Friday, October 31, 2014

Have a Fun Halloween Weekend!

Perhaps the single most terrifying Halloween pumpkin ever carved.

Happy Halloween everyone!!!  I think this may be my favorite holiday - candy, costume, parties, booze, it is just meant to be fun!  We have a total of 4 parties to go to this weekend, though only 3 of them are for Halloween (the 4th is a 1st birthday party!), so I will have plenty of opportunities to get all costumed up.  I'll post some pictures of my official costume this year on Monday, but for now, here is my work-appropriate costume:
That's right, I'm getting my girl-power on Rosie the Riveter style - WE CAN DO IT!  Aside from a few gentlemen here at work who mistakenly thought I was Aunt Jemima (???), it's been a big hit in the office today.  It's so fun to dress up!!  After all of the parties, we currently have an empty Sunday, so we're looking forward to relaxing, maybe fitting in another stick-shift-driving lesson for me in S's car, and finally starting to cook with my now-ripe Meyer Lemons!

Do you have any fun Halloween plans!  I can't wait to see everyone's costumes!!

(top picture from here)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Pittsburgh Vacation

So I am way behind on my posts, once again.  Sorry!  Let's start where we left off about 2 weeks ago.  The week after S's birthday we took a long weekend trip up to Pittsburgh, PA.  The trip was primarily for our good friends N and H's wedding, but we took the opportunity to turn it into a mini-vacation and explore the area a bit since neither of us had ever been before.  The best part other than the wedding was that I GOT MY AUTUMN THIS YEAR AGAIN!  The leaves were all amazing shades of yellow, orange, and red and the mountains especially were just absolutely spectacular.  We fit a lot of other activities into our approximately 3.5 day trip as well.

As soon as we left the airport we headed straight for Primanti Bros. for their famous sandwiches.  I got the sliced steak and S went for the capicola with egg.  Both were topped with melted cheese, tomatoes, coleslaw and french fries and they were huge!  After stuffing ourselves, we hit up the Andy Warhol Museum.

Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take pictures inside (though I did sneak that second one), but the entire museum was chock full of Andy Warhol pieces ranging all the way from his childhood and through the many artistic phases of his adult career.  My favorites were his blotted line drawings and the room filled with floating mylar balloons, but there were also the classic Cambell's Soup images, his multicolored portraiture, and Brillo boxes.  After the museum we checked in at our Airbnb apartment and got settled and then headed out for some pre-dinner drinks.
Since we had a lot of places that served beer on our to-do list, we made time to fit in a trip to a cider house as well.  Arsenal Cider House and Wine Cellar had a bunch of delicious semi-sweet and bone dry ciders on tap ranging from classic apple to sour cherry, to blueberry.  S was digging their honey cider mead and I particularly liked their semi-sweet sour cherry cider, so after taste testing a bunch of others we grabbed a glass each and went to sit outside in their "cider garden".  The weather was crisp, but not too chilly (apparently the mosquitoes were still alive and kicking as well since I got 2 bites while we were out there) and perfect for leisurely sipping a glass of cider and chatting.  For dinner we headed a few streets over to the Church Brew Works.

Apparently back in the day every neighborhood in Pittsburgh had multiple churches to cater to all of the different ethnicities of the working class.  Eventually all of the different ethnic groups began to spread out, live among each other, intermarry, new generations identified as "American" rather than "Italian" or "Polish" and there was no longer a need to have a separate church for each group, creating an overabundance of churches.  A number of the churches became abandoned and as of late a number have been bought up to use for other purposes, in the case of our Thursday night dinner, a brew pub.  They had a huge number of beers that they brewed in the old church and served in the restaurant.  The food menu was fairly varied as well and included some unique options such as a roasted boar barbecue pizza (which we ordered and quite enjoyed) and other classics like burgers and pasta.  We also ordered their Seven Onion Soup which was ridiculously good, so much so that I spent a while hunting down a recipe online so I can try making it at home.  After dinner and drinks we hit up a grocery store for yogurts and fruit for breakfasts over the next couple of days and then went back to the apartment.
The next day we ate a quick breakfast at the apartment and then got started on our day fairly early. Our plan was to spend Friday driving through the mountains, touring Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, and then finding an apple orchard.  Quintessential fall.  As I said before, the mountains and the trees were just stunning to look at, I could have spent all day driving around and been perfectly happy.  But I'm even happier that we made it to Fallingwater.

Frank Lloyd Wright was based out of Chicago and so growing up in the suburbs of Chicago resulted in numerous school field trips to see his work.  So I've always been a fan.  But this house was just incredible.  I loved that they left it exactly how it was when the Kaufman family had lived there with their art and furniture still in the same places.  And the fact that the house was made to appreciate/be a part of nature while the trees all around were changing color made my appreciation of the architecture all that much greater.  If you're ever in the Pittsburgh area, I HIGHLY recommend a trip here, it was completely worth it.

