Unfortunately, I'm not finding my camera card reader at the moment, and am between conference sessions, so this'll be brief and image-less.
Got into Chicago just fine yesterday. Got to the shuttle system and then over to the hotel. Really nice hotel room! Taking advantage of the per diem food allowance offered by work and have gotten room service. Was STUFFED after dinner and dessert last nite. Got some reading in, and missed most of Idol due to the time difference, phone calls and room service.
Lunch today was a bit of a mess - the hotel's not making what their lunch description says....at least they tried pushing more food (no thanks), dessert (really, no thanks) and finally a 20% discount (ok, fine) on me.
After today's last session I'll be rushing out to take the hotel shuttle service back to the airport, and from there I'll get on the "blue line" to meet Peter somewhere for dinner. We haven't settled on that yet.
Planning on trying authentic Chicago-style pizza with Brett when he arrives tomorrow evening. Sounds like it's really not Peter's thing, so we can totally get something that Brett wouldn't like tonite, and then tomorrow night Brett and I can eat the kind of stuff Peter doesn't like. (Oh these picky eaters!) ;-)
Ok, gotta run... Will try to get some pics posted tonite or tomorrow!
Sometimes it's so hard being a cute cat that they just pass out while looking out the window.
And sometimes they work SO hard at being cute WHILE I'm working hard on the computer... Not TOO much of a distraction - although I think "distraction" is exactly what Simon was going for.
Hopefully he knows that's for printer paper and not a litter box!
And Tucker had been snoring pretty loudly on the chair for awhile, then I noticed it was really quiet. I turned around and found what was muffling Tucker - Simon! Oh well - must not have been TOO uncomfortable for Tucker - he didn't get up and leave.
See, it's ok, he was still able to breath.
Hm, Tucker IS kinda big, soft, squishy and cuddly - probably quite comfy to lay on!
The conference runs Wednesday through mid-Friday. Brett's flying up Thursday afternoon, and then once the conference is done we'll stay at Peter & Conrad's place for the weekend, before coming home Sunday. You KNOW Peter's got some fun places he wants to show us, and I'm sure I'll have to hit the Threadless store, or a noodle shop or Korean food or Indian, or who knows what else?! I believe Peter wants us to try out Yoshi's since we've heard so much about them - I'm a little concerned Brett might not find much there to eat... ;-) Heck, there's all kinds of wild and crazy things Chicago offers that we don't have down this way in our smaller, more run down cities.
I haven't been too thrilled about hitting an out-of-town conference, especially now during prime garden set-up season, but it'll be fun to visit Peter and Conrad!
Well, we've survived wedding cake decorating-trials and taste-testing with Sharon and Andy. They left a short while ago with boxes of leftover cakes and cup cakes in various stages of decoration (or lack thereof). Round one of dishes in running in the dishwasher as I type this. Now I think we're all in need of insulin shots!
Sharon said our wedding gift to them is for me to bake and decorate the cakes/cupcakes for their upcoming wedding. She decided she wanted a small cake for them to cut, and then cupcakes (which seems to be real trendy right now) for all the guests. Sounds like there will be about 60 guests, and we want to make sure there's enough for at least some people to have a second cupcake if they want.
Sharon wants half the cupcakes to be red velvet, and half yellow cake. All will be frosted white, and then they'll have decorations on top to match the cake color.
The cake Sharon and Andy will slice is going to be a white cake, white frosting, a red ribbon around it, and then we just decided to play with it from there.
Andy's request was that the cake have a layer of pudding. My interpretation was "maybe that should be custard?", but I know they don't want any froo froo fruity flavors or anything like that.
They also kept saying I could just go with cake mixes for the cakes. To me that felt like cheating, and I didn't want to "un-special" their special day by not putting a bit more effort into the cakes, not to mention serving up "just boxed cake mixes." Seeing how it's really "their day" I also didn't want to rule out just giving them what they wanted.
Hm. What to do.
Last nite I made two separate batches of cakes - one was a white cake mix from The Cake BiblePeter got me last year, and the other was a doctored up French Vanilla boxed cake mix (mixed with a cup of sour cream, an instant cheesecake flavored box of pudding, 1/2 each of water and veg oil, plus four large eggs - just like the chocolate cake I made recently). Each recipe was made as two 9-inch rounds. The from-scratch cake was filled with a Bavarian cream-like recipe from The Cake Bible, made with eggs, milk, vanilla and sugar, and the boxed mix was layered with a box of instant French vanilla pudding.
