Monday, January 31, 2011

I'm wondering if you can get away with this when you're an adult?

When I was in middle school, like most young girls, I was way into babysitting. I had a few families I shuffled amongst, but mainly I sat for 2 brothers who were around my own little brother's age. They had limitless energy and often tested me to see what they could get away with. After awhile I got pretty sick of that and came up with a way to get them to do what I wanted (which was get tired and fall asleep at some point). Their parents had a finished basement which was essentially a large play room and a treadmill. No, I did not do what you're thinking. No child got on that treadmill. I was not a torturer. But what I did do was set up an obstacle course. There were different tasks around the room. Sometimes it was to throw up a ball three times and catch it, sometimes it was to do 15 jumping jacks, etc. I'd make them run that course a certain number of times, each time making up their "score" arbitrarily (so I could alternate the winner). But whoever had the most points at the end got more "money" for our next activity.

Usually when we were done cleaning up it was time for dinner. I'd make something quick and easy and while they ate I came up with something to use for money (crafting puff balls, pipe cleaners, Pokemon cards, etc. Sometimes if it was still early and I knew their parents wouldn't be home until later I made them make their money). Then we'd set up a concession stand. Different drinks, a bag of microwave popcorn, and sometimes candy. Essentially we were playing movie theater (because seriously, as an adult if you run around like a crazy person and then eat a lot and sit in front of a TV, don't you fall asleep?).

Treats in hand, Disney cartoon playing, they'd quiet down, eyes would start to droop, and either they'd fall asleep, or be ready for bed by the time the movie was done. Jackpot. They could leave me alone and I could watch whatever TV I wanted, do homework, eat the good junk food, or sleep.

Lately I've been racking my brain about whether or not I can come up with an adult version of this? Nick and I watch so many movies, it would be fun to switch it up once in awhile and do something completely silly like a concession stand and the whole movie experience. Maybe the money can be kisses...ok, I love how I answer my own questions like that!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Progress on 30 under 30: January 2011

To keep you in the loop, I've decided that at the end of every month, if I make progress on my 30 under 30 list I will post about it.

To remind you about my list here it is:

1. Never stop playing soccer.
2. Get my PhD.
3. Have a baby, or at least try to have a baby.
4. Go to Hawaii.
5. Pay off credit card debt.
6. Go to France.
7. Find at least two life long friends in California.
8. Maintain my vegetable garden for at least one year.
9. Buy new dining room chairs.
10. Surprise myself with my grades.
11. Keep my current best friends.
12. Restore the ugly orange chair.
13. Do something I always say I'll never do ever.
14. Get an article published that is not my dissertation.
15. Drive the California coast.
16. Host a great weekend or Holiday here with my family.
17. Be a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding.
18. Organize my computer files (music, photos, and school stuff).
19. Take a vacation (even just an overnight trip) with just the girls.
20. Learn more about wine.
21. Figure out how to tell a chicken/roast beef/fish/etc. is done cooking just by looking at it.
22. See Radiohead live.
23. Learn how to fancy dance (ie. waltz, salsa, etc.) with my husband.
24. Start saving for a house.
25. Make an Italian meal for my husband's Italian family.
26. Work at least one job that is completely frivolous and fun (ie. not a resume booster).
27. Get into at least 5 new bands every year.
28. Read for pleasure more.
29. Finish my old diary.
30. Start a massive project, and actually finish it.


And here's the progress:

1. Never stop playing soccer. - I started a new league the first weekend in January and have been playing every Sunday. Also, in conjunction with another student at school we're in the process of starting up a school team to play somewhere. Very excited about that since we just got permission from the president of the school to get funding.
2. Get my PhD. - Always a work in process.
4. Go to Hawaii. - Found out that we have enough points on Nick's credit card to get two free tickets and at least one free night's stay for our anniversary next year. Working on now paying for as many nights as possible with his points and trying to get a hotel gift card with mine. We'll wait until the summer to book that trip, but it's definitely looking like a reality!
5. Pay off credit card debt. - One card left! If our taxes are nice enough then we'll be done by April.
10. Surprise myself with my grades. - I got my grades back for the first quarter of school and got straight As! That's always been very difficult for me with regards to Psychology (should have been an English major if I wanted a 4.0). It was a tough semester (lots of work, big life transition, etc.), so I was not expecting grades that high. Consider this one checked off!
16. Host a great weekend or Holiday here with my family. - My aunt has decided to come visit us for Easter and my WHOLE family is supposedly coming out in August to celebrate my brother's 21st birthday in Napa.
18. Organize my computer files (music, photos, and school stuff). - My old computer just about died on me so I had to buy a new one. And therefore had to organize everything to move over to the new one. Unintentional, but still got the job done. Consider this one checked off!
20. Learn more about wine. - Went to Napa last weekend and probably tasted 45-50 wines. Definitely working on this one.
24. Start saving for a house. - Does anyone know a free savings account that lets you have a low balance? I think I would like to start doing this but only put in like $10 a month for now. Problem is I don't want to get hit with fees if my balance is below a certain amount.
27. Get into at least 5 new bands every year. - Definitely have downloaded more than enough music and bought more than enough CDs to accomplish this. Found 2 bands so far (Jenny and Johnny (their album will be reviewed next month) and Best Coast).

