Saturday, July 31, 2010

Not Your Average Chinese Dinner

Last year, I had the opportunity to join the MyBlogSpark network, which gives bloggers the chance to "review new products and services and participate in exciting giveaways, surveys and events." Through MyBlogSpark, I've been able to give away Pillsbury cookies and Stop & Shop gift cards and typically, get coupons to try different General Mills products.

That is why I was surprised to see an email from MyBlogSpark offering a special event for bloggers, including a four course dinner at Myers + Chang, free drinks and even a gift card to cover gas/travel expenses for me and a guest - um yes, please! I was excited at the thought of attending my first blogging event and even more excited by the fact that I could share the experience with Andrew (really, hide behind him if I felt too awkward at the event!)

I didn't know what to expect from the event, but the day of, I ended up checking Yelp for ideas on what to order and checked Myers + Chang's website and menu. While on the site, I noticed that the whole restaurant was going to be closed to the public for the MyBlogSpark event, which made me anticipate what was going to happen that much more.

We were one of the first to arrive at the restaurant.

The first sign of things to come was the waiver they had us sign handing over rights to any picture and video taken. That's right, video, since there was a camera man and sound man setting up in the corner. I was a bit confused since we had signed a waiver via email beforehand but after consulting with my attorney, I was given the go ahead to sign.

When we got to our table, I was charmed by what I found. In addition to Myers + Chang's usual decor (Chinese newspaper table mats and chopsticks at the table), we found little fortune cookie place card holders describing the four courses and options we had for each. 

Sign number two that I should've paid attention to - I recognized the options for the first two courses but remember thinking and telling Andrew that I didn't remember seeing family-style entrees on Myers + Chang menu online. Again, I didn't think much of it since I assumed I had was looking at a special event menu.

Our waiter was pretty friendly and chatty, and was willing to snap a picture of us at the table. At this point, I was grinning in anticipation of the meal ahead of us.

With a list of exotic drinks with Asian ingredients to choose from, it was hard to make a selection:

I decided on the Lotus Blossom, since it included ingredients I knew I liked: St. Germain Liqueur, sparkling chenin blanc and soda - it was light and refreshing as it looks:

For our first course, Andrew went with Mama Chang's Pork and Chive Potstickers - the dipping sauce was deceptively spicy, as in it took a few seconds for the heat to hit your tongue but it was GOOD!

I easily could've ordered the potstickers myself but decided to go with another favorite of mine - Crispy Spring Rolls with garlic chives, bamboo and shitake mushrooms:

Did someone say second course? Andrew went with the wok-roasted mussels with lemongrass and garlic grilled toast. Andrew said these were the most flavorful mussels he's ever had (also spicy) and the two times he had mussels since (sorry Publick House), it's paled in comparison to these:

I went with the chilled dan dan noodles with fresh peanut and chili sambal - I love noodle dishes and this one didn't fail to deliver. Since it was also spicy, I love how the spicyness contrasted nicely with the cool chunks of cucumber:

By the time the third course rolled around, we were pretty much already stuffed. Perhaps it was because we were marveling at our good fortune to be eating all this good food for free, but suddenly, Andrew remarked that wouldn't it be funny if General Mills had planned to trick us by serving us one of their meals instead of something from Myers + Chang. Note, this was as we were just trying the first bites of the orange chicken that Andrew had selected (meals are served "family style" at Myers + Chang, which means they are delivered to the table as soon as they are ready). As soon as the words left Andrew's mouth, we looked at each other and realized how much sense it made. With this in mind, we were trying to be analytical as we tried the sweet and spicy shrimp. I have to admit, I had my doubts on whether Andrew was right. The vegetables were crisp and didn't have the typical "frozen food" texture. The same for the shrimp. I felt like the rice wasn't frozen, but Andrew noted that it easily could have been served on rice from within the restaurant. We agreed that the details that made us suspect it could be frozen included its overly sweet sauce which was not as delicately balanced as the previous courses. What do you think? (Apologies, we were so involved with figuring out the frozen vs. fresh dilemma that I forgot to take any pictures until we had already dug into the shrimp dish):

The problem was, how could we verify our suspicion? We were tempted to ask our waiter but didn't want to come across as insulting if we were wrong - "Excuse me, your restaurant's food tastes like it's frozen - can you verify this fact?" Plus, we were one of the first tables to get the entrees, so it was hard to gauge the reaction at the other tables.

