Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Night of the Living Composers - A New Music Concert in Costume

Happy Halloween!

Prior to Sandy's sweep through New England, we managed to get in lots of Halloween-type festivities.  In addition to the Halloweenie dachshund meet-up in Boston Common and cupcake baking this past Saturday, I also attended the first New Music Brandeis concert of the semester.  Since the concert fell so close to Halloween, the performers decided to dress in costume, which made the evening even more fun.

The concert had pieces by Travis Alford (husband!), Victorial Cheah, Richard Chowenhill, Peter VZ Lane, Mu-Xuan Lin, Jared Redmond, and Rebecca Sacks.  Here's a shot of all the composers and performers for the evening.

Husband had two pieces on the concert - one that he wrote for a composer/performer group at Brandeis (The Gentlemen's Very (Very) High Art Society of South Waltham) titled Trickle Down Tango, and an art song titled I Felt A Funeral.  The latter was written for a summer residency at New Music on the Point in Vermont.  Our friend Kim Soby, an extremely talented soprano, happened to be in Boston and was able to sing the piece.

Travis has dubbed Kim "His Soprano" because of how they met at New England Conservatory (each working toward their Masters).  Travis had written a piece for strings and soprano - a setting of the Bill of Rights - which was to be performed in Jordan Hall.  He is known for writing really difficult music, and this piece was no different.  Three days before the performance, his Soprano lost her voice and recommended Kim as a replacement, but since it had taken the group weeks of rehearsing, we weren't really hopeful the piece would be ready for the concert.  That assumption was made before anyone had met Kim...and was completely incorrect, because Kim (in two days) sung it perfectly.  A-mazing.  She's the best.

Travis, Kim (soprano), and Alexander (piano) after the concert

Here are a few other shots from the evening!

Hey you!  Down in front!

Even the stagehands dressed up!

After the concert there was a reception, during which my pumpkin cupcakes were devoured.  I wrote a how-to blog earlier this week so you can make buttercream pumpkin cupcakes too!  Check it out!

Also, you should check out Kim's blog.  If her beautiful voice wasn't reason enough to love her, she also has a CUPCAKE BLOG!

Now to prepare for trick-or-treaters!  Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Happy Halloweenie

Saturday morning was the long-awaited Halloween dachshund meet-up (aka...Halloweenie) on Boston Common.  Travis had a composers' meeting at Gordon College (where he teaches), so Toby and I took off for the festivities.

I love watching Toby when he's downtown.  He LOVES looking at the tall buildings through the sunroof.  When he's not gazing at the buildings above, his face is plastered to the window people-watching.  Happy, happy dog!

It was fun to see some of the same pups we met at Cape Cod Doxie Day.  Toby remembered a few and gave them an extra-enthusiastic wag.  Here are a few pictures of our favorite costumes!

Pea Pods!

Toby in his mummy costume

There were several lobsters present...this was my favorite

Toby hangin' out with a pumpkin.  I was so impressed by the dogs who didn't care there was stuff on their heads!

Toby with Batman and Robin

Sock monkey, bumble bee, and a little guy in a cute sweater!  Toby thought Sock Monkey's dad was AWESOME.

Super cute (homemade) dinosaur outfit!

Toby's friend, Paris, made a cute little pirate girl. 

Haley, the only doxie I've ever seen that's smaller than Toby, was a skunk.  So cute!

Crazy witch costume!
There were several mermaids present.  The winner of the costume contest was the one on the right.  Her "person" dressed up as a mermaid too.  So funny.


Caterpillar brothers
 Toby was so exhausted when we got home that he slept for the rest of the day.  Fun morning!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cake Decorating How-to: Buttercream Pumpkins

This weekend I volunteered to bring cupcakes for a New Music Brandeis concert reception.  Since the concert was the weekend before Halloween, the performers decided they'd all dress up in costumes for the performance.  It was one of the most eclectic concerts (musically) I've ever been to, and the costume-clad musicians made it even more fun.  I decided to decorate the cupcakes with butter cream pumpkins, and they came out very cute (and actually really easy to do)!  Here's a little "how-to" so you can impress your friends and family.

When you're making "stand-up" butter cream decorations, the thickness of your icing is important.  I usually use tweaked version of Wilton's buttercream recipe.

