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?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

a beautiful sunset

Well, we are home safely after a very busy (but very important) weekend in Southern California. I'd forgotten how beautiful, and different from both Wisconsin and New York, the landscape is. Both the vigil and the funeral itself were lovely. It was abundantly clear why so many people loved Grandma Kroll -- and still do. Here's a look at a few notable places we went.

Grandma and Grandpa Kroll have been active members
of Padre Serra Catholic Parish for many years. It's gorgeous.

After the funeral, we went up to Conejo Mountain Cemetery
to see the rose garden where Grandma's ashes would be interred.
A fitting resting place for a person who lived such a beautiful life.

I was so excited to see citrus growing in peoples' yards!
On the way down Conejo Mountain, we even passed by a lemon grove, plus fields of berries, tomatoes, and corn.

On Saturday evening, the night of the funeral,
Wendy and Abigail got to see the Pacific for the first time.

And we all got to witness a very nice sunset.

On our way back to the airport, we thought we smelled a campfire.
But where you can see sky, you should be able to see a clear view
of the LA skyline and a mountain range.
It was the beginning of this week's forest fires.

Ian and I are so thankful we were able to go to California to remember Grandma Kroll along with many of her loved ones. But the whole time I kept thinking about how unprepared I am to lose any of our living family (and friends too). I know we'll all have to face losing each other some time, but for now, try to stick around, okay?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

funeral update

Because Grandma Kroll's funeral will be on Saturday, Ian and I can go together, so we'll wake up bright and early tomorrow (Friday) and take a 6:15 a.m. flight to Los Angeles. We're coordinating with Liz and Keith so we can travel together once we're on the ground. On Sunday morning, we'll fly back to New York, no layovers, and get back at 9:30 p.m.

Thanks for all your good words and thoughts, everybody. It really helps to know we have a support system!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

the other kind of news

I love posting good news on the blog, but because the reason I created it was to let you know what's going on in Ian's and my life, I feel the need to publish the bad stuff too. And, unfortunately, that's what I'm doing today.

This morning we got the sad news that Ian's grandma, Alda Kroll, has passed away. She had been in the hospital for a few days and things were bad enough that her three kids (including John, Ian's dad) flew to California to be with her, so we were prepared for the worst. Ian will be flying to California toward the end of the week so he can be with his family.

Because we lived so far apart, I only met Grandma Kroll twice. Ian and I were so happy that she was able to come to our wedding -- here she is, in top form at the dance! But even though I didn't know her well, I could tell that she was a kind woman who was very dedicated to her family, ready to welcome me into their ranks with open arms.

Please keep the Cliffe, Kroll, and Hunter families in your thoughts and prayers. I know they, and all of her loved ones, are really going to miss her.

photo by Kristin Johanneck

Sunday, October 5, 2008

when life gives you old bananas, make bread

A busy, haphazardly planned week resulted in an entire bunch of nasty brown bananas. But I beat the fruit flies to them! It was an exciting day at our house...homemade banana bread is a surefire sign of the arrival of fall (if you haven't figured it out, that's my favorite time of year).



And because nobody should be without this recipe, here it is:

banana bread
(adapted from Diane Matzdorf's recipe in the Saron Church Cookbook)
makes 1 standard-size loaf

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbl. sour milk
1 1/2 cups banana pulp (about 3 medium bananas)
1 tsp. vanilla (I use double-strength)

1) Preheat oven to 350 F; give loaf pan a good shot of cooking spray.
2) In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar; fold in eggs. Sift dry ingredients into butter mixture and give it a quick stir.
3) In a medium bowl, combine milk, bananas, and vanilla. Add to batter and stir until well combined; pour mixture into the loaf pan.
4) Bake 45 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
5) Remove from pan and allow to cool for 30 minutes before devouring.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Yesterday we had the pleasure of Chris and Monika's company (the newlyweds in my first-ever post). They were headed to a wedding in the area and took a detour so they could spend the evening with Ian and me.

Though we only had a few waking hours of "face time," we made the most of it...We went to our favorite neighborhood restaurant, Pisticci, for dinner; stopped at the corner wine store; talked and talked and talked; harrassed Bear; played some video games (it was a tie, as usual); and set up our air mattress (thanks, Colleen and Andy!), which took up the entirety of our living room floor space. Cozy. Then, the next morning, they were on their way. It was so good to see them!

And I knew you'd be dying to know...the steak frites Ian made on Wednesday turned out great. Ian also made apple tarte tatin for dessert. Everything was delicious!