Macaron FAIL

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A few years ago, I was really getting into baking and started seeing recipes for macarons all over the blogs. Certainly I could tackle this simple little French cookie. Well, I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but something went awry with my piping bag and the macaron batter that ended with me covered in it and yelling at Steve that I would never bake again. Melodramatic much?

Of course I've baked many times since then, but I've never made another attempt at macarons...until today. I felt prepared. I studied the recipe. I knew I had this in the bag and was going to prevail over my nummy nemesis.

So I traced 1-inch circles on my parchment paper to use as guides.

I ground my almonds in the food processor.

I measured out my powdered sugar and fancy Dutch process cocoa powder and combined them with the ground almonds in the food processor for a few pulses.

I whipped my egg whites, added granulated sugar, and beat it mixture until I got nice stiff peaks. I was worried because it took me longer than expected to get to this point, but I think I had the speed on my mixer a little too low at the beginning.

I folded the dry ingredients into the meringue. I started noticing things were a little off, as it seemed like I had waaaay too little meringue for the amount of dry ingredients I had. It was really difficult to fold it all of the dry in, and I was left with this really thick batter, which didn't seem right.

In any event, I decided to fill up my pastry bag and pipe the batter onto the parchment paper. Because it was so thick I was able to pipe out only half the number I was supposed to, and they definitely didn't spread out in the circles. I popped them into the oven.

15 minutes later, I had these odd looking, sort of chewy, macaron wannabes.

Needless to say, I didn't waste good chocolate to make the ganache filling for these cookie failures. I'm not discouraged, though. Macarons might have gotten the best of me twice now, but I will one day reign supreme, and that will be a wonderful, wonderful day.

Obviously, I will be seeking a different recipe* for the next attempt. Any suggestions?

*please note: the recipe I used is probably fantastic and there's a strong possibility it was user error, not recipe error, that led me to these blobby cookies.

Girl & the Goat

Friday, July 30, 2010

I'm so sad that I missed posting yesterday, but I had a good excuse...last night we went to the studio opening of a fabulous photographer, Kevin Weinstein, and before the party Steve and I grabbed a drink and a bite at Stephanie Izard's new restaurant Girl & the Goat. Nom, nom, nom, the food was out of this world!

The main dinner menu is broken down into vegetable, fish and meat. Here's a sneak peak at the fish section. Are you drooling yet?

We each started off with a beer. Steve opted for the Sofie, and since I like to choose beers based on the name, I chose the Victory Golden Monkey.

They have a breakmaker who makes the bread daily. We ordered the Buenos Dias bread, which was a loaf spotted with cranberries (I think?) and served with coffee butter and blueberry oil. Coffee butter needs to make a regular appearance in my every day life a.s.a.p.

Off the fish section we ordered the soft shell crab with sweet corn, lime and chili aioli. Sorry for the wonky picture - we had already split it in half and I had to hold myself back from just diving my face into it. Seriously, the corn was so flavorful and the crab just tasted amazing. I'm still dreaming about it.

Finally, we ordered the beet salad, which had green beans, anchovies and an avocado creme fraiche. Steve said this was the best thing he had off of the menu. I liked the overall flavors, but anchovies and beets aren't my cup of tea. I was still thinking about that crab...

Overall, Girl & the Goat was incredibly well executed. We had a great spot at the bar to order our drinks and bites, everything is served family style so it's fun to order a lot of dishes to share, the restaurant as a whole had a comfortable, loungy feel and you're hit with a wonderful bacon-y smell right when you walk in the door. Yummmmm.

Now that's what I call appreciation

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

For the past month I've had two awesome interns at work, and tonight was the mentor appreciation night for their program. As their mentor, of course I went! And, I didn't leave the event empty handed.

What did I get? Well, since you asked, they had a drawing for a couple of door prizes for the mentors, and I won. Wooo! I lucked out with 7 bars of organic chocolate, a box of Whole Foods cookies, AND a $25 Whole Foods gift certificate.

Seriously, it's A LOT of chocolate:

While I hope the interns learned plenty of life skills they can take with them, I learned tonight that if you're the last person to put your business card in the bag for the drawing, it will be the first one chosen. I'm just kidding, that's not the only thing I learned...I think I learned just as much from the two interns as they (hopefully) learned from me!

