Thursday, February 28, 2013

25a westbound: (more) cupcakes... and huntington village.

It's been two busy days out-of-town for work, but coming back to L.I. makes me feel as if spring is around the corner! The snow is mostly gone from the bit of land around the pond, and the pond itself has thawed completely. There's a lot of yard work to be done, and the euonymus bush (as well as another large bush that I can't identify) need to be ripped out. Fortunately our beautiful tree peony and weeping cherry tree survived the winter blizzard. ^_____^ The birds are a little more nutso than usual; for the past week we've been woken up consistently by House Wrens and Song Sparrows. As it gets warmer, the House Sparrows and European Starlings start coming back, at which point we switch the feeder entirely to Safflower seed.

In a follow-up to the 25a trip I took easterly, I decided to head west last Friday to Huntington Village. On the way, I stopped at Cupcake Couture in Smithtown, run by fellow Marylander (and Baltimorean! :-) John Johnson. I had high expectations for the cupcakes here; unfortunately now he has a high expectation for my shoes (since I came in wearing the iconic Old Gringo cowboy boots). The shop is cheery and spacious; flavours range from the traditional chocolate and vanilla to Cappuccino Chocolate Cherry and Guiness Beer Cake. The Vanilla Bean cupcake was fantastic; the icing on the Chocolate Confetti cupcake had a profound, German chocolate-y flavour. Pistachio was my favourite still. Jay Cardinal declared the frosting-to-cupcake ratio as "ideal", which is high praise indeed from the person who might be Suffolk County's most discerning cupcake consumer.

Cupcake Couture on Urbanspoon

Continuing on, I marveled at the beauty of drive. There are certain sections in the Centerport area of 25a that open up to the water so naturally, it's as if one is cracking open an oyster. The silhouette of the sailboats against the cloudy sky made me happy.

Huntington Village still continues to amaze me; even with a 90-minute pedestrian jaunt around the shops of the downtown, I still feel as though I haven't scratched the surface. Here are some places I enjoyed:

Ben's Garden: Ben's Garden runs the gamut, from artisan-made home and gardening decor to the shop's own line of stationary products, created by its namesake, Ben. The shop had an airy, natural, calming feel to it; while much of what was inside was pricey, a conscious consumer will appreciate the fact that the store's stock is unusal and handmade by artists. The decoupage trays were absolutely gorgeous and make for a very unique gift for celebrating the life events of family and friends.

Milk and Honey: Milk & Honey is an adorable misses' clothing boutique featuring affordable, retro-inspired brands like BB Dakota and Tulle, as well as edgy, handcrafted, small-production jewelry. They also have a boutique in Rockville Centre. If you like the Anthropologie or Free People look without the prices, check out this shop.(They also currently have excellent deals on winter knits and coats.)

Marsh's: On the other end of the clothing spectrum, if you'd prefer to drop a few grand on a clutch, there is always Marsh's, a luxury department store right in the downtown. I enjoyed perusing the spring collections of Escada and Helmut Lang and daydreaming about what it must have been like in the glory days of small, independently owned NYC-area department stores (the likes of which my mother grew up in. I still have her old hatboxes, meticulously preserved.) An average day shopping for some on the North Shore, and a fashion gallery for us poor folk who just appreciate the art form but don't feel like encountering it within the zoo that is The Shopping Mall.

The Crushed Olive: For the gourmand in your life. The scope of the balsamic vinegar selection is mind-boggling, and they also have a nice charcuterie. You can try out the various vinegars yourself, so it's a lot of fun picking out a product for a family member or friend. I highly reccomend the 18 Year Old Aged Modena and the "Cinnamon Pear" balsamic vinegars. They also have a Setauket location.

What's your favourite shop in Huntington Village?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

wednesday winter drive on 25a...

As I continue to enjoy my "stay"cation, a short trip along 25a was a necessity. 25a is one of my favourite roads on the Island, particularly the stretch from the Gold Coast through the Three Village area. The charming, historic homes have a New England feel, while the hilly, winding roads are as close to Northwest Jersey as I'll get. ;-) Since 25a's a stone's throw from Pond House, I decided to hop on in it at the junction in downtown Smithtown and ride it through to Historic Stony Brook.

One house after the next couldn't be cuter! It wasn't long before I reached St. James. The Episcopal parish there is lovely; it is also the namesake of the town. DH & I went to the Strawberry festival last year and had a good time. The Catholic parish of St. Peter and St. James is also remarkably picturesque, as is the St. James Fire Department, Deepwell's Farm, and the St. James General Store, the oldest continually running shop of its kind in the States.

As for shopping, first I stopped at Elements of Home, a home decorating store in St. James. They had lovely things in a wide price range, including rustic signs, kitchen accoutrements, garden accessories, costume jewelry, raz import birds (which I have a soft spot for, since they were a featured part of our wedding centerpieces :-) and fine antiques. In the same shopping plaza is a women's clothing boutique whose owner is retiring, and they are closing up shop. Most items there are 60% off, so if you're in need of evening wear, you'll definitely want to give this place a try. They have lines such as Tadashi and Nicole Miller.

Another happy discovery further along 25a was the newly-opened New York Stuffed Cone Company, located in a spacious storefront at 556-18 North Country Road. After talking with the friendly proprietors, I discovered they've been open for two days. The chocolate protein shake I had was made from non-fat yoghurt, low-fat milk, and a chocolate protein powder that reminded me of a chocolate marshmallow. I also ordered a coffee, which was excellent, bold and full-bodied. The crepes and the stuffed waffle with carmelized bacon intrigue me, so I'm thinking that might be a good post-Mass breakfast on Sunday with Jay Cardinal.

The New York Stuffed Cone Company on Urbanspoon

As I continued into Stony Brook, I had to stop at the piers across the street from the Three Village Inn. Inhaling the salt air is one of the happiest things I can think of, in fact it's one of the happiest things I've been doing long before I even could think. (Living by the water as an infant, I spent a lot of time on the water, at the beach, etc.) I don't think of going to the beach as a seasonal thing, but something to be enjoyed year-round. In fact, I revel in the changes of scenery with the seasons and hope someday my children will love taking advantage of being by the water.

I concluded my day at Stony Brook Village, a cluster of shops, restaurants and businesses. The best part was that Ann Taylor LOFT was having a sale, and I found 6 beautiful final sale tops and sweaters for $3.42 a piece. (Yes, you read right. They were 90-94% off, each. Wal-Mart can't beat prices like that.) They are all great transition-to-spring pieces: colorful ...and layer-able until it's warmer out. Some tees have feminine accents like princess seams, puff sleeves, and modest keyhole backs, while others had edgier details like unexpected zippers. Ladies: if you like a good deal and want to freshen up your wardrobe then run, don't walk, to LOFT.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

baby it's cold outside...

Howdy from Pond House. I'm sitting in the nook, watching the birds and pond from its windowed walls. As the snow squalls come and go, I'm grateful to be inside looking out rather than outside looking in. The birds sure are troopers! We have a new addition to the neighborhood, a Tufted Titmouse, who is especially cute. I'll look forward to his gentle "Peter-peter-peters" over the 6am wake-up calls from the House Wren any day.

Last night we had a friend over, and Jay Cardinal made a remarkable cauliflower soup with parmesan crisp, a blue cheese-roasted tomato-arugula souffle, and his specialty pizza.

Speaking of pizza, Fridays in Lent are a call not only to Catholic abstinence, but also a little creativity. ;-) When the thought of that commonplace Lenten carb wouldn't suffice, we decided to take advantage of the recently-opened Kushi Japanese Fusion on Smithtown Boulevard. Sushi has certainly gained a foothold in Long Island's culinary culture, and understandably so--- with the abundance of great local seafood, as well as plentiful seafood markets nearby in the city, there's a wealth of great fish to draw from. Unfortunately, as with most trends, there is plenty of mediocrity along with the good.

Kushi Japanese Fusion on Urbanspoon

Kushi did not disappoint. My husband enjoyed the King Crab Salad, dubbing it "light, well-balanced and flavourful".  I had to order the "2010 Roll" (whose reputation preceeds itself). The addition of the onion brought a pleasant textural component to the 2010, and the fish was very fresh. The standard Japanese fare of Gyoza, Shumai and Miso soup were all good. The staff were very speedy in putting together our order, and they couldn't have been more agreeable. I predict Kushi will become a favourite Lenten take-out place for us... give it a try!

Any thoughts on the new layout? I wanted something a little cleaner looking and thought it was time to make my own header. Time to brave the cold and get some good deals at the Hauppauge A.C. Moore and the Stony Brook Michael's. How are you enjoying your stay-cation, Long Island?

Friday, February 15, 2013


Today Jay Cardinal's birthday gift came in the mail from the South Shore. (Well, the first part, anyway... the second part is that I'm taking him to the Brandy Library after his work schedule calms down. :-)

Brown paper packages tied up with strings... shades of our favourite musical ;-)
It's been several months since Hurricane Sandy, but the impact is still palpable to many, especially those who lost everything ---their homes, their business--- and are now dealing with infinitismal amounts of red tape before getting their lives back in order. In addition to much-needed donations  that can be made through your local food pantry or house of worship, you can also raise awareness for the continued need of Hurricane Sandy relief by... well... wearing it on your sleeve.

