28 February 2010

What would Brian Boitano do?

Only one more day until the hubby gets home -- hooray!!! Meanwhile, I've had a super fun weekend, and Day 3 and 3 and 4 of Girl Weekend '10 were fun-and friend-filled. Saturday started with a trip to Brighton with Lisa Z. for a book exchange party at Tracy's. Everyone brings books they're looking to unload -- but rather than just sift through them, each person goes through their books and gives the group a brief synopsis of each book. If you're interested, you grab it and it's yours. Whatever is left over gets donated to the local library. It's not much of a surprise that I left with more than I came with -- I just like books, and I like to have books. I only typically part with books that I have zero emotional attachment to. (So my book synopses sounded something like this: "I hated this!" or "This book sucked. But you might like it.") Tracy was a lovely host, making us some very delicious brownies, I might add. And it was great to see her and Owen, as well as Alison and little Liam.

See, I told you -- a whole box! (I still can't believe someone actually gave away Sybil!) I also grabbed a hilarious kid's book from the '60s (see above sausage factory) and I am SO stoked to have snagged a copy of Stitch 'n Bitch (although I feel soooo guilty for not letting Tracy snag it. Sorry Tracy! Perhaps we can timeshare it! hehehe).

That evening it was over to Sarah and Mike's house (three cheers to having awesome almost neighbors! Hooray for west side what what!) for fireside sci-fi fun (even though Pandorum left us scratching our heads a little).

Maggie loves urinal cakes.

Today it was off to Royal Oak for a snowbunny date with Melissa. First, brunch at Cafe Muse, which I raved about here a few months ago. Of course, another delicious meal. This time I went with lunch, as I had breakfast on my first visit. I couldn't decide between the shrimp salad sandwich and the smoked salmon sandwich, so I took the advice of our server and went with the salmon. I also chose the side salad of the day over chips, a non-issue as soon as he said potato salad (to which Melissa and I both swooned out loud about). My sandwich came on toasted sourdough with roasted onions and Gruyere cheese, as well as the delicious hunk of smoked salmon (my favorite!). I'm happy to report it was very good salmon, without any black or annoying white stringies. All the elements went together really well (I wasn't sure how smoked salmon would be with melted cheese) and I enjoyed this sandwich a lot (although now I have to go back and try the shrimp sandwich!). The potato salad was some of the best I've ever had -- I couldn't place anything particularly special about it, but it certainly was (it was mayo based not mustard based, fyi). Melissa thought she tasted cheese but all I could taste was yum. After food it was time for the big event......... ice skating!!!!


That's ice on my skates! I really did it!

It probably doesn't really surprise anyone that I'd never been on ice skates before. But thanks to Melissa's guidance and patience (and strong arm), I am now an old pro.

I started to panic when I first saw the rink but luckily there WAS a wall for grasping.

And since I know I can't possibly be the only one who's never skated before (yeah, I'm lookin' at you!), some novice observations... 1. Ice skates are not like roller skates. They aren't floppy around the ankles and they actually hold you in really solidly, providing actual support. Ankles safe and sound! And standing on solid ground on skates? Not hard at all! Oh, and when someone tells you to wear thick socks, wear THICK socks, not just tall socks. Supportive? Yes. Comfortable? Not at all. I'm currently nursing some popped-blister-covered ankles. Ow. 2. You don't skate on top of the ice. You actually skate IN the ice. I know, duh, right? But in my head, ice skates glide on ice. Totally scary. But as anyone who really actually thought about it knows, the blade penetrates the ice and you are much sturdier than I ever would have thought.

So how'd I really do? Well, I did much better than I thought I would. It wasn't nearly as scary as I was expecting, and Melissa helped me work through the initial skate-don't-walk impulses and held my hand the whole of the way. It helped my confidence there was another first-timer there, a slightly older man, who spent most of the time on his butt (he was clearly Melissa-less!). I was pretty wobbly most of the time, but I managed to stay upright until I started to get tired, when I took three progressively worse spills in one half round of the rink. The third one was my skate karma because as soon as my mocking words (about another skater, of course) left my mouth, I was smack on my left knee
(that's definitely going to leave a mark) then flat ass out on my booty. But that was it -- no all-out bails, no snapped ankles, no concussion. And I feel confident that I'd do at least as well if not better on a return trip.