So two officially off the list and a whole host more in progress! That's kind of exciting.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Celadon: A Worthwhile Splurge

Just sitting here and thinking about Celadon is making me hungry. We went to Celadon in Napa on our first night in town and considered it our official anniversary dinner so we splurged a little bit. I was kind of nervous at first, but honestly, the food was so amazing it was well worth it.

We started off with an appetizer of calamari which had a sweet chipotle glaze drizzled on top. I've eaten calamari so many times I usually hate to order it, but we were told it was their signature dish (and Nick was frothing at the mouth just thinking about it) so we got it. And holy moly, it might have been the best calamari ever. Only rivaled by the one we ate at Cook (another wine country restaurant).

Because the restaurant uses "happy meat" we got to order whatever we wanted off the menu. Needless to say we both got meat (and kinds that we would normally not eat at home). For dinner I ordered duck breast with sweet potato gnocchi. It was amazing; a perfect mix of Sweet and Savory flavors. After just about every bite I said "oh my god this is so good." And I ate the ENTIRE thing. Nick ordered roasted leg of lamb with couscous. A dear family member of mine used to make Mediterranean food and I've never had food as good as hers, but Nick's dish was amazing. Right up there with hers. The meat was so tender, at first Nick didn't understand why he didn't get a heavy duty steak knife like I did, but when he put his pork in it and it completely fell apart he just smiled and gobbled it up.

For dessert Nick ordered tiramasu and I got macadamia crusted goat cheese with port poached figs on crostini. We ate every last bite, regardless of how much we both wanted to explode. Obviously we hated everything.

I think I've found my favorite California restaurant.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Napa meets San Fran: The Inn on First

In celebration for our anniversary last week, Nick and I went to Napa. Just like when we went to Deer Hill Inn a few years ago, we decided to go to a hotel that was part of the Select Registry. There's a couple of places in California wine country, but we picked the Inn on First, a completely Green inn, because the food on the website looked amazing and they had a really good price for winter (which is the off season).

From the moment we booked the vacation I was really excited. Granted, celebrating my anniversary in Napa had a little bit to do with it, but the inn keeper had a lot more. Jamie emailed me right away with my reservation email which included tons of extras the inn offered and recommendations about local wineries, restaurants, and things to do. I saved the email and when we got closer to our getaway, I found that list really helpful as I tried to find a places to have dinner or to visit. We followed through on a couple of the things on the list and were really glad we did. Jamie continued to make great recommendations and take the time out to sit down and chat with us at least once every day we were there. It was a really nice touch to be able to have such personalized service.

The inn is made up of two main buildings. The main house, which is an old Victorian. The upstairs has several rooms and then downstairs has a lounge and the dining room. Both of which always have beverages and treats waiting. The other building has more rooms. Our room was in the house and actually a lot bigger than the website made it look. We had an extremely comfortable bed, a fireplace, a jacuzzi tub big enough for two, plus a separate bathroom. We also had a small bottle of champagne and truffles waiting for us. Considering we booked what we thought was one of the "cheap" rooms, there was nothing cheap about it.

Breakfast was included and each morning there was a selection of cold things (granola, yogurt, fruit, etc.) and a different hot main course. Each of the three breakfasts we ate were AMAZING. Homemade flat bread with caramelized onions, rosemary potatoes, and a fried egg; homemade focaccia with assorted veggies; scramble egg omelet corn dog (which was really corn dog breading with eggs, prosciutto, and gruyere cheese). They must have known I was coming. Everything was amazing, and the website has even more amazing looking things. Nick and I kept talking about Deer Hill and how amazing the food was there and comparing the two inns. While the feel is very different (mountain cozy warm comfort inn versus chic California airy inn), we concluded that it was nice to know there was somewhere on the West coast that had amazing food and would be a great place to run away to if we needed to relax.

All in all it was a really great stay and we would definitely (and will probably) stay there again. My family is coming in August to celebrate my brother's 21st birthday and after showing my mom the inn she suggested we go for a night or two. I hope we do, and considering the inn is dog friendly we may even bring Charlie next time!

Ok, now just a few more pictures from the website:


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Greatest Gift for Valentine's Day is You!

I don't know about you, but my budget for Valentine's Day this year is drastically reduced in comparison to last year. Normally we exchange presents and then go to our favorite restaurant in Tappan, NY, Il Fresco, and have an amazing meal (complete with a free rose for me). This year I've got class until 8pm and no money to go out to eat so we spent a minimal amount on gifts and I'll be making my smoked gouda mac and cheese along with a TBD dessert from my new cookbook that Nick's sister got us for Christmas.

In all honesty, as much as I know Valentine's Day is just a Hallmark Holiday, I'm a little bummed that I'll be in class as late as I have to be. Nick and I tell each other we love each other every day and we're constantly finding ways to show that love as well. Our anniversary is less than a month before V-Day too. So it's not like we really need another excuse to say we love each other, but why not say it? Why not make it special? I'd love to have some fun with it instead of getting home at 8:30, starving, shoving food in my mouth, throwing some gifts at Nick, and then passing out after 8 hours of reading and 4 hours of class with cooking and baking mixed in. I'm sure we'll find something to do, wink wink, but if I had all day at home and could really have some fun with the holiday I might plan something more special.