I didn't tell Sharon and Andy which cake/filling was homemade and which was boxed...just that these components existed and I wanted to see what they preferred. Admittedly, the homemade custard turned out a bit thin and a bit eggy tasting, and didn't have that beautiful golden color one would want from a custard. (Although the flecks of vanilla bean seeds in it WERE pretty!)
Pictured here is the "fake cake" with "fake custard".
Oh, and I also made a boxed mix of red velvet cupcakes - just to make sure we like them (I've never liked red velvet I made from scratch), and also to text decorations.
Annnnnd then I had a tub of classic vanilla frosting, plus I made a batch of buttercream frosting from scratch, to which we all agreed vanilla needed to be added. Even after that, we felt the buttercream just tasted like whipped butter - maybe not sweet enough, definitely too buttery tasting. Like maybe someone had spread Country Crock all over the cake?
So once they arrived we played with decorating cakes and cupcakes, and then had a lunch of paninis I grilled up, along with the jalapeno popper-like dip Sharon made (with pretzels and veggies - good stuff!). So here's what we've found from playing with cake decorating...
The idea of using edible flowers that Mary suggested yesterday went over REALLY well. I think I can get a flat of geraniums in bloom pretty cheap just a short ways down the road - I just need to learn how to sugar-coat them. Sounds like it's not hard at all, and I really don't need all that many.
The ribbon Sharon bought looks really good on the cake...
Not sure if it's going to go around the base of the cake, or midway up. Here you'll see I was playing with cloves (instead of small lilac flowers) and lavender flowers on top of the cake. Sharon had seen a picture with small flowers dotting the top of the cake, but I'm not sure of what small RED flowers would be blooming now....so we bypassed that idea. (Wow - cloves sure smelled strong - probably not all that tasty in the cake either!)
Andy and Sharon preferred the white tub of storebought frosting over the light yellow buttercream. I honestly preferred the yellow frosting with the red flowers and ribbon, but it's not my wedding.... Here you'll see we were playing with the possibly-not-edible salvia flowers I picked from the backyard - I don't have any geraniums in bloom right now. Bright red IS beautiful on the cake, no matter what color frosting! Plus it goes great with the ribbon!
You'll also note we settled on a swirl pattern around the top - which Sharon liked in a picture in The Cake Bible.
Sharon and Andy both ended out preferring the boxed cake mix (minus the addition of the pudding - which will lighten it up in texture and color), with the boxed pudding mix, and tub-o-frosting over all the from-scratch stuff. Eh - definitely not the fanciest way to go for a wedding, but it's what they really prefer, and I agree the pudding tasted better than the homemade custard, and the from-scratch cake was a bit dry and flavorless (although, to be honest, I think it more resembled most traditional wedding cakes that I've had - that's just not saying much for traditional wedding cakes!).
We were only able to determine this by all four of us each getting a slice from each cake, and half a cupcake. Oh, and Andy and I each had a slice of boxed cake with buttercream and a slice of the same cake with tub frosting - just to be safe.
Tucker here pretty much shows how we were all feeling after all that cake. Ugh... Too much!
Now I'll just have to make sure my frosting techniques are much nicer for the final product. We weren't too concerned today for the test cakes, but it's gotta look good for Sharon and Andy's wedding!
LOL She's got great pics of the trashed kitchen, Brett giving her a funny face, and talks about how mean Brett and Andy were, blowing me up over and over again in Halo 3 (what'd I ever do to deserve that?!) Yes, that's right, I, the newbie, was getting beat up by someone with MANY hours in Halo 3, and then Brett AKA the Pink Power Ranger in his hot pink armor, who was also playing the whole time I was working on cake decorating with Sharon.
Oh, and for what it's worth, Sharon appeared to NAP the whole time the guys were playing video games. Women!
PS: Secretly, all the cakes and cupcakes were loaded with super fattening ingredients where ever possible, the paninis all had bonus cheese in them, ANNNND I wanted to make sure Sharon ate plenty of the buttercream frosting - just to try and refatten her up since she's slimming down so much!!
