Monday, April 26, 2010

Give a Little

A few weeks ago I was watching MTV (don't judge!) when a new episode of True Life came on.  The subject was people who needed transplants and I was intrigued.  The episode was extremely emotional (watch it for yourself here and read more about it on MTV's blog here) but absolutely worth watching.

I was particularly touched by the story of Craig, who was undergoing a bone marrow transplant to treat cancer.  His story hit close to home for me.  Just months before I was born, one of my uncles passed away from Aplastic Anemia that may have been treatable with a bone marrow transplant when he was only 19 years old.  Being that this was way back in 1983, only immediate family members were tested for bone marrow matches and unfortunately there wasn't a match in the family.  So I've long tossed around the idea of becoming a bone marrow donor, but hadn't done the legwork of researching it and signing up.  This episode was just the kick in the pants that I needed to make this idea a reality.

Once I visited the National Marrow Donor Program's website I realized just how easy it is to become a donor (and even donation itself doesn't sound like too much of an ordeal).  First, answer a simple questionnaire to make sure you qualify.  I was thrilled when I found out that I do qualify since I am not able to donate blood due to travel restrictions.  Then fill out some basic information and they will mail you a kit to swab your cheek so your sample can be entered in the registry to look for matches.  They do ask for a donation since it costs around $100 for the organization to add each new sample to the registry, but it is optional, tax deductible, and you can choose the amount you give.  It was important to me to make the donation to join the registry.  But if you are unable to donate or choose not to, join anyway because I think getting more people in the registry is the most important thing.

Our kits should be arriving in about a week and we're super excited for them to arrive.  I'll keep you posted on how joining the registry goes, but in the meantime I think you should head on over to and check it all out for yourself!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nova in the Windy City!

This past Saturday was a big day for Nova!  He had his neuter stitches removed and (finally!) got to ditch the cone of destruction.  But more importantly, Nova met his new mommy and on Sunday we took him over to her apartment downtown.  Nova (now Baxter) has a great view of Lake Michigan from his high rise home and is just a hop skip and a jump away from a dog beach. 

When we arrived to drop Nova off it was clear that his new mom was totally in love with him and it seems like he's going to settle in nicely.  He'll be going for lots of walks on the lake front, supervising his mom's softball games and hanging out with other pooches on the water.

But I have a little confession.  Leaving Nova after his home check was one of the hardest home checks/drop offs I've done in a long time.  I'm usually a little sad when I drop off a foster with their new family, but after doing it so many times I am equally excited about saving another dog, so the emotions tend to balance out a bit.  But I had let my guard down with Nova, thinking that maybe we would keep him but wanting a little more time to decide, and so he snuck a little deeper into my heart.  After we handed off the leash to Nova's new mom, she walked us to the elevator and brought him along.  At first Nova didn't want to leave my side, but after a goodbye kiss from me and a little encouragement from his mom he happily walked away to his new life, never looking back.  I had to turn away as he reached his door to hide my tears.

There will be more dogs; there's always another dog.  One of the (unfortunate) things I've learned volunteering in animal rescue is that there is an endless supply of homeless animals.  Eventually we'll find the right one for us and I'm guessing when we do we won't feel the need to wait it out to decide.  It's just that right now it still hurts a little.  But I'm also sure that Nova's mom knows how lucky she is to have him and will give him a wonderful life.

Just an hour or two after dropping him off, Nova's new mom texted me to say they had gone for a nice walk and he had already made three new friends.  Hopefully this means lots of updates in the future on one of our all time favorite fosters.  Here are some pictures we took of him on Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jayme's Bithday Cake

A few weeks ago was my good friend Jayme's birthday party, so of course I wanted to make him a nice birthday cake.  I asked what he wanted amongst his requests were vanilla cake, whipped cream and white chocolate.  Sounds good already!  I know he likes berries, so I decided to add some for a little contrast.  After giving it a little thought, I settled on white cake with berry buttercream filling and white chocolate ganache-buttercream icing along with some fresh whipped cream on the side.  With a lot of components and two dogs to pick up the day of the party (Hancock and Nova) I got started the night before the party.

Mixed Berry Compote

16 oz frozen strawberries
6 oz frozen raspberries
6 oz frozen blueberries
1/2 cup sugar

Put half of the strawberries, raspberries and blueberries into a saucepan along with all of the sugar.  Over medium/medium low heat stir periodically for about 10 minutes.  Smash the berries a bit with a spoon to release some of the juice.  Then add the rest of the berries.

Continue stirring periodically for another 5-10 minutes.

Put them in a container and after they cool, pop it into the fridge to be used tomorrow.

