Thursday, September 30, 2010

My European Birthday

So if you think planning a one-day surprise birthday fest is pretty impressive, consider this: For my upcoming 32nd birthday, Dan told me "Don't make any plans between September 28 and October 5." That's right, I had been asked to block off EIGHT DAYS to celebrate my birthday. I had no idea what he was planning, but Dan assured me it would be the best birthday ever. Better than his birthday was. Because it's a competition.

Tuesday at 7 in the morning (some people just can't wait), I was presented with a handmade book called "Yvonne's "New Eur-k City" Travel Guide: How to See Europe in Eight Days, without Leaving New York."

On the cover is a picture of me, taken three years ago, in Budapest. Inside, I found my travel itinerary which is basically a Polish Ham redux. For the next eight days, we will be "traveling" to Germany, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Belgium, all within the confines of New York City. The last day of our trip is my birthday.

The guide has a page for each day, which includes the country we're going to, a meeting place/time and snippets from the Polish Ham blog that offered hints of what was to come. Dan was right, this WAS going to be the best birthday ever.

Here's how the trip is going so far:

Day 1: Germany
The guide told me to meet Dan downtown in Soho to "learn more about how the Germans live." We ended up going to a lecture at the Goethe Institut featuring journalist Hendrik Hertzberg and author Thomas Geoghegan discussing his book "Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?" which makes a case on why America should borrow the German government/economic model to run our country. It was some pretty intellectual stuff, which felt very German to me.

Afterwards, we headed to Zum Schneider, a German bar and restaurant, where they were celebrating Oktober Fest. It was a festive and rowdy scene, so we thought to call up Adam and Nell who live in the neighborhood, and they stopped by for a drink. We listened to German folk music (which included some of the worst public yodeling I have ever heard), raised our glasses to German toasts and ate some delectable German fare (My meal--a bratwurst sandwich and potato pancakes--was divine). Of course, I sipped my German wine while everyone else downed their beers.

Being smart. German smart.

Beer guzzling.

Bratwurst. Delish.

The band rocks.

Day 2, Germany and Austria
We started the evening at a small gallery to see the EYE'EM photo exhibit, which originated in Berlin, showcasing photographs taken by iPhones. It's very impressive how gorgeous and professional some of these pictures looked. For dinner, we went to Austria AKA the Lower East Side to a very quaint cafe called Cafe Katja. The hip and design-savvy neighborhood did remind me of Vienna. The restaurant was small, dark and charming, and the waitresses were legit Euros. We split the most delicious pretzel I ever had in New York City, and I had beef goulash and spatzle, while Dan had a sausage stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon. Apple cake happily ended the night.

Getting some photo inspiration.

One of my new favorite NYC restaurants.

Day 3, Vienna
The guide book told me: "You have been traveling a lot - and you have a lot left. Tonight, take it easy at home." As a clue, the page showed a giant picture of Manner chocolates, an Austrian specialty.

So that is what we did. We took it easy at home. I cooked a vegetarian dinner, and we ate Manner chocolates for dessert (yes, you can get anything in NYC). I told Dan it was like a quiet night at the hostel. A night to rest and catch up on the Ham.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dan Day of Fun

For Dan's 31st birthday, I planned an entire Saturday full of surprises.

We had donuts for breakfast...

A Skype chat with Brett Jackson (who woke up at 7:30am Pacific Time to make the call...thanks BJ)...

Lunch at Japanese fast food restaurant Go! Go! Curry! which is also a shrine to former Yankee (and my favorite baseball player) Hideki Matsui...

Tickets to see Broadway's "musical of the season:" Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

A kayaking tour on the Hudson River...(yes, I told Dan to pack a change of clothes!)

The Birthday Boy and me.

Birthday present shopping at where else....a record store. Dan selected Rotary Connection's Christmas album.

We met up with Kayleen, Julien, Jason, Justin, Kim and Nien at The Magician for a drink and some jukebox plays, and then had a late dinner (and birthday cake!) at Supper.

The end of the night.

Oh yes, there were personalized Dan birthday hats.

Collect all four.

The verdict: I think Dan enjoyed his day of fun but I learned something about him. My man doesn't like surprises. He spent most of the day trying to figure out what we were doing and getting stressed out about it. I think his favorite part of the day was dinner at the end because I told him it was the last surprise and then he could finally relax!

