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.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Kieler & Kohler

This weekend Justin and I had made plans to be at different sides of the state. He and his dad and an opportunity to play The Straits Course at Whistling Straits in Kohler, and I went to visit Kurt, Angie & Katie in Keiler. Our weekends could not have been more opposite! Though cold and windy, Justin was excited to have gotten a chance to play a PGA Championship course. Scores and stories will surely be re-shared the next time they watch Tiger play a round there!
And at the other corner of Wisconsin, I was passing time taking photos of lambs, petting downy-soft new chicks, visiting with great friends, and working at making their one-year-old daughter smile and laugh (and was successful most of the time!). And who knew that clothes pins are the bees knees of children's toys (or snacks)?! And cameras. Cameras are evidently fascinating to one-year-olds. Especially the lens - it calls out to Katie to be touched! It was a fun, relaxed time, even if it did involved getting creamed at Mexican Train Dominoes by a ruthless Harris! And now we are both home, glad to be done with driving and out of the rain and thunderstorms.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wife of a Geek

Justin has been involved in an online software competition for the last couple of months, and has qualified for a trip to Las Vegas. We've gone to this "conference" for the past two years, and we're thrilled to be going again soon. However, to try to "get to know" the competitors a bit better, TopCoder has asked each of them to submit a video. Not really anything specific required, just something personal and TopCoder- or competition-related. We wanted to try to make it somewhat silly, but we couldn't figure out how filming Norm attempting to climb a tree was computer-related. Rather, I got a new brand of fondant icing I have been wanting to try, and decided to make TopCoder and TCO cupcakes. Then we will film Justin eating one. This Satin Ice Fondant was very easy to work with, but alas, it still tastes a bit like plastic. I added some vanilla and butter extract, but that just made it taste like vanilla butter gum. So cute? Of course. Tasty? Nothing to rave about, but not half bad. Definitely better than Wilton brand (noticing a theme here...). I only covered these few in fondant - the rest I just stuck with the cream cheese frosting! And sprinkles - lots of sprinkles!

Can you believe this photo came from my camera - Justin thought it was something I found online!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I've got the Whole World...

In celebration of both Earth Day and my Aunt Ruth's birthday, she requested cake pops to take to her office. These came out even better than expected. I also tried some new candy melts, Merkens brand from Confectionery House (which also sells ridiculously cool cupcake wrappers). In addition to the candy coating; I also bought paramount crystals which help thin out the melted candy, making it easier to dip the cake balls. This combination (the new melts and crystals) seemed to be easier to work with than my previous endeavors with Wilton brand melts and shortening, though there wasn't much difference in the end result.
So whether it is your birthday, or you are just trying not to destroy the earth, Enjoy the day!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Women's Retreat (day)

This whole weekend (Friday - Sunday) is our church's Women's Retreat. We had some plans already set for this weekend, so rather than going for the whole time, and since it was relatively nearby, I decided to just drive out for the day. It was a gorgeous warm, sunny day, and a nice time to connect with a bunch of other gals from our church, be silly, have some quiet time, and do some cooking. The theme for the weekend was "Finding Your True Beauty." And I was glad to have my camera along to capture some moments that I found beautiful.
In the afternoon there were a number of workshops that the women could choose from to fill an hour, one of which I led. I shared a number of fun and easy appetizer and dessert recipes and ideas, and made sure the women in my little group (trapped in the sweltering hot kitchen) got involved and got their hands dirty. Here is Tammi David putting together some Roasted Garlic and Cambazola Cheese Triangles. She wanted me to take a picture so she could prove to her husband that she helped cook! She also helped with the dishes, which is always a way to endear yourself to me! :)
I was glad for the chance to be able to spend the day this way.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Toot the Tax Bird

In a round about sort of way, I happened upon this fun, free site on the internet. After downloading and printing out the design, I spent the next 10 minutes cutting, folding and gluing my little birdie together. Seriously - pretty funny. I would suggest printing it out on cardstock paper if you have it, but the regular old paper already loaded in the printer works pretty good as well. I may soon have a flock of these little guys - perfect for wasting time and eliciting smiles.

Monday, April 13, 2009

French Toast

The second loaf of challah baked up beautifully. While still far from perfect, it had a great crust and delicious and moist crumb. We shared about half of it with family, but then hoarded the rest away in order to make french toast with it this morning.

The basis for this recipe for french toast is the first recipe I ever wrote down while watching Thirty Minute Meals (caution - link has sound) with Rachel Ray - almost 6 years ago (before she took over the world) - and it is the bomb. But I've never used challah bread for french toast before today, and now it is the atom bomb of french toast. Serve with real maple syrup, preferably made by a friend's family, and you might as well wipe yourself off the face of the map. Crazy. Good.

