Saturday, October 29, 2011

Concert Series

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music."
(Aldous Huxley)

I thought it would be fun to post a series of video clips I recorded from concerts over the last year and a half. Before then, the only big concerts I had been to were country music performances: Garth Brooks in Central Park in 1997, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill at Madison Square Garden in 2000, and Brad Paisley, Sara Evans, and Sugarland at the Nokia Theater in 2005. I still love country, but in 2010 and 2011, I got to see Norah Jones, Ke$ha, Rihanna, the Wonder Girls, Apollo Run, Lady Gaga, Florence + the Machine, U2, and The Black Eyed Peas. This was all due to being invited by friends, and Sam who is a talented musician and avid music fan, so thanks to all of them.

If you get a chance, check out the videos below. Please excuse my asides in some of them, as well as the shakiness. I couldn't help dancing -- and, unfortunately, singing -- along.

Norah Jones

When: March 2010
Where: The Theater at Madison Square Garden, NYC
Songs: "Man of the Hour" and "Come Away With Me"
Notes: I have a special fondness for the first song, "Man of the Hour," because it's actually about a dog! And I love the second song, "Come Away With Me," which is so romantic. We sat towards the front of the theater, so this concert had a very intimate feel.


When: August 2010
Where: Madison Square Garden, NYC 
Songs: "Take a Bow" and "Umbrella"
Notes: This was Rihanna's first US tour and she gave a nice shout-out to New Yorkers and Madison Square Garden before starting to sing "Take a Bow." I also had to include "Umbrella"... ella ella, eh eh eh. Travie McCoy and Ke$ha opened.


Wonder Girls

When: October 2010
Where: Crowne Plaza Times Square, NYC
Song: "Nobody"
Notes: I haven't followed Korean pop music since the late '90s, but last fall I saw the Wonder Girls perform a set of several songs, all in English, at a brand marketing conference. They were examples of Park Jin-Young's international marketing savvy, and "Nobody" was their closing song. If I were in a K-pop group, I'd be the rapper for sure.

Apollo Run

When: December 2010
Where: Pianos, NYC
Songs: "That's How It Felt" and "All In Good Time"
Notes: Apollo Run is a Brooklyn indie band I've seen 3 times: at Pianos, Mercury Lounge, and Rockwood Music Hall. I love lead singer John McGrew's trumpet switcheroo in "That's How It Felt," and the soul-blues vibe of "All In Good Time."


Lady Gaga

When: February 2011
Where: Madison Square Garden, NYC
Songs: "Telephone" and "Born This Way"
Notes: I didn't truly appreciate her until I saw her at this concert -- which was filmed for her HBO special -- but while she may be kooky, I think Lady Gaga is the real deal. (I appreciated her again in May when she donated $200,000 to one of my agencies to support youth living in poverty.) I love the song "Telephone" with Beyoncé -- the first part of the video is so cute -- and the message of "Born This Way."


Florence + the Machine

When: June 2011
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
Song: "Dog Days Are Over"
Notes: Florence + the Machine opened for U2. I actually don't have any videos from the U2 concert because my battery was too drained after Florence! She looked and sounded amazing, despite the insane heat that summer day in Baltimore.

The Black Eyed Peas

When: September 2011
Where: Central Park, NYC
Song: "Where Is The Love"
Notes: This was Robin Hood Foundation's second attempt after the first Black Eyed Peas concert in Central Park earlier this year was rained out. It rained during this concert too, but thankfully, the show went on. It started absolutely pouring during "Where Is The Love," so I had to take cover under a large plastic Ikea bag (pardon the screams), but I actually had more fun that way!

That's all for now. I don't have plans to go to any concerts in the near future, but I would give a kidney to see Britney!

I hope y'all have a safe and happy Halloween weekend, especially during this freak snowstorm we've been having all day today. I was supposed to go to Six Flags Fright Fest at Great Adventure in NJ, but the park was closed due to the inclement weather. I have plans to go to Boo at the Zoo in the Bronx tomorrow, so I hope the weather cooperates.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bridal Baubles

"I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck."
(Emma Goldman)

I like the quote above by Emma Goldman. She was an international anarchist in the first half of the 20th century who was eventually deported back to the Soviet Union for her radical activities, including speaking out on birth control and war. Now back to less inciting/insightful topics...

