Monday, July 29, 2013

A hot air ballon festival, but really more just a festival

This weekend we headed out to New Jersey for a hot air balloon festival. There were plenty of free samples to be had, a truck selling only bacon in various forms, and a lady being shot out of a cannon--the usual festival finery. The one thing there weren't a lot of were hot air balloons. It was a bit too windy for the planned lift off of 125 balloons majestically floating over the fields of New Jersey. But in the end we at least got to find out what bacon candy tastes like, so it was surely worth the trip. Some photos of the festival:
The cannon lady at moment of ejection
The cannon lady at her highest point. Behind her net, you can see a tethered hot air balloon taking people up for short rides. It was only $20, but if I'm going to pay to be on a hot air balloon, I want to go more than 50 feet off the ground. 
Although it wasn't safe for lift off, some of the pilots inflated a few balloons so we could appreciate them grounded. Here's Humpty Dumpty, looking particularly concerned by the weather.

Alas, Elvis too was denied flight.

Me with a slowly deflating elephant behind me. 

I guess that's really all I have to say about this particular bit of weekend. Overall, it cemented by interest in one day going hot air ballooning while validating my disinterest in ever allowing myself to be shot out of a human cannon. Apparently it gets to be 110 degrees inside the cannon on a summer day like Saturday! Jennifer the Cannon Lady is welcome to that business. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Wedding photos!

Oddly, the wedding seems like a very long time ago already. Given the recent heat wave, it's hard to believe there was a time when I was cold and desperately searching for a cover up for my strapless dress. At any rate, no matter how far we get from that day, we can always remember how nice we clean up and how cute we all look when not shellacked in a layer of sweat because behold: there are wedding pictures!

I put a bunch (though not all 850 because it seemed a little intense) here for those who are interested. The photographer is Toni Skotcher, for those looking for a wonderful wedding photographer or those just wondering who not to copyright infringe by selling these on the underground wedding photography market. As a note, she provided the party photos in both black and white and color, and I chose which version I liked along with my whim. If you like one of those photos and want to see it in its other version, just let me know.

While that album includes the bulk of the photos, for those who prefer the Cliffs Notes version, I wanted to share a few of my favorite images from that beautiful day. At the very least, that should make this blog post seem longer.
Look how cute and not at all sweaty we appear.

I like this one because it seems like a more natural pose for us.

This one's in our living room because it's Sam's favorite. 

You'd never guess it rained the four days prior!

A lovely photo of three of my favorite people.

Walking admirably (if I do say so) on the grass in heels.

You can't really see them here, but beyond us there are horses.  So if you're into horses, just know they're back there. 

Supposedly the alpacas were known to spit, but luckily this one restrained him(her?)self.

This one's on my dresser. 

Early colonization of the dance floor.
Eatin' cake. My awesome handy and crafty friends made both the cake toppers and the escort card holder in the background.
 Hope you enjoy these and check out the others when you get the chance! It's not every day I curl my eyelashes, so I probably won't look this good again for a while.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Feeling fitter

This weekend I participated in a competition at my gym. I'm not a very competitive person, and I actually only signed up for this because it was a fundraiser to help send our team to the Crossfit Games in California (Note: they're there now and ready to make Western Queens proud!). Anyway, I put in my $15 and wasn't super concerned about actually having to participate in the competition because there was a four week qualifier and only the top 20 men and women from the gym would move on. What I failed to take into account is that those four weeks occurred in the middle of the summer when most people (except for those of who had just blown through all their summer travel plans on going to Thailand) tend to travel, so not everyone completed all four weeks.

Thus, I wasn't terribly surprised when attending the Dynamix Class Wars became part of my Saturday; however, the other thing I hadn't considered was that it would be nearly 100 degrees out at the time (for reference: Crossfit Dynamix is in no way air-conditioned). I figured I would only have to do the first workout because only the top ten people advanced to the second workout, but somehow the spirit of competition came alive and I ended up placing 7th and moving forward. (I think part of that was less the competitive edge and more "if I get through this faster I won't have to do it anymore" because the workout in question involved 36 deadlifts (at 135 pounds), 72 pushups, and running the better part of a mile in the aforementioned crazy heat).

Anyway, I didn't do nearly as well in the second workout and the proper order of things was restored, but I'm still pretty proud of my performance. I try not to talk about Crossfit on this blog or on Facebook (except in a Facebook group with just my Crossfit friends) because I don't want to be one of those Crossfitters, but over the last year it has become something I truly enjoy. It was also fun to do this competition because Sam came along and got to see what it is I do every day during the hour or so before he's awake. Also, he was around to take some pictures of me:

This is me hitting a personal best: a 100 lb clean.

This is me not hitting a personal best as I failed to do more than 5 handstand pushups. I blame it on the work earlier in the day though because we did handstand pushups in class today, and my performance was much less embarrassing.
After the competition, and a much-needed shower, we celebrated over at the brewery around the block from the gym. (Yes, Astoria has nice things like craft microbreweries now; hang on to your rent stabilized apartments people because we're pretty much Brooklyn). All in all an lovely Saturday.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Disclaimer: this post is basically a Vitamix infomercial

So a month or so ago I got married which has led to many cherished life moments, not least of which have come from one of our wedding presents: the Vitamix blender. Despite being an avid reader of food blogs, I wasn't aware that this professional series of blenders existed until my sister got one for Christmas. Pouring over all the possibilities, it seemed like a worthwhile addition to my already very appliance stocked kitchen, so I added it to the registry and was incredibly grateful when someone gifted us one. 

Sadly it doesn't quite fit on our counter with the lid on (this thing is huge--note in the photos how it dwarfs our coffee maker), but I use it regularly enough so we've just taken to laying the lid alongside it where our old, lesser blender used to dwell. I was a little intimidated when first starting out, so I started small: with soups and smoothies. Below is my first creation in our new blender: 

The inaugural blend! I can't remember what all went in there, but I think this thing took down an apple and, judging by the color, some spinach.
Since then I've made any number of smoothies and daiquiris (how else to get rid of the handle of rum leftover from the wedding?). I've learned this thing can blend pretty much any fruit and vegetable with minimal chopping, including but not limited to: whole limes, lemons, and oranges (peeled or unpeeled), whole apples (well , cored), carrots, broccoli, celery, and any amount of greens or ice. I've also learned that just because you can now blend all the produce in your fridge together, doesn't mean they will necessarily taste good together. For the record, the smoothie above actually did taste quite good, but I'll be the first to admit it's kind of sick looking.
Carrot fennel soup. Smooth and creamy unlike soups created with my cheap and useless immersion blender.
I think the Vitamix will be incredibly helpful come proper soup season, but I'm enjoying souping some of our farm share vegetables. I've decided basically any vegetable we get too much of can be either souped or smoothied. We've been getting a lot of squash lately, so consequently we've been eating a lot of squash soup. The soup above was made with a fennel bulb (the fronds are seen as garnish) which is something else I never know what to do with from the farm share.

Smoothies and soups are child's play for the Vitamix, however, and before posting this I wanted to try something a little more ambitious. After my attempt to make tahini was a fail (although I think that was more to do with the fact that my sesame seeds were at least 2 years sesame seeds go bad?), I set my sights a little higher: a raw cheesecake. Now I've attempted to make vegan desserts in the past (in fact, I think I even blogged about it a couple of years ago, but I'm too lazy to find the post). The results were always disappointing, not to mention expensive. I never could understand how the rest of the Internet could whip soaked nuts into a creamy cheese-like substance, and all mine turned into was a blended concoction with little chunks of nuts. Now that I own a Vitamix, I note that the secret to their raw food sorcery was right under my nose the whole time. On one of the recipes, under "equipment required" it just says "blender" but there's a picture of a Vitamix. I'm beginning to see that in raw food circles, Vitamixes aren't just a blender, they are the only blender.

I consulted a number of different recipes, all equally simple and requiring equally pricey ingredients, and in the end made my own based somewhat on what I had around. Here was my process:

3/4 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup almonds
3 cups soaked cashews (I soaked mine for 2 hours)
3/4 cup honey
3/4 coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 limes, juiced (lemons would probably be better, but I had limes on hand)

First, I blended the dates and almonds together. I actually used my food processor for this step (sorry, Vitamix!), but I think the blender would work fine too. A few recipes I read suggested adding some shredded coconut or sprinkling it on the bottom of the pan to keep the crust from sticking. All I could find at the store was artificially sweetened coconut, and I wasn't spending all this energy on making a raw, vegan, refined-sugar free dessert to go that route. Instead I just spritzed some coconut oil on the bottom of the pan before smushing the date/almond mixture onto it and it seemed to work just fine. Also, I used a 9'' springform pan because that's what I have, but I think this recipe would work better for an 8'' one, as you will note how thin my resulting cheesecake is.

After smushing the crust together, I put all the rest of the ingredients in the Vitamix like so:

Doesn't quite look like cheesecake yet. Note: the white wine is not an ingredient, but is nevertheless an important part of the experimental baking (or rather, not baking) process. 
It took a bit of blending and made a noise concerning enough that both Sam and I questioned if the other person had sent off our Vitamix warranty form, but in the end we ended up with a creamy and delicious tasting mixture. After pouring it onto the crust and refrigerating for a while (and, oh yeah, adding some raspberries to the top for color), that resulted in this:
A humble and squat, but delicious raw "cheese"cake. 
He's like a little tasty alien. 
The results were a resounding success! Alas, this thing probably cost me about $15 in cashews, dates, and raw honey (not the mention the raspberries which are seriously like pink gold around here), so I probably won't be making another one any time soon. It's nice to know that I have the option though, as through the Vitamix all things are possible. I know at least one of my readers has her own Vitamix--any tips and tricks you'd recommend?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Beating the Bastille Day heat

I wanted to celebrate Bastille Day with a nice French meal, but my goal was also to avoid turning my oven on. Which is a shame because I got a nice Creuset French oven for a wedding present, and I'd love to crack that bad boy open, but we have all of fall for that. After looking through a few recipes, I found a slow cooker coq au vin that looked delicious and decided on a chocolate mousse for dessert. Minimal stove time required, but ultimately very little heated added to the already unnecessarily high heat index of my kitchen. Another advantage of the slow cooker is that once I'd put my chicken in there to braise in delicious wine for hours on end, it freed me up to leave my apartment and experience the wonders of Bastille Day in 90 degree heat elsewhere.
The ingredients for a proper coq au vin, including our trusty slow cooker. 
Chicken thighs in their wine bath ready to braise away the summer afternoon. 
Our first stop was the Bastille Day bash put on by the Alliance Francaise on 60th St. It was free, well unless you wanted to do the tastings, then it was $20. Since the bulk of the tasting lunch was coq au vin, and we had that cooking at home, we opted to just purchase pastries. Which is not to say the Alliance Francaise didn't get some money out of us, as I was easily talked into a couple of raffle tickets. Alas, we didn't not win the Grand Prize trip for two bicycling around Provence, but there's always next year. We probably would have hung out longer and listened to accordion music if it wasn't so hot. We also had plans at one of the least French things possible: a baseball game. Actually, I guess American football would be less French.

Bastille Day in all it's bleu, blanc, rouge finery!

Dominique Ansel, the creator of the cronut. Don't intend on trying a cronut, but we did try the other pastries in this tower and they were awfully tasty.
Sam had gotten tickets from his company for the All Stars Game, but apparently before you get to the celebrity game you have to sit through the "future all stars" game. Although it's not like it really made much difference to us, as really any baseball game pretty much looks the same. We mostly wanted to go to see CitiField and get some hot dogs (crazy expensive) and beer (even more expensive!). Once those things were checked off the list, it was pretty much just sweating in the sun and watching people get out. We left in the 5th inning when we finished our $5 bottle of water and realized we couldn't afford the cost of avoiding dehydration any longer.
On the way to the game we caught an exhibition 7 train. Not only did it run express, but all the cars were from a different era of NYC subway history. This one was from the last 1960s and had fans instead of A/C. It was pretty fun to walk back through history in all the cars, but it did make us appreciate that modern subway cars are climate controlled.

