Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Tonight D and I ate homemade chicken soup and carved our pumpkins for tomorrow's trick-or-treaters. Then I finished my package for the Fall Swap. I'll post pictures of my swap items once my partner receives the package (I don't want to spoil her fun by posting before she opens it.
First I called a store named Designer Bridal Outlet in Wellesley. The woman I spoke to, Joanie, was very sympathetic and made me an appointment for the next day. When I walked into the store I felt comfortable with Joanie right away. She's about the same age as my mom and was dressed in an outfit that was very much like one my mom would wear. Because I'm not a size 8, Joanie started pulling out any gowns that were in (approximately) my size. She pulled out some gowns that were not at all the style I was going for, but she urged me to try them on. It's a good thing, because the gown I decided on was one that I wouldn't have considered, mostly because it was strapless.
I tried on a number of gowns and narrowed it down to 2. Because my mom was in San Diego, Joanie went against the store policies and took a couple of digital photos of me in the gowns so my mom could help me decide. Here's one of the photos she took:
The gown fit like a glove and hugged all of the right curves of my body. I never thought I wanted a chapel train or a full length veil, but this gown definitely made me feel like a princess. This would be my only chance to wear layers of organza, so why not go for it! Plus, was completely unlike that other gown. My mom loved the pictures, so I called Joanie the next day and put down my deposit. Believe it or not, this gown was the same price as the other one, but far more stunning. Here's a close-up of the fabric from my actual wedding day:
And here's what my gown looked like bustled (a French bustle) with the veil bustled too. The bustling and alterations were done by Sienna at Bridal Fashion and Alterations (she's wonderful).
The photo above is by Krzystyna Harber Photography in Providence, RI--Krzystyna a terrific photographer and a joy to work with. D and I loved her from our very first meeting with her. This isn't one of the best of the photos she took, but it shows off the back of my gown (and hides D's face...he's shy about being on my blog).
Over the next few months I'll continue to post memories, reviews, and photos leading up to my wedding last May.
Monday, October 29, 2007
I belong to an online learning community called Daring Bakers. The deal is that we are assigned a recipe at the beginning of the month which we have to make exactly as the recipe states, and then post the results on our blogs. The recipe for October (my first month) is a "Bostini Cream Pie" A variation on the classic Boston Cream pie. The recipe appears at the bottom of my post.
First off, I halved the recipe since there's just D and I to eat it. I started by separating the eggs and realized I had separated too many. This was when I decided that when halving a recipe it's best to do all of the conversions first and write them down next to the name of the ingredient. This recipe was a bit of a pain to halve since there are a lot of 3/4 cups/tablespoons in it. Luckily, I remembered that my cookbook holder has all of the conversions written on it, such as how many tablespoons per cup for liquids and solid measures. This is why I wish we used the metric system in the U.S.-- it's so much easier for conversions of all kinds!
I had a little mishap when adding the beaten egg to the milk and egg yolk mixture. My hands were slippery and I accidentally dropped the beaten egg and the bowl it was in into the mixing bowl. I had my cream, vanilla bean, and sugar in a saucepan, brought it to a boil, turned the heat down, and then took some of the hot cream to temper the eggs. As soon as I put the egg mixture into the cream it started to curdle--fast. My pans retain so much heat! Luckily I had the spoon in hand and was able to start stirring right away so not too much curdle (and that's what the straining is for, right?).
Next little mishap was in straining the custard. When straining custard I recommend that you strain it into a bowl and then fill the custard cups from the bowl. Well, on Saturday I didn't do this--I strained straight from the hot and heavy saucepan right into the custard cups. Very messy--but I got to sample a lot of custard that fell onto the counter and the outside of the custard cups.
Third mishap is really a shame because it resulted in wasted custard. I didn't have enough custard cups, so I used a Pyrex bowl with lid for the last bit of custard. Unfortunately I didn't sniff the bowl before using it. All I can say is that I have one bowl of vanilla-onion infused custard. (We specifically store things in glass to avoid the smelly containers issue, but I guess this particular one didn't go through the dishwasher and wasn't washed with enough dish soap).
