Friday, July 29, 2011

Meet Cameron The Cutie

These pictures were originally supposed to appear in the last post about Philadelphia, but it was just too hard to pick just a few so I decided they deserved their own post!

While we were in Philly, Eric (another one of Andrew's college friends), his wife Jen and son Cameron drove into the city to meet up with us and hang out for a few hours.  Some of you may remember Cameron from way back when, he has really grown up (and grown a full head of hair) since then.  I had the opportunity to meet - and be charmed by - Cameron for the first time at the wedding but I didn't get nearly enough time to hang out with him.

He was adorably shy and stuck near his mom for the first hour, occasionally peering out at us. Once he got used to us, he started moving around the room more, especially when we started tempting him with treats like mini chocolate chip cookies.

Now look at how adorable those curls and smile are! Apparently, he's quite the ham around cameras and once I pointed the camera his way, Cameron immediately stopped chewing and shot me a grin.

I didn't quite get to held him by the end of the visit (probably for his own good, because I would have squeezed him hard for being so darn cute) but we were successful in getting him to talk a little bit. Of course, he was more enthralled with the basement window at the top of the stairs that allowed him to look out into the street but I won't take that personally.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Highlights From Philadelphia

In another catch-up post, Andrew and I had the opportunity to visit Philadelphia for a whirlwind weekend last month. When I say whirlwind, I mean that we arrived around noon on Saturday and got home to Boston around 8 PM on Sunday, which means we spent a good chunk of our time driving the whole weekend.  I honestly can't remember the last time I was in Philadelphia so I suspect it was a good ten years ago visiting Breena while we were both in college!

Andrew went to Penn State undergrad, so needless to say, most of his friends from college (all?) still live in Pennsylvania! We were fortunate enough to stay with his friend Pete and his fiancee Nikki in their Philadelphia condo, which gave us an opportunity to catch-up and try some of their favorite neighborhood joints (pizza for lunch, Italian for dinner) for meals.  I think it would be tough for Andrew and I to downsize to a city condo (although Pete's and Nikki's is decently roomy) but I must say, it's awesome to walk out your front steps and have access to so many neat things within walking distance!

For example, while walking to the parking garage around the corner from their place, we spotted the Magic Gardens:

This what it looked like from across the street, and it immediately drew us in, even though our hands were full carrying overnight bags. 

By this, I mean that I dragged Andrew across the street so I could take pictures close-up

From researching the place after the fact, apparently this is a public art installation featuring the work of mosaicist Isaiah Zagar. It features "found objects and contributions from the community" and is a "labyrinthine mosaic collection". It was closed when we peeked in but you could see walls just covered with the most random assortment of things!

Bicycle wheels, anyone? We were bummed that it wasn't open (it was 6:30 in the morning, after all) but we'll definitely have to make another trip back to see it, especially since it's located so close to Pete's place

So why were we up at the crack of dawn? To watch Amanda compete in the Philadelphia Triathlon, which was the main reason we made the trek down to Philly. Unfortunately for us, while parking was readily available for spectators by the "Please Touch Museum," the triathlon's route was very poorly planned for people to be able to see the triathletes transitioning from one stage to another. Which means we spent the whole morning hoping for a glimpse of Amanda. We waited by the bike transition area but missed her out of the water (due to the crowd, it was impossible to pick her out) and missed her again on the bike route, even after standing an hour in one place. I'm positive we did see her (since the route looped twice, so chances were good that she passed us at least once) but the riders were going so fast down the hill, we couldn't be sure.

Finally, we staked out the finish line, determined to catch her running the last leg of the triathlon.  This is where we got lucky.  We caught a lucky break when we spotted one of Amanda's friends (whom we had met the night before at dinner) going through the finish line.  Javier joined us afterwards, and it was his sharp eyes that caught Amanda going by in the distance to begin her run. Andrew yelled her name repeatedly until she saw us, and we hoped that would give her a little boost to get through 6+ miles.

We kept on watching and finally, we saw Amanda!

Seconds away from going over the finish line

Amanda and her crew of fellow triathletes, who drove a fleet of Zipcars down to Philly from NYC

Amanda flashes us her "I got a medal" look as Andrew examines it admiringly

Some of you may remember the day-glo orange sign from last year, we saved it since we knew Amanda would be competing in more triathlons and it came in handy once again

We just need to buy Amanda a matching orange jersey so it's easier to pick her out from the crowd!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wedding Woes

Andrew and I the pleasure of attending one of my coworker's weddings over the weekend (congrats Sue & Dave!) 

The title of this post refers not to their wedding, but the comedy of errors that proceeded our arrival at the wedding.

Andrew and I were busy condo hunting in Natick with my parents and were cutting it close with time.  We made it back to the house in time to take a quick shower, change, and make it out the door with forty minutes to spare before the ceremony/reception in Sharon.  We get into Andrew's Civic, make sure we have everything we need (card, camera, invitation with address) and hit the road. A mile away from the house, a "low pressure" symbols pops up.  Andrew turns onto a side street, does a walk around the car to inspect the tires, and gets back in. He's not noticing anything but we have a short debate on whether to proceed in the hopes that it's just a false reading.  We decide against tempting fate to give us a flat tire, go back to our house and switch cars (where we do notice that one of the front tires is slightly low).

Fast forward and we pull up to the reception site at 5 PM on the dot. Getting out of the car, it's only then we realize that Andrew's suit jacket and camera are still sitting in the back of the first car. Doh! And the one promise I had made Sue was that as a fairly recent bride, I understand how important it is to capture all the details from the day and that I would take a million pictures for her.  Seeing as Andrew has never met Sue or Dave, he graciously offers to drive back to Milton and grab the missing items. I scoot into the country club, and luckily, the ceremony starts ten minutes late so I have just enough time to grab one of the last seats.  It's beautiful and gives me an opportunity to reminisce about my own ceremony but in one of the only times that I have ever wished a wedding ceremony to last longer, it wraps up in a scant 20 minutes! No sign of Andrew or the few coworkers that I know.  Luckily, I do run into a couple that I know at the cocktail hour and Andrew (with impeccable timing) shows up just as I make it to the front of the line at the bar.  Thankfully, the rest of the night proceeds smoothly. 

As this was the first wedding we've been to since having our own, I must say 1) it was nice to relax and just worry about showing up (minus the scrambling about I mentioned above and 2) it gave us time to reflect on our wedding and realize how much we loved things that we did. 

And in case you're wondering, Andrew did add air to all four tires of the Civic when we got back from the wedding.  I'm not sure our neighbors appreciated the sound of the air compressor at 10 PM on a Sunday night (sorry!) but it had to be done to ensure that I could use the car safely to get to work the next day (since I leave super early and before Andrew is awake).

Last Shift

When my mom cooked for us last night, she fed us in shifts. My dad got fed as soon as he got home.  Andrew and I each ended up working a little late, getting home late as a result and eating around 6:15 PM. 

Last shift was Amy and Phu at 7:45 - Amy experiencing another long and sucky day at her job and Phu having gotten soaked in the short walk from the T station to our place.  Both starting feeling better as they dug into the meal.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Getting Stuff Done

My parents have been here officially a week, as of tonight. What have we accomplished so far?

Cell phone for my dad, check!
American pizza for dinner (much better than the Anthony's brand pizza sold on Army bases), check!
Hiking in the Blue Hills, check!
New car for my parents, check!

Tour of three condos, check!
Stuffing our faces with the fabulous Korean dinner made by my mom, check!

Unfortunately, my parents are still battling jet lag, so no check on that front.

Monday, July 18, 2011


Are just too cute, so I had to share one more picture...
And a shout out to Tom and Charlotte, my other set of parents, for being generally wonderful AND loaning us one of their cars, so my parents have a car to use (I hope you forgive me for posting this picture!)

Picture says it all - two of the coolest cats around...

Today's The Day...

I interrupt my stream of catch-up posts with a news update - my parents land in MA tonight!  For the first time since I was 18, my parents and I will live in the same country and the same time zone.

This is one of my favorite pictures of my parents together, snapped by my bridesmaid/photographer extraordinaire Camie. They will be staying with Andrew and me while we help them shop for a car, condo hunt and move eventually into a new place!

While we're on the topic of my family, I'd like to give a little birthday shout out to my cousin Jim (picture is also from the dress rehearsal and courtesy of Camie)

Friday, July 15, 2011

BC's Memorial Labyrinth

I feel extremely old each time I visit BC and realize that there is something new there that didn't exist when I was going to school there.  Breena had two simple requests for her visit in Boston - a hike (which we accomplished in the Blue Hills sans camera) and a visit to BC's labyrinth.  I was confused when she mentioned it, because when I was a student, the labyrinth was a temporary thing built each year, which consisted of lines applied (painted?) onto a lawn.  What I didn't realize was that BC had built a permanent labyrinth in 2003.

It was built as a memorial to the 22 BC alumni who lost their lives during 9/11, and there is a plaque that bears their names.

The shape of the labyrinth had significance for Breena - its design is modeled after a 13th-century labyrinth laid in stone on the floor of the nave of Chartres Cathedral in France.  She even has a tattoo of the same labyrinth on her leg (shame on me for forgetting to take a photo of it!

