Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Vacation Rewind - West Virginia Oct 2013

Once again it was all about country roads. We flew in to Charleston, WV on a chilly Friday night and set out to explore Saturday morning.
First stop - the just as amazing as it sounds - Tudor's Biscuit World!
After a hearty and biscuit filled breakfast we took off to explore the New River Gorge. 
The New River Gorge Bridge is a steel suspension bridge over the New River Gorge in the Appalachian Mountains. The scenery is stunning and definitely worth a visit.
After enjoying the views from the top of the New River Gorge we drove down to the bottom and hiked around a bit (hiking was definitely needed to work off that delicious biscuit breakfast). Did I mention it was really cold? Well for that time of the year it was colder than expected and now that we have been hit by our third blast of Arctic air here in NYC it wasn't really that cold....I just needed some perspective.
The river was a great photo spot and we saw lots of people go by in kayaks and river rafts. 

Next time we visit I want to take one of the river raft excursions - it looked like a ton of fun. Like a Disneyland ride, but for real.

Our return trip on Sunday was via the rails - we were so excited to find a Piggly Wiggly to get some snacks for the ride. I still am holding on to some of the Piggly Wiggly grocery sacks, they just make me laugh when I see them. They have to be used for something special and not just your everyday trash can liner.

Our final stop of the day was at Hawks Nest State Park. Once again the scenery was breathtaking. We rode the aerial tram down to the bottom (at $4 per person to ride round trip, it was the deal of the day) and did some more hiking along the leaf strewn trails.



On Sunday, we boarded the train about 8am in Charleston and were back in NYC about 9pm. The ride was a full day of nature's t.v. The early part of the train ride follows the river and the scenery looks like you are travelling next to the Rivers of America in Disneyland. (I kept looking for the careless settlers that set their cabin on fire - but everyone is apparently more careful these days.) We seemed to miss the peak season for the fall colors but it didn't matter, the time flew by because there was so much to see along the way.

We booked this trip because of a show the Smithsonian channel airs called, 'Aerial America'. Each episode features incredible aerial shots of a single state in the US. It was a great way to spend a weekend and really enjoy the beauty of somewhere that is often overlooked. West Virginia, we'll be back!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Unthinkable Happened

Alternate title - Beckham Goes to the Vet

The very next day after we came home from Vegas I noticed something terrible, something that made my stomach drop and my blood pressure rise.

Beautiful little Beckham had a big open sore on his backside. It looked deep and possibly infected. And it didn't look like it was going to heal up nicely on its own.

I knew it had to be done, he had to go to the vet. I didn't know how I was going to get him there but I made the call and scheduled the appointment. They only opening they had was at 5pm the next day. This meant I had more than a day to fret about how I was going to get this sweet little cat in a carrier and to the vet.

Remember how adorable he is...

Unfortunately that little tiny package of cuteness is a big old fur ball of crazy. Beckham is the most neurotic cat I have known and as he gets older he gets worse. I haven't been able to pick him up for years and the last time we moved I basically had to trick him to get him in the carrier. Getting Beckham to do something he doesn't want to do is stressful for human and feline alike!

The next morning I brought all of our carriers out of deep storage, assembled them, and placed them around the apartment. I had a very futile hope that his curiosity would get the best of him and he would climb inside to take a nap.

While that sounds like a crazy plan, it worked but on the wrong cat. And not just once

but twice Roxy climbed inside the carriers and settled in for a nap.

It was getting close to appointment time so I moved in to action. Beckham was fast asleep on the bed and I saw my chance to make this happen. I quietly placed one of the large carriers just outside the bedroom door. I tip toed over to his spot on the bed and quickly grabbed the scruff of his neck.

Well just as quickly he twisted and flipped around and sliced a few razor shop claws through my forearms. His move trumped my move and I released my furry master in defeat.

For some reason I can't explain he decided not to seek safety under the bed, but behind the litter box. After a good 10 minutes of mental debate while washing out my wounds I decided that I needed to try again before cancelling the appointment.

