Monday, June 11, 2012

Happy 30th Birthday, E.T.!

Today, everyone's favorite friend from far, far away turns thirty. Thirty!

I know.  I feel old, too.

Of course, E.T. is a very special film for those of us who were children in the 80's (or at least those of us who can remember being children in the 80's – if you can't remember the Reagan administration, jump to the next generation grouping and we'll talk about the Power Rangers in a few years...).

Sure, there was the whole 'Kids V. Adults' thing, but there was also candy! And Star Wars references! And casual swears! Of course kids loved it.

And E.T. was also an especially special film for me, personally, because it is the first film I can remember going to see in a theater. 

I saw it with my brother and my grandparents, and I remember being absolutely TERRIFIED. Specifically during the cornfield scene. And the whole E.T. turns white and is getting eaten by a raccoon in a ditch scene. And, oh lord, the frog scene! 

Actually, now that I think about it, I think E.T. might be partially responsible for my ranidaphobia...

My mama made this most excellent E.T. cake for my second birthday!

But I also remember loving it, too.  My whole family did. We went to see it for rereleases, we had the board game, the Atari game, t-shirts, mom sewed up an E.T. costume for my older brother and even years later it was enthusiastically worn again by my little brother.

E.T. even made an appearance on my second birthday cake come September of 1982.

So today, for E.T's birthday, I drew up the Gertie and E.T. up above. 

I remember really being into E.T. while growing up in part because it had a little girl in it ("Look, she has toys I have and does things I do!" thought little Alicia) with two older brothers just about my brothers' ages, too ("Look, her brothers have toys my brothers have! And they do what my brothers do!").

I totally identified with the older brothers/little annoying loudmouth sister dynamic, even at a very young age. I liked to think I was a bizarro Gert living an alien-free life in a divorce-free home with my adventurous older brothers. 

Except all the blondes were brunette and all the brunettes were blonde in my life.

Anyway, that's why I chose to pay tribute to Gertie and E.T. instead of the usual Elliott and E.T. relationship.

 E.T. came to our home for Halloween in '82, with and without his head, and then showed up again later for another brother. Mama made the costume.

Last night I had the chance to catch a screening of a lovely 35 mm print of E.T. at the Alamo Drafthouse as part of their Summer of '82 series, and it was a total pleasure. If you live in Austin, definitely go catch it. It's great to get to see it in its big screen glory again.

It holds up! The corn field scene still terrifies me. It still makes me laugh. It still makes me cry.I still get goosebumps.

The only difference is that 30 years later I find myself going, "Wait?  Why is there a corn field next to their fancy California suburban houses?"

But I promise you, that was the only time I let my adult-sized cynic's brain take over.

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Garden Villains

I normally don't consider myself a very squeamish person, really. Well, certain creatures bother me, but I'm never had anything against creepy crawlies before. Bugs be bugs.

That is until I had to pick them off of my veggies (and sometimes also destroy them) with my bare hands. Uuuuugggh! Yuckers!

It bothers me enough to have to wake up in the morning to go hunting for these stupid, nasty garden villains that I decided to draw up a li'l something for myself. And there you have it.

Let it all out, Alicia.

Here's a little backstory for you... This year, my husband and I decided to try our hand at growing up some veggies for the first time ever. I've done some yard gardening, and had plenty of potted porch plants in my apartment days. Plus, we do happen to be handy do-it-yourselfers, so working on our own little natural garden seemed like a nice co-hobby. Right?

Right! And it was. See the lovely example above of what our zucchini haul USED to be...

Until we discovered that such a thing exists as squash vine borers. And cucumber beetles. And whatever those green caterpillars that eat everything are. And lord knows how many other problems.

Now I have dreams about finding cucumber beetle eggs everywhere. Gross.

But now I also know that it can happen, which means I can (try to) prevent it, and I know what to look for and how best to treat it naturally. I will try to keep the rest of our cucurbits from a sad fate similar to their brethren, dammit!

It's like how Suzie from Viva Verde (my go-to gardening guru friend) reminded me – I might be a first time gardener, but our garden is not a first time garden (that's one reason we fell in love with our house in the first place). These nasties were just waiting for the feast to show up again, and sure enough, it did!

With that in mind I shall soldier on, and next season (or next year or what have you) I will vanquish my garden villains before they can foil my good deeds and hard work. Again. I hope...

Besides, creepy crawlies or not, veggie gardening is totally worth it. It's like sciencey magic that you get to eat!

(And if all else fails you might just see more garden pests showing up in therapeutic art doodles). Pin It

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Family Recipe Pineapple Upside Down Cake Time!

If you have read this blog regularly over the years, you should well know by now that my interest in baking as well as my baking skill set (along with many other skills and talents) were basically inherited from my mom...and hers were inherited from her mother...and hers were inherited from her mother. So on, so forth, etc., etc.

Thus, many of the recipes I use are ones that my mother used...and my grandmother used...and sometimes they were even used by my great grandmother.