Stars on ice.
(PS who recognizes Melissa's hat?!)

Now, who wants to hit the Cube with me?

26 February 2010

Let's roll.

Girl Weekend '10 Day 2: A List

1. Yeah for movies! Straight-Jacket. Joan Crawford insanity. Amusing from the box art to the ending credits. Highly recommended. Good Hair. Sweet, funny, and sad. Worth a rent!

2. Rachel. Woo!

3. Katamari. I'm an idiot about video games
(Rachel can attest to my inability to move in a straight line or jump w/o getting stuck), but I'm totally sold on anything that allows me to roll around and pick up stuff -- totally feeds on my destruction inclinations. Knocking over gingerbread houses, picking up pizzas and turkeys and wiggling fish, and making sumo wrestlers go "uhhh!" Luckily we don't have this or I'd really never get anything done.

4. Miniature Cadbury creme eggs. I don't care what anyone says. Old-school, original Cadbury eggs are the BEST THINGS EVER. I turn my nose up at you, caramel-filled Cadbury egg! BUT those things are a giant ball of calories and fat, so I never allow myself more than one a year. So imagine my excitement when I discovered mini eggs last week. They're a little bigger than a peanut M&M, and there are only six grams of fat in three of them. AND they taste like regular creme eggs. Swoon. Rachel and I chowed a few of these down after our delicious Chinese feast. FYI, I just found this recipe. Omg. As soon as I figure out when Easter is, I'll get on that.

25 February 2010

Turkish deeelight.

This weekend, Mrs. Church is Man of the House. I shall be wearing the pants in this family (well, the PJ pants, at least). I shall watch ice skating and blog and drink wine (yes I am!)! Brad is off to Florida for family visiting and golf shenanigans, so I have four days of girl time. I started Girl Weekend '10 with a lovely dinner date with my dear friend Amy.

That's us, with Jess, almost 16 years ago!

When we were making our plans, Amy had a hankering for hummus and suggested Palm Palace. I didn't know anything about it, other than it was in the old Bill Knapps, which became La Shish, which was wrought with all sorts of drama. Anyway, now it is Palm Palace, and that is where we ventured this evening.

I can be picky, so I checked the menu beforehand. Saw falafel. Phew. Not just a meat on a stick-type place. When I arrived, I was immediately won over. This place smells SO GOOD from the outside. I'm sure it's the roasting meat I smelled, but either way it smells delicious. I beat Amy there, so I took in the menu for a few minutes. There are lots of Mediterranean-type dishes -- Lebanese, Greek -- and the menu is pretty comprehensive (and has lots of vegetarian options). They have appetizers, traditional entrees, sandwiches... some of everything, including some my favorites, like spinach pie and stuffed grape leaves. And everything is really reasonably priced. The appetizers are all under $10, the entrees are between $15 and $20, and the sandwiches are all around $5. They even have party platters for family-style meals that range from $50 to $100.

Amy arrived and we got right to it, ordering the hummus appetizer. And it's not just a piddly little bowl either. This is a giant serving of hummus, served with endless freshly cooked and delicious pita bread. We nibbled on this before, during, and after our meals, and Amy still took home the majority of it for later. Anyway, Amy decided on the chicken schwarma pita and I went with the falafel, also ordering half a Greek salad (I'm totally NOT a salad person but I've been on a salad kick lately, which is weird). I was 110% percent pleased with my meal. The falafel, while not a giant pita but probably a reasonable portion, was the best falafel I've had yet -- miles better than Ahmos, which I think is actually pretty dry. And the half salad was gigantic -- the dressing was delicious and light (sometimes you get that really dark, acidic Greek dressing), there was plenty of feta, and the veggies seemed fresh. I topped my meal off with my first cup of Turkish coffee, which came in an adorable little teacup. I don't know that I'd get it again, as it had a funny smell and tasted a little grainy, but I'm glad I tried it (we'll see how glad I am come 3 am when I can't sleep, though).