After the tour we grabbed a quick lunch in a nearby mountain town on a stream and then proceeded to drive through the mountains some more to get to Simmons Farm, which happens to have an apple orchard.  This was S's first time every picking apples and I was so excited to share such a quintessentially fall pastime from the Midwest with him.  After we both picked our half pecks, we grabbed some fresh apple cider and a caramel apple to snack on outside.  So sticky.  So delicious.  S was amazed at how good the fresh apple cider was.  For dinner that night we splurged a bit at Butcher and the Rye and then hit up Fat Heads Saloon, where we met up with friends for some more specialty Midwest beers.

On Saturday was the wedding!  We got all gussied up, checked in to the hotel (which was also where the reception was held - so convenient) and then drove up the hillside to a beautiful historic church with a glorious view of the city where N and H got married.  H was probably the happiest bride I've ever seen - she literally danced down the aisle she was so excited.  After the ceremony we had a couple of drinks at the hotel and then proceeded to celebrate at the reception!
One of the fun Pittsburgh wedding traditions is to have a Cookie Table.  Friends and family of the couple spend weeks before the wedding baking up a storm for the wedding day, providing hundreds of fancy little specialty cookies to be displayed at the cookie table.  I even participated and made some of my German spice cookies for the occasion and flew them up in my carry on!  The effort everyone puts into this is such an amazing labor of love (not to mention delicious!)  In addition to the cookies, there was good food, plentiful drinks, and lots of dancing.  And we were just so thrilled for N and H!  The following morning we slept in (there were hangovers to account for) and then met up with some of our Houston friends for a delicious brunch buffet at Grand Concourse, a gorgeous old art-deco train station that had been converted into a restaurant.  And that was it.  From the restaurant we headed straight to the airport for our flight home.  It was such a fun weekend!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

First "Gardening" Success?

Not to jinx myself, but it has been 2 months and so far my little lemon and lime trees out front have not died yet and they still have fruit on them!  In fact, there have been multiple new shoots with bright, fresh little leaves on both trees (though more on the lemon than the lime) and the lemons on the Meyer Lemon tree are actually starting to turn yellow!  There are about 10 decently sized lemons on the tree and I'm SO excited that I may actually be able to cook up some yummy recipes with fruit that I actually pick from my very own little trees soon!  After I pick the fruits, I think I will transfer the plants to slightly bigger pots so that the trees have some room to grow for next year (assuming I don't kill them by then...).  The true test of whether my previously black thumb is developing spots of brown and even green though, aside from transferring the trees without sending them into shock, will be whether or not they will produce fruit again next year...

So now I need to decide what to do with my fresh stash of Meyer Lemons.  I'm contemplating Whipped Meyer Lemon Ricotta topped Crepes, Butternut Squash Risotto with Pistachios and Lemon (perfect for fall!), a Meyer Limoncello made with extra/leftover rinds, this egg-free (!) Meyer Lemon Curd, these Vegan Lemon Pudding Cakes, or this simple but flavorful recipe for Pasta with Peas, Ricotta, Bacon, and Meyer Lemon.  Maybe (hopefully) I'll have enough lemons to make them all!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Super Charger Party!

This past weekend was very fun, and very productive!  On Friday night we just chilled out and I whipped up a batch of guacamole for S to take to the "party" at his parent's house the following day.  We crashed semi-early in preparation for a busy day on Saturday.
Saturday started off with me making some pumpkin pancakes with whipped cream and maple syrup for S's birthday breakfast!  It was basically pumpkin pie in breakfast form (not that I think pumpkin pie itself is inappropriate breakfast food.....).  S then took off to his parents' house to get started working on the super charger install while I whipped up a triple batch of dressing for the kale salad and a modified Hummingbird Cake/Pineapple Upside Down Cake.  I used the cake from the Hummingbird cake recipe and made in only 2 cakes pans rather than 3.  On the bottom of one pan, I used the pineapple "topping" method from the Pineapple Upside down cake as well as the frosting recipe.  While the cakes were cooling, I ran out to the mall to pick up some items I needed, including a tupperware cake transporter.  When I got home I attempted to put the cake together (pretty pineapple and cherry topping on top of course)  - turns out I should have made the frosting before I left the house so it would have time to set in the fridge before I applied it.  Learn from my mistakes...  So I chopped up 4 heads of kale for the salad and mixed it up with the dressing and breadcrumbs while the frosting cooled.  Then I finished assembling the cake (I only frosted in between the layers and around the outside, not over the top, and the covered the outside with chopped pecans)  and ran out the door - I was late!
I arrived at the house to find S and 7 of his good, car-knowledgeable  friends huddled around the front of the BRZ.  My first thought was that it was probably too many hands in one engine, but they all worked so well together!  Two of the guys worked on the intercooler separately while another guy directed from the instructions and the rest of the guys collaborated on the super charger itself.
Once they got the supercharger installed, S programmed the car to recognize it and the rest of the guys reinstalled the bumper.  It wasn't a completely issue-free process, but with all of those guys helping, it went much faster and smoother than it could have been otherwise.  S's parents put out a huge spread of food for everyone and his brother K cooked up some delicious burgers, chicken, and ribs on the grill. 
After the car work was done and everyone had gone for a quick spin in the newly updated car (it was definitely peppier!), we headed inside to sing "Happy Birthday" and let S blow out the numerous candles on his cake (I wish I'd gotten a better picture of it, although it was a bit lopsided due to the non-setting-frosting issue).  S said that between the pancake breakfast, getting to work with his friends on the car, his parents' hospitality, his brother's grilling skills, the gifts he received, and his pineapple bedecked cake, his birthday was absolutely fantastic!

