Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bellagio Conservatory Christmas 2012

While wandering around the Bellagio we usually end up in the Conservatory to see what magic the gardeners have brought. They change the decorations to match each season, and have quite a storage room of items, as well as a number of greenhouses to supply plants. There is usually a big tree for Christmas, and sometimes tall wooden soldiers and polar bears covered with carnations and penguins, lately they have added large toy trains with video cameras so that you can watch the train and then see yourself on the monitor as it goes by. I tried out the panorama setting on my new iPhone, it came out quite nice:

I'm surprised there is any floor visible, the crowds were so large and packed in. They sometimes have fountains that shoot big streams of water over the crowd, and several times had snow machines up in the top. We caught it one year when things were being changed, and I was surprised at how deep those areas are where the plants are placed, which lets them put really big boxed trees in.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Veggie soup

Reading one of the frequent recipes on the Blond Duck last week (she also tells marvelous stories) I thought that particular recipe would be interesting to make - it was for roasted vegetable soup. So that night on the way home from work I stopped and picked up a veggie assortment. Got home, cut everything up and popped it into one of my new ovens (if you’ve been reading about the kitchen work, the ovens are the only thing in there right now)

The next day (I do get home late, no time to do it all in one evening) I pulled out the little food processor (I don’t have a big fancy one, just a small one that took five batches to grind up these veggies) and smashed it all up, put it in a pot with broth and a while later:

It was marvelous. Thanks Miranda!

Because I also have a sweet tooth, and there are always bags of Nestle’s chips in the pantry (never know when the urge for Tollhouse cookies might strike), I also picked up a can of sweetened evaporated milk at the same shopping trip. It’s not fancy fudge, but the milk, bag of chips, some vanilla, walnuts and dried cranberries, a microwave and just a few minutes you end up with:

Use plastic wrap in the containers, it lifts out clean for cutting into chunks.

Surprise, there is some left!

Friday, January 25, 2013


Early last week we had an unusual cold spell, similar (but not quite) to the one going on back East right now. One morning our thermometer read 24f (-4c) – about ten degrees below normal. It only warmed up to 54f (12c) that afternoon, our standard 30 degree swing from day to night (we usually vary 30 degrees like that every day of the year, so when it gets up to 115 in July it does cool off to 85 at night). I looked out the kitchen window (yes, that new big one) to find the hummingbird feeder had been affected:

Don’t worry – we have two others scattered around, and they didn't freeze. This one also thawed out in a few hours. And this week the temps have been back to normal, low 46f, high 68f today (8c – 19c).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Remembering Paris

OK, I’ve been looking at some blogs about France, seeing what the summer looks like in Australia, remembering sitting in the Bellagio lobby bar and watching the crowds and it has me remembering our Paris trip (yes, which I posted recently). My favorite times were spent in the little cheese shops looking at the hundreds of options and buying a half dozen to try, and hitting the bakeries every morning for croissants, baguettes and pastry. But many pleasant times were spent just sitting in the sunshine and having a cup of espress.

Bellagio lobby

The Bellagio is one of the prettier casinos. Besides the big glass covered Conservatory they have a Chihuly sculpture “Fiori di Como” as the lobby ceiling.

Which is always complimented by large arrangements of live flowers. Behind the check in desk is a large area that is also decorated for each season. The Bellagio has several large greenhouses where they grow the plants for the conservatory and hotel decoration.

Right off the lobby is the Petrossian Bar , raised a little above the casino floor it is an open place to sit, with nice seats, have a drink, take a break and watch the crowds. They have ‘traditional Afternoon Tea’ every day, and for the holidays some special cocktails (which we did try this time, after all I wasn’t driving). There is a good view of the casino floor to the left and the lobby to the right, and hundreds of people wandering by.

When walking around the center Strip it is usually a stop for us.

Friday, January 18, 2013

More of our Christmas walk

When we stayed at The Hotel at Christmas we walked up the Strip to Caesar’s Palace. MGM seems to own most of the south end of the Strip, their hotel/casino/resorts (I never know which term is the best, here the big ones seem to be all three things at once) include the MGM Grand (of course), Aria, Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, New York New York, Monte Carlo and City Center. On the southwest side Mandalay Bay is furthest south, with great views of the airport and up the Strip, the Luxor in the center and Excalibur on the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue. The three are run independently and have different atmospheres, but are connected by both a tram and walkways. We usually walk through all the casinos going in one direction then do the tram to bypass two and go right where we want on the other half.

We walked from Mandalay Bay through the upper walkway connecting to the Luxor; it’s called Mandalay Place and is a small shopping center. In the middle is my favorite burger place in town, Hubert Keller’s Burger Bar.

Good burgers, good fries, wide assortment of beers. You can get burgers from $6 up to $65 (with foi gras and special sauce), buffalo burgers, chicken, fish, wagu beef, almost whatever. You pick the meat (or a veggie patty), toppings, sauce, cheese, whatever, how you want it cooked, and the bun, so you get what you want. Or you can pick one of the pre-set ones, I like Keller’s favorite with thick fries. And great shakes.

