29 June 2009

Holiday Road

4 remarks
Last week we took a trip to the Smoky Mountains. My dad wanted to take us on vacation and he rented us a house in Gatlinburg to stay in for the week. It was the second big trip we have taken with Ari and Emilie, the first being a trip to a beach house in Myrtle Beach when Emilie was just one month old. We were a bit nervous about it, but our fears were unwarranted and everything was wonderful.

We arrived at the house on Monday. Some of the scariest turns I have ever made were on the way up to the house.  Steep roads and sharp turns aren't really my cup of tea. I had a GPS in my car and it was not much help once we got into the actual mountain. When we finally made it up to the house and saw the view from the deck, we knew the trip was totally worth it.  It was breathtaking.
Monday night we kept it simple and had dinner, walked around downtown Gatlinburg and then called it an evening. On Tuesday, we went on a hike first thing in the morning. We ended up doing about eight miles on the Old Settler's trail and found an old wrecked steam engine laying in the stream. It was very cool. The trail was nice and we saw only one other person on it the entire time we were there.

Wednesday, we took another trail to Laurel falls. The Laurel falls trail was much more crowded which made it difficult to get as much enjoyment out of the actual hike. The falls were magnificent though, and made the crowded hike worth it. Below is a picture of Ari and I in front of Laurel falls.
On Thursday, Michael and I decided to do the Chimney Tops trail. It is a two mile trail that pretty much goes uphill the entire time. I was exhausted by the time we got up to the top and I forgot my camera so I was unable to take any pictures. Luckily, Michael had his.  The view from the top combined with the sense of accomplishment I had from climbing to the top was indescribable. I'm glad I did it.

Thursday night we all enjoyed some miniature golf. Ari loves to golf and the course we played had so much going on, he was blown away.
All in all it was a wonderful vacation. We probably only got to do about half the things we wanted, so that leaves the door open for a return trip. I'd do it again in a heartbeat!

28 June 2009

Billy Mays

1 remarks
I was saddened today when I learned about the death of Billy Mays. I have always been intrigued by infomercials for one reason or another, though I have never purchased anything from direct response television. My favorite pitchman for any of these commercials was by far Billy Mays. I have most recently enjoyed watching Pitchmen on the Discovery Channel and I was thrilled to get a chance to look at the whole process that went into pitching products. It gave me a lot more respect for Billy Mays and the products he endorses.

I have been on vacation the past week and I was planning on doing a post about that, but decided to wait after hearing the news about Billy Mays. Of all the celebrity deaths that have happened the last week, I am most saddened by the death of Billy Mays. From what I have seen, he really was a good man and I will miss seeing him on my television.

24 June 2009

the shock of the lightning

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I'm all over my heart's desire,
I feel cold but I'm back in the fire,
Out of control but I'm tied up tight,
Come in, come out tonight..

Comin' up in the early morning,
I feel love in the shock of the lightning,
I fall into the blinding light,
Come in, come out, come in, come out tonight..

Love is a time machine,
Up on the silver screen,
It's all in my mind,
Love is a litany,
A magical mystery,
And all in good time, and all in good time,
And all in good time..

I got my feet on the street but I can't stop flyin',
My head is in the clouds but at least I'm tryin',
I'm out of control but I'm tied up tight,
Come in, come out tonight..

There's a hole in the ground into which I'm fallin',
So God's speed to the sound of the poundin',
I'm all into the blinding light,
Come in, come out, come in, come out tonight..

Love is a time machine,
Up on the silver screen,
It's all in my mind,
Love is a litany,
A magical mystery,
And all in good time, and all in good time,
And all in good time..

It's all in my mind,
Love is a time machine,
Up on the silver screen,
And all in good time, and all in good time,
And all in good time..

