Sunday, October 30, 2011

A white Halloween: Second Sequence

Despite inches of slush in the streets and cold, wet snow and rain falling from the sky, we actually had a pretty decent turnout at the Halloween party last night. Naturally, a few people bailed (and I didn't blame them at all--it was ridiculously miserable outside), but we had plenty of friends to eat all the food I prepared as well as go through many a bottle of wine and pitcher of Ginger Alice punch. We decorated the apartment with fairly minimalist decorations: cobwebs in various colors, jack-o-lanterns with fangs, a well-placed REDRUM facing the bathroom mirror. The real focus of party funds and energy, as with any party I plan, went toward the food. We served the following:

Monster brains! Actually, guacamole served in a hollowed out cauliflower. Always a good addition to any party.

This is just regular gouda, but I really like this new mouse trap cheese board and slicer I found in San Francisco. Also, not pictured here is the delicious lavender honey goat cheese a friend brought later.
The cupcake graveyard was one of the least popular items in terms of actual consumption because full sized cupcakes are a lot to commit to when compared to mostly bite sized finger foods. People were willing to steal the milano tombstones though.

I'd seen this recipe absolutely everywhere online lately, so I had to make them. They're almond shortbread cookies with almond fingernails (and a little strawberry jam for just the right touch of gore)

Here's the whole spread including a couple of things I didn't get good individual pictures of. Next to the cupcake graveyard is the bowl of weasel brains (bacon wrapped dates stuffed with almonds) and adjacent to that are the mummy dogs (I really wish I had a good picture of these, but they looked similar to this, except that I cut the hot dogs in half for more of a baby mummy effect).

I also wanted to post a few pictures of the party people who consumed these edibles:

We'd talked of having a costume contest and even bought a prize, but then in the heat of the action completely forgot to award it. The next morning we awarded it to the person who had crashed on our couch because he was the only guest still in attendance. He's pictured at right and was "The Economy." However, the three of us all agreed that the man to his left had the best costume of the night as some sort of masquerading Mozart. Hopefully, he won't be too upset that he did not receive his well deserved award, because the prize was actually just a yellow ribbon that said "I'm very special!" If only he read my blog, he could receive his proper accolades.

More friends: Sookie Stackhouse of True Blood, creepy "I like Santa" kid from A Christmas Story, egg, tiger, and bacon.

Our friends Rocky and Bullwinkle. Bullwinkle did a decent impression of himself. It's a hard voice to master.

You can't really see me that well, but I was the one legged table lamp from A Christmas Story. I stood sideways in all picture so it would appear as if I only had one leg. However, in this picture, you can't really see my leg, so the illusion was for nothing.

Hope you all had happy Saturday-before-Halloween nights! And hopefully better weather than we had here in Astoria. Luckily, it's now sunny and beautiful (if a touch chilly) today and tomorrow. It is especially important that the weather be decent on Halloween itself because I'll be dancing in the Village Halloween parade again this year. Those of you longtime readers may remember I danced "Beat It" in the parade last year, but this year have upgraded to the more Halloween-themed "Thriller" group. I will continue my marathon of posts by updating on Tuesday on what is hopefully a successful parade Monday night. Which means I need to figure how to zombify myself sometime today.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Just your average snowy Halloween weekend, First Sequence

I feel like I've sort of neglected my blog this month. I've been sort of busy with a number of things, some of which I've talked about on here and some which I haven't. I remember when I first started this blog, and I was all about updating twice a week for an average total of eight times a month. Haven't done that in a while. Then again, I also thought back then, my dutiful updating would eventually form a coherent message and at this point my blog would have evolved and be getting its own book deal (presumably something along the lines of "Dinah Tales: An Anthology of Cat Blogs," but I'm just spitballing.) So I guess a lot of things haven't really fallen into place yet. Nevertheless, I can't let not having a theme stop me from writing; I have an established readership (and I appreciate all of you!) and what better reason can there be to write?