It's on the other side of town, so I don't know that I would have tried it otherwise, so I'm really glad Amy suggested it. If you find yourself with a hankering for hummus, I say go for it, too!

23 February 2010

Me love you long time.

When I visited Liz and Meg last month, it came to my attention I had another little person in my life who was sadly lacking a homemade winter hat. Sam! Duh! And while I've made my share of baby hats, I'd never made a toddler hat. I don't trust my own math/reasoning skills yet, so I immediately started a pattern search when I got home. Well, maybe I just don't realize how close in size baby heads are to toddler heads, but I had a heck of a time finding the measurements for a kid. I finally found a pattern I really liked, with a cute mid-section design. The pattern turned out to be a real pain in my behind, which, I discovered, was my own fault, not a fault of the pattern (what would I do without my knitting guru, Jessica?!). Nonetheless, there was lots of staring at the computer screen and grumbling. But it worked itself out.

Until I made a stupid simple mistake that I just couldn't figure out how to fix. So (close your eyes, Jess) I "fixed" it in a way that it would be hid on the inside of the brim. While, the pattern that said it would fit up to a four-year-old was too small for Sam, revealing * gasp * my icky mistake! I immediately started a re-do hat.

This time I knew Sam's measurements better and was able to figure out the math for a simple straight knit hat. I threw in a little Charlie Brown stripe for interest. No mistakes this time, and it fits him pretty well. Phew!

Thanks for letting me steal the pics without asking, Liz. :)

What am I working on now? Well, wouldn't you like to know! Ha ha ha!

In unrelated news, today Lisa and I attended a free Japanese Bento box class at my neighborhood library branch. While a little overrun with youngsters (spring break week), it was overall a fun way to spend a few hours on a Tuesday afternoon. Plus, we got free Bento boxes and food to practice with. I don't know that I have the patience or skill to make much use of actual Bento arts, but I am endlessly amused by the cute possibilities.

Why thanks, Bento box!

Broccoli belly banana man in coffin and initialed strawberry-banana caterpillar.

Afternoons like this remind me of how lucky I am to have the freedom to do this sort of stuff right now. Deep breath, repeat three times: I am lucky... I am lucky... I am lucky... Sometimes you need a little reminder to look on the bright side of life.

17 February 2010

Nando would approve.

I cannot rave enough about our new little Supper Club. It's such a simple idea -- get together, make some food -- but the results are just awesome. Delicious food, great company, a roomful of people that love food as much as you. Extra hugs to Sarah for spearheading the whole idea. Last night we had our second dinner: theme South American, hosts Jen and Justin. I drew dessert again (fine by me!). I did a little research and it led me to alfajores, South American caramel sandwich cookies. (According to Meg, they are pronounced alfa-whore-ey, which makes me laugh. These cookies are floozies!) This time, I read the recipe extra super special carefully, so I am certain I got the sugar content correct. So no sugar OD, but there was a LOT of butter.

Overall these were pretty easy -- the recipe wasn't complicated and there weren't any crazy ingredients. My only trouble was with the dough. Having never made this before, my brain didn't make the automatic connection -- dough, just like pie dough. So when the recipe said to put it in the fridge for 30 minutes, I just stuck it in the fridge as is in the bowl. When I pulled it out and tried to then smoosh the dough together to roll out, it was a disaster. It took about another half-hour of fiddling, adding water, rolling into smaller, individual balls, and rechilling it before I was able to roll out the dough in batches. Eventually I was able to cut out my cookies. Using an Alcatraz shot glass, of course.

