Things have been better since I last updated you. Actually, they got worse before they got better. Let me explain.
We had a mouse in our house.
A MOUSE. In our house.I was feeling miserable about it. Not only was I still adjusting to my new surroundings, but now I had to deal with this. And see, I don’t like mice. To me, they are filthy little creatures that carry diseases and they give me the creeps. Nothing is more uncomfortable when you’re walking on eggshells in your house, expecting a rodent to pop out at you any moment (Bob tells me they don’t “pop out”, rather they scurry away. But still). Any little sound or squeak inside the house and I jumped. And this mouse was sharp! He bypassed multiple types of traps set up around the house. I would have been impressed if I weren’t so disgusted. We finally had pest control come in to set traps and fill up some of the holes around the house with a filling that’s supposed to block rodents and insects from entering. Since then, we haven’t had any mouse sightings, thank goodness. Of course, then his grandmother who lives downstairs started seeing mouse droppings on her countertop shortly after. I did feel bad about that. A few days later, when his grandmother found the mouse dead by her front door (from natural causes?), a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. Sorry to say it, but it’s true.
Bob and I celebrated our birthday in a low-key fashion this year. We went out to eat, just the two of us, at Bobby Flay’s semi-new restaurant Gato. The life-changing scrambled eggs appetizer made my night! It was easily the best thing I’ve eaten in months. It was spicy and wonderful and had the consistency similar to a soft cheese spread. Second best thing? The berry crostata dessert. It was such a nice night and the first time we were able to slow down and enjoy each other’s company in weeks (which we’re trying to do more of before the baby arrives). The seemingly never-ending move really took up a lot of our weekend free time. I’m hoping the baby doesn’t come too early so we can have a few weeks of calm before she’s due to arrive later in the month.
My sister’s wedding was last weekend! I took very few pictures and they were only of the bride getting ready at the gorgeous NU Hotel in Brooklyn. No time to snap pics when you’re the maid of honor! But I would eventually like to post the pictures once I have the professional ones. A full photo of the bride’s dress (along with other beautiful moments from the wedding) needs to be shown off because…duh. Plus, there’s this video of my nephew Mason tearin’ it up with his dance moves that my dad has yet to send me. The kid is seriously so good. I’ve never seen anyone just feel that music and let loose like he does. I hope he never loses that!
I’d gotten to the point where I legitimately had NOTHING to wear. The weather warmed up considerably and I thought I’d get away with wearing my old summer dresses once that happened. As it turned out, I’d gained more weight than I realized and those dresses made me feel like sausages in casings. When I told my mom, she asked me, “Why did you think you’d be able to fit in your old dresses?”. Good question! I think part naïveté and part wishful thinking. I had held out for as long as I could on the maternity wear, but I had to give in last Monday. I went to Target on my lunch break and bought over $100 in dresses and one pair of comfy pants.
Okay and one eye shadow too because I have no self control in the beauty section. No regrets!
Things are going to start to quiet down within the next couple of weeks (here’s hoping), so I’d like to start picking up my DSLR regularly again. I miss taking pictures. I miss blogging too. And you guys, of course. How are you?
In recent years, my sister’s favorite place to celebrate her birthday has been at Pane E Vino. It’s this Italian restaurant in downtown Brooklyn, where the back patio is covered by glass, so you get the effect of eating outside in the sunshine without any of those pesky outdoor elements like chilly wind or bugs. It’s gorgeous. Also, it was at Pane E Vino, around this time last year, that she announced a date for the wedding. So it was only fitting that her shower be held at a favorite and meaningful place. I’d say she was pretty pleased with the choice.
If the shower was any indication as to how the wedding will be, then it will probably be a super fun and lively wedding. I actually texted Bob mid-shower, “We are probably the rowdiest bridal shower brunch this place has ever seen!”
We even had a few curious onlookers join us for a dance.