In the past I've done lists and scrapbooks for guys saying all the different ways I loved them, or showing them memories of our relationships. I'm not sure how much guys appreciate that kind of thing. While I do think Nick would find it sweet, how often would he actually look at that? Once, then it would take up space somewhere. Maybe my kids will find it when they're 20 and find it mushy and gross. Ok, so it'll get looked at twice.

In Google-ing fun Valentine's ideas I think my favorite thing I came across was the scavenger hunt. You start off with a note left for your honey giving them a clue or direction. Each time they find a note there is another clue which eventually leads them to some amazing surprise at the end. You can get other people involved and have your S.O. drive all over town eventually winding up at a restaurant, hotel, special spot, or back at home. You can make it a smaller affair and have them travel from room to room in your home or around your yard. You can leave presents or a picture at each clue. One person also had a puzzle and her husband had to put it together to figure out where to go at the end. I actually really wanted to do a scavenger hunt when I took my B-Pics (I told Nick I booked the hotel room as a surprise for him to relax from all the stress at work), and have him arrive at the hotel as the last thing with dinner waiting in the room. But I opted not to do that because it was already a complicated enough affair to orchestrate.

I still haven't given up hope that one day I'll be able to put something like that together with many intricate plans and steps all leading some place where I'll be waiting with a bow on my head. "Happy Valentine's Day! Your gift is me!" Isn't Nick lucky? Hahahaha.

And if you really must buy something, I think any guy/punk rocker/Cancer survivor/vulture enthusiast would love this t-shirt from People Like Me. All proceeds go to help my friend, Kerry Kelemen, in her battle with cancer. And it's a way cool design. Why wouldn't you want to buy it?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2 Cupcake Places: East & West

Specialty cupcakes are definitely a huge trend right now (although some have been saying that it will be replaced by Whoopie pies soon). They're probably so popular because it reminds you of being a kid, having birthday parties at school, and being able to eat at least 5 with no stomach ache or extra pounds. I still love cupcakes and have seen so many amazing recipes lately, but sometimes it's just more fun to find a little shop and buy a ton of all different ones to try.

This past weekend Nick and I went to Napa for our anniversary. We spent Saturday walking around downtown, checking out the shops and visiting tasting rooms. In our travels we came across the most amazing idea for a store (and I can think of at least two of my friends who would find their heaven if they ever visited). Sift Cucakes, which serves the best cupcakes I have EVER tasted, has a small boutique clothing shop attached. Think Tori Burch meets BCBG, with amazing cupcakes. They have a few more locations (as per the website), and I'm so depressed none of them are near me. I have been to quite a few cupcake places, but Sift is by far the best. While there I tried a Samoa (yes, like the Girl Scout cookie). Vanilla with chocolate ganache in the center, caramel flavored frosting, with coconut on top. It sounds like it would be too sweet, but it wasn't. A perfect blends of all the flavors and had I not still had 3 hours of walking ahead of me, and more room in my stomach I would have bought more.

<---- From their Facebook...Doesn't that look amazing?!


One of the other places I've been, back East, that I really like is Flour and Sun Bakery, in Pleasantville, New York. I visited a couple of years ago to celebrate my birthday with a friend who's birthday is only a few days apart from mine. We each picked out several different kinds to try and some to take home. The menu rotates and just to give you an idea of what's on the menu today, Rocky Road, Chocolate Rocky Road, Loop-d-Loop (looks like a Hostess cake, so you can probably guess what that would taste like), Gingersnap, and Pistachio. I've also tried the banana peanut butter one, and that was amazing.

Here's a look at their Smores one. Soooo good.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Having a Sarah Mclachlan moment here

Big news! Nick and I have adopted a dog. A few weeks ago we were told by the complex we live in that they were having an adoption drive. Our ears perked up and we discussed how nice it would be to get a small dog (Nick is a huge dog person, me not so much, but we have two cats and I thought it would be nice for him to have one). So after we talked about it for a little while, we approached the people at the office about the possibility of us getting a dog and since they didn't seem to mind we started looking for one.

I love Cavalier Spaniels and Nick is a Golden Retriever kind of guy. Having never owned a dog before and since we live in an apartment I was not ok with a big dog. I told him maybe one day, but for now I'm not ready for that. So we compromised and said we'd go with a young (1-5yrs) Cavalier (Nick does like them, he's just a big dog person). Because I have a lot more time than Nick, I began to do some research into where to go to get a dog. We adopted our cats from a high kill shelter, so we're definitely into the rescue option rather than buying from a breeder. But when you're looking online for something specific it is really heartbreaking to see all the pictures of the animals who need help and may be passed over and put down.

About a year after we got Batman Nick told me that he was on the list to be put down had he not been adopted by the end of the week. Knowing that devastated me. Batman is the most loving animal I have ever had. He is a big mush and purrs at the sight of us. I had a hard time believing that he had been returned before we adopted him (we had even been told that he was crazy and not to take him), and it upsets me so much that such a sweet boy would have been put down.

