Wednesday, December 19, 2007

shopping scenes

Wednesday night I met three of my dearest friends for dinner. It was a slightly surreal experience. The Texan among us selected the restaurant - a Texan bbq place in Chelsea. She must have been trying to give us a little flavor (Texas style meaning a HUGE flavor) of her home state because I thought I was transported from Manhattan directly to Texas as soon as I walked in the door. I was the first to arrive in the shoulder-to-shoulder waiting area/bar. I was carrying a lot of stuff and was suddenly very hot and feeling claustorphobic. I was a little disappointed that there would only be three of us because Ruby never responded to our email exchange. But before I managed to squeeze up to the hostess I spotted Ruby hustling her way in the door. Such a great surprise! We put our name on the list and I was handed one of those buzzer things that are popular in overcrowded suburban chain restuarants but so rare in NYC that JooYun didn't seem to know what it was.
Joo and Katharine (our Texan) arrived soon after Ruby and I managed to plant ourselves and our bags on a couple of seats at the bar. We debated embarking out in search of a back-up restaurant but decided a 30 minute wait was worth staying put. The time flew quickly as we caught up and soon enough our buzzer was vibrating across the bar lighting up with festive red lights. Ruby and I were not really prepared for this place. We were expecting to sit and be served. Instead we were handed meal cards we were told several times not to lose and herded to a table. There was pandamonium all around us and I had the distinct impression that at least 80% of the room's population called Texas home. There were tall rugged outdoor looking men and very small, overly made up, big haired women. We quickly learned that in order to get food we took our meal cards to the meat station (where you ordered your meat by the pound!) and the side table. Ruby and I decided to share a few side dishes and both selected ribs, which were placed on butcher paper, weighed and handed to us partially wrapped. I felt like I was at the butcher. I was carrying our tray of sides and some man offended Ruby when he remarked "that's a lot of food!" Whatev, if he's Texan he was probably impressed. Who knows.
There was a lot of confusion back at our table as we tried to get plates and get rid of our over-sized trays that were crowding the table. Unfortunately I don't have the photo of Ruby with our butcher paper wrapped ribs but believe me, she looked pretty overwhelmed by it all!
The food was good and it was so nice to relax with old friends and catch up before we all went off in our different directions. I provided the dessert - cupcakes from the dessert party! And we lingered bouncing from topic to topic. I am disappointed in myself for not getting a group photo of us.
After dinner Ruby needed to go to Macy's to finish some more Christmas shopping and I agreed to go with her with the caveat that I would flee if things were ugly. It was 9:30 by the time we arrived and as she said, it really was open until midnight and thankfully the rest of Manhattan had not figured this out so we were able to shop in a kinder, gentler Macy's. We had a great time selecting jewelry for her sister, jewelry for ourselves (who else is going to buy me jewelry? besides, it was all 50% off!) and other last minute items. We were both surprised at how much more enjoyable and easier it is to shop with a friend . . . even if we are enablers.

I snapped a couple of Christmas scene pics while we were out. This first one was in the Manhattan Mall (yes, we have one mall). We didn't actually shop here, the subway dumped us out here and we walked through to find our way outside to Macy's. The fountain just made me laugh - kind of a unique way to decorate, just dump a bunch of bulbs in the water!
I took this photo in Macy's, it doesn't quite capture the full effect but you get the idea -- lots and lots of poinsettias.
Speaking of poinsettias . . . a big WHOO HOO to the Utah Utes for winning their 7th straight bowl game in a row!! I blame them for keeping me up until 1 am last night. I was trying to pack, do laundry and watch the game all at the same time. Unfortunately the game kept drawing me back to my couch and all of my stuff was strewn out between the living room and bedroom. I hate packing. Especially for long trips. Plus, I feel I keep getting judged for hauling home a GIANT suitcase. But how else am I supposed to carry all my gifts home? And winter clothes are bulkier and what about boots? Seriously, how can I go home for 9 days with only a small rolling case?

Okay, I'm done with that. My flight leaves at 7 tonight but I am leaving for the airport at 3:30 out of an abundance of caution because I expect the drive to Newark will be ugly and I don't want to repeat the horror story of Thanksgiving last year when I nearly missed my flight home to to terrifying traffic getting out of the City.

With any luck I will be snowboarding tomorrow, hanging out with the family Sunday for church, extended family party, etc., last minute shopping on Monday and then enjoying a restful Christmas day so I may not be in touch for a few days. So in case I don't get a chance to say it later, I will say it now:


Another New York Christmas Scene

These giant nutcrackers live on 6th Avenue. My mom should love them . . .
Here I am posing with one.

Diet Wrecker

I can now deem the 7th annual dessert party a success. People came. People ate (I think more than usual). And people complimented my baking . . . and really that is what it is all about, right?

The party was immediately followed by the predictable let-down that follows a sugar high of that magnitude with conflicting feelings of remorse (why did I ruin the fudge?), disappointment (um, no one even tried to catch me under the mistle toe), regret (why didn't I try to eat real food at some point in the day?), sadness (a number of people did not make it), futility (seriously, when will I meet someone new and exciting at my party the way others have claimed they have?), relief (no more baking every night!) and panic (now I have to focus on Christmas shopping!).

As has been a trend in the last couple of years, once I finish all the baking and guests arrive, I neglect my camera and thus have very little evidence that people were actually in my apartment other than the crumbs sprinkled across my floor and the stray plastic cups I found on bookshelves and under (UNDER! why are you hiding trash????) the love seat in my bedroom. Although there was the pleasant surprise of a couple of wacky photos some friends took when they found my camera abandoned in the kitchen.

