Dec 21, 2012

The Holidays Are Upon Us

*blinks eyes*

Hi, everyone.  At the moment I feel as though I just crawled out from under a rock.  I am tired, disoriented, and VERY NEARLY FINISHED WITH THE FALL 2012 SEMESTER.


The stuff in caps = stuff about which I am pretty excited.

In the past week, I have written 30+ pages' worth of term papers, proctored 4 hours' worth of exams, graded 60% of said exams, gave a kitschy presentation on "My Yiddishe Mame," and did something that is completely unprecedented around these parts.

I turned in one of my term papers a full day early.

Yes, you read that correctly.  For those of you following along at home, I finished a paper approximately 25 hours ahead of schedule.  I must be getting old.  In my old age, I am also writing longer papers, it seems.  I've written nearly 35 pages' worth of ... stuff.  You might be thinking that I would be nearly finished with the paper writing process.  You would be incorrect about this.  Of the two papers I am responsible for writing, those 35 pages only works out to one and one-third papers.  Since the second paper is not due for another week, and since I am still patting myself on the back for finishing the first one so early, I don't feel very bad about finishing up my grading and goofing around a bit before finishing everything off.
Thanksgiving meal.  Grape leaves and yogurt, turkey, mashed potatoes,
roasted garlic, stuffing, creamed spinach, roasted brussel sprouts.

Best. Pecan. Pie. Ever.

In and around the paper-writing madness, Nick and I had a turkey-tastic Thanksgiving.  We over-compensated for last year's tiny, broken oven by cooking and baking a week's worth of food ... which we consumed in a few days.  Our pecan pie, which we baked in Nick's cast iron, was SO GOOD that we had to make another one over Thanksgiving weekend.  Yeah.

This year I also found my menorah and what was probably a rather old box of candles, and Nick and I actually celebrated Chanukah this year.  We lit the candles every night, and he really liked participating in the process.   I made latkes and roasted chicken one night, also a hit.  Nick's favorite part, though, was learning how to play dreidel, even though he confused some of the letters.  It probably also helps that he won all of the chocolate gelt from our short-lived dreidel game.   
For all of you Midwesterners, I hope you have a VERY SAFE holiday season, and a happy and healthy New Year! 

Nov 2, 2012

Hurrican Sandy

Hello everyone,

The preliminaries: Nick and I went to Iowa over Labor Day weekend, and brought back several vintage/thrifted  items which have since been put to use around our house.  We also enjoyed visiting with everyone, of course.  Since then, we've been trying to juggle teaching/coursework/work, and the months have apparently gotten away from me.  But only a little bit.

Most of you have checked in on me over the past several days.  I can't tell you how much this means to me, particularly since we were so fortunate to have been spared from nearly all of Hurricane Sandy's wrath.  Since we live in central Brooklyn, we missed the floods and fires, and unlike our last apartment, where Nick and I literally had to take turns bailing out our bedroom each hour during Hurricane Irene, our current building is incredibly well-built and successfully withstood the high wind speeds.  Here are some of the precautions that we took to ensure a 'successful' hurrication:

1. Grocery shopping: Since we have the space, I keep a very well-stocked pantry, full of canned and dry goods.  I did my grocery shopping on Saturday, stocking up on some perishable items, paper towels, and trash bags.  Not only is there wisdom in stocking up on food before a hurricane, by doing so a day earlier than everyone else, I successfully avoided the crazed hordes, long checkout lines, and bare shelves that were par for the course on Sunday.

2. Cooking: I made Aunt Deb's pumpkin chocolate chip loaf recipe on Sunday, except I did muffins instead of a traditional loaf.  We also enjoyed Fesenjan stew (shown above) Sunday night, and a barley, lentil, and chicken stew Monday.  We've since been eating off of the leftovers--delicious!

3. Household preparations: We happened to have a lifetime supply of AA batteries, some flashlights/touch lights, and more tea lights than I want to discuss as a result of the last Halloween party we threw a few years ago.  We also took the precaution of bringing our air conditioners indoors Monday morning, as well as our window box.

