Friday, May 30, 2008

Finally finished!!!!!!!

It is not 100% perfect, but it is definitely cute and I learned a lot while I was making it.

Front view

Inside view.

All that is left to be done is ironing it so that the shape stays intact and applying two coats of scotch guard.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Craft Lounge is Open

The Craft Lounge has finally had the spring cleaning it needed. I was worried that I would be a bit rusty after so much time away, but after I unearthed all of my projects, I set right back to work finishing Calliope's never-ending clutch purse.

I finally completed the inside piece, and it came out very well and looks like it will fit. So, next up is final assembly and finishing touches, like attaching the wrist strap, cleaning all the chalk marks and scotch guarding the whole thing.

Speaking of scotch guard, I took advantage of the gorgeous weather to scotch guard the place mats I made way back in January.

I also did the pre-sewing work for Polyhymnia's sarong pants. I purchased and washed the fabric, read the instructions again and cut out the pattern. After Calliope's clutch, this project really looks like a piece of cake. And yes, I do realize that saying so may come back to haunt me. C'est la vie!

My one true weakness: Brownies

I recently bought the King Arthur Flour Cookbook on the recommendation of MarMar, an accomplished baker. This weekend, for a Memorial Day BBQ at Clan Headquarters, Orpheus and I used it for the first time. I had promised him a cooking project and we decided on a recipe that played to his strengths and palate - i.e. lots of eggs to crack, help from a stand mixer and a tasty batter to lick off of the spoons in the end. Five-year-old chefs have their own criteria for judging recipes.

The result: hands-down, the uncontested best brownies I have ever made. Ehh-verr. I would have to use an unconscionable number of superlatives to do these gooey chocolate bombs justice.

The drawback: the 1/3 cup of corn syrup that the recipe called for. This is a real problem. My objections to corn syrup outweigh my love of pecan pie. But my love of brownies? I don't think so. If trapped on a desert island with only one dessert, it would have to be brownies. Thankfully, Trish sent me a link to making a corn syrup substitute with sugar, which I will try asap!

Here is the recipe:
12 Tbsp (6 oz) butter
6 oz bakers (unsweetened) chocolate
5 eggs
2 tsp vanilla (I used amaretto instead)
17.5 oz (2.5 c) sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 c corn syrup (optional - I usually skip it)
5.6oz (1 and 1/3 c) flour
1 1/2 c walnuts (6-7 oz) optional

Melt chocolate and butter together and set aside. Beat eggs, sugar, vanilla, (corn syrup if using) and salt together for several minutes until pale colored and fluffy. Mix flour into chocolate mixture. Fold into egg mixture. Add nuts. Put in greased 9x13 pan and bake for 35 minutes at 350 until top is cracked and dry but a toothpick in the center comes out gooey. Let cool. Indulge.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pecan Pie Paradox

I am on a quest to find a pecan pie recipe that does not have corn syrup in it. This is no easy task. But I am reaching a point where my love for pecan pie is outmatched by my objections to corn syrup. And come Thanksgiving, things are gonna turn ugly if I don't have this problem solved.

If you have a recipe or a helpful suggestion, please send it my way!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Snips and snails, and puppy-dogs' tails

Common Garden Snail

On Sunday Orpheus, who at 5 is a budding gardener, was playing in Pop's yard. He came running into the house to show us that he had found a snail in the garden. When he was starting to get bored of looking at it, he offered it to Phineas. Naturally, Phineas declined and told Orpheus to put it back where he found it. So, imagine Phineas' surprise when he went to open the trunk of our car yesterday and there was the snail crawling across the trunk. Apparently, it stowed away and hitched a ride from Brooklyn to NJ.

When I called Orpheus to tell him about our stow away, he:
1 - pretended not to know how the snail got on our car (*gasp* did I do that Aunt Clio?)
2 - said we should keep it like a pet (and name him Gary, like SpongeBob's pet snail but he won't meow like Gary, Aunt Clio, cause snails don't really do that, just SpongeBob's)
3 - suggested that we put it in a fish tank (but not with water, Aunt Clio. No water.)
4 - buy all the lettuce we can so that we have something to feed him

Anyway, Phineas had already set Gary free.

