Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Every one fondue tonight

It started the day after Christmas, when Heidi posted this classic fondue recipe on her web site.

Days later, I went to Williams-Sonoma to exchange my Le Creuset for a bigger size, and upon entering the store, I was confronted by a large display of lovely fondue sets.

"Everyone is into the fondue," the lady behind the counter commented, ringing up another.

Then Courtney talked about how she got a fondue set for Christmas from the Jacksons, and then the Jacksons themselves showcased their own fondue party on their blog in Switzerland. (I mean, just look at the glee on Brett's face? Don't you want to have one?)

I sighed and felt saddened that no, that would never be me, I would never have a fondue party or a fondue set because the day I came home with one, my lovely fiance would tilt his head to the side and throw his hands in the air and scold, "Baby, no. Too much kitchen stuff. Where are we going to put that?"

It's true. We don't have room for fondue sets, but I still want one. And the fact that (with the help of my mom) I have been able to get the Le Creuset into my apartment with zero argument was a huge feat, believe me. (I plan to store it in the oven).

Dan came home yesterday from his yearly trip to California. In his weeklong absence, he had three boxes delivered to him. He had told me before my trip not to look at them because they were likely to be Christmas presents for me. I didn't snoop at all--I swear.

I came home from grocery shopping to see a concerned looking Dan sitting on the couch. scratching his head.

"I think Amazon sent us something that I didn't order," he said, all worried. "I even double checked to see if I ordered it by mistake."

"Well what is it?" I asked.

"A fondue set."

And that is when everything came together.

"It's from the Jacksons, of course!"

And that is how I got a fondue set (and a fondue cookbook)--just like everyone else. Now I can have my fondue party and Dan thinks it's swell because it was the Jackson's idea. THANK YOU BRETT AND EMILY. It wouldn't have been possible without you.

Now where to put it?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

10 Resolutions for 2009

1. Be more frugal.

2. Cook and bake and eat adventurously.

3. Write when I can.

4. Plan a kick-ass wedding.

5. Start a new personal project/venture.

6. Take care of myself and be healthy.

7. Take lots of pictures.

8. Travel.

9. Focus on the things that make me happy.

10. Be fun!

Friday, December 26, 2008

2008: A year in review

It is my usual tradition to sit by the Christmas tree on Christmas Day and write in my journal about my year and my goals for the year ahead.

I couldn't find my journal and so instead I read through my blog until I grew bored (how do I have so many faithful readers?). While I have been feeling a little blue and unaccomplished the last few weeks, I have to say, I didn't do too bad:

My resolutions for 2008 were:

My life should focus on people, not work.
For once, it really did.

Find a job that interests me, pays the bills, but doesn't take over my life.
I somehow managed to launch a successful freelance marketing career which doesn't interest me very much, but DOES pay the bills and doesn't take over my life.

Keep on traveling.
Took some wonderful trips to Buenos Aires and New Orleans--plus some weekenders to Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston.

Practice my Polish.
Yeah, didn't do that at all.

Nurture my artistic spirit.
I tried to write my book but failed miserably. I wonder if I really have it in me. But to give me credit, I wrote more this year than I have since high school. I took my photography class. I didn't become great overnight, but who cares?

Don't forget to be FUN.

Sometimes I forgot. But sometimes I was fun.

2008: The Good
Dan and I got engaged in New Orleans.
Turning 30.
Moved to a better apartment on the Upper East Side.
Meeting my new friend, Heather Prince.
My freelance career takes off.
The balloon ride with Dan, Annette and Kent.
A successful March (and April and May and June) Madness.
Sister Cooking School.
Seeing Argentina with Dan's family.

