Thursday, December 30, 2010

My First Strata

In The Family Stone, one of my mom's favorite movies, there's a key scene involving a strata. Sarah Jessica Parker's character makes a breakfast strata for her in-laws-to-be, and then later ends up covered in it. I came across a Nigella recipe for a strata and decided to try making it as Christmas morning breakfast for my family.

Happily, it turned out well and no one ended up wearing it. It's actually the perfect easy Christmas morning breakfast because the combination of bread, eggs, and cheese is prepared the night before (in only about 15 minutes time!), so all you need to do in the morning is bake it while you're opening presents. It's also the kind of recipe where you're pretty much an expert at it after your first try, so you can make it over and over again. Truth be told, this picture is actually of my second strata. It was in a prettier dish than the first one I made on Christmas.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Worst Book Award

I have to preface this by saying that I'm not someone who automatically disparages all chick-lit. I've certainly read and enjoyed my fair share (see here, here, and here for proof).

Now that that's out of the way, I can say that Chasing Harry Winston by Lauren Weisberger is officially one of the worst book's I've ever read.

You might be wondering why the bad title and cover didn't tip me off in the first place. My thought process in picking it was a) I found the book for $1 at a church book sale; b) it said it was by the author of The Devil Wears Prada, which was a decent enough movie; and c) I thought it would be a nice, quick, light read on the heels of the sometimes heavy Little Bee, perfect for the holiday time when I was more interested in baking and watching Christmas movies than reading.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I can't remember ever disliking a book so much while I was reading it as I did with this one. Something made me stick with it to the very end, which only confirmed the bad impression that I had formed at the beginning. My biggest problem with it was that the characters were beyond stereotypical- I literally hated them during every moment of the book.

Not only does this win the award for one of my least-favorite books, but I think this post might win the award for the most scathing book review I've ever done on this blog!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Twelfth Cookie of Christmas

Twelve Chocolate-dipped Pecan Bars

These are a Barefoot Contessa recipe. How bad could that be?

And that marks the end of the Twelve Cookies of Christmas. I tried a mix of old and new recipes, found a few new favorites (like these pecan bars, and the pumpkin cookies), but most of all I realized that the best cookies are the recipes that my family has made for years and years. I'm glad I did this little baking project, but even more glad that I now have all these cookies to eat! And, yeah, maybe give a few away too.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Eleventh Cookie of Christmas

Eleven Black and White Striped Cookies

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Collections

It seems like collections have a way of sneaking up on you. You start out getting one or two of something, and then next thing you know, you have a full-blown collection on your hands.

My mom has a big Santa collection that we display every year.

We also display all the snow globes I collected growing up.

Now I might have unintentionally started a nativity collection. This is a ceramic set that my parents brought back from their honeymoon in Mexico.

This is a Lladro set that I got when I was in Bermuda. I like how it's three children carrying toys dressed up as the three wise men. (Those ornaments in the background are from the little tree my family sets up with picture frame ornaments of all of our relatives.)

And this is one I was just given this year- the Peanuts characters dressed up from the play in A Charlie Brown Christmas. I really like Sally as the Angel and Snoopy as the sheep!

The Tenth Cookie of Christmas

Ten Pieces of Butter Crunch Bark

The secret ingredient in these is Saltine crackers.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Ninth Cookie of Christmas

Nine Pumpkin Cookies

(Recipe courtesy of Leslie.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Seventh and Eighth Cookies of Christmas

Seven Chocolate Gooey Butter Cookies

This is a Paula Deen recipe and I have to say, these are my least favorite so far. They're not terrible, but the secret ingredient of chocolate cake mix somehow made homemade cookies taste like store bought.

Eight Mexican Wedding Cakes

These have always been one of my favorites and this year I tried a new version from a Martha Stewart recipe. I think they came out better than ever.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Sixth Cookie of Christmas

Six Walnut Cherry Chocolate Chips

(Previously seen here.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Fifth Cookie of Christmas

Five Cream Cheese Gems

How about my amateur food styling? Getting more ambitious with each cookie, isn't it?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Third Cookie of Christmas

Three Coconut Macaroons

This was my first time making these, and they weren't quite as super-easy as I expected. Let's just say that I had to trim away some overly chewy edges to get a good finished product.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

The First Cookie of Christmas

Earlier this fall, a few of my relatives gave me some apartment-warming gift cards. I put them together and used them to buy a food processor, which made me want to do a lot of baking this holiday season. I decided to try making twelve different cookies, one each night, give or take, in honor of the Twelve Days of Christmas. And the first cookie is....

One Peanut Butter Blossom

More often made with Hershey kisses on top, I decided to swap in my personal favorite, Reese's peanut butter cups.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Little Bee

Did anyone guess my book club's latest book based on the hint I dropped about a month ago? It was Little Bee by Chris Cleave.

I'm glad we chose this book. It was really well written and yielded an interesting book club discussion. That being said, the most interesting thing about it might actually be it's marketing angle. The back copy of the book takes the line of "we're not going to tell you anything about the story because it's so special that you need to experience how it unfolds for yourself". Kind of a genius marketing ploy. Even though I really liked the book, I'm not sure it quite lived up to all of that hype. There is a pivotal scene that's probably best not revealed ahead of time, but I kept waiting for even more, like some huge twist that would totally change the way I thought about the story, and that just never came.

I can't complain too much, though. It's definitely a book worth reading. All I say about it is it follows the intersection of the lives of a Nigerian girl and a British woman. I can't reveal anything else. You'll have to experience it for yourself.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tree Farm

For quite a few years now, my family has been cutting down our Christmas tree from a somewhat local tree farm called Lone Silo. You can probably see why.

This year, we of course brought Millie with us. It was a freezing cold day and I'm not sure who was more bundled up, me in my puffy coat, scarf, and hat....

...or her in her sweater and fleece coat.

She even found a tree that she wanted- one that was just her size.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Warm December

Today was a strange beginning for December around here- warm enough to wear ankle pants, but with monsoon level winds that practically knocked me off my feet. The inside of my apartment is already very December-like, though. Perfectly cozy and fully decorated.

My window decorations:

My mantle:

And my little tree:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

The table's all set for my family's feast. Hope you enjoy yours!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Everyday Life

I was hit hard by a stomach bug last night- Bleh! Bleh! and Bleh! Now that I'm in the weak but recovering on the couch stage, I have just enough energy to share the last book I read- The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life by William Nicholson.

This novel takes place over the course of a week in the lives of various characters that live in one English country village. I was originally expecting it to be full of charming, traditional British village scenes, with tweed and wellies and walks through the woods. I was a little disappointed to find that this is definitely not that kind of book, but my disappointment didn't last long once I realized that everything else about it was really, really good.

Each chapter dips into a different character's perspective. Each voice the author uses is very different, but right on the mark for each character. As the stories of the different characters unfold, we see the gap between what's going on in their internal lives and how they're perceived by others. It's very wall done, and even veers into slight Virginia Woolf-like territory at some points, like during a chapter that gives a stream-of-consciousness view of one character's shopping trip.

I think I may just have made this book seem kind of heavy and boring, but it's not, I promise.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ghost Blogger

Confession: when I'm busy or tired, I have a ghost blogger who does my blogging for me:

Now, I have to say that this picture was not at all posed. If it was, you know I would have tried to put a pair of glasses on her. I just walked away from the computer for a minute and when I came back, Millie had settled herself behind the keyboard. Not that surprising since, like sniffing and sleeping, writing is a natural beagle instinct:

(Thanks for humoring me if you're still reading this silly little post!)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Craft (and Cupcake!) Crawl 2010

This past weekend, my friend Lara came to visit me and we undertook our much-anticipated, first-ever Craft Crawl around Manhattan. Our goal was to hit as many craft supply or craft inspired places as we could. We had one baking supply place on our list too and, of course, since I was involved, I had to add some cupcake stops into the mix.

First, we hit the 25th Street flea market. I have to say that this was my least favorite stop of the day. It was a little disappointing and didn't inspire either of us to dig through the jumble to stuff to hunt for hidden gems.

The most interesting thing we saw there were these boxes of old slides. Their hand-written labels said things like "Sturbridge Village, 1962" or "The girls at camp". I'm sure they'd be really interesting and kitschy to look at for any vintage voyeurs who still have slide projectors.

Then we got thirsty and stopped for a little refreshment:

(Just kidding.) Our real next stop was NY Cake and Baking Supply, which sells every kind of professional baking supply item imaginable, including racks and racks of cookie cutters and shelf after shelf edible flowers for cake decorating. According to the store's celebrity photo wall, Martha Stewart, Paula Deen, and Tyler Florence have all made stops here.

All of the baking supplies made me crave something sweet. Luckily, our next stop was the 18th Street branch of The Cupcake Cafe.

Before we even got to the cupcakes, I was surprised and thrilled to discover that it's actually attached to a lovely children's bookstore called Books of Wonder that could practically be the real-life version of The Shop Around the Corner from You've Got Mail. How did I not know about this?

Besides new children's books, they have a section dedicated to vintage editions of children's classics, which were really fun to browse through. I would have loved to buy a vintage edition of Anne of the Island, if only it wasn't $95. (Although that seemed like a bargain compared to the $2500, locked-behind-glass set of original Winnie-the-Pooh books.)

The Cupcake Cafe portion of the store was situated just as a Starbucks Cafes would be in a Barnes and Noble, with the addition of these giant flirty, dancing cupcakes:

The cupcakes are all lavishly decorated with flowers. I tried a vanilla and a chocolate, and Lara tried the maple. The verdict: beautiful to look at, but not the best tasting. Sweet and Magnolia both beat these out in terms of taste, which was okay since we made stops at both of those places too.

After chowing down on cupcakes, we headed up to the Garment District. We hit Mood, where we'd been before, but didn't find anything to "make it work" this time around.

Then we hit M&J Trimmings, where there are walls and walls of buttons, ribbons, appliques, lace, beads, name it.

The last stop of our day, and the one I'd been most looking forward to, was Purl SoHo. This was my first time visiting the shop since they'd moved their tiny store into a bigger location.

The new store really is nice, albeit still cramped on a crowded and bustling Saturday.
Their sewing and knitted supplies are now combined into a single shop.

Their Liberty fabrics were gorgeous, both for sale on the bolt and on the wall as decoration. I even spotted a couple of patterns that were part of the Target collection way back when.

Of course, I was most interested in the yarn and picked up some skeins to use for new projects.

After seeing Lara off on Sunday, I capped off the weekend with a stop at the Lion Brand Yarn store, where I took advantage of the Birthday Week discount they offer. My weekend yarn purchases include the makings of two hats, a cowl, and a dog sweater:

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend. It was even rounded out by some celebrity and pseudo-celebrity sightings- Brooke Shields, walking down the street, and the guy who is dating one of the Kardashians, waiting on a long bathroom line at Le Pain Quotidien.


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