Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wanted: Wedding Earrings

I'm pretty sure I want to wear this style of earring with my dress - squarish shape with a pave border and a honking piece of cubic zirconia in the middle:
This pair is $58 and I'd have to find a person that sells the vendor's jewelry, as this brand is sold at tupperware-like parties. I'm just convinced that I can find something similar at a department store for half the price, but haven't seen anything yet in my travels. So dear readers, if you happen to run into my dream wedding earrings somewhere in your travels, let me know! As my sister would say, kthxbye.

UPDATE: Um, stupid me. I typed in the name of the earrings into eBay and they popped up for $10! Done and done, unless I hate them in person.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Then and Now - Our Garden

Planted on Memorial Day, we had high hopes for our little patch of garden:

A month later, our plants are flourishing! I'm proud that we haven't killed a single one yet. Although the same can't be said for some of the flowers I've been trying to cultivate indoors. But let's focus on the successes.

One tomato plant is growing furiously and it's got two other tomato plants close behind it:

I know it's hard to get the perspective of how big this zucchini plant is, but I think it's going to end up taking over my garden plot! And if you look at the original picture above, the tiny little plant in the bottom row, second from left, was indeed the same plant:
The yellow pepper plant actually has a decent sized pepper growing on it (green at the moment) - the red pepper plant is still lagging behind it in growth, but I still have hopes for it:
Two of the strawberry plants are surviving but haven't grown much - while this strawberry plant (transferred from a hanging pot originally) is doing pretty well - especially if all those white flowers turn into berries!
And finally, I feel a little foolish about being so proud about this, but this is the blackberry plant. Those wee little green berries on the left are the first signs of fruit. I know chances are low that they will 1) ripen and 2) not get picked over by birds and animals but I still have visions of luscious blackberries dancing in my head!

Gloucester Continued

More pictures to highlight my lovely afternoon on the water, courtesy of my coworker Bill.

Remember my feet in the water? This is the other perspective of me sitting on the edge of the dock, admiring the view:

My expert kayaking skills in action with my coworker Karen (again, yes I know I'm pale):

Getting rescued by my boss's husband - one must maintain a sense of humor about such things!

On a hot and sticky day like today, it would be heavenly to be on the water again!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer Job Perk

A summer work outing today at my manager's house in Gloucester gave me a ridiculously nice summer day in the middle of the week!

I knew I wouldn't be disappointed when I rounded the corner of the house and saw this view:
The deck below was big and fabulous and there was plenty of cold drinks (and coworkers) awaiting:
While enjoying the view of the sand bar at low tide, the sky started to turn gray and we knew a series of severe thunderstorms were upon us:
It was the perfect time to go inside and pig out on delicious catered food - including lobster! I pigged out shamelessly on lobster (two claws and three grilled half-tails) once I realized that there was TONS of lobster to go around:
Strawberry shortcake with the most incredible shortcake I've ever tasted (reminded me of a sugar cookie with more of a cake/scone texture) and fresh whipped cream for dessert - yes please!
While we were eating, there was a lot of heavy rain, high winds and lightening. Then the sky miraculously cleared up and it was sunny and warm again, which gave us time to lounge outside and digest:
I ventured down onto the dock and dipped my feet into the water (the tide had come in during dinner, completely covering the sandbar you could see in the earlier pictures).  And yes, I know my legs are pretty darn white:
Everything looked so tranquil that a coworker and I decided to take the kayak you can see in the corner of this picture out for a spin in a calm lagoon you can also see in the picture. We also may have been stuck in a wee bit of a current and required a tow back from my manager's husband in his kayak, but you're not getting any more of that story!
The beginnings of a beautiful sunset. Unfortunatly, I had to leave while it was still light out (which was still past 8 pm, yay for summer light) but I can't help but think how nice the full moon must have looked tonight shining on the water.
I wish all work days ended like this!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Before and After

Thanks to Andrew's handiwork, we now have a nice new TV stand to replace the $8 Ikea table that was previously serving in its place.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Congrats To The Grad - Part Two

The second graduate in the past week was my cousin Jimmy. As a part of a special program in his high school, each student graduates on their own when they are deemed ready for the workforce. So Jim got to graduate all by himself. As a sign of how beloved he is, there were over 40 people crammed into the library to see him graduate, including former classmates and parents, coworkers from his job placement, teachers and family.
Here's Jim giving a speech that he wrote himself on the progress he had made during school - he was cool as a cucumber during the whole thing!

Jim posing with his proud parents, Barry and Judy.

We headed down to his classroom afterwards to enjoy cake and snacks with Jim's teachers and classmates. I was touched to see that the food table featured a plate of sliced peppers - Jim's favorite snack. He is not known for his sweet tooth and often chomps on peppers instead. Surprisingly enough, these were also popular with the crowd.