Gary, SpongeBob's pet snail

Monday, May 19, 2008

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

oregano, thyme, cilantro and mint

I am proud to report that my baby herb and tomato plants seem to have survived their first week of being owned by me. I've never had much luck with herbs, mostly because I've never had a sunny place for them to live.

parsley and basil

But here we are. A whole week and not one has wilted, browned or hurled itself to an unfortunate death in a blaze of smashed pottery. In fact, there are even signs that they are growing. Thriving. But I shouldn't get ahead of myself. There is a long way to go (65 days or so) until the tomato plants are mature and start to make, well, tomatoes. And there is no telling about the herbs. I view their existence as day-to-day.

Tomatoes to be

Fingers are crossed for week two...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Spring Cleaning Revised

I did not get to do my planned spring cleaning in the Craft Lounge or finish the purse for Calliope on Saturday. Oh, and Polyhymnia had to cancel plans to go shopping for fabric on Monday.

But I am not feeling too bad about it since I accomplished quite a lot of other things. In no particular order, I:
- planted an herb garden (basil, parsley, mint, cilantro, thyme and oregano) and two tomato plants (San Marzanos and an heirloom breed)
- baked blueberry muffins with Miss Julia
- baked sour cream coffee cake muffins for Mother's Day Brunch
- cooked lasagna with sauce from scratch for Mother's Day Dinner
- spent time with my mom, sisters and nephews
- bought myself a book on making really fun aprons
- took a yoga class and then washed my yoga mat

OH, and I also made pizza for Friday night dinner with Phin and attended a fun 30th Birthday party on Saturday night.

Spring cleaning has been rescheduled for this upcoming weekend after I get home from a business trip to Toronto.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Spring Cleaning in the Craft Lounge

I haven't been in the Craft Lounge in two months. Between travel, weddings and family commitments I just haven't had any time. Plus, Phineas is a saboteur. He has (rightly) realized that my hobby doesn't cut into my time at work, at yoga, in the kitchen or with friends and family. It cuts into my time with him. So, as much as he likes that I have a hobby that I enjoy, he does his best to lure me out of the lounge.

I packed all my projects and supplies away when we cleaned the house before wedding #1. Ironically, at the wedding I learned that Phineas' cousin is an accomplished sewist (sewing bloggers seem to prefer "sewist" to "sewer" for obvious reasons) and suggested we keep in touch, which I'm excited about.

Anyway, I have some organizing to do. Here is my Craft Lounge Spring Cleaning List, which I hope will get me back on track.

1. Finish Calliope's Clutch this weekend
2. Shop for fabric for Polyhymnia's sarong pants
3. Buy a pattern or two for pillows for Terpischore's wedding
4. Add sequined trim to my black pants

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Last Lecture

If you haven't heard of or listened to this lecture, it is well worth it... and not in a Tuesdays with Morrie, cloying kind of way.

The background is this: "The Last Lecture" is a university tradition. A professor will be asked to deliver a talk as if it were the last lecture she/he would ever give - an opportunity to reflect on a life lived, pass on advice and speculate on what it all means. Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last fall and delivered his own last lecture, Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, one month later. A longer book version is about to be published.

You can also download it for free on Itunes.

Asia VI: Final Days

Hong Kong Skyline at night

We spent the last two days of our trip back in Hong Kong. Usually by the end of a 2 week vacation I am starting to think of home and ready take the pace down a notch. But our last two days in Hong Kong were actually tremendously fun. This was thanks in part to our discovery of the Temple Street Night Market, or rather, the awesome food at the night market. Fried fish, spicy clams, clay pot rice, roast duck, fried squid, cold beer.... it was awesome. We ate there two nights in a row.

Our other excellent experience was going to Happy Valley Racecourse. Oddly enough, Hong Kong has a racetrack right in the middle of the city, surrounded by skyscrapers and all. We went to the mid-week evening race and it turned out to be $1 admission night (about 12 cents US). It was a ton of fun, even though our horses lost.

