Happy Hallowe’en!

It’s been super busy here with our family recently so I didn’t even have time to carve a pumpkin this year. I do have a couple shots of our decor and LongJohn’s costume for your enjoyment. And a promise of a new cookie recipe this week that I have yet to invent. Enjoy your day! 

Work in Progress: Poison Ivy Hallowe’en Costume

It’s getting to be that time of year, folks. And the annoying thing about posting seasonal stuff on a blog where you don’t necessarily plan too far ahead is that things like Hallowe’en costumes can’t be posted until *after* Hallowe’en, which is a little lame. But at least they can be inspiration for next year.

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This year, the Pie and I are heading out on vacation and we won’t be home for Hallowe’en. The Pie has a tournament in Toronto that weekend so I’m teaming up with Chel and her friends and we’re doing a group costume: Batman, Robin, and assorted villains. I am unreasonably excited to go as Poison Ivy and join the group. This costume has taken a considerable amount of planning, so it may even top Wolverine as one of my best costumes to date.

I’ll show you what I have come up with so far and hopefully it’ll inspire you as well.

One of the issues with female comic book characters, especially those written by DC, is that they tend to come scantily clad. And I don’t want to show that much skin. There will be children in our group. And sometimes it snows on Hallowe’en in Canada. And nobody likes being naked in the snow. So part of the challenge was to take the traditional PI getup and make it a bit more … modest. Because holy Hanna that is just not my style.

I started off with the basic corset, in green, and I found one on Amazon that also had a wee skirt that came with it (the skirt is MUCH shorter than advertised but oh well).

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After strapping myself into it in a rather undignified manner I realized that the flimsy, slippery ribbons that made up the laces were all that was holding the whole thing together. And I have quite a bit that needs holding in. I could see one of them snapping under the pressure and having a disaster on my hands.

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So I replaced the laces, front and back, with a sturdier material: parachute cord.  Not only was I now more confident that the corset bindings wouldn’t spontaneously explode, but it was actually easier to lace up because there was more friction with the cord.

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Now I could lace it up good and tight and it wasn’t going anywhere. Problem was, this thing is made for people with smaller … assets than I have, and there was some danger of a spill (and there will be children present), so I had to wear a bra underneath to keep everything where it should be. And the bra peeked over the top of the corset. Not good.

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I had to therefore disguise the bra as best I could (because there was no hiding it and I was sure as shooting not going without). Fortunately for me the local Fabricland is about five minutes from our house, so I popped in and found exactly what I needed.

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I basted some trim and sequins onto the bra wherever it was exposed. I also put some more trim at the bottom so that it would blend in with the similar trim at the top of the corset. The sequins might be overkill but I love them.

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Right. I’m not hanging out anywhere now. This is good. But I’m so tightly strapped into this thing that I’m having trouble breathing. It’s not like I can simply loosen the laces – the whole thing will fall off. And it has no give whatsoever. I needed a bit of a release valve built into this to save my lungs. I bought some 6″ wide elastic from Fabricland as well, and I will cut out two of the back panels and replace it with four pieces of sewn-together elastic. This way the corset can still be as tight as it needs to be but my ribcage can also expand and contract as needed. But I had to go out of town twice for work (I’m in Indiana as I write this and as you read this) so it’ll have to wait until I get back.

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Then, there was the issue of hair. PI’s hair is red and long. Mine is short and brown. Normally I dress as a dude for Hallowe’en simply because having short hair makes it easy to do. This year I had to go to extremes. I picked up this wig for super cheap (thanks Amazon), and after an interminable wait it arrived.

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It’s been about ten years since I’ve had hair this long, or this red.

But how am I going to stay warm, you ask? Well I found a pair of green fleece tights and a pair of fingerless green elbow gloves and those are going to be very handy.

And then there’s this. This is an opera cloak hand-sewn by my great grandmother about 100 or so years ago. I used to play dress-up with it all the time and amazingly it’s still in beautiful shape. It hasn’t fit me across the shoulders and chest since I was about nine years old, however (my great-grandmother being one of those tiny elfin type ladies). After some consultation with my mother we decided to remove the sleeves to give me some more room to move around. She’s working on it as we speak.

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I have some other grand plans including temporary tattoos, fake vines, and lots and lots of glitter. I’ll keep you posted about how they turn out!

Happy Hallowe’en!

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We’re excited to spend our first Hallowe’en in our new place – there are tons of kids everywhere, so we went all out. They’re predicting rain for today so I’ve only put up half of our decorations for now. We can’t wait to have our own house with a big front yard that we can fill with all kinds of spooky spectacles.

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I have some red lights to put in the chest cavity of Skully, our skeleton.