French Toast
(adapted from Thirty Minute Meals)

2 eggs
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 Cup Heavy Cream
1/4 Cup Milk
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg (freshly grated if you have it)
6-8 slices thick (at least 1" thick) french or challah bread
Butter for pan

Whisk together the eggs, sugar, cream, milk, and nutmeg. Start soaking several slices of bread in the mixture, flip over after a few minutes to soak other side. Heat large non-stick skillet/griddle to medium heat. When the pan is heated, melt a bit of butter in it, then add several pieces of soaked bread to it - only as many as can fit comfortably in the pan, don't crowd it. While these are cooking, start soaking remaining slices in the egg mixture. Depending on your stovetop's heat output, each slice should be flipped over after about 3 minutes, when the cooked side is golden brown. The other side usually takes a little bit less time, maybe about 2 minutes. Warning - I've never actually timed how long this takes. Maybe it was 4 minutes and 3 minutes? Just keep an eye on it. If the toast darkens after only a minute, turn down your heat a bit, or else you will have beautiful-looking french toast, but it will be nasty and gooey on the inside - blech. I like to preheat my oven to 300 degrees, set a wire rack on a cookie sheet, and have it ready in the warmed oven in order to put my finished slices of french toast on while I cook the whole batch of toast. The finished slices don't get soggy or cold, and everything can be served together at the same time. And if, by chance, the center of the french toast didn't get completely done in the pan, the heat from the oven will finish the cooking process.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter randomness

This post has nothing to do with Easter, but I posted it on Easter, so I have to at least mention Easter. Here's a picture of a deep-fried Cadbury Creme Egg:

Here's a funny picture:

Julie and I went to church this morning, out to brunch with her mom, dad, and grandma, and then went up to Wausau to watch golf and hang out with my parents. While we were there, Sarah reached into a cookbook and pulled out this note (it had a recipe on the back), which we are assuming was written about 20 years ago, when I was 9 or 10. Click to get the full details

For those who don't know, my mom passed away when I was 6, and my dad was left with 3 boys, ages 6, 4, and 2, and a fledgling business, so we were all expected to do stuff that most normal kids didn't have to deal with. It's kind of funny looking back at stuff that we just kind of assumed was normal at the time but very much wasn't.

We also had a long discussion about Facebook

I am still on the fence about this whole thing. While I do enjoy a good bit of technology now and then, there are some things I just don't see the value in, namely cell phones, instant messaging, and now Facebook. I don't like cell phones (we only have 1 - prepaid -, and only for emergencies), or instant messaging, because I consider them to be "intrusive" technologies. I mostly like being left alone to focus on important tasks, and I feel that having a phone ringing wherever I was or having an IM window pop up all the time is distracting and I end up resenting either the phone or person IM'ing me. Facebook is scary to me because I haven't always made the best decisions (actually hardly ever), and I don't want people remembering me from grade school, middle school, high school, college, etc..., but it would actually be cool to stay in touch with my family, cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, grandparents, parents, etc..., all of whom are starting to use Facebook. Let me know your thoughts. Either Facebook is a gift from the heavens, made from dreams, rainbows, and unicorn farts (Candy mountain! Candy mountain! You fill me with sweets, sugary goodness!!! ), or it is pure evil. I actually already have an account, but I haven't used it all. If I actually start using the stupid thing, I will have to create a profile pic that uses one of my cats, as that seems to be the Gasper thing to do:

I have also been listening to new music lately, so I thought I would share my current list.

Trav clued me into this compilation, which has a ton of artists that I like on it, including an awesome song by Sufjan Stevens, Justin Vernon (from Bon Iver), YeaSayer, The National, and Beirut:

Pandora also recommended to me a song by Vetiver, and I am currently listening to both "Tight Knit", and "To Find Me Gone"

A standby favorite of mine is Sufjan Stevens. Both the Illinois and Michigan albums are spectacular:

In the same vein is Welcome Wagon. Sufjan Stevens had an obvious influence in this album. I'm not sure how I feel about the album cover, but it's good music.

For good up-tempo music, Fatboy Slim and OK Go are two of my many go-to choices. Doesn't hurt that they know how to make a music video:

Fatboy Slim Video (for some reason can't embed this one, but it's probably the best video ever. Christopher Walken is a genius.)

That's it for me. Random Easter post out -- word.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Challah - First Loaf

I've been holding onto this recipe for challah for a little while now, and finally got it into the kitchen to be made today. And actually, this is the first loaf of challah that has ever come out of my oven! I don't know why it took me so long - other things just came first I guess. My Kitchen Aid mixer could barely get this dough kneaded, and so I ended up going at it by hand for a little while as well. The recipe makes two LARGE loaves. I wanted to bake one tonight so that we could try it and then use the leftovers for french toast this week. The second loaf is braided and in the fridge, to be baked in the morning for Easter festivities. I was honestly quite surprised when I opened the oven to see how much it had "plumped" during baking! I braided the second loaf a little tighter, so I'm hoping that loaf will be slightly more compact. Definitely dramatic though! And oh-so delicious!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sounds Important

This afternoon Justin was interviewed by a professor with the School of Business at Harvard University. I guess they are interested in including some information on TopCoder's business model in upcoming curriculum and wanted to talk to someone who has been working with them for awhile. It's not every day that "Harvard University" shows up on the caller id! I told him he can now include "Consultant for the Harvard Business School" on his resume.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Shout! Shout it Out!

