Friday, December 28, 2007

Merry Merry Xmas

Merry Late Christmas to all!

Well, now that it's past the big day I can share what we got as gifts. Trevor & I split the cost of a 52" LCD Flatscreen tv. And while the frugal Fanny in me feels uncomfortable with such a big purchase, it's very long overdue and it's something we'll enjoy many hours of entertainment from.

I pulled his Aunt Deborah from the hat, so I got her a nice Nike workout outfit that coordinated together. (Matchy matchy is so 80's. You want to coordinate.) Trevor pulled Susan, but since we haven't seen her I have no idea if she opened her gift anytime recently. Other than that we didn't stress too much about gifts. I got my mother many Vichy products and I got my father a shot glass set because, would you ever believe it? He actually asked for one. I think he's going to use it for this vile tasting "medicine" composed of little more than what looks like bark, leaves, wood, and random dried plant type things fermented in vodka. I try not to question Eastern medicine, but having tasted it I can categorically say that it tastes horrible, which of course means it'll cure just about anything that ails you.

We spent Xmas up in Massachusetts with Trevor's family inclusive of Chowder the wonder Labrador. Well, perhaps not so wonderous since he's 11 years old, but he's a sweetheart and patient enough to allow Trevor to dress him up in an old teeshirt to make sure he didn't shed all over my car.

Ugh, the eating was insane. I don't even want to think about how full I was and now I look forward to New Years, which I guess we're spending again, up in Massachusetts since cousin Alex lives up there and Trevor, Devin & I are invited to spend it with him and his pals. I have no idea about any details because...well there probably aren't any yet. I don't even know where we'll be staying overnight but I do have Monday and Tuesday off from work so I'm not even going to think about it.

I do hope to fit in some time with my own family since my cousin Duc & his wife are in CT and will clearly expect to see me at some point. I don't think I've seen them in like 3 years at least because they've never met my Trevor. My mother is also asking I make her a triffle. She likes the yellow cake one with some sort of fruit, pudding, cool whip and bananas best. She's not a sweets person so when she requests a dessert to be made, she's serious about it. I also haven't seen hide nor hair of Kim in weeks so I'd like to eventually see that girl and make sure she's still alive.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pre-Christmas Prep

Happy Almost Christmas. I spent my day baking, which is pretty normal for me anyway, but I typically don't bake more than one thing but having Christmas on the horizon I decided to go all out.

I made a cheesecake, since I still have some remnants of cheesecake desire from my prior visit to The Cheesecake Factory. I just made a plain one because I couldn't decide on a flavored one and I'd hate to make an already rich dessert even richer. And I made biscotti for my mom because she loves it. I made butter shortcake cookies because I have a soft spot for that buttery richness.

And in a final moment I decided I also wanted some peanut butter oatmeal cookies. I don't even like peanut butter, but when mixed with other things, as long as I don't have that mouth full of goo feeling I don't find it half bad.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
1/2 cup butter softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup of flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 cup of oatmeal

Like just about every other cookie recipe in all time, cream all the wet ingredients together. Mix all dry ingredients together and then mix both of them together. Bake at 350 for like 15 minutes. Be sure to not overcook.

It truly is addictive, even if you're like me and don't like peanut butter.

I'm also half considering making a tiramisu because I typically make one for all special occasions. It's my thing. But I don't know if people will really find it in their bellies to eat like 4 dozen cookies, a cheesecake AND a tiramisu.

It's easy to over-do it during the holidays and I'm partially to blame since I want to bake everything. I love baking. I can't say I'm the best baker of all time but I do truly enjoy it.

For real food I made chicken lo mein with onion, scallion, and broccoli. I was thinking about har gow dumplings but that's really more of a mid-day type meal.

Unfortunately I have to work tomorrow, but hopefully I'll get a good amount done since no one else will be working and therefore I'll have less people bugging me. ;) I wrapped most of our gifts. I think we went a little overboard still considering that I really thought that picking names out of the hat thing was meant to make our lives easier, but I feel like we bought just as much stuff as we did last year. Liza and Devin were of the mind that while we each pulled just one name that we should still get "small" presents for everyone else, more as a gesture so that everyone had things to open on Christmas day.

