Sunday, July 10, 2011

The tragedy of the wedding cake

For anyone who knows Laura and me, you know that we love to cook. It's one of our favourite things to do. Most of our wedding presents were things for the kitchen. Laura got me a really cool cookbook for my birthday. Well, before the wedding I was feeling enthusiastic and confident enough to try my hand at a very daring project: The wedding cake.

But I love to cook. I wasn't going to make an edible version of styrofoam. No, this cake had to be delicious. To that end we decided to use one of our favourite cake recipes: America's Test Kitchen's flourless-chocolate cake (a fatal mistake as you will soon see).

It is a delicious cake. Extremely rich. But I couldn't just leave it at that. Between the five layers of said cake would be rich chocolate ganache and bavarian cream.

This was quite an undertaking. I started making the cake layers days in advance. Then it all had to come together the day before the wedding. Of course I was working right up until our wedding day, so I didn't get off work until quite late. By about ten o'clock on Tuesday night I started.

Everything looked like it would work. The cream and the ganache were ready. The first few layers had been successfully transferred to the frosted glass cake stand that my mom had let us borrow. Then disaster struck...

My mom and I stood there in horror as the third of five layers split in half right down the middle. The rest of the layers soon collapsed. In the course of a few seconds I was left with $40 worth of delicious chocolate blob. My mom asked what we could do. Nothing. It was dead. Cake making had failed. It didn't help that it was about two in the morning by this point. I kind of crammed it all together in the hopes of making something at least cake-like and went to bed.

This is what we had to work with on the day of the wedding. Unfortunately, the generous layer of icing didn't quite hide the disaster of the previous night.

This is where I want to thank my mom. She, on the day of the wedding and with only a few hours to spare, went out and bought a beautiful chocolate wedding cake from Magelby's.

The only thing left to do was tell Laura...

Come sail away with me

Le Carnival Freedom
Free at last!
After taking a *free* shuttle to Port Everglades (one of the main reasons we booked that particular hotel), the madness began. Boarding a cruise really is not as bad as lots of people try to make it seem. It did take about 90 minutes from start to finish, but what else would you expect while loading thousands of people onto a vessel?
We had our passports looked at (we passed that part), and then we went through security (we got through this part but possibly because a southern lady next to us kept screeching that she had a pacemaker and could not go through the detector), and finally we were checked in and got our sail and sign cards. My card was gold. Wolfie's was blue.
I was so excited as we boarded. My only thought was that I could not lose my sail and sign card over the side of the gangway. We were on!
After trying to find a seat in one of the buffets, we gave up for a bit and tried our luck at seeing if our room was available. We had much better luck at that. Our room was on Panorama Deck 10. Room 1003. Front of the ship. The highest deck with cabins on it is Deck 11 so we were up there! I adored our room. I would get it again in a heartbeat. It was technically an interior room, but it did have a large window. The reason why it is classified as interior is that the window overlooks a public walkway. This was never a problem; we only saw a handful of people out there ever. (See picture.)

After putting our bags down, we tried our luck again at eating. This time, we had success. Wolf and I each got food from the Tandor Grill which was entirely Indian cuisine. It was amazing. Not quite as good as Bombay House, but it was honestly almost up there. They even had naan (Okay, the naan was really not as good as Bombay House's naan, but since the ship really probably does not have a tandoor oven, it makes sense.)
The curry I had was amazing and Wolf tells me that his food was superb.
We settled in our room and relaxed until we had to report to our muster stations (we're #1!) for emergency briefing.
Then we had more time to relax before dinner.
This was right before we headed off to dinner the first night.
Our dinner experience was interesting. On the first night, two other couples besides ourselves showed up. Our table was meant to be a table for eight. We learned that one of the other couples was on their honeymoon, but the third couple was about ten years into their marriage. Our servers were excellent and I have nothing but praise for them. The second night, the older couple did not show up and for the rest of the cruise, there were four of us at a table that sat eight.
We chose late dining and after a few days, we wished we would have chosen early dining. The dining room opened rather late the first half of the cruise (partially thanks to late arrivers to the early dining) and most the time, we were rather tired by the time 8:15 came.
The food was amazing. I loved my appetizers, meals, and desserts that I got. Wolf only had one appetizer that he did not like and loved the rest of the food. Our favorite dessert was the bitter and blanc, a white chocolate bread pudding. The chocolate melting cake (that everyone raves about) was either amazing or not so good. Apparently there is a precise time to cook these little cakes for or else they are just chocolate cake. No melting involved.