I am way too emotional and the process was difficult. Every time I found a dog I liked, it had been adopted already (sometimes literally that day) or we were told we were too far away from the shelter (some do house checks). It is so hard not to get attached to pictures of lonely animals. And seeing URGENT SAVE ME!!!! on some was horrible. I felt like I was watching those commercials about the abused animals (which makes me cry if I keep it on). I may not be a dog person, but I could not help but want to adopt all of them. I can only imagine how some people feel going through the adoption process with a baby. I admire how much strength those parents have; I don't know if I could do it.

After 4 unsuccessful attempts (including phone tag which resulted in missing the dog by a few hours), we found Charlie. He's a 10 month old Cavalier Retriever mix. Could that not have been more perfect?

Charlie is the sweetest little thing and even though I know the cats will not be thrilled when he comes home, I can't help but think it is all going to work out in the end. I know it will take some time, but our cats are generally so mellow and loving; I hope the pup transitions well. I always joked that one day Nick and I would have a dog, a cat, and three kids that would all live in harmony. Maybe we're on our way there?

Next time you want to get a pet, regardless of whether you want a specific breed or not, please consider adoption. If you MUST have a pure-bread, even they are available through Petfinder.com and there are many rescue organizations (just type in the breed and rescue and tons of websites will pop up). You don't need to get a puppy mill dog from a pet store or through unhealthy breeding practices. Save a life instead, you'll love them just as much.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tea Party Sandwhiches

Sometimes I really do think the universe conspires in our favor, and when it does it really makes me smile. Some big news might be coming which would be related to that, but I'll save that for next week. But on a smaller scale, last night rather than get out of class super late, my lab was fortuitously pushed up and I got home early enough that I could spend the night with Nick. We had nothing planned for dinner so we ordered Domino's and watched Must Love Dogs. It was nice to actually be able to spend our anniversary together. It definitely made it that much more special.

And to boot my class for this morning was canceled so I get to hang out and slept late. A good week indeed.

~***~


There's something intensely cute yet satisfying about finger foods, the smaller the better. And in the case of going to any occasion that serves them, you feel a lot less guilty when you eat 20 of anything. Really that just adds up to being an appetizer, so why not eat another 20 and get your full meal in?

Tea sandwiches are a great addition to any appetizer plate and you can be as traditional or creative as you want. The key to making them is to remember that the sandwiches are meant to be dainty not overly stuffed with fillings. Here are three that I served at my last tea party, plus a two I have served in the past.

Traditional Cucumber
-very thinly sliced cucumbers
-softened cream cheese
-white bread with no crusts
-FRESH dill (optional)
1. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese on both sides of the bread.
2. Place 2 layers of cucumbers in the middle.
3. Cut into 4 triangles.

Sundried Tomato and Pesto (taken from Harmony Tea Room)
-Trader Joe's Sundried Tomatoes (also processed in a food process, I would do this AFTER the pesto)
-Fresh Pesto (basil, cashews, parmesan cheese, olive oil to taste in a food processor)
-white bread with no crusts
1. On slice one, spread pesto, on slice two spread sundried tomatoes.
2. Put two slices together so that spreads are not touching, then close with a third slice of bread.
3. Cut into 4 triangles or rectangles.

Grilled Ham & Cheese with Apricot Jam
-Thinly sliced ham (1/4-1/3 of a pound is usually enough for a small party)
-American Cheese (cheddar could also work)
-Apricot Jam
-Potato bread with crusts
1. Place two slices of ham on bread with once slice of cheese.
2. Spread Apricot jam on one side of the bread.
3. Cook in a skillet with butter until golden brown on each side.
4. When sandwich cools cut into four rectangles.

Smoked Salmon and Marscapone Cheese
-Smoked salmon
-Room temperature Marscapone cheese
-crustless Pumpernickle bread
-Capers or mixed greens (optional)
1. Assemble like a normal sandwich. (That wasn't too hard!)
2. Cut into rectangle

Goat Cheese and Roasted Red Pepper
-Softened goat cheese (not crumbled, in the block variety. Also, I wouldn't use spreadable, it doesn't have as much of a kick to it.)
-1/2 of a roasted red pepper cut into thin slices
-mixed greens
-crustless multi grain bread (or white)
1. Assemble & cut!

If you need help softening the cheese I usually put some into a little bowl and microwave it for 5-15 seconds depending on how cold it is, stir and then check to see if it needs more and continue until softened (but not boiling hot or liquidy).

Monday, January 17, 2011

Store Rave: Sway

This week I was lucky enough to visit Santa Cruz twice. I think I have decided that out of all of the local towns, that one is my favorite. Don't get me wrong, I love some of the ones really close by (like Palo Alto), but Santa Cruz has some character to it. It's not your normal yuppie town. There are homeless people, hippies of all ages, college students, a yuppie here or there, and just all around interesting folk. There's also a wide array of food choices (which up here there seems to mainly be typical California food--Mexican or Asian themed) and more boutique style shopping with fewer chains.

One of my favorite stores there, if not my favorite, is Sway. I have now been there three times and have found some of the cutest clothes (I think eventually the owner will know me by name, haha). The store is essentially the closest you can get to a Modcloth shop (they even carry some of the same items for slightly cheaper) or a Topshop on the West coast. Lots of young trendy clothing items from casual to fancy with a small selection of shoes and accessories. Prices seem to run from $5-$70 with most items being under $40.

