Greetings from Opera Land…

I realize it’s been a slow week here at Sing For Your Supper, but I have good reason. You see, I’ve been busy with this…………

 

Charming, isn’t it? (I feel a little like Eddie Munster…). This is my costume for our production of The Mikado. These past couple of weeks have been filled with non-stop hip hop dancing, booty shaking, high note singing, EXHAUSTING, yet FUN, hard work. And tomorrow night we open. I’m expecting an extremely positive audience reaction- it’s hilarious. Any of you DFW-ers out there should definitely try to make one of the performances, I guarantee you’ll have a great time. :)

This will all be over in a couple of weeks and I’ll be back to posting 3 times a week again, I promise. For now, just bear with me…and wish me luck! ;)

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A Bittersweet Blogiversary…

This month marks the 3 year blogiversary for Sing For Your Supper. Pretty exciting, if I do say so! 3 years of good food, lots of growing and learning and lots of truly wonderful readers. It’s amazing to look back and see how far I’ve come since April 2008- my pictures don’t entirely suck anymore, I’ve learned a thing or two about food styling/plating, and I’ve made SO many amazing friends. That’s something to celebrate. I was planning on making a big, gaudy, overdone cake with gobs and gobs of buttercream frosting. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately for me, it actually doesn’t.

See, there’s actually something about me that I’ve never shared with you because I like to keep my blog perky and sunshine-y. But there’s a part of my life that definitely is NOT sunshine-y. For over 5 years now, I’ve dealt with something that has controlled my life. I get sick all the time. I won’t go into detail because this is after all, a food blog; but let’s just say it encompasses all degrees of being sick- both trashcan and toilet. Sometimes I black out. Most times I throw up. But every single time I’m completely miserable for at least a day or two; sometimes a week. And poor Joel has had to put up with me. I feel like every other week he was nursing me on top of taking care of everything else while I was sick in bed. It sucks. This has been my life for 5 years. You may (or may not) have noticed that I haven’t been posting quite as frequently as I normally like to. To be honest, I haven’t cooked. I haven’t baked. I haven’t taken much pleasure in food lately because it always ends up making me sick. I hate to be sick. And no, I don’t have a disease or terminal illness (thank the good Lord), that’s not the problem. The problem is food. Food is the enemy. Or, I guess I should say food was the enemy.

We’ve pretty much figured out that I’m lactose-intolerant. If you know me at all you know how dear cheese is to me (I get cheese in my Christmas stocking, for heaven’s sake!). Cheese, milk, sour cream, butter…all of it. I ADORE dairy. But it definitely does not adore me. In fact, most times, it makes me feel like I’m going to die! Ugh! The pain, nausea and sheer discomfort is too much to bear. So I’ve cut it out. No more cheese. I was sulking and drowning in my sorrows for awhile. I mean, how UNFAIR is it for someone who loves cheese as much as I do to have a dairy intolerance?! But I sat down and really thought about what that would mean for my life- no more headaches, no more unexplained sickness in the middle of the night, no more scrutinizing over every piece of food I eat, no more worrying. As the bigger picture came into focus, a huge, heavy weight was lifted off my shoulders. That’s a pretty good feeling. So I “put on my big girl pants” and dealt with it.

The verdict? I. Feel. Amazing. I have a life again. I know it sounds a wee bit dramatic (and I’ll admit that I’m guilty of an occasional over-dramatization now and then), but I’m being 100% real and drama-free with you- my life has changed forever and I’m thrilled. Sure, I miss my beloved cheese like there’s no tomorrow and a little piece of me dies (ok, now I’m being dramatic) when I walk past the Blue Bell section of the grocery store, but I’ll be danged if it ain’t worth it! ;)

So, there you have it. That’s the real truth about what’s been going on around here. And as for that big, gaudy, overdone cake…I’ll get around to it, I promise! Nothing is going to change here at Sing For Your Supper, so don’t worry. Although I’m definitely going to be testing and trying some new dairy-free recipes to share with my lactose-intolerant readers (I know you’re out there!)- which is actually something I’m really, really looking forward to. Thanks so much for celebrating this 3 year blogiversary with me. I know I didn’t post a happy-go-lucky recipe with beautiful photos and a couple of care-free paragraphs, but to me, this blogiversary has meant so much more! I love sharing my real life with you and am so fortunate to have readers who are so supportive and encouraging! Here’s to 3 more (dairy-free!) fantastic years! Cheers!

 

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A Big (and Important!) Month!