So after I get out of work tomorrow we'll pack up our things, gifts, food and doggy. (Yes, Chowder is visiting us for the holiday, and yes he's shedding all over the place already and making himself at home.) And then we'll be on our way out the door to hang out with Devin Christmas Eve. I then hear tell that we'll have many people over on Christmas day for a big meal and present exchanging. I also took the day after Christmas off just to wind down and do any present exchanging I might end up needing to do, though hopefully I won't have anything to exchange.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Cheesecake Factory

I'm the last person in the world to talk about work because...ugh...work is boring. I talk about work like 40 hours a week, and that's probably 40 hours too many. lol But I have to say that my manager Sean is really nice. He took the whole team out to a holiday lunch at The Cheesecake Factory. And he let us out of work at 11am only to return around 1:30pm after enjoying a very long relaxing lunch. Of course, the downside was that I still had 8 hours of work awaiting me at my desk and at least half a dozen "fires" to put out. Ugh. :-P But focusing on the positive, lunch was very nice and although I'm very friendly with all my coworkers anyway it was refreshing to not be chit chatting about work.

I've been to the Cheesecake Factory one other time. It seems to be a very popular establishment since even at 11:30 there was a line out the door. "Really? On a random Tuesday?" Yes. Apparently people go buck wild over gigantic portions of food and calorie laden dairy based desserts. I'm not going to lie, it was good. I just can't quite understand the big fuss about it. Perhaps because it's new to us. The best part of the meal was the cheesecake, which I didn't even eat until I came home because I had at least 4 bites too many of my Spicy Crispy Beef which was a bit too...orange. I wasn't even hungry for my usual 3 p.m. piece of fruit. I got the Chocolate Coconut Cheesecake, which had a chocolate crust and creamy coconut filling with chocolate chunks floating in it and a layer of coconut flake.

Personally, I'm quite fond of coconut desserts. There's something exotic and extra-creamy about coconut that's very enjoyable but I find the actual coconut flakes to be a bit chewy.

I don't think I'd ever say it's my favorite new restaurant but I guess it's another new spot among the tons of other chain restaurants that a person could hit up.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Party Dress....Excell-ent!

If you can't tell by my masterful spelling up there, my title is meant to be pronounced a la Wayne's World's cliche "Party time! Excell-ent!"I've been sort of hush-hush about my whole wedding planning thing. To be fair, I haven't done very much recently because I've been much more concerned about the holidays and because I'm almost at the point where I want to get married tomorrow just to get it over with. lol

But, Liza, Trevor's mother and my soon to be mother-in-law, bought me a little black party dress as a late birthday gift. Unfortunately for me it was a bit too large for my willowy frame and they had no similar dresses at my local mall for me to exchange it for. But I had Friday off and spent it with my parents shopping, so with a bit of help from my mom, I found a replacement dress.

Now, I don't find little party dresses to be a particularly good investment since I usually only ever wear them one time, but I imagine that I'll need to arm myself with many a fancy dress as my wedding gets closer and I want to look my best for the forthcoming showers, bachelorette outings, and rehearsal dinner...etc. I am nothing if not overly prepared for special occasions. In normal life I'm okay with pulling together any old thing, but for holidays, weddings, birthdays, and anything I consider an "occasion" I think it's important to look your best. I don't think it's imperative to break the bank but any occasion where people think it's be a good idea to take pictures for posterity warrants at least an extra bit of lip gloss.

I really still have my heart set on a steel gray dress because I think that's the new hotness. Grey is the new black.

Today I braved the mini mall to pick up a few small presents because after asking around it sounded like everyone was buying everyone else at least a little something, even if they didn't pull that person's name. Personally I thought the entire purpose of drawing names was to avoid having to buy a million gifts, but I don't want to be the odd man out so I went out into the world to find some small "I didn't forget you" gifts.

In the off chance anyone I purchased gifts for will be reading this I'll refrain from any gift related details, but Kohls was a mad house with the line wrapping around the store for check out. Some minivan thing hit some other person's Civic backing out of their spot so there was glass on the ground and the Civic's passenger side back door was all pressed in. And the giant mounds of snow certainly didn't help visibility any. So after that I ran to the strip mall for a few small, stocking stuffer type gifts and then I rolled around the parking lot very slowly trying to find a spot near the Linens 'n Things because my dad specifically asked for a gift that I knew they sold there. After that I was no longer interested in shopping and just came home. I wanted to go to the mall, but after experiencing more frustration than I'm apt to, it was time to call it a day and just get off the roads because everything everywhere was congested with people trying to finish their Christmas shopping too.

