Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ladies in blue

mother's day 2014 came with life promotions for all of us: great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, aunt, and abby. four generations in one room! i feel incredibly lucky being together and seeing all the love and grace in these women. it's pretty amazing.

we spent the day in connecticut, brunching and relaxing--pretty good plans if you ask me. for brunch i kept things simple with baked stuffed french toasts, sautéed asparagus, shaved fennel salad, and dairy-free lemon cremes with an oat crumble and mixed berries. the only downfall of the meal was the lemon creme; they melted on the drive up, never fully reset, and tasted not-quite-right. that aside the rest of the meal was a nice balance of richness and springy freshness. everything came together easily too, which is always great since that means less kitchen time and more family time.

the french toast recipe came from martha stewart and was similar to a croque monsieur minus the bechamel. i assembled the toasts in advanced, letting them soak up the egg mixture overnight. all i needed to do on sunday was bake them. i also made the lemon cremes and oat crumble and prepped the salad beforehand. eliminating tasks for the day-of is crucial to keeping things moving and low-stress.

when we got to my mom's, in went the french toasts to the preheated oven (texted mom when we were a few exits away, heh). next up was the asparagus: snapped off the ends and sautéed the spears in a little bit of butter. the salad was mostly done--fennel and zucchini sliced and dressing made--a quick toss with the arugula, and it was ready to plate. as the toast edges were coming to a nice brown, i topped the cremes with the crumble and berries. (good and bad, they looked much better than they tasted. the crumble and berries faired well, but those sad, liquidy cremes...-sigh- let's not dwell on that though.) after about thirty minutes everything was ready, and brunch was on the table!
the rest of the day was filled with laughs, photo sessions, more food, abby playtime, and general family togetherness. a truly happy mother's day~

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:: baked stuffed french toasts ::
(recipe from martha stewart)
serves 8.

unsalted butter, room temperature, for baking dish
1 14-inch loaf rustic bread, cut into 8 slices
8 thin slices ham, plus more for topping (optional)
8 ounces gruyere, thinly sliced, plus more for topping (optional)
8 large eggs
2/3 cup whole milk
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
pure maple syrup, for serving

1. butter bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. make a deep slit in each bread slice to create a pocket. stuff each with one slice of ham, then divide cheese evenly among pockets.
2. whisk together eggs and milk in a bowl until combined, and season with salt and pepper. pour egg mixture into prepared baking dish. add bread slices in a single layer, gently pressing into egg mixture, and let soak 15 minutes. flip bread and gently press again into egg mixture. let soak 15 minutes. (you can soak the bread in the egg mixture for just 30 minutes, but the french toast will be even more delicious if you let it sit overnight. if preparing the day before, refrigerate up to 12 hours, loosely covered, then let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.)
3. preheat oven to 350 degrees. top bread with remaining ham and cheese. bake until egg mixture is set and cheese is melted, 20 to 25 minutes.
4. turn oven to broil, with rack 4 to 6 inches from heat source. broil until bread is toasted and golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. serve hot with maple syrup.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

my oh may!

can i tell you how much i love the month of may? i mean, it's not just because it's my birthday month...well, maybe it is...but also because may marks the peak of spring and occasions to celebrate. birthday, cinco de mayo, kentucky derby, mother's day, memorial day--all sorts of reasons for getting together. party time.
this year my birthday fell on a saturday, AND sean had a week off from school, so we were able to spend a full week building up to the big day :)

i started off the week with all-day abby time (before she headed on holiday to the island~). couldn't have asked for nicer weather--full sun and perfect for strolling. we hung out in the apartment for most of the morning--had breakfast (a small latte and a kashi granola bar for me, blueberry yogurt and banana for her), napped (abby, not me), played--then after lunch ventured out to prospect park. abby loved being outside and seeing the trees and plants in bloom, not to mention all the doggies and people out and about. squeals from the stroller are always a good sign. when we got to the playground she was just starting to drift off, but we managed to get in some time on the swings. perfect opportunity for her to people watch. i couldn't tell if she liked the actual swinging or just liked being able to watch the other babies. either way we had a good time. we continued our sunny walk through the park, and abby fell asleep along the way. after the stroll-nap, we had an afternoon snack, played some more, danced a little, another nap (again, abby, not me, but i was tempted...), and more food. this whole babysitting thing is pretty easy, huh? ;P

once jade and kavin got home and relieved me of my duties (heh), sean and i went to see mike birbiglia perform at union hall. he was in town between shows of his national tour, so he scheduled a couple nights "working it out" at his old stomping grounds. we got there just before the set started and had to stand in the back, but because the place is rather small it didn't really matter. the show lasted about two hours, and he had on two other comedians as guests, chris gethard and jesse klein. mike started and ended the evening, and my cheeks were sore from laughing the entire time. such a great way to start the week!

the next few days all kind of blurred together; rainy weather will do that to you. on tuesday we watched wes anderson's 'the grand budapest hotel' at cobble hill cinemas. the theater is small and funky, but for $8 a ticket i'm not complaining; i kind of like that independent feel. as for the movie, i enjoyed most of it, but i'm still figuring out wes anderson. visually, i think his style is so interesting, but story and feel i'm not totally on board yet. we bookended the movie with coffee: the first cup was free from cafe pedlar (they were filming something and had to close the cafe but gave away free coffee around back for the inconvenience), and the second was from blue bottle's newest location (opened in february on dean street). we chatted up the barista at blue bottle who was more than happy to discuss coffee brewing and beans. we left with two bags of beans: costa rican and ethiopian. job well done, blue bottle. to soak up some of the coffee, we made a quick stop at one girl cookies (where they were also filming something!) and got a tiny brownie and a vegan chocolate sandie. sean gobbled down the brownie so i don't know how that was (he says "good"), and i had the sandie which was fine (but i've had/made better).

most of wednesday was spent indoors and out of the pouring rain: grabbed lunch at zito's on 5th, bought some pricey bottled beers at bierkraft, coffee at cafe regular, nap and tv time, and dinner at yamato (so-so). the cats (yup, casey was in town along with sean) were finally getting along (we think) so i held mini photo sessions with them. that kept me entertained for wednesday night and thursday morning. hahaha, i've become a cat lady! o.O ::meow meow:: 

after the thursday morning session, sean and i walked to runner + stone for coffee (iced for me) and breakfast pastries (pain au chocolat for sean, almond croissant for me). their almond croissant was excellent; the almond filling tasted freshly ground and not like that weird artificial-tasting paste that you sometimes find, and the croissant held its shape but was still properly layered. next time i'd like to try their chocolate-almond croissant which serious eats claimed was the best (they were out by the time we got there). we worked off some of the morning carbs with a light run around prospect park. even though i don't consider myself a runner, running in the park feels super nice and rewarding. heck, just being outside is nice. of course, the next to think about was dinner (hah!). we were meeting up with a couple friends from montreal (sean's classmate and his wife) who were visiting for the weekend. they wanted something nice and "new american" which is pretty easy to find around here, and we decided on stone park cafe. three of us did the market menu and ordered the olive oil poached octopus starter, grilled lamb chops, and bunuelos with butterscotch and chocolate dipping sauces. perfectly portioned and all-around delicious. oh, did i mention the sparkling we had with dinner? bubbles! i love bubbles.

friday was another wandering food day (are you sensing a pattern?). headed into manhattan to meet our friends near nyu/washington square park. quick lunch at kati roll (aloo masala, unda aloo, and chana masala to share), coffee (iced for me, pour over for sean), and beers at the blind tiger. we parted ways with our friends on the r train, and sean and i headed back to the apartment to relax a little before dinner. oh man, non-stop eating; we needed to adequately prepare. luckily dinner wasn't until 9pm, but it was going to be a big meal--chef selection at traif for nine people. we went to dram for pre-dinner drinks (gold rush royale, lambrusco, 'if it's the beaches', and lagavulin 16). nice and liquored up, we took a quick walk over to traif, ready to eat!
this was the second time for most of us (first time was for kavin's birthday a couple years ago), and it did not disappoint. we indulged in about a dozen courses, thankfully all of which jade documented :) from start to finish, each dish earned major props from the group. 
here's a rundown of what we had:
* amuse of spring onion soup
* golden beet salad
* seared scallops with risotto
* spicy tuna tartare with tempura eggplant
* baked muenster cheese with chorizo, apples, and crostini
* strawberry-cinnamon glazed baby back ribs
* spring gnocchi with peas and fava beans
* sweetbreads with braised artichokes and mushrooms
* mustard seed and fennel pork with cauliflower
* bbq pulled pork sliders with sweet potato fries and smoked paprika aioli
* passionfruit panna cotta with fresh berries
* bacon doughnuts with coffee ice cream
* fresh pineapple bite with a hint of maple syrup
needless to say, we left very full and very happy. it's probably good we only come here every two years ;)

BIRTHDAY saturday! i'm no longer thirty but IN my thirties. oh my. it's cool, i can deal. anyhoo, what better way to start the day than with family dim sum. vip seating at my mom's favorite place in chinatown--no waiting and free tea. heheh. it was a slight struggle to eat everything, coming off of the previous night's dinner, but we managed to get our usual selection plus birthday noodles AND finished with mini italian pastries from dimare. we are eating champs ::flexed arm:: 
after dim sum, sean and i proceeded to walk from chinatown, across the brooklyn bridge (extremely crowded but worth the views), around dumbo, through brooklyn heights, through bococa (just learned that name from my iphone photo collections), and back to park slope. we made a couple beverage stops along the way and got back just before the rain started--excellent timing.

by the time sean and i were ready for dinner, the rain had mostly stopped, and we enjoyed a cool evening in cobble hill at hibino. we shared a bottle of sake (still not quite sure what's considered 'good'), gyu miso yaki (garlic miso marinated grilled hanger steak), kona kampachi sushi, fluke sushi, sashimi plate, and two rolls (salmon and yellowtail-scallion) for dessert. YUM, sushi, i've missed you. this was definitely a treat for both of us and a great way to top off my birthday. i couldn't have asked for a better birthday week!

coming up next: time to celebrate all the wonderful mothers in our lives! see, isn't may the greatest?