Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Lollipop, Lollipop

The summer of Home Ec. continues.

One hot and humid Saturday night I took my first class at the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE). They offer professional and recreational cooking classes.

I chose a lollipop making class. We covered several different sugar techniques including dipped, poured, and pulled treats.

The weather was ridiculously humid and unfortunately many of the item we made in class were very sticky and didn't set up properly. Below are the three treats that set up the best (and that were not eaten on my way home from class).

Of the three sugar treats pictured, I poured the Christmas tree looking lollipop and my group made the sugar used in the round lollipop.

In the class we were split in to 3 person teams; each team had 3 recipes to complete. The chef instructor made sure each team made something dipped, poured, and pulled so we learned the basics of working with sugar. We were sent home with copies of all of the recipes made in class and samples of each item made in class as well.

Pouring and dipping were the easiest ways to work with sugar. The pulling technique definitely needs practice to get even ribbons of candy. Plus there is a fine balance between keeping the sugar warm and pliable and not burning your fingers!

One of the teams in our class was a mom with two teenage daughters. The daughters bought the class as a Mother's Day gift. It was so cute to see them all working together. They made the green/yellow pulled sugar heart in the photo above. They started out just making penny candy sticks with the green and yellow, but there was so much sugar to work with they got creative. MomO would have enjoyed the class - I could see us not paying attention though and end up with some kind of sugar disaster instead of cute pulled sugar hearts.

(Spoiler alert) I bought some lollipop molds at the baking supply store the other day - I have grand plans for some really awesome Halloween lollipops!

Back to My Roots

Embracing my brunette - it was time for a change and I need a color that is easy to maintain at home, so it is back to brown.

Michael bought me a Bumble and Bumble gift certificate for Christmas. But as it turns out I managed to get in as a hair model for Bumble and Bumble. Every 4 months I go in and get a free graduated bob. The stylist that cuts your hair is already a professional working in a salon, they are at B&B to keep their skills fresh. It is a great system; as a hair model I am much more confident of the skills of a working professional instead of a student working towards their license.

I decided to use the gift certificate for a professional color. The colorist did a great job, he added some brighter pieces just around my face and the rest of the hair is dark and shiny. The goal is to maintain the color at home and maybe just visit the salon once or twice a year. Of course I love the color so much I am going to want to go in all the time.

On Going Series: Where's Beckham?

He's watching t.v.!

Last night I was watching a nature show on deep sea volcanoes. For about 10 minutes Beckham was completely enthralled with the images on the screen. He kept a close eye on the bio luminescent jelly fish as if they were going to jump off the screen at attack. He was so entertaining I watched him more than I watched the program.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Adventures in Quilting

