Monday, February 23, 2009

Holy Phone Calls!

Tonight I had the pleasure of catching up with 4 great friends over the phone. Jerri called on my walk home from work and we talked for quite a while. Then I called Jocelyn and left her a message to wish her a Happy Birthday. Then I called Ann while she was walking home we had a great time catching up and I got to hear about Lee's recent visit. Then Sylvie called and we talked for quite some time. During this conversation my phone started to die, so I plugged it in and continued to chat. And while I was on the phone with Sylvie, Jocelyn called back and left a message, so after I got off the phone with Sylvie, I called her back and got to hear all about her birthday adventures and what is going on in her life! What a fun way to pass the time while making and eating dinner, cleaning up the kitchen and picking up around the house. I really do miss having friends around the corner, but I have to say, it's nice to have so many friends who are a phone call away.

I'm going to be losing my home internet connection for a while because my neighbor who I split it with is moving to Cambridge, MA (of all the places!). It's not worth it for me to go out and have it installed, get a router, etc, etc, when I'm hoping to be able to just split it again with the new folks who move in next door. So the blog might be a little slow in the coming weeks, and I might be giving you a call in the evening since I won't be able to chat online or send you an email (or feel free to call me!).

PS - Oh, and Meg called while I was writing this!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bread Lessons

So last year about this time, I got a serious craving for soft pretzels in Boston. I wasn't finding any I was thrilled with, so I decided to make my own. This was an adventure because I'm typically terrified of making any bread-product involving yeast. But these pretzels turned out great.

Well, I haven't attempted to make any yeasty bread-product since then, until last night. I had recently heard of bread-making successes from multiple co-workers and friends and thought to myself "I can do that". So last night I tried to make a simple white sandwich bread.

First lesson learned: In case you didn't know, making bread from scratch involves a lot of time. I got this idea at 7pm. Next time I will start sooner.

Second lesson learned: Active Dry Yeast and Instant Yeast are two different things. The recipe called for instant, I used active dry. After making the dough by hand (since I don't have a food processor, as recommended in the recipe) I put it in a bowl to rise and did a great job of ignoring it for two whole hours (from 8pm to 10pm). I took a nap (thankfully) and talked on the phone with my mom for a while. Just as I was getting off the phone it was 10 o'clock and I went to finally look at the bowl. It had gotten only slightly bigger. There was hardly any noticeable change and this dough was supposed to double in size. This is what it looked like when I put it in the bowl and this is also (pretty much) what it looked like when I checked it two hours later:

Third lesson learned: Dough should rise in a warm place. After admitting my seeming failure to my mom she asked where I let it rise. I said on the counter. In my house that's about 65 degrees. So there's the problem. After getting suggestions from my mom and interrupting a friend's date night with a panicky bread-related phone call I decided to follow their advice and let it rise in a warm oven. At this point I had a "what do I have to lose?" kind of attitude. An hour passed and I looked in the oven. The dough was getting bigger! I decided to let it go a little longer (about 45 minutes). At this point, I decided it was time to put it in a pan and see what happens. I was only sort of following the recipe at this point. I punched it down half-heartedly, folded it into the pan and then put it on top of the oven to rise again. Forty-five minutes later (when SNL had ended at 1am) I checked on the pan and the dough had returned my effort by half-heartedly rising again. I brushed the top with warm water and threw it in a 350 degree oven.

Fourth lesson learned: Never give up! 50 minutes later, close to 2am, I pulled this out of the oven:

I let it cool enough so that I could actually touch it and then I treated myself to two slices with just a little bit of butter and it was actually very tasty. I'm sure it was supposed to be a little less dense, but it wasn't a total failure by any means.

And then I went to bed, exhausted but satiated.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Babette's Feast

Last night I went to a book group discussion of Isak Dinesen's short story Babette's Feast. But the fun part about this book group is that it meets at Whole Foods and involves a cooking demo! First we had a short discussion of the story (or movie, seems a lot of folks watched the movie instead of reading the story) and then on to the cooking demo. Narit Yadin, a chef who teaches other cooking classes at this Whole Foods, demonstrated two different recipes inspired by the feast in the story. The first was a Chicken Sarcofage which is basically puff pastry wrapped around marinated chicken and mushrooms. Even though I didn't eat the chicken, it was a good method and could easily be adapted to include potatoes or other veggies instead of the chicken.

The second dish was a delicious beet and carrot blini. Blinis are little yeasted pancakes and the beet and carrot salad just went on top of them with a little crème fraîche. They were SO good! She roasted yellow beets and sauteed some carrots and ginger and shredded it all together and added some orange juice and vinegar and it was so delicious. Thankfully there were lots of blinis and not too many people so I got to sample a couple of them. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of my own, but trust me, the color of the golden beets and carrots was so bright and festive that I would certainly consider making this for guests.

It's rare that I post photos that aren't my own, but here is a nice shot from this food blog to show you what the blinis look like before the topping is put on:

This is the recipe she used, adapted from this website.