Then through the inside of the Luxor pyramid and over into Excalibur. Built when Vegas was trying to cater to families and kids, the hotel is two big angles around the outside and inside is a fairytale castle.

That was taken from the bridge over Tropicana Avenue going to New York New York. From there we walked over to the Monte Carlo and took another tram through City Center to the Bellagio. I don’t know why they didn’t continue the tram to New York, maybe sometime in the future. Then they can cross Tropicana and join in to the Excalibur segment. Anyway, I like the view of City Center from the tram, which goes right through the middle of it.

Through the Bellagio casino over to the shopping arcade, which has new Christmas decorations this year.

Last time they had big trees made out of presents. Kind of dull this year.

Then across Flamingo to Caesar’s Palace. The view from Caesar’s courtyard is rather interesting, you can see Bill’s Gambling Hall (which will be replaced as part of the new Link center), Balley’s with the big poster of the back side of one of their showgirls, and the Eiffel Tower and Paris.

Two scenes from The Doctor

Yes, I will admit it, I’m a Dr. Who fan. I started watching the Doctor on BBC rebroadcasts on public television about thirty years ago, and was quite pleased when the new doctors started appearing. My favorite two episodes are Blink and The Doctor’s Wife.

In Blink we see very little of the Doctor, he is first seen in a video where he describes what has been happening: (for those of you that are David Tennant fans)

In The Doctor’s Wife the essence of his Tardis is transferred into a woman, so this is the first time he can have a conversation with the Tardis in the seven hundred years. This incarnation of the Doctor is played by Matt Smith, who seems to be doing a tremendous job. This episode was written by Neil Gamon, a fantasy author that I find interesting.

Two interesting scenes from probably dozens I could post. They just remind me of the episodes they came from.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Country girls

A good opportunity for C&W fans this week, you can see both Faith Hill and Shania Twain. Faith and her husband Tim McGraw are at the Venetian, Shania is over at Caesar’s Palace – both acts have extended contracts, and will be in town for a few weeks, then back every four months or so for another few weeks.
For those of you that don’t know who they are, this is Faith

And a little faster

(not sure which of those outfits she’ll be wearing, but if Tim’s here it will probably be jeans)

And here’s Shania from her first album

Here she is at 40 (Faith’s about the same age, both in their mid 40’s)

Your choice, blond or brunette. Faith & Tim have a more intimate show (in the old Phantom theater that holds 2,500) while Shania has a big production, she rides in on a flying motorcycle and later rides a horse on stage (in the Coliseum which holds 6,000).

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

old France trip memories

Still haven’t pulled our Christmas hotel photos off the camera and onto the web, but thanks to Virginia I’ve been thinking about Paris, and our trip to France several years ago. Twelve years or so – has it been that long? Wow. Anyway, we once took a month long trip to France – week in Paris, two weeks driving around the country and a week back in Paris before flying home.

I really enjoyed all the time there, we took back roads and stopped in lovely small towns. Bobbie planned the entire trip, making reservations by fax with people that didn’t speak English (and us not speaking French). We mostly used Rick Steve’s books to plan things out, and stayed at many of the hotels he recommended.

What I liked most about Paris were the cafes, where you could sit in the sunshine, have an espress and watch the people walking by. This one was right across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower

One of the day trips by train was out to Versailles, where we walked the beautiful gardens (really damaged the previous winter by a wind storm that knocked down may old trees). We weren’t early enough to get a tour ticket, but did walk in the public rooms, impressed by the hall of mirrors

Our first night of the drive was the island of Mt. St. Michele. It’s a very famous place, a monastery on top of a rock, that you can walk to at low tide but at high tide was surrounded by water. There is a causeway out to it now so you can drive to a close parking lot, but the day parking and the causeway are under water at high tides. It was very pleasant in the evening, when the tour busses had all left. There are very few rooms on the island itself, most hotels are on the mainland, so it gets rather quiet when the tide comes in.

We stayed two nights in the Loire Valley and saw several of the big chateaus

My favorite city of the trip (besides Paris) was Baynac, a very small town on a river with a castle on the hilltop behind. The castle was used for one of the Joan of Arc movies, and during the long war the English controlled the other side of the river. We stayed a few nights at the Hotel Baynac and ate in their dining room, it was the first time I ever had foi gras (which the area is famous for) and it was marvelous.

One night was spent in a small flat inside the walled city of Carcassonne close to the Spanish border. For dinner we had cassoulette - a regional dish that seemed to be whatever leftovers were around - mostly white beans, with meat and chicken and vegetables. It was about the worst meal we had on our trip (I think Bobbie's dish had a chicken foot, mine had a lot of small bones). Like bouliabase, cassoulette was peasant food, made from the leftovers that couldn't be sold

Most of the time we hit the little towns and bought fresh bread and stuff for sandwiches and ate at picnic tables along the road. Most towns had little parks, and there were a lot of places to stop.