I'm just not that into dress shopping and haven't had the time, but I can tell you that the wedding dress I will most likely end up wearing will have little to no lace, beading, satin, or embroidery, and the veil will most likely be no longer than the reach of my arms. That doesn't mean that I'm not drawn to those characteristics or that I prefer a plain ensemble; I'm just leaning towards a very clean, whipped cream-y look.

I may be stalling on the dress, but I've known which jewelry I'll be wearing for a while now. I knew I wanted to wear pieces that would not detract from an elegant bridal aesthetic, but had to have interest and character; something to anchor the vanilla frothiness of a big white gown. Hence, my wedding jewelry is what I would call "classic with a twist," and is neither relegated to nor defined by the wedding.


The earrings are clear quartz gemstones dangling from cultured pearls and a post of diamond-shaped black onyx. I favor the chic combination of black and white in a simple design. (I photographed the jewelry against a spread from the September/October 2011 Manhattan magazine for visual effect.)


I'd skip a necklace and go for more dramatic earrings if my dress had a bateau or halter neckline, but for a strapless or v-neck gown, a 16-18" necklace can be really pretty and make you feel less exposed. I plan on wearing a white topaz line necklace, also known as a tennis necklace. It's short and basic enough not to be too much, but I love the genuine brilliance of the gems.


The earrings and necklace are still fairly standard, so my bracelet is the most unusual piece I'll be wearing. It has 3 rows of cultured pearls with a toggle clasp of sterling silver, and a centerpiece of mother-of-pearl, black onyx, white topaz, and spinel stones.

But of course, the most important and meaningful jewelry of the day will be our classic wedding bands. The bands were ordered a while ago and are currently in safe keeping. My wedding band matches my engagement ring, which has a traditional round diamond. I believe what rings and rounds represent to be very special -- the circle as a timeless symbol of everlasting love.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

September Sweets

"C is for Cookie. That's good enough for me."
(Cookie Monster)

September just flew by, didn't it? I got to do a lot of baking though, which I've always enjoyed. Before I moved back to the suburbs 2 months ago, my baking frenzies were mostly confined to holiday weekends or other occasions when I stayed at my parents' house, since I didn't have a working oven in the city. My parents have always known me to bake and have gladly partaken in the results, but now say I should focus on cooking "real food." My father's exact Mr. Miyagi-esque words 1 week ago, after telling me he likes my baked goods: "Now you must master cooking. You have almost mastered making sandwiches." I have been appointed the official household work lunch sandwich-maker.

For now, here are all the details of my September sweets, including links and recipes.

Chewy Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies

I found the food blog Dinner with Julie after Hostess with the Mostess posted a recipe for these Chewy Blueberry Oatmeal Cookies. I love oatmeal cookies, and ripe blueberries are delicious, but I had never baked cookies with fresh fruit before. I've made blueberry pancakes, of course, and blueberry muffins* are one of my staple Dunkin' Donuts snacks, but cookies? I had to try them.

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (or so) fresh blueberries

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl beat the butter, oil, and brown sugar until creamy; beat in the egg and vanilla. Add the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt and stir untiil almost combined; add the blueberries and stir just until blended. Drop large blobs on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, until set around the edges but still soft in the middle. Makes 1 1/2-2 dozen cookies.

These were so good, and you can almost say they're good for you! I baked them to bring to work for a staff meeting, and they went over very well (as did the banana walnut bread, below). One caveat: Because these cookies are made with fresh blueberries, it is best to consume them quickly or they will get soggy. But they're really yummy so they probably won't sit around long! Try baking them with dried blueberries, too.

*For some reason I'm not a big fan of muffins, and I prefer the taste of reduced-fat versions to the regular ones.

Banana Walnut Bread

As I mentioned, I also brought banana walnut bread to work so that it, along with the chewy blueberry oatmeal cookies, could double as breakfast and treat, since our meetings are in the morning. I used a Gourmet Banana Bread recipe from Epicurious, but adapted it based on the ingredients I had at home. We enjoyed one loaf at work, and my family -- especially my nephew, Peter -- got to enjoy the second loaf over Labor Day weekend, which we spent at a lake house in Pennsylvania.

  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
  • 2 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 cups coarsely mashed very ripe bananas (6 large) -- I only had 3 bananas
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche -- I substituted approximately 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups walnuts (4 ounces), toasted and chopped -- I used 2 ounces because I accidentally burned the other 2 ounces

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 2 (9x5x3-inch) metal loaf pans, then dust with flour, knocking out excess. Sift together 3 1/4 cups flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt into a bowl. Beat together eggs and sugar in bowl of electric mixing at medium-high speed until very thick and pale and mixture forms a ribbon when beater is lifted, about 10 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add oil in a slow stream, mixing, then mix in bananas, crème fraîche, and vanilla. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in flour mixture and walnuts gently but thoroughly. Divide batter between 2 loaf pans, spreading evenly, and bake in middle of oven until golden brown and a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool loaves in pans on a rack 10 minutes, then turn out onto rack. Turn loaves right side up and cool completely.

