January, 2010

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The Heard of Elephants on the Stairs

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

The tenant on the top floor of the triple-decker that I live in moved out (I live on the first floor). The landlord informed the other day that they would be gutting that apartment to the studs, basically redoing it completely. What does this mean for me? Well, it means a very noisy living and working environment for the next few weeks until the new tenant moves in. Great.

What does this mean for me today particularly? Well, it’s a Sunday afternoon, the tenant finished moving out today and they decided to get a running start on the project so lots of ripping and sawing sounds. It’s a Sunday afternoon and I really wanted to take a nap. Today is one of those days that I wish they had that rule that they have in Germany about Sundays being quiet days. Sigh.

Rip, saw, slam, boards being topped out the front windows from two floors up. Repeat. Oh, and when they are actually bothering to run up and down the stairs instead of tossing stuff out the windows, they sound like a heard of elephants.

Virtual Retail Therapy Part 2: Kat’s Bag Fetish

Friday, January 29th, 2010

I have a bag fetish. OK, maybe I have a few more fetishes than that, but the ones that I can mention publicly are my love of bags, shoes and jackets. I have a disproportionate amount of them, and I don’t mean the latest Prada or Kate Spade bag — just backpacks, laptop bags, messenger type bags, etc. I did an inventory this morning and not counting actual luggage, I own:

3 backpacks
3 laptop bags (my favorite)
7 shoulder / messenger bags
2 camera bags

Hm, 15 is kind of a lot. That is not including LLBean shopping bags either.

Anyway, in the continued vein of Virtual Retail Therapy, there is one more bag that I want to buy, but it will remain on the “should not spend so much money”. It’s a lovely messenger bag from Queen Bee Creations. Cute, eh? And of course, green. [grin]

A Lovely Dinner Party in Snowy Maine

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Had a lovely evening with new and old friends alike and loads and loads of good food. My contributions to the dinner party were Truffled Lobster Risotto and Chocolate-Espresso Dipped Profiteroles. Recipes below…

Truffled Lobster Risotto

2 8-ounce uncooked lobster tails
3 1/2 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
3 tablespoons white or black truffle oil
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup brandy or white wine
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425°F. Cook lobster in large pot of simmering salted water until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl of cold water to cool. Drain lobster. Remove meat from shells; reserve shells. Cut meat into 1/2-inch pieces.

Break shells into large pieces. Place on baking sheet; bake 15 minutes. Blend shells with 1 cup chicken broth in blender until finely chopped. Strain through fine sieve. Reserve lobster broth; discard shells.

Bring 2 1/2 cups chicken broth to simmer; keep hot. Heat 1 tablespoon truffle oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots; sauté 2 minutes. Add rice; stir 2 minutes. Add brandy or white wine; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until brandy or wine is absorbed, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Add lobster broth and 3/4 of chicken broth. Simmer until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, adding remaining broth by 1/4 cupfuls as needed and stirring often, about 20 minutes. Add lobster and cream; stir until heated through. Remove from heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons truffle oil and chives. Season with salt and pepper.

This is the “cheat” recipe for this (which reduces the time and potentially the monetary investment)

12 oz cooked lobster meat (can be previously frozen, but must be thawed for preparation)
3 tablespoons Better than Bouillon lobster base
3 1/2 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
3 tablespoons white or black truffle oil
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup brandy or white wine
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring 3 1/2 cups chicken broth to simmer. Add 3 tablespoons of lobster base; keep hot. Heat 1 tablespoon truffle oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots; sauté 2 minutes. Add rice; stir 2 minutes. Add brandy or white wine; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until brandy or wine is absorbed, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Add half of the lobster broth. Simmer until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, adding remaining broth by 1/4 cupfuls as needed and stirring often, about 20 minutes. Add lobster meat and cream; stir until heated through. Remove from heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons truffle oil and chives. Season with salt and pepper.

