Seoul Korean Restaurant

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When the temperatures dip, I start craving hot, comforting foods. One especially frigid night, I went to Seoul Korean Restaurant in Peter Harris Plaza. The interior is pretty sparse so far, but brightly lit and inviting all the same.

Service was good – friendly and on-point but not in-your-face. 5 banchan were on the menu that day – lightly cooked sesame oil’ed veggies and a white seaweed salad on the top row. Spicy radish, kimchee, and spicy cucumbers/onions in the bottom row. Very well flavored, all of it. I was especially fond of the white seaweed – it tasted a touch creamy and sweet, with an addictive texture that was part chew, part crunch.

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The soups are huge, and in the $12 price range. A great value for the amount you get, and the flavors they yield. Tteok Manduguk in the foreground, and I think it’s yook gye jang in the background – a spicy beef soup (comes with rice).

Tteok Manduguk is awesome – mandoo/mandu dumplings in a light bone-style broth, then add in tteok. Oh man, I can’t think of a way to make a soup much more awesome. Dumplings + soup = Awesome. Dumplings + Soup + Chewy Rice Cakes = Awesome^n
So good, and so piping hot. The dumplings had delicate skins that held up well to being in a soup (good structural integrity, no disintegrating)

I’m foggy on the name of the soup in the back, but it was a spicy beef soup that came with a side of steamed rice. It was spicy and well flavored, and not so hot that you’d start sweating while eating it.

Overall, I can’t wait to get back and try more of their dishes. The menu is small and focused, and the food was satisfyingly hearty without being heavy. But I can’t imagine trying more than just the soups on my own – time to go back with a group to tackle more of the appetizers and entrees!

Apple Pretzel Truffles (Gluten-Free)

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Happy Thanksgiving! November has given me a lot to think about and be thankful for. We should realize what makes us thankful and lucky every day, not just one day a year.

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I made gluten-free pretzel apple truffles a few weeks back before I cancelled my 1st attempt at having a housewarming party. Which meant tons of these left hanging around.

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I had a few gluten-free friends that were going to come, so I sprung for the gluten free pretzels, which are crazy expensive compared to normal pretzels, but they taste like regular pretzels, so at least they’re not expensive and awful.

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Apple Pretzel Truffles

10 oz pretzels4 oz cream cheese
6 oz apple butter
sugar to taste

Put pretzels in a food processor and pulverize into crumbs. Add cream cheese & apple butter, and sugar if it needs a little more sweetness. Make balls out of the mixture – it should have a cookie dough-like texture.
Freeze the balls.

Eat as is, or dip in chocolate and then eat ’em up.

Renovating the Bathroom

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Welcome to Albany Jane’s Adventures in Home Repair: Bathroom Edition. I am really enjoying this DIY home repair stuff. I realize it’s not for everyone, but I feel like I’ve taken quite well to plumbing so far. If you’d like to learn a few novice plumbing tricks, tips, and frustrations, read on.

When I first bought this house, the bathroom floor was covered in carpet, and it was old carpet. I was pretty squicked out by carpet in a bathroom. I mean, it seemed kind of unsanitary – all that carpeting holding in  moisture. It wasn’t tacked down or anything, so as soon as I closed and got the keys to the house, I pulled that carpeting out. Which left me with an equally unattractive slab floor.  My Dad came up the weekend I closed and discovered a major leak in one of the bathroom sink pipes. I wish I had take more original photos, but let’s just say that particleboard doesn’t make for a great bathroom vanity. Dad taught me how to change the pipes, and put the pressure on me when I couldn’t really find a vanity I liked “Albany Jane, you have to pick something. We’re not leaving until you do.”

I wound up getting this vanity with sink from Lowe’s for about $239. It was the only one they had in stock that I even remotely liked. I like the big basin of the sink. It’s a medium density fiberboard, which means it looks like wood but shows nicks and scratches very easily. But at the end of the day I’m happy with my “emergency” purchase.
It took us most of the day for Dad to teach me how to change the tubes. He has a good engineering mindset – I want to learn how to be more analytical when it comes to house project assessment.

So that was project one. Project two was actually getting a floor installed! I want to shop locally, but a lot of the flooring stores I tried to buy from have such archaic models – you have to go in for a meeting, or go in to the store. They won’t do very much over the phone. A friend had some old tiles left that she got from Top Tile. I was going to buy another box or two, and from what she said it wasn’t cheap, but quality stuff. When I called I told them I wanted to buy tiles and that I had the model number. The person put me on hold for a while, came back and told me no one could help me because they were all with customers. So I found their website and emailed them, I figured if they were busy with customers I could just email them what I wanted and the specs. But they never responded to my email, either. I wasn’t going to waste any more time trying to give them my business, so I just wound up buying some cheap white tiles from Home Depot for like $0.99/tile and figured it would give me some wiggle room in case I screwed up, or I could renovate again in the near future if I really hated it.

