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What I’m Watching Lately

2017 November 12
by Becky

What I'm Watching Nov 2017

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Stranger Things is back!!!

We’ve watched the previews, we’ve been waiting to see what the heck will happen in the next fantastic season of this incredible show that snuck up out of nowhere in 2016. It was worth the wait and did not disappoint. I’ve heard mixed reviews but I’m here to say it’s great, we loved seeing this gang of adorable kids back together. I’m totally satisfied.

And the music budget was clearly enormous because they played SO MANY incredible 80’s songs.

In honor of this very exciting cinematic event, and since the colder weather is finally upon us and I see more nights by the fire/tv in our future, I figured I’d share some of the other things I’ve been watching. Some movies, some shows, stuff I’ve enjoyed in the last six months or so. I hope you’ll share a few with me!

Curb Your Enthusiasm. Talk about a come back, OMG! Curb! I had no idea how much I missed LD till the first new episode aired a few weeks ago. Things haven’t changed much, the situations are still as relatable and uncomfortable as ever, and Leon is still as incredibly entertaining as I remember…J.B. Smoove is funny doing anything. The golf course episode was maybe our favorite.

Master of None. I feel like I’ve gushed about this ridiculously good show before, but there’s a new season out and I now love it—and it’s star Aziz Ansari—ten times more. Opening in a dream-like life Dev has created for himself in Italy that involves lots of food and an adventure with an old friend where they get a tiny car stuck between two buildings, the show tackles some extremely interesting topics with such a creative eye. I Love New York and Thanksgiving were my clear favorites, but I cherished every episode. Dev’s family (Aziz’s real mom and dad) and friends are the best kinds of characters, ones I could watch forever. Even if you aren’t a “comedian” fan, please give this a try. Oh and foodies rejoice, this show is for us especially. Get ready to drool.

White Famous. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been so instantly hooked on a show like I am on White Famous. The story is great, it’s funny, but the cast is what I love most, these lead characters are intoxicating. You might recognized Jay Pharoah from SNL, but honestly he shines so bright in this roll it was like watching him for the first time. He’s complimented brilliantly by his love interest, Cleopatra Coleman—my new girl crush—and his manager/roommate, who’s name is Balls and is played by Jacob Ming-Trent, someone new to me but a person I want to see in lots more stuffOnly three episodes in, I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Parks and Recreation. Ok I know this is pretty late in the game to be watching this show, but it went on my list after reading Amy Polher’s book a couple years ago and the last few months seemed like the perfect unpacking/photo editing/family album-making background entertainment. Plus, there were like 400 episodes which is fun…felt like it was never going to end and I didn’t want it to. I haven’t really watched a cable show like this since The Office and 30 Rock, but I really enjoyed it and found myself sneaking in episodes whenever I could.

Insecure. Issa Rae created and stars in this hilarious and incredibly interesting tale of 20-something black women navigating relationships, careers, and friendship in LA. The writing is superb, I couldn’t wait to see what Issa and Molly did next. I cried like a baby at the Season Two finale because the ending was an emotional rollercoaster…especially as a #teamlawrence flip-flopper…I just couldn’t decide how I wanted things to go, but I loved watching the story unfold. Issa’s mirror/inner monolog rap sessions were the best.

Comet. I don’t know how I happened upon this gem, but it was probably on a night Stu was gone and I was searching for something interesting to watch. I love Emma Rosen (she is incredible in Shameless) and I have a soft spot for Justin Long, so I figured they would be pretty awesome together. It’s a story you can’t predict and would never imagine but it’s very entertaining. Right now it is free on Showtime, no sure where else it’s streaming.

Hidden Figures. Of course you know exactly what this is, everyone was talking about it last year and for good reason, it’s a gut wrenchingly wonderful movie telling a phenomenal story the women who broke race and gender barriers with courage and persistence…and gigantic brains. The three leads—Octavia Jackson, Taraji P Henson, and Janelle Monae—were delightful to watch even when the real-life tale was hard to swallow. My long-time love Kevin Costner was his usual hero self, grumpy but lovable, and I cried like baby for the last 1/4 of the movie (or maybe more). This one is going on the future must-watch list for the boys.

Gypsy is another Netflix series that I flew through this summer. It’s easy to watch and you have no clue what the complex and troubled main character, played by Naomi Watts, has up her sleeve. She’s a therapist who gets waaaay too involved in her patients’ lives. At the beginning I was on the fence, is she good or bad? Give it a watch to see what you think.

The People vs. OJ Simpson is surely the best true crime series I’ve ever watched. We’d heard rave reviews and couldn’t wait for it to stream on Netflix. Every accolade was spot on, watching the details of this trial play out helped put all those pieces together, the ones I heard in the background as a Freshman in high school. The characters are brilliantly played, the story horrifying to hear, the verdict no less shocking.

Handmaids Tale has been all the buzz but seriously, it should be at the top of your list if you haven’t seen it. Everything about this show is perfect, down to the last detail. Yes, I read the book, but it’s not necessary because the show is so well written and takes the original story farther than the book in the absolute best ways. Sign up for Hulu for a month or so and watch it!!

Ok clearly I could go on for a while so here’s a quick list of some others I loved over the summer:

Arrival – get ready to be glued to your seat before you ugly cry. This is my favorite kind of sci-fi.
Being Mary Jane – Gabriel Union is on fire! Tons of episodes on Netflix, another season coming soon I hope!
The Incredible Jessica James – mostly because I hear Jessica Williams.
Get Out – Creepy, crazy, and just awesome. Streaming on HBO!
Spielberg – take a trip to your childhood and leave in absolute awe of Mr. Spielberg. On HBO.
SMILF – A new Showtime show I’m diggin, great female lead playing a young single mama.
Catastrophe – Loved the third season of this hilarious Amazon Prime show.
Friends from College – an easy, funny, and well cast Netflix original. Keegan-Michale Key and Fred Savage!!