Alternate title: KO's summer of Home Ec.
I have filled the hot and humid nights of summer with sewing and cooking classes.
I just finished two of my first quilting projects and the cats couldn't be happier with the results.
It all started with some bright and cheery fabric.
My intention with the quilting class was to make a small lap size blanket. Once class started I realized smaller projects would be better. And not just smaller in scale, but something that didn't need to be perfect on the first try. My lap quilt turned in to 5 cats mats.
I quickly learned my favorite part of making a quilt is the design process. Deciding the pattern and how to arrange the fabrics definitely uses the side of my brain I don't use for working with numbers all day.
With the cat mats the process was a little different. I made a ton of patchwork blocks using different techniques learned in class. We learned how to make blocks with rectangles and triangles; basics that can be used to create an endless variety of patterns.
Once I had a huge stack of blocks I set them out to determine the cat mat designs. Of course the cats tested the product along the way and they were especially helpful when I was laying out the blocks and deciding on borders. Roxy let me know the mat was going to be just the right size.
After sewing the quilt top was complete I had to do the actual quilting process. This involves sandwiching the quilt top, soft batting, and the quilt back with decorative stitching. You may remember the post where I showed the package for my newly purchased walking foot. This is a piece of the sewing machine that helps you do the actual quilting - it allows the thick fabric to feed evenly through the sewing machine. When I quilted the mats at home I didn't have the walking foot yet so some of my straight lines aren't quite straight. Lucky for me the cats don't seem to notice (or they are just too polite to say anything).
After the cat mats were quilted they went through more on-site testing before I added the final piece - the binding.
Sadie was quick to lend a paw during this phase of the project.
Now back to that walking foot. Last night I went to attach the binding. Again the walking foot is very useful because it allows you to evenly sew multiple layers of fabric. When you are sewing on the binding you have to sew through 5 layers of fabric and the corners need to be precise so they will self miter (make a nice crisp point).
Let me show you the "complete" instructions that were included with the walking foot package.
Yes - two tiny paragrahs with a diagram that is practicaly impossible to deciper. After multiple attempts to correctly attach the foot to my sewing machine and sew with it I determined it doesn't work with my machine. Sigh - my sewing machine is a low end model that is at least 7 years old. It doesn't have a factory authorized walking foot attachement for sale, the only option I found on-line was this generic model. It definitley does not fit correctly, at this point I will just have to figure out how to quilt without this device. Needless to say the walking foot will be returned, complete instructions and all!
Sewing the binding is a process I did not enjoy and found rather difficult. Before you can attach the binding you have to make the long thin strip of fabric that will become the binding piece. The connecting edges have to be 45 degree angles in order for the seams to lie flat and be strong enough to last for many years. (Let me tell you there is a lot of math involved in sewing a quilt - I need to review my geometry lessons.) Actually making a long thin strip of fabric with 45 degree seams is much harder to do than it sounds - it took me multiple tries and I still reversed some of the seams. I left some seams showing because I was tired of ripping out seams and afterall this is a project for the cats! When the binding strips were finally complete I was able to attach them using my regular sewing machine foot and the feeding process was fairly even. The final sewing of the binding is all done by hand and compared to making the binding strip and using the machine to attach it the hand sewing was a piece of cake.
Today I am proud to report I have two finished cat mats - yay!
This one has a free style quilt pattern that is made up of wavy lines.
Check out the miter on the corner - not too bad for my first attempt at binding.
The backing is just one piece of fabric. I found out pretty quickly quilting takes more fabric than I realized. I had to go back to the fabric store to get backing fabric and fabric for the binding. I am now out of binding fabric and I need to make one more run to the fabric store to finish the last 3 cat mats.
The second finished cat mat has quilting lines that mimic plaid - one straight line followed by two straight lines. My straight lines aren't quite straight, it just leaves room for improvement on my next project. I'm not too stressed about the wonky lines because as previously mentioned these mats are for the cats and I will let you imagine what they will do to them.
Just like the first finished mat, the backing is one solid piece of fabric.
Sadie was quick to take a nap on the finished cat mat.
Good news! I am now accepting orders for cat mats - the price is $100 for the first mat and if you order two the second mat is just $75 (all shipping and handling charges included). Order now for Summer 2011 delivery.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Treehouse of Art

Each summer the Met has an art installation on the roof. On Friday and Saturday evenings they also have a bar. Enjoying a cocktail looking over Central Park and the fabulous views of Midtown is a great way to start the weekend.

This year the installation is one huge bamboo sculpture.

The sculpture grows each day as more pieces of bamboo are added by the artists and rock climbers. You can walk around among the pieces and you feel like you are in the middle of a bamboo forest. The canopy also provides lots of shade - welcome relief in the hot summer sun.

There are a few walkways up in the bamboo and the Met offers tours to climb up inside of the sculpture. We just enjoyed the bamboo forest from below - maybe next time we'll try to schedule the tour.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Yay! Birthday Cookies

For whatever reason July is a big birthday month for me - I must be naturally drawn to Cancers (as most of the birthdays seem to fall in the earlier part of the month)....anyway if you aren't lucky enough (read the sarcasm in that) to live with me you probably don't know I have 14 birthdays to celebrate in the month of July, and most of them are high profile friends and family. The birthday bonanza is coming to close so I did something special for the birthday party people on July 22nd.