I also LOVED the handmade decorations like this banner - they really added a festive air to the room:

Finally, a shot of me and the happy graduate, proudly flashing the button that Amy and I surprised him with:
Words can't express how incredibly proud I am of Jim - his graduation ceremony really emphasized the fact that he has grown so much over the years and I'm looking forward to seeing what he'll be doing next in his life.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Congrats To The Grad - Part One

It's been quite a week in my family, with two of my cousins graduating from high school.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, my cousin Andrew was feted last Sunday and was the motivation for my graduation cupcakes.
Here's the guest of honor himself, posing for an endless series of cake cutting pictures.

I must add that he's newly shorn due to his senior prom (take a look at the before hairstyle in the Memorial Day weekend posth here).

I must apologize for the dirty lens on my camera - it's causing the hazy glow around our faces! Look past it to see a lovely picture of Amy, my lovely cousin Andrea and myself:

One of the best things about family graduation parties is quite simply, family! All of the young'ens at the party (of which, I'm the oldest and almost 30 to boot, yikes) gathered for a group shot. It made the "grown-ups" sentimental as they recalled a similar picture from a family vacation in Maine that happened roughly seventeen years ago, since my cousin Andrew was in diapers in that picture! Time flies. I also had to laugh at how bright and perky my clothing seemed in comparison to my hipster cousins and sibling!

In fact, I have to give a shout out to my cousin Jaimi for her outfit - as a recent (college) graduate herself, I felt her outfit embodied that whole spirit of being young and hip and she rocked it!

Finally, the camera was turned on some of the grown-ups and parents in attendance - looking pretty good themselves.
Yay for summer and celebrating good things with family.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Happy Birthday Amy!

Karaoke queen at 28 years young!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Graduation Cupcakes

Yay! I have my laptop back. Hence, my ability to share pictures from the weekend. It's only fitting that I share pictures from my cousin Andrew's graduation party today, as I have the afternoon off to go attend another cousin's high school graduation ceremony. Graduation season is definitely in full swing!

First off, the food. I feel like I haven't done much creative baking in a while. Part of it's been the heat and part of it's just the lack of overall time and energy due to the million other things I'm trying to get done these days. However, when I saw a picture of graduation themed cupcakes, I felt inspired by their simplicty and overall cuteness to make them for the party.

I went with my go-to chocolate cake recipe for the cupcakes. I could gush about this recipe for days, not only does it exclude eggs as a leavener (making them easy to make even if you are out of eggs or worried about not having enough), but it results in the most perfect cupcakes. Nice, rounded domes + moist cake = perfection.
Perfect chocolate cupcake recipe (from Hershey's Kitchen):
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups water
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups water

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups.

2. Stir together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add water, oil, vinegar and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter.
3. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until wooken pick inserted in cake portion comes out clean. Remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Makes two dozen cupcakes.

Now comes the fun part, the stages of frosting the cupcakes. I used another recipe from the Hershey's website since I love the consistency and the color contrast of the frosting against the cupcakes.

One-bowl Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

6 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
2-2/3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat butter in medium bowl. Add powdered sugar and cocoa alternately with milk, beating to spreading consistency (additional milk may be needed). Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

I frosted these using my cloth pastry bag and an icing tip, using a simple spiral design that allowed me to move quickly from cupcake to cupcake. I had to pause after frosting the first cupcake to admire how nice it looked!

As you can see, to make graduation caps, I end up decorating each one with a mini Reese's peanut butter cup (large end down), topped with a Ghiradelli chocolate square (I went with the caramel squares) and adhered using a small dot of frosting. Another dot of frosting on top was used to hold a M&M in place and tassels and Andrew's initials were drawn on with a Betty Crocker gel frosting tube.

I think these look a little messier than I was looking for and it would've been better to have created a red frosting to use, instead of using the store-bought gel frosting. However, I've learned that I can't do everything and sometimes, it's worth a shortcut to save some time and frustration! Plus, I like the contrast of the vivid red with the chocolate, although as my Andrew pointed out, tassels are supposed to hang off the sides rather than lay on top. I saw some creative decorating ideas that used thin strings of red licorice to achieve that effect, but I definitely didn't have the time or patience to add that effect this past weekend. :)

What warmed my heart at the end of the day? Seeing the graduate of honor chowing down on a cupcake. I knew the cupcakes were right for him simply because they were loaded with tons of candy. Ever since he was little, Andrew has had the habit (aggravating for me at times) of picking candy off the top of my baked goods without eating the rest of the item (such as Hershey's kisses off of peanut butter cookies). So this time around, I figured he could pick the candy graduation caps and eat them, and this one time, I wouldn't scold him for it!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Time To Relax...

Today was another hectic day at work, and I ended up staying late to make sure I could finish up some work in preparation for being out of the office tomorrow for a training class and out Thursday for my cousin Jim's graduation. I was supposed to bring my computer home tonight (as I normally do) to finish up some work and realized I forgot it once I got home. No way was I going to do over an hour round trip to pick up the damn thing just to come home and work.
So I took it for a sign and relaxed tonight, and let Andrew serve me our first meal cooked on the new grill - burgers!
Unfortunately, all my pictures from the weekend are on the other laptop so the graduation party recap will have to wait until I'm reuninted with my laptop on Wednesday.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Congratulations Andrew!