So I ordered another drink (the house Shanghai sake sangria) which to be honest, was blech in my opinion so thank goodness it was free. I seem to have problems liking any drinks with pear liquors in them. But it pretty to look at (note, picture was taken before I tasted it):

As stuffed as we were, we definitely saved for dessert since we knew that they were supplied by Joanne Chang's Flour bakery (Joanne obviously being the Chang in the restaurants name) - Andrew was a bit undecided but was convinced by the waiter's recommendation of the chocolate and cocoa nib terrine with Vietnamese coffee sauce. Since I'm not a big chocolate dessert fan, I'm not able to give an expert opinion but Andrew liked it:

My coconut cream pie with lime whipped cream was DIVINE. Truly worthy of all caps. It had a delicious shortbread crust and I loved the touch of toasted coconut on top. I don't recall tasting the lime in the whipped cream but the whole package was amazing. Andrew wasted no time in helping me clean the plate and thought it was definitely his favorite dessert of the two:
After our desserts were served, the MyBlogSpark and General Mills representatives in the room passed around fortune cookies bearing a special message:

That's right, Andrew's suspicious were right. Our entrees were really frozen meals from General Mill's new Wanchai Ferry line. I have to say that the meals were good enough that I don't think I would've guessed that they were frozen on my own. Not as good as the first courses, yes, but not frozen.

So thanks to MyBlogSpark and General Mills for an evening of good food and mind games. I'm praying that we don't somehow end up on a commercial for Wanchai since Andrew and I were stiff as boards in front of the camera. In fact, I think our conversation went like this: "This is good."  "Yeah." It wasn't quite the mix and mingle I was expecting. Iin fact, I missed out on the opportunity to meet one of my favorite bloggers, Beantown Baker since she was seated in the one location in the restaurant where her back was to me, and I didn't see her. However, you can still read her account of what happened at the event.

And in case you were wondering, yes, Andrew was smug the whole ride home (the whole day after, in fact) about being right. I hate when he's right.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ming Tsai. Need I Say More?

I've been out late the past two nights, last night to celebrate my sister Amy's first full-time job offer (yay Amy!) and tonight, I had a work dinner at Blue Ginger in Wellesley. Which I've always wanted to try and I got the full experience tonight.  More to come in a later post but I wanted to share the highlight of the night - I got to meet Ming Tsai!!
Can I tell you that I was (quietly) shrieking after he visited our table the first time, and did a little dance in my seat after he came back to take a picture with us.

PS. Andrew's bachelor party (random sidenote: these are called "stag" parties in the UK) is this weekend, so I should have plenty of peace and quiet to catch up on my posts.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Care Package Of Sorts

Ugh. The past week has just been crazy. And most of it wasn't wedding related, yikes! So if there are any readers left, I promise you I have an extensive backlog of posts and pictures. But they're not going up tonight, I chose to workout for the first time in weeks over blogging (extensively).  Maybe tomorrow. If I catch up on sleep.

I leave you with this shot, one of the highlights of the past week - a care package from home. Actually, a box from my parents that contained the MOB (mother-of-the-bride) dress that my mom didn't like, shipped to me so I could return it. The packing material my mom used?

