Monthly Archives: April 2012

Out and About: Thomas Hooker Brewery

  1. Yesterday, I went on a tour of Thomas Hooker Brewery in Bloomfield, CT using a Living Social deal I had bought a while back.
  2. Mister E and I aren’t huge beer lovers, but still enjoy it from time to time.
  3. We got to see the entire operations of how the beer is brewed. I don’t remember much, except that you start off with barley and water in fermenters where you add the hops and yeast. Do you know that they can reuse the same yeast for multiple brews? The machines in the picture are the brighteners. I think that’s where they add the carbonation.
  4. This is Steve, our tour guide. He was pretty awesome and taught us cool facts like how beer never comes in contact with oxygen during the brewing process. And also that beer originally didn’t contain hops. Hops weren’t added to the beer until Europeans started making long sea voyages and were looking for a way to preserve the beer. This beer became known as Indian Pale Ale (or IPA).
  5. Did you see Steve’s shirt? It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me…
  6. …until I saw the back.
  7. During the tour, we were given a chance to taste the beer straight out of the fermenter. I didn’t particularly care for it, but I suppose a true beer lover might have.
  8. Thomas Hooker brewery runs all of their operations out of the one building. This machine is what they use to fill up the bottles.
  9. There were stacks and stacks of bottles everywhere.
  10. Likewise, boxes ready to be filled were also everywhere.
  11. I have a feeling that Mister E and the rest of the guys from our group did a better job of paying attention to what was said during the tour. In my defense, I had already sampled four beers by the time the tour started.
  12. With our admission, we were given a wrist band with ten tabs. Each tab got you one beer sample. The sample glasses were a little large in my opinion, so I only ended up using five of my tabs before calling it quits.
  13. The first beer I sampled was the Watermelon Ale which tasted amazingly like Watermelon. Steve said the sales of the Watermelon Ale alone was enough to sustain the entire company.
  14. Their second most popular beer is the Chocolate Truffle Stout. The beer had a delicious chocolate-y, coffee taste, but was quite strong. I managed to finish my sample, but don’t know if I would be able to finish an entire glass of it.
  15. The Nor’Easter Winter Lager was my absolute favorite beer so much so that I actually got a second sample of it. It was very light and smooth and didn’t leave me with any sort of aftertaste.
  16. It was a little unexpected, but Hooker Brewery had two XBox Kinects set up for people to play while tasting the beers. Jennifer and her boyfriend totally killed it.

Mint Oreo Truffles

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The other weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Lydia’s birthday party. I was quite excited since Lydia was planning the party herself and she has a great eye for details and all things fabulous. Although she would protest, she really would make a great event planner.

My friendship with Lydia goes a long way back, all the way to infancy, in fact. Before I moved to Florida when I was seven, I spent a great deal of time with Lydia from playing with our Littlest Pet Shop toys, sleeping over at each other’s houses, and attending one another’s birthday parties – I have a lot of childhood memories that include Lydia. After moving away to Florida, Lydia and I became pen pals and would write each other letters once to twice a month (this was before email became standard). So it was very special to reunite for a birthday celebration after missing the last 18 or so in our lives.

I’m on the left and Lydia’s on the right in the picture below.

True to her style, Lydia’s party was indeed fabulous. I think I nearly died three times that night from a food coma. You should check out her birthday recap for the full scoop of what was on the menu since everything she served was delectably tasty. Cookie dough cheesecake, anyone?

What really won me over though was the plate full of mint Oreo truffles.

Yes, mint.

Yes, mint Oreos in fact.

Yes, you read that right. Mint Oreo truffles.

When I was ready to leave the party, Lydia was kind enough to offer me some truffles to take home. I thought it would be rude to say that I would take them all (and the other half of that cookie dough cheesecake as well), so I very politely said that I would take two truffles – one for me and one for Mister E to enjoy the next day.

Except, let’s be real here. The next morning I woke up with a possible sugar hangover and two beautiful mint Oreo truffles staring at me in the face. Do you really think I was generous enough to save one for Mister E?

If you said yes, then you do not know me at all.

So naturally, I had to make my own batch of truffles. Whether I made them to give Mister E a chance to taste them or made them for myself so that I could eat as many as I wanted without judgement is not important. What is important is that these truffles are disproportionately tasty for being so simple to make.

