Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt, Then and Now...

What a difference a few months makes...

Cairo, Egypt while we were on our honeymoon in October:
Egypt now with the protests and riots:

Photo source here

My selfish thought, one that's been repeated by our family members, is that it's a good thing that we visited when we did.  Even back then, we traveled in a bus convoy that was escorted by armed security guards.  It just makes me sad that Egypt may become unaccessible to the outside world - it's truly one of those places that everyone needs to visit at least once in their lives.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mother Nature Is Laughing At Us...

I know the last thing that anyone living in New England wants to see is more snow or snow pictures, for that matter. This post is for my parents and anyone that is living in a warmer climate that doesn't see this much precipitation crammed into a short period of time!  And the forecast is already calling for another six inches (or more) on Tuesday into Wednesday...sigh.  I was kind of hoping that this pattern of weekly snow storms would end once we entered February.

Andrew reminded me of Pacman as he cleared away the latest inches (and inches!) of snow from Thursday's storm:
The snow blower has definitely been a lifesaver, although it still takes hours to dig out:
We've finally had time to refine our parking strategy for snow storms, and ended up parking our cars at the top of the driveway this time:
It's official, we have our own ski slope at the edge of our backyard now. There's just nowhere else to put the snow!
I managed to contribute a little bit of shoveling - this is what I was dealing with on our deck:
And I was dressed in my best for the occasion - bright pink rainboots (with a double layer of socks) to keep my feet dry as I walked through drifts of snow:
I snapped these later that day (or rather night) once we had the whole driveway cleared.  This is a look at our front entryway - the snow is literally waist high to Andrew. We're afraid that none of our plants in the yard have survived the pressure from the snow:
The turn into our driveway is tight with all the snow piled alongside it. Can you even see our fence beneath all the snow?

Andrew takes great pride in keeping our front walkway clear for the kids walking to the bus stop and the dog walkers heading towards the park. This picture also shows how high the snow drifts are, which definitely makes it harder to see cars as we exit the driveway:
Finally, we've acquired an impressive set of icicles on our gutters, which seem to get better with each passing storm:

I feel like all this snow has definitely put Andrew and I into hibernation mode.  Once all the snow is cleared away, all you have the energy to do is crawl back into the house and stay warm!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mystery Solved!

That mysterious popping sound that Andrew and I heard as we were sitting in our living room?

Andrew found this mess on our sun porch:

Turns out leftover soda stored (and subsequently forgotten) on the porch  + subzero temperatures = major soda explosions. As in, yes, that's frozen soda stuck on window on the opposite side of the room.

Here's an "exploded" can complete with sheared edges and icy remnants inside:

For some reason (I don't know if it would be ingredients or just the position of the soda boxes), all the Diet Cokes froze and were a complete loss. Out of the regular Cokes, only two froze and the six remaining cans seem to be fine.

Is winter over yet?

Boogerboy Boris

Do you know what a Boogerboy Boris is?

Neither did Andrew and I until his parents brought us a gift from their recent trip to visit Andrew's Granddad in Georgia. I present to you, Boogerboy Boris (it sounds even funnier when you say it out loud):

Charming, no?

You could read all this to understand what Boogerboy Boris does. He is more than just mere decoration. He actually serves a purpose!

Let me demonstrate.... 

Cracking the egg...

Egg white and one yolk in Boogerboy Boris, check!

Now for the one trick up Boogerboy Boris' sleeve:

Ta da! That's right, he's a snotmonster an egg separator! This just made baking oh so much more fun for me, just think of how much kids would love using him! And apparently, he works even better with a room temperature egg (we used a straight-from-the-fridge egg).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Restaurant Review: The Abbey

Full confession - this review is two months overdue!

If you've ever read restaurant reviews in publications, often the food writer refers to whomever accompanies them as their dining companion. I always found that term funny in the instances when the writer was clearly referring to a spouse or significant other. As a journalist, they clearly felt that using the phrase "dining companion" clearly elevated their meal beyond the ordinary. 

The reason for this random thought? While Andrew is most certainly my dining companion in life (I can hear the groans from my sister Amy for saying something so cheesy) and I eat the most meals with him, it's my friend Jen that is most frequently my dining companion for new or interesting restaurants. She's a Yelper and one of those people who knows about new restaurants so I can count on her for a good restaurant recommendation. And I have to admit that I not only have this restaurant review, but there is also another meal with Jen (from this month) that needs to be posted.  But I digress, back to the restaurant review.

Brookline is always a favorite (and convenient) location for us to meet for a meal, so when Jen mentioned that The Abbey had just opened in Washington Square, I was all for giving it a try.