Now the cake pretty much went off without a hitch. The only issue was that I had neglected to buy the cake flour so I had to use all-purpose. The orange mixture smelled heavenly and reminded me of the smell of cranberry orange bread batter. The egg whites whipped up fabulously and the batter was so light once I folded it in. I spooned it into custard cups that I had wiped with a paper towel dipped in canola oil (I don't like cooking spray). Again, I was short a custard cup so I used another one of the Pyrex bowls, but this time I was smart enough to sniff it first.
The cakes came out of the oven all puffy and lightly browned. Beautiful! I waited until thay were cool and then used a knife to loosen the edges and popped the cakes out onto a cooling rack.
Fast forward about 24 hours to Sunday evening. I made the glaze in the double boiler and then just had to plate the Bostini. I did 3 different platings.
First, a footed glass dessert dish with the custard in the bottom, a round cake on top, chocolate glaze drizzled over the cake, and a raspberry and mint leaves to garnish. The second plating I drizzled the glaze on a dessert plate, spooned the custard to one side of the plate, and then cut a triangular piece of cake which rested partway on the custard. I finished by drizzling the cake with glaze and again garnished with raspberries and mint leaves. The third plating used a china dessert dish and cup which I received as a wedding gift. I put the custard in the bottom of the cup, added a round piece of cake on top, and then covered the whole thing with chocolate glaze. i topped it off by inserting a square of chocolate in the center. On the plate I stacked raspberries and a mint leaf.
While all of the platings looked good, the one that I had a best photograph of is the footed dessert dish. This is my "official" Bostini Cream Pie!
So, below is the half recipe I followed:
Bostini Cream Pie (adapted from Donna Scala & Curtis Baguley of Bistro Don Giovanni and Scala's Bistro)
makes 5 servings
6Tbsp whole milk
4 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 egg (minus some of the white), beaten
4 egg yolks
1 3/4 cup + 2Tbsp heavy cream
1/4 vanilla bean
1/4 cup + 1 1/3 tsp sugar
3/4 cup cake flour
1/4 cup + 2Tbsp superfine sugar
1/2 tsp + smidge baking powder
To prepare the custard:
Combine the milk and cornstarch in a bowl; blend until smooth. Whisk in the whole egg and yolks, beating until smooth. Combine the cream, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and carefully bring to a boil. When the mixture just boils, whisk a ladleful into the egg mixture to temper it, then whisk this back into the cream mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the custard and pour into 8 large custard cups. Refrigerate to chill.
To prepare the chiffon cakes:
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Spray 8 molds/custard cups with nonstick cooking spray.
Sift the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice, zest and vanilla. Stir until smooth, but do not overbeat.
Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten whites into the orange batter. Fill the sprayed molds nearly to the top with the batter.
Bake approximately 25 minutes, until the cakes bounce back when lightly pressed with your fingertip. Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. When completely cool, remove the cakes from the molds. Cover the cakes to keep them moist.
To prepare the glaze:
Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Place the butter in a saucepan and heat until it is just about to bubble. Remove from the heat; add the chocolate and stir to melt. Pour through a strainer and keep warm.
Cut a thin slice from the top of each cake to create a flat surface. Place a cake flat-side down on top of each custard. Cover the tops with warm chocolate glaze. Serve immediately.
To check out how the other Daring Bakers plated their Bostini Cream Pie, or to read about their experiences, you can visit their blogs. Check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll: http://daringbakersblogroll.blogspot.com/.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
On Saturday am I headed to a Friends and Newcomers new member coffee. I met some more nice women and learned a few more of the ins and outs of my new town (and the surrounding area). One thing that has been very reassuring about meeting these women is finding out that I'm not the only one who loathes the grocery store in our town. While the prices at the Market Basket are very good, the aisles are narrow, the lines are long, the parking lot is too small, and the produce goes bad too quickly. Everyone seems to shop in neighboring towns either at the Shaws, Hannaford, Stop and Shop, or Donelans. Typically, I do as much shopping as possible at Trader Joe's and then head to Market Basket for whatever I can't find. It drives me nuts every time I go there, but it is much less expensive than the really nice Donelans that is also close to our house.