I was expecting the bread to come out a little less than banana bread-y since I needed to halve the number of bananas in the recipe, but it tasted plenty banana-y and we definitely did not miss the extra 3 -- good to note if you have a recipe that calls for more bananas than what you may have on hand! Same with the walnuts -- feel free to leave them out, use more or less, or try a different nut. You can also add additional spices like clove, nutmeg, or ginger, and mm, maybe try substituting banana-flavored yogurt for the crème fraîche if you're bananas for bananas. Even though I inadvertently ended up not following the recipe, the result was still delicious so I think that's a testament to the flexibility of this recipe and banana bread in general. And a lighter banana version is good for banana-loving little ones, who you might not want eating too many.
Key Lime Pie

My sister Maureen loves key lime pie. I've been to the Florida Keys a couple of times, but she hasn't, and it's one of those things my father likes to jokingly rub in, saying to her, "You've never had real key lime pie made in the Keys, but we have!" (Whenever there is any mention of Key West or key lime pie and my sister is present, he says this without fail.) Since I knew I would be spending Labor Day weekend with her, I decided I would bake a key lime pie at the lake house so that we could all enjoy her favorite dessert, nowhere near the Keys. I used another Gourmet recipe for Key Lime Pie, which was posted on YumSugar, but went the semi-homemade route to avoid having to buy and transport extra ingredients and kitchen supplies.

  • Crust -- I used a pre-made graham cracker crust, eliminating the need to bring a pie dish to bake in
    • 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4x4 3/4-inch) crackers
    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • Filling
    • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
    • 4 large egg yolks
    • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice
  • Topping
    • 3/4 cup chilled heavy cream -- I used store-bought whipped cream, eliminating the need to bring heavy cream and an electric mixer (and so I could eat Reddi-wip straight up!)
    • Lime zest, optional for garnish

  • Make crust: Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl with a fork until combined well, then press mixture evenly onto bottom and up side of a 9-inch (4-cup) glass pie plate. Bake crust in middle of oven 10 minutes and cool in pie plate on a rack. Leave oven on.
  • Make filling and bake pie: Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until combined well. Add juice and whisk until combined well (mixture will thicken slightly). Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack (filling will set as it cools), then chill, covered, at least 8 hours.
  • Make topping: Just before serving, beat cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Serve pie topped with cream and lime zest, if desired.

This was my first key lime pie, and I highly recommend it! It's super simple, even without the shortcuts I took for convenience, and seemingly foolproof. We devoured it after dinner outside by the lake. My sister loved it and immediately asked for the recipe. We all know key lime pie is delicious, but who knew it was so easy to make?

Mug Brownie

Another incredibly easy sweet treat is this Two-Minute Mug Brownie posted in The Family Kitchen blog of the parenting site, Babble. It actually takes me more than 2 minutes, because I don't move that fast, but it's still really quick and only requires a microwave oven. I tried this recipe a couple of times. The first time, I followed it exactly but needed to microwave it a little longer than 1 minute, and then overdid it a bit. The second time, I got a little experimental and added a couple of teaspoons of grape jelly, and microwaved it less than I had the first time.

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt -- I added a little more than a pinch, and used freshly ground coarse salt, to have that sweet-and-salty flavor profile
  • 2 tablespoons canola or other mild vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons milk, coffee, or water

  • In a heatproof mug or ramekin, stir together the dry ingredients until no lumps remain. Stir in the oil and milk until you have a thick paste. Microwave on high for a minute, checking it after 30 seconds (microwaves vary). It will be done when it's springy on top but still gooey -- like the very best brownie. Eat warm.

Because I had microwaved it too much the first time I tried this recipe, the second time around I wanted it to be very moist, which is why I thought to add grape jelly. I have other flavors of jams and preserves at home, but at the time I felt like the smoothness of a classic grape jelly would be great. The add-in possibilities are really endless: strawberry preserves, raspberries (think molten chocolate raspberry cake), peanut butter, Nutella, marshmallows or even Fluff! When you're baking a whole cake or pie or pot of something, you might not want to get too creative for fear of ruining an entire batch, but when you're only working with a mug-sized dessert, you can try anything and everything. In a weird way, microwaving and eating these brownies makes me feel like I'm in a Betty Crocker Warm Delights commercial. Why does it always have to be a woman at home alone at night, finding comfort in a single-serve microwavable brownie?