First impressions of the place? It's dark and tiny!  We ate on a weeknight and relatively early (if I recall correctly, probably right before six) so we had no wait. But there was a slight wait by the time we left and I bet the line would be longer on the weekends, with not a lot of room to wait indoors by the bar (key in the winter time).

I ordered the Fried Halloumi Cheese with Yogurt Sauce because hello, did you just see the words "fried" and "cheese" appear together?  It was good but I didn't think the cheese or the dip had much flavor.

The bread and the hummus-like spread that they serve however, gets two thumbs up from me:

The Abbey is apparently known for their Bison (as in buffalo) Bolognese so I was glad that Jen ordered that as her entree. I did think it was a little picey ($17) but it did live up to the hype and was delicious:

As for my meal, I went with a gnocchi special and a side of shredded brussel sprouts (which everyone knows are my new favorite vegetable) - both were fresh, light and tasty. 

I think The Abbey is definitely worth trying, especially since they feature so many fresh ingredients in the dead of winter, but some of their entrees are a little pricey for me to eat there at a regular basis.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Newlywed Map

One of Andrew's Christmas gifts from me was a framed map.  Not very exciting on its own but what we're using it as is a travel map or a "newlywed map". The idea for it was partly inspired by a post from Beantown Baker on her created from scratch (of sorts) Newlywed Map and a map that Andrew's Granddad and Mimi (his late Grandmother) used to track their world travels.  It's used to mark all the locations you've visited in the world together.

As you can see, the US is decently (although not completely) covered.  And I'm happy to report that all the pins in Europe and Africa are completely from our honeymoon cruise (to date). And I'm pretty much solely responsible for most of the pins in Asia, although Andrew shares some of the Japan pins due to our trip last year.

The map I selected (for convenience's sake) came framed and customized with our family name.  It also offers five different colored pins to signify categories such as dream destinations, planned destinations, locations of loved ones and family, genealogical roots and of course, places visited.

For the time-being, Andrew and I just chose to focus on places we have visited on our own and visited together. To be honest, I don't think we'll track any of the other categories that were mentioned above because we think the most important thing for us is to be able to see a visual representation of where we have been.  However, I think we might play with different colored pins to differentiate places we've visited together from what was done seperately.

Not only is it a cool thing to for a couple or family (or anyone, for that matter) to have as a memento, it also serves as a great piece of artwork to hang on your walls and to spark conversation. 

We have found the perfect place to hang our map on the wall in our dining room and it looks great hanging over our latest furniture addition - a sideboard that matches our dining room table, also purchased at the Restoration Hardware outlet for a fraction of its original price!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Consolation Chocolate Pudding

I'm calling this recipe "Consolation Chocolate Pudding."  Not because it deserves to be regarded as second best to another recipe (In fact, the original recipe is from Smitten Kitchen and is called "Best Chocolate Pudding"). It's called consolation simply because it was made tonight. After the unexpected Pats' loss to the Jets.

I'm not even going to pretend to like football.  The most passion I can muster is rooting for my alma mater (Go Eagles!) with a hotdog in one hand and a beer in the other.  But you can't live in New England and not absorb some of the excitement about the playoffs. Especially when you live in a house with a Pats fan.  And while I did not set out to make this pudding deliberately timed with the Pats game or expecting them to lose, I must say it salvaged the rest of the evening.  Who can be bummed while licking thick, luscious, homemade chocolate pudding from a spoon? Not this guy - ahem, gal!

So I happily introduce to you "Even-though-the-Pats-are-out-of-the-playoffs-you-can-still-enjoy-life-Consolation-Chocolate-Pudding." 

  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup sugar (Shockingly enough, I found myself out of granulated white sugar. Which almost never happens to a frequent baker like myself. So I substituted 3/4 cup of powdered sugar)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups whole milk (I used 2 cups of heavy cream since I had it in the fridge and 1 cup of skim milk to balance it out)
  • 6 ounces 62% semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (Like Smitten Kitchen, I used chocolate chips. But forget all that nonsense about using fancy chocolate. I probably used around 10 oz of just plain old Tollhouse semi-sweet morsels, and it was delicious)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Combine the cornstarch, sugar and salt in the top of a double boiler.
I'm ashamed to admit, I actually used an improvised water bath for this. As in, heatproof glass bowl on top of a simmering pot of water. The embarassment comes from the fact that I actually own a double boiler now (thanks to a gift from wedding shower). And when I pulled it out, brand spanking new and in its original plastic bag and cardboard wrapping, I stuck it back on the shelf because I was too lazy to wash it before using it. That's what pudding does to you, it's a lazy type of dessert (in theory) that you want to casually throw together. So I was lazy and plunked a bowl on top of a pot. And it actually worked really well.

