Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lagging, as usual...

...oh. Right. I'm supposed to remember to update this thing.

Never fear, dearest readers (if you're still out there!)--you may stop holding your breath in just a short while.

An update on the last two months (gulp) is forthcoming.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Catching Up...

I can't seem to stop baking. It's really becoming an issue--although I am not complaining. I love being able to bake again every day...I had forgotten how much I need that daily time for meditation. I realize that chocolate chip cookies can't be a religion, but they're close enough.

On Monday, I made Better Than Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake Muffins. Now, Let me begin by saying how surprised I am that I haven't yet featured these little numbers on this blog before. the BTCCCC Muffins are my go to recipe when I'm lacking in time or just need a sure-fire crowd pleaser. In fact, I used to make these at least once a week when I was at UF.

Backstory:

These muffins were my second recipe. I had baked a Death By Triple Chocolate Orgasm cake for one of my best friend's birthday back in 12th grade, and, impressed with the fact that he now had a personal baker, said friend (let's call him "Matt," since that's his name), Matt, asked me to make him blueberry muffins. Matt has a thing for blueberry muffins. We used to go to the Whole Foods Market at night and buy muffins and then drive to the beach (this is what kids who don't drink in high school do...). Now, I don't know if you've ever been to the Whole Foods Market at about 9 pm and purchased a blueberry muffin, but you should try it. At any time of the day, really.

So I baked him these blueberry muffins...and they went over really well. So I got creative. I used the basic muffin recipe and then substituted chocolate chips for the blueberries and created a spice mixture (laced with a little bit of espresso) to be sprinkled over the tops of the muffins...and the BTCCCC Muffins were born!

I really love this recipe--there's no butter, which is a huge time saver, and the flavor of the muffins is to die for. I cranked out two batches in the time it would probably take to start a cookie recipe. Each batch, makes about 30 muffins, which is the only problem, since I have only one mini muffin pan, and that makes only 24 at a time.

When you bake mini muffins and only have 6 in a 24 muffin pan, the cooking spray and excess spices left from the first bake tend to continue cooking, even though there are no muffins in those spaces. So while the second batch of muffins reached its tail end, the cooking spray was turning to steam in my oven.

I had gone to put on makeup while the muffins baked, since I had to run out as soon as they were done...and when I went to open up the oven to check on the muffins, steam burst out and hit me in the face--which was not good, since my mascara was wet. Naturally, I closed my eyes...but then quickly realized that my eyelashes were stuck together! Fortunately, I managed to separate them and then remove the muffins from the oven...but I learned my lesson: don't lean over a 400 degree oven until your mascara has dried.

Better Than Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake Muffins
(I apologize for the quality of this picture. I forgot to take one at home, and the lighting in the theatre is very dark...)

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Tuesday was Seth's birthday. (Seth is one of the actors in the Shakespeare Fest.) Last year, I baked a really sick extra chocolate cake, and I figured that I needed to try something new...so I made Chocolate Chip Chocolate Cheesecake Cookie Bars. My biggest problem with this recipe--because I've made it once before with much success--was that I lacked the right pan in which to bake this insane concoction.

Bar cookies are really just cookie dough baked into a cake or bread pan and then sliced up into bars. Picture a chocolate chip cookie cake, only much thicker (because there's more leavening in the recipe) and not round.

So I mixed the chocolate chip cookie dough (a slightly different recipe from my Better Than Chocolate Chip Cookies) and the chocolate cheesecake mix. Then in a 9" cake pan (which was definitely not big enough) went a large portion of the chocolate chip cookie dough. I baked it at 375 until the sides started to brown and then in went the cheesecake and the remaining cookie dough. By the time such occurred, the original cookie dough had already risen almost to the top of the cake pan. So these were MUCH thicker than I had intended. And now had cheesecake, which takes FOREVER to cook, on top. (General rule of thumb: the thicker/denser the batter or dough, the longer it's going to take to cook all the way to the center.)