One of the women at the Newcomers coffee told me about a place called Idylwilde Farms in Acton. She said it was similar to Wilson Farms in Lexington and that they had terrific produce and meats. I knew I had to check it out, so I headed over on Saturday afternoon. Basically, it looks like a big barn, and outside they have stacks of fresh local produce. This week they had tons of different kinds of pumpkins, squash, applies, and multi-colored cauliflower. I picked up a sugar pumpkin and some purple cauliflower. Inside it was a mix of Wilson Farms and Russo's in Watertown. Perfect stacks of fresh and colorful produce, fresh baked goods, a huge cheese section, and a perimeter of staple and gourmet foods. I was able to find all of what I needed for my Daring Bakers challenge, including a vanilla bean and superfine sugar. They also had fresh raspberries which I knew would make the perfect garnish. I also picked up a fresh, natural roasting chicken for Sunday dinner.
Upon coming home from Idylwilde, I started in on my Daring Bakers challenge (you can read about the details of that in my previous post). Meanwhile, D put together 2 more storage shelves in the basement and started tearing up the carpet in the master bedroom so we can get started on our demolition/construction. We're demoing the existing closet and building a walk-in because I have way too much stuff! Were also going to lay down hardwood flooring in the master bedroom and upstairs hall. I can't wait until the room is done and we can start sleeping on the beautiful sheets that my mom gave us for our shower. The colors are so soothing.
Saturday night we went to the Gibbet Hill Grille for dinner to celebrate the 1 year anniversary of our engagement. We had heard about Gibbet Hill from D's cousins, and then saw it on TV Diner where it won the "Platinum Plate" award. Luckily I had called 2 weeks earlier for a reservation because it was parents' weekend at the local prep school and the restaurant was very busy. Gibbet Hill Grille is located in a beautiful refurbished barn on a farm in Groton, MA. There's a fireplace by the bar making it very cosy, and they serve a nice variety of wines by the glass. I had a very nice Pinot Noir and D had the house beer--Gibbet Hill Brew. We were ushered into the dining room promptly at 8pm and started perusing the menu.
There were many fabulous-sounding choices--from gourmet sandwiches to roasted beet salad to all kinds of steaks. We started with PEI mussels which were served in a delicious better/herb broth with a piece of toast to soak up the juices. Being a huge lamb lover (I eat it probably 1 out of every 3 times we go out to dinner), I was happy to hear that they had a rack of lamb special served with braised cabbage and brussels sprouts and roasted sweet potatoes. D had the Arctic Char (he loves all things Icelandic/Scandinavian). My lamb was delicious and I think D was a bit embarrassed when I separated the bones and started gnawing on them after I had finished most of the meat. I had a Malbec that was specially selected to pair with the lamb. After dinner we had port and coffee, during which time we watched and listened as others in the restaurant ran up to the bar to check out what was happening in the Red Sox World Series game.
Sunday was also a moderately busy day for me. D and I organized some things on the shelves in the basement and decided there were some more items we could part with. I also went through my closets and pulled out some stuff to try to consign and some to donate. D mowed the lawn while I worked on a project handblock printing onesies and dish towels (I'll post on this later). Then D and I spent about 1/2 hour laying in the hammock in the warm sun (until the sun went behind the trees and the breeze became too cool).
After "hammock time" I set to work making dinner--chicken with 40 cloves of garlic from the Joy of Cooking. I originally consulted Joy just for the minutes per pound for a roast chicken, but found the garlic recipe which called for lots of dried herbs and garlic. I have a whole deck covered in fresh herbs that we need to eat up so I thought this would be a perfect recipe. Basically, I basted the chicken with olive oil, rubbed under the skin with fresh chopped herbs and salt and pepper, seasoned the cavity and stuffed it with whole fresh herbs (sage, rosemary and thyme) and a quartered lemon. Then I put the chicken in a covered casserole, added some chicken broth and white wine, and all of the peeled cloves of garlic from 3 heads! The covered casserole went in a 375 oven for 25 minutes, then the cover was removed, the temp increased to 450 and the timer set for 35 more minutes of cooking.