Edits

Mint Oreo Truffles

(recipe adapted from Kraft and inspired by Lydia)
  1. Crush a container of mint Oreo cookies either in a food processor or in a plastic bag using a rolling pin
  2. Transfer cookie crumbs to a large bowl
  3. Stir in one package of softened cream cheese (I used non-fat)
  4. Roll mixture into 1 teaspoon size balls and place onto a wax paper lined cookie sheet
  5. Freeze the truffle balls (not completely necessary but freezing makes the truffles easier to work with)
  6. Melt chocolate (or the preferred Wilton green Candy Melts) at 30 second intervals in the microwave
  7. Dip frozen balls into melted chocolate (with the help of a fork or toothpick) and place onto a wax paper lined plate
  8. Optional – drizzle more melted chocolate on top
  9. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge or freeze for longer storage

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After Lydia told me how she made her mint Oreo truffles, I realized that I had used the same Kraft recipe to make original Oreo truffles years ago for my coworkers. I remember not being all that impressed at all with how they turned out and pretty much wrote the whole recipe off.

Let me reiterate here, these mint Oreo truffles are so delicious and beat out the original kind by a landslide! I think the use of the Wilton Candy Melts instead of chocolate also makes a huge difference.

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I’m surprised that I would even have to say this, but milk is a necessity of course.

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Oh, and I should warn you. You know how sometimes you make cookies but then freeze them all to help with portion control? It makes it easy to just pop one or two cookies out of the freezer at a time to satisfy a craving instead of eating the entire batch? Well, that’s what I planned to do with these truffles. Except there’s a catch. They’re still delicious when frozen! The inside part of the truffle doesn’t completely freeze, so it’s similar to eating an ice cream sandwich. Alright, you’ve been warned now. You’re going to have to find a better hiding spot than the freezer for these babies.

Craigslist Desk Makeover

Wow, as much as I enjoy DIY projects, I hate writing about them. I’ve been wanting to tell you guys about my desk makeover for weeks now but have just been dragging my feet on writing everything down. This post has just been chilling out in my draft folder and I’ve probably been averaging five words a day writing it. Geesh!

I was hoping to do a super-detailed write-up à la Young House Love, but guys, I just didn’t have it in me. So if you have any questions about my basic breakdown of steps, just feel free to ask in the comments section or email me and I’ll be sure to answer them!

So let’s start from the beginning. In Seattle, I had a pretty sweet nook area in my bedroom that worked out very well as a small office area. I had the Crate and Barrel Sloan Desk on one side and the Sloan Bookcases on the opposite wall (it looks like Crate and Barrel no longer carries the Sloan series in the oak finish that I have). I did my best to try to find a decent picture of my old bedroom, but this poor-quality cell phone picture was the best that I could do.

When I moved to Connecticut, I lost my very practical office nook and had to make due with a regular rectangle bedroom. I stuck my leaning desk against a wall in my bedroom where it just started to accumulate stuff. I’m too embarrassed to post a picture of what it looked like in my new bedroom since there was just so much crap on top of it. It quickly became apparent that my new setup just wasn’t practical and I wasn’t using it at all.

During last Fall, I decided that I would keep my eyes open for a desk on Craigslist. I wasn’t looking for anything fancy, just a simple table would suffice. I wasn’t diligent with searching, and would maybe check Craigslist once a week to see if anything caught my eye.

Finally in March, a desk popped up that seemed to fit the bill. Simple, plain, and cheap. The seller was asking for $40 for the desk, but I offered $25, so we ended up settling on $30.

For $30, I think the desk was a steal! It was in perfect condition with no dings or scratches and was made out of solid wood. I considered it to be a bonus that the desk came complete with a working drawer as well. The desk was the perfect size to fit right in front of my window, but I knew from the beginning that there were going to have to be some changes. For starters, the old, antique-looking handles had to go. Secondly, I wasn’t so sure how crazy I was about leaving the desk a natural wood color.

Since the desk was so cheap, I decided that I would try to make it over since I wouldn’t be out that much if I totally botched the job up. It never hurts to try, right?

I first started the makeover by sanding the desk down. I set up shop in the hallway within my apartment and just closed the area off by shutting the doors to the bathroom and bedroom and hanging a sheet over the open doorway to the living room. I donned on my sexy protective gear which consisted of a pair of safety glasses, a scarf wrapped around the lower half of my face that acted like a mask, and an old Pink hoodie to protect my hair from too much dust.

I first started out by trying to use a small power sander, but felt like I wasn’t making great progress with it. It was also really LOUD and I was afraid of making too much ruckus and disturbing my neighbors. I switched over to regular sandpaper, and although it took me F-O-R-E-V-E-R, it got the job done.

Oh, I don’t know if you can tell in the picture above, but there’s some sort of thin veneer panel covering the top of the desk. I suppose this was put there for to provide a smooth writing surface, but I was annoyed that they would ruin a quality piece of wood furniture by adding a veneer layer. As I learned from Young House Love, paint typically adheres better to a rough surface since it has something to grab on to,  so I attempted to sand the veneer layer a bit, but I didn’t have much luck.

