Friday, November 20, 2009

Wedding Venue Search, Day 3

Now that it’s been more than a month since my trip, and I am actually on a plane back to the Bay Area for Thanksgiving, I think it’s time to finish up my account of the wedding venue search. Day 3 of our search…well, Day 3 was magical, although in ways that didn’t involve venues.

See, we had slated Day 3 for explorations of Oakland/Piedmont locations with The Pit’s mother…henceforth known as Irene, since that is her name. Although beautiful, neither of the places we looked at were quite the right size. However, while driving around town Irene noticed a tiny little bridal store on Grand Avenue. We decided to stop by on the spur of the moment to see if they would show us some dresses.

Although several female friends and relatives had repeatedly bugged me about going dress shopping, this was actually the first time I had ever set foot in a bridal store. The whole idea of bridal stores kind of intimidated me, if we’re going to be really honest. There was the requirement for appointments, the high pressure sales ladies, and the general feeling that I didn’t belong in any place that carried tiaras as a matter of course.

However, Margene’s Bridal was pretty much the antithesis of everything negative I had ever imagined about wedding dress shopping. The place must have been filled with fairy dust, that’s how beautifully perfect the whole experience was. Let’s start with Vicki, our sales girl. I had not previously guessed that magical bridal fairies came in Russian-accented, platinum blond, and tattooed beauty-mark* versions, but there you have it:


This girl never once pressured me to buy anything, just happily brought me dress after dress to try on. She not only listened to what I wanted, but also extrapolated from her experience, and by the end of the afternoon, I trusted her so fully that I let her help me into a dress more voluminous than I had ever imagined. Then I stood there staring in the mirror, completely shocked that I loved the way I looked in a dress straight out of Louis the XIV’s court. I know! Me! In a princess dress! She even stuck a tiara in my hair that I didn’t hate:


I still wasn’t convinced that this was *the* dress, as there were several that I liked equally well. But I had started out the afternoon of venue searching in rumpled travel clothing, feeling frumpy and out of sorts. Two hours and 15 wedding dresses later, I couldn’t have felt more beautiful. Fairy dust is the only possible explanation.

In fact, so dazzled by the experience and the choices were we all, that I couldn’t make a decision, so I shall be going back there this week to try on my favorites once more and make an actual purchase. I am very excited to run around the place half naked again.

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* Irene promptly tried to wipe her beauty mark off with a napkin, but luckily Vicki was more amused than offended.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fall Veggie Side Dishes: Roasted Brussels Sprouts Au Gratin

Next up, a Brussels sprout recipe found at the Closet Cooking blog. Also relatively simple, although requiring a few more ingredient and steps than the previous entry: Roasted Brussels Sprouts Au Gratin


What you'll need for 3-4 portions:
  • 1-2 lb Brussels sprouts
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • kosher salt and pepper
  • 1-2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
Steps:
1) Preheat oven to 425°F.

2) Trim the Brussels sprouts and cut them in half. Toss with the olive oil in a 13x9 inch baking pan, then spread in a single layer on the pan. Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.


3) Roast for 20-30 minutes. While the sprouts are roasting, grate the Gruyere cheese and mix together with the bread crumbs. If your bread crumbs are unseasoned, you may want to season with salt and pepper...I happened to have a bunch of stale croutons in my cupboard, so I stuck those in a plastic bag, sealed without extra air, and pounded with a hammer to make bread crumbs. Crouton crumbs mixed with regular breadcrumbs proved to be delicious.


4) Once the Brussels sprouts are roasted, pour the heavy cream over them, and then stick them back in the oven for another 10 minutes. I forgot to take a picture after pouring the cream, but this is what the sprouts looked like after roasting:


Note: if you're feeling health-conscious, you probably don't need to use the entire cup of heavy cream. I was making some soup at the same time as these sprouts, and used about 1/4 of the cup in the soup, and 3/4 in the roasting pan. The spouts did not seem to suffer.

5) Melt your butter, and mix in with the cheese and breadcrumbs. When the sprouts and cream come out of the oven, sprinkle with the mixture. While the originial recipe called for two tablespoons of butter, I'm not really sure that both are necessary here...a little butter is probably necessary to keep the crumbs from burning, but next time I'll try cutting it down to one tablespoon.


