Sunday, January 27, 2013

January Family Birthdays

"There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get an un-birthday present,
and only one for birthday presents, you know."
(Lewis Carroll)

Why do weekends go by much too quickly? I stayed in all day yesterday because the past week was pretty exhausting with 2 events, and I have 4 more coming up. Today, at least the weather was sunny and a little less frigid than of late, and it was a good day for Sunday barbecue for my brother's birthday; please see below for more, after details and photos from my husband's birthday.

The Husband's Birthday

Earlier this month, I took Sam to Ai Fiori to celebrate his birthday. From Chef Michael White and the Altamarea Group, Ai Fiori is a refined Italian restaurant at the Setai Hotel Fifth Avenue, where Sam proclaimed he had the best pasta of his life. The food and service were excellent.

I don't remember what they called this, but it was absolutely delicious; a puréed vegetable soup (celery root?) with a sweet surprise at the end (date?).
{Per Cominciare}
Insalata di Astice: Nova Scotia lobster salad, porcini mushrooms, baby leeks, black truffle.
Uovo in Brodo: Slow-poached egg, black truffle, Parmesan, focaccia.

Trofie Nero: Ligurian crustacean ragu, seppia, scallops, spiced mollica.
Spaghetti: Blue crab, lemon, bottarga, chilies.

Pan-roasted Australian venison chop with black trumpets, gnocchi, apple and red port jus.

Capesante: Pan-seared sea scallops, chanterelle, porcini, puntarelle, sugo do funghi.

Torta di Olio: Ligurian olive oil cake, concord grape, huckleberry, almond gelato.
Crostata di Cioccolato: Dark chocolate, spiced pear, pistachio, ricotta, pear sorbetto.
{Chocolate and candy confections}
{Take-home biscotti}

The next night, his actual birthday, we ate much more simply: Sam's brother Daniel brought his Wii gaming system and a few of his pals trekked to Brooklyn for a low-key pizza and wine night.

Wine, pizza, and garlic knots from Antonio's, and buffalo wings from Candlelight Inn.

Chocolates, cookies and chips, cream puffs from Choux Factory, and mixed berry shortcake from Cousin John's Cafe & Bakery.

The Brother's Birthday

Today, my family went to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Harlem for a slightly early birthday dinner for my brother, David. I hadn't been there since before it moved to 125th Street; I like the new location and it's easier to get to from the subway. We ordered lots of appetizers -- 2 kinds of chicken wings, fried green tomatoes, deviled eggs -- I got a platter of jerked and pulled smoked chicken on Cuban bread with curried succotash and creamed cauliflower and beets, Sam got a pulled pork and sliced brisket plate with mac and cheese and BBQ beans, and we ordered 5 different desserts to share.

Happy birthday to all the January babies! I'm currently watching The Screen Actors Guild Awards -- Sam and I just remarked that we've never seen so many awards shows -- but I want to sleep early tonight, especially if it helps ward off the cold or flu that I've felt coming on. Stay warm and dry this week, friends!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Winter Skincare and New Eye Makeup

"Whether I'm wearing lots of makeup or no makeup, I'm always the same person inside."
(Lady Gaga)

For some reason, when I went to Sephora the other day, they gave me a complimentary birthday gift. It's not my birthday month, but I'll take it -- especially when it's a product I buy and use anyway. Below, I will also highlight a few other favorite and new products.

Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment SPF 15 and Advanced Therapy

Before I knew I'd be receiving the mini tubes of Fresh Sugar Rosé and Clear Lip Treatment (brown case), I had already picked up a full-size sheer pink Rosé and clear nighttime Advanced Treatment. I really like these because they are very moisturizing and non-tacky, and free of parabens, sulfates, synthetic dyes, petrochemicals, phthalates, GMOs, and triclosan. I can't live without lip balm -- especially during the winter months -- and am totally a lipgloss girl as opposed to a lipstick woman. Maybe someday I'll grow-up and mature to a ladylike lipstick, but my kisser tends to takeover my entire face when too much attention is brought to it.

L'Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream

My hands have been really dry lately. I keep forgetting to use hand cream, but my hand cream of choice is any one of the L'Occitane hand creams, which is supposedly sold every 3 seconds worldwide. They contain pure shea butter and essential oils to moisturize hard-working hands without being greasy, and one tube lasts a long time.

The Body Shop Shea Body Butter

As great as the L'Occitane shea butter line is, it doesn't come cheap. For body lotion, I go instead to The Body Shop's Shea Body Butter made with Community Fair Trade shea butter from Ghana. While not inexpensive, the 6.9 oz. size costs $19, which is more affordable than the $40 you would pay for L'Occitane's 5.2 oz. (Pure Shea Butter), or the $42 for their 7 oz. (Body Cream). The thick, smooth texture of The Body's Shop's body butter is a cross between the L'Occitane products.

Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream SPF 35

After an unimpressive experience with a well-known Asian brand of BB cream that I received in an event gift bag, I was a little skeptical of this Korean trend that has become an international standard. Still, I decided to give Smashbox's version a try. Free of parabens and with SPF 35, it claims to "prime, perfect, protect, hydrate and control oil in one step." I've only tried it once, but so far it feels light and not at all chalky.

FAIRYDROPS Scandal Queen Mascara

I've also just started using FAIRYDROPS Scandal Queen Mascara, a Japanese fiber mascara with a special brush that really works -- I know every mascara claims to have a unique brush, but this one truly does! My last mascara was d.j.v. beautenizer Fiberwig LX, but I find FAIRYDROPS to be better for both length and volume, and so far it has not gotten flaky and fiber-y like Fiberwig sometimes did. It is free of sulfates, synthetic fragrances or dyes, phthalates, GMOs, and triclosan.

Laura Mercier Artist's Palette for Eyes

Last but not least is Laura Mercier's Artist's Palette for Eyes, a limited edition gift I received from my friend Christine. It is filled with classic, universal shades in both shimmer and matte finishes with very rich, finely milled pigments -- I'm not sure if that's the correct terminology for eye shadow, but hopefully you understand what I mean.

I just finished semi-watching The People's Choice Awards. I haven't seen an awards show in quite a long time... I'd like to watch more movies first, so I'm looking forward to seeing Les Misérables this Friday!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Dr. Oz's 3-Day Detox Cleanse Completed!

"Eliminate harmful toxins, restore your system, and reset your body with this detox cleanse from Dr. Oz. All you need is 3 days, a blender, and $16 a day!"

From New Year's Day until this morning, Sam and I did a 3-day detox cleanse... and we survived! I had first heard of Dr. Oz's cleanse from someone who works at one of my organizations. He tried the cleanse after Thanksgiving, and recommended it. Unlike a juice cleanse -- like BluePrintCleanse, which both I and my friend have tried in the past -- this was a smoothie cleanse, so the drinks were substantial in both taste and texture, and I got to use my new red KitchenAid blender, which was a bonus.

3-Day Detox Cleanse One-Sheet (Image: Dr. Oz)


This cleanse is advertised to cost $16 per day, or $48 for 3 days, for 1 person. It ended up costing more for us because we doubled it, and probably also because we live in NYC. I actually did not purchase everything on the one-sheet document though: 1) We already had green tea and cayenne pepper, 2) we didn't want or need Stevia for the tea, 3) I overlooked the coconut oil in the grocery store we went to, and 4) we didn't incorporate the Detox Ultra Bath in our experience.

This is not even 3 days of produce and supplies

Morning Detox Tea

Each day began with green tea and lemon. According to the video, Dr. Oz's Detox Cleanse, Pt. 1, each cup should contain a full lemon, but that seemed like a lot so we split a lemon between the 2 of us. I'm a coffee drinker and am used to having coffee first thing in the morning, but as much as I love coffee, I have no physical dependence on it (sometimes I wish it would have an effect on me), so fortunately I didn't have any caffeine headaches.

Green tea with lemon slices

Breakfast Drink

Key ingredients: Raspberries, bananas, spinach, almond butter, ground flax seeds.