Speaking of paint, I had selected this Better Homes and Gardens Interior Eggshell / Satin paint in white to use for my project. This time I set up shop out in my living room by laying an old blanket down to protect from any paint drips or splatters. Using a small foam roller, I applied three very, very, very light and thin layers of paint, allowing each layer ample time to dry in between. I also had a small foam brush that I used to get into some of the corners and crevices that the roller couldn’t reach.

When it came to the drawer, I knew that I wanted to replace the handles with either knobs or pulls. Each handle had two screw holes, so after removing the handles, I filled the innermost hole with wood filler. After the wood filler dried, I just used the sandpaper again to smooth it down and make it even with the surface.

To replace the handles, I selected these cheerful aqua drawer pulls from Anthropologie. I thought that the aqua color would be a fun contrast to what I had planned for the inside of the drawers… yellow!

From the very start, I knew that I wanted their to be a fun pop of color in the drawer. I spent some time searching for a yellow pattern shelf liner, but was coming up empty handed. It was then that I remembered reading on Young House Love a similar project of lining shelves without using shelf liner. I decided to go the same route and modge podge regular paper into the drawer.

(Oh, and see how the threaded part of the door pull sticks out in the photo above? I put a dremel on my birthday wishlist, so if I get it, I should be able to cut the screw down to size.)

With a little bit more searching, I found the most gorgeous yellow ikat pattern paper from Paper Mojo. I’m telling you, it was love at first sight. I measured the drawer and order two sheets of the paper which I cut down to size. Using a wide foam brush, I applied a very thin layer of Modge Podge (the matte kind) directly onto the wood drawer. Working quickly, I lined up the paper and pressed down firmly to make sure I had a strong bond. While letting that all dry, I threw some heavy books on top of the paper just for good measure in making sure that no bubbles or wrinkles appeared. After letting that sit overnight, I went back and painted a thin layer of Modge Podge directly onto the paper. I won’t lie, this part was scary since I was so afraid of ruining the paper somehow. The paper did seem to bubble or warp a little bit while still wet, but thankfully flattened out once dry.

Ok, so onto the final reveal!

Ta-da!

Let’s take a closer look at that drawer, shall we?

I picked up a clear drawer organizer from Bed, Bath, & Beyond so as not to hide any of the fun yellow print that was going on underneath. I quickly found that there was a small problem with the drawer however. Without a doubt, the drawer was my absolute favorite part of the desk makeover. So much so, that I kept opening the drawer every five minutes just to stare at it lovingly. Creepy. Who stares at drawers lovingly?

To help remedy the problem, I decided that I would make some fun desk accessories with the remaining pieces of the yellow ikat paper.

First up was making a coaster for the desk since I am never without coffee or water while sitting down. I had seen on several pins on Pinterest that showed making your own coasters by modge podging paper or photos onto bathroom tiles and made everything sound really simple. So, for $1.60, I picked up for plain bathroom tiles from Lowes and modge podged the yellow ikat paper onto them. I painted a thin layer of modge podge directly onto the tile and then after covering the tile with the paper and allowing it to dry, I painted two more thin layers of modge podge on top of the paper. I found small adhesive rubber feet at Target that I stuck onto the bottom so that the tile wouldn’t be sitting directly on top of the desk. So easy and cute! There’s a good chance that all of my friends and family will be receiving colorful coasters now as a gifts for all birthdays and holiday. Who doesn’t dislike water ring stains?

I also made a matching planter by using the same technique of modge-podging paper onto a clear container that I picked up from Target. That’s parsley in there which seems to be doing really well. It’s been alive for three weeks now and isn’t showing any signs of dying, which is pretty much a record for my black thumb.

I wanted to make sure that the yellow was balanced out by some more aqua, so I picked up a light blue candle from Target to go on one side of my desk and made an aqua and gold polka dot paper to go into a white frame. To make the polka dot paper, I dipped the end of a pencil eraser into some gold nail polish and stamped it onto heavy duty aqua paper that I picked up from Michael’s. I’m hoping to add a small picture to the frame so that the blue polka dot paper looks more like a matting, but that’s still a work in progress.

So there you have it, my $30 Craigslist desk transformed. I estimated that I probably spent about $40 on supplies to make over the desk and another $25 on desk accessories. So total, this project comes in under a $100!! Not too shabby, huh?

The desk is my new favorite place in my apartment and I love sitting there and watching the birds outside the window. And sitting at a proper desk to work on my computer sure beats my old setup of hunching over the coffee table in the living room. I’m sure my spine will thank me for this change later.