Speaking of food, the rest of the food on the cruise was amazing. We were not expecting 5 star and so we were pleasantly surprised. The breakfasts were filling enough and gave lots of options. Lunches gave more of a variety. We would head to the Tandoor Grill oftentimes, if just to grab some pieces of naan. We had burgers, chips and salsa, pizza, sandwiches, Mongolian bbqs, salads, and just about anything else you could want for lunch. We had self serve soft ice cream every day and I had at least one (usually more) mug of hot chocolate daily. I also showed Wolf the wonderful concoction of hot chocolate and ice cream together.

Someone surprised us with this awesome cake. It was chocolate and absolutely delicious. We got it our first day on board.

Right before the emergency prep. At least we knew our life jackets fit.

This was a bench right outside our cabin. We loved going on the walkway outside our cabin. It was right on the front of the ship and you could see for miles around.

This may have been the only reason Wolf wanted to do this cruise. Wolf saw that we would go somewhat close to Cuba (a place he really wants to go) and was excited to see it. I thought he was envisioning being so close we could see native Cubans in their natural habitat. This was as much of Cuba as we could see.
Apparently, that's all of Cuba Wolf thought we would see. (You can barely see the island.)

One thing Carnival is known for is their towel animals they place on your bed each night (with chocolates). They had a few demonstrations, and this is the only thing we brought our camera to on board. We only learned how to make an elephant and a dog. This is the only type of dog I will ever own.

This is Wolf making the head of the elephant. I liked the elephant more, but it was hard! There was a dude sitting next to Wolf and he kept asking me how to do the different parts. I was basically a pro.

My finished elephant

Wolf's finished (midget) elephant.

This was our Costa Rica day. Wolf wore this outfit:
Right after we got back on the ship on our Costa Rica day, I made the mistake of saying this: "If we had a slave, I would send him to go get me a calzone. That way, I could get in the shower and finish showering right after he got back and then I could have a hot and delicious calzone and be clean."
I guess sometimes Wolf thinks he's my slave.

This is the view we had of Panama after getting into port.

I was craving another calzone after our day in Panama. (If any of you even think you know me, you must know that pizza is possibly my favorite food and I used to have it at least once a week. Calzones are like version 2.0 of pizza. I think I had 4 on our cruise.) While I ate my calzone and Wolf had some Indian food, we looked at Panama one last time. This is a beautiful Hilton Hotel. It is right next to the dock. What does this picture and the picture below it have in common?

They are in the same neighborhood. That lovely hotel was surrounded by cramped streets, peddlers, and factories. I guess it is rather close to the free trade zone.

One of our favorite things to do was wander the ship. We went to the Serenity Area (adults only) and they asked me if I was 21 as we entered. Apparently I am at the age where I can pass for a number of different ages.

During a lazy afternoon, Wolf decided that it would be a good idea to play mini golf. So we rented our clubs and balls and headed up to the green. It would have been more enjoyable if the wind was not at 30 mph. The balls would often roll around after they had previously come to a stop. You had to yell to be heard.

A couple nights, we lounged in lounge chairs and watched movie on the large screen. We often had popcorn and ice cream as we watched.

One last important thing to note about the cruise is the best show we went to. Ticket to Ride. A Beatles tribute. Wolf thought I was hilarious that whole evening (the second to last evening we had on board) because I would burst into Beatles songs or just get really excited those things I do when I get really excited. I think he got a video of me right before the concert, but it is not on my computer. Basically, I was determined that they would choose a volunteer from the audience (me, of course) to sing the last song as a solo.
Strangely, that's not quite what happened.

