Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September Workplace Potluck

I think the other departments in my building secretly hate my department. Why? Due to the lovely smells that permeate the whole floor when we hold our potluck lunches.

And I don't care! I'm proud of the fact that I've successfully kept up our monthly potlucks within the department, although for August, we did Thai takeout since it was too hot to cook.

Besides, some of these departments are extremely grumpy (to the point that one group put up "No Loitering signs" - seriously, who does that?) But I digress.

We had another lovely spread featuring chicken wings, shrimp cocktail, shrimp quesadillas, salad, eggplant and spinach calzones and meatballs:

For dessert, we had a lovely Strawberry Shortcake along with my contributions - Beantown Baker's Best Dang Thing EVER bars and chocolate chip cookies with Halloween M&M's:

You may be wondering about the Twinkies and the Yodels. One of the guys in our office brought them as his contribution to the potluck. The Yodels evoked so many responses from people visiting our area all week who recalled fond childhood memories and the Twinkies were especially brought for me, since they were my childhood favorite and the coworker thoughtfully remembered that. I may love baking but there's still a time and a place for highly-processed junk food from our childhood. Even if it makes you feel queasy after eating it.

Chocolate Goodbye Cake

I've done a lot of baking this week, between a work potluck lunch and coworkers leaving this week (one is transferring to a different department and one had her consulting contract expire). As both are big chocoholics, I decided to go with a classic and simple chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.

I ended up getting a chocolate cake recipe off of Beantown Baker's blog (who got it from Allrecipes). Like the recipe says, the batter is pretty runny but the resulting cake is incredibly moist - in fact, I think it's the moistest cake I've baked and my coworkers raved about it! To accompany the cake, I found another recipe from - Rich Chocolate Frosting that ended up giving me the perfect amount of frosting once I halved the recipe.

Here's how the cake turned out - the reason that the frosting may be a little discolored around the edges is because I swirled a little Hershey's syrup throughout it to darken it (I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to lighten up the frosting for the words on top). Plus I used some Hershey's syrup between the layers of cake before I added a frosting layer:

It's not the prettiest thing, since I've been forced to use a cheap frosting bag and tip I picked up at Stop & Shop (due to my past mice infestation) but at least it's legible. I also ended up throwing mini-chocolate chips around the edge, which was a messy process but worth it in the end:

I'm not sure if you can tell from the picture but this is how moist the cake was on the inside - it was practically oozing chocolatey-goodness:

The verdict? Janice and Elise loved it, my coworkers gobbled it up, and I still was able to save a slice to bring home to Andrew since the poor guy had to put up with the whole house smelling like chocolate.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fall Tradition - Hiking in NH

After spending a lot of my free time researching houses and wedding-related stuff (I promise I'll stop ranting about these two topics and begin raving again soon), it was nice to head into the great outdoors for a day and clear my head. Saturday was a typical beautiful fall day in New England with clear blue skies and crisp temperatures in the low 60's. Amy and I hitched a two hour ride with my Uncle Rich, cousin Andrew and family friend Jason to Mount Shaw and Black Snout in the Ossipee Mountains of NH.

First stretch of the hike was lovely, with a brook to our left providing soothing background noise:

It gradually got steeper:

We spotted two of these toads (frogs?) on our way up:

Andrew views one of the numerous brook crossings:

I needed a pit stop to apply moleskin to my heels - next time, I'll wear a better set of socks with my hiking boots!

My first look at deer poop - nice, I know:

Finally, we reached the summit, taking around two hours and twenty minutes to cover 4.1 miles:

The views were stunning, especially on a clear fall day:

The men in our hiking group - Jason, Rich and Andrew:

Me and Amy - I think we have the same picture for four years running - a great tradition!

