacks about it, no joke) I figured I could do something damaging to it without recourse.

And that’s where chalk came in.

The original tutorial is here.  My friend Cassidy and I went to Michael’s and bought a basic pack, which would have only been six dollars if I wasn’t an idiot who forgot this coupon.

Cassidy is a blonde so her ability to adjust her hair is far beyond my own and far less permanent in most cases.  Bleach is frightening, and should just be avoided (as I mentioned in a previous post).

But the cool thing about chalking is that it worked well on my hair as well.  The trick was to get the hair very wet (TBD says spritz, I say soak.)  The chalk colors I used ended up being the darker blue, a green, and yellow, which came out pretty awesome.  My shower water the next day was green as all get out but you’ll have that.

It was fun and temporary but not something I would do frequently; I’m still finding strands with a little pigment left on the end and this is two days and three washes later.  But that’s certainly less permanent than dying.

There are small towns in America that have no cell phone service.  They also have some of the most beautiful wood furniture I’ve ever seen.

Wood carving is a craft I never think of.  I have wooden furniture in my house; pieces that have been in my bedroom since I was a small child.

And then I have a chair that is plastic and falling apart.

In the interviews I did this weekend for WV Uncovered the wood craftsman I interviewed was insistent on one thing.  His wood pieces were for generations of his family and would last as long.  He created a hutch for his father-in-law that he fashioned from a sassafras tree to his first large, finished piece. It took him months.  He built his daughter a cradle for her baby dolls.

The work was amazing.  We helped lift a table that needed to be sanded and it took all three reporters, the other wood craftsman, and some verbal planning to get it on the right side.  How I failed to get a picture of that table is still bugging me- it was beautiful.  Pocahontas Woods was just a cool place to be for a day.

And then we made Dovetails.

Dovetails as a name don’t jog much of an idea in a girl who has never known much about the creation of furniture.  When I build an Ikea chair, every bolt is plastic and they pop into place.  Or it sits in a corner until my father figures it out.

But when shown them, we all went, “OHHH, I’ve seen those!” They are the sort of joint that connects wooden furniture, and I got to create one.

The first step is using an outline to trace the dovetails and then our wonderful instructor (and interview subject) Mike Hefner penciled “X” on the spaces we would be cutting out of the wood.  We used what he called a “Jap saw” which was different from an average saw because it cut on the forward motion and on the return.

The lines were cut strait down into the wood. Which left me with the question of how he was going to remove the pieces that were still clearly attached.

We used Poplar wood, which Hefner described as a cheap, softer wood.

Other woods he talked about were sassafras (which smells like candy) and wormy chestnut, which is the wood Hefner was currently making a hutch out of.  The story of wormy chestnut is better told by his audio clip.

http://www.zshare.net/audio/98953370c8cdefbd

So once we had sawed the straight lines, Hefner brought out a smaller saw, with a thin, little blade which could be pulled down the cuts and turned to saw out the bottom portion creating the space for the other piece of wood to join.  The portions are then lined up on the next piece of wood and traced to make sure they line up.  Then the same process is duplicated as on the first piece of wood.

This creates a joint that (when done by someone with more talent than me) meats perfectly and we were told “you could park a small car on.”  The joints imperfection is how you can tell it wasn’t made by a machine, which is something I’ll keep in mind next time I’m furniture shopping (so when I’m 30).

We made what I’ll call a shelf because it was just two pieces together.  Hefner gave my partner Summer  the built dovetail as a  souvenir from the shop, and we bragged all weekend about how we were allowed to handle a saw.  WV Uncovered is one of the reasons I love my major.

Dovetails are actually the goal of Mike’s daughter Elizabeth, who is probably one of the more awesome little girls I’ve met in the last ten years.  Elizabeth is a blonde, soccer-playing, 4-H-er who created a food bowl for her puppy out of wood scraps in the hours we were interviewing and taking pictures on Saturday.  She’s fantastic (which makes sense since her father is freaking awesome.) I’m a daddy’s girl, I will always believe we come out more well-rounded and stable.

