Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Partying With Hatter

Finally - the whole reason we were in New York for the weekend, my "bestie's" (as my British coworkers would put it) thirtieth birthday party!

After we stuffed ourselves at Shake Shack, we headed back to Amanda's apartment to work on our costumes. You've already seen what Amanda and I ended up dressing as, but can you guess what Andrew is?
Figure it out yet? An opening in a piece of black felt, and Andrew is isntantly transformed into the rabbit hole! Easy, cheap and comfortable and it made me crack up each time I saw him wearing it:
I think Camie's outfit was obviously one of the best - it's hard to get the full effect without seeing her pants, socks and shoes, but she embodied the spirit of the Mad Hatter:
Even Fred was dressed for the occasion as a pig costume:
Pig (I can't mention pig without saying the line "That'll do, pig. That'll do") and Hatter were perfectly happy at the party surrounded by character such as Alice, the Ace of Hearts, either Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum, and one of my personal favorites - a pair of spades that came ready to paint the roses red (carrying posies of fake flowers with red paint spashed on them) who nearly got everyone in the room high off of the permanent marker fumes emanating from the costumes. All in all, a good night.
Happy Birthday Camie, ahem, Hatter. And I have to show a picture of the cake that Amanda picked up at Two Little Red Hens - it was a birthday cake beautiful enough to come straight from the pages of "Through the Looking Glass":

Pilgrimage to the Shake Shack

All of our trips to New York City seem to revolve around the 3 F's - family, friends and food, and that's the way we like it!

At brunch, Jay recommended a NYC attraction I had never heard of - the Shake Shack - for dinner later on the day. Once Amanda told us that she had never tried the Shake Shack, and that the original Madison Square Park location was right around the corner from the Restoration Hardware store we wanted to check out, it was a done deal.

The thing about Shake Shack, which amusingly enough, you'll see on their website as well, is that it's known most for its lines. I think their burgers are a close second, but people that want to try Shake Shack know that they will need to stand in line.

So stand in line we did - the clock started for us at 2:50 p.m. Even though we weren't really hungry at that point, we figured the middle of the afternoon would help us miss the lunch crowds while avoiding the dinner rush.  Despite the fact that it was a chilly day, we were well bundled and ready for the wait:
Our goal - to reach the order window at the Shake Shack, an unassuming building surrounded by outside seating:
A look at the line in front of us (which curves even further outside the picture) - there were easily at least 50 people in front of us:
Thirty minutes in, we had made steady progress and were glad that we weren't at the end of the line:
Andrew and I seem to have a knack for spotting brides and grooms in interesting places - while we were in line, a bride and groom stopped by to take photos at the Snack Shack and I've got to give credit to the people in line, they let the happy couple cut the line to order a couple of sodas to pose with. Unfortunately, at this point Amanda and I were close to the order window and stuck between ropes herding us in place, so my best shot of the couple really just shows their photographer the best. Oh well.
Oh so close to the order window, around 50 minutes in. At this point, it was just Amanda and me in line. Andrew managed to snag a coveted table under one of the eight heat lamps, and was holding seats for us.
I have to say that the ordering process was a bit anticlimactic and happened so quickly. It was kind of funny, people kept leaving their places in line to run up to the menu to figure out what they wanted to order. This being the age of the iPhone, Amanda looked up the menu on the Shake Shack's website and we made our selections during the wait. Determined not to make a mistake in ordering once we actually made it up to the window, we kept repeating the order to each other to make sure we didn't forget a single thing (just imagine realizing that you forgot to order something and would have to wait again to get it - not happening!) Also, another random observation - the guy who took our order was really nice and seemed genuinely happy to be working at the Shake Shack, after he must have been well into his shift taking orders from cold and hungry people!

Amanda graciously poses for the victory shot - order submitted, beeper in hand and waiting patiently by the pickup window:
At last, success! The three of us seated at a table with a heat lamp, with our full order of food - it was still pretty chilly sitting there, so I can't imagine how cold the regular tables were. We each got a Shake Shack burger (American cheese, lettuce, tomato and Shake Shack sauce), french fries (cheese fries for me and Andrew), and a Concrete (a very thick mixture of their frozen custard and a mix-ins):
A money shot of the burgers - they were definitely hand-formed and delicious! I think it was definitely worth the wait to try them, although I don't think I'd have the patience to do it all the time:

Cheese fries - covered with a nice liquidy mixture of cheddar and American cheese (just the way I like it, none of the shredded stuff that hardens into clumps when it get cold):
I didn't bother taking a close-up shot of the Concretes because 1) I was too busy chowing down and 2) they were a bit messy looking but overall, I thought they were good if a bit too sweet. I was amazed at the quality of the mix-ins though, I'm talking huge chunks of cake or cookies.

