Church in the Red Tier

We have been to church for in-person worship exactly once over the past 15 months, for Trevor's delayed confirmation on March 28. (The rest of the time we've been attending from home via livestream.) Our county had just moved from the very restrictive Purple Tier (Widespread) to the slightly less restrictive Red Tier (Substantial), which allowed for in-person worship at up to 25% capacity. Besides the blocked off pews and mask requirement, there were dozens of other changes in place to help keep everyone safe. These included things like self-serve communion, signing in for contract tracing, closed drinking fountains and bathroom restrictions, a stationary offering basket vs. the usual passed plates, and signs reminding us to stay 'at least one polar bear apart.'

Church in the Red Tier (affiliate link)

Trevor recently had his second vaccination, which means we're closing in on the day when the family is officially considered fully vaccinated. Our county has been at the Orange Tier (Moderate) for a couple of weeks, and today California is ending the tiered system. I don't know that we'll be returning to church right away, as online worship has worked well for us. But when we do it, will be interesting to see which changes from the COVID era remain in place.  


State Foods Bucket List

The first foreign country I visited as a child was Canada. Canadian food is not that different from American food and most of what my family and I ate there was at least similar to what we ate at home. But I distinctly remember trying a new-to-me beverage during that visit to Canada. If Canada Dry was available in California in the 1970s, I'd never seen it or even heard of it. When I first tried that deliciously crisp and refreshing ginger ale way back when, I fell in love.

I have similar food memories from childhood travels within the United States. I have clear memories of fresh huckleberry pie in Oregon and trying Tim's Cascade Chips for the first time at my cousins' house in Washington. I distinctly remember reindeer sausage on my first trip to Alaska and deep-dish pizza the first time I went to Chicago. To me, vacation has always been a time to try new foods and drinks. 

Times have changed, in that you don't necessarily have to travel to try foods from faraway places. I am fairly sure I could get Canada Dry, huckleberry pie, Tim's Cascade Chips, reindeer sausage, and deep-dish pizza either at my local store or delivered directly to my house within 24 hours of an Internet order. But that's not nearly as fun as eating something new where it originated or is most beloved.  

With that in mind, I put together a bucket list of each state's official foods.

The goal is to eat those foods in their particular state. So while I've obviously eaten peaches many times, I've never eaten one in Georgia and thus will not mark it off until I do. Here is my progress so far, as best I can remember. As you can see, I have a lot of traveling and eating to do!


Here's a clean copy you can print.


Note that these are only the officially-designated state foods. I'm still going to seek out all the local favorites I can. Some of my best travel memories are from trying foods that aren't on this list, like Runzas in Nebraska, burgoo in Kentucky, and a Gerber sandwich, Ted Drewes, and Gooey Butter Cake in Missouri


S'mores Pie

The idea of a s'mores pie popped into my brain a few weeks ago and I haven't been able to shake it. So I made one to share with friends. 

I started with a graham cracker crust, filled that with a layer of whipped ganache, and then added a sort of marshmallow cheesecake layer. 

I sprinkled marshmallows on top...

.... then used my heat gun to toast the marshmallows. We've found dozens of uses for the heat gun in the year and a half since I've had it, but this was the first time I used it for food. It worked like a charm!

It was good. Not amazing, but definitely good. The tang of the cheesecake layer was a bit out of place. And that layer was definitely out of proportion - way too much compared with the chocolate and graham cracker. The next time I make this, I might skip the cream cheese entirely. Ooh, maybe replace it with a marshmallow ice cream? And I want to add more graham cracker - maybe as a crumble beneath the top marshmallow layer.  We'll see. This recipe definitely has possibility. 

Here's the recipe as I made it. If you have other ideas for improving my pie, let me know in the comments!


S'mores Pie

Graham cracker crust:
I used a store-bought graham cracker crust. Because we were taking this to a friend's house, I wanted to use a disposable pan so I could leave them the leftovers. When I make graham cracker crust from scratch, I combine a sleeve of graham crackers (crushed into crumbs) with 3 T. brown sugar and 6 T. melted butter. 


Heat 1/2 c. heavy cream for 45 seconds in the microwave. Add one 4 oz. bar of Ghiradelli 70% Cacao, chopped into small chunks. Let sit for 3 minutes, then stir until it is smooth. Put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to chill. 