At the end of the day we were both exhausted and crashed hard.  We both had a busy productive Sunday as well - I'll post some pictures soon to show the progress we made in decorating/organizing the reading nook section of our bedroom.  All in all, a fun and very productive weekend!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Have an Entertaining Weekend!

Tomorrow is S's birthday and so we're going to be spending this weekend celebrating!  It will be a weekend filled with all of S's favorite things including birthday pancakes (yes, there are candles and whipped cream involved),  throwing a "party" during which he and his car friends will be installing a super charger on his BRZ, a barbecue with family and friends, plenty of yard games and beer, and getting to sleep in on Sunday (he's going to be FAR too excited about the super charger install on Saturday to sleep in - think kid on Christmas...).  I'm not well versed enough in cars to work on the engine with S and his friends, so I plan to contribute by whipping up some of S's favorite foods for the "party" including my famous guacamole, S's favorite kale salad, and of course a delicious cake!  So Happy Birthday S, and may you have a fantastic weekend!

(images from here, here, and here)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Finally, An Update!

Ok, we finally had a semi-relaxing weekend and I'm finally feeling decidedly less sleep deprived and slightly less busy, so it's time for a recap of our last few weekends!  On Saturday, September 20th we held our 2nd Annual Oktoberfest party and true to form, I barely took any pictures.  And the ones I did take were all of the set up and none during the actual party.  But you can kind of get a feel for it!  Prep work on the party started the Sunday before when I made the Federweisser wine.  We hit up the grocery store for supplies during the week.  I made the cheese dip on Thursday.  And Friday evening after work is when the real cooking frenzy began.  I made the dough for the Zwiebelkuchen, the doomed Kugelhoff (the damn dough never rose - huge fail), the strudel filling, and the German potato salad. 
We also put up our decorations on Friday night!  I printed out about 90 pictures of the highlights from our Germany trip last year and we stuck them up all over the walls in the front room and the hallway.  It was so much fun to reminisce!  I also broke out the blue checked table cloths from last year and the blue crepe paper streamers for some extra festiveness.
S's awesome idea was to put up a map with our route through Germany on it.  We traced it out in hot pink marker and made boxes around all of the towns/cities we stopped in.  Not shown here, S also hung up his speeding ticket from our short stay in Stuttgart - whoops!
On Saturday we kicked into even higher gear.  I remade the Zwiebelkuchen dough (another fail from the night before - I wasn't doing so well at this point) and also whipped up some quick Pfeffernusse German spice cookies to replace the failed Kugelhoff on the desert table (seen in the top picture on the cake tray - they were so tasty).  While I did this, S hung up some wood shelves that were previously the bookcase in my last few houses in the dining room and I styled them up with more mementos of our Germany trip.  I then proceeded to fill and bake the strudel (phylo dough is a bitch to work with...), and make the Schwarzwald Torte (black forest cake), which was my pride and joy of the entire party.  Damn that was a beautiful (and delicious) cake!
We set out trays of pretzels and chips for snacking, set up the kitchen island as food central with beer boiled brats, mustards galore, warm soft pretzels, the Zwiebelkuchen, and the German potato salad and got that party started!  Throughout the night we had a total of 45 party goers in the house!  The cheese dip was gone within an hour, we went through over 1 gallon of the homemade Federweisser wine,  the Zwiebelkuchen rocked my and everyone else's world (definitely putting it into my regular dinner rotation), and by the end of the night we were out of beer and our makeshift dining room table (a folding table with a table cloth over it) had been shanghaied out to the garage for beer pong.  We ended the night with a hysterical game of Cards Against Humanity and finally headed to bed sometime around 3 am.  Definitely a successful party!  The next day we were just a little hunger and a lot exhausted.
