Thursday, December 25, 2008

o christmas tree

Merry Christmas! I hope this finds all of you having a joyful, fun-filled day, whether or not you're celebrating Jesus' birth. Since none of you will probably see our home in its holiday finest, I'd like to show you our tree. We're very excited about it.

First off, I'm psyched because it's real! My family has always had artificial trees (albeit very realistic-looking ones), because poor Andrew is allergic to something conifer-related and, of course, we'd rather have a healthy, happy brother/son/self than a genuine Douglas fir.

Secondly, we practically cut it down ourselves. Well, not really. We did do some market research, though. On the day after Thanksgiving, a whole bunch of Christmas tree vendors set up shop along the sidewalks, so you'll probably hit one every 10 blocks or so. In our area, there happen to be two that are across the street from each other, so we were able to price things out by walking 20 yards. Boy, did we get a deal. (I don't really know if it's a steal or not, but it was less than we counted on spending, so it's a deal, no?)

Thirdly, we made all the decorations ourselves (except the hiding hog). I wish I could say it was because we are uber-creative and had planned it all along, but we just ran out of time. Nonetheless, they are lovely and we both think it's a wonderful first Christmas tree (yep, we've never had one that was exclusively ours).

Here's how it all went down:

Last Saturday: We picked out a tree. There had been an ice storm the night before, so everything was looking particularly rustic. We were hoping to get a three-footer. Not so much.

See? The place looks like a regular Christmas tree lot only skinnier. After the nice attendant got it all trimmed, packed up, and ready to go, we threw it in the trunk of a cab and took it home. How many of you can say that's how you got your tree home this year? Yes, we are an unusual bunch.

Last night: Remember how I said we bought 4,500 cookie cutters? Well most of them were Christmas- and winter-related ones. Ian made his favorite gingerbread cookies and cut out a few dozen for our tree (and more to eat).

And then our resident pastry chef decorated every single one of them. We finally finished everything at 2:45 this morning!

Today: Here it is! Our Christmas tree. It's so cute it's hard not to hug it!

We're planning to save our best ornaments (and, of course, the hiding hog) and make some other kind of ornament for next year's tree. Any ideas?

So, though this nice, relaxed holiday has been a welcome change of pace from the insanity of our everyday lives, "we miss you" barely begins to cover the way we're feeling today. Thank you all for your greetings from afar, and especially our families for the massive amount of gifts and goodies. You're beyond generous. We are so blessed to be loved by you and are looking forward to celebrating Christ's birth together once again.

How was your day?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

let it snow!

It. Is. Snowing! Here! In New York! Where the temperature has barely dipped below 40 since February.

The snow started at about quarter til one as I was getting ready to go to the gym during my lunch break. The first flakes were sparse (about one per cubic yard of sky), but they were humongous, as if the clouds were clogged and had finally burst.

(The view from my desk)

(And the view from The Knot Cafe -- wish I sat there.
But who am I to covet? At least I have a window!)
The snow has since tapered off, but it's still coming down. The cars and roofs have a nice dusting, and the swirling wind is creating little drifts where buildings meet the sidewalk. Hallelujah!
PS You may have been wondering for quite some time, and it is completely my fault for not explaining (after all, I've had nearly two-and-a-half years to do so)...My married (and professional) name is Ellie Martin Cliffe; well, Elizabeth, really. Not just Ellie Cliffe or good ol' Ellie Martin. I know many of you didn't know at all, so I forgive you. And if you're rebelling because you think it's dumb, humor me! It's my name, for Pete's sake. People don't take shortcuts with Sarah Jessica Parker. We wouldn't even know who Sarah Parker was. So say it with me. Ellie Martin Cliffe. There! You did it. Well done. Now please use it -- it's very much appreciated. And thanks to those of you who have been getting it right.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

it's beginning to look a lot like...

The first time Ian and I saw snow this year, we were cruising at an altitude of about 40,000 feet. We'd been getting fairly jealous of all the snow they're getting in we decided to see it for ourselves.

Actually, the white weather was only a perk -- we went to Waukesha to celebrate Ian (and to ring in his new year). We spent two very restorative days with some much-loved family (mine came too!), great friends, and delicious food.

Thanks to everybody who was able to make the weekend so special for us. You are an incredible group of people. It's good to be back in our New York routine, but we're definitely looking forward to another weekend like this in February...stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

for he's a jolly good fellow

Today my quest to feel more grown up reached a new milestone. My husband turned 28 years old. Sounds mature, right? Well that must mean that I, too, am mature, since I am married to him and such.

We both had to work (given our upcoming long weekend), but still managed to enjoy our evening at Double Crown, a new restaurant in the East Village that Ian has been wanting to try. We both agree it was phenomenal! If you like Indian and/or English food and ambience (it has, perhaps, the coolest decor I've ever seen), we're definitely going there when you come to visit.

Here is our Birthday Boy opening his gifts. (This is Heat by Bill Buford, a culinary memoir.) He's very thankful for everybody's good wishes.

Friday, November 28, 2008

giving thanks

As most of you know, we weren't able to travel home for Thanksgiving this year. Though we really missed spending the day with you, our loved ones, we had a fun time preparing dinner for two -- tiny roast turkey with thyme, cranberry-pinotage chutney, spicy roasted root vegetables, and Brussels sprouts with bacon; watching the parade (on TV this year); playing Christmas music for the first time in 2008 (I just can't help it!); and then visiting some friends for dessert.

At this time of thanksgiving, I want to pass along this message from our Waukesha chiropractor, Dr. Jason Lauer. I'm resolving to remember these things year round:
  • If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than a million that will not survive this week.
  • If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.
  • If you can attend a religious meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than 3 billion people in the world.
  • If you have a refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world.
  • If you have money in the bank or in your wallet and spare change in a dish someplace you are among the top 8% of the world's wealthy.
  • If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are thankful, you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.
  • If you can hold someone's hand, hug him or her, or even touch him or her on the shoulder, you are blessed because you can offer God's healing touch.
  • If you can read this message, you just received a double blessing in that someone was thinking of you and furthermore, you are more blessed than 2 billion people in the world who cannot read at all.
  • Refocus your energy on the good that happens every day. Refocus on the people you love. Focus on those that love you. Remove your focus from the things you can do nothing about.

I'm so thankful that all of you are a part of my life -- I am truly blessed. Be well.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

cookies for cookies' sake

A few weeks ago, my friend Caitlin brought some cookies she'd made to work. They were fantastic, and she was nice enough to give me the recipe. They're called Caramel Creme Sandwich Cookies, and though the process of making sandwich cookies sounds rather lengthy, I thought I'd give them a shot. (They turned out to be quite time-consuming...maybe a once-a-year project at most!)

I am a complete novice at making cut-out cookies,
so while Ian wasn't taking pictures, he was walking me through the steps.

I only had to re-roll three times
before it didn't wrap itself around my rolling pin.

Besides the fact that they're completely delicious,
I had four other reasons to bake these cookies:
a squirrel, an acorn, and a couple of leaves
(we bought about 84 seasonal cookie cutters last weekend).

My dough bore an uncanny resemblance to Great Britain. How appropriate (or ironic, take your pick), given my smashing apron. In case you were wondering, this is the Royal Stewart tartan...proudly worn by my great and formidable clan on my granddad's side.

Need cookie-cutting lessons? I am now an expert.

When recipes command me to "allow to cool before frosting," I automatically get antsy. Here, it was a breeze because they're so thin.

Ian got the job with the most glamour:
rolling the edges in sugar after I'd slathered on some icing.

The cookies turned out just as tasty as Caitlin's, although I think hers looked somewhat better (hers were just round, so they looked more uniform). I wouldn't recommend using any oddly shaped cookie cutters -- the rounder the better. The acorn-shaped cookies were definitely the easiest to assemble.

caramel creme sandwich cookies
makes a few dozen depending on your cookie cutter and how much dough you eat

(for the cookies)

3/4 cup brown sugar (pack it in!)
1 cup butter
1 egg yolk
2 cups all-purpose flour
(for the icing)
2 Tbl. butter
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 to 5 tsp. milk
Colored sugar for decorating

(for the cookies)