(resources: Better than Bouillon Lobster Base and Truffle Oil)

Profiteroles / Mini Cream Puffs

Choux Pastry:
1/2 cup (70 grams) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon granulated white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) (57 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (120 ml) water
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Whipped Cream Filling:
1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon (14 grams) granulated white sugar

Chocolate sauce or confectioners sugar

Choux Pastry: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Set aside.

Place the butter and water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and, with a wooden spoon or spatula, quickly add the flour mixture. Return to heat and stir constantly until the dough comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a thick smooth ball (about a minute or two). Transfer the dough to your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, and beat on low speed a minute or two to release the steam from the dough. Once the dough is lukewarm start adding the lightly beaten eggs and continue to mix until you have a smooth thick paste. Spoon or pipe mounds of dough onto the baking sheet, spacing them a couple of inches apart.

Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C). Bake for a further 30 to 40 minutes or until the shells are a nice amber color and when split, are dry inside. Turn the oven off and, with the oven door slightly ajar, let the shells dry out for a further 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.

For whipped cream: In a large mixing bowl place the whipping cream, vanilla extract, and sugar and stir to combine. Cover and chill the bowl and whisk in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. When chilled, whip the mixture until soft peaks form.

To Assemble: Split the pastry shells in half and fill (or pipe) with whipped cream. Place the top half of the pastry shell on the whipped cream and dust with confectioners sugar or dip in chocolate

Thank you, ESPN, but ….

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Dear ESPN Network (and particularly ESPN2),

First of all, thank you so much for broadcasting about 8 million hours of Australian Open television. Seriously, if nothing else, you pretty much cover all the matches that I want to see and I like your coverage in general. Darren Cahill and Mary Carillo are funny as all shit and I can even put up with Patrick McEnroe’s “Hellos!” and “th’Dropper!” comments on net balls that tweak over. Brad Gilbert? Well, generally I just want to mute him altogether, but I’ll take him too. So, Kudos.

There is one complaint that I would like to lodge however. You might think that it is a minor one, but it drives me positively nuts, so I thought I would bring it up. You see, I pretty much only watch your channel during tennis (mostly because you don’t carry hockey games), so perhaps this has been going on forever and I never noticed. It’s the ticker on the bottom of the screen. It used to be, that we only had to endure the score updates and random other facts that you scroll along twice an hour or something (I recall at :23 and :53 maybe?), but now the ticker is ever-present, reminding me of games that I don’t really care about, and more importantly, really irrelevant news. You seem to even have a section purely entitled “Tiger” which tells me Tiger Woods’s is no longer sponsored by so-and-so and perhaps may even tell me that he’s had an affair with a giraffe for all I care. The ticker is really really *really* distracting during tennis, particularly if the player on the bottom half of the picture is on a string and being jerked around. The ticker just plain makes me dizzy in cases like that. I’ve contemplated the low-tech option of duct-taping some cardboard across the bottom of my TV (and don’t tell me that I can mess with the aspect ratio on the screen to get it off the TV because that doesn’t really work either because the rest of the picture gets messed up).

So, if you could find it in your hearts to go back to the twice hourly updates instead of making my tennis-viewing feel like a stock market update (you are not Bloomberg News!), I would appreciate it.


A Certain Sense of Weltschmerz

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

When I was a little girl, maybe 10 or 12 or so, I was watching the news one evening with my parents. There had been a hurricane or just lots of rain or something, and there had been these fantastically horrible mudslides in Guatemala, and there was this little girl — mostly likely exactly my age at the time — that was stuck up to her neck in the mud. There were rescuers there, desperately trying to get this girl out of the mud. For 36 hours, or maybe even more, they kept this girl above the water and held her head up so that she even passed out for a little while as they dug the mud from around her. But it was too much water, too much mud and eventually the rescue failed. The little girl died. I remember this as if it were just yesterday, for some strange reason. I remember that I cried a lot and seemed to have this personal connection to the young Guatemalan. I think that my parents rethought the concept of me watching disasters on TV.

