Friday, August 31, 2012

Last of the London Olympics Get-Together

"May your home always be too small to hold all of your friends."
(Author Unknown)

In the month of August, we happily invited groups of friends and my whole family over to our place for the first time. Because our apartment is cozy, we had to host on a few different occasions, so I wanted to make the food and drinks distinctive for each gathering. We hope to have more guests over soon, and would like to thank those who made the trip out to Brooklyn!

Last of the London Olympics Get-Together

I always enjoy watching the Olympics. On the final weekend of the 2012 London summer games, a few friends came over on short notice to visit us at our new home in Brooklyn, and help break in our new TV -- which I find monstrous at 43" -- as we had what I declared London-inspired food and drinks.

Chicken Tikka Masala
Ham Sandwiches with Dijon-Apricot Jam
Fish and Chips

Curry Olympic Onion Rings
Vegetable Crudités and Hummus

English and Irish Cheeses, Water Crackers and Grapes
Vanilla Cupcakes with Royal Icing

Earl and Lady Grey Teatini
Pimm's Cup
Gin and Tonic
English Ales

Dinner and dessert preparation

Did you know chicken tikka masala is one of Britain's most popular foods? I cooked chicken breast on the stove and then added Maya Kaimal's simmering sauce, purchased at Williams-Sonoma, for a quick and easy dish.

Chicken tikka masala served with brown rice

An important English food category is the sandwich. After all, wasn't it the invention of the Earl of Sandwich? I read somewhere that a basic sandwich could consist of hearty bread, slices of ham, and a sweet and savory spread. I mixed 1 part dijon mustard with 1 part apricot jam to create a dijon-apricot jam to go with the ham. Our Roadhouse bread was from Zingerman's, an Ann Arbor, MI gastronomical institution, which -- thanks to my sister-in-law, Grace -- ships a different loaf to me each month according to the Zingerman's Bread Club. (I just received the second loaf, a Paesano bread, and that will be followed by Chocolate Sourdough, Farm Bread, Better than San Francisco Sourdough, and Pecan Raisin!)

Ham sandwiches with dijon-apricot jam

My fish and chips were not traditional at all. Loosely following a recipe from Anna's Table, I baked a whole wheat panko-crusted cod, to have with tartar sauce, malt vinegar, and sea salt (the ketchup was for onion rings). I meant to also make a version of chips by baking strips of potato, but I was short on time and sweating from the oven in our tiny kitchen in August, so I put out a basket of salt and vinegar potato chips. Ta-da! Still fish and chips.

Fish and chips (upper right corner)

Using a similar dredging and dipping technique, I made Rachael Ray's Olympic Onion Rings, which my husband loved and continued to ask me to make for the next couple of weeks. Like the fish and would-be chips, these onion rings were baked and not fried, and included curry powder, cornflakes, and whole wheat breadcrumbs.

Curry Olympic onion rings

The vegetable crudités were just miniature sweet peppers, baby carrots, and cherry tomatoes, served with plain hummus.

Veggies and hummus

I love English Stilton so I knew I wanted to include that as one of the cheeses, and I was going to buy a regular cheddar but saw Guinness Cheddar at Union Market, a nice grocery store near my apartment. You could really taste the Guinness, which I know is Irish -- not English or British -- but Northern Ireland is part of the UK, and people in England drink Guinness, right?

English/Irish cheese board with water crackers and grapes

For dessert, I used a Nigella Lawson recipe to bake vanilla cupcakes with royal icing. They tasted very buttery, and like other reviewers, I found these were more muffin-y than cupcake-like, so while I enjoyed them, I may try baking them again (plus, I recently bought an oven thermometer). Aren't the cupcake wrappers and topper picks adorable? They're from the Meri Meri "It's British" Cupcake Kit, purchased at Sur La Table, which is also where I bought the Union Jack napkins and red paper straws.

Vanilla cupcakes with royal icing

When I thought of English drinks, I naturally considered tea. My teatini consisted of Earl Grey and Lady Grey iced tea, vodka (Stoli is the preferred brand in our house), and St-Germain, which is a really lovely, surprisingly versatile elderflower liquor. For the Pimm's cup, there are countless variations, so I made mine with Pimm's No. 1, San Pellegrino limonata, sliced lemon, orange, apple, cucumber, and sprigs of mint. We also drank gin (Henrick's) and tonic (Q Tonic), another classic British cocktail. 