That week I was on console at work, plus we had a SpaceX Dragon capsule arrive at the ISS, as well as a Soyuz capsule carrying the next batch of ISS crew members so I was quite busy.  But no time to relax the following weekend, though, because we were Austin bound!  Friday night we went to NXNW brewery and restaurant followed by a late showing of This is Where I Leave You at the Alamo Drafthouse.  It was fun, but we got back in pretty late.  The following morning we got up early to meet S's cousin J and her husband C for breakfast at Tacodeli, followed by a leisurely walk through a farmer's market where I picked up some mushroom flavored pasta and wonky looking yellow zucchini.  This was my first time meeting J and C and we had such a lovely time with them and their adorably little baby boy.  We then headed out to explore the South Lamar area a bit including Moss Consignment shop (I got a funky Marni blouse and a buttery soft blue leather jacket), Henri's Cheese shop (yum), Lick Ice Creams (double yum), and Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company.  At this point we were exhausted, so we headed back to S's aunt's house for a quick nap and then met up later that evening with my friend and former roomie R and her boyfriend T.  We had a delicious dinner at Michi Ramen (their blueberry infused saki was so good) and then drinks at Corner Bar
The next day we met up with R and T again for brunch and then headed over toward Barton Springs to test out their new drone.  S definitely had some fun piloting the little camera outfitted helicopter-like vehicle around while R and T kept cringing every time he got a little too close to electrical wires. 
After playing around in the park, we headed down to the actual springs area of Barton Springs (FINALLY!  I've been wanting to check this out forever!)  We didn't pay to get into the nice section, as we only had about 45 minutes to hang out.  So we hung out with all of the dog owners on the free, rocky side of the fence and decided that we would definitely be coming back one of these days to lounge for a few hours on the pretty, grassy side of the fence too.  The weather was gorgeous, the water was cool and refreshing, and the people watching was awesome.
After Barton Springs, at S's request, we went to check out the new Chive offices in Austin.  We toured the owners of the website and their family around JSC about 2 years ago and so S was excited to get a tour of their new workspace.  He was obsessed with the fact that they had a huge tv, pool table, and full bar with beer taps in the office.  I was obsessed with the design features including Platner chairs, Banksy artwork, and incredible lighting.  We both took the opportunity to act like kids and use the inter-office slide rather than the stairs on our way down.  It was definitely a fun little stop over before we headed over to the W hotel for the entire reason we'd made the trip to Austin that weekend:
The Cochon Heritage BBQ event to which we had splurged on tickets.  It was a huge food event focused on using heritage pigs to create a six course tasting meal.  A number of well-known chefs from both the Austin and Houston areas were there to participate or compete.  There was also a pig butchery demonstration after which the meat was auctioned off and the proceeds went towards charity. 
Our favorite dishes of the night were probably the ribs from Killen's here in Houston (the meat just melted in our mouths), a strawberry dish topped with a super thin strip of pork fat, and a delicious pork and bean dish. But everything, including the many other pork dishes, all of the free beer, cider, and whiskey, the cheese offerings from Antonelli's Cheese shop, and the Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream mini ice cream cones at the end of the event were all wonderful.  We drove back to Houston that night quite happily stuffed to the gills.
So after two crazy busy weekends in a row, last week we were definitely dragging.  We kept things low key during the week.  On Friday, S's nephew came over to stay with us for the night and we made tacos for dinner, played a bunch of games together afterwards (Dominion was the favorite) until after midnight, and the following morning whipped up some egg sandwiches for breakfast.  That afternoon we went to our friends J and Iv's baby shower.  It was Dr. Seuss themed and the party planners did an incredible job on the decorations!
Just check out the details on that cake!!!  After the baby shower we snuck home for a quick nap (we still hadn't really had an opportunity to catch up on sleep yet) and then after a power nap headed into town for dinner with our good friend N and H at Andes Cafe (the ceviche was awesome) and drinks at a new wine and whiskey bar downtown, Public Services.  On Sunday we FINALLY got a chance to sleep in, followed by putting up a batch of chili in the crock pot, running a handful of errands, and then having S's family over for dinner to belatedly celebrate his parents' birthdays.  While we did keep busy, I think we also finally feel like we had a chance to at least partially catch up on sleep as well.

Well, that's it for now!  We're going to take it easy this week too and coming up this weekend - S's birthday!  I'll try to do a better job of keeping up with blog posts now too...