I checked on the Cookie Bars about 1 million times that afternoon, and yet the center refused to cook all the way. I think it was more than an hour later (which included the first bake of the cookie foundation) that I was able to remove the Cookie Bars and then cool and slice them.

I worried that the bake time had perhaps ruined the batch, so while they chilled in the refrigerator, I whipped up a batch of Better Than Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake Muffins, just in case. Then my sister Allie came home from camp and bravely tried a Cookie Bar (because, y'know, I really had to force her...) and deemed them yummy.

Apparently my fellow actors agreed! (Once again, sorry for the quality of the photo!)

Chocolate Chip Chocolate Cheesecake Cookie Bars

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I took Wednesday off from baking, but received that night from Pierre, another actor in our merry band, a request for homemade caramel. "Oh dear," thought I...caramel is probably one of the most temperamental of all of the recipes I've ever tried. It ranks up there with meringue on the "probability I'm going to mess this one up" scale.

But if caramel Pierre wanted, it would be caramel he would get. I made my Mocha Caramel Macchiato cookies, hold the macchiato. (I didn't feel like making icing, and they really didn't need it anyway.) I creamed the butter and sugars before I started the caramel, since the caramel needs to be added to that mixture before it has time to harden...and then I started cooking the sugar. To my surprise, I didn't burn anything and I didn't have to start over. It came out perfectly! I quickly poured 1/2 a cup into the butter/sugar mixture...and then ALL of the sugar caramelized. I had to spend several minutes chopping up the pieces of caramel with my spoon. I waited for everything to cool before I even thought about adding the eggs...no one wants scrambled egg cookies. Then I finished making the recipe as normal. When I put the cookies in the oven, the caramel chunks cooked and slowly melted, giving the cookies more spread than usual. As they cooled, the caramel hardened, and the chocolate chips assumed a permanently melty composition.

The end result was a soft, chewy, utterly evil (thanks, Lisa) cookie. I am very proud of how they came out. There was nothing left by the end of rehearsal--and here's why:

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And now I have a rather big project (which I have set out for myself) to accomplish this week...stay tuned.

Kay

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Tedious Brief Respite from Baking

No, I haven't stopped baking...I just have Shakespeare on the brain. So I'm sharing this.

We'll return to your regularly scheduled pastry updates in just a mo'.

video

Just a bit of background for the uninitiated:

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner make up, in my opinion, one of the funniest comedy duos of all time. The 2000-Year-Old Man bit began as a silly bit of improv and became a running skit that kept audiences in stitches for 40 years. Carl Reiner plays an interviewer who has been given the privilege of questioning a 2000 year old man (Brooks), who seems to have been present at every important event that occurred on the A.D. side of the calendar (and some events from the B.C. side as well...If you get the chance, listen to the bit about "Phil." You won't regret it.)

In this clip, the 2000 Year Old Man talks about why Shakespeare wasn’t a great writer and one of Shakespeare’s lost plays.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

As American as...

Apple Pie Cookies!

Happy post-Independence Day, everyone! I hope that your day was filled with good food, lots of fun, and few fireworks-related injuries.

Yesterday, my Dad decided we were going to have a "cookout." At our house, that usually entails Dad cooking outside, yes, but he's the only one who ever sets foot out the door. The rest of us stay inside and patiently wait for the fruits of his labor. So, okay: cookout. My father also invited my boyfriend--who accepted the invite--so this meant the potential for embarrassing stories and/or tons of really corny jokes and weird comments. The usual family-meeting-the-boyfriend silliness.

I figured that, in order to deflect attention from the crazy, I should cook up some sort of distraction--literally! So I made an old favorite, the Apple Pie Cookie.

It's been a long time since I first made these cookies. I think the last time might have been in Jessica's kitchen at UF--well over a year ago. But I pulled out my recipe and ran off to Publix (the most glorious grocery store on Earth!) for the essentials.

