Sunday, June 7, 2009

New Blog Address!

Hi Everyone!

Justin and I have been playing around with the blog this weekend, and have made some BIG CHANGES, including the URL that you can find us at! This current site will still stay up for awhile, but we will be publishing all new blog posts to the new address. Please head over to and check out our snazzy new look!


Saturday, June 6, 2009


When we were in Las Vegas, Julie and I ate at Bouchon at the Venetian for dinner. Julie had eaten there before a couple of years ago, and was excited to go again. I looked at the menu and was definitely excited to give it a try. Plus, we had a 15% coupon for the restaurant that we got at the bakery, so that helped, because we knew it *definitely* wasn't going to be cheap.

The restaurant had a very cool feel to it. Not too "uppity" that I was uncomfortable, but nice. The waiter was friendly, attentive and helpful. It overlooked one of the garden and pool areas at the hotel. There were nice big windows to let a lot of light in.

Right away, they brought out bread and toasted pistachios for us to munch on.

The waiter explained the specials for us to consider. We got three of the items on the specials menu - an appetizer, an entree and a desert.

We split the "duck pressee" appetizer. It was duck wrapped in applewood smoked bacon and then cooked "en sous vide", which Thomas Keller is pretty famous for doing in his restaurants. It was served with sunchokes and a huckleberry sauce. It was awesome. We started eating it before remembering to take a picture, so the picture is of the appetizer half finished :)

For the entrees, I got the scallops special (scallops are one of my favorite foods). It was scallops flown in fresh from Maine, without being frozen, over caramelized endives and an abalone steak, with a carrot curry butter sauce. I hadn't ever had abalone before, so it was a new food to try, which is always fun. Abalone was definitely an interesting thing to eat, kind of chewy, with a distinct flavor. It matched the rest of the food nicely. The whole thing came out served in an All-Clad dish, which was kind of cool.

Julie had the "steak frites". It was a flatiron steak (probably our favorite steak right now), with maitre'd hotel butter and home made fries. The steak was perfectly cooked, and the fries were amazing. Needless to say, both got finished completely.

For desert we had probably one of the best desert dishes we could remember. We got the "bouchons", which was three small brownies, each topped with a different flavor of ice cream - vanilla, mint chip, and peanut butter. When the waiter was describing it and mentioned fresh peanut butter ice cream, I knew that Julie wouldn't want anything but that desert.

The vanilla ice cream was very good, but got overshadowed by how great the other two were. The mint ice cream didn't taste artificially "minty", it tasted more like mint leaves. Based on what we could tell, they used fresh pureed mint leaves to add the flavor, which gave it a distinct taste that was awesome. The peanut butter ice cream was incredibly creamy and tasted amazing - it was probably the best of the three.

Overall it was an awesome experience that will definitely happen again the next time we are in Vegas.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tastes of Vegas

Yum. I think you could eat at a different restaurant, deli, or bakery for every meal, every day of the week for a year, and still not a make a dent on everything there is to taste in Las Vegas, even if you just limit it to the Strip! We've already had multiple fantastic meals and snacks, from New York pretzels, Hagen Daas Ice Cream, the Buffet at Mandalay Bay, and a Rice Krispie treat the size of my face. Here are some of the more interesting bites we've taken:
This is a Parisian Macaroon from Bouchon Bakery in the Venetian. This bakery is the bomb. Phenomenal. Everything looks beautiful and exquiste. Their Cheese Danishes are unbeatable. Parisian Macaroons seem to be all the rage at the moment. I see them on all sorts of blogs and in cookbooks, but have never had one (and didn't want to try to make them until I knew what the result was supposed to be). And after having one that is reputed to be among the best, I'm not sure I'm a fan. They are beautiful and unique, but the flavor was similar to a Skittle candy! With a texture in between chewy and airy. Definitely interesting.
We also stopped at Canter's Deli in Treasure Island for lunch a couple of days ago. And all tried REAL pastrami for (we all think) the first time. It was ridiculously good, bordering on obsene. The sandwiches were monstrous. But yet, you still wished you could fit more into your tummy for how delicious it was! Ruth is determined to get one more sandwich (all to herself!) before we leave.
We'll see what happens across our palates tomorrow!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Vegas, Baby!

