Surf and Turf New Years

My family has had a tradition for a few years now that I have lovingly named “Surf and Turf New Years”. Every year on New Years Eve, my mother and her 3 sisters converge on our house, their cooking utensils in hand, and put together a multi-course meal, complete with lobster and caveman-sized steak.

Surf and Turf New Years started when my brother, cousins and I were in high school. My mother and her sisters used these delicacies to lure us into spending time with the family before we dashed off to our respective New Years Eve parties. I have to say, it worked like a charm. Here’s a picture of me back in high school playing with live lobsters before they went into the pot:

The lure of underage drinking in a suburban basement full of teenagers had nothing on this

The lure of underage drinking in a suburban basement full of teenagers had nothing on this

This years smorgasbord was no exception. It was an impressive way to set off the new year. I should start by saying that it was my mother’s hope to finally ditch the tradition since all the kids in the family have flown the nest (except for me, the boomerang child), but her sisters talked her into the whole fiasco for at least one more year. So, my Aunt brought over the live lobsters, which were promptly steamed:

PITA, eat your heart out!

PETA, eat your heart out!

Another aunt brought over 15 pounds of NY strip steaks which were promptly rubbed with Emeril’s Essence, pan seared, and finished in the oven:

Arteries don't fail me now!

Arteries don’t fail me now!

And as the relatives marched in, the sides came with them. Course #1: NY strip with fries from Five Guys, caramelized onions, and my mom’s amazing, addictive mushroom-red wine sauce:

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Everyone loves my mom’s sauce. It goes great on beef or pasta. Here’s the recipe for those of you who were wondering:

My Mom’s Amazing Addictive Red Wine Mushroom Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 cup mushroom
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup of any good red drinking wine
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup flour

Slice any type of mushroom and put in a pan with 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook until they soften and brown. Add wine and let it simmer for about 3 minutes. Add beef broth and salt and let simmer on a low flame for 5 minutes. In a separate small pan melt 3 tablespoons of butter and add flour and mix. This is called a roux. Cook the roux for 2 minutes on a low flame, constantly stirring. Add the roux to the simmering sauce and stir until it thickens. And you’re done!

Course #2: The lobster:

Here's looking at you, kid.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

My family doesn’t mess around with lobster. I was raised Jewish but my parents obviously don’t keep a kosher home. My grandparents, however, were strictly kosher. Because they were deprived of shellfish for their entire childhoods, my mother and her sisters all developed a deep love affair with any and all shellfish. In my house, the live lobsters come home, they’re dropped into the boiling, unsalted, filtered water and my mother almost intuitively knows when they’re ready. They always come out tender and delicious and there’s always plenty of melted butter to go around.

Needless to say, it was a great way to start 2014.

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A taste of life with a service dog

Life with a service dog is not all butterflies and gumdrops. You’ll probably read a lot about the struggles I have to endure daily to maintain my dog’s training levels and hygiene, about getting harassed by the public and thrown out of places where I have a right to be, but then, again, there is a warm fuzzy size.

Daphne and I have been working together for almost 2 and a half years now. She is my rock. Many mornings, she is the reason I get out of bed, and the reason I leave the house. I still maintain that if I did not have Daphne, I would not have Stefan because she allows me to take those baby steps into life that are necessary to maintain relationships. I probably wouldn’t have started dating again if I did not have her to support me.

I’m childless and I still live with my parents. Daphne is the closest thing I have to a child and she is all I own in this world. She is my everything. So, when I stumbled upon this song and it reminded me of her, I had to make a tribute video.

The video shows scenes from our life, shots from the past 2.5 years. In it, you will see Daphne supporting me in good times and in bad, in celebration and in illness. It’s true, she is always by my side. She catches every tear and hears every chuckle. She’s an extension of me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“She’s got a way about her/don’t know what it is/but I know that I can’t live without her…”

The one ring

I have to say that my favorite Christmas gift was my biggest Christmas surprise. Before he left for his annual, month-long visit to Holland to visit his family for Christmas, Stefan managed to slip a little gift under my family’s Christmas tree without me knowing. It’s a lovely Lennox ring holder. The type you sit next to your bathroom sink to hold your ring while you shower:

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I didn’t even notice that it was there until Christmas morning. I was so surprised! I love surprises (as long as I don’t know they’re coming…Stefan knew if he even hinted that he had a Christmas gift for me, he’d have to tell me right away what it was!)

So, I finally took it out of the box today and placed it next to the sink and got around to taking a picture of it and posting it here, because it’s noteworthy…and it sort of inspired me to tell the story of my ring.