2. Slowly whisk in the milk, scraping the bottom and sides with a heatproof spatula to incorporate the dry ingredients. Place over gently simmering water and stir occasionally, scraping the bottom and sides. Use a whisk as necessary should lumps begin to form. After 15 to 20 minutes (It was more like 25 minutes for me), when the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of the spoon, add the chocolate. This was the fun part, it was almost magical to dump in the chocolate chips and whisk away, watching the all white mixture turn into chocolatey goodness.
Continue stirring for about 2 to 4 minutes, or until the pudding is smooth and thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
3. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer (Again, like SK, I skipped this step) into a large measuring cup with a spout and pour into individual serving dishes (Score! I used my spanking new ramekins - also a shower gift but washed by my loving husband in advance).

4. Place plastic wrap over the top of ramekins before refrigerating (to avoid pudding skin, place plastic wrap on top of the pudding and smooth it gently against the surface before refrigerating). Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days.  (After 30 minutes in the fridge, the pudding was still sloshing around and felt slightly warm. So we popped it into the freezer for 20 minutes and it was ready for our eager spoons.

You will never go back to a Hunts snackpack or a Jell-O bowl of pudding after this. It was just sooo good and rich with chocolate flavor.  As my loyal readers know, I'm not a fan of most chocolate desserts even though I love a good piece of chocolate.  It's really because I feel most chocolate desserts don't taste like chocoalte or just are overwhelmingly sweet.  This pudding is rich (and I imagine, would be even more awesome topped with a dollop of whipped cream and berries, or even dipping apple slices into it) but it just shines with tons of flavor. So yes, even chocolate pudding falls into one the category of tasting better when homemade, even though the commercial packaged versions are pretty decent.

Friday, January 14, 2011

For Luck...

A gift from Andrew's brother Adam:

A real horseshoe! Hung over our door with the ends up so the good luck doesn't escape.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow Day?

When I hear the term "Snow Day", I think of a day off from school (or work) filled with lazy things like sleeping in, doing nothing but watching bad daytime TV, eating comfort food, taking naps, and venturing outside for fun things like sledding and snowball fights.

But wamp, wamp, as an adult, you don't really get snow days. When I first woke up, there was the initial burst of excitement as seeing how much snow had accumulated outside (I love the juxtoposition of our patio furniture against the snowy weather outside):

This is a view of our backyard:

My lovely car waiting to be dug out:

So while I was stuck inside (my work from home day was actually busy due to the storm activity and I needed to be next to a computer and phone), poor Andrew was stuck for hours taking care of the snow - here's an action shot:

I finally made it outside around 4 p.m. - my responsibility was clearing off and digging out our cars and clearing off our back stairs and deck. And all I could hear was the shouts of glee from kids sledding in the park next to us (you can actually see them through the trees):

When did snow days stop being fun? Andew and I were so tired and sore, we ended up collapsing into bed much earlier than we typically do. It was sad knowing that we had to go into work the next day, especially since a lot of kids got a second day off from school in a row. No fair!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Just Call Us Gym Rats...

This may look like an ordinary basement to the uneducated eye, but for Andrew and me, it's our home gym.  We actually call it the {insert our last name} gym (original name, I know) but just because it's named doesn't mean that it's open for public use (take your sweat elsewhere, Phu!) 
Total number of machines in our gym? A whopping two, including our trusty treadmill (Andrew's main Christmas gift last year) and the Bowflex (Andrew's main gift this year):

Sad to say, the treadmill was neglected during the last couple months leading to the wedding and was even used as storage for shower gifts that we couldn't fit upstairs into our kitchen storage! However, it being a new year, and feeling inspired by New Year's resolutions, we're making the effort to be healthy. That means a regular exercise regimen - complete with an old-fashioned, pen and paper tracking calendar - as well as eating healthier. Sad to say, that means no "baking without a cause" as I promised Andrew. However, there are always events coming up that will require something sweet (two on my work calendar for this month, in fact) so this does not mean the end of baking posts! It just means I'll have to reserve my time and efforts for some really good recipes.

PS - I have to give a shout out for my Kindle, I didn't think it was possible to love it even more but it's wonderful for reading while you're on the treadmill.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Yummy Brussels Sprouts - Seriously!

I know it may seem weird, but the first time I ever tasted a Brussels sprout was last year. And it was because my manager let me try one from her lunch that she had bought at our office cafeteria. That's right, a famously repugnant vegetable cooked in a corporate cafeteria. And you know what, it was delicious. That's when my addiction to Brussels sprouts began and I was determined to make them at home.