I did however remember to fill up my gas tank because, of course, it will be inclement weather again tomorrow. The forecast calls for snow and sleet and is probably half the reason it was so horrific out shopping today; everyone's trying to squeeze it in before getting snowed in. As such I have no plans except to do laundry and wrap presents tomorrow. I think we have more than enough food to last us and while I haven't been told I need to bring anything for Christmas, I usually make a tiramisu and I have all the appropriate ingredients in case the need arise. Otherwise I'm obliged to make my mom my cranberry biscotti, because she loves them and it seems the older I get the less apt she'll be to bake things on her own because she'll know I'll do it for her. lol

There's only 10 days left until Christmas!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

French Dip, ooh la la

Whew...it's stormy out there.

I was let out of work early today because of the snow, only to spend an hour driving about 15 miles back home. I'd complain more, but clearly I got home safe and sound and no harm was done. lol

I'm spending tomorrow with the folks because they also have the day off, plus they have an SUV so we can ever so slightly more easily get around town. Nothing against my Mazda, but it's not exactly made for snow. And since Trevor and mine mutual present is in stock at the store we bought it at I'll need my dad's help to pick it up. We talked about it and decided to share the expense of a "big ticket" present in lieu of buying one another small presents. I know it kind of goes against our whole saving-money-for-our-wedding thing, but I'll be excited to have a fancy present.

I'm actually a little sad I have to take time off from work because I've been swamped, but if I don't use my time it'll go away forever. :-P On the bright side I'm almost done with my holiday shopping. On the not so bright side, I treated myself to a cashmere scarf today because almost all the scarves I've been gifted have a tendency to shed all over my clothes and therefore are relegated to the back of my closet. One day I'll have to clean house because I'm sure I have too many things I don't use.

I've been too pooped to cook a lot. I did however make a very easy slow-cooker French Dip. Take a big block of beef. It's better to use a good cut, but I had some bottom round in my freezer for apparently an eternity so I threw that in. I think it was about 3lbs. I rubbed it with french onion soup mix and let it sit overnight. You don't have to, but I always throw on the slow-cooker in the morning before I go to work so it's convenient for me to prep the night before. Throw two cans of beef broth in your crock pot along with one can/bottle of beer, 2 bay leaves. Keep it on low and by the time you get home you'll be greeted with lovely warm smells. I fish out the meat, which by this point is tender and breaks apart very easily, and slice it into smaller more sandwich friendly bits and toss back into the crock pot for it to absorb that natural au jus. Toast up some nice bread with cheese, layer on your meats and ladle out a cup of au jus on the side.

If so motivated you can also take your au jus and turn it into a lovely (and incredibly hearty) French Onion Soup.

I cooked a lot last weekend, but nothing terribly complicated. I made some banana bread muffins, gyoza potsticker dumplings for Trevor and Kahlua cake. Kahlua cake was really good but anything with kahlua will inevitably be tasty. I used the "tres leches cake" approach, which basically means I took a cake mix, baked up a devils food cake and poked holes into it that I then poured my kahlua filled goodness on top of so it absorbed into the cake. I think this is how those fancy pants bakers make such moist cakes. It's best after a day of sitting.

Gyoza wasn't terribly complicated either because I got some pre-fab gyoza wrappers and followed the manufacturer's recipe on the back of it. lol I had to make my own filling, but it was very straightforward and I had all the ingredients on hand. Trevor loves gyoza. I remember when we were in Japan he insisted that was one of the foods we had to have. I love pretty much any food that's individually wrapped and bite sized.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Kappys Run

Happy December!

It's crazy how fast it all runs by. I took Friday off because I've acquired PTO that I never used and will have to use before the end of the year. My beloved Trevor also took the day off so we had a little daytime adventure of doing our semi-annual run to Kappy's, a liquor store chain in Massachusetts. I had never heard of Kappy's before Trevor, but it's a chain and I'd liken it to the most Walmart-like Liquor store I know of. In our neck of the woods you cannot purchase wine or spirits from your grocery store so you have to go to a liquor, or as we call it, "Package Store." And yes, if you walk into a package store and expect to be able to send a package they'll know you're not from around here.