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But before the floor goes in, EVERYTHING has to go out. Out, out, out! Which began with the toilet. And the very beginning of Project: Toilet starts with turning off the water to the toilet. Which was stuck. Very calcified from mineral deposits over the years. Oh. No. As you can see from this pic, the space between the vanity and toilet is very small. Okay, I’d have to turn off the water, remove the toilet, change the valve, and then reconnect the toilet.

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This project would have gone a whole lot more smoothly if the toilet were not completely grouted to the ground. As in – would. Not. Budge. But thanks to some kind words of encouragement from Dave & Mr. Dave, I gave it a go with a hammer, flat-head screwdriver (in lieu of chisel), and then a hand saw when the chisel would only do so much.

P1020517My tools of victory. I wore the crap out of the “wood” tool on that hand saw thing.But it helped eliminate the seal the grout had with the bathroom floor.
P1020520Victory. Heck yes! Space between the ground!

P1020522And of course, safety first.
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Okay, now we’ve got the toilet out, let’s see what we can do about that valve. The water was off, but there were still a few drips (I suspect the “off” is not as tight on my master water supply. Which is a project for later), so hence the extra buckets and makeshift buckets (2L bottle cut in half)). It might seem like a basic water valve, but it is its own special beast. I think it was a 1/2″ inlet by 3/8″ outlet. There was only one on the shelf at Home Depot, and a fellow customer helped me find it. I’ve had mixed experience with employees at the Latham hardware stores. Home Depot just tends to be the one I go to since it is the closest one to me. But the other customers have been really nice. I ended up hugging the guy for helping me find the lone match, which seemed to really weird him out.

P1020531Adjustable wrenches and channel locks come in really handing for all plumbing projects. Have a few of different sizes around. If you’re trying to remove a stubborn valve or pipe that doesn’t want to come out, you can have counter pressure on a nearby bolt or nut so you don’t accidentally damage the pipes.
P1020535This valve required quite a bit of force to remove it, which I am generally quite timid about (I don’t want to break something and make the project even longer lasting…) but it did come off!
P1020536The new valve went on with ease, and didn’t drip at all when the water was turned back on. Plumbing success, hooray!
P1020539Here is where true demo begins. Everything that was on the floor was taken out of the bathroom, water valves turned off. This is the work space.
P1020540A better view of the valves that got to hang out – the hot and cold water for the sink, plus the drain. And the toilet water connection on the right. It’s wet on the bottom because of the earlier plumbing (spills, leaks, and drips are bound to happen. Have a bunch of towels on hand, but expect to get a little bit all over).
P1020541I bought these glacial white tiles from Home Depot. They seem to work with the white/light color scheme over all, but I am by no means a decorator. I laid down the tiles to see what patterns would work. This pattern worked for me in that it meant I had to cut the least amount of tile.

Tile cutting requires patience and finesse, but also a willingness to get a bit wet from the tile saw. I picked up a cheapie from Harbor Freight tools. It worked a whole heck of a lot better than the nipper and hand scorer I bought from Home Depot (which broke when I first used them, ugh!), but still – there’s a bit of a learning curve.
P1020542Grout time! Is grout supposed to be half full? The grout I picked up from Home Depot seemed like someone had used half of it and returned it. :/
But I didn’t need much grout for my small 15 sqft bathroom and 1sqft tiles.

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Applying Thin-Set to the ground for the tiles was pretty easy and uneventful. I started at the top of this picture/the edge of the tub and worked my way out of the door. I used 1/8″ spacers.
I wasn’t super happy with how I cut the two small tiles I needed, but then I realized it was my first time using a tile saw, and installing a floor, so I realized these things will happen and are part of the learning curve. I made a few more imperfect (but always less imperfect) cuts of tile until I reached a combination of “Ugh, it’s freezing out and I want to be done with this now,” and “You know what, this is my first time. Not everything is going to be perfect,”. Let it sit for a day or two to cure before proceeding to grout.

After applying the thin-set mortar to the tiles & slab floor, it was time to grout. Since this bathroom is so small, I just bought a small tub of pre-mixed, sanded grout.

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I had plenty of grout. This was also a very fun task. Splat, sponge, splat, sponge. Wait another day or two for the grout to set, and then you can put your bathroom back together.

Which is what I really wanted to do. Since I raised the floor of the bathroom, I had to carve out a notch in the back of the vanity to have room for the pipes. No big issue there. Shop vacs and hand saws come in super handy there.

However, it was at this point that I realized the old toilet was grouted a good 1/4″ underneath, and uneven. Instead of leveling the ground, the grout was applied on the bottom of the toilet to level the floor of the toilet. I’m impressed at the amount of work that went in to this. No one else I’ve talked to has ever heard of this ever happening. Needless to say, I smashed the heck out of one Johnnie O ring and grumbled as I dragged the toilet out to the garbage.

I went out to Lowe’s looking for a small, round-seat toilet and picked up an American Standard Mainstream model toilet. I think it was either this or a Kohler, and the reviews for the Kohler weren’t all that great. Most of the toilets available now are extended bowls.