A variety of designers are carried and while generally the style caters to a younger hip crowd, there are some different styles as well (basics, earthy, 50s/60s retro, and the latest neu-80s ware). My mom found a lot of things she liked and I can definitely picture her wearing stuff like that when she was younger (very much her sense of style); she also bought herself a long sweater to wear with leggings. While I haven't bought something every time I've gone in, the things I have bought are of good quality. And I have always found something I liked.

Sway doesn't have an official website or sell things online, they do have a pretty active Facebook with lots of photos from past fashion shows they have had (wouldn't that be fun to attend). Here's a few of their looks from their Facebook:







I think I need to stay away from that store.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Apple Tofu Salad

This salad is essentially a take on the Waldorf salad (I had no idea what that was until someone pointed it out to me) and is super easy to make.

You need:
- 1 apple (use a sweet variety like Rome or Red Delicious)
- 1/3 block of extra firm tofu drained
- cranberries
- walnuts
- sunflower & pumpkin seeds
- lemon extract
- crumbled goat cheese

1. Slice apple into tiny pieces (don't peel) and put in a small bowl with a little bit of lemon extract. Toss around to let the lemon extract cover the apple (this helps to prevent it from getting brown, also, if you use a tart kind of apple this will be way too tart and taste horrible).
2. Cut tofu in the same sized pieces as the apple. It is really important you drain the tofu before you use it (whether you do this in a strainer in the sink for an hour or the quick way (by squeezing it a bunch of times with a paper towel), up to you. Just do it). When you add the apple to your salad bowl, put the tofu in the bowl you used before to soak up the rest of the lemon extract left behind.
3. Then mix everything in a salad bowl using as much of all the trimmings as you so desire.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In a World of Her Own

For Christmas, one of my gifts was Alice in Wonderland (the Disney Cartoon). While I took a break from reading last night I decided to work on an assignment for my Neuropsychology (the at times painfully tedious coloring book of the human brain), and asked Nick to pick out a movie to watch. We popped in the DVD and was transported to Wonderland. Nonsense, silly songs, and bright colors. Mainly responsible for the visual look of the film is Mary Blair, a genius concept artist.

Following the movie we watched a short documentary about the movie and of course Blair was mentioned (as she usually is in many of the documentaries about classic Disney Cartoons...yeah, I've watched A LOT). I've always loved Blair's work. It has a very retro 60s feel to it and it reminds me of some old greeting cards my mother kept from her teenage years. Bright colors and soft edges. So many things from that time period and since then have her stamp on it. I have a painting in my house that I acquired from my grandfather when he moved out of his apartment that shows some influence from her (I'm pretty sure it was painted during the same time period). But what I wouldn't give to have something of hers hanging up in my house.

Her paintings would be just the right thing to perk up a drab minimalist modern style home. Or maybe I can just find one of her childrens' books and cut out the pages and frame it.


Well, I don't think my coloring benefited much from the movie, but I at least enjoyed myself and was definitely inspired with a few other colorful ideas (like some mix and matching of outfits and for when I switch over to our Spring decor). Hopefully she'll inspire you too!




Friday, January 14, 2011

Tea Party Baked Goods

Here are the three baked goods I mentioned in my Tea Party entry.

Oatmeal Cinnamon Scones
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 cup oatmeal
- 1/3 cup milk

(You can substitute the dairy in this for non-dairy products and it works fine. If you double this recipe you may need to adjust the flour.)

Mix ingredients then separate into desired scone size. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until they start to get a little golden brown.


(Scones on the middle rack, cookies on the top.)

Banana Coconut Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
- 2 cups flour
- 1 banana
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or 1 egg)
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup coconut
- peanut butter to taste and texture

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and roll into balls. Cook at 350 degrees until slightly brown on the edges.

Linzer Tarts
- 1 cup butter
- 1 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 3 1/2 cup flour
- Powdered sugar for dusting
- Jelly of your choice (I like raspberry preserves the best)
- (food coloring optional)

- Mix ingredients together in a bowl. Chill. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Find a clean area to work and put some flour down, then roll out cookies and use cookie cutters to cut cookies into desired shape (you will need to cut them so that you have pairs).
- Bake for 8-10 minutes. Let cookies cool (I personally like to let them cool on my counter top. It keeps the moisture in. Sometimes cooling trays let moisture escape (depending on the cookie) and newspaper absorbs the moisture while metal tins cool so fast they harden the cookie. In all cases you end up with dry and/or hard cookies).
- When cookies are cool enough to handle, start making sandwiches with your jelly in the middle. Then when you are ready to serve dust the plate with powdered sugar. Sugaring ahead of time will be too messy and the sugar gets weird.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Is it Spring yet?

California weather is totally wild. Back in New York they had a blizzard a couple days ago. 8-12 inches! Two weeks ago they got two feet. Here, it was in the 60s and sunny yesterday. I walked around with no jacket on, opened up the windows, and was suddenly really excited for Spring.

I think my mom got a little into it too (she visited for a few days) so she got us these:



It's back to our winter here today (50s and cloudy/rainy), but I really wish it was Spring now.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The beauty of being a student

So apparently there's good things about being super poor and making yourself poorer for the sake of an education?