I pulled out my copy of Martha Stewart Living magazine from February 1996 and I made the cut-out sugar cookies. I love the recipe because the dough is so heavy it doesn't spread. The cookies end up with great definition because they don't puff up and the cut lines don't get soft. I love a crisp cookie so I tend to roll them pretty thin and cook them until they are a lovely golden brown on the edges.
Melissa received a box full of Birthday Partini sugar cookies at work.
I feel that if you must work on your birthday you should have treats to hand out while you are there. I know this goes back to grade school when we could bring in treats on our birthday. I loved that - for that one day everyone was your friend, especially if you brought in a really great treat for the class.
The cookies were brushed with edible 'Disco Rainbow' luster dust when they came out of the oven. Then I piped around the edges with white chocolate (I thought the chocolate would travel better in the mail than frosting) and finally I dipped the top 'rim' in pink sanding sugar.

The stems were pretty thin and I was concerned they would all get broken to bits in shipping. To help them I 'glued' each cookie to a piece of cute printed card stock with white chocolate. (I didn't test this out before I did it and I really hope there weren't bits of paper stuck to the back of the cookies.) It was so hot in the kitchen I had to turn on the air conditioner in the kitchen to get the chocolate to set.
Once the chocolate set I sealed each cookie in a cello bag.

And my favorite part was the label on the back that sealed the bag. I searched the Internet for a suitable martini recipe and found....
Birthday Partini
1 1/2 oz vanilla vodka
1 oz half and half
1/2 oz almond liqueur
Pour all ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously. Stain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Optional garnished: Birthday candles, good friends, and bad dancing.

No matter how the cookies taste they looked really cute.
And for Gordy, a box of bow tie sugar cookies.

I found the cookie cutter in Atlanta and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to make cookies for Gordy. His cookies were wrapped in a cello bag with a pre-printed birthday sticker on the back. I considered a recipe for a 'Black Tie Martini' but then went with the sticker.
So happy birthday to my friends - enjoy your treats!

My smile for the day

I went in for a physical today - nothing is wrong, just 'kicking the tires' so to speak. The nurse practitioner who examined me, I'm not making this up, her name was....wait for it......Shari Potter!

You know I wanted to say something but I figure she has heard it all before so I didn't.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On Going Series: Where's Beckham?

He's asleep on the couch and he is just the cutest cat ever!

I crept closer and closer until I woke him up snapping the last shot. Of course he promptly hissed at me and ran away.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

American Idiot

After a business trip in Connecticut, Bex drove down and spent the night.
Even though she was in NYC just about 12 hours we made the most of her trip. She got here right as I was finishing up with my work for the day. It was crazy hot and humid but she was a trooper and we both wanted to go to dinner and a show. We decided not to buy tickets ahead of time but to go to TKTS and see what we could get that night. (TKTS sells 'day of' Broadway show tickets at a discounted price - often at 50% off of the full price.) We arrived at the TKTS booth about 6:45pm - by 6:55pm we had two front mezzanine tickets to 'American Idiot', purchased at 50% off the normal ticket price. Needless to say, we were totally excited.
The show started at 8pm, so not quite enough time for dinner but enough time to get a drink and a snack. We found a bistro type cafe close to the theatre and enjoyed a Greek style tapas plate and a couple of drinks. The tapas plate was perfect - a plate of warm pita slices served with 3 dips and a couple of stuffed grape leaves. The star of the dips was a caviar dip - I'm pretty sure it was just caviar eggs blended with cream cheese. The dip was salty and creamy and delicious.
We headed to the theatre and settled in for the show. The show was amazing. Everything for the set stays on stage the entire time and the orchestra also sits on stage the entire time. The orchestra is made up of a keyboard, a guitar, a bass guitar, a violin, and a cello. The musicians are spread around the stage and they don't interact with the actors but they are definitely part of the show. The backdrop for the show is full of video screens, during the musical pieces they flashed various video clips that made statements to backup the lyrics. The video editor must have spent hours getting the timing just right on all of the clips. The cast is pretty large, with at least 20 different actors and actresses. They were all young and full of energy. They are moving, dancing, and singing the entire performance. The Green Day music is woven in to the performance seamlessly. Even though the music would appeal to a younger audience the themes covered are very adult with very adult situations - not a place to bring your 12 year old unless you wanted to spend the rest of the night answering questions.
The 1/2 off tickets were a bonus but we both felt we would pay full price to see it again - it was just that good.
After the show we headed down to Fish for some late night seafood. We finished the night with a little bit of gelato and then headed home. Bex was up at 6am to head out to JFK - she was gone before the cats even knew she was there.
It was a great night and I can't wait to head down to Broadway and visit the TKTS booth to get more discount show tickets. (Michael is headed to Oregon later this summer - you know I already have plans for at least one show while he is gone.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