Ugh, you squeaky floors, you

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Steve awakes each morning to the sound of elephants pacing around our wait, it's just me. Or the dog. Yes, they're so bad the dog can even make the floors squeak. Ugggggh.

We've tried drilling holes and using screws that are supposed to remedy the problem (they didn't), and pouring graphite and even talcum powder all over the floor (didn't work either). We finally talked to some contractors and (shocker) they have no solution other than ripping up the floor boards, putting down a sub floor that is apparently missing, and re-installing the floors. The quote for this, just to do our two bedrooms? Upwards of $3,500.

We're debating pricing out just doing our bedroom, which is the squeakiest. But that's still going to be a couple grand, which is definitely not a home improvement project that we have on our list - remember the bathroom upgrade I'm dying to do?

While the squeaking is just generally annoying for us (and probably for our neighbors below), in the long term we are thinking about selling our place in a few years, and wonder just how much the squeaks and squawks would deter potential home buyers. We're going to rearrange the furniture in our room, which we think will cover some of the worst spots, but not all.

Would some squeakin' floors make you run away, or would you overlook it if the place was cute and had fantastic appliances?

Anniversary Traditions?

Monday, July 26, 2010

It's hard to believe, but it's been almost a year since we got hitched. Woo! It's amazing how quickly the first year of marriage flies by.

Last year, we were on our way to Aruba the day after the wedding. Our first meal out as a married couple was at the Wolfgang Puck Express at O'Hare airport before our flight. I recall being relaxed, exhausted, and hungover as I proceeded to devour a super cheesy pizza (shocker that I've gained weight since the wedding, huh?).

Check out how exhausted we were:

This year, we will be back at O'Hare airport on our 1-year anniversary...we'll be headed out to L.A. and San Diego for a will be both work and fun as Steve shoots a wedding in L.A., an engagement session in San Diego, and we visit my sister and her boyfriend in San Diego. We're excited to get away for a bit!

So, what do you think? Wolfgang Puck Express to celebrate our one year of marriage? When I think about it, it's actually kind of fun that we get to be at the same place at almost the same time and starting out our second year of marriage with another trip! In my book, we're pretty lucky.

Fruity Flowers from Fleur

Saturday, July 24, 2010

On Friday Steve was in Logan Square for a photo shoot, so he stopped by Fleur to check things out and pick up some flowers. He's a good guy, huh?

He ended up putting together a cute little arrangement. Notice something unique?

If you guessed blackberries, you were correct! Isn't that fun? The only downside is those suckers are tough to arrange because the stems are crazy prickly!

Love, love, love having fresh flowers around the house.

Our Little Hopscotch Champion

Friday, July 23, 2010

We may call our pup Charlie, Chuck, Monkey, Sir Monks-a-lot, Monkey Punk, Puppy, and everything in between, we also call him a hopscotch champion. Yes, you heard me correctly. As soon as we got our hopscotch rug from CB2, Charlie knew exactly what to do.

Ok, well maybe he hasn't quite figured out the "hopping" part, but if this was roll-scotch I'm pretty sure he could go pro.

Putting Wedding Debt Woes Behind Me

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Last year, I felt like money was just pouring out of me as we got closer to the wedding. There were certain vendors that Steve and I were paying for, and certain vendors/items my parents covered.

Anything extra or fun we paid for. It was great having the big one - the reception - covered by my parents, but a lot was left to us. On top of that, we had our honeymoon in Aruba immediately after the wedding. Even though our lodging was taken care of through my parents (yay!) and we bought our airfare 9 months in advance to get it out of the way (double yay!), I still had to buy things to get ready for the honeymoon, plus all of the wedding stuff, plus everything we did on the honeymoon.

In addition to my Visa card through my bank, I have a Victoria's Secret (VS) store card and an Old Navy (ON) store card. Leading up to the wedding, these cards were practically melting from over use. Bikinis, sun dresses, flip flops, you name it. I always carried a bit of a balance on them anyway ($100-$200 each on the store cards, more on my Visa) but with the wedding the debt ballooned.

