Monday, December 28, 2009

Easy Clam Chowder

My sister recruited me to be her chef at her feast on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). We brainstormed a huge menu that included dips, spring rolls, soup, salad, meat and pasta. The spring rolls sold like hot cakes. I had not cooked for months, so it was nice to know that I still have the mojo. To step up ordinary soup up a notch for the festive occasion, we opted to make clam chowder. I had not made this before, so of course I went to the trusty Martha Stewart website to find a recipe. Leave it to the domestic queen and Everyday Food to create an easy Clam Chowder recipe that was a crowd pleaser at the party.

The recipe was not only easy, but also fresh. I liked it that it didn't call for making a roux to thicken up the soup, which I am a huge fan of - I like thickening soup using potatoes. The freshness in the recipe comes from the fresh clams. Not only did we use that, we also added extra clam meat from my sister's cans in the pantry to make the chowder as clamy as it can be. W e also substituted the water in the recipe with clam juice. The result was rather tasty, and the little bit of soup left over was even more tasty. After having the fresh clam chowder, my husband will likely put an end to having the ones from Campbell's Chunky Soup.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Baking & Cooking

Am currently busy with the move & touching up the place and holiday baking & cooking. To date, I've made 2 pumpkin cheesecakes since Thanksgiving, and am contemplating an attempt on molten chocolate cake. I'll be back with food posts after Christmas.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Letterpress at Home

I found this from a Paper Source email blast a month ago...letterpress machine! I looked into letterpress invitations for my wedding, but it was very costly (I'm talking thousands). I could only drool over the most beautiful imprints that letterpress makes on paper. Now, you can do letterpress cards and crafts at home for about $150!

Apparently, this baby is selling like hot cakes - it's on backorder, all sold out if you wanted to make your own Christmas cards. What I'm most excited about is when the Paper Source lady does an arts & crafts video with this machine!

Monday, December 21, 2009

I Hate Carpet!

The previous owners of our place had wall to wall carpet in the entire house. With 2 kids and no cleaning habits, the carpet became extremely filthy. Unfortunately, the hardwood floor underneath was unsalvageable. After much thought, we came to the conclusion that the budget friendly solution for us was to install floating floors in the living and dining area and carpet in the bedrooms.

We had help with ripping out the carpet, but I had the finger friendly task of taking out the tacking strips and the base moulding. A burn from the radiator, a cut on my finger and damages to my cuticles later, it was finally done.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bathroom Renovation, Week 3

It's finally complete!!! In 3 weeks, we went from dingy white tiles (don't let the photo from afar fool you), pink shell-shaped sink, gold trimmed shower door and faucet, Broadway dressing room vanity lights, a deteriorating medicine cabinet, and last but not least, the urine smell:

to this (please excuse the sticker in the sink):

The frameless shower door really opened things up and made our bathroom appear bigger. To bring the bathroom to 2009 from what looked like the 1970s, we got rid of the gold and opted for brushed nickel. A modern vanity completed the look.

Next up, the flooring chapter of our renovation!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bathroom Renovation, Week 2

I have been very busy with the new house, so I haven't been cooking. The only thing I can share with you until the big move is our renovation. I really look forward to going back to the cooking mode, which definitely beats the sanding and painting I've been doing.

So what went on for our bathroom renovation during week 2? Tiling. This is a big step forward after the demolition and rebuilding in Week 1. Using the lovely inspiration I found and the modern glass mosaics I fell in love with at Home Depot, we worked around the availability of bullnoses and sizes, and picked out the rest of the tiles that fit our budget and color scheme.

We ended up with 12x12 porcelain tiles in a stone color for the shower wall and a darker shade in a smaller size (6x6) for the shower floor to add traction and reduce slippage. For continuity (so as not to make the bathroom appear smaller), the main bathroom floor tiles are in the same color as the shower floor. The darker floor tiles compared to the shower wall will add dimension; the larger size (13x13) will give the illusion of a larger space. We have an 8x5 bathroom, so making the bathroom look larger is a top priority.

I wanted a recessed shelf (or a niche) for soap and shampoo for a custom look, but it didn't work out. Our plan B was to install soap dishes. We stayed away from the glazed ceramic kind, as the finish didn't go with the rough surface of the wall tiles. For continuity, the mosaics that will surround the medicine cabinet (you'll see in Week 3) served as an accent in the shower area

Stay tuned for Bathroom Renovation, Week 3, when the vanity gets installed and the final product is revealed!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: The Martha Stewart Show

Last and finally...I can't leave out Martha, the domestic queen, on the list of cooking shows I watch! I must admit though that I watched her more when I was doing wedding planning - a lot of her craft ideas were useful. Nowadays, what keeps me interested is when chefs go on the show to cook their yummy recipes or when she eats her way around the city. I found her latest Brooklyn episode especially fascinating because it featured local ingredients and restaurants that support them.

Image from

I'm always amused to see celebrities who can't cook...aren't I mean! I'm no worse than Martha Stewart though - she can definitely intimidate her guests who don't cook since she's so fast to correct them. What's important though is that her recipes are always dependable, unlike those from the Food Network.

Friday, December 11, 2009

No Tree for Christmas :-(

Yup, no Christmas tree for us. I was hoping to have our first tree together in our first new home, but I don't even know if we'll be moved in by then. I can always resort to admiring the Rockefeller tree, which, by the way, came from Connecticut this year. Go CT!

Image from

My next hope is to have blossoms for a very romantic Chinese New Year (it falls on Valentine's day this year) in our new home. The popular flowers for the lunar new year include peach blossoms 桃花 (below) and the very fragrant narcissus 水仙花.

Image from

Here are our family's beautiful blossoms many years ago, decorated to the nines with lucky red envelopes ("lai see" 利是)
by my mother. The yellow blossoms resemble gold, and literally showers us with gold when these blossoms fall onto the ground.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Joys of Tile Shopping

Picking tiles for our bathroom renovation was like getting my teeth pulled...painful. We are tiling our shower (walls and floor) and half tiling the rest of the bathroom. So as the head (and only) designer, I had a huge task of finding the tiles that fit our budget and style. My aim for the bathroom design is one that is contemporary, but not too modern as to turn off potential buyers when we decide to move. This meant no drool worthy glass tiles, since they are expensive and are hot now, but what about later?

We crossed off going to tile stores after we checked out a good number, most of which were without price tags on display. I soon found out that I have expensive taste. Off to Lowe's and Home Depot, where I fell in love with a beautiful mosaic with hints of metallic design that went well with green, gray, cream or brown, and thought it was flexible enough to work with other tiles. I immediately thought it was the perfect accent tile. The problem was, it looked better with darker tiles as it made the mosaic pop out more, and my husband was of course gravitating towards those. Unfortunately, darker tiles can make the bathroom look smaller.

We put the mosaic against lighter colors and it didn't pack a punch like it did with the darker tiles.

Then, it came to the issue of whether the tiles come with different sizes (we needed smaller ones for the shower floor) and bullnoses. This changed our game plan quite a bit. Our contractor still hasn't finished our bathroom after 2 weeks of work, but I'll definitely share with you the final product when the time comes.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Martha's Favs Monday: So Good ("蘇Good")

So Good ("蘇Good") is a cooking show in Hong Kong where So (蘇) gets to the bottom of every day Chinese recipes with a bit of scientific explanation and visits the local producers behind the star ingredients. She also has ordinary housewives make their own versions of their recipes and critiques them - in an effort to help them become better cooks of course.

So (蘇)
, a former radio show host, has got quite a mouth. Whatever comes out of her mouth is quite entertaining. That aside, I have learned so much from her in just a few episodes - the production and variety of traditional Chinese ingredients and how to cook them. Unfortunately, episodes from this show only streams within Hong Kong on the internet. :-(

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dream Bathroom Design

I love glass tiles, and would like to tile the entire bathroom in our renovation, but neither is budget friendly. So I'll have to put my dream on hold. I love the transparency and soft colors that glass tiles create. Wouldn't this bathroom be great for our place?

Above image from Waterworks

The below bathroom was my next inspiration for a budget friendly renovation. I love the simplicity of this design - pretty mosaic around the vanity area (we can allow ourselves to splurge here since it's a small area), darker floor tiles to ground the bathroom, and lighter wall paint to add dimension. Our bathroom isn't as grand and airy as this, so there will be no soaking tub or chandelier. We'll also stay away from dark dark floor tiles to avoid making our bathroom look smaller than it is. We'll stick to a neutral color to play it safe for future sale. Sounds like a plan!

Image above from Metropolitan Home

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bathroom Renovation, Week 1

I am happy to announce that a much needed bathroom renovation is underway in our new place! What do we have here that's got to go? Dingy white tiles (don't let the photo from afar fool you), pink shell-shaped sink, gold trimmed shower door and faucet, Broadway dressing room vanity lights, a deteriorating medicine cabinet, and last but not least, the urine smell.

We've gone from that to this during demolition (day 2

After that, some electrical rewiring work was done and the medicine cabinet area was resized. Sheet rock and shower pan were installed during the remodeling (day 5):

Things are going relatively smooth so far, aside from the demolition causing sheet rock to fall into the apartment one floor below us that nearly hurt our elderly neighbor. Up next, my vision for the bathroom, tiling and the finishing touches on week 2 (hopefully the final week).

Monday, November 30, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Colameco's Food Show

Colameco's Food Show on public television is the most organic show I watch. It's not a big time show that features a popular personality, not that Mike Colameco isn't a man to be liked. Colameco had a career as a professionally trained chef. On his show, he goes around to restaurants mostly in NYC to feature the talents and (to feast on) their cooking. The photo below is an unusually stylized photo of Colameco, who is very casual in his appearance and in cooking.

The most appealing qualities of his show for me are that his visits are primarily based in NYC and he supports restaurants where the chefs actually cook in the kitchen. Most importantly, he's straight forward and honest - just my type of guy!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Flooring Options

We have very well stained carpet throughout our new home that has got to go, so my husband did some exploratory work to see what we're dealing with underneath the carpet. We were hoping that the wood flooring underneath would be in mint condition. Unfortunately, it's not. Surprise surprise.

There has been some substantial water damage from a mini-fridge the previous owner had in the bar area and around the door that lead out to the balcony. Taking out the existing parquet wood floor would be expensive and time consuming. My husband and I are not fans of carpeting the entire place, so our remaining option is a floating floor. Floating floors - either laminate or engineered wood - have tongue and groove joints that lock into place so that they don't require nailing or gluing, perfect for installing over our existing floor.

Laminate has become very popular because of its attractive price, low maintenance and supposed durability. They are made out of paper, with a "photo" of wood printed on the surface. On the other hand, engineered wood has a thin layer of wood resting on layers of wood composite. Both have lower price points relative to hardwood floors. Can you tell which ones are laminate or engineered wood below?

The one on the right is engineered wood, the other two are laminate. We brought some home from our local home improvement store to test out their look, feel and color in our place. Upon close inspection, I was able to tell which ones are laminate. On top of that, I didn't like the texture of the laminate on my feet. In terms of color, while I love the look of dark wood floors against white walls with modern furniture, I am not that bold. The lighter color is very Danish, which I don't think is totally my style, but it makes the place look bigger.

We have yet to pick a color or material. What to do, what to do?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Foray into Frozen Food Aisle

I can't believe we've come down to this: having frozen entrees for dinner. Yup, I've become an expert at preparing frozen entrees in the microwave. I'm into healthy natural food, so I never imagined that the first items to go into our new fridge would be frozen entrees! We'll be feasting on these until we fully move into our new place. Yum.

Don't worry, I won't be having these for Thanksgiving tomorrow (hopefully). Have a warm and happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: No Reservations

Anthony Bourdain's brutal honesty and cynicism just kills me on No Reservations. Bourdain travels around the world on an entertaining culinary adventure, attached with his classic dark humor. And did I mention his constant drinking and smoking (very bad on TV of course)?

Image from Travel Channel

Bourdain's charming qualities aside, his show is effective in capturing the local culture - real people and authentic food - in his travels. I especially appreciated his visit to Hong Kong. Even I learned a thing or two from his trip there, with the more memorable being an old man practicing the dying art of making bamboo noodles that was passed down in his family. I tasted those hand made noodles myself while I was in Hong Kong last year, and felt so much more connected to my roots.

His personality may get a bit depressing and annoying after a while (especially if you watch the No Reservations marathon), but I am willing to dig deeper into his humanity and his quest to uncover the different food and cultures out there.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Slippery Slope

It's official. Our supermarket selection has dropped to almost nada. Since our time in NYC, both quantity and quality has gone on a slippery slope - we went from at least 5 choices, one of which included Whole Foods, to 3 in Boston, and now just 2 (and without Whole Foods!)

I love the selection at Whole Foods, mostly because of their luscious seafood section...from monkfish, cod, blue fish, tuna, shrimp to oysters. Sadly, I don't have access to quality seafood anymore. Stop and Shop is fine, but not my favorite. Their selection is fine, but their prices could be friendlier. As for Grade A supermarket, which is owned by Shop Rite, should carry the more appropriate name of Grade Z. Sigh.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Granite or Quartz?

Our kitchen countertop needs some serious upgrade. Just about anything would be a huge upgrade from cracked corian (don't ask me how the previous owners did it), but to boost our home value, we wanted to invest in either granite or quartz. Both are natural stones, but the latter is a composite. Consumer Reports and Consumer Search helped me narrow down to these two choices, while I did some serious research at the store to come down to a final decision.

I was impressed by the variety of colors offered at Home Depot for quartz when compared to granite. A main feature of their quartz offering is its built-in antimicrobial protection and its low maintenance as no sealing is required.

Quartz by Silestone

At first, I thought quartz would be the answer since in general, granite requires more maintenance in terms of sealing as it is a porous stone. However, I learned from my trip to HD that the granite they carry requires no sealing at all! I was eying their color named Platinum Blue, which looked grey from afar, but carried little hints of blue up close with hints of sparkle.

Granite by Stonemark

Our decision came down to a no brainer when we factored in the price. With granite starting at $57 vs. quartz at $61, why not pick the real natural stone and not the composite? Believe me, making this decision was so much easier than picking tiles!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: America's Test Kitchen

If you want to make the perfect recipe, America's Test Kitchen is your answer. Christopher Kimball and his team put recipes to scientific tests so that your cooking comes out right every single time. You can't doubt science now, can you?

I especially love their equipment ratings - they do all the work in testing equipment so I don't end up spending money on losers. Their taste tests of ingredients are always interesting as well. Best of all, they test accessible ingredients that you can find in supermarkets. Given that they tape in Brookline, MA (husband's former home), it would have been cool to be a part of their consumer taste testers. Oh well.

Image from America's Test Kitchen

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Brasitas Hits the Tastebuds (and Wallet)

As you may already know, I wasn't impressed by Stamford's (lack of) restaurant scene. I have learned though that I'm fine with the town as long as I don't compare it to NYC. In an attempt to explore Stamford and for the love of food, I put myself on a mission to find the best eats in Stamford. I did some research to see what the locals eat, and made myself a cheat sheet that's wallet sized. I'm knocking off the restaurants on my list out one by one...I've checked out Colony Grill for pizza, Robeks for juice & smoothies, Brasitas (review below) and SoNo Baking in the neighboring Norwalk for my sweet tooth. I'm happy to report that Brasitas was worth checking out, if not just once.

My husband and I stopped by Brasitas, a
Spanish Latino restaurant, for a late lunch and were happy we did. We were treated to a tasty salsa with plantain chips after ordering from their menu. I couldn't stop eating their salsa, and the server had even refilled the chips because he knew I wanted more. Aside from the salsa, we also had their ceviche (Ceviche Brasitas) and shrimp quesadilla (Langostino Quesadilla). I have no complaints about them, with the exception of the quesadilla, which I thought would be filled with shrimp as opposed to being served with shrimp on the side.

Overall, I thought the restaurant quality was good. With most of the appetizers in double digits, I thought Brasitas' prices could be more wallet friendly. If I go to Brasitas again, I will definitely stick to lunch to stretch my buck, as their dinner entrees are north of $20. With those prices, I'd rather hop on a train (or a car) and dine in NYC.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Green Cleaning

The former owners of our house weren't the cleanest people. For example, what was supposedly grey grout in the kitchen is now black. I've never cleaned with green products before, but I figured it's never too late to start!

I did a lot of research on the best method to clean grout, and they all point to using baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Plenty of cleaning solutions cost more than $3, and for less than $2, I got myself a trust-worthy green cleaner. I tried different methods of using the green cleaner from my research, and below is the method that worked for our extremely dirty grout:

  • First, make a paste using baking soda and water. It doesn't take much water to make the paste, so be careful how much you use. If it's too runny, you can always add more baking soda. Spread the paste onto the grout and leave it there for about 5 minutes.

  • Meanwhile, make a solution using equal parts of hydrogen peroxide and water in a spray bottle. Spray on the solution to the baking soda that has been applied on the grout. Leave on for about 5 minutes. (My grout was so dirty that the moment I sprayed it on, dirt started coming out of the grout!)
  • Scrub the area with a grout brush. You should see dirt coming out. Wipe off the area with a wet sponge. Spray on the hydrogen peroxide solution and scrub once more to ensure you've gotten the dirt and baking soda out. I also tried scrubbing with a stiff toothbrush, but the grout brush worked the best.
  • Do a final wipe using a clean wet sponge to get the baking soda off entirely and allow the area to dry. You may need to repeat the sponge process in order to get the baking soda off completely. I saw results after scrubbing two to three times (because it was so dirty!). Below you can see the difference between the cleaned grout (left side) vs. the dirty grout (right side). My grout is now grey like it should be!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Barefoot Contessa

What appeals to me from Barefoot Contessa on Food Network is the homeyness and simple elegance in Ina Garten's cooking. She freely goes to her garden to cut flowers for her table and herbs for her recipes - how natural and homey does it get?

Ina's not afraid to puts twists in her menu where you least expect it. To top it off, she gives me hope in being a good cook because she shows that you don't have to have professional training to do what she does. And how cute are Ina and Jeffrey together? I wish my husband and I will be as lovey dovey many years down the road.

Image from Food Network

Friday, November 6, 2009

Setting Goals

We have a lot to do for our first place together, so it's important for my husband and I to keep the big picture in mind while managing the small details. I think most homeowners, unless if they're Donald Trump, would have at least one goal in common with ours. Below are the grand scheme of things we're planning for our place.

Make the place look larger than it is - since we don't actually own a house, but rather, a condo, I want to keep the place from looking small. To carry this out, we'll need to:
  • keep the place light and airy by avoiding dark, large scale furniture and dark paint (however, since dark sofas mask stains well, we may need to go that route)
  • use paint with similar undertone in all rooms that will unite the spaces
Keep costs low - since this is not our first and final home, we're not looking for a high-end renovation. I do, however, want to have quality of life, so I am allowing some small splurges that won't put a dent in our wallet because our place is relatively small. With this in mind:
  • we'll be keeping the existing suspiciously colored kitchen cabinets but investing in a good countertop
  • tiling just half of our bathroom walls but investing in good looking accent tiles
Invest in quality pieces - again, since this is not our first and final home, we'll need to invest in furniture that lasts and can be brought to our next home:
  • a wood dining table is tempting, but it's prone to scratches, so we're exploring other options
  • we're gravitating towards a leather couch since they are more comfortable and may live longer than a microfiber couch
Do all of the above without strangling my husband - somehow, I have a feeling that this may be unavoidable

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

SoNo Baking Co.

My husband and I made it this time to SoNo Baking Co. in South Norwalk CT after our failed attempt two months ago! We were there to enjoy a nice lunch, complete with dessert. I'm a sucker for bakeries, so there wasn't one thing I didn't like. After all, who doesn't like looking at counters full of delicious baked goods?

We ordered a Club Sandwich (a double decker with avocado, tomato, ham, bacon and turkey) and a Smoked Salmon Sandwich. Both were equally good. The Club Sandwich was stacked high and served with a side salad. The bacon was perfectly cooked and crispy, a perfect complement to the creamy avocado. Did I say perfect enough times?

As for the Smoked Salmon Sandwich, I thought the portion could have been bigger. However, they did not skimp on the smoked salmon at all. The bread was lightly kissed by the grill, so as not to toughen the bread and damage the roof of their patrons' mouth. Capers and pickled red onion mellowed out slightly the fishiness of the salmon, while the dill spread rounded out the flavors.

What was for dessert? Lemon Tart. The lemon curd had the right amount of sweetness and tartness, and was incredibly light. One bite of this with the crumbly and crunchy shell would send you to heaven.

And if you're lucky to be there while they're baking, you can get a good look at their process, just like at Jacque Torres Chocolate!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Food/Cooking Shows Edition

We're moving onto Food Shows from Kitchen Tools & Equipment on Martha's Favs Mondays! I have lots of equipment I haven't busted out yet. While I would love to put them to work and write about them, I won't be able to do so because we haven't moved into our new house. I have no choice but to interrupt "Martha's Favs Mondays: Kitchen Tools & Equipment," a series I started 2 months ago. I will be sure to pick up on where I left off when I'm settled in our new home. For now, I will be moving onto "Martha's Favs Mondays: Food/Cooking Shows Edition," where I cover the irresistible food/cooking shows I watch. Iron Chef kicks off the first of this series.

There are tons of food/cooking shows on TV these days. Some of them have substance, while others are just made to look pretty to sell the cook's personality or image more than anything. I, of course, stick to those with substance. So, why do I love Iron Chef?

Image from Fine Living Network

My love for food/cooking shows started with this classic Japanese food competiti0n series. It was about 15 years ago that I woke up early each morning during my summer school breaks to watch this show air on public television. The show was like nothing I had ever seen before: local Japanese and foreign chefs pick a competitor from their choice of four Iron Chefs, and battle within an hour with a secret ingredient chosen by the chairman. It opened my eyes to cooking by real chefs and the fabulous range of vocabulary used by the judges in critiquing the dishes.

I stumbled onto this show at first because it looked odd and unrealistic - from
the over-dramatic feel of the show, the flamboyant outfits of the chairman, the orchestra that accompanied the introduction of Iron Chef Kobe (the "Prince of Pasta") and the "expert" panel of judges that included a fortune teller. The unrealistic elements were blended with the realistic, which included the exotic, fresh and surprising secret ingredients, the sweat and hard work put in by the chefs, the humorous Chen Kenichi, and the occasional grand battles in foreign countries. Somehow, the blend between fantasy and reality worked fabulously, and I was soon drawn in.

The new Iron Chef series, the one from America, is not as good as the classic Japanese version, but it will do for now. Thankfully, I can still watch the old episodes of the original Iron Chef on the Fine Living Network.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick or Treat?

Trick, apparently. We bought a roach house. Little did we know that we had company until the sun went down. Hopefully, setting two roach bombs worked. To all house hunters out there, make sure you visit your dream house during the day and also at night before you sign the papers!

Anyways, Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bobby's Burger Palace - "Fluffi-fied"

My sister and I were in NJ and decided to check out Bobby's Burger Palace to see what the almost always crowded restaurant was all about. Having tried their deliciously sinful milkshake a couple of weeks ago, I was naturally filled with high hopes for their burgers. I was pleased to see on their menu the traditional (classic) burger and a list of inventive ones, all offered in beef, chicken breast or turkey. The inventive burgers ranging in the style of Philadelphia, L.A., Miami, etc., the "crunchified" option and the colorful condiments on the table got my appetite going, but I wasn't fooled by all that fluff.

This time around, I ordered their Mango milkshake, and unlike my last visit, it came in no time. It was good - I expected no less. Again, I recommend sharing it, and I was glad I shared it with my sister. Sadly, the milkshake was the highlight of my meal. My fries came just lukewarm. Of course they were - they fried them ahead of time like they do at McDonald's and sat them on plates at the open kitchen counter for all to see. The mayo (it was either red pepper or chipotle) served with the fries was a bit runny.

And now, the burger. I had the Napa Valley Turkey Burger with goat cheese, watercress and meyer lemon honey mustard. I was quick to rescue my burger from getting soggy on a pool of mustard sauce when it arrived. As you will see, I crunchified the burger (added potato chips between the layers). It brought back the days when I would put fries in my McD's Filet-O-Fish for an added crunch. I must say that adding the crunchified option onto my burger tipped me from feeling full to gross by the end of the meal. That aside, I thought there was too much goat cheese (see a big glob of it sliding down?) and the meat itself was on the dry side.

My sister had the L.A. burger, which came with avocado relish, watercress, cheddar cheese and tomato. She's not a picky eater, and she wasn't impressed. The only thing she thoroughly enjoyed was one of the four condiments on the table - the Chipotle Ketchup.

Overall, I thought it was an average experience. The condiments lifted up my experience by a small notch. So, who wants a taste of the Flay at less than $10? Not me (for burgers anyways)!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Whole New Chapter, Endless Choices

It's official...we have no life. My husband and I have been paying a lot of visits to home improvement stores on the weekends to do some research for home renovation. I imagine that the frequency will increase when we get elbow deep into the mess, and I will undoubtedly be posting more on the home front to share with you my experience.

So far, I've been overwhelmed by the amount of choices out there. It's not that I haven't done this before when I was helping my sister out with her home, but I didn't have to pick fixtures or vanities. Literally, picking a faucet was a pain in the neck! Lowe's and Home Depot display hundreds of faucets up on walls (think warehouse height) and expect you to get a good look at these things. Not so much. Sure, the difference between a gold tone, chrome and brushed nickel is pretty obvious, but you can't even touch them to see if you like their feel and function!

Picking tiles was more fun than picking faucets. I loved the variety of choices, from ceramic, porcelain, marble, granite to even glass tiles (to my surprise). I only wish that they had more modern looking tiles. Consulting with my husband on the color combinations was a tad more painful than I expected. I really need another woman's opinion when tile shopping.

from marble tiles... glass tiles

Come, join me on this whole new chapter - my journey in becoming my own decorator and designer!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Martha's Favs Mondays: Chopsticks

I use chopsticks daily for dinner at home, but they aren't just for eating. I use them for cooking as well. Believe it or not, I've used them together with a giant spoon to toss pasta in a skillet. I also use them for flipping over Turkey Dumplings on a pan because they give me more control than a spatula. There are longer chopsticks, usually in wood, that are made especially for cooking and are perfect for frying as they lessen the chance of oil splattering on your skin.
As for applications other than cooking, I've used chopsticks for stirring (hot chocolate) and washing (cups, thermos) when my hand would not fit through the opening by using it to maneuver the sponge. Are you surprised at how many ways they can be used?

Image from Amazon

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Starting Fresh

Good news! After months of agony, we finally got the keys to our new home in CT. Unfortunately, the former owners did not keep the place in good shape, so it needs some serious TLC in the kitchen and bathroom. My sister, a relatively new home owner herself, gave me a few words of wisdom in attacking the renovation:
  • Get 3 to 5 estimates from contractors
  • Lock down one and begin work immediately
  • Get appliance and materials in
  • Choice of handing the old keys to contractor or you let them in to do work
  • Keep an airbed and some basics should you need to stay over
  • Be there frequent enough that any changes/mistakes can be caught before too late. Don't count on your husband to do this.
  • Supervise contractors’ work and wait for deliveries
  • Make sure you have broadband or you’ll be bored
  • When all are done, since neither you nor your husband are handy, have the contractor change locks last then move your stuff in
Thanks sis!

I must say that me having to be the project manager is by far my least favorite because it is similar to the wedding planning not long ago...all because I'm the one with all the ideas and time. Sigh.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Alice's Tea Cup

I'm a sucker of restaurants that serve loose tea in tea pots - Public, ChikaLicious, Tealuxe in Boston, just to name a few - so it's no surprise that I love Alice's Tea Cup. There's a lack of places for enjoying afternoon tea in NYC, especially one with a relaxed vibe. Alice's Tea Cup fills that void with 3 locations in the city, and is one of my favorite places to enjoy tea and light fare.

The place oozes Alice in Wonderland and everything whimsical - from its vast merchandise selection of Alice in Wonderland tea pots and pastel color fairy wings in the front of the store, painted murals, China plates and tea cups, and tea pots with anti-drip guards of butterflies and birds. And just look how cute our carrot cake was, topped with a tiny carrot decoration! It's no wonder that it attracts tons of mothers who bring their kids to experience real tea parties. Screaming kids aside, I love devouring their many delicious varieties of loose tea, scones and tea sandwiches.

My favorite item on their menu is their "Madhatter," which comes with a pot of tea (you choose from a giant tea list), scones (freshly baked with different selections daily), tea sandwiches, cookies and cake. Their fresh baked scones on one particular day featured Pumpkin, Blackberry Lemon, Chocolate and Cherry, Strawberry Banana, to the savory Ham and Cheese. On my last visit, my friends and I agreed that Blackberry Lemon and Strawberry Banana were the best of the bunch. Just don't expect the traditional English scones here - the ones at Alice's Tea Cup have more moisture than the dry crumbly biscuit-like scones.

And did I mention their tea sandwiches? My favorite is their Lapsang Souchong Smoked Chicken Breast...the freshness and sweetness of sliced apples paired with the smokiness of the chicken, combined with the tartness and earthiness of the goat cheese is just perfect. I can go on and on about this place, but I'll save it for my next visit.