But in an effort to up my blogging stats for this month (and also because it's already snowing like crazy outside, and I'm trying to put off going to the grocery store), I'm going to do a little marathon blogging on the last couple of days this month. I will even be following a particular theme: Halloween. I have mixed feelings about Halloween. I love dressing up and (although not this year), usually really enjoy making a costume. I also used to be something of a candy fiend, although I've been trying to scale that back in recent years. The things I'm less into are scary movies, haunted houses, and people jumping out at your for no particular reason. I like my horror movies campy and usually featuring zombies (or other things I don't believe could actually kill me) to slasher movies with serial killers (which, while improbable, are a more real threat). I'm not a big fan of haunted houses even at their campiest, but some of the ones I've read about in New York push the envelope beyond what I feel like anyone would want. There is apparently one where you have to sign a waiver allowing the actors in the house to touch you, and you have to promise to do anything they ask. Then they spend the haunted house torturing you (as in, according to reviews, they literally put bags over your head and waterboard you) and prodding you along pitch dark hallways. It costs $40 for the privilege. Oh and it's already sold out though closing this year.

Anyway, my way of celebrating day 1 of Halloween weekend was to go down to Coney Island on Friday night with some friends intent on going to Astroland's Nights of Terror. We didn't end up going to the amusement park because it cost $30 to get in, and it seemed like most of the rides were closed (also it was under 50 degrees, which makes roller coasters seem less appealing). However, having never been to Coney Island at night, I realized it is just sketchy enough to be kind of terrifying on its own. Instead we rode some bumper cars and played just enough skee ball in the arcade that when we all pooled our tickets, we could get a tiny plastic slinky (the kind that doesn't actually have the proper weight to function as a slinky). If we'd only persevered and brought our total tickets up to 53,000 (the slinky cost 50), we could have gotten the DVD/VCR combo, which I assume has been there since DVD/VCR combos were actually a thing someone might want. After that, we got a hot dog (and some bacon cheese fries) at Nathan's and head backed up to the city, one tiny slinky richer.

Nathan's Famous, which on a summer's day would have hundreds of people pouring out of it. Also, you can't really see it, but the billboard to the right tells you that it's only 262 days to the annual Coney Island hot dog eating contest.

So that's day 1 of Halloween Weekend 2011. Tune in tomorrow for an update on my Halloween party tonight, which I really should start preparing for by actually going out in the snow and buying food. I promise to update with photos of people's costumes (or at least all the people who say it's cool if I post their pictures on my blog). Happy Halloween, readers!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Friends, protests, and things that go bump in Anderson Cooper's West Village town house

This weekend one of my best friends from college was in town. Normally, when people are in town, it's an enjoyable excuse to eat out far too often and also to visit some tried and true New York tourist attractions. After over three years here, I feel like I've seen most of the big sites, but I always enjoy seeing them again with friends. However, this particular friend, henceforth to be called Beth, brought a list of things she wanted to do, and many of them were actually new experiences for me as well. Even better many were things I'd had on my own list for a while.

New experience #1: Occupying Wall Street

I know, I know, it has been a month--I'm a little ashamed that it took me this long to get down there. I'm not a member of the Tea Party, and I don't think that big corporations should pay a smaller percentage of taxes than I do, but I just don't like going downtown because it brings back painful memories of temping at Merrill Lynch conference services in the World Financial Center when I first moved to the city. In the less than a month I worked there, after cleaning up after snotty interns who didn't realize they were physically capable of taking water bottles and napkins with them rather than leaving them on conference room floors, I really started to dislike the financial industry. I was hating bankers before it was cool. Beth and I wandered Zucotti Park and chanted a couple of times; however, we didn't stay too long because we came during lunch time and we were evidently getting in the way of the sandwiches being passed out.

See that hair in the foreground? That's me. Occupying.

