Friday, August 31, 2012

Bozo Pic of the Week...

Oh did 3rd and 5th grade sneak up on me so quickly? The fact that this is my older son's last year in elementary school is crazy to me. I know it's cliche, but does seem like kindergarten registration was just yesterday.
My new reality is that getting that classic "First Day of School" shot isn't what it used to be. There's no more picking out a new outfit for them, or posing them on the front porch steps for the yearly photo. I'm lucky I got at least one shot before I was given the "Mom! I'm fine, you can leave now" look.
Back to School is always bittersweet for me. The Summer months are full of fun adventures, but selfishly, I'm also very happy that I have my alone time back.
Did your kids start school this week too? If so, hope they had a fantastic first day!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Some Things I Just Love...

If there's one thing I have a hard time resisting it's office supplies - the cuter, cooler, or more well-designed, the better. My boys can vouch for that fact after a recent trip to Staples, when I made them behave for practically an hour straight while I poked around the Martha Stewart collection. I now have lots of practical organizational tools awaiting my sweet little Bozos return to school...which is when I'll finally have some time to put them to use.
Needless to say, doing a Back to School edition of STIJL is fun, fun! My boys could care less about my fancy new desk accessories, or calendars, but they sure do love some Back to School supply shopping.
top:  a.| poketo pens  b.| geometry notebooks  c.| squirrel tape holder  d.| refillable mini eraser  e.| patchwork washi tape  f.| colored pencils  g.| bright yellow pushpins  h.| storage bin lap desk
bottom:  a.| animal bookmarks  b.| wean green tempered glass containers  c.| wonder, by r.j. palacio  d.| star pencil case  e.| colorful paper clips  f.| alphabet lunch bag  g.| a pen that fits inside a notebook h.| insulated container

Friday, August 24, 2012

Blackberry Smash

I go through a Summer cocktail phase every year, and each time it's something different. A few years back it was making homemade Margaritas. After that, I finally put my over-grown garden mint patch {which likes to dominate everything else around it, and is really more like a weed!} to good use and started making mojitos. Then I went through a non-traditional Margarita phase...making them with fruits other than the standard lime. This year - it's the Blackberry Smash.
Whiskey Smash cocktails have been around for ages, but are having a modern day moment in the spotlight with the addition of everything from strawberries and balsamic vinegar to sage and honey. The bourbon or rye whiskey used in the traditional version is also being substituted with vodka, fruity liqueurs, or even a splash of champagne, or sparkling wine. While looking around at all the possible combinations, I picked up a few ideas here and there, pulling what appealed to me most from many different recipes, and made this version.
This cocktail is very adaptable, so if there's something you'd like to try in place of blackberries, try it. Any berry would work well here - you could also add in some lemon slices as well. I opted to top the drink off with some bubbly water because I prefer it carbonated versus straight up booze on ice...that way I can also have more than one!
I've tried making these with and without simple syrup, and while it's certainly optional, I preferred them with a bit of syrup added in. I don't like them super sweet either, but just enough to cut some of the tartness from the limes and berries does the trick.
It's hard to believe that my boys start another school year in just a few short days, or that vacations I anticipated for months with excitement came and went in a breath. Once again, Summer flies by...but before it comes to a complete close, and berries are being swapped out for pumpkins and apples, I highly recommend you go make a batch!
Also try these Summer Beverages - Watermelon Margaritas | Hibiscus Cooler | Fresh Orange Margaritas | Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Blackberry Smash

{printable recipe}
Yields: 2 servings
This version of the old-fashioned Smash cocktail contains blackberries, vodka, and St. Germain {a French liqueur made from Elderberry flowers}. The addition of limes and fresh mint make it a perfect Summer evening cocktail, that tastes somewhat similar to a Mojito, but with a fruity punch.