Blinis Demidof a l'Oobleck

Yeasted pancakes with gingered carrots and beets

Theater Oobleck adapted the blini recipe from Sheila Lukins' ``All Around the World Cookbook.'' The topping is their own.

1 teaspoons active dry yeast

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3 1/4 cups warm milk

4 eggs, separated

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4-inch chunk fresh gingerroot, grated

4 medium beets, tops removed

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

2 tablespoons orange juice

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 cup grated carrots

Clarified butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Crème fraîche

In a large bowl, stir together the yeast, 1/2 cup of the flour and 2 cups of the milk. Cover and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes. Let the remaining milk cool to lukewarm.

Beat the egg yolks and stir into the yeast mixture with the remaining milk and flour and the 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into the batter. Cover and let rest in a warm place to rise for 1 hour.

Roast the beets till tender (an hour or so). Peel, then grate the beets and combine them with the vinegar, orange juice and sugar. Set aside in the refrigerator.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over low heat, saute the ginger and carrots in clarified butter till just warmed through. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool. Once cooled, combine beets and carrots.

Heat a nonstick skillet, brush lightly with clarified butter and cook a few blini at a time. Make them 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Cook for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, then flip and cook the other side about 1 minute, until puffed and golden.

Serve warm, topped with crème fraîche and the carrot-beet mixture. Makes about 40 blini, 10 to 15 servings.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sylvie and Miriam in Princeton!

Sylvie arrived at my place on Thursday night and attended a conference at Princeton on Friday and Saturday. And Miriam drove up from DC to surprise her after work on Friday night. By the time I got there on Saturday afternoon Miriam was hanging out at my house and Sylvie was still at her conference. Miriam and I went to the Whole Earth Center to get some late lunch and pick up some bananas and then picked up Sylvie from the conference. We got to hear all about Sylvie's day and then headed out for a great vegetarian Thai dinner at Tom Yum Goong. When we got home we decided to play Mille Bornes. It was so fun to just hang out with two great friends in my house. Here is Sylvie figuring out how to play:

For breakfast on Sunday we headed to the famous PJ's Pancake House on Nassau St. in Princeton. We had to wait in line outside (which is normal for a Sunday morning) and then ended up getting seats at the counter. It was a delicious breakfast and we all, of course, had at least a taste of pancakes. I now understand why people wait in line.

After breakfast we went on a little tour of campus to show Miriam around since she had never been there before. We took her into the beautiful chapel and on our way out came across this undergrad dressed as a squirrel. It was her "offering" for being in some club (Sylvie got the whole explanation). She was the happiest undergrad I've seen. We, of course, had to get a photo:

We continued our tour of campus and by the time we were done and got back to the house it was already 1pm. It's amazing how fast the day goes when you sleep until 9am. This is not something I'm used to.

We packed up the car and headed to my parent's house to meet up with John and Jill and the kiddos to celebrate my Mom's 60th Birthday (!) and Sebastian's 4th birthday. Here they are, two peas in a pod, cutting their cake:

We had cake and ice cream and presents and then the adults played Bananagrams (Sylvie and Miriam had never played before) and then we had a great dinner and stayed around to watch The Amazing Race on the big TV. It was really fun to get to show Sylvie and Miriam where I grew up and for them to meet John and Jill and my nephews (they had already met my parents in Boston). Here are the three of us in my parent's house:

I have to admit, it was tough to say good-bye to Sylvie and Miriam on Monday morning. It was so great to have such wonderful friends to hang out with and to have them in my house. Every time someone comes to visit it just makes it feel more like home. When I got home on Monday evening, I noticed this awesome message on my white board:

Yeah, it's still there.

Buffalo weekend: getting home.

I left Buffalo around 7am on Saturday and planned on taking a much faster route home. I took I-90 straight across to Syracuse and stopped in at my old stomping grounds. As soon as I got off the highway toward the University I saw a guy holding a sign that said "I need Tickets" and I thought, "Oh no, tickets to what?" I had assumed this would be a sleepy Saturday morning on campus, but little did I know The Orange was playing Georgetown in a much-anticipated rematch. Thankfully I was there just after 9am (the game started at noon) and I was able to get a parking spot on Marshall Street.

One of the main reasons I wanted to stop was I had yet to see Newhouse III, the newest addition to the school I attended. It's really a beautiful building, very airy and modern and full of state-of-the-art technology and spaces to collaborate and study. The building was pretty much empty, but I could imagine the energy that must be there when it's full of students. I liked it very much. Here is a photo of the new and old, Newhouse III in the foreground and Newhouse I in the background:

And here's a shot of one of the interior spaces. The first Constitutional Amendment is prominently displayed throughout the building (both inside and out) and other text and quotes are on walls throughout the building as well. As a school of communications, they are passionate about free speech (as they should be).