In the ATL

It took me a few years, but I figured out the magic formula to make Michael happy on his birthday - go see the Atlanta Braves. I just look up where they are playing and then figure out how to get us there.

This year is was easy, the Braves were playing at home (and really nothing makes Michael happier than seeing a Braves home game). It was off to Atlanta for the Fourth of July weekend.

Of course I had month end close (I know, it's always close and it's always quarter end close during Michael's birthday) so I had to work on Friday - but Michael was able to take the day off. He headed to Atlanta ahead of me and enjoyed the Friday night game. I was his entourage (he isn't high up on the celebrity food chain, so his entourage is pretty small). He didn't bring any bags when he flew down to Atlanta. I brought the bags (actually just one duffel bag - and it had both of our clothes for 3 days - we're pretty good at this packing thing) and I rented the car when I landed Friday night. When he was done with the game he took MARTA to the hotel and where the room was ready and I even had food waiting for him. (Note to Michael's family - we used the Eddie Bauer duffel bag that has been around forever!)

Saturday we met a friend of mine from gum paste flower class at a cute little cafe close to our hotel. Breakfast was delightful and very affordable too. The cafe had an Italian theme and in the restrooms they played Italian lessons as the soundtrack - it was strange but in a very cool way. If you are in Atlanta check out Cafe Intermezzo - they have two locations. The food is tasty, the drink menu is extensive and they are open late.

Saturday, the baseball game started at 4pm, but we headed down pretty early. We had tickets in the 'All You Can Eat' section and we didn't want to miss a minute of the offerings. They have two all you can eat ticket sections, one is for families and beer is not included in the ticket price, the other section includes beer - I'll let you guess which where our seats were located.

The food selections included pulled BBQ chicken, hot dogs, potato salad, buffalo chicken wings, cookies, peanuts, popcorn, water, soda, and draft beer. The seating area was pretty empty which meant there were no lines for food or drinks. The our seats were located in the Terrace Level of the stadium - the same level as the private boxes. Behind our seats there was an air conditioned interior hallway with couches and tons of different food choices (not that we needed any more food, but I had to check out our options which included fancy hot dogs, made to order pasta, and sushi). Best of all there were air conditioned clean bathrooms with no lines!

The Braves had a great game and they won. Yay! Braves win! Braves win!

After the game we walked around the Terrace Level a bit. There was a collection of artwork. Of course we had to take a picture of Michael with Dale Murphy (his favorite player). I like the portrait of Ted Turner peeking over his shoulder too.

The weather in Atlanta was beautiful that weekend. We were so lucky. The temperatures were in the mid-80s and there was very low humidity. Summer in Atlanta can be brutal, we know we've been there in the heat and humidity. It was really hot and humid in NYC over the Fourth of July so we managed to escape the heat.

In the photo below you can see downtown Atlanta and the Olympic Flame. This was the view from the Terrace Level of the stadium.

