Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hot Days, Cool Juice

We had a very welcome heatwave over the past few days, and yesterday it was probably the hottest. As you can see, our thermometer claimed it hit 100 - but I think the gauge was sitting in the sun and it wasn't quite that warm.

We did a TON - massive amounts - of yardwork. Not so much on our yard as on our woods... trying to clear out the billions of saplings that have sprung up and burn all the debris from this winter's ice storm.

So, I didn't get any outdoor pictures but Arin enjoyed his refreshing juice box breaks, as you can see.

It was a nice preview for summer, which will be even NICER because we will have air conditioning then!

An Uncanny Resemblance: Chicken Scones

As I was taking the chicken out of the oven and resting it on the stove, I happened to glance over at my delicious buttery cream tea scones (which taste a thousand times better when using butter and milk instead of just cream, btw), and noticed an uncanny resemblance.

It's like my curried honey chicken was dressing up as scones for Halloween! :)

And yes, I DO have an unhealthy obsession with scones. ;)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bobo Loves Whipped Cream

Big surprise! There's few things better than sweet, light, delicious home-made whipped cream. Mmm.

I think warm weather makes whipped cream taste even better... not to mention the added fun of licking the blender bits!

Ignore how messy the mommy is... I really need an apron apparently!! As a bonus, a pretty frilly housewife apron would be a lot more attractive than old workout clothes. :)

"Got to go, busy nom'ing on yummies!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Crushing Defeat: No Gü Puds For ü America

Dear Ms Curcuru,

Thank you for your email regarding the availability of our puds in America.

We have expanded into Europe (France & Belgium). Unfortunately our delicioüs puds are not currently available in the USA and sadly, because they must be kept chilled, it is not possible to ship them or to order them online.

As you saw on our website, our products are sold by a company called Shaws: however this is a small UK-based company, as distinct from the US chain of stores. Our web team had unfortunately obtained the wrong logo, which I understand must have been misleading for you. Please allow me to apologise for the confusion this may have caused you, and to thank you for alerting us to this matter, I have passed the details on to our web team.

If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kindest regards,

Heather Williamson

Customer Care Advisor

Gü Puds - Rensow Ltd


Well, I guess my next project will be to figure out how to make Gü puds at home in the USA, eh?

Splinter Update

He ate the band-aid.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Arin's First Splinter

We're having a heat wave here for the next few days, so we've been playing outside. Somehow, today Bobo just got his first splinter. I didn't notice until we came in for a juice break and was cleaning off his hands. Eek, splinters are so horrible!

He was really good, sitting still and only protesting the pain a little as I removed it. The tweezers didn't work and were apparently very painful, and I ended up just being able to slide it out with my fingernail (not in contact with the broken skin, it was hygenic). He didn't like the alcohol part, that's for sure! But we put on a bandaid and some neosporin and now he's all set to go. Except he won't stop playing with the Bandaid.

Poor thing doesn't want to go back outside, so he's sitting watching some Thomas the Tank Engine while he recovers from his traumatizing ordeal. :)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

How to Bake A Princesstårta Cake

When I first saw a Princesstårta I fell in love, they are so beautiful, so delica
te, so Princess-like! They are a pale green, domed fondant (or marzipan) covered cake decorated with a rose on top. Inside they feature layers of sponge cake, vanilla custard, raspberry jam and artfully sculpted whipped cream. I mentioned my princess cake quest previously, and below are all the details.

Princesstårtor are popular cakes in Sweden, and since I had never seen one before
I figured the only way I would get to try one was to make it myself (apparently though they can be had frozen from IKEA). I also was very attracted to the pink-hued variety, but in Sweden they are referred to as Opera Cakes (Carl Gustav cakes are yellow, in honor of their king)... and that just isn't as romantic to eat as a Princess Cake.

First off, let me preface this by saying this was my first experience with fondant and converting from metric measurements. I am not anxious to repeat either anytime soon. Or maybe I should be, since I obviously need practice (and patience).

I began my Princess Cake adventure in the obvious place... by baking the cake. The research I did suggested that a light and airy sponge cake was the traditional choice... which meant no butter (blah). I found a traditional Swedish cake recipe and converted the grams and mililiters to tablespoons and cups, etc. Obviously, I did something incorrect... or the Swedes like them some flat little tasteless cakes... let's just leave it at that. I am not going to write the recipe here because it was not good.

INSTEAD, let me advise you to begin your own journey by making a normal sponge cake using an American recipe (if you're American, that is). OR, use a boxed yellow cake mix... trust me it would come out fine and we don't really need total authenticity. I would much rather have yummy than authentic, and sponges aren't the tastiest cake IMHO.

