Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hypothermia for a Cause!

Happy Thursday Lovelies!

For those of you who haven't seen my spam-like tweets and facebook posts, I am participating in the Annual Long Beach Polar Bear Splash in order to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

My cousin, Danny, has suffered from Chronic Kidney Disease since birth. At the end of 2007, when Danny was 13, his condition became very serious and he was placed on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. This was incredibly stressful, both emotionally and physically, for a boy of that age. He had to stop attending school (tutors came to the house), couldn't play sports, was rarely able to see his friends, and missed out on so much of the normal growing experiences of an 8th grade boy. A family member wrote to Make-A-Wish to explain Danny's situation, and Make-A-Wish contacted my Aunt and Uncle in order to grant Danny a wish. Since Danny was mostly confined to the house, Make-A-Wish gave his bedroom a complete New York Mets makeover - orange and blue checked carpet, blue walls, a customized Mets bedframe and dresser, and a brand new television to watch his favorite players on. Danny was able to reclaim some of the normalcy of being a young teenage boy.

My family owes a great deal to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Now, it is my turn to give back. The Long Beach Polar Bear Splash occurs on Sunday, February 7th (aka Superbowl Sunday). At 1:30PM, yours truly (along with several hundred other equally crazy people) will run headlong into the freezing Atlantic Ocean to raise money for this amazing organization.

Photo Credit: Long Beach Polar Bear website

If you would like to volunteer, participate, or donate, please visit my personal page.

Thank you!

(Note: I will also be participating in a walk to benefit the National Kidney Foundation in May. If you would like to participate, I will be posting details soon!)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cake and Beer...Wait, what?

About two weeks ago, my sisters and I took a "Cooking With Beer" class at A la Carte in Lynbrook (Long Island). I know that most people would be excited for something like this, but I'm not much of a beer drinker. Don't get me wrong; back during my early college career, I mainlined Natural Light like it was my job. Of course, it would usually involve me screwing my eyes shut, holding my nose and chugging, since I found the taste absolutely vile. Even now, after trying an assortment of brews and flavors from around the globe, I just can't drink the stuff. The smell of it alone can make me a little queasy.

So, when my sisters and I received the cooking lesson as Christmas gift from our dad and stepmom, I couldn't help but to feel a little bit of trepidation. My track record for cooking is bad enough, but cooking with beer? Ouch.

Ya know what?

It really wasn't that bad.

Unfortunately, I got stuck at the office and arrived about 15 minutes late, but I think it worked out because I ended up being assigned to workstation with one of my sisters. Our task: bake a Chocolate Stout Cake. At first, the idea of combining something so perfect like chocolate with something so icky (to me) like Guiness seemed sacrilege. Then again, stuffing a beer can up the rump of an uncooked chicken didn't seem too thrilling to me either. (Side Note: Doesn't the title "Beer Butt Chicken" make you giggle?)

Well, let's just say my concerns melted away the moment that I set my eyes on the 1lb of chopped chocolate. It is a glorious site to behold.

Anyway, we followed the directions and I cautiously combined the unsalted butter, stout, and cocoa until it was a smooth, creamy mixture. It was incredible to watch and I could hardly believe that it contained beer! We flew through the rest of the recipe and poured our completed batter into the buttered and parchment-lined baking pans. Once they were set in the ovens, we turned to the chocolate icing.

Chocolate. Icing.

Forget the wheel. Moveable type is overrated. Who cares about electricity? Chocolate icing is the most amazing thing ever invented by mankind.

And who knew it was so easy to make? Whipping cream and chopped chocolate...that's all. So easy! Just think, I can make it whenever I want! ...Do you know how FAT I am going to get now?!

Kidding. Or not.

Moving on...

We set the bowl of icing into an ice bath so that it would be cool enought to frost the cakes. The cakes themselves baked rather quickly, and I was happy to see that they not only didn't burn, but appeared to stay very moist.

We set them to cool and wandered around the rest of the kitchen to spy on the others.