Andrew got the Shack Attack with chocolate custard, hot fudge, chocolate truffle cookie dough, Valrhana chocolate chunks and topped with chocolate sprinkles. The chocolate custard was so rich that you could tell that it was quality stuff, but to be honest, I think all the chocolate together was a bit overwhelming and made it hard to appreciate each individual component. I'll admit I'm not a huge chocolate ice cream fan, but even Andrew seemed to find it a bit too much.

Amanda got the Concrete Jungle - vanilla custard, hot fudge, bananas and peanut butter tasted really good, with the fresh banana shining through.

As for me? I did a custom order - vanilla custard, caramel, shortbread chunks and almonds - it was good but I think I would leave out the caramel next time since I couldn't taste it and the overall mixture was sweet enough with the vanilla custard. Again, the chunks of shortbread cookie were HUGE and I love the genious idea to have this available as a mix-in.

Although it may seem a bit crazy to wait this long in line for food, we had a great time doing it. The wait in line made for good people watching (in NYC, the best place to do it) plus anything is bound to taste 100x better after you've waited for it.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Brunch At Brasserie Les Halles

It's our third straight week of experiencing heavy rain storms, which equals flooded backyard. So I'm going to ignore the rain outside and think back to our lovely (dry!) weekend in NYC.

After arriving late Friday night (think after 11 pm), all we were good for was a quick catch-up chat with Amanda and it was straight to bed on the aero bed.

Saturday morning, we showered in record time and hailed a cab to meet up with a friend of Andrew's from Penn State - Jay - for brunch at Les Halles.

Of course, a French restaurant would serve excellent French press coffee - a pleasant surprise for Andrew as I'm not a coffee drinker:
As for me, I had the BEST fresh squeezed orange juice ever - you can tell from its deep orange color that it was flavorful and sweet. Plus, toasted pieces of baguette on the side with homemade strawberry preserves and orange marmalade:
Those were just the start for the meal - Andrew ordered the Ouefs Benedicte (Eggs Benedict) and Jay enjoyed the Deux Oeufs a Votre Facon:

This is my beautiful plate of Omelette Savoyarde which included a Gruyere cheese omelette with home fries and "toast" which was more delicious slices of baguette - you better believe that I ate those pieces as well! As for the omelette - meh, my uncultured palate prefers the saltiness of American cheese in my omelettes but I couldn't fault the quality of everything on my plate and the nice touches like the slices of orange and grapefruit:
The best way to work off the calories from this meal? Walk all the way back from 29th and Park Ave to Amanda's place, which approximately 60 blocks away. I also love the fact that you can walk the streets and look up to see a view like this - lovely!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sneak Peek From Wonderland

I feel like Andrew and I crammed a lot into our quick weekend jaunt to NY and it's going to take me all week to blog about it. However, I wanted to give a sneak preview of what Amanda (my future sister-in-law) and I dressed as for the Alice in Wonderland-themed party:

The bottle and the cake from the book, with our respective labels of "Drink Me" and "Eat Me" (as in, what Alice eats and drinks to chage in size). Paired with matching Wonderland-esque shirts (from Old Navy, a bargain) and outfits (incuding jeans tucked into boots), we figured it was a fun, creative (note our artwork - hand drawn images on felt with a sticky backing), comfortable and frugal way to dress for the party.

Andrew's costume beat ours in simplicity and creativity, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow to find that out - and see Camie's (the birthday girl) wonderful costume.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Just Forget You Know Us...

We're almost two weeks into the new house, and we're slowly settling into a routine. I wake up an obscenely early hour, shower, dress and drive into work to arrive at 7 am so I can leave at 4 pm (if I'm lucky) and beat the worst of the commute home. What time I leave each day makes a difference in whether I'm facing a 30 minute or a 60 minute plus commute. The house still feels a little like it belongs to someone else and I'm just a guest in it, but Andrew and I are doing our best to make it our own a little more each day.

By this, I mean Andrew and I have been trying to unpack a little each night. It's been tough to find the time since a rough start with the great flood of 2010 - heck, I barely have the energy to throw together a sandwich for dinner. Plus, we're hampered by the fact that we don't have enough furniture to unpack stuff into, but haven't had the free time during the week or the weekends to devote a lot of time into looking at furniture (although we do spend a lot of time each night browsing furniture online!)

This is why our dining room (the main repository of boxes, ahead of the basement) looks like this - since we don't have a dining table, there's plenty of storage space for the time being. In case you're wondering, those are our boxsprings to the right, which don't fit up our new stairs. Yup, that means we've been sleeping on a mattress on the floor.

And, Andrew and I are in NYC this weekend for an event that can't be missed, so this pile isn't going to budge.  Which is why you shouldn't take it the wrong way when I ask that you forget that Andrew and I exist for the next couple of weeks. No social engagements = more time unpacking and buying furniture. We'll give you a call when we're ready to come up for air.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Murder Mystery at the Warren Center

Time to head out on the time machine again to Friday, March 12. That's when Eva, Rosie and I headed to the site of our wedding for an event that was completely unrelated to weddings - a murder mystery!