A sweet food blogger friend of mine, Nikki, recently inspired me to do something bigger and better with my blog. As you all know, based on the two ads I have on my site, I make a little money from my blog. Foodbuzz pays me a small amount of money based on every thousand hits I receive. It’s not much, but it pays for the monthly hosting costs for my site, some groceries and most importantly, my cheese addiction. ;)

Recently, Nikki had a friend pass away, leaving his very young family behind. Nikki donated her entire earnings for the month of January to this young family to help them get through these difficult times. Isn’t that wonderful? We need more people in the world like this, which is why I’ve decided to follow in Nikki’s footsteps. It’s been two years since we adopted our sweet Izzy girl, and since that time, Joel and I have developed a passion for helping rescue societies and shelters as much as we can. That means helping to spread awareness about homeless animals, sharing pictures of animals in need of adoption on my facebook page, encouraging others to adopt instead of buying puppy mill puppies, and more. But really, the best gift we can give is money. There are SO many homeless animals that come into the shelters and rescues needing surgery, healthcare, food, constant attention, and much, much more. Izzy did. When she was picked up as a stray, she had been abused and needed immediate medical attention. Rescue societies depend largely on donations to make all that possible. That’s why I’ve decided to donate my entire Foodbuzz earnings for the month of February to a local animal rescue- Homeward Bound, in honor of Izzy and her 2nd “Adoptiversary” coming up on February 20th. It won’t be a huge amount, but it will certainly be enough to keep some special homeless animal warm, fed and comfortable.

So, if you feel it in your hearts, please tell your friends- every click my site receives is more money to Homeward Bound. And more money to sweet, loving animals like Izzy.

Thanks so much, Nikki, for inspiring me to do this! Thank you all, so, SO much!

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A Little Christmas Spirit…

BOY, do I love Christmastime!!! And you’d better believe I squeeze out every second I can- I’m not letting one single holly, jolly moment go to waste! And based on your emails, tweets and facebook comments, I happen to know that there are quite a lot of you out there that get into the spirit of things just as much as I do! So, I decided (just for the fun of it) to post a few pictures of some of my favorite Christmas keepsakes. Ornaments are a very big deal to me- I’m not one of these people who decorate their tree in one shade of glass balls. Nope. I need colored lights, candy canes, precious glass balls of every color and all the funky homemade stuff my husband and I made as kids for our parents’ trees. I love every single bit of it. If this doesn’t get you in the holiday spirit, you probably need a good smacking. ;)

First up, my great-grandmother, Baba’s bells. I have about 30 of these little white bells; they used to be on Baba’s tree. I treasure anything that was once on Baba’s tree!!

This is my little kitchen tree. All the ornaments are food-related (yes, that’s a taco ornament you see in the background). ;)

Yikes. I made this in elementary school. And no, those are not giant striped turkey legs roasting on the fire….they’re stockings. Obviously.

An homage to my quirky side- our Christmas tree wouldn’t be complete without all my Nightmare Before Christmas ornaments!

I think these are my favorites. Joel and I each made these in Sunday school (at different times) as kids…before we even knew each other. They hung on our parents’ trees for years and years; and now they hang our own tree side by side every year.

From our first married Christmas…

Just one of many, many cupcake ornaments!

Baba gave this to me as a wedding gift. It’s significant because she and Pop were married in car (it’s a great story, I just don’t have time to go into right now!). My sister has one too and we both cherish them.

Joel’s mother bought this for me

This is the most special one of all. When we were in high school (long before we had even started dating), Joel brought this to me as a Christmas present. There’s a little button on the bottom that plays jingle bells when you push it; I sat in the floor pushing the button over and over again wishing Joel were my boyfriend! I knew right then I wanted to marry him! I can never hang this on our tree without crying…

So there you have it! Some of my favorite, most precious ornaments and keepsakes. And those don’t even scratch the surface- I have SO much more! I hope everyone is enjoying the Christmas season so far…baking, decorating, singing carols, and being with friends and family! Thanks for letting me share my memories with you!

Happy Baking!

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Giving Thanks…

There are so many things (SO many!) to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season. Sometimes it even overwhelms me a little bit just to think how very blessed I am. From the little things like having a wonderful boss and getting along SO well with every single one of my co-workers, being able to have Mondays and Fridays off so I have lots of time for baking and being in my kitchen, having such a great relationship with so many other amazing food bloggers, and the beautiful color of the trees and leaves; to the big things like having the most amazing, supportive, understanding and giving husband- that is something that should never ever be taken for granted, being able to talk to my mom every day on the phone and see my parents often, my sister and her sweet family and all the rest of my wonderful family, a sweet, funny and affectionate little dog who has brought so much joy to our lives, a house that’s always warm and inviting, and secure jobs for Joel and me…to name a very few.