Cocktail preparation ("Robyn," my KitchenAid mixer, does double duty)

To round out the drinks, we had bottles of Newcastle and Bass ales in addition to the cocktails and San Pellegrino.

English ales and Earl and Lady Grey teatini

Coming up:
Summer Sunday Brunch
Brooklyn Cocktail Party with Home Blessing

I thought I would be able to include everything in a single post, but there's too much. Luckily it's a long weekend, so I hope to be able to catch up on my updates. May your long weekend be as productive or as relaxing as you need it to be!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

1 Aunt, 2 Birthdays, 3 Years

"Every child begins the world again."
(Henry David Thoreau)

Last month, right before my nephew Peter's birthday and our belated honeymoon, my family spent a weekend in Ocean City and Cape May, NJ. I've referred to that trip in other posts but hadn't managed to share details, so without further ado, here's the story before summer ends.

But first, an announcement...

My Niece Is Here!

Welcome to the world, Elizabeth -- aka "Ellie" -- born very early yesterday morning! She is beautiful and healthy and weighed in at 6 lbs. 14 oz., the same as her big brother when he arrived in 2009.

At the hospital, Peter said, "I have a baby sister!" and looked at her through his big plastic magnifying glass and gave her a kiss. Playing with his cousins and his new toys kept him preoccupied, as he walked around with his Diego-esque backpack saying, "Let's go on an adventure!" He is a real kid now, and I can't believe how quickly the past 3 years have gone by. I hope he adjusts well to the new addition to his family.

Peter's Birthday and the Jersey Shore

Peter's only birthday party was when we celebrated his dol, the Korean 1st birthday tradition. I wanted to wish him a happy 3rd birthday -- his final one as an only child -- while we were all together, and let him blow out a candle, which he loves.

My sister's family arrived the night before, so by the time Sam and I got to Ocean City with my parents and brother on Saturday, they had already eaten and were ready for some cloudy, rainy beachtime. After a quick lunch at Hula Grill, we joined them at the beach. Later, we went to Obadiah's for dinner, then everyone visited our room for birthday cake.

BBQ scallops and crab cake sandwich at Hula Grill
Digging for clams and shells
Feeling crabby at Obadiah's

Before that weekend, I had drawn a birthday cake I wanted to make for Peter. With no time to really plan or shop -- and a road trip for the cake to survive -- I don't know how I thought I would make it happen, but it involved a sand castle topped with 3 candles. It didn't turn out exactly as I had envisioned, but the main idea still came across, and more importantly, Peter loved it -- he's a big fan of fish and "marine mammals." (I took off the candy before cutting him a small slice and he only wanted 1 or 2 bites.)

My inspirational sketch
I was short on time, so Sam helped by baking funfetti cakes the day before
The finished product -- watch out, fishies!

The weather was much nicer on our second day, which we spent in Cape May. We went out on the Cape May Whale Watcher, a dolphin-watching and whale-watching boat, during the first part of the day. We didn't see any whales, but we saw lots and lots of lively dolphins so it was fun and worthwhile. The rest of the day, we walked along the quaint Washington Street Mall, where we had lunch at Tisha's, and Bliss Homemade Organic Ice Cream for dessert.

On the top deck of the boat
It was hard to catch a good picture of the dolphins
Tuna sandwich at Tisha's
Iced coffee and ice cream sandwich of cinnamon-clove ice cream
with oatmeal raisin cookies (if I'm remembering correctly)

So now Peter is 3, Ellie is 0, and -- with my sister's children plus my sister-in-law's children, Isaiah and Christina -- I have 4 adorable nieces and nephews! And you can't forget my original puppy niece who has been there through it all.

As Kate Bolick wrote in her New York Times article, "Let's Hear It For Aunthood":
...much of the allure of being an aunt is being liberated from expectations, free to make it up as I go along, constantly surprised by the delights of the relationship, which includes not only passionate love but blessed freedom.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sisterly "Green Tea and Pink Blossom" Baby Shower

"In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future."
(Alex Haley)

My sister Maureen is expecting her second child -- it's a girl! -- within the week. Her baby shower took place over a month ago, but I'm finally getting around to writing about it.

