Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gia's First Steps!

I'm so excited because I just got a text from Erica telling me that Gianna has taken her first official steps! They are all down in Florida right now, combining a business trip of Austin's with visiting friends, and it just so happened that Erica and Austin were together when it happened. I'm really so happy for them because Austin has been working so hard lately and I know it's a gift to him to experience that alongside Erica. She said Gia was whining because she was tired and just decided to stand up and walk over to her. I love it!

I took this photo of Gia back at Christmas when she had first started pulling herself up onto her feet:
I feel like this look sorta says just you wait til I'm walking for real, haha! Her first birthday is next weekend so this is super exciting. :) I just love that sweet girl and wish I could be there to see all this, too.  

Monday, April 26, 2010

Weekends Are Too Short

I've been so blessed during my time in New York to have friends consistently spend their money and time coming to visit me. Over the years, it's been awesome for me to show people the different apartments I've lived in and to see the ways life has changed for me. One of my very best friends, Brant, is the only person who has visited me every year that I've been here and I just love it! This time, it was even more fun because his lovely wife, Susanne, and our friend, Shawn, were able to come as well. I took the day off on Friday and it was absolutely gorgeous out. We went to the 'Top of the Rock' at Rockefeller Center and the view was just amazing:
I definitely had one of those moments where I thought holy crap, I live here! as I looked around. Even though I've been here over four years, those moments hit me every so often and I completely love when it happens.

We spent the rest of the weekend catching up, laughing, and having a blast together. Brant and Shawn went to the Mets game while us gals did some window shopping and then I decided to bring everyone to Wilfie and Nell before heading out on the town. I'd been craving their pork shoulder sliders for at least six months so I put my foot down, hehe. James and Becca met us and we just had so much fun:
It truly was a perfect weekend! I already have 8 years worth of memories with Brant and we just keep adding to the list. It really is awesome. :) 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Today makes me smile and not just because it's my fine friend, Dave's, birthday:
Cool it ladies, he's taken.

Though Dave does make me smile very often, today is extra special because it's Earth Day and it reminds me of my dad. When I was little, he and I used to go out every year on Earth Day and pick up trash, bring things to recycling centers, and spend the day doing what we could to "celebrate" and help out. It might seem like such a silly memory but, for me, it was just something that dad and I did together that was special to me. I turned into an angry teenager much too quick to appreciate all those little moments but I surely do now. :P

So, happy Earth Day to all and happy birthday to Dave! Hope the week has gone well for everyone so far!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Orecchiette with Broccoli Ricotta Puree

Aside from my salsa mishap, I had a wonderful weekend! I saw two different sets of friends on Friday that I hadn't seen in forever and Job came back in town for a fun visit. We all had a blast and enjoyed having our old crew together:
I was also completely excited because my sweet friend, Abbey, gave me my late birthday present! She got me 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' by Julia Child and I'm just psyched to get into the meat of that book. The techniques are tough but I have no French cookbooks and there isn't a better one to begin with, in my opinion. I want to make cheese souffle immediately. 

It was sort of a deja vu weekend since Allison and I had another race (finished in 36 minutes this time!) on Sunday morning so I decided to have her over for dinner again on Saturday night. I was originally thinking of doing grilled pork tenderloin with homemade hoisin sauce but I failed to get the grill pan last week that I'd planned to buy. So, I decided to create my own recipe and break out the food processor since I don't use it as often as I'd like. I tossed some ideas around and decided on orecchiette with broccoli ricotta puree.

I blanched the broccoli in the pasta water while I sauteed plenty of onion and garlic in olive oil. I made my trusty garlic oil with lots of crushed red pepper but used half of it to cook my chicken in and the other half to coat the pasta, as usual. I tossed the broccoli and onions together in my food processor, added the ricotta cheese, and a generous amount of salt and cracked black pepper. I processed that all together with a light stream of olive oil:
I combined the mixture with the chicken and hot orecchiette, a little more black pepper, and it was such a springy and fresh looking dish:
Overall, it was super tasty but there was something a little off. It just wasn't a star like you need a "sauce" to be if it's going to be the main thing served over pasta. Allison had a terrific suggestion (that I think is completely right on) that it would be great as a crostini topping. I agree totally with some finely diced balsamic tomatoes on top perhaps. I'll certainly make this again and see if it works better that way. I love coming up with recipes though and I was happy with this one!

We both ended up having a terrific run on Sunday finishing faster than last week and we got to spend the day with our lovely friends, Kristine and Camille. I finished off the weekend with delicious Indian at Brick Lane with Job and Mailande and it was off to bed early for me. Now, I'm just counting down for Brant to get here this weekend, weeee!

