Tuesday, October 30, 2012

To Salem and Back Before the Storm

"Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall."
(F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsy)

Well there's crisp, and then there's a hybrid superstorm called Hurricane Sandy. Thankfully, we never lost electricity, hot water, or heat, but there were live media crews outside our building today due to large downed trees.

What a haunted Halloween, weather-wise! This time last year we had an unreal "Snowpocalypse" but then the winter season that followed was incredibly mild; I wonder if "Frankenstorm" will mean that we'll be spared for the rest of this fall and winter. Either way, children's trick-or-treating will undoubtedly be affected.

Scary transformation

Sam and I spent the past weekend in Salem, Massachusetts, the self-proclaimed "Halloween capital of the world." I had taken a day trip years ago with a few friends I used to work with when I was a graduate student in Boston. This time, we arrived late Friday night, walked around town all day on Saturday, and drove back in the chilly pre-storm drizzle on Sunday. Please see below for more photos.

On the Road

We stayed at the Red Roof Inn in Saugus, MA. On the way, we stopped at Taco Bell in Old Greenwich, CT and snacked on Butter Lane cupcakes in the rental car -- pumpkin frosting on banana cake and chocolate cake, yum!

Pumpkin-y good cupcakes on the way to the hotel

Exploring Salem

Saturday was truly an idyllic autumn New England day. We drove into Salem and ate breakfast at Brothers Deli & Restaurant. Salem is a quaint, walkable town with many shops, parks, museums, and a waterfront. Of course there are also a lot of attractions related to the witch hysteria and trials of 1692 -- a fascinating true story in American history -- and although I visited a few of them in 2003, we only went to one at the last minute in the evening.

Omelette breakfast, lobster roll, and clam chowder
Candy, snacks, and rides in the park
Seeing long lines at the Salem Witch Museum

Peabody Essex Museum

In the midst of all the creepy/campy museums is an excellent fine art museum called the Peabody Essex Museum, founded in 1799. We visited several of the galleries but focused on the featured exhibition, Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones, which was a lot of fun; I highly recommend it. Our visit ended with an interactive photobooth where visitors could choose which hat would be virtually placed on their heads -- I went with the powder blue feather hat.

PEM's Hats included SJP's iconic Philip Treacy creation
Intricate bridal headdress from 1800s China;
dyed feather hat from 18th century England;
leather, wood, and sequin Christian Dior Haute Couture
by Stephen Jones hat from Autumn/Winter 2007
Playing dress-up with some outlandish hats!

Haunted Harbor Cruise

After PEM, we went on a Salem Harbor cruise with Mahi Mahi Cruises & Charters. The Hannah Glover was decorated for Halloween, and a costumed woman spoke of haunted lighthouses and other spooky stories, as I sipped on hot apple cider.

Ships in cold water, apple in hot cider
Lighthouses with an "old film" camera setting

The House of the Seven Gables

In addition to colonial, maritime, and witch history, Salem is also rich in literary history, as it is the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, which is immortalized in The House of the Seven Gables, also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, built in 1668. The Nathaniel Hawthorne House, where the writer was born, was relocated next to the House of the Seven Gables in 1958.

Oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansion in New England
Nathaniel Hawthorne's birthplace

Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie

Across the street from the entrance to The House of the Seven Gables is Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, America's oldest candy company since 1806. I insisted we wait on the long line to enter the store, and left with a bag full of candy!

Will wait for candy!
Witch History Museum

At the end of the day, we decided we should check out one of the witch museums. The Salem Witch Museum, the most popular one, was packed with tourists waiting to get in, so we went to the Witch History Museum instead. Afterwards, we went back to Saugus and had buffalo wings and popcorn shrimp while watching World Series baseball (Detroit vs. San Francisco) and college football (Michigan vs. Nebraska) at Buffalo Wild Wings near our hotel.

I'm pretty sure the original "witches" didn't look like that

Cracker Barrel, Charlton Orchards, and Obadiah McIntyre Farm Winery

On Sunday morning we started our drive back, planning to stop at an orchard and winery to see if they had any remaining fruit to be picked or wine to be tasted. While Saturday had been beautiful, Sunday was cold and rainy. We found a Cracker Barrel in Sturbridge, MA -- much better than the roadside service area options (we had also stopped at a different location on the way to our "New England Minimoon").

Eating and playing the Cracker Barrel game

We drove to Charlton Orchards and Obadiah McIntyre Farm Winery, but there wasn't any fruit picking and with the bad weather, no customers. They opened the store for us, and we bought a bag of McIntosh apples, a small bottle of Crimson Gold Red Raspberry Wine, and a bottle of Carbonated Apple Wine, and went back on the road.

Abandoned orchard and farm winery

My sister's family in NJ and my parents in Westchester are without power, and it could take a week to be repaired. My brother-in-law, who works at NYU Langone Medical Center -- which is still being evacuated -- was permitted to cross the bridge into Manhattan early this morning when he told them he is a doctor. My father, who also works at a hospital, went to work this morning too, but he doesn't have to cross any bridges or tunnels on his commute.

Mass transportation remains shut down, so this is my second day at home instead of in the office, which I found out lost power as did most of lower Manhattan. Yesterday I made potato-apple latkes, Hungarian apple soup, and chicken pot pie, and right now I'm thinking of baking chewy ginger cookies. Stay safe, East Coasters!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Autumn Craft Party

"If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day,
so I never have to live without you."
(A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh)

Isn't that a sweet quote? It doesn't have much to do with the rest this post, except that we used some adorable Winnie the Pooh stamps courtesy of Angela during the craft day at my apartment this past weekend. My friend Nuree and I planned the afternoon and invited a few creative gals we thought would be interested to join us. If anyone would like to be part of future craft parties, let us know!

Heat-embossed gift tags (Image: Christine M.)

After most of the group left by early evening, my sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and baby niece came over for dinner, so I had a full house and a long but fun day! It was the first time having several people over since early September, when some of Sam's medical school friends came to hang out and see our place. (For that gathering, we did a simpler menu of "greatest hits" from our August dinners -- detailed in previous posts -- including the fajitas, sliders, potato salad, onion rings, and ice cream.)

An October Crafternoon
I love the colors of autumn, from the vivid oranges and reds of the leaves, to earthy browns and greens, to the lush fashion colors of burgundy and gold. I bought some party supplies to reflect the season.

Speaking of seasonal colors, some pretty Pantone palettes for fall events include Ultramarine Green, Honey Gold, French Roast, and Rhapsody, a muted plum; the muted blush tone Rose Smoke and deeper rose Pink Flambé; and don't forget Sunflower, which I posted about last time. (All images below from Wedding Paper Divas.)

Ultramarine Green
Honey Gold
French Roast
Rose Smoke (my Vera wedding dress in Blush!)
Pink Flambé

The Food

Back to our craft day... On the coffee table was a spread consisting of Parmigiano Reggiano and brie cheeses with dried organic Turkish apricots, crackers, and Trader Joe's pumpkin butter; TERRA Exotic Harvest kabocha squash, carrot, and blue potato chips with onion yogurt dip; a tiered server with some fruit and lots of baked goodies brought by Nuree and Christine; and a glass pumpkin full of Snickers PB Squareds and Milky Way Caramel Apple Minis. To drink, we enjoyed apple cider, coffee, hot cocoa, and spicy chai lattes.
My friend Yang Sun brought a sweet little cake that we were too full to eat -- luckily it was enjoyed after the fact -- and my sister brought a lot of amazing desserts when she came over, too!

Cheese, dried organic apricots, crackers, pumpkin butter, and candy bars
Kobucha, carrot, and blue potato sea salt chips with onion yogurt dip
Delicious treats from Bouchon Bakery and Trader Joe's

For lunch, I made an apple mesclun salad (I meant for it to be an apple-pear salad, but the pears weren't ripe enough) of mixed greens, chopped apples, dried cranberries, walnuts, and a homemade dressing of olive oil, apple cider, and apple cider vinegar; Williams-Sonoma's 6-Hour Chili, which I adapted by swapping ground turkey and adding black beans and red kidney beans; and jalapeño-cheddar cornbread.

