Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lost Creek Estate

A few weeks ago our friend, Merrick, took some awesome pictures of Jeremy and I at Flat Creek Winery. They all turned out so well, it's just too hard to pick out my favorites. But here are a few that I like and the rest you can check out on flickr HERE or on a pretty black background on Merrick's page HERE (if it's still active months from now when you may be reading this).

Friday, July 23, 2010


Most of you know that I've started running. First, lets just clear something up. No, I am not training for a triathlon; not now, not ever. Well "ever" is a very strong word, but lets just say at no point in the foreseeable future. I can assure you that at no point have I ever gotten off my bike and thought to myself "I think I'd like to go for a run now." Or, even moreso, "I really wish I had gone swimming before doing this." In fact, it's usually the opposite. I usually get off my bike and think to myself "now would be a great time to go down to Barton Springs and just float in the water." Again, not swimming, floating. So in summary, no, I am not doing a triathlon.

I am, however, training for a race called the Army 10 Miler. It's a 10 mile race (go figure) that runs through the monuments in Washington DC. I went last year to support Jeremy and thought "why not, I can do this." That was 9 months ago. Now that it's only 3 months away, I'm starting to reconsider why I decided to do this. However, I have started to make progress.

Last weekend I raced in the Lunar Rendezvous in Clear Lake, TX. My 5k time was my best yet, at 3.14 miles in 30:14, for a 9:44 average. I'm quite happy with that, and even happier that I managed to avoid pretty much all side-stickers that I normally experience around mile 2.

Since I was feeling so great coming off that run, I decided to start increasing my mileage. At this point I had already done 3 "5 mile" runs (really more like 4.8 miles) around town lake, but I also knew that if I want to make it 10 miles in October I need to step it up further. So, yesterday, I decided to run 6 miles. Yea, I don't know what I was thinking...

I woke up and was already feeling sore from the boot camp workout the day before. I knew it was going to be rough. After 15 minutes or so of stretching (so important), I put on my ipod and I was off. My usual goal when doing more than 3.1 miles is to run the 5k as fast as I can (without dying) and then continue on taking fast walking breaks when necessary. I completed my 5k part in something around 31, and at this point knew the next 3 miles were gonna be brutal. I was tired, sore, and ready to stop. In fact, at one point, I'm sure my legs had an argument with my brain about what exactly was going on. But I stuck with it. Walking at times (especially between mile 4 and 5), and running when I could. Somewhere around mile 5.5 I decided that it doesn't make sense to run just 6 miles, when running 6.2 miles would put me at the 10k mark. And lets just admit it, saying you ran a 10k sounds much more impressive than saying you ran 6 miles.

So after mile 6 I kept going. At this point pleading with my legs and explaining to my body that we only had .2 miles to go. Unfortunately, that was a lie. See, at the 10k point, I was still .2 miles from the car. So what choice did I have. In a half walk/half jog at this point, I made my way back to the car for a total of 6.4 miles in 1:14:00 (approximately) or 74 minutes. That's about 11:50 average, which gives you an indication just how slow those last few miles were.

Never mind the time though, this was BY FAR my longest run ever. I can't say it felt great, because really, it didn't. But I was happy with myself for having gone so far. My legs were in pain for the rest of the day and I'm pretty sure I consumed all food in sight. It's amazing how hungry you get after a good hard workout. But now I'm sure that I can at least make it to the 5 mile point during the Army 10 Miler in the required 75 minutes and hopefully finish the race in about 2 hours. That would be 10 miles at a 12 minute average pace. We'll see if I can make it. At this point, I think it's just time to keep training.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cupcakes are Out... Cakeballs are In.

Disclaimer: I love taking photos. I really do. And thus I am aware how crappy these photos are, and how with just a little more work and aranging I could make them better... and maybe not using my iPhone camera. But really, after doing this much baking, I'm just too tired to care. I'll work on this in the future. I promise.

Recently I have noticed a shift in trendy desserts.

For a while it was the cupcake. Everywhere you looked new cupcake stands and shops were popping up. Gourmet cupcakes, they called them. And they charged you $2.50 - $4.00 for each of them.

And while cupcakes are still my favorite, there has been a noticeable trend shift from the cupcake to the cake ball. The dessert blogosphere has exploded with discussion about these little things. And if you thought $2.75 was a bit much for a cupcake (Hey Cupcake - Austin, TX), people are charging $2 a piece for these little gems (Holy Cacao - Austin, TX) and I can tell you that they are quite smaller than a cupcake.

So at $2 a piece, the first thing I thought was "you are out of your mind," followed by "When can I try making these things." For those of you that know me well, you know that the answer to that second thought was of course, "as soon as possible."

Well that was about a week ago. And here we are 7 days and about 150 cake balls later.

Trial Numero Uno - Red Velvet

Before I tell you the secrets that I learned during my first cake ball experiment, I will first give you the quick insight on how to make a cake ball.