Back to school means back to all kinds of fun stress. Worrying about getting reading done, writing papers, studying for tests, and of course how you're going to pay for things. One of the simultaneously best and worst things ever is when that loan check arrives. Suddenly your bank account has fluxed and you can pay for things, and then you remember that one day you'll be paying back that check with interest. Until you're 40.

But there are some good things about being a student too. Like not having to get up super early every day if you can help it, having summers and winters off, and of course all the student discounts you can get. Like Amazon Prime for students, cheaper admission to museums and some movie theaters (as well as live theaters), there are even theme parks that give student discounts. A lot of software companies give student discounts or have student versions of their programs (like SPSS, virus protection, and Microsoft Office). The Apple Store also gives students discounts on most of their products. Any time of the year you can get money off of a computer with a free printer, and during the summer you get the added bonus of a free Ipod. Other retail stores are also getting in on the student discount, like TopShop and JCrew (each give 10% off your entire purchase with a student ID). Sometimes you can even get a good discount on plane tickets and a lot of buses have student prices.

Here are a few websites that list some great student discounts all around town:

So dig out your old student ID. As long as it doesn't have an expiration date on it, why not flash it around and see what you can get? I don't think I'll ever get rid of the one I have right now...until of course I'm old and I can get a Senior Citizen discount.

Student Buying Guide - Various discounts listed as well as financial advice.
Student Advantage - Buy a card, get discounts at lots of name brand stores.
Student Rate - Search for student discounts everywhere!
Globe Student Discount - Discounts plus tips.
Sta Travel and Student Universe - Two travel websites.
Student Discounts - Cheap software.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mini Pavlovas ie. A Little Piece of Heaven

After my freshman year of college I was lucky enough to do a summer abroad for school and lived in London with some of my family there. We spent a lot of time doing all these different things I had never done before, and they cooked some of the most amazing food. A different meal every night and all things I had never tried before. It was a really great experience.

My cousin, William, figured out that I have a HUUUUGE sweet-tooth (it really didn't take him that long) and so a staple in the house became Pavlovas, a meringue dessert made with whipped cream and berries. I loved it so much I ate it for breakfast, and when we ran out of berries I used yogurt. My mouth is watering right now thinking about it...

Here's the recipe I use for Mini Pavolovas, straight from Barefoot Contessa with a few of my changes:

Meringue

You will need:
* 6 extra - large egg whites, at room temperature
* 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
* 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
* 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a small glass and a pencil, draw 6 (3 1/2-inch) circles on each piece of paper. Turn the paper face-down on the baking sheets.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites, and cream of tartar on medium speed until frothy. Add 1 cup of the sugar and raise the speed to high until the egg whites form very stiff peaks. Whisk in the vanilla. Carefully fold the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar into the meringue. With a large star - shaped pastry tip, pipe a disc of meringue inside each circle. Pipe another layer around the edge to form the sides of the shells.
(I do not have a piping bag and have tried to do it the cheap way with a plastic bag and snip the tip off and I'm too much of a slob so I just scoop a bit on the cookie sheet and smooth it over with my spoon.)

3. Bake for 2 hours, or until the meringues are dry and crisp but not browned. Turn off the heat and allow the meringues to sit in the oven for 4 hours or overnight.

Whipped Cream


You will need:

* cold heavy cream
* powedered sugar (generally 1/4-1/3 of a cup)
* pure vanilla extract (generally 1-2 teaspoons)

1. Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (you can also use a hand mixer). When it starts to thicken, add the powdered sugar and vanilla to taste and continue to beat until firm. Don't overbeat!

2. If the meringue is not done put the bowl back in the fridge and make sure to beat again when you take it out to serve.

Berries

You will need:
* Fresh Strawberries
* Fresh Raspberries
* Sugar

1. Remove tops and slice up strawberries into a bowl. Leave raspberries whole.

2. Add a sprinkling of sugar on top. Then put the bowl in the fridge and let sit in there for at least 30 minutes (the longer it sits, the sweeter the fruit and the more syrup you'll get).

To assemble:


1. Get a plate and put the meringue in the middle.
2. Scoop a dollop of whipped cream on top.
3. Spoon berries on top.
4. Eat!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Let them eat cake! (Or just drink some tea)

Funny how after I finally get back to California all I can think about is going to Harmony Tea Room (or the tea place as we call it). I even had a dream about it last night! What would I do if I could have my own tea party at the apartment?

Invitation:

I like to use Paperless Post when sending out invites to parties. It's much fancier than using Facebook or Evite as you get to put together your own invitation similar to a paper stationary one. In the past I've followed invites up with girls who have said they're coming, but only when I've had extra invites and the time to make the look all pretty.



Dress:

My Aunt Susie says that everything in life should be an experience. No matter how small or how big you need to be in the right frame of mind and appreciate everything you do. How can you get in the right frame of mind for a tea party? By dressing up! Some of my friends wants to kill me for this, but I make everyone dress up. Florals or retro dresses preferred, but as long as you get dressed up it's step one to get you excited for the experience.



Food:

Anything traditional and anything girlie goes. I've tried to recreate some of the recipes from Harmony Tea Room while putting in some traditional fare and also making up my own. At the last party I had (which you are enjoying pictures of in this post we served...

Beverages:
Assorted Teas (blacks, green, and herbal)
Mimosas
Pink Lemonade

Appetizers:
Dates with blue cheese
Apple and tofu salad
Mini Cinnamon Oatmeal Scones
Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Quiche

Tea Sandwiches:
Cucumber and Cream Cheese
Sundried Tomato and Pesto
Grilled cheese with ham and apricot jam

Yeah, I know that's a lot of food, but you know me! I go overboard for everything.



Cookies:
Blackberry Crumble
Vegan Peanut Butter-Banana-Coconut-Chocolate Drops
Linzer Tarts
Mini Pavlovas



(Recipes for all of these fill follow. Just click on the "tea party" tag and they'll come up as I write them.)

Decor:

And as Sandra Lee says, decor and tablescapes are always an important part of any meal. Unfortunately for me, none of my place mats match my favorite tablecloth that's perfect for Spring. But since I like to put out all different kinds of teacups (just like Harmony Tea Room), the disorganization sort of matches. I match all my plates and serving dishes, though, (everything is white) and it brings it all together. Especially when I add a nice bright floral bouquet. And I always play classical music in the background (something nice and light like concertos by Mozart, Chopin, etc.).





And what do you do when you're done gorging yourself on treats? You watch a chic flick of course! We've watched Jane Austen via the BBC and modern movies like The Devil Wears Prada. Whatever floats your estrogen boat.

This kind of made me miss my friends from home a lot! I may need to have some girls over here to have a tea party. I just need to think of an excuse to have one now...Maybe to celebrate that this is my 100th entry?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

An ode to my favorite sandwhich: Grilled Cheese


(Watch out, that kid looks a little too into that sandwich.)


Who doesn't love grilled cheese? Young and old alike it appeals to everyone. Especially when it's cold. Especially when you have a cold (which I have had for the past week). One day when I didn't have classes and was therefor putzing about the apartment, I started to debate what I wanted to eat for lunch. Something that would make me feel better about having a sniffly nose, and something I could make easily. After reading one of Modcloth's latest blog entries about grilled cheese I decided that would hit the spot quite nicely.

And as I devoured my sandwich a little bit too quickly, I got to thinking about some more grown up version and created a few recipes for you to try.

Drunken Goat & Caramelized Onions
1. Make caramelized onions: Slice one small onion and heat in a pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 vinegar, and 2 1/2 sugar. Cook on medium-high for a few minutes until the onions start to look a little cooked/opaque (stir often), then put the heat down to medium-low until the onions look like they are cooked, then turn the heat down to the lowest setting and forget about them. They'll need to cook for about 45-60 minutes to get that nice dark brown color you see at the restaurants.
2. Drain onions (so the bread doesn't get soggy)
3. Cut thick slices of drunken goat cheese and place on bread with onions (optional fresh spinach or baby greens as well). I think a nice thick french bread or sourdough would work best.
4. Melt butter in pan, then grill you cheese until toasty brown!
I wonder how this would taste with a blue cheese dipping sauce...
(This probably shouldn't go in a Panini Press, or be pressed down in anyway unless the onions are really well drained otherwise it will be very messy).

Three Cheese: English Cheddar, Smoked Gouda, and Gruyere
1. Grate three cheeses together and put inside potato bread.
2. Add bacon if you really want to clog your arteries.
3. Melt your butter, grill, and start looking up a good cardiovascular surgeon.
(PS. If you make grilled cheese on a George Foreman, no butter needed. It toasts it perfectly on its own.)

The Vegan
Soy Cheese (or you could use regular American Cheese), sliced cherry tomatoes, and tempeh
1. Dice tomatoes very small and cut tempeh very thin.
2. Put all ingredients in sandwich.
3. Grill! (I think something like this would work best on a George Foreman)

The Frenchie:
1. Cut thin slices of Pears (do not peel) and thick slices of Brie
2. Put sandwich together and before putting on the top piece of bread, sprinkle sliced almonds and brown sugar on top.
3. Heat and serve!

We also like to make these little concoctions with crescent rolls. Gouda cheese and raspberry jelly! Or peanut butter, chocolate, and bananas (ok, I know there's no cheese in there, but a little bit inside a crescent roll is soooo good). There are so many options you can come up with! (As long as you don't burn them like Nick has done.) Heat up your ham and cheese, add cheese to your BLT, or check our these two AMAZING recipes I found online from A Sofa in the Kitchen and Pantry Raid.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Let's Start the New Year's Off Right - with some Sales!

Here's some sales to start off this year on your money-saving foot!

NY Philharmonic - With the promo code: 0108-39 save on seats for the concert playing on January 6, 7, and 8 (Mozart, Mahler, and a Thomas Ad├Ęs Premiere).

Restaurant.com - Use the code DINNER to get 60% off orders through Wednesday.

Lord and Taylor - Huge sale with 60-80% off. Use the code Take2 to get an extra 20% off sale and clearance items online. And click here for a printable savings pass for in store.

Bloomingdale's - 25-60% off select Cashmere.

Bath and Body Works - Wallflowers for $5, signature body care items $3, and up to 75% off a whole host of other goodies.

Banana Republic - Every Monday in January BR is having a "surprise" offer. Enter the code BRMONDAY at checkout to see what it is.

BCBG - Save an extra 30% on all sale items.

The Gap - Not only are they having a sale that ends Wednesday, but right now all regular items are 25% off.