Reuniting with my high school friend Stacy.
New Orleans with Dan and Mom.
Audrey's birth.
Chicago Cupcake Crawl.
Weddings: Dan & Zoe, Dan & Jacey, Julian & Liz.
One hell of a sandwich with Matt Apice.
Four day work-weeks.
Summer classics. I did it!
Shakespeare in the Park. Finally!
The Danes Visit NYC.
My Pierogi party.
My Sibling party.
The white dress dinner.
Photo class.
I get an iphone.
Barack Obama gets elected president

2008: The bad
The death of the polar bear pants.
The death of the yellow gloves.
My horrible winter wardrobe.
To Dan's "I-told-you-so" amusement, I never made these dolls.
My permanent writer's block.
I STILL haven't figured out what I want to do with my life...and I am still complaining about it at least once a month and not doing anything about it.

2008: The ugly
The dead mouse in my apartment.
The sty.

Favorite books read in 2008 (not necessarily written in 2008):
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
The War of Art
The Invisible Wall

Favorite movies seen in 2008 (not necessarily made in 2008):
Juno, No Country for Old Men, The Apartment, 2 Days in Paris, All that Jazz, Slumdog Millionaire, While the Widow is Away.


If you want to know what I do for Christmas, this is it. It never changes.

This year was different because:

My sister got stuck in Pennsylvania due to freezing rain and couldn't make it. So my mom had to make the fried shrimp.

Mom making fried shrimp. It came out pretty good. But I still missed Annette.

It was my grand-niece's Audrey's first Christmas. She's grown a lot since the last time I saw her.

Audrey and me.

Kasia (my mom's ultimate helper outer) and her family were a little late, so my stepbrother Martin and his wife Iza donned some aprons to help fry the fish. I think flowers are very becoming on Martin. As usual, Kasia had an apron on as soon as she walked through the door. She made the cheesecake this year.

Kasia's husband, Andrej with the king and queen of Poland. Maxim, the king, wasn't having it.

Dillon eats his borscht. I love a kid who eats his vegetables. He was more interested in the brownies than the presents.

Good thing my SIL Jen made some salad, otherwise there would be zero green on my dinner plate.

Since my mom was so delayed in getting home from New Orleans, she didn't have time to make Christmas cookies. We managed to get by--barely.

Santa was good to me this year and I finally got the pot of my dreams, the one I have been pining for for over a year, the Le Creuset Dutch Oven in my favorite color: YELLOW. I got the 5 quart version--I will probably upgrade to the next largest size. It's smaller than I thought it would be. (As always, I knew what I was getting this year.) Lots of good food to come!

Cookie Bonanza 2009

So I am not sure if I have what it takes to run a bakery. After spending a day on my feet baking cookies for my annual Cookie Bonanza, I was completely wiped out. Waking up the next morning, I felt like I was run over by a truck.

But it was fun and satisfying in that way that only manual labor can be. For the first time ever, I prepared everything at my mom's house. She has a big oven and the master of baking equipment--a KitchenAid mixer--and so it was a nice change of pace. Mom was preparing some things for Christmas too, but soon it was clear that me and my bonanza were taking over the kitchen and she just had a small little space to work in. She didn't complain--much.

(These pics do not display the awesomeness as well as they should, but better than nothing):

I usually make all new recipes but this year I bought back peanut butter surprise (Pete's favorite) and snickerdoodles (Annette's favorite) along with newbies key lime pie thumbprints, chocolate peppermint and Aunt Mary Dillon's pralines. All recipes by Martha Stewart. The chocolate peppermint were a total pain in the ass to make. Had I read the recipe before I started, I would have never had made them, but they sure look pretty.

These praline cookies were inspired by my recent trip to New Orleans.

Usually I toss the cookies in some plastic containers, but this year I was inspired to be more crafty so I bought these pretty snow-flake patterned boxes from The Container Store, lined them with tissue and wax paper, displayed the cookies in rows, sealed them in plastic tied with a bow. A tag displayed the cookie names. I was kind of proud how they turned out.

Dan misses the Bonanza every year, but of course, like the good girlfriend I am, I always save him one of each. Odds are 97.5% likely he will eat these in one sitting the day he comes back.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A note about tea.

Like many Polish people, I am a big tea drinker. Nothing fancy--Lipton is just fine. Though unlike many Polish people, I like my tea with milk.