I'm proud to say that almost a year after the wedding, my cards have recovered!


Today I scheduled my final $75 payment for my VS card that will pay it off. And, I think I've realized that I don't need this card for "fun stuff." It's a burden to make those payments each month. My ON card is just $150 away from being paid off. This is by far the card I use the most and I hate the thought of getting rid of it. But I know that I should.

And finally, my regular old Visa card. I prefer to pay everything through my debit card and use my credit card for "big ticket" items only. (On the flipside, Steve pays for everything on credit and pays it off at the end of the month. I just can't bring myself to do that...I'm a checkbook balancer at heart.)

The big ticket items seemed to pile on after the wedding. After the wedding payments and honeymoon purchases, then it was buying Christmas gifts, then plane tickets to Tampa (bachelorette party) and Vegas (Weddingbee get together), then bridesmaid dress...etc etc. I could never get ahead. I finally bit the bullet and "borrowed" money from savings to pay off my felt so good! And it felt even better this week when I paid back my savings account for the money I had borrowed!

It's really scary the long term affect the wedding had on my finances, but when I really think about it, we focused on spending within our means for the wedding and probably don't have nearly the amount of post-wedding debt that others have. We are truly fortunate for that! Being in control of things now feels soooo good and I'm psyched that soon I will have 2 less bills to pay each month!

Does the cost of your wedding still haunt you when you check your credit card balances?

I Vruit...Do You?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What, you mean you don't Vruit? Well, you should...especially if you're a picky eater like me and would rather eat mac 'n' cheese over veggies 'n' tofu.

Vruit is a vegetable and fruit juice blend...kind of like the V8 fusion drinks they make, but without all the added sugar. I prefer the tropical blend, which features pear, carrot, pineapple, passion fruit, mango, papaya, celery and pumpkin juices. Better yet, one juice box is a serving of fruit and vegetables and the box features a funny fruit and vegetable face! See:

We normally buy Vruit in the 3-packs from Whole Foods, but since I decided that I don't get nearly enough fruit and vegetable servings a day, Steve found it for me in bulk from Amazon. Only $23.83 for a pack of 27! Now look at all of the Vruit just hanging around our kitchen:

These are an awesome addition to my work lunch and even pass the taste test with a picky eater like myself.

How do you sneak vegetables into your diet?

Free Sample Spotlight

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

At least once a week, I get free samples while walking to or from work. My office is located right by Union Station in downtown Chicago, and apparently that is prime free sample real estate. They give out everything from kettle corn to dog treats and everything in between. So what better than to regularly feature my free goodies?

Yesterday's sample: Larabar Cashew Cookies

I got two of these bite sized fruit and nut treats. The verdict? Free sample or no, I won't be purchasing these energy bars any time soon. Because, well, they tasted like energy bars, blech. I wasn't a fan. But thanks, Larabar, for the freebie!

P90X: Workouts & Cheese

Monday, July 19, 2010

Right after I blogged this post about P90X, Steve went ahead and bought the dvd's and the stretchy weird bungee bands that you use during the workouts. He went with the advice many of you left and purchases the dvd's off of eBay at a considerable deal, and the bands off of Amazon. Fortunately, our condo came with a pull up bar and we already have 3 sets of free weights (3 lb, 5 lb, 8lb), so we didn't have to buy anything else.

The first two workouts we did (arms and then chest/shoulders) were kind of meh for me. Steve had great workouts, can do regular pushups and all of the fancy ones they throw in...I'm still doing the modified girly pushups on my knees, so I struggled to keep up. One day, I promise myself I will be strong. Grrr!

Anyway, I did what I could of the workouts, and enjoyed the modifications to the chest/shoulders workout: instead of doing traditional chin ups and pull ups, you can loop a bungee cord around the pull up bar, sit on the floor and do the moves from this modified position. I highly recommend, especially if you're more likely to learn how to fly than do a pull up at this point in time.

Then, yesterday, we did the core workout (note: we are not following the actual program at all...oops). It was an intense, awesome hour long workout and I could do pretty much every single exercise.