1) Heat oven to 325 F.
2) Beat brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy; add egg yolk. When it's well mixed, add the flour. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
3) Roll out the dough on a floured surface and and cut it into uniform shapes.
4) Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet lined with parchment paper for 10 to 14 minutes until golden. Cool completely.
(for the icing)
1) While the cookies are cooling, brown the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir often. Look for little brown specks in the melted butter. Remove from heat.
2) Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Stir in milk one teaspoon at a time until mixture has reached your desired consistency.
3) When the cookies have cooled, assemble the sandwiches.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

feeling a little more grown up

When did you start feeling like a real adult? I still don't (at least consistently). I've hit all these milestones: turning 18, starting college, turning 21, moving into my own apartment, graduating from college, buying a car, working in the "real world," getting engaged, getting married, moving half-way across the country without knowing a soul except for Ian and Eric McMiller...without ever experiencing an A-ha! I have reached maturity! moment. Ian feels the same way -- even friends who are in their thirties with kids have shared similar musings. I'm kind of embarrassed about it.

Today, however, I think we got a little bit closer. But first, some backstory: It's been a long road, which happened to start on my 24th birthday when Ian gave me a wonderful vintage rose print. It has lived in four different apartments, because we always had the intention of framing it, but we needed to find something to complement it. A Christmas or two later, Ian gave me a set of vintage flower notecards -- and we realized that they were what we'd been waiting for (they have only resided in three apartments).

That brings us to last weekend, when we finally took the prints to the very nice little framing shop nearby. The owner helped us pick out mats and some fantastic brown-black barnwood frames. On Thursday night, we got a call. The prints were ready! So we picked them up today when we had time to hang them together. On the way home, Ian said rather proudly, "Wow, I feel really mature." So did I. So did I. (For about five minutes.)

Here's one of the smaller prints.
It's a drawing of Ixia or African corn lily (the other is of narcissus).

Ladies and gentlemen, you are witnessing a rare occasion:
Mr. Let's Just Eyeball It is measuring.

We're both so pleased with how they turned out.
They look great with the toile bedding we bought for our most recent anniversary.

Now, don't go pitying Ian because his toile and flowery bedroom is feminine. He picked out everything. Didn't he do a nice job? (Trust me, it looks even better in person.)

Alright...I need to go find something to hit the ceiling with (or go into another room). My upstairs neighbor has been playing Frère Jacques on his new electric guitar for about an hour and I can't take it any more. Maybe I'll feel fully mature when we buy our own house...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

bucking tradition

Ian and I have a beloved Sunday routine. We wake up and turn on Sunday Morning. I make coffee while Ian makes breakfast. Then we get ready for church, go to worship, walk home, eat a quick lunch while we're making our grocery list, and then go to the store. Then we do some laundry and make a big, experimental dinner. Today we didn't do that.

It started out the same, but after church, Ian mentioned that he'd had a craving for food from one of our favorite hamburger joints, the Shake Shack (for those of you who've been to the Madison Square one, they've just opened a new location on the Upper West Side -- dangerous!). So we went. After a fantastic lunch, we wandered across the street to check out an event I'd never seen: a flea market.

Wow! What an interesting, weird collection of stuff! Ian and I braved the cold, windy weather to browse through antiques, arts and crafts, jewelry, books, military memorabilia, seashells, furniture, fur coats, statues, signs, boots...the whole gamut. This one happened to be a green flea market, so there was food too. I'm very excited to go back when it's a little bit warmer. (I have to visit the mirror I'm saving up for.) If you ever want to go flea-marketing, I'm definitely game.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

west harlem piers park

Yay! We have a new park! Originally scheduled to open last spring, it has been in the works for quite awhile. But the fences have finally been taken down, so Ian and I went to look around this afternoon -- perhaps one of the last warm days of the year.

The views from West Harlem Piers Park are especially gorgeous right now, with the colors in full brilliance across the Hudson in Edgewater, New Jersey, and the majestic George Washington Bridge is to the north (at night, it's covered in twinkling lights). I love the landscaping here, too. It incorporates a great combination of industrial and rustic shoreline influences to tie in the nearby tressels and the natural feel of the Hudson using metal, sand, timbers, concrete, and a variety of native plants.

I can tell this will be a highly valued spot in our neighborhood. Already, people are fishing from the piers and riding their bikes here, and I'm looking forward to watching sailboats come and go as soon as the docks are complete. So add this one to your must-do list when you come to visit.

Oh! Good news! Ian's restaurant got a great review from The New York Times. Even though it has only been public since Wednesday, the number of guests has been climbing steadily. So yay! (Another spot to add to your must-do list if you haven't already!)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to watch Cities of the Underworld. Yeah!

PS Did you notice the new haircut?

Monday, November 3, 2008

ho hum

Has this time change made anyone else feel weird? Jet-lagged perhaps? I have barely been able to keep my eyes open for the last two days, and if I'm gonna stay up til goodness-knows-when tomorrow night watching the election results come in, something's gotta happen stat!

This weekend, tons of cool stuff was happening in New York City. Halloween is a really big deal here. And the New York City Marathon was yesterday afternoon. Plus, a new park opened in our neighborhood. And we had nothing to do with any of it. So, sorry -- no photos this time.

There's not much to report from the Big Apple. Unlike Wisconsin and Illinois, New York doesn't have early voting (yet). I'm not sure what my workload looks like for tomorrow (some days I get home after 9), so I'm going to vote at 6 a.m. Our polling place is in Harlem, and it'll be interesting to see what the climate is like there. Ian is scheduled to work the breakfast and lunch shifts, so we get to have our own little election party. I'm relieved -- I didn't want to have to watch the results come in all alone.

Is anyone else nervous about what will happen on Wednesday? I think there are groups on both sides who could get violent if their guy doesn't win. I wonder how many Americans will call in sick.

Regardless, thanks to all of you who have been keeping in touch! We love hearing about your travels to Germany, Mexico, Paris, Napa, Ireland, and everywhere in between, plus all that's happening on the home front too. What interesting lives you all lead!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

over the river and through the woods

All week long, we've been itching to be in a more natural setting. We finally got our chance today -- it was 65 and sunny. A beautiful day for a hike. So we hopped on the 1 train and took it to the end of the line to Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx (it only took 25 minutes!).

Before we went to the park, we stopped across the street at Manhattan College. Oh, breaking news! Ian will be teaching an intro to religion course there next semester. It's a quaint, picturesque college with classic East Coast collegiate architecture.

Once we got to the park, we quickly found a trail. It was about an hour-long walk, and we only covered a small portion below the crease on the map Ian is holding. It's that big! The park has all the normal amenities too, like tons of sports fields, tennis courts, and even a big pool, barbecue areas, and a golf course!
The trail we took was in a woods, but it passed by a marshy area and a lake. Much more rustic than Central Park. We were amazed how much the landscape reminded us of our home state. Well, turns out that the Wisconsin Glacier was so enormous that it carved out the terrain here too.
When we finished our hike, we found the Van Cortlandt Mansion, built in 1748. George Washington used this house as a decoy during the Revolutionary War, keeping the fires burning here to distract the British while the American troops crossed over the Hudson River. And a few of the men in the Van Cortlandt family were mayors of New York.

We are really looking forward to coming back here. We plan to burn off some carbs on the Post-Turkey Super-Hike on the day after Thanksgiving, and the mansion is having a Colonial Christmas celebration.

I'm so happy we've discovered a spot that we can escape to if we're feeling boxed in. Do you have a place like that? I think everyone needs one.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

it's fall!

The way the forecasts were looking, I was afraid we'd go straight from unseasonably hot to bitter cold overnight, but fall is finally showing itself. I can smell it. And feel it -- I've finally been able to bring my amazing red coat out of dormancy. So on Tuesday night, I decide we should be able to taste it too. We declared it "No TV Night" and after dinner, when we'd normally immerse ourselves in TV, we opted to play a game of Scrabble instead, and enjoy a batch of baked apples. We ought to do that more often.

