Thursday, February 25, 2010

Baklava… check!

February 2010 003 This year I decided that this was the year I was finally going to make baklava. I have always been a big fan, and when Ian and I moved out to New York, a really neat lady from my church and her son popped by my parents’ house before we left and surprised me with her recipe and all the tools I needed to make it! The past few years have been a bit of a whirlwind, and for some reason I just haven’t gotten to it until now, though I haven’t forgotten about that honey-gooey goodness. Surprisingly, it turned out really well and I was even able to give it to Ian for Valentine’s Day. Here’s the recipe!


  • 3 cups sugar, or 2 cups sugar and 1 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup (optional)
  • 2 (3-inch) sticks cinnamon (optional)
  • 4 to 6 whole cloves, or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)


  • 1 pound blanched almonds, pistachios, walnuts, or any combination, finely chopped or coarsely ground (about 4 cups)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or cardamom (optional)
  • 1 pound (about 24 sheets) phyllo dough
  • About 1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter or vegetable oil

February 2010 008 1. To make the syrup: Stir the sugar, water, lemon juice, and if using, the corn syrup, cinnamon sticks, and/or cloves over low heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Stop stirring, increase the heat to medium, and cook until the mixture is slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes (it will register 225 degrees on a candy thermometer). Discard the cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. Let cool.

2. To make the filling: Combine all the filling ingredients.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-by-9-inch or 13-by-9-inch baking pan or 15-by-10-inch jelly roll pan.

4. Place a sheet of phyllo in the prepared pan and lightly brush with butter. Repeat with 7 more sheets. Spread with half of the filling. Top with 8 more sheets, brushing each with butter. Use any torn sheets in the middle layer. Spread with the remaining nut mixture and end with a top layer of 8 sheets, continuing to brush each with butter. Trim any overhanging edges.

5. Using a sharp knife, cut 6 equal lengthwise strips (about 1 3/4 inches wide) through the top layer of pastry. Make 1 1/2-inch-wide diagonal cuts across the strips to form diamond shapes.

6. Just before baking, lightly sprinkle the top of the pastry with cold water. This inhibits the pastry from curling. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake until golden brown, about 15 additional minutes.

7. Cut through the scored lines. Drizzle the cooled syrup slowly over the hot baklava and let cool for at least 4 hours. Cover and store at room temperature for up to 1 week. If the baklava dries out while being stored, drizzle with a little additional hot syrup.

Instead of brushing each layer of phyllo with butter, cut the unbaked baklava into diamonds all the way through, drizzle with 1 cup vegetable oil, and let stand for 10 minutes before baking.

Persian Baklava:
Using the almonds and cardamom in the filling: Omit the lemon juice and cinnamon from the syrup and add 1/4 cup rose water or 1 tablespoon orange blossom water after it has cooled.

Paklava(Azerbaijani Baklava):
For the filling, use 2 cups blanched almonds, 2 cups unsalted pistachios, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Crush 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads and let steep in 3 tablespoons of the melted butter for 15 minutes and use to brush the top sheet of phyllo.

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The Anti-Valentine’s Day

On the Friday a few days before Valentine’s Day, I had the following conversation with a few of my students.

Kid: You know, why do we have to have Valentine’s Day? Shouldn’t people just love each other all the time?

Other kid: Yeah! Shouldn’t we just have like a day instead where everyone is really mean to each other and then everyone would be nice to each other the other 364 days of the year?

Kid: Yeah, then people could get it out of their system or something.

Me: But what if you were born on that day? Wouldn’t it be terrible because everyone would be really mean to you on your birthday?

Kid: Hmm, yeah, I guess that’s true…

Other kid: Yeah, but you could be really mean back! It could be really fun, you know!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Billboard: Ian and Kristy’s Top Ten Hits of 2009


Fresh from their sold-out 2008 tour of lip-synching to unpopular bands in the car, the self-acclaimed duo known as The Laidlawnmowers (allegedly often mistaken for The Who?), Kristy and Ian Laidlaw, embarked on an grueling and ambitious 2009 series of studio production hits and tour favorites.


Here is their [cue reverb] Top 10 Countdown.

#10: I left my tailbone in Carolina

n1519743864_30243976_2622883 While not strictly in Carolina (well, not in Carolina at all actually), the band travelled to the wistful Pocono mountains where they proceeded to spend most of their time in the sitting/recovery position while learning how to snowboard on ice. A good time was had by all, followed by months in traction. Rock and roll!

#9: Home is just a 20 hour plane-ride away

021 With the US economy crashing, the band decides to flee the country and donate their hard(ly)-earned tax return to the New Zealand tourism industry. There, they narrowly avoid disaster when forgetting that gas stations are not placed every mile, but have good times with their first experience with guns (pictured – strangely never having seen one in the US and with also strangely with Ian outshooting a police officer), seeing old friends, family, and with a fantastic surprise birthday party for Ian organized by Kristy and friend/groupie Lianne.

