Monday, November 29, 2010

Holiday Cards Galore!

Every year around this time people start thinking about holiday cards. Some people send them out earlier then others, I’m always impressed by those first couple we receive well before the end of December.

I love getting them in the mail, it’s always fun to get something colorful in your box rather then another piece of junk mail or electricity bill. When I saw on Erin’s blog that Shutterfly was doing a promotion for 50 free cards for blogging about them, I knew I had to sign up. Ever since Alex and I started sending cards, we’ve gone through Shutterfly, so I can legitimately say they have good stuff to offer! The cards are super easy to put together, fast to upload photos, and ship nice and quick!

This year they have a great selection of designs to chose from: holiday, Christmas, winter, Hanukkah, whatever suits your fancy. If you’re like us and don’t quite manage to get your cards out by the holidays, they even have New Year’s cards to offer. Looking back at our cards, it seems we have a thing for snowflakes and snowmen.

While I'll keep this year's card a surprise, here are a few of our favorites from year's past...

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Best Pumpkin Pie Ever


Making a pumpkin pie for the Thanksgiving table has been my job for as long as I can remember. It's a tradition I always enjoy and generally has had very tasty results, minus the year I made the pie for my in-laws and forgot to add the sugar. Opps, sorry Chris and Bill... :-(

Growing up I usually followed the recipe on the back of the can of Libby's pumpkin puree. Though I have a distinct memory of my grandmother and Aunt telling me you can be creative with pie recipes! My grandmother was the one who taught me to add molasses or maple syrup and taste as you go with the spices.

DSC_3562 copy

When I was working at the MLC, we hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for our students each year. One year one of the volunteers also happened to be the head baker at Zelo in downtown Minneapolis. To say she knew her sweets would be an understatement. She graciously offered up her recipe and I haven't looked at the canned recipe since! I've tinkered with this one, and it doesn't get much better then this for a delicious autumn treat!

Last year when I finally started using a real pumpkin, the recipe was complete! I made a homemade crust this year, and it was fabulous!


Most Awesome Pumpkin Pie

2 cups pumpkin puree
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1 2/3 cup milk (I use skim milk)
1/8-1/4 cup maple syrup

If you're starting from a pumpkin: Carefully cut the pumpkin in half. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Lightly drizzle the flesh with olive oil. Place cut side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for about an hour at 350 degrees. When the pumpkin is finished, the flesh should be easily pierced with a fork and the skin should be soft.

Let the pumpkin cool until it's easy to handle. Scoop out the flesh and place in a bowl. Once all the flesh has been removed, you can smooth it out a number of ways, blender, food processor, or immersion blender. I suppose you could hand mash it as well. Once the pumpkin is smooth and pureed, place a few layers of cheesecloth in a colander over a pot. Add the puree on top of the cheese cloth and let it sit covered for a few hours or overnight to drain the excess water. (You could probably use it right away, but your recipe might have a bit extra moisture.)

If you're making your own crust:
I used Brown Eyed Baker's method for a butter crust and it was so easy and delicious!

She has directions for making a pie crust both with a food processor and by hand. The recipe calls for basically just butter and flour. So easy! (But rolling pins are helpful.)

For the pie:
Mix all the ingredients together. Pour into a 9 inch pie crust. Bake at 350 until the pie is set, around 40-45 minutes.

Enjoy with a dollop of homemade whip cream. So delicious!

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fun with New Food: Spaghetti Squash

I had heard of this mysterious vegetable called spaghetti squash but have never actually tried it before. When I saw it pop up at the farmers market last week, I was curious enough to give it a try.

All the recipes I had read seemed to treat it exactly like pasta. I found this a little suspicious. I mean, it was squash right?

However, I forged ahead, and Alex promised to eat whatever I came up with. He's an exceptional husband that way for building confidence in the kitchen. :-)

Spaghetti Squash with the last of Summer Veggies and Shrimp

1 spaghetti squash
1 bell pepper
1 small-medium zucchini
1 small yellow onion
4-6 cloves of garlic
3/4 pint of cherry tomatoes
1 shallot
1/2 lb medium shrimp, tails off
olive oil
1 lime
crushed red pepper
feta cheese
salt to taste

Hack the squash in half with your biggest knife. Please use caution. Drizzle the flesh of the squash with olive oil then place cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.


When the squash has a few minutes left in the oven, fry up the shrimp with olive oil, 1 chopped shallot, a few cloves of minced garlic, the juice of one lime and crushed red pepper flakes and parsley. Strain and set aside.

In a large skillet saute the chopped onion and a few garlic cloves with olive oil until the onions are softened. Add chopped bell pepper, zucchini and halved cherry tomatoes. Saute 2-3 minutes, the vegetables should still be nice and crisp. Add the shrimp back in remove from heat and cover until the squash is complete.

When the squash is done you should be able to insert a fork with little resistance. Let it cool a few minutes until it is easier to handle. Once it's cooled slightly, remove the seeds and use a fork to scrape out the insides into a pot or large bowl.

It should come out just like spaghetti! This was one of the coolest things ever!


When all the squash has been removed, add the vegetables and shrimp and toss with a handful of fresh chopped parsley, basil, salt to taste, crumbled feta cheese and a swirl of olive oil.



Alex and I were both amazed and a little weirded out at how tasty this was! We both really enjoyed it. The spaghetti squash really was almost like al dente pasta and is really easy to cook. I am super excited to try more fun recipes with this crazy vegetable!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Harry Potter World!

So, if you know me, you know I'm kind of a huge Harry Potter nerd. If you know my mom, you know she falls into the same category.