Unfortunately, while I did (finally) remember to pick up some nutmeg and allspice, I forgot the cream of tartar. (This was the first mistake.) I did not realize this mistake until I was halfway through transforming a gloppy mass of shortening and sugar into cookie dough. Now, if you've never heard of cream of tartar, you're probably not alone. It's a white powdery substance that forms on the inside of wine barrels. When the wine is emptied, the powder is used to stabilize egg whites and as an acid to enhance the leavening power of certain products like baking soda. You can find it in the spice aisle of all reputable grocery stores.

My lack of cream of tartar was a problem--leavening is kiiind of important in this sort of cookie dough. So I did a Google search of cream of tartar substitutes, and found that there really are no good ones...however, in a pinch, and in certain recipes, so long as you have an acid you should be okay. An acid like vinegar or lemon juice. Jackpot. In went 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. And I prayed that a) it would work and b) it wouldn't make the cookies taste awful.

I also had some difficulty with my apple pie filling. First of all, the butter nearly exploded out of the saucepan because the stove heated up too quickly. Then the sugars started to caramelize, even though I turned the heat allll the way down. But I managed to catch it in time, put in the apples, and transfer the filling to a nice, cold bowl.

The cookies were easy to put together, and I dusted the top of each with cinnamon sugar before throwing them in the oven.

They came out looking exactly as they were supposed to...and so I crossed my fingers and waited until my first taste-tester arrived.

The good news is that, despite the substitution of lemon juice for the cream of tartar, the cookies came out beautifully. They were indeed a hit (as they always were when I made 'em at UF).

I guess the sugary distraction worked, because a great time was had by all (myself included). Yesterday was honestly a perfect day.

The Cookie!

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Enjoyment of the Cookie
The Boyfriend

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The Father
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Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Best Smell in the World

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I love making bread. Love it, love it, love it.

Why, you ask? Because there is probably no better smell than freshly baked bread. It starts with the yeast as it proofs--not a strong smell, but if you happen to be standing by the bowl, watching the yeast slowly bloom--as I usually am--then you get a whiff of the promise of a heavenly aroma, and it's glorious.

Then, after you've kneaded and punched down, and kneaded again the large, floury mass that is to become your bread, you place the (in this case) braided loaves in the oven and wait. And in about 10 minutes, it happens. Your house begins to smell INCREDIBLE. That heady aroma can linger for hours, tempting you toward the kitchen until long after the loaf of bread is gone.

I'm strange. I know.

But I made a challah yesterday, because Andy had never tried it before, and, since it was Friday, I figured, why not?

Sidetrack: Challah is a huge part of my childhood. I'm not a religious person--not by any stretch of the imagination. But I'll do Shabbat if it means I get to eat a piece of challah. I learned my honey challah recipe back in 2006 (for the Rosh Hashanah meal I cooked for my roommates at Columbia...), and I feel that I am a more complete person because of it. When I was little, my Oma (that's "grandmother" in Dutch, in case you didn't know) used to make the perfect challah toast when she came to stay with us. I don't know how she did it, but she always managed to char the outside of the bread but keep the inside flaky and soft. And then she'd spread just this much butter on it and cover it with hagelslag (pronounced "hachelslach"). I'm pretty sure that if heaven exists, the angels get to eat this every morning for breakfast.

Anyway.

So the challah turned out really, incredibly, beautifully well. I did end up using more flour than intended, but I think that had something to do with the extreme humidity yesterday. The dough was very sticky and hard to knead.

The first rise went well--the dough rose so much that I had to punch it down just to keep it in the bowl. The second rise, after I braided the bread, yielded two massive loaves. Much more massive than intended, actually.

I brushed the dough with egg and then baked it at 375 for 40 minutes. the intoxicating aroma of fresh challah pervaded the house for hours and hours after I took the loaves out of the oven to cool.

Half a loaf was gone before I even left for rehearsal.

And the best part is: Andy's first piece of challah wasn't just processed, enriched flour, mass-produced bread--it was the real deal...and it definitely got the seal of approval. :D!

Kay

PS Please enjoy this awesome picture of my dad trying a piece of challah.
He is adorable:

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PPS Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Going nuts...Coconuts, that is.