Oh, and just a quick note, I still have my doubts on how well the paint is going to hold up on that top layer of veneer. So far, it seems ok, but I’m being very careful to try not to chip it. I later learned that there are special paints that you can use for veneer, so if I end up repainting the top of the desk at some point, I’ll let you guys know!

Tomato, Basil, and Cheddar Soup

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It’s funny to think that as little as two years ago, I didn’t like tomato soup. I don’t know where this dislike stemmed from since I’m pretty sure I never even attempted to try tomato soup growing up and give it a fair chance.

What’s kind of cool and weird at the same time, is that with the help of this blog, my very first experience with tomato soup is even documented. While I might still have been on the fence about tomato soup after my first tasting, I can tell you, I’m a full-fledged lover now! Of course I’m partial to enjoying it with a grilled cheese sandwich to dunk in it. Or some buttered up crusty bread at the very minimum.

While I eat just about any variety of tomato soup now, my absolute favorite is Au Bon Pain’s Tomato Cheddar soup. Au Bon Pain soup was served in the cafeteria at my old company in Seattle and was a nice healthy alternative to the hamburgers that I was partial to. While I initially fell for the Potato and Leek soup, I found that the Tomato and Cheddar soup was a little bit of a healthier option.

The soups were on a rotating schedule, so the Tomato and Cheddar soup usually only made an appearance once a week. I swear, knowing that there was a yummy soup option in the cafeteria waiting for me at lunch just seemed to make the whole morning better. A good soup day was only surpassed by the cafeteria’s “International Week” where I might luck out one day by finding hummus and baba ganoush being served. These were accompanied by such diverse options such as Italian pepperoni pizza and Mexican beef tacos. Yes, the cafeteria certainly liked to branch out and introduce us to new foods during that week.

Er… but back to the tomato soup now. About a year ago, I swore to myself that I would try making a Tomato and Cheddar soup at home. Well, here we are a year later. But at least I finally did it! And yes, here I go again with the Greek yogurt…

Tomato, Basil, and Cheddar Soup

Makes 6 servings
  • 2 28-oz. cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup basil, chopped, loosely packed
  • 2 tsp of oregano
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:  Over medium heat, add the olive oil to a large pot. Add the chopped onion and allow to cook until tender, about three to four minutes. Add in chopped garlic and cook for an additional two minutes. Pour in the two cans of tomatoes (juice and all) and the vegetable stock. Stir in the basil, oregano, sugar, and salt and pepper. Place the lid back onto the pot and allow to simmer ten minutes. At the end, stir in the Greek yogurt and cheddar cheese until well blended. Use either an immersion blender or food processor to puree the soup if you prefer a smooth texture. Garnish with chopped basil and grated cheddar cheese if desired.

I bought an immersion blender back in January with the specific thought of making soups in mind. This was my first time putting it to the test, and I have to say that I am impressed! For those that aren’t familiar with an immersion blender (I wasn’t a year and a half ago!), it’s a large stick that comes with a blade attachment at the end. It works as exactly as it’s named. If you immerse the bladed end into food (like a chunky soup), it will blend just as if you had transferred the food into a real blender. And don’t worry, as long as you keep the blades immersed, it makes absolutely no mess! But keep those blades immersed… or else you could end up with tomato soup over half of your kitchen. Ahem.

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Easy Weeknight Dinner

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Last Monday night, Mister E came over to my apartment after work to hang out. It was nearing dinner time (as indicated by my rumbling belly), and I had nothing planned for meal time. I suggested that we go out to eat a restaurant that I had a Groupon for, but Mister E was pretty insistent on staying in.

I racked my brain for meal ideas before remembering a few canned items I had stashed in my pantry. And in less than ten minutes (!!!) we had a pretty fun make-your-own taco dinner ready.

On the tray was:

  • Shredded chicken (that came from a chicken breast that I poached the day before) mixed with enchilada sauce and heated in the microwave
  • a can of refried beans that were heated in the microwave
  • Chopped romaine lettuce
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Plain low-fat Greek yogurt
  • Grated cheddar cheese
  • Whole wheat tortillas
  • Although it might not have been the best dinner I’ve ever thrown together, it still managed to impress even me with how tasty it was. I’ve resolved to always make sure I have refried beans and enchilada sauce in my pantry and tortillas tucked away in the freezer.

    An added bonus was a few nights later, I threw all the leftovers into a bowl after being heated up and I had my own version of a Chipotle burrito bowl! Ok, so it wasn’t as good as a Chipotle bowl, but not bad considering it was leftovers of a dinner that came together in less than ten minutes!