I grabbed a bath towel and the biggest of the carriers and headed to the entry way. Beckham ran away from me towards the front door. This worked in my favor, between the towel and the carrier Beckham really couldn't get past me. He hissed with his ears flat back, but that didn't stop me from inching closer to him. He was trying to figure out how to jump over me and my ridiculous towel/carrier contraption, but he ended up just under the front hall table. At that point I covered him with the towel and ushered him in to the carrier.

Is there anything more pathetic than Beckham in the carrier?
He stayed as far away from the door as he could possibly get. Of course at one point he was under the blankets in the carrier.
We made it to the appointment and from there he had a barrage of tests and examinations. He had an abscessed anal gland that became infected. The vet suggested she could show me how to express his anal glands every month or so to prevent this in the future. I'm pretty sure Beckham is not letting me anywhere near his nether region, especially on a monthly basis. They cleaned him up, gave him the antibiotic shot (yay, no trying to give him an antibiotic pill for two weeks), checked his blood and a few hours later we were headed home. Headed home in the rain. Headed home in the rain with no umbrella. Headed home in the rain with no umbrella and wearing a cone.
Yes, they insisted he wear the dreaded cone so he wouldn't lick at the open sore. This was a big mistake, big, big mistake. As soon as I opened the carrier door Beckham flew out and went to hide under his favorite chair. Unfortunately the cone was so big he couldn't fit under the chair - he went crashing in to it. Well that scared him even more, so he tried to get under the chair again and again he went crashing in to the chair with his cone. From there he just started ping ponging across the living room trying to find a place to hide and getting more and more upset.
Once again he ran to the entryway and crouched under the front hall table. He let me approach him very slowly and even though he did try to run I was able to hold him down and get the cone untied and off his head.
After that we all needed dinner and I needed a stiff drink. As much as it wasn't Beckham's night, it also wasn't my night. One of our favorite wine bars was packed so we went to a new burger place, unfortunately we didn't realize until we were seated they didn't have a liquor license yet! We stayed and ate, by this time it was getting late and I was done messing around. I think they have their liquor license now, but we haven't been back - they will learn that when I want a drink, they are expected to provide a drink.
The vet wanted Beckham to come back in a week for a checkup - yeah, right. Luckily his sore healed right up and didn't require any further attention. We all survived until the next cat-trastrophy!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Viva Las Vegas - July 2013

What better way to wrap up July birthday season, than with a trip to Fabulous Las Vegas! (You are thinking of the classic Las Vegas sign right now, right? Well start if you aren't already, that is where I was going with that opening bit.)

It was a big family meet up in that bright light city. Most of the crew flew in Friday night and we hit the casinos running. It worked out really well as J was landing at 10pm, D&B at 10:10pm, and M&K at 10:21pm (we were actually concerned we would be delayed because that is what happens when you fly with Michael). As it turned out M&K were 30 minutes early and everyone else was late, we were waiting at the gate when D&B stepped off the plane - which was awesome. We met up with our driver and soon we were all in an Escalade cruising to the Golden Nugget in style.

We spent Saturday afternoon throwing some dice and playing card games. I was not a winner, but J did really well - thanks for dinner! Saturday night we hopped in a cab to the Wynn. None of us had been there before, what a beautiful casino. The entrance has a large walkway filled with trees wrapped in white lights and beautiful flowers. Yes, some of the flowers are fake, we tested them and some are not, we tested those too.

Michael had done some research (he planned the entire trip) and Steve Wynn has recently become a vegan, now all of the restaurants on his property offer vegan options. This worked out well for our crowd. We enjoyed a really tasty dinner at the Italian restaurant, Allegro. They had three different vegan options, J was thrilled. I tried to eat relatively light and enjoyed the Caesar salad as a starter and the bean and grain soup for my main course. The guys both had spaghetti and meatballs. Wow, the bowl of pasta was huge - it could have easily been a family style portion of spaghetti. The flavor was fantastic and I think they both ate more than they wanted because it was hard to put down the fork. B had selection of bruschetta, an appetizer, as her main course. There were three different varieties and I think the Italian peppers and sausage was her favorite. After dinner we walked over to see Encore and it was just as amazing as the Wynn.