I love making whipped cream. It's always an adventure, because, when you don't own an electric mixer and you're making it by hand with nothing but heavy cream, powdered sugar, and a whisk, it takes FOREVER and you don't know if it's going to work until the moment when, suddenly, the cream begins to stiffen and little peaks begin to form. (Yes, that was a run-on sentence. I'm not a teacher any more, so sue me.)

No matter how many times I make whipped cream, I'm always surprised when it works. Don't ask me why.

Anyway.

On Monday, as promised, I decided to make Strawberry Shortcake Cookies. Of course, the batch turned out without a hitch...there is something that is just SO perfect about those cookies. I can't put my finger on it, but they are an instant winner and a definite Kay's Cookies classic. My biggest problem in making them, however, is that there is ALWAYS too much whipped cream left over when I'm done. Now, usually, I mash up an entire pint of strawberries and empty them and the ensuing strawberry juice into the pint of whipped cream (which, because I do not use gelatin to stiffen the mixture, usually melts it a little and makes the whipped cream a little too runny to use for anything but cookies). Instead, I separated the whipped cream into two containers--one for the strawberry cookies and one for--get this--Coconut Cream Cookies.

I've never made Coconut Cream Cookies, but I figured that I might as well do something with the whipped cream and the shredded coconut that I had waiting around my fridge for just the right occasion. (In case you couldn't tell, the right occasion was now.)

So I used my basic sugar cookie template and changed the amounts of sugar (half white and half dark brown) as well as dumped in a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder. Why? Not sure, but I was feeling it. I made the rest of the cookie in the normal way and then flattened teaspoon sized balls of dough, added a dollop of the coconut whipped cream to the center, and then re-rolled the dough around the center. (This is the same way I make the Strawberry Shortcake Cookies.)

The result was pretty, well, awesome. I asked Andy his opinion (since he's now my official taste-tester), and he said that they were really tasty, but they definitely need...something. I do agree. Perhaps chocolate chips? I think this is one with which I'm going to keep experimenting.

Strawberry Shortcake Cookies

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Coconut Cream Cookies

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Either way, I brought both batches of cookies to rehearsal on Monday night, and they were DEMOLISHED. I'm talking empty tupperware by the end of the first run. This is the first time I haven't had to send Andy home from rehearsal with a container of cookies. (He's probably happy about that fact, because--and I know this from personal experience--it's impossible to let those cookies sit on the counter for more than a day and a half. They keep making those adorable puppy-dog eyes at you, and you can't help but pick them up and eat them, just so they won't feel so lonely, all by themselves on the counter like that...)*

Today I used up the last of the strawberry whipped cream (because there was STILL some left over, even after splitting it up between two batches of cookies--and I would have used up the coconut whipped cream, but it looked like someone's spoon had mysteriously attacked it in the middle of the night, and so that container ended up in the sink). I also made a batch of Better Than Chocolate Chip Cookies. The problem with the BTCCCs is that I forgot to halve the amount of butter, and so I had to make a full batch...which yields 50-75 cookies, depending on the size of each individual cookie.

So, Shakespeareans, be prepared for sugar overload tonight.

Kay



*Yes, I am probably insane. Why do you ask?

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Year Without a Kitchen

And so, as unceremoniously as I disappeared one year ago, I return.

I have been thinking about restarting the blogging process for some time now--since about April, if you must know--but I haven't had the fodder, both actual and intellectual, with which to do so.

One year ago, I signed a contract with the Palm Beach County School District and began teaching high school drama. One year ago, I left the kitchen with the intent to reenter it every so often. One year ago, I sold my soul to my students and the drama department and baked exactly three times, and never anything of consequence.

Now, don't get my wrong: I love those kids. There was a lot of good that came out of my experience being a teacher...We put on three incredible shows, won several awards at both District X and State Thespian competition, and we even won a Cappie (check for Best Featured Actress in the nominee list; they haven't updated their site yet)!

