Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How I Escape

I don't think you'll find a single (though I am not the authority on this) blog in which a cook or baker doesn't mention that the only downfall to cooking and baking is that you are subsequently left with a large amount of food. And, unless you have extreme will-power, you end up eating more of it than you'd have liked... followed by feeling gross and complaining about over-eating (as if it's someone else's fault!)... and then we vow off baking for a while... which, if you ask me, is just a bad idea in general!

So how to avoid this evil cycle? Bake for others! Though, an important, crucial really, caveat - only bake when you have a REASON to bake for others... if you make an extra 3 batches of cookies because "you're sure you'll be able to find someone to pawn them off on" - nope, never works... you end up stuck back in the "no will-power, eat more than you like and feel gross, etc" rotation.

This past weekend was an exercise in perfection in finding others to eat what I wanted to bake... Saturday night we celebrated one of our friend's birthdays (albeit early) so Peabody's (actually, Bon Appetit's, but Peabody pointed me in the right direction) Brownie Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting fit the bill. They were unbelievably easy to pull together and even better tasting - I might even use the brownie recipe on its own!

Two comments from the wannabe-baker: I will be sure and liberally add more whipping cream to the frosting next time, though since I did have to transport these, the thicker frosting (as is apparent from the picture) held up very well; and I would skip the cupcake liners and just grease or use cooking spray on your muffin pan so that you get a nice smooth edge on the brownies instead of the rippled edge of the liner.

And Sunday's family gathering was just the opportunity I needed to finally try a recipe I've been eyeing for a while... Pear Croustade with Lemon Pastry and Almonds. We were really pleasantly surprised (me for how easy it was to make and others for how much we loved eating it!); the recipe from Bon Appetit was pretty much right on, though having read some of the online reviews, I think it would be a great idea to substitute about 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour to give it a bit more rustic look and taste. I also think this could easily be made with apples, and I loved the hint of lemon in the crust, not to mention the smell that fills my kitchen after zesting lemon!

I knew my weekend of baking had been a success when I returned home with no cupcakes and a happy cousin asking to keep the last remaining sliver of pear croustade!

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Best Intentions

For the most part, finding new sources of inspiration are a good thing, right? But what about when they are new baking websites/food blogs that focus on all things delicious and beautiful but really, not the least bit healthy. Sometimes, you just can't help it - we all know it's no fun when there's no chocolate (or peanut butter, for that matter) involved.

Even though I decided that I don't have the baking/cooking skills or the camera (or 100% of the desire, truth be told) to enter the food-only blogging business, that hasn't stopped me from reading and drooling over everyone else's. Foodies and their blogs have really influenced the way that I search for recipes these days; (long) gone are the days of searching through cookbooks (okay, that's not entirely true), and (for me personally) even the days of searching in online recipe databases have given way to primarily using a few, reliable, food blogs, with amazing pictures and recipes. I find these even friendlier and easier to use then reader reviews on sites such as allrecipes.com and epicurious.com.

I have long been a reader and admirer of Confabulation in the Kitchen's; not only do I credit her with inspiring me in just about anything creative, but she (and her blogs) have also lead me to two of my new favorites (Peabody and Food Blogga). And so, last night, my journey began - attempting some of the recipes I've been reading about. I won't waste anyone's time telling you about my (somewhat major) mishap I stumbled upon but suffice it to say, once I pulled these Peanut Butter Blondies with White Chocolate and Pecans (originally by the famed Magnolia Bakery in NYC) out of the oven, I was a believer.

I think my only hope in the coming days and months is that I develop some kind of willpower because the only thing I love more than baking is eating.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What Now?

Well, we are homeowners!!! The closing process was reported to be the fastest and cleanest our real estate agent had witnessed, although truth be told, it'd been less than seamless until today. *might warrant a "Lessons Learned from Buying a House" post one of these days

*better pictures

Lucky Chris got to start moving in after he finished signing the papers - and while I will be sure he's putting his "stuff" in the right places, Annabelle and I won't make the new house our home until after the big day in March.

In the meantime, Chris will be doing everything "homeowner" (let the fun begin), and (when time allows) I will be testing out the new gas stove as much as possible... it's my first! Chris thinks I've been more excited to have gas to cook with than the rest of the cute home... he's not entirely right.

One house on the market, one house purchased... one wedding to go!

Monday, October 22, 2007

30 Minus 1

Chris turned almost 30 yesterday - and in honor of the big day, we celebrated with ice cream cupcakes!

*Being the non-coffee enthusiast that Chris is... our version had vanilla bean ice cream instead of coffee and crushed up chocolate-covered toffee candies instead of chocolate-covered coffee beans.

It didn't deter us from chowing down, but these little guys were somewhat tough to dig in to... if anyone figures out how to eat them "nicely" pass along the secret! In the meantime...
Happy 29th, Chris!!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

To the Happy Couple!

It was back to Atlanta yet again this weekend... this time to celebrate the happy wedding of Jay Tienken and Mariah Doppel; I have known Jay for about as long as I can remember so it was a very exciting time getting to see him and his beautiful bride walk down the aisle.

All of our old family friends were in attendance so it also served as second weekend in a row of reunions. It's official: I don't necessarily miss living in Atlanta, per se, but I do often find myself missing "home" and all that comes along with that - old friends, familiar scenes...

As a sidenote, it was another opportunity to get some more wedding planning done, but for now, I am enjoying not thinking about upcoming decisions that need to be made but prefer, instead, to simply think about the culmination of months of Jay and Mariah's planning as we danced the night away celebrating the new couple!

*I do need some help - while my happiness for the couples is never muted, I have been finding that weddings are a bit ruined for me now that we're engaged; I notice every single detail and wonder who their vendor was for x, y, and z... how do I return to the normalcy of enjoying them as they are?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

All the Rage

I'm the last person in the world who thinks of herself as a real business (or otherwise) traveller but I just came across this fun article talking about where to get more than your usual fast-food in our airports; and, since I have been on the go the past 2 weekends (with another to come), it struck a chord. The thing is, I'm not one to arrive extra early at an airport just so I can sit down for a relaxed albeit tasty meal (tempting as the juicy steak at the top of the article is) - who are the people who have enough time to (let alone wanting to) do that?!

And while I'm on a roll discussing things that I'm not an expert in and truthfully, rarely take part in (but that I like reading and dreaming about), Washington Post food critic, Tom Sietsema, just released his 2007 Washington DC Dining Guide. It's my annual tradition to pull this out of the paper and save it for the twice-a-year DC Restaurant Week when it, for one quick week, becomes relevant for me.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Are You a Spartan?

We found ourselves back in Atlanta this past weekend - this time, the main event was my 10-year high school reunion (admittedly, packed in with some wedding planning... invitations and photographer, check!). I don't know if you all have been to your high school reunions but I must say that I approached it with some reservations - would enough people come, would it be fun regardless, who would talk to whom, would "he"/"she" show up, etc.

Saturday evening, though, I was VERY pleasantly surprised... before I go on, though, I must give major kudos to Anne Marie and Brad who put the whole show together - good thing our class President (Brad) married such a great party planner.

It was a wonderful evening spent celebrating the North Springs High School class of 1997. I must say that everyone has grown up wonderfully and it was a great time catching up with folks - most of whom have stayed in the Atlanta area. Even though I would guess that I was one of maybe 5 who returned from out of town for the reunion, it was worth the trip (it warrants saying here that most of the kids who went to my high school went on to UGA and then moved straight back to Atlanta).

Also in attendance was our class celebrity - Verron Haynes, running back formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, made an appearance to our delight... sadly he left the Super Bowl ring at home.

Now that we have weathered both my 5-year college reunion and my 10-year high school reunion, I just may be sold on reunions... they were both a blast! Don't miss yours'!!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Time for Soup!

It finally dipped below 90 degrees here in DC yesterday and I'm loving it (of course, give me a couple weeks of this and I'll be crying for the heat of summer).

To celebrate both the changing of the seasons AND the fact that I was able to prepare dinner at a normal hour, I pulled out the recipe for Italian Sausage Soup that I have been DYING to try even since it was recommended to me (thanks, Amy!).

The verdict... we thought it was absolutely delicious (though I do have a disclaimer - I am QUITE biased towards all products turkey... and this week, my favorite is hot italian turkey sausage so this fit the bill).

*Cook's notes - I only had whole grain penne pasta in the cupboard which worked well as a nice healthy substitution, and my can of diced tomatoes only had garlic and onion, so I added some dried oregano on my own

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Five Months

So we are planning a wedding (!!!) to take place in less than 5 months... though truth be told, it'll be over 6 months since we were engaged (on August 29). I've had friends do this in about the same amount of time (and they didn't even have access to my mother-extraordinaire!) so I know it's possible... but some days it feels less possible than others. Yesterday was one of those.

Not wanting to dwell on my pity-story (it won't be the only time I feel overwhelmed, I am well-aware)... I did want to start a (short) list of pros and cons of planning a wedding in a short amount of time... hoping that this will inspire some of YOUR thoughts, suggestions, and even warnings.

PRO: you're forced to make decisions so there's no time to dwell on each of the hundreds of options (and there are HUNDREDS)

CON: you DO have to make decisions quickly... and when you're like me and you want to explore EVERY option to make sure you're getting the most and best for your money, that's against every bone in my body

PRO: if the vendors you're hoping to work with do happen to still be available, they are usually willing to "work with you" since you're probably their last hope for a job that particular date

CON: occasionally (I've been relatively lucky so far - keep your fingers crossed!) the vendors who've been referred to you and the ones you REALLY want will already be booked

With our very limited time these days, I pretty easily resisted (I do admit, I considered it!) the urge to start a whole new blog devoted to the pitfalls and successes of my wedding planning experience, but I do welcome any and all of your advice. This serves as notice to expect a few "wedding-y" posts here and there throughout the next few months... but please, at ANY point, feel free to send me your suggestions, both solicited and otherwise.