My original plan (before I knew there was a game) was to get a Pizza Bagel at Cosmos, but there was a line out the door by the time I got back to Marshall Street:

EVERYONE was wearing Orange. I felt out of place and wish I had thought to bring my bright orange sweatshirt. It would have been fun to be part of the crowd. But I did my job of supporting the local economy and did buy a new Alumni sticker for my car and some other Orange and Blue items. It was not until I got to the Bookstore in Schine student center that I realized they were calling for all fans to wear Orange to the game to create an "Orange Out" in the stands. For this purpose they were selling these t-shirts:

They were out for revenge because they had lost to Georgetown a few weeks ago and obviously wanted to win with home-court advantage. I got to listen to the game as I headed out of town, but didn't get to hear the end. My dad called with the final score: Syracuse won in overtime! The Orange Out must have worked.

Closer to home I was itching to get out of the car again and saw a sign that said "Martin Guitar Factory, Next Exit". So I decided to get off the highway in Nazareth, PA and drive 3 miles to see the Martin Guitar factory. I assumed that it might be open at 2pm on a Saturday, but it wasn't. I got to see the outside of the factory:

And right by the front door they have the Martin logo in the pavement just the way it looks at the top of one of their famous guitars:

This is only about an hour and a half from my house, so I'll have to see if I'm ever able to get back for a factory tour.

I was excited to get home because Sylvie and Miriam were in Princeton! More on that in our next installment...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Buffalo weekend: getting there

This past Thursday I drove to Buffalo for the sad occasion of my Aunt Elizabeth's funeral. I made the trip alone driving from Princeton, so I took the scenic route on the way there stopping in different places to stretch my legs and get out of the car. The first place was in Ithaca, NY to eat at Moosewood (the vegetarian cafe made world famous from their cookbooks). I sat at the cafe and got their Moussaka, but I have to say that my favorite part of the meal was their amazing house salad dressing which is a creamy basil - it made even a simple side salad outstanding. After browsing the gift shop I treated myself to an iced Chai for the road - Delicious!

On the way out of Ithaca I drove past the Finger Lakes School of Massage, Namaste Montessori School, a midwives clinic and a local CSA farm with a huge peace sign on the barn. I called my sister-in-law Jill and said "I think we should consider retiring here, we'd fit right in". She agreed.

Also on the way out of town I drove past a sign that said "View the Falls - 1 mile". I was in a wandering mood and the weather wasn't too bad, so I decided to take a short detour. It was well worth it. I stopped at a view point for Taughannock Falls. There had recently been a lot of snow melt, so the falls were roaring and the river below was churning. It was loud even from far away.

I continued to take the scenic route through the Finger Lakes region, heading north toward I-90. I drove through Amish country and saw an actual horse and buggy, but didn't take a photo of that. This is all I got:

It was raining off and on, but the drive was OK until I got about 20 miles outside of Buffalo and hit rush-hour traffic and lots of snow. And it was super windy the entire drive, even in my little Corolla I could feel the wind pushing me around the road.

I got to the hotel just before 6pm, so it ended up being about a 9 hour travel day, but not too bad with all of the stops.

Even though the occasion was a sad one, it was still good to be with family and to be reminded of those strong bonds. After the mass on Friday morning, which was beautiful and very moving, I spent the rest of the day not only with my immediate family (My parents and both of my brothers also made the trip) but with extended family that I don't get to see very often. We all agreed that the next time we get together like this should be for a much happier occasion.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Instead of TV...

I should be riding my bike or practicing guitar. I commissioned my nephew Nathaniel to create the following artwork to illustrate that idea. I have this taped to my TV as a gentle reminder.

The little additional note in the bottom right is the drawing of a Sorry board with the message: Me, You, Dad, PLAY!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Steeler Country!

Last night I had the pleasure of going to my parent's house for SuperBowl Sunday! This wasn't just any Super Bowl, though. It was a Steelers Super Bowl which meant lots of black and gold throughout my parent's house. My dad grew up outside of Pittsburgh and has been a die-hard Steelers fan his entire life. Just to set the scene a little bit: There is a sign over the garage that says "Steelers Drive", that's there all the time, there is a huge Steelers flag that gets flown from the front porch on every gameday throughout the season, and for the SuperBowl there was black and gold M&Ms, black and gold garland wrapped around the banister, black and gold streamers and a crepe-paper football hanging from the ceiling in the family room, Steelers window clings on the front door, Steelers balloons, Steelers pennants, a Steelers cookie-cake for desert and my dad has saved all of the Sports Illustrated magazines since 1975 that have Steelers covers and those were on display as well. Here is a nice candid shot of everyone watching the game and enjoying some great snacks:

Here's a cute one of mom and dad (if you notice my dad does not avert his gaze during the game, for anything):

We had a great group of people over to watch the game. My cousin Matt is working in NJ for the next few months, so he joined us, Kim, Mike and Alex came over from Philly and John came down with the boys. Every Steelers Jersey that my dad owns was handed out to the crowd, so everyone looked the part and knew what team they were cheering for. And yes, both mom and dad even have on Steelers pants!

This is after the game, and a huge sigh of relief! This also gives you an idea of some of the other Steelers gear that gets set up for Game Day.

It was a little stressful at the end there (the Steelers won by scoring a touchdown with 35 seconds left in the game), but in the end we were all happy with the outcome! It was such a fun evening. Maybe we'll get to do it all again next year.