First, bake a cake. No really, it's that simple. Grab your favorite cake recipe or box cake and whip it up. Since you'll be crumbling it up, there's no need to make sure it comes out of the pan cleanly, therefore don't bother taking the time to flour the pan. Once baked let it FULLY cool. Which brings us to cake ball secret #1:

Let the cake cool fully before crumbling it up. You'll have a much more difficult time if it's warm because your icing will start to melt and you'll wind up with a gooey mess. If this happens, don't panic. Just freeze your "slop" in the ice box for a while until it's firm enough to handle and mold into balls. People will still love them.

Second. While your cake is cooling, prepare your frosting. If you want you can take the lazy way out and buy a can of frosting from the store. Or, you can make your favorite that goes well with whatever cake you are making. Since I was doing a red velvet cake, I went with a cream cheese frosting.

Third. Once your cake is cooled and your frosting ready, crumble up your cake into a large bowl. Next thoroughly mix in the icing. Now for cake ball secret #2:

Start with just a little icing and continue to add more until you reach the desired sweetness and/or texture that you want. Most likely if you're making your own icing you'll have way more icing than you need for these little guys. I think about 1/2 an icing recipe seemed to work out well. If you put a lot of icing into your mix it will become too soupy to form into balls. If this is the case, see secret #1 above.

Once your icing and cake are mixed to your desired level, roll the mixture into 1.5"-2" balls. If you desire more chocolate-to-cake ratio, make the balls smaller. Freeze for a while. Say 30 minutes - 1 hour. The harder they are, the easier they will be to work with when you are dipping them into the chocolate. If they are super soft, they'll just fall apart.

When your balls are properly frozen (um... that doesn't sound right), prepare your chocolate. Again, this part is up to you. If you'd like a thick chocolate coating, then go with a chocolate ganache. You'll get a thick coat and a nice sheen. For the red velvet cake balls, I used white chocolate for some and then (when that ran out, oops) I switched to dark chocolate. Cake ball secret #3:

#3 - Because I didn't want a thick chocolate coating, I mixed a bit of butter with my dark (70% cacao) chocolate to thin it down.

When dipping your cake balls into the chocolate, work with only a few at a time and leave the rest in the freezer. I prefer to have them on a stick, cause it just makes life all around easier. Easier to dunk, easier to eat. I found that you can use candy sticks from the local craft store (nicer look) or you can use kids craft popsicle sticks (if you're just making them for your co-workers and you don't want to make a trip to the local craft shop).

To coat the cake balls, insert the stick into the ball almost to the bottom. One blogger suggests dipping a portion of the stick into the melted chocolate first, then into the ball, to help it adhear to the stick better. I haven't tried this, but it seems like a good idea. Then using a tall narrow glass for your chocolate (such as a coffee mug), make sure you dip the ball all the way down, until the chocolate comes up around the stick. This will help the stick and ball stay together once the chocolate is dried. Now, if you choose, go crazy with toppings; sprinkles, ground nuts, cocoa powder, cinnamon, whatever.

Once done, I like to place them in the fridge, but you could also leave them on the counter for a day or two before using. If you do put them in the fridge, you'll probably see the chocolate start to sweat when it comes out into the warm air. I really don't have a problem with this, and since my house is always warm in the summer (thanks TX), I keep them in the fridge just so the chocolate solidifies. I've heard placing them in a plastic bag with a paper towel can help the sweating issue, though I'm not sure.

So there you have it, cake balls. Once I was done with my red velvet batch, I of course took them into work. Really, what else was I to do with 50 cake balls? Well, people went crazy! They were insane for these things. Maybe it was the massive amounts of sugar, or maybe the fact that they felt like a kid again, but either way, they loved them. So this past weekend I went ahead and tried out the other two recipes that I was thinking of.

I made banana cake balls with a honey/cinnamon frosting and dark chocolate (some then dipped in crushed walnuts) and spice cake balls with cinnamon frosting and dark chocolate (some dipped in a dark chocolate infused with cayenne pepper, just for that extra little kick).

UPDATE: people seem to really like the hot ones infused with cayenne pepper. One guy said "Wow. The hot ones are fantastic." I love those emails :)

Overall I think these little gems are great for parties and walk around functions, where eating cake or even cupcakes is just too messy. But I have to say, I'm still a cake / cupcake girl, I just think they taste a little better when the cake and the frosting aren't mixed.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A new blog

I spent the 4th of July with Jeremy's family (all 60 of them) in Ohio. It was quite the party and I was able to grab some great shots of some of the kiddos at night with the fireworks. And by kiddos I mean some of Jeremy's younger cousins, as well as the older "boys" lighting off all the fireworks. Some of the pictures turned out great, considering I was just using my hand-held Canon SD880.

Which got me thinking. My friend, Merrick, is a great photographer. He also does a great job of displaying his photos on his website. And what better way to look at night snapshots than on a website with a black background and no text cluttering the screen (ie - not flickr.com).

So with the limited resources that I currently have (time & energy), I used blogger to put together another site to just display some of the photos that I like best. It's not exactly perfect yet, but in the future I'll work at it a bit more. For now, check out some of the pictures from the July 4th Picnic.

HERE for all the pictures (on Flickr)


HERE for the select night shots on my new photoblog.