The optimistically named Happy Valley Racecourse

I think this will be the first of many trips to Asia for me. This adventure really opened my eyes to this side of the world and the delights in traveling there. Dr Kiang says that next time I need to get myself to the mainland, so that is a goal for the not-too-distant future.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Asia V: Macao or Macau or however you spell it.

Macao was as hot as San Juan in July

The two days we spent in Macao were like a chapter out of a different vacation or, really, two different vacations. Macao was a Portuguese colony until the handover in 1999 and is regarded as the Monte Carlo or Las Vegas of Asia. The preserved Portuguese section of the town is a Unesco World Heritage sight and reminded me of Old San Juan.

Since we were in the largest bastion of Mediterranean culture in Asia, we traded in our dinners of rice, roast duck and cups of tea for salt cod, chourico and potatoes, washed down with slightly effervescent vinho verde. This was a welcome break. It had been over a week since I had seen a potato; I was desperate.

We spent a day wandering through the old part of town: past the preserved colonial buildings; up to Mount Fortress, a fortified hill which is now a museum; past the ruins of St. Paul's, a former Jesuit church which burned down in a kitchen fire; and finally down to the 15th century A-Ma temple overlooking the harbor, the one sight that was culturally Chinese in origin. The more tourist areas definitely play up the colonial heritage of Macau.

In the evening we hit the casinos. The strip in Macau looks just like Vegas, with it's very own Wynn which really could have been beamed directly from its Nevada locale. The most famous casino in Macau is the Lisboa, which has overcome Macau's seedy past by building the new Grand Lisboa Casino and Hotel adjacent to the original property. However, the striking difference between Vegas and Macau is that the average table bet is five times what it is in Vegas. Minimum bets at Roulette and Black Jack were roughly $40 and $70 respectively - and that was on a Tuesday night! We decided NOT to gamble.

Macau really only warrants a day or two stop over on any Asian vacation, but it was well worth it. A day later we were off to Hong Kong for last two days of our Asia vacation.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Pizza Friday

Pizza with sausage and broccoli rabe

I've been meaning to write this post pretty much since I launched my blog. But every Friday evening as Phineas and I make pizza, uncork a bottle of wine and pop in a dvd, I somehow forget to document this weekend ritual. Perhaps my brain gets all fuzzy as I power down and ease into the weekend.

Fed up with the sub-par pizza in our neighborhood, we started making our own about a year or so ago. Initially, we made our own dough, but quickly realized that the raw dough at the supermarket was just as tasty and infinitely easier. Phineas is in charge of stretching the dough and I am in charge of topping and cooking. Twelve minutes in a 450 degree over produces a crispy crust and gooey toppings. This week, I was especially happy for Pizza Friday. I didn't quite realize how much I missed eating cheese while we were in Asia until midway thru my second slice when that feeling that all is right in the world overtook me.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Asia IV: Sinying/The Resort

The Lee Family

Mandie grew up in Sinying, a town outside of Tainan. We arrived the day before the wedding and didn't really get to see much of the town outside of the resort. The weather was incredibly hot and humid and, aside from a morning walk around the large grounds, we stayed indoors. It was a very good break from all the walking.

Mandie's parents hosted a dinner for out-of-town guests the night before the wedding. The highlight for me was the best sesame bun I have ever tasted. There was something in addition to sesame in the paste filling. It was rich and earthy; almost like dark chocolate. After a multi-course banquet, I somehow managed to eat two of the buns.

I think Sinying is where I felt the most foreign during our trip. The resort was a local destination and not used to hosting foreigners. I was met with polite curiosity by the other guests - a few small children openly gawked. The wedding, too, was a unique experience. Mandie's three outfits were beautiful and Dr. Colin looked dashing in tails. However, as formal as the bride and groom were, the guests were equally casual. They pretty much came "as is" - t-shirts, shorts, jeans, etc., and this is completely normal. Also, there was no dancing - the reception was a banquet. The event concluded with a private tea ceremony for the family.

