Monthly Archives: September 2011

TopCoder Open 2011 – Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The GORGEOUS view from our balcony at the Westin Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Fl.

TopCoder members and staff at the opening reception of the TopCoder Open.

So great to see friends again - Jessie and Lyla (who really wants to get at that cake pop!)

Justin and Dale trying to get a new angle for the conference videos!

Super yummy Australian treats from Mylo!

The Westin has some amazing pools - I am in one pool, Justin and Dale are above me in another pool!

Spending an exceptionally relaxing afternoon beside the water.

So glad the sun finally scared the rain clouds away!

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Posted by on September 27, 2011 in Fort Lauderdale, Julie, Travel



One thing Justin and I were excited for while in Chicago was dining at Alinea on Sunday.  We were not disappointed in the slightest.  We were completely blown away, stunned, amazed, and experienced one of the most spectacular restaurants in the country at the moment.

The nondescript gray exterior gave way to a nondescript red hallway. Automatic doors to the left opened to the restaurant.

1 - Steelhead Roe atop a watermelon mousse, surrounded by golden watermelon, with a zucchini blossom, kaffir lime, oxalis, and a clear reduction of watermelon. Beautiful and incredibly fresh and delicious.

2 - A vanilla bean skewer that held a bite of hamachi, west indies spices, banana, ginger, and pineapple salt. Fascinating flavors - wanted more than just a bite!

3, 4, 5, 6 - We affectionately termed these the Tidepool courses. At the left, a lobster claw with a bit of lobster, queen anne's lace, huitlacoche, and gooseberry. At the far right, an Oyster leaf with mignonette and seasoning. In the center, a razor clam with carrot, soy, and daikon. Above the razor clam a mussel with saffron, chorizo, and orange. All incredible.

7 - Yuba - Fried yuba straw with Gulf shrimp, miso, togarashi, and sesame seeds, with an orange miso dipping sauce. Simply picked this up with our fingers and dipped it in the sauce. Crazy good.

For each course new utensils would appear. It was a bit of fun to guess what we would be doing next!

8 - Soup, Salad, and Breadstick - Amazing tomatoes and gazpacho, red onion, carrot, goat cheese (frozen!), and a sliver of ciabatta toast. We "harvested" our own greens from our centerpiece! This was one of our very favorite courses.

Our sad-looking centerpiece after our pinkie shears clipped what we wanted to eat!

8 - Another fun course - just one single, hands-free bite of Yellowtail Snapper, mango, radish flower, and juniper.

10 - A selection of wild mushrooms with a pine needle mousse, thyme foam, sumac, ramps, shallots, and a red wine reduction. Like walking in the forest with your mouth open!

11 - Hot Potato/Cold Potato - the waiter handed it to us and explained we must eat it immediately! The tiny wax bowl had a spoonful of cold, creamy potato soup, while a pin, stuck through the bowl, pierced a bit of hot potato, butter, and black truffle. We pulled out the pin so the solid bits fell into the soup, then drank the bowl in one mouthful. I immediately asked for another. Another one of our very favorite courses.

Fancy silverware and crystal goblets filled with a delicious homemade carrot pomegranate soda announced our next decadent course.

12 - Lamb medallions with turnip, sauce choron, tiny asparagus, and the most amazingly delicious tiny balls of sauteed yukon gold potatoes. We both wanted to lick these plates!

13 - Black Truffle Explosion - Ravioli filled with black truffle broth, topped with a leaf of romaine and shaving of parmesan. The most Incredible bite. So so so so delicious.

14a - This next course took some assembly. We pulled out the silver pieces and fit them together.

14b - Like so. Next, a sheet of tomato pasta was placed over the wings to form a dish of sorts.

14c - Like so. And then the server placed a small bit of braised beef short rib meet in the center. We were then told to add the condiments from the plate in the background to our bit of pasta.

14d - LIke so. Condiments included smoked sea salt, blackberry, black fermented garlic, olive, cherry, turnip, and a gel described as the essence of tobacco. We then wrapped up our bundles, similar to a burrito, and enjoyed. So many different flavors competing for our attention, but yet it all worked so beautifully together.