22 June 2009

Let Me In - 3 ways

2 remarks
Let Me In is one of the most powerful REM songs I have ever heard. The music and Michael Stipe's voice just penetrate my entire body every time I listen to it. It has always been a favorite of mine. I started singing it to Ari before bed after Ang, Michael and I went to an REM concert last June. I was surprised when they performed a slower version of the song live and I fell in love with it all over again.

Below I posted kind of a progression of Let Me In. The first video is from 1994 when the band was recording the Monster album. The second is a live version from the Monster tour. The third is from the Accelerate tour last year and is the slower version that I mentioned above. Good stuff. Enjoy!








20 June 2009

Emilie's party

4 remarks
We celebrated Emilie's first birthday today and it was a blast! Friends, family, cookout, cake, ice cream, what more could anyone ask for? It was a scorcher so we got the kiddie pool out and all the kids had fun playing in the water. All in all, it couldn't have gone any better.

I made her a butter cake with strawberry icing. I used the juice from some macerated strawberries to flavor and color the icing and was very pleased with the results. I initially was going to make the cake in the shape of a strawberry, but due to some time constraints I had to make a change of plans and Ang suggested I put a big red "1" on the cake, so that's what a did. I think it turned out well. I threw on a couple of strawberries for good measure. Here is a picture of it along with a nice bouquet of flowers Emilie got from Aunt Sue & Uncle Steve & family. Aren't they beautiful! Emilie had fun opening her presents, but she lost interest rather quickly because it was so hot out. She received many nice toys, clothes, and lots of other girly stuff. She really didn't want to put down a My Little Pony she got from Diana and Lucas. It was a hit!

The biggest surprise of the day came from Emilie herself. She took her first steps! She decided to really be the star of the show and walk for the first time. Show off! I am really proud of her and she is pretty good already. I knew she had it in her, she just needed to let go of that walker. Today was the day and she was loving every minute of it. Way to go Emilie!

19 June 2009

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

2 remarks
I know there only a small percentage of you who look at my blog like to play Nintendo (hi Ari). But I just couldn't contain my excitement for this new game and I had to share.



New Super Mario Bros. Wii will be released this Christmas. This game is a throwback to the style of the original Super Mario Bros. and allows four players to play the game together for the first time! I know one thing that will be on my Christmas list the year.

18 June 2009

Jar Story 2

5 remarks
My new spice jars are now in my spice racks complete with spiffy new labels. Take a look:
I also made new labels for the tin containers on my cabinet door.
It was time for a change and I couldn't be happier with the way they turned out.

17 June 2009

Happy Birthday Oldie!

1 remarks

Today, our little Emilie Renée is one year old. I made a comment that she is no longer a baby and was quickly corrected. Valerie informed me that she is still a baby until she starts walking on her own. I guess I missed the memo. But anyway, happy birthday Emilie! We love you!

16 June 2009

Calvin and Hobbes

2 remarks



This really struck a cord with me the other night when Ari and I were reading Calvin and Hobbes before bed. This strip was published in August 1992. Do you think Bill Watterson was onto something or what? And you really don't want to get me started on McDonald's!

15 June 2009

New specs

2 remarks

I got a new pair of glasses last week and they are quite a departure from any other pair I've ever owned. I have always tried to get a pair of glasses with as small of frames as possible, but I decided to throw caution to the wind and shake things up a bit this time. So far, I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from my co-workers and family, but then again, they could just be being nice to me and holding back their true opinions. But I like 'em!

13 June 2009

slide away

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Slide away, and give it all you've got
My today, fell in from the top
I dream of you, and all the things you say
I wonder where you are now?

Hold me down, cause all the world's asleep
I need you now, you've got me on my knees,
I dream of you, we talk of growing old
But you said please don't...

Slide in baby, together we'll fly
I've tried praying, but I don't know what you're saying to me

Now that you're mine
We'll find a way
Of chasing the sun
Let me be the one, that shines with you
in the morning, I don't know what to do
two of a kind
We'll find a way
To do what we've done
Let me be the one, that shines with you
And we can slide away, slide away, slide away, away...