Wilton's Buttercream Recipe                        My Tweaks to Wilton's Buttercream
1 cup solid white vegetable shortening                      1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon Wilton Flavor                                           1/2 cup salted butter
2 Tablespoons milk or water                                     1 teaspoon Wilton Vanilla
1 pound pure cane confectioners' sugar                     2 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon Wilton Meringue Powder                     4 cups pure cane confectioners' sugar
A pinch of salt (optional)                                           1 Tablespoon Wilton Meringue Powder

A few notes: When you're going to be coloring your icing, make sure you use the Wilton (colorless) Vanilla (you can buy this from Michael's or AC Moore) so that it doesn't make your oranges and greens "muddy".  Also, in the pictures below I doubled the recipe.  This recipe makes the "thick" icing version.  To thin your icing (make it more spreadable), add water slowly until it reaches the desired consistency.   If you thin too much, add more powdered sugar.


Combine and cream wet ingredients (butter, shortening, vanilla and water).
Add powdered sugar 2 cups at a time, mixing well in-between.  Add meringue powder and mix til smooth.

Ice the tops of your cupcakes with a thin layer of the white icing.  Transfer some of the icing from your mixing bowl into a smaller bowl and add a little water, mixing between every few drops, until the icing becomes an easily spreadable consistency.

Now for the fun part!  Pumpkin time...

I found it's helpful to practice designs when you're learning to decorate cakes - instead of messing up a dozen cupcakes with the trial and error approach.  Tape two paper towels down on a flat surface.  Then tape two pieces of wax paper (on top of each other) on top of the paper towel.  Set aside some of your icing as "practice icing" so you can practice the shapes you're making and re-use the same icing until you get it right.  (Then toss the practice icing...just in case!)

Transfer more of the icing from your mixing bowl and add a few drops of orange gel coloring (you can buy this at Michael's or AC Moore).  The gel coloring is important because regular (liquid) food coloring will change the consistency of the icing.  The gel doesn't!

The pumpkin body is made using a size 12 tip.  You'll also need a piping bag (you can buy disposable bags at craft stores) and a coupler (here's some information about how to use a coupler).

First make a ball of icing.  To apply, point your tip straight down just above the surface.  With consistent pressure, start piping icing and raising your tip slowly as the ball forms.  Keeping the tip lower to the surface will let the ball increase its diameter.

Next, you're going to make ridges up the sides of your ball.  Start piping at the bottom, slowly lessening pressure as you reach the top.  The top will be a little messy where all your ridges come together.  Don't worry!  It's not a big of a deal since there will be leaves/vines covering most of the top.

Next, practice your leaves.  Mix some green icing (you wont' need too much).  I used the Wilton "Leaf Green" gel.

Use a medium leaf tip to make the leaves.  You'll need to hold the tip so the "V" is perpendicular to the surface.  Use your practice area to play with the different leaf types.  Use more pressure when beginning the leaf and as you move away, lessen the pressure.

Once you feel comfortable with your pumpkin and leaf skills, put them all together on your cupcakes!

I used another tip (a tiny hole - either tip 2 or 3) to make little vines around the top.  Cute little curls are never a bad thing, and add a lot to these little pumpkins!

Now go impress your friends!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Just a Little Rant

For those of you who don’t know, I’m the Director of Business Development at an internet company.  Through the beauty of the interweb, it’s not necessary for all of our employees to work out of one office, so we have a small main office here in Brookline.  Since it’s a small office, from time to time I answer the phone.  Most of the people on the other end are very nice, but every now and then I get a doozie of a phonecall.  This morning was one of them.  Here’s how the call went.

Me:  (company name)!
Guy on the other end of the phone:  Hi, may I speak with (enter old boss’ name here)?
Me:  He’s no longer with the company.  Can I help you with something?
Guy:  Oh.  Hmmmm…ok.  Can you point me to the person who makes business decisions?
Me:  Sure – can I ask what this is regarding and where you’re calling from?
Guy:  My name is Michael (something) and this is a business call.  I’d spoken to (old boss) earlier about (company) and want to follow up with someone.
Me:  Ok.  And what is the business call regarding?