The three of us were seated at a table for eight that included a married couple who had been married for 45 years and a trio of friends who were slightly younger than us. Special thanks to Eva (L) and Rosie (R) for braving the Green line during rush hour to meet me, and enduring a 45 minute drive on top of that!
Arriving at the table, we quickly scoped out the food situation (a cheese and cracker station before the Italian dinner buffet started) and read over the programs at the table that detailed the "suspects" - here I am carefully reading the descriptions in completely unposed fashion!

Basically, our job was to help the guy in the trench coat (Detective something, I can't remember at this point) investigate four authors competing for a top book selling award:
Overall, there were six actors, including the Detective, mingling among us, offering us clues and give us a chance to ask any question we wanted!
This is the point where we got sworn in a deputy detectives to find the murderer - as you can see, Rosie and Eva dutifully raised their right hands while I snapped away!
I hate to say it, but the murder mystery was pretty boring. There were way too many of us (guests) in the room and not enough actors to keep the plot rolling. Plus, I think it was hard to logically deduct who the murderer was - the point was to guess, so I don't feel too bad that the three of us spent most of the time talking and catching up with each other rather than interrogating the suspects! In the end, the Detective brought all the suspects to the front of the room, explained how each one had a motive, and ended up arresting the "nerdy" writer who wrote about texting:
What saved the evening (other than the fine company of my friends) was the fact that the actors put on an impromptu version of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" for an hour afterwards. I'm a sucker for improv and this part of the show was hilarious, especially since they took written suggestions from all the tables and managed to work them into all their skits.

So although the murder mystery concept fell a little flat (I think having the actors play out some sort of scenario with costumes rather than ordinary clothes would have also helped), overall, the evening was pretty fun and I was glad to give the girls a sneak peek at our wedding venue.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fit For A Princess

A touch of sunshine on a dreary, rainy day, courtesy of our buyer's agent G:

She dropped two pots of "Princess Irene" tulips as a surprise housewarming gift in our mudroom and I'm loving the colors - greens, reds and oranges. Just the right thing to display in our new bay window!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Belated Birthday Shout-out

I was delighted to get the custom email invite over the weekend for Camie's birthday - in case you couldn't guess, it's an Alice in Wonderland theme:
Although Camie's big 3-0 was on March 11, the birthday celebration will take place this weekend and we will be journeying down to Brooklyn for it.  The only hiccup is, we have yet to figure out our costumes. Andrew's is pretty much set, since we're going simple for him, but I have no clue what to dress up as and how to put together this week. Feel free to give suggestions below if you can think of anything creative and simple!

While we're on an Alice theme, check out these adorable cupcakes from Blue Cupcake:

I'm in awe of her creativity and wish I had the same fondant skills (and patience!)

Hidden Gem: Fiorella's in Newton

Ok, we're going to pretend that my blog is a time machine that allows me to go back in time before the big move. Let's rewind two weeks, I'm on a high from successfully completing our closing and I'm off to meet my friend Robin for dinner.

One of the things I'm going to miss about the Newton is Fiorella's - I've only eaten there twice, but I'm kicking myself for not discovering the restaurant sooner in my eight years in Newton.

Their breadsticks are good - pretty thin pieces of bread covered with cheese and accompanied by a marinari dipping sauce. I hate to say it, but they remind me of Papa Gino cheese breadsticks - again, good but nothing special:
A shot of my lovely dining companion enjoying her garden salad:
A very washed out picture of my potato leek soup - absolutely delicious! I really need to find a good recipe to replicate this and make it at home:
Did someone say homemade pasta? Yes please! Robin's Primavera Margherita, consisting of: fresh asparagus, zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms & onions sautéed with plump tomatoes, basil & garlic, tossed with fresh fettuccini & pecorino romano cheese:

More homemade pasta - my Fusilli Bolognese, with a bolognese made from braised ground beef, veal & pork simmered with diced carrots, onions & crushed tomatoes in a red wine tomato sauce, tossed with fresh fusilli pasta - It was so good, Andrew was raving over my leftovers the next day:

For dessert, a chocolate chip cannoli split between us:

The food was so good that Andrew and I ended up getting takeout from Fiorella's two days later. In my defense, we were packing at a furious rate and were eating a lot of (good!) takeout food. And I have to say, the takeout was just as delicious as eating in the restaurant.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Leprechaun Treats

OK, I have to admit that the title for this post is more exciting than the treats I actually made. Cut me some slack, most of my household belongings are in boxes, we've been dealing with a flood, and I've been averaging six hours of sleep a night if I'm lucky. But this is supposed to be a post about baking, not me whining about how tired I am! :)

I just went with the philosophy that anything green and with mint equals St. Patrick's Day and converted two basic recipes to serve as my special treats for coworkers.

First was just chocolate chip cookies - I love how festive the batter looked with a little green food coloring:
Add a little peppermint flavoring and they become mint chocolate chip cookies. Also, I didn't realize I was out of regular semi-sweet chocolate chips, so I ended up using a bag of mini chips:

I think this contributed to the overall effect of making them look like scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream....yum, ice cream!

I was pleased to see that the green color came through, even after the cookies were baked. And the simple touch of color delighted everyone who saw them (especially since my love of the color green is well known). And, I'm not going to lie, I was dorky enough to bring them in a green tupperware container that I had bought and used for Christmas treats. Yay for green!
To have enough treats for Andrew to bring into work, I also did a batch of brownies and added a bag of dark chocolate and mint chocolate chips that I had also bought around Christmas (I think it was Tollhouse special edition package) - so voila, a shot of minty flavor without making the whole thing taste like mint, plus hints of pale green peeking through:

After all, a holiday wouldn't be as fun without themed treats!

Traditional Irish Meal? Yes Please!

I'll confess that this didn't come from any fancy restaurant, just the Sodexo cafeteria at work. But it was pretty darn good.

Corned beef and cabbage naturally, with a side of steamed carrots and turnips and a slice of Irish soda bread. The corned beef was delightfully tender, salty and yes, even fatty. I'm inspired to try cooking it, especially since my boss says she cooks corned beef in a Crockpot. And the best part? Leftovers = hash. I adore corned beef hash!!

Send the Ark Away!

The flood waters are finally retreating (the bucket has been serving as our perimeter marker) although the water is still deep enough in the public park next to our house that I saw kids using inner tubes to float on it today.

In case you're wondering, no, the park doesn't even usually have a pond so that's all rain water! And, our basement is finally dry. Hallelujah for a streak of sunny, warm weather!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hello Beautiful!

From reading my last post, obviously, our first weekend in the house has been a little rough. But nothing compares to walking through the house and loving every nook and cranny because we own it (even the waterlogged sections!)

This includes the appliances - I can't tell you how much joy I've received from putting our groceries away in a roomy fridge or running a cycle of dishes in a dishwasher that actually works!

The one thing that I've been bummed about is the fact that I have yet to unearth my mixing bowl and baking ingredients to whip up a baked treat in my gorgeous new oven:

Needless to say, it's a marked improvement over the oven I was using for the past eight years:
Good bye hot spots, uneven baking, burnt tops and undercooked interiors - hello cheesecakes, pies, souffles and other delicate items!

Rain, Rain, Just Go Away!

OK, I've got a lot of catch-up blogging to do. Last week was actually pretty interesting and I remember to take pictures for most of it.

But the thing that consumed most of our time was moving. Moving in a nor'easter rain storm. Not too much fun. It's Sunday, and we're tired, facing tons of boxes and dirty floors.  Then we look out the window to see that our new backyard has now turned into a pond:
This causes a sleepless night for both of us, as Andrew compulsively wakes up every couple of hours to check to make sure that the basement isn't getting any water. Miraculously, it's not getting anything except a little dampness under one window.

Monday morning brings a new trickle in a different corner but we're amazed at the fact that the massive amount of water outside still hasn't found a way into our basement. The water has definitely moved into the car port and the empty garage, but thankfully, the house and basement are located on an upward swope from the rest of the backyard. 

As a precautionary measure, Andrew takes the day off from work to keep an eye on the basement while I test out my first (longer) commute into work (which takes forever considering that every road surrounding my builiding is closed due to flooding!). Andrew keeps me posted throughout the morning, and out of the blue, sends me a somewhat panicked email in the early afternoon. I leave work immediately and this is what the backyard looks like now (note how flooded the park is next to our backyard):
Our neighbor's yard looks even more flooded, but luckily, their house is set way up from the water:

And the flood in our basement. Andrew and I are bailing water with a work shop vacuum and improvised buckets for a couple of hours, and then are assisted by Andrew's dad Tom (who also left work early), his workshop vac and a pump. They spend the next couple of hours bailing even more water and finally got it down to a level where the automatic pump is removing pretty much the same amount of water that's coming in:

Best use for a champagne cork goes to Andrew for his idea to plug a hole in the basement with it - this means my uncle Rich gets thanked twice - once for getting us the champagne Andrew and I toasted each other with last night as homeowners and once for unknowingly helping us with our basement woes!
The weather forecast is calling for the rain to end by midnight (it's about time) and for sunny days and warm weather for the rest week. I guess this is what being a homeowner means - dealing with the unexpected things that crop up. I just would've appreciated at least one week to unpack things before dealing with a flooded basement!