Imagine that - you get cell reception at the top (which Andrew made a point of letting us know every chance he got - kids and their technology):

A great shot of Andrew and Amy (when did he get so tall) with Mount Washington just out of view behind them in the distance:

More importantly, reaching Mount Shaw meant lunch! In addition to ham, turkey and provolone sandwiches, I packed Pringles (my hiking staple) and chocolate chex mix for dessert:
On our way down, we hiked out to Black Snout:
Which gave us stunning views in the opposite direction, of Lake Winnipesauke:
Obligatory butt shot of Rich - this is also a hiking tradition:
Going down was rough on my toes, but gave my heels a break - plus, we got another look at the brook:
Andrew led us down for part of the way:
I wanted to soak my aching feet in the crystal clear pools created by the meandering brook:
While we could see beautifully-colored leaves on the forest ground, there weren't many around us unless you looked at the tree tops - those glorious colors are the main reason I wanted to get married in October in New England:
The descent felt like it took us forever - we were back at the parking lot around 5 pm, having spent close to six hours hiking. After a pit stop at a local store to pick up Tuckerman's Ale for Rich and a non-portapotty bathroom for Amy, we were back on by six and home past eight. I took a shower and promptly passed out on the bed for nearly twelve hours.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Edition 2 of Stuck In My Head

You can't help feeling upbeat after listening to these two songs - thank you FNX for getting them stuck in my head (click on the album to hear the songs on YouTube):

Owl City - Fireflies - I love the fact that he's jamming away with some of the toys of my youth:

Matt & Kim - Daylight - the video is delightfully quirky and makes them seem like a fun married couple. (Note: I think I would have a hard time fitting Andrew in a freezer to jam away on a keyboard):


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Introducing My New Haircut

So yeah. I was trying to growing my hair out a little in preparation for the wedding (which is still over a year away). But long hair is annoying. And requires tons of maintenance. So I tried a new salon in Newton, had a cool stylist and got a great new haircut. I know it's not drastic but it feels great! Andrew was laughing at me as I did the "walking down the street in a hair commercial) hair flip all evening. The best part is that I think it will be easy to keep it looking this nice - yay for low maintenance! I must add that Andrew just had his longish locks lopped off this past weekend (sorry, I couldn't resist the alliteration) so we're a finely coiffed couple!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Just Call Them Freckles Lady

I had the funniest conversation at work today. We had a workplace health fair that featured some useful booths that checked your blood pressure, offered tips for good eating habits and even better, offered free healthy food samples (I’m always thinking with my stomach while I’m at work!). Then there were the booths that were simply vendors trying to shill their services such as chiropractor who was giving away “free” services with a wheel of fortune and the Mary Kay rep who couldn’t stop looking at my ring, told me that she does wedding makeup and wrote down my wedding date on a raffle entry form – yikes! I’m expecting to see her show up on my door stop.

Falling on the side of a useful service, there was an elderly nurse manning a table with a device that shows skin damage. I had poked my head into one of these a few years ago at another company health fair and I remember being horrified at how much skin damage it showed. That should’ve served as a warning this time around, but I was thinking it would be useful to see if anything had changed. The device resembled what I picture as an old-fashioned camera where the photographer stuck their heads under some sort of tarp to look in the camera. This time around, it was me putting my head under a tarp to be met by nurse’s eyes staring from an opening in the open end. Some sort of dark or UV light was on, which meant that my eyes and teeth glowed a neon yellowish/green but more importantly, I could see hundreds of freckles on my skin. When I took my head out, I commented to the nurse:

“Wow, it’s distressing to see all those freckles underneath the visible ones that I already have.”

She replied, “No, those are spots of skin damage.”

I persisted with, “Yes, I can’t believe how much skin damage is naked to the visible eye. I’m just used to seeing my freckles as an indicator of how much sun I’ve been exposed to.”

She countered with, “You have those spots of skin damage because you’re not wearing enough sunscreen.”

I wanted to say, “Look lady, those spots you can see on my face are called freckles. Little kids have them, adults have them, Morgan Freeman has them. I realize that everyone has skin damage from being out in the sun, but not all freckles should be considered skin damage. They are a genetic reaction to be exposed to the sun depending on the amount of melanin you have in your skin.” Ok, I probably wouldn’t have sounded that smooth in the moment, but seriously, I was just annoyed by the fact that she wouldn’t acknowledge my freckles!

Then she had me apply a little dab of sunscreen to the tip of my nose and stick my head back under the tarp to view my face again. She explained, “See how your nose is protected with the sunscreen on it?”

Which made me think; 1) What the heck kind of light did she have me under? If it was a UV lamp, why would they have me put my face right up to the lights on a table that was also displaying brochures with the hazards of tanning? And 2) I don’t believe you. I had only applied the barest amount of sunscreen to the tip of my nose, and all of a sudden, I had a huge purple splotch around the whole of my nose and that was supposed to indicate SPF protection? Was the SPF spreading through my pores that quickly?