Ran downstairs real quick just a few minutes ago and saw a different colored splotch out of the corner of my eye. I actually stared at the deer for a few minutes (who was leaning over, nibbling) before I realized what I was seeing.
I'm all for them being cute, but seeing how one of them thought some of my strawberries, the top of my serviceberry, and the top of my tiny japanese red maple were TASTY the other day, it's war, and I'm not feeling like sharing these particular growies at the moment. All the plants got a misting of garlic/jalapeno/cayenne spray the other day, which I'll have to reapply again real soon since we're getting so much rain these days. (The spray is made of one head of garlic, a handful of jalapenos from the freezer and a tablespoon or so of cayenne pepper all whizzed up in the blender with some water. Some of that was mixed with more water and a squirt of dish soap before being sprayed on the plants, and the rest frozen in muffin tins, and then bagged for later use. I'm sure Sharon and Andy's wedding cupcakes won't taste like garlic/jalapeno/cayenne! Really! Honest!)
Here I was getting some tail-tude after we tried yelling at the deer and banging on the walls. Nice. You don't know fear? Wonderful.
It finally strolled off into the woods, all casual like.
Honestly, I really didn't want a chinsy looking plastic strawberry pot, but I've been keeping an eye out for hen & chicks, and finally came across small plastic strawberry pots LOADED with them at Lowes yesterday. I couldn't pass 'em up! Look - this is just part of the top!
I'm going to be scrounging up rocks from the adjacent undeveloped lot to build sort of a rock gardeny area with good drainage, and will separate these baby chicks out and hopefully get them all settled in early enough to tough out this winter!
So last summer, after we moved into the new construction house with the barren lot we would someday call a lawn with landscaping, Mary had me come over and very generously let me take splits off've lots of her growies. Heck, I had to turn down many things just because there wasn't enough room in the back of my CR-V!!! (And/or, let's be honest, I think Mary would grow weeds and fall in love with them and want to share!)
One thing she gave me were these irises (oh wow - I didn't know they'd be almost white - pretty!)
Gee, what's that down at the base of the iris??
Hmmm...I think we have a problem here. And another concern - it seems the same passenger came along for a ride at the base of some chives she gave me:
MAAAAAAAARY!!!! ALL OF YOUR PLANTS ARE *INFECTED* WITH MINT!!!!
LOL Good thing I love the stuff. I'm seriously going to have to dig up these plants and quarantine them while I work the mint out of their systems!!
This particular bed is definitely becoming my favorite... I planted most of the herbs in front of the asian pear tree yesterday afternoon, and assuming they don't get root rot from all the recent rain, I should be doing pretty good (well, I'm still on the lookout for some cheap rosemary), especially as far as thyme goes. I've got orange thyme, lime thyme, lemon thyme, golden lemon thyme (x3 - my fave!), a variegated silver thyme, and some plain ol' English thyme, plus the one thyme from last year that survived. Also put in oregano, marjoram (Sharon, this is not where margarin comes from), a couple rosemary, three varieties of sage, Corscican mint (not for eating), and lavendar (also not for eating) (at least I've never used it). Hopefully Mary can hook me up with some lemon grass and lemon verbena!
Oh, and here's the mint I've been growing for years - it's name is Raida! I bet it feels like a prisoner in that buried bottomless, DEEP pot.
Look what I found a ton of when turning the mulch in this afternoon! You can even see more in the background. They're loving the combination of rain, this week's grass clippings, and partially composted horse manure from a local farm.
Aside from being really cool blooms, do you know what these will develop into?
Here's a hint - Rick and Carolyn let me collect a bunch of the fallen pine needles in their beds last fall so I could provide this bed with an acidifying mulch. ANNNND each plant got buried in a DEEP hole filled with peat. And they drink A LOT of water, and are getting an acidified liquid fertilizer treat periodically.
Unfortunately, one of the six mail-order plants seems to be having trouble leafing out - I'm thinking I should contact Water's Blueberry Farm to see if they feel it needs replaced. (Oops, I gave it away!)
Here's a great representation of the other five shrubs.
Blooms on one of the other plants...
If each of these turns into a berry this year, AND if the birds don't get them first, I'm gonna be one happy camper!
Considering the tough love approach that went into "installing" the asparagus, annnnd I'd received the crowns way earlier than I was ready to, I was excited to find this peeking up when I got home from work today!