Pie glorious pie

Even though it only opened in April, I feel like I have been wanting to go to Four & Twenty Blackbirds, a Brooklyn pie shop since forever. I am not even a big pie person (though I am coming around). I like the clever name, and there is something intriguing about a pie shop based on a seasonal menu. I first heard about it in one of the blogs I read (maybe it was also New York magazine(?), and then this month, I saw that the shop was featured in both Martha Stewart Living and Bon Appetit. Meaning: these people must have the best PR agency in town or they are extremely well-connected or these pies are just that good.

I visited Heather and Drake on Friday and being that they love adventure and they love to walk (well, Heather, anyway. Drake is too busy crawling all over the place), we decided to take the stroller and walk from Brooklyn Heights to the "destination-worthy shop in the up-and-coming Gowanus neighborhood," according to Bon Appetit.

"It's only two miles!" Heather said. She had to look it up on a map because we both had no idea where Gowanus is. It was a beautiful, sticky hot Indian summer day, so it seemed like the perfect day for a long walk.

We only walked on one street in Gowanus (and it is possible there is a whole Gowanus world out there that I am ignorant of), so after that experience, I am curious about Bon Appetit's criteria of an "up-and-coming" neighborhood.

Is it the warehouses?

The lovely car wash?

The boarded up buildings?

"Guys what are we doing here?"

I guess in order to be an up-and-coming neighborhood, you just have to have a neat pie shop. Inside this building was a warp zone of cool people who perhaps were a bit miffed at our baby and Bugaboo stroller invading their whole hipster turf.

We tried the salted caramel apple pie, which was a really good apple pie but disappointingly, not very caramel-ey or salty as one would hope with such a name. The fruit melted in your mouth and the crust was fresh and fantastic.

Heather suggested we try the Buttermilk Chess, which I preferred over the apple pie. It had a unique sweet and tangy flavor. I think this just might be one of the next types of pies I make. It was that inspiring.

We headed back to Brooklyn Heights where Heather showed me the most beautiful, can't-believe-people-actually-live here brownstones with enormous backyards.

We walked to the recently opened Brooklyn Bridge Park that Drake seemed to like a lot more than the pie shop.

The light was so pretty that Drake me take a few pictures of him, while he discovered that he can twist his tongue.

Kisses and tongue twisting!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hog Wild

As you know, I like me some pork. So I was super excited when the poker people agreed to get together for a special pig feast at Daniel Boulud's DBGB Kitchen and Bar.

Here's how it works. The restaurant serves one pig a day, and it takes them three days to apple smoke and roast the pig just right, so you have to make a reservation in advance AND you have to have at least eight people in your party. We did both.

Here comes dinner!

This was no ordinary pig. It was basically a pig stuffed with homemade sausage...made out of pig parts. This came with swiss-chard gruyere potato gratin (my fave), red and white sauerkraut, truffled corn-on-the-cob. Oh, and did I mention that the meal started with head cheese and ended with a giant baked Alaska? It was good stuff. So good that Dan ate three servings (approximately 26 ounces of PORK PRODUCT), which entertained the entire table (and our waiter) for the whole evening. It was even more entertaining than having Daniel Boulud, the famous chef himself, stop by to say hello. Dan ate so much, he wasn't hungry for the rest of the weekend. Shoulder pain? Let's talk body pain.

Baked Alaska.

To recuperate, we shopped for two days straight. We went to the malls of New Jersey and the famous designer outlets at Woodbury Commons. Due to unemployment, it feels like I haven't bought myself winter clothes in years, and so I bought a bunch of cute stuff. Dan got some things too including a new stylish skinny suit! He wore it on Monday to work, and he looked so handsome.

Dan celebrated his 31st birthday on Tuesday, so I made him a yummy dinner of lasagna with turkey sausage, garlic bread, salad and of course, a birthday cake. Dan had the following requests: He wanted chocolate and he didn't want it to be too big like last year. I decided to make a chocolate cake with praline topping.

Let me tell you, it's kind of hard to pour the batter with one hand and take a crisp, well-composed picture with the other. One day I will get a tripod.

After the cake baked and cooled, I spread it with a thick layer of chocolate ganache.

I made fresh pralines on the stove top and poured it over the cake. For some reason the cake did not rise very well. Dan wanted a little cake, so that's what he got. It was big on flavor, natch.

Birthday dinner's on the table!

Happy Birthday Dan! My wish to you is a year of happiness (AKA you win the baseball fantasy tournament next year).

Dan ate three servings of dinner and cake.