Sunday the O's came to join the party, they had to drive through a rain storm but after they arrived we headed to the Strip once again for dinner and a show.

We ate on the patio at Olives in Bellagio. Every 30 minutes we were treated to a front row seat of the water show. The food was Mediterranean inspired with bright and interesting flavors. The wine list was presented on an iPad, so high tech.

The bread basket was a great starter with soft rolls and crispy cracker sheets and two different tapenade spreads. MomW and MomO each had the prix fixe meal and were kind enough to share bites with the table. MomO and I shared her started, corkscrew shrimp, and she had a perfectly cooked piece of Chilean sea bass for dinner. I went with a fig and prosciutto flatbread for my main course. Even though it was considered a starter, it was a very large potion. The rosemary crust was topped with fig jam (hmm, maybe an idea for Christmas), gorgonzola cheese, and paper thin slices of prosciutto. Luckily BDO was sitting right next to me and he didn't let any of the delicious prosciutto go to waste once I was full. BDO started with the charred tomato gazpacho, it was a cool choice for the warm evening. And for his main he really enjoyed the beef carpaccio that was served over a bed of greens and a portion of gorgonzola polenta. (MomO and BDO have been staying away from carbs and each have lost quite a bit of weight. BDO gained 6 pounds while we were in Vegas - we were a bad influence! He has since lost it all and it back down to where he was before the trip.) MW started with the Boston Bibb salad (pictured below) the greens were topped with shaved onions, Maytag blue cheese sprinkles, and a toasted walnut dressing.

The birthday girl enjoyed a special dessert. And then she and Dan headed off to see Rod Stewart. They thoroughly enjoyed the show and were all smiles when we met them afterwards. (It was actually really sweet, we were waiting for them at the show exit doors and as soon as Michael's dad saw him he had a big smile on his face and walked right over and gave Michael a big bear hug. He is a huge Rod Steward fan and tickets to the show were his Father's Day present. He could not have been happier.)

J had to go back to work (boo!), after she dropped her parents off at the theatre, she headed to the airport and the rest of us walked to the conservatory garden in Bellagio. The garden was filled with over sized birds and flowers.

Unfortunately it was also filled with over sized crowds. With more rain headed our way, we scooted over to Caesar's Palace and lost some money playing games while we waited for the show goers.

After a long, tough day in a cabana at the Golden Nugget pool (not so much, it was not surprisingly, quite relaxing),  we spent our last night enjoying dinner at Hugo's Cellar. Hugo's is a classic steak house with waiters in tuxedos, roses for the women, and flattering dim lighting. The service is exquisite and the food is old school fantastic. My favorite part of the meal is the salad cart and custom mixed salad. Any time food is prepared table side it is automatically better and this salad is enough for a filling meal. (In fact, that is all MomO had for her starter and dinner.) We were hoping to have room for table side cherries jubilee or bananas foster after dinner, but that salad is just so filling. Well the salad, and the steaks and chicken and everything else we ordered.
After dinner we headed up to Binion's steakhouse for the view of the Vegas lights and a nightcap. I'm pretty sure none of us went right to bed after that drink so I even though it was intended to be a nightcap it was more of a second wind cap.
The four days flew by and it was the perfect way to end July birthday season. We should do it again next year!

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect - little fondant cakes

Well not exactly perfect, but getting better.
Combining my packed July birthday calendar and my newly learned fondant skills I was busy making fancy little cakes last month. 
First off Miss Madi's Tiffany box. The 3"x 4" cake was a very dense chocolate cake topped with a coffee simple syrup and rich chocolate frosting. (My first batch of frosting was grainy so I ended up making a second batch using Trader Joe's Sipping Chocolate and it turned out fantastic. Thanks for the rescue Trader Joe's!) The frosted cake was covered in a thin layer of  '5th Avenue' blue fondant and topped with a white fondant ribbon and bow. I finished this cake about 4am the same morning it was shipped so I was lucky to snap this photo right before it went in to the box. It was cute, but definitely room for improvement.
 Next shipment were three little brownie bites decorated to look like little Tiffany jewelry boxes. They were pretty darn cute and much easier to cover in fondant than the larger cake. 