#8: We don’t not need no education

Just like in that movie where that guy goes back to school, the band, um, also goes back to school. Kristy aces her way through year 1 of her Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language and Ian starts plowing through year 2 of social work grad school, partially burning out in September and giving up on the mountain of readings, but still performing well by faking knowledge.

#7: Like a lobster over bubbling water

018 Summer vacation sees the band hook up with an actual musician (Kristy’s brother, Micah) for an epic tour of Maine and French-Canada. Highlights of the tour included cooking live lobsters at the campground in Maine, packing up the tent in torrential rain and confusing the tourists by setting it up to dry it out at the Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream factory, cycling the canals in Montreal, eating Poutine, and catching up with old friends.

#6: I love Rock & Roll [especially if it’s only $15 a ticket]

076 On the back of some very enjoyable concerts (particularly Wilco, Pete Seeger, and Danielson), the band decides to jump on the social networking bandwagon Obama-style by creating an online social group for other music fans as a way to experience the very inexpensive independent music scene in New York, relieve some of the stress of work and school, and make new friends. The Monthly Indie is thus born in October, and various people have so far hooked up to see a slew of variously-talented musicians do their thing in small music clubs around Manhattan.

#5: In the sunshine of your love of plants

The band causes a paparazzi media blowout in a shocking move of their garden from the back to the front of the house. Guest stars include Larry Lemongrass, Barry Basil, and Colin the Creeping Cucumber. This increases visual appeal, but the abundance of rain and lack of sun forces Tommy Tomato into a depressive wilt, and he drops out of the fruity festival with not a single tomato to show for it. Fiji the Feijoa from New Zealand does spectacularly well, however, due to the pampering star treatment (he gets his own pad and is carted from sunny spot to sunny spot, even having his own heater available indoors in the winter while the rest of the band is away). Rumors abound he may go solo.

#4: With a lot of help from my friendsCharity brunch 2009 024

The band would like to dedicate this song to all of their friends near and far! 2009 proved to be a good reunion year with a NY tour with singer-songwriters from the UK (Anna and her lovely mum) and Canadian tour with old friends from Japan (Baril family) and the UK (Shona). The band also teamed up with many new friends this year for river kayaking, camping in a torrential downpour, and other such shenanigans. With the help of their friends, our band also hosted their first annual charity brunch and gift-buying for those in need this holiday season. The band feels truly blessed to have such a wonderful group of fans, uh, I mean, friends.

#3: I think I’ve already turned Japanese

Three years in New York sees the band still savoring ties with the land of Mr. Roboto. Favorite restaurants and grocery items are still received with much giddiness, and the band regularly visits both American and Japanese church venues. This year, Ian and Kristy swapped their Les Paul Standards for Okinawa sanshins when they joined the Okinawa Peoples Association of New York. Incidentally, the summer picnic just happened to be located alongside the Kiwi Club’s summer picnic, so Ian was able to do a bit of networking. In other news, Kristy charms audiences at work and (hopefully) will be awarded tenure in the spring. Domo arigato!

#2: Start spreading the news

The band takes a bite out of the Big Apple this year by having lots of new experiences including seeing the New York City Ballet perform, participating in a midnight survey for the homeless, biking along the Hudson River, viewing NYC fireworks from behind a tree, and taking Ian’s clients to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show. Ian also organized a surprise night out for Kristy’s 30th birthday featuring a Japanese yakiniku BBQ meal followed by a karaoke nijikai (second party) with friends where the band paid tribute to the recently deceased King of Pop.

#1: Happy Holidays (upcoming release)

Our duo heads to Philadelphia with sidekick Korean friend, Jack Daniel (actually his name!) to celebrate Turkey Day with relatives. Jack and Ian are introduced to the Macy’s parade and putting up Christmas lights while Kristy falls in love with the food processor. For Christmas they plan to pack the sleigh and head to Indiana to be with family. With this catchy tune, they wish you and your family a very joyous Christmas season and a New Year filled with love and peace. The band would like to thank their family and friends for all of their support, and God, who makes all of these things possible!




