Sunday, March 28, 2010

Golf Tourney for Kori

Many of you are familiar with my friend Kori's story of love and loss. She is still awaiting a new heart and should be bumped to the top of the transplant list in Salt Lake City in the next couple weeks. She suffered another stroke last week, but has miraculously (again) come through! The second annual Love4Kori Golf Tournament is May 1st and I welcome you to come play to help her out--click on her picture to get an entryform! If you would like to stay up-to-date on her progress, click HERE to go to her CarePages.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

San Francisco-Day 1

Whee! We're back from a week spent in the California sun and I have lots of pictures to share!

Many blessings made this trip possible...first, Eric's job that sends him to conferences in fun cities (smile), second (and likely most importantly) my dear sister and brother-in-law that were actually EXCITED to have all three of our children join their family for the week, and third, our flexible family lifestyle...a spring break after most other spring breaks were finished, yay for homeschooling! Really, I believe God knew I needed a break from mommy-land so he certainly orchestrated all the details with perfect timing. I now feel refreshed and (maybe) ready to jump back in with both feet.

We flew out last Sunday afternoon, arriving in downtown San Francisco at dusk. Our hotel, The Westin St. Francis, was located right on Union Square. The self-described "best-dressed homeless guy in SF" directed us to the right place as we emerged from the subway. I'm glad someone knew where we were supposed to be.

These pictures are all from day to get acclimated and tour around while Eric went to the conference.

My first stop was Golden Gate Park. Larger than Central Park in NYC, it is home to several museums, trails, green spaces, and ahhhh, gardens. I went early in the morning to the Japanese Tea Garden. It was 4 acres of breathtaking vistas!

After the tea garden, I wandered around the park for awhile, and after taking some random trails, ended up at a pretty little lake...these callas were blooming near the edge. Strawberry Hill, the famous hippie landmark, was in the middle of this lake...I crossed the bridge to it, but opted out of climbing it (ya know, didn't want to kill my calves on the first morning!).

I grabbed a bite to eat at a whole-foods counter...probably the BEST peanut butter, banana, strawberry sandwich I've ever had...and then rode the bus over to get on my scheduled tour with Mr. Toad's tours. The tour was with only 9 other people and we were in a re-fashioned Model A. Good way to see some highlights w/o public transportation!

That's the veiw from many-a-street around town. If you look close at the top of the picture is the famed Lombard "crookedest-street-in-the-world". Well, I guess it just looks like some bushes in the road from here...but ya know.

This is Grace Cathedral. A lovely Episcopal church and SF's own version of Notre Dame. I went back here later in the week to tour and spend some time in prayer....more pix to come.

One of the many Victorian-style homes I saw. My tour guide, John Francisco, knew a lot about the homes and the real estate of my favorite parts of the tour!

Ah, the Golden Gate bridge. We took an unexpected detour down to Crissy Field, which has the best views of the bridge. If you can't tell, the weather was beautiful...mid 60's and sunny!

This is the Palace of Fine Arts, originally built out of temporary materials for the World's Fair (I think all those details are correct...sorry if I'm making things's unintentional!) Later, they redid it with permanent materials and it serves as a beautiful landmark near the bay. Actually, I'm not sure what they do in or around it except for the science museum next door. Hmmm.

This was our ride for the tour...the guy in the hat was our guide, John.

So it was still early when my tour ended, so I walked over to Ghiradelli Square where I saw this pretty fountain with a Mer-Momma and her Mer-Baby (cute!). Very much still a tourist trap (it's near Fisherman's Warf), but oh-so-nice! I was pleasantly surprised with the fun little shops...Crown & Crumpet was my way favorite! It was everything "tea" except the doilies. If you are at all a tea or tea-party fan, click on the name of the shop to see their cute place...(I was thinking of you, Amy, the whole time!)

Eric called while I was still out shopping so I hopped aboard on my first cable car ride to meet him back at the hotel. Then we got ready to go out to the Pacific coast for our dinner at the Cliff House.

Just off the bus and down the hill we could see the old bath ruins before coming around the corner to the house.

Our table was perfectly situated to watch the waves crashing on the rocks and to take in the setting sun.

Oooooh, how romantic! I did forget to watch it go all the way down though...our food came and I was hungry, man!

There were a couple restaurants on site at the Cliff House, ours was The Bistro...really good and perfect portion sizes. I had the 4-cheese, spinach and pine nut stuffed shells; Eric had the pork tenderloin with roasted veggies....mmmmm!

Last, but not least, this kid got on the bus with his 90-year-old tuba on the way back downtown. He played a little ditty for us at the urging of the older little Chinese lady next to us. You just never know what you might see in San Francisco!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cakes 101 ~ Baking Basics Etc.

So here it is, the first installment of my caking tutorials! Let's dive in...before you know it you'll have your gang saying " THAT's good cake!"

1. What's your pan, man?

I recommend basic, shiny aluminum pans for all your cakes except cupcakes. The dark, non-stick pans actually get hotter in the oven (elementary science there...darker colors absorb more heat), therefore cooking the edges even faster. For cupcakes my fav is the Pampered Chef stoneware pan. Perfect every time!