Let me pause.  He seems a little shady (1. my old boss has not worked here for 2.5 years, so obviously it isn’t urgent, 2. Why won’t he tell me where he’s calling from), so I’m 95% sure he’s a telemarketer and I won’t want to talk to him.  Buttttt on the off-chance that he isn’t, I’d like to know what he wants to talk to (ME) about so I can decide whether to reveal that I’m actually the person he wants to talk to.

Guy:  It’s a business call.
Me:  Yes, I understand that, but before I can figure out who you should speak with, I need to know a little more about the subject of the call.

So, there are three things wrong with this phone call. 

First, he just yelled at the person he wanted to speak to without knowing it.  If he had given me one clue about what he wanted to talk about, I would have either spoken with him or could have let him down nicely. 

Two, when he calls back again, Arielle will be putting him through to me…who he earlier yelled at.  Not the best first impression for a cold call.

Three, why would he think it’s ok to speak like that to anyone?  That’s the main issue here.  Sure, he just messed up one of the leads he probably purchased somewhere, but he treated a woman who he assumed didn’t matter to him like crap.

In the past I’ve had issues like this with where I told them that I was the appropriate person to speak with and have been told, “Whatever lady…just put me through to your boss” or “You are not.  You’re just some woman behind a desk”.   (The 2nd example was someone from the Atlanta Braves actually.  I even like your team, man!!  Be nice!)

Now, I know sales is hard.  It can be really frustrating to you speak to no one after hours on the phone.  I do online sales too…I get it.  But one of the first things you learn is that you treat the admin sweetly because 1) they are a person and 2) they are the gateway to the decision maker. 

When did it become ok for people to be a jerk to someone they don’t even know for no reason?

Ok…rant over…back to cute things soon.  J

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Picking Pumpkins and Discount Halloween Decorations

One of my favorite places to visit up here is a massive farm-stand, Wilson Farms.  It truly is a produce dreamland (or "foodie heaven" as they call it) and it's rumored that Julia Child shopped here when she lived in Cambridge.  It's THAT awesome.  They grow over 125 different crops, bake breads and other prepared foods in-house, and even grow their own flowers.

Another reason I love it so much is because it's (literally) the first place we went outside of the city when we moved here.  We'd lived in Boston for several months and had begun attending Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge (Porter Square).  One day after church our friends Tyson and Kelly took us to Wilson Farm before we headed to their house for lunch.  I thought we were WAY outside of the city - like driven-to-New-Hampshire kind of outside.  (At this point, we didn't have a car and hadn't been outside of a 5 mile radius for about 6 months.)  Turns out we were only 15 miles from Boston proper (haha).  Needless to say, Wilson Farm has a bit of nostalgia for us.

Wilson Farm has so many great fall decorations, more pumpkins than I knew existed, a fun haunted hayride, and of course, their famed cider donuts.  Some of the pumpkins for sale weighed well over 100 pounds.

These are called "Peanut Pumpkins".  Appropriately named, huh?

Their long line of specialty pumpkins.  White pumpkins, green pumpkins, watermelon pumpkins, peanut pumpkins, fairy tale pumpkins...the list goes on and on.

Last year we got fairy tale pumpkins, which I loved.  This year we decided on three big 'ol regular orange ones so we could carve them later.  Now that "Frankenstorm" is on its way (aka Hurricane Sandy), I'm worried we won't be able to light them on Halloween!

The farm was beautiful.

It was funny to see the haunted hayride props throughout the farm.  Travis liked them a lot.  :)

We came home with our pumpkins, a big purple mum, and a funny cabbage plant for the front steps (pictures coming soon), which paired well with our exciting new Halloween decorations!  Last year, once Halloween was over, I hit a few stores to check out their discount prices and hit the jackpot, so this year we're stocked with plenty of crazy, glowing decor!

I got two strands of creeeepy glowing eyeballs, three Jack-O-Lantern lanterns, lots of purple mini-lights, and horrifying skeleton trying to burst out of jail.  Toby is terrified of this skeleton.  When you turn it on, his eyes light up, the head flies around, and he screams while he shakes the bars.  It's seriously crazy.  All of these decorations would have cost $120.  But since everything was 90% off, I got them for less than $15.  Now THAT'S a Happy Halloween!

Do you love Halloween?  What's your favorite thing about this spooky holiday?