Unfortunately they clearly smelled very delicious and never made it to Annie - she sent a picture of what happened to her birthday package. We were all relieved that Molly didn't get sick from eating the brownies! What kind of birthday gift would that have been? Next time I should put a warning label on the box, "Keep away from the dog, tasty treats inside."

It took me two tries to get this next little cake right, but the extra effort was worth the end result. This little chocolate cake was covered in chocolate fondant (which tastes like Tootsie Rolls - yum) and then decorated with white fondant polka dots and a fondant bow.  I'm sure you are wondering, no the bow didn't survive shipping, it was flattened. And yes, for the sake of my test kitchen I did eat the first cake. I have to make sure what I'm sending people tastes good, right? Right?

And to wrap up July birthday season I made a white cake that was turned in to one little rounded cake topped with a sea blue fondant and molded shells and sea creatures. Clearly I didn't have plan on how to decorate the cake with the decorations, but they all looked so cute I had to use every last one.

I bought fancy cupcake boxes to package my creations. I don't think it helped them as much during shipping as I had hoped, but they looked good when they left my kitchen.

That same white cake also made 6 little petite fours - these were just about 1.5" x 1.5". I covered each one in a different shade of blue fondant, I was going for more of an ombre effect but it didn't turn out exactly as I was picturing it in my head (that happens more often than not, btw). These little cakes were harder to cover than the larger cake. I had to be careful not to smush them down. The brownie bites had more structural integrity than the small cake bites. I do love how each little cake highlights the individual decorations. How cute is that sea turtle? 

Ahh, August! With no birthdays on the horizon until September what am I going to do? 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Birthday with Phil-ly

July birthday season started with a trip to Philadelphia.
Before the game on Saturday we ate at a restaurant called Village Whiskey. The executive chef is Jose Garces, a top chef who has defeated Bobby Flay on Iron Chef. I found it because it has a nice selection of bourbon. We ended up not having any straight bourbon while we were there but we did have a great meal and some very tasty cocktails. We started by picking one of their pickle selections, it was a hard choice but we went with the truffled cauliflower. The cauliflower was mixed with some carrots and they were in a vinegar bath with a nice background of truffle. I would love to try and make them myself. The pickles also came with some toasted sourdough bread, whipped ricotta cheese, and an olive tapenade. It was definitely a plate of food that made me happy. For lunch we shared a burger and a wedge salad. The wedge had roasted red pepper slices, grilled red onion, shaved parmesan and it was topped with a buttermilk dressing. The burger was a big messy burger that was perfectly cooked, served on a nice soft bun and topped with a house made thousand island dressing. It was more than enough food for two people. Michael enjoyed an Old Fashioned to drink while I had a cocktail called the 'Bee Charmer'. The 'Bee Charmer' was a mix of lavender and chamomile infused gin with yellow chartreuse, lemon, and honey. It was an interesting flavor mix that was really light and refreshing.
Saturday night we had some fantastic seats to watch the Braves win over the Phillies. We sat behind the visiting team dugout and there were lots of Braves fans in our section.

We stayed at the Le Meridien in downtown. We could walk to Independence Hall, Reading Terminal Market, and Rittenhouse Square. The hotel is an old YMCA building that has been updated and renovated. There was a big open atrium area with modern seating where you could see the old building but you were still inside of the hotel.

Before the game on Sunday we walked over to Independence Hall. Unfortunately there was a heat advisory in the Northeast that weekend and it was really hot and humid. We were dying by the time we got to the National Constitution Center and all we wanted to do was go in and cool down, but they weren't open yet for the day. We could see the condensation on the building doors and we knew it was nice and cold inside but we were out of luck.