Slide away, and give it all you've got
My today, fell in from the top
I dream of you, and all the things you say
I wonder where you are now?

Slide in baby, together we'll fly
I've tried praying, and I know just what you're saying to me

Now that you're mine
We'll find a way
Of chasing the sun
Let me be the one that shines with you
in the morning when you don't know what to do
two of a kind
We'll find a way
To do what we've done
Oh, let me be the one
That shines with you, and we can slide away...

Slide away, slide away, slide away, slide away
(and I wanna try now, i wanna make you mine now

I don't know, I don't care, all I know is you can take me there
(Slide away...)
Take me there

12 June 2009

Looking ahead

2 remarks

My tomato plants have really taken off since the last time I posted about them. I enjoy seeing them grow and it got me thinking about how much fun it will be when I start seeing little tomatoes starting to take shape. The seeds we planted are of the Wisconsin 55 variety from a Seeds of Change packet we got at The Sunspot. I didn't know what to expect from the Wisconsin 55, except that they were going to be red, so I looked them up on the internet. Here is what I found...

Bred by the University of Wisconsin in the 1940s, the Wisconsin 55 is an excellent and versatile tomato with great flavor and lots of sweetness. Smooth, large tomatoes are about 8 ounces and as pretty as can be. Plants are extremely productive and thrive in a wide range of growing conditions.

Reading this got me excited and I know I shouldn't count my chickens before they hatch, but I can't wait to start harvesting tomatoes!

11 June 2009

Crumb cake conundrum

2 remarks
Years ago, my dad would always take us to The Fresh Market when we visited him in Louisville and we would always get our own little scrumptious dessert item to eat after dinner. They had a wonderful dessert case with lots of items to choose from. On one occasion, I noticed a crumb cake sitting on top of the case and decided to purchase one to have for breakfast on our way home the next morning. It was the best crumb cake I ever had! From then on, whenever we went to Louisville, I would get a scrumptious dessert item and a crumb cake.

Until one day, we went to The Fresh Market and they didn't have any crumb cakes. I was disappointed, but I figured they had sold out and I would just have to get one next time. So, next time they didn't have any, and the next time, and the next time! When The Fresh Market opened closer to home in Westfield, I checked for the crumb cake there without any luck. To this day, I still look, but I have feeling I will never be able to purchase a crumb cake from The Fresh Market again.

I did get a fleeting moment of crumb cake satisfaction when my dad purchased a crumb cake mix for me from Williams-Sonoma. It was pretty much the exact same crumb cake I bought from The Fresh Market, only better because I was able to bake it myself. Alas, I was unable to find that crumb cake mix at Williams-Sonoma again. I was confused and bewildered by my bad luck finding a sustainable crumb cake. What's the deal with the disappearing crumb cakes? That's what I wanted to know.

I figured that if I wanted to have a crumb cake that I knew would always be there for me, I would just have to make it myself, from scratch. Unfortunately, I was hard pressed to find a decent crumb cake recipe. The problem was I knew exactly what I wanted and if it wasn't exactly like The Fresh Market crumb cake, I was going to be disappointed. I did internet searches for "The Fresh Market crumb cake" and "Williams-Sonoma crumb cake" to no avail. Then, a light bulb came on in my head.

Since I knew exactly what I was wanted in terms of how the crumb cake looked, I decided to do a Google image search for crumb cake and find a picture of the one I was looking for. If I was lucky, a recipe would accompany the picture and I would have finally found what had been eluding me for so long. Wouldn't you know it, I found exactly what I was looking for! As it turned out, the type of crumb cake I was looking for is a New York style crumb cake. This past weekend I made one and it was exactly like the one from The Fresh Market, and I would even go as far to say that it was better.