I'll let you know as we continue if my beach body every decides to show its face, but on a side note, does anyone else thing that Tony Horton is a major cheeseball, even by workout video standards?! I'm never sure whether to laugh or be horribly annoyed, but I think this picture pretty much sums up Tony:

Orchids & Branches, Oh My!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ok, so I know that I missed my post yesterday - my schedule got the better of me and I just couldn't make it happen. And, I kind of assumed that most people were out having a fun day yesterday instead of sitting around reading my blog.

In case you were curious, I was spending my Saturday coordinating a great wedding for a wonderful couple! After a reception where everyone danced 'til midnight, they headed off to an after party at a nearby club. I grabbed my car from valet and headed on home...I was exhausted!

However, I didn't leave empty handed - I got to a take home a fabulous arrangement of orchids and branches! One of the fun things about being at a reception until the very end is that any arrangements that are left behind will just be tossed or taken by catering staff. I make sure the guests know they can take the flowers, but with guests who have flown in or who are going out afterward (like last night) it can be hard to send all of the flowers off with guests.

So I got to head home with this little number:

My grainy picture doesn't really do it justice (I took the pic with my phone), but it features dark red orchids and yellow orchids with reddish centers. This was one of two arrangements at the ceremony and I hated to see it get left behind!

With our cat, we only have one place we can keep flowers out of the reach of her paws. This arrangement was at maximum height capacity - I had to trim the branches to make it fit!

After a long, hot day, it's nice to have some beautiful flowers to look at when I go home. And, umm, we're getting quite the collection of vases...I think we're prepared for any flower arranging emergencies that might come our way!

Getting Jet Set, Booyah!

Friday, July 16, 2010

I'm not sure booyah fits in with my usual lingo, but I have to say I'm pretty friggin' excited about our upcoming trips! Steve and I have the opportunity to do some traveling over the next 6 months or so and we're starting to plan out some of the details right now. One of our trips is New York City in November, and I've never been before! I'm an NYC virgin.

Anyway, we started looking at hotels and realized that they cost like a million dollars a night for non-craphole places. So we found a Hilton that seemed ok, had decent reviews and a somewhat fine location (according to my friend Serena, there is a great cupcake place by it). This hotel was doable for our budget.

And THEN I got an email from Jetsetter showing their upcoming sales. I normally delete these because looking at exotic locations can be depressing when you know there's no chance you're going to any of them in the near future. Jetsetter is in the same family as Gilt Groupe but instead of good deals on cashmere, you can swing a few nights at a swank hotel for an extremely good deal.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, so this week they had a deal on The Royalton in New York. So we checked it out, compared pricing, and saw that it would still be a few hundred dollars more for us to stay here than the practical place we found. But then we started comparing locations and drooling over the hotel web site, and said screw it and booked. Wheee!

Normally, the room we're staying in would be $499/night plus taxes. So for the 4 nights we're going to be there, it would be $2,300. Through Jetsetter, we'll be staying there for $1,600! Still a chunk o' change, but look at this place:


See, pretty swanky right?! We've always gone budgety budgety budgety with hotels, so we decided to have the full NYC experience and stay somewhere fantastic.

Thank you, Jetsetter! I was never sure why I signed up for you, but now I've learned to sign up for everything and one day you'll need it.

Have you had any exciting travel splurges recently?

Commuting Enemies

Thursday, July 15, 2010

There's a sad misconception that I'm this nice, sweet person. Yes, generally, I like to think I'm fairly nice. Maybe not the warmest, friendliest person on first meeting, but I'm at least cordial. However, I have a deep, dark secret: I have commuting enemies.

These are people who I've never spoken a single word to, have never done a thing to me, and yet I loath them. Sometimes, I worry about my overall crankiness.


These thoughts first emerged a few years ago when I noticed one of the regulars at my bus stop after work. Something about her general presence annoyed me. I could never figure it out, but I always found myself wanting to glare at her and mentally criticize her wardrobe choices.

And then of course, there was the guy at my former morning bus stop who would push his way onto the bus ahead of me so he could get a seat and finish his crossword puzzle. Umm, really dude? I have heels on, a work bag, a gym bag and am wearing a pencil skirt, and you really think you deserve a seat more than me? I think not. After awhile, I got good at pushing my way ahead of him.