    Much love,

    Ian and Kristy Laidlaw

Monday, December 07, 2009

Thanksgiving with Jack Daniel from Korea and other stories…

So we made this new friend who is here from Korea studying English until March. When I asked him what his name was the first time, he explained that his name was Daniel, or I could call him Jack… or Jack Daniel… or Joe. He’s from Korea, so he originally decided to call himself Daniel here so that it would be easy for people to remember… only they decided that Jack was easier(?). That’s how he explains it when people ask him about his memorable moniker. We’ve been having a blast getting to know him and teaching him all sorts of useful English phrases like what it means when you look at someone after they've been talking for awhile and say, "anyway," what being “full of yourself” means and what it means when you "get backed up.” When he offered to watch me pull out of my parking space in a crowded parking lot after dinner, he also got a good lesson on his use of, “Kristy, I’ll watch your backside, okay?” Aren't languages such fun things! Oh, this brings back great memories of all the times I grossly misused Japanese! Jack is such a good sport, and we have so much fun swapping stories.

My aunt and uncle invited us down to Philadelphia to join them for Thanksgiving weekend. We were so excited when they said they were thrilled to host Jack for his first Thanksgiving, too! Ian had arranged with Jack to pick him up at his dorm on Wednesday after work before we headed down to Philly. He soon discovered that he was in a little bit of an awkward situation when he couldn’t dial Jack’s cell phone because his room wasn’t picking up a signal, and had no idea of our friend’s real name! So Ian did the only thing he could think of: he walked into the school and started asking people, including a burly security guard, if they happened to know Jack Daniel. Of course everyone looked at him like, “Is this some sort of joke?” In the end, after a bit of detective work with the school administrator, they were finally able to narrow the search and find our Jack Daniel! Thanksgiving was a blast in the end with Ian and Jack getting to experience all of the traditional stuff like watching the Macy’s parade, getting wrangled into dinner preparation, putting up Christmas lights, and eating Philly cheesesteaks! (Wait a second…I thought it was turkey?)

Of course after all of that fun, we both caught colds the next week. On top of that, the grad school semester is wrapping up, keeping both of us busier than normal, so we were both more out of it than usual last week. One morning, I saw that Ian had forgotten his lunch just as he walked out the door on his way to work. I was still in my glasses and jammies, but that didn’t stop me from running outside after him. As I ran down the driveway after his car screaming like a banshee in nothing but my pajamas and fuzzy socks, a thought occurred to me. I thought if I could just thump the car with something, maybe he would hear me and stop. So, I launched his lunch at the car as hard as I could… but he just kept going! He must have really been out of it. Just as I bent over to pick up the lunch bag and an apple that rolled down the driveway towards me in defeat, Ian must have seen me in his rearview mirror and thought, “What is that?” So, in the end, I was able to give him his lunch even though the apple was a bit bruised on one side! That’s love, right?!

This weekend we also had a really cool experience of having a bunch of friends help us out with our first Christmas Charity brunch! We hosted a group of our friends for a festive brunch in the morning, and then we all went out to buy presents for people in need. It is such a great feeling buying gifts for people who really need them, and we had a lot of fun trying to find the best deals, ransacking toy stores, and finding cute sweaters for teenage girls at the trendy mall shops. By the time we left the mall it was already snowing beautifully to add to our Christmas joy! We were all totally in the Christmas spirit as we headed back to the house to “show and tell” the gifts we had found and wrap them up. Of course there was plenty of good food to go around as well as a cup of tea, hot chocolate, hot apple cider, or eggnog for every good “elf”! I can’t wait to do this again next year! Thanks to all of our wonderful friends who contributed!Charity brunch 2009 024

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Autumn in New York

026I love this time of year!  Even though we have been busy being students, we’ve still taken lots of time to enjoy the changing leaves, cups of tea, apple-cranberry crisp, decorating for Halloween, pumpkin cashew curry, crisp, chilly evenings, lots of local apples, putting the garden to rest, homemade soups, walks around the lake, hot apple cider, yummy roasts and chicken pie, hikes through the woods, and breaking out our favorite fuzzy sweaters.  Man, all I need now is a Snuggie

We decided recently to start fully taking advantage of being so close to the city, so we started an indie-concert going club where we’ll go to see a new (and often totally unknown) band031 every month.  This Friday is our first show.  We’re really excited, especially because we have a great group of random people going including our friend Anna from the UK, a childhood friend of Kristy’s, and our new friend from Korea, Jack Daniel! 

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Go Canada!


It is great living where we live now, because it opens up a whole new area to explore.  With Canada so close, we couldn’t wait for an opportunity to go up there and look at the Canadians.




We rolled into Montreal at about sunset.  It’s such a beautiful city on the water.  We took our bikes so we could ride them around the city.  Here are a few of the sites that was saw:









Well, first things, first.  A little picnic lunch in the park.






The first day we rode the Lachine Canal path.







Saw some crazy looking architecture








Rode across the bridge to the island
















Olympic Park







The old city








Of course, we also had to stop and try the Poutine! (Oops, first I accidently spelled it Putin; as in Vladimir?)  Yum!  We were also really lucky to be able to catch up with our lovely friend, Shona, from our UK days.  