OH... tonight's activity to take my mind off being overwhelmed? Annabelle and I went on a short walk and I was able to put aside my annoyances at the temperature being around 80 degrees at 8pm in mid-October and enjoy it! Plus, even though it won't be until '08, I day-dreamed about celebrating Christmas (cookies, warm drinks, a TREE!!!) with my to-be-husband in our to-be-house! *speaking of which, we close 10/26 - prayers, please!

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Feeble Attempt

I know I'm not the only one short on time these days... but somehow, all of you out there still seem to be able to come up with delicious-sounding, healthy and creative meals (how do you do it??). In my opinion, my recent attempts have produced less than notable results (though when most of your meals consist of egg-white omelets or buckwheat pancakes and turkey bacon, it doesn't leave much room for creativity). I guess I did achieve one of my goals last night - and that was the healthy part (1 out of 3 isn't TOO bad?)... but I'm just not inspired! Help!!

As for the meal... after finding my go-to fish (I agree, Carolyn!), tilapia, on sale, I dreamt up this menu and at best it was "eh" - I think I owe it another try and this time, I will pump up the amount of seasonings I use.

It was completely edible, for sure, but could have used some "kick" - my tilapia was lightly breaded in seasoned bread crumbs mixed with about 1 tsp of Old Bay seasoning and then grilled; I boiled the thinly sliced sweet potatoes and then finished them off also on my grill pan, and my spinach was simply sauteed with some sliced onions and garlic powder.

*I have, however, decided to buck the trend in my office to bring in ONLY delicious baked goods for "Sweet Treat Wednesday" and have committed this week (it's my turn!) to bring in sliced apples and a sweet dip! I'll keep you posted on the reaction of my co-workers.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Lucky in Love

My first (and probably only) trip down to my alma mater's hometown this fall was not your usual tailgating, football game-watching, Dixie Classic fair-going weekend... but what better reason to visit than to celebrate the nuptials of my dearest former DC-er, Mary Claire, and her wonderful (now) husband, David.

We drove down Thursday afternoon and after dropping Chris off at our gracious hosts' home in Kernersville, I met the rest of the girls at Foothills Brewery for dinner (if this sounds familiar, it should... we dined here during my 5-year reunion as well as a previous visit with Jayne and Jason), followed by time well-spent at a super cute wine bar, 6th and Vine. The weekend was certainly off to a great start... and our bride-to-be was as relaxed as ever.

Friday, we were treated to a fun afternoon at Tranquility Day Spa which included either a relaxing manicure or pedicure and a full brunch, complete with mimosas!

Thanks to Mr. Hsu's delicious turkey roll-ups and Fresh Market's yummy desserts and fruit and cheese platter, we were well-fed. Mary Claire emerged with a new hair-do that we all absolutely loved, ready for a fun Texas BBQ evening!

After a bit of downtime back at the hotel and greeting some of the arriving guests, we set off for Reynolda Presbyterian and then ultimately, the Barn at Tanglewood - the scene for MC and David's rehearsal dinner.

It was a beautiful night - perfect for a casual evening complete with yummy barbeque, cole slaw, homemade apple and cherry pies, and cool vanilla ice cream. We were treated to a number of toasts to the happy couple and finished the night off with some authentic Texas line-dancing.

After such a fun evening, we all turned in so we'd be ready for the main event. Saturday morning we all convened at the Zevely House downtown for an amazing brunch - complete (again!) with mimosas, delicious grilled vegetables, fresh fruit salad, and some yummy breakfast casseroles. In the afternoon, I tagged along with the bride as she prepared to walk down the aisle; MC was tolerant enough to allow me to follow her around, as long as I promised to be her minion.

The wedding Saturday evening could not have been more beautiful - the weather was perfect and the bride and groom were in high spirits. The church was elegantly decorated with fall colors and Graylyn Conference Center could not have been a more beautiful setting for the reception.

After we waved goodbye to the newest Halls and they headed off to their luxurious retreat in upstate New York, we were lucky enough to still have some time to spend with our friends and hosts. But as always, Sunday early afternoon quickly came and went and we were back on I-95 with the rest of the world, heading back to DC.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Prepared for Fall

In my perfect world, the subject of this post would indicate some really fun and delicious new fall recipes... but alas, the last time I really cooked or baked is a distant memory at this point (although there is talk of actually breaking out real ingredients and a recipe tonight - do either of these Raspberry-Balsamic Glazed Chicken or Caramelized Onion Chicken sound good?).

For now, though, my excitement for fall surrounds my adorable nephew, Charlie, who once again graces the "cover" of my blog. This time he was showing us how he's prepared to help around the house once the leaves come tumbling down... (rumor has it that Charlie saw someone blowing leaves outside one day and later decided to put together this "costume" all on his own)

I just can't get enough of my almost two-year old cutie. *And this also serves as proof, to any of my pregnant friends, that toys are totally unnecessary for kids - look what the imagination can do!!

*Quick update - I saw someone reading this Washington Post article about apples and apple recipes which made me crave fall cooking even more! Stay tuned for more on these delicious (sounding) recipes!

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