Wednesday, May 20, 2009


photo via Last Night's Dinner

As a follow up to my last post about the things that make our homes feel luxurious and relaxing, I've also been thinking about how to incorporate more rituals into my life.

Sarah at Pink of Perfection recently reflected on this a bit more eloquently than I could:

"I find myself very interested in rituals these days: the way they mark the passing of seasons, days, and even the smallest occasions. Rituals make the ordinary sacred — like the grandmother and grandfather of a friend who always sit down together for a glass of wine before dinner each night."

I also think rituals and traditions are important for couples (or friends or families) building a shared life together. Rituals can be grounding; they can be homages to the things that are important to both parties; they offer a new opportunity to connect over shared interests each time; and they can transform mundane chores like grocery shopping into something special rather than something to just get overwith.

One of our so-called rituals is to bike down to Park Slope when we have a free weekend afternoon for drinks at a bar, a snack, and some time alone to chat. But I'm trying to think of new ideas. For example, a champagne toast every Friday evening to kick off the weekend, or trying out a new restaurant once a week, or sitting down to dinner together every night sans phones and distractions. However, irregular work and social schedules make it hard to establish regular plans, so these ideas are really just in my head at this point.

What are the rituals that make your life more fun, more relaxing, and more meaningful? How do you find time to sustain them even when busy life gets in the way?

PS. I highly encourage you to check out the two blogs referenced above if you haven't already. Last Night's Dinner features the most beautiful photos of inspirational seasonal meals; and Pink of Perfection charms hearts with her musings on "a thrifty girl's guide to la dolce vita."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Little Luxuries Part I

Coming home often means stress instead of relaxation, thanks to kitchen detritus, dog hair everywhere, and all the chores to be done. I'd like to figure out how to highlight the little luxuries that help home signify a place of comfort and soothing, so that I can uncoil the tight ball of frustration that currently resides inside my heart.

My current list of luxuries I like to have on hand includes:
* A bottle of wine

* Good beer

* Dark chocolate bars

* Comfortable chairs for relaxing on the balcony

* Natural handmade soap

* A stack of good books

* Looseleaf teas

* Potted plants

* Baking supplies so I can whip up a treat whenever the need (desire?) arises

* The 50s, Jazz, and Bluegrass channels on satellite radio

* NPR podcasts

* Long showers (I know it's not ecofriendly but the it's a guilty pleasure)

My luxury wishlist
* Crisp organic bedsheets and a comfortable duvet

* Aromatic soy candles

* A big puffy couch to sink right into (we can't fit anything bigger than a futon into the apartment)

* A stereo system that extends to the kitchen for music listening and dancing while cooking

* The New York Times paper edition (a luxury we gave up long ago in an effort to be green, but oh how our weekend brunches for two were enjoyable with the paper spread everywhere)

* A warm cuddly blanket by the couch

So dear readers, tell me what do you think are the little luxuries that make your home and life a lovely place? (Next up we will explore the rituals that incorporate these luxuries and add meaning and comfort to our lives.)

photo via flickr

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fried Rice with Asparagus and Chicken

I found some leftover brown rice in my fridge and decided to put together a spring inspired fried rice for dinner last night. I diced asparagus to use in place of peas, which are not yet in season, as well as grilled chicken breast because I try to use the grill as much as possible in warm weather. The resident Chinese-food-hater declared it leagues better than takeout fried rice.

Fried Rice with Asparagus and Chicken
1-2 cups leftover brown rice
1 large onion
1/2 lb asparagus
1/2 lb grilled breast
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Heat wok or pan to medium high and coat with olive oil. Chop onion into large pieces and sautee until translucent and browned. Rinse and dice asparagus and add to the pan. Sautee approximately 5 minutes, until asparagus is slightly softened. Add rice and continue to cook over medium high heat for another 5 minutes to flavor the rice. Meanwhile, shred grilled chicken into small pieces and add to pan. Finally, add soy suace, vinegar, tumeric, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper, and toss to coat.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cupcake Contest Take 2

Last Monday was the third annual cupcake contest hosted by Brooklyn Kitchen. This year's event featured almost 60 cupcakes, bakers, and testers, packed into Union Pool's backyard.

sister's "Fire Antz" aka spicy chocolate cupcakes

It was impossible to try them all - I think I probably tasted about 20. And I successfully paced myself, limiting my sampling to half or quarter sized bites of the cupcakes, so that I didn't end up with a tummyache at the end of the night like last year.

