Monday, December 31, 2012

The dress

I'm just back from a week in Texas celebrating the holidays with some of my favorite people. Now I'm back and ready to ring in the new year in New York (the NYE hotspot for those who like cold weather, big crowds, and super expensive covers at all bars--which, it turns out, is a lot of people). As today is the last day of the year, it also means the official end of my self-sanctioned wedding planning reprieve. You know, because I'll be so much more ready to tackle everything in 2013 as it's coincidentally also the year I plan to get organized, learn to invest, and write the dramatic second and thirds acts (well and the latter part of the first) of a screenplay. Now that I've had a few months off, I'm pretty pumped about figuring out the logistics (although, again, I promise to not make this into a wedding planning blog, because I now know that's really a thing). One of the things I was hopeful to check off my list early was the wedding dress. I found something perfect (although somewhat different from what I'd originally envisioned) that I'm really excited about. But this post is not about that dress.

While I was visiting my family in Arlington, my mom's cousin came over and we started talking about wedding dresses. She mentioned her own wedding dress as being ideal for a summer farm wedding. It was the same dress that I'd been reminded of a few weeks earlier when visiting my uncle in DC. My mom's cousin was not the first wearer of the dress. It graced its first wedding in 1908 when it was worn by my great grandmother. It was then worn by my grandmother when she got married. (She and my grandfather have been married now over 70 years.) Two of her daughters, including my mom, have worn the dress at their weddings. And then in addition to my mom's cousin wearing it at hers in (I believe) the early 80s, it has, over the years been worn by bride characters in two different plays. I know most of this because another aunt, who did not wear the dress, recorded the whole history and distributed it to the family. Definitely a worthwhile undertaking, but considering how long it took my mom and I to find that history, I thought it might be worth recording the story here as well.

Anyway, during the conversation, it became apparent that the dress itself was actually present in my aunt's home, carefully store in an archival box. My mom's cousin insisted I try it on as a possibility. The handmade lace was a bit torn in places, and I could tell before I put it on that it had probably seen its last wedding. But it was beautiful and, considering it came from 1908, it was remarkably well-preserved. It involved a couple of layers and a petticoat, and one of the layers had a turtleneck that felt a little like it was choking me. Nevertheless, I'm glad I got the chance to try it on and join the many admirable, and evidently slender-necked, women who have worn it before me.

Here is my somewhat poorly scanned copy of the photo of my grandmother wearing the dress. The inset is a picture of her mother wearing it. 

My mom wearing the dress.

And here's me, as of last week, with my grandmother. As you can see the sleeves were shortened at some point, and the sash was an addition of my mom's cousin.
While it won't be worn in my wedding, it's a beautiful heirloom. I have a sneaking suspicion my own dress won't have quite that staying power. At any rate, I want to wish all my readers a Happy New Year! May 2013 bring great things and one more unproduced screenplay in the world!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Crock pot pie

The other day I was looking for comfort food. I hadn't seen the sun in a few days, and while it hasn't been that cold here, it has been seriously dismal. I don't suffer from seasonal affective disorder, but a person can only take so much before they start self-medicating with casserole. I found a recipe for a pulled pork and apple pot pie with rosemary biscuit topping. Sold! The only downside was it involved cooking a 3 lb pork shoulder in a Dutch oven for multiple hours. Not labor intensive, but also not conducive to having fun Saturday plans. Since I wanted to go meet a friend for brunch and then do some Christmas shopping, I decided to adapt the recipe for the slow cooker. 

I didn't take any pictures of the finished product, but enjoy this photo of Dolly Parton and Keith Haring hanging out together, which is almost as awesome. 
Verdict: extreme success. It was delicious, comforting, and incredibly easy. Also, when I came home my apartment smelled amazing, which is always a plus. Here is the recipe for those hoping to create delicious, comforting pulled pork pot pies in your own kitchens!

1 T olive oil
1 yellow onion
3 lbs pork shoulder
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 tsp thyme
4 tsp rosemary
2 granny smith apples
2 1/2 c flour
8 T butter
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 c grated cheddar 
1 c buttermilk

Rub the pork shoulder all over with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan on medium high heat. Brown the pork shoulder on each side. Transfer pork to the crock pot. 