The recipe said to bake the cookies for 10 to 15 minutes -- I ended up baking them for nearly 20 minutes before they seemed set and "barely golden brown," which leads me to believe I left the dough a little thicker than it should have been. But they turned out just fine, so no harm done.

Pretty maids, all in a row.

I waited until the next morning, the morning of Supper Club, to assemble the cookies so they didn't get soggy. I'd picked up some pre-made dulce de leche at our local Latin grocer earlier in the week, so I got that out and dumped some coconut on a plate. The dulce de leche gets spread in between two cookies, and I quickly learned not to push too hard lest the cookies crumble to bits. Then I just rolled the edges in the coconut, making sure to leave a few w/o, just in case there were some weirdos that don't like coconut. :)

7:30 finally rolled around, and it was time to get this thing started. Thanks to Justin and Jen for hosting in their lovely home with adorable nooks and envy-worthy TV and couch!

Busy bees in the kitchen.

I was too busy stuffing my face to take any sort of notes, and my memory sucks. So pardon my layman terms when describing this amazing meal. For the main course, we had stuffed flatbread -- J&J were so sweet to make me one minus chicken -- and these stuffed potato balls that unfortunately had beef but looked amazing (I believe they were filled with beef, veggies, raisins, and garlic). Sarah and Mike made Juan's cheesy balls (as seen here in January) and Lisa and Brad made a fish and avocado ceviche and pickled jicama salad. I cannot rave enough about this meal. It was just amazing and I remain in awe of everyone's skills (ceviche? come on! that's craziness!). If I had to pick a favorite, I think it would be Lisa's ceviche (my first ceviche!) -- I ate at least three scoops. I could seriously eat this meal over again right now, and then again for dinner. So many strong delicious flavors with an amazing heat that bites but doesn't burn. I even got to try Brad's favorite chimichurri sauce because J&J made one that was light on the garlic. J&J also served Argentinian and Chilean wines, which continued to renew my interest in red wine. I was totally moaning in delight throughout the meal.

Thumbs up to South American food.

Finally it was time to bring out my dessert...

I don't think my banana pudding last month was that bad. But I do think I redeemed myself with these cookies. (Mike: "These are effing good." Woo!) Brad even said they were his favorite dish of the meal (thanks, hubby!). Nothing crazy, as you saw from the recipe, but the cookies were buttery and sweet, crunchy and crumbly, and nicely offset by the gooey caramel in the middle. Yeah, I ate three. What's it to ya?

Coming soon: Supper Club French style!

15 February 2010

Hot tamale train.

With Brad's birthday just passing, Christmas not too far behind us, and fun stuff looming in the future, we decided to stay in for Valentine's Day this year (our 11th together -- craziness!). That's not to say there was no celebrating -- it was just of the make-at-home nature. In honor of our long and spicy life together, I had a second go-round with pimento mac and cheese. This time, I assembled all the elements as I went along, rather than mixing my pre-made pimento cheese with pasta. I did a quick search and pulled up Rachael Ray's pimento mac and decided to go with that recipe. I tend to not use too many RR-specific recipes -- she always has sooo many ingredients -- but this one was pretty simple and ended up being easy. As per usual, I made one boo boo: in the two seconds it takes to read the instruction and turn back to the counter to follow through, I forgot to only put half the cheese in the sauce (half was supposed to go on top for baking). I started to stir and thought, huh... weird... why's it so thick? Duh. I added a dash more of milk, kept stirring, and it worked out just fine in the end. Since I wouldn't have the extra cheese crust on top, I added a few handfuls of breadcrumbs for good measure. Then under the broiler for crisping. The top crispy layer is my favorite.

This was much better than my previous attempt. I love the bite of pimentos that doesn't quite hurt burn like a jalapeno spicy. The sauce was plenty creamy. And, of course, the crispy top noodles were oh so tasty. My only mini complaint is that it still seems like it could be even cheesier -- cheesy tasting that is, not cheesy creamy, which it is plenty. I used Meijer cheese; a likely candidate for being the problem. I'd be very curious to get the recipe the Roadhouse uses. Either way, two thumbs up!