Mini Cherry Cornbread Cakes

I wanted to make something cornmeal-based and use dried cherries I picked up at the store, so the first thing I thought of were cherry corn muffins. Unfortunately, I couldn't find my muffin tin; I think I must have left it at my sister's place some time ago. I do have my Nordic Ware Multi-Mini Bundt Cake Pan, so instead, I made small cherry-studded corn cakes, which are about the size of Texas muffins (i.e. huge). I used Ina Garten's Corn Muffins recipe and mixed the dried cherries into the batter.

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup medium cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk -- I used skim milk because I didn't have whole milk
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 extra-large eggs

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, melted butter, and eggs. With the mixer on the lowest speed, pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and stir until they are just blended. Spoon the batter into the paper liners, filling each one to the top. Bake for 30 minutes, until the tops are crisp and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly and remove from the pan.

Because these weren't muffin-sized, they were truly substantial and I ate these for breakfast for a few days! I didn't want to over-bake them, so I took them out of the oven before the tops were really crisp, and when I ate them in the mornings I would cut, toast, and spread jam all over them. I love the flavor and graininess of cornmeal, and the dried cherries added sweet/tart/chewy.

Crumb-Topped Apple Pie

This time of year, I love going apple picking with family and friends. Last Saturday, I went to Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard in North Salem, NY and just yesterday I went to Demarest Farms in Hillsdale, NJ. I made 2 apple pies with the apples I brought home last weekend. In searching for a simple recipe, I came across CountryLiving magazine's Country Living Fair Apple Pie Contest winners. The recipe I chose to try -- Eyerman Family Bakers' Crumb-Topped Apple Pie -- won 3rd place in the the 2008 contest. Why did I go with 3rd place and not 1st or 2nd? The others have more involved double crusts that call for shortening, and I didn't have any shortening at home. Also, I love crumb toppings and crumbles!

  • Crust
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoons sugar
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
    • 3 tablespoons milk
  • Filling -- I used a random variety of apples
    • 3-4 Macintosh apples
    • 3-4 Granny Smith apples
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1 tablespoon butter cut into small pieces
  • Topping
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1 stick butter

  • Make crust: Combine flour, sugar, and salt right in the pie plate and mix with a fork until blended. In a cup, combine vegetable oil and milk and beat with a fork until creamy. Pour over the flour mixture all at once. Mix with a fork until flour mixture in moistened. Pat the dough with your fingers distributing dough up the sides of pie plate and then over the bottom. Dough should have the consistency of oily putty and be easy to spread. Flute edges as desired.
  • Make filling: Peel, core, and slice apples thinly into a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon together. Sprinkle sugar mixture and butter pieces over the apples and mix to distribute the two varieties of apples evenly. Pour into prepared crust. Apples can be heaped high, even higher than the pie crust edges.
    • Important note from my experience: Once combined with the sugar mixture and butter, the apples release a lot of water! Let the filling sit in a bowl for at least 15-20 minutes and then pour out the excess water before adding the filling to the crust.
  • Make topping: Mix sugar and flour together with a fork. Cut into butter with pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles medium-fine crumbs. Sprinkle topping over the apples. This will create a very top-heavy looking pie. Put pie dish on a cookie sheet for better handling.
  • Bake pie: Bake assembled pie for 10 minutes in a preheated 450°F oven. Lower temperature to 350°F and continue baking for 45 additional minutes (or until pie is nicely browned on top and juices start to bubble). Cool until slightly warm or room temperature. This pie is best eaten within two day of baking. Keep it loosely wrapped after cooling in room temperature to keep the topping crisp. Serves 8 or more depending on the size of cut pieces.

This pie isn't complicated as far as pies go, and it comes out amazing well! For anyone who went apple picking or just likes apples this time of year, I recommend you try this recipe. My sister and her nanny plan on making it, and my parents are requesting another one now that I have more apples. The most time-consuming part for me was coring, peeling, and slicing the apples, even though I have an apple corer. I did have to bake it longer than the recipe directed, but that probably depends on the oven.

You know you're an ajumma (Korean word for married woman that implies a middle-aged woman) when you can expertly cut fruit.