So when I had the pleasure of my mom paying me a visit this past weekend, we seized the opportunity to bake a family recipe together.

Our recipe of choice this time was one from my grandmother, Gammon: pineapple upside down cake.

My mama has very fond memories of this recipe. She has told me that many times a pineapple upside down cake (or an orange juice cake) would be waiting for her and her brothers as an after school snack when they got home.

Yeah, I know, cake from scratch for a "snack," right? And no, they were not obese, for any of the health obsessed who might be reading this (although I do question why the health obsessed would be reading my cake-filled blog anyway?).

The cake is, indeed, yummy. When we baked it this weekend, it was gone, crumbs and all, in a few short hours (though I reckon it helped that we had guests over).

I figured I'd try my hand at sharing the recipe here, although be forewarned – my grandmother was not in the habit of writing down measurements for her recipes. This often means her recipes consist of a simple list of ingredients followed by "...mix the ingredients together and bake until done." She basically was the Queen of Eyeballing Measurements and the Duchess of Knowing When Things Are Done By Just Looking at Them.

Hmmm...I may have discovered few other inherited traits of mine! Which also does a lot to explain why I never even try to post recipes...

My mom and I did our best to figure out what some of the missing measurements and steps were and I think we did a good job, but we may not have perfected it just yet. The cake ended up yummy all the same, though, and Mama said the taste of it gave her flashbacks of her childhood, so it must've been right!

Also, please keep in mind I've never really written a recipe for someone else to follow, let alone for various strangers on the internet, so I'm very nervous about unleashing cooking directions to the masses when I tend to be very directionless in the kitchen myself. I eyeball, I guess, I make crap up, and if things don't turn out perfectly, I improvise, adjust, or I try again another day.

So that's my best advice to you, too.

Good luck, and enjoy!

Pineapple Upside Down Cake (a la Gammon)

You'll need a well seasoned cast iron skillet to bake it all in, and the following:

For the cake batter:

  • 1/2 cup butter (Gammon only ever used salted butter, Mama says) 
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour (it says sifted, but Mama says Gammon never sifted it)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
For the pineapple top:
  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • brown sugar (amount unspecified – we tried out 1/2 cup, so at least that or maybe 3/4 cup?)
  • crushed pineapple, drained (we used one 8 oz can and it was good, but 16 oz may be good, too)
  • about 6 canned pineapple slices*
  • about 6 maraschino cherries*


A quick note about the pineapple rings and cherries – Mama says that Gammon never put the cherries in there – that was Mama's own addition to the recipe. And as far as pineapple rings go, Mama said that most often Gammon made it with just the crushed pineapple, but she would use the pineapple rings if she had them on hand. Therefore, if you decide to skip the rings and the cherries, I would think you should definitely use the larger amount of crushed pineapple.


1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.

2. In a mixing bowl (or in a mixer), cream butter and sugar for the cake batter until light. Add eggs one at a time, mixing in thoroughly. Add dry ingredients alternating with milk. Add vanilla.

Note: Mama always makes this cake with the help of the mixer, as do I, but Mama said that Gammon often simply mixed this cake with a spoon in a bowl using softened butter.

3. Melt the remaining 1/2 cup butter and the brown sugar in the cast iron skillet. Let the brown sugar dissolve into the butter for a bit. Let it get to a consistency where it doesn't immediately close up when you pull a spoon through it, but it is still fluid.

4. Add drained, crushed pineapple over the bottom of the skillet. Stir it up a bit to mix up the pineapple and butter/sugar mixture.

Note: If there is any excess liquid from the pineapple making it too soupy, let it cook off for a bit until it's back to the consistency it was before adding the pineapple. We drained our pineapple but it still added way too much liquid to the skillet.

5. If you're opting for pineapple slices and/or cherries, blot any excess juice from them and nestle then down the the bottom of the skillet in whatever pattern or fashion you like. We wiggled the pineapple slices down in a simple flower-esque pattern around the skillet.

6. Spoon the cake batter on top of skillet mixture a dallop at a time, evening it out if you need to once it's all on there, and then place the skillet in the oven for about 45-50 minutes.

7. Remove cake from oven (be very careful, that skillet is HOT!). Run a knife around the outside of the cake to loosen it from sides, and turn out the cake by inverting it onto serving plate (Mama reminded me to make sure it's a serving plate that can take the heat without cracking!).

Note: A cast iron skillet is very heavy, and very hot. I turn out the cake by wearing lots of ovens mitts and carefully and securely holding the serving plate on top of the skillet and then turning it all over at once. I'm not gonna lie. I find this to be the hardest thing about this recipe. So please, be careful. And remember to make sure you have a nice big spot cleared off to place everything once you flip it!

 8. Although not ideal, if any pineapple bits happen to have stuck to the skillet during the flip, you can scrape them off and fill them back into the cake where they belong.

And that's it! Now eat the cake and enjoy its pineappley, buttery sweetness.
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