I started baking about a week and a half in advance: butter cookie dough, sugar cookie dough and ginger cookie dough can all be frozen or refridgerated. Even the red velvet mini-cupcakes and banana bread tasted great after coming out of the freezer. Wednesday night I made peanut butter cups and Friday night was candy fest with pecan toffee, truffles and a failed attempt at "No Fail Fudge"!!! This stuff only fails when I make it in NYC so I am absolutely convinced that it has to do with the altitude or the humidity or something. I nibbled on some of it last night before I threw it all out - dry and lumpy texture being the main problem - and while it didn't taste bad, I couldn't bring myself to plate a disappointing treat on the table so it hid in its pan under the shelves overhanging the fridge Sunday night. Saturday night **after the ward party** I continued my preparations by finally making the cupcake I have been dreaming about for a while: Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ganache and Ginger Whipped Cream. Again in miniature size for easy bite-size access. I'm not just being boastful when I say these things were amazing - they received many compliments.

Sunday was a whirlwind of preparation. Rolling out and baking all sorts of cookies. The candy cane sugar cookies (I substitute peppermint extract for vanilla in half the batch and color it with red food coloring) and the stars I cut out with the rest of the sugar cookie dough turned out better than ever. Rolling out the candy canes can be a giant pain but this year it went very smoothly. The ginger cookies were fantastic too - hitting just the right balance of crisp edges and soft center. But trouble started when I tried to reign my cookie press into action. It just did not cooperate. At all. I wanted to have a whole forest of little butter cookie trees and what I go instead was little ribbons of dough that refused to form anything solid enough to land on a cookie sheet. I improvised and rolled the butter cookie dough out flat, cut out squares (or something similar to squares), spread raspberry jam in the center and folded the squares into a triangle brushing an egg wash on top and sprinkling them with crushed hazlenuts. I tried a couple of other variations with the butter cookie dough but this was the only one I liked. Stupid cookie press. That is two ruined items. But at least with this one I didn't have to throw out the whole batch - just the ugly blobs that were supposed to look like snow flakes.

At some ridiculous point in the day I thought I was running ahead of schedule despite the fact that my friend who was supposed to come help me decorate cookies and cupcakes came down with the flu and couldn't make it. I frosted all the sugar cookies (cutting corners with the red sugar cookie stockings I cut out by only putting white frosting along the top a la the fur trim) with royal icing then made the tempermental red velvet frosting that thankfully worked, then whipped together some ganache as a last minute addition (because I thought I had extra time) and some ginger whipped cream. It was right as I was finishing the last batch of cupcakes that I started to panic, noticing it was nearly 6 and I was essentially in pajamas (although I did shower earlier), the kitchen was a disaster, I needed to vacuum, put out candles, get dressed, redo my hair, put on makeup and get all the desserts out and the punch made. Guests were due at 7 pm. I became even more stressed out when Brooke arrived around 615 to help and I was thinking in too many directions at once to even utilize her willing extra hands. She was great and vacuumed my floors and listened to all my conflicting instructions about setting out candles and lighting, no wait, don't light . . . okay, light the candles now. When my first guests arrived at 715 I had calmed down a bit and everything was set. The only problem was I had no desire to eat anything sweet since all I had eaten was a slim fast shake that morning and sampling treats to make sure nothing was gross.

During the party I ate a few pieces of cheese (because cheese is a dessert too you know!) and tried to talk to all my guests. Unlike years past, my apartment never became completely packed to the point of not being able to move. There was a good turnout but people cycled through, starting at my party and heading off in herds to the next party or stopping by after the Messiah performance at the church. It suppose it was better to have room to mingle and move among my guests but there is something especially satisfying about having a party big enough that people can't squeeze past the entryway. Of course they eat more when they can. Nearly every guest arrived slightly traumatized by the raging arctic wind that was especially forceful outside my door that night. I am close to the Hudson River which means cool refreshing breezes in the misery of stagnant humid summers and icy winds in the winter that bite through every last winter layer and make it difficult to walk straight into it. This year there was a significantly better male:female ratio. I am horrible with numbers so I can't even estimate how many people ultimately came by but it was nice to feel like things were semi-balanced. The last two years all of my friends kept commenting about how there were lots of beautiful girls and no boys. And they wonder why I don't date . . . of the boys who did come I don't expect any of them have any interest in me and although a few could grab my attention if they wanted it, I'm not holding my breath waiting for one to ask me out. Especially since I tried pointing out the mistletoe to a few and none of them took that bait. Oh, well. I guess I will have to wait and see what 2008 holds.

WARNING: the images shown below may induce hunger and possibly even cravings for any and possibly all of the following: red velvet cupcakes, chocolate pumpkin cheesecake cupcakes, ginger cookies, truffles, pecan toffee, butter cookies filled with raspberry, sugar cookies, candy cane cookies or maybe even fudge. While there is no hard evidence that simply viewing the photos will lead to weightgain, research in this area is inconclusive as the results are generally skewed by the subsequent chocolate binge that inevitably follows. Please proceed with caution.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Party Planner Extraodinaire

Where or where do I begin? This weekend was a crazy long blur of baking and party planning with very little sleep.

Friday evening started calmly enough with a movie with Michele's parents, sister and two nieces who were in town for the weekend. I was thoroughly entertained by Enchanted - very funny and a great twist on the helpless princesses little girls seem to be obsessed with. Glad to know Disney has a bit of a sense of humor about the whole thing. Immediately following the movie I went home and continued baking. I made fudge, pecan toffee, truffles and possibly something else I'm forgetting at the moment. I didn't crawl into bed until long after 2 am, worried that my computer had just crashed and distressed about ruining a batch of my "never fail" fudge that never works the way it is supposed to when I make it at sea level.

But no sleeping in Saturday morning for me! I received a call not long after 8 am, just as I was trying to talk myself into getting out of bed because yes, a shower is necessary first thing in the morning. I am really glad I convinced myself to shower before heading to the church because contrary to my initial assessment of the day, I didn't have a chance to return home until after 10 pm!

You see, as I may have mentioned in the past, I am the activities co-chair for my ward.* My co-chair is one of the very few single over 30 males in the ward and I have wondered if our bishop thought this would be just the thing to change our single status if you know what I mean . . . . We've been doing this gig for almost a year now and despite our intention (or at least my intention) to keep things simple, it is hard to keep a Christmas dinner for 100 people simple. I arrived at the church at 930 am to meet our first wave of volunteers who were there to string lights across the vast gym. My intent was to unlock the closet containing the lights and get them going on their project and then go run some errands - pick up a few items for my dessert party, get a manicure or maybe go back home for some quick prep. How naive I was at that early point in an excessively long day. The thing about being in charge is you don't get to be the one to slip away because there are constant last minute decisions and dilemmas - large and small - that must be addressed. My co-chair arrived not long after I did from an early morning run to the flower district and we started a long day of consults and quick fix decisions that usually resulted in someone running to Bed Bath & Beyond which is conveniently located next door. I picked up cable ties, dish soap and sponges, priced extension cords (before we got the key to the magic electronics closet), tried to buy plastic cups and duct tape and was surprised to find these items were not part of the Beyond portion of the store. I made two trips and I think my co-chair made at least one additional trip that day. But those small oversights and set backs were nothing compared to what happened when the food arrived.

Operating on a limited budget and without a car or a convenient Costco nearby, I ordered all our food from my online grocer that just so happens to have catering options. We provided ham, rolls, potatoes and dessert and asked ward members to bring side dishes, salads and other holiday favorites. We unloaded the boxes and as we were trying to fit all of our purchases into the single undersized fridge in the kitchen I asked where the rest of the hams were because I could only see 4 of the 10 we ordered. After turning over a few boxes and opening the remaining bags that weren't nearly heavy enough to be hiding ham, I started to panic. I was not entirely confident that I had estimated properly on how many pound of ham one needed to feed 100 people but I was pretty sure that 20 pounds was not going to cover it.

After 40 minutes on the phone with the best customer service person I have ever worked with I walked away with a full refund on all the ham which returned $300 to my budget to go search the city for 30 more pounds of ham. This may sound like a lot but in planning this dinner I discovered that ham is very expensive!! Oh, and it is hard to find in Manhattan for who knows what reason. It wasn't yet noon when my co-chair and I raced outside to head to the nearest grocery store. As we stepped onto the sidewalk he turned and said, "you realize we are taking a cab, right?" And I heartily agreed as we chased one down to go 12 blocks to the much-acclaimed Fairway grocer. I have been hearing about this legendary Upper West Side grocery store for years but given the fact I have never lived in a close enough vicinity I had never experienced it for myself. Most of you probably take your large grocery stores with full size carts, wide aisles and plentifully stocked shelves for granted. New Yorkers don't always have such luxuries. I'm not saying Fairway is one of those, but is one of the closest things I have witnessed in New York to a "normal" grocery store. Except that it just wasn't - there were mobs of people, tight aisles and we were trying to weave through with an empty cart to the butcher in the back. We circled the meat section and came up with nothing.

This was my co-chair's neighborhood so he suggested we head next door to Citarella, a gourmet market specializing in meat. We hit the jackpot. There we discovered these beautiful 16 pound bone in pre-cooked hams just waiting to be heated for a church buffet. Relieved at our good fortune we realized that it was after 1 pm and neither of us had eaten anything up to that point and that meant our hard working volunteers were probably hungry as well. I suggested we pick up a pizza and as we stood in line my co-chair pulled out his iphone (while I seethed with jealousy) and found a Dominoes nearby and one more tap he was talking to a live person ordering 4 large pizzas. Heavily burdened with our 40 something pounds of ham (he thought we should get a little extra) that took only $200 of our refunded money, we grabbed a cab and swung by Dominoes for our pizzas. I waited in the cab and sent Tiffany an accusing email for planting silly ideas about me having some sort of chemistry with this boy after she met him at our swanky party last week. I held onto a slight crush much of the day but I am chalking that up to motivation to get endure the day and well, lack of better direction for my emotions. I think it was some sort of 24-hour type bug because it immediately disappeared when I saw him again at my dessert party. Because honestly, one of the things that I find most attractive is sensing a guy is attracted to me and that just isn't the vibe I was getting.

When we arrived back at the church with ham and pizzas, we were happy to see our volunteers had finished the lights in our absence. And they were extremely happy to see us walk in with pizza, so we had a nice pizza break which I believe was about the only time I sat down all day because immediately afterwards I was up and directing traffic again. The sister missionaries were around and helped set up centerpieces on the tables and hang snowflakes from the light canopy and at 3 our next wave of volunteers showed up to help prep food and finish decorating the gym. I enjoyed working in the kitchen with our relief society president who has to be one of the funniest and most offbeat relief society presidents I have ever encountered. She had me nearly doubled over at one comment.

