Sunday, April 10, 2011

Fluffiest Cheese Cake Ever. (I dare you to disagree)

Lately, I have been taking a lot of strolls down Memory Lane.  The oldest generation is moving on and the youngest generation is arriving.  Raising our daughter, it is becoming important to lock into some of my family's traditions.  Often for women and daughters, that starts in the kitchen, and I look forward to making all kinds of recipes with her.  Recipes from my childhood like molasses cookies.  Recipes that go back generations like stollen.  Recipes that inspire stories like Snooper Dupers.  Recipes that speak to where we come from, and
that brings us to Fluffy Cheese Cake.

This Fluffy Cheese Cake is made with Milnot condensed milk.  Now, most of you are thinking "Milnot?  Never heard of it.  I'll just use some other condensed milk.  After all, it's just condensed milk, right?"  WRONG.  Initially, I could not buy Milnot around here, so I started researching.  There are no substitutions for Milnot, as no other condensed milk will whip into stiff peaks.

For a while, Milnot was not available in some states, namely dairy states.  My understanding is that it had something to do with Milnot and other "filled milks" (canned condensed skim milks that used vegetable oils for fat because it was cheaper) posing competition to the dairy industry. for more info on Milk Laws.  Both sides of my family are from St. Louis, Missouri.  Milnot was widely available there, so growing up, Fluffy Cheese Cake was at all our summer family gatherings.  And it was almost always served in a Tupperware 9x13 container.  Once the families migrated to Minnesota and Wisconsin, Milnot was sure to be picked up anytime someone visited Missouri.

So this isn't just a recipe, it tells a little bit of the history of my family and our nation.  Cool, huh?  Wait until you taste it.

Start with the Jello.  I didn't, because I didn't know how long it would take for the Jello to start to thicken.  As long as you are organized, you should have plenty of time.
Cream the cheese, sugar, and vanilla.
Crunch up 3 cups (about 2 pkgs) of Graham Crackers.
Now, one of the cool things about passing down a recipe is passing down tips.  So, here's my tip for you, put the Grahams in an old cereal bag.  The heavier the better - I like the Costco Cheerio bags!  Then bash the heck out of the crackers.
Melt the butter, add to crumbs, press about 2/3 of crumbs into bottom of a 9x13 cake pan.  Gotta tell you, it was a big deal to me when my mom bequeathed to me one of her Tupperware 9x13 dessert containers with lid.  I can't wait for the next big family potluck!!
If the Jello hasn't started to thicken, go ahead and whip the Milnot.  Works best if the can is chilled before opening.
Add Jello to the cream cheese mixture.
Fold Jello and cream cheese mixture into the whipped Milnot.  I used my beaters on as slow as they go for this.
Pour over graham cracker crust and sprinkle remaining crumbs over top.
Chill for a few hours.
Battle Grandma for the last bite!
Note: Cut the pieces big!  

While at AiramanaHeirlooms, we aim to make treasures that will last throughout many lifetimes and adventures, there are many other things to pass along as well.  I believe there is a richness that is gained when generations find things to share with each other.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Entertainment Unit coming along...

We chose Birch ply for the large expanses of shelf to cut down on unwanted sound vibrations.  Birch has a beautiful, subtle grain that stains very nicely to match the Cherry.

Notches for the back panels of the lower shelves.

All the Cherry facing and verticals cut and sanded.

Facing the shelves with Cherry.  Glued and nailed.  Building this with the Gibbs' grandson in mind - you know he'll be climbing it like a ladder some day.  

Four out of 7 shelves completed.  Assembly of the unit should start on Saturday.  I'll be gone to WI with Ana while Chad finishes it.  So, I guess we'll just have to make a family visit again once I get back.  Besides, it will be cool to see the entertainment unit with the TV, books, and such all moved in.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


For anyone just joining us, AiramanaHeirlooms is brand new.  Well, only the name is new.  I've been designing things as long as I can remember.  Chad has been building things as long as he can remember.  We've been combining the two as long as we've been together.  But this is the first time we have committed ourselves to starting a woodworking business.

This past week has been big for us.  We had our first commission as AiramanaHeirlooms to build an entertainment unit for the Gibbs.  As they are good friends of ours, we brought Anamaria along for a visit.

This corner is getting an upgrade
So, Chad went about taking some measurements.

I scribbled some notes.
Ana just scribbled.
When we got home and got Ana into bed, we pulled out some graph paper and started getting more specific.  It has been a loooooooong time since I've done any drafting.  

The first, last, and only instruction I ever had was a couple glorious weeks in 7th grade Tech Ed.  I really enjoyed that class, which was a complete surprise since I don't think I had even used an orbital sander before that.  The drafting and design appealed to my need for order.  I was a very disorganized kid.  Life gets messy.  Oh, but on that half sheet of paper, ruler, pencil, straight edge, everything lined up in place, perfectly.  Every time.  It was very relaxing and centering for me.  BUT, I seem to have forgotten more than I ever learned.

Gibbs' Entertainment Unit
Fortunately, today, on Twitter, on #woodchat, to be specific, Google's SketchUp came up, and I got hooked up with a sweet tutorial.  This made all the difference.  There is so much that can be done, and in trying to keep things looking simple and user-friendly, there is a lot you simply need to know.  Today, I was so grateful for some of the folks I've met on Twitter.  Within half an hour of posting a question, I had just the answer I needed.  So, I watched a couple of the tutorials a few times and jumped right in.  This is SO COOL!  You can swing everything around and look at it from any angle.  It was also kind of cool because it was almost like I was theoretically building it.  So I was able to problem-solve some angles and measurements on my own and have a much better 3D understanding of what Chad would be doing out at the shop.

Finally, this week, we printed off some business cards.  Because... People are asking us for them!  And we are finally ready to do this as we are settling in with all the online social networking spots we are going to be doing for now.  So, here's the front and back of it.

I designed these myself - including the plaid.  The QR Code is from Matt at  

Oh, and I sold another Black Walnut Pendant!  So, that's pretty awesome.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Doing Things Together

I have this theory that everything is more fun, or at the very least more tolerable, when you do it together.
Anamaria and I doing dishes
I think back to my childhood, I was going into 1st or 2nd grade.  We lived in rural Minnesota.  Nice little neighborhood surrounded by farm fields.  A short, frayed string of cul-de-sacs and dead-ends.  Very few folks around there had paved driveways.  It really didn't matter though, because back then, back there, we all just played in the road.  Our driveway was wood chipped, and it was my big summer project chore to pull the weeds from it.  Most of the driveway wasn't too bad because it was driven over.  But the section back by the garage was a jungle.  I remember being overwhelmed.  There were Just So Many.  And how picky was I expected to be?  I mean, there were tiny little bean-sprout looking things almost like carpet.  Not to mention the gigantaur weeds that I had to get my big brother's help to pull.  And bugs.  And heat.  And knowing you don't get to do anything fun until you are done.  Which took forever.  By the time I had one section done, I'd turn around and new little sprouts were popping up.  REALLY!?!?!  It didn't help that my dad could be a super-stickler, depending on his mood.  Easy to do when you aren't the one pulling weeds, alternating between a tweezer and a jackhammer.

The Project
So, I am making it a goal of mine to do household tasks along with my daughter.  Not Always Easy.  In fact, generally it takes more time and makes a bigger mess.  Oh, and add to that my toddler has the attention span of a fruit fly.  She's done + but I'm not + she needs me to be + but I'm up to my elbows in whatever it is = great moments gone frustratingly sour.   Still, I am determined that this is something that is important.  I don't know.  I haven't read any books about that specifically.  I just remember the Wood Chip Driveway.

Carefully pouring in the tomatoes and chilis
My logic is that when you are little, you are learning a work ethic.  Chad has a great work ethic.  Me, not so much.  But I'm learning in order to teach my daughter because life is so much more attainable if you have a good work ethic.  Also, when you are little, you are learning to take pride in what you do.  Little ones are so proud of themselves, from repeating syllables, to putting her own dirty diapers where they go (that is a very important responsibility to her that she takes very seriously).  So, I figure, now is the time.  Also, when you are little, everything else is so big.  Maybe today, if I went back to that driveway, I could have it done by lunch.  Chad helps me with this all the time.  I still get so overwhelmed when dishes or laundry get out of hand.  He just starts at one end and keeps going until it's done, like it's not even a big deal.  So, often I'm channeling my "Inner Chad" as I pick up the destroyed living room at the end of the day.  But to me, an often unacknowledged aspect is the prioritizing of things.  How is a kid supposed to know how picky to be?  Not picky enough and you get scolded and have to do it over again.  Too picky and you waste your life on unimportant details.  And last, there are those moments where grownups can forget what it's like to be doing whatever that chore is.  There is honor and respect in sharing the burden.  That is good leadership, plain and simple.

Shaking out every last one!
Oh, and as an obvious bonus, the time spent working together is often grounds for some of the most profound conversations a parent will ever have with their child.

Mixing/eating the tomatoes and chilis (she loved it!)
This is why on Facebook you'll see pictures of Anamaria with us out at the shop.  Or rearranging Daddy's tools on the workbench, or even hauling a rake around the yard last fall.  Participating in things together is a big part of our family.

Delicious success!!!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dreams and Inspirations

I've always been into drawing and painting.  Chad has always been the builder.  Sure, I have come up with ideas, and designs, and I help hold things sometimes.  I enjoy the sanding, but Chad says I get way too picky.  Just because I like sanding to 400 or 600 grit.  It makes a difference.  To me.  I can tell.  Anyhow, in starting a woodworking business, I'm trying to find my "spot".  So far, I'm in design, social media, wooden pendants, and some finishing.  But I'd like to do more.  Create more.  Art more.

Arting up the wood is often in contradiction to respecting the beauty of the wood itself, to me.  I'll be honest, there isn't a whole lot of inlay that I actually find tasteful.  I don't even like the look of a lot of dovetail or finger joints.  But before you get offended, you have to know that I don't buy shirts with words or pictures on them.  Prints of any sort are quite rare in my closet.  I'm basic to a fault.  My taste is so simple that it makes Mission Styled furniture look ornate.  Ah, but I like quality materials.  Natural materials.  Blindfold me and I can tell you if the piano keys are plastic or ivory.  As much as I'd like to incorporate my art into some heirloom pieces, I am simultaneously operating under the assumption that doing so will detract from the beauty that was there in the first place.

So, I began a little e-journey to challenge my preconceptions.  I would comb through Google's images until I found inlays, wood carvings and inspirations that I actually found beautiful.  When it comes to inlays, I still like them best on cribbage boards, hope chests, and jewelry boxes.  Ok, gun stocks, too.  But I found a few samples that caught my fancy.
Allison Elizabeth Taylor's RedRock
Still, the only thing I can envision actually wanting to do is a glorious set of double wooden doors on the front of my dream house some day.  Yeah, that's the ticket!  So, I suppose I'll need to practice.  I'll probably end up making a bunch of hot pads between now and then.

Then, I got thinking about wood carving.  One of the guys in #WoodChat on Twitter mentioned Tibetan or Indian (or something) wood carving that maintained balance and beauty and peace.  So, I started poking around...


I'm not entirely sure if the last one is carved of wood, but I'm figuring that anything that can be carved of stone can be carved of wood, too.  Anyhow, these really inspire me.  I'm excited.  I think I'm going to see what I can do with my Dremel.  Now, I know other woodworkers might consider that cheating.  But I'm figuring whoever carved the peacock above didn't have the awesome tools we have today, and could accuse the more authentic carver of the same thing.  I don't know.  It doesn't really matter.  What matters to me is to see something in my head, and put it in front of me.  

I have a feeling that Ana's going to have a pretty awesome double wide, fully steering wagon this summer.  Now, if I can just decide what to do...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Space, tea, and tranquility

How I arrived here...

...a cup of tea while toddlers nap
I've been getting more and more frustrated lately.  Part of it is being the mother of a one year old (parents, you  know what I'm talking about).  But a bigger part of it is not organizing and compartmentalizing my day.  Maybe some people are way better at multi-tasking than I am, so if that's you, congratulations.  See, initially, I thought that there wouldn't be much change from being a stay at home mom to being a work at home mom.  I mean, how cool that I can patter away on the laptop, lounging on the couch while my darling toddler plays contentedly at my feet.  Oh, yeah, add to the mental imagery an always fresh mug of hot jasmine green tea steaming on the end table next to me.  (Speaking of which, I'm going to go put some water on.)  While we are at it, let's just go ahead and imagine I look like Angelina Jolie.  Reality is that I feel like I'm spending all day pecking at the keyboard in between learning new ninja-mommy moves to defend the coveted computer from our daughter's constant assault.  She is trying to climb up on me and close the laptop and starts that irritating complaining cry.  One of her toys hits home - I don't know what key it is, but this girl nails it every stinking time! - and eradicates the last 1/2 hour's worth of progress, meager though it might be.  I'm shooting evil looks at my husband because "I'm trying to WORK, here!", I holler in my mind.  (Ahhh, my tea.  Can you smell the heady, optimistic jasmine?)  Eventually, I leave him and the little emotional wreck to go to the bedroom to get something done.  The first 5 minutes are spent straightening the kinks in my brain and wishing I had some tea, but not daring leave the momentary sanctuary.  Not even to go to the bathroom.  Oh, on top of that, the child has decided not to go to sleep at night on her own.  ?!  She has been the most awesome go-to-bed-er ever.  In all of history.  In the entire universe.  How am I going to do anything if I have to go to sleep with her?  It hasn't helped that both Daddy and Daughter are sick.

My two sickies can be quite precious.
I can't go on like this.  I am neither productive with the computer stuff, nor the mommy stuff.  And that's not to mention the wife stuff, or household stuff.  I'm on the verge of saying hurtful things.  Biting back all kinds of spite, I told Chad, "I'm not in a healthy place in my mind.  And I haven't been for a while."

Thus, last night, C offered to lay down with Ana while I wrap up my day at my own pace, in peace.  It was wonderful.  I don't think I have ever enjoyed flossing my teeth so much.  As I was going about my business, I got thinking that since I'm going to bed earlier than usual, why don't I wake up earlier than my child and enjoy some more of this peace.  Get a jump start, be one step ahead, instead of dragging behind.  Oh, just the vision of sipping some Earl Grey while looking at the family calender and getting a feel for the upcoming week felt like all kinds of right.

I awoke this morning, before Ana, got her all snuggled in with Daddy, and not only took a shower, but cleaned off the kitchen table for the first time in months as well (wish I had a before picture).  Then, over tea, I looked over the calender.  Today, I'll be watching Ana's little buddy all day.  Got it.  Then changed some items on our website,  caught up on emails, and checked in on all our social networking accounts, and started a list of thing I'd like to accomplish today.  Those of you who know me might be surprised at this.  But I have found that if I don't have a list, I get so overwhelmed that when I do have a moment, I spend it spacing out and become even more overwhelmed, and then defeated because I just wasted some perfectly good time for doing stuff.  So, I made a list fully knowing that not all will get done, and that's ok.  Then, as if that wasn't enough, and hearing that she was awake in the bedroom with Chad, I made Ana's breakfast.  Before she could do that hungry, complaining cry, she was in her high chair, bib and all, with her morning yogurt smoothie.  It is amazing what a mom can do when she has both arms and her mind all to herself.  GOAL!!

My new morning office
P.S.  Thank you, Chad for the moments of peace!

Find us online at
See our pictures on Flickr at AiramanaHeirlooms
Watch behind the scenes videos on YouTube at AiramanaHeirlooms
Shop our store on Etsy at AiramanaHeirlooms
Or email us, we'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Family trip to the wood shop

Chad and Anamaria came down with a nasty cold a couple days ago, and that always makes them stir-crazy.  So, when today opened up, we decided to head out to the shop.  Ever since Chad came home with his first candelabra, I've been wanting to make one on the band saw.  We came across the design in a huge book of woodworking projects Collete (my birth-mother) gave me for my birthday.  Chad's first was Hickory, which he stained with black walnut colored stain.  Hickory is a super hard wood with super tight grain that has stripes of larger straw-like grains.  The stain doesn't take well in the tight areas, but the straw-like grains become almost black, which look like armies of pinstripes rushing across the board in waves.  That's the thing about hickory.  Naturally, it has light, ash-like areas, and darker cherry-like areas all poured into the same tree.  The lighter areas really aren't all that remarkable.  And you'd hardly ever notice the long, open grains.  Until you stain it.  Wow.  So cool.