One of the toughest parts about my being a teacher was the age gap (or lack thereof) between myself and the students. Several of them have known me since time immemorial, when I was a summer camp counselor, or else they went to elementary school with one of my sisters (etc). I had to navigate the difficult line between friend and authority figure, often failing to establish the authority part. It's hard enough, as a teacher, to gain the respect of your students without being 3 years older than they are.

So there's that.

But I am terribly proud of them and their accomplishments, and I am going to miss them a lot. I am not, however, going to miss the headache given me by the school and the county and the bureaucracy that feeds on teachers' time and energy. I honestly don't understand why the schools in South Florida are run they way they are. Students and teachers have to put up with incessant standardized testing--so that means that teachers have tons of extra meetings, paperwork, outside training, and lesson plan restructuring all dedicated to middle-of-the-road directed multiple choice questions. On top of that, the arts are given the fuzzy end of the lollipop** because they're "unnecessary." The arts are the icing on a cake that, according to the bakers, tastes just fine without icing. The arts are the dumping grounds for the over-full Phys. Ed. classes and filled with problem students because the Hallmark channel tells administrators that the arts "do problem children good." Drama especially. Apparently it's not a real craft, it's just a place to play improv games filled with sexual innuendo and stereotypes.

Even worse, the school only hired one person to run the entire drama department. So not only was I teaching 5 classes and writing all of the lesson plans (since none had been left behind, and I was not trained in Drama education--I just held the certificate having passed the ridiculously easy drama certification exam), I was running a theatre company, from production to direction to publicity to design. The kids tried to help, but trust me, both they and I had no idea what we were doing. I learned the whole process on my feet...Now, having learned what I did through trial and error this year, I am confident that, if asked, I could run an entire theatre company on my own. I learned more about the process than any intern ever could--in fact, I'm almost grateful for the headaches and mistakes, because they've forced me to become a professional. Unfortunately, because I was so overtaxed and pulled in so many directions, I didn't get to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish in the classroom. I know that there was a lot more that I could have given my students in the way of theatre education--I almost feel guilty, because I know that they got gypped out of a lot because I was busy having a breakdown in the office when the choreographer didn't show up or the tickets weren't selling or the power was out on the night of the final dress rehearsal. For example.

All in all, however, I would say that this terribly negative experience was actually positive, in that I can now consider myself ready for a professional career in the theatre--and I ended up making some wonderful friends (Kim, Mindy, Ana--and my kids!).

As you can probably tell from this conclusion, I'm not returning to my position next year. I was accepted to Columbia University's School of the Arts program in Theatre, so I'll be spending the next three years working toward an MFA in Dramaturgy. So I'll be spending some time in NYC, with the goal of working at a Shakespeare festival (like the Public Theater, Colorado, Oregon, or any of the biggies) and then eventually starting my own theatre company or becoming a theatre professor...or starting a bakery. (Although that's not what the degree is for. He he.)

Speaking of Shakespeare and baking, that's sort of the reason I'm back. Besides the fact that I miss blogging, I also miss being in the kitchen--and having a reason to bake.

On 4 May, I auditioned for the Palm Beach Shakespeare Festival and was cast as Hermia in this summer's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Last year I established myself as their resident baker, bringing in all sorts of goodies during the show, since I love keeping my fellow actors fed and happy (as you can probably tell from the posts made during my tenure at the University of Florida)...so I've been baking like a mad woman for the festival this year(and trust me, no one has complained about that fact so far). I'd like to share the fruits of my labor with you once again. So here goes:

First up: The First Date Cookie (aka The Green Tea Cookie with Pomegranate Icing)

On my very first date with my boyfriend we enjoyed an utterly amazing cup of tea--green tea infused with pomegranate. I don't know what it was about this tea--but the delicate flavor of the pomegranate (just sweet enough without being cloying) combined with the light, nutty flavor of the green tea made this one of the best cups of green tea I've ever had. (Or maybe it was just the company. That probably helped. he he.)