Package upon package of Japanese "Asparagus biscuits". Which is a complete misnomer since they are not asparagus-flavored (just shaped like asparagus) and are a type of slightly sweet cookie instead - I know the British call their cookies biscuits, but we're talking about Japanese cookies getting consumed in the US. Most of these were a gift from my mom to Andrew's parents, since she remembered how much they liked them from her last visit to the US. That's not to say that Andrew and I didn't indulge in a few packages, there were certainly enough to go around!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blue Eggs Bring... robins! It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was peering down at two eggs in a robin's nest but this past weekend, Andrew's dad Tom parted the grapevine leaves so I could take this shot:
They're not very cute or cuddly but for a lack of better words, it was very cool to see baby birds up close and personal! I think it's moments like this (chipmunks also get me very excited) that I realize that I'm more of a city girl than I realized.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Red Mango

It'll come as no surprise for readers that I am a huge frozen yogurt fan. I've tried Chill in Cleveland Circle, BerryLine in Harvard Sqauare and in Kenmore, Berry Freeze in Coolidge Corner, Pinkberry in NYC, even Razzleberry in Japan and now can add Red Mango to the list.

While Andrew and I were out and about on Saturday, our errands took us to the Natick mall (I refuse to call it the Collection) and to our surprise, we saw Red Mango on the second level:

Which of course, was our cue to zip right in and order some frozen yogurt! Despite some intriguing flavor options, we stuck with our favorite, the original flavor. Plus, it gives us a good basis for comparison against the other chains.

While we sat down at the stools while we were waiting for our orders to be taken care of, we ended up eating the frozen yogurt at a seating area in another section of the mall since it was so crowded inside Red Mango:

Our assessment of Red Mango? I think Andrew's medium sized serving illustrates a couple of main points. Of all the frozen yogurt places we've tried, Red Mango was the skimpiest in terms of amount of frozen yogurt and toppings. We could actually see a manager instructing an employee on the proper way to swirl the frozen yogurt so it was tall and skinny. A charitable person would say that was to leave room for the toppings. However, based on what made it to the top of both of orders, I don't believe that was the case. When we've visited places like BerryLine and Chill, and even more recently, Pinkberry, they've all done their best to pile on the toppings so it's spilling off the sides:

As for the flavor? While it still had the tanginess that I enjoy, it was definitely more cream cheese in flavor than its competitors. Don't get me wrong, I love cream cheese, but for frozen yogurt, BerryLine and Pinkberry are still tops for flavor in my book.

So while I'd probably get Red Mango the next time we walk by it in the mall (I mean, it's still healthier than most of the food that you find in a mall), it's definitely not something that I would drive to in order to fulfill a craving.

On a sidenote, while we were eating the frozen yogurt in an open seating area, we realized that we had missed a special wedding event (WE's Wedding Mall Tour 2010) by a few hours:

I was a little disappointed when I thought all the people on the poster had been at the event, since I watch David Tutera on "My Fair Wedding" (one of the many wedding shows that I watch). However, Andrew was observant enough to read it was just Ron Ben-Israel that had visited Natick on the sign:

While he is a fellow baker, at this point, wedding cakes are one of the things I don't have to worry about!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wedding Bling

I've never been one to enjoy using the term "bling" when referring to jewelry but I can't think of a term that's more appropriate when you're talking about wedding jewelry!

We had checked out Long's Jewelers a couple of weeks back, and while we were impressed by our salesperson's knowledge, I wasn't impressed by the smaller selection of rings and I didn't see anything that felt right with my engagement ring. Barmakian had gotten rave reviews from the Boston Knot brides, plus a few friends that had gotten their rings there, so it made our list of places to check out. We decided to visit the Framingham location (which was pretty impressive) and make it a day of running errands at the various stores in the Natick/Framingham area.

I think it ended up taking us around 30 minutes to pick out a wedding ring for me, and to my surprise, I ended up walking out with it in hand. For some reason, I thought they would have to order away for it but the ring was a good fit. Our saleswoman recommended waiting a little bit before deciding whether or not to get it resized, since it's hard to get a good gauge on fit when the weather is this hot and humid outside. I thought this advice was spot on, since my engagement ring got resized around this time of the year, and I swear that it's slightly too big on my finger for most of the year when the weather is normal.