Disembarkment day! Because of a prior cruise I had been on with the same company, I thought that I knew exactly what to expect. I did, kinda. During my past cruise, the passengers disembarked based off what deck their room was on. The same thing happened this time, but the big difference was last time, the larger the number, the sooner you got off. It was the opposite this time. Wolf and I finished packing and ate breakfast for one last time. (Sadly, it was not until the second to last day that Wolf discovered they have soy milk on board.)
The disembarkment started a little late because the main gangway that is normally used for the particular place we were docked was broken and a new means to get off the ship had to be put together.
As we took our luggage to the Victoriana Lounge (the main showroom on the ship), we settled down and watched CNN as announcements would come on every 20-30 minutes announcing a new deck to come to the gangway. They got up to deck 9 before disaster struck. Okay, I don't actually know what struck. It was not disaster or lightning or a semi. For some reason, the US government would not let us continue getting off the ship for a while. After they called deck 9, Wolf started to get antsy. Ten minutes later, when we expected them to call down deck ten, the cruise director came on for another announcement. Wolf and I started heading towards the stairs, when they told us that we would have to halt our process for a while. We were already out of our great seats and wanted to get out of the crowded lounge so we moved locations.

Because we were not getting off the ship on this level (the place level passengers usually got off), the cruise director turned the lounge into a waiting area. Here is our cruise director, shuffling things around. (He's in the middle of the picture.)

This is an even worse stalker photo of our cruise director. His nickname is Ryan Ryan Dandelion. I love just about every aspect of this picture.

(Question of the day: how many pictures of cruise directors do you think are out on social networks or blogs?) Soon after the stalker pictures were taken, they announced that they were back on track and that we could get off the ship. Since I packed so lightly and Wolf was carrying the bag I packed in, a dozen people asked me if I was certain I had all my luggage. I would casually wave back to my husband and they would understand then.
We flew through customs. (They didn't even ask us any questions. I wanted to plead the fifth.)
Then we were off the ship.
Our honeymoon was basically over.

Adventures in Panama

Okay, we've had the family blog for a couple of weeks now, but only Laura has been posting. I've never blogged before, but she has asked/insisted that I talk about Panama. It was our favourite stop on the cruise, so I'll try to do it justice.

Panama was the last port of call on our cruise (except for Ft. Laud of course). We were still kind of recovering from the previous day with all of the exciting activities in Costa Rica. We got into Puerto Colon pretty early and headed off the ship. (Everytime I got off the ship I felt like we were still on it. Or maybe I'm not crazy and the pier really was rocking back and forth.)

We quickly got onto a bus (and past several dozen taxi drivers, all of whom were more than glad to show us around) and headed off for the Panama Canal. We had a really funny tour guide named...actually I can't think of his name off hand. Laura can't either, but she thought that he sounded like one of the Marx brothers. On the way to the canal we passed some cool things (but apparently I didn't think that they were cool enough at the time to take pictures of them) including a McDonald's that actually makes deliveries and the second largest duty-free zone in the world (after Hong Kong).

We finally made it out to the canal. Canal locks is not a word that I ever learned in Spanish, but I'm pretty sure that's what Esclusas means. And Gatun is the name of a native Panamanian chief in the area.

Here it is in English for the benefit of all the non-Spanish speaking tourists (or those with a Spanish vocabulary that does not include shipping terms).

We climbed into this kind of observation tower right next to the locks, and as luck would have it a ship was just about to head through the locks.

The MSC Tamara was the ship that was making it's way through. It is, like many of the cargo ships, a Panamax. The name is pretty self-explanatory. It's the largest size ship that the canal can accommodate. The canal is 110 feet wide and a Panamax ship is 106 feet wide. That works out to about two feet of space on each side between the ship's hull and the side of the canal. From our point of view it looks like you couldn't get more than about three pieces of paper between them. It was a really tight fit. The other thing that is pretty cool about the locks is how much a ship has to pay to get through. It's based on the amount of cargo. This particular ship payed a whopping $340,000!