What's neat about the labyrinth's pattern is that there is only one way in, which is the way out, and the path that you follow takes the longest possible way to arrive at the center. This give plenty of time for the walker to meditate and get lost in one's thoughts.

This is what you see when arrive in the center (BC's seal). I was touched by what looked to be remnants of flowers laid at the center. I also have to attest to the fact that although the labyrinth is located next to a busy corner of Comm Ave, all the noise fades away you are walking the labyrinth's path.

Another touching sight - the names of the 22 alumni are also etched in the outer ring of the labyrinth. I found it especially poignant that the remnants of the morning rain were fading last from the names, calling your attention to them.

It was a a nice moment of peace in a busy weekend.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Amy's Birthday at American Craft

The special person that inspired the cupcakes? My younger sister (only sibling, in fact) Amy, who just keeps getting older which means - you guessed it - that I keep getting older too.

We are known to hang out at The Publick House in Brookline way too often, but this time, Amy opted for American Craft because she figured it would be easier to make a large dinner reservation (I think there were 11 of us total).  And despite the fact that this celebration took place in a restaurant I had never eaten at, I took no pictures of the food!  I remember some of the dishes being really good and my entree being nothing special, so I don't think the experience was strong enough to lure me from Publick House on an ordinary night.  And I feel a little lame for complaining about this, but I guess American Craft is all about serving food and spirits from craft brewers and distillers.  Which is fine and dandy and even admirable, but when I order a Tanqueray and tonic, I would prefer that you tell me what the restaurant stands for, tell me you don't have Tanqueray and give me another option rather than say nothing and deliver a G&T that tastes like crap because the waitress made a substitution for a gin that I don't like in it.  So my recommendation, stick with the beers or the cocktails!

Back to the object of our celebration, what does one get a birthday girl who is an ardent Bruins fan (who has cheered them on for years, not a bandwagon fan from this year) and whose birthday falls the weekend after the Bruins win the Stanley cup?

The group gift contained some worthy contenders. including a Bruins Stanley Cup towel:
What's this? A tattoo sleeve (calm down mom, not the real thing!)

Did you figure it out? Yes, that's a Bruins tattoo sleeve that Amy is so elegantly displaying:

Then came the biggest part of the gift...

Amy's own jersey (apparently that's a small and the smallest size that her friend Kira could find)

That grin on her face? It's for the name across the back of the jersey - Lucic!

A view of the table (minus me, obviously) and with the cupcakes on the scene - yes, we were those people who brought our own cupcakes in a cupcake carrier. Our waitress was surprisingly fine with it (so I'll forgive her for the nasty gin and tonic)

Here's a close up of the left side of the table that you couldn't see well in the picture above

Amy presided in the middle and was thrilled to see the cupcakes! We even shared with the waitress and gave her one of each type - she seemed to like them too.

Amy's birthday celebration? Success! I think in Amy's eyes, she got her true birthday gift with the Bruins' championship win.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Crème Brulee Cupcakes

My sister Amy's 29th birthday was a special enough occasion that it warranted two types of cupcakes - the first batch that Breena and I tackled were the Margarita cupcakes. The second batch that I selected were
Crème Brulee cupcakes - one, because Amy and I both love crème brulee (who doesn't?) but two, because they sounded like a fun thing to make (hello, blow torch anyone?)

So I proudly present our batch of Crème Brulee cupcakes, which required multiple steps and the aforementioned blow torch, but was so worth it in the end!

Crème Brulee Cupcakes from Beantown Baker
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch for the egg whites
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 cup milk - (I always use skim milk and never notice a difference)
3 tablespoons caramel syrup - (Like Jen, I used Smuckers ice cream topping)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Alternately beat in dry ingredients and milk.

Add caramel syrup and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff but not dry. Gently fold whites into batter.

Spoon batter into cupcake papers, filling cups about 2/3 full. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool.
At this point, I was a little alarmed at how the cupcakes were turning out.  They kept caving in the middle and seemed a little too sticky in texture on top. But we kept the faith, realizing that the frosting would be the true standout of these cupcakes.

Brown sugar swiss meringue buttercream

1 cup light brown sugar
4 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

Put sugar, egg whites and salt into the top of a double boiler over a pan of simmering water. Whisking constantly, cook until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm (about 160 degrees).

Whisking constantly, cook until sugar has dissolved and mixture is warm (about 160 degrees). Pour heated egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat egg white mixture on high speed until it forms stiff (but not dry) peaks. Continue beating until fluffy and cooled, about 7 minutes total.

Switch to the paddle attachment. With mixer on medium-low, add butter two tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. Increase speed to medium-high; continue beating until frosting appears thick, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and continue beating 1 minute to reduce air bubbles.

