Saturday, April 3, 2010

House Hunters

Before all this started, John and I imagined our house hunt to be fun and full of endless wonderful places. That's silly, right? Anyway, it definitely hasn't turned out that way.

The first day was bad. Bad bad bad. The first house, in fact, was so creepy crawly that we all wanted to go home and promptly shower after our five minute tour. We saw nothing of value that trip and would have returned with our heads hung so low as to be dragging on the floor if not for one house that was cute and clean but misrepresented. (I mean, at least it was clean.)

Day two we opted to forgo appointments and just drive around and scope out neighborhoods instead. It was a good plan that helped us eliminate (most) houses and gather a (small) list of ones to check out. Of course, that was when we thought one city was pretty decent. During the next week several people (some of whom grew up there) sang a song to the contrary.

So there went those houses.

That brings us to yesterday. Yesterday afternoon we checked out two houses. Both were sweet, both contendors. One is in an adorable neighborhood but needs more TLC than we expected. The other one is in a neighborhood that seems okay - not great - but is in terrific shape, save for the fact that it's a little tight space-wise.

And the more I think about things, the more I think I've kind of fallen in love with the first house - the first house from yesterday, not the creepy crawly original first house.

It's cute, right? It has a nice little front yard and a back yard with a deck. We would have to refinish the hardwood floor, which isn't a huge deal, and the whole place would need new carpeting (but there's only three rooms with carpeting). The kitchen needs some adjustments...

But it's cute and comfortable and has a good vibe. And I could totally see us living there.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


We have new neighbors, and last weekend I whipped up a batch of Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake (a la Annie's Eats) to bring over as they worked on repairing the house.

It turned out okay, but a major complaint was the cooking time and temp. The thing just cooked way too fast, leaving the chocolate chips a bit burnt and the entire cake a little dry. I saved it, though, by pulling off the worst of the chips and suggesting they enjoy a piece with a glass of milk or, of course, some coffee. I think part of the problem was my stove (it's old and I really don't think holds temperatures like it should) and using milk chocolate chips instead of something like bittersweet. I'm going to make it again with the changes.

And speaking of baking, I'm trying to decide on what to make for Easter Sunday dessert. Annie's Eats is my new fav food blog, and I know I'll be making her Cappuccino Cheesecake and maybe the Tropical Carrot Cake. There is going to be a couple guests who cannot have sugar and a couple others trying to stick to a diet, so I might make some sugar-free lemon tarts with fresh whipped cream and berries... still not the best diet food, but definitely better than a chocolate and liquor soaked cheesecake!

I picked up meringue because I want to test out this Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream (another recipe, of course, from Annie's Eats). It looks so delicious and I've been wanting to experiment with buttercreams for a while now. I adjusted my own buttercream recipe last week when making cupcakes for some local first graders, and I think it's undoubtedly improved.

Yes, they were Mardi Gras cupcakes for six-year-olds in March. Don't ask me - that's what was ordered.

I also want to start reading up on baking and pastry. I think I'm going to pick up some biography type books on chefs and also some with theory and the mechanics of things - I want to start finding out what stuff is and how things work and I don't want to wait until September! Now, to figure out which books to pick up...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Oh, irony.

It seems, since I haven't posted in a solid two months, that the name of this blog is apt.

Life has been hectic. No, hectic isn't even the word. Life has been insanely chaotic, at times in a good way and at other times in a suffocating kind of way.

There's been work, of course, eating up the minutes and hours every day from 9 to 5 and a good chunk of the time in between. There's been the wedding planning - oh, the wedding planning. Exciting and invigorating one second, stressful and debilitating the next. The good news is most major details have been ironed out (not without many, many arguments, mind you). The bad news is it's still five and a half months away, so there is plenty of time for more of those migraine-inducing aforementioned arguments. There's been heartache in a multitude of forms - the breaking up of loved ones' relationships and the plain old breaking up of loved ones. And in a totally unselfish way, there's been such extreme devastation and death with natural disasters, and just so many horrible stories in the news that jade your sense of humanity in the world.

That whole roller coaster analogy would fit in really well right about now, but the thing is, I've never liked roller coasters. All that screaming and stomach-dropping and idea that death could take you out at every dip and bend - not my sort of thing. So life, as of late? Not my sort of thing, either.

In any case, there's hope on the horizon. For one thing, spring is on its way. The snow (oh gosh, I didn't even mention the feet upon feet of paralyzing snow, did I?) has melted, the temperatures are rising and - very soon - there will be tulips and daffodils popping out of the ground and adding a bit of color to the landscape. I was even able to take Piper for a walk yesterday without a jacket. (It may have been a bit too soon for that, actually, but the sentiment was nice.)

Now, there's been lots of good stuff the past couple of months, too, and I'm certainly not one to drown in my sorrows. It's been hard - incredibly so sometimes - to be happy, but being happy always beats being sad, so I've been okay.

Oh, and the good things? I won two New Jersey Press Association awards - a first place in environmental writing and a third place in column writing. That's a state-wide award with a near-thousand entries per category for our division, so I was pretty happy about that. I've been cooking more and eating healthier. (I need to get back to the gym, but I was going regularly for quite a while in there, too.)

John and I are officially looking for a house, which is bittersweet for me, really. I can't wait to live with John and to marry him and to enjoy all of the benefits that come with that. I've also lived with Ryan for the past two years (and off and on through college before that), so it's going to be sad without her. It's amazing how well we get along. My friend Shanon always remarks that it astounds her two roommates could fight as little as Ryan and I do. In fact, you could barely call it fighting - if one of us gets annoyed or upset with the other, we typically remove ourselves from the situation and cool off and let it go. We don't hold grudges and - when the situation calls for it - we address the problem and talk it through... but rarely do we need to use all of these tactics, because rarely do we get upset with each other. It's going to be sad to lose someone like that in my every day life, but it will be so wonderful to gain someone like John. So, yeah ... bittersweet.