This one was the favorite for both of us, and we ate this for our snack drink in the afternoons as well. Sam gave it a 3.4 out of 5, and I gave it a 4 out of 5. Final verdict: 7.4 out of 10.

The almond butter and ground flax seeds provided lots of nutty flavor, fiber, fat, and healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.

Fruity breakfast smoothie

Lunch Drink

Key ingredients: Kale, celery, cucumber, green apple, pineapple, lime, almond milk.

Many commenters on the Dr. Oz website disliked this drink the most, but as "green" as it tasted, the fruits added sweetness and brightness. It was chunkier and chewier than the other smoothies, though. Sam gave it a 3.2 out of 5, and I gave it a 3.5 out of 5. Final verdict: 6.7 out of 10.

Per person, each round of drinks made between 20-28 oz. The lunch drink resulted in the most volume, around 28 oz. for each of us. If you are familiar with fresh-pressed juices, this is the smoothie version of green juice: I repeat, lots of greens!

Green lunch smoothie

Snack Drink

As I mentioned above, since we liked the breakfast drink the most, we had that for our snack each afternoon. We're thinking of making it for breakfast post-cleanse, too!

Dinner Drink

Key ingredients: Kale, blueberries, mango, avocado, cayenne pepper, ground flax seeds, coconut water.

This drink wasn't bad, but it was our least favorite. Sam gave it a 3 out of 5, and I also gave it a 3 out of 5. Final verdict: 6 out of 10.

The avocado and ground flax seeds added healthy fat, fiber, and flavor, and there was a lot of leafy green kale in addition to blueberries and mango. The cayenne added a spicy kick.

Spicy dinner smoothie

Overall, we had a very positive experience doing this 3-day cleanse. You know I like my food, so it was a little difficult to get used to immediately after Christmas and New Year's, but we powered through. The first day we started, January 1, I posted a massive holiday update, we babysat my nephew and niece, watched the Michigan bowl game with Sam's brother, Daniel, and had our other brother-in-law, Dave, over to pick-up the kids and eat dinner in our apartment with Daniel! We drank our smoothies and I smelled their food.

We feel healthy having consumed such fresh, whole foods and lots of water over the past 3 days. Being on vacation this week, it was the perfect time to try this together. As a side benefit, Sam lost about 5 pounds, and his pants are fitting much more loosely around his waist. As I shared last January, I have no idea how much I weigh and don't think it changed, but I know my clothing fits exactly the same, wah-wah. I chalk that up to being a woman.

If you try this cleanse, they recommend you ease into it with healthy meals the day before you start, and to ease out of it similarly. I don't think our spicy Korean food, fried chicken, and champagne on New Year's Eve qualify! And we'll be breaking the cleanse with a bang this weekend: I'm taking Sam to Ai Fiori tonight for his birthday dinner, and tomorrow we'll be stuffing our faces with all kinds of pizza and cake. Oh well, we may just be doing this cleanse again soon!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

December Holiday 2012 Update

"Health food may be good for the conscience but Oreos taste a hell of a lot better."
(Robert Redford)

Welcome, 2013! I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a great New Year's Eve. If your last few weeks were anything like mine, they were full of sweets and treats, gift shopping and wrapping, family visits and travel, and tying up year-end work before a much-appreciated break. Below is an overview of some of my December holiday activities.

Christmas Cookie Swap

Earlier this month, my sister and I got together with another pair of sisters we've been friends with for years, Michelle and Angela, and were joined by my nephew and niece, and Michelle's daughter (her son was sick). I asked everyone to bake and bring cookies, and I made some kid-friendly savory food and snacks to offset the sweetness. I bought Christmas napkins and decor from Marshalls, including adorable Meri Meri "'Tis The Season" garland and party picks. The best part? Everyone went home with lots of different cookies!

Christmas cookie swap
Homemade cookies and chocolates and cute Christmas decor
Making pistachio-shortbread sandwich cookies
My pretty pistachio and strawberry shortbread cookies!
Angela's rich chocolate truffles rolled in cocoa and powdered sugar
Michelle's thumbprint and sugar cookies, and Angela's peppermint bark
Maureen's PB & J thumbprint cookies (which I made first 2 years ago)
and M&M cookies
Non-cookie food preparation
Winter fruit salad with apple, banana, pineapple,
mandarin orange
Buttered mixed nuts with rosemary and orange
Green and red peppers with onion dip, tortilla chips with red and green salsa
Creamy crockpot mac and cheese
Sesame chicken wings
Tried-and-true sliders expertly cooked by Sam
and McClure's Garlic Dill Pickles
Lots of beverage choices to wash down the sweets and savories

Holiday Lunch Party

The following weekend, I invited my Brooklyn-based coworkers for a holiday luncheon. We live so close to one another and I had been meaning to have them over since we moved into the neighborhood. To make things easier, I kept a very similar menu to the cookie swap get-together -- buttered nuts with rosemary and orange, veggies and dip, macaroni and cheese, sesame chicken wings, and sliders -- but chose a fancier fruit salad, made a smoked salmon quiche with goat cheese and leeks baked in a whole wheat cream cheese crust, and baked a batch of chewy ginger cookies, which I first made during Hurricane Sandy; they are so good.

Fruit salad and quiche preparation
Winter fruit salad with navel and blood orange, mango, banana,
kiwi, kumquat, pomegranate
Smoked salmon, goat cheese, and leek quiche with cream cheese crust
Carrot "chips" for the reindeer
(and chewy ginger cookies)

Christmas in Our Home

Our apartment is small, but we do have some room for Christmas! My mom gave me a mini Nativity figurine which I placed next to our holiday "Wish Give Love Peace" greeting and some tea lights. Of course we put up our new Christmas tree, which we named Murray, decorated with old ornaments I've had for the past 10 years or so, with the exception of a new 2012 ornament (photo below).

Christmas on our bookshelf
"Sharon and Samuel, Christmas 2012"
Murray the Christmas tree with Boo, presents,
and handmade heat-embossed gift tags
We love seeing everyone's holiday cards

 Christmas in Chicago

This holiday season was a first for us as a married couple, and a first for me spending it outside of New York. We flew to Michigan on December 23, spent some time there with Sam's mom and some relatives, then drove to Chicago on Christmas Eve to stay with Grace, Sam's sister, and her family.

On Christmas Day, we enjoyed watching the kids open gifts, and Grace and I cooked Christmas dinner: the roast prime rib au poivre recipe my sister uses, steamed lobster tails, turkey bacon and Brussels sprout salad, mashed potatoes, my go-to simple buttermilk biscuit recipe, and Grace's favorite apple pie. After dinner, we went to the Bulls vs. Rockets game.

On Wednesday, after a relaxing day inside, we went out for a late second dinner at Joe's Stone Crab -- I was supposed to go to the Miami location during my bachelorette weekend, but we opted to stay on the beach, so I'm grateful to have had the chance to go in Chicago. On Thursday, we went to Yolk for brunch -- I first went there 2 years ago and have been waiting to return ever since! We drove back to Michigan on Thursday afternoon and flew back to NYC that evening.

Christmas morning with Grace, Tommy, Isaiah, Christina,
and monkey bread!
Prime rib, lobster, Brussels sprout salad, mashed potatoes, biscuits,
and apple pie à la mode
Bulls vs. Rockets, playing in the snow, cinnamon roll French toast
and pumpkin bread French toast

New Year's Eve

Last night, we went to see Angela's New York Repertory Orchestra and the New York Festival Singers at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle. Then we ate ddukbokki (spicy rice cakes) and Korean fried chicken at Turntable in K-Town, and rang in the new year at IchiUmi Cellar with Daniel, Sam's brother. It was an unplanned evening that turned out really nicely.

My festive silver glittery Barbie nails, beautiful Roman Catholic church
Ddukbokki and fried chicken
Happy New Year!

We have another few days off before returning to work. Today we started a 3-day cleanse, which I plan to post about next. Happy holidays!