Right now my enemy is someone who not only rides in my same train car every day, getting on at my stop, but also WORKS IN MY BUILDING. So I have to ride the train with her, walk to work by her, ride in the elevator with her, and then often repeat the whole process backwards after work! Kill me. She just exudes this "nose in the air, holier than thou" attitude that drives me up the wall. Again, let me reiterate the fact that she's never said a single word to me and probably doesn't even notice we commute together. Which, of course, makes her even more annoying.

Who pushes your grumpy button on a daily basis?


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

IKEA and I go way back. Like, way way back to the summer of 2000 when I was an exchange student living in Belgium. On one of my first days there, my host family took me to the local IKEA, where they picked out all new kitchen cabinets and then we had lunch. Jet lagged and overwhelmed by all of the French speakers, IKEA still managed to steal my heart.

I could spend all day in that place, finding the best deal on stupid tupperware that will probably melt in the microwave, or bags of Swedish fish. I also must eat a meal there when I visit. Steve doesn't take kindly to the aimless wandering or the eating, but he did pick me up a back of frozen Swedish meatballs when he was there last, remember? He really does love me.

Anyway, this winter we're planning on a mini renovation of our bathroom. While I don't have pictures of our loo in its current state, imagine a cheap 1999 renovation: navy blue floor tile, the cheapest vanity, sink, and medicine cabinet available for purchase, and crown molding everywhere.

Replacing the tile is too big of a project, so we're going to live with it and hope that when we go to sell one day, the new buyers will see its, umm, charm. Fortunately it's in pretty good condition. But everything else MUST GO. In searching for new fixtures and furniture, most of what we find (in our budget) is dark wood and bulky, not white and minimal. IKEA has saved the day. Obviously I've just confessed to my love affair with IKEA, but it really is a great place for modern furnishings on a budget.

So, behold our (potential) future bathroom...

Part of the Lillangen series. There are many different configurations and sizes of this vanity (as well as colors, but I'm digging the aluminum and white combo). At only $274 for the vanity AND the sink, this is a great deal. Usually they're sold separately and you end up paying a lot more for both.


Of course, you have to purchase the faucet separately. The Dalskar faucet at $99.99 is minimal and modern, easy choice.

Sink View

As I said above, the sink comes along with the vanity, but here's an aerial view of it. Since there's no real counter space (bummer) they give you a toothpaste holder, soap dish, etc that just attach. For me it's not a deal breaker, hopefully it wouldn't be for others either.


Wall Cabinet
Right now we have a cabinet above our toilet for storage, in addition to a tall floor cabinet for more storage. The one above the toilet is off-white, the tall cabinet is pure white. Since the wall cabinet is off white and was really cheap, I'd like to get rid of it and hang a new cabinet above the toilet, keeping the floor cabinet. This wall cabinet from the Lillangen series at $49.99 matches the vanity and would give us that extra storage.


As I mentioned, our medicine cabinet is fugly and cheap. We'd like to swap that out with a mirror. While we'd lose some storage, we'd be opening up the room a little bit and be in tune with our minimal approach. This mirror from IKEA is only $14.99 - we'd have to look at it in person and possibly opt for something a little nicer, but you get the idea.

So there you have it, a new bathroom for $ new towel paint for the a lighting fixture of some whatever additional supplies you need to actually install all of this stuff...

This is one of our last big projects to our condo since buying it 2 years ago. Since purchasing, we've painted all of the walls a pale gray, purchased new stainless steel appliances that rock my world, redecorated our living room, bought new bedroom and office furniture, bought a new dining room table and chairs...whew! We still want to replace our kitchen sink, but the bathroom as a bigger priority.

What big home decorating or renovation project is next on your to-do list?

On the road again...

Monday, July 12, 2010

I tempted fate and went out for a run FIRST RUN back since my stress fracture a month ago (OMG I can't believe it's been a month of a somewhat fractured foot).

My biggest excitement was taking my new shoes out for a spin. Since I had been running in 4-year-old shoes (I know, I know - BAD), Steve had me go out and buy some new shoes. The super energetic guy at the running store fit me with a bouncy pair of Mizunos. The downside being, of course, that I couldn't run in them while my foot healed.