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I’m especially pleased with the pumpkin this year – I got a ghost pumpkin, the white kind, and made it into the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, the evil villain from Ghostbusters, one of my favourite movies of all time.

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And my fall leaf wreath is seasonally fitting as it decays.

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Our Hallowe’en party isn’t until tomorrow, but the Pie STILL doesn’t have his costume ready (TSK!). I’m going as a gorgon, as the party is monster themed. Because I have short hair, I made a hat of snakes to look like my actual hair. I used Model Magic because it’s flexible and lightweight. I named myself Zola, so I could introduce myself as the Gorgon Zola (like the cheese! Get it? GET IT?)

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This is WAYYYY less itchy than that horrid beard I wore last year (though I did win best costume because Wolverine is awesome).

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Have a safe and happy Hallowe’en!

Happy Hallowe’en!

I’m actually disappointed: this is my six hundredth and sixty-SEVENTH post, so I can’t say that it’s #666.  Darn.  So this is me looking disappointed.  Yes, I moonlight as Wolverine.

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Actually, we went as Off-Day Avengers to our most recent Hallowe’en party.  Here you have Peter Parker (Spider-Man):

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Tony Stark (Iron Man):

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Clint Barton (Hawkeye):

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This is especially funny because Trav is wearing a SIMON COWELL wig. And Hawkeye is supposed to be blond …

And me, James Howlett/Logan (Wolverine):

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Not much difference between civilian Wolverine and actual working Wolverine …

I’d show you our pumpkins but as of yesterday (when I wrote this), we haven’t had a chance to carve them yet.  I bet mine will be a giant squid.  Just sayin’.

Have a safe and happy one folks!

So Long Sucker! Creepy Hallowe’en Sucker Stand

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I actually made this project LAST year, but because I never get my holiday stuff organized in time to publish it any time before the holiday it’s for, I decided to set this up so I would look timely and well-prepared this year.

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Anyway, last year, back when the Pie and I were still in St. John’s (weird that we’re not there anymore), Fussellette organized a mixer for the geographical society at MUN and she decided on having a candy bar for everyone to snack on while they got jiggy (do people even say that in the far-off future of 2013?  Better question: do people even say that NOW?).  I volunteered to make a stand for the suckers Fussellette insisted on having, along with our FORTY POUNDS of other candy that we bought.

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You might like to make something like this for your own Hallowe’en party.

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At first I thought I would just do something plain, like a store display, but maybe with some sparkly skulls we’d picked up from Dollarama.  But then, I was looking at a shoe box and I was struck dumb with inspiration (not true: I immediately texted Fussellette about my genius and then told the Pie all about it, despite him not wanting to know).  So here’s what I came up with.

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I’m going to make a grave yard — well, part of one.  It will have a freshly covered grave with headstone and some nice grass all about, and little holes for holding all the suckers.  That will be the top of the box.  Then the extra suckers (there were 100 in the bag) can be stored inside the box itself.

So first, on the shoe box I drew where I wanted the grave to go.

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Then I used a punch to make some evenly spaced holes where the suckers would eventually fit.

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In order to make it so the suckers didn’t just slide all the way through the holes until they were stopped by their candy tops, I had to construct a little hanging platform on the underside of the box lid that would prevent their sliding around and also not interfere with the opening and closing of the box itself.  I just taped a few pieces of spare cardboard in strategic places and there we go.

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Now I got to do the fun stuff.

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I had a package of Model Magic lying around that I didn’t yet have a project connected to, so I figured its lightweight nature would be perfect to make a gravestone.  A bit of shaping (not too much, as I wanted the stone to look old and cracked) and some choice words (stamped in with the same punch I used for the holes) and I set that aside for the requisite 72 hours to dry.  I’m going to paint it later.

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To ensure that the surface of my gravesite didn’t end up accidentally filling in the holes I punched, I marked their places with wooden skewers.

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Then I went outside.  This moss I hauled up from the path next door and the dirt is from my garden. This explains why I can’t grow anything.  I keep taking all the dirt.

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Spread some Mod Podge.  Attach some moss (I snipped off only the tops of the moss, and replanted it when I was done).  Repeat.

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For the grave dirt, I mixed my garden dirt with some Mod Podge to make mud of sorts, and spooned it onto the area.  I added a few rocks for visual interest, and then sprinkled some un-glued dirt on top to get the colour right.  Then I left THAT for 48 hours to dry.  You can still see the box through some of the moss but honestly, I don’t think anyone else would look this closely at a candy dispenser.  Mostly they are probably just thinking “Free candy!  Gimme!”