Marshmallow cheesecake layer:

Whip 1 c. heavy cream. Set it aside. In a separate bowl, combine 8 oz. of cream cheese and 2 c. of mini marshmallows. Heat for 30 seconds in the microwave, stir, then heat for 30 more seconds. Whip for 2 minutes or until smooth and glossy. Fold in the whipped cream. 

Remove the ganache from the refrigerator. Without cleaning the beaters, whip the ganache until it has doubled in volume and lightened in color. Spoon the whipped ganache into the graham cracker crust. Spread it into an even layer that covers all of the crust. Spoon the cheesecake layer on top of the ganache layer. Refrigerate at least one hour or overnight. 

Sprinkle 1.5 c. mini marshmallows on top of the pie, then use the heat gun to heat them. The marshmallows will swell and brown. When they're evenly toasted, cut the pie into slices and serve. 


How to Draw a Realistic Popsicle

I know it's not technically summer yet, but it definitely feels like it is. School is out, the weather is warm, and the days are long. It's the perfect time for a popsicle - eating one, drawing one, or both!

Drawing a realistic popsicle is surprisingly easy. I did my project using Prismacolor art markers (affiliate link here and below). Because they are alcohol-based instead of water-based, the colors blend easily and the shadows and highlights look very lifelike.  

How to Draw a Realistic Popsicle



Color the basic shape of the popsicle using Deco Blue, Brick White, and Crimson Red. Color the stick Sand. 

Add highlights to the popsicle using Cool Grey 10% to color in three long rectangles, as shown below. The colors will blend to provide highlights. Color the right side of the stick with Light Walnut. Add some Cool Grey 10% to the right side and base of the popsicle and stick to make a shadow. 

Use the Deco Blue, Brick White, and Crimson Red markers to add an additional layer of color to the areas outlined below. Add a tiny bit of additional shadowing to the right of the existing shadow using Cool Grey 30%. 

That's all there is to it! Your popsicle is done. 

Steve and Trevor got me a dozen new Prismacolor markers for Mother's Day, so this project was a fun excuse to play with some of my new shades. I gave them a chart of the colors I already had and asked them to pick markers from Dick Blick's open stock (the best and cheapest place to get individual Prismacolors) to complement what I already had. They did a great job! These are the 42 colors I now have: 

While I would love to have all of the shades, my collection is now big enough to meet most of my coloring needs. Although now that I think about it, when I get my next dozen markers for some gift-giving occasion, I may wonder how I ever lived with *just* 42 before!


Donut Cake

Along with Trevor's donut birthday banner, I got him some donut-themed gifts and baked him a donut cake. It was the easiest decorated cake I've ever made. It barely counts as decorated - it's that easy. Affiliate links below. 

Donut Cake



Follow the directions on the Cake Release to prepare a round tube pan. I don't own a round tube pan, but I made due with a bundt pan. I took extra steps to deal with the fluted pan; skip those if you have a smooth tube pan. 

Bake the cake and let it cool completely. Frost the fluted area with buttercream, filling in the dips. Refrigerate the cake until the frosting is solid. Dip a knife into hot water, wipe it clean, then use it to smooth any ridges in the frosting. You want a nice, smooth surface (in other words, exactly what you'd naturally get if you use the correct pan). 

Make ganache by gently heating the cream, then adding chopped chocolate. Let it sit for a few minutes, then stir until it is smooth and glossy. Set the cake on a tray over a sheet of parchment paper. Let the ganache cool until it flows smoothly (without being runny), then spoon it over the cake. 

At this point, Steve walked by and pointed out that most donuts are dipped rather than drizzled, giving them a cleaner edge. He's totally right, but I was already committed so I continued to spoon on the ganache. For that cleaner look, pour your ganache into a baking pan that is slightly larger than the cake, dip the top, and then invert it onto the tray. Regardless of which method you use, the final step is to add the candies to mimic the sprinkles on a donut. 

Here's the birthday boy with his cake. I thought I was being clever using the 5 (which I thought was left over from his 5th birthday party, but apparently not) along with a standard candle to make a 15, but the flames were a wee bit mismatched. Oh well!

Because it was just the three of us, we have plenty left over. Not that I'm complaining - the cake was delicious!