After leaving the canal we headed off to the jungle. There were a few interesting things to see along the way. The pic below is the original Panama canal, or as much of it as the French were able to complete. It's not quite as impressive as the American-built one we had just left, and apparently not as useful. The tour guide said no one uses it for anything.

All along the tour the bus driver had his eyes out for wildlife. I have no idea how he spotted this while driving along the edge of a jungle, but he found a super cool sloth. The green dot is from his laser pointer (to help the rest of us find him).

We were just about to the jungle at this point. But we had to pass through an old army base. These, as you can probably guess, were the barracks for the enlisted men. The officers had walls on their buildings.

The start of our jungle walk.

Lots of trees in the jungle.

I have to pat myself on the back for this one. We saw a monkey a little ways off the trail and I quickly snapped what was the coolest picture of the whole day. (I love black and white)

Our trek through the jungle lasted for close to an hour. Our guide was pretty knowledgeable. He had worked with the U.S. military when they still had a base in the area. He would camp out overnight in some kind of wilderness survival training. It's a pretty dangerous place to be. There are these trees called black palms that have spikes that are four inches long, plus bugs and scorpions and all sorts of other things that would make for an unpleasant, if not really dangerous, camping trip.

Once back into the safety of the bus we left for the last stop of the tour: The Fort of San Lorenzo. This really cool tree is near the front of it. The tree is so old and heavy that the branches just sort of lay on the ground.

This is the view from the fort. This is an inlet from the ocean.

The fort was actually built to guard against...I think it was pirates, at least I think that's what the guide said...that would attack from the jungle. So, all of the canons are facing that way.

Laura decided to check them out personally. Can't be too careful in case the pirates come back.

This is the main structure that is behind the outer wall and moat.

I just couldn't resist the chance to take another B&W shot.

Laura loves history!

At the end of the tour we were treated to a few snacks and/or drinks. Apparently the beer was a big hit among most of the other people on the tour. We stuck with the accelerated cheese chips.

I think that this was Laura's favourite pic. For all of you who served Spanish speaking missions, you know how much Latinos love their rice. This sign shows one of the side effects.

Panama really is an amazing country. It was such a contrast with Costa Rica. Both were beautiful, but Panama seems like the more developed of the two. It is definitely a place that we would love to visit again. And there is good reason to. The tour guide personally invited us back to celebrate the opening of the new (and much larger) canal in three years. Maybe we will take him up on that.

In the lovely Costa Rica

Wednesday was Costa Rica day!
Right before we got off the ship, as we were going to get breakfast, we looked on the big screen to see this:
Pretty far away from our lovely little Utah County, and we got to see a news report from American Fork, Utah.

Wolf and I used a private tour guide in Costa Rica instead of going with an excursion from the ship. We absolutely loved it. When we compared our tour to a similar one done by the ship that a different couple participated in, I was glad we did our own little thing. The price was about the same, but ours was about twice the length and we did more than they did. We went with Charlie Soto Tours. We even got to shake Charlie's hand before getting handed to a different tour guide in a lovely air conditioned van. About twenty minute into the tour, we learned that we actually missed our group, somehow so we got put with a group that was doing a different tour. Thankfully, both of our first stops was the same, so we were able to switch to our rightful group.

Costa Rica is poor. As we drove along our merry way, I would glance out the window and see sights like these.

Our first stop on the tour was the Tortuguero Canals. We took a little boat through them. They are an extensive system of manmade and natural canals that connect little villages to the ocean. When the weather takes out paths and roads, the villagers can get around using the canals. Somewhere more inland, on these canals, is the nesting site for four varieties of turtles. (One of which is named the Tortuguero Turtle, surprisingly enough.) We did not go that far in, but during our hour long tour, we did get to see a lot of different wildlife and plants. (You won't see any pictures of Wolf until later on in this post, but while I remember this, pay attention to what he was wearing. I thought he was absolutely crazy.)

