More Than Meh

A blog about the good things of life.

Oktoberfest and Bienenstich Cake September 30, 2013

Filed under: Food,Friends — dwhren @ 12:41 pm

This past Saturday my friends Kevin and Tracie held their annual Oktoberfest party. They supply a keg of German beer and everyone brings some delicious German (or fall) inspired treats to share. Even though they request that people indicate on the evite what they are bringing so there’s not too much of any one thing, there was a bit of fail this year in that almost everyone brought dessert including me. I stand by my decision in that I was the first one to say I was bringing a dessert. Everyone else just didn’t pay attention or didn’t care that there were going to be 10 desserts. This is how I pretty much ate nothing but sausage and sugar in various forms on Saturday.

I decided to try my hand at baking a Bienenstich, also known as a Bee Sting Cake presumably because of the honey found in the topping. It’s a yeasted cake topped with a caramelized almond topping and a pastry cream in the middle. It’s a bit time consuming to make given all the parts and the fact that the cake dough has to rise twice. I used this recipe from The Smitten Kitchen, mostly anyway. I had a fail with my first attempt at making the pastry cream. I’m pretty sure it’s my fault and that I cooked it too long turning it into a gelatinous mass instead of an actual cream. For my second go I decided to use a slightly different recipe for the cream just in case it was the recipe and not my cooking skills that were amiss. I’ve never had any problems with a Smitten Kitchen recipe before so I’m guessing it was me, but I didn’t want to have to make the cream a third time. I was successful on my second go around and the cake was a big hit.

Picture of a Bee Sting Cake

Bienenstich or Bee Sting Cake

My friend Alison and I decided that Kevin and Tracie’s daughter Abby needed her own stein for her very first Oktoberfest. She was less than impressed.

Until you fill it with beer I don't care about this stein.

Until you fill it with beer I don’t care about this stein.

Having friends that live out in the pseudo-country now also means activities like archery and tractor rides.

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Derek tried his hand (mouth) at drinking out of a real glass for the first time helping himself to some of his dad’s water. He wasn’t really sure what to make of the water once he got in there.

Picture of baby drinking water.

As is often the case when the weather is nice enough we ended the party sitting around the fire pit. At some point over the summer someone on Twitter mentioned S’moreos, which if you can’t figure it out from the name are s’mores made with Oreos instead of graham crackers. That sounded like a delicious creation to me and thus I brought some Oreos to try it out. It was indeed extremely delicious. Know what’s better than an Oreo? An Oreo with a fire-toasted marshmallow smashed in the middle of it. I didn’t bother putting chocolate on mine thinking the chocolate cookie in the Oreo would suffice. Someone who tried it both ways reported that the chocolate didn’t really add anything as I suspected. Either way it’s delicious and I recommend trying it.

The fire pit itself is a little store bought one they had in their old more suburban house. Now that they have much more land I think it’s time for an upgrade. On our drive home we noticed one of their neighbors on the next cross street had a huge bonfire sized fire pit going. I demand a bigger and better fire pit! Now I will just wait for Kevin to tell me he needs me to buy a 3-D printer first to make one, though I’m pretty sure you can’t make an effective fire pit out of a 3-D printer.

 

Hem: Tiny Desk Concert September 29, 2013

Filed under: Concerts,Music — dwhren @ 8:58 am

Hey remember when I got to see a Tiny Desk Concert live? Well, NPR finally posted the video of the Tiny Desk Concert with Hem that I saw over three months ago, and as I long ago promised I’m posting it here. It’s just as lovely as I remember. I especially love the second song they sing, Tourniquet. They sang another song while I was there, but then decided they wanted to sing Seven Angelsfor the version that was going to go online so they added that at the end. It’s been so long I don’t remember what the other song was, but that along with some additional commentary was edited out of the final video. Now I wonder about all the stuff that was cut from other Tiny Desk Concerts. Anyway, this one is lovely. Enjoy it.

http://www.npr.org/event/music/226477989/hem-tiny-desk-concert?sc=tw&cc=twmp

*Sorry that WordPress is dumb and only lets videos from a list of approved sites be embedded in posts, and NPR is not one of them which means I can only link to the video not embed it.