For the first baby shower in 2009, when she was pregnant with Baby #1 (aka Peter), I threw her and her husband a large co-ed "Jack and Jill" shower in their NJ apartment building's community room. With an invitation list of almost 80, and a guest list close to 60, it was fun but a little daunting to plan and pull off the "baby blue and brown bear brown" party.
A beary baby boy invitation
  Lots of food, sweets, favors, and more in 2009

This time around, I have to admit I was relieved when she said she wouldn't mind a small gathering for Baby #2, so I organized an intimate ladies afternoon tea in Manhattan for a total of 7 people, including myself and my sister.

Invitations and Colors

The invitations I chose were white with earthy green and pale pink lettering. My sister's favorite color is green, and she and her friends are not girlie girls, so I decided to go with a subdued color scheme I named "green tea and pink blossom" to carry through in the details of the baby shower.

Feminine baby's breath invitation

I made a banner that spelled out "Congratulations" and paper lotus flowers to decorate the tables at the shower venue, Franchia. (More photos of these further down.)

Diaper cake, game gift, card, invite, banner, lotus flowers

Diaper Cake

Diaper cakes can be extremely elaborate -- with toys and blankets and stuffed animals tucked in or hanging off of them -- but I made the smallest, most basic one I could, which still required 54 diapers. The thought came to me 3 days before the event so I had to keep it simple.

I wanted to top it with a petite pink stuffed animal, but I couldn't find a good one in time. I bought a pink musical sounds teddy bear at Target, but it was too big and just not right, so I ended up rolling a onesie I had bought, embroidered with the words "little sister," and placed it on top; coincidentally, it matched the baby shower colors. I placed 2 colors and sizes of satin ribbon around the tiers and added soft pink flowers.

I put the husband to work, having him roll diapers
Adding pretty embellishments
My finished product

Game Gift and Favors

For the baby shower game gift, I wanted something easy and practical that reflected my sister's taste. She had been craving Starbucks iced tea lemonades during much of this pregnancy, so I saved and reused a venti cup from an iced coffee order (I usually order a tall in a grande cup), bought a $20 Starbucks gift card and a single Tazo Awake black tea bag, and placed them inside the cup along with a lemon.

Starbucks "iced tea lemonade" gift card package

I generally prefer edible favors, but I saw these adorable little jungle animal candles at Party City, which I placed at each table setting. They were small and inexpensive, and although knick-knacky, could easily be used in an hour or so, or I wouldn't mind if they went unused or were given away.

"Rawr!" exclaim the jungle babies

The jungle candle favors also complemented my animal-themed card, as well as the soft flannel safari baby blanket I bought which, being pink with dark green contrast stitching, also happened to complement the shower colors. I love when things work out serendipitously. And I love that blanket.

Serena & Lily pink/natural safari blanket, white eyelet dress


Below is a photo of the complete banner I made by stringing pink scalloped cardstock with green lettering on white paper along extra ribbon from the diaper cake, followed by a photo of the tea table with paper lotus flowers and candle favors before guests arrived.

"Congratulations" banner
Serene space

Venue and Menu

The baby shower was held at Franchia in midtown Manhattan. Franchia is an Asian fusion vegan tea house, and is the sister restaurant of Hangawi, a Korean vegan restaurant. I had been to Hangawi before, but never to Franchia. After doing some research, I booked the party and went for a site visit to get a sense of the space.

{Royal Tea Tray}
1) Starters choice of tea, including 1st Picked Korean Wild Green Tea
2) Sweet corn cilantro pancakes, mini Franchia patties, vegetarian sushi, vermicelli spring rolls, kebabs on a stick, dumplings
3) Mini desserts
4) Finale choice of tea

1st picked Korean wild green tea
Appetizer tray
Mini desserts
Persimmon leaf tea

Baby Food Game

The one game I prepared was to "guess the baby food," but I put my own spin on the presentation to make it flow better with the venue and format of the event, and to make it look nicer! So that I wouldn't have to remove or cover up any labels on packaging, or figure out how to pass around jars or bring enough spoons for each person and flavor, I bought squeezable baby food and pre-plated 1 spoonful of each of the 3 flavors for each guest on her own individual plate, and gave out pens and tags to write down guesses.

Baby food game supplies
Apricot & sweet potato; banana, beet & blueberry; broccoli, peas & pear
My answer sheet and the top scorers


Even though our afternoon tea menu included dessert, I wanted to offer more, especially since I didn't have edible favors. My sister was diagnosed with gestational diabetes earlier this summer, so I considered baking a whole wheat, low-sugar cake, but I couldn't be sure that it would taste good, look good, and come out well overall; plus, most diabetic recipes call for artificial sweetener. So I decided to make individual portions of key lime pie and strawberry cheesecake mousse, that way she was able to enjoy a bite of dessert without going overboard.

