Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Mexican Feast

We invited our friends Adam and Nell for dinner, and I decided to go all out. Since I had the time and inspiration today, I decided to cook a Mexican Feast. I started preparations at 10 am this morning for our 7 pm dinner. There was time off for a shower, grocery shopping, internet browsing and a half-hour nap, but otherwise, it was pretty labor intensive. Not hard. Just time consuming. I got most of the menu from the June 2009 issue of Bon Appetit.

The Mexican Feast Menu:
Rose sangria with pineapple and guava
This was a nice twist on sangria because it was made with a rose wine base. Dan and I have been obsessed with rose lately so it fit right in. It was very tropical and spiced with cinnamon which gave it a nice kick. We spiked ours with a little rum. I wouldn't be surprised if I wake up with a headache tomorrow...but so worth it.

Chile corn custard squares
Little corn squares topped with cheese, sour cream and salsa. Yum, yum, yum. My favorite part of the meal.

Mexican seafood sautee with avocado-mango salsa
The seafood sautee was made with shrimp and scallops drenched in tequila and lime. It was my first time making scallops ever. Very easy. Looking at this recipe now made me realize I forgot an ingredient. Oh well, no one noticed. Everyone seemed to like the salsa.

Rice with summer squash, red peppers, and roasted pepitas
The weakest link of the bunch. Not bad, not wonderful.

Spicy black beans with chorizo and chipotle cream
My second favorite part of the dinner. I think that everything tastes better when there's sausage involved. I usually buy beans in a can but decided to make these from scratch (another first for me). It was worth it. I would definitely make these again.

S'mores cookies (from the July/August 2009 issue of Everyday Food):
Cool idea: Cookies that replicate s'mores: cinnamon cookie, chocolate and marshmallow. The scary part was that I had to use the broiler to brown the marshmallow. I hate the broiler. I avoid the broiler. I am terrified of the broiler. No matter what it always make the fire alarm go off. I took the risk because the cookies only had to go in there for a minute and everything went fine. Dan said the cookies were too dry but I saw him eat like five of them. They did taste better right out of the oven.

The feast was a complete success and everyone left feeling full and (a little) drunk.

I was planning to take pictures of the entire Mexican feast and all the elements, including our guests, but then I forgot. Here's the only pitiful pictures I have:

The sangria.

Black beans.

S'mores cookies.

I think I will sleep well tonight! Well-worked and well-fed.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Me on the trail.

Before moving to New York City, before the days of Dan, I used to hike. I have a book called 50 Hikes in New Jersey, and at one time, it was my goal to do all of them. At last count, I have already done 18.

I don't really hike anymore, mostly because it's inconvenient from where I live and I have a companion who doesn't express interest in the outdoors, but it's something that I really like to do. Walking in the woods is a great escape from everyday life. To me, it makes everything feel so simple. It focuses my mind and forces me to appreciate the beauty around me.

I am not an outdoorsy person at all, but I've always felt like I could be if I surrounded myself with people who were and knew what they were doing. When I was in college, I took a backpacking course, and my class took a weekend trip to the Adirondacks. We arrived in the evening and had to canoe across the giant lake in the dark to get to our camp site. It's something I would never have attempted to do alone, yet it was one of the best moments of my life. The silent and still water, the moonlight reflecting on the water, it was magical. I will never forget it. I read the book A Walk in the Woods, about hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. While the author of the book was unsuccessful and does not paint a rosy picture of the experience, if someone I knew and liked asked me to do that with them, I totally would, but it's not something I would seek out myself.

This weekend, while I was in New Jersey to visit my mom and buy my wedding dress, I decided to go on a first-time-in-a-long-time hike in Jockey Hollow. Jockey Hollow is a park close to my hometown, but it's also a historic place because it's where George Washington and his troops camped one winter during the Revolutionary War. This fact usually makes one line in the history books, but it's a big deal around here. I have done this easy 4-mile hike several times and it's so quiet and untouched that each time I do it I can't help but picture the soldiers who lived here.

The hike happened to fall on the 11th anniversary of my grandma's death so I spent most of the walk thinking of her, mostly imagining what it would be like if she came to my New Orleans wedding in May. When she was alive, grandma lived with us and almost never left the house (a trip to Bradlees was a really treat in her life) so the idea of her traveling all the way to Louisiana takes some imagination. Yet, I could see her sitting on a bench in Jackson Square, holding her cane, people watching. She would have loved it. It was pleasant to remember her in this way.