But most importantly, the thing I am most thankful for this Thanksgiving season….the life of my great-grandmother, Leila Hazlett (Baba). I just wrote about her 100th birthday last month- it was a time of joy and celebration, and Baba got to see her entire family and be near them. We all got to spend the afternoon with her laughing, crying, sharing stories and simply being together. I think it was what Baba had been waiting for for a long time. I thank God for that afternoon….it was the last time I got to see Baba. She passed away this weekend. Which brings me to reason I’m so very thankful- Baba is in a place where she doesn’t need a wheelchair; she can run, jump and sing with a heavenly choir, she has no pain, she can taste good food again and walk down streets of gold. After over 20 years of being a widow, she can finally run into her husband’s arms and sit and talk with him every single day…for eternity. But most importantly- Baba is with our Lord. She’s finally in Heaven. Praise God! PRAISE GOD!

So, this Thanksgiving, I am so very, very thankful that our Baba is finally right where she’s wanted to be for a very long time, looking down on us. Happy Thanksgiving, Baba. I love you so much and will always and forever remember what you have given me.

Happy, happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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Happy 100th Birthday, Baba!

Tomorrow is my great-grandmother, Leila Hazlett’s 100th birthday. Wow. There aren’t enough words for me to express how much this woman means to me (and to my entire family) and how very blessed and lucky I am to still have her in my life. In fact, it’s a good thing that I’m typing this, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to finish my sentences at all….I can hardly talk about Baba without tearing up. I know there’s no way you can know how special Baba is or what she means to us. But believe me when I tell you, this is one amazing woman.

Most people look up to their grandmothers and try to be like them, etc. I don’t just look up to Baba, I channel her. I strive, on a daily basis to be the kind of woman she was and is. She raised 4 kids and took care of a husband during wars, the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl; she didn’t have ready made pie crusts, boxed brownie mixes or bags of frozen vegetables, yet there were always warm, delicious meals on the table every single day.  She fed, clothed and nursed an entire household and did it with a smile on her face. She and Pop had the kind of marriage every couple dreams of- trusting, passionate, caring. As kids, she’d let us play with her old paper dolls, rummage through her jewelry boxes and play with her old bottle collection. She put together little cricket boxes for my sister and me filled with small little trinkets and tidbits that would probably be worthless to most people, but to us they’re treasures. She had the entire family over for Sunday dinner week after week. When I spent the night, she’d let me take a bath in her big claw-foot tub with her good bath beads and let me use her cold cream (to this day, I still love the smell of Ponds cold cream); then I’d go to sleep wearing one of her long nightgowns. She told us stories. SO many stories! The same stories that I’ll tell my children and grandchildren someday.This is no ordinary woman. She is a proud, strong, graceful Southern lady and she’s everything I want to be.

And she was one heck of a cook. Every time I step in my kitchen, I try to channel Baba. I now take pride in cooking meals and taking care of my home and husband. I have family over every chance I get. This is what Baba taught us- take pride in your family and cherish them. And serve them hot, steaming plates of fried chicken, homemade buttermilk biscuits and a gorgeous, flaky, golden peach cobbler. Food is important. Food brings a family together around a table. Baba’s peach cobbler is sublime. It’s what I’ll eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day in Heaven. I’ve never made one on my own before. I’ve always been afraid of falling short. Maybe this is the year to honor Baba and my heritage with the dish that holds my family together like glue. We’ll see. This blog and all my cooking successes and disasters is dedicated to Baba. This is why I’m so proud to cook – because every time I create a new recipe for my family, it brings me one step closer to being more like Baba. I thank God for her. I’m so lucky that she’s gotten to be a part of so many important events in my life and my sister’s life. She got to see us both get married and begin our own families. She’s gotten to hear all about my operas and my travels overseas. She’s seen my marriage blossom and grow and she’s gotten to see what a wonderful, godly man I married. Baba has impacted every life she’s encountered and our family is SO blessed to be celebrating the 100th birthday of the most special woman in the world.

Happy Birthday, sweet Baba. I love you.

