Mardi Gras 2009


new “kitchen computer”

Last year I saw this fancy new “kitchen center” Pandigital PANTV1512 15.6-Inch Kitchen Technology Center Digital Picture Frame on Popdgadget & thought it would be a nice space-saving idea to replace my bubble-style iMac kitchen computer for recipe use…however it seemed a bit expensive & overkill since I don’t think I’ll need an HDTV in my kitchen! The cabling for HDTV service would be annoying so not worth it. Wifi would be nice though…so since I’ve built up some free Amazon money from my Visa, I thought I’d look for it in case it came down in price yet. Nope, still $400. However the “you might like” Amazon suggestions showed the lesser expensive Pantouch digital photo frames with preloaded recipes from Bon Appetit, one drastically on sale for only $130 …aha! Completely within the free money I have right now! I couldn’t find the wifi USB dongle on Amazon, but I did find it on Bed Bath & Beyond online for $30, so I figured to order the frame, see if I could put my own recipes on it easily enough, then I could always add on the wifi later if I wanted it.

So for a third of the cost (free for me!), this can be a photo frame to put elsewhere if I’m not cooking (in addition to the internal memory it has slots for several types of media cards, plus for a USB thumb drive), plus I can move this around the kitchen wherever is most logical for that recipe. It does have to plug in for power though so can’t go absolutely anywhere. This model only comes with the black frame, but it is removable, so I can always make my own prettier frame surround for it if I want to. For the extra cost for the “kitchen center” it would have been built-in wifi, HDTV-ready with a larger screen size, and more preloaded recipes, but I don’t think I need all that. I added a couple books & a DVD I’ve been saving on my list to combine for free shipping, and I still have some free money left. The books showed up earlier last week, so I’ve already finished reading one of them. :)

I got the digital photo frame yesterday, so I connected it to my computer to see how the recipe files worked. It’s not the most elegant navigation system, and I might end up using the remote more than the touch feature since it’s only around the border, but we’ll see. It will not display text files or PDF, even TIFF, only JPEG, so I will have to convert my text recipes to images to view them, but that’s a big plus for scanning from cookbooks or magazines since no conversion to text necessary! To see if it was worth the effort, I took quick & dirty screencaps of most of my online Mardi Gras recipes to see if I could read them. The included USB cable worked fine, mounting as “Pandigital” on my Mac desktop, so I could just drag & drop files to copy them over to the 512MB internal memory, eject the USB drive, then it would reboot automatically after it disconnected. Hooray it worked! The image isn’t huge, but still larger than recipe index cards. ;) I definitely would not go any smaller than the 10.4″ diagonal image size though if you’re going to use one for your own recipes. Unfortunately my nice sale price has gone up $100, but you can still get the frame without the Bon Appetit preloaded recipe collection for $200. The king cake recipe was too long for a screencap, so I cobbled that together in Photoshop (InDesign would have been better but I didn’t want to deal with it with my headache last night), and now all my Mardi Gras recipes are on my new “kitchen computer” in time to use for the party in 2 weeks!

In other Mardi Gras news, my fairy wings are complete enough to wear but I would like to embellish them more…but since the dress & bodice are barely begun, those will come first. The Creole Chicken Skewers are prebaked & in the freezer, and the spinach ball goop is in my fridge ready to be rolled into balls & frozen. Glad I have a 3-day weekend inbetween to decorate & make party food! :)

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Mardi Gras party prep progress

Thank goodness for the long weekend! I still have a long ways to go, but I have made great progress in getting the Mardi Gras Masquerade ready for this coming Saturday! My fairy costume is very nearly done, some tedious handstitching left on the top of the bodice, and details like adding ribbon to the mask & things, but at least wearable already! I could have been further along, but I really wanted to do the wings a certain way, which took something like 12-16 hours of handstitching I swear! :P A lot of the food is ready to go, but since I’m making new cookies which are a surprise, they are taking longer & more ingredients since they are oversized. All those need to be decorated tonight after work but at least I have 50 baked that haven’t broken. There were more that were either attacked by stealthy kitties (tag-teaming ganging up on me isn’t fair!) or just broke from being too thin in places.