And she had a puppy.  I may have been a little obsessed. His name is Rox and he got a little fresh for this being the first time we met, but I’ll forgive him.

Friday Night dinners were a staple of my childhood.   They seem to be a common occurrence within very large, very Italian families.

Friday Night dinners were held at my Uncle Al’s, in the city of Troy, NY.  He had a small apartment that held more VHS tapes than a blockbuster, a computer that could have taken over the world in a bad 80’s movie, and paintings which where probably the first boobs most of my male cousins ever saw.

Spaghetti sauces is something that is inherently Italian.  Every Italian family I’ve known or worked with has their own recipe and their own secrets.  Some like sweet sauce some swear hot sausage is the key ingredient, and still others hide their secrets in old handwritten recipes stuck in bibles.

My Uncle Al spent months living in Italy during his adult life. He lived in the town of Castiglione delle Stiviere.  My mother has an address to one of his friends there, as well as photos of him looking like the inspiration for Austin Powers. We like to joke about how he could have been a spy, and certainly this picture argues for the Mike Myers character. As does as his eternal bachelor status despite hand written love letters from an unnamed Italian woman.

In his time in Italy he lived above a restaurant.  I like to think this sauce recipe has some sort of influence from there since it is the mother country, and this sauce makes generations dream of traveling to Italy and experiencing the influences Uncle Al had on his life.

The large tins of olive oil we inherited from him are drained (mostly my doing) but my mother was still willing to teach me the recipe.  She had him teach her one day years ago when his health was declining and we all feared losing the ability to have a Uncle Al meatball ever again in our lives (it was a terrifying thought).  And though our attempts will never have the same impact as those dinners on TV tables and the brown carpet in his apartment, it is certainly a nice tribute to be able to share the love that comes with a large Italian dinner.

We started with grocery shopping at 10 in the morning and followed the steps compiled from her hand written directions, his typed instructions.  My little sister was lucky enough to have a snow day, so we had all three of the women of our family for the task.

And then we invited everyone.  My little brother had several friends over, I brought eight starving college students, and our family of five gathered and raved about the meatballs.  And we all put ourselves in food comas.

Uncle Al’s Sauce Recipe

Ingredients

7 28oz cans tomato puree

4 6oz cans tomato paste (roasted garlic)

Oregano

Parsley flakes

4 or 5 bay leaves

5 or 6 full garlic cloves

Garlic powder

Salt

Pepper

¼ cup Parmesan or Romano grated cheese

Olive oil

3 chicken quarters

2 Veal chops

Italian bread- cut off crust and let sit out and get stale the night before

Directions

  1. In a large pot, cover bottom with olive oil
  2. Add garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes in very low- don’t burn
  3. Add all cans tomato puree, fill cans ¼ way with water and pour into saucepan. Add salt and pepper
  4. Cook until it boils with top on. Stir every 5 minutes (it takes about 40 minutes) turn down.
  5. Simmer one hour.
  6. Take crust off Italian bread, cut in quarters
  7. Open tomato paste, take out of cans and put in refrigerator on a plate
  8. Add bay leaves, oregano, parsley, and garlic powder to taste
  9. Simmer one hour
  10.  Add tomato paste
  11. Simmer one hour
  12. Soak bread in water 20 minutes.  Then squeeze out and leave in colander
  13. Add chicken to sauce. Simmer 45 minutes.
  14. While this is simmering make hamburger.
  15. Break up 1/3 hamburger, 1/3 bread. Add salt, pepper, oregano, garlic, parsley, and cheese.
  16. Repeat 2 times
  17. Then mix all the hamburger and put in refrigerator. After 45 minutes take chicken out and put veal in for 45 minutes.
  18. Start making meatballs out of meat mixture.
  19. Fry the meatballs in a pan
  20. Take veal out, put meatballs in sauce

Cook 1½ hours.  Enjoy

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