 

What’s Making Me Happy This Week September 27, 2013

Filed under: Life,Random,Simple Pleasures — dwhren @ 12:21 pm

My friend Erin sometimes posts on Facebook her “Yeh List” for the week. I don’t have any one big thing to blog about, so here’s a list of some of the things making me happy this week. If you follow me on Twitter or are friends with me on Facebook you may have already seen some of these things there. Also some of these things have been well passed around the internet this week, which again means there’s a good chance you’ve already seen them. I’m sure manage to get over seeing these things more than once.

1. The seemingly neverending beautiful fall weather we’re having in Maryland right now. Mid-70s, sunny. Gorgeous. Keep it up Maryland.

2. A summer work project that came to fruition beautifully this week with the open house for our new adaptive technology lab. The open house went really well. Way more people came than I was expecting.

3. This chicken salad recipe from The Smitten Kitchen which I made for dinner on Wednesday night and have been eating for lunches since.

4. It’s TV premiere week. I still haven’t seen a lot of what’s been on yet as I don’t get a chance to watch much TV on Wednesdays and Thursdays and this season Thursdays are a traffic jam of TV. Plus there are still a few summer shows winding their way down so my schedule is extra full. I’ll post more about what I’m watching in a few weeks once I decide which new shows I’m actually going to stick with.

5. I’m sure you’ve all seen it by now but this video of a father and daughter singing “Tonight You Belong to Me” is beyond adorable.

6. There have been a lot of clips from this week’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon bouncing around the internet this week. I always love when they play songs on classroom instruments and this version of the Sesame Street theme along with the Muppets is wonderful.

7. Yesterday a Twitter pal offered up this story about a little boy who loves ballet to compete with the previously mentioned Jimmy Fallon Sesame Street video as the best thing she had seen all day. If your heart doesn’t melt into a giant puddle when you read the quote at the end, then you obviously have no heart.

8. I have a free ice cream cone coming to me from The Charmery, the local ice cream shop in my hood, which I think I’m going to redeem tonight. They’re debuting a new flavor called The Heisenberg in honor of The Breaking Bad finale this Sunday, which delights me even though I don’t think it’s a flavor I plan on ordering.

9. I just can’t get enough of Jason Isbell’s song Stockholm. Every time I hear it I fall in love with it all over again. In fact, the whole Southeastern album is fantastic.

10. This new song from the soundtrack, which from what I’ve seen looks to be amazing, for the Coen Brother’s upcoming movie, Inside Llewyn Davis. It’s a cover of the folk song “Fare Thee Well” by Marcus Mumford and Oscar Issac.

 

Sutton Foster at Cafe Carlyle September 25, 2013

Filed under: Concerts,Music,Theatre — dwhren @ 9:09 am

As I mentioned in my previous post this past weekend my husband and I took a trip up to NYC. It happily coincided with Sutton Foster’s run at the Cafe Carlyle. At some point in the late spring/early summer I was lamenting on Twitter about how the only shows The Cure were scheduled to play in the U.S. were at large festivals, and was saying that if they would just play their own show somewhere I would even travel to see them. (Obviously out of spite they did wind up playing one non-festival show…in Hawaii.) In response one of our friends replied and said speaking of traveling for concerts did you know Sutton Foster is going to be at the Cafe Carlyle in September? Now this is the point where it comes obvious that my husband can in no way justify all the complaining he did prior to going to this show. He (not I) looked up the dates and said hey I was already planning on going up that weekend for World Maker Faire so it’s perfect. Silly me. I took that as hey if you want to go to this we should go. That was not the reaction I got when I told him I had made us reservations and was doubly not the reaction I got when he found out he had to wear a suit.

Fast forward whatever amount of time to a week or two past the point 3 months previous to September 21 when I realize I forgot to make the reservations. Reservations open for shows at the Cafe Carlyle 3 months prior to the show. When I went to look, the Open Table reservation system on the site indicated to me that there were no longer any reservations available. I publicly kicked myself on Twitter for missing out and was prepared to move on with my life. I hate the phone so it did not even occur to me to try and call at that point. Obviously Cafe Carlyle is doing Twitter right though, as I didn’t even @ them in my tweet yet this still saw it and replied letting me know that if I called they would be able to book me. So basically the moral of this story is that I apparently would never have actually gone to this concert if it wasn’t for Twitter.