So, Chad dropped Ana and I off at the shop and left to grab us all some lunch.  Ana moseyed about overwhelmed at all the things there are for a 1 year old to touch.  And I moseyed about looking for the perfect piece for my first candle holder.

Let's get some things straight here.  I come from a very resourceful, but somewhat unskilled background when it comes to this kind of thing.  Large, noisy, powerful machines scare the bejeezers out of me.  Plain sand paper is my kind of thing.  Oh, and my Dremel.  Well, the actual Dremel burned out pretty quick, so I have some other small rotary tool that fits all those nifty little gadgets.  Anyhow, table saws, drill presses, and the like... um... yeah, you do that, I'll be over there.  Chad, on the other hand, honestly can't remember the first time he used an electric drill (back when they all plugged into the wall, haha!) because he was so young.  He was using said drill to help his dad remodel their house when he was 8 or 9.  He went on to help his father build an amazing wood home - not a drop of paint in the entire thing.  You've never seen so much gorgeous wood.  And then later built houses with his friend.  Power tools are his thing.  So, when I do a project, it generally starts out with him cutting everything to size, explaining everything as he goes so I can do it next time.  Sure.  Whatever.  Just cut my stuff.

(Once he reads that, my cover will be totally blown.  *sigh*  Going to have to put my big-girl-safety-goggles on and learn how to do it myself, eventually.)

Measuring and drawing my lines.  Ana added some of her own lines, well, squiggles, too.

So, I picked out a few boards to look over when he got back.  After settling on the Ash, and devouring a chicken sandwich, Chad got busy cutting my board to size.  {Thank you, My Love!}  With a fresh blade on the band saw, I was good to go.  Now, the band saw isn't so scary.  It isn't too loud, and it doesn't kick.  Besides, I remember using a jig saw in Tech Ed back in jr. high, and this was kind of like that.  This blade cuts  like butter.  It was actually a lot of fun, and I think I'm going to enjoy doing more with it.  Then, I headed over to the stationary belt sander.
It was here that I realized Three Things.
1 - It would have been far more efficient to sand the entire board before cutting it into pieces.
2 - It would have been wise to run my board through the planer before sanding (before cutting it into pieces).
3 - It hurts like a sonuvagun when a finger slips off the wood, sanding a hole in it.  It is still throbbing as I type.
Chad promises that this is not the last time that I will learn any of these lessons.  Lessons 1 & 2, fine.  But not 3.  Please, not 3.

Ana is learning the meaning of "ouch", "owie", and "hurt".  She just had a growth spurt so abrupt that she's still getting used to having to duck down in places she used to fit under.  So, having a bandage on my fingertip immediately drew her attention.  At her questioning look, I pointed to my finger and explained "Ouch.  I have an owie."  Her face fell into a painful look and she held her hand to her head!  Oh, the sweetheart.

Improvising a sling with Grampa's flannel.

Most of my work done, Chad picked out a really fat Champagne Sugar Maple board and decided to make a candelabra for tea lights since tea lights are so popular due to their safety and availability.  For one, the Maple is breathtaking.  Maple?  You say, incredulously.  Yep.  This isn't any ordinary bland Maple.  This comes from a tree that dies standing, doesn't rot, and leaches minerals from the soil.  These minerals color the wood like a very subtle watercolored rainbow of browns, grays, roses, tans, and golds.  Not yet finished, but a solid start.  I'm loving his fresh take on this design, and can't wait to post pictures once completed.

Stores flat, pivots open for stability.  Open as far as you like.

Find us online at
See our pictures on Flickr at AiramanaHeirlooms
Watch behind the scenes videos on YouTube at AiramanaHeirlooms
Shop our store on Etsy at AiramanaHeirlooms
Or email us, we'd love to hear from you!