Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Steelhead Diner: Splurging for Service

Last weekend Jared and I spent some quality time exploring Seattle's Pike Place Market, which neither of us had visited for a few years. Our excursion reminded me of why I love the Market and Seattle. The people-watching opportunities are superb, the artisans are top-notch, and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, even if the weather isn't.

When our stomachs started to grumble, we headed to the Steelhead Diner, where we planned to enjoy a meal we normally wouldn't have the budget for (hooray for gift cards, and many thanks to Stephanie and Andy!).

We were seated immediately in a booth situated next to a display of neatly labeled fishing lures. A panoramic view of a river dominated one wall and an extreme close-up photograph of salmon roe hung on another.

The menu at this snazzy establishment focuses on fish, as the name would suggest, but I was eager to try a dish from the veggies and legumes selection. While the Steelhead didn't have a special gluten-free menu, our server very kindly pointed out a couple of gluten-free options from the regular menu that looked appetizing.

Jared ordered a hard-to-find Scotch ale, which arrived quickly while I pondered the gluten-free options. I ordered a Revelry Merlot to complement a vegetable chili and pan-seared broccoli topped with toasted almonds.

A lightly baked layer of creamy cheese covered the chili, which was packed with veggies like red peppers, tomatoes and even a little eggplant, I think. The broccoli dish was larger than expected, with a generous topping of warm, roasted almonds. Though the broccoli was a little oilier than I would have preferred, I forgave this because of the fresh citrus-flavor that balanced the nuts.

The waitress was attentive and helpful without being pushy or insincere, which is exactly how I like my waitstaff! She apologized for a delay in taking our order, but I will admit I hadn't noticed, since it takes me so long to decide what to order. As an appeasement, my glass of wine was complimentary.

If you're in the Seattle area, searching for some luscious seafood, quick service and a casual atmosphere where the waitstaff are polite enough to know when to leave you alone, try the Steelhead Diner!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Andium: The Chemistry Cake

Shhh...don't tell my friend Andy, a chemist and all-around science guy...I made him a cake. His thoughtful girlfriend, Stephanie (whose fun blog can be found here), asked me to make a cake for his surprise party. Her creative idea was to have a cake made in the style of an element on the periodic table, using the birthday boy's initials. I was eager to challenge myself with another new cake endeavor!

First I made some little molecules (white phosphorus, methane, fluoride, carbon monoxide, ozone and good ol' H20) from gumdrops and toothpicks.

Since around 30 people indicated they were attending the party, I couldn't just make one cake, but I didn't want to upstage the element cake with a second cake, so I decided on a coordinating cupcake design. First I made little chocolate elements.

Then I iced a batch of cupcakes and added an element to each one.

In all I made 24 cupcakes with elements--not quite an entire periodic table, but enough for three period plates.

Then it was time to decorate the large cake. I've never worked with fondant (a sugary, doughy substance used to cover cakes) but this seemed like the right project to try it on. So I made some paper stencils of the letters and numbers I needed and rolled out the fondant.

I used the birthday boy's age for the atomic number and his birthdate for the mass. To cut more neatly, I will need some practice! Fortunately, fondant is quite pliable and I could reshape it a little on the cake.

I added edges around the iced cake and placed the fondant on top.

Not too shabby! And for the final display, we set all of the pieces out on a table at Pintxo, a hip tapas and wine bar in Seattle. 

I loved seeing all the different "elements" of this project come together!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Guest Blogger: Stella Speaks (Well, Honks) Out

Dear Blogfans,

In case you don't already know me, I'm Stella, the Abyssinian ground hornbill who is the star of the shows at  Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.

I'm addressing you, the fans, because it has come to my attention that a certain canine from the zoo has expressed some of his sentiments publicly in the post here. Now folks, I know how you humans love a good dog. I have no beef (or chicken) with that. But let's get one thing straight: birds are awesome.

Who isn't fascinated by the anatomy of a feather or moved by a soaring eagle? When visitors come to the zoo they ask "What time is the bird show?" No one asks, "What time is the dog show?" Well, before Herald they didn't.

Specifically, I want to point out that Herald's comment regarding the "bird brains" at PDZA's theater was out of line. We birds get a bad reputation because of a few bad eggs. Really though, some of us are pretty intelligent. Not to honk my own horn, but...I knew how to fetch and retrieve before this little puppy was weaned.

Sure, Herald might do some flashy stunts like this one:

Then again, Herald also has the attention of professional animal handlers ALL DAY. Of course he picked up a few things. Now that I'm a seasoned performer, I like to just perch around and play with enrichments in my house. As for some of the other birds at the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater, they aren't all just pretty faces.

The green-wing macaws can perform a wide variety of behaviors, including the classy wing extension being trained here:

These parrots have also coordinated fundraising for conservation through Point Defiance's Wildlife Conservation fund and collected over $17,000! That's nothing to turn your beak up at.

And you have to admit that the crowd goes wild when they see birds like this in the program:

I don't have any hard feelings toward Herald the dog; as mammals go, he's not half bad. But hopefully he'll think twice before insulting avian intelligence again. Let's give credit where credit is due--it's a good thing to be a bird brain!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

More Keeper Quotes

Here are a few quotes I've gathered this week at work. If you're in the zoo business, these comments might be commonplace; if not, you'll appreciate the unusual (to other people) circumstances we encounter daily.