I came across a lot of wild raspberries on the trail. I recently read The Omnivore's Dilemma and there is a passage about how Western cultures are uncomfortable with eating food in the woods, like mushrooms, while people in Eastern Europe are more educated about choosing the right kind of wild produce and see nothing wrong with it. This is totally true because I am totally freaked out by it, yet when I went to Poland, they were obsessed with gathering wild mushrooms in the woods for their soups.

Normally I would never eat anything I found in the woods. However, once I went on a bike ride with my brother Pete, who I guess bridges the line between cultures, and he picked and ate wild raspberries on the side of the road, and he encouraged me to do the same. So on this hike, I decided to eat some too. They were sour and tangy but very refreshing in the heat. I didn't fall down and die as one would expect.

I noticed so many raspberries on the trail that I guessed that none of my other Westerners were taking part of the feast.
Then, on the way out of the park, I saw a group of men and women standing in some bushes. They were picking raspberries. I didn't have to listen, I could just tell. They were speaking Polish.

Wild raspberries everywhere.

A replica of a soldier's hut during the Revolutionary War.

Tree that fell over with all its crazy roots.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I own a wedding dress...

...and it's awesome! I don't want to give too much away, but I bought a beautiful white dress, and it's totally ME. I absolutely love it.

Before I got engaged, I never gave much thought to my wedding or what my dress would look like. So I was surprised how emotional the whole experience was. I mean, this is probably the most expensive outfit I will ever wear, the dress that will be memorialized in photographs for the rest of my life. You just want to make the right decision. It's kind of like dating. Don't laugh, but I felt like finding the right dress was akin to finding the right man.

Since I don't want to reveal my wedding dress until the big day, I thought I would share with you the other dresses I "dated" before choosing "the one."

1. Love at First Sight.
This Melissa Sweet "Felice" was the first dress I tried on and from the moment it touched my skin, I fell madly, furiously in love with it. This dress had everything I wanted: the simplicity, the lightness, the romance, the sweetness, the pink sash, it was not strapless. I mean, check out this jaw-dropping gorgeous back:

Sorry this picture is so small. You might need to go to the video for a better view. Feel free to watch it dozens of times. I know I did. I couldn't sleep at night, I was thinking about this dress.

Did you ever hear one of those stories where someone falls head over heels with someone and when he/she introduces the person to their friends and family, no one else gets it? Well, that's what happened with this dress.

I tried it on for my mom, my palms sweaty, my stomach overflowing with butterflies, and awaited her reaction. The back was pretty, she admitted, but the front with its ruffles, she said, looked horribly homemade and made me look childish and flat chested.

"But don't I look good?" I asked. She shrugged. Ouch!

My feelings were hurt, but I was still convinced this was the dress for me until the third time I tried it on. That's when I noticed that the saleswoman had to adjust the train of the dress with every step I took to make it look right. The idea of having an entourage following me around all day to fix my train made me uneasy. Then she showed me how I would have to bustle it during the reception so no one would trip on the dress. It completely distorted the back of the dress (the best part), which meant for half of my wedding, my dress wouldn't look the way I wanted it. Then I noticed myself in the mirror from across the room and with painful realization discovered that the front of the dress looked rather plain from afar. That was the moment I knew it was over.

Like every first romance, I will always love this dress. But I was ready to move on to better things.

2. Mr. Perfect

My mom set me up with this Judd Waddell dress. She's the one who found it at Kleinfeld's. Me, I would have never pulled it from the rack. When I put it on, it was obvious: This dress liked me. I mean, really, really liked me. The sweetheart neckline made me suddenly voluptuous, my waist became impossibly skinny, my butt curvy in a good way. The train could be adjusted so there would be no awkward bustling.

"This dress is made for you," said my mom, with approval. The dress shot straight to the top of her list.

She was right. The dress was perfect. There was absolutely nothing wrong with this dress. And yet when I looked in the mirror, my heart never went pitter-patter. I felt no emotion. Zero chemistry.

3. Opposites Attract.
This Pronovias dress is so not my type. Look at all that fabric, that crazy ruffled neckline, the drama! This dress was nothing that I wanted, yet when I put it on, I was completely dazzled. When I saw the price, it was so incredibly affordable (well, in comparison to the other dresses), it was hard to resist. Ultimately, we were too different to make it work.

4. The One Night Stand.
I liked this Matthew Christopher dress when I saw it in an ad but I knew it wasn't what I was looking for. But when I saw it in the store, I decided to try it on anyway. The girls in the store dubbed it "the popcorn dress" because of all the tiny bows stitched throughout. It looked pretty on me, but it was all wrong. The fabric was so lush and thick, perfect for a winter wedding, not 90 degree New Orleans heat. Plus it was so formal, fitting for a black tie affair, not the relaxed party we're after. Still, it was one of my favorite dresses to try on and it was fun to entertain the idea--even though I knew I would never see this dress ever again.

5. The One that Got Away.
When you go dress shopping, it is recommended that you bring in pictures of the kind of dress you are looking for. This is the dress I showed everyone. This was my original vision of my wedding dress. At every store we went to, the sales women would nod in understanding when I showed them this picture and then bring me back strapless dresses to try on that looked nothing like this.

They apparently don't make wedding dresses that look like this. The dress manufacturer of this dress in the picture stopped making it. I looked online and found some that were either way out of my price range or homemade. Some places had a few dresses that were similar shape but they made me look frumpy. I could have gotten this dress custom made but I was afraid of getting a dress that I've never tried on. The dress I ultimately chose looks nothing like this--or any of the contenders really. I am happy with my decision but I can't help wonder if things would be different if this dress and I ever met in person.

Though to be honest, I am not too worried about it. I am really happy with the way things turned out. I have got the perfect man and now the perfect dress. No more dating! Yay!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Day at the Park

Kim and me in Central Park.

One of the advantages of living on the Upper East Side is the close proximity to Central Park. Unfortunately, I live with someone, a so-called California boy, who dislikes the outdoors. When the sun is shining and the sky is blue, I could think of nothing better than sitting outside, grass massaging my feet, breeze in my hair, hands holding a good book. Dan does not feel the same way.

"It's boring to go to the park with you," I have been told.

This means we never go to the park together. Maybe once a year. I try to tempt him with a game of catch, but it never works.

"The park is too far away." It's a 15 minute walk.

No matter how much coaxing, begging and bribing, I can't get him to come with me. But when Dan's poker buddies invite us to the Park on Saturday, suddenly it's cool. Go figure.

We started the day by going to a Yelp-hosted bake-off in the park run by one of Kim's friends. I was planning to make red velvet cupcakes, but Dan insisted I bake chocolate surprise cookies instead. The chocolate competition was weak, and I was totally robbed of the best chocolate dessert prize. I did take home the "popular vote" category by a landslide (mostly, I think, because everyone in our group voted for me multiple times). Kim won the category for "non-chocolate dessert" with her oatmeal raisin cookies.

After indulging in way too many sweets, we went to the Great Lawn where we sat for hours. Ah, this is my kind of Saturday afternoon. The boys took off their shirts and threw Frisbees and baseballs, and the girls mostly sat and chatted on the blanket. There were some crazy yoga position demonstrations courtesy of Kayleen and Julien, but otherwise it was a very chill afternoon.

"See how the park is fun?" I said to Dan. I saw it with my own eyes that he was having fun. He explained, the park is fun when we're with other people but it's not fun when it's just me and him. Oh.

Julien and Kayleen.


We went out to dinner at a Turkish place (yum) and then ended the night playing Rock Band. Dan and I are strongly considering investing in the Beatles version. Now that would be fun. Even Dan thinks so.

Friday, July 17, 2009

"ello, Gov'na!"

Perhaps I should be blogging more, but believe me, nothing is happening. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. If you don't believe me, stop by my apartment any day of the week and you will witness me and nothing. Sad but true.

So compared to my daily routine, today was been extraordinarily delightful because A) I got out of my apartment B) I left the Upper East Side and C) I had some much needed human interaction by spending the day with my friend Heather.

After an Italian "breakfast" at Rocco's (if you count breakfast as being a freshly filled cannoli), we took the ferry over to Governors Island which has suddenly become the cool excursion from New York City. It might have been helpful to read up on the Island before we got there. We might have had a better idea of things to do, places to see. But when Heather and I get together, we tend to just talk, talk, talk and somehow the setting seems insignificant. So it didn't really matter that we didn't know what we were doing.

I am unsure I understand the appeal of the Island. You can rent a bike and ride around, but the line was so long that we opted to wander by foot. The island used to be a military base. It is filled with abandoned houses and barracks, so it resembles a strange, modern-day ghost town. A few art galleries fill the empty spaces but mostly everything is empty. There is a lot of grass and nice spaces to picnic and lounge around. Some areas are complete eyesores, yet the views of downtown Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty are lovely. There is a little makeshift beach with a bar, but otherwise, there is relatively little to do. I wish we had stumbled upon the mini-golf course. Instead, we found the Picnic Point where we hovered by the coveted hammocks until someone left. We laid down together and chatted only to be periodically interrupted by the eerie, communist-style brainwashing music that piped over the loudspeaker. I am still unsure what that was all about.

Relaxing on one of the red lawn chairs found throughout Governors Island.
[Picture by Heather]

Heather, me and the downtown Manhattan skyline.

There were lots of hydrangea bushes.
[Picture by Heather]

Would you believe Heather is five months pregnant? I hope I look that good when I am pregnant. "You will," Heather reassured me with much confidence. That's why we're friends.

We considered buying one of these abandoned houses since they were much nicer than our current apartments. I thought a vanity would work quite well in this little nook of the master bedroom.
[Picture by Heather]

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. This is the life. Hammocks and high water maternity jeans.
[Picture by Heather]

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ice cream makes everything better.

Dan and I have the worst luck when it comes to dining out.

We are unsure why, but it never fails that the two of us will walk into a restaurant only be seated in the worst possible seat. I am talking the table next to the kitchen door, the table cramped in the corner, the table no one would possibly want, the table they use to hide or abuse patrons they don't care for. To make matters worse, when this happens, there are typically plenty of other desirable tables to choose from, which makes Dan and I wonder, what's wrong with us?

"Are they afraid of my height?" Dan asked.

Last night for dinner, I selected an Italian restaurant in the neighborhood on Menupages, but upon arrival, we discovered that it was out of business and replaced by an Argentine place. We love a good steak, so we figured, what the heck? As we walked in, we saw a bar at the entrance and two dining areas, one off to the side that was filled with people and one in the back that was completely dead and empty. Can you guess where the hostess escorted us?

As we sat down, we discovered that the place only took cash or Amex, so we got up and told the hostess that we would be right back with some cash. When we came back, we saw that the people-filled area of the restaurant had quite a few empty tables. When we asked to sit there instead, the hostess looked Dan up and down and replied, hesitantly, "okay."

We sat down and wondered what was the problem? We were dressed similarly to the patrons around us. We couldn't figure it out. The rest of the dining experience was equally uninspiring. We had to re-ask for our drinks, the service was slow and glum, and the meat was chewy and unappetizing.

To vindicate this terrible dining experience, we stopped for ice cream on the way home at Emack & Bolio's. On a regular day, we usually get one scoop on a sugar cone. But since we were so bummed out about dinner, we decided to splurge on a large cone encrusted with chocolate, marshmallow and Coco Puffs cereal. The guy behind the counter encouraged us to get 2 scoops of ice cream since we were sharing. It was more than we bargained for. After a few bites, we were pretty satisfied, but we had a long way until the finish.

Don't worry, we ate the whole thing anyway.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Twelve Hours Waiting for Twelfth Night

Seeing Shakespeare in the Park last year was not only one of the highlights of my summer but of all of my theater-going experiences. It was that good. I was super excited to learn that this summer, they were performing Twelfth Night with the always lovely Anne Hathaway.

Given the horrible June weather (it's an outdoor theater) and our schedules, I waited until the last week to get tickets. All tickets are free and handed out the day of the performance at 1 pm, which means you have to get there hours early and wait in line. I am not working now, I have got the time, and I really wanted to see the show so that didn't really bother me.

On Wednesday, I arrived at the theater at 6:20AM to find a massive herd of people. Last year, for Hair, I showed up around 8:00AM, and I remember feeling stunned to see about 100 people already there. This year, I arrived an hour and a half earlier than that and there are probably more like 500 people there. By the time I reached the end of the line, I was practically sitting in the reservoir (maybe about a half a mile away from the theater). I knew I was doomed, but I planted my seat down, listening to the frantic chatter of all the people around me in disbelief of this scene, until a few hours later, the theater staff member came by and announced that based on my position in line, I had a 1% chance of getting tickets. So I went home.