It's funny, I don't know why kids (and adults) hate them so much. They are adorable to look at, and are in fact the perfect size to hold in your hand:
They are shaped like mini cabbages and are truly beautiful when you cut them in half:

I trimmed the stems off and sliced each brussel sprout in half for maximum exposure to buttery/garlicy goodness.

I went with a simple recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts from

  • 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and yellow leaves removed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C).
  2. Place trimmed Brussels sprouts, olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag. Seal tightly, and shake to coat.
  3. Pour onto a baking sheet (Pyrex pie plate in my case), and place on center oven rack:

4.     Roast in the preheated oven for 30 to 45 minutes, shaking pan every 5 to 7 minutes for even browning. Reduce heat when necessary to prevent burning. Brussels sprouts should be darkest rown, almost black, when done. Serve immediately.

 Doesn't this look luscious? I have to admit, I added dabs of Smart Balance (butter would work equally as well) during the roasting process for flavor and moistness.  And these ended up being finger licking good. As in, Andrew told me he didn't like Brussels sprouts and after I had him try one of these, he asked me to load up his plate (which I grudgingly did, since I wanted them all for myself).
I hope I've been able to convert a few more people into giving Brussels sprouts another try, otherwise, I'll be happy to eat them off your plate!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Teddy Bear Cupcakes

I actually made these in December for a coworker's baby shower:

But wanted to share since they were cute and pretty easy to make, I think it took an hour total to dip them in ganache and decorate them.  I was initially disappointed by how grainy it was since I didn't have bittersweet chocolate on hand, and had to improvise with non sweet chocolate with added sugar. However, I think the resulting texture effect actually worked with the teddy bear theme, and it was super easy to use candy melts (nose) and pop on some peanut and regular M&Ms (with a dab of chocolate frosting to hold them in place).

And it's timely that I'm sharing these with you as baby Brayden was born this week! Congrats to Kim, Greg and the rest of their family!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Do You Remember Now?

I've never thought much about (or believed) having a past life.

(Illustration from

However, I found an interesting website through another blogger's post and couldn't resist checking it out (click here). It's obviously intended to be more of a diversion (the disclaimer strongly supports this) but I was still intrigued by the response I got for my birthday and for Andrew's birthday.

  • I was male
  • Born in the territory of modern Labrador around the year 1350
  • My profession was that of a builder of roads, bridges and docks.
  • My psychological profile in your past life - I was a revolutionary. I "inspired changes in any sphere - politics, business, religion, housekeeping." and I "could have been a leader."
But what I found to be the most interesting part was the lesson that my last past life supposedly brought to my "present incarnation":

"You are bound to learn to understand other people and to meet all difficulties of life with a joyful heart. You should help others by bringing them a spirit of joy."

Interesting description for someone named Joyce in this life.

For Andrew:
  • He was female
  • Born somewhere in the territory of modern USA Northeast around the year 1025.
  • His profession was that of a handicraftsman or mechanic (I can see him using that to justify more tool purchases in this lifetime!).
  • Psychological profile: "Seeker of truth and wisdom. You could have seen your future lives. Others perceived you as an idealist illuminating path to future."  I think the first sentence is a very apt description for him.
  • The lesson from his past life: "Your lesson is the development and expansion of your mental consciousness. Find a good teacher and spend a good part of your time and energy on learning from his wisdom."
The best part is the fact that all analyses start with, "I don't know how you feel about this" and end with "Do you remember now?" So I pose a related question to you - if you check out the site, does the description seem to fit you?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Blizzard of 2010

I almost named this post "Boys Will Have Their Toys, Part Two" (read Part One here) which is why I don't feel bad about blogging about the Blizzard of 2010 in the year 2011.  This post isn't really about all the snow we got last week. It's New England after all, and we always get snow during the winter.  No, this post is all about the "fun" Andrew had using his latest toy.
But in all seriousness (and in deference to Andrew's hard work during the storm), I think I will have to christen the new snow blower as a survival machine. 

Poor Andrew got up at 5 a.m. last Monday (not having to be in work until noon) to clear our driveway so I could get into work.

Four hours later, his hard work paid off and we had a navigable backyard:

A driveway we could drive on (carefully):

I'm sure our mailman appreciated the path to our front door (we never use this entrance):

Andrew even cleared the sidewalk in front of the house (look at how high the snow is!) Although it didn't get used very much since none of the other sidewalks were cleared so anyone walking on this path would hit a wall of unshoveled snow once they reached the park next door. Actually, I think most pedestrians were walking in the street at this point:

And ok, so this post may be a bit of a storm recap, I just had to share the evidence of how strongly the wind was blowing during the Blizzard - I've never seen so much snow plastered to the side/back of our house:

The snow did make a neat pattern on the lattice: