old years

every year, around the last days of december, i get a little antsy. i think we all do, especially in anticipation of the start of a new year around the corner. those last days of december are usually thrown away in a flurry of anxiety regarding past regrets, new (and especially fervent) promises, and apprehension of what a new year will bring. while i've always been wedded to the symbolism of the january 1 new year, grace constantly reminds me that every day is a new opportunity for growth and change. obviously true, but still hard to remember. so, late this year, i've tried to integrate this lesson into my life by making these last few days of the year particularly meaningful, and peaceful, by renouncing the usual resolution making and stock taking, and instead talking long walks amid snowflakes, watching old movies, and talking by candlelight. maybe because of this, i've never been sadder to see a year end.

happy birthday dad!

your ability to carve a turkey skillfully while having mom in the background cheerfully and hysterically berating you is just one of the many traits that makes you my hero. others include your kindness and extreme generosity of spirit. sending you wishes from afar for the happiest of days! i love you!

more than the sum of its parts

while this phrase can be used to describe any number of things, when describing the pizookie it finally achieves the full intended effect. obviously there is nothing bad about a warm chocolate chip cookie the size of your pillow or ice cream or hot fudge or caramel sauce, but take that same cookie and cover it with a full on ice-cream sundae immediately upon removal from the oven and you've got yourself a winner. grab a couple of spoons, a handful of friends, and new year's eve tv countdown, and start the year off oh-so-wrong.

you can use the chocolate chip cookie recipe here. oh, and thanks to heddy, my best college roommate for introducing me to this midwestern bastardization of dessert. without you, my life would never be so good.

dyker heights redux

this time around the first snow of the season fell during our outing, making it feel even more magical. also, i was startled by a very fat man sitting outside his house with a santa suit and a tin can for collecting dollar bills. in the car on the way home i took off my glasses, and all the lights blurred into receding waves of color, making every stoplight a hallucinogenic experience.

note to self re: holiday parties

1. lighting must be low enough so that squinting is almost necessary.
2. there must be at least one thing that is vegan, and it better be delicious.
3. provide triple the amount of napkins you think you need; still none of them will get used.
4. cheese is always a crowd pleaser; especially if you plant little flags in it with the country of origin.
5. popular white elephant presents are usually suspiciously expensive looking.
6. there will never be enough alcohol. and make sure to spike everything, including cider.
7. cats are welcome, unless they're not.
8. desserts of the cheap, but decadent, sort are most pleasing to all parties.
9. using toothpicks to secure anything is never a good idea if you want to relax before your party.
10. no matter how much set-up, clean-up, and parental calling involved, it will always be worth it.

holiday crafts

hey there, are you similarly battling the alternating feelings of recession thrift and holiday spirited shopping? to deal with this, and the inevitable holiday stress, i've turned to my favorite friend: crafts! you feel productive, thrifty, and relaxed all at once! here are some quick crafts you still have time to do that will ensure a merry holiday.

brussel sprout wreath
inspired by this apartment therapy post , i spent a week nervously plotting how to make this, since the post has no instructions. at first i was convinced i'd have to buy a wreath frame, but, as the link shows, these things can really only be found at that mecca for suburban crafters, michaels. us urban crafters are SOL, as they say, and have to get even craftier to make up for it. eventually, i ended up constructing the frame out of 2 wire hangers, bent so they formed two concentric circles, and some 18 gauge aluminum wire wrapped around them for support. then, i used a drill bit to poke holes through the brussel sprouts (they can be surprisingly resistant!) and threaded the aluminum gauge through them two at a time. i had to use pliers or else the wire would bend. maybe if i had used a harder metal this would not have happened? when i had enough (about 25 pairs of two), i started to attached to the frame, twisting the aluminum wire around the frame. i ended up making a couple of single sprouts, and attaching them in various places to fill in some holes. and then i busted out the glue gun, and used remnants of our christmas tree, some berries i picked up at the coop, and part of a gift of holly from my friend lis (thanks lis!) to spruce (ha!) it up a bit. i'm really happy with the end result, considering the total cost was about $10 and only took one evening. the sad part is that it needs refrigeration to stay fresh and will probably only last about 2 weeks, tops. but i'll make sure to keep the frame for next year!

salted caramels
these basically speak for themselves. i have nothing more to add except they are just as easy to make as they are to look at, just make sure to read all the reviews on epicurious. i owe these people all my success- if you just follow their directions exactly, and make sure to test your candy thermometer beforehand, you too can put your past candy making failures behind you and wow your friends with a unprecedented edible delight. oh, i just wrapped these in unbleached parchment paper and put them in old coffee cans decorated with (free!) subway maps. total cost was probably around $7 for 5 cans, mostly for the cream.

lavender, rose, and chamomile sachets
file this under the "admitted over the internet" weakness, because i'm too embarrassed to tell anyone in person. until grace corrected me last week, i'd been pronouncing this word "satch-ets". i have no idea where i got the extra "t", but, hey, i'm an immigrant, and the only association i have with the word that sounds like "sash-ey" is that thing you do in dance where you move your legs sideways flouncily. whatever the pronunciation, i thought these would be easy to make provided you have easy access to loose-leaf teas, and know how to sew straight. which, if you live near any major city with a chinatown, and have hands that can type, you do. the hardest part of the whole project was getting them closed at the end, and i eventually outsourced this problem to grace, who handled it with her usual aplomb. i used some rice to provide a little heft, and cut up a bunch of old dresses and t-shirts for the fabric. total cost: $12 for 20.

oh, and because somehow, crazy-cat-lady is historically synonymous with crafter:

el quinto pino + craftbar

usually i stay away from restaurant reviews because they're so subjective. i like my food a little more salty than most, love anything cured, and am a sucker for a jelly doughnut. grace loves things i would never order (scallops, for one), and i'm not a savvy enough eater to judge high quality no matter my preference. i'll always prefer in-n-out over this place, for example. but once in a while i come across a dish really extraordinary and immediately i know i've found something that transcends my biased palate. this was the case recently with the two items below:

spanish chicharrĂ³n at el qunito pino
i can describe it no better than this flickr description of "bag o' bacon." warm, melty fat sandwiched by salty, crunchy skin; it must be what angels eat to watch movies. because only in heaven could you eat this and not immediately fear for your shortened life expectancy. okay, maybe you'd expect me to like this, but trust me, like doesn't even start to cover how i feel about these friends.

house-made ravioli, goat cheese, medjool dates,
hen of the woods at craft bar

there is no meat in this dish, and i still ordered it, which is usually a sign something might be extremely good. (oh, hen of the woods are mushrooms! confusing, right?) while looking at the menu i kept thinking "goat cheese + mushrooms= good, goat cheese + dates= good, mushrooms + dates= yuck, what is going on here?!?" i am happy to report that what is going on is great. the sweetness of the dates plays off the earthy flavor of the mushrooms, and the goat cheese ties it all together with tang. friendly for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

what i am (links)

a calamansi (philippine lime) in my aunt's garden


the history of love by nicole krauss
far more often than warranted, a book is described as beautiful or haunting. while these two words are used constantly in reviews of this book, i think the book's true spirit is better served by a quote from its own pages: "i don't know what to say about it, except that it moved me in a way one hopes to be moved each time (s)he begins a book. what i mean is, in some way i'd find almost impossible to describe, it changed me."

twilight by stephenie meyer
embarrassingly enough, i've actually read the whole four-book series. and loved every minute of the experience. they are horribly written, with poor (i'm being kind) plot development, flat characters and weird mormon overtones. as one amazon reviewer writes of the basic premise "aromatic airhead falls for vacuous vampire." but they're a *good* kind of bad, you know? a really good-teenage girl-airplane reading-kind of bad. like eating twinkies at the co-op. deeply satisfying.


the amazing race
as much as i hate tv, watching the amazing race doesn't make you feel like a couch potato. seeing remote corners of the world whizz by while teams of two attempt to not kill each other under incredibly stressful circumstances makes you feel a little smug about your cushy couch, cup of tea, and group of friends who come over to watch.

i was embarassed enough reading it, but once hooked, i had to see the movie for, uh, comparison purposes? it was triply as awful, but also triply as awesome. i'm sure it'll go down as a cult classic, at least once everyone gets wind of the vampires-playing-baseball part. (they're in costume!!)


mitzy's macarons
my love for french macarons is well documented here, and these are some of the very best i've tried. conveniently located at the brooklyn flea, and generously handing out full sized samples, mitzy and her team are well on their way to success.

butternut squash soup
i'll post about this soon, but honestly, every time i've made it, it has been totally different. what surprises me the most is how forgiving it is- i might not have enough garlic one day, so i'll throw in some ginger instead, and it still comes out creamy and tasting of fall.

i know, gross right? actually, kale is super delicious when just lightly steamed and dressed with a simple combo of garlic, lemon, soy sauce and sesame oil. it is also amazing boiled, lightly pickled with some lemon juice, and it is very, very good for you. give it a shot!


you'll see....! i don't want to spoil the surprises!


a new shower head
i could get this one, which my brother became obessesed with on a family trip to hawaii. my parents splurged and got him one for our shower back home, and it literally feels like you are draining the entire pacific ocean for one shower. amazing doesn't even cover it. but, i'm cheap, so this one will have to do. from the reviews i read, it should be pretty good.

a wiry haired dachshund
my parents will be horrified to know that i'm even thinking of getting another pet (don't worry mom & dad- it won't happen any time soon!), but these little guys are so cute, and apparently so smart, and after meeting a particularly cute one and his owners the other day walking around park slope, i'm a little lovestruck.


my new coat
for the past three winters, i've made do by layering coats on top of on another. while this may sound fashionable, the end result was something more akin to "marshmallow lady is pregnant." don't laugh. so finally, i've got a proper coat. and it keeps me so warm. i am so grateful for being able to wait at a bus stop in the dead of winter without shivering- and it looks pretty too!