Colloquialisms aside, Kappy's is Trevor's favorite package store because they're quite large and therefore sell at a slight discount to their smaller mom and pop competitors. Hard Alcohol is always sold at a high markup, so any discount is an appreciated one. Not like Trevor and I drink a lot because we don't. We simply like to have mixed drinks, and to be able to make a variety of mix drinks you have to have a large variety of spirits to mix up. I don't know how much we have off the top of my head, but I'd argue that we have over a dozen bottles of spirits at our disposal. So if you want a Surfer on Acid, a Sex on the Beach, a Sand in your shorts, a Mudslide, or an Amaretto sour, we should be able to accommodate you as a guest of ours.

There are two Kappy's stores in Springfield, MA. It's kind of a hassle for us to go to though because it's not readily accessible via highway and Trevor decided it would also be a fantastic excuse to go and get some Papa John's Pizza because there are none around us. I personally only get excited about pizza when it's brick oven, but Trevor has a soft spot for Papa Johns and their garlic dipping sauce, which I'd liken to a liquidy butter garlic mixture. In any case, it was very good, but I'm sure that having not eaten anything until 2pm also made it that much more delicious.

After our adventures in Springfield, getting a little disoriented on the confusing and bumpy roads we watched Ocean's 13 back at home, which wasn't horrible but wasn't anywhere near as good as the other ones. And then I was off to spend some time with Kim whom I never seem to spend any one on one time with anymore since she works so much and then the rest of her free time is spent on the town. So we had a brief dinner at TGIFridays, chatted with Amanda and Kim's old manager Mike who work there. Kim thought the bartender was cute so she left him her phone number on the check. lol We then walked around the mall for a bit before everything started shutting down and went home to drink because we obviously restocked our bar and it seemed silly to not have a guest over to share it with.

I also already gave Kim her Christmas Present, not because I'm an impatient looney who can't remember when Christmas is, but because she kept talking about buying herself a new phone with an MP3 player and I actually purchased her an MP3 player and didn't want her to inadvertently end up spending more money on a fancier music phone when she wouldn't have to. I also got her the cutest little 2 Gig flash based clip-on MP3 player by Sansa and thought it was perfect for her active lifestyle and her gyming needs. It's teeny tiny, like the new IPod Shuffle, except I don't like IPods very much. I think they're fancy and all, but that you need to use their proprietary software is really wildly lame and inconvenient for me. Plus you can't take the music off your IPod and put it back on your computer, like if your system should crash. It's all for the sake of protecting music from being pirated, and I get that, but it's really annoying to not be able to simply drag and drop your music in and out.

Other than that it'd been a pretty chill weekend. Grocery shopping aside, it's been pretty much spent in front of the tv. I'm actually one of those weirdos that really like grocery shopping. I much prefer doing it in the middle of the week though so it's not as busy, but I still like wandering up and down the aisles, smelling the bread out of the bakery, looking at all the different frozen foods and mulling over the 80 million kinds of coffee available. I like wandering the Asian Grocery store too, but I usually go with Trevor and his patience runs very short with me so I need to have a list ready so I can run and get what I want quickly.

I think I'll probably make a trip out next week since I have another Friday off and I'm slowly running low on Rice and Rice Noodles. And I keep on forgetting to buy dried mushrooms every time I'm there because in the back of my head I want to make some hot and sour soup but you need to have asian dried mushrooms for that.

I also just updated my online wedding registry this morning because I realized that I had some cookware related envy after watching the Food Network, and even if no one buys it for me it's a good way to remember what I wanted after the fact. Plus I always end up getting giftcards from my credit card rewards program and I like using them on kitchen things.

Kim said she was having some difficulty figuring out what to get me on a budget. I always tell people they don't have to get me anything fancy, but I realize it's hard to narrow down the field to what I'd like. So for the sake of ease I figured out a handful of general (you don't need my size for), items for gifting.
  1. 1" or 1 1/2" Barrel Curling Iron, preferably ceramic. I somehow broke the curling iron I have.
  2. One of those deep wave-curling irons. They look pretty fancy with their multiple barrels.
  3. Apron. For all the cooking I do I actually do not own a single apron.
  4. A thick fuzzy long robe. I'd never buy one for myself but I think it'd be nice to have for cold mornings. Preferrably in white or pink (to go with my piggy slippers).
  5. Nice, slim isotoner type gloves. All the gloves I have are bulky and hard to drive in.
  6. See gift registry for other more specific gifts for kitchen/home.
  7. Giftcards