Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Book Review: Wonder




From goodreads:
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

My Thoughts:
This was such a beautiful book, and it actually gave me hope for the human race. Middle school is rough for just about every teenager, but having to start somewhere new with a major facial deformity just adds to the pressure and stress for little August Pullman. Though his school year starts out with some bumps, his classmates eventually learn throughout the year that they should never judge a book by its cover, and that a little acceptance goes a long way. I was choked up reading a few sections of this book; at some points sad for August, and at other points, so proud of him. This is definitely a book I would recommend.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Press Reader Iphone/Ipad App Review

pressreader.com
Recently I was asked to test out the Ipad/Iphone App, PressReader. With my daily commutes from Queens to Manhattan, I spend two hours a day commuting, most of which is spent on a subway with no internet or cell-phone service. Cue violins. What's great about Press Reader, is that my subscriptions download automatically each morning and I can read them off-line! This is fantastic for someone like me who spends so much time underground with no cellphone or internet service. I can get my subscriptions even if I'm on vacation or have taken the day off, PLUS this doesn't leave that nasty black ink all over my hands. It works on both my ipad and iphone, and I feel so much more caught up on my daily news since trying this out! It's easy to navigate, easy to swipe through to read, and I can pinch in or zoom out so I don't have to strain to read small text.

 


Read more:

With over 2,300 newspapers from 96 countries in 54 languages directly on your favorite mobile device, PressReader really is the perfect app for essentially all travelers! You can get a sense of what PressReader is all about by visiting www.pressreader.com, as well as PressReader for The New iPad PR Release, and PressReader iTune Page

Not only is PressReader all about quality, content and convenience, the app helps enhance a user’s reading experience with features such as:

• Its innovative horizontal reading stream
• Flipping pages like they’re reading real publications
• Setting up automated subscriptions to their favorite titles
• Sorting publications by country, language, favorites or recently ordered
• Panning and zooming articles and photos and view in stunning clarity
• Listening to publications using on-demand audio
• Sharing articles by email, Twitter and Facebook

I'm so glad I was introduced to this awesome app. Staying up to date on news has never been so easy!


What do you think? Is this an app that you could see yourself using, or are you married to the old black and white printed newspaper idea? 

In exchange for this review, I was provided a free 3-month subscription to PressReader. Opinions are, of course, my own.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lunch Breaks in Central Park

One of the fortunate things about where I work, is that I'm a 10 minute walk from Central Park. On nice days, like we've been having here and there the past few weeks, I like to take my hour long lunch break walking through Central Park. I can get a pretty great "workout" in by walking for an hour while taking in the beautiful sites that Central Park has to offer.

I've been really enjoying using the MOVES iPhone app. It's a pedometer app that keeps track of every step you take throughout each day. You don't have to have the app open for it to record, and it resets at the start of each day. It's been awesome to see how many steps I walk throughout my days. My goal is to do 10,000 steps a day.
Some days I make that no problem...other days I don't.

 
 

Some days, it can be a real pain to work in Manhattan...but it's walks like these through Central Park that remind me what a beautiful city it really is. I am lucky to be able to take a long stroll through a beautiful park on a daily basis, and these are the things I'll miss one day if I'm no longer working in Manhattan.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sur La Table Cooking Class: Part 2

For part two of our Sur La Table cooking class, we made a dessert of citrus, poppy-seed pound cake with grilled bananas. My dad and I are not a fan of citrus in our desserts - but I really couldn't taste it in this pound cake, especially once it was topped with the bananas.
 

As the pound cake was baking, we cut up bananas, and topped them with the following: amaretto, brown sugar, butter, and lemon juice.

This was wrapped tightly into the foil and thrown onto the grill! Once the cake was done baking, they were cut into slices and also briefly thrown onto the grill!

Top the pound cake with the grilled bananas...and oh my heaven!! This was incredible!!

What I loved about this dessert was that it wasn't too sweet or heavy. I will definitely be making this again and again...maybe even this weekend!

If you live near a Sur La Table store that also offers cooking class, I highly recommend these classes. They are entertaining, informative, fun and oh so yummy! 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sur La Table Cooking Class: Part 1

My parents spent this past weekend with us, and we had a great, relaxing time with them. On Sunday we attended a grilling cooking class at Sur La Table, in Manhasset, New York.

Last January, Chris and I took a pasta class here and I just knew my mom would love it, too. When we arrive for the 2 hour class, everything is already cut up, measured out for us, and ready to be put together. It's like having your own personal sous chef! We got to work right away on our grilling menu. 

Grilled Mustard Bourbon Chicken Skewers: Mix together, brown sugar, bourbon, dijon mustard, lemon juice, ground ginger, olive oil salt, pepper, and garlic with chicken in a bag. Let it marinate until it's time to cook.
 