hammy on his birthday
he's officially no longer a kitten! but he's still as cute as ever, and for his birthday treat, he gobbled up two leftover pieces of tuna sashimi excitedly. although, since we put the christmas tree up he has been acting very very naughty. i wonder who's getting coal in his stocking?!!

cranberry sauce

up until this past thanksgiving, i'd never had it. (which is the best proof i have that i wasn't born in this country) but i've had my sauce cherry popped (sorry if that sounded dirty!), and now i know what all the fuss it about. it's GOOD.

moon, eyes, pies

another new culinary discovery for me, and one which opened up so many exciting possibilities: pizza dough is cheap + easy to make. for the longest time i would buy the frozen kind and defrost it in the fridge, only to find it tough and unwilling to stretch beneath my knuckles- which is a key requirement of pizza dough. enter my friends jes (of hello popliteus fame) and shannon, who showed us how simple homemade pizza dough is to make via a delicious white bean, garlic and cheese specimen.

while that pizza was very good, i can't really consider anything food that doesn't have some sort of meat in it (sorry my vegetarian friends!), so my own take on the homemade dough base consisted of the classics: last sweet tomatoes of the season, fresh basil from the yard, fresh mozzerella, and some crispy pepperoni. i can't say it gets much better than that.

ironically, this recipe is from vegetarian planet.

hawaiian island vowels

in the middle of this terrible cold spell (it feels like even my bones are frozen solid by the windchill), i'm getting great pleasure out of looking at our pictures of hawaii.

this whole adventure started last fall when, by an extraordinarily improbable stroke of luck, i just happened to be browsing the internets at the exact time that some dolt at united mis-listed an $850 roundtrip ticket from nyc to honolulu for only $250. yup, that's right. so for $300 (with taxes), grace and i jetted off to hawaii for a week of sun and rest. oh, and b/c i'm a total daddy's girl, and my dad is awesome, he upgraded us up to first class with his miles. first class airplane food, ftw.

so, due to our primary interest in life being food, we decided to stay on oahu because of the abundance of good, cheap, local food. because of budgetary concerns, we split our time between a fancy resort on a remote part of the island and my aunt's house in diamond head. i had no idea what to expect from the house, since it's only her vacation home and she wasn't going to be there, but it was beautiful, with wide, sweeping ocean views and those heart stopping sunsets. uhhh, the only thing i can say in my defense is that these situations rarely happen to me, and i've probably used up all my good luck/karma in this trip.

staying on oahu was a good call, because we were able to eat our way around the island with ample time for repeats of our favorites. highlights included shave ice (no, it's not called shaved ice; it is purposefully present tense. don't ask me why) at aoki's, hawaiian food at ono hawaiian foods, (see my before and after pictures below), and the aforeblogged taro pie. and the sine que non of every future trip to anywhere within the hawaiian islands: giovanni's shrimp truck, which convinced me, with probably a pound of butter and head of garlic, that i really, really, really like shrimp.

oh, and the beaches were nice too. all blue-green water and white sand, and at dusk they'd turn into these mirrors of pink wisps and of course there have been millions of people who try to describe the trifecta of relaxation, contentment and beauty that is hawaii, so i'm not really going to bother here. i will say though that the hawaiian people are particularly enamored of vowels, which makes giving and getting directions in hawaii an experience straight out of the muppet show. and makes me love hawaii even more.

yup, but just relax

a typical hawaiian sunset

it's a real shit show out there. i keep promising myself i'll write to explain what happened with the macs (fannie and freddie), then lehman, then merrill, then AIG, and then the bailout, and now another bailout, and all the while the market seriously tanking.

i still might, but in case i don't, basically all you need to know is that you should probably not stress out that much unless:

1. you're about to retire, in which case, you should probably hold off for a bit or find a nice sugar daddy/momma.

2. you have the majority of your short-term savings in the stock market, and you need that money asap. if this is you, see someone much more qualified than me to help you extract yourself in the least damaging way.

3. you're still not tracking your expenses and have no clue what is going on with your money. if this is you, please please please leave a comment and your email and i'll send you my super easy expense tracking worksheet. and i'll include a handy set of instructions to boot.

i stand by my initial assessment of this disaster, which is to say that had we provided more comprehensive financial education (and i don't mean fancy degrees, i mean basic, "common-sense" type education) to all parties involved, none of this would have happened. we wouldn't be spending more than we earn, and we would still extol the virtues of frugality, and fiscal responsibility. so let's get back on that bandwagon, and make being good with your money cool again. see here, here, and here.

and if you're too rich for any of this post to even matter to you, please see my holiday wish list.

for the rest of us, this is actually a really good time to re-assess our spending habits, and attempt, maybe for the first time in our lives, that age-old wisdom of our grandparents, to live within our means. hell, might as well go all out and try and live *below* your means. you never know how bad it's going to get! kidding! but only just.
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