New experience #2: New York Ghost Tour

Beth got us tickets to a ghost tour of the West Village. I was initially skeptical of some of the stories our inimitable tour guide told, but in the end, I do feel like I learned some things. For example, I now know where Anderson Cooper lives. Also, that the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory is now an NYU building and that Washington Square Park was once a public burial ground. Naturally, now the ghosts of female workers and colonial epidemic victims haunt the Village. Except Anderson Cooper who quietly refurbishes old firehouses.

Our tour guide. He kept referring to some unnamed "friend" who was "highly sensitive to paranormal activity." When he would take his friend to the spots on the tour, what she felt mysteriously corroborated every one of his stories. Spooky.

New Experience #3: Tenement Museum

I tried to go to the Tenement Museum once before, but all of the tours were sold out. The only way to go to the museum is to do one of the tours where they take you into a tenement building and tell the story of one of the immigrant family's that lived there. Or at least that's what they did on the tour we went on. They also did a great job of setting the scene and describing how people would heave excrement from chamber pots down onto the streets and sidewalks. It really makes you appreciate living in the relatively hygienic, post-germ-theory world of today. We couldn't take pictures in there, but I can tell you, it was pretty small. Sort of like apartments in the Lower East Side today actually. Fairly unrelated to immigrant history in America, but very related to the Tenement Museum by virtue of being a couple of blocks away: we got donuts here. And they were heavenly.

New experience #4: That one Indian restaurant on 1st ave.

I never went in it because it looked like a Christmas tree on acid. Turns out eating there is sort of like sticking your head into a Christmas tree. And also (I assume) being on acid. Here's a shot of the exterior.

And here we are on the interior:

It is hard to tell in this picture, but suffice is to say, a person could not stand upright while in this restaurant. That said, the food wasn't bad. Also, it was apparently a popular birthday restaurant. To celebrate each occasion, the waiters would turn off all the lights and run around in the dark.

New experience #5: The Book of Mormon lottery

I was not as lucky as my friend in town this summer who ended up winning tickets, but I was surprised at the ease of the process. I am determined to win front row center tickets for $32 a piece. And I will go every Saturday and Sunday morning until this occurs.

In addition to all of these exciting, new experiences we all did some old favorites: the Met, a walk through Central Park on a lovely fall day, brunching, shopping, and stops at numerous chocolate purveyors. Thanks for visiting, Beth! I'm happy you're one yellow coat richer for the experience.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The many exciting uses of apples

I promised an apple recipe post, and I always follow through on my relatively easy promises. I wanted to be revolutionary and offer you a selection of unique apple recipes like the creative and intrepid food blogger I sometimes aspire to be. I had high hopes. But then everything I could think to add to mix things up a little just seemed like it would detract from the simple, delicious flavor of apples. So instead, this post will be less of an informative, edgy look at the newest in apple recipes, but rather a softer, less thought-provoking answer to the question: what would I do if I had a large quantity of apples at my disposal? The first three things you think of are likely the first three things I thought of, and therefore, the things that I made. I did try a couple of dinner dishes that involved apples which I'm including here, but I'm sorry to say that neither of them really tasted like apples. Oh well, at least I've gotten through all my apples this week with no spoiling! The only downside is that there is an impromptu apple pie bake-off at my office on Monday, and I no longer have the goods to compete.
Apple recipe 1: Apple sauce

Seeing the big bag of apples, my first thought was to conden
se as many as possible. The quickest way to do that was to make apple sauce. I have a crock pot, so it was easy enough to do even while away at brunch and discovering the magic of $9.90 jeans at the new Uniqlo Flagship Store. I didn't use a recipe but
here is the approximate measurements of what I did.

Crock Pot Apple Sauce

7 apples cored and peeled (I'm not sure what kind as they all go thrown in the same bag, but it was some combination of Macoun, Macintosh, Jonamac,
Empire, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious).
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1 T brown sugar
1/2 water

Stir all ingredients in crock pot and then cook on high for 6 hours on low. At this point apples should be easy to mash with a fork or potato masher un
til substance resembles apple sauce. I took a picture of this final product but frankly apple sauce is not a particularly photogenic food. It was hard to tell rather I had cooked the apples or they had been regurgitated by a pelican. Nevertheless, i
t tasted delicious.