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Once you’ve got all the stuff glued and set, you can take away the skewers.

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While it was drying I tacked on some black construction paper with tape as a sort of border to the whole thing, and to cover the shoe box-ness of the shoe box.  Then I used craft paint to freehand a picket fence all around (you can see it in the finished shots).

Then, much later, I painted the headstone, filling in the text with black craft paint and adding a bit of texture here and there.

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Hot glue that sucker (ha) onto the dried Mod Podge mud and we’re good to go.

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Insert suckers. You can store extras underneath, inside the box.

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EAT SUCKERS. MWAHAHAHAHAHA.

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Pork Tenderloin with Pomegranate Braised Cabbage

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I actually cooked this recipe up on Hallowe’en, but with my garnish it looked so darned festive I had to push back the publishing date to sometime when people start thinking of roasting chestnuts and Frosty the Snowman.  But for authenticity I am listening to Toccata and Fugue in D Minor while I type this up.  Spooky.  Yet festive.

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Anyway, there are lots of things you can do with pork tenderloin, and they’re extra handy when you’re in a rush because they cook so quickly. In addition to roasting up nice and tender in the oven, you can also slice up raw tenderloin into medallions for a fast fry, which is what we do here.  This recipe, modified a bit, comes from a recent Every Day Food.

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First you want to peel off all the silvery skin on your pork tenderloin, to make it extra tender.

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Then you can slice it up into relatively thin medallions.  Mine are about 3/4″-1″ thick.

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Then you will take a small cabbage (red one will be prettier, but I prefer the taste of green) like this one.

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And chop it all up into shreds.

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Now, heat some oil in your beautifully seasoned cast iron skillet and cook your pork medallions on medium-high until they are done all the way through and slightly brown on the outside.  Put them on a plate somewhere and cover them to keep them warm.

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Then take your cabbage and plop it in your still hot skillet.  Cook that, tossing occasionally, until it’s all wilted.

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Then pour in about 1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice.

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Raise the heat a little bit and let that simmer down until it’s reduced to about half and starts to thicken.  I used unsweetened juice, so I suspect if mine had had more sugar in it it might have thickened a bit more (notice how there are two incidences of duplicated words in that sentence?).  At this point, add in about 3 tablespoons butter and a dash of red wine vinegar and you’re ready to serve.

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I garnished my rather sadly coloured green cabbage with some steamed frozen peas and some fresh pomegranate seeds for festivity’s sake, and we had roasted potatoes on the side.  It was highly tasty.

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Happy Hallowe’en! Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

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Cheerio, all!  My costume this year is Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.  I found this blue Shetland wool suit in a second-hand store last winter, bought the vintage hat from Vintage Me & Mom on Etsy, and, well, I already have the matching corgi!

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So I will be sweltering in this itchy and unflattering getup (the suit is super bulky) all day at the office, but it’s worth it because it means I get to enjoy the office Hallowe’en lunch!

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Did you say LUNCH?

Until then, we’ve been snacking on roasted pumpkin seeds leftover from our pumpkin-off the other day.

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The first thing you need to do is separate the stringy orange stuff from the seeds themselves. You can leave it on, and it will add to the flavour, but it tends to burn. The easiest way to do this is to put them in a strainer and run water over them.  Or fill the bowl they’re in with water and filter them out with your fingers. Then dump the seeds into a towel and dry them off.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and haul out a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan. In a large bowl, toss your pumpkin seeds with 2 tablespoons melted butter. Then add whatever spices or herbs or what have you that you’d like. I went with a sprinkle of sea salt, some freshly ground black pepper, and some grated parmesan I had left over in the fridge. Make sure all those lovely ingredients get all over everything.

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Spread them out on your baking sheet so they’re in a single layer and roast for about 30 minutes. I made sure to stir them around about every 10 minutes.

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If you find them a little oily when they come out of the oven, dump them on some paper towels to absorb some of the butter before serving.

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Here they are, fresh from the oven and ready for snacking!

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I challenge you to a pumpkin-off!

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Or, to be more precise, I challenged the Pie to a pumpkin-off.  You see, we don’t really get trick-or-treaters on our street.  Like, at all.  So we long ago gave up on decorating for Hallowe’en.  But carving pumpkins is just so much fun.  I used to get really elaborate with mine as a kid, using those tiny knives to get tiny details and scraping away layers of pumpkin to create a translucent layer of orange pulp.  The Pie, on the other hand, says that traditionally he had two pumpkin styles: one with two pointy teeth, and one with one snaggle-tooth.  And in eight years together we have only carved pumpkins together once.  So why not do so now?  We won’t have anyone to show them to, as we don’t get trick-or-treaters here on Elizabeth, but at least we’ll get to enjoy them.