2. Pan Prep

No matter what pan you decide to try out, be sure to prep it correctly. Go for an all-in-one baking spray...I like Pam for Baking best. Baker's Joy (gets clogged easily and stinks for some reason?), and Wilton's Cake Release (not a spray I believe) are other options. In a pinch you can use the old fashioned method and paper towel on some shortening and then dust with flour. Lining the bottom with parchment paper is another good option, but takes an additional step so I just skip it.

Extra bonus tips:

  • Purchase a flower nail (sold with the Wilton stuff at Wal-Barf, Michael's etc.) for a dollar or so, flip it upside down and stick it in the middle of your cake pan before pouring in the batter. The nail will act like a tiny heat conductor and help the middle of your cake (ya know, the part that likes to still test "gooey" while you cringe watching the edges almost burn) get done at the same time as the rest of the cake.

  • Use baking strips! Wilton's are called "bake even strips", but you can make your own by cutting up old terry-cloth towels . Basically you need a long strip of absorbent toweling cut the same height as the outside of your pan. Soak it in cold water, wring out and wrap around your pan, fastening tight with a safety pin (I've never made my own, but make SURE you watch your cakes carefully so the towels don't catch on fire!). Using baking strips will keep the outside edge of your pan cooler, therefore making the edges bake a little slower than usual (evening out to the time of the middle...hopefully). Once I figured out how prep my pans correctly, it made baking day a breeze in comparison to the many times I would whisper prayers that all the cake would come out of the pan. There's just nothing to shoot up the blood pressure like seeing 1/4 of a cake stuck to the bottom. Ugh!

  • Turn down the heat! Bake your cakes at 325 degrees rather than the old standby of 350. It may take a few minutes longer, but they'll come out more even. Now, this isn't the case for ALL cakes...stick to 350 for really dense pound cakes and cupcakes. Actually, if you want a nice dome on your cupcakes, preheat your oven to 425 then turn it down to 350 right when you pop them in. They'll be nice little mountains for ya. If the batter is chilled before they'll be even better! Of course, I kind of like flat cupcakes for decorating...but anyhow. Once your cake is done (no gooeys sicking to the toothpick tester, and edges just barely starting to pull away from the sides), pop that pan out of the oven onto a cooling rack. NOT the counter directly or the need some air moving under the hot pan. Right away grab a clean dishtowel, folded in half and gently, gently PRESS any unevenness out of the cake. Yup, push on the top of your cake...make it flat. Just trust me.Let it COOL for 10 minutes. Set your timer so you don't forget! Then run a knife around the edges to make sure it's loose there. Grab a cooling rack, set it on top of the pan and FLIP it out onto the rack. Now put your other rack on top of the "bottom" of the cake an FLOP it back over to finish cooling.

All righty then...that's a wrap for this morning! I'm vacationing on the West coast right now and have some more sights to see! I'll be back soon with some recipes....mmmmmm! Let me know if you have any requests!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bye, bye baby!

Tomorrow our little baby Zane turns one! It's been quite the year...he's added so much fun to our family and I'm not sure how many times I've got to exclaim "Yes, he was born in the car!" to someone with their jaw hanging open! Good thing I don't mind being the center of attention ...ha! (You can read that adventure HERE.)

Right now he is dumping the trash can (it's empty) in between attempts to walk, well, more like run across the office to knock over Elena and Kai's building block masterpieces. We are going to celebrate his birthday this weekend with cupcakes and some Grandma & Grandpa's...should be a fun day!

Here's a few pictures of our sweet guy.

Yes! I made it to the top of the stairs!

Kai made me this cool pillow.

I really like Sissy's markers!

Mommy said I could play in here to keep me busy!

Hee-hee...heading up the stairs again.

Hi from my playpen! It keeps me out of trouble.

Plus it's fun to smoosh my face up against the side.

Hmmmm...what's wrong with this picture?

I found a cookie on the floor, YUM!

Mean ol' Mamma took the cookie away! Poor baby!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Cakes 101 - A New Series

As I contribute plenty of nonsensical info to the ever-expanding blogosphere, I thought I would start a little series on something actually useful. For the last several years I've had a cake business that quickly grew from "little hobby" to "a too much too handle business". Last February I took my last order and the rest is history. My website is still up over at The Sweet Ladybug if you want to see some of my past creations, or there are quite a few in former posts if you click the "cakes" label on the right. For now, all my licensing is expired and I'm don't start emailing me your orders (ha)!

Cakes 101 is going to be a series of posts with tips, techniques and recipes...keeping it simple for all you gals (or guys) out there who want to make yummy tasting and nice looking cakes for your family and friends! Everything I'm going to share is probably available somewhere else out in cyberspace, but you'll get the advantage of my trials and errors...I'm going to siphon it down to the best of the basics.

Follow me and you're sure to have some smiles like the one on this little guy!

Kai at his 5th birthday party last month.