The mustard fields were in bloom, and I wondered if any of what we saw made it into my jar of Grey Poupon

We spent a night in Arles, the town where Van Gogh lived and did some of his most famous works. They had brass plaques around town with images of his paintings from where he did them, things had changed so little that almost everything now looked very similar to what he painted then. Arles also had an old Roman coliseum, it hasn’t been restored but still looked nice

Our easternmost point was the town of Chamonix, under Mt. Blanc, and we took the cable car up to the top – over 14,000 foot altitude for the restaurant and viewing station. Quite a change in temperature, people were still skiing, and we shared the cabin with a group of the French mountain patrol and a lot of Japanese tourists who all wanted their photos taken with the tall French guys.

You walked through an ice cave to get to the slopes, where the ski patrol were dressing for a slide down.

The city of Beune was on the list, where we toured the hospital with the lovely roofs

Dinner was at a small restaurant in the basement of the cathedral, good food and an interesting setting

I wasn’t the only one that liked the espress at the cafes

We did hit the Lovre, where I had to join the crowd in getting my picture taken in front of the Mona Lisa. We did spend a few nights in the small town in the Loire Valley where Michelangelo lived, and toured the big chateaus are.

And climbed the stairs in the Arc de Triump.

Enough photos for one post, hoping to make it back to France soon. With stops around the UK as well.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

New window in kitchen

Worked some more on the kitchen this weekend. We removed the sink, dishwasher and the last of the old cabinets and installed a new window. This one is twice the size of the old and is double paned glass with panels on each end that swing open. It should brighten things up in here. The box in the ceiling is part of the new exhaust hood.
The old one:

The new one, it goes all the way to the blue tape on the right in the above picture, where the end of the cabinets and countertops will be:

We are putting in all new appliances and cabinets. We test fit some of the cabinets last week. They are Ikea, and mostly pull out drawers rather than doors and shelves. Bobbie picked a bright glossy white with stainless handles. Goes with the stainless appliances, new wide double convection electric ovens and microwave:

There will be a center island with gas cooktop, we’re planning on all stainless – the cabinets as well as the top. We’ve got a nice stainless and glass exhaust hood that will go above the cooktop.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Christmas on the Strip (continued)

We spent Christmas at The Hotel at Mandalay Bay. On Christmas Eve we wandered down the Strip to look at casino decorations, stopping periodically to sit and have a drink and watch the crowds. It was very crowded in the casinos, both with people gambling and families wandering around looking. There were quite a lot of little kids in strollers, both small and a few of those humongous strollers that take up an entire sidewalk (very inconsiderate).

We walked over to the Monte Carlo and caught the tram over to the Bellagio to see the Christmas themed conservatory. The Blue Man Group recently moved to the showroom at the Monte Carlo. We saw them twice over at the Venetian and liked the show very much. To promote the show they have a little parade through the casino.

I really liked the lit up legs, Bobbie liked the small forest of waving crayons on the end.

Some of the shops at Caesars were decorated for the holidays.

Brooks Brothers was rather subdued

I rather liked these, but probably wouldn’t be able to walk in them

Across the Strip from Caesar’s they are building an new entertainment complex. This will include a new large wheel, similar to the one in London, and new shops and bars and also include a remodel of some of the older casinos. The Imperial Palace will be fully remodeled and renamed something else. It’s been around for about thirty years, which is rather old for Vegas, I’m surprised they aren’t blowing it up and building new. The started taking off the decorative elements on the front, and soon should take off those ‘Oriental’ styled roofs.

Fitzgerald’s (home of the Leprechaun, who stands on the sidewalk and entices you to enter) will be torn down and the surrounding resorts will take up that space. If you look down the walkway between the Imperial Palace and the Flamingo you can see the start of the new wheel. This walkway will be widened and become the heart of the new entertainment zone.

It will be tall - over 150 meters with big ride in gondolas, should give a nice view of the Strip. I’ll take some photos when it’s done, scheduled for later this year.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Kitchen remodel - new ceiling and lights

A four day weekend and we’ve been working on the kitchen remodel. Several things being done to make the space look larger: first was to remove part of the wall to the family room and push back the counter that was there by four feet. That was done a few weeks ago. The next step was to remove the lowered area of the ceiling which had large fluorescent fixtures above large plastic panels. We replaced the lighted ceiling with can lights, with LED spots for over the counters and flourescents for general use.

Started pulling things down on Sunday morning.

By Sunday afternoon it was all down, and I started installing the lights.

Finished the lights on Monday and we put up insulation (12” thick stuff, should keep us warm) and today (Tuesday – Happy New Year!) our neighbor Greg came over, and along with my friend Hans we got all the drywall up. The white areas are where cabinets came out - some overhead and a corner unit. The refrigerator was just to the right of the door. We'll be moving the door to the right, and putting some tall cabinets and the refrigerator in the left corner. This will let us expand the pantry on the other side of the wall, and put in a sliding door to elimiate the space taken up by a swinging door (small bath door visible, laundry room and garage entrance behind that wall)

Next weekend we start on the next item: replacing the 4’ wide window with a higher one (well, the ceiling is higher) and 8’ wide.