The chicken was meant to be served with this Parsley Lemon vinaigrette: Parsley, lemon juice, lemon zest, cayenne pepper, garlic and olive oil. I LOVED this dressing, but I think I would prefer it better on a salad or with fish.

Grilled Salmon with Dijon-Tarragon Butter:

My mom getting good height as she salts and peppers our salmon!

Grilled Asparagus with Lemon-Basil Oil
 
 

Everything was soooo good! I really enjoyed the class instructor...I basically want to BE her. She was informative and really knew what she was doing. We got some great new recipes to try out at home and got to enjoy these before we left the class. I look forward to returning here for a cooking class again someday.

Up next: Grilled Pound Cake with Grilled Bananas and Amaretto!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Book Review: Girl Walks Into a Bar...



From goodreads:  
Anyone who saw an episode of Saturday Night Live between 1999 and 2006 knows Rachel Dratch. She was hilarious! So what happened to her? After a misbegotten part as Jenna on the pilot of 30 Rock, Dratch was only getting offered roles as "Lesbians. Secretaries. Sometimes secretaries who are lesbians."

Her career at a low point, Dratch suddenly had time for yoga, dog- sitting, learning Spanish-and dating. After all, what did a forty- something single woman living in New York have to lose? Resigned to childlessness but still hoping for romance, Dratch was out for drinks with a friend when she met John.

Handsome and funny, after only six months of dating long-distance, he became the inadvertent father of her wholly unplanned, undreamed-of child, and moved to New York to be a dad. With riotous humor, Dratch recounts breaking the news to her bewildered parents, the awe of her single friends, and the awkwardness of a baby-care class where the instructor kept tossing out the f-word.

Filled with great behind-the-scenes anecdotes from Dratch's time on SNL, Girl Walks into a Bar... is a refreshing version of the "happily ever after" story that proves female comics-like bestsellers Tina Fey and Chelsea Handler-are truly having their moment

My Thoughts:
This was a great, comical, light read. The first half of the book is mostly about her career and what led her to SNL. (Did you know she was originally cast at Jenna on 30 Rock, before she was replaced by Jane Krakowski??) The second half of the book is about her surprise pregnancy after dating her boyfriend for 6 months. Dratch learns that a lot of things in her life weren't exactly planned, or happened the way she imagined they would. But, she has rolled with the punches every step of the way, and has taken life's surprises as the blessings that they are.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Phantom of the Opera at my High School Alma Mater

Hey all, I've been all sorts of MIA this week, sorry about that! My work computer is currently being fixed in Memphis, so I had to bring my home computer into work with me, which means I don't have a computer at home to take care of things at night! I've been busy at work...you know, yadda yadda yadda. I'm just going to call this week a wash, but not before sharing the below video. 

This past weekend, I went back to my High School alma mater to see their spring musical, Phantom of the Opera. Little Known Fact: I have seen every single spring musical at my High School since graduating TEN years ago (except for one!!) That's 9 shows! The shows get more and more impressive each year. From Les Miserables, to Beauty and the Beast, to Aida, When I tell people "Yea, I'm going home to see my High School's spring musical this weekend" I'm usually met with a raised eyebrow and an:

"Oh...that sounds dreadful." 

But no, you don't understand: These High School shows are better than some of the National Touring productions I've seen. It's absolutely astounding the talent that comes from these kids and the school. I loved participating in the theater productions when I was in High School. Most of my fondest memories took place in the theater program, and it was where I spent pretty much every waking moment outside of my classes. Our shows were very impressive back then, but they've gone to a whole new level in the past 10 years. I don't think I'd even be able to make the ensemble if I went to this school now!

I have never heard a high school boy/man...manchild? sing the way this Phantom did - he sounded like a 30 year old man! All of the singers, the set, the costumes, and everything were beyond impressive! If you don't believe me, take a look for yourself.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Book Review: A Dog's Purpose




From goodreads:
This is the remarkable story of one endearing dog’s search for his purpose over the course of several lives. More than just another charming dog story, A Dog’s Purpose touches on the universal quest for an answer to life's most basic question: Why are we here?
Surprised to find himself reborn as a rambunctious golden-haired puppy after a tragically short life as a stray mutt, Bailey’s search for his new life’s meaning leads him into the loving arms of 8-year-old Ethan. During their countless adventures Bailey joyously discovers how to be a good dog.
But this life as a beloved family pet is not the end of Bailey’s journey. Reborn as a puppy yet again, Bailey wonders—will he ever find his purpose?
Heartwarming, insightful, and often laugh-out-loud funny, A Dog's Purpose is not only the emotional and hilarious story of a dog's many lives, but also a dog's-eye commentary on human relationships and the unbreakable bonds between man and man's best friend. This moving and beautifully crafted story teaches us that love never dies, that our true friends are always with us, and that every creature on earth is born with a purpose. 

My Thoughts:
This book was so sweet and cute. Told entirely from the dog's perspective over the course of 4 different lives, it made me want to rush home to my dog and let her know how much she is loved and cared for. I don't understand how some people can be mean and abusive to a dog, when all they wish for and need in the world is to be loved. The dog's relationship with the little boy, Ethan, throughout his life was the most touching story of all, and I can only hope that my dog understands human emotion and understanding the way the dog in this book did. This is a must read for any dog-lover or dog-owner out there.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Homemade Mozzarella Cheese

Of all the things Ben and I made on Saturday, the most fascinating one to make was the homemade mozzarella cheese. A few months ago, I saw a friend and her husband post pictures of their cheese-making adventures on Facebook. It had never even occurred to me that you can make your own mozzarella cheese, but I set out to see how it's done!

It turns out you really need to purchase a kit in order to make mozzarella or ricotta. These kits comes with citric acid tablets and rennet powder.

Rennet:
  1. Curdled milk from the stomach of an unweaned calf, containing rennin and used in curdling milk for cheese.


Sounded gross, but luckily this comes in powder form! We purchased Ricki's Cheesemaking Kit from amazon.com for $24.95. This kit makes THIRTY POUNDS of mozzarella!!

Ingredients for one pound: 
1 gallon milk
1 1/2 cup cool water
1 1/2 tsp. citric acid
1/4 rennet tablet
1 tsp. cheese salt


We decided to make two pounds of cheese. One pound we made with the recommended whole milk. The other pound we made with 1% milk, just to try. It ended up coming out great!
Whole Milk on the left, 1% Milk on the right
Directions: 
1. Dissolve 1/4 rennet tablet into 1/4 cup of cool, chlorine-free water. Stir and set aside. Wrap the remaining pieces of tablet in plastic wrap and store in the freezer.

2. Mix 1 1/2 tsp. citric acid into 1 cup cool, chlorine-free water until dissolved. Pour into your pot.

3. Pour 1 gallon of milk into your pot and stir vigorously.

4. Heat the milk to 90 degrees F while stirring.

5. Remove the pot from the burner and slowly stir in the rennet solution with an up and down motion for approximately 30 seconds.

6. Cover the pot and leave it undisturbed for 5 minutes.

7. Check the curd. It should look like custard, with a clear separation between the curd and the whey. If the curd is too soft or the whey is milky, let set for a few more minutes.


8. Cut the curd with a knife that reaches to the bottom of the pot.

9. Place the pot back on the stove and heat to 105 degrees F while slowly moving the curds around with your spoon.

10. Take off the burner and continue slowly stirring for 2-5 minutes.

11. Pour off the floating whey. (We saved the leftover whey from the milk to use for cooking pasta, rice or beans in the coming week.)

12. Ladle your curds into a large microwaveable bowl and drain off as much of the whey as you can without pressing the curds too much. We did the next steps by following the "microwave method" instead of the "waterbath method." Both work just fine.
13. Place the bowl in the microwave for 1 minute

14. Remove and drain off the whey as you gently fold the curds into one piece. Add 1 tsp. salt

15. Microwave for another 30 seconds. Drain again and stretch the curd. It must be 135 degrees F to stretch properly. If it isn't hot enough, microwave for another 30 seconds.

16. Stretch the cheese by pulling like taffy until it is smooth and shiny. The more you work the cheese the firmer it will be.

17. Now form your cheese into a log or ball or braid it. When finished, submerge it in 50 degree F water to cool for 5 minutes and then in ice water for 15 minutes. This will cool it down and allow the cheese to hold its shape. This step is critical as it protects the silky texture and keeps it from becoming grainy.We twisted ours and rolled it into a ball.


The cheese pictures above is from the 1% milk. Even though we did these side by side, something happened with the whole milk cheese. It was really runny and a lot of the whey wouldn't separate from the cheese.

What resulted was an amazing spreadable mozzarella (the consistency of ricotta cheese). This most likely happened because we stirred a little too long after adding the rennet. Though it's not exactly how it should be, it still tasted amazing and we enjoyed this spread onto some homemade crusty bread. Sheer Perfection, and a happy accident!

It really was very easy to follow the directions and all in all, pretty quick! If you're really interested in making your own cheese, I definitely recommend this kit (or any of the many others out there that I'm sure are good) and give it a try! It's as much a chemistry lesson as it is a cooking lesson!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Successful Day of Cooking!

My day of cooking with Ben went really well on Saturday! We may have started an hour later than planned (Hey, we had to eat lunch!), but we stayed under budget, only spending about $33 per person for all our ingredients! We may have sat down to dinner at 7:00pm instead of the planned 5:00pm. We may have used every single appliance and dish in our kitchen, it may have taken us well over an hour to clean it all up afterward. We may have had more than a few jokes made about the not so great homemade pasta and bland pasta sauce, but hey: we learned a lot, made some really great new things and had a fun day. In the end, that's really what it all was about, right?

We made the following:
Homemade Mozzarella - (post coming on that this week)
Homemade pasta with sauce from Luisa Weiss's Book, My Berlin Kitchen

More on each of these items throughout the week!

Friday, April 5, 2013

2 Cooks in the Kitchen

As you may remember from this post, tomorrow is the official "2 Cooks in the Kitchen" weekend with my friend, Ben! The cheese kit has arrived, and we will kick off our day at noon, tomorrow.
We want it to be a fun and relaxed day, so though we have our "menu" we may improvise and go with the flow when we go shopping. I'll be updating lots as we go and will report back next week with all the good stuff we make!

Be sure to follow along with me @LWoodsNY using the hashtag: #2CooksInTheKitchen.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Easter Weekend Recap

Chris and I successfully hosted our first ever holiday in our home this past Sunday, and I'm quite happy with how it all went!

My parents came in our Friday afternoon with my sister and her boyfriend. We sat down to lunch (Skinnytaste Asian Grilled Chicken, Peanut Butter Noodles, and Edamame) before doing some shopping at Home Goods, the Container Store, and Trader Joe's. On Saturday, we spent the entire day in the City. (we walked 15,000 steps according to my iphone app!) We first went over to the new High Line Park. Sadly, this was NOT what I expected it to be. I thought it was a real "park" with sprawling grass fields, and scenic places to sit overlooking the water. Unfortunately, it was more like a narrow metal walkway. It served a few scenic views along the way - but it was not a place I'd go to relax, especially on the first nice day of Spring!

After we walked the High Line, we went down to Chelsea Market, which believe it or not, I had never been to before. I'm not quite sure how I haven't been there because it seemed to have the most AMAZING places for food. I wanted to try everything. It really reminded me of the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco. After we browsed Chelsea Market, we walked up to Eataly. Eataly was so crowded and there was an hour and a half wait for the restaurant where I wanted to eat. I didn't realize it until I got there, but I was HANGRY. So we went over to 'wichcraft instead, which serves one of my all-time favorite sandwiches: The Heritage Smoked Ham - poached pears, dijon mustard, and aged cheddar on grilled cranberry pecan bread. YUM! Then we got Gelato at Eataly (sweet milk with chocolate chips) and headed home so I could do more prep work for Easter Sunday.

On Easter Sunday, Chris and I had lots of help from our mothers. This was such a blessing and made our first ever Holiday hosting, a success! On the menu:

Appetizers
Cold Cuts/Cheese from Di Palo Selects
Homemade Crusty Bread
Deviled eggs
Cacio e pepe

Meal
Ham
Corn Pudding
Breaded Broccoli
Scalloped Potatoes
Applesauce

Dessert
Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake
Pound Cake
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
Zucchini Bread
Chocolate Chip Cookies

For dessert my friend, Kate, brought the most amazing Raspberry-Swirl Cheesecake with an oreo crust. I am getting and sharing this recipe ASAP!

And so, armed with two 10 pound hams (seriously...why did I buy so much ham?), and leftovers for daaaayyys that was our lovely weekend! Full of good food, good family, good friends and great memories!

How was your Easter Weekend?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Book Review: Mr. Fox




From goodreads:
Fairytale romances end with a wedding. The fairytales that don't get more complicated. In this book, celebrated writer Mr. Fox can't stop himself from killing off the heroines of his novels, and neither can his wife, Daphne. It's not until Mary, his muse, comes to life and transforms him from author into subject that his story begins to unfold differently. Meanwhile, Daphne becomes convinced that her husband is having an affair, and finds her way into Mary and Mr. Fox's game. And so Mr. Fox is offered a choice: Will it be a life with the girl of his dreams, or a life with an all-too-real woman who delights him more than he cares to admit?

My thoughts:
Seeing as how I only read 100 pages, I can't really properly review this book. I'll just say that I couldn't get into it. Maybe my mind was preoccupied with too many things last week, or maybe it was just plain confusing. Either way, I gave it 100 pages, before I promptly returned it to the library. I am eagerly awaiting my next book. 


Has anyone read this book before? Did you like it?  Should I give it another try?