Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An update, Part IV - Preparations for Danger Zone II

4. Preparations for Danger Zone II. David and I are already preparing for our second summer of gardening...I mean farming (sorry David). We have just obtained our plot and are brainstorming about what to grow and when to start planting. We bought a gardening book so we could read up on some pointers, and have made some preliminary decisions about getting Danger Zone II up and running...

1. We are renting a tiller to till the soil properly before we plant anything.
2. We are going to buy seedlings this year to get everything growing a little faster. We will get some seedlings from the Wine and Herb Fest in May, and some we will buy from Lowe's. I think this will work well for things like tomatoes and cucumbers.
3. In addition to the herbs we will get from W&H, we are thinking of growing brussels sprouts, swiss chard, peas, green beans, pickling cucumbers, tomatoes, and zucchini. Post other suggestions below! I also want to grow a pumpkin too.

Two of David's friends got the plot next to ours, so it should be a fun summer of growing. I can't wait to get started!

An Update, Part II - Fun with friends!

2. Fun with friends! Though we did not travel much in the fall, David and I have been making the rounds this winter and spring. Here are the fun highlights from our trips:

We visited Amanda and Paul in January. You will notice that there are no pictures of Amanda - she was pregnant at the time and insisted she was not camera ready. (I personally thought she looked fantastic, but who was I to argue with a woman carrying a 3 pound bowling ball inside her stomach?)

While we were in Vegas (see part 1 of my update), David and I had oyster shooters at Rick Moonen's restaurant. These were so delicious that we decided to recreate them as an appetizer on Paul's birthday. Here is a photo of the boys learning how to shuck oysters and discovering a live crab inside of one of them.

Paul's more traditional approach to shucking the oysters was balanced by...

...David's more aggresive approach.

I am happy to report that (because this blog post is so past due) Amanda and Paul have welcomed a new baby boy to the Hoertz clan since our visit. Benjamin was born on March 29. What a cutie! I absolutely cannot wait to meet my godson! I am visiting Amanda and Paul again later this month, and will undoubtedly have more adorable photos of my favorite little one soon.

In February, I attended the Gordon Research Conference on Nitric Oxide in Ventura, CA. While I was on the West Coast, I also visited Kim and Brian in San Francisco, and met up with Victoria in Los Angeles. It was a very fun, but very tiring, 10 day adventure.

I will spare you the details of the conference and get to the fun parts of my trip, but check out this view in Ventura! The ocean was a 5 minute walk from my hotel and there were mountains everywhere.

Kim and I went to Palo Alto when I arrived on Friday afternoon. We had P.F. Changs for lunch, and (the famous) Sprinkles cupcakes for dessert.

When we returned from our outing, this pitcher of "special" lemonade was waiting for us in the refrigerator. (The last time I visited Kim and Brian, my flight was cancelled due to snowstorms back east, and Brian made me "special" lemonades to drink while I was on the phone for 3 hours haggling for a new flight. Needless to say, I was very mellow while dealing with what would normally be a frustrating set of phone calls. I now bug him to make this concoction every time I visit.)

In Los Angeles, Victoria and I took a Warner Brothers studio tour. I loved it! Above is where the outside shots of the Daily Planet were filmed for Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (though the Daily Planet globe is now in a separate storage facility). Fun fact that I learned while touring the lot - did you know that Lois's apartment was actually the apartment directly next door to to Clark's (despite the fact that on the show they lived in different neighborhoods)? If you look closely at one scene where she meets Clark outside of his apartment in season two, you can see her place next to his. Also, Murphy Brown's brownstone is on the same block, two doors down.

My camera battery was dying so I did not get very many good shots of the lot. We drove by Conan's offices and studio (but no sign of Conan or Andy, sadly), and also got to tour the set of Two and a Half Men (it wasn't being used at the time because production had already been shut down). Another fun fact - did you know that the tiles on Charlie's stairs on the set of Two and a Half Men are actually stickers rather than real tile? That way if one "tile" gets damaged, it is easily replaceable.

The highlight of the tour was getting to visit the real set of Central Perk from Friends, one of my all-time favorite shows. The tour guide let Victoria and me sit on their famous couch, which is the photo above. The weird part about this set is how close together everything is in real life versus how it looks on TV. The tour guide explained that because of where the cameras were positioned during filming, they could capture more depth on screen and make things look further away than they actually were.

Almost two weekends ago, I went to visit Elliot in NYC while David went to visit Bryan and Jen in Long Island. (The dog in the above photo is Figgy, Elliot's roommate Jenn's dog.) Elliot and I had an amazing time together. Right now he is currently starring in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar (congrats again, friend!), and I attended a rehearsal while I was in town. I know I am totally biased, but I must say how amazing he sounded singing the part of Jesus. I am so glad I got to see the rehearsal since I will not be able to attend the show, which is being performed Easter weekend.

Elliot and I also had high tea at the Plaza hotel, which was a lifetime dream of mine. It was breathtaking...like a trip back in time to the 1920's. (I half expected Gatsby to be at a neighboring table.) The tea / food was yummy too. There were so many little girls having Eloise-themed birthday parties when we were there that Saturday, and they were beyond cute. The Plaza Hotel is also right across the street from Central Park, so after we were done with our tea and our sweets, we took a nice stroll through the park in the beautiful spring weather.

Here is a photo of Elliot and me before taking the city by storm on Saturday night. We had an amazing adventure full of ridiculous and random behavior that could only happen when the two of us are together in action. I wish we lived closer so we could do it again more often. I love our "Sarah and Elliot" time together.

And the best part...the fun doesn't show signs of stopping anytime soon, as there will be more fun with friends AND family in the weeks ahead. My parents visit in two days, I visit Amanda and Paul for six days at the end of April while David goes on a brewer's weekend with Bryan in NH, and Elliot and I are headed to Boston together in May!!

An Update, Part III - Lots o' cooking

3. Lots o' cooking. Living with David is like living with my own personal chef, and it is fantastic. Though I cook good food from time to time, David has a talent for the gourmet that my meatloaf just can't compare to. Over the last few months, he has made some amazing dishes, which I complemented with dessert.

At Amanda and Paul's, David made us homemade ravioli with a homemade roasted tomato sauce. It was delicious. Amanda took meticulous notes so that she too can make her own ravioli, so maybe I will have this meal again when I visit???

I have to brag (again - I posted about these last year too) about these mini pineapple upside down cakes that I made for dessert at Amanda's. They are the cutest cakes ever, and I am so glad I got this pan for my birthday.

David watched a video of Jacques Pepin where he completely deboned a chicken and stuffed it with a spinach-based filling and baked it. He thought this sounded so yummy that he made it himself. It turned out to be a really impressive meal.

Here is the chicken after it was deboned.

From the wings of the chicken, David made little meat lollipops, which I thought were cute. He seasoned them with Indian spices and rolled them in couscous.

These are two of the stuffed chickens waiting to be cooked. David made three chickens in total, which was a crazy amount of food. (We should have had a party!) One was stuffed with spinach, Parmesan cheese, and cream of broccoli soup. Another was stuffed with sage, prosciutto and swiss cheese, and another was stuffed with rosemary, goat cheese, and figs.

The finished product, which turned out to be one of the most amazing meals David has made to date.
The chef! Jane sent him a card for his birthday that contained this paper fireman's hat, so he put it on while cooking. Naked chef he is not (there are red shorts underneath that apron), but he does look good.

I made cupcakes for St. Patrick's Day following this recipe. They were incredibly rich, but also incredibly delicious.

This is what Ipita does while we slave away in the kitchen!