Monday, April 19, 2010

I Make Bad Salsa

Over the weekend, I wanted to use up a few jalapenos so I decided to make homemade salsa for the first time. I went to the market and got some nice grape tomatoes, red onion, and cilantro. Grape tomatoes certainly aren't standard in salsa but I like them. My gut told me to get the beautiful, plump, juicy looking vine-ripened tomatoes that were just about as perfect as a tomato can be but noooo. Onward.

I got home and gave everything a rough chop before de-seeding some of the jalapeno. I decided on a mixture of cumin and garlic powder as the base seasoning with plenty of salt and fresh pepper. Doesn't it look so bright and promising:
I'm picky when it comes to salsa texture. I do not like chunks and I prefer it to be almost pureed so you can imagine that I was quite excited with how it came out after the food processor:
Well friends, it was awful. I used far too much onion and the entire thing was pretty much an onion salsa. If it wasn't red, I would question if there were even tomatoes in it. Also, it was dry. I knew I should have listened to my gut with the tomatoes. 

How do you screw up salsa?!? I have no idea but I sure managed to. It was not my proudest moment. :P

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One Down, Three To Go!

Races, that is! I ran the JP Morgan 4 Miler this past Sunday and I happily beat my last time by 5 minutes. I ran it in 38:02 so I'm getting faster, very slowly but surely, which makes me happy. This was the first of four races I have coming up so I'm practicing different types of preparation to see which works the best for my body. For shorter runs, not much prep is necessary but I like to figure out which combinations seem to fuel my body the best. It's like a little game I play with myself.

Anyway, I stayed home on Saturday night and had Allison (she was running too) over for dinner so I could cook a new pasta dish. I decided on gemelli pasta with escarole and pancetta. As I progress toward hopeful chefdom, I'm making it a rule that my cooking involve a new ingredient weekly at the very least. I'd never cooked with pancetta before which even shocks me! So, I chose this as something new and to get in my carbs before race day.

The dish is from a Food Network recipe I saw recently and it was delicious. I didn't go the route of using the breadcrumbs, only to eliminate extra carbs, but I didn't miss them. I loved the punch of the jalapeno vs. crushed red pepper. I often don't think to cook with jalapeno because my Italian roots don't steer me far from my beloved red pepper flakes. It worked nicely in this dish, though. I started by toasting the pine nuts with fresh cracked black pepper and salt while I sauteed the jalapeno, garlic, onion and pancetta:
I combined all the ingredients while the pasta cooked. One trick I like to do with pasta is to always "season" that first. I'll usually make an infused oil of some kind to toss the noodles in because every layer in cooking should be seasoned, especially with a bland ingredient like pasta. With this dish, I made garlic oil (just toss some minced garlic and salt in 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of olive oil and warm on super low heat so the flavors combine) so I tossed that with the hot pasta and then added everything else. It was absolutely delicious:
I loved the crunch of the escarole, the saltiness of the pancetta, and the pine nuts added that last creamy texture that tied it all together. I don't think I would have liked the dish as much without my garlic oil trick but that's just me. ;)

Oh, by the way, this dish wasn't the best for my run the next day because it was on the heavier side with the pine nuts and pancetta. That's what experimenting is for though, right? I still enjoyed every bite and now have a new (terrific!) recipe to add to the books!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Open with Care!

So, years ago when my parents were first married, they had gone to a party on a regular old Friday night. They were having fun, playing cards, and the group decided on champagne as the drink of choice. Now, I love prosecco, which is an Italian "champagne" if you will, so it wasn't odd to me that everyone would be sitting around drinking the lovely bubbly goodness. Dad wasn't doing so hot with his particular hand of cards so he was the designated bottle opener. Well, wouldn't you know that the bottle he opened was faulty and the cork blew right out into his eye. He is now blind in his right eye and he ended up winning a lawsuit where the bottling company was found to be at fault!

Well, the other night, I had my own mishap with a bottle of prosecco that immediately made me think of Dad. No sooner did I get the wine opener in the cork did it bust. In my hand. I was holding the bottle by its neck, like usual, and the force of the cork popping just busted the top part of the bottle right off:
I'm still amazed that I didn't have a worse cut than I did. Moral of the story? Always open bottles o' bubbly with care. Happy Monday!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Nike Running Club

Let me just say first that I'm ridiculous sometimes. I mean, who registers for four races (including the Brooklyn half marathon!) within a couple of months of each other right as Spring hits? I mean, let's be honest. Spring in Manhattan is the BEST and it screams one thing: play time! As I've been keeping in line with my half marathon training, the weather just seems to keep getting nicer and everyone under the sun is out having margaritas or picnics in the park. Me? I'm busting my butt to maintain a strict running schedule and cursing the people I see lounging outside as I run by. I just keep reminding myself (or trying to make myself feel better really) that I'll be nice and fit come summer. :P