The resulting frosting is very light and silky in texture, very similar to the frosting on the Brown Sugar Praline Cupcakes I had made for Cupcake Camp Boston.
To assemble cupcakes

Remove center of cupcake using the cone method (which we didn't do since our cupcakes had conveniently collapsed and created their own craters). Fill cupcake with buttercream. Sprinkle brown sugar on top and caramelize with crème brulee torch.

This is the part where we put the birthday girl to work.  We thought of it as a part of her birthday gift.  We handed her the crème brulee torch and had her working hard on caramelizing the brown sugar.

I had read some comments on the Beantown Baker blog where people were having trouble with having their frosting melt off while using a torch.  With this in mind, we refrigerated the cupcakes before torching and put them back in the fridge right after. Amy was also careful to maintain a distance away from the frosting and stopped torching once the sugar started melting. Keep in mind that the sugar will continue to caramelize some more after you torch it, so you don't have to keep the flame on it for a long time.

Put simply, it was fun to watch the sugar melt:

We weren't quite sure how much brown sugar to put on top, so we went with roughly two teaspoons per cupcake

Which seemed to work out well in the end
Overall, the cupcakes were a success. We gave some extra cupcakes to Andrew's parents and our real estate agent (if you read a previous post, you'll note that we're not buying a new house for ourselves!), and they both loved the Crème Brulee cupcakes. In fact, it was the first time that our agent ever asked me for a recipe (and we fed her plenty of baked goods during our own house-hunting search).  They require a little extra work from your ordinary cupcake, which I think makes them the perfect special occasion treat!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Margarita Cupcakes

As Breena's visit coincided with Amy's birthday weekend, we knew a marathon baking session was in order.  Wanting to make desserts that were special and felt birthday-like, we decided cupcakes were in order and that we would make two different types. After perusing the always helpful Beantown Baker website, I selected one and Breena was wavering between Oreo cupcakes and Margarita cupcakes (we stayed away from chocolate because Amy's tastes are just like mine in terms of cake).  After conferring with Andrew, who told us to go for the Margarita cupcakes because they were out of the ordinary, I think you know what we decided on.  Full confession: I didn't think I would like these cupcakes because I hate tequila. No bad hangover story to along with this story, I was always hated the taste of tequila so I've never had the opportunity to drink too much of it!

Margarita Cupcakes from Beantown Baker

2 1/4 cups (9 ounces) cake flour

1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk
4 egg whites
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
2 tsp grated lime zest (I went ahead and grated one full lime)
1 stick (8 Tbsp or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tsp lime juice
1/4 cup tequila (equivalent of one nip of tequila - I left this tequila out)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare 2 muffin pans with cupcake liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

This is my favorite part - put the sugar and lime zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. The scent of the lime sugar is intoxicating - resist licking your fingers thinking that it will taste like Fun Dip! Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light.

Beat in the lime juice, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed.
Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients.

Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

Divide the batter into the cupcake liners. Resist temptation to overfill them - they really should be filled 2/3 of the way rather than 3/4 to avoid overflow over the liners.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cupcakes are well risen and springy to the touch. Transfer to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then remove cupcakes from the pans and cool completely. Once cupcakes have cooled, brush the top of each cupcake with a 1/2 tsp of tequila.  I clearly skipped this part. 

Tada! You end up with perfect cupcakes, with a nice rounded surface begging for some frosting. I love how you can see the lime zest in the cake.

Be sure to use some colorful cupcake liners to help set a fun and festive tone for your cupcakes!




2 sticks of butter, room temperature
2 lbs (8 cups) powdered sugar
1/4 cup tequila (again, this is the equivalent of 1 nip)
Zest of 2 limes
pinch of salt

Add butter to the bowl of a stand mixer, beat until light.

Add half the tequila, lime zest and salt, mix.

Add powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, mixing well and scraping down sides as necessary.

Continue to add sugar and tequila as necessary.

This makes a very stiff (and pretty forgiving) frosting. It takes some muscle to pipe it out but makes beautiful looking frosting. Taking a cue from Beantown Baker, I decorated each cupcake with a coordinating straw (I didn't have purple straws, so the purple liners got orange straws instead):

The end result? You get a wonderfully soft and dense cake with a touch of lime flavor. The frosting on top tastes great and is nice and thick.  This really may become my go-to white cake and white frosting recipes (sans lime zest and tequila).  The margarita flavor shines throw in a subtle way and even the tequila adds a complimentary, slightly salty note that balances out the sweetness of the frosting.

Hot summer nights may call for a margarita to cool off, but summer BBQs, showers, birthdays, pretty much anything can do with some colorfully delicious margarita cupcakes!