A much needed update - part I

In the spirit of the Lenten season...forgive me, friends, for I have sinned. It has been almost four months since my last blog! (Though I have been doing very well with what I have given up for Lent, which is caffeinated drinks! How I miss you, morning latte...) As you will see in our pictures, it has been a fun and eventful few months. I could tell you that the lack of documentation of all the fun we have had was due to how busy I was this winter, and that would be partly true. But the truth is, for reasons big and small, it was also because I was feeling a little down this winter. It was hard to find the motivation to write upbeat posts about all of the great things in our life (and there are many great things) when on the inside, my brain was focusing on the not so great elements. I am glad to say the clouds have lifted, I am in much better spirits, and am now once again a proper narrator for the ongoing story of our Hokanson household.

So what is new, you ask? Here is part one of our adventures.

1. Vacation! David and I decided to go to Las Vegas to celebrate his 31st birthday and to take a much needed vacation. Here are the highlights:

We stayed in the Paris hotel, and it was truly fantastic. Here is a daytime view of the Eiffel tower outside the hotel. For a small fee (which of course, we paid because I insisted), we went up to the top of this structure and had a fantastic view of the entire strip (even if it was a very COLD view). I will not post those pictures because my camera was really unqualified to record them, but check out any panoramic view of the strip and you will get the idea.

We saw two great shows while we were in Vegas, though I do not have any photos of them to share because I was too busy enjoying them. David wanted to see Bite on his birthday, and we also saw Zumanity, a Cirque du Soleil show. Neither of us had ever seen a show by Cirque du Soleil before, and it was truly worth the wait. I couldn't get over how beautiful it was. From the lighting, to the costumes, to the music, to the dancing / acrobatics of the performers, everything was spectacular.

Being the foodies that we are, we also ate at two great Vegas restaurants, and enjoyed wine at this bar in Mandalay Bay. The wine bar was amazing because if you ordered a bottle rather than a glass, they sent an acrobat on a harness to get it from a tall tower of bottles (and do flips while she was at it). We happened to pick a bottle that was pretty far up the tower, so we got to see her do a lot of acrobatics before she brought the bottle down to us. The restaurants we ate at are both run by two chefs from Top Chef Masters - Hubert Keller's Fleur de Lys and Rick Moonen's rm Seafood. Both were delicious!

Here is David's birthday dessert that was brought out at Fleur de Lys. I am glad he shared it ;) We also had yummy lobster mac and cheese at this restaurant too.

Surprisingly, though Hubert was our favorite personality while watching the show, we liked rm seafood better. But maybe that is because we met Rick Moonen! While we were dining, we mentioned to our server that we were huge fans of Top Chef Masters, and so our waiter asked us if we wanted him to check if there were any signed cookbooks for us to purchase. We said sure (though at that point I am not sure if we were totally interested in buying a pricey cookbook). When the waiter came back, he said he had good news and bad news - the bad news was they had no more signed cookbooks in the back, but the good news was that Rick was in the restaurant and would sign one for us momentarily...

...and I looked up to see him across the room! (I know it's hard to see from this not so great photo, but the restaurant was dark AND Rick Moonen was wearing black. If you squint, you can see that he is in the center of the photo below the light on the right side, laughing at something someone else said.)

Here we are with Rick Moonen. He was incredibly nice, and stayed to chat with us for several minutes before working the room. I now take back all of the snarky comments I made about his ego during his season of Top Chef Masters.

Our cookbook page. I like how he said "Best Fishes." Cheesy, yes, but also awesome.

Also during our vacation was the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New York Jets playoff game. Despite the fact that it was David's birthday, I selfishly made David change our dinner reservation at Fleur de Lys so that we could watch the game first. Here is me wearing my fancy dinner clothes AND my Steelers jersey (I did take the jersey off for dinner and the show). I think this may be the start of a fantastic fashion trend, provided there is an NFL season in 2011.

I was so excited to bet on the Steelers, but didn't have the courage to bet more than $10. I should have bet more, since they ended up winning by 4 (which is exactly how much they needed to win by in order for me to win money), but I still won $9.

And finally, what would Vegas be without gambling? I became addicted to a slot machine game at New York, New York's casino called Slingo Bingo. This game brought me so much happiness, and I did also win $6.

Las Vegas was definitely more fun than I could have expected, and there is still so much I would like to see and eat!! We will have to go back again sometime.