For this particular show there was a cover charge plus we were required to eat dinner there. For the 8:45 show there were seatings at 6:30, 7:00, or 7:30. The cover charge varies depending on where you sit with the few bar seats (about 10-12 people) cheaper than tables and tables closer to the front commanding a premium price. The room is fairly small though so even though we were back against the wall there were really only 2-3 tables between us and stage depending on what angle you want to count by. Some of the bar seats would definitely have a restricted view though due to some pillars, so if you want to save some money by sitting at the bar keep that in mind.

Our reservation was for 7:00, but due to building in unneeded extra time to hail a cab and deal with any potential traffic we arrived just after 6:30. They had no problems seating us as soon as we got there though. The tables are all super close to each other such that you’re pretty much dining with the people sitting on either side of you. Most of the crowd was older. Aside from one other table of people who were probably younger than we were and the teenage kids in the one family there we were by far the youngest in the room. It’s not that surprising I guess given the cost of the evening. It was definitely the most money I’ve ever spent on a single night. It was totally worth it though.

Given the close proximity of the other tables we made friends with the older ladies sitting on our right who were sisters. They reminded me of my grandma and my great-aunt about 30 years ago. To our left was an older gay couple who were quite amusing. Apparently I look like one their nieces and one of the guys decided he should take a picture of me. They were doing a whirlwind theater weekend having seen Pippen on Friday night, this show on Saturday, and then were scheduled to see a matinee of Cinderella on Sunday. I was happy to hear their glowing review of Pippen since that is what I have in mind to see when we are back in NYC for Thanksgiving. Though I am sad to have missed Andrea Martin in her Tony award-winning role in that show.

It was also amusing to hear how well or not people actually knew who Sutton Foster was. The gay couple next to unsurprisingly had seen her in a number of shows. The couple sitting on the opposite side of them said they actually only knew her because they had seen an episode of Sesame Street that she was on. I found that amusing. At one point in the show Sutton Foster was talking about having moved to Los Angeles and I heard the ladies next to us questioning why she would have moved there. In my head I was thinking Bunheads! (RIP Bunheads.)

Every review of the Cafe Carlyle I read before we went indicated the food is underwhelming particularly for the prices you are paying. I knew that going in though so was prepared to pay a lot of money for food that was only so-so. You’re really paying for the experience of being at the show and getting to see whatever performer you are there to see in such an intimate venue. It would be nice if the food was better, but if you plan to go there just know that it isn’t. I ordered the coq au vin. It’s not something I see on very many restaurant menus, and it was one of my favorite meals that my mom used to make when I was a kid. My mom’s was better. I also ordered a side of creamed spinach, which again was fine but nothing I would be terribly excited to eat again. There was nothing on the menu that was vegetarian friendly, but my husband asked and they easily accommodated his request offering him either roasted vegetables or a vegetable pasta. He opted for the roasted vegetables, the price of which was outrageous given what it was, but again to be expected I guess. For dessert I had the chocolate mousse and Paul had the cheesecake. I liked his cheesecake better, but the mousse was good too.

The service was decent, but not outstanding as I would normally expect when I’m paying that much for dinner. If I’m eating somewhere that fancy I want the service to blow me away. Really they’re just trying to get everyone in and fed before the show starts though so there are little things that go unnoticed. For instance we didn’t order any wine with dinner and yet our wine glasses were not removed until they were trying to make room on our table for our entrees. I also noticed that dessert forks and spoons were delivered to the ladies next to us even though they declined to order any dessert. Again it was just little things, but things that did stand out to me in this kind of setting that wouldn’t have bothered me if I was eating a more casual place.