Bob and I had rented a car to deal with house-related stuff in Jersey, but that appointment fell through so we were left with a car for the entire day and nowhere to go. Initially, I thought we could use it for an easy trip to the grocery store (lame), but thankfully, I thought of something way better: a day trip to Sleepy Hollow. And what could be better and more appropriate than Sleepy Hollow in October?
Our first stop (or second, if you count lunch at Sweet Grass Grill – recommended, by the way!) was Washington Irving’s Sunnyside in Tarrytown. His home was beautiful and romantic with its wisteria vines, European influences and its gorgeous view of the Hudson. The inside was cozy and cute, but we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
We learned a whole lot about the author of Sleepy Hollow too. Interesting tidbit: Washinton Irving was the first known American writer to support himself on solely on writing. Impressive! I enjoy educational tours, but there should be a rule about hiring a guide who’s sooo dry and monotone. We were standing in front of the house and the guide was going on about something or other (in his best Ben Stein impression, might I add) when Bob nudged me and said, “I’ll need to call this guy when I have trouble sleeping”. Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing, but it was funny and made me laugh. I like to think we were the bad kids in class.
We did our own self-guided tour of the Sleepy Hollow cemetery, which was Bob’s favorite part of the day. He loves looking at old tombstones and grand monuments.
Me? I was more fascinated by the nature aspect of it. We came across the headless horseman bridge overlooking Pocantico river, which looked straight out of a fairy tale. I loved it.
And last but not least, a Sleepy Hollow post would not be complete without…
Get ready for a rambly post and some crappy, filtered iPhone pics.
Grilled octopus and sausages at Telly’s Taverna in Astoria. ↑
Last week was…a bit off for me. One minute I was high, the other I was low. I had a lot of things on weighing on me while I was at work and it was hard to focus. So I got up from my desk, went downstairs and called Bob to vent (but mostly, panic) about, well…my life. Our lives. But Bob is so cool and collected and he quickly calmed me down and said, “It’s going to be okay”, plus some other very reassuring things. But it’s what I needed to hear. He didn’t make light of my worries or tell me I was being psychotic (even though I knew I was). He was reasonable and level-headed, when I couldn’t be. But after some time, I was able to better see things for what they were and later sent Bob a message saying “Can we forget my earlier meltdown? I’m just tremedously hormonal right now and that’s what I’m going to blame it on, okay? It wasn’t me! It’s the hormones’ fault.” Whatever we need to tell ourselves, right?
But the weekend was nice. I was in the right headspace again so I was able to enjoy it. I hung out with my friend Val on Friday night and we had dinner and dessert at Vanessa’s Dumplings and Momofuku Milk Bar, respectively. We encountered a lot of weirdos that night, but none weirder than the guy who stood right in our path and literally screamed, “Aaaaargh!” in our faces. That was interesting.
Thrift-shopping: a favorite pastime. ↑
The next day, we went to Bob’s mother’s house and I learned the secret behind her pasta sauce. It’s all in the meat! Figures. So Bob and I made a deal: I will learn his mother’s sauce and he will learn my grandmother’s mofongo.
When thrifting, Bob goes straight for the books section. I like to rummage through racks of clothes first. Found 2 tops for under $10! ↑
We put an offer on a house. It’s that small fixer-upper I was telling you about last week. Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst.
Branzini feast for one! ↑
As someone who lives in Astoria, I feel it’s my duty to once and for all do a Greek food hop and find the best Greek in all the land! But as it turns out, the quest is proving to be difficult in that there are so many fantastic Greek restaurants out here, including Agnanti which I’ve adored from the beginning. Last weekend, we went to Telly’s Taverna for lunch, which we haven’t been to before. Incredible food! Creamy frappes (loooove), grilled octopus, lemon potatoes and I watched carefully as the server quickly and seamlessly deboned my grilled-to-perfection branzini*. But I’m still determined to get to Taverna Kyclades which always has the most ridiculously long line to get in. Funny because there’s a Greek place directly across the street that is always depressingly empty when we pass by. No joke! The wait will be an hour for Taverna Kyclades, while the place across the street has less than 5 patrons in it. I think that speaks volumes to how great TK is!
*As I type this, I’m having leftover octopus and lemon potatoes for breakfast. Breakfast of champions!
Anyway, I’ll stop rambling and we’ll leave off with this: cross your fingers that we get this place…at our offer price (ha, fat chance). And with that, another week of emotions begins!
I try to have a salad for dinner at least once a week. I always put shredded chicken in it to make it more hearty, but this time I wanted to omit the meat. The peanut dressing for this was amazing! It was the best part. I changed up the original recipe because there were ingredients I didn’t have: rice noodles, radishes, red cabbage and green onions. I instead added edamame, avocado, subbed red for green cabbage and added more chickpeas. Overall, I found the salad kind of unexciting and it was probably because of the missing ingredients. The fried egg was a good touch though. Next time, I’d like to try it with the rice noodles. I’d also like to try roasting the chickpeas to add more flavor and crunch. Surprisingly, Bob thought differently and said, “Now this is a salad I can eat!” Not the reaction I was expecting, but I’m glad he dug it so much.
Bob has been known to complain that we never order in Chinese. It’s true. For as long as we’ve lived together, I’ve only ordered Chinese once for us and even that was too much. It’s one of those things I really have to be in the mood for, which funnily enough, I never am. Let it be known, we’re talking American Chinese food here. So I compromise by making something that’s close to what he’d order at a Chinese restaurant, which is some variation of chicken & broccoli. The recipe is so easy and it comes together rather quickly. I really liked it and it reminded me of a stir-fry I make sometimes. The chicken was a little dry though, even with lots of sauce on it. It may have something to do with their cube shape because I’ve made stir-fries with short thin slices of chicken and had no problems with dryness. Either way, next time I’m going to replace the meat with mushrooms. I think they’d be even better in this and the meal as a whole would be much cheaper too ($2-$3 for 8 oz. of mushrooms versus $6 per lb. for skinless chicken breasts).
I’ve been playing around with this recipe a lot and what’s great is that it’s the kind of meal that you can do that with and almost anything will work. I’ve slow-roasted the cherry tomatoes, which gives it a nice depth of flavor. I’ve used a mix of arugula, spinach and parsley. I’ve added sauteed garlic. I’ve made this with and without chicken. I’ve added little slivers of sun-dried tomatoes for tanginess. When it comes to pasta salad (or for anything that isn’t a baked good, for that matter), I don’t usually adhere to any strict measurements. This is a great base recipe. The one step I find unnecessary is cooking the orzo in chicken broth. I just salted the water as I usually do and the results were still tasty as ever. You’re getting plenty of flavor from the ingredients and the dressing!
I consider this the ideal work lunch, since you don’t even need to heat it up. No waiting on line for the microwave! Fellow office workers, you feel me on this, right?! I just take it out from the fridge about 30 minutes before I’m going to eat, so it can lose the cold edge before I dig in. Doesn’t get any easier!
Wednesday: Wild Salmon, Mushrooms in White Wine & Garlic Sauce and Roasted Potatoes
This was my favorite meal this week! I love love love salmon. The mushrooms are good too and what’s even better is that they call for white wine. Which means I get to have a glass of wine while I cook. It just makes the dinner-making process more…luxurious.
These days, I like pan-frying salmon over baking it because it cooks off the slimy subcutaneous fat (or at least, it makes the texture of it not so slimy). I learned the perfect technique for cooking salmon, thanks to Serious Eats. They break it down so well and they point out all the ways it can go wrong and how to prevent them. But since that’s going to take some time for you to read, I’ll give you the condensed version here (along with some safety instructions because, trust me, you’re going to need it).
1 lb. wild salmon filet 3 tablespoons of oil Salt and pepper Lemon wedge (optional) Parsley, for garnish (optional)
Pat your salmon dry with paper towels. Salt the fish generously. Pour the oil in a pan and set heat to medium-high. When oil starts to sizzle, place the fish skin side down in the pan. Drop the temperature slightly. It may start to curl up in and if it does, just hold it down for a bit with a spatula. Make sure to have on long pot-holders to protect yourself from the spitting oil. Partially cover the pan with a lid to keep the oil from spitting everywhere (or prepare for your stovetop to be covered in fish grease!) Leave in the pan for 6 minutes. My time is 6 minutes exactly, but yours might be a minute or two off depending on how hot your pan gets. Lift the fish with a spatula gently (don’t forget those gloves/pot-holders!). If it comes out easily, it’s ready to be flipped. If it gives some resistance, i.e. the skin is still sticking to the pan, give it another minute or two. It’s not ready to be flipped yet. Once flipped, leave alone for about 1-3 minutes. Err on the side of more time, if you like the salmon a little more cooked. I think 2 to 2 1/2 minutes is perfect. It will be cooked through, but still very tender and moist on the inside. Season with a squeeze of a lemon wedge and a little black pepper. Garnish with parsley, if desired.
Let’s not forget the mushrooms! I actually do the mushrooms first because those can be easily heated up in the pan again, if it gets a little cold while waiting for the other food to cook. Of course, if you’re a good multitasker, you can make this and the salmon simultaneously.
I prefer to use cremini mushrooms, but you can use white too. If the white ones are on sale, I’ll usually go for those. Can’t pass up a good sale.
Mushrooms with White Wine and Garlic serves 2
8 oz. sliced cremini or white mushrooms 2-3 tablespoons olive oil 7 garlic cloves crushed and/or minced (I love garlic so I use a lot. You can use 2-3 cloves if you don’t like a strong garlic flavor) 1/4 cup dry white wine Pinch of salt and pepper
Heat olive oil on medium in pan. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and toss around with salt and pepper for a few seconds. Then (and this is a big one!) leave them be. Don’t move them for about 4-5 minutes. You want them to be nice and golden and caramelized and the only way to do that is to not mess with them. Stir again for a few seconds. Then leave for another 3-4 minutes. Add the wine and cover the pan until the wine completely cooks down. This will take about 3-5 minutes, so keep an eye on it. If you cook it too long, the mushroom and garlic will stick to the pan and you’ll need to add a little more wine (or water) to scrape up the bottom. Serve.
That’s Samra on the left, schooling us on Ethiopian food. ↑
Oh wait, did I say the salmon was my favorite meal of the week? I changed my mind. It’s this one! Let me explain. I usually don’t go out to eat during the week. But my friend Samra, who was born in Ethiopia, has been trying to get me and our other friend Nelida to eat Ethiopian food for the longest time and so we finally made a date to go to Meske in Hell’s Kitchen. Samra said it’s the best Ethiopian in the city. I have no basis for comparison, but—dare I say?— yes it is the best! I loved it. I ordered yebeg alecha, which is lamb marinated in butter and then sauteed with ginger, curry and garlic all on top of injera, a spongey-type bread. It was so delicious, as were the other meals (we all dipped into eachother’s food). I loved eating with my hands and trying new flavors and having Samra tell me what was what. And the honey wine! We drank two bottles of it and it still wasn’t enough. Good good times.
If you’re in NY and looking for something different, try Meske. I plan on going a few more times and perhaps adding it to my To Eat tab, if it’s consistenly great. I’m sure it will be 😉
Oh boy. I’m setting myself up for this one. This the third time I’ve made this and I haven’t yet told Bob what’s in it. I just keep asking him, “Did you like the chicken?” And when he says, “Yes, it was very good”, I smile to myself somewhat deviously. I’ve thought about telling him there’s anchovies in it, but my guess is that he would’ve never given it a chance. Well, he knows now so I’m telling you to give it a chance. Are you one of those people that’s really weird about anchovies? Because I think you should get over it. They’re a great source of protein, calcium and contain fatty acids that reduce the risk of heart disease. Plus, the sauce is just the right amount of salty, bright and pungent. It’s incredibly delicious! I tossed in a few extra cloves of garlic, but other than that, the recipe is perfect as is. Do. It.
The cauliflower mash was tasty too and the sheer volume of it allowed us to have leftovers (which we usually don’t have when I just roast it), so that was nice. Here’s what I did: Cut a large head of cauliflower into florets. Steamed/boiled it until it was fork-tender. Placed in the food processor with 1 tablespoon of herb cream cheese, 2 cloves of roughly chopped garlic (that were first sautéed in olive oil for 2 minutes) and some of the reserved cauliflower water to thin it out. Not sure how much of the reserved water I used, but I added it in a tablespoon at a time until the consistency was to my liking.
This one is tasty, quick and almost impossible to screw up. So it’s basically the makings of a perfect weeknight dinner. I added way more garlic because I’m a garlic-oholic. Also, I subbed the butter for ghee (basically butter with all the milk solids removed; clarified) and used half the amount that this recipe called for. I like ghee because it’s believed to have a higher nutritional value than butter and can be cooked at a higher heat without burning. It also keeps for a lot longer. But like butter, it’s best in moderation. To find out more about ghee, click here. My other sub was Angel hair pasta because I just don’t care for linguine.
Yet another Melissa Clark recipe. I’m a fan. I’m also a fan of red lentils. Not only are they the quickest cooking lentil, but they’re high in fiber, protein, iron and they stabilize blood sugar levels. I’ve made this one countless times but this time, I didn’t have onions or tomato paste, so I had to improvise. I also wanted to make it heartier so I added a potato (vitamin B-6 boost!) and some baby spinach (multiple vitamins boost!). Here’s my take:
3-4 tablespoons olive oil 6 garlic cloves, minced 2 tablespoons onion powder 2 handfuls of grape tomatoes, quartered 1-2 tablespoons ground cumin (I like a stronger cumin flavor so I always err on the side of more) 1 tablespoon paprika 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric 3 handfuls of baby spinach, roughly chopped 1 medium russet potato, sliced into 1-inch pieces 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper Pinch of cayenne 4 cups chicken broth 1 cup red lentils, rinsed Juice of 1 lemon 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, or to taste.
In a large pot, heat the oil over high heat until hot. Add garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, potatoes, cumin, turmeric, paprika, salt, black pepper, cayenne and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add broth and lentils. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils and potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary. Add the spinach until wilted into the soup, then turn off heat. Using a regular or hand blender, purée half the soup then add it back to pot. If you’re using a hand blender, then there’s no need to remove half the soup. Just blend until it’s the right amount of chunky and smooth. Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in lemon juice and cilantro.
You know what? It was just as delicious if not more than the original recipe. Though one thing I’d keep from the original is the tomato paste. I prefer a deeper, more concentrated tomato flavor for this soup than what the fresh tomatoes can provide. Also, keep tasting the soup to make sure the spices are to your liking. I always find myself adding more spice or even more water if the soup is getting too thick.
Wednesday Dinner: Tuna Steaks with Roasted Broccoli and Roasted Potatoes
Tuna steaks are a viable choice when you’re craving meatiness, but want a healthier option over steak or beef. It’s a controversial food, what with claims of potential mercury poisoning, but if eaten in moderation, you can reap the benefits. Tuna is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for your heart, eyes, mood and blood pressure. For this dish in particular, you just marinate the steaks in about 3-5 tablespoons of olive oil, a generous sprinkling of garlic powder, salt, pepper and juice from a lemon for about 30 minutes and then sear at a medium-high heat for about 3 minutes on each side. This will leave it nice and rare in the middle. Otherwise, there’s no point in eating it because when it’s well done, it’s dry dry DRY. For my sides: roasted russet and sweet potatoes and broccoli tossed in olive oil, salt and nutritional yeast, then roasted until crispy. This was Bob’s favorite homemade meal of the week!
Thursday Dinner: English Muffin Pizzas and Sautéed Cabbage for me. Scrambled Eggs, Sautéed Cabbage and Spiced Chicken Breasts for him.
This was what I call a “work with what you got” dinner. I only had a few random ingredients in the house, some of which included Sprouted Grain English muffins, cooked chicken breasts, green cabbage, eggs, tomato sauce and mozzarella. So I gave Bob the choice of a few options for dinner and he picked scrambled eggs, chicken and cabbage. YES! Because I wanted the English muffin pizzas all for myself. Fun fact: this was the first food I ever learned how to make. Like, ever…in life.
Sprouted Grain English Muffin Pizzas
Pre-toast the sliced English muffins until lightly golden. Spoon ready-made pizza sauce (I use San Marzano tomato sauce, since it’s delicious all on its own) onto muffins. The amount is up to you. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over top. Again, you decide how much. Drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil. Toast in toaster oven until cheese is melted.
Do I even call that a recipe?
Friday Dinner: At Union Square Cafe: Lasagna Bolognese + Banana Tart for me. New York Strip Steak and Marrow Mashed Potatoes + Chocolate Custard for him. Pork Belly Empanadas + Lotsa’ Cocktails for both of us.
Its funny. I chose to go to Union Square Cafe because it has an acclaimed reputation for healthier, seasonal foods. I’ve been wanting to try it for the longest time, but my decision to go there was partly because I wanted Bob to have something besides his usual steak and potatoes, just to get him used to ordering something a little better than a big hunk of red meat. I tried really hard to make the roast chicken and cippolini onions sound appealing (with words like, “crispy skin” “juicy” and “sweet pearl-like onions”) but the joke was on me because he ended up ordering…steak and potatoes. I should have known. There is always a steak and potatoes dish, no matter where you go, it seems. I had the lasagna bolognese which was just heaven. The lasagna sheets were paper thin which made for a really delicate texture and the peas added a nice color and sweetness to the dish. The banana tart was…an experience. That is to say, very decadent and very yummy. It was a good reward to end a good week!
This weekend was one of those great weekends when I just could not (read: would not) stay in the house. The weather was hot and it was sunny and the laundry was done and I’d just completed a big project at work, so I felt exceptionally…light. Relieved. Carefree.
Bob and I headed out to the Big Apple BBQ, where renowned pitmasters from around the U.S. gather in and around Madison Square Park and serve their signature bbq fare to the masses. My favorite was the sweet and sticky ribs from Pappy’s from St. Louis, MO. Ugh, they were just the best. No, really…the best.
While we were watching the magic happen, one of the cooks offered me a rib while I waited and it made me feel extra special. Kind of like that feeling you get when you’re waiting on the line to get into a club and the bouncer picks you out of all the other people to skip the line and go right in. Like, oh me?! Okay then!
(To be fair, I saw him give out a free rib to a little girl too)
Oh, and it was really crowded too. Lines were horrendous, but totally worth it. This was most especially the case with Pappy’s. Did I mention how much I love those ribs?
After eating and watching a live band, we headed back into Astoria and stopped at Bubba’s where the beers were half price and the tacos were free. It doesn’t get any better than that.
But the sun started creeping in on our shady spot and we didn’t want to call it a day just yet, so we left, picked up some summer ales, poured the beers into a travel mug and headed to Astoria park. On the way, we passed a bar that Bob noticed was playing the Belmont Stakes so we stopped in and watched California Chrome lose the triple crown. Womp, womp. And just like that, we were on our way to the park again.
Oh, this guy below? He was walking a cat on a leash. Rather, he was attempting to walk the cat because all the cat wanted to do was crouch down in the grass. It was pretty adorable.
Never mind all the restaurants, bars and museums—this park is my favorite place to be in Astoria.
Can you see why?
As the sun set, we begrudgingly walked back home, where I quickly realized just how tired I actually was. But don’t you just love that? When your muscles kind of ache and you can hardly keep your eyes open, but it’s just a reminder of the absolute fun you had all day? I do, I really love that.