Apple recipe 2: Turkey Meatballs

This is one of those apple dinner recipes I mentioned above. While it didn't get me through a large quantity of apples, I did manage to find a recipe that involved one. You couldn't really taste it, but it still counts. More importantly it allowed me to use my crock pot a second time in the same week. I won't post this recipe because I followed it almost exactly from here. My only change was to use chopped fresh onions instead of onion powder, simply because that's what I had on hand. Sadly, this was not the first time I attempted this recipe. Last week, I bought all the ingredients and got up early to make these. It was a Tuesday, when I have tin whistle classes and don't necessarily want to come home and mak
e dinner right away. Sadly, I forgot the most important step to coming home to a delicious meatball dinner: turning the crock pot on. Thus making these meatballs with a freshly picked apple was something of a redemption. They turned out okay, but a little dry. I promise I took a picture, but it's nowhere to be found right now. You'll just have to trust me; they looked like meatballs.
UPDATE: I came back to this post and realized it isn't very good. The least I can do is dig up a picture!

Apple recipe 3: Butternut Squash Apple Soup

This recipe was the inspiration of receiving a butternut squash in my farm share. It turns out adding a couple of apples transforms a traditional creamy butternut squash soup into a delicious fall medley. I didn't take a picture of this one because I realized that most apple dishes really aren't that showy. Or maybe it's that most soups that I make (because I care more for immediacy than for garnish) aren't that showy. Suffice is to say, I passed up the opportunity to make a nice showy apple tart, and that is probably the reason my food blogger aspirations will never be realized. That and the fact that even when I take photos, I can't seem to upload them.

At any rate, here is the soup recipe, I used and highly recommend. It's autumn in a bowl.

Apple recipe 4: apple crisp.

There isn't much to say about apple crisp. I'll be honest and say I haven't even tried this one yet, and moreover, I didn't even make it. That said, it is an apple classic, and I'm convinced is a slightly healthier alternative to straight up apple pie, assuming you don't serve it with ice cream. Here is the one that was used (with no assistance from me whatsoever!). I have no doubt that it is delicious.

That about does it for my apple-ful week. I have two remaining that I will likely just eat in slices with peanut butter per my usual treatment. I hope you have found this, unfortunately visually lacking, post an inspiration. If you come up with some totally original apple recipe that involves wild, previously unconsidered combinations like apples and chile powder, feel free to share in the comments section.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The apple that doesn't fall from the tree

This weekend, I did the very fall activity that I did this time last year (or rather one week earlier, this time last year). As you can see here, I am nothing if not predictable in my autumn outings. I traveled with many of the same friends, and then went to the exact orchard we went to last year (mostly because we didn't want to do any research). However, apparently going one week later into the end of apple season makes quite a difference. Last year, I remember us basking in the sun by the farmer's market pumpkin patch eating our donuts. This year, it was windy and cold, and we opted for hot cider to go with our donuts because apple cider donuts are lovely and some things are not dependent on the weather.

More importantly as regards apple picking, this year when we got there, they informed us they were out of apples. They claimed this wasn't just because it was late in the season but because the apple crop had been short this season due to storms (I'm looking at you, Hurricane Irene--months later and still ruining my outings). Interestingly, this information did not make it to their website which my friend had specifically checked when she heard rumors of apple shortages.

The thing is, they weren't fully out of apples, they just weren't on the trees any more. They'd taken the last of the crop and put it in big baskets for you to pick from. At first we weren't sure how this was different from choosing apples from the basket at the grocery store, but at least we were amongst the apple trees and a beautiful hour drive into the Hudson Valley. Fall foliage was starting to turn and the air was crisp. Also, as we walked the orchard, my friend Kim quickly discovered that there were in fact a few apples left on the tree waiting for the few and the bold who were willing to climb for them.