Lunch is served
Apple mesclun salad
Slow-cooked turkey chili
Jalapeño-cheddar cornbread

The Crafts

Now to the real reason we got together; although for a while it seemed like we were just going to sit and eat and not get around to crafting! I polled the attendees in advance and gave them some options on which craft to feature, and most seemed interested in heat-embossed stationery. Some girls also brought other projects to work on, including a Halloween costume and a knit scarf. Oh, and we watched the Stanford vs. Cal football game on TV.
I had learned the heat embossing technique at the Paper Source store in SoHo, and bought a heat tool, embossing powders, and some blank gift tags at Paper Presentation and some colored cards and envelopes at Papyrus; Nuree brought scrapbooking paper and a paper cutting; and Angela brought her stamps to add to the stamps I have.
I also placed all of my nail polishes on the table, for anyone to paint their nails at any point. Nail art is definitely a craft.

Nail polish, embossing powder and pad, stamps, heat tool, and paper supplies
Close-up of supplies for heat-embossed stationery
Close-up of some of the stamps
Heat embossing in action
Yes, I have a lot of nail polish! I like OPIbutter LONDON, and essie.
Our littlest craftgirl's glittery nails (Image: Nuree C.)
Amazing handmade spider Halloween costume (Image: Nuree C.)

So what's next: maybe a holiday craft party? I know I'm looking forward to buying our first Christmas tree!
A Little About Halloween

I put out my Hug Salt and Pepper Shakers from the MoMA store that my friend Robyn gave me years ago. The ghosts nest together really cutely in a hug... Aww.

"Let's hug it out"

Other than that, the extent of autumnal/Halloween decorating I've done is place some miniature white and orange pumpkins and crab apples around our dining area lamp. NYC doesn't do Halloween the way you see in the suburbs, but Park Slope is certainly more suburban than Manhattan.

Mini pumpkins and apples

Another day, maybe I'll post photos of past pumpkins I've carved -- since it doesn't look like I'll be doing any of that this year -- or costumes I've worn. But for fun, below is a photo of the costumes I ordered for next week! Can anyone guess what they are?

"Fra-GEE-lay. That must be Italian." (Image: Amazon.com)

Tonight we're going to the New York Repertory Orchestra's annual benefit, and tomorrow we're leaving for a weekend in Salem, Massachusetts, which should be really festive this time of year.

{Craft supplies: American Crafts Zing! Glitter and Metallic Embossing Powders in Black, Gold, Red, and Silver from Paper Presentation; Cake Vintage Italian-Scroll Placemat Pad from Sur La Table; Darice Multi-Purpose Heat Tool from Paper Presentation; Emboss Embossing Stamp Pad in Clear from Paper Presentation; Paper Presentation assorted sets of gift tags; Papyrus A2 cards and envelopes in Cement, Red, and Sage / Invitations: Paperless Post Watercolor Autumn Frame / Party supplies: Crate & Barrel Orange Paper Straws; Party City botanical print napkins in Pomegranate Brown; Party City cups, plates, and bowls in Berry}

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sugar Sunflower Cake Decorating Class

"And the yellow sunflower by the brook, in autumn beauty stood."
(William Cullen Bryant)

One week ago, my friend Nuree and I took a sunflower cake decorating class at Sugar Flower Cake Shop, located in The Arts Building on West 37th Street in Manhattan. Sugar Flower Cake Shop uses local, sustainable and organic ingredients, and is known for the detailed, realistic sugar flowers that often adorn their wedding and special occasion cakes.

My Cake, From Finish to Start to Finish

Say hello to my little baby cake, with sugar flower petals and a chocolate crunchy center atop a peanut butter buttercream-frosted vanilla cake with chocolate filling! All the sunflower yellow reminded me of my Miami bachelorette party hotel.

My adorable sunflower cake

We were each given a personal-sized round cake to frost with delicious icing. My cake was wonky, which made it difficult to ice, and they called it a "lucky cake"; but like rain on your wedding day or bird poop on your head, I feel that's probably just something they say to make you feel better about a less than ideal situation. 

My naked cake on a board on top of an inverted gum paste container

Using an offset spatula, I applied the crumb coat, a very thin layer of frosting. Then the cakes went into the refrigerator for the frosting to set up a bit while I worked on making sugar petals. After the crumb coat, I applied the final frosting and smoothed the surfaces with a plastic bowl scraper.

Buttercreaming our cakes

To make the petals, I rolled out gum paste in a sunflower-y hue, and ran it through an old-fashioned pasta machine to get smooth, thin sheets. 

Rolling out sugar gum paste for the petals

I created petals out of the gum paste sheets using a metal cookie cutter, and thinned out the edges with our fingers to make them look more life-like. Then I pressed each piece into a silicone flower veiner to give the look of real petals.

Individual petals, cut and veined

We set our petals to dry on baking sheets lines with large bubble wrap, which allowed them to curve naturally and gently rather than lie flat.

Curvy sunflower petals

I put 16 petals on my cake -- 8 for the bottom layer and 8 for the top layer -- and used a pastry bag to pipe buttercream in the center of the petals so that the chocolate crunchies would stay in place. Chocolate crunchies in cakes are just leftover cake toasted to remove moisture.

Half of the petals with buttercream center
All petals in place, stray crunchies to be brushed off

Ta-da! Here are the final products with dots piped at the base. Mine is the one at top and bottom right, and Nuree's is the one on the bottom left.

Too cute to eat... but I did, of course!

I had a lot of fun and hope to take another cake decorating class soon!

Some of the pretty sugar flowers in the shop

Tasty Buttercream

Yesterday, I received an email with the recipe for Sugar Flower Cake Shop's basic buttercream.

  • 320 g sugar
  • 100 g water
  • 280 g egg whites
  • 80 g sugar
  • 900 g butter (softened, see notes below)

Notes on Butter
  • 900 g of butter is equivalent to 2 lbs.
  • To soften, leave on the counter until it comes to room temperature, or use the microwave carefully. Start with 20 seconds and then do 10 seconds at a time until it is soft enough so you can easily stir it, but do not melt it!

  • Boil the 320 g sugar with the water on medium-high in a stainless steel pot until it reaches 248 degrees. This will take a little bit...
  • Meanwhile, using the whisk attachment on your stand mixer, beat egg whites on high until they reach soft-peak stage. Switch to low speed and slowly add the 80 g of sugar. Crank mixer back up to high until mixture reaches stiff-peak stage. Turn mixer off.
  • At this point, your boiling sugar should be near 248 degrees. Keep an eye on it.
  • Once the temperature is reached, remove from heat, turn stand mixer on low and slowly begin pouring sugar into your stiff egg whites. Avoid pouring over the whisk -- it will make a mess! The pouring process should take a few minutes. It's a good arm workout!
  • Turn mixer up to a medium speed and allow the meringue (your mixture of whipped egg whites and boiled sugar) to cool. Set a timer for 45 minutes. We normally go make a few sugar flower petals at this point.
  • When the buzzer rings, it's time to add the butter. Go for a little scoop at a time. Once incorporated, add more. If at any point, it starts looking curdled, crank the mixer up higher and walk away for 20 minutes. Don't worry, it will come back to normal.
  • When all of the butter is added, you are set -- flavor as desired!
  • Use your bowl scraper to scoop out all of that deliciousness.

Let me know if you try this buttercream!

Back to those warm yellow flowers...

Image: Wedding Paper Divas

Sunflower happens to be new to the Pantone Spring 2013 color palette. The Pantone Matching System is the authority and market leader on color. For event collateral, I've had to look through Pantone swatch after Pantone swatch to help get things just right!