Dice the onion and saute in the pan until soft. Add the thyme and 2 tsp of the rosemary and stir until fragrant. Remove from heat and throw the onion mixture in the crock pot. Add the chicken broth. Turn the crock pot on low and cook 7-8 hours. Then go about your business for the next 7-8 hours!

Remove the pork and shred with two forks. Return to the pot. Peel, core, and cut the apples into 1-inch pieces. Toss in the crock pot. Leave to cook a little more while you make the biscuit topping.

Preheat the oven to 350. Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, 3/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper in a bowl. Cut in the chilled butter and mix until the mixture resembles a course meal. Add in the cheese and the rest of the rosemary and stir to combine. Finally, add in the buttermilk. 

Put the pork and apple mixture in a casserole dish. Drop the biscuit mixture over the top and spread to cover the whole surface. Cook the pot pie in the oven for 20 minutes until the biscuit topping is mixed through. Prepare for amazingness! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Muted holiday cheer

I had a reasonably cheerful weekend of Hanukkah parties, cookie decorating, and Christmas window perusal.  I was going to post about making merry with my usual irreverence (essentially the only writing style I know), but I feel a little weird about it now. In addition to the events of Friday (it was especially tragic Saturday night to see candles lit in the park by my apartment not for the last night of Hanukkah, but for candlelight vigils), a number of close friends have also experienced personal losses in their lives.  My thoughts, flowers, and (in one case) a lasagna are with them right now. I will still post some photos of this weekend, especially since I visited the finished gingerbread block and I know some were waiting for evidence, but without my usual picture-accompanying banter.

Don't worry, Astorian Dream will be back to the usual self-satisfied witticisms later in the week.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dancers dancing

A few months back I posted about a dance show I went to at BAM in Brookyn. I mostly ruminated on how much I enjoy dance and yet never attend shows. Also, that it's one of those things, like fishing or fine whiskies, that I'm not really qualified to write about (in much the way, that I am now qualified to write about the following things: apple butter canning; slow, methodical tin whistle playing; photographing cats, specifically my own). However, I attended yet another dance performance last night, bringing the total, and likely final, count for dance performances attended in 2012 to two. A group of friends wanted to go to to an Alvin Ailey show, which is something that I'd always wanted to check out. Mostly because the woman in all the subway advertising looks superhumanly strong/attractive.

She was in the show we saw, which was pretty exciting. I wonder how she feels to be featured to prominently in posters all over the city.
Still, while curious, I didn't have any real expectations for the show. And suffice is to say, it was pretty incredible. The movements these people are capable of makes me wonder how we are the same species. The incredible strength it takes to perform the movements coupled with the grace it takes to hide that strength and make each movement appear effortless is just incredible. Here is an ad for one of the three pieces we saw. However, my favorite was actually one not choreographed by Alvin Ailey at all, but rather by an Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin. I couldn't find a video of it done at Alvin Ailey in the past, but I did find a version from a theater in the Netherlands. Seeing that excerpt made me realize that the part where they brought audience members up on stage and made them dance with the performers was actually part of the same piece. I was not chosen, which is not surprising considering it was a rather large audience of people and also that I aggressively avoided eye contact when the dancers came into the audience.

So don't worry, this won't become a dance review blog now, as I don't intend to devote my life to it just yet (although it did kind of make me want to take the free dance class offered there with your ticket least until my friend mentioned the teachers are kind of bitchy/exacting). It is however always nice to take advantage of some of the many things that New York has to offer outside of the same old things I always take advantage of (mostly food). Now to see what dance performances are available in Astoria...

Friday, December 7, 2012

The sweetest block in all Brooklyn

Last night, I participated in the great Gingerbread Block Project of 2012. In case you didn't realize that was a thing until you saw those words capitalized together, rest assured that it is. A Brooklyn pastry chef, Renee, who runs this blog built a brownstone out of gingerbread last year. Not satisfied with the labor intensiveness of that project, she decided this year to create a whole block of brownstones. When she advertised for volunteers, I immediately signed up to participate. I was really interested to see behind the scenes of such an undertaking, to learn a few tips, and to participate in whatever small way.