For dinner that night we went to Woodfire Grill. The executive chef was a contestant on Top Chef - he didn't win but his restaurant gets great reviews. We've been waiting for a trip to Atlanta so we could try the food. The menu is seasonal and changes on a regular basis. The night we went was their annual BBQ. Once a year they have a BBQ to celebrate the 4th of July - it is a 3 course dinner and they sell Sweetwater beer to benefit the Chatahoochee River.
Dinner started off with a delicious salad. It had greens and veges and it was topped with salty bacon bread crumbs and a sweet herb dressing. The main course was a pulled pork with sides of coleslaw and potato salad. There was also a small cup of Brunswick stew and a piece of cornbread.
The salad was amazing. The bacon breadcrumbs were super salty but it was a really good balance withe the creamy herb dressing and the cool crunchy greens. I loved the consistency of the pulled pork, it was chopped really fine, almost like a hash. But the BBQ sauce was vinegar based and I prefer a tomato based sauce. It wasn't a bad BBQ sauce, it just wasn't what I would normally order. The coleslaw and potato salad were also cut in a fine dice. The potato salad was almost like a deviled egg filling. I am not a fan of any mayonnaise based salad but this wasn't bad. The Brunswick stew was meaty and delicious and it the cornbread was a perfect dipper for the stew.
Dessert was wonderful. It was a small individual pecan tart topped with bourbon and peach fried pie ice cream and sitting on top of bit of peach butter. They surprised us by serving Michael's dessert with a birthday candle - it was very cute.
The best part of the meal was getting the check. Michael's sister had called ahead and arranged to pay for the entire meal (including tip). She let me know, but Michael had no clue. When it came time for the check our server walked up and said, "Happy Birthday, your sister paid for dinner." It was perfect. I didn't say anything when I confirmed the reservation or when we were seated - I wasn't sure it was going to work, but it did. It was a great dinner and a wonderful birthday gift. (Thanks J!)
Speaking of perfect birthday gifts, Michael's parents sent him something he really, really wanted - a Dale Murphy Braves jersey. In the picture below we're waiting for MARTA to take us to the baseball game on Sunday.
He wore his jersey on the plane and to the game Friday and then again on Sunday. He was so excited when he opened the package Thursday night - it was just what he wanted and he couldn't wait to wear it to Turner Field.
Before the game on Sunday we went through the Braves museum at Turner Field. They have a really good collection of memorabilia. I like the picture below because the baseball player you can see smiling out at Michael is none other than Dale Murphy!
Who's ready to step out of the dugout and on to the field?
Being that Sunday was the 4th of July, Turner Field had some good pre-game festivities. Team members recorded lines from the Declaration of Independence and that played on the Jumbotron. They had hundreds of members of the armed forces there to present the biggest American flag I have ever seen - it was fabulous. And when we were done singing the National Anthem there was a fighter jet fly over.
Unfortunately the Braves didn't have it together and they really didn't play that well. Michael switched to a 'rally hat' to help get them that win. The rally hat failed and the Braves lost the third game of the series - but two out of three isn't bad.
Monday we started off with breakfast at Thumbs Up Diner on Edgewood. We met a friend of mine and she suggested the restaurant. It was a total hole in the wall but so amazing kind of place. We never would have eaten there if she hadn't suggested it. They don't take reservations and I think there is probably always a wait - at least on weekends and holidays. But the food is well worth the wait. Their potato dishes are called 'spuds' and I had spuds that came in a cast iron skillet, they were covered with cheese and scrambled eggs. They were seasoned perfectly and they had that good layer of crisp on the bottom from being cooked in a cast iron skillet. We "shared" a side of chicken sausage. Shared is a loose term, because as soon as Michael tasted the sausage he forgot we were sharing and ate all but the few bites he reluctantly handed over to me. The chicken sausage was incredible. If we go there again we'll each be getting our own order of sausage.
While we were waiting for our table we noticed the executive chef from Woodfire Grill was also waiting for a table. As soon as we saw him, we knew it was going to be a great breakfast - a chef knows the best places to eat.
After breakfast we spent the day at the Georgia Aquarium. I had a quick trip to the aquarium in January and I was blown away by the exhibits. Of course when I went it was practically empty - on a holiday Monday it was packed. Even though it was crowded we had a good day.
From an open center court the aquarium branches off in to various habitat areas.
One area has several pools were you can reach in and touch sea creatures. We were able to feel sting rays, star fish, hermit crabs, and shrimp. The shrimp were really skitterish, it was hard to actually touch one. As soon as your hand got close they would zip away from you. They must have known how much I enjoy shrimp cocktail.
They have a big tropical tank - the brightly colored fish and corals are just beautiful.
And they have a really, really big tank that holds whale sharks! They have a program where certified divers can dive in with the whale sharks. We were there during a dive - you can see the divers in the picture below. We were told the fish like to swim in the bubbles created by the divers tanks.
The whale sharks were moved from Taiwan to Atlanta by UPS - of course we couldn't pass up the UPS photo opportunity!
It was a great weekend and we can't wait to go back. In fact, we'll be in Atlanta in October. The team manager, Bobby Cox, is retiring and we already have our tickets for his final games.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Company Picnic!