After a day of driving and flying, we are HERE. Lights, Crowds, Traffic, Noise, Food, Fun. I'm feeling strangely overwhelmed, even having been here twice before. Maybe it's the Saturday evening crowds (we happened upon the line waiting for Fleetwood Mac - chaos), maybe just from the traveling. I feel it is too early to be in my room on a weekend night in Vegas, but yet I am oh-so-thankful to be in my room on a weekend night in Vegas. The weather is beautifully warm, and the forecast is near perfection. Our hotel room windows look out on the New York New York roller coaster and the intersection that has NYNY, the MGM Grand, the Tropicana, and the Excaliber. It really is something to see at night - all lit up and exciting. I am looking forward to the day and week ahead. Also, so far we have only lost $4.50 gambling. We controlled ourselves. Today. :)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hypercolor Cupcakes

Let's go back to 1992. Yeah, I know it might be painful. I was in junior high - can't get much more painful than that! Snap! bracelets, hypercolor t-shirts with neon leggings, tight-rolled jeans. Oh yeah, we're almost there...
And now enter my cupcakes - unicorn rainbow explosion. I meant well, really I did.
Here was what I was going for:

How pretty and unique and festive, courtesy of Baking Bites.

Here is what I got:

Obviously, something went very very wrong in the construction or baking process. Instead, we got tye-dyed, but oh-so-tasty, cupcakes. I had originally planned to just do some nice white frosting. But as the cupcakes were so far gone, I decided just to kick them right over the cliff's edge with the color-blend frosting as well.
And while 1992 didn't really treat anyone all that great in the fashion department, it really isn't a good look for cupcakes either!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Back to Baking

After pouring over this blog for the last few days, I knew I wanted to try to make a a batch or two of the homemade Girl Scout Cookie recipes, namely the Thin Mints and Tagalongs. Tagalongs have always been my favorite. Vanilla Shortbread Cookies - yes please. Dollop of Peanut Butter Filling in the center - two please. Covered in chocolate - just one more please! And this recipe is spot on. The result is almost identical (possibly better?!) than the original, and thoroughly addicting. The main reason I don't order any girl scout cookies is to prevent me from eating an entire box of Tagalongs in one sitting. Now I actually have to practice some self-control and keep out of the kitchen.
I already feel my resolve wavering...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

90 Seconds of Your Time...

As you are obviously spending some time surfing the interweb, surf your way over to For every simple quiz taken, Kohler has pledged to donate $1 in products to Habitat for Humanity.
Easy and effective!

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Not much has happened in the last week that I feel is worth blogging about, but as Justin gave me the assignment of posting SOMETHING - ANYTHING, here are some photos that were taken in the last few days.

This cardinal has been a fixture around our yard for a good year now.
He and his mate regularly terrorize and taunt the cats.

Norm, exploring our out-of-control-yet-still-pretty ground cover.

Tin pails, possibly to be used for an upcoming wedding.

Justin's birthday present.
Does UPS take FRAGILE stickers as a challenge?
(thankfully, nothing was broken inside)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Soda taste test

When we were in Ohio, we went to Jungle Jim's grocery store. Quite a trip. It's not so much a grocery store as it is an amusement park where you buy food. There's lots of weird stuff going on in there. Anyways, while we were there, I bought a bunch of bottles of weird sodas I had never tried, and we (Beth, myself, Julie, Lynn, Sally, Alex, and my dad) did a taste test of them all:

Yes, I do realize that one of the sodas has an inappropriate name. I thought it was "Funkola Cola". Whatever, just deal with it.

First up was "Thum's Up". Apparently this is from India. The checkout guy was incredulous that I actually wanted to buy this. I wish I would have taken his advice. I thought it tasted like Coke, but with about 1/2 the normal amount of sugar. Sally thought it tasted like laundry detergent and Julie though it tasted like cleaning chemicals. Not exactly what you want in a soda.

Next on the docket was "Almdudler 50 Jahre" - the national soft drink of Austria (my dad's comment was "Isn't the national soft drink of Austria just beer?"). This one tasted kind of citrusy, with a hint of pineapple, but mostly it just tasted like bad ginger ale.

Next up was Cheerwine. I first had this in South Carolina last year. Definitely the best of the bunch. It's basically a black cherry soda. Very good.

Fukola Cola, the one with the inappropriate name and slogan, was normal-ish cola, but Beth and I both experience unpleasant bubbles-up-the-nose. Meh.

