11th Anniversary Celebration

My husband and I always buy each other gifts based on the traditional or modern gifts for each anniversary year. Usually they aren’t anything big, but we try to be creative and get something the other one will like. Sometimes more successfully than others. The traditional gift for the 11th anniversary is steel. It is also apparently the year where we almost wound up giving each other the same thing. The only reason we didn’t is because I was waiting closer to our anniversary to order my gift and when we got home from some trip and were going through the mail I saw the return address on the package. I immediately opened up my computer, spun it around, showed my husband the tab that had been sitting open my browser for weeks, and said I guess I know what I’m getting for our anniversary. Sorry for the terrible pic, but I couldn’t find a way to take it without the shadow in it. It’s a map of Baltimore cut out of steel. He also threw in an ornament of Maryland.

20191020_120348

Since I didn’t think we needed two steel cutout maps of Baltimore I had to come up with something else. I wound up getting him an engraved spatula. I couldn’t resist using one of the silly puns I had seen on keychains replacing the word still with steel.

20191020_120423

To celebrate our anniversary we went out to dinner at The Black Olive. Somehow even though I’ve lived in Baltimore for over 19 years this was the first time I’ve been to The Black Olive. I mean when I first moved here and I was a poor twenty-something grad student it made sense, but now I go to plenty of restaurants at this price point. I guess there’s always been something newier and flashier that I wanted to try, but I finally decided it was time we made our way to The Black Olive.

It’s a Greek restaurant known for it’s fresh fish. They prepare whole fish that you can see in their fish case beforehand if you want. They then filet it at your table for you. I kind of wanted to try the lamb chops, but I figured on my first visit I should get some sort of fish since that’s their thing. I went with the bronzini, which is a Mediterranean sea bass. I suspect it was prepared in a way that I was supposed to eat the skin as well, but that creeps me out so I didn’t. It left the fish kind of bland even with the added sauce they poured on for me. If we go back again I’ll definitely try the lamb chops next time.

My husband had the veggie combo. I’m actually not entirely sure everything that was on it. There were definitely some mushrooms and a piece of village pie along with some other veggies and something neither of us could identify but almost seemed like a slice of baked stuffing. He really liked it. We started with saganaki plate which contained pan seared, paper-thin zucchini, tzatziki, two Greek cheeses Kefalograviera and Haloumi. It was all delicious. I would go back just to eat that again. For dessert we had baklava and a tarte tatin. They were both delicious as well. It was a nice meal, well paced with good service. I would definitely go back again at some point.

Happy 11th Anniversary to My Husband

Today my husband and I are celebrating our 11th anniversary. It’s been 11 wonderful years since we got married and 15 years since we started dating. It’s hard to believe that it has been that long. Time has flown by. Neither of us are super gushy romantic people. We don’t generally do the types of things that the culture at large would necessarily consider romantic, but I think the life we live together and the way we take care of each other is the best romance of all.

Me being me of course can think of no better way to express my love than through a song. If you read my post from yesterday, you’ll know I mentioned that I was bummed that Ray LaMontagne didn’t play my favorite song of his when I saw him on Wednesday night. That was partly because I already knew I was going to be using it in this anniversary post. If I had gotten married any later this song would have been the song I chose for our first dance. However, the album it’s on didn’t come out until four days before our wedding and somehow in that four days while I was in the midst of last minute wedding prep I did not find this song, fall in love with it, and then decide to make it our first dance song. (Our actual first dance song was Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” in case you were wondering.) I love this song and think it perfectly encapsulates our marriage because my husband is the best thing that ever happened to me. He makes my life better every day. I look forward to many more years together.

Summer Clothing Staples

I’m trying to get a little bit better about posting non-music stuff around here. Let’s face it, it’s probably still going to be like 90% music related content, but since no one who reads this blog cares that much I’m trying to mix it up every once in awhile. I used to try and write about stuff that makes me happy no matter how small. With summer starting to wind down (not that you’d know it based on this heat wave), I thought I would share a couple of my favorite summer clothing items.

I few years ago Target started making these tank tops. They were originally under one of the house clothing brands that Target retired. When I saw that they were getting rid of that brand I was super sad because I thought it meant these tank tops were going away, but they just started making them under the A New Day brand (which whenever I see the tags I always think says And Away). I own this tank top in approximately one million colors. Since white tanks get dirty so easy and the tanks are so cheap, when I need something to fill out an online Target order to get the free shipping I will toss one in my cart.

The other thing I absolutely love are these Abeo Kadie flip flips from The Walking Company. I posted here once before about a pair of flip flips that I loved, but bit the dust because they were so old and I wore them so much. Those flip flips having nothing on these. It took me literally years and so many wasted flip flop purchases to finally find a pair that I really loved and I felt like I could wear without tearing my feet apart. These are great. They are super comfortable. They have great arch support and most importantly the straps don’t rub at all. From the very first second I put them on I could wear them with no issues. I’ve owned far too many flip flips that I just hoped the straps would eventually soften up or my feet would get used to. Not so with these. I can wear them for long periods of time with no problems. They have never cut my feet or caused blisters. They are just plain comfortable. They are definitely more money than I ever wanted to pay for a pair of flip flops, but they’re really worth every penny. I wish that I had managed to snag another pair on summer clearance as backup before they sold out of my size. Now I just have to hope they bring them back again next summer.

Year of the Cookie

I’ve made no secret here about how the past couple of years have really worn on me psychologically. At the beginning of 2018 I felt like I really needed to do something to try and bring a little bit of joy into the world while also doing something to try and get me out of my funk. Also, around the same time I got an e-galley of the Sally’s Cookie Addiction cookbook. There were many delicious looking cookie recipes in it, but there is no way I was going to have any reason to try that many cookie recipes. That sparked my idea for Year of the Cookie. I thought I love to bake and people love eating my baked goods so why not send a little joy out into the world by making people cookies.

I put the word out on my social media accounts telling people that I had declared 2018 the Year of the Cookie and if they wanted to receive some cookies at some point during the year they should fill out the Google form I created, which in addition to name and address asked people what their allergies and dislikes were so I could hopefully make sure people got cookies they would like and be able to eat. I also found some take out containers that were cheap and would just fit inside the smallest USPS flat rate shipping box so that I could pay for all the shipping online for the ones that needed to be mailed.

I basically made cookies whenever I had a chance. Sometimes that meant several weekends in a row and other times there were long stretches in between batches due to travel and other life events. I tried to give everyone around a dozen cookies, but it mostly depended on how many fit inside the container I bought. Since most recipes make 2-3 dozen cookies multiple people got the same kind of cookie and I was able to give out multiple batches at a time. There wasn’t much rhyme or reason as to who got cookies in a given batch other than whether it didn’t have something they disliked or were allergic to in them, whether the cookies seemed like ones kids would like if the receivers had kids, and whether I just wanted to be able to drop cookies in the mail or whether I had time to drive around Baltimore dropping them off in people’s mailboxes.

My only other rule was that I wanted people to be surprised when they got them. Several people said oh I figured you would just bring me cookies at some point when we were already getting together, but I wanted people to receive a nice surprise one day when they opened up their mail (Year of the Cookie also taught me some of y’all don’t check your mail on the regular based on when I know they were delivered and when you let me know you got them.) or walked in their front door. Multiple people let me know that their cookies came at the perfect time when they were having a really crappy week, and I’m glad that serendipity worked out but am also just as happy for the people who just got a little bit of joy in their day. It made me feel good to see my cookies pop up on people’s social media and know I made someone’s day.

I also loved the people who told me how much they loved this project and were really happy following along with it even though they didn’t want any cookies of their own. That was something I hadn’t anticipated, and it’s nice to know that I brought even more joy into the world than I thought I would be when I started this project.

I do have a list of all the types of cookies I made during the year, but I unfortunately don’t know what the exact recipes were for all of them. I often just googled for a recipe and didn’t keep track of which specific one I used when it was a pretty generic cookie. The list of cookies is below. I linked to the recipes I know that I used. The ones with (SCA) beside them are recipes that came from the Sally’s Cookie Addiction cookbook, and most of those recipes are not online.

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies (SCA) – These were the first cookies I made for the Year of the Cookie, and I think it was one of my favorites.

Funfetti Chocolate Chip (SCA)

Homemade Berger Cookies – I thought the cookie part of these was decent, but the cookie is kind of beside the point with Berger cookies. The fudge topping tasted nothing like a Berger cookie. I’ve been wanting to try these again but swapping in my own attempt at the frosting.

Ginger Pistachio (SCA)

Rolled Sugar Cookies

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip – These tasted good, but I thought they turned out a little flat.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chai Spiced Shortbread (SCA)

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cookies (SCA)

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

Chocolate cookies with Chocolate and White Chocolate Chips

M&M Cookies

Lemon Ricotta Cookies 

Lemon Sugar Cookies

Funfetti Cookie Pizza (SCA)

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies – I’m not sure what recipe I used for these, but you wouldn’t want to use it anyway. They were blah enough that I wound up not even sending these cookies to anyone.

Koulourakia (Greek Easter Cookies) – I don’t know what recipe I used, but it was one without sesame seeds

Toffee Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies – These were probably my favorite cookies that I could make for any occasion.