6) Broil for 3-4 minutes on high, until the top is golden-brown.


Both The Pit and I loved this dish, although be warned, it doesn't taste great microwaved the next day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fall Veggie Side Dishes: Baked Asparagus

I haven't posted recipes in a while, but that's just because the laziness kicked in, not because we haven't been cooking recently. We've actually had quite a few delicious veggie side dishes in the last few weeks, and while I was going to do a round-up of three in one post, I've changed my mind and will drag out the excitement for you for three days instead.

First up, the easiest and simplest recipe of the bunch, found on the Food Network site, and requiring only a very minor modification of cooking time: Baked Asparagus


What you'll need for 2 large portions:
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • kosher salt and pepper
Steps:
1) Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wash the asparagus, cut off the bottom inch or so of each stalk, and dump the stalks into a plastic bag.

2)Add a tablespoon of olive, close the bag, and shake it to evenly distribute the oil on all the stalks.

3) Lay the asparagus out on a foil-covered cookie sheet, and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

4) Bake for at least 25 minutes to get the asparagus tips crunchy. I actually made one batch where I baked for 40 minutes (to time it with the rest of dinner) and the asparagus only got more crispy and delicious.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Caps vs. Wilds

So, we've covered my optimistic tendencies. But I'd like to talk about The Pit for bit. He...well, let's just say that optimism does not come to him naturally. From the outside looking in, it appears that he imagines the worst possible outcome to any particular situation, and then adjusts his plans accordingly. For example, when I wanted to attend a dance at his grad school, he feared that I would bump into his ex, and that this interaction would result in drinks being thrown.* Similarly, my speeding makes him think about the strong possibility of death in a fiery wreck. And if I undress in front of an open window? GOOD LORD WOMAN, RAPISTS ARE PROBABLY WATCHING!

Hmm, now that I read over the examples I just offered, there does seem to be one consistent Peachy-shaped element in all his fears, doesn't there? But let's just pretend I never made that particular observation, and move right along to the rest of my story.

See, early last week I talked to our pregnant friend, she for whom the quilt was wrought. And she informed me that her husband had gotten four free tickets to a Capitals hockey game on Friday. Assuming she wouldn't be giving birth at that particular moment, she wanted to know if The Pit and I were interested in accompanying them to the game. I said yes, and told The Pit about our conversation when he got home from work.

I had assumed that free tickets were a relative no-brainer to accept. This was silly of me, as The Pit immediately started thinking about all sorts of things that could go wrong for a very pregnant lady (and her accompanying friends) at a professional sporting event. I reassured him that he would probably not to be called on to deliver a baby on the ice, and that even if she did go into labor, there was going to be a great story to tell afterward.

My reassurances did not make him feel much better, although the news that the free tickets were in their own box somehow did. Remarkable, no? In any case, our friend did not go into labor, the Capitals won, I got a fiercely coveted hot dog, the box seats were amazing, and in fact the whole outing was quite thoroughly enjoyable. A much different experience from our previous foray into DC professional sports. Go Caps!

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* We actually get along quite well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Finished!

Speaking of hobby projects that take decades to complete, let's talk about my quilt. My FINISHED quilt! Yes, that's right...my friend's baby is due any day now, and I feverishly completed the quilt yesterday.


And all it took was four months or so...for something measuring 35 inches by 52 inches. I don't know how people summon the willpower to quilt anything bigger. Now that I think about it, I guess that is the exact reason sewing machines were invented. Quilting anything bigger by hand seems to require the moral fiber of an Amish person.

Since I am not, in fact, Amish, I did end up running into some technical issues while sewing. Chiefly, the fact that I couldn't figure out the quilter's knot, which is how you are supposed to end a line of stitching in the middle of the quilt without making a giant mess. Dina Who Is Not My Sister kindly sent me a link to a video showing how to do it, but although it seemed relatively simple when I was watching, I could not for the life of me actually get the needle, thread, and fabric to cooperate. So all those long diagonal lines quilted through the top? Yeah, those were each done using one super long piece of thread.

My original vision for the quilt also included very thin brown edging all the way around the outside. However, it turns out that thin borders are quite tricky, and what with the baby being due at any second, I decided to forget The Plan and just end the quilting process by folding the backing fabric over the top and stitching it in place as a border (what my Quilting for Dummies book called self-binding).

The downside to self-binding is that it's supposed to be less durable than other sorts of binding. Being a fool optimist, I read that bit about 'less durable,' and then went ahead and decided to machine wash the quilt anyway. So after finishing all the stitching last night, I stuck the quilt into the washing machine on the delicate cycle, crossed my fingers, and hoped like hell that the whole thing wouldn't fall apart. I know that the lead up convinced you all that something terrible then happened, but apparently holding your breath and hoping is an effective strategy, because all the stitching held, and the batting didn't even shrink enough to notice.

I thus declare my foray into quilting a wild success. I suppose there is one more judge whose opinion may be more important than mine...although for all the work I put into this thing, that baby damn well better love it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wedding Venue Search, Day 2

I may have mentioned this before, but The Pit has relatives living out in the country…that would be the Central Valley, outside the Bay Area, for those less familiar with California geography. Said relatives owned a dairy ranch for many years, and if you turn your eyes to my profile photo, you can see me accosting one of their adorable calves.

When talk of a wedding venue came up, these folks told me about an eccentric Dutchman living nearby. Apparently, for the last 15 or so years, this man has been hand-building a castle, brick by brick, on a plot of land in the middle of an orchard. After The Pit showed me intriguing pictures of turrets and castle walls, I decided that my mother and I had to see this place for ourselves. My grandparents joined us at the last minute, and the four of us set out for the two hour drive to the country.

As soon as we got off the freeway and started seeing miles and miles of fields and orchards, my grandmother, a confirmed city dweller if there ever was one, started oohing and ahhing. I guess she was somehow unprepared for all the open space, the lack of people and houses, and especially the presence of livestock.

Although my grandma maintains that she is and always has been an animal lover, it’s obvious to anyone who has ever watched her interact with a pet that this is not actually the case. In fact, she has always viewed animals with a kind of cautious suspicion, carefully and primly patting dogs or cats when necessary, but always maintaining a distance if possible. And now there were goats! And geese! And cows! Fenced in, this is true, but completely unsupervised, and just wandering about, possibly ready to get strike!*

* To be fair, I don’t think that she’s actually afraid of animals attacking…more like rubbing up against her and getting her pristine clothes dirty.

However, as we drove further and further away from civilization, she adjusted to the scenery, and there were only occasional exclamations about the hugeness of the fields and the scarcity of houses. By the time we arrived at our destination, she was really ready to appreciate the setting. And by the setting, I mean the huge Italian-style villa that The Pit’s aunt and uncle recently constructed on a slight rise of land in the middle of, well, basically, of nowhere.


The structure is very impressive when viewed from the outside, what with the cannon and flagpole and all, but it gets even more amazing from the inside, when you see the views out of the giant windows, and relax in the spacious courtyard. In fact, if we were having a smaller wedding, the villa itself would be a beautiful venue.


However, as the guestlist seems to grow longer every week, we instead enjoyed a lovely courtyard lunch before setting out for the two larger locations scouted for us. One was the aforementioned castle, and the other was a sort of lake and pagoda built by another dairy-owing family nearby.

First, the castle. Now when I say castle, I’m not talking about some sort of Disney-like fa├žade. No, this is a *real* castle, complete with turrets, walls three bricks thick, and a fire-pit for roasting whole pigs. It is also being built on roughly the same schedule as a real castle…Casper the Dutchman has been working on it for about fifteen years, and estimated completion is in another fifteen or twenty years. Thus when we saw it, the inside wasn’t finished, but the existing structure could serve as an unusual backdrop for an outdoor wedding.


After the tour, we ultimately decided that the location was a little too remote and the facilities a little too primitive for our needs, but the amount of work that Casper had single-handedly put into the place was staggering. As my mother said, it was difficult for her to envision a hobby project that would take her a year to complete, never mind several decades.


The next location we visited also turned out to be unsuitable for us, mostly because of size, but was similarly awe-inspiring for the efforts that the owners had made to beautify their property. The place was a diary ranch, with typical buildings and fields to house and milk cows. However, adjacent to the cow pasture, the owners had dug out and landscaped a large lake.


They had accomplished this feat by themselves, with just family helping, for basically the same reason Casper was building his castle…these folks found that they had the space, and decided that they wanted to do something a bit out of the ordinary with it.

On the way home, my mom and grandparents couldn’t get over it…all that work, whether at the villa, the castle, or the lake, and not for some sort of financial reward, but just for the satisfaction of having built something beautiful. I trust it will not come as a surprise that the discussion ended with comparisons of Russian peasants perfectly happy to sit in shitty cow pastures for their entire lives, and much murmuring of "God bless America."

And thus ended Day 2.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Downside to Being Lovable

Yes yes, I’ve had Day 2 half-written for a week, and yet have still not managed to finish it up and post it here. However, I’m going to interrupt my wedding narrative stream and tell you about trivia on Monday. I know I keep telling you about trivia, and most of you probably don’t really care that we won…again.* But that’s not the main gist of the story. The main gist only tangentially involves our win, because we won under…unusual…circumstances.

See, back when we first started playing, before getting into our winning 3-person groove, The Pit had sent an invite to his co-workers to join us. Apparently four of these invitees decided to answer his email two months late, and met us at the pub this week.

I had a couple of problems with this scenario right from the start. First of all, bringing four extra players when your three person team has been dominating the game for weeks…well, it feels a little like cheating. Our major competition is a team of four old people, and I like to beat them fair and square. Second, and I admit that this is my crazy in action, having four extra people required us to move to a bigger table. We always sit at the same corner location, and I felt vaguely uncomfortable at a different table in the middle of the floor. Third, having that many people meant that we had to pass the paper with the questions around, instead of just discussing each point amongst our normal trio. This arrangement left a lot of room for small talk with those not actively answering questions, which brings me right to my fourth issue…having to actually interact with these people.

Go ahead, roll your eyes and call me antisocial…I won’t take offense, since that is basically true. But I would like to point out that I didn’t actively hate all of them. There were two girls and a couple. I had no issues with the girls, who mostly sat at the other end of the table and consulted each other about trivia questions. The couple on the other hand, I grew to loathe more and more as the evening wore on.

The male half was particularly annoying. In what may have been the understatement of the year, The Pit explained it as: “His energy was not your energy.” While I’m sure that this dude was a nice enough guy, he did not stop talking once all night. The talking was combined with rather expansive gestures, which invaded my personal space even though I was sitting all the way across the table from him. It all added up to a very obnoxious package as I tried to concentrate on trivia questions. And predictably, my irritation grew harder and harder to hide as the evening progressed and the man continued draining Bud Light after Bud Light.

While I wasn’t certain that the guy was picking up the negative vibes I was casting his way, I was hoping that at least The Pit was getting the point. I was thus horrified to hear The Pit ask Mr. Obnoxious whether he liked to play board games. Thinking that the next words out of The Pit’s mouth would be an invitation to play at our house, I punched his leg under the table. It was at this point that my beloved, apparently feeling oh so suave and smooth, uttered a very loud “OW!”

I was *this* close to slapping a hand to my forehead and laying my head on the table. However, instead I pretended that nothing weird had just happened, and went back to my internal seething. Blessedly, trivia soon ended, although I did not get much of a reprieve, as The Pit started to chew me out as soon as we were alone in the car. Apparently, he had picked up on my hatred even before I hit him, and was annoyed that I had been so obviously rude to his coworkers.

I argued that A) I was not in fact obviously rude until his ill-timed "OW" gave me away, B) unbearable personalities rarely pick up on subtle hints of hatred anyway, and C) even if Mr. Obnoxious had realized my disdain, it only ensured my vital objective, which was keeping him away from future trivia nights at all costs. For some reason, The Pit was not pleased with my line of reasoning, and went off yesterday morning vowing to do some ‘damage control’ at work.

As it turned out, I was right about B up there, and no damage control was necessary, since the loudmouth had informed people that he loved hanging out with The Pit and I, and planned to invite us to his place soon. Sigh.

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* That makes our record 7 first place, 1 second place, 1 third place prize in 9 weeks of playing. Not that we're counting.