It was so easy to make and I will definitely be keeping this recipe in my collection. Now I can have crumb cake whenever I get that craving. Woo hoo! The light fluffy cake topped with the sweet crumb topping was just what the doctor ordered, and Emilie in particular couldn't get enough. It is rich though, so a little goes a long way, and we had plenty left over to have for breakfast for the next couple of days. In fact, I had the last small piece yesterday. The only thing I forgot was the dusting of powdered sugar, but I didn't miss it. Here is the recipe for those of you who want to share in my delight.


New York-Style Crumb Cake
(Source: Cook’s Illustrated, May 2007)
Printable Recipe
Serves 8 to 10

Crumb Topping:
1/3 cup granulated sugar (2 2/3 ounces)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar (2 2/3 ounces)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted and still warm
1 3/4 cups cake flour (7 ounces)

Cake:
1 1/4 cups cake flour (5 ounces)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick), cut into 6 pieces, softened but still cool
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

1. FOR THE TOPPING: Whisk sugars, cinnamon, salt, and butter in medium bowl to combine. Add flour and stir with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until mixture resembles thick, cohesive dough; set aside to cool to room temperature, 10 to 15 minutes.

2. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut 16-inch length parchment paper or aluminum foil and fold lengthwise to 7-inch width. Spray 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and fit parchment into dish, pushing it into corners and up sides; allow excess to overhang edges of dish.

3. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt on low speed to combine. With mixer running at low speed, add butter one piece at a time; continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no visible butter chunks remaining, 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg, yolk, vanilla, and buttermilk; beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute, scraping once if necessary.

4. Transfer batter to baking pan; using rubber spatula, spread batter into even layer. Break apart crumb topping into large pea-sized pieces and spread in even layer over batter, beginning with edges and then working toward center. Bake until crumbs are golden and wooden skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes. Remove cake from pan by lifting parchment overhang. Dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.

10 June 2009

Swing

2 remarks
The boy loves to swing. "Higher...higher than the moon!" he declares as we push him. The moment he notices he is not going as high as he would like, "Push me!" he persistently commands. I oblige and continue to push, but on the forefront of my mind is the thought that he needs to learn how to swing himself. Soon!

I was a late bloomer in terms of swinging. I remember Eva and Iris swinging away as I sat looking on in disbelief. For the life of me, I couldn't figure it out. I don't remember how old I was when I finally was able to do it all by myself, but it was a relief. Ari seems to be going down the same path of swinging ineptitude that I did.

I have tried to teach him to swing; my mom has even tried. We have showed him how to move his body in order to make the swing go back in forth. We have pushed him slightly to get him started and so he could do the rest of the swinging on his own. So far, I don't think he really quite understands the concept, or he doesn't have the coordination.

I think the next step will be to try to teach him how to swing by having him watch me swing. I'll have him watch me closely as I demonstrate how my body makes the swing move. Every time we go out to the swing I should have him watch me for a few minutes before he gets on. The only issue is that we will have to go to the swings at the park, since I am too big for our backyard swing set.

Being able to swing yourself has everything to do with coordination, which kids normally don’t obtain until they are well into their toddler years. It takes time to learn how use your arms, chest and legs to make the swing move. I can see how the coordination of moving both the upper body and the legs together, but separately, is tough. We aren't making learning a very big deal, and we know that he will eventually learn on his own time and when he feels comfortable. I honestly think he'll have more fun when he is able to do it himself.

09 June 2009

Emilie's First Haircut

2 remarks
Emilie's bangs were getting out of hand. They were too long and they were always getting in her eyes so Valerie made an appointment for her first haircut.
We just had her bangs trimmed, but she looks a lot better and no more pesky bangs getting in her eyes. It's funny how just a couple quick snips of hair can make her look so much more grown up. She did really well and we got to keep the first clipping of her hair in a little envelope since that was the first time scissors have ever touched her hair. Great job Emilie!