Back to the wedding ring, my saleswoman told me I could come back before the wedding to get it resized for free if I wanted, and to get both my engagement and wedding rings cleaned and polished. Sweet! They also cleaned my engagement ring that day and I must say, it was sorely needed. Nothing like trying on squeaky clean and shiny wedding bands to help point out how dirty your engagement ring is.

Do you want to see what it looks like?

Not quite yet - this is another surprise that gets unveiled at the wedding. The band is super simple, and without sounding too obnoxious, I actually ended up going with smaller diamonds than I originally anticipated. I wanted something that would complement, not outshine, my engagement ring and to tell you the truth, anything too big and shiny just looked weird on my hand. I heart the ring and I can't wait for Andrew to put it on my finger!

What about Andrew's ring, you may be thinking? He actually realized at Longs that all he wanted was a simple domed ring. We were quoted a very high price for a low-weight platinum ring, and he found the same ring online at medium weight for nearly half the price. We're fine with the whole online thing, since Andrew actually ordered my engagement ring from an online retailer (James Allen) and we've both been satisfied by the quality. Andrew looked over the (very extensive) men's seleciton at Barmakians but didn't try on a thing since it only confirmed how much he liked the simple style he had settled on at Longs. So after we got home on Saturday night, we purchased Andrew's ring online from White Flash. Ordering my ring online would've been nearly impossible with all the subtle differences women's bands have and getting a sense for how well it fit next to my engagement ring.

Regardless, we're excited to have made an important decision and feel confident in our choices. Plus, I've got a nice sense of relief from getting yet another big wedding thing crossed off the to-do list.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Date Night In Dorchester

It's been a while since Andrew and I made the effort to go out somewhere decent for dinner (i.e. something different other than our weekly Bertucci's fix) but we were still feeling a bit lazy, so we picked something within walking distance on Thursday night.

While I had the chance to experience the Ledge soon after we had first moved into our house, this was the first time that Andrew got to eat there (not counting the fact that he had eaten my leftovers from my first meal).

We went with one of our traditional favorites, calamari. I have mixed feelings about Ledge's version of it. It didn't seem to have very much calamari (in the sense that there were numerous tiny bits of calamari with a thick bread coating). However, it almost wasn't a bad thing since the coating was very nice and crunchy. The dipping sauce was definitely meh, Andrew and I both agreed that it tasted like honey water (in flavor and consistency) so we avoided it for the most part. Full disclosure, we did end up cleaning the plate:

I had a hankering for seafood so I went with scallops accompanied by green beans and mashed potatoes. Everything was delicious and perfectly cooked and seasoned, so this was plate #2 that got cleaned completely. Andrew and I always joke at how restaurants give you a miniscule amount of scallops (we had guessed beforehand how much I would get and I had optimistically said at least five) but these were very big and tasty and I ended up slicing each one into four or five bites.

Andrew also went the seafood route, getting one of his favorites, fish and chips. Not much to say on this front except that he liked it and said the fries were surprisingly crispier than one would expect for steak fries. Since I'm not a fan of fries that are this thick and was stuffed from my own meal, I didn't even try filching a fry from his plate:

For dessert, we skipped the Ledge's menu and decided to try the ice cream shop that was on the same block as the restaurant:

What I didn't realize initially was that this was the type of store that does the Coldstone Creamery model - it had pretty plain ice cream flavors and you could pick mix-ins to get smushed up with the ice cream. The ice cream was good but I was disappointed by the lack of fruity mix-ins and missing almonds (most New England ice cream shops seem to avoid almonds). So I just ended up getting a plain scoop of chocolate chip ice cream. It was good, but I think I would've preferred an ice cream menu with more elaborate flavors. Andrew wasn't as picky as me, and really liked his vanilla ice cream with heath bar mix-ins.

We both ended up feeling uncomfortably stuffed for the rest of the night, so lesson learned - we'll skip the appetizer the next time we know we want to have dessert! But it was nice to slowly stroll with our ice cream in hand, enjoying the comfortable weather that seems to only come around at 8:30 pm these days.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Orzo and Tomato Salad with Feta Cheese

I'm really much more of a baker than I am a cook, but I was motivated to make something more on the savory side for the BBQ.