I didn't win anything again (the competition at this event is always so steep), but I was happy because I got a lot of compliments and my cupcakes were popular enough to have all disappeared by the end of the night. I called them honey babies just because I wanted to come up with some kind of catchy name, but really they have been likened to a great muffin or coffee cake with a light honey spice flavor, topped with amazing frosting. The maple, chopped almonds, and sparkles of sugar are what makes this cupcake sing.

I'm already planning my recipe for next year's contest...I'll definitely be incorporating chocolate.

Honey Babies with Maple Almond Frosting
9 tbsp butter
3/4 cup raw turbinado sugar
heaping 1/4 cup honey
3 eggs
2 tsp bourbon vanilla (bourbon steeped with vanilla beans)
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cups flour
1 cup ground almonds (1 cup of almonds ground in the food processor until it resembles coarse flour)
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp salt

6 tbsp butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp bourbon vanilla
6 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp milk
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
raw turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Butter two 12-muffin tins. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in honey, eggs, vanilla and milk.
In a separate bowl, combine remaining dry ingredients. Beat dry ingredients into wet mixture until smooth. Scoop batter into muffin tins and bake for approximately 15 minutes until knife inserted comes out clean.

For frosting, cream butter and powdered sugar. Mix in vanilla, maple syrup, milk, and half the chopped almonds. Adjust sugar and butter to desired consistency (my measurements above are approximate). Frost cupcakes, and then sprinkle remaining almonds and a little sugar over top of each. Makes 24 cupcakes. This recipe can easily be cut by a third to make a batch of 12 large cupcakes.

Smoky Vegetarian Crock Pot Baked Beans

After a trip to the southern BBQ joint Blue Smoke, I was craving some more warm, tangy baked beans. I figured it would be easy enough to make in my crock pot. I was also lucky enough to receive a jar of Catskills homemade maple syrup as a gift - I don't know how he made it, but his syrup has a crazy smoky flavor! So it was perfect for whipping up a smoky barbecue sauce to coat the beans. Thanks to the special syrup, this recipe tasted great without any bacon or pork (as baked beans traditionally include), but I think I'd be happy making these vegetarian again even without the benefit of the smoke.

Smoky Vegetarian Crock Pot Baked Beans

2 cups dried beans
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp smoky maple syrup
2 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp mustard
2 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp salt
several grinds of pepper

The night before, place dried beans in bowl to soak, filled with water about two inches above the beans.
Whisk together remaining ingredients and reserve in an airtight container in the fridge overnight.
The next morning, drain and rinse beans. Combine beans, barbecue sauce, and 1 1/2 cup of water in crock pot and stir until beans are coated in sauce. Let cook on low approximately 4 hours, turn to high for 2-3 hours, and then turn to low until ready to serve.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Git Yr Bike On

Tomorrow is National Bike to Work Day. The forecast is actually looking nice, so I think i'll actually make it this year. I am an aspiring bike commuter. But much as I'd like to get rid of the pricey monthly Metrocard, I wimp out at rainy forecasts or if I have afterwork plans to go out in Manhattan. Oh yeah and I also wimp out when my alarm goes off in the morning and I don't feel like getting up earlier than usual (the actual travel time is about the same as taking the subway, but I need to allow for time to shower at the gym next to my office before heading into work. Two bridges aka giant hills to cross make me a sweaty girl.)

My goal this summer is to bike 20 miles a week, which I can either reach by biking to work twice a week, or by biking to work once and then biking for fun on the weekend.

As I've mentioned before, here are some reasons why I like bike commuting:
* Great exercise
* Get home earlier than I would if I went to the gym after work
* Fun
* Unique views of NYC
* I feel great afterward, like a kind of biker's high
* Makes me feel badass
* Helps me indulge my inner map geek to figure out routes
* Electricity-free workout (unlike the gym)
* Gas-free transportation (unlike subways or cars)

And for those New Yorkers out there, did you know that May is actually Bike Month NYC? There are lots of group rides and events happening this month, so go on and git yr bike on!

Have you ever considered biking to work? What are the reasons why you would or wouldn't?

image via here

"Yard Work"

I finally got my balcony garden planted in early May (a whole month later than last year thanks to crappy weather), after several trips to the farmers market, laboriously twice carrying home a twenty pound bag of soil on my back, and gingerly ferrying home these baby herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, basil, and ginger mint ((perfect for cocktails and lemonade!)) and heirloom cherry tomatoes. I hope to pick up a hot pepper plant as well once the weather gets warmer.