Somehow, the whole thing came together in a timely manner and ward members pulled through with their part and showed up fairly punctually with dishes to fill in the buffet. We originally set up 10 tables with 8 chairs and we had to quickly add another 3 tables and finally added a 4th table so we would have a place to sit. I did get to go through the buffet and I was surprised to find there was still food left after seeing so many people walking by with plates piled high from sampling every dish on the table. The food all tasted great and we purchased way, way too much but after the Bishop's cautionary tale of running out of food last year, I was fine with that result. It was really hard to motivate to take the whole thing down but we once again managed to round up some volunteers and it went faster than I expected.

You would think that after I walked home through the snow I would have crashed into my bed from exhaustion . . . but no, I needed to get ready for my next party and I spent the rest of the night creating a new cupcake concoction: chocolate, pumpkin cheesecake cupcakes which I later covered in ganache and ginger whipped cream. Another 2 am night.

And if I am going to avoid having yet another late, late night, I need to sign off and wait to tell you about the dessert party tomorrow. Enjoy these photos of the ward party for now:

*individual congregations in my church are termed "wards", nothing to do with hospitals.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Countdown and New York Christmas Scene VI

1 snowstorm predicted for Sunday
1 friend offered to come help me prepare on Sunday
2 bottles of pear juice in my fridge
3 maybe responses for my dessert party and 3 loaves of banana bread in the freezer and
4 cookie doughs chilling in my freezer (butter, plain sugar, peppermint red sugar and ginger)
possibly 5 different frostings to make for various cookies, brownies and cupcakes
6 bottles of ginger ale on hand for the punch
7 days until I fly home for Christmas
10 fingers desperate for a new manicure*
about 11 hours of my Saturday are committed to planning the church Christmas dinner
12 "bah humbug" responses for my dessert party
the 21 Club all trussed up for the season:
around 24 ganache truffles waiting to be made
36 minutes until the movie I'm seeing with Michele's family
46 nonresponsive invitees for my dessert party
48 hours left to prepare for my dessert party
50 or so pieces of fudge that need to be made, sliced and set out for guests
55 or so cranberries I need to remember to put in ice trays to freeze for the punch
approximately 58 peanut butter cups chilling in the fridge
about 60 miniature red velvet cupcakes stored in my freezer waiting for frosting
62 "loosening my belt" planning to attend responses for my dessert party
I need to make another 65 or so miniature chocolate cupcakes filled with pumpkin cheesecake
too many nuts to individually count waiting for me to turn into spiced nuts
600 pm on Sunday: the time I will panic and realize I need to shower, get dressed and put on makeup before my guests arrive
*which is why I never get manicures to begin with -- within the week half my nails are chipped and ruined

New York Christmas Scene IV

The tree at Rockefeller Center is likely the most famous Christmas tree in the country . . . except maybe the one in the White House, but that one isn't exactly accessible to the public. I would argue that this one is not all that accessible either. Crowds of people and all kinds of other holiday displays make the plaza crowded and uninviting. The tree is big. Which is impressive I guess, as is the much acclaimed Swarovski crystal star clear up on the top - not that I could really see it from the ground. But I think Tiffany agreed with me that the Lincoln Plaza tree is prettier. The lack of crowds help but I also love the giant ornaments and twinkling lights at night.
I will say this for the Rockefeller tree, I thought the penny pool thing - officially called the Penny Harvest Field - is a pretty unique idea and it was interesting to stand there and listen to all the clinking pennies being thrown added to the pile. I think it is supposed to be a hundred million pennies but with all the other pennies being thrown on I'm sure that number is growing.
And here is one more pic of Tiffany in front of the tree.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Anticipation . . .

I am so jealous of all the snow that Salt Lake has been accumulating lately and getting extremely anxious for the 21st of December to arrive for a number of reasons (not necessarily in this priority order):
  1. Last official work day of the year! I am working late this week so I can get my hours in and done so I can hopefully ignore my blackberry for the rest of the year after the 21st. WHEE!
  2. I fly home for 9 days on the 21st - on a direct flight so hopefully I won't have to endure the stress of the threat of being stranded in Cinncinnati again (this almost happened last year!). That is a helpless feeling sitting on a plane still in the air knowing your connecting flight should have left without you before you ever had a chance to land. It is also a panicked run through the airport knowing the plane is being held for you and a handful of other frantic passengers not wanting to spend Christmas in a strange hotel in Ohio . . . or Kentucky I guess which is where I have been told the Cinncinnati airport actually rests.
  3. And most importantly, lest my mother misinterpet this post, I am most excited to be home with my family for Christmas. I have never even considered not going home - even if home can sometimes bring family drama. The pros outweigh the cons. There is nothing like the warmth and familiarity of family and traditions at Christmas and although I continue to push a tropical vacation for Christmas, I will drag my parents with me when I finally do it (perhaps next year).
  4. Friends - I always enjoy cramming lunches, dinners and leisurely visits in with friends while I'm home. I never have time to see everyone but that lends to the comforting feeling of knowing I am loved and missed by people who have wandered into my life and stuck . . . even when distance and time pushes us apart.
  5. Girl Party - sometimes I think we should name our annual friends party that has officially and unofficially been repeating itself at Christmas since 1992 or so. My fantastic high school friends who have stuck together through the years never fail me in picking a December date to gather to eat with abandon and catch each other up on the nonesense, frivolties, momentous landmark events and serious happenings of the past year. Blogs have kept us in better touch this year which makes me even more anxious to see everyone in live action on the 26th because I have been able to vicariously take part in their individual lives year-round. Truly one of my favorite holiday traditions.
  6. Snowboarding. This is ultimately what prompted me to abandon my work for a few minutes to blog (then I felt guilty that someone -- hi Mom! -- might think I'm only looking forward to the snow and not my family so I had to expand my list with the really important stuff up front). I have refrained from obsessing over depth reports becasue my trip was so far off but with all the snow Utah has been getting in the last couple of weeks I had to look up and see for myself what was happening at my favorite ski resort. Let's see, a base of 40" with 1" of new snow today . . . and the photos, if I could I would head out there tonight so I could be on the hill tomorrow. I bought myself a new snowboard last year and only got to ride two days on melty, slushy snow with rocks and trees poking through the surface. From now on I am going to dream about fresh powder. . . I even told my trainer this morning that I didn't mind doing all the squats she was having me do because I think they will help me prepare my thighs for snowboarding. If anyone is looking for a buddy to ride with between December 22nd and 30th (I'm looking at you Michele!!) . . . give me a ring because I will be going up every chance I get. . . you know, in between all the family Christmas traditions, friends parties, lunches and visits and last minute Christmas shopping because I can sleep when I return to New York. I. Can't. Wait!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mini Vacation at Home

I am struggling to find the words to adequately describe my weekend. After Tiffany's harrowing three and a half hour adventure from the airport to my apartment Thursday I knew I needed to step it up and show her the softer, gentler side of New York City - with pasta. I believe all was forgiven after sharing calamari, ravioli and gnocchi at Puttanesca.

Friday I managed to leave work at the unheard of early hour of 4:30!! What followed is a blur of shared laughter, about a million footsteps around the City, consumption of a lot more carbs, shopping, shopping, shopping and not a lot of sleep. I have to repeat that it felt like I was able to simultaneously take a mini-vacation in my own city and adopt a roommate for a weekend. A roommate with fabulous party decorating tips and impeccable fashion advice. A roommate who solved my snowflake light problem with the simple suggestion of hooks and convinced me to just try skinny jeans . . . and both worked and worked well! A roommate who agreed to order dinner in Friday, Saturday and Sunday even though she was just visiting (we were both too exhausted to venture out again!). Other than a brief year with my sister it has been over six years since I last had a roommate and of the approximately 25 roommates I have had, I only managed to really enjoy and bond with a very small few. I am self-examining enough to understand that I have a personality that does not mesh and meld with those of others easily which can make living with and traveling with other people challenging both for me and my companions. But with Tiffany everything felt easy and comfortable. As a result, rather than feeling relieved to have my space back and reclaim my independence when I came home tonight, I was sad to find an empty apartment and discover our trip was over so quickly.

To recap the highlights a bit I will rely mostly on photos:

After work (and a bit on my lunch hour) Tiff and I did some Fifth Avenue shopping at H&M and Nine West to ready ourselves for the annual dress up holiday party I was dragging her off to so she could witness the New York singles scene for herself (not necessarily an encouraging sight what with the low male ratio and the runty proportions of those who actually turned up). The best part was getting all dressed up and opting for a cab after Tiff's shoes nearly killed her right there on the sidewalk. Oh, and the $10 manicures - we thought our hands were going to freeze off on the walk home but we both managed to avoid any tragic smudges. Didn't we look great (other than the fact that my necklace kept putting the moves on my left breast)?
The party took place in the solarium of a downtown apartment building. We stepped outside long enough to snap a couple of pics (note the great red shoes!).
Tiffany had to show me how great and twirly her dress was:
We had grand plans to hit the swanky Hudson hotel bar in our fancy clothes but Tiffany had purchased torture devices called shoes and so we decided to make s'mores at my place instead and watch a really terrible movie because Netflix sent it to me (never watch Land of Women, seriously don't even try it for Adam Brody, he's not worth it).
We hauled ourselves out of bed at a reasonable time and only had to wait at Alice's Teacup for about 15 minutes before being served our delicious eggs benedict, pumpkin scone and herbal chai and rooibos teas. Such a girly brunch.

After brunch we bought a number of hats from a street vendor, stopped off at the church to use the bathroom (because if nothing else, I know where to go in this City!) and nearly cried listening to this little jazz quartet playing Christmas carols in the subway.
The we hit SoHo for shopping. Which is when Tiffany talked me into trying and subsequently buying skinny jeans (I really can't tell you how amazing it is she got me to even try the things on, let alone buy them!). Soon enough it was time for a chocolate break. Luckily we were near Vosges! We shared this beautiful glass of Aztec hot chocolate and those four truffles - all were divine!
As you might imagine, we were pretty beat by the time we landed back at my place around 530 or 6, which is why ordering dinner won out over going out. But we did manage to pull ourselves back outside to see Juno. Which again, I cannot emphasize enough how much I loved this movie. Go see it! I guess Juno put us in the right mood and we stayed up until all hours of the night bonding . . . because some conversations cannot happen during regular daylight hours.

And yet we miraculously managed to make our brunch reservations at Norma's the next morning at 1045 am! Here I am enjoying my smoothy sampler - I'm shocked I managed to look this good on only a few hours of sleep!
Our food: Normalita's huevos rancheros (my favorite dish) and mango and papaya crepes. We swapped plates half-way through.
The big event for Sunday was seeing the Rockettes, but first we had to check out the famous tree at Rockefeller Center. There is a big penny reflecting pond type thing set up in the plaza, so we attempted to take artsy photos and threw in our own two cents . . . . hee hee.
And this is the reason I never venture the two blocks over from my office to Rockefeller Center during December. Of course on Sunday I was a tourist so I managed to hold my hatred of crowds at bay (mostly!).
Tiffany in action:
Here we are waiting to see the show in Radio City Music Hall. The Christmas Spectacular was pretty spectacular although I think we were in agreement that the Toy Soldiers were the best and the Nativity scene was a bit strange as we were both worried that the wise men were going to burst into a dance number with a few high kicks.
Somehow we still had the energy for some more shopping before stopping in my favorite restaurant - Vynl - for a couple of Diet Cokes at the bar. I thought it was funny when the bartender asked if we wanted a menu and we just responded in unison "just Diet Coke . . . with a lime" and he responded "been shopping?"
Really we were just killing time until our spa appointment for pedicures. Which were incredibly relaxing. We went to Spa Ja which greeted us with hot towels and took our coats and packages and led us upstairs to private room where we were given warmed neck pillows, hot berry tea, sliced apples, strawberries and a few little treats. The women giving us pedicures probably wondered whether we even liked each other as we barely exchanged more than a few words the whole time and mostly fought the instinct of dozing off because we were finally so relaxed after all our running around!

We hailed a cab in our flip flops just as it started to sprinkle and made it home before the rain poured down where we ordered dinner from Vynl, relaxed a bit more then fixed my decorations and I made some red velvet cupcakes for my upcoming dessert party.

I have to say this was the best vacation I have had in New York in a very long time! Please come again soon Tiffany!!!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

New York Christmas Scene III

I am really tired tonight after my mini-weekend vacation in New York City this weekend. Yes, I live in NYC so technically it wasn't a vacation but having Tiffany here this weekend made me feel like I was on vacation. Below is one of the scenes we encountered - giant bulbs on 6th Avenue.


Go see this movie. So good.
I laughed.
I cried.
Now I want to see it again.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

New York Christmas Scene II

This Christmas scene is in the Shops at Columbus Circle, Manhattan's version of a mall. These stars change colors and have some choreographed routines to Christmas songs. Festive and fun, they are beautiful when viewed from one of the top floors, from the ground level or walking towards Columbus Circle from Central Park South. Beautiful!

Friday, December 07, 2007

A few quick gift ideas

It is hard for me to give out many tips with my complete lack of preparation but I have started doing a bit of shopping and thought I would pass along a few ideas, even if they aren't terribly original or creative: Holiday gift baskets or mixes from Lehi Roller Mill. I am not normally a fan of pre-made mixes but these are the best! The just add water pancakes are surprisingly light and fluffy and the easiest thing in the world to make! I get my secretary a gift basket each year and she loves it - plus I feel like it is a little bit of home since it is a unique product of Utah. I have loved everything I have tried and I always get positive feedback about them. I think a lot of families have a tradition of giving Christmas pajamas - my family loves getting pj bottoms from Old Navy - but to mix it up a bit, try these flannels from Victoria's Secret. They are only $29.50 and if you enter PJSLIPPER, you get the slippers free! Who knew you could get such fun and sexy flannels?

For the movie lover - Netflix has gift subscriptions! It is super flexible. You can pick a plan (1, 2 or 3 at a time unlimited or 1 at a time with 2 a month) and you can select from a one to 12 month subscription. Clearly they want you to get your friends and family hooked on Netflix but I think it is a unique gift that keeps on giving . . .

For the book lover - a nice set of bookends, perhaps with a hard bound edition of a favorite book or an amazon gift card.

That's all I have in me now - that I'm willing to share. As you can tell, I really need some help in the idea department so feel free to add to my list.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

New York Christmas Scene Ib and a Recipe!

All day I was disappointed over (what I thought) was one measly comment after my plea for comments to fuel my inspiration. Tonight I decided to check my blog . . . you know, just in case it was broken or forgot to forward the comments to my gmail account. And guess what? There were 8, EIGHT! comments sitting there (thank you all!), only one of which was ever sent to my inbox. What is up with that blogger? Or google or whoever decided to be a grinch today and withhold these affirming nuggets from me. And I am so clueless in the tech department that I don't even know where I would begin to sort this out and try and fix it.

Anyway, tonight's picture is a fresh one I took less than an hour ago. The subject matter though is already a repeat (hence this is scene Ib)- this is the same tree at Lincoln Center. I was walking home from the church again (on a Wednesday night no less!) and I couldn't resist snapping up a pic with the lights twinkling. I tried to be artsy-ish with the fountain in the foreground to block the ugly blue barricade guarding the tree but as you can see . . . I don't really have an artistic eye. But the tree is still pretty.
I will also add that I have kicked off my dessert party baking . . . on accident. I had some bananas that were ripe and perfect for banana bread. So Monday night I whipped a batch together with a few extra shakes of spices to give it that Christmas spice bread flavor. Oh, and I always add chocolate chips to my banana bread. Here is a photo of the cute little loaves lined up in their pans right before I wrapped them up and stored them in the freezer to wait for the party, all save one which I gobbled up myself - over the course of a couple of days because you know, I had to sample it to make sure it was edible what with all the extra experimental spices and all.And if you are in need of an excellent banana bread recipe, give this one a try.

Quick Tip: I store my blackened bananas (make sure they are complete black - better flavor!) in the freezer until I'm ready for a batch of this quick bread:

Sift together:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
cinnamon - I think 2 or 3 teaspoons, possibly more
nutmeg - 1 or 2 teaspoons I would guess
ground cloves - 1/2 to 1 teaspoon

1 cup sugar

In a separate mixing bowl, mash up:
3 ripe bananas

Then add:
2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup shortening (tip: if you are still using shortening out of the tub as opposed to those Crisco sticks - which I can't locate in Manhattan - swirl an egg around in your measuring cup before scooping the Crisco in and it will slide right out and not make quite as big a mess. But then, maybe you all know this already)

Add the flour/sugar/spice mix to the banana mix and blend well.

Optional: add
1/2 cup chopped nuts
chocolate chips
I use both!

Pour into 4 greased small bread pans (or 2 regular size bread pans)
Bake for approximately 45 minutes at 400 degrees

These little loaves are quick and easy, make great holiday gifts and they freeze well. Super easy and tasty!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

New York Christmas Scene I

Last year I had the idea of posting photos of some of my favorite scenes of Christmas I encounter in New York. But I never followed up by actually doing it. That may have had something to do with my hard drive crashing right around that time.
Anyway, today I'm feeling uninspired and slightly irrelevant (I could be encouraged by more comments!) so I am going to kick off my New York Christmas Scenes series. I can't promise a photo a day but I have a few others waiting in the wings so I will try and make this a regular posting - just realize I do not in any way hold myself as anything more than a point and shoot photographer that occasionally gets lucky with a decent picture.
This first Christmas photo, taken on my way home from church Sunday, is the tree at Lincoln Center lightly dusted with fresh snow, the scene (or possibly the bitter 20-something temps) momentarily took my breath away:

Monday, December 03, 2007

walking into memories

[Preface Note: this post was mostly written on Friday but without all the NaBloPoMo pressure it has languished in draft phase waiting to be finished properly (or at least finished). And while I'm on a tangent, the whole NaBloPoMo thing was fun but hard. And I didn't even win any prizes . . . of course, I never do. But I'm happy I completed the challenge. Here is hoping for a rise in quality, even if the quantity drops off a bit (but not completely, I'm not going anywhere).]

Walking to work yesterday I kept counting the days out in my head in an attempt to make Thursday actually be Friday. I was convinced it should be Friday. I was also convinced that November had run its course and should be over by now. This year we had that really early Thanksgiving that throws everything off course. Thanksgiving is supposed to be the end of the month with a few short November days to pass through before December hits with full force. This year it snuck in kind of early and left an excessive amount of November left to run out dully in a slow plodding shuffle into December.

As the bitter dialogue continued to run on about this rut I call going to work in my head, Ben Folds' The Luckiest began to play and I looked to my left before crossing 9th Avenue. As I did so, I noticed something that brought a smile to my face and a spring to my step as I stepped off the curb:

There are so many things that can drag me down living in New York City at Christmas-time (the crowds, the cold, the crowds and don't forget the cold) that it is easy to forget or ignore the fabulous little wonders that bring an unintended smile. The annual appearance of this Christmas tree display and the proprieter's rusted old vanagon is one.

A couple of Christmases ago, after I had been back in the City about six months, I decided to buy a Christmas tree. I had clearly forgotten the lessons I learned from having a tree the previous year - infestation of pine needles that became permanently lodged in my vacuum (the one I threw out just a few weeks ago) - and was simply mesmerized by the smell. The pungent aroma of nature inserted into the center of the concrete jungle is hypnotic, especially when this particular nature smell means Christmas. The intoxicating scent made me forgot the part of the Christmas tree saga where my brother and I had to hoist it off the balcony onto the driveway after repeated sticks by dry, brittle needles and a sticky sapping from the trunk. After the first week after we brought that tree home it began dropping a million needles the instant anyone looked in its direction. Instead I conjured up the memory of my sister and I roaming the Christmas tree lot at Fred Myer's lot on 4th South in Salt Lake carefully inspecting and examining each tree as we sipped our complimentary hot cider. The enticing aroma covered the memory of hours and hours of fruitless vacuuming that stretched out over six months and still never collected all the needles with the joy and excitement of selecting lights and ornaments with my sister at Target and gleefully decorating our tree as snow softly fell outside. The piney scent brings a smile to my lips as I laugh inside at the memory of us tying that tree to the top of my Subaru on our own and maneuvering it up the damp steps to our living room where we quickly rearranged the furniture so the tree could be proudly displayed in the floor to ceiling window facing the street. And the smell itself. I craved the smell of fresh pine in my home.

So one Saturday night I got dressed in an outfit suitable for hauling a tree home and hiked up the two cross-town blocks to the tree lot where I first purchased a Christmas tree in New York. I remember that first little tree I purchased in 2001 when I had no concept of how one went about negotiating the logistics of acquiring and putting up a tree in Manhattan. I had passed several displays of trees crowding the sidewalks and didn't know how to choose other than by going to the one that was closest. I was fascinated by the process: after picking a tree, the tree man sent my short and stout little pine through a machine that I initially feared was a chipper of some sort but out came my tree, slim and trim fully encased in netting. I was still a bit concerned as to how I would lug this thing home - as small as it was - so the tree man gave me a brief tutorial on how to carry a Christmas tree through the streets of Manhattan (reach your hand down through the branches somewhere in the middle of the tree and grab the trunk - this works best with gloves).

But two years ago, when I returned to that same tree-lined sidewalk I was prepared and I discovered something else to enjoy - the Québécois proprieter of the little lot. He was cute and funny and flirty and I wish I could remember the entire interchange. . . I don't think he asked me out directly but he may have invited himself to deliver my tree personally or out for coffee or something. At the time I was caught up in the tree - and his accent - and it wasn't until later when I replayed the dialogue in my head that I realized he was trying to ask me out. He and the other tree guy come down from Canada each December and live in that old VW bus parked next to the trees on 9th Avenue.