The most annoying part was that I had the smell of beachy sunscreen stuck in my nose for the rest of the day, even after vigorously wiping the area with a wet paper towel. I know this sounds like a stupid thing to get annoyed about, especially with an elderly women who was trying to provide sound advice on skin protection, but I was all riled up about my freckles for the rest of the day!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Crockpot Beef Stew

As a birthday gift from Andrew's parents (thanks Charlotte and Tom!), I received something that I've been wanting for a long time - a Crockpot!

I can't remember what commercial product I'm quoting, but my view of Crockpots is that you toss in a bunch of ingredients, "set it and forget it" and then come back to a beautifully cooked meal.

My first try at using the Crockpot resulted in a tasty beef stew (one of my favorites).

Admittedly, this picture probably doesn't look too appetizing but it sure tasted good! And I was amazed at how six hours in a crockpot turned tough stew meat into delicious, tender pieces of beef that fell apart at the touch of a fork - yum!

I used Kyle's Favorite Beef Stew recipe from (minus the mushrooms and adding corn and an extra pound of baby carrots) - it was good, but the only thing that I wasn't a fan of was the strong onion taste. Don't get me wrong, I love onions in all form but I think the two envelopes of onion soup mix were a little strong. Next time, I'm going to try searching for a recipe that allows more of the red wine to shine through.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Random Observations From House Hunting

Andrew and I got back from an open house in West Roxbury tonight. I know, weird that it's on a Monday night but there were plenty of people looking most likely due to the fact that it was an hour long. And on the basis on how bad the house smelled, I think the realtor did it deliberately in a futile attempt to make the house seem desirable. But I digress.

When I look back to myself a month ago, I laugh at how clueless the former me was about house hunting. And, I miss how hopeful I was about finding the right place. Don't get me wrong, I was going in with a healthy dose of skepticism towards "old" houses while Andrew had most of the optimism, but I did have a rosy daydream of finding the right place.

I know we're only a scant three weeks into our search, but I feel like we've seen every desirable place in our price range and there's nothing that has popped up where Andrew and I have looked at each other and excitedly pictured ourselves living there (other than that house). So while we anxiously scan the new listings each night for a dream house, here are the random thoughts that cross my mind:
  • There are a ton of house hunting shows on TV these days and Andrew and I are hooked on most of them. Two of our favorites - House Hunters and Property Virgins.
  • The aforementioned house hunting shows are extremely annoying and depressing since housing is so much cheaper in most other parts of the country. Like the couple that scored a brand new three bed/two bath house in Iowa for $117,000. Of course, the trade-off is that you'd have to live in Iowa.
  • No amount of room deodorant or candles is going to disguise a smelly house.
  • Further to this point, I wish you could get a sense for how a house will smell from the listing so you can save yourself some wasted time. We've had some bad experiences with homes reeking of cat urine or really heavy smoke.
  • Sellers should really get themselves a decent agent who makes a simple effort to stage the house. Like removing post-its from a wall. Yikes.
  • Disclosures should really be reserved for serious things rather than a perky real estate description of "best house in the neighborhood!"
  • It's super awkward to run into the homeowners when you have a viewing appointment. We've had showings where it looks like the owner is simply hanging out in a room of the house (an agent is present and does most of the talking, but never introduces the mystery person). Even worse is when you run into a mom ushering her kids into the car, or in one instance, pulling her toddler around the neighborhood while we look.
  • I really hope we're not looking at houses into the winter - I can't imagine trudging through people's houses with mucky shoes and I don't know how we'd get a sense for the yard or any outdoor faults.
  • If I ever have an open house, I think I will seriously make prospective buyers take off their shoes to tour the house, a la my Asian roots. Although, I'm not sure how much cleaner their socks/bare foot would be. Perhaps I would need to provide cheap slippers (again, like Asian restaurants).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lunch at Carmela's

Saturday found us taking a much needed breather from house hunting - we were able to sleep in and then had the pleasure of meeting Andrew's parents for lunch in Kingston. Andrew had described Carmela's as one of his favorite places to eat when he was in high school and his description of the homemade pasta made my mouth water! So while their panini selection sounded amazing and tempted me with a variety of horseradish-based condiments, I went with pasta.

