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Archive for May, 2009

Oh, boy.  Too many vacations lately.  Let’s see if being out of town has any effect on my spending.

May 22

  • mani/pedi: $29
  • lunch: $5.42
  • Borders: $14.82
  • pharmacy: $52.03
  • wine: $18.41

Total: $119.68

May 23 (with Chris’s family in Connecticut)

  • groceries: $26.40

Total: $26.40

May 24 (with Chris’s family)

  • Gap: $75.62
  • Banana Republic: $107.95

Total: $183.57

May 25 (with Chris’s family)

  • train tickets home: $27.50

Total: $27.50

May 26

  • Petco: $50.45
  • lunch: $11

Total: $61.45

Total:

May 27

  • lunch: $12
  • dinner: $5
  • cash for Nate to buy pizza, beer, etc. while he watches my cat: $40
  • pharmacy: $12

Total: $69

May 28 (Denver)

  • airport snacks: $25
  • tolls: $5
  • rental car for weekend: probably about $40 (we have yet to split it four ways)

Total: $70

It seems that spending a weekend with Chris’s family has a simlar effect to spending it with mine.  Due largely to their generosity, I find myself saving a lot of money.  Good thing Chris and I have plans to spend as many weekends with his parents this summer as possible!

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I have put this post off for too long. My cat Arthur arrived in the most inquisitive of moods on Feb. 15, and three months later, he’s fatter, funnier and sweeter than ever. Over those three months, I’ve had so much to share with my readers about this treat of a cat, but I wanted to wait until I could do the Arthur Experience justice.

Only now I’m in too deep! So rather than subject you to the entire first three months of Arthur and Me all at once, I’ll start at the beginning, and over the course of several blog posts, I’ll meander through the rest. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

Arthur’s former foster family gave him up because they believed that when he ran at breakneck speeds from one end of their apartment to the other he was taking out his anger on them. I can assure them that this is not true. Arthur does tear through the apartment on a regular basis, but he is not angry. No, the explanation is so much more simple: He is a cat!

When his previous family dropped him off, I was nervous. Would he like me? Would he adjust to his new home and family easily? Would he pee in my suitcases? But the dude put my worries quickly to rest. Within an hour, he’d made himself right at home:

Arthur introduces me to his habit of assuming the strangest sleeping positions.

From Day 1, Arthur introduces me to his habit of assuming the strangest sleeping positions. (Shhh. Don't tell my eBay customers that a cat slept all over their purchases!)

This was not before he’d thoroughly explored every inch of the house.  He commenced this exploration upon arrival with a beeline to my bedroom and a quick peep underneath the bed, politely avoiding all of the suitcases stored there just calling out for him to use them as litter boxes.  (Please note that my apartment has since been rearranged and gutted of much — but not all! — of the clutter you see here. Also note that that Huggies box contains books, not diapers for the baby I keep hidden in the back of my closet)

Arthur, more often referred to as The Panther or simply Panth, is a weird, hilarious cat. As his Adopt-a-Pet ad stated, he is not a lap cat, but that doesn’t mean he’s not affectionate. As time goes on, he is more and more willing to be petted, and if I ask him nicely, he’ll reach out his little snout and give me a kiss. He lets me know every day how important I am to him. Just in the past few weeks, he’s started to spend the entire night next to me in bed, migrating only slightly away to the window sill when he’s hit with insomnia. The other morning, I woke up to find him playing copycat:

IMG_0187

Yes, he runs through the apartment so fast he sounds like a stampede of actual panthers, and he meows incessantly at the top of his tiny cat lungs as soon as he hears me approach the apartment.  He sleeps all day in funny positions, and he follows me from room to room of the house, just to collapse upon arrival and fall asleep again.  He sits at any open window for hours on end, watching bugs fly by.

What could possibly be sweeter than all that?  Well, this:

Arthur was likely weaned too early (the Internet told me that), and one of the side effects of that is suckling into adulthood, a mimicry of all that nursing he missed out on. I haven’t yet identified what provokes Arthur’s suckling. I know he relied on it much more often when he was new here, and he’d suckle anything, including clothing I was currently wearing. Now he resorts to it only every once in a while, and always in bed. As you can see in this video, his two favorite things to suckle are the bedspread and his own toe.

Now, you tell me. Have you ever seen anything that adorable?

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On Tuesday night, Chris’s chef roommate Rob hosted a BBQ on the roof of their house.  Last summer, there were regular Thursday-night BBQs on that roof, and while the most exciting thing about the impending summer has been the return to Chris’s parents’ lake house in Connecticut, I’ve been looking forward to those BBQs, too.  They’re fun, and the food is always delicious, and they’re the perfect excuse for me to bake something.

Last year, my offerings included lemon bars, a cobbler or two, macaroni salad and guacamole. This year, I kicked it off with cupcakes.  I’ve been having a cupcake moment since I picked up a dozen Crumbs cakes after tutoring for Chris’s final bowling match last week, including one designed by Baba Booey:

The last time I made cupcakes, I made these tasty things for my Super Bowl Showdown with the Croque Madame.  They were a huge hit, particularly with me, so I went back to Peanut Butter and Julie to see if she had any other cupcake recipes. As luck would have it, she posted a new cupcake recipe in April!

And so I set to making White Chocolate Coconut Key Lime Cupcakes, though without the “Key,” since my grocery store only stocked regular old limes.  After my experience with the malt-shop cupcakes for the Super Bowl, which had me running all over Brooklyn looking for malt powder and cherry preserves, I was relieved that this recipe contained only the simplest of ingredients.  The most exotic thing required was white chocolate, and my heart picked up the pace when I got to that line of the recipe, but there it was in the baking aisle cozied up with the rest of the chocolate. Phew!

Of course, I underestimated the number of limes needed for 1 1/4 cups of juice, so I had to make a second run midway through my prep for reinforcements. It’s not easy finding six limes at 9 p.m. in Brooklyn!

The cupcakes were darn good.  The cake was not too sweet, perhaps due to my use of unsweetened shredded coconut, of which I have an enormous bag that I bought for about 2 cents at an Indian grocery store in Queens last year.  The frosting, on the other hand, was incredibly sweet, quite possibly the most decadent frosting I’ve ever made.  And despite my fear of having heated the chocolate too long during the melting process, the white chocolate proved more resilient than dark chocolate, and it smoothed out perfectly when I added it to the buttercream.  It was appropriately rich, considering how much 12 ounces of white chocolate costs!  Luckily, we had the lime curd in the middle, which countered all that sweetness with just the right amount of tang.

(I should note that in her recipe, PBJ indicates that the curd should be piped into the cake. Perhaps I don’t have the right equipment for that process, because it didn’t work at all. I ended up just cutting a chunk of cake out from the middle, spooning in the curd, and then putting the cake back in place. Voila! BBQ-ers wondered how I did got that curd in there, but before I could arrive to protect my secret ways, Chris let the cat out of the bag.)

I’ll show you the cake in a second, but first I have to let you in on what evidently is some sort of cupcake conspiracy.

Before I’d chosen the coconut-lime cupcake recipe, I did a little searching.  I entered “best cupcake recipe” into Google, because I wanted to make nothing less than the best cupcake ever, and this was one of the top results:

I saw the name “Julie Hasson” and thought, Oh my!  Is PBJ publishing cookbooks under a slightly altered pen name? Because, readers, PBJ’s real name is Julie Hession, just a couple of letters away from Hasson.

No, it must just be a coincidence.  Except that one of the recipes in the Hasson book is for Malted Espresso Cakes With Malted Milk Icing.  And the Super Bowl recipe I made was officially called Double Chocolate Malt Shop Cupcakes With Cherry-Vanilla Buttercream.  Not an exact match, but too close for comfort, don’t you think?

I knew this matter needed to be investigated further, and I took it upon myself to do the dirty work.  Here are Julie Hession, left, and Julie Hasson, right, in photographic form:


As you can see, they are not the same person.

You might suspect Julie Hession of copying Julie Hasson’s recipe, but I assure that is not the case.  In fact, someone accused Hasson on her blog of copying the coconut-lime recipe, and here is her response:

I felt the need to return to this blog post and add a little note.  A friend of mine emailed me and said “Hey–great recipe!  Is it similar to the one that was made by the girl you competed against on Ultimate Recipe Showdown?”

Panic mode immediately set it when I read her email.  “Oh no!  Did I accidentally copy someone’s recipe and claim it as my own?   Noooooo!” I quickly rushed over to FoodNetwork.com to look atJamie’s recipe.  Although the titles are almost identicle, luckily, the recipes are different  (I would have just died if they were the same.)  That being said, I still think that I owe it to Jamie Nondorf to credit her with inspiring this recipe.  I must have stored her great idea somewhere in the back of my mind for future baking occasions.  Thank you, Jamie.

So it’s not plagiarism.  And you could try to convince me that it’s a coincidence, but I think it’s much more likely to be, yes, a Cupcake Conspiracy!  What, exactly, its perpetrators are attempting to conspire, I’m not sure.

Without further ado, here is that cake:

lime coco

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I worked from home yesterday, so that eliminated the need and even the temptation to buy my lunch, because who wants to go outside when you can just stay on the couch in your PJs?  Instead, I had a bowl of Cheerios with fresh strawberries.  If you haven’t had Cheerios recently, say since you were 12, you should really do something about that.  They’re delicious, even if they’re liars.

I did end up  buying dinner.  The plan was to use the vegetables left over from the salad we made on Monday and make a soup.  I had buttermilk left over from the cupcakes, so I turned to the Internets, which told me that you could indeed use buttermilk as a thickening agent in soup.   It turned out we had only half a head of broccoli and half a red pepper left over, so we picked up some cauliflower, more red pepper, leeks and red onion at the grocery store.  I cooked the vegetables in a little butter and then some chicken stock, and I pureed it all up in the blender, and a quick taste told me it was well on its way to being a very tasty soup!

So I poured in the buttermilk, and, I’ll be darned, total soup FAIL.  Internets, how you led me astray!

Admittedly, I did not pay attention to the Internets and how much buttermilk they recommended I add to soup, so I just poured in the whole carton (minus the cup or so I’d used in the cakes).  After all, the whole point was to get rid of the buttermilk!  It probably doesn’t take much to figure out that buttermilk made that soup taste like, well, buttermilk, which means it made it sour.  Chris couldn’t eat it.  I convinced myself that if I cooked it for a while longer, it’d be OK, and I eventually got down a bowl.  Luckily, Chris had made delicious turkey burgers, so he did not have to go hungry.

I’ve got the rest of that soup in Tupperwares in the freezer.  It remains to be seen whether I’ll be able to finish it.  The biggest frustration in all of this?  I also had heavy cream left over from the cupcakes (I know, those cupcakes were full of delicious and super healthy ingredients), and obviously if I’d just added the cream instead of the buttermilk, that soup would have been the best soup ever.  Adding cream has the tendency to transform ordinary things into culinary wonders!  But by the time I get back from Connecticut on Monday, with my luck, that cream’s going to have spoiled in my fickle refrigerator, making this into an even bigger FAIL.

So I spent 10 bones on vegetables that, if they’re lucky, will get eaten by me at some point down the road when the economic crisis morphs into a full-fledged disaster and the properly prepared pat themselves on the back as they dig up their indestructible canisters of Survival Seeds, leaving the gardenless among us to feast on age-old sour soup.

Big sigh. At least those were the only bones I spent!

May 21

  • groceries: $10

Total: $10

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Maybe I’ll start chronicling my spending on a weekly basis.  This is quickly becoming ridiculous.  Am I really letting almost a week go by between blog posts on a regular basis?  I’m horrified.

So, to the best of my recollection:

May 15

  • yogurt: $1.50 (the market in my work building robs me on a regular basis)

Total: $1.50!

May 16

Total: $0! (thanks, Mom and Dad)

May 17

  • pharmacy: $9.50

Total: $9.50

May 18

  • lunch: $12
  • groceries: $68
  • limes: $3

Total: $83

May 19

  • smoothie: $5
  • soda: $1.50

Total: $6.50

May 20

  • lunch: $13
  • pharmacy: $10.50

Total: $23.50

I just don’t see a lot of superfluous spending in there.  The big grocery bill was to make lime-coconut cupcakes with lime curd filling and white-chocolate buttercream, which I hope to highlight in a future post.  That was totally worth it, obviously.  The only thing I regularly spend too much on is my lunch, since I could easily bring it from home, and on snacks, since I don’t need them and they also make me fat.

But, in general, my spending feels under control.  Check this out: Tuesday after tutoring I stopped by Ann Taylor Loft.  And I left without buying a single thing!  I wasn’t even tempted by the sunglasses rack.

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At our holiday party in January, my boss told me that he had absolutely no problem with my working from home one day a week.  In fact, he vigorously encouraged me to do so.  But it was a holiday party, and I figured spirits were high and the holidays are a more generous time, so I didn’t take him too literally.  Since then, I’ve worked from home probably three times, less than once a month and certainly less than once a week.

Yesterday, in a stroke of genius, I decided to check with my bosses for permission to work from home today.  The idea was to come home from tutoring and do chores until the wee hours of morning but not be exhausted at work today because I’d be able to sleep during the time I’d usually shower and commute.  (Yes, I’m still in my pajamas.) I had plans, as I often do, to be incredibly productive.

And as often happens, I got nothing done last night.  Unless you count watching the season finale of “Criminal Minds” and playing about 75 games of Sudoku as getting something done.

So, already, today is a failure.  A waste of a precious work-from-home day!  I might as well have gone into the office.

And I just got an email that there’s a “strategy” meeting this afternoon.

Maybe I’m psychic, because I swear to you, readers, when I decided yesterday to work from home today, I thought, “I bet there’s going to be a meeting tomorrow, and I won’t be there.”

No, I kid.  I’m not psychic!  I had that thought because it’s an established pattern that on days I work from home, I get an email about a previously unannounced meeting or some other big company event.  The most memorable example of this was in March, when I stayed home to let my super into my apartment, and my department laid off a dozen or so people. I spent the next 12 hours terrified that I’d arrive at work the next morning to a locked computer and a voicemail from HR.

I’m hoping my boss is able to conference me in to this meeting.  Otherwise, it looks like I’m heading into the office soon, and that’s fine, except that it means I have to shower.  What a drag!

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Subway jams.

I tutor a fifth grader named Alejandro up to four nights a week. On Mondays and Tuesdays, he’s at his dad’s, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays, he’s at his mom’s.  The dad’s place is a straight shot up the East Side of Manhattan on the 4 to 86th Street and about an 8-minute walk from the station.  His mom’s is less convenient, because I have to transfer to the 6 to get off at 68th Street.  I hate transferring to the 6, especially at 59th, since it requires both descending a staircase and ascending an escalator.  Recently, I’ve started transferring across the platform at 42nd Street, which I prefer, even if it means adding an extra local stop or two to my ride.

This is all neither here nor there, except to say that in spite of the transferring, and in spite of the fact that there’s a Petco on the way to the station from the dad’s house and Petco’s got the best deal on Friskies canned food around (20 cans for $9!), I prefer the trip on Wednesdays and Thursdays because the 68th Street station’s got good music.

The acts change — once it was a young classical violinist, the other day a basoonist — but my ears are always hoping it’s the band that was there last night, made up of four older black men with gems of voices and harmonies that make you squirm.  One wears pastel-colored suits and very pointy leather shoes. The keyboardist wears sunglasses (in a subway station!) and a huge open-mouthed grin.  One of the guys is significantly older than the rest.   Last night, a woman joined them, and her voice was so lovely that when the 6 finally arrived, I considered skipping it and waiting around for the next one so I could hear her sing again.

Funny thing is, I can’t remember what she sang.  I haven’t been carrying my camera around lately, so I wasn’t able to grab a video of it to share with you, which makes me mad at my iPhone for not having video capabilities. (I’ll save that rant for another day.)

My rule is that if a subway or street act makes my day better — if I smile or laugh or keep beat with the music — then I give a dollar.  I neglected to do this once when a guy had somehow brought an actual piano, not a keyboard, down to the bottom level in Union Square (I still have no idea how he did it) and was playing show tunes.  I still regret that.  I owe that guy a dollar!

Last night, I kept my end of the bargain and gave my dollar as the song-I-can’t-remember came to a close and the 6 rolled up (impeccable timing).  Everyone on the platform clapped, and several people went up and shook the female singer’s hand.  One woman shouted for the singer to “keep on raging!”  Or something like that.

Was that a New York moment?  Where else can you listen, transfixed, with a group of total strangers, to a no-name band sing a song whose name you’ll quickly forget — and sing it so beautifully it brings tears to your eyes and makes you contemplate dropping the entire $80 check (made out to cash) you just received for trying to teach a homework-hating fifth graded how to write an outline?

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