And of course we are now watching another disaster unfold again — the earthquake that leveled Port au Prince, Haiti. Being the “news junkie” and (as I’ve been accused) “disaster tourist” that I am, I have had the TV on a lot. Because I get most of my news these days from the internet (so, honestly, I don’t have to listen to mindless commentary — I just come up with my own), I have read every news site I can come across and looked at all the pictures and video that I can. I’ve gotten emotional, I’ve donated money, I’ve written a dozen blog posts and then didn’t post them. I barely even know what to say now, except that there seems to be something down in the pit of my stomach that feels horribly bad.

There are many many pictures out there, but as usual, the best seem to be on Boston.com’s The Big Picture.

Earthquake in Haiti
Haiti 48 Hours Later

Warning: some of the pictures made my heart stop (pictures 21 and 22 on the second set; they warn you though)

Virtual Retail Therapy

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Here is a list of seven random things I intend to buy for myself, when I have extra cash. They are all a little on the pricier side, so a little advanced budgeting is in order. Because these are “bigger” ideas for shopping, I have to think of seven appropriate goals for myself to earn them. I have three goals; now I need to think of four more. These are in no particular order.

1. Saddleback Leather Medium Briefcase Bag, Dark Tabacco Brown

2. Pottery Barn Tall Tibetan Barstool, Black

3. Crate and Barrel White Belmont Kitchen Island, White

4. Domaine Coteau, case of 2007 Pinot Noir (favorite wine ever!)

5. The absolutely amazingly lovely Tourron Dinnerware, in Avocado for 8 plus all the serving stuff, from Didriks

6. Amazon Kindle

7. Sundance Catalogue Candelabrum (which I think would make a great alternative to a Christmas Tree; yes, I am silly)

And no, this does not include an Audi A5 [grin].

Comments like this are just Shite

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Come on, Mr. Robertson, was this really necessary?

A pact with the devil because the Haitians “threw off French colonialism”? So you’re saying, Mr. Robertson, they would have been better off remaining under colonial rule? You know, because I am sure that colonial powers didn’t enslave people and rape the territory of natural resources (dripping with sarcasm!). No, the Spanish, the French and yes, even the Americans never did that in Haiti!

I’d be more apt to say that Haiti’s desperate situation has more to do with the corrupt leaders (Papa Doc, Bébé Doc and most recently Aristide) in the 20th century, their rather unfortunate geographic location in the middle of the Atlantic hurricane zone and the fact that desperately poor begets desperately poor (meaning: if you are poor, you do what you can to survive such as deforestation for firewood, which create land destabilization, which creates mudslides in hurricanes and landslides in earthquakes). Pact with the devil be damned.

I would be more apt to show some compassion such as President Obama’s words: “For a country and a people who are no strangers to hardship and suffering, this tragedy seems especially cruel and incomprehensible” and not fuel some ridiculous idea that an entire nation is in bed with the devil.

Emma’s Pizza in Kendall

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

One more quick restaurant review for the week, this time for Emma’s Pizza, the little za-joint in Kendall Square. I’ve been there before and I really try to like the place, but I am never quite sure when I leave. Their sauce is good, their crust just a little too crunchy and as Ben would say, they have a lot of “communist” pizzas — ones with broccoli or sweet potatoes or artichoke hearts. They are creative and decent pizzas, just nothing to write home about in my opinion.

That said, their pizza does fit the “ok, better than the chain places” category, so when John suggested it for lunch, I was definitely good with it. We split a Italian sausage and caramelized onion one which was just right for lunch in terms of size. And they will pour you a good Arnold Palmer from homemade lemonade and homemade iced tea, so that is good too.

A Weekend Celebration

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Food, food and more food. I think that I can say that whatever diet I was on was out the window this weekend. It was my birthday yesterday so for some reason, it turned into an eating weekend, but since that included three new (and all wonderful) restaurants, I am certainly not complaining.