A gigantic downed tree near Bedford Ave.

Brooklyn College

Some missing sign letters on Nostrand Ave.

The aftermath: I took some photographs of my neighborhood Wednesday afternoon.  As you can see, there is actually very little damage--some downed trees/limbs is really the extent of what happened in my neighborhood.  NYC public schools and CUNY all cancelled classes this week (most CUNY schools actually resumed Nov. 2, though several professors cancelled class anyway as a result of the transit situation).  Brooklyn College suffered very little damage, but a couple of CUNY campuses are still underwater and/or are serving as shelters.  Bus service resumed in Brooklyn and parts of Queens Tuesday evening, and very limited train service resumed Thursday morning.  Since lower Manhattan is still without power, and many of the subway tunnels between Brooklyn and Manhattan are still flooded, subway service ends in downtown Brooklyn and resumes at 57th St. in Manhattan.  To get between these two points, you can either take a shuttle bus or walk.  The sheer length of lines for the shuttles has made the news.  The lower picture shows how the line was supposed to work (empty at midday), and how it was literally wrapped around the stadium twice because there were so many people waiting for the shuttles during morning rush hour:

Randomly, our own neighborhood had a blackout for a few hours Tuesday evening.  We're so lucky that it didn't last longer, but it was a bit stressful while it lasted.

Although grocery stores have been able to restock their shelves, since the bridges have been reopened and delivery trucks can get in and out, gas stations have not fared as well.  Many are without power, and some are simply out of gas as a result of the ports being closed until today.  We live around the corner from a gas station, and have been watching the blocks-long line of cars since Tuesday evening slowly inch its way along.  After several fights broke out, the NYPD put several officers there to keep the peace, thought that has not lessened the lines or the honking of horns.   As I was walking home from a couple of errands yesterday, I saw that there was also a separate line of people with plastic gas cans.  I initially assumed that this was a shortcut to avoid waiting in the car line, but then I realized that the generators that people are using until electricity is restored are powered by gas.

I've also heard from several of my students.  Many of them seem to have come through completely unscathed, but one girl who emailed me yesterday literally lost all of her possessions in the storm.  The more pictures I see of the damage in the affected areas, and the more stories I hear from friends and students who were evacuated or were otherwise affected, the more grateful I am for how fortunate we have been.

Jul 16, 2012

Devo does babka

Last Thursday, while clicking around on the internet, I rediscovered Smitten Kitchen, a food blog written right out of the Big Apple.  Nick and I had been aware of this particular blog for several years, dating back to when we first moved in together, and had already tried Deb's recipes for ricotta (a quasi-success) and pastry cream (a near-unparalleled disaster).  After clicking through many promising posts, I stumbled across one for little chocolate swirl buns and then this other one from whence the buns were adapted.  And suddenly I was reading all about chocolate babka, and wanting some very badly.  

The bakery has just run out of chocolate babka.
Chocolate babka is sort of like a chocolate croissant ... but bigger.  And better.  It's an Old World relic that is popular enough in New York (but then, what Jewish food isn't in these parts?).  A Midwesterner by origin, my only familiarity with babka came from watching Seinfeld, where chocolate babka plays a prominent role in "The Dinner Party" episode.  So naturally, after perusing the Smitten Kitchen recipes, I assumed I would quickly get over the whole babka phenomenon.  

But I was wrong.  By that night, I knew that I would be making babka within the next few days.  But which recipe to use?  The original made three loaves and called for an obscene amount of chocolate (two and a half pounds!!) and streusel topping, but the swirl bun recipe was scaled down and made twelve cute little rolls that baked in muffin cups.  After a lot of thought, I decided to use the amounts listed for the swirl bun recipe but made a loaf instead.  

Since I have made bread from scratch a few times, the recipe was actually pretty manageable--up until you do the filling, you're essentially making bread.  My new Sunbeam hand mixer came with dough hooks, which helped to facilitate the kneading process, and otherwise the recipe went pretty smoothly so that after a few hours, I opened the oven and pulled out one golden, crusty, delicious loaf and IT WAS DELICIOUS.  

Jul 9, 2012

Summer 2012 update

So far this summer has been very eventful.

Nick and I moved into a new apartment, located very close to Brooklyn College ... and a Baskin Robbins.  The apartment has just about everything we wanted: lots of closets (no more storage unit!), lots of (storage) space, a large kitchen (with a walk-in pantry), lots of light, on-site laundry, and a quiet neighborhood.  Our new building has plenty of young Orthodox families with small children.  This means things are pretty quiet over Shabbat (plus we get the elevator nearly to ourselves on Saturdays), and we are otherwise getting used to hearing the incessant patter of small feet next door and above.

The move itself was pretty rough, unfortunately: it was a rainy day, and the movers sucked.  I've encountered plenty of movers over the five years I've lived in Brooklyn, and this crew was the worst I had ever seen.  Among other things, they broke one of our bookshelves and lost several key items, including the chair cushion from one of my mid-century armchairs, a tower fan box that contained 40+ books (mostly mass-market paperbacks), a table lamp, and a computer backpack that contained a set of small speakers and our t.v. remote.  Subsequent calls and emails to the moving crew and company went unreturned.  Groupon, who had offered what I thought was a wonderful deal on this move, refunded me the voucher amount, but that doesn't even cover half of what it will cost to replace everything.  Plus,  some items very well may be impossible to replicate.  Like the chair cushion (seriously, how do you lose a CHAIR CUSHION?!), and the two or three missing books that are hardcover editions from the 1960s.  And the 1960s plain-cover edition of Franny and Zooey.  So ... Nick and I may very well be pursuing this matter in small claims court this summer.
The ironing board.  

ANYWAY.  Enough about the move.  We're mostly settled into the new place, and I spent several days making apartment-related stuff, like an ironing board cover, a bedside rug, aprons for myself and Nick, and curtain ties for the 'drapes' in our sitting room.  We also started an herb garden out a sitting room window.  The thing is anchored to the mostly permanent child safety bars and seems pretty secure.

We spent last week, including the Fourth of July, with four of our friends at a beach house on Cape Cod.  It was a pretty amazing trip that involved a lot of drinking for those who were inclined, and a great deal of game-playing, cooking, grilling, and eating.  Oh, and the beach.  The house where we stayed was a ten minute walk from a private beach, which we visited every day.  I'm glad I invested in a bathing suit for this trip, because it meant that I got to spend some quality time immersed in the Atlantic Ocean.  Everyone was too busy relaxing and beaching it up to take many pictures, but here's a shot of the ocean at night.  It was absolutely gorgeous, although my iPhone shot hardly does it justice.  One 'trip' we did take was to a seafood restaurant at Wood's Hole for our last dinner.  The restaurant was called Landfall, and was mostly built from and decorated with nautical paraphernalia.  Our seafood was delicious, and we ended up walking around a nearby town to investigate all the touristy shops before getting Dairy Queen on our way back.

In other news, I will be returning to Iowa for a brief visit over Labor Day weekend.  Since Nick's fall schedule is still very much up in the air, we're not sure whether he'll be able to come along.  Looking forward to seeing everyone!

Landfall Restuarant, Wood's Hole, MA

Jun 3, 2012

Hyannis Port and Moving

The semester is over, grades are in, which means that today I am frantically packing the last of our things in order to move to our new place tomorrow.

We're moving, and Nick and I are VERY EXCITED.  The new apartment is near Brooklyn College, and I'm thinking it will be nice to return to the neighborhood in which I first lived when I moved here nearly six years ago.

In and around the craziness of this apartment search ( BY FAR the worst and most dramatic one to date), Nick and I joined his father, grandmother, and her siblings on Cape Cod for a mini family reunion that involved all of us meeting a lot of the extended Biggs clan (Biggs is Nick's grandmother's maiden name) for the first time, eating lots of seafood, and, of course, visiting the ocean.  And, just because Bubbie asked, here is a picture of Nick and I--the genuine ocean in the background is free of charge :)

Jan 1, 2012

New Year's 2012

Today I write to you from Rhode Island.  Providence, Rhode Island, to be exact.