I am not planning on buying a tree this year (takes up too much space, is a hassle to wrestle it home, don't really want to vacuum it up off the floor, etc.) but I know I will find myself walking through this little grove of Christmas trees several times a week breathing deeply and keeping an eye out for my tree guy. And when I see him, I will buy some pine boughs to bring the scent home with me and give myself another opportunity to flirt with the tree guy.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

decking the halls

Yesterday I got a haircut, then braved a few stores to pick up a few new ornaments to liven up my collection. I admit - I love Christmas ornaments. When I got home I put on some Christmas music and dove into the project of decking the halls of my small apartment. Things got a bit chaotic:
Poor little snowman nearly lost his perch in my plant - can you believe I can move that entire computer armoir thing on my own? I'm either freakishly strong or it is freakishly light. I think it actually some sort of miracle slidey things on the feet.
yeah, things got really ugly, I really wanted to give up right about here, but I tried to be brave and push through (this is my brave face)
you would be surprised how much stapling lights into your walls uses ab strength - I think it was the teetering and sometimes precarious positions I was in
seriously, things got ugly . . . and then . . .
I was all done - and it felt magical
Once again I strung the ornaments across the room - no tree for me :(
this is quite the challenge when your ceiling is made of concrete and there are steel barriers hidden under the paint in the walls
another perspective
I still have a few more decorations left that I want to use.
I have some ideas but they all require going back to the store.
With the Christmas lights and the Christmas music, all I wanted was snow to make it feel perfect.
Luckily for me, I woke up to the first snow of the season:
I wish I had snapped a photo this morning as I was leaving my apartment before 8 am but I was rushing to a 7:40 meeting (I was already quite late). The cold air rushed up at me as I pushed through the revolving doors and onto the still being shoveled snow covered walks. I ran to the corner happy I decided to wear practical flat boots as opposed to the heels I discarded at the last minute and took note of the quiet stillness of streets freshly coated in snow with very few tire marks, even as I cursed the snow for scaring all the cabs away. I wanted to take it all in and enjoy the still falling flakes, but I talked an off duty cab driver into driving me the 10 blocks I needed to go. Despite the length (meetings before and after church), I loved singing Christmas carols at church and being reminded of all the beautiful, magical things of Christmas.

Friday, November 30, 2007

back to yoga . . . with a surprise at the end

without putting a thought into it all day, at 6 pm I decided to make use of the work-out clothes that have been stashed in my desk drawer for months and go to yoga class. I knew if I stopped to think about it I would talk myself out of it or delay long enough to miss the class so I just grabbed the clothes, shut down my computer and walked out the door.

The walk over is when the fear started. After a 5 month hiatus this class would be rough. I had to swallow my pride and just push through. What would I say if the instructor mentioned how long I'd been away? I had no good answers. Just lazy excuses.

There were a couple of changes when I walked in the door but mostly it was the same. As I was walking into the studio the instructor brushed his hand against my shoulder as he said hello. Not "welcome back" or "where've you been all this time?" or "wow! you have really let yourself go!" just "hello" as if I had just been there the prior week. This was what I needed - a nonchalant, uneventful return.

What I also needed was a low-key class. Luckily that is what I got. I pushed through and managed to do nearly everything - only falling and subsequently skipping this bizarrely complicated maneuver that started standing on the right leg, clutching the left foot with bent leg with the left hand (like this except grabbing the toe of the leg in the air, okay, similar to this but with the hand on the ground) and transitioning into full wheel pose by just flipping over. Needless to say, I fell every time. Loudly. But this was hard and everyone struggled so that was fine. The class was invigorating and I'm so glad I did it.

Walking home among Friday night revelers I felt a bit conspicuous in my Old Navy yoga pants that are so poorly made the outside seam on the left leg curves its way down my leg and ends with the slit just above the top of my foot (rather than the outside of the foot where it should be). Oh and these pants are about 2-3 inches from the ground and I was wearing the boots I wore to work and my bright purple dress coat. I didn't have a hat so my hair was blowing around in the wind. None this would have been too big a deal but this is exactly what one does not want to be wearing when meeting this woman:
unless, of course, you are asking her for a makeover because you are incapable of selecting clothing that suits your body and size. She was being ushered out of one of the television studios a half a block from my apartment by a team of "handlers". I could have touched her if I had dared but she didn't even glance in my direction. I slowed down so I didn't run into her or any of her people. I could have whipped my camera out but I felt shy. And a bit mesmerized. She is beautiful. Stunning even. She was wearing heels and I was surprised that she didn't tower over me. According to my sophisticated google searching, she is 5'10" (I'm 5'9") so she isn't that much taller than me. Even though she was wearing a coat, she seemed slim - not skinny or thin, but slimmer than I anticipated. Probably thinner than me I'd guess. But (and here is my confessional that yes, sometimes I watch her show being replayed at 11 pm) this was surprising because on tv she usually looks HUGE! She always towers over all her guests and often looks like some sort of giant with these iddy biddy girls from the audience or her guests. Lesson learned: I never want to be on tv! There are times I have looked at photos of me with some of my tiny friends and it looks like some disproportioned trick and I feel depressed looking so huge but this made me feel better. I'm rambling here but I have to say, just in case none of you knew this, the people they put on tv are wee. They are a not normal size!!!!
Now I need to scrounge up some dinner and figure out what I should have said to Tyra.
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