First, a little background on our love story: Stefan and I met in April 2012 after meeting briefly online. I found him after searching for people connected with my alma mater (he is a professor there). If it wasn’t love at first sight, it was certainly chemistry at first meeting. It was one of those first dates where you both leave and saying to yourselves, “I better play my cards right, because I can’t let this one go.”

It quickly became like, which effortlessly became love and we started talking about marriage in February. One night, while we were about to drift off to sleep, I came out and cautiously asked him if he would marry me. He told me, yes, but he wanted to do it right.

The day before Valentines Day we went to New York City in search of the perfect engagement ring. After hitting a few sketchy jewelry stores and finding out that my ideal ring was no longer made, we decided to just screw all reason and financial sensibility and head over to the original Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue. You know the one: huge, pink marble facade stretching up 7 or 8 floors, glass doors, giant cases of jewelry that had no place wearing a price tag but should really be in a museum:

We were ushered up to the diamond floor and Stefan was very patient while I walked slowly from case to case salivating over each and every ring, trying everything on, loving every minute. I knew what I wanted. I have been looking at the original Tiffany’s setting with a 0.25 carat diamond since I was 12 years old. I don’t know why, as a 12 year old girl, dreaming of her engagement, I decided I wanted a 0.25 carat diamond. I remember telling my mother and watching her laugh and laugh. My mother is a trained and experienced gemologist. She picks and prices diamonds for a living. So when I showed her a picture of a solitaire ring with a center stone that, for her eye, may as well have been diamond dust, I can sort of see why she thought that was ridiculous. I mean, this is the “trendy” engagement ring for women my age right now:

But, I guess, even then, I saw the benefits of having a smaller ring. I can just slip gloves on over the ring; my dog can pull the leash out of my hand without the ring getting caught; I can quickly wash my hands with the ring on; I don’t have to worry about a million stones getting loose or falling out; and it doesn’t distract me, like, ever.

So, once I was done playing around at Tiffany’s, we settled in and told the salesman what I wanted. He said he could have it sized in two hours. We got dinner and came back. As the salesman brought out the ring, he brought champagne and snapped a picture of us.

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Afterwards, Stefan pocketed the ring and we headed out. Before we got to the elevator, he stopped me, got down on one knee, opened the small box, and said something along these lines:

“Laura, you know I really…um…really like you and…uh…errrr….I’m so glad we get to stick together…so…yeah…”

We hugged and kissed and the whole diamond floor clapped for us and I put on the ring, let out a cackle that was a little too eager and possibly a bit maniacal, and scampered, bug-eyed into the open doors of the elevator, leaving Stefan to eat my dust. I was honestly a little too close to becoming Gollum than I will ever be comfortable admitting.

Needless to say, I was very happy with the outcome of my ring. It didn’t really break the bank like you might think a Tiffany’s ring would, we had a great experience, and I think it’s beautiful:

05 on roll

13 HandEye

The ARE YOU KIDDING cake

I found this recipe online and I had to try it out. A moist, delicious, and most importantly endlessly creative cake with only 3 ingredients? It had to be a scam.

The person who posted this recipe claims she got it from an Amish woman, which means that you don’t need any fancy mixers to prepare it. So I sent my mother out to get the 3 ingredients and, curious to see if it would actually make something, she obliged. The 3 ingredients are:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 box cake mix (any flavor)
  • 1 can pie filling (any flavor)

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I chose yellow cake mix and peach pie filling, but you can actually choose, for example, yellow cake mix and cherry pie filling and the cake will come out pink! Check it out:

You can also choose blueberry pie filling and the cake comes out blue or chocolate cake mix and the cake comes out, well, chocolate.

The recipe claims that the cake comes out so moist and so delicious that you don’t even need to frost it.

So, then, the recipe says you put the three ingredients into a bowl, mix them well, and bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees. The whole thing from prep to clean-up took me 10 minutes. Pretty awesome if the cake comes out well.

When I took the cake out of the oven, it looked like this:

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I let it cool and took myself a piece:

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It’s freaking delicious! It’s got almost a pudding-cake kind of consistency, lighter than pound cake. It’s spotted on the inside with little pieces of peaches. The edges are crispy, like you would get on brownies.

Amazing. The cost of the ingredients is under $6 and the cook time from prep to clean-up can be as little as 10 minutes. Also, you can combine cake mix and pie filling flavors to make tons of different creative cakes. Some interesting cakes to try in the future:

  • Pineapple cake mix and blueberry filling
  • Chocolate cake mix and cherry filling
  • Yellow cake mix and cherry filling
  • Yellow cake mix and blueberry filling
  • Butter pecan cake mix and apple filling
  • Yellow cake mix and apple filling
  • Yellow cake mix and blackberry filling
  • Strawberry cake mix and blueberry filling

Are you kidding me?

Opening up a world of math for children

An engineer friend of mine just posted this article from the NY Times:

“Is Algebra Necessary?

A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.”

My friend made this comment:

“This is an old article, but having just finished what is likely my last ever math class, I start to wonder why I enjoyed and excelled in math in K-12. I do believe that most US students are told by their parents and teachers–not to mention by pop culture–that math is boring, uncool, and most harmfully, hard. I was never told that math was hard: I was told that math was fun and interesting and incredibly useful, thanks to encouraging parents and teachers, thanks to math-related activities like robotics and music. And so, it was.

STEM fields that demand algebraic thinking are expanding at astronomical rates. Eliminating or dumbing down algebra for all but the most talented students is certainly /not/ the answer if we want to continue to excel as a nation on the forefront of technology. But the current education systems of waiting until 7th, 8th, 9th grades to begin learning algebra and then teaching it sans applications and almost exclusively for standardized tests isn’t the right path either — and as the author asserts, it’s the primary catalyst for dropouts in both high school and college. I can certainly see both sides of this argument. No easy answers.

I agree. I always did well in math, but I don’t really remember enjoying it until the 12th grade. 12TH GRADE!!! Why? Because until then I didn’t have a single math teacher who taught with passion or even approached the subject with the idea that it could actually be fun or…even more importantly…a CREATIVE pursuit. 

In the 12th grade, I took AP AB Calc and I had a great teacher who taught with a great deal of passion and encouraged us to learn math in a creative way. When I graduated, he wrote in my yearbook that I was perhaps the best math student he had ever had.

But, by then it was too late. Math just was not on my priority list. I was 18 and going to college and I didn’t have the years of practice and passion behind me that it would take to excel in any mathematical pursuit in an Ivy league school. I can’t even imagine where I’d be now if I had been taught from a young age that math (or, God, even physics) could be creative, fun, and beautiful.

Now that I’m engaged to a mathematician, I find myself really envious of him at times that this whole amazing intellectual world of numbers was never really unlocked for me…and that’s the thing…it’s something that needs to be unlocked FOR you…from a young age…because it’s not obvious that math is a beautiful and creative pursuit. A 5 year old can listen to a symphony or view a painting and appreciate the beauty on some level, but a 5 year old can’t read a math publication and immediately become impassioned. Very few people naturally take to numbers from a young age…most of us have to be shown the possibilities, if that makes sense.

But, with computers it’s getting easier to expose children to math, physics, and engineering. I can tell you that if I ever have children, they will have a much different introduction to math than I had.

 

These collars sort of make me wish I was a dog…

In the dog world, the name Paco Collars never fails to draw a squeal of envy and wonder from an adoring public. I have only heard good things: lifetime warranty, cruelty free, rich, buttery leather, tasteful design, the list goes on and on.

For months I have agonized over whether or not to go all in and buy Daphne a Paco collar. After all, she is the Queen of Dogs and deserves the best. However, in the service dog world, there are certain reservations about having a collar like this one:

Paco’s “The Muggy” Collar

A few months ago I had the money all saved up to buy a collar like this one from Paco when I had a conversation with another service dog handler about her reservations when it comes to working dogs in a collar like this. Here are the basic points:

  1. The collar doesn’t have a safety release buckle. Service dogs can get into some sticky situations when working. This can include children jumping on them, paramedics pulling them away from an incapacitated handler, or having to navigate tight spaces where their collar could get caught. Because of this, a safety release (or “slide release” like THIS ONE) is generally a good idea. If the dog needs to be let out of the collar quickly, it can be done with one hand and it take less dexterity to navigate a large safety release than it does a large buckle.
    I thought this was a little paranoid when I heard it. I sometimes work Daphne in a chain martingale which has no buckle at all and this was issued standard by her program.
  2. Service dog gear should do its best to be understated. Most people think that service dogs have one job, to assist their disabled handler, but in reality they have two jobs. Their second job is to be as invisible as possible. Sometimes, more than half of a service dog’s training is dedicated to “Public Access Training” or the ability to behave quietly and calmly in a variety of environments that are not typically dog friendly. The main goal of public access training is to make the dog as invisible as possible in public. The dog learns to stay silent and at the handler’s side at all times, unless otherwise asked. She learns to crawl under restaurant tables and benches, sit silently for long periods of time, and disregard and not react to loud noises and visual stimuli.
    Thus, argued this unnamed service dog handler, the gear should follow suit. Bright colors should only be used in the vest as a warning and they should not distract the public (for example, pink camo was a distracting color for a vest while red was a good “warning” color). An expensive collar would only detract from Daphne’s awesome public access skills, and that would be such a shame.
    I thought this over and I also found this a bit paranoid. Daphne has gotten Public Access down to an art form. I mean, just last month, she met Steven Colbert and she stared him down like he was a Walmart greeter who didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to pet working service dogs. She has gotten the New York City Subway committed to memory and we often make her pass unofficial ADI Public Access Tests just for fun. Nevertheless, she is a babe. She’s a beautiful dog and she gets attention wherever we go. It just happens. I’ve come to accept that fact and she has never bothered anyone. I highly doubt that a collar, when thrown into the mix would make much of a difference in her being noticed or not noticed.
    That doesn’t just go for Daphne. I think if your service dog is properly trained in Public Access, it shouldn’t really matter what they’re wearing…within reason, of course.
  3. Leather and rhinestones can’t stand up to the abuse that working dogs give to their collars. True, perhaps, but I guess that’s where the lifetime warranty comes in. I guess I’ll have to contact Paco about that and see what they think. I certainly don’t have the energy for my dog to have a “fancy, at home” collar and a “working” collar. I am just too lazy to switch, but I’m sure Paco has a solution to that. Some of their collars look pretty tough.

So that’s my little song and dance about fancy gear. Now I just have to convince my cheap, disabled, unemployed butt to save up for one of these uber-expensive collars. Or maybe, if my blog gets popular enough I’ll get a gift from the Paco collar Gods, like the Dog Snobs did.

 

What does your honey do to make you feel better when you’re feeling down?

Stefan cooks for me when I’m feeling down.

Don’t tell him I told you this, but he’s not a very good cook (yet!). He puts bullion cubes in EVERYTHING, he boils cabbage and stinks up the place, he always manages to set off the smoke alarm (he has a magnet on his fridge from Amish country, one of those kitch things that little old ladies have with lace on the edges, it says “where there’s smoke you’ll find me cooking dinner!”), and no matter what, something will invariably go wrong.

But then, he’ll put out place mats, his little clay salt and pepper shakers from the France, sometimes a little vase with flowers, and dishware, and he’ll trot out each course, proud as a peacock, no matter what went wrong while he was making it.

The whole affair has me laughing my socks off. I try to rush to the kitchen to try to help and he pushes me out. I always have to turn on the plastic fan and lie it down on the floor pointing up at the smoke alarm so it doesn’t keep going off. By the time we’re ready to eat, I’ve forgotten whatever is bothering me and dinner always tastes good…even when it doesn’t. Very Happy

Oh, and he almost always has the same thing for dessert: Ben and Jerry’s Americone Dream. lol…so perfect for my immigrant fiance.

americone

The bundt whisperer

So the engagement party yielded an excess of eggnog, to say the least.

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It was a snowy day today so I decided to stay inside and do some baking, much to Daphne’s disappointment (she wanted to play ball in the blizzard!)

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I’m a better baker than I am a cook. I think it’s because you don’t have to worry about keeping baked goods warm. For some reason, when I cook, I have trouble juggling all the components of a meal so they all get to the table warm at the right time. I guess cooking is just too much pressure for me (which is explains why I’m a law school drop out).

I went with a bundt cake. It’s a Spiced Eggnog Bundt to be exact, inspired by this recipe. Ever since my famous Baily’s Irish Creme Chocolate Chip Bundt of 2011, I’ve been a bit of a “bundt whisperer”. I think it has a lot to do with the pan you use and how you finesse your pan. The key is to grease AND flour your pan before you put the batter in. Also, you need a nice, sturdy, metal pan. The kind that is heavy. If the pan is such a formidable piece of metal that there’s a chance you might burn yourself through the oven mitts when taking it out of the oven, it’s probably a good bundt pan.

I just took my bundt out of the oven. Here it is in all it’s glory:

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I’ll let you know how it comes out. 🙂

Edit:

It came out great. So, I introduce to you, for the first time, my holiday Spiced Eggnog Brandy Bundt Cake with Eggnog glaze

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