Not quite sure what to call this.
Apple Pie Innards sounds...unappetizing. Any ideas?
(Loosely based on Martha Stewart's Vanilla-Bean Baked Apples)

2 tart-sweet apples (peeling is optional; I used Macoun apples, my new favorite)
1 1/2 Tbl. light brown sugar, packed
2 tsp. butter, softened
1 1/2 Tbl. pecans, toasted and chopped (the toasting is so important here, so don't skip it!)
1/2 tsp. vanilla (I used double-strength, as usual)
Dash of salt

1) Preheat oven to 375 F.
2) Chop apples into die-sized chunks
3) In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, butter, pecans, vanilla, and salt.
4) In a loaf pan, combine with apples and stir well to coat.
5) Cover loaf pan with aluminum foil and bake until apples are soft but not disintegrating, about 25 minutes.
6) Remove foil and allow to cool down a bit before serving over vanilla, cinnamon, or caramel ice cream.


In other news, Jill and I went to The Libertine for dinner tonight. It was fantastic (I even tried sweetbreads). We even got to talk to Ian from time to time! I'm very excited to eat the 7/8 of my burger that I saved for lunch tomorrow (I had sooo much food -- I even tried sweetbreads and oysters!). Still stuffed. Anyway, the place is great, so I think it will just take a little more word-of-mouth and advertising and it will be packed every night. Now Jill and I are on a quest to encourage the Powers That Be to have The Knot holiday party in the upper lounge/library area before every night is booked for the next 42 years.

Oh, and I'm sure you're dying to know...Ian won. (And, thus, the battle rages on...)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

a weekend outing

Many of you know that Ian and I had planned to take our first non-friends-and-family-related vacation this weekend. Well, mostly -- John's cousin, Ginger, and her husband, Scott, own a B&B upstate, and we decided to visit them and get a change of scenery. Plus, we hear the foliage is gorgeous this time of year.

Anyway, both Ian and I ended up having to work this weekend (even though we'd asked off), so we decided that, rather than fighting with our employers, we'd postpone the trip til mid-November.

Instead of sitting around and moping today, when neither of us has to work, we decided to spend some time at the famous Union Square Greenmarket. It's such a cool place, we thought you might want to get an up-close look. So here we go...on another virtual field trip.

It was a beautiful morning -- albeit a bit chilly (52!) -- and we were both very excited for our trip. Instead of making breakfast here, we decided to try the brunch at a local French place.

I thought the trains weren't running downtown (they do a lot of construction on weekends), so we took a bus. That's rare for us. We hardly ever go places that you can't get to on the train (like the East Side).

The French restaurant, Cafe du Soleil, is on 104th and Broadway. It's adorable and has a great atmosphere, yummy food, and at least one very, very odd waiter. Oh well. We'll go back.

After a quick stop at Barnes & Noble, we got to the farmers' market. It's wrapped around three sides of Union Square. Clearly, the entire populus thought today was a good day to pick up some produce.

And bring their dogs.
Here are just a few of the farmers and their offerings:

Halfway through our visit, we saw some zombies. Yeah. At first we thought they were just a few weirdos celebrating Halloween early, but then we realized that they were actually part of a huge protest against the bailout. I was unaware that zombies use BlackBerrys too. I should have known.

Back to the farmers' market...We bought pears and apples for tarte tatin (tonight's dessert) and kale.

The wildlife who live in Union Square came right up to us (the camera wasn't zoomed in). Right after Ian took this, the squirrel charged us. We think it wanted to nibble on the kale.

After we got away from the squirrel, we stopped at Trader Joe's Wine Shop to stock up. (Unlike Wisconsin, wine and liquor aren't sold in New York grocery stores, so you have to make a special trip to buy it. I'm not sure if it's affected our purchasing trends or not...) This is Bear's Lair Viognier. If you like crisp whites, I highly recommend it. Plus, it only costs about $6.

It turns out that I was wrong about the trains, so we didn't have to take the bus for long. On our way home, we saw this great drummer playing really complicated and fast beats while some kids break-danced. They were great.

It was a very nice trip. We'll take you there on your next visit. But if you'll excuse me, I'm off to make some corn bread to go with the Texas Beef Brisket Chili (with squash!) and kale that we're having for dinner -- with that apple-pear tarte tatin for dessert. How much more autumnal can you get?