While the chicken was cooking I boiled potatoes for garlic mashed potatoes (with the garlic from the chicken). I also cut open 2 sugar pumpkins, saved the seeds on a cookie sheet for roasting later, and roasted the pumpkin pieces. Not sure yet what I'm going to do with the roasted pumpkin. A few weeks ago I made roasted pumpkin risotto which was quite good. I may make that again, or pumpkin soup.
When the chicken was done it smelled heavenly. I removed it onto a platter and added the garlic to the mashed potatoes. I then strained the cooking liquid into a bowl and added some hot chicken broth to thin the sauce down a little. The flavor was great. After dinner I picked all of the remaining meat off the chicken and then put all of the carcass pieces into the slow cooker along with a quartered onion, 3 celery stalks, 2 carrots, the herbs that were in the chicken cavity, and a handful of fresh parsley. This morning I strained that and will make soup with it tomorrow night for dinner.
It was a full weekend that also included watching the Red Sox win the World Series for the 2nd time in 3 years. While I watched the Sox I finished my knitting project for my swap partner. Hopefully I'll get the box in the mail to her tomorrow.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Thursday, October 25, 2007
So, I met Laura at the store and she and I went through some different fabric choices--some of which we had considered on Saturday. I was deciding between fabric that was bold had a lot of colors in it (like the original), fabric that had a lot of colors in it but was more subtle, and fabric that had fewer colors but was bold. D helped us make the final decision which is below:
Not as many colors, but really warm and fairly bold. I can tie in more colors with an area rug if I want. And, they're only throw pillows...I can switch them out any time I want (like in summer when I want something more summery).
Fast forward to January. The call comes and my gown is in! I make a date with my sister to meet at the store because she hasn't seen my gown (when we ordered the bridesmaid dresses I couldn't try on the sample because it had been sold). We meet at the store and they show me to a dressing room to try on my gown. Well...it wasn't my gown! It was a gown that was ivory with an organza and lace overlay, but it was strapless! I came out and said, "that's not my gown" and the woman in the store said, "let me get George, the owner, and we'll figure this out." George came out and said, "Are you sure this isn't your gown? It matches the number on the order form." I said "I know my gown and this is definitely not it." I was extremely calm. My sister thinks I was in shock because I didn't get angry at all. George tells me that he'll call the manufacturer on Tuesday and then call me back. He wasn't apologetic or anything. I figured the manufacturer just sent the wrong gown by mistake and everything would be fine.
Monday, October 22, 2007
So, we went to Bassett and were greeted right away by this woman Laura. She had asked what we were looking for and what styles we liked and then set us to work sketching out the room. D sketched out the room (we have the dimensions to memory now) and Laura guessed immediately that D is an engineer. Laura gave me some nice ideas about the room (like putting a runner in front of the sliding glass door for the winter), and then we sat on some different pieces of furniture to get a sense of scale and comfort. First we tried their "Estate" collection sofa. The thing was huge! It would look great in our room, but we looked like Baby Bears sitting in Papa Bear's chair. Then we tried the "Manor" collection which was much more scaled to us. The sofa is 92" long, so it's big, but the depth of the cushions and overall proportions are better.
D and I have been trying to decide between a sectional or a sofa and loveseat. After Laura put both options into the room plan, we decided a sofa and loveseat and a chair was the way to go. The other thing I had been trying to decide on was whether to do a coffee table or an ottoman. We decided to go with a storage ottoman--today it'll be a place to store magazines, knitting, etc. and someday it will store some of the kids' toys. Another plus is that the future kids won't crack their heads open banging against the edges of a coffee table.