1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
14 fresh blackberries
a splash of simple syrup, or to taste
1/3 cup vodka
1/4 cup St. Germain liqueur
bubbly water {seltzer or soda water}

special equipment: 2 highball-type glasses, and a muddler {you can substitute the back of a wooden spoon}

Add half of the lime wedges, mint leaves, and blackberries to each glass. Use a muddler {or the back of a wooden spoon} to coarsely crush the fruit and mint.

Pour a splash of simple syrup into each glass, and give it a stir. Divide the vodka and St. Germain liqueur between the two glasses, then fill each to the rim with ice. Top each glass off with bubbly water and serve!

Notes: The quantities given for the fruit and mint are rough guidelines. There's no need to actually measure out the mint leaves, or count the limes or berries. After you make a few of these delicious cocktails you'll know what the perfect quantity for you is. If you like more of a citrus punch, add more limes. Not so much? Add less. The simple syrup should be added to taste as well. If the blackberries you use are particularly sweet, you might just skip the sweetener all together. The elderflower liqueur adds sweetness to the drink as well.

Super Simple Syrup

{printable recipe}
Yields: about 1 1/2 cups
Adapted from Bon Appétit, August 2012
This technique for making simple syrup couldn't be any simpler. While making sugar syrup over the stove top isn't necessarily rocket science, boiling the syrup is just one more additional step, and requires turning on your stove...which is something I try to avoid in August heat. This method yields the same results as boiling, yet it's so much faster and requires no heat!

3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water

Add the sugar and water to a jar with a screw cap lid. Shake for 1-2 minutes, or until the liquid becomes syrupy and all the sugar has dissolved.

Notes: The syrup will keep, refrigerated, for up to 6 months. Ball mason jars, with plastic screw cap lids work perfectly!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Vietnamese Iced Coffee

Many years ago, while I was living in Brooklyn, I had a ritual of treating myself to an iced coffee on my day off laundromat day. Back then, there were no Starbucks in my neighborhood of Fort Greene. In fact, there wasn't an early morning coffee shop option of any sort. The only two places within a five block radius of my apartment that sold a decent cup of coffee, were the Brooklyn Moon Cafe, and what I considered an unlikely spot for a cup of coffee, a Cambodian restaurant.
Brooklyn Moon was a southern soul food/coffee shop/poetry lounge spot, and couldn't have been more different than a Cambodian restaurant. Yet, ironically, they both sold the most deliciously sweet and creamy iced coffee.
After years of drinking the tasty coffee drinks, I was thrilled when I discovered their secret ingredient - sweetened condensed milk. But in addition to the thick, sweet milk, what makes this iced coffee different than most is the use of a particularly strong, and flavorful coffee...which really is essential in balancing out the sweetness.
I tried making my own at home several times, but somehow mine just didn't taste as good as I had remembered from my Brooklyn days. In recent years, if I really needed a sweet jolt of nostalgia, I could visit a Thai restaurant nearby and order a glass, but I would have preferred to make it myself whenever the urge stuck. As a result, once I happened upon this recipe, I immediately set forth gathering up what I needed to make a cup - including a special Vietnamese single-serving coffee filter {a Phin} and some suitable coffee {Café du Monde with Chicory}, and made what would be the first of many glasses of my favorite iced coffee at home.
As simple as this technique is, I felt it worthy of a post dedicated to it. The flavor transports me back to the 90's and reminds me of a place that still exists, but barely as I once knew it. Cambodian Cuisine is long gone, but Brooklyn Moon is still kickin' it - if you're in Fort Greene go visit Michael and tell him I sent you in for an iced coffee...I hope he's still making them like he used to. 

Vietnamese Iced Coffee {Café sua dá}

{printable recipe}
Adapted from a recipe by Diane Cu & Todd Porter via LA Times and a recipe by Cora Lambert via Food & Wine magazine
Yields: 1 serving
This strongly flavored, yet sweet iced coffee is my favorite on a hot afternoon. Don't be intimidated by the obscure supplies on the list. If you live in a area where finding them might be difficult, they are readily and inexpensively available online. It's worth the purchase to have the supplies on hand for the next time you make a cup, because there will be a next time!

1 1/2 tablespoons Café Du Monde with Chicory coffee
2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

special equipment: {optional} a Vietnamese single-cup coffee brewer (Phin)

Bring a kettle of water to a boil.

Add the ground coffee to the metal base of the filter, tap gently on the counter to settle the coffee, and screw on the metal screen.

Choose a drinking glass with a wide enough rim for the metal coffee filter to sit atop. Add the sweetened condensed milk to the glass, and place the filter on top.

Pour just enough hot water into the filter to moisten the grounds, and allow them to "bloom" for 15 seconds. Fill the filter with hot water.

When the hot water has finished passing through the filter, remove it from the glass, and stir the coffee with the condensed milk to blend. Add ice, stir again to chill the coffee, and drink!

Notes | Substitutions
✻  Adjust the amount of ground coffee to suit your taste, but remember that the strength of the coffee needs to balance the sweetness of the condensed milk. You can adjust the strength in a couple of ways - first, the tighter you screw the metal screen onto the filter, the slower the water will pass through, hence the stronger the coffee will be. Looser, for less strength, tighter for more. You can also play with the quantity of ground coffee you use. I've tried everything from 1 to 2 1/2 tablespoons, and settled on 1 1/2 being the perfect amount for my taste.
✻  Personally, I love Café du Monde with Chicory coffee. I can also find it easily where I live, but you can substitute any strong brew, such as espresso, or French roast coffee. Try using Trung Nguyen Vietnamese coffee for an authentic brew.
✻  You can find both coffees, along with the Vietnamese coffee filter on Amazon. However, a strong pot of brewed coffee, using a traditional coffee maker, or a French press, will work well too. Simply make a pot of coffee the way you normally would, only stronger.
✻  No coffeemaker? Or can't stand the thought of turning the kettle on in August? Want to make a big batch? Then, cold brew! Stir a 1/2 pound ground coffee and 4 1/2 cups water together in a pitcher. Let rest on the counter for 24 hours. Strain through a coffee filter lined colander; use right away, or refrigerate for up to a week.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Block Island 2012

These photos are from a recent trip we took to Block Island for a little weekend getaway. Our friends, who vacation there every Summer, were gracious enough to invite us again this year and each time we visit I fall more in love with the place. 
If you've been, then you know how beautiful it is. If not, its unlike any vacation town I've visited in the Northeast. For me, what sets it apart is how far away from it all I feel there. There are no strip malls, bars lining the beaches, or row after row of beach homes crowding every square inch of available space. Instead, it's sparse - many homes are tucked away, accessible only by traveling down a long, unpaved driveway. Those that are close to the main roads have what seems like acres of bright green land surrounding them. Each one a little treasured slice of paradise.
Most of the land is preserved and therefore cannot be built upon. This promises an abundance of wildlife and paired with a wet island climate, rolling hills of lush green foliage, which makes it feel more like the countryside of Ireland than New England.
I did my best to capture how green the island is, but we had a few overcast days on our trip, and it didn't help that my camera's been on the fritz for several weeks now, so I was using my iPhone camera a majority of the time. On the most gorgeous day I shot a few rolls of film with my new La Sardina camera, but I won't have those for a while considering it's incredibly difficult to find a place that processes film anymore - at least in a timely fashion. However, over the years I've accumulated a few posts about our visits to Block Island - if you're interested in seeing more, you can find them here, here, and here.
Better yet, I highly recommend you check it out in person for yourself - the little 7 mile long island is perfect for day trips too. Just be warned, you may not want to come home, and if it wasn't for an upcoming vacation to Cape Cod we have planned I may not have! {I promise - I'll try my best to get a recipe post up at some point in between and I hope to make some of my favorite beach vacation dinners on the Cape!}
I'm always interested in hearing about other possible Summer vacation destinations - do you have any favorites you'd like to share? Did you take a vacation yet this year, or will you? Or was your Summer made up of "stay-cations" like mine was last year?