P1020729Installing the toilet took an few hours of an afternoon for a novice like me, but the directions were really easy to follow. I also put in some wooden baseboards so I wouldn’t have jagged drywall gaps around the tile edges. Looks pretty nice for a gal who isn’t really into decorating and aesthetics.
P1020730And hey, now I have a full bathroom back, again!
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Take whatever time you plan on your project taking and multiply by 4. I thought I could bang out this bathroom in a day, but ba hahahaha, no. At my pace, it took closer to a month “Wait, let me just look up one more home repair video!”
Don’t expect anything to be cheap.
Some things may be cheap, but if you don’t have the tools, it’ll add up. Nothing is really cheap. Even the cheap stuff.
The projects never really end, do they? I’ve already got my eyes on that shelf and the mirror above it.

Phoenicians Restaurant

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Go to Phoenicians Restaurant with a group. Seriously. 8 people and you’ve got yourself set up for quite the meal. Of course, it also helps if the main meal organizer is a charismatic and the owner loves him right off the bat.

Luscious labneh on the left, and creamy hummus on the right. Both topped with olive oil and paprika. I like how thick the labneh is – it’s kind of like a hung curd yogurt, but it’s less tart while still being light.

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Here’s where our group got adventurous – Kebbeh Nayeh. Raw beef tenderloin with some bulgur and onions, topped with olive oil. These plates were massive – larger than a forearm. And note I said plates – we got served two of these gigantic platters for 8 people for $29.99. We made some good progress, but wow, if we had known we were getting so much, I would have just skipped ordering an entree.

Texture-wise, it’s smooth. Flavor-wise, it’s actually quite mild. This might be due to it being filet mignon, which is pretty flavor-lite when compared to other cuts of the cow. It’s quite different from beef tartare, which is the only other ground/minced raw beef dish I have to compare this to.

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One of our group of 8 was a vegetarian, so the plates of raw meat were off the menu for him. When the owner heard that there was a vegetarian at the table, he brought out vegetarian cheese made from coconut milk. It was topped with zatar and olive oil. The coconut made it just a bit sweet, kind of like a dryer and less tart cream cheese.

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I tried an order of fatayer ($4.99), which are baked spinach pies. The pastry was more bread-like and a bit tough than a flaky pie crust. Spinach filling was good, though. This was great slathered in labneh, or paired with some of the raw kibbeh.

And then evidently I entered a photo coma and forgot to take a picture of my lamb shawarma ($7.99) with cous cous. Which I managed to eat about 3/4 of because of all of the raw kibbeh nayeh I had eaten. I swear I had at least 1/4 of that plate of raw beef.

Any way, the shawarma was good – tender lamb slices wrapped in a pita with some veggies and just a few dabs of garlic sauce. Yum.

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And then it was dessert time. They already had the crepe cooking for us – it was a special of the day, filled with bananas and hazelnut. Cute presentation. I’m not a huge banana dessert fan, so I just tried a nibble.

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Oh, and then there was the coffee, which was much less bitter than Turkish coffee, but boy is it ever full of caffeine. I had about 1/3 of a small cup, and I was up until about 2 am (but that was a productive housework night).

Word of warning – if the owner likes you, you are gonna get fed to death. I’m not even sure what we were charged for or not charged for because we ordered so much food and the bill just comes out as a bunch of line item charges without detailing what they’re for. But we all got out of there for under $40 for all of the food we ate.

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Creme brulee for me. Not bad, pretty decent brulee and a rich custard underneath that was just barely warm (yum).

We also ordered a rice pudding, and haleweh (aka halva). So many sweet delights.

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And here is a sure sign of my sugar high – this blurry photo of mhallabiyeh. Mhallabiyeh is a milk pudding layered with pomegranate syrup, rose syrup, pistachios, roasted coconut, and honey. That rose adds just the right amount of lightness, and the pomegranate, and the…. oh, just order this. It’s rich, sweet, and such a great way to end your meal.

Gluten Free Pizza Girls’ Night

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Baking Suit invited me over for a night of gluten free pizza and girly shennanigans. Pizza? Shennanigans? I’m in.
Two kinds of pizza were had that day. Well, two different kinds of pizza crusts. And toppings.

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First up was Bob’s Red Mill. This crust required a lot of baking time (much more than it said on the package) in order to get it crispy and more pizza crust-like. The edges crisped up, the parts under the cheese were still a bit soft. Decent for a gluten-free option. Didn’t really taste “off” or weird.

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My favorite was the Bisquick gluten-free crust, though! This pizza was also white, which is one of my favorite pizza types, with red-wine mushrooms (Baking Suit’s family recipe). So good! The gluten free Bisquick crust was REALLY good. But maybe not really like a pizza. More like a biscuit crust. So buttery and delicious. But it didn’t taste gluten free at all. Had all the properties of Bisquick with gluten in it. I want 80,000 of these pizzas every week.

Apple Butter Crumb Bars

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crumb topped dessert and been able to pass. I made apple butter bars with whole wheat flour, which added a nice nutty depth to the bars.

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Here’s a non-recipe for you:

Shortbread base (sub whole wheat for regular flour). Save some of the base for the crumble topping. Slather with apple butter and a few thin-sliced apple slivers, more apple butter, and crumble topping. Bake until done, about 40 minutes.