Urbanoutfitters - Save 10% with any Giftcard purchase (use the code KEEPSONGIVING), plus get $10 off orders of $150 or more.

Restoration Hardware - Get 20% off full priced items with the code RHPVT11 and an extra 10% off clearance items with the code RSAV11.

Anthropologie - Super huge sale going on, and right now you can take an extra 25% off all sale merchandise.

Movie Review: Easy A


What could very easily turn into your stereotypical high school comedy, didn't. Kind of like Mean Girls meets Risky Business, Easy A is about a high school senior who seeks to take control of the rumor mill surrounding her sexual exploits (that are actually all lies).

Emma Stone plays Olive, your typical high school student just trying to get by until her friend falsely assumes she lost her virginity to a guy that doesn't even exist. The rumor is overheard by Jesus-freak Marianne (Amanda Bynes), and is subsequently spread all over school. Within minutes Olive becomes a social pariah and begins to identify with Hester Pryne, the heroine of the book The Scarlet Letter. As Olive plays up her new-found notoriety by continuing to spread false rumors about her sleeping with a slew of guys in the high school, she transforms her personality and wardrobe to play the part of school slut.

Then, when the dust settles and she has no friends, and all the guys (except one), treat her like the high school equivalent of a prostitute she realizes that she has to do something about the image she created of herself and get her real self back.

Easy A references its 80s teen flick predecessors in a playful way that reminded me of what it was like to be a teenager, struggling with a machine you hate but desperately want to be a part of. You identify with Olive when she says she wishes she had the 80s movie ending where the guy of her dreams lets her know he cares and they ride off into the sunset together. And you feel bad for her as she's tormented and used by her peers. You wonder, what's more important? Being popular for a bad reason, or being hidden among the masses, but at least you're yourself?

But this movie is far from being a serious look at the evils of high school; it's a comedic satire so there's plenty of laughs. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are hilarious as Olive's wacky parents and Amanda Bynes is too as the Jesus-freak. My mother, Nick, and I watched this together and the three of us laughed almost constantly. Definitely highly recommended for anyone who went to high school, and those who are suffering through it as we speak.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Some of my favorite things - Gadget/Kitchen Edition

Continuing with the entries about some of my favorite things, I have a small list of the things I could not live without in the kitchen and on my dining room table.

Mini Loaf Pan - When Nick and I first moved in together, our kitchen consisted of 4 mismatched plates, a set of cups, silverware, 2 cookie sheets, 2 pots and 1 pan. Needless to say our registry list was very very long. One thing I didn't put on there, but bought myself at the Christmas Tree Store were some mini loaf pans and now I can't live without them (although the fact that we didn't get an actual loaf pan until about 6 months ago has something to do with that). If you have 3, that about equals one full sized pan, and you can make everything in them that you can make in a large loaf pan but cuter. Personalized size meat loaf, mini breads, little pound cakes, and my personal favorite, baked brie.

Metal Cookie Spatula - Funny how our first kitchen had just about nothing in it, yet we had 3 spatulas. When we were moving in together, I started a box of things to give to charity so we could get rid of all the things we had extra of and so of course 2 of those spatulas had to go. But then I realized certain things are a lot easier to cook/handle if you have a thin metal versus a thick plastic spatula. (Just a side note, I think that last sentence totally makes me sound insane.) It's easier to flip pancakes or burgers, and cookies don't break apart as easily. I definitely couldn't live without it.

Kitchen Aid Handmixer - Last year for Christmas, Nick got me this. My old mixer was horrible and died pretty quickly, but this one is fantastic. Much easier to use, sturdy attachments, and I like how I can get all the nooks and crannies of the bowl (which you can't always do with a standalone mixer). I use it all the time now, and not just to make whipped cream.

White oval serving dish - One of my best friends gave this to me as an engagement gift and it's probably my favorite serving dish we own. Why? It's just pretty.

Metal Bowls from Crate and Barrel - This is a top three gift we received for the wedding. And unfortunately it doesn't seem like Crate and Barrel sells them anymore. What made these so special was the fact that they had a handle and a pouring spout. For someone with little hands, this makes my life so much easier when I'm making anything that I have to pour. I don't have to get Nick to help me and I make less of a mess (I make great food, but my kitchen always looks like a bomb hit it when I'm done).

Spatula thingy - For the life of me I cannot find a picture of this online. But I can't leave it out because it's probably my most useful kitchen utensil. I don't use this to mix, it's too soft. But I use it to scrape the bowl when I'm done. It's so thin on the edges it gets every last bit of that batter out of the bowl. And it's really useful when making crepes.

Irish Coffee Mugs - I subscribe to the school of thought that food takes better when it looks great, and I think the same thing applies for drinks too. I don't often break these mugs out, but when you're making something like hot chocolate with whipped cream on top, it looks so much nicer in a mug like this.

A possible future favorite thing? I'm going to go buy myself a dutch oven today. Marshall's has had them in their kitchen section (Le Creuset brand) recently for under $60. I have a feeling that will probably weasel its way onto this list as well. I don't have a large pot to fry in, make soup in, make lots of pasta in, etc. And I can put it in the oven too? I'm just frothing at the mouth thinking of all the recipes I can now try out.
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