Here's Andrew posing with what actually ended up being my order of eggplant parm:

Charlotte got the same as me, and put up graciously with my photo-taking!

Tom went with fish and chips, on the basis of a recommendation from the waitress (some keen eyes may notice he's wearing a Camp Zama shirt that I got him for Christmas!)

A shot of what I thought was my eggplant parm but was really Andrew's chicken parm - regardless, we both had the same delicious house noodles

I definitely recommend Carmela's to anyone craving affordable, homemade Italian food - it is conveniently located right off Route 3, which means Andrew and I will be hitting it sometime soon on the way to his parents' place in Plymouth.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rough Day At Work

I'm so tired that I am going to let do all the talking.

This is how I felt at work today (even funnier if you know where I work):
This is how I felt when I got home (Andrew gives great foot rubs):

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Just Chill...

After zipping through an exhibit of Civil War drawings, Jen and I returned to our old stomping ground of Cleveland Circle to check out the newly renovated (at least to me) CitySide - I love how the windows open up now to the very scenic parking lot! :)

Jen knew I had gone through a couple of crap days and surprised me with the news that a froyo place had opened in Cleveland Circle called Chill - guess where we went for dessert?

In addition to froyo, they serve Christina's ice cream (yum!) and coffee but we were there for the star attraction - Jen ordered a play off of her favorite dessert (banana chocolate chip cake) by ordering the banana froyo with chocolate chips:

I tried a sample of the banana and it was quite tasty! But you know me, I went with the original flavor. With blueberries, strawberries and almonds - no need to mess with what I like! Plus, it allows for a scientific comparison between other frozen yogurt places:

I had send Andrew a photo text with a picture of my order, intending on taunting him since I didn't think the frozen yogurt would survive the trip home. However, the froyo held up well while I was eating it so I decided to risk the trip home with it.
Even with a side trip to drop Jen off, the froyo was near perfect when it arrived in Andrew's hands:
I've realized that:
  1. Yes, Andrew is lucky to have a fiancee as nice as me to bring him home froyo, especially since I was the one that got him hooked on it.
  2. I'm in serious trouble with a froyo place within a couple of miles of my place. Seriously, I could get in my car right now and be eating delicious frozen yogurt in ten minutes. Dangerous!
  3. I thought Chill tasted just as good as BerryLine but Pinkberry remains my favorite.

Seen at BC...

...while waiting outside the McMullen art museum for Jen:
Who says BC isn't Catholic enough? I don't remember seeing these flyers when I was a student, which is probably why I remained a "heathen" to my roommates. :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Meet Our Wedding Photographer

OK, it has been a crummy couple of days, including an incident with me running over a neighbor’s light post (don’t even ask) and some kid throwing an acorn at my car on the drive in to work this morning. It’s an out of season reference, but I’m feeling as grumpy as the Grinch today.

But on a much happier note, I’m happy to announce that Andrew and I have finally selected our wedding photographer – and by photographer, we mean a husband and wife team!
Ciras Photography first caught our eye when we were researching our wedding venues. They had shot a wedding at the Warren Center earlier this year and we liked their photography style as well as – and this is the communications person in me speaking – the way they described the photos. I know that’s not important in terms of how well photography comes out, but it does give you a sense for the photographer’s personality and overall style.

Andrew and I met with Heather and Jesse at their studio a few weeks ago and not only were we impressed with their portfolio, we immediately clicked with them. I think they understand our personalities and how Andrew and I are looking to be covered for the day of the wedding. Your wedding photographer is going to be with you every step of the day so I think it’s extremely important (and I know this is a no-brainer) to have a rapport with your photographer. We’re excited at the prospect of having Heather follow me and Jesse follow Andrew in terms of wedding preparations the day-of, and then merge at the ceremony to capture two points of view for the rest of the day.

Anyway, enough with the descriptive words. I invite you to check out Ciras Photography’s work on their website and their blog!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

House Hunting Hiccup

I'm not feeling in the mood to disclose much at this point, but in our fourth day of house hunting (today), Andrew and I found a house that we both fell in love with. After a few frantic hours of talking to our agent and our mortgage broker, we made an offer. With literally less than an hour of basking in the glow of the offer and cautiously getting our hopes up, we found out that our offer wasn't accepted due to what we suspect to be shady dealings on the part of the seller's agent. She informed us that the house was already under agreement (she was contacted DURING today's open house by our agent) and we are given no chance to raise our offer, which we were definitely prepared to - and counting on - doing.

Our offer was only on the table for less than an hour, but we had the whole afternoon to discuss the house and our plans for filling it. Sigh, it's back to the house hunting grind for us. I keep telling myself that maybe karma will bite the agent's butt and the deal will fall through or we'll find a house that's even better. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Early Mornings Can Be Good

Lately, I feel like Andrew and I haven't been able to get a lot of sleep. Predictably, we spend a lot of time at night scoping out houses and wedding-related stuff on the web, so we make into bed late (usually around 11 pm) and then I'm up early in the morning to make into the office by 8 am since work just seems to be perpetually busy. So we really count on the weekends to catch up on sleep. However, this Saturday, we had to get up early to get my car into the shop for an 8 am appointment and then we started looking at houses at 10:15 am.

Then on Sunday, we were up and dressed by 9 am, and this time, it was for a fun event - registering at Crate & Barrel!

I'm telling you, these stores know how to lure you in. We had the whole store to ourselves (not counting the six or seven other engaged couples) for two hours to eat free food and scan to our hearts' content.

I managed to take a couple of covert pictures, including Andrew stocking up on coffee:

There were stations offering OJ, crackers and cheese, pancakes, sausage, paninis, and the coffee and cake you see above. It wasn't a large amount of food like a buffet but it was nice to have things to munch on as we walked around the store.

Here's a look at the scanner that became our best friend by the end of the registry session. To our detriment, it was very easy to use, which, of course, meant we were scanning things left and right:

Here's Andrew showing off the free gift we received in addition to the food for attending the event - a heart-shaped bowl.

Not to sound greedy but I'm curious to see how the Macy's registry event will compare, especially as it takes place on a weeknight while the store is still open.

Regardless, to any brides, I highly recommend saving your registering for a specific store event as it is practical and a nice way to get pampered! And as I told Andrew, seeing our names up on the registry was another way I really felt like that we were engaged - I've been so used to searching for other people's names and buying off their registries, it's kind of cool to see our names this time!

My apologies if this seems like a very gratuitous post, but when you read my next post, you'll understand why this was honestly the highlight of a rather roller coaster weekend.

Friday, September 11, 2009

On the Hunt...

As you may have noticed, my pace of posts has slowed down a bit. I’m still going to try to post on a daily basis, but I’ve got to admit, things are a bit crazy (but exciting) for Andrew and I at the moment. On top of planning our wedding (we’ve just hit the 13 month mark, so I keep telling myself that there’s still plenty of time) we’re also in process of house hunting and ideally, would like to buy before December 1 to take advantage of the federal homebuyer tax credit.

So what does this mean? After being pre-approved for a mortgage, we looked at seven houses and condos in Canton on Labor Day, and just checked out three more places in West Roxbury after work last night. Up ahead for us – 12 places to check out on Saturday and eight open houses on Sunday. We’re not limiting ourselves to one town but are trying to find a nice place along 95 that would have a reasonable commute for both of us, as Andrew is currently spending over an hour each way to work. I think I would go crazy trying to capture pictures of each place we’re visiting, but I promise more details once we’ve narrowed down our final selections.

Winner of the Stop & Shop Giveaway

I'm pleased to announce the winner of the Stop & Shop $10 giftcard giveaway:

Underoo Elf!

Coutesy of, I assigned each comment a number in order of when they were posted:

Underoo Elf, please contact me at to provide me with your mailing address.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reminder: Stop & Shop Giveaway

Just a reminder - tomorrow is your last chance to win a $10 Stop & Shop gift card - be sure to leave a comment!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Always in Bloom...

My new necklace, a birthday gift from Amy. Have I mentioned how much I like Chrysanthemums?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hubby Hubby!

Despite being owned by a huge conglomerate, Ben & Jerry's remains close to its Vermont roots:
It warmed my heart to get this via email the other day (yes, I'm a dork that's registered on Ben & Jerry's mailing list) and I love the play on "Chubby Hubby"!
P.S. - Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a free $10 Stop & Shop gift card!