The show itself was fantastic, and it’s lucky that we saw it when we did because I saw yesterday that Sutton Foster had to cancel the remainder of her shows after the day we saw her due to a family emergency. I read mixed reviews of the show in other outlets most of the criticism being that there didn’t seem to be a focus and there was too great of a range of songs. I liked it though. I don’t have entire set list especially since I wasn’t familiar with a number of the songs she sang, but they ranged from funny to sweet and romantic to sad. She of course sang some of the songs that made her famous on the Broadway stage. She did a medley of songs from Thoroughly Modern Millie, Annie, and Little Women all of which she starred in. She also sang “I Get a Kick Out of You” from Anything Goes, a show for which she won a Tony. The other Broadway song I recognized was “Being Alive” from Company. She also sang some non-Broadway songs. There was a funny song called “Air Conditioner” whose origins I don’t know but that was featured on her album Wish. She brought up Megan McGinnis who starred with her in Little Women on Broadway to sing two songs, one of which was Simon and Garfunkel’s “Old Friends”. She also sang a couple of other folk songs which her voice is suited perfectly for. I really loved them and wouldn’t mind if she ever decided to do an album of folk song covers. The first was “Sunshine on My Shoulders” by John Denver. She closed with James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes”, which was beautiful. It was a lovely evening, and I’m very glad we went. Even Paul said he enjoyed himself despite his grumpiness about going. It may have been expensive, but to me it was worth every penny.

 

Fall Weekend in NYC September 23, 2013

Filed under: Family,Travel — dwhren @ 8:29 pm

Paul and I headed up to NYC for the weekend. He wanted to go up for World Maker Faire. He says I do a lousy job of explaining what that is, so you can peruse the website yourself if you have no idea what I’m talking about and are curious to know what it is. It also gave us a chance to spend some time with our niece and nephew who we haven’t seen since they visited us at Easter.

They are now 2 and 3/4 years old and are talking much more and mostly intelligibly. They also can entertain themselves much more than they could the last time we were with them. They definitely can still cause lots of trouble though.

Their family moved into a new apartment since the last time we were up visiting them. It’s much bigger than their last apartment and the building has a great roof deck and a playroom for the kids.

View from the roof deck.

View from the roof deck.

Roof deck

Roof deck

While Paul was off at Maker Faire I hung out with his family. It was a beautiful fall weekend, so we got to spend lots of time outside. We enjoyed lunch on the roof deck, and then took a walk in Central Park so the twins could show me the ducks and turtles. We also wound up seeing crayfish. Who would have guessed there were crayfish in Central Park.

Turtles

Turtles

Looking at the turtles.

Looking at the turtles.

Saturday night Paul and I went to see Sutton Foster do a cabaret at the Cafe Carlyle. I’ll write more about that in a separate post.

I got to start Sunday with a NYC bagel. Bagels elsewhere really do pale in comparison. There was a street fair happening on Columbus Avenue, so we walked down to that. We also stopped by a flea market that is regularly held in the court yard of one of the elementary schools. Lily and Ryan stopped to learn how to play hopscotch, or at least their best approximation of it.

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We stopped to eat lunch after that where my horrible food karma returned. When I was in high school I went through a long period of time where every time I went out to eat either my food didn’t show up with everyone else’s or whatever they brought me wasn’t what I ordered. This time my food order didn’t get put in properly so they didn’t even start making it until well after everyone else had their food. Not an ideal situation when you’re eating with toddlers. They all wound up wandering off while I ate my meal to avoid peak toddler meltdown at the table.

We did get to spend most of our lunch being amused by drivers backing down the closed off street to get out after ignoring the police barricade blocking it off. In fairness to most of them it wasn’t entirely obvious that both sides of the road were supposed to be closed due to the fact that one self-important guy got out of his car and moved the barricade from the center of the street so that it partially covered both lanes over to one side so that he could drive down the street. He of course didn’t bother to move it back, so that apparently left everyone else thinking they could drive down the street apparently. Then when they hit the street fair on the next block and realized they couldn’t drive through they all had to back out. It was amusing to watch people try and back out at the same time people were trying to turn down the street obviously not getting a clue that it was a bad idea.

Sunday also happened to be my brother-in-law’s birthday so we stopped on the way home to pick up some cupcakes to celebrate.

Ryan jamming on his guitar. He has multiple guitars. Seems like he's destined to be in a band.

Ryan jamming on his guitar. He has multiple guitars. Seems like he’s destined to be in a band.

Lily talking to her people. She really likes pretending to talk on the phone.

Lily talking to her people. She really likes pretending to talk on the phone.

Daddy snuggling with Lily (and Bunny) and Ryan on the roof.