To achieve the height and shape I used a pie pan and a normal cake pan, intending the cut the cake pan one in half (it was too short for that, sadly). With your NORMAL cake, it would be even easier if you used a pie pan and 2 cake pans for the requisite three layers... just divide the mix between the three... bake the cakes first and then the pie plate (for a bit less time as it's smaller). Invert the cakes onto cooling racks and let's move on to the next step.

I decided to go for custard next. Custard is called for on the second filling layer, and I decided to make some from scratch. You can also use vanilla pudding (instant box mix, whatever makes you happy). I'm not thrilled with this custard, again it is using converted measurements. It came out okay but ... maybe its my American palate, I like things a bit sweeter and more creamy.

Here's the recipe anyway if you want to go for the authentic:
  • Score a vanilla bean into a large sauce pot, drop in the bean
  • Add 1 cup of whole milk, bring to a boil
  • Remove vanilla milk from heat once boiled and let infuse for 10 minutes
  • Mix 3 egg yolks, 1/4 cup of sugar and 1.5 tbsp corn starch in a separate bowl
  • After 10 minutes slowly poor the hot milk over the egg mixture and stir
  • Pour mix back into pot and return to stove on high
  • Stir constantly, it will thicken just after it begins to boil
  • Once it thickens remove immediately from heat, and beat in 1 tbsp butter
  • Immediately strain (or plop) into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to avoid a skin
  • Cool bowl in a cold water bath and/or fridge
I bathed the bowl and then put it in the fridge until I was done with the fondant, and by that time it was pretty much all cooled. Next... FONDANT. I decided to go with marshmallow fondant because... it seemed easier and supposedly tastes better. Not easier than buying it like a normal sane person... but I certainly wasn't making a trip to a craft store to get some. :) Next time, I might...

To make the marshmallow fondant I grabbed a big microwave-safe bowl, poured in a
10.5 oz bag of mini marshmallows, sprinkled 2 tbsp of water over them and cooked for 2 minutes until they were all puffy. Like for krispy treats. Then, I took them out, and stirred them up. This was the point at which I was apparently supposed to add food coloring, which I forgot. I ALSO forgot to add almond extract, which was my intention... to make the fondant taste more like the traditional marzipan. Try this, I think it would be tasty.

Alright, now came the unpleasant part. You are supposed to grease yourself, a big spoon, your counter, and everything in sight. (It doesn't help so don't bother, unless maybe it will help for you, then go ahead.) Then you add in about half a pound of confectioner's (powdered) sugar, a bit at a time, stirring until it forms a dough. It was extremely hard to stir, so I resorted to hand kneading it... unfortunately you have to add TONS of confectioners sugar before it gets doughy enough not to be impossible to stir/knead. You then knead it like a dough, continuing to add more sugar (like you would flour to dough) until it is no longer sticky. I don't think I ever reached that point, and I was at it a LONG time.

This is when I remembered it was supposed to be green... so I added food coloring (still on my hands, I might add) but decided to skip the extract. Finally I decided it was time to roll out, as bed time was getting close. I coated a rolling pin in powdered sugar, and attempted to coat the counter in it too, and still my sheet of fondant kept sticking. Finally I made it work ... and then realized I hadn't assembled the cake yet. Bollocks!

Quickly I whipped up a batch of whipped cream. Super easy, ju
st pour heavy cream/whipping cream into your mixer, beat it, pour in a little sugar, splash in a little vanilla, and keep beating it on high speed until it forms stiff peaks. Stop if you think you're done and test it with your finger... you don't want to overdo it or you'll have butter.


To bring your creation together, take one of your cooled round cakes and slather it with raspberry jam. Be generous, it is the most flavorful part of the cake. You can then add a splat of whipped cream if you made a lot, or a bit of custard. Next, top with the second cake, and smother that with custard. Frost the whole thing with the custard, getting it down the sides and into the previous layer. Then, put the pie pan layer on the top, with the smaller side facing upwards to form a bit of a dome shape. You can add another bit of jam and custard if you like.

To get the dome shape, take your fresh whipped cream and splat it on the top, piling it up in the middle. Use a spatula and frost the cake into a dome. You can bring whipped cream down over the sides to make a more pleasing shape, but make sure the top is rounded and dome-like. The dome is key!

Alright, now we're ready for fondant/marzipan covering. I re-sugared everything, managed to somehow roll out a huge sheet of fondant, smoothed off all the stray sugar, rolled it carefully around my rolling pin, brought it over to the cake and had julie hold one side of it while I carefully draped the fondant sheet over the side of the cake.

I was shocked, the fondant actually went on so easily! It was still very pliable so I just smoothed it down over the sides, pressing it into the cake plate at the bottom and making sure there were no unsightly wrinkles which was very easy to do, it just stretched out. Then I took a sharp knife and cut around the base, removing the (tons) of excess fondant. I also colored a bit of the fondant pink and made a quick and kind of deranged looking rose, which I put on the center of the cake (you can use a real rose too, apparently).

