Sunday, February 22, 2009


Saturday was a big day for me. Up early (7) for the cleaning lady, off to book club on Cambridge Street at 10 (I was 30 minutes early, oops), then off to Central to pick up the car (Josh had driven it there to meet friends), Target in Watertown (how did I possibly spend $250 there?) then grocery shopping, then home at 3ish, when I unloaded the car (THAT was fun, let me tell you...) and THEN started baking a cake (we were meeting friends for dinner and dessert at our place after). 

My first from-scratch cake in years and my very first attempt at frosting. The flavor was there, definitely. The cake was wonderful, everything a cake should be. The frosting was sweet, creamy, nutty, I loved it. Putting those two together, however, was a different story completely.

I think the fact that I read smitten's warnings and ignored them is tantamount to my attitude about a lot of things. I know all the things that could go wrong, I acknowledge the fact that they probably WILL go wrong, and then just go ahead and do whatever I think is best anyway. Then I get frustrated when things don't go well. 

The frosting pulled up crumbs from the soft top layer of the cake. I threw the cakes in the fridge (not freezer, as advised) for all of 10 minutes to cool the cakes. I also did not apply a thin crumb layer and freeze that, as advised, so I had a confetti covered cake. I also had NO idea how to apply frosting. Like, none. So getting the sides with this thick cream cheese frosting was a challenge in itself. Oh, also, my layers were not perfectly lined up. Oops. I ended up not doing the ganache layer, mainly due to laziness. In the end, I am glad I didn't - the cake was insanely rich. I think an extra layer of chocolate would have been too much. If I don't master this crumb mixing thing, however, I may rethink that.

I learned quite a bit from my first attempt at caking. Including the fact that Josh and I can put away a quarter of a cake in one lazy Sunday. The rest is going to work tomorrow. After a weekend of chocolate and peanut butter, let them eat cake. 

Frosting perfection. 
I went with two layers, not three. I realized that I should have added a bit more frosting in the middle to support that huge top layer. Next time...
I wasn't thrilled with my first frosting attempt, but it wasn't too shabby... right?
Hmm.. spoke to soon. This was the "back of the cake". Each attempt to fix this only made it worse. We should just all focus on the picture above this one, no?

Going, going... there is still quite a bit left, but tomorrow it will be gone.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Not now, Archie Puffin!

"Iceland?" That's what I got - with a look of confusion. Yes, we went to Iceland, and yes we went in the middle of February. And yes, it was cold. But this refreshing, thawing, wet cold that smelled like spring on steroids. Iceland is amazing (and warmer than Boston :P )

For more pictures, click here. Mac users may have an easier time than PC users; it may take a while for the pictures to load on the PC.

The ceiling at Hallgrimskirja (Hallgrin's Church). The architecture here was very different than that of the rest of Europe. Clean lines, nothing ornate, lots of space. This was a Protestant Church, but had a "Catholic Corner" for our Catholic friends.

Pingvellir. Since 960, Icelandic delegates would travel here for three weeks every summer to hold Parliament. Some trips would take over three weeks by horseback, but they all came. It was also a place where traders, farmers and fisherman could sell their wares. This went on until the 1700's, when they set up a building in Reykjavik as a more permanent structure that is still used today.

Pingvellir is also where the North Atlantic and Eurasian plates are separating , you can see the division here.

Gulfoss. The most famous falls in Iceland and a huge tourist attraction. After going there, I have now nightmares and can't sleep. Not exactly what Iceland tourism was going for...

So this snap was taken safely behind a fence. Then I decided I wanted a picture from a vantage point that the tour guide pointed out when we got off the bus. At the edge of a huge cliff. That fell into a river. That had no fence. Josh went and walked right up to the edge. I stood several hundred feet away, not breathing as I pictured him falling to his death. I called for him to come back. He motioned for me to come there. Reluctantly, I did. Then I pictured both of us falling to our death. My mother and sister were far away. No one would know we died. They would all get back to the bus and wonder where we were. Then they would wait. The tour guide would try to find us. In vain. Then he will remember the spot he pointed out. They would see our footprints leading up to the edge in the snow. Maybe a sneaker, but probably nothing. That's ALL I think about at night. That stupid cliff and that river and that drop and how close we were to falling to our deaths as we made silly poses for no reason. It will take a while for the image of Josh going over the edge to fade away. Gah. (See below for this death-defying view...)

Reynisfjara - a beach of liquid hot magma, that has since cooled. Very interesting rock formations and the sand is literally lava (so not sand... whatever).

Halfanefshellir (the cave) with basalt columns in the background.

This was the last waterfall in a row of glacial waterfalls on the side of a mountain. It was very Lord of the Rings/Gollum catching fish, but still very pretty.

A sink. Outside. (It's a camping ground, but still...)

And last but not least, The Blue Lagoon. I didn't take any pictures, mainly because I didn't want to risk the new camera with all the salt water, so here is one from the website. The place was surreal. Set among this huge lava feild, the warm, milky blue water feels amazing on your skin. I had this dry Boston winter skin for weeks. Thirty minutes in the water and it is completely healed and smooth again. An Icelandic miracle! This place is only 15-20 minutes from the airport, so a lot of people we saw at the lagoon were also on our flight. It was odd to look around the terminal and see people who were peeling off bathing suits in front you in at the communal shower a few scant hours earlier. There were also a lot of British school groups (Iceland is the same time zone as England.) So we went to Strubridge Village, British kids go to Iceland. Seems a bit unfair, no?

Monday, February 09, 2009


To take a quote from Weekend Update - "Seriously? No, seriously?"

The NYTs ran this article on the $500K cap for banking CEOs. I am dying to know what everyone thinks. My thoughts follow the article.

PRIVATE school: $32,000 a year per student.
Mortgage: $96,000 a year.
Co-op maintenance fee: $96,000 a year.
Nanny: $45,000 a year.
We are already at $269,000, and we haven’t even gotten to taxes yet.
Five hundred thousand dollars — the amount President Obama wants to set as the top pay for banking executives whose firms accept government bailout money — seems like a lot, and it is a lot. To many people in many places, it is a princely sum to live on. But in the neighborhoods of New York City and its suburban enclaves where successful bankers live, half a million a year can go very fast.
“As hard as it is to believe, bankers who are living on the Upper East Side making $2 or $3 million a year have set up a life for themselves in which they are also at zero at the end of the year with credit cards and mortgage bills that are inescapable,” said Holly Peterson, the author of an Upper East Side novel of manners, “The Manny,” and the daughter of Peter G. Peterson, a founder of the equity firm the Blackstone Group. “Five hundred thousand dollars means taking their kids out of private school and selling their home in a fire sale.”
Sure, the solution may seem simple: move to Brooklyn or Hoboken, put the children in public schools and buy a MetroCard. But more than a few of the New York-based financial executives who would have their pay limited are men (and they are almost invariably men) whose identities are entwined with living a certain way in a certain neighborhood west of Third Avenue: a life of private schools, summer houses and charity galas that only a seven-figure income can stretch to cover.
Few are playing sad cellos over the fate of such folk, especially since the collapse of the institutions they run has yielded untold financial pain. But in New York, where a new study from the Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit research group in Manhattan, estimates it takes $123,322 to enjoy the same middle-class life as someone earning $50,000 in Houston, extricating oneself from steep bills can be difficult.
Therefore, even if it is not for sympathy but for sport, consider the numbers.
The cold hard math can be cruel.
Like those taxes. If a person is married with two children, the weekly deductions on a $500,000 salary are: federal taxes, $2,645; Social Security, $596; Medicare, $139; state taxes, $682; and city, $372, bringing the weekly take-home to $5,180, or about $269,000 a year, said Martin Cohen, a Manhattan accountant.
Now move to living expenses.
Barbara Corcoran, a real estate executive, said that most well-to-do families take at least two vacations a year, a winter trip to the sun and a spring trip to the ski slopes.
Total minimum cost: $16,000.
A modest three-bedroom apartment, she said, which was purchased for $1.5 million, not the top of the market at all, carries a monthly mortgage of about $8,000 and a co-op maintenance fee of $8,000 a month. Total cost: $192,000. A summer house in Southampton that cost $4 million, again not the top of the market, carries annual mortgage payments of $240,000.
Many top executives have cars and drivers. A chauffeur’s pay is between $75,000 and $125,000 a year, the higher end for former police officers who can double as bodyguards, said a limousine driver who spoke anonymously because he does not want to alienate his society customers.
“Some of them want their drivers to have guns,” the driver said. “You get a cop and you have a driver.” To garage that car is about $700 a month.
A personal trainer at $80 an hour three times a week comes to about $12,000 a year.
The work in the gym pays off when one must don a formal gown for a charity gala. “Going to those parties,” said David Patrick Columbia, who is the editor of the New York Social Diary (, “a woman can spend $10,000 or $15,000 on a dress. If she goes to three or four of those a year, she’s not going to wear the same dress.”
Total cost for three gowns: about $35,000.
Not every bank executive has school-age children, but for those who do, offspring can be expensive. In addition to paying tuition, “You’re not going to get through private school without tutoring a kid,” said Sandy Bass, the editor of Private School Insider, a newsletter that covers private schools in the New York City area. One hour of tutoring once a week is $125. “That’s the low end,” she said. “The higher end is 150, 175.” SAT tutors are about $250 an hour. Total cost for 30 weeks of regular tutoring: $3,750.
Two children in private school: $64,000.
Nanny: $45,000.
Ms. Bass, whose husband is an accountant with many high-end clients, said she spends about $425 every 10 days on groceries for her family. Annual cost: about $15,000.
More? Restaurants. Dry cleaning. Each Brooks Brothers suit costs about $1,000. If you run a bank, you can’t look like a slob.
The total costs here, which do not include a lot of things, like kennels for the dog when the family is away, summer camp, spas and other grooming for the human members of the family, donations to charity, and frozen hot chocolates at Serendipity, are $790,750, which would require about a $1.6-million salary to compensate for taxes. Give or take a few score thousand of dollars.
Does this money buy a chief executive stockholders might prize, a well-to-do man with a certain sureness of stride, something that might be lost if the executive were crowding onto the PATH train every morning at Journal Square, his newspaper splayed against the back of a stranger’s head?
The man would certainly not feel like himself on that train, said Candace Bushnell, the author of “Sex and the City” and other books chronicling New York social mores.
“People inherently understand that if they are going to get ahead in whatever corporate culture they are involved in, they need to take on the appurtenances of what defines that culture,” she said. “So if you are in a culture where spending a lot of money is a sign of success, it’s like the same thing that goes back to high school peer pressure. It’s about fitting in.”
By the way, the frozen hot chocolate costs $8.50.

Oh NO, those poor poor bankers who HAVE to pay for all those nice things. God forbid they SHARE a nanny, god forbid they SELL the vaca house, or SKIP the vacations. God forbid they give up the car, garage, driver, and BODYgaurd! Why are you paying for private school AND tutoring? Isn't that what private school IS? Smaller classes, top notch teachers? What are your kids getting out of that tuition if they need a tutor TOO? Hmm.. what else? A personal trainer? Really? Just pay the $59 a month at Crunch and push yourself. Take some free classes. Or SHARE a trainer with some friends. Good grief. And no one NEEDS a frozen hot chocolate. This article is insane.

I get that NYC is pricey and one has to keep up appearances. I watch Gossip Girl, I see how it is (:)) If bankers really NEED $2M a year to "survive", then all is salary cap is going to do it drive away the qualified people and banks will have to settle.

Josh's idea seemed like the best solution. Since all these people seem to understand is money, give them the $500K, a list of goals, and a timeline. If they fulfill their goals on time, they get a $2 million bonus. This will help the banks (isn't that the point?) and all the banker's wives can still play tennis with Buffy and Muffy every Tuesday and Thursday.

UPDATE: My wonderfully eloquent friend brought a fresh perspective to the article. I didn't think of the trickle down effect, mainly because my mind went straight to the entitlement-y tone of the article and not the big picture. A good read and very well put!

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Hello all! Sorry it has been a while. It has been an interesting couple of months...

I wanted to make a deep dish pizza. Well, I wanted to EAT a deep dish pizza, but Josh "volunteered" to make it for me. Before he started, I stressed the fact that we needed to oil the pan so that the crust doesn't stick. Oil the pan, I said. Make sure to do it. Yeah yeah he said. Don't worry. Seriously, I repeated. It will be hard to scrape it off the cast iron if we don't. 

While the pizza is cooking, we are vegging out on the couch, perusing recipes online, when Josh looks up at me. I didn't oil the pan, he deadpans. I laugh. Har har, funny. No, he looks at me, now laughing, I really forgot to oil it. I think I actually saw my brains with the eye roll that followed. Literally. 

We pull the pizza out of the oven and peel the crust away from the pan and tried to oil the pan as best we could. Lesson learned - leave deep dish to the professionals. 

And now a quick snap shot of our weekly breakfast. For most of January, either I was away for the weekend, or Josh was away or we had too many things going on seperately that we barely saw each other on the weekends, let alone week days. As a result, our past few weekends have been spend lazing around, sleeping in, and cooking huge meals in the middle of the day. Our recent favorite? Eggs, potato and pepper hash, toast and bacon. And juice. And maybe coffee (for Josh). We feast and then watch USA for like 4 hours. It is awesome. Sadly, schedules are filling up again so I don't know how many more lazy breakfasts we will have before spring and summer take over our weekends.

And last but not least, NYC! It was so good to see my sister and friends. Good friends bought a new place in Brooklyn, so it was nice to check that out. It has been interesting to see how my friends are choosing and buying real estate. We own a place I love. Three bedrooms, a real dining room, nice big kitchen, pretty much all the things we were looking for. The "city" in me, however, is insanely jealous of my friend's place in the South End. It is cute, has lots of character, and good outdoor space. Sadly, Josh needs more space than a city apartment could provide, and commuting for him would have been a beast (not to mention parking), but a part of me is still very jealous. I am also jealous of my friends in Brooklyn. I love Brooklyn. I love Boston more, but a part of my always wishes I spent a few years in Brooklyn. Although there will always be a case of "the grass is greener" when I see the places other people bought, I am so insanely happy when I come home and look around our new place. It still needs work (art, new rugs, etc), but I love it. Yay happiness!

Oh - right. Pictures:

NYC the next generation, My sister and friend moved to the city right after graduation, just like I did. They live in Manhattan, hang out with roommates, stay out til 3am - they are basically us, four years later. I look back on those times so fondly, but definitely don't have the energy for that anymore. Fun nowadays means a long walk with the hubby and bed by 10 (maybe 11 if Burn Notice is on...)

Even tough this picture of edamame is clearly out of focus (heh), I kind of like it.

Outside Magnolia's. I was just playing with the zoom, but ended up liking the picture. 
Now I am just seeing what kind of reflections I can catch in Magnolia's window. Interesting, but not fabulous. 

Why do I take pictures of my sister when she is eating? Because she hates it. Why else? 
Perfection in a croissant. City Bakery called it a Pretzel Croissant. It is just a plain croissant with a hint of salt and toasted sesame seeds on top. Two in our group of six ordered one, which we all tried. Then one more was purchased and we all devoured it. I am so making these for my next brunch (Pilsbury dough of course.... who has three days to make croissant dough?)

Oh - one more! I had to take a picture of the boy building our new pantry shelves. The light in the dining room is great and he just looked so cute and carpenter-y, I couldn't help myself:)