Hehehe. Beer Butt Chicken. Okay, okay, I'll stop now.

When the cakes were cool enough, we set about frosting them and decorating them at our leisure, since everyone else was still putting the finishing touches on their dishes. My sister even added a bit of coconut to hers, which looked awesome.

I spent a lot of time trying to make a design with the frosting. It didn't turn out too well in the photo, but I was rather pleased with the actual results.

The cakes were delicious; very rich and moist, but not overpowering. I was really pleased with the results. When I have the time, I'm going to attempt to make one again, maybe this time in a bunt pan. While surfing the web, I've seen a few variations that look like they could be interesting. We'll see. I will certainly post the results of any such experiment.

That's all for now, lovelies!

Monday, January 25, 2010

For Whom The Meatball Rolls

As you may have guessed, I love me some cheesy titles. I giggle maniacally as I brainstorm the lamest of the lame...and yes, I am that easily amused. I hope they give you a chuckle, too.

So, Boyfriend's birthday was about a week ago and we decided to host a potluck party...mainly because last time we threw a party and cooked everything ourselves, barely anyone ate! So, in lieu of gifts, people were instead asked to bring a yummy dish. It ended up working out really well; there was plenty of food, yet only a limited amount of leftovers. Plus, it just so happens that mostly everyone in our circle of friends is a decent cook. Whoddathunkit?

Since everyone else was expected to cook, I thought it was only right that I also attempt to make something edible. I decided to make my grandma's famous (well, famous to our family, anyway) meatballs.

Guess what!

Not only did they come out edible, but they tasted good!

Of course, I wouldn't be me if I didn't have a story to go along with the recipe, a generalized version of which appears below...can't give out ALL of Grandma's secrets, now can I? :)

As you will see, the recipe calls for a few cloves of garlic. Is it so wrong that I was actually unsure of what constituted a "clove"? I've never cooked with garlic myself, and for some reason, I've always assumed that a clove referred to the whole, unpeeled item that you buy in a grocery store. I had about five "cloves" and I was sitting at my kitchen table, peeling and chopping until my fingertips were aching, all the while thinking to myself, "I never realized Grandma's meatballs had SO MUCH garlic in tastebuds must be warped". Luckily, I got a telephone call from my sister, a person who actually knows what she's doing in the kitchen. After letting suspicion gnaw at my gut, I finally plucked up the courage to risk ridicule and ask her exactly what a "clove" was.

Thank goodness. My sister's cackle of laughter was well worth the avoidance of killing my guests with garlic. Now I know the difference between a clove and a head of garlic, and my sister has fresh material to tease me with. And, Sis, if you're reading's okay, because I'm still the cute one. Ha.

My other brilliant move was to NOT pay attention to labels on breadcrumb packages. I'm sure the meatballs would have had an interesting texture had I left the Panko breadcrumbs in the mixture, but I realized my mistake before I worked them in, therefore saving myself 3lbs of meat and about $15. I just had to sit there for the next 10 minutes and pick out every single morsel. Sigh.

I'm beginning to wonder if my inability to cook is actually due to ditziness and impatience, instead of just lack of talent. Hmm...

Well, after all that, the meatballs still came out pretty darn well. I was so relieved! The recipe below makes about 20 good-sized meatballs and is fairly straightforward. I'm looking forward to making them again soon...hopefully withOUT the mishaps!

Grandma's Famous Meatballs
3lbs of ground beef
1 cup of plain breadcrumbs/crumbled stale Italian bread
1 cup grated cheese (parmesan or romano, whichever you prefer)
2 16oz cans of crushed tomatoes
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 eggs
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 cup of olive oil
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)

1. In a large pot, empty the cans of crushed tomatoes and set it aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine groud beef, salt, pepper, 2/3 of cheese, eggs, parsley, and garlic.
3. Slowly add breadcrumbs and water to mixture, kneading as you go. Roll mixture into meatball (about 2.5 inches in diameter).
4. Lightly oil a heavy skillet and brown meatballs until they are evenly cooked on all sides.
5. Add the meatballs and the final large spoonful of parmesan cheese to the pot, along wit a teaspoon of salt.
6. Cover the pot an bring to a boil. After sauce and meatballs are brought to a boil, let simmer for two hours.