CitiField! Home to the $12 Bud Lite. 
Luckily, we came home to some delicious coq au vin and a reasonably cool apartment, so we finished our Bastille Day in relative (but not aristocratic) comfort. Looking back, I realize this post has mostly been about food at various locations.
The finished product. Ignore the bread. I didn't want to make my own because of the not wanting to turn on my oven thing and no bakeries are open in my neighborhood on Sunday night apparently. Grocery store loaf it is then!

Dessert. Vive la France!
Hope you all had lovely and cool Bastille Day as well!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Dancing fools

I don't consider myself a dancer. Although if I still tagged posts, I think I would find a number of them are about dancing, so if attending dancing events and learning the moves to Thriller and writing about it is an indication, well then perhaps I am a dancer. Just one that doesn't dance particularly well. I'm also married to a dancer of my caliber (ie one who is not strictly speaking skilled but is still willing to try). Anyone who attended our wedding can pretty much vouch for our not quite being Fred and Ginger, but    then we didn't spring for a videographer, so it's probably for the best.

Lindy hoppers
At any rate, awful or not, I still enjoy dancing, so we signed up for one of Lincoln Center's Midsummer Night Swings nights. Basically, for part of June and July every year, an open area by the Lincoln Center is turned into a large dance floor and live bands play every night. They begin the night with a dance lesson for a chosen dance in the style of music for that night's band. When we went last night the dance du jour was the Lindy Hop. The lesson was pretty simple and focused on some basic steps and tying them together into a short routine. While the end result we achieved probably couldn't be recognized as the Lindy Hop in a swing dance lineup, we definitely improved. I think the trouble with partnered dancing, or at least what makes it so difficult for me, is that you have to be in constant communication with the other person while making it look like you're just effortlessly on the same page. I tend to learn the steps and then just take off doing them, not realizing that I'm leading when I should be following.

That said, I really enjoy going to these things mostly because it's so fun to watch people who are very good at partnered dancing. It makes me want to aspire to be better. Watching all the older folks Lindy Hoping to live jazz, Sam and I even considered taking lessons. Ballroom dancing could perhaps be "our thing," and we could get really good at it and pull out our skills at summer swing nights, weddings, and jazz age lawn parties. That would require taking a lot of lessons though and likely a lot of time and money. I think in the end we're back-burnering dancing and focusing on things we're actually good at together: making greeting cards, trivia nights, and keeping our cat mostly alive. (Note: I say "mostly" only because it's very hot here, and Dinah has entered her reverse-hibernation suspended animation cat puddle state. She will return to fully-functional
feline around September).

Tonight, we're continuing our art patronage, by going to see the play Choir Boy. Or perhaps it's not true patronage as a friend gave me the tickets, but she got them from her boss, who I believe is an official patron. And so goes my understanding of trickle down theater tickets, but hopefully the show will be fun!

Friday, July 5, 2013

The birthplace of patriotism

I hope everyone had a lovely 4th of July. I journeyed down to Philadelphia for the holiday because 1) I'd never been before despite it being so close, and 2) it seemed like a patriotic thing to do. So yesterday, I put on my most flag-like ensemble and took the train for a day trip. Philadelphia is a lovely city with a very chill energy. Although I suppose it's hard to tell what it's like under normal circumstances because according to the friend we went with who grew up in the area (and served as our wonderful tour guide!) all the non tourists clear out and go to the Jersey Shore for the 4th of July weekend.

At any rate, it's still the holiday weekend and I'm holing up inside because it's very, very hot out, so I don't want to spend too long at the computer or it's pretty much like working from home (well except for not actually working). That and I need to go buy cheesecake fixings for a certain husband's birthday this weekend. Consequently, this will be a short one, but I did want to post some photos from Philadelphia.
This artist Isaiah Zagar has covered a number of the buildings in South Street with mosaics. Really gives the city a lovely shine.
Us in front of some Zagar mosaics. You can't really tell here, but my shirt is red and white striped, so I was clearly trying more than Sam

We got a lot of mosaic pictures. We didn't pay to actually see Zagar's studio and Magical Garden, but we enjoyed the free ones plenty. 
The Liberty Bell! There was a long line of patriots waiting to go in and see it, so we chose to just view it through the window. Still counts!
Independence Hall! Where all the July 4 magic happened.