party prep so far, starting 2 weeks before party day:

  • prebaked 30 creole chicken skewers
  • 10 dozen spinach balls ready in freezer
  • gallon bag of crab triangles ready in freezer
  • sewed 4 new pillow covers (fabric purchased how many yrs ago? in 2005 I think?)
  • corset bodice from scratch w/ boning & grommets
  • costume underskirt (leftover aqua sheet scrap)
  • lavender gauze dress (pinned in 2002 but never finished until now)
  • custom fairy wings formed from wire, handstitched sheer iridescent fabric to frame (already had the wire, leftover fabric from 2002 wings that were tossed out in 2005)
  • purple plastic crown enhanced with beads & floral to be fairy princess crown
  • custom mask covered in bodice fabric to match
  • mowed & edged both lawns, plus other front yard cleanup so I won’t be embarrassed
  • prepped 4 dozen new puff pastry tricolor scrolls ready in freezer
  • baked 3 qts caramel corn (“golden” caramel) with purple & green M&Ms
  • baked 5 dozen oversize sugar cookies (shhh – it’s a surprise!), but so far only 29 iced white ready for further decorating
  • organized bead variety in bowl by door (I swear I NEVER need to buy beads again!)
  • some decorating done, more to do but that’s fairly quick

    …still LOTS to do, and I haven’t even set up the webcam yet since the weather has been so bad I’m not sure it should go on the screened patio this time, even though that was an excellent spot at Halloween. Wish me luck getting everything done! :)

    P.S. I have used my new “kitchen computer” for two recipes already and I love it! :D

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    Mardi Gras Masquerade 2009

    Sorry for the delay in the party recap, but I’ve had 6 houseguests in 7 days, so I’ve been a bit busy since the party!

    Even though from RSVPs I had been wondering if this year might beat out 2005 for the smallest Mardi Gras, there were 24 of us letting the good times roll, including two of those under 2 years old, so a good turnout, especially considering the weather turned a bit nasty with wind & rain right at 7pm. There were very few costumes this year, only Cyd the Bar Wench, Kaye in her corset, the Barbieri family, Robin & Charles, and myself, but a few others came with some purchased masks. Everybody who came said they had a great time, so that’s what counts! :)

    I hadn’t made the Tricolor Scrolls in many years, so I decided to try again with different purple, green & gold contents, which were a big hit! My secret new cookie idea was lifesize edible stick masks, including some iced plain white for guests to decorate for us all to vote for a prize for Best Edible Mask. I knew this would be a great kid party idea, but you never know depending on the mix of adults who might come who might be enthused or not. Well, I had more people wanting to decorate than I had space for them to work, so I think I will work the kinks out of the concept & try again next year! I did get my prize medals finished, from supplies I had bought 2 years ago or earlier, so I was glad for that!

    And the winners are…

    Who Got Da Baby? Ashlyn did!
    Best Mask/Most Creative Mask = Robin’s gorgeous beaded wire mask
    Best Costume = The Bollywood Barbieris
    Most Creative Costume = Charles the Frat Boy with Beads
    Best Edible Mask = Cyd (perhaps sympathy votes?)

    Mardi Gras Fairy Princess Britta displaying the new lifesize mask cookies

    More details if you’re curious…

    Work was really, really busy right before the party, so I couldn’t work from home on Friday, let alone take it as vacation, making me later than usual for the fresh food prep & even some decor. I had also been frustrated from struggling with the new sugar cookies from either breakage or thieving kitties, and I was determined to keep making more until I had enough remain intact & presentable for the number of guests who were coming, so that meant 3 giant batches of cookie dough & royal icing vs. one I usually make, plus that kept cutting into the time usually set for other tasks. Thank goodness I’m paying for housecleaning once a month, so that was the day before the party, and thank goodness I have a bread machine that infinitely helps with the king cake! I made a point of having my costume complete by Thursday night so hot glue, thread & fabric mess would be taken care of by the housecleaners. Since I had only 4 hours sleep the two nights before & worked all day too, I knew I couldn’t stay up all night for party day, so I went to bed about 5:15am & got up just before 10am, thankful for at least that much sleep!