Andrew, my cousin, that is.  My youngest cousin has officially graduated high school as of this weekend. And my first selfish thought is "Geez, I'm old if Andrew's gradutating high school." But I'm incredibly proud and excited at what the future holds for him as he heads to college this fall. More to come on his graduation party and what I baked (natch) for it.

A Little Bit of Louisiana In Boston

I think this is the last catch-up post before I actually make it into this weekend's events, but does it help that it feels like just yesterday that we were able to hang out with a friend who was visiting from the weekend, all the way from Lousiana?

Mike is one half of a fabulous duo (Jeanne being his other half). Andrew had gotten to known Jeanne through a former job, and happily, that gave us all the chance to become friends while they were still living in Boston. They ended up moving back home to Louisiana soon after the birth of their daughter Marie Elizabeth (here, here and here) and it feels like ages since we've all had a chance to hang out.

As Mike is in the process of writing a thesis at Harvard, he makes periodic visits to Boston and we had the opportunity to meet up with Mike last Saturday to show of our new house (which we still love) and grab some dinner in the city.

Fittingly enough, although I didn't realize it at the time, we ended up taking him to Parish Cafe (Louisiana being one of the states that actually has parishes). Even more interesting (a coincidence, I swear!) was the fact that Parish Cafe had purple and yellow flowers up front, so we made Mike, the LSU grad, pose in front of them:

Many hours and drinks later, we were still going strong - we had switched venues to join up with another group of friends for a 30th birthday celebration, and Andrew and Mike seemed pleased at the fact that they could still order Sam Adams even though the bar seemed like a fancy-schmancy place (my own words):

Cheers to the simple enjoyment of cold beers on a muggy day, good conversation and hanging out with a friend. The only thing that could've made the night better would have been Jeanne's presence but I'm happy to say that they will both be making it up to Boston in October for our wedding. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Venturing Into The South End

It had been way too long since Jen and I had enjoyed one of our monthly dinners together. And we had something to celebrate - a new job in Charlestown!

On Jen's recommendation, and taking advantage of the fact that the South End is now pretty close to home for me, we decided to head to Coda Bar and Kitchen on Columbus Ave last Friday.

The first thing we did was toast her new job with the most delicious cocktail (again, recommended by Jen). It's called the Grapefruit Summer Press (with Absolut Ruby Red Vodka, St. Germain Wild Elderflower, Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice, Fresh Lime) and it ranks in the top five drinks I've had in the past year. 

Cheers to Jen!

We were too busy talking for me to place close attention to the bread, but if I recall correctly, it was slices of a raising bread that came with a delicious hummus spread:

I was in the mood for something light and summery, so I went with the Spring Vegatable Risotto

 (with peas, fiddlehead ferns, grilled Vidalia onions, and Parmesano Reggiano). It was nicely flavored and hit the spot without making me feel I had eaten too much afterwards:

Jen chose the Steak Frites (chargrilled balsamic marinated hanger steak served with handcut shoestring fries). Can I tell you about the fries? They were perfection. Skinny, crispy, salty, delicious! I literally abandoned all pretense of being polite and consistently stole fries from Jen's plate throughout dinner. She was kind enough to allow it without commenting on it. :)

Desserts were a little underwhleming for me. I loved all the fresh chunks of strawberry and rhubarb, but I felt that the "crisp" part of the dish was a little to deconstructed and sparse for my liking. Pluses included the generous portion size and heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream - yummy!
Trying not to let my bias against most chocolate desserts influence my opinion, I thought Jen's dessert was a little better than my strawberry rhubarb crisp, but it wasn't anything special. I forgot what it was called but it was some sort of chocolate almond cake. It had a nice clean chocolate flavor that wasn't too rich but again, I didn't think was something you would remember weeks later and crave.
All in all, I found the food to be delicious and reasonably priced, and I liked the atmosphere at Coda. Heck, I'd come back just for a meal of french fries accompanied by an unlimited number of Grapefruit Summer Presses. And the brunch menu looks pretty good!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Signs That Summer Is Almost Here...

When I have one determined fiance spending hours on the deck putting together our new grill. This is about an hour into the assembly on Memorial Day:
That's his "I'm fed up with how long this is taking look". The problem was that we were offered a fully assembled grill in Sears but didn't have enough room in my car since it was already loaded with purchases from Lowes. So we relied upon Andrew's excellent assembly skills and he did not fail to deliver. And don't feel too bad for him, the weather was warm and gorgeous that day:
After a break for dinner and the light quickly fading, success! I can almost smell the burgers and the hotdogs now...except we still need to get our propane tank filled:
To reward my hardworking guy, I decided to use the fresh blueberries I had on hand (look at how big and juicy they are):

To make a blueberry cobbler for dessert!

I'm not going to bother posting the recipe since it ended up being a little too watery for my liking - however, it still tasted heavenly served with vanilla ice cream:
Aside from wedding-related tasks and errands this weekend, I'm determined to find a pick-your-own farmstand somewhere to load up on tons of fresh berries. Frozen, they'll last for baking projects in the winter when summer will just be a fond memory!