My first foray into gardening last year was motivated by kitchen-supplementing herbs and vegetables - all business and no interest in flowers just for fun. But this May, the farmers market has been overtaken with flowers, flowers everywhere. Pacing back and forth through the stalls, I was overcome by a strange new desire for a real yard, not only to grow vegetables, but to fill with a wide array of landscaped flower beds offering wild-grown beauty and cheer. I guess I am turning into my mother.

Until that day when I finally live in the country again or some approximation of it, we are lucky to have even this much outdoor space in NYC. So I finally decided to bring home double impatiens, daisies, and dahlias. I have a yellow thumb, so I don't really know what I'm doing and just hope for the best. So far two of my basil plants are already dying, while the third is thriving - who knows?

Oh and for some reason it took us three years of living in this apartment to realize that we should replace the rusty chair no one wanted to sit on with our comfortable weather-proof camping chairs that previously spent most of their time in storage. We have already enjoyed many afternoons and evenings of sitting down on the balcony with a cold beer, admiring the sunset and my garden handiwork.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Founder's Day Recap

Last weekend was wonderful, magical, everything I could have asked for. The sky was gray and drizzling on the drive up, which got me worried, but the sun came out in all its glory when we arrived, in true Founder's Day magic - nearly every year, despite the forecast, it's the most amazing spring day you've ever seen.

We set up our camping chairs at the top of the hill.

We wandered around campus holding hands and seeing old sights.

We stopped by the observatory to stand in the place where you can hear your own echo.

We lounged in the shade of the flowering trees.

I drank several mugs of craft beer and picked dandelions for my hair.

(We didn't dance or go on the carnival ride though. But I didn't even mind.)

I ran into a couple old friends. Next year I think I would like to go with a group of people, because that's really more what the spirit of the day is about.

Everywhere we were surrounded by students who looked just like the people we went to college with, doing all the things we used to do, but none of them were familiar. It was a surreal feeling.

We talked about how our college is a magical place. It's where I grew into my sense of self. I studied harder than I should have but still had a lot of fun. It wasn't all happy but I was always meeting friends who helped picked me up and carry me on. And there was always beauty of the campus, with its everlasting trees and fields of green and contemplative lake to help me feel grounded and connected to the preciousness of life. I got so sentimental missing it that it made me cry. (I'm a total crybaby.)

The festivities ended too quickly, as they always seemed to, so we packed up our camping chairs and slowly made our way back to our hotel for a quiet night: him snoring and me watching TV movies.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Founders Day!

Annnnd I am off again bright and early tomorrow morning! I'm going upstate this weekend to visit my alma mater for Founder's Day. It's really just an excuse for the students (and alums!) to spend a day wasted and outside in the beautiful spring weather. Complete with a beer truck, carnival rides, food stands, and live music all day long. Every year has a different theme. My favorite theme was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory sophomore year, when I wandered around in a haze marveling at the colorful fake candy sticking out of the ground. I can't believe that was five years ago! Makes me feel like I'm getting old.

This is only my second time visiting since I graduated. I booked a room in a hotel that's within walking distance so I can stumble home at the end of the day. I'm. So. Excited. Can you tell? Now I'm just checking the weather forecast every hour and praying it doesn't rain (currently morning showers followed by afternoon clouds are predicted, which I guess I can live with.)

Pet Peeve: Late Night Music

Last night I remembered why I don't see live music more often: Because the headlining band often doesn't play until 11:30pm. I'm sorry, but can someone tell me HOW this became the stupid standard of the music industry? In most cases, the thought of traveling across town for the show and back again to get home after 1am on a weeknight really does NOT appeal to me. Not to mention that I'm so tired by the time the band I'm there to see comes on that I can't enjoy it.

Take last night. I went to see a funk band at a venue conveniently only a short walk from my apartment. Since the flyer said the show started at 9, I got there a little before then, but then proceeded to sit in an empty dark club for an hour. The DJs playing were good and I thought about dancing, but wanted to save my energy for the real thing. It was too loud to chat, so there wasn't really anything to do but just sit there bored out of our minds. Finally, I found out the headlining band wasn't coming on till 11. So I walked back home where I could actually pass the time pleasantly. But by the time I returned to the show at 11, then still had to wait, as the band didn't come on till 11:30, I only stayed for 3 songs and then left because at that point the whole experience of the night and being drunk and tired had just dragged me down. What a disappointment.

Anyone else think it's insane that headliner bands don't play until 10, 11, or 12 at night?