Key limes are adorably small, like little baby limes. In lieu of a crust, I placed a Nilla Wafer inside of each preciously pink-striped Paper Eskimo baking cup. I used the same recipe as for the key lime pie I baked last Labor Day weekend in the Poconos, detailed in my "September Sweets" post.

Mini key lime pies

My strawberry cheesecake mousse was adapted from a no-bake cheesecake recipe I found on I used strawberry cream cheese to enhance the strawberry flavor and to add a pretty pink tint, and again used Nilla Wafers for the bottom of each dessert -- I'm telling you, they're not just for banana pudding. Mmm, banana pudding...

Mini strawberry cheesecake mousse

To add a little color and freshness, I topped the mini key lime pies with key lime wedges, and the mini strawberry cheesecake mousse with strawberry halves.
Homemade dessert presentation


Since my sister already has a child, she really did not need anything for the second baby. Her "un-baby shower" baby shower was more to get together with close friends and celebrate having a girl, so I told guests that if they brought gifts, girlie clothing and accessories would be most useful.

Gift table
Very flowery photo of me, my sister and a baby hat

This stress-free "green tea and pink blossom" baby shower was a wonderful way to spend a summer Saturday afternoon. I can't wait for the arrival of my new niece any day now!

{Decor supplies: Kate's Paperie satin 1/4" ribbon in Olive; Paper Source Lotus Flowers kit; Papyrus A2 scallop cards in Blossom / Dessert supplies: Paper Eskimo baking cups in Marshmallow Pink from Sur La Table / Diaper cake supplies: Exederm baby shampoo (for center); Kate's Paperie satin 1/4" ribbon in Olive; Kate's Paperie satin 1 1/2" ribbon in Pink; Pampers Swaddlers diapers; Papyrus scalloped flower gift toppers in Pastel Pink / Favors: Jungle candles from Party City / Game supplies: HAPPYBABY Organic Baby Food pouches; Clear plastic hors d'oeuvres spoons and clear plastic wave plates from Party City / Invitations: Tiny Prints Baby's Breath: Chenille}

Friday, August 17, 2012

My Plant Babies

"Natural abilities are like natural plants; they need pruning by study."
(Red Auerbach)

Someday, I hope to have an outdoor flower, fruit and vegetable garden, but until then, I'm happy tending to our indoor trees and herbs! Please see below for photos.

During a trip to IKEA in Red Hook, Brooklyn at the end of June, we picked up 2 potted plants, which I call trees -- a corn plant and a yucca plant -- and 2 white ceramic planters. They were large and heavy, so it was a bit of a challenge transporting them along with all our other purchases in our Zipcar SUV, but they made it from IKEA to Home Depot and back to our place safely. After a little pruning to keep them green and healthy, they add a nice touch of life to our apartment.

Corn Plant

The corn plant -- which I eventually named "Cher" -- needs low light and moderate watering. Because it does not require much, it's a good choice for a houseplant and just needs to be watered every 7 to 10 days or when the top inch of the soil is dry. (It's currently occupying my future "Christmas tree corner.")

Corn plant (aka Dracaena Massangeana)

Yucca Plant

The yucca plant -- "Dionne," of course -- needs bright light and moderate watering; it's good to place it near a window and water it every 7 to 10 days or when the soil is dry to the touch. Yuccas are also good houseplants, even though they are from desert climates. The Joshua Tree (aka Yucca Brevifolia) is the largest type of yucca.

Yucca plant (aka Yucca Elephantipes)

Cilantro, Basil, and Oregano

I'm also cultivating a little herb container garden with cilantro, basil, and oregano on the kitchen windowsill. It's been approximately 1 month since I planted the seeds in July. We went away afterwards, so I was a little concerned about how they would hold up during that week. Within a day or so the basil sprouted, followed by the oregano, and the cilantro has been the slowest.

Planting seeds on the soil's surface
After 3 days
After 10 days
After 30 days

I found an informative blog on Houseplant Care Tips, which is useful if you have or are thinking of growing plants. Any suggestions on easycare plants or help with herb gardens for apartment living? If so, please share.