I didn't get any photos of our progress (or I did, but it was on my phone and is barely recognizable), but here's a shot of her single brownstone of last year. 
I took the Thursday night shift because it was the only night I had free, but I was also glad to be fairly late in the process (the block will be finished for display on Sunday) because it was fun to be a part of some of the later stage detail work. I participated in putting window frames made out of dead dough (a basic dough recipe used for's the consistency of pasta dough). They were attached with royal icing and sometimes with a corn starch based glue. Renee explained that for the project everything had to be edible, but generally speaking none of it would be especially tasty. (Case in point, the building dough for the structure had ginger and molasses in it, so it smelled tantalizing and gingerbready, but the high flour content needed to give it a stiff enough structure makes it less appetizing that your typical cookie). After the window frames dried, I also helped paint them using a mixture of food coloring diluted with water. I also made a few custom window and door frames out of dead dough.

It was a lot of fun to participate, but it was also just amazing to see the level of organization and time that goes into such a project. Also, nice: I finally learned how to make a cornet. Perhaps I'll dispense with using ziplocs as pastry bags now! Renee had clearly been putting a lot of thought into this and getting ideas during jaunts through Park Slope. She even had truly ingenious ideas for how to make a little fruit stand out of different herbs (red peppercorns could so easily be apples!) and little dough window air conditioning grates. It's these little details that make projects like this so cool.

The brownstone block is being unveiled on Sunday at 61 Local in Boerum Hill. It will also be on display through December 21st, so if you're in the Brooklyn area, you should come by and see it! After that, the brownstones are being individually auctioned off to raise money for Citi Harvest. Make sure to take note of the meticulously applied and painted window treatments while there.

Monday, December 3, 2012

DC in December

Uh, so apparently it's December now? I'm not really sure how we got here, but I don't really remember October happening. Perhaps it's because Halloween was canceled. At any rate, I'm ready to usher in the season of wreathes, cookies, open bar holiday parties, and good cheer. Thanks to the Internet and the fact that my family doesn't really do that many gifts, my Christmas shopping is effectively almost done. Now is the time to sit back, put the Chieftains "Bells of Dublin" on repeat and try to start the screenplay I'm supposed to have completed the first act of by now (I blame the last of October for why I'm not further along).

I spent the triumphant end of November and start to December in our nation's capital (with 'our' here meaning any of my readers who live in the United States). I went down for the weekend to visit my aunt and uncle who live just outside the DC metro area. It was all too short a visit, but lovely to see them and catch up. And overall it was a very relaxing weekend, or at least as relaxing as any weekend that involves 8 hours on a bus can be. Here are a couple of photos of the weekend (taken by and selected for this blog by my usual photographer).

Two very cute cats enjoying their privileges. 

Mount Vernon as viewed through some sort of glass surface?  If instragram has taught us anything it's that slight opacity does equal artisticness. 

This is Gobbler, one of the two Thanksgiving turkeys officially pardoned by President Obama. He seemed pretty ornery despite this treasured status. These turkeys were not the only animals at Mount Vernon. We were also treated to Aladdin the Christmas Camel. Fun fact, apparently Washington was a fan of exotic animals during the holiday season. His camel's modern day counterpart did not seem especially happy to be wintering in the DC area. 

Mount Vernon as viewed through myself and my aunt and uncle. I'm not sure why I look so in pain here, but rest assured by trip to Washington's home was quite pleasant. 

This tulip poplar was planted by GW himself in 1785!

To get the true creepiness of this concave image of Washington, you need to know that in real life it's a good 10 feet tall.

This takes me back to when I was in town for the inauguration almost 4 years ago. It was sort of like this only I was another quarter mile back and there were a few million people (and one super tall guy) in front of me.

All in all, it was a lovely weekend, and we were very appreciative of our gracious hosts. Now I'm back in town and ready to really do December up right. Happy holiday season kick-off readers!