Our future kids were a big impact on the furniture we decided to buy. It had to be durable in construction, and it had to have fabric that would stand up to lots of wear. We decided on a light brown/tan corduroy-like fabric. Very durable, but also very soft. We purcased the sofa, loveseat, chair, and ottoman all in the same fabric. It's matchy-matchy and boring, but I think from a longevity standpoint it will work well. The fun was picking the fabric for the throw pillows. I'm a big believer in neutral furniture that can adapt to my changing tastes just by changing the throw pillows. The throw pillows I chose are not what I would have expected--they're sort of Kilim inspired. They have a bunch of different colors in them (burnt orange, sage, brick red, denim blue) which I think will work really well with different seasonal accents (e.g., pumpkins in the fall and evergreens in the winter). They're very warm looking, so I think during the spring and summer I will switch them out for something lighter. Here's the website's rendering of our sofa with the throw pillows (the sofa color is darker in the picture than in real life).
Now D and I just have to wait for the furniture to arrive. Laura said it would arrive before Thanksgiving, but I'm not counting on it. Of course it would be great if it did since we'll have 9-12 people at our house for Turkey Day and currently have family room seating for 4!
Stay tuned for postings of different accessories, lamps, rugs, etc. that I'll be looking at! I'll also be posting bedroom decorating ideas too as time goes on.
Friday, October 19, 2007
I got into bed around 1:15. D was asleep and had been for at least 2 1/2 hours, but he was lucid enough to ask me about the game. About 10 minutes later I heard and felt a few seconds of rumbling. I asked D, "What the hell was that"? I thought maybe a tree had fallen in the yard. D immediately thought it was the furnace, water heater, propane tank, or septic blowing up. Turns out, it was a 2.5 earthquake with an epicenter only 2.9 miles from our house! Here's a link to the article in the Boston Globe.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I took my Grandma Arnold's recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies and adapted it by adding dried cranberries instead of raisins and some special pink breast cancer M&Ms. The result isn't really all that pink, but they sure taste good! The idea of the dried cranberries and chocolate came from some dark chocolate covered cranberries D and I bought in Rockport this summer (in a fudge shop where the guy at the counter surely thought I was nuts because I was vigorously scratching my leg--turns out I had a fierce case of posion ivy...but I digress).
Here's the (approximate) recipe for Oatmeal Cranberry M&M Cookies:
1/2 c. softened unsalted butter
1/2 c. white granulated sugar
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. water
a generous pour of vanilla extract
1 c. all purpose flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 c. quick oats
1 1/4 c. dried sweetened cranberries
1 c. pink M&Ms
3/4 c. chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter with sugar. Add egg, water, and vanilla and beat until blended. Add flour, baking soda, and salt and mix until smooth. Add oatmeal and cranberries and beat until combined. Fold in M&Ms and chopped nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake 15 minutes. Allow to cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes before removing to cool on wire cooling rack. Makes about 2 dozen (depending on how much dough you eat). Note: I used light and dark brown sugar because I ran out of light brown sugar. 1 cup of either light or dark will suffice.
Now, to make them more pink you just use the power of Picassa:
To see the other entries in the Boobie Bake Off and vote for my entry (by making a $1 donation to the National Breast Cancer Research Foundation) just go to Baking Delights or Apron Strings and Simmering Things on November 2nd!
Here's the original recipe for my Grandma Arnold's Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (the best you've ever had):
1/2 c. softened butter (or corn oil margarine)
1/2 c. white granulated sugar
1 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. water
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. all purpose flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves (or allspice)
3 c. quick oats
1 1/4 c. raisins
1 c. chopped walnuts
Preheat oven tom 350. Cream butter and sugar. Mix in egg, water, and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients. Drop by tablespoonful onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350 12-15 minutes. Wait a minute or 2 before removing from pan.
A side note: I can tell that my grandmother wrote out this recipe after my grandfather had bypass surgery---she restricted all butter from his diet and henceforth most of her recipes called for "Promise" (corn oil margarine) instead of butter!!