The fifthteenth course was a perfectly round bowl filled with a light creamy onion broth, with a bite of the tiniest octopus and eggplant - we were not able to set the bowl down as it was perfectly round! This is the 16th course - Yuzu Snow. A metal cone was dipped in liquid nitrogen, then in the liquid yuzu. The result is an instant, icy snow. It was incredibly refreshing.

17 - Alinea's interpretation of a caprese salad with peach. Each cube was either a peach flavor, a burrata cheese flavor, basil, or balsamic vinegar flavors, plus a few interested other touches, like jasmine tea or almond. We were encouraged to try bites of each individually, but also combine different flavors. It was so unique, and each bite was amazing, no matter the pairing.

18 - a glass tube filled with a beautifully clear liquid of lemongrass, finger lime, plus thai basil and dragonfruit. A very thin grape gel sealed one end, which we put in our mouth, sucked just a bit and the entire contents of the tube followed. A surprising and delicious drink. Like the most amazing lemonade ever.

Our last course was beyond description.  The most unique restaurant experience ever.  We saw it take place at a neighboring table, so we set up our camera on the edge of our table to record the process.  The gray “table cloth” is actually an incredible thin sheet of silicone, which the dessert was constructed on top of.  The chef, Grant Achatz, came out and put together the Chocolate dessert course.

19 - The result - Frozen Chocolate Mousse with red pepper, cilantro, orange, and roasted banana sauces, banana creme brulee, coconut and banana crumbles, freeze dried bananas, ginger pound cake, and flakes of dark rum.

19b - Grab a spoon and eat right off the table! Watch your sleeve!

19c - We did the best we could with the tools we had. The most amazing dessert and an incredible finale.


Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Chicago, Food, Julie, Restaurant Reviews, Travel


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An Afternoon at the Shedd

Justin demanded a picture of "that swimming dinosaur!"

I thought it was fascinating that the scientists were able to grow their own coral!

The Shedd's special exhibit is currently on jelly fish. It was pretty remarkable to watch these organisms float and propel themselves through the tanks.

This giant spider crab was all up in everyone's grill. NOT a timid creature!

Not just fish, of course! Justin was able to get this cool shot of this chameleon.

Pretty much the weirdest turtle we've ever seen!

I just had to laugh, and get a shot of these three crazy fish. Sure looked like they were posing to me!






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Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Chicago, Julie, Travel


A Chicago Weekend

Justin and I enjoyed a weekend in Chicago, catching up with family for a Gasper family reunion.  Justin’s parents graciously rented a condo just south of Grant Park right off Michigan Avenue and we were able to stay, explore downtown Chicago, and have some nice times visiting with extended family.

We arrived at the condo on Friday afternoon, and all were a bit stunned at the incredible location and view.  We settled in a bit and waited for Aunt Maggie and cousin Beth to make their way to their hotel downtown so we could meet up for dinner.

We all thoroughly enjoyed our burgers at Epic Burger and then walked through Grant Park to Buckingham fountain.

It is always fun to step into the bright, lit-up, fast paced world of a BIG city now and then.  The skyline of Chicago is pretty incredible at night.

It was a very windy, cool evening, so we eventually made our way back to the condo to visit and enjoy the view from there.

The next morning we met John’s siblings and spouses and a few cousins for breakfast at The Breakfast Club.  We all agreed this was a fun, eclectic breakfast spot with some very tasty offerings.  After some discussion, the group split up a bit to take in a few different things the city had to offer.  Justin’s parents and a group headed down to the Museum of Science and Technology.  Pete and Nancy were looking forward to trying to grab tickets to the Badgers football game taking place at Soldier Field.  Justin and I planned on simply walking through the parks and taking in the Shedd Aquarium.

We all walked over to the El station and got off at our appropriate stops.  We thought this was by far one of the most unique El platforms at Ashland and Lake!

From our stop, we walked over to Millennium Park to the infamous “bean.”

It was a gorgeous, beautiful, perfect Chicago day, so it was jam-packed with tourists taking pictures.  We had to get the obligatory mirror shot though.  It really is a fun piece of art.

From there we walked through the park to the lakeshore, then walked south along the path to the Shedd.  The next post will have some fun pictures we captured at the Shedd Aquarium.  It really was a lot of fun to walk through and explore, though as it was a Saturday, it was packed to the gills with people (pun intended!).