Kim climbs to great heights and acquires a single Macintosh for her efforts. Normally, Macs aren't my favorite, but these were crisp, tart, and perfect.

Kim assails yet another tree with apple in her mouth, simultaneously breaking the only two posted rules for the orchard: 1) No climbing the trees, and 2) No eating the apples. The rest of us watch awestruck from the ground.

Those of us with poor climbing foot wear and short limbs as well as those who were recovering from a cold, chose our apples from the bin as instructed. They didn't taste quite as sweet as the hard-won tree apples though.

The orchard also had a pumpkin patch. Those of us attending our Halloween party in a couple of weeks should look out for these bad boys done up Martha Stewart style.

Apples or no apples, it's just nice to get out of the city on a cool fall day.

I now have a mess of apples and am trying to figure out what to do with all of them that is a bit more health conscious than my usual fatty, sugar-filled apple pie or crisp (not that I won't do that too!). Look forward to an apple recipe post soon!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The most temperate spring I ever spent was an autumn in San Fransisco

So it's apparently nearly halfway through October (not that you would know it based on the 75 degree weather here!), and I've only posted once. I would like to blame the Jimmy Wales epic I am currently slogging through, but in reality it is because I was totally ignoring that responsibility and vacationing in sunny California, specifically in sometimes-foggy-but-mostly-sunny-this-weekend San Fransisco. My sister has lived in the city for a number of years, and it's always fun to visit her there. San Fransisco is one of my favorite cities, and when there it's hard not to make comparisons to New York because the two are so vastly different. New York wins on size and on the "number of buildings over 10 stories" and "quality of bagel places" fronts, but I'm sorry to say San Fransisco wins in terms of "number of places that don't smell like urine" and "proximity to wineries that aren't on Long Island."

The last time I was in town, my sister was sadly ill, so I did a bit of exploring on my own. This time, she had a much more functional illness, and was able to squire me around town and show me where the good ice cream places are. My boyfriend was also able to accompany me, so you will note the overall quality and quantity of photos are far greater than on trips where I go alone. In light of that, in the tradition of all previous travel posts, this will mostly be a photo dump. Enjoy!

The day we arrived, my sister had to work, so my boyfriend and I touristed out. We went to Fishermen's Wharf and Pier 39. I was happy to see Lefty's, the store catering in merchandise for left-handed people (their motto: "Where the customer is not always right!") was still in business. It's tough for those of us trying to get by in a right handed world. I remember buying a left handed calligraphy pen there once when I was a kid. As it turns out, having a tool not specifically geared to my hand preference was not the thing keeping me from mastering the fine art of calligraphy. Anyway, for posterity, I had to pose in front of it. This random (probably right handed) woman decided to join in too.

I went out to Alcatraz to do the tour when I visited San Fransisco for the first time as a kid. As an adult, I'm too cheap to pay for the tour and just admire the island from afar, in very much the opposite way that the prison's former residents would have. I'm not sure that sentence made much sense, but I'm leaving it anyway.

Sea lions with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. It gets no more touristy than this.

We saw this while walking around aimlessly (although in the general direction of my sister's neighborhood). A fine statue on a fine day.

I'm ashamed to say that I watched most episodes of Full House as a young adult, and, for reasons best left unexplained, the theme song is currently my cell phone's ring tone. That said, I did not recognize this iconic image until after my boyfriend had photographed it and explained its significance. Actually, perhaps he should be more ashamed of this story than I should.

Did I say it got no more touristy (See: 3 photos up "sea lions" for reference)? I stand corrected. Also, we almost got locked out of our car share here, but it was totally worth it.

My sister works for Save the Redwoods League and gets a couple of extra days off a year for bringing people to the Redwoods. Thus at Muir Woods, we basked in the sunshine and glory of the trees. As seen here.

This might seem like merely a foggy image of San Fransisco from across the bay, but is actually an attempt to capture the Blue Angels, who were doing their air show the week we were there. That random black dot is not in fact a piece of dust. It is an airplane. Possibly five airplanes in perfect formation, although I'll admit it's hard to tell for sure.