Michael's office is known for an amazing summer picnic. They pull out all of the stops and every summer we mark our calendar in anticipation of the event.

Of course this year was no exception. It was humid (of course) and pretty crowded but the food and drink lines were short. We stayed all afternoon and most of the night.

They take over a large part of Randall's Island and provide everything you need for a great picnic - food, drinks, hammocks, games, music, dancing, crafts, and rides.

This year they even had a soccer field with a huge screen set up at one end. It was really fun to watch the US play their final World Cup soccer match with at least 1,000 other people.

Of course I always enjoy the food. They have different themed areas and each one has different treats.

Michael's favorite was the shrimp boil - shrimp, crayfish, sausage, and corn just boiled and topped with some Old Bay seasoning.

I like all of the treats - especially what I consider 'Fair Food'. At the BBQ stand we had chive biscuits, quinoa salad, and roasted corn on the cob. The corn was so good!

There was a Good Humor ice cream truck handing out various ice cream treats - I opted for a delicious ice cream sandwich and Michael opted for more shrimp boil.

I rounded everything out with a deep fried Twinkie. It had a coating, maybe some kind of cereal like corn flakes and it was topped with chocolate, strawberry, or caramel sauce. I went with caramel and planned to take just one bite. Of course I ate the whole thing. I was pretty tasty - the filling was kind of melted and the crust gave it a good texture. But I think one deep fried Twinkie is all I need in this lifetime.

Over by the shrimp boil area there was a sand pit with 'beach' volleyball. The tables had buckets of sidewalk chalk and there was a blacktop area for drawing. There were tables with games set out - checkers, chess, mancala, and Scrabble.

They also had some really cool 'belly up' picnic tables. We found this one in the shade and it was home base for quite a while.

One section of the picnic area had a Latin theme. The food was arroz con pollo and flan. The rice was delicious! There was one version that was traditional with chicken and one version that was vegetarian. I chose the vege version while Michael had the chicken version - he won that round. The rice with the chicken was much more flavorful and delicious than rice with just veges.

In this same area they had a stage set up where they were giving dance lessons and there were groups performing. While we were there we saw a Brazilian dance troupe put on a show.

The center of the entire picnic was a huge dance floor - it was 'tented' by rows and rows of red and white umbrellas. The effect was awesome.

The last few hours of the picnic the center stage was the place to be - the entertainment staff pulled the crowd in from all of the surrouding areas and started a huge dance party.

And speaking of the entertainment staff - what would a picnic be without ants? They had two entertainers dressed up as ants. The female ant was everywhere. She was there when we entered the picnic, she was in the Latin section when we were eating our arroz con pollo, and of course she was out on that dance floor the last few hours of the picnic.

Best of all when we decided to leave the picnic this year there was a ferry stop at 90th St along the East River. In previous years we've had to catch the ferry way down at 34th St and then get a cab or take a bus home. This year we got off the ferry and 5 minutes later we were enjoying our air conditioned apartment.
I'm already dreaming of what they will do for the picnic next year!