"Will you be at a point where you can stop cutting up bodies soon?"

"This poop is so sloppy, I don't even want to pick it up!" (This is amusing to me because it illustrates that the speaker would otherwise be glad to pick up feces.)

"Claaaarrrrkkk! AAAAAAGH!" Shrieked by one of the green-wing macaws. Clark is the name of our king vulture.

"Hooray, the iguana pooped!"

"Let us know if the aardvark tries to eviscerate you."

"I thought that porcupine was never going to leave!"

"I saw millipede sex this morning."

And, for your viewing pleasure, here is a tawny frogmouth enjoying a misting shower from a squirt bottle:

Not exactly action-packed, I know. I'll try to film something more riveting, but it's difficult since I am rarely carrying my camera when the exciting parts of the day are happening.

I did have time (plenty of it) to take a photo of this radiated tortoise having a salad:

Note that this tortoise, Jumbo Jet, was making some important phone calls before he took his lunch break. He has to use the phone book instead of dexknows because....his internet connection is too slow!

Jumbo Jet is a trained tortoise--we don't know of any other trained tortoises, so we think he's one-of-a-kind! I will attempt to film a training session to showcase his abilities soon.

If you have any quotes to add, post them in the comments!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wine Bottle Lamp

This weekend Jared and I completed a project combining a couple of our new hobbies. I recently experimented with some glass etching, and Jared has been tinkering with LEDs and electronics for the past year.

Our first joint project was a wine bottle lamp.

Not bad for a first attempt. I should admit that Jared did most of the work. First I made the stencils of hearts and spirals, which are hard to see in the photos, and then etched the glass with a cream. Jared drilled a hole near the bottom of the bottle for the cord and we played with different configurations of LEDs for a bit.

Once we decided on the number, color and intensity of LEDs, Jared soldered them. (I did one of the connections myself!)

The lamp connects to any outlet using a wall/USB adapter, one end of which is soldered to the LEDs that we lowered into the bottle on a string. We hot-glued and then super-glued the cord into the hole at the base of the lamp to stabilize the LED strand inside. Then we popped the cork back in to hold the thread with the LEDs exactly in position.

It looks like this when it's not plugged in.

When it is plugged in, it looks like this.

If you want to make a wine bottle lamp, but don't have an electronics expert living with you, buy a kit like this one for around $15. I'm looking forward to making more of these!

The Eyre Affair

This week I finished reading The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde, a British novel that I expected to be (pun mostly intended) my cup of tea.

In Fforde's parallel universe literature is the most potent force in society--on a nightly basis, throngs of ordinary people who have all memorized Shakespeare's Richard III, dress up in the appropriate attire and perform the play as if it were the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The president of the Bronte society is one of the most powerful men in politics, and youthful street gangs are Marlowe-ists or Baconists who refuse to accept William Shakespeare as the author of his plays.

The heroine in this alternate reality is a Litratech, a detective or policewoman of sorts, whose job it is to track down plagiarists and book thieves. Through a twist of fate Litratech Thursday Next gets assigned to a top priority case chasing a madman whose goal is to destroy Jane Eyre.

I appreciated the literary allusions throughout the novel, but I'm picky about my dialogue and I don't suspend disbelief especially easily. Occasionally Fforde simply clobbers his readers with his points. The characters have some very clunky conversations to move the plot along, and the book lacks some of the subtlety of truly great writing. One of the characters has the audacity to be named Jack Schitt; the villain's name is Hades. Yet, these things are mostly forgivable in a sci-fi novel set in an over-the-top fantastic other-world. I don't however, forgive the writing of Thursday's romantic life, which is wrapped up all too neatly in too few pages tacked on the end of the book.

Despite being a little harsh on pop-literature author Fforde, I think if I come across any of the other books in the Thursday Next series, I would be glad to read them.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Quick Cakes

Returning to work at the zoo has limited the time I have available for decorating cakes, but I still found the time to try a couple of simple ideas.

First I wanted to try a cake that looked like this one:

My brother's birthday was at the end of April, but he's not really a cake guy, so I made gluten-free rice crispy treats and pressed them into a cake pan. Then I added a layer of chocolate frosting.

I used a little icing to glue Hershey's chocolate squares to the sides of the rice crispy treat.

While chatting with my brother one day shortly before his birthday, I discovered that his favorite gummy candy is the same as mine: Haribo gummy bears! He mentioned a type of gummy bear called "Techno Bears" that aren't available here in the U.S., but I discovered they ARE available on Amazon here.

This type of gummy is only available in a 5-pound bag! So I had no choice except to order one.

After they arrived, I simply filled the top of the cake with these shiny, fruity little bears for the finished product.

Nothing too fancy, but it tasted pretty good. I don't recommend leaving the cake for more than a day though, because the frosting will soak into the rice crispy treats and render them a little less than crispy.

My next endeavor was a Mother's Day cake in the shape of a butterfly. I started with a gluten-free yellow cake baked as an 8-inch round cake. I sliced the cake directly down the center and then flipped the halves over so the curved sides met each other.

I bought some little mints, which I know my mom enjoys, and lined the cake with them in a simple pattern.

Lastly, I needed to practice my roses anyway, so I added a few in different colors and sizes to finish the presentation.

Even though the cakes weren't as elaborate as my previous cakes, they were good alternatives when time is short. And, they tasted great!