Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How to Try To Make White Sangria -or- A Very Poorly Photographed Housewarming Party

For as long as we've been getting settled in the new house, I've been planning our housewarming party. I was highly motivated by the knowledge that on the horizon was an event where people would come over to our house, wander through its rooms and offer praise.

With the date of the party set for this past Saturday, I spent much of the last 2 weeks scrambling to finish the remaining projects in the house, namely trying to turn the second bathroom into something I would stop calling "the ugly bathroom." I succeeded in doing so, by the way, but I've neglected to take pictures of it.

In fact, a lack of pictures will be the theme of this post. I did have my camera out and about for the duration of the party, but it spent most of that time sitting on the table. I can't even say I had a good excuse like "I was busy cooking" because I wasn't and, in fact, through most of the day the kitchen was filled with men, frying bacon and slathering bbq sauce on various meats that were then sent outside to the grill. I'd gotten my share of the food prep completed before the guests arrived. I baked chocolate chips cookies, jalapeno cheddar corn bread, and made my first ever attempt at macaroni and cheese.

Oh, and the night before the party I made some jugs of white sangria. And I managed to take plenty of pictures of that process, so allow me to present you with a sangria (trial and error) tutorial.

I've made traditional (red) sangria a number of times; the most notable and sizable batch was the one I prepared for my wedding and it was a big hit at the reception. Not wanting to be the woman who makes sangria for every single party (replace "sangria" with "margaritas" and you have me 2 summers ago), I decided to try making something new.

Oh, hey, what about the same thing but with different wine and slightly different fruits? Sure!

I printed out Rachael Ray's white sangria recipe, decided to quadruple it, and went to the grocery store to buy ingredients during my lunch break on Friday.

• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 3 shots Calvados or other apple liquor
• 1 lime, sliced
• 1 lemon, sliced
• 2 ripe peaches, cut into wedges
• 3 ripe green apples seeded and cut into wedges
• 1 bottle white Rioja Spanish wine or other dry white wine
• 1 pint raspberries
• Sparkling soda water, for topping off glasses of sangria at table

At the store, I paced up and down the wine aisles, unable to find Rioja Spanish wine. So I was forced to make my first of many substitutions. I bought two 1.5 liter bottles of Chardonnay and hoped for the best.

Moving onto the liquor section, I didn't find Calvados. I hadn't actually ever seen a bottle of this stuff before, so I examined the labels closely. But no, no dice. Again, I'd have to make a substitution. This one bothered me even more because instead of purchasing Calvados French apple brandy, I'd be forced to use... DeKuyper's Apple Pucker, a product with a cartoon drawing of green lips on its label.

And I wasn't going to fair much better in the produce section. After pushing my cart in circles for a few minutes, no peaches in sight, I flagged down a store employee who was restocking some vegetables. I asked him where I could find the peaches and he pointed out that they were not yet in season. SO not in season, in fact, that they didn't even have some over priced imported ones from South America or something. No, no peaches whatsoever. I gathered up my lemons, limes and green apples. Then decided to make up for the lack of peaches with grapes instead. Sure, why not?

Then, since I was clearly just inventing an all new recipe at this point, I decided to buy canned peaches and use some of the syrup to flavor the drink. And to forgo the fresh raspberries, and opt for frozen ones. I pictured them working as yummy little ice cubes.

With my motley crew of ingredients assembled, I set to work preparing the pitchers that evening. Fortunately I had the help and encouragement from Devin's mom, Kathy, who was certain everything was going to turn out just fine. I had two pitchers so my plan was to double the recipe for each.

I began by mixing the wine with the sugar and the (sigh) apple pucker. Alarmingly, the whole thing turned Ecto-Cooler green. Classy.

Next we threw in the fruit. The recipe called for 3 apples, which meant I'd need to add 6, but that seemed like entirely too many apples. I think I wound up only using 2. Then I dumped in half the large can of peaches and about half of the available syrup. 2 lemons, 2 limes, a large bunch of grapes, sliced in halves.

I stirred it all together then poured some into a glass to sample. It tasted...well.. wrong. Kathy tasted it and, trying to stay positive, paused for thought then said, "Oh, um, it's nice. Well, it's tart. Maybe it's supposed to be." Devin wandered in at just that moment. I pushed the glass in his direction and, for some reason, he recoiled in horror. "Why won't you taste it!?"
After an unnecessary protest, he tried it, made a face and said something like "Well if that's your kinda thing."

Okay, great. So then I dumped in some more sugar and even more apple pucker. For those of you keeping score at home, I think we're up to about 9 tablespoons of sugar and 8 or 9 shots of apple pucker. The whole thing still tasted too tart but I gave up, and put it in the fridge, hoping the fruit would sweeten it over night. Then I set to work on the next disastrous batch.

When it came time for the party, I set out one of the pitchers along with cups, club soda, and the raspberry garnishes. The frozen raspberries didn't really work as I'd planned, since they come out of their package congealed into a frozen brick, and not as individual, delightful little berries like I'd hoped.

As for the sangria, unfortunately it wasn't that much sweeter than the night before so I tossed in even more apple pucker.

Even though I'm not totally sold on the outcome of this concoction, I will say that we made our way through both pitchers in a matter of hours. So clearly it was more refreshing than I'd thought. I don't know if I'll attempt this again, but now you have the how-to, in case you're ever in the mood to give it a shot.

Now to wrap things up with 2 more pictures. First, my flea market mirror in its new home in the living room, dressed up with flowers for the party.

Then, a picture of the party at night. Since this is blurry, and the only picture I have, allow me to explain what you're looking at.

- The last few guests. Most people left at about 5:30 or 6. Oddly enough their departure coincided with the first few rounds of karaoke. Weird, right? (Remind me to tell you more about my karaoke machine some time.)
- Devin's father and Ryan are playing guitar and singing.
- New fabulous lanterns illuminating the backyard. They were hung with love and care that very morning by Devin and his mother.

That was just the first of the summer barbecue series. In the months to come perhaps there will be more drink experiments, more karaoke, and (if I get my act together) more pictures.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Infrared Body Wraps

Having lived in L.A. for a number of years, I've heard of just about every kind of treatment and holistic remedy for weight, skin, pain, whatever. So when a coworker, in a fit of pre-wedding pampering and preparation, told me she'd been getting regular infrared body wraps, I barely batted an eyelash. These treatments, done at spas and tanning salons, involve little more than being wrapped up in silicone strips, which heat up, and over the course of a 50 minute session, increase circulation, decrease water weight, relax muscles and burn calories.

While I was intrigued, the nearly $100 per session fee pretty much guaranteed I would never give it a shot.

But then Groupon, which I love love love, advertised a special of only $25 for one session at On The Beach in Toluca Lake. For $25 would I wrap myself up like a sweaty burrito? Heck yeah! And because I'm now roping Devin into all of my experiments, I bought him a session too.

So on Sunday morning we made our way to the salon for our back to back sessions. It was decided Devin would go first, and so he was provided with a navy blue sweatsuit to change into. The outfit made him look very cozy, and also sort of like he was in a cult.

Then Logan, the very helpful and very friendly woman working there, strapped Devin in. I was relieved to find there were only a few bands involved, and that the bands weren't also attached to the bed. I'd sort of envisioned being covered from neck to ankle, unable to move, but as it turns out there was just one around each thigh, around the butt, waist, and both arms.

While getting Devin set up, Logan explained some of the benefits and mentioned that we'd burn 900-1200 calories. This pleased me because just that very morning I'd been fretting over the discovery that although I've been running 20 miles a week, I appear to be getting somehow flabbier. [My whole life older women have always warned me that one day, suddenly, my metabolism would grind to a halt, I'd lose all muscle mass, and that I would have to go to Curves and never so much as look at a french fry and be on Weight Watchers until I died. I've recently wondered if, at 27, I've finally landed on the other side of that fence.]

Leaving Devin to roast, I walked down the street to Coffee Bean to work on my laptop and judge all of the other people working on their laptops. When I returned, I peered into Devin's room.
"How you doing in here?"
"I'm ready to be done."
"Well that doesn't sound enjoyable. Did you find anything to watch on TV?" I gestured to the small television mounted near the ceiling, hospital room style.
"It only gets local channels. I've been watching Power Rangers."

Now that I was far less enthused about the whole process, it was my turn. I changed into my gray sweatsuit and lay awkwardly on the bed while I was wrapped up. The bands were still warm from Devin's session and I was informed that overall I'd experience more heat than him since they hadn't had a chance to cool. "But that means more benefits," I was reassured. Huzzah! Say goodbye, recently discovered fat over my shoulder blades.

For the first 10 minutes the warmth was relaxing, like a nice bath. I felt sleepy. Minutes 10-20 went by incredibly slowly and I soon grew restless. Oh, and hot. Really hot. Trying to take my mind off the toastiness, I shifted my attention between the Spanish language infomercial on the TV and the novel I'd brought, but which I couldn't really hold at a suitable angle for reading anything on the lower half of the page. With about 15 minutes remaining, I felt like my butt was burning. I called Logan in and said I could put up with it as long as there wasn't really a risk of burning myself. She assured me this would not happen, but adjusted the strap anyway. This helped. I thought about how, even if I had the potential to burn 1200 calories, sweating away in this room was harder than the 7 mile run I'd completed the day before.

Then Devin appeared.
"How is it?"
"I'm ready to be done."

As you can tell from this picture, I'm having a blast. Also, point of note, this may be just about the worst possible angle to have one's picture taken.

By the time the whole thing was over I felt calm, sleepy and light. I can't say for sure that I noticed any other results, and no one promised that I would without completing multiple sessions, but I like to pretend that it flattened my stomach.

In conclusion, not really my cup of tea. I could actually see committing to it if, like my coworker, I was prepping for The Big Day. But since I've got nothing on the horizon but getting older and fatter, I might as well save my money for the impending membership to Curves.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Pasadena Flea Market

Devin and I discovered our love for flea markets in December. Desperate for unique Christmas gifts and running out of time, we visited the weekly flea market at Fairfax High School. Initially, we were overwhelmed by the size and variety. But soon we were sucked in. I rummaged around through boxes of costume jewelry and old postcards. I walked through the tents of vintage clothing, wishing I had the imagination and patience to be the sort of person who could support such a wardrobe. Devin took a liking to any and all hideous items that he could proudly display in our home. Because we were on a mission for gifts, we denied ourselves, stayed focused and promised to return on a selfish pilgrimage on a later date.

When I heard the Pasadena Flea Market was several times more massive than the one at Fairfax, I knew I'd have to see it. The catch is that this event only happens once a month, and for the last 6 months I've managed to forget to make a note of the correct date so have consistently missed out.

Then this weekend, while my friend Shannon was visiting, the stars finally aligned. It was Saturday and we were sipping Bloody Marys in the living room while we both yammered on about our decorating endeavors --she's also recently moved into a new place-- and I mentioned that the blank space on the wall by the door is where I would put a cool antique mirror, whenever I got around to finding one at a flea market. The Pasadena Flea Market came up, prompting me to get online and see when the next one would be hold and lo! it was scheduled for the following morning. We made plans to get up early and head over.

On Sunday I woke up at 9, then 9:30, then 10:15. By 11:15 Devin, Shannon and I were finally leaving the house. By 11:45, we'd managed to go to the bank for cash and Starbucks for caffeine boost. I was fully aware that flea markets are the sort of events one is meant to wake up early to attend, but I simply could not see the urgency. It isn't as though the vendors would be selling iPads or Justin Bieber concert tickets. There would certainly be a million random knick knacks and I sincerely doubted that any 2 people would possibly want the same one.

As we arrived at the Rose Bowl (only a 5 minute drive), I realized why arriving early would have been beneficial: the parking lot was a madhouse. We drove and drove and drove. Finally, we arrived at an outer lawn, where a series of attendants in orange vests directed us into one of the dozen remaining spots.

It was a chilly, cloudy day, but that didn't seem to deter the crowds. Once we made our way through the front entrance I processed the enormity of the market. We'd be lucky to make it through 1/4 of it in the hours before it closed. After about 5 minutes, the 3 of us succeeded in losing one another, and the rest of the day would be like herding ants. No one wanted to look at the same things or stay in the same place for the same length of time.

After snaking our way through the first chunk of vendor booths, I had yet to find the cool mirror of my dreams. Devin, on the other hand, had managed to buy a bedazzled LA Dodgers belt buckle, a creepy doll wearing a hat (torso only, legs missing), a giant pipe made out of a log, and this terrible guitar lamp.

Because the guest room/office is essentially his room to outfit however he pleases, I didn't put up too much resistance to his items. I made faces and sighed a great deal, but that's about it. I wonder, however, what will happen if, in the future, we do not have a spare room. These things will certainly not make their way into the main living area, so I suppose we'll have to open our own booth at a flea market and sell this all back.

Anyway, then it was time for a snack break. Shannon and Devin grabbed hot dogs. There didn't appear to be anything meatless in sight, so I was SOL.

Soon after, Devin got a call that he needed to head home and do something for work, so his shopping spree was cut short. He agreed to come back and retrieve me and Shannon at closing time and so I helped Devin carry his bounty out to the parking lot. Of course, in our earlier excitement to have finally parked we didn't take note of where we'd wound up and so wandered around for some time looking for the car. Eventually I found it, but had since lost Devin. I called out for him, but there was no answer. Thankfully he was carrying the guitar lamp so I was able to locate him by the lampshade bopping its way through the maze of cars.

Right after Devin left, it became clear that it would rain at any minute, and that we were now trapped at the flea market with no transportation and no immediate shelter. To make matters worse, vendors began packing up their wares to protect them from the drizzle, so finding what I'd came for became even more difficult.

With about 30 minutes to closing time, I encountered a vendor who sold old window frames that he'd transformed into mirrors. I gave them a once over, but didn't commit. I walked away, then came back. Away, then back again. At last, I concluded my repeated returns must be a sign that I was a fan and so I impressed myself by bargaining, and got the window/mirror for a lower price.

Here I am posing with it, while freezing my butt off and eating greasy egg rolls.

All in all, a successful adventure. I fully intend on going back to the flea market next month. I feel like I barely scratched the surface and there are so many peculiar gems just waiting to be discovered.

Monday, April 5, 2010

If You Can't Stand The Heat, Get Out Of The Kitchen, and Stop Reading The Nest

At some point, without my knowledge, I wound up subscribed to The Nest's email list. I suppose it had something to do with my membership to The Knot's website, during the first two weeks of my engagement, before I realized that I absolutely hated the site and wanted nothing to do with it. The people who run The Knot (a site for wedding planning) also run The Nest (a site for Newlyweds settling into their new home and lifestyle), and also The Bump (a site for --you guessed it -- pregnancy). I suppose next comes The Minivan, followed by The Hot Flash, and lastly The Grave.

The whole thing just gives me anxiety.

Anyway, so a few times a week I get these emails with presumptuous subject lines like "Spice Up Your Sex Life" and "Is Baby On The Brain?" I should just unsubscribe but I have to admit the sincerity of these articles makes me giggle. Case in point, an excerpt from today's article "Is Your Guy Masturbating Too Much?"

"Lately, everywhere we turn, there's another article warning us about the dangers of too much masturbation. Ever worry about playing second fiddle to your man's solo missions? Maybe you should."

I mean, REALLY.

Call me old fashioned, but my idea of nesting involves decorating, reorganizing, and cooking. And since we've moved I've done just about all the nesting I can, short of actually fashioning a shelter from twigs.

But for most of this time, the kitchen has been off limits due to ongoing (and seemingly endless) renovations. When we first looked at the place, the owners told us they were behind on their plans to redo the kitchen, and were somewhat apologetic about its current state. Looking around the room as she said this, I wasn't sure quite why they were going to bother remodeling, but I wasn't about to talk myself out of a brand new kitchen.

When it came time for us to move in weeks later, the kitchen was still not complete. In fact, we didn't have countertops. There were cabinets (nice new ones!), but no countertops. Just holes. I'm sure I don't need to tell you how impossible it is to prepare a meal without, um, a surface. Additional kitchen renovations included a new sink, electrical work and tiles.

And now, everything is complete. Saturday was a thrilling day in my nest because I could finally put the kitchen and all of my snazzy cooking and baking supplies (wedding gifts that had yet to see the light of day) to good use!

Also, I got to wear my cat apron.

I started off by making a pineapple upside down cake to bring with me to Easter brunch. Okay, to be accurate, I started off by sending Devin to the store to fetch me the right kind of pineapple because I'd some how bought crushed instead of sliced. THEN I made a cake. Normally I can follow any recipe and get a relatively perfect product. So I was surprised when half way through baking I peered into the oven to see the cake about to overflow from the pan, nearly burnt but still entirely wobbly in the center. Worried, I called my mother, who'd just given me the recipe hours earlier and now sounded a bit exhausted by my unnecessary panic.

In the end, the cake turned out just fine. While flipping it out of the pan for the "upside down" part I sort of missed my mark and so you can see it's not exactly centered.

While the cake cooled, I moved onto dinner. My mom's celebrated pasta salad, with tomatoes, brocolli, mozzarella and olives.

And then a green salad that I made up from, coincidentally, small veggies: micro greens, baby greens and those little Persian cucumbers.

Devin was delighted --and a little perplexed-- by my culinary adventures.

The rest of the weekend was all about going out -- date night, a birthday party at a bar, Easter brunch. But I have to say, the highlight was the time spent alone, zen-like, cooking (and drinking wine) in the kitchen.