I received another one of these Kraft Food and Family magazines this weekend and perused it before going grocery shopping on Sunday night. I saw a few recipes that looked interesting and so I bought the ingredients. I think it was the first time I bought Jello for something other than Jello shots in a very long time. Last night I made the first recipe for dinner. "Chinese Take-Out" Lemon Chicken. The ingredients were all pretty mundane for a stir fry--chicken, red pepper, green beans, chicken broth, garlic, corn starch--except for the 2 magic Kraft ingredients. Those magic ingredients? Zesty Italian salad dressing and....drumroll please...lemon Jello! Now, usually I shy away from cooking with artificial colors and artificial flavors, but I was really intrigued by putting Jello in a stir fry, so I tried it. I served it to D and asked him if he could guess the magic ingredient. He couldn't. Overall the recipe wasn't bad, but it was definitely too sweet, yellow, and artificial tasting for my liking. I think kids would probably dig it (and my brother-in-law Michael would probably dig it too). It did get me thinking though about making a General Tsao style chicken with orange jello...
When I was a kid my mom had the Campbell's Soup cookbook and some of the recipes in there became staples of my childhood--like pork chops and rice, beef stroganoff, and Swedish meatballs all made with cream of mushroom soup. I also really like the tuna noodle casserole my mom used to make occasionally (and, when dining services served it for lunch at Middlebury I always took a heaping helping), but I wasn't a big fan of the meatloaf with tomato soup sauce. Now, don't get me wrong and start thinking that my mom wasn't a good cook and so had to rely on these recipes--actually completely the opposite--but when you have to come up with dinner for your husband and kids every day for 21 years+ easy recipes that can be made from staples on hand are a real plus! Something tells me I'll be asking my mom for those recipes once I have kids--and maybe, just maybe, they'll get Jello chicken once in a while just for kicks!
There's a great website that features all of these "brand" recipes from the 40s-60s and it is so hysterically funny! Check it out: The Gallery of Regrettable Food. A few examples of the "cookbooks" on this site are below (click to link to the actual picture and hilarius descriptions).And, while you're looking at funny retro stuff, check out Stitchy McYarnpants for vintage knitting patterns with fabulous commentary (her first post is on vintage recipes right now, but scroll down to get to the knitting patterns).
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Unfortunately, because we closed the restaurant down, we didn't have time for a Trivial Pursuit rematch. When we were in New York for Easter we played girls against guys and Andrea and I were victorious (of course). I get a little too in to Trivial Pursuit because it's a game I'm actually good at (as opposed to Monopoly which I don't play anymore since I used to throw a hissy fit everytime I lost to my sister and cousins when i was a kid--of course, they were all at least 3 years older, so it really wasn't a fair match up).
Sunday we hosted a family brunch before Andrea and David and the kids headed home. My in-laws brought the boys up to the house and we ate our first family meal on the new dining room table. I served home fries (from Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook), a monterey jack and french bread strata, bacon, maple glazed sausages, banana bread, and Mary's sticky buns.
After brunch we headed outside and the kids rode their bikes aound the cul de sac and then Avery and I went on an "apple hunt." Our neighbors have 2 apple trees that abut our property and each has tons of apples, but they haven't been treated with any pesticides and so the apples are riddled with bug and worm holes (next spring D and I are going to approach out neighbors about spraying with some sort of organic orchard pesticide). I gave Avery a bucket and had him pick up the dropped apples--we made a game out of lobbing them into the bucket.
With the apple hunting finished, Avery wanted to go on a kitty hunt. We called Mercury, but she didn't want to come out of the woods (she's terrified of unfamiliar people, especially kids). Aparently she came out of the woods eventually because Avery spied her under the deck. He was so happy to have seen her, but unfortunately Ethan didn't get a peek at her before she scooted back into the woods. I went into the swamp to try to lure her out, but to no avail. Instead, I came back with cat-a-nine tails for the kids. While they were no substitute for a real cat, the boys did enjoy using them as light sabers!
Eventually Mercury did come out of the woods and she and I had a nice time cuddling on the sofa for an afternoon nap! She also played with the new catnip mouse that the boys had brought for her...I'll post a picture of that...