It is New Year's day, and Nick and I thought it would be a grand idea to spend the holiday weekend out of town.  We had been to Providence a few years ago for Valentine's Day, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Given our prior experience, the central location and proximity of Amtrak, lodgings, entertainment and food, and a good deal on travel and hotel meant that 1) we're in Providence and 2) we're enjoying ourselves immensely.

Friday we wandered downtown a bit, after being transported to our hotel by a very chatty (and very entertaining) shuttle driver.  In our wanderings, we discovered that downtown is much more compact than we realized, which has greatly facilitated our ability to get around.  In addition, we (re)discovered several potentially interesting shops and restaurants ...some of which, unfortunately, were closed.  Anyway.  Last time around, we ended up at this fantastic burger place called Luxe that had gorgonzola tater tots.  NATURALLY we wanted to return on this trip, and did so for dinner.

They were out of tater tots.  This turned out all right, however, because in our hour-long wait for a table, we sat at the bar, where Nick and I enjoyed onion rings and alcoholic beverages prepared by a very friendly pair of bartenders ... who generously allowed us to sample the excess of some of the other drinks on the menu.  

Once we were finally seated, Nick proceeded to order the spiciest burger he could concoct, and I opted for the mac n' cheese, which was delivered to our table still bubbling from the oven.

When we awoke Saturday morning, we decided it would be a good idea to make our dinner reservation ... as it turned out, the only available times at the restaurants on our list were 5pm and 10:30pm.  You all know me, so guess what time we picked?   (the later time .... obviously!)

Because this was a quasi-working vacation, I settled in the lobby after breakfast to work on a paper, while Nick explored the Brown University neighborhood (just across the river from us).  For lunch, we ended up at a brew pub called Trinity Brewhouse and Restaurant.  They brew their beers on-site.  Nick thought his beer was quite good, and the place was very atmospheric with dark wood paneling and the deepest-fried fish I've ever had.  Seriously.

After lunch, we ventured to the mall, where we discovered that 1) at least half of Providence had a similar thought, and 2) that we like the idea of being at the mall much more than actually doing so.  We had planned to see a movie on this trip, but by the time we arrived at the theater (located on the top floor of the mall) to investigate, the next series of showings were an hour later.  Back to the hotel we went, where we proceeded to watch television and surf the internet until dinnertime.

For our late dinner, we went to Capriccio's, an Old World European restaurant that has been a fine-dining experience in Providence for years.  It was definitely old: the brick floors were slippery from age, and the median age of the waitstaff was 40.  Our own waiter, Lou, was probably in his 60s, and really amazing at his job.  The restaurant felt like something out of a gangster movie--more authentically Italian than even some of the Italian places I've been in New York!!  We also got to watch the flambe guy, Gino (who is apparently a legend), maneuver his large cart over the uneven floor and around tables.  We also watched him flambe a steak and make dessert crepes, which was truly something to behold.   The food was magnificent--my appetizer included the best fresh mozzarella I've ever had, and I also tried truffles for the first time in my entree.  Nick enjoyed a seafood chowder to start, and capellini cardinale (angel hair pasta with fresh lobster in a pink brandy sauce) as his main course.  For dessert, we were served eggnog cheesecake and some of the best chocolate mousse Nick and I have ever tasted.  Just before midnight, the waitstaff passed out party hats and noisemakers, and the commotion at midnight was ... well, unforgettable.  Definitely the best New Years' Eve on record.

Today Nick and I slept in, and then attended a matinee showing of the Sherlock Holmes movie.  It's quite good, and I look forward to watching it again when it comes out on video.  Tonight we'll be dining at Fleming's before packing our bags to return to the City tomorrow.

January should be a busy month for us: Nick is teaching a three-week night class five evenings a week, and I'll be trying to crank out grades by Friday's deadline ... and also probably addressing student complaints over said grades!!  Later in the month, I'll begin preparing for the spring semester, both the classes I'm taking and the one I'm teaching.

A happy and fulfilling New Year to you all!