Anyway, to switch things up, the other night my co-worker and I finally tried out the Nike running club. They meet several times a week and you gather at Niketown which is right down the street from our office. It ended up being awesome! Originally, I thought you basically just meet the group, pick which mileage you want to run, and knock it out together. Instead, they actually do different workouts and routines each time they meet. You stretch together and then break into groups of whatever mileage you choose and you stay together for the workout. Our particular night, the routine was hill drills and I kept thinking grrrrrrreat, I so don't feel like doing that. I needed to run 4 miles and doing hill repeats for it just wasn't what I was excited about. :P However, it ended up being terrific and a complete challenge that really switched up a boring old 4 miles. You ran from Niketown to the designated hill in the park (it happened to be the hill at Strawberry Fields) and basically ran as fast as possible up the hill and then a slow jog back around to repeat the same thing 5 times. Then, we ran back to complete the 4 miles (it was actually 4.2) and we all stretched together again.

The entire concept is awesome because it provides a lot of the "support" that comes with running races. Every runner is different but I love races so much because of the camaraderie and shared dedication of everyone on the road. Running is very mental and any runner will tell you that the struggle is 100% personal. Yes, I'm sure there are people who run to try and prove something to others but, generally, you find runners to be very competative with themselves and nobody else. Running in a group offers encouragement, drive, and focus so the idea of a running club is genius, in my opinion anyway. I'm definitely excited to go back and hope this will be a fun new way to keep my training runs from becoming monotonous. I have a feeling I'll meet some really great new people in the process, too. :)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Easter Gia

It's time for another round of smiles brought to you by sweet Gianna! When Erica sends me photos, I often think they can't ever be topped. There's Gia at Valentine's Day and then my very favorite of her in the pumpkin shirt at Halloween, but I definitely haven't smiled as big as I did when I saw her at Easter:
I mean, that child is just ridiculous. Look at that face! Those two little bottom teeth just kill me. She's totally her mother's daughter too because I guarantee she's thinking I can't wait for candy! which is most likely what Erica was thinking while they waited in line for this. I just had to share this sweet photo and hope it brightens your day as it did mine. :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I Know Why I'm Not Filthy Rich...

I'm not because I would spend every dollar I had on spa treatments like the ones I had this past weekend. I am not ashamed to admit this. Now, I'm not at all one to get my nails done every week or have facials (I still have yet to ever have one!) or shop. I never have cared about that kind of thing. I mean, I talk about how much fresh produce excites me for goodness sake. However, I have never felt better than I did after my time up at Mirbeau Spa.

First off, having a getaway outside this concrete jungle is so necessary to maintain sanity. Even though I was just out of town for my birthday, it amazes me how much I felt like I needed to get away again. (My friends back home would say this is the point I should realize that I'm done with New York. :P) Though I was saddened by the thought of not attending an Easter service on Sunday, I did look very forward to our little excursion.

Mirbeau Inn and Spa is in the town of Skaneateles which is part of the Finger Lakes region up north. There are wineries and farms and such amazing land up there. The drive was long due to low speed limits but it was pretty incredible scenery. We mapped out a route to stop at three different wineries along the way and my very favorite was Fox Run. Their wines have some of the most unique flavor profiles I've had to date and the whole experience was just terrific. Also, who doesn't love this about the owner (taken from their site):

Scott Osborn is a strong advocate of the place of wine in a healthy life-style and he appreciates the health benefits of garlic as well. On a culinary level, as the Fox Run Garlic Festival demonstrates, the pairing of good wine and well-prepared flavorful garlic is nothing short of sublime.

The garlic festival is in August and I'm seriously considering going back for it. :-o Anyway, Scott was there working when we visited and he was so friendly and welcoming. Why oh why is it so rare these days to meet people like that? Sometimes it makes me sad to feel that blown away by meeting someone who is just warm and inviting. At any rate, I bought three bottles of wine at their vineyard alone. We also stopped by Penguin Bay, which has emphasis on sparkling wines, and Glenora which paired beautiful cheeses along with their tastings. All of their cheese is by Yancey's Fancy and, I kid you not, every person on the planet needs the smoked bacon horseradish cheddar. It was incredible.

After the wineries, we arrived at Mirbeau and it was the most darling "village" that reminded me of little German cottages. We had such a nice weekend! The town was half a mile away so we walked everywhere which was perfectly normal to us New Yorkers. ;) We had the infamous Doug's Fish Fry and enjoyed the gorgeous lake and town. I had a rough 6 mile run on Saturday (thanks Doug!) but then completely and totally escaped into my deep tissue massage and pinot noir body scrub. One word: heaven. It was a truly amazing weekend and this sums it up, pink champagne and all: