Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow Day

For the sixth time in 32 years New York City schools closed for a snow day, and whenever NYC schools close FIT closes as well. The city got hit pretty hard, most places getting well over a foot of snow.

Here in Bayonne we woke up to about 14 inches of the white stuff.

The view from our living room window:

Everyone I know has been complaining about the snow we've gotten this winter (snow storms with accumulation every week since December). Everyone is sick of shoveling, but I've been waiting for a snow like this...a big one that shuts everything down and forces us all to stay home.

The Gwyns have been thoroughly enjoying this day. We took a long walk around our neighborhood this morning, and this is what our town looked like:

There were roving gangs of men and women carrying snow shovels and clearing the roads and sidewalks...on each block and each street there were the residents of Bayonne were working to make it easier to get around our little town.

Mr. T got out with the rest of the men on our block and shoveled the sidewalk. This storm brought a heavy, wet snow that the weather men warned against shoveling and kept calling heart-attack snow.

Mr. S had fun playing in and eating the snow:

Mr. S and I donned some new winter hats, actually these are just some samples I made for our soon-to-be Etsy shop.

Once we came back in doors, I of course felt compelled to make homemade hot chocolate.

We're enjoying our time off while it lasts because tomorrow all this snow will still be here and NYC will be up and running again, and I'll be slogging off to the train station on my way back to work.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Baking: Just What I Kneaded (tee hee)

Boy, what a week this last one was! It basically culminated in a big bunch of stress for me. After being handed a big project at work and anticipating another one later this week and tending to my regular duties as an Access Services Manager for an academic library at the beginning of the semester, I felt like crap. Headaches, body aches, stomach aches, sleeplessness and extreme, extreme irritability. I've never handled stress very well at all, and by the end of Saturday, I was literally banging my head against the file cabinet in my office.

I was so happy to be home with my guys on Sunday and Monday (my days off), but the stress of my job just wouldn't leave my body or my mind, and I had this overwhelming desire to make things, to put all of my energy into something I love, instead of using it all up at work and falling asleep on the train and arriving home spent and exhausted and with too little patience. Most of all I wanted to bake something.

This desire during moments of great stress isn't new to me. Used to be when I was tremendously upset over something or angry with someone, I would clean house all day. I'd reorganize, disinfect, fold and put things away that had lingered on dresser tops and counter tops for months prior without my minding. These are the times, I'd take down the crystal from my wedding and wash it, or soak my small jadeite collection in vinegar and hot water or reorganize my closet or throw out clothes I'd not worn in over a year. And this weekend I did do some of those things, but mostly I baked.

It all started with homemade croutons and then moved on to the yeast bread section of my copy of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I made a golden rich dough, which I kneaded forever and let rise in the refrigerator overnight. This was transformed into cinnamon rolls the next morning. Mr. T had the bright idea to glaze them with butter and brown sugar, and they were scrumptious.

Thankfully, most of them were taken to T's workplace and shared with the sculptors and painters of NECA. Otherwise Mr. S and I would have been home alone with them all day.

The same day I made the golden rich dough, I also made Lentil Samosas from scratch (also from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian). This involved making a dough too, but this dough was much less labor intensive and basically just meant mixing yogurt, butter and flour together and cooling it in the refrigerator a bit before rolling it out.

Lentil Samosas are the yummiest things, even though I Americanized them a bit by cutting out the curry and masala since my guys don't like Indian food. I also added added potatoes. Basically I made a stew with lentils, potatoes, carrots, celery, garlic, vegetable broth, salt and pepper and then folded it into little dough pockets and baked them all on 350 for 30 minutes. These we dipped in yogurt as we ate them. I made enough to freeze for another dinner, and had leftover "lentil stew" to add to a vegetable soup I made Monday night. Everyone loved them, and Mr. S even asked if he could have them again the next day. Lentil Samosas will definitely become part of my repertoire now. I think I'll make a larger batch next time and freeze more than a couple of meals worth.

All the kneading of dough on Sunday was wonderful. There's something about manual labor that really snaps me back into reality and reminds me of what's really important to me (and it's not administrative reviews and strategic plans). Making dough is such physical work, and it feels so great beneath my fingers. Also there's something really lovely about pounding the hell of something with your hands when you're really upset.

But physical as it was, all the dough pounding wasn't enough. I still had lots of pent up energy, and so I spent Sunday night knitting and making lip balm as well.

I've been making lip balms for years and love making them, but only recently have I perfected my recipe with the perfect blend of beeswax and oils. These lip balms are the only lip balms I use now, since they're the only ones I've tried that don't dry out my lips. I wear them under my lipstick everyday and put them on before I go to bed (especially in the winter). I usually make enough to give as gifts. They're a handy thing to have around when a forgotten birthday comes up.

I also started knitting a new hat this weekend and made pom poms for a couple of other hats on Monday (T and I are making stock for an Etsy shop we're opening in the Fall).

And that about did it for me. By Monday my hands and arms were aching and I felt a whole lot better. Phew!

I'm sorry to say that I'm only in the middle of this week and can already tell I'll be baking up a storm on Sunday. I'll be happy after a couple of days off, but we'll all be fat.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Yummy-Declicious Cookie Party

With Valentine's Day around the corner I've been itching to make (and eat...mostly eat) some simple shortbread cookies, and I've been craving the slow craft of refrigerator dough, making it, rolling it out, cutting each cookie and decorating them.

I've been dreaming of royal icing and the perfect shortbread recipe. And then I thought I should really give the whole idea a test run before baking and decorating the real Mr. S and I had a cookie party yesterday afternoon.

I decided to take the Norwegian Pepper Cookie recipe I used for my holiday baking and cut out all the pepper and spices, add 1/4 cup more sugar and a little almond extract. Somehow it yielded the perfect cross between a sugar and shortbread cookie, and reminded me of the sugar cookies my mother used to buy me at a little bakery in Oak Ridge, TN...these were round as my face and brightly colored with what I assume was royal icing. They were perfectly chewy, buttery and sweet. Mine today turned out just as nice!

Not so for the icing. Since this was just a test run, and I wanted to make a fun craft out of it in which Mr. S could partake, I decided the raw egg whites of the royal icing probably wouldn't be the brightest idea. So I mixed up a basic glaze with powdered sugar, milk and vanilla, and of course food coloring. This tasted fine, but didn't give the lovely, thick and quick-setting icing that egg whites would. My icing came out too runny to work in a cake bag with tips, so we used paint brushes and pipettes to decorate, and even then the final result was something akin to watercolor with colors running together and lots of dripping.

They weren't pretty, but they were super-delicious!

And Mr. S had fun decorating them, but mostly eating as much icing as he could sneak.

After all was said and done we sampled our recipe and must have eaten three cookies a piece before the sugar rush set in for Mr. S.

This is what an icing overdose looks like:

No more cookies for us for least until Valentine's Day, when I think I'll break down and use egg whites.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Old Friends

Saturday we drove into the city to join a favorite and much missed old friend for lunch. Since I'm in the City every weekday, I usually try to stay away from it on the weekends. And ever since we acquired a car we've been so busy exploring New Jersey and Pennsylvania that we kind of forgot about how lovely the City can be, especially downtown.

Downtown on the weekends is so nice; it's quiet and there's plenty of cheap or free parking, and since it only took us about 30 minutes to drive from Bayonne to Tribeca I think we'll be visiting the City on the weekends more often.

The City still has lots of slush and snow, but nothing like we have in New Jersey right now (and we just got a couple inches more this morning). The pigeons were right there in it, up to their bellies.

This past weekend our friend Chase was in town, and we met him for lunch at the Square Diner.

The Square diner has been a New York City establishment for over 90 years and has the yummiest sandwiches and breakfast foods. It was the perfect place for catching up with friends and was very kid-friendly. It's so nice to walk into a Manhattan restaurant right in the middle of lunch time and get a table right away and have plenty of room to spread out. In my neck of the woods, most of the Chelsea restaurants are the size of walk-in closets.

We had a great time hearing about Chase's new life in Pennsylvania and sharing our own big changes and plans. We all agreed it was shameful that we live only an hour apart and this is the first time we've gotten together since we all lived in Tennessee. We made hiking plans in Pennsylvania and promised to take Chase and his wife fossil hunting at Big Brook this summer.

Chase gained a fan in Mr. S, who cried for him after we parted.

When he woke up from his nap, Mr. S was still asking when we were going to see Chase again, and T and I felt the exact same way. Can't wait for hiking and fossil finding this summer.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Gray Fossil Site

While visiting Mammaw and Mark in Tennessee we took Seamus to the Gray Fossil Museum. He'd been there before to see Sue, but he was a baby at the time, and Mammaw and I had never been there. We also took T's brother Travis along with us.

T and I are big museum junkies. Every little road trip we take always finds us in some random museum. Science and nature museums are our favorite. Needless to say, we've seen a lot of museums, but the Gray Fossil site really exceeded my expectations, with wonderful interactive exhibits for all ages and lots and lots of fun activities for kids.

We took a guided tour and learned all about the tapirs, crocodiles, rhinos and red pandas found at the site.

We even got a peak at the labs where the ETSU paleontology students and professors do their work.

Our tour ended in a little lab where our tour group got to sort through rocks and pebbles looking for fossils. I found all sorts of prehistoric sharks teeth in mine.

The museum also had a great bat exhibit going on while we were there.

I was so happy to learn about their Summer Camp program in which children spend a week at the site learning about paleontology, science, art and history. I know what Seamus be doing with our Tennessee summer vacation. If you ask Seamus what he wants to be when he grows up his answer is always the same, a paleontologist. I hope his interest in science and nature will last that long.
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