In the Northeast region where I live, when you order tea at a restaurant, you get hot water with a tea bag. In order to get the cold stuff, you need to specify "iced tea."

In the New Orleans Starbucks, when I ordered tea, they gave me tea with ice.

"I don't want this," I said.

"Oh did you want hot tea?"

In New Orleans, iced tea is the norm, so when you order tea, that's what you get.

You need to specify "hot tea." I got a kick out of that. Hot tea. I never heard anyone say that before in my life.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Back in the New York groove.

I am happy to report that I will be home for the holidays!

Mom and I were stuck an extra two nights in New Orleans, which we mostly spent Mom-travel-style (days spent sitting in coffee shops and park benches around the French Quarter and evenings in the hotel room watching "What Not To Wear," "Say Yes to the Dress," "Elf" and "The Wizard of Oz.")

We arrived at the airport this morning at 7:30 am, nervous about what to expect. Weather looked bad in Newark. My iPhone weather application was sprinkled with snow. We got there early and our flight to Houston was already delayed, so we tried to get on the earlier flight which then got delayed as well, meaning we'd never make our connection to Newark. New Orleans is one thing, the last thing I wanted was to get stuck in Houston. Their airport is named George that a way you'd want to spend Christmas? (No joke, I heard one of the travel agents tell a passenger there were no flights until Christmas Day! So the nerves was on. I told my mom, if we get stuck for the holidays, at least we have each other.)

Somehow, I manage to get us on a direct flight from New Orleans in the afternoon that the flight attendant told me had a good chance of being canceled. I took my chances.

When the flight was delayed for three hours, it was like deja vu of Friday's mess, but then suddenly, miraculously, we began boarding. We were going home.

Never in my life have I been so happy to see Newark, NJ, even though it's 29 degrees and feels like the North Pole. (New Orleans was a balmy 70 degrees the week we were there, so I was shivering my my jean jacket). The runways in Newark were covered in slushy snow and at one point, I am certain the plane skidded a bit, but I was more excited than scared.

So now, it's back home, wedding decisions to be made, cookies to be baked, presents to be wrapped. And after my long hiatus, I am finally motivated to hit the gym. It's the daily dose of fried shrimp that did it. And come on, let's be real now...I won't be starting until after Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I'll be home for Christmas...I hope.

My mom has really be patient with me on this trip. She isn't much of a traveler, city person, walker or foodie, but she's indulged in all of those things in the past week. I almost killed her today driving on the highway (hey, I am out of practice and this rental car had a killer blind spot--I didn't see the guy) and she was totally cool about it.

I have taken her to wedding venues that she has said resembled "basements," "train stations," and "horse carriages." Here is a woman who would like nothing more but to see her youngest daughter get married in an ivory white wall-papered ballroom on a manicured New Jersey property brimming with miles of green grass and flowers. And here I am, taking her to the murder capital of the United States to check out a dark and moody venue on a garbage ridden street across the street from a scary abandoned building.

I listen to her on the phone telling her husband, "Young people have a different style. They don't want traditional. They want everything to be cool." She said that in Polish except the word "cool" which sounded funny to me.

She's ready to go home.

But the weather has other plans. Thanks to a blizzard on the East Coast, we were forced to sit in the airport all afternoon (on the only sunny day since we've been here) only to learn that our flight was canceled and that the next available flight for us is on Sunday! The worst part about it was that the flight isn't even direct--we have to stop in Houston before going back to Newark (the next available direct flight was on TUESDAY), and it is supposed to continue snowing all weekend on the Northeast, so there is the chance we may be stuck in Houston come Sunday.

Christmas is around the corner, my mom's got a lot of preparing to do, and I think she's done traveling, cities, walking, eating strange food, and non-traditional wedding venues.

"If we get stuck over in Houston, I will be very depressed," she tells me.