AMOTW: Gigi Salon

Hello Lovelies!

It is (finally) that time again! This week's Astoria Merchant of the Week is Gigi Salon & Styling Studio.

Photo Credit:

Located on 30th Avenue and 35th Street, Gigi (an AVEDA concept salon) is within easy walking distance of the NW train and...well...most places in Astoria! I live on 36th Street and 23rd Avenue, and it takes me less than 10 minutes to get there by foot. People have been known to travel much farther for a great hairstyle; in fact, the last time I was there, I overheard one woman saying how she commuted from the Upper West Side just to have her hair done at Gigi!

When I first found the listing for Gigi on, I was a bit concerned that the atmosphere would be too elitist for my tastes. The last thing a woman wants is to feel uneasy while putting the fate of her precious locks into the hands of a stranger. However, when I arrived at the salon I was greeted with friendly smiles. After filling out a form for their client database, I was put into the capable hands of Lorin, who I have come to adore. She's a versatile stylist who seems to intuitively know what her customer wants. She takes the time to have a serious discussion with you about the gameplan for your hair, actually listens to what you have to say, before sending you off for a relaxing AVEDA shampoo and conditioning treatment. You can't help but to feel comfortable, whether you're going in for a routine trim, or something more extreme...say...chopping off all of your hair and dying it green.

I consider the pricing to be fairly reasonable, especially as Gigi's services are comparable to many upscale Manhattan salons (think Julien Farel or Frederic Fekkai). My haircuts with Lorin cost about $40, and they last 2-3 months. The last time I had my hair cut at Julien Farel, the shape only lasted about a month, and it was more than twice the price!

Another thing that I love about Gigi is that I don't feel pressured to buy the AVEDA products. I've been to so many salons where they borderline harass you into buying their products, and, being the sucker I am, I often found myself carting home a bottle or two of styling junk that would end up wasting away in the dark recesses under my bathroom sink. Since it is an AVEDA concept salon, the products are certainly demonstrated and are available to purchase if you should wish, but every session does not with a sales pitch.

I may try a few more salons, just to see what else is out there. After all, it doesn't hurt to experiment; hair always grows back. However, I know that I've definitely found consistent quality and service at Gigi. So, if you're new to the area or looking to switch salons, I suggest giving Gigi Salon & Styling Studio a try!

GIGI Salon & Styling Studio
AVEDA Concept Salon
34-17 30th Avenue
Astoria, NY 11103
T: 718.777.7755
A full list of salon services and prices is available on the website.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Back with a vengeance...and a few resolutions.

Happy New Year, Lovelies!

I'm sorry that I've been MIA for so long! Things have been ridiculously hectic at the office and I found myself working crazy hours with little time for my fun projects. The insanity has finally calmed down...just in time for the classes to start.


However, I'm taking it easy this semester in an effort to have more "Me Time". I'm intending to get back on a regular, weekly blogging schedule, and have a couple of draft posts that I'm tweaking. I expect to post the first one this upcoming weekend. I'm also working on a list of Astoria merchants that I plan on reviewing for the AMOTW series. If you have any suggestions, please send them along!

I'm also working on my resolutions for 2010. I know, I know...we're already 19 days into the new year. However, I'm an indecisive procrastinator with these things. So, here they are...

DDinAstoria's Resolutions for 2010

1) Stop being an indecisive procrastinator.
2) Proof read everything I write...before I click publish.
3) Follow through with my commitments/promises/intentions/resolutions.
4) Lose ~20lbs. Cliché, I know.
5) Make time for me.
6) Be happy.

HanaS. of Flickr.

What are your resolutions for 2010?