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Some tips for happy carving:

Give your pumpkin a good scrub to loosen dirt and other unmentionables (they come from farms, people), especially if you’re planning to eat the contents.

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Cut your “lid” just slightly larger than your fist, and cut the sides at an angle so it stays in place.

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Incorrect angle. Don’t worry, he fixed it on the next stab.
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The correct angle.

Scrape the inside flesh as thin as possible, leaving maybe 1/2″ behind.  This means that you get to keep most of the flesh for cooking without having it left out to spoil.  It also makes it easier to do more detailed carving.  And to add to that, if you’re going to go for the translucent look, where the light shines through the pumpkin flesh, it’s a good starting point for thinning the flesh to where you want it. I find a metal spoon works really well for good scrape-age.

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We had three separate bowls going while we were carving, to save us time later on. One was for the pumpkin seeds, another for usable/eatable flesh, and the third for scraps and bits of skin we couldn’t eat. Gren thought all of them were for his personal consumption and was quite put out when we wouldn’t let him have more than a few pieces to himself. I guess after a puppyhood of digestive issues where we gave him pumpkin on a regular basis, he’s developed a taste for it.

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Also, it’s a good idea to go into pumpkin carving with a plan. The Pie and I took two different routes: he went with a stencil of Spider-Man, and I free-handed an approximation of Grenadier. So he was going to scoop out all the black stuff on his, and on mine, the black stuff is untouched pumpkin skin, the gray is scooped out but not cut pumpkin flesh, and the white is entirely cut out pumpkin.

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The Pie taped his design to his pumpkin, making sure to cut darts in the sides so it would fit on the curve.

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Then he set to work with a wee punch, poking holes around the edges of his design to use as a guide for cutting later on.

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Then he started peeling off the skin of his design with a sharp knife. You’ll note he kept a copy of his stencil by his side so he could remember which parts he was supposed to cut and which parts were negative space.

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I drew my design directly onto my pumpkin skin with a pencil. It doesn’t leave a huge mark, which is good if you decide to change your mind later on. Which I did.

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Then I started peeling and cutting, according to my plan, which I kept at my side.

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Can’t say the finished product looks much like the subject, though.

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When we got to a certain stage we started testing the translucence of our pumpkin with LED tea lights stuffed inside. It’s a simple matter to scrape away more of the flesh from the inside and out. I went with a bit of texture on mine to emphasize the fuzziness of my hound. It does show up when you look at the lit pumpkin up close.

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So here’s my finished pumpkin, from the ears angle:

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And from the tongue angle:

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And the Pie’s, from one angle:

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And a bit closer:

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I made Gren pose with the finished version of him. He was not amused.

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And who won the pumpkin-off? Well, Gren seemed to like mine best, as he kept licking it. So I’m going to take that as a vote for my side.

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Plus we definitely plan to have some posts in the days following Hallowe’en about the things you can do with your carved pumpkin.  Stay tuned!

Vote for my pumpkin!

You’ll see more about this in my post tomorrow, but the Pie and I have entered a contest over at Movita Beaucoup.

Please feel free to vote for my pumpkin and not the Pie’s.  But if you like his better then I guess it’s okay if you vote for his …

See the entries HERE!

And as a reward, see this corgi that isn’t mine but is also awesome.

WOOO! It’s Ali Does It Herself’s 500th Post! And we’re making CAKE!

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So on the 15th day of March, 2010, I caved to peer pressure (*ahem*, Kª), and I started this blog.  Ali Does It … Herself.  That sounded about right.  The Pie and I try to be as self-sufficient as possible, and having been raised by very DIY-oriented parents, I figured I might as well start telling the world about my own experiments in grown-up living.  Five hundred (!) posts later, we’re still going strong.  Ali Does It has been featured THREE times on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed page, twice on FoodPress.com, and last year won third place in both the Canadian Weblog Awards and the Canadian Blog Awards competitions.  I’m so grateful for the 1600+ subscribers who visit regularly and for everyone who has come to see and read in the past almost-three years.  If you’re reading this, then thank you so much for coming!

It’s amazing what this blogging experience has taught me to do.  Previously, I cooked, and fixed stuff, and did crafty things, and I was pretty good at it, but I never really tried to venture too far out of my comfort zone.  Now, if someone sends me a message saying, “do you know how to do this?”, my answer is usually “why yes!” (ha. rarely), or “no, but I’ll figure it out.”  And then I do.   It’s very empowering to know that doing stuff on your own is not as scary as you think it is.  The internet (and my parents) are very good teachers.