08 June 2009

Mayonnaise

4 remarks
I have recently gotten into the practice of making my own mayonnaise, and with such palette pleasing results, I don't know why I didn't try it sooner. I have been making it for a couple months now and it all stemmed from a conversation I had with Eva and Daniel. I don't remember how we got on the topic, but Daniel told me it was easy to make and that his mother had a recipe. In a matter of days, Eva sent me an e-mail with Madame Sutter's mayonnaise recipe; it looked easy enough, so I decided to give it a try.

Basically, mayonnaise is made by slowly adding oil to an egg yolk while whisking vigorously to disperse the oil. The oil and the yolks form a base of the emulsion, while the lecithin from the yolks acts as the emulsifier that stabilizes it. The recipe I got from Madame Sutter also calls for vinegar, salt, pepper, and celery seed. I have also experimented with it a little by adding other ingredients to play with the flavors a bit. I have only made my mayonnaise from whisking it by hand, but it can also be made with an electric mixer or food processor.

In my opinion, the flavor of homemade mayonnaise is far superior to that of any store bought brands, and I know exactly what is in it. Double bonus. It really is so easy to make, too! It is so much fun to see the emulsion form and then continue to build into such a thick consistency; it's like magic. Whisking it by hand, I usually have Valerie slowly drizzle in the oil while I whisk with reckless abandon, it's quite a sight I'm sure. I'm thinking about trying it with my electric mixer or food processor because I am going to have to make a lot of it for the chicken salad we are going to serve for Emilie's birthday party. I don't know if my arm can stand the amount of whisking I would have to do to make several batches. I'm leaning towards the electric mixer because I am afraid of breaking up the emulsion if I use the food processor.

I am glad I finally conquered my fear of making my own mayonnaise. My perception of it being a daunting task was unfounded. I'm thankful for Eva and Daniel nudging me in the right direction, and thankful for Madame Sutter for being so generous and providing me her recipe. Now if I could only get my hands on an authentic French baguette recipe, I'd be all set!

05 June 2009

Tomato, you say?

2 remarks
I am quite pleased with the progress my tomato plants are making. I was just asking Ari if he remembered planting the seeds, and when I told him these plants were the result, he looked baffled. He must have forgotten or not have made the connection. It was a good look nonetheless.

I thought it would be fun to do a progression of posts so I'm providing links to the other gardening posts I've done.

Here's the post from March 30 - seeds
Here's the post from April 7 - signs of life
Here's the post from May 8 - gardening update

And now...

My how they have grown. It looks like I've been posting updates just about every month, so stay tuned for the July update!

04 June 2009

Jar Story

4 remarks
I asked for a spice rack for my birthday a few years ago and Angela delivered twofold. She gave me two nice wooden spice racks that held twelve jars apiece; each jar adorned with its own custom made label for the herb, spice, or spice blend it held lovingly inside. I soon realized that twenty-four jars wasn't enough to meet the demands of all my spicy needs, so I purchased some tin containers that I velcroed on the inside of one of my cabinet doors (a technique I learned from Alton Brown). I have a total of twelve tin containers, so that gives me a total of thirty-six containment units for my herbs and spices.

I always buy my dried herbs and spices in bulk, except for those darned grains of paradise. The cost of bulk is so much less than buying prepackaged, it sometimes feels wrong to get them so cheap. It doesn't hurt that The Sunspot has the best bulk section around, so my needs are almost always met, except for those darned grains of paradise. But anyway, I need the spice jars and tin containers so that I don't have a bunch of loose plastic twist tied bags piling up in my cabinets full of herbs and spices; that was getting out of hand.

Over the years, my glass jars have begun to show signs of their age, not the jars so much as the lids. They have flip top lids, one side flips up for shaking and the other flips up for pouring. To my chagrin, the flaps have begun to break off from overuse on the ones I use the most. I decided it was time for some new jars, so I met with Ang at The Sunspot a few weeks ago and we looked in the Frontier catalog for some replacement jars. They didn't have the exact same jars I had, but I found some that I thought would fit the bill. She ordered six for me, so I could see if they would fit, since each shelve of my current spice rack holds six. If they did fit, I would have her order me eighteen more.