Ever since Universal Studios announced they were creating a Harry Potter World earlier in the year, my mom has been telling me that we're going to go. She kept her word this weekend and the two of us headed down to Orlando for a girls weekend of Potter and Butterbeer. (One of the awesome perks of Delta letting even non-dependent kids fly free!)

Although I got in late Friday because of weird flights (the downside of previously noted perk) we still managed to get up and head to the park just a bit after they opened on Saturday morning.


Now, the original plan was that going in the fall, in a weekend so close to Thanksgiving would lead to fewer crowds. Yes, that was the original plan. Ha! I can't imagine what this place was like when it opened. It was FULL! We didn't get to see everything because some of the shops had an hour wait just to get inside! BOO!

Oh well, we still managed to enjoy ourselves and soak up all the fun magical details.

The park is set up as the village of Hogsmeade leading up to the Hogwarts Castle.

You are greeted as you walk in by a steaming Hogwarts Express.





As you can see, we weren't the only ones here! This place was HUGELY popular.

As you wander through the streets of Hogsmeade, we were delighted to find all our favorite stores, complete with details straight out of the books. I loved the whimsical crooked chimneys and the shop windows displayed everything from extendable ears and puking pastilles to self stirring cauldrons.


Inside Zonko's.


"Please do not walk on the walls."



The Three Broomsticks, where we stopped for lunch and butterbeer.

For future reference, at least in the US, butterbeer is like a really rich cream soda.

We also had Pumpkin Juice, which is kind of like drinking a pumpkin pie, quite yummy!


Inside Honeydukes Sweets Shop.


I brought home a box of these for Alex to try. Watching someone eat Every Flavour Beans, may be the most entertaining thing ever. :-)


One of the places we couldn't get in due to the long lines.

We also didn't get in Ollivanders, however, the Universal crew got confused here, as the wand shop is in Diagon Alley not Hogsmeade!


From Hogsmeade you approach the castle, which really is quite awesome.




There is a ride inside the castle or you can just do a tour, we did both and thoroughly enjoyed it. They did a really great job inside, though it was a little dark for photos and I didn't have a good flash.

The paintings spoke and followed you as you walked by.

The desk in Dumbledores office.

The office with gross point and shoot camera flash.

Bulletin Board in the hall. The picture moved like the Daily Prophet!

The ride in the castle was sort of a combo of motion ride, roller coaster-ish, disney magic ride. It almost actually felt like you were flying on a broomstick around the castle and through the quidditch field. (Side note: one of my co-workers actually spent this weekend at the quidditch world cup, yes, there is one in real life, who would have thought??) The ride was filled with dementors and dragons, and all sorts of fun magic things and left you quite breathless by the end of it! Fun times for sure!

Overall I'd have to say the park did a great job, getting most all the details right and it was great fun to bring the book to life. The only con I would give it is that it's too small! There were so many things they could have added and so many directions they could have taken it, I think we both got to the end and were like, "that's it?" What was there was excellent, but I wish there was more to see. The wizarding world is by far the most popular area of the park, so it seems a little silly they cut things short! Perhaps they have plans for the future to expand?




Thanks mom for a super great time!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fingerlakes Birthday Weekend!

Sorry I'm a bit behind, but I still wanted to post these photos!


Usually for my birthday Alex plans something as a surprise. I've been dropping hints to Alex since forever that I wanted to go wine tasting, particularly since I heard about the Fingerlakes region in upstate NY. He had been planning on taking me, but when we heard about the rally for sanity going on the same weekend, which he knew I also was interested in, he let me chose where I wanted to go.

I opted for a weekend up north.

Even though I didn't end up being surprised, I was SO excited to go! Wine tasting is one of my most favorite things, and the fingerlakes did not disappoint.

First off, upstate NY is BEAUTIFUL. We drove through beautiful mountain valleys and rolling farmland and even though we missed the peak foliage, it was still breathtaking.

We left Brooklyn on Friday morning and it was a about a 4 hour drive to Ithaca where we stopped for lunch at Moosewood Restaurant, whose cookbooks I've been enjoying for awhile now. From there we headed out around Lake Seneca and found our B&B, The Red Brick Inn, which was about half-way between Lake Seneca and Lake Keuka. The Inn was very nice, and I would recommend it if you're ever looking for a nice affordable place in the area.

We spent the remainder of Friday going for a walk around the farmland, relaxing, and then heading out to dinner in neighboring Watkins Glen which sits right next to Lake Seneca.



Looking back at the town.

On Saturday we enjoyed breakfast at the Inn and then headed out for the wine!


So much fun! The wineries in this region are SO relaxed, there is no snobbery at all. In fact, perhaps one of the highlights was a winery that had a little fun poking fun at those who take their wine a little too seriously.


Yes, their wine was actually quite good! :-)



After going tasting in California and Long Island, I was pleasantly surprised to find the wineries here so affordable! Most of them were either free or $2, and with that came 5-7 tastings and a free wine glass! Many of the vineyards offered delicious cheeses, fresh pesto and crackers, handmade fudge, or other snacks with their samples as well! The priciest vineyard of the day charged a hefty $5. NICE! This fit our student travel budget for sure.



Views from the Glenora vineyard, the oldest in the region. Not too shabby, even if most of the colors on the trees were faded.



Alex and I decided we definitely want to come back in the summer and rent a cabin on the lake.


Even though the trees had lost their leaves, the grape vines were a beautiful shade of gold.

A fantastic time had by all!


Our haul back in Brooklyn!