The Ladybug Express

Now that would be a charming name for a rail line, don’t you think? But alas, it is only a cake. In this case, one I made for a baby shower.

The theme: ladybugs. The components: strawberry biscuit roulade outer layer; three layer of pound cake; white chocolate cream cheese filling; fresh strawberries; covered in vanilla fondant. Or: 16 eggs, 2 pounds of butter, 2 pounds of cream cheese, 1.5 pounds of white chocolate…shall I continue?

I’ll let the pictures speak for the process, save for a little captioning:

First, the finished product

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Lord, What a High…

Woohoo! I got to sing with the band!!! (Excess of exclamation points is totally acceptable here.)

Last Saturday night, my musical cohort Kevin and I went to hear The Fox Hunt play at a bar in Leesburg. Two words: Hell yeah!

I’d only seen them play live while busking at the Vienna metro, so their show was actually a complete surprise. Well beyond their excellent album tracks, instrumental old timey tunes and country covers, they have a stellar rep of bluegrassy originals. Lyrics to kill you dead or raise you up, lots of salt and easy liquor in the sound, and instrumentation that has you moving whether it’s with a stomp or a sway.

I sincerely hope they can take their music far and wide. And it’s important to note, that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. These guys have all quit their day jobs and have turned The Fox Hunt into their full-time. So if you’re jazzed by what you hear on their MySpace page, drop an easy $10 and buy their album!

Support new bands, folks! It’s how all your favorites got their start.

And beyond their great music, the band showed themselves to be great guys as well. Cheerful, funny and welcoming, they hung out and talked with Kevin and I during their breaks. And to my everlasting delight (and possibly because I had a momentary lapse of sanity and/or decorum to suggest it), they invited me up to sing on “Crack Shot,” and then again on the end chorus of “Lord, We Get High”–the song which Matt K. helped me out with chords.

I was beyond charmed. More accurately, I was quietly ecstatic. The mic, the music, the guys, the sound… I’d be a lying liar who lies if I said I didn’t have delusions of grandeur, if only for those few minutes. And it made me even more determined to pursue the mandolin to open-mic performance heights (when I dream, I dream realistic). So a tremendous “THANK YOU” to Matt K, Matt M (that b minor is SO much easier), John and Ben for the thrill, and to Liz who chatted with me during the night and was exceptionally kind.

Oh…and also, “Hi, BJ!” and “Hi, Omi!” Thanks for reading. 🙂

Even the ferrets agree…plagiarism is bad.

Either because people know I think ferrets are the source of all things funny, or they are aware of my deep ire over plagiarism, the following article landed in my e-mail inbox yesterday from several friends:

Move Over ‘Meerkat Manor’ by Paul Tolme, the victim of the Cassie Edwards plagiarism scandal.

Tolme is speaking out…with much hilarity. Read. Laugh. Then go rumage through your old high school biology class reports on “The Life and Times of Paramecium” and see if you can’t turn that into a bodice-ripper, too!

Choco-Pan v. Satin Ice?

So anyone out there have opinions on the virtues of Choco-Pan v. Satin Ice? I’m talking fondant here: the Play-Doh-like substance that covers wedding cakes so nicely and allows people like me — who turn Italian buttercream into a baby vomit-like substance right out of the gate — to actually decorate a cake with some measure of confidence. It’s what you see on virtually every “cake challenge” on the Food Network. It’s what allows Duff of Charm City Cakes to make such outrageous edible art.

Here’s one of my own fondant-covered creations:

I’m starting my ingrediant-gathering for a ladybug cake. And since black is among the most difficult of colors to get right, I’m going to buy the fondant pre-colored. I’ve been a Choco-Pan girl from the start, but I might only be able to get Satin Ice for the black. Anyone have strong opinons on the taste, workability or outcome? If so, please comment.

****Read my conclusion on the Choco v. Satin debate!

Taken, borrowed and lifted

Today, CNN reported an AP story about allegations of plagiarism made on the Web site against author Cassie Edwards. The article gives a side-by-side comparison of a passage from one of Edwards’ novels and then a reference work, and the implications are fairly damning.

Having never read anything by Edwards*, I’m not so much concerned about the players in this drama. Rather, it’s the possibility that plagiarism is excusable if using the grade-school, feigned-ignorance defense of “But I didn’t know it was wrong” that gets my dander up.

For the love of original thought, I cannot understand how an adult, let alone a person who has built their career on words, can have the gall to whip out the “I didn’t know.”

Since the first time our eyes strayed to the paper of the kid next to us in elementary school and the teacher barked out the reproach, we’ve known that copying other people’s work and passing it off as your own is wrong. (Although now I’m wondering what the teacher would have done if I’d used quotations and cited my sources: According to Billy sitting beside me, “The capital of Virginia is Richmond.” Hmm.)

And I would love to go off an a “kids these days” rant since the 2006 Josephson Institute Report Card on Ethics of American Youth indicates that, in a 12-month period, 33 percent of students copied work from the Internet and 60 percent cheated during a test in school. But 1) those numbers are down from the 2004 report listing 35 and 62 percent respectively (though 2004 had an additional statistic that 83 percent 0f students copied homework, which speaks more to my plagiarism argument), and; 2) educated, logical adults in professional careers do it all the time.

Apparently if you no longer qualify for a youthful indiscretion, you can phone it in as a senior moment.

Pin it with whatever delicate euphemism you like: the blunt “taken,” the impish “borrowed,” or the typographical “lifted.” It’s all window dressing for “stolen.”

Sigh…clearly, my goat has been got.

* Edited to correct an error I made that was kindly pointed out by a reader. And dude! I have a reader!!

Sometimes all you gotta do is ask.

In my quest to learn the mandolin, I’ve been playing my favorite bluegrassy, folksy, old-school country bands on the stereo, and trying to ferret out the chords along with the music.

Johnny Cash (of course), Hackensaw Boys (my home-mountain band), Nickel Creek, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Dixie Chicks, Greg Brown, Gram Parsons and my newest addiction: The Fox Hunt. One particular song by The Fox Hunt, “Lord, We Get High,” is the ultimate closing song…swaying and familiar and warm, a little drunk and a lotta heart. Naturally, I wanted to play it.

So for a good six-hour stretch one night, I figured out enough chords to almost get there. (Before you ask me why I didn’t Google the tabs, I did. They don’t exist for the band yet.) On my own, I was marginally successful. But one crucial chord alluded me. Something between the D and A. But before the G…and maybe it was D again, or some kind of 7th chord I didn’t know yet…or the A again and ARG!

At wits end and now unnaturally obsessed with the song, I did the unthinkable. I e-mailed the band and asked for help.

Imagine my shock when I actually got a reply:

the main progression of that song is d, a, b minor, g. that’ll take care of the intro, verses, and ending refrain. the only different part is the chorus, which is a, b minor, g. hope this helps, and have fun playing along!

Now I ask you, how awesome is that?! I got the missing chord (the B minor) AND I was reaffirmed in my belief that The Fox Hunt is one of the coolest new bluegrass bands around.

Check ’em out! “Lord, We Get High” isn’t on their site, but “Murder In My Heart” is, and it’s excellent.

P.S. Thanks Matt K!

Mummers Day, 2007

This New Year’s Day found me in dropped in Philadelphia, barricaded by yellow police twine and overwhelmed by 15,000 glittered, spangled, painted and drunken fancies, plus a clutch of nu-new-wave punks for a dash of color. The scene: 102nd Mummers Parade, dubbed the oldest and most sincere of folk festivals in the country. I’d been once before, back on a cheek-burning, frigid New Year’s Day in 1996 with my aunt and uncle. Twelve years later, it was a similar scene in milder weather with a different perspective. But no less fun.

As I claim to be a “sometime photographer”– and pictures tell this story best — here are some snaps from my prime locale between Lombard and South streets along Broad, just south of City Hall.

I took these picture with a smoky, hot, salty street pretzel in one hand and my brand new Canon Rebel XTi in the other. (Thank you Frank, Jean and Casey.) Continue reading