So, I was really, really, really, really excited to finally run in these:

It was literally like running on air (ok, not quite air...but definitely not like pounding on pavement). I also bought some fancy schmancy insoles to go with them, which I think we worth the 30 bucks.

At the end of the run, I was dying because it was hot out and I'd lost a lot of my endurance, but both of my feet felt absolutely fantastic! I am so unbelievably happy...which also proves the point that my love for shoes now extends to the athletic variety.

P90X worth $139.80?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Post-wedding has meant a little extra poundage around my mid-section. Ugh. I worked SO HARD to make this go away that seeing the pounds creep back on is very frustrating. I'm not at the "OMG my pants won't button" phase...yet...but I need to be proactive so this won't happen.

So...P90X - is it worth it?

More and more people seem to be taking the P90X challenge. But at $149.80 on Amazon, is it worth shelling out the cash for?

My biggest hesitation is the fact that we live in a condo and have neighbors below us who don't seem to enjoy it when I do work out routines that involve a lot of jumping. Hmph. So if a lot of these workouts ask me to skip/hop/jump/run in place, I simply can't do it for fear of a broom stick being banged into our floor/their ceiling.

So, has P90X helped to give you a beach body?!

Korea + Mexico =

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Fabulous Tacos!

Let me begin this post by giving you a little background about where Steve and I live. We're on the northwest side of Chicago in a neighborhood known for its diversity...Middle Eastern, Korean, Mexican, you name it. You can get a falafel on one corner and Korean chicken wings on the next.

So when a new taco joint called Taco Chino opened, we were disappointed to hear that the food was only so-so. Until, that is, they started advertising Korean tacos. Yes, you heard me correctly. Behold:

Ok, ok, so it just looks like a regular old taco. But pictured above is actually the Kimchi Taco and features pork and Korean flavors, including kimchi. I've never had any desire to eat kimchi by itself, but chopped up on the taco it was quite good!

They also do a Taco Koreano which is either marinated chicken or beef. Steve says it's basically like bulgogi. I really enjoyed this taco (I got the beef, although I hear the chicken is supposed to be better), but Steve prefers the kimchi. Sorry no pictures of the Koreano - I devoured it before I could snap a shot.

Oh and did I mention they're cheap?! I got 5 tacos for around $12. Sweet. Hopefully the prices don't go up when this place gets its 15 minutes of fame - Andrew Zimmern of the show "Bizarre Foods" on the Travel Channel recently filmed here.

So, would you put kimchi on a taco?

Cute Animal Friday

Friday, July 9, 2010

What's better on a Friday than cute pictures of animals? Well, other than cake...I'd gladly take some cake over a picture of a puppy. Anyway. In lieu of cake I have some pretty stinkin' cute animal pictures to share.

Cute Animal #1:

For Christmas I always like to give Steve at least one gift that is some sort of charitable donation. I started this tradition our first Christmas together by adopting a penguin in his name at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Why a penguin? Steve loves them.

Not only do you get the warm fuzzies on the inside that you helped a penguin, but you get the warm fuzzies on the outside because they give you your very own penguin stuffed animal. We named ours Bertrand.

A couple of months ago my parents came to visit, and we went to, where else, the Lincoln Park Zoo. Steve couldn't join us, but I made sure to take a picture of the penguin I believed to be Bertrand. He may have been playing coy by completely ignoring me, but I'm sure deep down inside he was happy to see me.

Cute Animal #2:

Yes, of course I'm taking advantage of the opportunity to post yet another picture of Charlie on the blog. But really, can you blame me?!

Steve and Charlie went for a run together this morning. It's best that they go for runs when I'm not around because it's completely unfair that I still can't run. My stupid stress fracture in my right foot from A MONTH AGO is still hurting every now and then from using the elliptical at the gym. And if I can't elliptical pain-free, then I most likely can't run either. Sad face.

Anyway, the best way to get some peace and quiet during the day is to take Charlie for a run, as he looks like this after:

I'm sure he'll be snoozing for the rest of the day.

Happy Friday!