    Since I had decorated the last of the masks about 3am and that icing had to set while I slept before I could turn them face down, I was still icing the breadsticks to the back of the masks first thing Saturday, hoping they would set by party time, the continued with other fresh food prep & final decorating. Since I didn’t have the whole previous day to prep food, there was way too much still to do before party time. I had the patio set up for food, but with the blustery wind & rain that descended just before party time as I was setting out food, I ended up with not enough table space for the food I had ready, let alone any fruit or veggies, so those never even got cut or arranged, let alone set out. I was planning on moving the webcam from the aerial kitchen/dining view out to the patio like for Halloween, but right as I was going to do that the storm hit, so I’m glad I hadn’t moved it yet & left it inside. I didn’t realize until this year that Mardi Gras has the most oven use immediately before party time! Sheesh! With heating the creole chicken skewers, spinach balls (in the chafing dish this year) & tricolor scrolls in addition to the pastry brie, I was not in the mood to heat crab puffs later on, and no one commented so I think there was plenty of other food, even without the fruit & veggies. The patio bar was still where the punch & hurricanes were, but it was too chilly to leave the patio doors open, and I was running the tiny portable patio heater to keep the chill away. Tracia, Doug & Ashlyn came at 6pm to get their costumes on while I did the same so I was actually dressed pretty much by party start time, just not all the food ready. The next guests were Louie, Benjamin & MJ, then the stream of guests kept coming.

    My poor edible masks were already fragile, and then with the ambient moisture from the storm, that made them even worse! I was keeping them on baking trays in the office with the door closed to be away from kitties as well as guests, and I was waiting until the second wave of guests coming after a concert before revealing them, which also gave them the longest time for the royal icing to set for the sticks. My idea of having the masks stand up in vases on their sticks I could tell was not trustworthy in the weather, and only 7-10 would fit safely on a large gold plate, so I brought out a plate of decorated and a plate of plain, and kept bringing more out when the plates were empty, but we only went through a couple plates, so I have leftovers of the decorated ones. Some feedback was more plain for guests to decorate & less pre-decorated by me, but that’s part of the fun part for me! We’ll see how I improve this whole idea for next year. I already know I must roll out the dough much much thicker than even my 2nd & 3rd batches this year, but even for thick cookies, the ambient moisture makes them bendy instead of crispy, and at that point it’s a lost cause…the broken pieces are just as tasty, and many times people will eat the broken pieces but won’t touch the intact ones since they’re “too pretty”…heh!

    Some guests left before voting or even king cake, then I insisted the king cake be served before the next wave tried to leave! As has been the joke ever since voting ballots went completely missing at the Year 6 at Hogwarts party, I was collecting completed ballots in my cleavage…which has the extra benefit of enticing some of the guys to vote…gee, I wonder why? Finally the voting results were announced, and since there weren’t many costumes or masks, there wasn’t much competition. :) Guests started leaving then, and before midnight the party was over, early compared to some years. After the last guest left, we had power flicker out for a couple minutes even because it was so windy! Glad it came back on quicker than I could have found any candles. Since Ashlyn was sleeping on the couch, I couldn’t get all the dishes done, but I did get a full dishwasher load running, with her permission since she sleeps with her headphones on anyway. ;) My intent was to be cleaned up enough to make waffles in the morning, and I made it! It was Brittahytta Bed & Breakfast with homemade waffles by me, poached eggs by Doug, with some of the fruit that wasn’t ever served at the party. I let them try Teje’s Norwegian spruce syrup, and they liked it so much I’m left with only a tiny trickle now!

    I had to get everything cleaned up from the party & back to normal before Thursday when my parents were arriving with an extra person for Stitches West & project weekend…whew! But that’s another story…Until then, you can see all the Mardi Gras 2009 photos in this album

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