Just two days ago I mentioned to Justin that I was surprised that our crocus hadn't started blooming. So I stepped out our front door this morning, and lo and behold the miniature yellow and purple flowers have made their appearance. All cheery and happy and the like. A couple of our daffodils are just days away from showing off their yellow petals, and the tulips are finally starting to bust their shoots through the dingy, brown-gray earth. Spring! I may even take the winter coats to the dry cleaners next week, though I don't want to push my luck too far!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Every so often, a website called MacHeist is updated with a new bundle of Mac software that is a huge discount for what is provided. I bought it last year, and bought it again this year. I use The Hit List and Espresso pretty much every day. -- A side note -- The Hit List has an awesome easter egg in it: When you check a task as done it plays a little chime. I had a task called "Send package to Luke", reminding me to send something to my brother, and when I checked it as done, it played a little Star Wars song instead, because I had the word "Luke" in the task. It also plays a Super Mario Brothers song for tasks with Mario or Luigi in the name. --

I am also encouraging Julie to start using Delicious Library to account for our DVD's and books, since we tend to lend things out and forget who has what, and Sous Chef for her recipes.

Anyways, one of the apps in the bundle is called "World of Goo". It's a fun little game where you try to get these little "Goo Balls" moved around, and different species of Goo Balls have different properties. Julie is now officially addicted. I laugh every time she yells at the computer because something goes wrong :)

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Big Day.

Seven years ago today Justin and I took that monumental step of tying the knot. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny spring day, and for the most part, everything went off without a hitch. Church? Check. Flowers? Check. Dresses and Tuxes? Check and Check. Photographer and Cake? Check and yummy Check. Rings? Check. Friends and Family? Double Check. Each other? Forever Check.
The day went by quickly, but I think reflected who we are - fun and laid back. Definitely gave and received more hugs that day than probably in the seven years since. Gosh, I loved those bridesmaids' dresses. I wish I could have worn one! Well, except that I got to wear the wedding dress, which wasn't half bad. I also love how well the photographs came out. It was great to look through the proof album and see the shots that we could never have noticed were happening. This shot of Justin's grandmother Gigi and my Grandma always makes me smile, and gets me choked up at the same time.
While time may have passed by and we've grown up and experienced life a bit more, I love Justin, and am ridiculously thankful that we walked down that aisle seven years ago.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Justin's Motiviation

Justin has found some new resolve to exercise. He has set up a monitor and his XBox on a cabinet in front of treadmill, and while he plays Call of Duty with his brothers he walks. I felt like this was a decision that may land him in the hospital, but so far so good. He gets to kill a bunch of Nazis, talk with Trav and Luke, and burn calories all at the same time. I stand at the ready with the phone and the camera - the phone in case 9-1-1 is needed, and the camera to document the fiasco.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pacific Ocean

When Julie and I were in Seattle, we took a drive to the Pacific ocean. It's a longer drive than you might think, at least a couple of hours.

The beach itself isn't much of a "lay out and get a sun tan" beach. The water itself is very cold and very dangerous, so there wasn't any swimming or anything like that. We found this guy and took his picture. He had some weird contraption made out of PVC that he used to suck sand in and then "spit" it back out. Apparently a particular type of shrimp burrows into the sand when the tide goes out and he was collecting them in the jar. He knew where they were since they still had to breath, so there were tiny little air bubbles on the surface of the sand.

We spent some time walking on the beach watching people fly kites. Apparently this is a popular thing to do. A couple of them were so big they actually had to be attached to the trailer hitches on people's trucks.

After we walked around on the beach, we stopped at a Mexican restaurant and then headed home.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


So today's baking experiment was to attempt to copy these ridiculously cute cake pops by Bakerella. Miraculously, I was able to find all the necessary components within Stevens Point - mainly the candy sprinkles to use for the feet and beak and wings. So this afternoon I set to the task before me. I had made a cake and some frosting ahead of time, so all I had left was all the putzy things. Forming and freezing the cake balls, melting the candy discs, inserting the lollipop stick and dipping the balls (NO - that's NOT what she said!), then attaching the feet, beaks and wings, and finally drawing on two little eyes. And hooray! They actually came pretty close! They are crazy cute and tasty to boot! Madie showed no mercy to this little chick...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Family Visit to Seattle

So, while Julie and I were living in Seattle, Dad, Trav, and Luke came to visit. We did the "touristy" stuff, like go downtown, the Space Needle, and the Experience Music Project:.

We also ate waaaay too much Chinese food one nigh at our favorite take out place. While we were out and about, Trav proceeded to make his "stupid" face in every picture we took. Click on each one to get the full effect :)

If you've ever been down by the Space Needle, you soon realize it's kind of a weird place. The Space Needle is front and center, but the Experience Music Project is right next to it, with the monorail that always catches on fire going through it (the picture of Trav and Luke above is them braving the monorail ride); there's a weird carnival with kiddie roller coasters, the Key Arena where the Supersonics play, and the "International Fountain", which is always a crowd pleaser. It's a giant fountain that shoots water in time with music. Very cool. Plus a picture to prove that Trav isn't the only joker in the family.