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My very first post was about cake — wedding cupcakes, to be specific.  And if you’ll look below, you can see all the other posts I have made about cake and cupcakes since then (not to mention the posts about cookies, and brownies, and knitting, and sewing …).  In commemoration of that, I think I’ll make another cake!

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I’ve been brainstorming with the Pie and our friends about what to create for this particular occasion, but they’ve been absolutely useless.  They keep suggesting that I make a cake THAT I’VE ALREADY MADE.  What would be the point of that?  Well, it’s not called Ali Does It on the Advice of All the People She Knows, after all, so I started thinking about what *I* wanted.  Something a little bit fun, not too big, not too complicated, but a wee bit different. And something that I have made up all by myself. So here goes.

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What about a berry cake?  I want something pink.  And I have a temptingly large container of partridgeberries in my freezer, which I picked up from Bidgood’s in the Goulds over the summer. If you know anything about this place, you’ll know that Bidgood’s is where you go to get stuff like this. That same day we picked up moose burgers and a rabbit pie. Both excellent.

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Now, I’m making this into a layer cake with icing, but you could easily skip the cutting and frosting and have it as a nice coffee cake. It’s a versatile little thing, and it will freeze beautifully, unfrosted. So. Take your favourite 9″ x 13″ baking pan/casserole dish and butter it generously. Plop a sheet of parchment in the middle and butter that, too. It will just make it easier to get the cake out in one piece. Preheat your oven to 375°F while you’re at it.

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Grab yourself some partridgeberries.  You’ll probably only find them frozen, but if you’re in a part of the world where they come fresh, then more power to you.  If you don’t know what a partridgeberry is, it looks like a small cranberry, but isn’t as tart.  You may know it better as a lingonberry or a cowberry.  You could substitute other berries in this recipe, obviously.  If you go the cranberry route, though, I’d add a bit more sugar.  Anyway, you’ll want about 2 cups partridgeberries for this cake.

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Plop them in a pan with about a tablespoon lemon juice and 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and stew on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the berries are thawed and juices are running everywhere.  Pop a few with the back of your spoon to increase the juiciness, and remove from the heat so they cool down a bit.

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In a large bowl, cream together 1 cup butter with 2 cups granulated sugar.

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Add in 6 eggs, one at a time.

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Then jump in your stewed berries, along with 1 cup sour cream.

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Almost ready — now, a little bit at a time, stir in 3 cups all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon baking soda.

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Smooth your batter into your prepared pan.  I love that delicate pink colour.  Too bad it never lasts through the baking without artificial boosts — blech.

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Bake your cake on the middle rack for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on your oven.  Mine took 47 minutes.  Place it on a rack to cool, and when it’s cooled enough to tip out, let it cool completely on a rack before frosting.

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A note on frosting:

Now, you don’t HAVE to frost your cake.  That is entirely up to you.  But I’m going all out here, and I feel that fruits like this need a bit of cream cheese in the frosting to make me super happy.  If you’re going to layer this cake, make the full amount of frosting I’ve set out here.  If you’re just going to frost the top, then make about 1/3 to 1/2 of the amount laid out below.  And if you want a non-chocolate version (also yummy), substitute vanilla for the Kahlua and leave out the cocoa.

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In a large bowl, beat together 1 cup butter and 1 250g package plain cream cheese.  Make sure both of them are soft but not melty.

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Tip in about 5 tablespoons powdered cocoa together with 1 tablespoon Kahlua (or other coffee/chocolate liqueur of your choice) and mix that in thoroughly.  Once you get that in, add about 3 1/2 cups confectioner’s (icing) sugar.  You may need more or less depending on your preference.  Beat that to a pulp.

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Then pour in 1 cup cream, whipping cream if you’ve got it.  Or leave it out, if you want a frosting that is a bit stiffer.  Lovely.  Chuck that in the fridge to chill while you wait for your cake to cool.

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Then I simply cut the cake in half down the middle, like so.

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Then cut each half horizontally so I had four slabs of cake.  Slather on some icing between layers, plop the next one on, rinse, repeat.

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It reminds me of a massive peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

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I didn’t bother with a crumb coat when doing the outside, and I didn’t really go to too much trouble getting the icing all perfect (because I really don’t roll that way, don’t you know that by now?).

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I think I have laundry on the brain — I seem to do it often enough.  It’s not quite the celebratory bunting you were expecting, eh? Fitting, though.

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Thanks for seeing me through 500 posts as I learn to be a grown-up.  Here’s to 500 more!

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Thirty-Four other posts about CAKE (brownies, bars, and other eatables and noneatables not included, but feel free to use the search function on the sidebar to find whatever you want!):