Okay, so I guess I didn't do too much in advance for the party, but I like things to be fresh!  I did all the rest the next day.

Lady Baltimore Cake 

Another recipe from my stand-by cookbook, Fannie Farmer.

1 3/4 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup milk
3 egg whites

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cream the butter and sugar together.  Separately stir the milk and vanilla together.  In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.  Alternately add portions of the milk mixture and dry ingredients to the butter mixture, beating until the batter is smooth after each addition.

In yet another bowl, beat the eggwhites until they are stiff but moist.

Stir in about one third of the egg whites into the cake batter and then gently fold in the rest.

I put all of the batter into a 9"x13" pan, but this recipe says it would also work for two 8" pans.  But be forewarned that it won't come out as tall as you might think, so I would consider doubling the recipe if you want a taller cake.

I wanted to make sure that the cake would come out cleanly from the pan, so I used a trick I had seen Alton Brown do on his show Good Eats.  First I sprayed the pan with Pam, then place parchment paper across the widest part of the pan so that there was some coming off the edges (to be used as handles later).  Then I put another piece of parchement paper along the narrower part of the pan.

Be sure to crease the paper into the corners; cake batter isn't strong enough to push it into place, and you don't want your edges to turn out all wonky, now do you?  After you've laid out your parchment paper spray it with Pam.  Okay, now you can pour in the batter.

Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes (time may vary depending on your oven).  Test for doneness by poking in a toothpick; when it comes out clean, it's done!  Let the cake cool for about 5 minutes and then using your handy dandy parchment paper handles, lift the cake out of the pan and quickly place onto a cooling rack (don't worry about removing the paper just yet).

I then repeated the entire process so I could make a large layer cake.  Woops - none of the pictures of the cake on it's own turned out well, but don't worry, you'll see it in a minute with some other yummy stuff!

Mixed Berry Buttercream Filling

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mixed berry compote (strained)

This recipe is just a mixture of my usual buttercream frosting (remember?) and the mixed berry compote from above.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and vanilla. Blend the sugar in one cup at a time.  You may need to stop and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times to make sure it all gets thoroughly incorporated.  Beat in the milk and continue mixing until light and fluffy.

Use a colander to strain the mixed berry compote, but save the liquid!  Scoop about half a cup of the now strained compote into the buttercream and beat until well incorporated.  Then gently stir in another half cup; you want some of the pieces of fruit to maintain some structural integrity for texture.

White Chocolate Ganache-Buttercream

24 ounces white chocolate chips
2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 cup butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Put all of the white chocolate chips in a large microwave safe bowl.

Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan until it just begins to boil and then pour over the chocolate chips.  Stir with a whisk until well combined.  Since this can be tough work, I enlisted the hubs to do the heavy stirring for me.

When it got to the point where the chips were almost all melted, the mixture had cooled just a bit too much, so we popped the mixture in the microwave for 30 seconds to soften it so you can stir it together the rest of the way.  Look at that, you just made white chocolate ganache!

I wanted the icing on the cake to be a little fluffier and more pliable than ganache, so I decided to mix in some buttercream frosting.  You can probably get away with making just half of what I made for this round, but I wanted to be sure I had enough (and there's nothing wrong with a little leftover frosting - yum!).

So once again, in a large bowl, cream together the butter and vanilla. Blend the sugar in one cup at a time.  You may need to stop and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times to make sure it all gets thoroughly incorporated.  Beat in the milk and continue mixing until light and fluffy.

After the ganache has just about cooled, stir in about a half cup of the buttercream frosting.  Then mix in another generous half cup or so.

Save the rest of your buttercream!

Whipped Cream

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar

Beat together with a whisk until peaks form.  Make sure the heavy cream is cold before you start (and it doesn't hurt to pop the bowl into the fridge before starting either!).  Turns out so tasty, even people who don't normally like whipped cream (such as myself) will like it!

Bringing it all together

Now let's assemble all this yummy stuff into a delicious cake!  Carefully remove one of the cooled cakes from the parchment paper and place it onto whatever you'll be presenting the cake on.  At this point it came to my attention that I don't have any pretty serving platters this big, so a cookie sheet is going to have to do (sorry, Jayme!).  Spread the mixed berry buttercream onto the cake, trying to create a horizontal surface for the other cake to rest on.

Normally you would need to trim the top of your cake to make it flat, but since these didn't come out very tall I compensated with the filling.  Carefully remove the other cake from the parchment paper and place it on top of the now filling topped cake.

Using a spatula, smooth the ganache-buttercream onto the cake.  I recommend starting with it on top and working it over the sides.

There was a lot of real estate on top of the cake once I was done icing it, so I mixed several drops of blue food coloring into the remaining buttercream frosting.  Then I scooped it into a plastic baggie and snipped a tiny corner so I could pipe some words and decoration on the cake.

 I brought along the remaining mixed berry mixture (I put the strained liquid back into it) to put on the side with the cake along with the whipped cream.

After enjoying the tasty dinner that Jayme made for us we dug into the cake!  Anjanette brought a cake, too!  She made a marble cake with chocolate frosting, so it worked out perfectly that we had a white cake and a chocolate cake.  Didn't she do a great job decorating it?  Tasted great, too!

Happy Birthday, Jayme!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wrestlemania has moved indoors

A few days ago Hancock and Nova finally started playing together outside in the yard.  It' super funny to watch; Hancock uses his size to his advantage and will grab Nova's legs, but since Nova can't really use his mouth because of the cone, he flips over on to his back to use his legs against Hancock.  And as of a few minutes ago, my once peaceful household full of sleeping cats and dogs is no more.  The pups have decided that the living room is now center stage for their wrestling matches.  It's nice to see them settling in some more, and at least they're not chewing on the furniture (even if they are knocking some things over)!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Meet Hancock and Casanova!

Last Saturday was a very busy day over here.  In addition to making a faboo birthday cake for a good friend (more on that later) we brought home not one, but two brand spankin' new foster dogs.  Since they were arriving on separate transports at the same time, the hubs and I planned to tag team this one and each retrieve a dog.

First to arrive home was Hancock.  He's a red merle (mini?) Australian Shepherd and is about two years old.  He made a nearly 300 mile journey from Hamilton, Illinois to arrive with us via nine very awesome people who assisted in transporting him and several other dogs from certain death in a kill shelter to safety in various rescues.  He was picked up as a stray, but is clearly used to living in a home.  He is very sweet and likes to give hugs and kisses.  He's housebroken and doesn't mind the cats.  The cutest thing about his is the way he lays down, with his little back legs splayed out behind him!  Maybe Hamhocks would be a better name than Hancock!

Scheduled to arrive not long after Hancock was Casanova.  When I went to get him some of the other volunteers at my rescue informed me that my new guy had ripped out the stitches from his recent neutering and that he would (obviously) need to get sewn up again before I could take him home.  Apparently he chose not to play car games with the other dogs on the trip over from Winchester, Kentucky and thought undoing some surgery would be more fun. 

Despite the open wound, Casanova was living up to his name by giving out kisses and taking belly rubs from anyone who would give them.  He's an Australian Shepherd, I think with a little Rottweiler mixed in.  So while he was getting sewn up again I headed back home to finish the aforementioned cake and Thomas went to pick him up when he was done.  The poor guy was still so knocked out when Thomas got him home that he couldn't even stand, just lay there are wag his tail.  But Nova (Casanova is really too long, so we're shortening it) is feeling much better and now proudly wears his cone of shame.  Although we're thinking about renaming it the cone of destruction, because he is constantly knocking things over with it!  Nova's got a great personality; he's very confident and friendly and loves everybody (and may love the cats just a little too much, but at least he knows they're not snacks!).

Yesterday Hancock and Nova actually started wrestling and playing the yard together instead of just coexisting.  It's very exciting to see them settling in and having some fun!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Dave Update

The other day I was thinking about Dave and wondering how he's settling in to his new home, so this email update from his forever family had perfect timing:


We are not sure Bo and Dave are getting along very well.  (J/K) Please see attached photos.  Jake, formerly known as Dave, is doing great!  He fits in perfectly.  Him and Bo are best buds.  The kids love him and he is becoming quite the Momma's boy, following me around all day and cuddling on the couch.  He has been walking 1.5-2.0 miles of mine and Bo's walking route everyday and loves it.  His stamina is not quite there yet to go farther and I don't want him to burn too many calories.  Our vet feels confident that the palsey he has from the head injury could heal itself.  Already, because of all the mouthing and stuff him and Bo are doing, his eating has improved dramatically.  Thank you again for everything.  We love him.

 Bo on the left, Dave (Jake) on the right

Dave (Jake) on the right again

 Dave (Jake) on the left - look at how muddy they are!

To say that this email and pictures give me the warm fuzzies would be a serious understatement.  I can't even put into words how happy it makes me to see Dave (well, Jake) snuggling with his new brother Bo and to hear how much his family loves him.  I mean, look at them!  You can just tell that they're inseparable and totally best friends (and well cared for).

Yay, Dave!