Aaaand... there was plenty left over for Brad to take for lunch today in his new birthday VERY MANLY lunch bag.

And what's a Valentine's Day celebration without a little chocolate? With random treats we had laying around, I threw together this VERY classy "WT VDay Dessert Smorgasbord."

Yes, that is totally frosting. From a can.

Hope everyone had a happy day. Lots of Pickles love to everyone!

14 February 2010

It's no Outback.

Brad has been 32 for three days now, and it's been a fun-filled long weekend. Thursday night we celebrated his actual birthday with dinner at the Chop House. Friday Brad "worked from home" and put together our new elliptical machine (we celebrated with delicious boca burger and fries night and the Olympics opening ceremony). I took a break from the birthday festivities for a lovely brunch with an old friend (who may just be joining the blogger ranks soon [do it Lindsay, do it!]) at Cafe Felix Saturday afternoon. Saturday night we were joined by many of our very good friends to celebrate with some drinks and pretzels and cheese. And today we are tired and sore (dang elliptical!).

I only have a few pics from our dinner at Chop House, kind of a mini birthday present to Brad (he embarrasses soooo easily! haha). I managed to sneak a few quick ones of the birthday boy and the yummy bottle of wine we killed, which renewed my interest in red wine (lately I've only had a taste for sweet white wine or sparklers).

We're both a little on the fence about the Chop House. We were charmed by the service and the atmosphere, and it definitely felt like a special occasion. The 50% off part certainly didn't hurt, either. But when all is said and done, you're not going to get Brad to say the steak was better than his beloved Outback (or even Cafe Habana's chimichurri steak). We started out with our wine and side salads, Caesar for Brad, house salad w/ blue cheese dressing for me. My salad may have been the best salad I've ever eaten. Simple, just some chopped romaine with two tomato slices, but the dressing was amazing and I killed every last bite of that salad, which was actually quite large. For our main courses, Brad decided on the NY strip and I ordered the Dover sole; for sides we got the au gratin potatoes and the creamed corn (I know it's ridiculous but I cannot resist creamed corn). The server delivered our sides noting that we'd received the last order of creamed corn for the night -- if that isn't a rave review, I don't know what is... so that was the first bite I took. And it was amazing.... I don't even know why. It was just amazing and I could have eaten a giant vat of it all on my own (I practically did!). The potatoes were almost equally noteworthy, a giant hunk of multi-layered gratin -- more cream and more cheese. What's not to love? My sole was perfectly tasty, with a side of lemon butter sauce with almond shavings. It was thick and meaty but still light and flaky. But was it the most amazing thing ever, or even probably worth what we paid for it, even with the discount? Nah. I'd rather just eat more creamed corn. So would we go back? Sure. Would I pay full price? Probably not. And next time, I'd just order a salad and sides, maybe an appetizer -- more than enough for me!

Friday morning, Brad woke up and did some work work, then I ran over to Sears to pick up our new elliptical that came in earlier in the week. Props to Brad, who put the entire thing together in just around two hours and didn't even really complain when I kept disappearing when he mentioned he might need help. We've both had a few workouts on in it since (and I've finally just about finished season 2 of Dexter!), and our bodies hurt in all sorts of weird places.

For the birthday finale, it was off to our beloved Grizzly Peak Den, and our birthday karma scored us two whole tables for peeps. Normally we sit at the bar and hang out with our favorite bartender, but we just couldn't swing it with that many people and had to deal with the cranky waitstaff. Otherwise, it was a great night and so nice to be surrounded by so many people that love my dear Bradford. Hugs to everyone that came out! (And a special note to tell you, if you haven't already, order up the soft pretzels with cheese. Best. Evs.) This was also the first time I've been "out" in ages, and it was really nice. Let's do it again soon, folks!

Meanwhile, the kids remain unimpressed with, well, anything, let alone Brad's birthday.