Anyway, I liked the flavor combination so much that I was compelled to spend a couple of minutes at Teavana in Town Center Mall (<--one of the worst places in Boca Raton) purchasing a small canister of Matcha powder. I also made a pomegranate molasses from scratch and combined that with some pomegranate juice and powdered sugar to make the icing. The cookies were delicious and a big hit at our first reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream two Sundays ago.

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Next up: Oatmeal Cookies with Candied Ginger (and optional Dried Blueberries)

I actually made these cookies before I made the First Date Cookies, because I made them for our second date. On the first date, I asked what flavors he liked, and then combined them in a custom cookie for the second date as part of a picnic dinner that I made for us. These cookies are SO good--they have just the right amount of chewiness...and the candied ginger is not overpowering, so it adds just enough spice to brighten up the traditional oatmeal cookie flavor. And the blueberries, if you're a fan, are a really nice touch.

I candied the ginger myself. It's not as difficult as it might seem, although it is a rather lengthy process. If you have about an hour to spare, try it. (Instructions can be found here.)

Candied ginger, drying in granulated sugar.
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The cookies
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This has also been a crazy week for birthdays. Both my stepsister and my half sister are Cancers, and their birthdays are three days apart. So I, of course, had to make some pastries for them.

For Jordan, who has been begging for S'mores cookies for the last I don't even know how long, I made a S'mores cake, substituting graham cracker crumbs for the flour, and pouring in half a bag of small jet-puffed marshmallows and a whole bag of Nestlé chocolate chunks. The cake was pretty awesome--moist, dense, and utterly decadent, especially because it was covered in homemade chocolate ganache.

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Jordan does a taste test before dinner:
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And decides it's good (Yay!):
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I also attempted to make Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes for Allie's birthday, since she's been asking for those for an entire year. The problem I ran into (because I followed my recipe to a "T") was that, when we moved this past October, I had to leave all of my baking supplies in my mom's garage. So I didn't have my deep, non-stick muffin pans. I had to make do with a much shallower muffin pan that appears to be made out of tin or some such material, which was floating around my stepmom's kitchen. The shallowness of the pan meant that the cakes cooked through very quickly, and so the molten-ness of the cakes was not as apparent. In fact, they're very, very dense...and surprisingly amazing. I guess they were more like fudgy brownie bites. Either way, A+. And the espresso in the brownie really made the chocolate pop. A+ indeed.

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Okay. Last but not least: the Green Tea Cheesecake White Chocolate Brownie.

I jacked this recipe from here. I don't usually like using other people's recipes, but this one intrigued me--and turned out quite nicely. I'm not sure how I feel about the texture of the white chocolate brownie. Before I refrigerated the brownie, it was almost cake-like. I prefer my brownies on the fudgy/dense side, but I guess the white chocolate makes the difference. I want to play with this one and see what can't be done about the texture. On the other hand, after everyone at the Shakespeare Fest got over the green swirly stuff on top (the green tea cheesecake part) it got overwhelmingly good reviews. The flavor isn't all that rich, but I guess that actually worked out pretty well...I'm not sure if one would want to EAT an overly rich green tea anything. So, don't mind the green swirls...it's actually a pretty good recipe:

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I've also made several of my standbys in the last two weeks: the Better Than Chocolate Chip Cookie, the Carrot Cake Cookie, the Peanut Butter & Jelly Cookie (sans jelly, though), etc. I didn't take pictures because you've seen 'em all before. (And, if not, feel free to time travel through the older posts!)

Today, because strawberries were on sale at Publix yesterday, I will be making the Strawberry Shortcake Cookie. I usually end up having a TON of (homemade) whipped cream left over, so I'm going to experiment. So we'll see how that goes.




And now, if you're interested in seeing some of the insanity that was this past year at Olympic Heights, I present some videos for your viewing pleasure:


Virginia Woolf:



Kiss Me, Kate:
(Trailer)


(Bianca)


(Tom, Dick, or Harry)


**On the "fuzzy end of the lollipop" clip, scroll forward to about 1:23 to see the reference. And then go out and rent Some Like it Hot, because if you haven't seen it we can't be friends.