Alright, gimme some new stuff. What MUST I watch now? 

Making Finn’s Flaming Volcano Cake

2017 November 5
by Becky

Finns Volcano Party - Volcano Cake

All my kid wanted for his birthday party was a volcano cake and I was more than happy to oblige. It gave me a fun challenge AND gave me an excuse to make cake!

I’ve never been a huge cake maker, I’m more of a cupcake and cake-pop gal. I’ve made my fair share of cakes for various reasons, but always with meh feelings about the flavor and final result. Plus, I thought it was fun to order cakes from my most favorite bakeries! That is, until I ordered one not too long ago that was a HUGE disappointment. It looked incredible, cost a small fortune, and tasted terrible. The kids wouldn’t even eat it! I thought it tasted like a stick of butter, dry and flavorless, and we ended up throwing 75% of it in the trash. It was devastating.

Never again. I’ve been sharpening my cake-making skills and narrowing down my favorite cake recipes ever since and couldn’t wait to construct something amazing for Finn’s party!

FinnsVolcanoParty-VolcanoCakeGazing

Many people have asked, so thought I’d share how it came together.

There were a few ideas going through my head, like should it erupt with dry ice smoke? I crossed off this plan pretty quick because we wanted to eat this thing, not just look at it, and I didn’t want any dry ice/water mishaps ruining our dessert. (If you want to go the dry ice route, try a rice krispie cake like the one we did for Ethan’s dinosaur party a couple years ago!) But I really wanted a show-stopping topper and edible lava effects, so I turned to the web for inspiration.

Finns Turns 3 Volcano Cake Gazing

I passed by Ashlee Marie’s amazing tutorial for the flame suckers, originally designed for an over-the-top Inside-Out themed party, and they looked so fun to make I just had to give it a try. I’ve melted my fair share of sugar to prepare yearly batches of holiday toffee, but this recipe called for melting isomalt crystals, which I immediately ordered from Amazon. The very clear instructions told me exactly how to make the suckers and they turned out great. I used vanilla extract instead of the cinnamon called for in the recipe to keep them really toddler friendly.

Once it hardened, I felt very Walter White-like. Stu even did a double-take when he walked by.

Finns Volcano Party -Flame Suckers

I made the suckers about a week before the party and popped them in a airtight container.

I also made my cake layers about a week before, four to be exact. Using Ina Garten’s Chocolate Cake recipe that is oh so moist and delicious. The recipe makes two layers, so I doubled it for four. I had trouble finding the exact recipe online, I used my well-loved 1999 Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, but this site seems to have it right.

FinnsVolcanoParty-VolcanoCakeMixing

I double wrapped each layer in plastic wrap and stuck ’em in the freezer, something that always seems to make the flavor even better.

Three days before the party (and one day before our out of town guests arrived) we made the buttercream. This rich and velvety chocolate buttercream was perfect for the outside layer, while my tried and true cream cheese butter cream was best for the inside and decorations. I can’t find the original link for this frosting, but here’s what I use:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces cream cheese

I love how the cream cheese adds the perfect not-too-sweet creaminess to cakes and cupcakes. I probably made 3x this recipe just to be sure there would be enough to generously fill each layer and do some simple decorations. Most of this batch was dyed red—it was supposed to be lava—and the rest green for some grass around the base.

The day before, we assembled the cake, then back in the freezer it went, till everything was firm.

FinnsVolcanoParty-VolcanoCakeChillin

Once nice and chilly, the cake was super easy to shape. Cake shaping is so fun! It was kind of hard to stop carving (and tasting). 

FinnsVolcanoParty-VolcanoCakeShaping

I crumb-coated with the chocolate frosting, chilled, then did a final layer, leaving things “rough” because volcanoes aren’t perfect people.

Next up was the lava. We’ve all seen the “drip cakes”, they are cute and fun and look easy, right? I found what looked like THE tutorial and it all checked out. Make a ganache with white melting chocolate, dye, and drizzle.

FinnsVolcanoParty-VolcanoCakeLava

The result was really disappointing. That nice, thick color didn’t come through after I drizzled, it was thin and too runny, even though I used less cream than the recipe called for. I even tried to chill it to make it thicker without much better luck. Next time I’ll make the extra trip to Michael’s to get the pre-dyed melting candies, I think they would have worked better!  But the overall effect worked and it was cute the way the “lava” puddled at on the white tier.

FinnsVolcanoParty-VolcanoCakeGrass2

It may seem silly to add “grass”, but I think it looked so cute! And it was fun. I used my little v-shaped leaf tip and went to town.

FinnsVolcanoParty-VolcanoCakeGrass

The cake chilled in the fridge overnight and I took it out a couple hours before the party, popping those flame suckers in the top. Finn was so excited!

Once the candles were out, the kids immediately asked for those suckers. NOTE: Be sure you make enough suckers for all the kids!

Finns Volcano Party - Flame Sucker Kids

Every little hand had a sucker. They were a huge hit.

So how was the cake? Incredible. I’ve never made (or possibly had) one better. It was rich and chocolatey without being too sweet, with just the right amount of buttercream–light cocoa outside and tangy cream cheese inside. It was dessert for the rest of the weekend.

That’s it! Now I just need more excuses to make cakes! I really enjoyed planning and putting this one together. Ethan has made some pretty lofty requests involving Pokemon-related cake designs for his party in December…sounds way harder. Can’t wait!

What’s your favorite cake recipe?