After being on our feet since breakfast, we walked back to the condo after our afternoon at the aquarium, and rested until the rest of the group connected and we headed up to Dan and Jacque’s house for dinner.  Dan, John, Dave, Maggie, and Pete seemed to enjoy reminiscing and laughing over shared memories.  Us cousins laughed at funny stories of parents growing up, Gasper-isms, and were a bit amazed as they even broke into song now and again.  It was a good day of reconnecting and catching up.

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Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Chicago, Family, Julie, Travel


Show and Tell

After reading reviews, Justin recently purchased a Sony Nex-5 camera to replace our Nikon D40x.

I wasn’t altogether sure I wanted a new camera, but the flash was shot on the Nikon and would need to be sent away to be fixed (and it was not under any warranty).  I have to say though, I am thoroughly converted after using this new little one and seeing the pictures it takes!

First off, it is a very easy camera to use.  There are a ton of settings, but the straight-out-of-the-box Auto feature is pretty simple and handles most situations quite well.  All the shots I took at Piccolo were using the Auto feature.  No need to focus, set up the flash, adjust the settings, etc.  Easy-peasy, with great results!

But there are some also some really cool features, which aren’t very difficult to switch to and select.  I really like a lot of the black and white photos Justin shot while Trav, Em and I were playing a game of Farkle.  There was a ton of sunlight coming in the window, but I like the effect it had to blow out some of the exposure.

Another fun feature is the color-select feature.  With just a quick twist of a dial, you can grab a quick black and white image, with only one color standing out.  We’re still playing with this one – definitely depends on the setting (and the color) for this one to really pop.

Our new favorite lens is the Canon 50 mm.  Which shouldn’t work on any camera but a Canon.  Except Sony has released adapters for lenses of other manufacturers!  So we’re able to get a relatively inexpensive lens that everyone loves – and we’re no exception.  This lens is fantastic for portraits and close-up shots, like of Jenn, Maureen and Madie during a picnic we enjoyed on Labor Day at a riverfront park.  Perfect light, beautiful subjects.

But it also takes some cool scenery shots too.  A great all-round lens, as long as the subject field isn’t too far away.

Another plus (or possible drawback) is that Justin enjoys playing with this camera a lot more.  He likes playing with the settings, changing the lenses, and clicking away.  So you may be seeing a bit more of me now.  But you won’t see any more shots from the Nikon – it’s going up on ebay tomorrow!

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Posted by on September 7, 2011 in Julie, Photography


Two dogs I like.

Saying I’m not a “dog person” is a bit of an understatement.  It isn’t that I don’t like dogs, I’m just irrationally afraid that they are going to bite my face (or hand or leg) off.  I am not afraid of puppies, but then they grow up into, well, dogs.  It’s the way I’ve always been.  I always kind of wished I could be allergic to them, so I’d have some sort of good excuse.  But I’ve tried hard hard hard to overcome this fear.  It’s pretty embarrassing to be afraid of dogs.  I was actually doing alright there for a few years.  And then I went to Peru – where the wild dogs (that are everywhere) very likely will bite your face (or hand or leg) off if you’re not careful.  And then I had a run-in with a doberman pincher last summer.  Both experiences have landed me firmly in the “will always be afraid of dogs” category.  So it goes.

But there are exceptions to every rule.

Yep - I'm as close to Dory as it actually looks!

 Dory is one of the King’s dogs.  Dory is named after the fish in Finding Nemo who forgets everything because, well, Dory doesn’t have the best memory in the world.  The thing that endears Dory to me is that she is just as afraid of every human being as I am of every dog being.  So we get along pretty well.

Sweet, camera-shy Dottie

 And Dottie.  Dottie is just about the sweetest dog on the planet, and she belongs to my dad and stepmom.  She doesn’t bark or jump, just kind of leans against your legs in a friendly welcome.  I like to say that Dottie has the soul of a much smaller dog – if you sit on the couch, she would just as soon try to curl right up on your lap.  She is an incredibly submissive, calm dog.

Both Dory and Dottie were rescued from abusive homes.  They were both treated horrendously and lived in fear before they were found and adopted by the King’s and my parents.  It makes me shiver to know how terrible people can be, but also so glad they are in homes where people love them so thoroughly.  I think the fear they have of people and the fear I have of dogs has bonded us in a way.  There’s an unspoken connection – “I’m safe with you.”

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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Julie, Random Life