My feeling is like hey, we're here, there is nothing we can do about it, so let's just enjoy. There's something fun about living in the unexpected. Besides, wouldn't you rather be in New Orleans than on a plane during a snow storm? And the best thing is that even though we're stranded and normally we'd be responsible for our hotel, my mom is a crazy pimp, so we called her "Harrah's host" and while he couldn't give us rooms at the casino, he could give us two complementary rooms at the Sheraton across the street. So really life isn't that bad at all.

I just want to be home for Christmas. And for our family, that means Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hair despair

New Orleans doesn't agree with my hair. Every day, it was supposed to be sunny (according to, the biggest liars on the internet), but really, all week it was foggy in the morning and then muggy and cloudy during the day with maybe a spot of sunshine. Very unfriendly hair conditions. Don't I look like a complete wreck in this picture? That's me after spending the last three days looking at ten wedding reception venues and a handful of Catholic churches. I hope I'll make a prettier bride.

So I have searched high and low. Now here's the hard part: Convincing Dan where we should have our wedding.

Because here's the deal. Dan and I have very similar taste. We like the same things. Food. Music. Restaurants. Jokes. Cities. Each other. We also know each other better than anyone else does. I trust his judgment--I let him pick out the apartment we're living now without me seeing it (and it's spot on) and he trusts me (he's letting me come to New Orleans to pick our wedding place.)

Well, he SAYS he trusts me. But here is the guy who won't take a restaurant recommendation from me even though we like the same kind of food and look for the same thing in a good restaurant (chill, homey, authentic, good food). My friend from work recommended this Mexican place in our neighborhood, Taco Taco. And I told him, I trust her opinion, let's go. And he was iffy. So I went with my friend Brian. Loved the food and ambiance. I tell Dan. I told him, let's go. And he was iffy. Finally, months later, he grudgingly goes because I wouldn't shut up about it, and after we eat a great meal, he tells me, all surprised and bewildered, "This place is good!" And now that's our go-to Mexican spot.

This happens all the time.

Now this is just Mexican food. Dan loves Mexican food and yet, he has to be convinced to try a Mexican restaurant just a few blocks away from our apartment with my glowing recommendation and all factors mentioned above about our compatibility.

So imagine me trying to recommend a place for our wedding, one of the most important days in our lives and our first major financial investment together. I'll leave you with that thought, dear reader, as I comb my hair before going to bed.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We walk, we see.

Note to Dan, my loving fiance. You can't plan an event from the internet. Because some of the places that look beautiful in pictures online look like crap in person. I am so glad I came and saw for myself.

All of the venues we looked at today were located in the French Quarter, so I got my mom to walk with me all day. She was a great sport. We took lots of coffee breaks and park bench stops along the way, but it was great to spend the day with her outside and not in the confines of the rental car. The sun even came out (it's been cloudy and gray since we've been here), and with temperatures in the 70s, it was lovely.

My mom had been to New Orleans before but only took in the city from a tour bus, and so she had a great time to experience the city the way a city should be experienced--by foot.
Mom even had her first beignet.

So we may have seen some disappointing reception places, but we also saw a place we really liked today, and it just made the New Orleans wedding even more real and even more exciting.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mom's First Cupcake

In between scouting wedding venues, I took my mom to New Orleans' new cupcakery Bee Sweet Cupcakes, which opened just three weeks ago. Do I know my stuff or what?

Mom got the pecan one and I got Oreo. It was too sweet for mom. I thought the cake was moist and good but the frosting was very sweet and piled on too thick. It was very messy to eat because the lightweight cake couldn't handle the heavy frosting.

If Dan and I ever move to New Orleans, I was thinking of opening up a bakery (possibly cupcake related). After eating here, I think there might be room for two cupcake places. One day.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gambling on New Orleans

Christmas in New Orleans.

Dan told me that we could plan our New Orleans wedding in two weekends over the internet, no problem.

I said We had to see the venues in person.

We had this conversation a few times. I was always right. Dan kept trying to be right, but he never was.

My freelance work assignment was coming to an end mid-December, and so I decided to book a trip to New Orleans the week before Christmas to check out venues in person. Since Dan is already taking a week off to go to California for the holidays, he couldn't come, so I recruited my mom, who is retired and can take trips with her daughter when she wants. Plus she brings major bonus points to the table: She's a major slot-machine queen in Atlantic City and so she scored us a free hotel room at Harrah's. We even got upgraded to a suite. New Orleans? 70-degree December weather? Gambling? For Dan, this means instant jealousy. I was definitely right about this one.

While my mom can take trips with her daughter when she wants, she really doesn't. Besides for our crazy Polish road trip to Kazimeirz Dolny, we've never gone together anywhere just the two of us. My mom always has Ted at her side. She is not really a traveler. She prefers home cooked meals to restaurant dining. When she does go anywhere, she goes to Atlantic City, and she eats at the buffet at the Showboat Hotel (because it's comped for big rollers, holler!)

Mom and I left a Continental flight from Newark this morning (btw: they charged $15 per checked bag AND they don't give you envelopes for tickets anymore--what???). Like a good
Polish mom, she packed us a sandwich for the trip in case of starvation. Actually she packed us two turkey and cheese sandwiches, a tall tin of Pringles, two bananas, a ziplock bag filled with grapes, a giant bag of peanut M&Ms and a giant bag of Werther's Originals. For a three hour plane ride.

I made big plans for this trip. This past month, I have been doing tons of research and have already learned a lot about New Orleans, particularly event venues and Catholic churches and restaurants and neighborhoods. I even mapped out an itinerary. It's typed.

Today was the only day I didn't plan. I figured we would spend the day walking to some of the churches nearby the hotel. But that plan got foiled after we walked for ten minutes to the first church (which was locked), and my mom was so tired and out of breath she looked like she was going to pass out. Alarmed by my mom's lack of fitness, I decided we should head back to the hotel (she agreed), where I promptly lost my mom to the casino. We did meet up briefly for the buffet at Harrah's. Mom was too tired to venture into the French Quarter to check out the yummy-looking restaurant I wanted to go or eat beignets at Cafe du Monde.

New Orleans is not the kind of place you should be walking alone at night, so I passed the evening playing some slots...I don't really like gambling, or any kind of game for that matter. I won about $60, lost about $45 and stopped when my eyes starting hurting and it wasn't fun anymore.

When I was around 10 years old, my mom, Ted and I went to Las Vegas. As they played, I remember being sequestered in the children's room, where I had to watch boring movies and play games that I didn't want to play (didn't like games then either.) I have a memory of my mom trying to leave me in the corner of the casino floor until she got scolded by the guard. Twenty years later, I sit in my hotel room alone, I see the playground of New Orleans outside my window. Cajun food, beignets a'calling. Today was all about Mom. I don't blame her, she doesn't get out much. But tomorrow will be all about the itinerary. And we'll be driving everywhere from here on out.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Grossed out

My family used to have a cat named Rocky. He was an outdoor cat, and for a while, he went through this phase where he would capture and kill mice and leave their remains on our backyard porch. A particularly memorable time, he once left a mouse head right at our front door. It was pretty gross, but gross in that way where it's okay because it's our cat, and it's outside, and I didn't have to clean it up. The mouse head looked pretty funny.

Living in New York, sometimes you are privy to some pretty gross things. My first apartment had the occasional roach or mouse, and I think what made it so gross was that these creatures were uninvited, they were inside AND I had to try to catch them and clean them up. Plus, they always appeared to come from my closet which made me feel partly responsible. Dan and I did not have much of a problem in our West Side apartment, though I do remember an incident where there was a giant water bug that walked along the wall around the circumference of our apartment (the apartment being so small that I could watch its every move, and it took him walking around the whole room for me to get the courage to grab the thing with a paper towel, throw it outside, and then go into my bedroom, lie in fetal position, shake and whimper until I calmed down.)

Though none of these incidents can match the horror of watching a giant rat on the subway platform drag a McDonald's paper bag while I was waiting for a train.

Last night, I came home from work, plopped on my couch, watched some tv, read through the current issue of US Weekly and slowly started to fall asleep. Dan woke me up when he opened the door, and after he greeted me and teased me for sleeping, he suddenly said, "Why is there a dead mouse on the ottoman?"

Literally, 12 inches from my head lay a dead, grey, bloated mouse--not on the floor--but ON TOP OF THE OTTOMAN. And the idea that this thing must have been there the entire time as I watched and read and slept chilled me to the bone.

My shaking and wailing started and so Dan told me to look away so he could think of what to do next. He actually said that. He finally thought it was wise to pick up the mouse and dispose of it somehow (I think he put it in a bag and threw it in the garbage chute in the hallway, but I can't be sure because I was too traumatized to watch). I made Dan look inside the storage component in the ottoman to ensure there wasn't a graveyard of mice in there. There weren't.

Dan immediately decided that someone was trying to mess with us. That the mouse was deliberately planted by some unknown hater who somehow had access to our apartment. How else would a mouse get there? I talked him out of it and we decided that the mouse must have come from the walls or pipes and might have eaten some poison along the way which is why he died while walking on our ottoman.

I shudder to think of mice walking on anything of mine.

Dan said that we should have taken a picture for the blog, but there is no need. The morning after, that vision of little dead mouse still haunts me. I keep looking for his friends, hoping that I will never find them.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Blue Christmas

Today I was thinking about how I haven't been writing too much in the blog lately, and maybe it should come to a close at the end of the year. For a moment, I felt a sense of relief, a calm, a voice that said yes, "that feels right."

But immediately a panic set in. A panic that said, "Yvonne, you love writing in your blog. You want to stop the blog? What's wrong with you?"

And I knew. Something I've been knowing for a while. I'm depressed. Again.

I've stopped running.
I've stopped going to the gym.
I haven't been cooking much lately.
I am secretly glad my photography class ends in a week so I don't have to force myself to take pictures.
I don't feel like eating because everything tastes dull (except sweets, which I have been indulging in constantly).
I've stopped eating vegetables regularly.
I have trouble going to sleep at night.
I have trouble waking up in the morning.
I don't want to go outside.
And now, I am thinking of stopping the blog.


I have struggled with depression for most of my life. But I am a totally functioning depressive. Call me "in the closet," if you will. I can get up in the morning. I can work. I can socialize. I don't have suicidal thoughts. I can laugh. I can be very successful. It just kind of feels like I have a veil covering my whole existence and seeing life through this veil, everything appears really bland and gray and boring and muted. I don't really get excited about anything. Going through life with a veil on top of you makes easy tasks hard and frustrating. Things feel impossible. I haven't felt this way in a really long time. Since pre-Europe, so now that it's back, I am depressed about being depressed again. I thought I was over this.

I don't really like to talk about this aspect of my life because it worries the heck out my mom and I'm embarrassed that a person like me, someone who has a good home, a supportive fiance, friends and family, a good career and life, would be selfish enough to somehow feel it wasn't enough and be in a bad mood all the time. Conversations like this are better suited for a therapist's couch than a blog.

That said, if there was anything that got me excited these days, it would be Dan and my wedding. With families on opposite coasts and New York City being the single most expensive place to have a wedding, we have decided to get married in our new favorite American city--the place where we got engaged--New Orleans. My mom and I will be heading there in a week to pick a church and a venue and finally set a date. With all the free time on my hands--not doing the stuff I used to do--I have been spending my days researching places, scouting wedding blogs and getting to know the city of New Orleans better--and this is a very nice distraction. I don't want to be one of those girls who are obsessed with their wedding, but living in a state of disinterest with everything in my life, I am happy to embrace at least something that does have some color and lights me up inside.

So please forgive me if I don't write as much or I write sad entries like this one. Don't think that I am giving up on myself (or the blog for that matter) or I spend my days crying into a pillow (I haven't cried since Election Day). It's just me at this moment right now, trying to be really honest about how I feel instead of hiding it like I have done in the past. I will figure it out and pull it all together. I have done it before. And I am going to New Orleans in a week with my mom. How cool is that? Maybe that's just the pick-me-up I need.