We didn't have enough time to go inside Independence Hall for a tour, but we did tour the grounds. It is always great to visit a spot with so much history. We peeked in at the Liberty Bell and the visitor center had some great info on Benjamin Franklin. 

The game on Sunday wasn't as much fun as the game on Saturday. It was really hot, we were seated by all Philly fans with lots of young children that had no interest in watching the game, and the Braves lost - boo! At one point during the game McCann ran from 1st to 3rd base and it looked like he was going to pass out at 3rd - it was just too hot to be out there on the field!

After the game we hung out in Rittenhouse Square and had some food before the Amtrak ride home.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Alumni Weekend with the Atlanta Braves - June 2013

We spent a long and hot weekend in Atlanta to celebrate Braves Alumni Weekend and the retirement of Chipper Jones #10.
Friday was the big ceremony to retire Chipper's number. The pre-game ceremony was pretty quick, but nicely done. It is hard to see, but if you look in the outfield a #10 is highlighted in the grass.

There was a lunch honoring Chipper that day and that seemed like the real party. Lots of Braves legends were on hand to congratulate Chipper.

Throughout the game on Friday, video messages popped up on the scoreboard. Of course Dale Murphy was there on the screen and in person. He was signing autographs on Saturday, but the line to see him was crazy long and pretty much in direct sunlight. We just kind of walked by his table and got a quick view while he was signing.

Saturday was a blast. Before the actual game there was an alumni softball game. Past players were split in to two teams and they played a mean game of softball. There were quite a few shenanigans including an umpire catching a fly ball and it counting as an out!

Some of the alumni players brought their kids to run for them. It was really cute to see them take their job very seriously. The umps and players made sure the kids scored if they were close to home plate. 

John Smoltz was a team captain and he hit a monster home run. He had a good time running the bases.

Sunday was alumni photo day with groups of players arranged around the stadium. Most of the stations didn't have very long lines so we decided to meet some players and get some photos. All of the players were so pleasant, it ended up being a highlight of the trip.

In the photo below: Denny Neagle, Craig Skok, Mike Bell, Tony Brizzolara, and one other play to be identified and of course KO and MW.

And we managed to get in to the special 'season ticket holder' station to get our photo with: Marquis Grissom, Mike Bielecki, Adrian Devine, and Chris Hammond. Chris Hammond is the player who has his arm around me, I went to shake his hand and ended up getting a hug!

Our last photo session ended up being the best. We were the last people to get our photos taken with this group and they were very chatty. As we were waiting to pose for the photo two of the alumni were comparing their World Series rings. The staff person with my camera was nice enough to snap photos of this, I was so happy this candid moment was captured. 

The alumni players were Brad Clontz, Jay Howell, and Curtis Pride. Mark Lemke was supposed to be with this group but he wasn't which was a bummer because I was wearing my Lemke shirt! He was supposed to see what a big fan I am :-)

The game on Sunday was dedicated to the troops. As part of the opening they had military members walk on the field and be part of the flag salute.

And the best part of the weekend the Braves swept the series! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Making of a Gum Paste Flower

I am still amazed at how a gum paste flower starts out as nothing but a lump of gum paste and in a few relatively easy steps it turns in to a pretty flower.
For the Tiffany cake box, the flower petal base is the same as a traditional rose. 
Once the petal shape is cut from the dough, the front side gets some texture from a veining tool.

After veining, the petal edges are thinned out with a ball tool.

This process was repeated three times and the layers glued together. 

To give the petals some lift and movement, small piece of foam are inserted between the petals as the flower dries.

This particular flower was going on the Tiffany cake, so the center was made to look like a silver brooch using a daisy flower shape for the base.

And a jewelry brooch mold for the center.

The center piece was painted with edible silver and we added edible sugar pearls to make it fancy!

Once the center is glued to the flower petal base, the entire piece is left to set.

And finally it is added to the cake.