P.S. This was just an appetizer. We're celebrating Dan's birthday on Saturday with a full-day of secret surprises! What's happening? Not telling!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cool Stories

Too Cool for School
I am not usually one to be hip, so it comes to some surprise that I managed to go to
Eataly market within weeks of opening. For everyone outside of New York City, Eataly is a brand new, much-hyped Italian gourmet food market opened by mega chefs Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich in the Flatiron district. Inside this giant space (for New York standards, especially) is a pavilion dedicated to all things Italian food, including a shopping area for Italian produce, cookbooks and cookware; cheese, bread, fish and butcher counters; and mini eateries divided into specialities such as pasta and pizza, salami and cheese, vegetarian, seafood, desserts, coffee and gelato. It sounds like my kind of place, but you know how it goes. Everything that is remotely interesting and new in New York is also a madhouse, so I didn't expect to stop by anytime soon.

That is until my friend Annie recommended that we go there for dinner on Wednesday night, and of course I said yes. We met up there at 6 and by then the pizza/pasta eatery already had a 45 minute wait, so we decided to do seafood, which had zero wait plus we got to sit at the counter and watch the chefs. Thank goodness I was with Annie who is always full of great stories and laughs because watching a fish chef is kind of boring. For the entire time, this very pleasant dude with tattooed arms sprinkled salt and pepper on fish, moved fish from one oven to another and sliced potatoes into thin slivers on a mandolin, and that's about it.

The dude salted my meal quite nicely though. (By the way, there were fried sardines in this dish which were surprisingly delicious despite the gross factor of eating little fish with eyeballs. Who knew?) By the time we were done with dinner, the waiting line for the seafood restaurant was 20 people deep.

Annie and I admired the brussels sprouts on stem and wondered who would actually shop for produce in this crazy, busy place?

We stopped at the coffee bar for dessert. I got this hazelnut chocolate-y thing which looked amazing but was kind of bland. Wish I went for the gelato.

The verdict: All in all...interesting place. Food is decent but not life changing. Probably more a tourist attraction more than anything else. Unless you really feel like buying a giant $62 Italian chocolate bar. So no need to go again anytime soon.

Losing My Cool

Yesterday I got really mad. I don't want to go into details but basically someone who I was trying to help acted unfairly to me and I almost lost my cool. I rarely get this angry. But when this person was speaking to me, I could actually feel my blood getting hotter and rising, from my toes to my head, just like a cartoon character. I think I must have been bright red because I felt like my head was going to explode. I wanted to defend myself but I couldn't think straight and the only words whirling through my head were obscenities. So I just nodded and told the person what she wanted to hear, which was Okay. Sure. You're right. Whatever.

When I came home, there was a thunderstorm that complemented my mood. The storm seemed to come and go fast, but I was having a hard time shaking it off.

I later learned that there were tornado-like conditions in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, with lots of damage to those areas, so things could always be worse. I am happy it's the weekend.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Easy Breezy but Busy Weekend

This weekend, Dan and I watched three movies at home: Being There (loved), Bruno (eh) and Crooklyn (enjoyable)--thanks to streaming Netflix. I also started catching up on the new season of Mad Men (never disappoints)

I did the Fitness Magazine 4-mile race and ran a PR (which, if you are not a runner, means my personal best time at that mileage). I have "sort of" been training for it the last two months and I ran it in 37:04 which knocked THREE WHOLE MINUTES off my old best time which was set in 2003. That means I am still a slow runner. But a faster slow runner. I am proud of myself.

Flaunting my guns.

Gap was having a sale so I bought a few pairs of jeans which were badly needed because the two pairs of jeans I own are still majorly baggy after I lost weight for the wedding. I must say that it felt good that my jeans are still loose three months later, so I didn't mind making the new purchases. I also didn't feel an ounce of guilt walking into City Bakery for a mid-shopping snack because they have one of the best chocolate chip cookies in town.


I listened to Dan talk about fantasy baseball this weekend more than was necessary. However, the end is near and so let the man speak if he wants to.

I did some work.

Inspired by Deb at SmittenKitchen, I plunked down 6 bucks for a basket of concord grapes at the Union Square Farmer's Market. She mentioned in her blog that she had never tasted them before last week and it was life-changing. When I saw them at the market, I realized that I never had them before either and was curious. She's right. They are wonderful....they taste like grape bubble gum you can swallow. They have a billion seeds in them, but it doesn't matter. It's worth the work. I considered making her grape focaccia recipe but I realized it would take a very looooong time, so I decided to make some plum cake instead. I was looking for something without too much sugar that would be delicious with my mid-morning cup of tea. It's not amazing, but it hits the spot. Here is my SmittenKitchen inspired photo shoot:

Dan trying to get in on the fun.