I'm Getting Old

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Yes, it's about that 10 year high school reunion is right around the corner. I've been heavily debating whether or not I should go. Although I do recall that Romy and Michelle had a great time at the end. Although, wasn't there a lot of drama just to get to the happy helicopter ending?


Steve is working that weekend so if I do go I'll be flying - somewhat - solo. I'm trying to convince best friend D to be the Romy to my Michele at the reunion. I have zero desire to show up alone. I know, it'll be just like I'm still in high school: can't go anywhere alone, must know what others are going to wear before I decide on my outfit. Don't judge me for being way super cool.

Have you gone to any of your high school reunions? Loved it? Hated it? Ran away screaming? Do tell!

Confessions of a picky eater

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I'm picky. I don't eat most vegetables. I'm weird about dairy products. Sushi needs to stay away from me. I'm sure all of this stuff is great - for you - but I just can't go there. Like I said, I'm picky.

So a few weeks ago when I was meeting with my boss and she pulled out some cucumbers sandwiches and offered some to me, I kindly let her know that I don't eat those. Cucumbers? Cream cheese? Rye bread? No, no and no. I don't eat those things, let alone eat them together.

But then they started to smell amazing. And, I'll be honest, I was ravenous. So I decided to try one. And then another and another. They were awesome! All of the flavors went so well together. After that day I craved these little sammies like crazy.

So a couple of weeks ago I bought all of the ingredients, per her specifications, and whipped up a batch of cucumber sandwiches. Looks yummy, right?

After about 3 of them (keep in mind, they're itty bitty), I couldn't smell them, look at them or eat them. Whyyyyyyyy?! They were so good, even crave-worthy, and yet I have a hard time even thinking about them now. It is one of my oddest food aversions to date, and I have some weird ones, such as:
  • I won't drink a glass of milk unless it comes from my mom's fridge (from my own fridge, I'll only put it on cereal);
  • I will only drink room temperature water unless I'm working out (then it can be cold);
  • Green beans must be from a can, not fresh or frozen;
  • Peas must be frozen, not fresh or from a can;
  • I won't eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (although I will eat a piece of bread with peanutbutter and a piece of bread with jelly, but they can't be a sandwich).
I could really go on and on. But liking something one minute and hating it the next is a new eating low, even for me.

In any event, Steve LOVES the cucumber sandwiches...we've already bought more ingredients for another batch of them. So, if you're not a weirdo like me, here are the ingredients:

Cucumber Sandwiches
1 cucumber, thinly sliced
1 small container of cream cheese
1 heaping spoonful of sour cream
1/3 to 1/2 packet of ranch dressing mix
Fresh dill
Rye or pumpernickel cocktail bread (the mini slices)

Combine the cream cheese, sour cream and ranch dressing mix. Spread onto the slices of cocktail bread. Top each with a cucumber slice and a sprig of dill.

Are you a picky eater? If so, what's your weirdest quirk?

Can't get the organic outta my hair

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

For those of you who know us, you know that Steve and I share a love that can't be competed with...a love for Whole Foods, that is. What other grocery store could make you feel so good about forking over tons of cash on fabulous, organic products? Plus, our new super-sized and fabulous store in Lincoln Park doubles as a great place for a date. No joke.

But what I don't love, sadly, is the 365 brand shampoo. Now, I stick by almost all 365 brand products because they're a great value but also natural/organic. We already buy their body wash, which is a fantastic deal. So when we needed shampoo, we figured we'd give the 365 a try.

Oh dear lord, we were terribly, terribly let down.


While we bought the shampoo meant for regular hair in the wonderful grapefruit scent, the goodness stopped there. I couldn't get the greasy, grimy feeling to go away no matter how many times I rinsed. My hair felt incredibly coated by the product and styling it was nearly impossible...I really felt like I could skipped shampoo altogether and had cleaner hair.

Steve assumed I was just being finicky and continued to use the shampoo while I switched back to my regular stuff. That is, until he went in for a hair cut and his stylist questioned just what exactly he'd been using on his hair. Apparently he wasn't immune to the grime either.