Friday night, the new place was T.W. Food in Cambridge, sort of in the Huron Village area on the way out to Fresh Pond off Concord Avenue. It’s sort of in the middle of nowhere, a few other businesses nearby, but mostly in a residential area and very small. I think that there are a dozen table, maximum, very simple and white interior. Unassuming and unpretentious, but the food was absolutely amazing — French influences, super fresh and local ingredients. I had the wild mushroom risotto starter, pot au feu with short ribs, fois gras and venison sausage. Amazing! And yes, a candle came on the apple tartlette with cinnamon ice cream, even though Friday was before my birthday.

T.W. Food

Saturday night we went to Sorellina in Boston. While quite the opposite in terms of size and presentation (high ceilings, columns, everyone dressed to the nines), it was equally as good as T.W. Food in a completely different way. It was also great for people watching (usually the case when people are dressed up to impress. plus there was a couple having just a little too much fun in the sexual kind of way at the next table — avert your eyes [grin]). Here I had a to-die-for truffled lobster risotto (again with the risotto!) and a small filet mignon (which could have been better, but it was tender and cooked just perfectly). And yes, the obligatory and understated birthday candle in the chocolate budino (sort of a molten chocolate pudding in a little cast iron pan). I definitely recommend the place if you want to impress!


Finally, yesterday we went to the quirkiest breakfast place I have been to in a little while. It’s a retro diner slash cocktail lounge in Kendall Square called The Friendly Toast.We had thought about going to Centre Street Cafe (my favorite breakfast place, in Jamaica Plain), but it’s wildly popular for brunch so I didn’t want to wait out in the cold for an hour. Turns out the Friendly Toast had an hour long wait too, but at least we were inside at the bar, surrounded by all the Cambridge hipsters wearing their consignment shop finest. Nothing like a place that serves alcohol (and lots of it!) for breakfast along with a dish called Green Eggs and Ham (yes, Sam I am) — it’s a eggs benedict type thing, on anadama toast with a dill herb sauce instead of hollandaise. Also excellent (and good to know that there is a breakfast place open from 8 AM to 1 AM); I need to go back next time with my camera because the interior is quirky and kitschy and cool with the most amazingly grass-green walls.

The Friendly Toast

So that was my weekend of food and fun. And a great birthday weekend. Thanks to everyone (no one let me pay all weekend). Happy Birthday to me!

Thankfully this doesn’t happen everyday

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

I suffer very badly from acrophobia, the fear of heights (strangely, no fear of flying or heights when in an enclosed building, so I tend to say that I have a fear of falling from heights, not the heights themselves). When put into a situation when I faced with heights, i.e. bridges, cliffs on hikes, etc), I have these absolutely paralyzing panic attacks. I stand there, teeter (which isn’t exactly helping the ‘falling’ part) and then get almost violent when people try to touch me or help me out of the situation (usually resulting me hitting or swatting at the person and screaming ‘don’t touch me’ over and over again — not exactly helpful and quite out of character for me), complicating matters even more.

Other than that, I don’t get panic attacks all that often. Of-course, certainly my blood pressure rises sometimes and I have these moments when I am anxious (ok, more than a few of those moments on the whole), but today, for the first time in a long time, I had a full on panic attack, without explanation and while sitting at my work desk. My heart was pounding, I was shaking uncontrollably, I couldn’t breathe, my fingers were all tingly and had I stood up, there is a good chance I would have fallen flat on my face. Stranger yet, I felt like I was on the ceiling, watching myself and screaming “don’t touch her, don’t touch her!”.

It’s a few hours on now, and I am being rational about what happened, though I still don’t know why it happened. There was the obvious physical reaction in my body (overload of norepinephrine and adrenaline) and now I am sore as hell as the chemicals go back to normal. There was the the mental reaction, though that was more confusion at it happening, because I was generally having a good day otherwise, with plans to go out with Liz for dinner (canceled that, though I feel wildly bad about that now). I’m not really nervous about anything; work is fine, personal life is fine and other than it is my birthday soon, there isn’t even anything tremendously exciting going on. Perhaps I am trying to rationalize too much and perhaps sharing this on my blog isn’t the best idea, but I needed to record it and so I am putting it here.