Friday (today), I was going to be hardcore. Alarm set at 4:00AM. Clothes laid out. Book bag packed. I was out the door in 15 minutes. It was pitch black with a big moon as I walked to the park, only a handful of apartments on my way had their lights on, the only people on the streets had obviously just vacated a bar. I wasn't even sure if I was even allowed inside the park at this hour of the night, but I walked in anyway. By the time two other theater-goers and I walked to the theater, there was absolutely no one there. Could we possibly be the first in line? My heart fluttered with possibility and happiness until the lights of a police car approached us.

"The line starts at 81st Street and Central Park West until the park opens," the policeman informed us. By the time we walked there and reached the back of the line (which extended five blocks), it was 4:45AM and we were probably 430th in line (I only know that because someone was counting). The people in the very front of the line got there at 9:30PM the previous night!

When the park opened at 6:00AM, and the line snaked inside of the park, I ended up only about 50 feet ahead of my position on Wednesday, and I had arrived an hour and a half earlier! So much for being hardcore. The theater staff told us that it was unlikely we would get tickets but there was a small chance. Everyone surrounding me stuck around, so I did too. It was heartbreaking to see all the people walk by who came hours after us, with excitement in their steps, only to be turned away, again and again. We barely had a shot, they were doomed.

I overheard a staff member mention that you didn't have to wait for tickets in the first few weeks of the show, you could just walk up at 1PM. (The boy next to me in line wearing the argyle sweater made me feel a little better by reminding me that the audience had to wait in line and/or watch many of these performances in the rain. I guess they did not cancel performances due to weather as I assumed).

It sounds like it wouldn't be the case, but the time sitting in the park waiting for tickets goes by really fast. I read a ton, had interesting conversations the livelong Upper Eastsider on my left and argyle sweater boy on my right. Plus it was a beautiful morning and just relaxing to sit in the park, even if it was a bit chilly and I had to wrap myself in a sweatshirt, a puffer and two towels (yes, in July).

Eight hours later, I didn't get the tickets.

As for the cumulative 12 hours of my life wasted on not getting to see Twelfth Night, there could be worse things than that.

Why is it that everything cool in New York has to be such a drag?

The show ends Sunday; I won't be trying for tickets again.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Our movie weekend

I am unsure if this is totally true, but it seemed as though every single one of our friends left New York City this weekend, leaving Dan and me stranded in the city alone. Not that we minded, really. Or felt abandoned. We're not big on the 4th of July travel. Everywhere else is just so crowded and obnoxious except the city which just empties out. It's kind of fun to have this subdued New York City with zero people, zero traffic, zero chaos at your disposal.

Even though the weather was nice (for once this summer), we decided to spend the majority of the weekend inside in a movie theater. There are so many movies that we want to see right now, and since no one was around, we decided that this was the perfect time to watch a few.

This weekend, we saw:

The Hangover: We have been meaning to see this funny comedy about a Las Vegas bachelor party gone wrong for weeks. Of course, the movie made Dan feel sentimental about driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and gambling with his friends, as every movie about Las Vegas always does. We were afraid that with all the rave reviews, this movie wouldn't live up to expectations, but it did.

Whatever Works: I wasn't sure I would like this Woody Allen movie starring Larry David as the "Woody Allen" character, but I found it surprisingly good. Dan LOVED it. Dan, of course, loves everything Larry, especially this gloom-and-doom character he plays who calls the people in his life "inch worms." Evan Rachel Wood, who I never cared for before, was terrific.

Food, Inc.: I have read The Omnivore's Dilemma and Fast Food Nation, and this documentary is a great visual summary of both books. I kind of wish that this movie gets huge, it's message is so important and really unveils how ugly our food industry is. It's absolutely appalling. If you are unable to see this movie or read the books, at least check out the web site that highlights the movie's main issues. SCARY STUFF!

The Gang's All Here: The Film Society of Lincoln Center was hosting a Movie Musical Festival this weekend. I love musicals and I have been trying to get Dan to see a Busby Berkeley musical for a while, so this seemed like a good opportunity to do it. This is my second time seeing this movie, starring Carmen Miranda, with her tutti-frutti hat, and it did not disappoint in its absolute creativity and insanity. If you are unfamiliar, here is the most famous scene from the movie (It makes me very happy!!):