Inca Kola was up next. I had heard about this from Peru trips, but had never actually had it. It smells like a banana popsicle, and tastes like the bubble-gum flavored flouride at the dentist. Not the greatest thing in the world, but not the worst either.

Faygo rootbeer was just normal rootbeer, nothing great or bad about it.

Frostie Vanilla Root Beer was probably my second favorite, behind Cheerwine. It basically tastes like a rootbeer float after the ice cream has had a chance to dissolve. A couple of people mention cotton candy, but I think they are confused :) Definitely the second creepiest mascot of the bunch.

Manhattan Special Sasparilla was up next. This tasted pretty much like Rootbeer flavored Kool-Aid, which apparently they don't make anymore.

Kickapoo Joy Juice had the best name and creepiest logo of all the sodas. It also has a weird tagline: "Original dogpatch recipe". It wasn't bad, it just kind of tasted like flat Mountain Dew. I am slightly concerned that I somehow was duped into drinking dog pee though.

All in all, a successful taste test. Luckily no one had any bad reactions, so the authorities didn't have to be called:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bittersweet Family Gathering

(from left: Dan, Dave, Gramps, Maggie, Pete, John)
six months ago, plans began for a Gasper family reunion. Justin's dad and his siblings worked at getting everyone together at a state park near Cincinnati, Ohio. Reservations were made and rough plans put in place for the weekend. We all may have had different expectations for the weekend, but God certainly had something else in mind for this gathering. About two weeks ago Justin's grandmother, Gigi, went into the hospital and had her galbladder removed, but then doctors continued to find masses within her, presumably cancer. Things advanced very quickly, much more so than anyone imagined. Though in her late 80's, Gigi has been incredibly active, helping with her church, with adults and children, delivering bread and food to a local pantry, visiting with a multitude of friends and family, writing monthly letters and prayer journals to near about a billion people on the planet (slight exaggeration, but still, a lot), caring for Gramps, and feeding and protecting just about every stray cat in their neighborhood. She possesses the characteristic Gasper sense of humor and makes every attempt to show Christ's love to everyone around her. On Saturday, her children and grandchildren were able to visit with her at the hospital, laugh over memories, and show and receive her love.
(Cousins from left: me, Justin, Beth, Sally, Lynn, baby Carson, Andy - and be sure to notice the sweet mural on the wall!)
Later in the day, Uncle Dave and his wife Jan drove Gramps out to the park, and we were able to share a meal together at the restaurant in the lodge. We continued to catch up on news with other family members and sang Happy Birthday as loudly as possible for Sally's 28th birthday. Afterward we played games, drank entirely too much crazy soda, and laughed around a campfire.
Though exhausting, the weekend was a good one, and we're so thankful to have been able to go.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

the decline...

The tulips really came in beautifully this year. They multiplied, came in loads of cheery colors, with an array of heights and variances. And now begins the rather rapid demise of petals and stems, as they have served the purpose of attracting bugs and bees for another spring season. How I wish these days went by slower, lengthening the buds' lifespan. Distracting eyes from the weeds growing and gaining strength beneath them. For awhile we have a gorgeous, healthy flower garden. In a week or two, we will have a seemingly forsaken patch of weeds. At least the dandelions will add some color!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Peru Banquet Fundraiser

A group of students and adults from our church are taking a trip down to Lima, Peru this summer. They will be partnering with a local Peruvian church to help teach ESL classes, organize and put on a children's carnival, and do some other outreach activities in the community. In order to raise the (much needed) funds, the team held a fundraising banquet at church this evening, and they asked if I might do the desserts for the group. I happily agreed, and the ideas immediately began to form. I played around with the alpaca cookie cutter idea for awhile, but then I found something so much better. I wanted it to be a surprise for the team, so I couldn't post anything on the blog (even though I've been busy in the kitchen all week!). I was so excited to see everything come together this afternoon. These cupcakes, with their chocolate alpaca candies, are one of the cutest creations to have left my kitchen. And I was just as excited to find the miniature Peruvian flags! Add in chocolate cake pops painted like the earth and alfajores (Peruvian almond cookies with dulce de leche filling), and I couldn't wait for others to partake. And while I try to shy away from receiving credit, it always gives me a thrill to have people enjoy something I made. Though, I have to admit, it seems kind of silly to make a statement like that and then write about it on this blog! Really though - I hope you enjoy the pictures at least!
And Kudos to Jim for creating the rockin' alpaca cut-out photo booth, to Madie (and others) for helping me set up, and to the entire organzing team for the banquet - you really did a fantastic job and the night was a hit!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friends & (camp)Fires

We had a great time tonight catching up with Dan & Bethany around the campfire, as well as smiling and laughing at/with their one-year-old daughter Jillian. She just started walking, which is obviously her favorite thing (other than terrorizing Justin, that is). Bethany had all the fixin's for pudgie pies ready, and we happily burned our tongues with the molten lava hot filling (not to be confused with these).