Just as I was hoping, the six fit perfectly and she ordered me the rest. I picked them up on Sunday and am in the process of making labels for my new jars. I've also taken this opportunity to shake things up a bit. Since my tin containers are smaller than my glass jars, I am going to transfer some of the higher volume herbs and spices that I use from tin to glass. I'm quite excited about it. I'll post a picture of my new look spice racks once my project is complete, but in the meantime, you'll just have to settle for a picture of my fancy new jars. Aren't they pretty?

03 June 2009

FunHouse!

3 remarks

I am a huge pinball fan. I don't really know if I'm very good or not, but I enjoy playing the game. Whenever I see a pinball machine, which is getting rarer and rarer these days, I have to put my quarter in and play a game or two...or ten. My mom, an avid pinball fanatic herself, purchased a pinball game for the Wii called Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection. She absolutely loved it and bought me the game for Christmas. The game features ten pinball machines and more closely matches the action of real pinball than any other pinball video game I have played.

Both my mom and I consider FunHouse the best pinball machine to play in the game. Interestingly enough, FunHouse is themed after the concept of a funhouse, a walk-through amusement park featuring many attractions. The overall goal of the game is to advance the "game time" to midnight and cause the FunHouse to close, allowing the player to start multiball mode. A secondary goal of the game is to complete the "Mystery Mirror" by lighting all of its modes, starting "Super Frenzy" mode. It's a lot of fun.

There is so much going on in the game and so many challenges to complete, it really makes for an exciting game; and it's never the same twice. Being able to get extra balls, and multi-ball made really extends the gameplay. My mom has a high score of 88,000,000 and I have only been able to score 71,000,000. I would really like to find a real FunHouse pinball machine to play. I'd like to test my skills with the real thing. The Wii version is pretty accurate in capturing the feel of the game though and I have posted a couple of video clips showing the Wii version and one of a guy playing the real game. They are both kind of long, and the person playing the Wii isn't very good, but it's the best I could find. Enjoy!



02 June 2009

Neighborhood yard sale

2 remarks
This past weekend we had our annual yard sale at Valerie's mom's house. It was a doozy for us because we were selling all of the clothes Ari and Emilie had outgrown. Valerie worked diligently for weeks pricing and organizing all the items to the point where I don't care if I ever see another two-piece shirt and pants combo again.

Last week we spent most of our evenings working on preparations for the sale which was to begin Friday morning. We hauled all our totes up from the basement into the Pilot, then drove them to Julie and Kevin's only to unload the Pilot and take them up another flight of stairs to where they were to be stored until it was time to set up for the sale. Wednesday, we took our last load over and then started setting up for the sale, so we had to bring everything back downstairs. Thursday, we finished setting up for the sale; I was spent.

I worked Friday and my dad was in town Saturday for Ari's t-ball game, so I did not have to help with running the sale. My mom and Valerie pretty much ended up running the show and we had a very successful day. One lady alone bought $50 worth of baby clothes from us. Valerie and I made more money at that yard sale probably than all the others combined so we were pretty excited. Our excitement did not last long, however.

Saturday morning, Valerie had taken the Civic in for a check-up at City Tire because the carriage was rattling pretty bad and had gotten worse and worse over the last couple of months. We were hoping it just needed new shocks and praying it didn't need new struts. Towards the end of the sale, Valerie got a call from City Tire letting us know the Civic needed new struts (ouch) and the cost of the repair was pretty much exactly what we made at the yard sale (double ouch). We were bummed.

All in all, it was a bittersweet sale and I'm glad it's over. Sure we made a lot of money, but we pretty much broke even because of the cost of the repair. Oh well...easy come, easy go. There's always next year.

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