Here is a bird. (These subtitles probably help a lot.)

Another beautiful bird

Common basilisk

This is looking from the Tortuguero Canals to the Ocean. It was a beautiful day to be out on the water.

A real life common basilisk or Jesus Christ lizard. Why is it called the Jesus Christ lizard? He can run on water.

As we were just sailing along, one of the ladies in our group let out a gasp and pointed at a really long and skinny green snake cruising through the water. Our tour guide said we were really lucky to see one of those snakes in the water; they have been known to jump in the boat before.

See those beady eyes and that little nose? This was the cute little cayman we saw.

Monkey, just hanging out

This bird was showing off his wingspan. If I had a wingspan that wide, I would show it off, too.

Another monkey

Our second stop in this wonderful day was a Del Monte banana plantation. This plantation is huge; it is over a hundred acres. The plantation was rather different than I thought it would be.

This picture was taken on the road coming in. After getting off the main highway, the road we took was a dirt road and well worn. There were huge potholes and it was a rather bumpy ride.

These are what real, live Costa Rican banana plants look like. They were shorter than I thought they would be. Here are all the random facts you have wanted to know about bananas. Bananas do not technically grow on trees. They are banana plants. The large upright stems are called pseudostems. Each pseudostem can produce a single bunch of bananas. Only one bunch of bananas ripen at a time on a banana plant. One bunch contains between three and twenty tiers; each tier holds between three and ten fruits. It takes 54 weeks for a bunch of bananas to fully develop (that's a year and two weeks for those of you following along at home). Bananas grow pointing up, not hanging down.

And here is almost the same picture as the one above it.

The little hanging things right below our lovely tour guide's hand is a bunch of baby bananas that fell off their stem.

One thing that interested me the most in this whole banana process is that it seems really old fashioned. When bananas are ready to be harvested, a young man goes out on a pulley device to the section where the bananas are ripe and cuts the bunch down with a machete. He then carries them over his shoulder to the pulley system and attaches them to the line. After attaching several bunches, he uses the manual pulley system to take them to this part of the plantation.

The bananas are sprayed down by water. Some ladies take the bunches and cut them into the stereotypical bunches you see in a store and then the bunches are put in these pools. The bananas move down to the other end of the pool by the force of the spray of the water.

Here are the bananas after they are harvested, still on the pulley line.

The last stop on our tour was the Brisas De La Jungla Zip Line. If you are ever in that part of Costa Rica, I would highly recommend it. We had little baby bananas as a snack as we were put into harnesses, given a helmet, and handed a pair of heavy gloves. This is a nervous Wolf.

Somewhat excited Wolf

This is how excited we each were to go on the zip line.

Although we sadly did not get any pictures or video of the rest of the zip line, this is what the ladder to the first platform looked like. We climbed to the top and then hooked ourselves to a cable securely fastened to that huge tree. When it came our turn, the guide at that platform would connect you to the zip line going to the next platform and send you on your way. The first line was long and gorgeous; you got to see the rainforest on the right side and on the left, there was a break in the forest to let you look out over a river. There were 13 platforms and 12 cables total. The longest cable was 270 meters (885 ft) long and the highest we were above ground was 80 meters (262 ft).

I borrowed this picture from the Zip Line's website. We were connected to two cables going down. This made accidents or injury almost impossible.

And...the last picture we have from Costa Rica is my favorite animal when I was in 7th grade. A neon colored poison dart frog! We did not touch it or try to eat it.
The tour was supposed to stop at a Costa Rican grocery store so that some people on the bus could pick up some Costa Rican coffee (apparently really good) but I am glad we did not. We got back to the dock about fifteen minutes before we were supposed to be back on the ship. After a quick stop by the shops in which I bought some sweet leather navy butterfly earrings and Wolfie bought a metal lizard (that description does not do his lizard justice), we jumped back on the ship. Wolf and I were both exhausted after this action packed eight hour day.