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Back to the Real World…

HELLOOOOO! We’re back! We’re tan and probably about 5 pounds chubbier than we used to be, but we’re happy to be home! Omigosh, y’all – we had SUCH a fantastic time in Cancun! The place we stayed at was just amazing- the food was great, our room was great, the pools (there were like, 7 or 8 pools including a lazy river!) were awesome, the people were super friendly and the beach….oh man, the beach was just pure heaven! It wasn’t crowded at all; in fact, you could always get a fantastic spot on the beach or by the pool at any time of day…ahh, to be there again, sitting under a large tiki umbrella snacking on chips and guacamole, sipping on tropical drinks….I’m telling you, pure heaven. However, it is good to be home. We certainly missed our sweet Izzy Bear (although I don’t think she missed us nearly as much! She was livin’ it up at my parents’ house, getting treats and toys and torturing her ‘Aunt’ Beatrice, my mom’s dog), and I definitely missed all of you! Here are just a few pictures from our trip- enjoy!

And finally, one of the pictures our friend Andrea took- she’s seriously amazing!

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See You In A Week!!

We’re headed to Mexico for vacation with our good friends Michael and Andrea! I’ll be back next week! Don’t be jealous…. ;) I’ll miss you!

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Welcome to My Kitchen!

I absolutely love it when food bloggers post pictures of their kitchens on their blogs- I love to see other people’s kitchens and get an inside look at where it all happens! It’s so much fun to see personalities come to life through that person’s kitchen style; the way they decorate, what colors they love, what kind of gadgets they like to use, what cookbooks they display, etc. So I decided that after 2 years of food blogging, it was about time you all got to see where it all happens! So……welcome to my kitchen!

Looking in from the entrance to the dining room. The kitchen is right off of the dining room and a lot of the time I end up using the tables as extra counter space or a cookie/cake cooling station.

I love this shelf! This is where I keep all my Fiestaware plates and bowls- and lots of other colorful odds and ends!

This is the dining room. We don’t have a breakfast area, really; just one big area with two small sections (sort of). This is the table I take all my pictures on, and it’s my great-grandmother’s furniture- it’s been in the family a long time!

Close-up of the dining room table. I just painted it- it used to be black and white striped (which you’ve probably noticed in all of my old pictures- there were always stripes in the background!)

The “breakfast area”- sort of. Basically just the other half of the dining room. The kitchen is just off to the left there.

And here we are, finally- the kitchen!

My favorite picture in the house!

The American Woman’s cookbook (the green one) is the first cookbook my great-grandmother bought as a 19 year-old bride over 80 years ago. And in the background is my new apron (the pink one) that hubby gave me for my birthday last week!

The smallest pantry known to man…*sigh*

Looking into the living room from the dining room

And of course, my kitchen wouldn’t be nearly as happy and full of love if these two characters weren’t in it!

So there you have it- my cozy little kitchen (…and dining room)! This is where it all happens- the good, the bad and (definitely), the ugly! I really hope you’ve enjoyed the “tour”!

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Ok, I know for a fact that there are LOTS of us out there; hard-working people who’s passion in life is baking, baking and more baking. We’ve baked and decorated cakes for our co-workers, made cookies for our friends’ baby showers, catered parties with trays and trays of beautiful baked goods, and maybe even won a few baking contests (hehe!). We’re bakers. We’ve worked hard and have finally developed a sense of pride and accomplishment in what we do. Now it’s getting closer and closer to being time to take that next (and giant) step forward: opening a bakery. If you’re anything like me, you might be wondering how the heck this thing works. How hard is it? How much money will I make? What if I suck? (Ok, you might not be wondering that- maybe that’s just me!)

Photo: Catherine Ruehle, Sublime Bakery

I’ve had the (freaking sweet!) opportunity to do an interview with Catherine Ruehle, owner and head honcho at the Sublime Bakery in Fort Worth, Texas. As some of you may remember, I won a cookie baking contest back in December and the Sublime Bakery started selling my winning cookies. I had the pleasure of having lunch with Chef Catherine and getting to know her; and she graciously agreed to give me this interview- how cool is that? I thought it might be a big help to those of us who aspire to open our own bakeries someday.  Catherine has recently been on TWO Food Network Cake Challenges (they’ll be airing soon!), has worked with David Tutera, and her cake business is among the best in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. And now we get to “hang out” with her for a few! Cool! A lot of these questions came straight from you- I asked the girls on a popular cooking forum what questions they’d like to ask a professional baker and they came up with some great ones! I threw them in there with a few of my own and I think we came up with a pretty good interview! Here goes:

Just how crazy are the hours? I think so many of us have these grand ideas of strolling into the bakery around 8 AM, popping a few cakes in the oven, greet a steady flow of happy customers until around 5 or so, then call it a day. How realistic is that? Yeah, well, that’s not very realistic, but it depends on how your business is structured and how many people are sharing the work load. When I first opened I worked from 5am to 8pm 6 days a week. Now that I have more staff, we don’t have the pastry case for walk in, and we open 2 hours later each day, I work from 8am to 5pm on Tuesday and Wednesday, a bit later on Thursday, a LOT later on Friday (sometimes past midnight to get the wedding cakes done for Saturday), and Saturdays vary depending on deliveries. But, I also put in at least 3 hours at home every day after work (on the computer) and I always have a LOT to do on my “days off” as well. When it’s all said and done, I usually work 70-80 hours a week. If you’re not prepared to live your work then you just shouldn’t consider opening a shop.

What do you think is the most important tip for successful baking? Start with the best ingredients and make everything from scratch, every day. Don’t skimp for the sake of a couple of pennies profit, don’t cut corners. Most important, LOVE what you do and hire others who love it too. If you don’t love it the product will suffer, guaranteed! Funny story: a while back, just out of the blue, we were having trouble with our cakes sticking really badly in the cake pans. The cakes were breaking when we turned them out because they were sticking so bad. It was such a pain, we tried everything and just couldn’t figure out why this was happening all of a sudden. Then we had a “staffing change” and someone who was really unhappy left the bakery. Like a miracle, the cakes stopped sticking the very day she left and haven’t stuck again since. True story.

Now, this one is very important: Chocolate or Vanilla- which is better? Personal preference is for Chocolate :) (Good woman!)

I know you can’t give away very much information about your recent Food Network Challenge debut, but if you could sum up the experience in one word, what would it be? There is not one word that could possibly express my experience at Challenge. It was the most amazing professional experience of my life, without a doubt!  My competitors are now my friends, I have Kerry Vincent on speed dial!  It’s stressful, it’s emotionally and physically exhausting but it’s also exhilarating. It was 3 days of absolute heaven for me (I’m genetically inclined toward competition). I am DYING to watch the episode to see what they edit out and what they keep. It is a TV show after all, so you never know what they will make of it!

I know the main attraction at Sublime Bakery is the custom made cakes, but aside from that, what would you say is your number one item? I’ve heard great things about the S’Mores bars! Yes, the S’Mores are big. We also do a lot of gluten free and vegan cupcakes and bakery cakes. And our cheesecake lollipops are a big seller as well.

I think a lot of us really have no idea what goes into starting a baking business (I’m definitely including myself in that!). How difficult was it getting your bakery started? Yikes. That’s a loaded question. The hardest part is dealing with the city for permits and such. It’s a nightmare, I won’t sugar coat it. You need a contractor who’s done it a million times and even then it will be a nightmare. It will cost you at least twice what you budget and you’ll run at least a month late for your opening. Count on it. It’s a lesson in patience and perseverance and it you can get through that it’s good practice for running the business! Oh yeah, and don’t expect to pay yourself for a while, no matter how good you are and how successful your start up is. It takes time.

It seems like styles are constantly changing when it comes to custom cakes- what would you say are the latest trends right now? We’re doing more and more 3-D cakes which makes me very happy because they’re my fave. Clients are also wanting really personal cakes. For example, even our wedding couples are including sculpted figures of their pets or they’re wanting to include personal elements that reflect their hobbies and interests. Color is always trending, right now we’re seeing a lot of greens and purples.

What training/experience would you say is necessary/helpful for those that want to open a bakery? Training is always good but passion and a boat load of cash are absolute necessities.

Any favorite stories/experiences about owning a bakery? How much time do you have? :)

What do you do with any leftover stuff that doesn’t sell? Personally, if it were me, I’d most likely end up in the kitchen floor, shoving my face full of day-old cake! But somehow I doubt you do that! Well, one of the reasons we stopped the pastry case is because I couldn’t stand having product left over at the end of the day, even if it was just a couple of bars and cupcakes. Everything is special order now so we have no waste! I would usually give leftover product to my neighboring businesses and of course I’d take some home to my kids!

Ok, last one: Any advice for aspiring bakery owners? Show no fear and work like a dog!!

Wow- very, very helpful info! Thank you SO much for taking the time to give us all a little insight!! I really hope this has been helpful to some of you aspiring bakery owners! You can become a fan of Sublime Bakery on Facebook, or follow on Twitter to keep up with Catherine and all the cool things she’s taking part in!

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