Brownie Cookies

Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie – This recipe says you can use a 10-inch or 12-inch skillet, but I made it in a 12-inch skillet and I wouldn’t make it in anything smaller.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – I hate oatmeal raisin cookies. Raisins are the devil’s fruit and these cookies are evil because they too often masquerade as chocolate chip until you’ve bitten into one. I swore when I started this project that I would not bake any cookies with raisins in them, but when my uncle, aunt, and parents visited me in May they were all going on about how delicious it oatmeal raisin cookies are and how it is really too bad I wouldn’t make any, so because I love my family I went against my own rules and sent the these cookies.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Soft Ginger Cookies – These cookies were probably my favorite overall cookie from the year, but they seem very season specific so they can’t be an all around go to cookie. They are super soft and almost melt in your mouth. This recipe is definitely a winner.

Eggnog Cookies – I don’t really like drinking egg nog because I don’t like the consistency, but I like the flavor of eggnog. These cookies are the perfect delivery system for that eggnog flavor.

It was a really fun project and I’m glad I did it, but to answer the question everyone has been asking as the year comes to a close, no I will not be doing it or something else in 2019. I will still be baking, but not on this scale. Also cookies are really the only realistic food I could do this with. Nothing else mails as well. It also was not a cheap project between the supplies for the actual baking and spending $7.20 on every batch that had to be sent via the mail, so I think I’ll be giving my wallet a little bit of a break in 2019 too. I’m super happy I made 2018 the Year of the Cookie. It did exactly what I wanted it to do and more.

40th Birthday Celebrations

I turned 40 a few days ago. I’m not bothered by turning 40, but I know it’s one of those ages that’s supposed to be a big milestone birthday (although by the amount of 50 related birthday things compared to 40, I think 50 may be the new 40). Honestly the only birthday that ever really bothered me was 36 of all ages. I think because that felt firmly middle aged and sent me into a new demographic category that did not include any 20s.

Anyway, I used turning 40 to have some fun celebrations. I know a lot of people do big trips or something like that for their 40th, but I wanted to do something that let me celebrate with all my friends. I knew that if a good number of my friends were going to come I had to make it a kid friendly event, so I decided on renting a pavilion at a park and having it catered.

Really I had been literally thinking for years about having blacksauce kitchen cater a 40th birthday party. Alas that dream was not to be fulfilled as they suffered a fire a few months ago and told me they currently didn’t have the capacity in their temporary space to cater a party that size. As my second choice I went with Blue Pit BBQ, which lets be honest is still a great option. I rounded it out with fruit and veggie trays from Eddie’s. I also got my cake from Eddie’s because I’m not going to lie as much as I love more sophisticated cakes I will forever and always associate birthday cake with sheet cake. Give me that overly sweet frosting with tons of it piled on in roses and other decorations. I mean not all sheet cake is good. Some of it’s pretty terrible, overly dry or made with that oil slick whipped frosting which should be outlawed. Eddie’s however makes an A+ sheet cake and it was exactly what I wanted for my birthday cake. And because my friend Alison is the best she surprised me with tons and tons (I have no idea how many, but there were a lot) of biscuits from Mason Dixon Biscuit Company to make up for my inability to have my blacksauce biscuits for my birthday.

I wound up renting a pavilion in Wilson Point Park in Middle River. I had never been there before or even heard of it as I have spent little to no time in Middle River in all my years in Maryland. I was just searching around online trying to find a park that had a pavilion big enough. A lot of them topped out at 40-50 people. Ultimately one of those would have been fine, but since I was inviting around 80 people I wanted to get something big enough in case most people showed. I found the website for Wilson Point Park that said they had a pavilion big enough, but I wasn’t sure since I didn’t know anything about the park. God bless the person who posted this video on YouTube because it’s pretty much what sold me on it. I did a quick drive by in February to make sure it did look okay in person, which it did. After going out there and realizing its location near I-695 and I-95 I also thought it would be a nice sort of central location for my friends who would be coming from all over the Baltimore area. It also had a nice big parking lot so there were no worries about parking. And there was also a nice big playground near the pavilion for the kids to play on. There was also plenty of lawn space to set up various lawn games as well.

I couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. After months and months of seemingly endless rain here in Baltimore the weather on Saturday was gorgeous. There was a nice breeze and the shade of the pavilion made it the perfect temperature.

It was so nice to have so many of my friends gathered in one place. It made me feel very special to have so many people come out to help me celebrate, and made me realize how blessed I am to have so many wonderful people in my life. The day went by way too fast and I definitely didn’t get to spend as much time with everyone as I would have liked. I feel like there were some people I didn’t really get to talk to at all, but I hope they had a great time and know that I appreciate them being there. It was the perfect day and just what I wanted.

The party on Saturday was my big celebration, but I of course had to celebrate on my actual birthday. I took the day off work because I try to never work on my birthday if I don’t have to. I started the day off with a massage. Then I took myself to the movies to see Hearts Beat Loud. It was a sweet little movie starring Nick Offerman as a single dad whose daughter is about to leave for college. They manage to write a song that gets some traction on Spotify causing him to try and use that as an excuse to keep her at home while she’s still trying to spread her wings. There was lots of great stuff for the music lover in me along with a wonderful story about family and support and letting go.

My final birthday fun was making my husband take me out to a fancy dinner at The Charleston. It’s been Baltimore’s most renowned fancy restaurant since I can remember helmed by multiple James Beard Award nominee Cindy Wolf. The menu is presented as a tasting menu with around 20 dishes on it and you decided how many courses you would like from 3-6. It’s not like a prix fixe menu where you get one appetizer, one main, and one dessert or something like that. With this you could order 6 meats if you wanted. Their dessert is also included in the meal and not counted as one of your courses. Even so it is definitely pricy and something I always had a hard time justifying to myself. In addition, the menu is definitely meat heavy so it felt doubly hard to justify going with my vegetarian husband. He even whined about it when I told him we were going. But as with all fancy restaurants where they are actually prepping the meals from scratch and not reheating something they ordered from U.S. Foodservice or somesuch, they were able to make him something not on the menu. He ultimately wound up having a better experience than I did. I had notified them during the reservation, and they addressed it as soon as we got there and walked him through the veggie friendly options already on the menu and then pointed out some of the things that could be easily converted to vegetarian. And then said they could put something else together with any other ingredients on the menu. He wound up getting essentially one dish from each category.

Ultimately I think he enjoyed his dinner more than I did mine. Either it didn’t say on the menu or I missed it but I didn’t expect the seafood in my second course to be curried. If I had known I would have ordered something else so that was disappointing, but completely my fault. Even though I don’t love that curry flavor the dish was still good and probably would have been great to someone who loves curry. The bronzino I ordered as my third course was delicious until I got the very center and it was not as done as I would have liked. There wasn’t enough left to bother saying anything about it. I have no doubt that if I had they very quickly would have brought me another piece of fish or replaced it with something else of my choosing as the service was very attentive and they even removed the beer my husband spilled from our bill. I am kind of still dreaming of the blue cheese that was in the salad I ordered as my first course though. My husband left extremely pleased with everything he ate. We’ll probably make it back for another special occasion at some point.

So far 40 has been a great year. Hopefully it keeps up.

Friendsgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The food is delicious and feels special because it’s really the only time of year that you eat it. There’s no pressure for figuring out gifts like there is at Christmas. Instead it’s a time to give thanks for all the things we already have.

One of the things I’m very thankful for is my friends. And one of the other great things about Thanksgiving is that it does lend itself to large gatherings of friends over a delicious Thanksgiving meal. I’ve participated in these Friendsgivings in various forms. Sometimes it’s like this year getting together with friends I don’t always get to see that often anymore over a delicious meal prior to the holiday. Sometimes it’s gathering together a group of Thanksgiving orphans who aren’t spending the holiday with their families on the actual holiday to share a Thanksgiving dinner, or gathering together with friends and having a potluck dinner with everyone’s Thanksgiving leftovers.

It’s always fun to see all the variations on the standard Thanksgiving food recipes that people have. Also there are always the random things people have that for some reason whether cultural or family tradition always show up on their Thanksgiving table. I’m still not ever eating that sauerkraut weirdo Marylanders think is Thanksgiving food though.

This year I had the pleasure of attending three different Friendsgiving meals over the last few weeks leading up to the holiday. They were all wonderful gatherings with friends, some of whom I definitely don’t get to see nearly enough anymore. I loved getting the chance to catch up on each other’s lives, share food, great conversation and laughter, and remember that these are all the things I’m thankful for. It’s been hard to focus on the good things this year, so it was nice to have some great reminders that there are still lots of simple good things in this world.

Happy 9th Anniversary to My Husband

Nine years ago today I made one of the best decisions of my life and said, I do to my husband Paul. I am grateful every day to have him in my life, and not just because he cooks dinner and does the laundry. That certainly doesn’t hurt though. I love how he makes me smile, and how we share the same clever sense of humor that may amuse only us. I appreciate that he puts up with me and lets me drag him to tons of concerts he doesn’t care about because he knows that I love them. He’s the best husband I could ask for and the perfect mate for me.

Unfortunately, due to a family emergency we aren’t spending our anniversary together this year, but I raise my glass to our nine years of marriage and look forward to celebrating many more in the future. Cheers!

 

Wren0262