Why, Whole Foods, did you have to make such a yuck-o shampoo? We were so sad to throw out so much unused product, but I absolutely wasn't going to let it near my head again. Sigh. We'll stick with anything else stamped with a 365 logo, but buyer beware when it comes to your hair.

What's Red & White All Over?

Monday, July 5, 2010

After a great Fourth of July celebration at our neighbor's place last night (the flag cake was a big hit!), Steve and I spent today together. After four years of talking about playing tennis together, we finally dragged out our racquets and headed over to one of the many tennis courts by our house.

But, duh, we didn't wear any sunblock! After two hours of playing under the blazing sun, I'm sporting a pretty spectacular sunburn:

I guess summer is finally here, eh?

Party on the Inside Cake: 4th of July

Sunday, July 4, 2010

I saw this fabulous Fourth of July cake on I Am Baker, and had to make it. So I searched around online, learned the technique and found the recipes. I used this post from Delectable Deliciousness as my guide, as I liked the recipes she used the best of what I'd found (Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake and super yummy white chocolate frosting).

I made one batch of cake batter and split it in half, dying one half red and leaving the other half white (all recipes at bottom of the post). I was really happy with the color red I achieved.

And of course, the white was no work at all.

I then made a half batch of the cake batter and dyed it blue. On top of making a great Fourth of July cake, I feel prepared if I ever have to make a cake for a Smurf.

I actually had red and blue food coloring on my shopping list yesterday, but couldn't find any food coloring at Whole Foods. I hoped I had some at home to use. Umm, turns out I had plenty to choose from.

Once the cakes were out of the oven and cooled, I popped the layers into the freezer to firm them up a bit. I leveled off the tops of the cakes so they were all even, and then placed a bowl on top of the blue layer and cut around it to create a ring.

I split the red and white layers in half. I put two of them aside...

...and stacked the other two, cutting around them with the same bowl I'd used on the blue. You'll notice my white circle doesn't look so hot. I'm not create and splitting cakes, and my white layer didn't split well. Boo.

I stacked the red and white layers that I hadn't cut into, frosting in between them. Then, I stacked the blue ring on top. I frosted in between the little red and white circles, frosted the inner part of the blue ring, and placed the circles in the ring.

Look how nicely that last piece of the puzzle fit?! I was so happy.

I crumb coated the entire cake with the amazing white chocolate frosting, and then popped it in the fridge for a few so it could firm up. I chose to make the frosting yesterday to get it out of the way. It calls for A LOT of butter, and after making it all you could taste was butter. However, today the white chocolate shone right through.

While I was busy frosting, Steve was busy eating some of the extra cake laying around. Mmmm.

I pulled the cake from the fridge and finished frosting it. I had a really hard time dealing with the blue and red crumbs, but for the most part I think they're pretty well hidden.

I opted to leave the decorating very simple since there's so much design on the inside.

Perfect Party Cake
from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home to Yours"

Note: make this recipe, split in half and dye one half red. Then, make half the recipe below and dye blue.

2 1/4 cup cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk (I used buttermilk)
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with non stick spray. Optional - line the bottoms with a round of parchment. If using, also spray the parchment with non stick spray.

2. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

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

4. In the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the sugar and lemon zest and rub the lemon zest into the sugar with your fingers until well incorporated. The mixture will become moist and very fragrant.

5. Add the butter to the sugar/zest mixture and, using the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed for a full 3 minutes. Add the lemon extract and 1/3 of the flour mixture; add 1/2 of the milk/egg white mixture and continue to beat at medium speed, then add half of the remaining flour mixture, then the rest of the milk/eggs and finish with the remaining flour. Once all ingredients are combined, beat the batter for a good 2 minutes to ensure it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

6. Pour into prepared pans and bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

White Chocolate Frosting
Delectable Deliciousness

Note: double this recipe to frost the entire flag cake.

5 ounces good quality white chocolate, chopped fine
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream

1. Melt white chocolate over a double boiler or in microwave. Set aside to cool.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until light a fluffly. Slowly add the powdered sugar until well combined.

3. Add the salt, vanilla extract and sour cream and beat until very smooth.

4. Add the melted white chocolate and beat just until combined.

Put the cake together per my instructions above, or watch this tutorial.