We had lunch in Sausalito across the bay. It is home to a very delicious crab melt and a very delicious-looking seafood platter.

We went wine tasting in Sonoma (and a little bit in Napa) one day. I purchased a bottle of wine that I didn't get a chance to drink thanks to the TSA's strict guidelines about liquids on planes. I trust that it will be in good hands with my sister though. On another note, I feel this wine tasting outing more than makes up for the one I missed because of Hurricane Irene. Based on all the California wines I've had in my life and the handful of Long Island wines I've had in my life, the scales tip ever-so-slightly in favor of California.

On our last day in town, we explored more of San Fransisco. We did some vintage shopping and checked out the murals in the Mission. The Mission is the seeming equivalent of Williamsburg in New York whose cup runneth over with mustached hipsters. Incidentally, while on comparisons many neighborhoods seem to have New York equivalents: the Castro would be Chelsea, Haight Street would be the East Village, and Nob Hill would be the Upper East Side. However, in my limited explorations, and thematically for the sake of this blog, there seems to be no direct equivalent to Astoria.

My favorite of the murals in the Mission. Well, I guess we only saw one alley's worth, so I can't really make this sweeping declaration. It is an enjoyable mural though, and admirably photographed!

I was glad to get away for a few days to gallivant around a different city over-eating. It certainly makes for a refreshing change. Thanks very much to my sister and her roommates for housing us!

Monday, October 3, 2011

The blissful marriage of fat, sugar, and salt

A week or so ago, during one of my senseless dessert blog crawls, I came across this beguiling creation. For those of you who are link shy and don't want to be deprived of Astorian Dream commentary for even a moment, I can summarize it for you: it's the most delicious looking dessert creation and also a really well presented blog. So enraptured am I by what is so far the only post I have seen on it, that I became the 747th follower of the blog (an honor I usually only bestow on people who require you to follow them to enter some contest for a free silicon muffin pan or something or, you know, people I actually know). Let me break it down further for you. This dessert is inspired by the pretzel m&m, a treat that despite my predilection for all things sweet and salty, I have never tried. I chalk that up to the fact I almost never buy candy and because I found the ad campaign somewhat unsettling. I'm all about anthropomorphizing food, but does it have to be so surgical?

At any rate, I digress. Let's revenons à nos moutons. Or rather revenons à nos sugar cravings. To break this down, does this dessert have a layer of chocolate mousse decorated with pretzel m&ms? It does. Does it also have a rich cheesecake layer at its core? Again, yes. Finally, is the creation stabilized by a delicious pretzel-based crust? It couldn't be any other way. For all of the above reasons, I knew I had to make this. However, I am not such a glutton that I would consider making it without an occasion, knowing that I would be forced to consume at least half of it myself. So quickly, I began searching for an occasion. Granted, I could always just invite people over to my apartment, but then they would probably expect food other than just cheesecake. As luck would have it, a good friend had just moved to a new place and another friend a couple of blocks away had just re-decorated her apartment. The two decided to have a dinner party potluck to show off their new digs. Game on.

I'm not going to post the recipe, because honestly I didn't change anything, so you should probably just check out the link above. Actually, the one change I did make was to sub regular m&ms for the pretzel ones. I hope this doesn't defeat the purpose of the whole thing, but they just weren't available at my grocery store, so I guess I still need to try them. All of the other layers were completed to the best of my ability following the original recipe though.

The finished product. It's not a great photo, because at this point in the evening we were more concerned with cutting into it. I suppose blog presentation is perhaps one of the reasons that blogger has almost 750 followers, and I have just under 20 (not that I don't appreciate every last one of you--I remember when I was still in single digits!)

I hardly need to go into taste on this one. It's a cheesecake with a pretzel crust and a chocolate mousse layer, taste was never the concern. Making prudent health choices is really the only limiting factor on this one.