Daddy snuggling with Lily (and Bunny) and Ryan on the roof.

 

Uncle Paul, Aunt Danielle, Lily, and Ryan

Uncle Paul, Aunt Danielle, Lily, and Ryan

 

 

Tech Crawl at The National Aquarium September 17, 2013

Filed under: Baltimore — dwhren @ 8:45 am

Last night Paul and I went to a tech crawl hosted by gb.tc (formerly the Greater Baltimore Technology Council). I believe this is the second tech crawl they’ve hosted. The first one was at Camden Yards. This particular tech crawl was a behind the scenes look at the National Aquarium, which is here in Baltimore. They had a bar and some hors d’oevres and there was time for mingling with other people before and after the tour. I got to meet some people in person that I’ve only know via Twitter up until this point so that was fun.

The tour itself really focused on the new Blacktip Reef exhibit, which just opened about a month ago. If you’ve been to the aquarium before the new exhibit is in the main viewing area on the first level where the Ray Tray used to be and then they built a large viewing window underneath so that you can now go down an additional level and see into the handmade reef. It’s very cool.

The tour was limited to I believe 80 people and then they had us split into 3 or 4 groups so we really got to get up close to things without the normal mayhem of all the people and kids that are usually in the aquarium. In addition, to some really extensive information about the exhibit itself and how it was built we got to see some behind the scenes stuff regarding how it is run and maintained.

They have a new 6 panel screen showing a video leading into the exhibit. They told us about the reasoning behind the video itself, about the screens that it runs on, and the sound system which actually has sensors to adjust the volume based on the number of people in the area which is pretty nifty. We also got a peek at the server rack where it’s all controlled from. Ooooh server rack. Looks like any other server rack. Could have been my basement, except with fancier equipment.

We also got to see in the pump room that has all the stuff that keeps the tanks in the aquarium running. I unfortunately can’t remember the guy’s name or his actual position title though he basically oversees all the staff that take care of the animals, but he gave us a very interesting talk about how all the equipment works and the systems they have developed at the aquarium to keep the tanks functioning while also being able to conserve water. It was a lot of really interesting information and nothing I would have gotten just on a regular trip to the aquarium.

You can actually watch a live cam of the Blacktip Reef exhibit here if you want.

Or you can take a look at my pictures of the fish (and a turtle) and some assorted things that keep the fish alive. Though there are a ton of Blacktip sharks in the exhibit somehow I didn’t snap any really good pictures of them. Go figure.

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HampdenFest plus Lady Party September 16, 2013

Filed under: Baltimore,Friends — dwhren @ 8:32 am

Saturday was one of the two annual festivals that take place in my neighborhood each year. I always prefer HampdenFest to Honfest because it’s more geared toward the people who live in the neighborhood as a opposed to the big spectacle that is HonFest. There are a lot fewer people in attendance, and since I hate crowds that’s always a plus for me. The weather is usually much nicer too since HampdenFest is held in September and HonFest is in June.

This was the second year that they had a Mac and Cheese Off as one of the events. Last year it was great with lots of entries split between professionals from the local restaurants and amateur cooks. This year I am not sure what happened as there were only 3 entries. I did hear that they had 3 no-shows, but that still would have left them with about half the number of entries as last year. The money from the tickets to taste and vote went to support the Hampden Food Pantry so we were still happy to contribute even though it really wasn’t worth $10.

After making a quick once around the festival and voting in the Mac and Cheese Off we took a break. My friend Carissa, who also lives in the neighborhood, had a “Lady Party” which was really just an excuse to sit around with a bunch of our girlfriends eat lots of bread and cheese and have some drinks for an hour or so. Her husband and some of the other guys from this group of friends were away at a soccer game, which is why it was just a lady party. I think we did the moniker justice by talking about many things that would have sent the guys screaming in horror.

We headed back out to the festival in time to watch the Toilet Bowl races. Unlike the Mac and Cheese Off the Toilet Bowl races just keep getting better. There were more entries this year and a lot of really creative vehicles even if some of them definitely were made less effective in actual speed due to their elaborate designs. My favorite was the one designed like an actual bathroom complete with claw foot tub. You can check out some of the racers in my photos.

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