Finally, I cleaned the cake plate and sprinkled a powdered su
gar snowfall over the top of the cake to make it all nice and pretty. I've seen a lot of pictures where people use stencils to shape the powdered sugar and this looks really pretty, especially a stem and leaves for the rose. Also, a lot of people use a length of ribbon around the cake's base, or pipe a bit of white frosting around it. At this point though, I was done!

All that was left was to take a bunch of pictures, then mutilate my creation! I don't have any super sharp big knives at the moment, which would have helped, but it cut pretty easily with a semi-dull knife and retained it's unique shape. It's been sitting in the fridge now for two days, with plastic wrap pressed to the exposed innards, and it is still the same exact shape, so it does store no matter what people might say.

There, I hope you enjoyed my little, slightly unsuccessful journey. I am quite proud I managed to make it at all, and it did come out pretty. Unfortunately,
mine did not taste as good as it looks, and you can see how flat and dense the cakes came out. In the future I would probably just use a normal yellow cake divided into the three pans, a quick custard or vanilla pudding and way more raspberry jam. Oh, and marzipan instead of fondant.

Farewell to Geocities, Yahoo is Pulling the Plug

I don't know if anyone else used to use Geocities or has heard of it... but it was basically THE place to host your free website 10-15 years ago. Yahoo bought them some time after they weren't very relevant anymore and lamely tried to make money on it. Maybe they did, I don't know, but I think yahoo makes everything it touches cheap and stupid.

Anyway, now Yahoo has decided to take everything Geocities offline... permanantly. Which means deleting all the tons of antique webpages (and some still relevant ones I'm assuming). Isn't there some sort of Internet Historical Preservation Society that should petition to SAVE THE GEOCITIES or something? Yes, we can still go search through the Way Back Machine and look at our old stuff... if we can remember the addresses...

Anyway, I stumbled across this today and realized that my very first website (pieces of which are still up) is headed for an untimely death. It's not obnoxious enough that we have to scurry around trying to archive all our ancient data, but Yahoo decided it would like to impose a bandwidth limit on everything having to do with geocities... so basically you can only look at about 20 of your pages before it shuts off... FOR THE DAY. Seriously, you guys are morons, it's 2009, GET A CLUE.

So, I only saved about half my stuff and hopefully I will be able to access the rest later. I was just a KID when I made these silly pages almost 15 years ago... I had an entire section devoted to my 'virtual pets' including fairies and mermaids and sheep... and they were all animated. Man, those were the days. Playing make-believe with Barbie dolls and then creating flowery websites with running hampster gifs all over it. Oh what, not everyone did that? :)

So umm.... I just had to share some of my old virtual pets! Instead of posting cake pictures which might actually be of interest to someone. Nostalgia must be indulged.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Princesstårta = Accomplished


I won! I conquered the Princesstårta.... mostly.

More on this later. In the meantime... anyone want to come over for cake? We cannot finish this thing.

(Original Post)

This is my next project:

A delicate, delicious and absolutely beautiful Swedish princess cake romantically called... Princesstårta.

First I have to go grocery shopping to pick up supplies.

Next, I will be making homemade marshmallow fondant.

Then I will be baking the sponge cake.

I will spend a very long time trying to assemble the whipped cream dome.

Finally, I will totally fail at spreading the fondant over the whole thing.

If I haven't gone nuts by this point, I'll decorate it (or give up and make Julie do it).

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Little Man with the Big Boys

During Todd's Spring Break, Arin got to enjoy a lot of company - and had a blast. He loved hanging out with the 'big kids'. Here he is at the breakfast table with the guys... my cousin Dan, some tall kid, and Uncle Todd.

I love that Bobo is already so into computers! Now he just has to invent the new Facebook (since the current one is down the drain) and then we can live happily ever after. :)

Before the Snows Melt

This was taken not long before the snows finally melted completely away from our yard... about a month after it was gone from the rest of the town!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pioneer Woman Photobook Contest

So I've been trying to wrangle up a submission for Pioneer Woman's Photobook contest which ends... soon?? You just upload some pictures to Snapfish and make a photobook out of them and then add it to her group, and then they pick 50 random winners. I want the photobooks, fo' real... it's been on my to-do list forever. AND EVER. But of course, I want them to look gorgeous and be all themed and color-coordinated and ahhh. Too much with the brain.