The following day we headed to Macao, the Las Vegas of Asia.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Asia III: Kaohsiung

We arrived on a high speed train that traversed Taiwan - far north to far south - in under 2 hours. And let me say: it is HOT in the south of Taiwan. Kaohsiung is Taiwan's second largest city and one of the 5 largest container ship ports in the world (ie: if it says "Made in Taiwan", it came thru this port).

We met up with Mandie's sister Carry, their dad and some family friends who live in Kaohsiung and we going to show us the town. So, more walking and more eating. We started by walking thru a mountain (via a tunnel) and onto the campus of the National Sun Yat Sen University. From there we walked along the coast and climbed said mountain (via a staircase) to the former British Embassy.

After descending, we walked to a dock and took a ferry across the harbor to the old section of town which has a 3oo year old temple and a row of seafood restaurants. Our hosts picked out the one with the freshest catch and we feasted on whole sweet n sour fish, clams with thai basil, bird chili and 5 spice powder, head-on shrimp, fried oysters, asparagus with clams, ferns with glass eel, steamed crabs, fish miso soup, fried rice and noodles. The meal ended with ripe cherry tomatoes that we dipped in a sweet flavored sugar that I was told was "plum powder". This was one of the most memorable evenings on the trip - fun companions, excellent food and good spirits all around.

The next morning we walked around downtown Kaohsiung, just taking in the city before once again boarding a train to Tainan and the resort where the wedding would take place. Here is a Phineas' eye view of Kaohsiung:

The park and school across from our hotel.

Typical City Street Scene

Supporting local businesses

Asia II: Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei 101: Stalk of bamboo or Chinese take out cartons?

We only had about 36 hours in Taipei, but we made it a very packed 36 hours, hitting most of the major sights and continuing with our theme of walking our a**es off and eating.

We arrived late in the day and only had time for dinner the first night. Mandie took us to a juk bar for dinner - a real late night, post-clubbing spot where you get your bowl of juk and order (by pointing) any number of meat, veg or fish add-ins which are heated and brought to your table. Comfort food at its best.

The next day:
9am - The National Palace Museum

We were in time for an English tour of this largest collection of Chinese art and artifact in theworld. The collection was basically brought from the Forbidden City to Taiwan because of war and then the communist revoluion. My favorite item, "The Meat Shaped Stone", is a piece of agate carved to look like a hunk of fatty pork - exactly like something Phineas' family cooks!

11.30am - Baoan Temple - Built in 1805, this Taoist temple is one of the leading religious sites in Taipei. The temple's main deitiy id the emperor Baosheng, the god of medicine.

1pm - Taipei 101 - The tallest building in the world. It was supposed to look like a stalk of bamboo, but the running joke is that it looks like a stack of Chinese take-out boxes. The locals have created a hero called the Damper Baby in honor of the 4 story concrete damper that allows the building to withstand typhoons and earthquakes.

Me and Damper Baby

3pm - Sun Yat Sen Memorial - eh. Its a building that looks like a hat with a large statue inside.

A hat, no?

5pm - Back at our hotel for some relaxation. That might seem odd since we had so little time in Taipe, but it would have been a shame not to enjoy the 32 inch plasma tv in the jacuzzi , which had its own lighting and sound system too. The funniest part of our ultra-modern room, was the "hands free" toilet, which had a hydraulic lid and seat, so you never had to lift it yourself.

8.30pm - Chang Kai Check Memorial and Dinner - Excellent view of another building that looked like a hat, and then excellent soup dumplings. (Sorry, none of my photos came out since it was night.)

11pm - Shilin Night Market - This is one enormous night bazaar with vendors selling all kinds of gadgets and baubles. There are also tons of food vendors selling all manner of fried nibbles. Mandie wasn't kidding when she said we would recognize the Taiwanese delicacy, "Stinky tofu", by it's potent smell. We could smell it for blocks, but never actually found anyone selling it.

The n
ext morning we visited Longshan Temple, dedicated to Guanyin (the Buddhist representation of compassion), and then left Taipei for the south of Taiwan.