Anyway, life has been tumultuous, and I imagine it will continue to be so. There are so many wonderful things to look forward to (first house, wedding, school, new job), so all I have to do is keep that in mind. And I'm going to post on here more often, too. I really do love blogging. It's a way to unwind for me, and I certainly need that.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blanket of White

It snowed!

I love – LOVE – snow. I've yet to outgrow the excitement elicited by a good snowstorm. Last weekend Ocean City received 8 to 10 inches around the island, but some parts of New Jersey - like John up in Cherry Hill - were walloped by almost two feet of snow! There are few things cozier than sitting in a warm house, wrapping Christmas presents and sipping hot cocoa as the winds howl outside and snow falls from a night sky...

I hope we have a few more snowfalls before the end of winter. There's been predictions of this being a pretty crazy winter, snow-wise, but I never quite fall for the hype. Luckily, we decided to go shopping and get some snow shovels and salt just in case last week, which turned out to be a very good thing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cookie Crazed!

It's Christmastime, which in the Riley household always translated to cookie time. My mom and I (and my Mema before she passed away) bake thousands of cookies during the holidays, usually starting in late October. We give most of them out as gifts for Christmas - huge cookie platters, little decorative bags and boxes full ... you get the idea.

Since I'm living on my own now, my mom and I bake in our respective abodes and also do some baking days together. We take inventory of what cookies we're each baking so we don't overlap, too.

Last night I realized I'm way behind. I've made eight varieties so far (two with my mom, six on my own): Cranberry Cookies, Turtle Bars, Snickerdoodle Croissant Cookies, Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies, Zebra Cookies, Chocolate Peppermint Kiss Cookies, Sand Tarts and Italian Lemon Cookies. My mom is baking today, but to my knowledge hasn't had the chance to bake any other cookies to date. What this means is that we only have two weeks - two weeks! - to bake dozens of more varieties of cookies.

Tonight I'm doing sugar cookie snowflakes, but some of this batch is going to be for a cookie walk I'm co-organizing next week for the FoodBank. (Come to think of it, I still have to make two other types for that event, too.) Tomorrow I have a birthday cake to make for my friend's 3-year-old. Sunday I'm baking with friends, so that should give me a little more cookies, although not the mass quantities (double, triple batches) that I usually do on my own.

I guess what to do now is make a list of all the cookies I definitely want to bake this year, and then try to come up with some sort of schedule. I know my Mema's Raisin Puffs and my mom's Pecan Cups will make that list. What else? You'll have to just wait and see!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Merry Mixmas!

Since all the little packages are on their way to destinations around the country, I thought I'd post about the early holiday surprises I put together for friends and family this year. This was, in fact, a project I started last Christmas season, but I never got around to finishing them up. Better late then never, though, right?

Anyway, I made Christmas music mixes with some of what I think are the best holiday songs. I tend to lean toward more recent covers, although some of the best classic versions made the list, too.

I bought wintery scrapbooking papers (three types - blue/white snowflake, red snowflake and swirl candies) and made them into CD envelopes, with brads for closures. (That was the part I did last year.) I love how they turned out and kept my template for my future needs of cute CD envelopes. The CDs themselves I decorated with permanent markers, and each one says "Merry Mixmas" and the name of whoever it's for. The envelopes are closed with glittered tags.

I had to decorate the envelopes, too, of course. They all looked similar to the one for Jamie above, and the back of each one had a quote I love from the movie Elf: "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!" Because, naturally, I imagine everyone's going to be singing along to these mixes. Who can resist singing to Christmas music?

I can't wait until they arrive in everyone's mailboxes! My hope more than anything is that they just spread a bit of Christmas cheer.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Starbucks Christmas

I finally got my first Starbucks fix of the holiday season '09!

I knew our local shop made the Christmas-turnover on Monday, but I didn't want to go over by myself. (I know that sounds ridiculous, but my first Peppermint Mocha of the season is a huge deal to me, something I want to celebrate in good company.) I held out until last night, when John came over.

We each ordered a Peppermint Mocha and cookies (John got the polar bear sugar cookie; I got a chocolate chunk). I also picked up the new Starbucks holiday album, "Making Merry" (always a guaranteed good mix). I was practically squealing with excitement when we parked the car, and let's just say John didn't quite share my enthusiasm. He also wasn't too into my taking photos of the occasion, but to be fair, I only used the camera on my cell phone. (I could've busted out my huge camera from work, but I was trying to be considerate to John's fear of embarrassment in front of strangers.)

Anyway, here's the goods:

They tasted divine - a perfect blend of cool peppermint with bittersweet chocolate, topped with fluffy whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Seriously - what sounds better than that?

I love this year's theme and decorations. John and I critique every year (and still shake our heads at the whole paper-cone-wreath fiasco from 2005), and I think he agreed with me that this year's were pretty sweet. There's a whole "wish" theme going on, and the typeface has a fun, handwritten feel to it. The design is like a Christmas tree - lots of pine boughs and "hanging" ornaments.

Although, the decor is not as in-your-face-festive as usual, which I imagine some people are grateful for, but it left me wanting a little bit more. For one, there's no wreaths on the doors. There's always wreaths on the doors at Starbucks for Christmas, so that was a little sad. Howev, they did have these cool snowy pine bough decals across the windows and glass doors; the snowy theme was continued indoors, too.

So, overall? Great time. Excellent drink, festive atmosphere, perfect partner in crime - save for the whole not-quite-sharing my holiday obsession thing, of course. I wonder if it has something to do with his working in retail and having to listen to Christmas music around the clock?

Nah. Can't be that. ;)