A number of fashion lines have released Hurrican Sandy relief tees, the sales of which go to charitable institutions that benefit the efforts to help Long Islanders and New Jerseyans. One of these is New York's own, Weekdazed, a new clothing line with a humanitarian spin. 50% of the proceeds from their Limited Collection Hurricane Sandy T will go to the Red Cross and their relief efforts here on the Island.

The tee is soft and well-made; I liked it so much I ordered one for myself, too. Its slick design makes it a conversation starter. As the media news of Sandy victims lessens more and more but their need continues, it will be our job to keep that conversation going in as many creative ways as we can. Here's yet another little way we'll do just that.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

the good, the bad, and the humorous: my own winter storm nemo "top tens"...

Hiding female cardinal... so cute!

10. Snow-shovelling in vain Friday afternoon, while the onlooking Chickadee kept singing "Hey sweetie". (Only Chickadees look for wives when precipitation is falling at a rate of 3 inches an hour.)

9. Our house settling in new and wonderful places thanks to 30" of snow on the roof...

8. Driving south on Old Nichols Road on Tuesday morning. Town of Smithtown's portion was black asphalt; Town of Islip's was more like a third-world country.

7. The tree peony, forsythia and rhodies survived... the euonymus, er, not so much...

6. A colorful feeding frenzy on the birdfeeder and the finch sock.

5. White-throated sparrow taking up residence in the garage. You may be cute, but this is a single-family house, guy.

4. Getting stiffed by 3 snow removal services. Fourth time's a charm!

3. The incredible beauty of the Pond, no matter what the weather.

2. Smithtown is now famous ...for its bowling alley?

1. In spite of all the road condition drama, I thank God that my husband and family got home safe.

 White-throated Sparrow

Monday, February 11, 2013

dreaming of california pizza kitchen... I sit here and type, happily watching the sun go down and all that beautiful snow melt. (Yes, it was beautiful! But our infrastructure out here is seriously trapped in a time warp, and I have to go back to work at my bite-sized yet formidable career tomorrow morning.) Today I caught up on a lot of household chores. Our refrigerator is all kinds of gross, but as I discovered a few months ago, the door shelves come out and actually can go in the dishwasher. Yay!

California Pizza Kitchen on Urbanspoon

When Jay Cardinal and I are hungry for an early evening dinner date, one of our favourite places to go in a pinch is the California Pizza Kitchen at the Smith Haven Mall. If you get there on the early side it's a pretty quiet crowd, and you'll get seated quickly. The Arugula + Asparagus Salad is excellent, and we frequently order those as our salads and split an order of the Sesame Ginger Chicken Dumplings. We then split a pizza. As it turns out, the Pear + Gorgonzola Pie, minus the salad greens (which become overly wilted from the heat) but plus a topping of Applewood-smoked bacon (an additional charge) is a home run winner of a pie. Another plus of CPK is that they feature 3 oz. pours of most of their wine, so if you're a moderate drinker like myself, or if you're the type who might prefer to have a white with your appetizer and a red with dinner, you don't feel like you're wasting the booze, bucks or braincells. The Chocolate Souffle Cake is spongy and rich (think Valrhona-esque), and I like to order it sans ice cream to keep the calorie count out of Cheesecake Factory territory. DH prefers the new Salted Caramel Pudding, which comes out adorably presented in a Ball jar. For an uncomplicated and good time off hours, CPK is a fun, reasonably-priced date place with consistent cuisine.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

blizzard of 2013 photos

Reasons why I am tremendously grateful at this moment:
1. My husband is home safe.
2. Our family is home safe.
3. We have a well-constructed house.
4. We have electricity.

While I can't make a precise measurement, our neighbouring communities within Smithtown and surrounding towns like Huntington, Brookhaven and Islip have seen 27-30" inches of snow. That looks like a pretty accurate amount when you see the below depictions of our "snow mound" cars in the driveway.

Be safe, Long Island, and stay off the roads today!

 That is a doorway, a deck and a grill under there, somewhere.

 Feeding frenzy!

 Female cardinal

 That ball is actually a Mourning Dove, taking shelter in a Hemlock.
 Icicles: pretty, but never a good sign on a house.
 Whoops! We left the chicken shoes on the porch.
Those are cars...

Friday, February 8, 2013

s'now sight like a wet chicken...

Whether you sat in traffic for an extra two-and-a-half hours (like Jay Cardinal) or plugged away furiously and in vain at a driveway for most of the afternoon (like me), I hope that this message finds you and yours safe and sound. As I'm sure you'll agree, the latter is the most important thing, and it seems to instantly put the complications and annoyances in perspective.