Most of the photos I edit I am crazy and save them as web-sized jpgs. I don't know, I'm like paranoid I will run out of space (it was ingrained in me back when you had to save things on floppy disks... conserve space!), so I always make things smaller. Too small, I might add, to be printed out by Snapfish or Costco or whatnot... so whenever I want actual prints I have to go back to the original and re-edit everything and save it BIG for once. I still feel weird about it though. Like I'm being wasteful... isn't that nuts?

Well, here's some that I edited today... I also have this big photo collage frame sitting in my room that I want to fill with some black and whites / desaturates so was thinking about that too while editing these. Meh, I think I need to find better pictures.

Wish me luck on finishing in time. :) At least I get 20 free prints through Snapfish just for signing up though, so I can at least get 4 x 6's of these after all this silly work! :)

Heaven is a Gü

Long, long ago back when I was studying in London (for the second time), a little gift from above happened along my path. It was known as Gü and could be found in the refrigerated desserts aisle at Waitrose. Mmm.

While I had a meal plan Regents College, Alex lived in an apartment a few streets away and lived like a normal Londoner, going to the grocery store every day or two. There was this nice little Waitrose around the corner, down Marleybone High Street, that we would shop at. They have *the* most amazing Chicken Tikka Masala in the world at their deli, but that is a story for another time.

The British are big on their 'puds' aka 'puddings' aka desserts and they really did not let me down with these little treats. We kept seeing these and finally just had to try them out. I don't remember what variety we first got, but it was yummy... we then found the Cheeky Sauce Pots aka 'choco pots' and were hooked on those. I can't say how many nights we would sit in his little flat, eat Chicken Tikka Masala and have Gü's for dessert. It was even nicer than sitting in some fancy, expensive restaurant downtown London. Such fond memories!

Anyway, Alex recently taunted me because his step-father brought him a huge, huge bunch of Gü's back to Dhaka, and I was in mourning for the melty choco deliciousness while he got to enjoy as many as he wanted. So unfair, and he wouldn't ship us any!

However, there was a light that came on when Julie said she was off to England again... I demanded she bring me home some Gü! She was skeptical at first, since they need to be refrigerated... but she had developed a love for them as well, and finally gave in. While she was visiting, she apparently ate a bunch of them, and even got a Gü Chocolate Torte Cake for Easter! Boooo.

Sooooo... when she came back, she brought me a great treat, two Gü Chocolate Souffles. I was a little disappointed that they were not the Choco Pots, but apparently the Tesco she stopped at only had this kind.

So chocolate and delicious. Tasted like happy memories of my nearly-forgotten youth. There is still one in the freezer that I'm saving for a rainy day.

Just look at that! Apparently, Gü products might be available in the US now at select Shaws and Whole Foods... I've written to the company for locations and am still waiting to hear back from them. It's been a week... get on it people!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Canterbury Sky, Circa 2006

Friday, April 17, 2009

Photoshop Actions and Tools for Black and White

Here is a quick little comparison of some various techniques for converting to black and white in Photoshop (CS2).

Here I've started with a straight out of the (point and shoot) camera shot of Mike, my great-uncle six times removed (or however that works) on the maternal Italian side. He did not want me to take a close-up, much less make it public, but that's what he gets for being a cheeky. If you never hear from me again, just assume Big Mike sent me to sleep with the fishes. :)

Alright, let's start off simple. This is a basic Image > Adjustments > Desaturate. Looks fine right? It's black and white, what more could you want.

Another quick tool for converting to black and white is the Channel Mixer. Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer and then tick the 'Monochrome' box at the bottom of the pop-up. The results are often more interesting, though on this picture don't look so great.

The Channel Mixer option gives obviously a different result from a Desaturate, but you can also quickly and easily adjust the values... play around with the RGB and Constant sliders for a different result, which makes this a much more powerful and useful tool.

I'm going to skip some more complicated stuff and move on to actions. One set I have been using a lot is by Alice_In_Underland from Deviantart. This action set can be downloaded here. This first one is the Professional BW action.

Another action from the same set, this one is Professional BW Grain. I usually prefer this one (on people), but on this photo it came out too dark and would need further adjustments.

Moving on to the Pioneer Woman's Actions, which I wrote about last time and can be found here
- this is from her first set, called PW's B & W. The other Black and White action in this set is lame-o, it's basically the same as just clicking Desaturation and then upping the contrast a teeny bit.

And from Pioneer Woman's second action set, found on the same link as above, is one I like called Heartland. Technically, this is a sepia-tone and not a black and white, but let's take a look anyway.

And I'll finish off with one action that I LURVE and want to use it on everything. I think I'll make another post about it, but for now here is the Gum Bichromate Print action by Rawimage, again from Deviantart. It takes a while to run and requires some following of instructions. And make sure your colors are set to black/white before starting. (I actually don't usually bother to import the background when it suggests doing so, I just click stop.)


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