Sam enjoying his Philly cheesesteak. For the record the redness in this photo isn't an Instagram thing;  the restaurant put these odd filters on the windows giving everything an eerie red light. 
Philadelphia City Hall and the William Penn Statue! There's nothing super patriotic about this statue although we were able to stand in the middle of the street to take this one because they were setting up for a parade, so that probably counts.
When we got off the train back in old NYC, we caught a few fireworks over  the Hudson. Well done, Macys.
So that about wraps up our jaunt to Philly! I'd love to back sometime for a weekend because they had a number of very nice looking bars and restaurants in the Old City that would be fun to try out. Alas, we wasted all our stomach space during our short time there on cheesesteaks. We didn't even get to try the artisan donut place a girl at my gym recommended. As long as there is plenty of food left to try, I will return someday! Plus, it's still so close.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Goats and intrigue

I fully intended to update about my weekend yesterday (as is fitting on a Monday), but sometimes the best laid plans turn into making lasagna out of an enormous farm share squash instead. And so begin the zucchini days of summer! I did have a lovely weekend though, mostly spent lounging around New Jersey and grilling (or rather eating the food that others grilled, which is itself an important contribution to any BBQ).

When not engaging in summertime gluttony, we journeyed to Governors Island (for the second time in as many weeks). This time there were no old-fashioned parties to attend, but there were some baby goats. A friend of mine has been working for Earth Matters, a compost initiative on Governors Island. They have a great little section of the island set up to educate people about different methods of composting. They also have about 60 chickens and two goats that contribute to the scrap-eating and manure-making process. My friend has been bottle-feeding the goats (that are on loan from somewhere upstate), since they were wee things, but now at 12 1/2 weeks they rather resemble adult goats. Probably because they devote every waking moment of their goat lives to increasing their body weight. While we were there the more devoted (to food, at least) of the two goats bent over a tiny tree until he could get every last leaf from it's spindly branches. I'm not describing it well, but trust me, it was an impressive display of goat dexterity.

Patches. The more food-frenzied of the pair of Patches and Cream.

Some of the impressive biodiversity of Governors Island!
After our little jaunt to the island (also after our little jaunt to the mainland of New Jersey), we also ventured to Brooklyn on Sunday. Last October, I won a facebook contest giving me a year membership to the Brooklyn Academy of Music that puts on a number of movies, plays, and lectures throughout the year. To my chagrin, I haven't used it at all, and it will expire this October. In an effort to remedy this, I finally started reading their emails. Thus our first BAM visit (well, post-membership anyway, I have seen shows there before), was to see a Hitchcock silent film called The Lodger. BAM is currently showing all nine of the remastered Hitchcock directed silent films accompanied by live orchestras. I've always wanted to see a silent film with live accompaniment, and I like many of Hitchcock's films, so it seemed like a good first member experience.

Would you let this guy live with your blond daughter?

Our seats were a bit too close to the front for my taste, but it really was a fun show. It was so easy to forget the musicians were even there because the music fit so perfectly with the film. The basic plot of The Lodger is that a Jack the Ripper type killer is killing blonds every Tuesday night in London. Meanwhile, a creepy man rents a room from a man and his wife who happen to have a daughter who's a blond model. It sounds like it could be a classic Hitchcock suspense movie, but in reality it's mostly played for laughs. There are some innovative shots, such as one showing a man's footsteps pacing filmed through a glass floor, but the story if very simple. I think it's interesting to watch early movies and particularly someone's early work through the lens of a modern movie watcher having seen much of their later stuff. I kept expecting there to be some major twist, and had two theories in mind as to what it could be. But in reality the mystery itself didn't really matter, and in the end the story was more about the characters and how people react to suspicion and paranoia. Which are fairly common Hitchcock themes, I suppose, and definitely dealt with more deeply in later films. But at any rate, it was a fun 90 minutes and worth a watch if you find it in a theater near you (provided there's live music, of course). Bonus fun fact (according to IMDB): this film was the first to feature the iconic Alfred Hitchcock cameo (appearing with decidedly more hair than the usual). Apparently, he was low on extras and decided to fill in the shot himself. The rest is history!