IMG_0108 Next we listened to a bunch of Canadian bands on our way to visit our good friends Frederic and Chizuko and their kids in Gatineau.  It is so good to catch up with old friends!  We were thoroughly embarrassed by our lack of Canadian knowledge, so Frederic taught us all about how Ottawa is the capital and what a Quebecois is, and how to order a Beaver Tail, and why ours didn’t come with fur, and the meaning of the phrase “Je me souviens” (on the Quebec license plate – it’s very deep.  If you know him, please ask him about it sometime if you get a chance.)  Actually, my ignorance about Canada is so bad that I spelled Ottawa wrong the entire way through this post and then didn’t believe the spell check when it corrected me, so I Googled it.  Turns out it was right.  Americans. Anyway, Frederic promised that if we came to Canada he would find us a Mountie to take a picture with, and so he did!

IMG_0094 Frederic also took us to Ottawa so we could see that Canada is actually its own country.  It was really impressive!  We got to see the changing of the guard, which was much more impressive than anything we saw in London.  We also got a tour of the Parliament building.  There were lots of statues of owls inside because, did you know, that a group of owls is called a parliament?  Those Canadians are really deep.IMG_0097  



Here are a few pictures from the very beautiful and impressive parliament building:







The library







The place where they walk








The place where they talk about stuff







Oh, sorry.  This isn’t the Parliament.  This is Micah and I fooling around with the camera.





IMG_0128The US even let Ian back in without any problems, even though they know what he is like now, so hopefully, we’ll be back to Canada soon!

Next stop: Vermont

65 We had perfect weather in Maine, except for the waking up to a storm on the morning we were supposed to pack the tent up.  The boys had fun trying to throw everything into the car in the rain, and of course it stopped raining as soon as they were finished. 

On the way to Canada, we stopped in Waterbury, Vermont to see the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory.  While we were waiting for our tour time to come up, we unpacked the entire car onto their lawn so we could air everything out.  We had quite a group of spectators wondering what on earth we were doing.  400While I was throwing out some of our garbage, I heard a little girl ask her mom, “Mommy, are  they camping here tonight?”  On a side note, did you know that Ben and Jerry’s factory employees are allowed to take home three pints of free ice cream a night?  That’s 15 pints a week!  I guess it keeps them from eating on the job!

From the city to the coast

IMG_0004Now that we’re caught up, we can finally tell you a bit about our vacation!  Micah flew in from Wisconsin to join us.  The first night he was here, we went out in the city for some delicious Ethiopian food and thought about all of our friends who have ties there. We got a bit delayed in the subway coming home and encountered a very funny scenario involving subway employees, a leaky hose, and a bucket that we’ll have to tell you about sometime, but basically the delay turned into a very late night which turned into a very lazy morning, which meant that we started our vacation at the very slothful pace of hitting the road at about 1pm.  I love vacation.

IMG_0007 And so our road trip began.  Sort of.  We ended up sitting in traffic for a lot of the first part.  We sat behind this van for about an hour in New Hampshire on our way to Maine.  Interesting.


008None of us had ever been to Maine, so we really wanted to see what it was like, but the maine (yuk yuk) reason why Maine made the vacation cut was to be honest, the food factor.  I think I need to take a minute to explain about my New Years resolution.  I don’t normally make a big deal about New Years resolutions, but this year I decided to make a few fun resolutions of things that I really wanted to do. I love to cook, and I’ve always felt that cooking a lobster is just something that I needed to try; a kind of rite of passage or something.  So, I told Ian that in order to do this, I thought we had better go to Maine to eat some of their famous lobster so that I could really get a good feel of what it was supposed to taste like (wink wink).  Here are a few pics of some of the delicious food we ate in Maine:



I started out with a lobster roll at a local cafe










Micah was excited about the shrimp







063The award-winning lobster pie from the Maine Diner, which was featured on The Today Show.  We had some fabulous seafood chowder to start and followed it down with some homemade blueberry pie ala mode!  Hungry yet?




Chef Ian’s campfire steak and grilled veggies with fresh, pan-fried Haddock.  Yum town.




019 We decided to take advantage of the outdoors and camp during our time in Maine, so we came well equipped with everything we needed to attempt the lobster-cooking.  (By the way, thanks to everyone who lent us stuff!  This lobster is dedicated to you!)  It was quite an experience going to the fish shack to buy our guys, then trying not to bond too much with them while we prepared for their imminent death, then putting them in the pot and eating them.  It was a bit sad, to be honest, but they were just so delicious. 

The lobster figures out something’s up…




We did it!


Can we eat yet?


Oh yeah, and of course, we also had s’mores


Here are some pretty shots of Maine, too:006