Monday, May 4, 2009

Seriously Beautiful Day

Without a doubt, I like our garden in May better than any other month of the year. Crocuses still hanging around, daffodils and tulips blooms galore, plum and apple trees budding, ground cover spreading, and weeds still at a minimum. Plus, the weather was perfect today - sunny, 75 degrees, with a gentle breeze. Justin played a round of golf and I had the chance to sit out on the deck in a short sleeve shirt and shorts.

For now
I'm looking at the sun
Someday the rain might come
But I love the sunshine

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Cake Overload - A Tasting

My cousin and his fiance are getting married this summer, and they came over today to taste some different cake flavor possibilities. They picked out eight flavors to try, so I spent the last few days baking and frosting small portions for them to taste. They left happy, with sugar highs and decisions made about the types of cakes - Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, Chocolate Fudge Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting, Lemon Chiffon Cake with Lemon Curd Filling and Lemon Buttercream Frosting, and finally a Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Strawberry Preserves Filling and Vanilla Buttercream Frosting. Any requests for an invitation should be directed toward the happy couple!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Lemon Curd

Who in the world came up with the name for Lemon Curd? CURD? That was the best someone could come up with after first stumbling upon the preparation for this silky smooth, buttery, sweet-and-sour concoction? Honestly. It makes something so delicious sound like, well... like cheese. Which, don't get me wrong, is delicious in its own special way. But a Cheese Curd and Lemon Curd have diddly squat in common, and I take offense to this complete misuse of the word Curd. Even Pudding would have been more acceptable, though, I suppose, that's a whole other ball of wax!
Well, setting aside the deplorable name, here is an altogether lovely recipe for lemon curd, which takes less than 15 minutes to make. Perfect for a pie, tart, or cake filling, or spread on muffins or scones.

Lemon Curd
(adapted from On Baking, by Sarah Labensky)

4 fl. oz. Lemon Juice, freshly squeezed
6.5 oz. Granulated Sugar, divided
2 tsp. Lemon Zest
2 Eggs
6 oz. Unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into small pieces

1. Combine the Lemon Juice, 3 ounces of the sugar and the zest in a nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
2. Place the eggs and remaining sugar in a bowl. Gently whisk together - we don't want lots of air bubbles.
3. While stirring the egg mixture gently, pour about 1/4 of the boiling juice mixture into the eggs. Once combined, continuing stirring and add in the remaining juice mixture to the eggs. Whisk to combine, then add the mixture back to the saucepan and return to the stove.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. Continue mixing and boil for 1 minute.
5. Remove from heat and transfer mixture into a cool bowl. Allow to cool, either in an ice bath or in the fridge for several minutes.
6. When the mixture is still warm, but no longer hot, add the butter in five parts, stirring well with a spatula after each addition. When the chunks of butter are almost melted, but not completely, you can add the next addition.
7. Use immediately, or chill, cover, and refrigerate.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cakes Galore - and Alpacas

I have quite a few events coming up to bake for, and I've started by baking a number of cakes for a tasting. Today I put together a simple marble, chocolate fudge, and vanilla buttermilk cakes. The vanilla buttermilk cake recipe comes from a cookbook I've mentioned before on this blog, "Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes." It is so very tasty - the buttermilk adds such a nice little extra flavor, as well as tons of moisture.
Also coming up is a fundraising banquet at church for the team of students and adults heading on a missions trip this summer to Lima, Peru. I was asked to provide the desserts, and was happy to oblige. I was playing with some ideas for sweets when I came across this Alpaca-shaped cookie cutter online. I have since decided to make some other things and won't be using the cutter for the banquet, but I had the extra piece of cake that I had leveled off, and felt like testing it out. Yep. It turns out that it cuts things in the shape of an alpaca. Genius.