my austin experience, an iphoneography photo tour

My first trip to Austin was filled with plenty of meetings on gynecologic cancers, a decent amount of networking with some very smart people, productive brainstorming of ideas for work, and plenty of rest. I didn’t have a car, so my time there was limited to what I could explore in the downtown area on foot – except for one night when a good friend took me out for dinner.

I present to you my iPhone photos (mostly) of my Austin experience. My experience, other than meetings? Food.

a cocktail at parkside -- the korean spring

fried oysters at parkside.

the meeting

a portrait of me by my friend, Christy, taken at Olivia.

charcuterie at Olivia.

a darn good margarita at la condesa

guacamole tasting

 

brussels sprouts with bacon and grapes. best sprouts. ever.

cream cheese ice cream

tacos with spinach, giant white butterbeans, salsa verde

 

 

the food blog forum orlando, disney edition

If you told me that one day I would be pushing a candy-apple red KitchenAid Stand Mixer in a stroller around Epcot on St. Patrick’s Day, I would probably think you’ve had one too many green beers. And, if you told me that I would be pushing that mixer-filled baby stroller alongside a French-speaking, macaron-baking, Australian-born Canadian carrying a basket of chocolates, I would immediately know that you’ve not only been drinking but that you’ve also forgotten to take your antipsychotic medications.

But, it happened. It really did.

why, yes, i did win that mixer. yay, me!

I spent the weekend in Orlando for the second annual Food Blog Forum held in that city, but the very first one held at Walt Disney World. Disney was one of the sponsors and the host of the conference, and the hospitality shown to our group was really incredible. From the hotel rooms at the Polynesian (my son’s favorite Disney hotel), to the food served over the course of the two day conference, to the the complimentary park passes for the attendees and our family members, Disney did everything right.

Disney always does everything right. It’s their way.

While winning the mixer was a nice bonus of the trip, I was there to soak up knowledge and to have fun in the process.

Lessons abound at food blogging conferences, both inside the session rooms and outside them. Though I was doubtful whether I would walk away with any earth-shattering wisdom, I had a wonderful time and managed to gain tidbits of information along the way.

From Diane and Todd, the White on Rice Couple, we were taught that photography should be about storytelling. That is such a simple, common sense idea, but it’s one that gets lost amidst the props and pretty plates. I am quite grateful to Todd for teaching me so much about Lightroom, organizing my digital photos, and shooting in Raw versus JPEG. That brief round table session was very high yield. And aside from the photography genius, I discovered that Diane and Todd are a beautiful couple, on the inside and out – inspirational and passionate about life.

I learned from Dawn Viola’s session that she’s even more amazing than I first thought. She has such a passion and energy for life that I wish I could bottle it and add a few drops to my coffee each morning. I absorbed every tidbit of writing advice that David Leite offered to us. When his two sessions were over, I was left wishing I could pack him up, take him home with me, and force him to sit by my side while I write. Jennie’s and Kelly’s round table session on food writing was simply too short. I could talk to them for hours, especially since it’s the writing that has me so jazzed lately.

The highlight of Food Blog Forum Orlando wasn’t the swag bag of goodies or the page of notes that I took from the sessions. It wasn’t even the green beer that Mardi and I sneaked out to get after lunch, though that was pretty darn great at the moment. The best part of the conference was the coming together of friends and strangers to partake in a two-day event to celebrate food, to celebrate feeding others – whether with a fork, through the written word, or through the beauty of a photograph.

We honored the act of nourishing others, and I can’t think of anything better than that.

 

 * The top photo was taken by Aggie. Thanks for capturing the hilarity of the moment for me, Aggie.

 

I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately. I’m torturing myself with homemade cakes.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been revamping my eating habits. I’m eating healthier, and I’m eating smaller portions. Along with the changes in my diet, I’ve started running again. Well, a bit more walking than running, but I’m following a training program, and I know that soon there will be more running than walking.

chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting | the merry gourmet

After I had my daughter, I was heavier than I’d ever been. I joined Weight Watchers, even attended meetings, and managed to lose 45 pounds. I finally liked how I look in the mirror, but more importantly, I felt in control of my health and my life for the first time ever.

While I was losing that weight, I kept a bowl of candy – chocolates, my favorite sweet – on my desk. I might have one piece, but more often than not, I completely resisted. Looking back, I believe I put those chocolates there as a challenge to my willpower. A small daily test. As each day passed that I ignored that candy bowl, I felt more strong and empowered.

chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting | the merry gourmet

I’ve slid backwards these last five years, since having my second child, my son. Sure, initially my clothes weren’t fitting well because of baby weight, but after a year had passed, my only excuse was that I overindulged too often and regularly. Exercise was not a priority, and I sacrificed that part of my life for other things — work, spending time with the kids, cooking or blogging even. I’m an expert at finding excuses not to exercise.

I’m revamping my lifestyle now, and I feel great about it. I’m ready for change.¬†More importantly, I’m ready to wear smaller pants.

So, I baked another cake (remember the lemon one last week?) this weekend. Maybe I’m testing myself again, just like I did with those chocolates that sat on my desk, begging to be eaten. I’m proving to myself that I can do this, that I am stronger than the call of desserts. Even chocolate desserts.

After eating one small piece of this beauty, I won’t have any more. The rest will be shared with family and friends.

And tomorrow, I run.

chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting | the merry gourmet

Yield: 10 servings

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

Rich chocolate cake slathered in creamy vanilla buttercream. What could be better? Serve this cake for your sweetie's birthday and you'll earn yourself lots of hugs and kisses.

Ingredients:

For Cake:
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao), chopped
3/4 cup cocoa powder (Dutch process is preferred)
1 cup boiling water
1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For Frosting:
4-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
4-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/8 teaspoon coarse salt
4 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

To Prepare Cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans, line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment paper, then butter the parchment. Lightly dust the pans with flour, shaking out the excess. Set aside.

Combine the chopped chocolate and cocoa powder in a small bowl. Add the cup of boiling water and whisk until chocolate is melted and smooth. Set aside.

On low speed in the bowl of an electric stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until combined. In another bowl, stir together the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients. With the mixer still on low, add the melted chocolate mixture, stirring until just combined, using a rubber spatula to scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

Pour the batter into the cake pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in their pans on a rack for 30 minutes, then invert them onto the cooling rack to cool to room temperature. Note: Cakes may be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap at this point and refrigerated until ready to use.

To Prepare Frosting:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter on medium-high speed until smooth, about 60 seconds. Reduce speed to medium low and slowly add confectioners' sugar. Beat until smooth, about 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together salt, cream, and vanilla; stir until salt is dissolved. Add cream mixture to butter mixture, increase mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Note: Frosting can be made ahead, up to 2 days, and refrigerated in a tightly covered container. Bring to room temperature when ready to use, and beat on medium-low in the stand mixer for 3 to 5 minutes until light and fluffy.

Frost the Cake:

To frost cakes, place 1 layer on a cake plate. With an offset spatula, spread top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, and spread frosting evenly over top and sides of cake.