Thus I present to you, my first orzo dish which was surpisingly easy - Orzo and Tomato Salad with Feta Cheese.

In my book, anything that calls for feta rocks!

I'm going to take the lazy way out and provide you the recipe link here.

I left out the dill (just because I didn't have any), used grape tomatoes sliced in half instead of a whole tomato, and added yellow peppers.

I'm also happy to report that I was able to use fresh parsley from my window sill plant (From L to R: Thai Basil, Chives and Parsley) - hello green thumb I never knew I had! I just need to find some recipes that call for using some of the other herbs.

But back to the orzo salad, it's definitely best to make it a day before you intend to serve it, since the flavors intensify overnight.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Marshmallow Fruit Dip

Ok, first, I need to admit that I had every intention of blogging last night but instead, I ended up falling asleep at 8:30 p.m. on the couch - whoops!

Back to the BBQ we hosted over the weekend, this was one of the simplest dishes that we featured. To tell you the truth, my sister put in all the work of washing and chopping the fruit. I love that it's easy to make, highlights one of the best things of summer (fresh fruit), and is relatively healthy (depending on how much dip you pile on).

First, start off with a simple fruit salad - we went with blueberries, strawberries, grapes, cherries and kiwis but you could toss anything in here.

Whip up the most INCREDIBLE topping in the world. Bring an 8 oz bar of cream cheese (you can even use the low fat stuff) to room temperature and mix until blended with a container of marshmallow fluff. That's it.

I know it doesn't sound very revolutionary but this fruit dip is amazing. It has the perfect light consistency and the right balance of flavors. It's not as sickenly sweet as straight marshmallow fluff since it's balanced out by the tang of the cream cheese. On fresh fruit, it's out of this world. You should try it as soon as you can!

In case you were wondering, it was a huge hit with everyone at the BBQ as well.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Good Housewarming Gift?

Imagine if you were hosting a party (or in our case, a housewarming BBQ) and someone came up and handed you detergent as a gift? How would you react?

In my case, I laughed out loud and offered thanks to my sister and the only other guest who was of Korean descent. It's a traditional Korean custom to give detergent as a housewarming gift, something I had forgotten about until I saw them walking in with it. Note to self, I must remember to ask my mom about the significance of it, I'm sure it's supposed to signify luck or something along those lines. Plus, I love the fact that it's just plain useful. I think toilet paper is also a traditional gift, so I'll have to try doing that for the next friend that moves into a new place.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Straight Out Of A Catalog

The past couple of days - who am I kidding, the whole past week - has been consumed by preparing for a housewarming BBQ where we would introduce our friends to the house for the first time. While family and a few select friends were able to see the house from the beginning (in really rough shape), we decided we were ready to show off the house to the world and were using it as motivation to finally unpack some of the last boxes that were lingering around.

So while my camera was fully charged and ready to take pictures, I completely forgot to take any in the craziness of the day while fulfilling my hostess duties.  However, I did manage to snap this photo in the calm before guests descended. Andrew had been consumed with getting our three season porch ready for the party, which included moving boxes out of it (since we had been using it for storage space), building our patio furniture and locating lights for it. I'll take credit for finding new pillows to replace the dreary pillows that came with the set. The end result was something that looked picture perfect, like something out of a Pottery Barn catalog:

It's the perfect place to sit and enjoy the summer weather, catch breezes from outside and the overhead fan while enjoying a cold beverage.

Andrew's parents were the first to enjoy the room the night before our BBQ for a quick drink and then I had a group of friends spend most of the day in it on Saturday. As one of them put it, "I could spend all day in here - in fact, I think I just did!"

I know this is a bit of a no-brainer statement but it was incredibly exciting to show off the house to everyone and hear how much people liked it. Four months after buying the house, Andrew and I still have no regrets about our decision and we take a lot of pride in finding new things (at bargain prices) to turn the house into our home.

Favorite Moments From The Fourth

You've already heard about my third of July but what did we do on the actual holiday? Enjoy a small family BBQ with Andrew's parents, aunt and uncle, and cousin.  It was another HOT and sweltering day, so we spent most of the day lounging around the pool, eating and enjoying the antics of Andrew's cousin's little girls.

The other main attraction of the day was Andrew's parents' grapevine - this thing is a monster compared to our two little plants. I was pleased to see grapes forming on their vine...

...and was even more charmed by what was hidden within. Andrew's dad told us that a robin had built her nest in the vines. While this was a bad decision on the robin's part, because each time someone would go on the deck, it would alarm the robin and she spent most of the day flying in and out of the vines all day, it was good for us because we go to see this:
As I told Tom, this was the first time I had seen robin eggs in person "other than the candy ones that you eat for Easter."

I'm also happy to report that the neighbor's cat Smokey made it down from the tree, and spent most of the afternoon resting in the shade of the grapevines. I swear she wasn't even aware of the robin and was just looking for a cool place to relax.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Three Months To Go

Ok, I can't say that much else has been accomplished since the 100 day milestone a week ago. I'm now past my sixth draft of invitations, and I'm hoping desperately that I haven't annoyed my designer so much that I won't be receiving a seventh draft! I think part of it was due to the fact that I didn't fully understand the limitations of letterpress invitations (less is more, in case you were wondering) and I needed to separate what I admire in general to what I actually want to represent us and the wedding. Plus, I work with designers on a regular basis at work and I'm used to going through multiple drafts of projects at work and making changes left and right. I'm hoping that the seventh draft is a charm, especially since I want to get the invitations out by early August at the very latest.

The other big thing that got accomplished, with help, was getting the ball rolling on getting my Uncle Rich approved as our officiant. The state of Massachusetts will designate a person of your choice as an officiant for one day and for one wedding, but they won't let you apply for the designation until the wedding is three months out. Rich was the one that actually reminded me over the 4th of July weekend that we could think about applying for the designation. I filled out a portion of the one page Marriage Designation form and forwarded it to Rich, who filled out the rest and secured a letter of recommendation. For only $25 and a complete form, Rich will hopefully receive an official letter of approval in the coming weeks to serve as our officiant.

As for the marriage license itself, Andrew and I will be getting that sometime in August, due to the timing constraints around that as you have to get married within a certain amount of days of obtaining it.

Now I just need to get cracking on some of the DIY stuff and small details.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Third of July Recap

The Third of July has always been a big part of the holiday weekend for my family because it serves as a mini-reunion of sorts. We all gather at a cousin's (technically my Dad's cousin) house on the beach in Plymouth and stuff ourselves with good food and beer. Once dusk falls, it's time to head down to beach en masse with the rest of the neighborhood:

The Third of July is celebrated in this neighborhood with bonfires along the shoreline and ordinary people shooting off fireworks:

Once the bonfire on our stretch of beach was lit, you could feel and see the difference:

It was nice and mellow hanging out with family and friends in the light from the bonfire, digging toes in sand, watching fireworks and looking at a clear sky filled with stars:

Reviving another tradition, a Santa Claus look-alike named Patrick initiated group sing-alongs of patriotic songs. Once he started singing, everyone approached the bonfire to join in the singing and it looked almost pagan:

The long walk up the stairs (with roughly 139 steps) was made easier by the fact that we knew dessert was waiting for us back in the house.

I'm Back...

Apologies dear readers. As life gets even busier in these final months to the wedding, I feel like I have less energy to write posts although my pile of photos gets bigger and bigger!

Bear with me. I'm still pledging to write on a regular basis but I don't think I can manage daily until we're back from the honeymoon. :)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Happy Birthday Pete!

(I know this is late, but let's pretend it actually got posted the night it happened!)

Happy Birthday to a swell guy...

So swell that the rounds of shots seemed never-ending... 

Which may have caused your field of vision to look a little like this...
And caused you to sing as enthusiastically as this...
Here's hoping your hangover wasn't too severe for the Fourth of July weekend!