On a lighter note (since you know by now the snow won't be), the chickens were naughty today! They insisted on cowering under the coop rather than enjoying the warmth inside--- eventually at sundown I had to root around underneath it, pick them up individually and place them in the coop. Managed to snap up a couple of funny shots of them. Enjoy, and be warm and well, Long Island!

smash*book love

Winter obsession, thy name is smash*book. As an avid scrapbooker for many years, I picked up a few of these at Michael's on sale some time ago, and they since sat and collected dust. The concept behind the smash*book is actually quite old--- it's really the sort of free-journalling/memory-saving that most of us did when we were younger, without concerns about it "looking neat" or "doing it right". Scrapbooking as a hobby continues to move more and more into one of two directions: Project Life esque albums (easy-to-complete, pre-designed templates) or smash*book style journals (both those mass-produced as well as those crafters make by hand.) While I tend to enjoy designing my own layouts, I like both of these trends and hope that people will find them accessible.

Here is my completed Pink ("Pretty") Folio... as you can see, the only problem is closing it! :-)

As compared with a tall, 12 oz. tea cup
I also completed a gender-neutral Teal ("Baby") Folio for my DSIL who's expecting. :-) Now I'm on to the Red ("Doodle") Folio, which will be a list-style journal, and the Cream ("Wedding") Folio, whose purposes speak for themselves. :-) I'm also planning on completing an Orange ("Eco") Folio for my BFF's birthday. If you can wait til these go on sale (i.e. this week they're $9.99 at Michael's) or use a coupon when they're at list price, it's not a bad deal. In addition to smash*book (which is a K&Company product), Michael's has also released their own "Creative Chaos" collection, which is a D-ring style binder with a lot of flexibility.
For those of you who enjoy being crafty, you can make a similar book for yourself out of a D-ring binder or a plain student composition book. If you have a sizeable collection of crafting supplies, this can be an even cheaper way to smash*book--- otherwise, purchasing a predesigned album on sale or with a coupon is probably the way to go. I've enjoyed integrating into my own albums the gracious talents of online graphic designers who put up "freebie" printables on their websites for the personal use of scrapbookers. While most of these are printable journal tags for Project Life albums, they can be used in any scrapbooking context. If you have a colour printer, it can't get much cheaper than this!
If you've been curious about scrapbooking but not sure where to begin, many chain craft stores offer reasonably priced classes and "crops". Long Island, how do you scrapbook?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

fannycakes review.

Looking for something different this Valentine's Day? There are few simple pleasures as universal in this country as a good cupcake. The fact that they've risen to an art form in recent years is not something I'm complaining about. Last week I happened upon an amazing bakery close by that offers a menu of more specialty cupcakes than you can shake a stick at. Fanny Cakes, newly opened this past fall, features a variety of remarkable flavours of cupcakes, as well as everyday and custom cakes. I went with the Berry Chocolate cupcake, which was moist, flavourful, and not cloyingly sweet. A convenient place to come if you're in the Nesconset area and are in need of dessert catering (or just a quick heavenly sugar fix). A bonus: they deliver!

Fanny Cakes on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 4, 2013

this place is for the birds (...but not the groundhogs.)

On my commute back to the island Saturday, I tuned into 1010WINS for the usual traffic report. Lucky me, the Groundhog Day news had come in. 4 of the 6 area groundhogs in the metro area predicted spring, while Melville Mel and Holbrook Hal predicted six more weeks of winter, leading the journalist to quip something to the effect of 'sorry, Long Island. Wonder if this means you'll still be stuck facing the remaining winter weather alone.' BAH. Upon sharing this with Jay Cardinal, his reaction was similar and included a suggestion that we hire better groundhogs.

I have to say that while I grew up in an area with much more wintry precipitation and sightly lower temperatures overall, there is something about the coastal winds we get out here that's very uncomfortable and really settles into one's bones. My lifelong tea addiction has increased, and letting our little darlings out of the coop each morning has truly proven our parental love. (Just in case a hurricane didn't.) It's funny, the chickens seem as excited about the cold as we are--- most mornings they poke their beaks outside the coop door with trepidation as if to say, "must we?" In spite of the little inconveniences and discomfort it causes most of us Long Islanders, there are still others, especially those without adequate heat or consistent shelter, who are truly suffering and need our help and prayers.

The sight of snow Sunday morning was one of the more pleasant reminders of this beautiful season. The pond has once again frozen over for the most part, and the wading birds have sized up all the available openings. Dozens of different song birds have availed themselves of the feeders outside our kitchen window, with the white-throated sparrows in particular coming in droves. It's nice, because after things warm up we won't be seeing too much of them.

(Come to think of it, maybe we should be Bird House instead of Pond House. This place is for the birds... :-)
 Goldfinches pigging out.

Stay warm, Long Island!