Wednesday, December 21, 2011

nostalgia wednesdays: christmas markets

Yes, I know, more Europe nostalgia. I'm sorry. But European Christmas markets are just so darn charming, and every year around this time, I really miss them. Unfortunately the only picture I have of the market near our house in Venice is this one: 

Which you probably remember from that whole acqua alta business from a couple weeks ago. Normally it's much more exciting, you know, when it's not under several feet of water. All the little cabins are stocked with wares made by locals, and the options range from chintzy to beautiful. Best yet? The cabins hawking baked goods and warm mulled wine. The whole affair is just very festive and it really gets you in the Christmas spirit. We have a small market here in DC, but it's wedged between big generic buildings on a side street, and it just doesn't have the same vibe.

Luckily, Christmas markets or no, I got all my shopping done early this year, and I get to go home soon for the holidays. I don't know about you, but it feels so sudden this year. I've been doing all these Christmas-y things to get in the spirit (and I can read a calendar and all that), so it's not like I didn't know it was coming. I think it's just that I was preparing for it so intensely that I sort of forgot that at some point it'd actually happen. Does that make any sense? 

Probably not, sorry! I'm tired and distracted lately, so everything takes on this slightly foggy, inarticulate quality. But I'm really proud of myself for stopping by the grocery tonight on the way home, and grabbing a few healthy things to eat before I go home Friday. I even made my own salad dressing when I got home because all of mine are expired. If you ever need one in a pinch, I used the ginger-peanut dressing portion of this recipe, and it was perfect for the spinach and edamame concoction I picked up at Whole Foods.

Anyways, I'll be in and out of internet-accessible land over the next week or so, which means you'll likely be spared my typical rambling. Hope you all have a happy holiday season!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

risotto & gingerbread

Last week, Sophie came over, and I made the really disjointed dinner/dessert combo of red coconut curry noodles and apple cobbler. When I invited her over for dinner this week, I didn't intend to follow that same illogical pattern, but it happened anyways. This is what happens, I think, when you know you're going out of town soon, and don't want to go to the grocery. Whatever's in the house gets cooked up, and it's pretty bare bones. 

Luckily Sophie is pretty understanding when it comes to my completely eccentric kitchen behavior, and didn't really blink when she arrived and found out we'd be eating spinach risotto followed by gingerbread cookies and ice cream.

sugar, spices, butter, evaporated milk, and molasses.

my dough probably could've used a little more flour

things came out a little...stretchy

the risotto recipe i used suggested you "pat" the spinach dry. disaster.

it still turned out ok-looking though

disregarding the totally loopy shape of my gingerbread man, they were tasty!

I got home from work and decided to whip up the small batch of the gingerbread cookies. Sophie had sent me the recipe a while back, billing it as the best she'd ever had. I meant to make them for the holiday party Neha and I co-hostessed this past weekend, but it didn't quite come together at that point, so I had the ingredients sitting in my kitchen. And I didn't have bread, salad, or appetizer fixings to serve to Sophie with the risotto, so I felt like I had to provide something other than just rice.

The batter came together fine, if a bit sticky. Getting the shapes from my counter to the cookie sheet, though, was a comical experience, as you can see from the pictures above. Those were my best shapes, too, resulting from a couple of "oh screw it" moments in which i balled the dough back up and started over again. When I saw the sad little misshapen men on the cookie sheet, I couldn't help but laugh at their disproportionate little limbs/heads. 

While they cooled and Sophie made her way to my apartment, I geared up for risotto. I had all my ingredients measured and chopped, and had patted the spinach as dry as humanly possible. Side note: have you ever tried to pat spinach dry? "Pat" is not an aggressive enough word to articulate how much effort it takes to remove water from cooked spinach. I think I used a roll of paper towels, and I wouldn't call the end result "dry," either.

After the spinach drying debacle, I got ready to actually start cooking the rice/broth. And my stupid stove wouldn't light. After successfully lighting to bake the cookies and steam the spinach. Seriously, people, they just fixed the burners LAST time I cooked for Sophie (a week ago exactly, mind you). 

After several very frustrated attempts at igniting the burners, I called the front desk, which promised to send up a technician. Of course I couldn't just be patient and wait for the dude, so I kept trying, and eventually got the right two burners to light. And promptly accidentally turned one off. Which led to several more minutes of angry yelling at my stove. I have no idea what happened, but miraculously it decided to ignite, and dinner was only slightly delayed. Again, Sophie should be thanked for her patience with my crazy self and even crazier kitchen.  

We agreed that both the risotto and the cookies were a success. Nothing in the knock your socks off territory, but a really solid Monday night dinner. Then again that could be the bottle of wine talking... (but really, I say both recipes are worth trying!) 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

curry & cobbler

I had a bit of a seesaw weekend. Parts were great, parts I'd rather forget. But it ended on such a high note, I can still hardly get over it. My friend and I bought tickets to the National Symphony Orchestra's Christmas concert on a whim. It featured the Washington Children's Choir and the Canadian Tenors.

Neither of us had a stinking clue who the Canadian Tenors were, and we were both utterly exhausted from the weekend's adventures. We honestly thought about throwing in the towel all together. 

The minute the show started, though, we were awfully thankful that our guilt complex about already having paid for the tickets prevailed. It was incredible. The choir, the tenors, the symphony music. It was perfect. I couldn't even come close to describing it properly, but just know that a lot of heart squeezey moments were experienced by Neha and I.

Monday morning, though, my Christmas spirit was totally railroaded by the realization upon arrival at work that I had left at home my ID and my computer access card. I knew I couldn't do a thing without them, and ended up having to go home at lunch time. When I got home, I promptly realized NONE of my stove burners would light. Which was an issue considering a)I was starving and b)I was supposed to cook dinner for a friend later in the day. 

Thankfully the handy man in my building restored the stove, and thus the LKTC, to full capacity (which was actually an improvement over the fact that only two burners have worked for months now). My plan to make red coconut curry noodles wasn't foiled after all, which was good news for the pre-prepped ingredients hanging out in my fridge (and my sour mood). At the last minute, I decided to use a few apples that were approaching their expiration date to make cobbler, which I based on this recipe (from my often-baked peach variety). Very non-congruent, I know, but once I get an idea in my head...  

not sure exactly what happened to this butter, but judging 3/4 of a stick was interesting

unexpected afternoon off of work = plenty of time for detailed prep work

coconut milk cream + fresh ginger + red curry paste + onions

with chicken broth, coconut milk, cilantro, and Thai chili sauce added

plus noodles and red pepper

finished product!

mini apple cobbler + vanilla bean ice cream
So, there's a little up-front investing to be done for the curry noodle recipe, namely in the form of the Thai chili sauce and red curry paste, but nothing was prohibatively expensive. And aside from a bit of chopping (red peppers and cilantro) and grating (ginger), the prep work is easy, and everything gets cooked in the same pot, which I love. And Sophie and I agreed that it was pretty good for a one dish meal, even without the chicken that the recipe suggests. 

And I am happy to report that the apple cobbler turned out beautifully, despite the whole odd shaped butter quandary. I love dessert, but rarely crave anything fruit-based, so I'm happy to report that this oddly hit the spot. There's just something so simple but perfect about ice cream on top of steaming hot cobbler, no?  

Oh, and I got to give Sophie her present, which helped reinvigorate the previously bubbling Christmas spirit that had been compromised thanks to my severe case of the Mondays.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

nostalgia wednesdays: the moravian lovefeast

from here

I am one of those crazy people who loved high school. LOVED it, I tell you. I was insanely lucky that my parents yanked me out of the small town public school system I found myself in upon our move to North Carolina. It's not that it was a heinous school (or that I was a trouble maker), but I think they could tell that I needed more of an academic challenge, not to mention a safe place to spend my most awkward years to date. 

Enter my tiny all girls high school. It was insanely rigorous, but in a way that encouraged the students to bond with each other to survive, resulting in some of the best friendships of my life. It also placed a huge emphasis on traditions, which is something my nostalgia-loving little heart embraced enthusiastically. 

One of the traditions I loved most was the Moravian lovefeast held every December (yes, my school had a Moravian affiliation, random, I know). The lovefeast came just before we sat for our exams every year--the proverbial calm before the very exhausting storm. Every year, our headmistress would devote one of our morning assemblies to reiterating lovefeast etiquette, reminding us of the proper way to pass steaming mugs of coffee and lit candles. Friends and family were all invited, and the buns, sweet coffee, and beeswax candles were handed out by the senior girls who were all dressed in winter white. I still remember shopping for the perfect winter white outfit with my Mom the year I was a senior (notable mostly because it initiated what has become an undying devotion to the store's petite selection of business attire).

When I was in college, my school also held an annual lovefeast. Unlike the lovefeast held in the relatively small auditorium at my high school, my university boasts a huge, beautiful chapel (pictured at the very top of the post). Every year, thousands of students, professors, and people from the community would pile in on a cold December night to start the season surrounded by the distinct smell of those candles.

The picture at the top captures one of my favorite parts of the ceremony in which everyone lifts up their lit beeswax candles during the final song. I fully acknowledge how corny this is about to sound, but being enveloped in the glow of the candles and the sound of your good friends just makes your heart squeeze in the best way. It feels like your little body can't contain all the excitement of the season to come, and you can't stop smiling.

Since I moved away from home and was thrust in to the adult version of the holiday season, in which one gets practically no time off and can barely afford gifts for family and friends, the Christmas spirit has been harder to come by. Actually, I think it's as plentiful as it was when I was still in school, but now I just have to work harder to find it. 

The past few years, I was still in the school mindset, and expected things like lovefeasts and concerts to find me. It didn't help that two years ago, I came down with a mean case of bronchitis that kept me in bed basically the entire time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and last year I thought I was too busy to do anything outside of work. 

But this year. This year I snapped my behind into gear. This year I have done as much as I possibly can to seek out the Christmas spirit. Unfortunately there are no lovefeasts in my area, but I've tried to fill my time with things like Friendsgiving, holiday parties, Nutcracker performances, symphony concerts, zoo light viewings, perfect gift searches, and maybe even some ice skating adventures. 

And although I still find myself a little bit on the blue side this Christmas (for reasons that are both cliche and not worth detailing), I'm pleased that I've worked so hard to surround myself with cheery, spirited things. I find myself having so many of those heart squeeze-y moments, and genuinely looking forward to the next few weeks to come instead of dreading (or rushing through) them like I have the past couple years. 

Anyways, I wish you all many heart squeeze-y moments of your own (and the great family and friends with whom you can experience those moments) this holiday season! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

baked goods & bonding with the boss

About two months ago, my new boss started. The whole office approached his start date with some trepidation, having just adjust to the antics and whims of our former interim boss. I was especially unsettled by the fact that his first week coincided with my cross-country road trip. I was really worried that he would decide in my absence that the office didn't really need me that much. 

It turns out all of our fears, but especially mine, were unfounded. The new boss is great, and we've gotten along beautifully so far. He is wholeheartedly committed to getting me in to a job that is better aligned with my skills and experience, and he fondly refers to me as his "social director." He's also a lot more perceptive than any of us gave him credit for at first. 

Case in point? Yesterday I came in to the office mostly out of a sense of obligation. I really, really wanted to call in sick so I could try to catch up on sleep, but had one fairly important morning meeting. Upon arrival, I realized I had left at home the one crucial thing that we have to use to make our computers operate (a specific kind of access card). Without it, you might as well go home, because you can't do a thing. It made my exhaustion-induced cranky mood ten times worse. 

I was trying not to punch something and halfheartedly tossing my weekend baked goods on to the little ledge at my desk (I don't have cube walls, just a ledge) when my boss came out of his office. "Uh oh, I see someone's been stress-baking," he said. "I take it you must have had a rough weekend." And he seemed genuinely concerned about whatever it was that had me in the kitchen turning out three separate types of treats. I realize it sounds insignificant, but I appreciated his seemingly legitimate interest in my life, because it's far more than I can say for past managers!

festive muffin wrappers (which dyed my muffin tins a lovely red on the bottom)

I literally threw this butter on the floor completely by accident. See: exhaustion references

I think anything with a crumb topping can't taste TOO awful... 

As you can tell from the photos, one of the baked goods was clearly muffins. They may look like coffee cake muffins, which I really want to try and make, but it's a big trick. I know, I know, I'm so clever. But they're banana crumb muffins. Surprise!

They were pretty easy to bake, despite the whole throwing butter on the floor by accident thing. After I pulled them out of the oven Saturday morning, I honestly couldn't decide how I felt about them. I thought they might be a little dry, and thus not worth serving. I threw them in a few containers, and when I pulled one out to test them again on Monday morning, a magical transformation had taken place. I don't know the science behind it, but they were suddenly delicious, and not even a tiny bit dry, so they definitely made the "take them to work" cut.

Sunday morning, despite an increasingly debilitating fog of exhaustion enveloping me, I decided like the genius I am to make shortbread and blueberry scones. On maybe 4 hours of sleep. Before going on an afternoon-long real estate adventure. Which was to be followed by a 2 1/2 hour Christmas concert.

I'd made the Pioneer Woman shortbread cookies before for an pre-ballet brunch with a few friends, and despite the effort involved in sifting several cups of dry ingredients and cutting said ingredients into obscene quantities of butter and sugar, they turned out delicious. I take no credit for that. I believe it belongs to the aforementioned large quantities of fat and sugar. Oh, and I love the hint of lemon that you get if you toss in a bit of lemon zest while creaming the butter and sugar. As served at the brunch (see below), they're really best with homemade whipped cream and strawberries, but there's only so much I'll take in to the office!

While the dough for the shortbread was refrigerating, I tried my hand at these blueberry scones. I've never made scones before, but it didn't look too difficult. Well, either I am an idiot (possible), my exhaustion got the better of me (highly likely), and/or the recipe is not half as good as the 230 people who reviewed it claim it to be. They were just...blah, for lack of a better description. Not "inedible," but definitely sporting an odd consistency and color, and certainly not something I'd serve. So into the trash the whole lot went, inciting my serious guilt complex for wasting the ingredients. And no, I am not showing you a picture, because they were ugly as sin, and I don't want to embarrass myself. 

Anyways, I'll take a two out of three success rate in the LKTC right now, especially because for about 72 hours this past week(end), none of my stove's burners would light, so I had to get pretty creative at times. And while I imagine the bake-a-thon only augmented my sleepy state, it did help distract me from the things that have been keeping me awake at night. 

Speaking of which, I will be climbing in to bed at a dorkily early hour tonight, so here's hoping these posts soon resume some sort of more normal tone...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

friendsgiving, finally

Has it really only been 2 1/2 weeks since Friendsgiving? Surely not. Surely everything that's happened in my life in the past 2 1/2 weeks actually took place over a longer period of time, right?

I suppose "contemplate the time warp that has become my life" is not the point. No, the point is, I'm finally getting around to describing the gloriousness that was Friendsgiving. In case all you care about are pictures, let's start there, ok?

(Oh yeah, one thing before we get going. We decided to name the turkey Walter, so hopefully that clears up any confusion with the subsequent captions/narration)

Getting ready to make four(!) batches of rosemary olive oil bread

wearing plastic gloves and drinking some (fortifying) wine before brining Walter

coating Walter in herb butter prior to roasting

all 20 pounds of Walter, ready to roast


weary hostesses, still in cooking attire despite the 25 or so guests in the living room

fairly self explanatory, but: gravy, cranberry sauce, and bread!

from left: turkey and smoked gouda mac n cheese, apple sausage stuffing, sweet potato casserole, and bacon green beans

we finally made it out of our cooking clothes and in to our cocktail dresses
And now, if you are at all interested, the abbreviated narrative...

Our Friendsgiving was born from one of the many whims I've had lately in an attempt to stay busy and get in the holiday spirit. It was an idea I'd heard about from various friends over the past few years, and sounded fun, so my coworker/good friend Neha and I (pictured above) decided to give it a shot.  After all, we're always looking for an excuse to throw on a cocktail dress.  

The week of the party, despite my major aversion to the place, we went to Costco with a coworker and loaded up on obscene quantities of things like cranberries, green beans, carrots, cheese and turkey. Later in the week, we hit Harris Teeter for things we didn't need in bulk.

Neha and I devoted Friday night to baking bread and doing (not enough) prep work, and then cooked all day Saturday. Friday night, I burned the sweet potato biscuits I've made flawlessly half a dozen times now, so that was frustrating, but constituted our only major disaster, so I'll take it. 

Saturday we got a leisurely start to the day, taking our time buttering up Walter, and picking up a few last minute things. Around lunch, we suddenly realized "oh CRAP, people are coming over starting at 5, and we have so so so much to do!" So, we kicked things in to overdrive, and started chopping, sauteing, and prepping like mad women. We basically ceased any form of chatter, and only spoke when we had questions about a recipe or needed a tool the other was using. Sounds a bit Top Chef-ish, I know, but it worked out well, and we both agreed that cooking and hostessing together was an enjoyable experience. 

Despite the flurry of cooking, we were still in our aprons when the guests arrived, frantically stirring the gravy and setting up the warming trays. We plied the everyone with plentiful wine, and trays of hummus and carrots (mercifully put to good use after we nixed the planned glazed carrots dish due to lack of time and sanity). No one seemed to mind our apron-clad, frenzied selves with the smell of turkey floating around the apartment and glasses of wine in hand.

Once everything was as good as we were going to get it, we instructed everyone to fill a plate and find a place to sit. Then we snuck off, shed the aprons, tossed our cocktail dresses on, joined the party, and piled plates with delicious food.

Even a few weeks later, it still makes me cheesily happy to talk (err, write?) about Friendsgiving. Despite the stress of cooking an entire Thanksgiving meal for the first time in our lives (and for 25 people!), we had a great time. And having friends from all aspects of our lives come together for the occasion was a really nice way to kick off the holiday season.

Next year, though, we're going to do a few things differently. Yes, this brings us to the "if you decide to throw your own Friendsgiving" portion of the post. If we invite that many people again, we're going to aim for a potluck style meal in which we provide only the protein and the booze. All of our side dishes were edible, and dare I say delicious? But the size of apartments in this city does not allow for adequate prep space, oven capacity, or availability of tools, making cooking multiple dishes for two dozen people a real challenge.  And, literally everyone we invited really wanted to bring something, so I don't think the transition to a group-sourced meal will dissuade people from attending our second annual Friendsgiving next year.

Speaking of booze, provide plenty (even if you don't drink and/or some of your guests don't, the rest will make up for it). Gracefully accept in advance that you are not Martha Stewart or staring in a sitcom, and as such, your meal is not going to be ready promptly, nor will your guests all show up at once. No one will lead a revolt due to those factors, but a full glass of wine will squelch any impatience they might feel until you pull the golden turkey out of the oven triumphantly (and a presentable apron will make you feel a little less self-conscious about greeting your guests in leggins and a t-shirt) 

Oh and for the love of all things turkey, make sure you take the neck out of the bird before you roast him.

One last thing. Here are all the recipes we used (they're also on the "LKTC-tested recipes" page): 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

nostalgia wednesdays: acqua alta

Just over three years ago, Venice experienced the fourth highest acqua alta in recorded history. The city is accustomed to periodic "high water," but rarely does it rise to the levels it did on December 1, 2008. In some parts of the city, it was nearly five feet high.

My good friends (and fellow housemate) in Venice agreed to go out on an acqua alta adventure with me that day long before we'd heard of the mayor's warnings to residents that we should stay inside. Although we ended up soaked up to our waists (in chilly, probably polluted canal water), we didn't stay out long enough to encounter the five feet depths, which is fortunate, because I'm a mere one inch over five feet tall. 

by the time we walked back through the Christmas market later in the morning
the trees had all fallen over and were floating around sadly 

this was also closer to the beginning of the period of flooding; later in the morning, 
the temporary sidewalks all floated away 

there was a very Titanic-esque vibe going on that day

in Saint Mark's Square

St. Mark's Basilica and the Ducal Palace

 just around the corner from the house I lived in (that's our neighborhood 
meat and cheese shop owner in the corner there)

I know acqua alta is an awfully odd thing to be nostalgic about, but it was really cool to be a part of something historic in an already history-laden place. And, I just tend to find everything about my time in Italy nostalgia-worthy. Also, my inner eight year old derives a whole lot of joy from splashing around in rain boots. 

Anyways, I'd hoped to have something cooking related for you today, but yesterday afternoon, I gave in to this weird craving I've been having for a McFlurry, which subsequently made my stomach hurt, killing any desire I'd had to cook. And with a terrible night of sleep behind me, and a four nights in a row of plans ahead of me, it's not looking good for a while, unfortunately. I promise to be better next week...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

the anti-costco

Disliking Costco probably makes me un-American, but I've always felt more at home in Europe than I have here, so, I'm going to tiptoe out on this limb, here. (Italy, I'm coming for you if they revoke my citizenship...)

There are so, so many things I dislike about Costco. It is always busy, like Starbucks, only with far worse ambiance. Speaking of ambiance, the number of screaming children present at Costco on any given day is enough to convince me never to have any of my own. It also always smells like bad pizza and burnt popcorn. On top of all of that, it's so intimidatingly cavernous and industrial that I sometimes worry I'll get lost in the giant refrigerator, possibly with some of the aforementioned children, never to be heard from again. 

I mean, look at the place...
(from here)
But my real issue with Costco, at least for the purposes of this (theoretically) food-based blog? The obscene quantities in which they sell food. Let's be serious, nobody ever needs that much of anything, except maybe wine and ice cream, unless they are a)running a restaurant or b)raising the Duggar family, and really, that's what wholesalers are for, right?

I find myself on this tangent/rant because I've finally decided to get my behind back in the LKTC to make something OTHER than a baked good (although there are still plenty of those on my list, too). At the top of my "to-try" list are a few curries I found on a new (to me) cooking blog. Most of the recipes call for some quantity of coconut milk in the neighborhood of half of a cup. A can of coconut milk is more like 2 cups, so you're looking at some serious waste there, unless you want to be eating curry for a week.

This excess materials thing is a common problem in my life. So as someone who hates to waste, has a guilt complex, and is a bit obsessed with miniature things, I think we need an anti-Costco type store out there for those of us who: 1)are single, 2)often cook for just one person, 3)live in tee tiny apartments that can't accomdate Costco quantities, and/or 4)need built-in portion control. A store full of single-use size things. Except wine and ice cream, which can be Costco-sized, because if you're single, well, you need plentiful quantities of those staples in your life.

Who's with me on this, and what can we name this glorious mecca of all things tiny?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

take it from the top

I had really grand plans for my day. It mostly involved adding to this little stash of presents under my baby-sized Christmas tree. 

But in what is becoming an increasingly common theme in my life, I am completely exhausted. I made it to my brunch plans today, but that's about all I managed to cross off my to-do list. I didn't get any new presents. I didn't do any of the lingering dishes in my sink. I didn't even hang my coat up when I got home. 

Instead, I'm curled up on my couch, kicking off what will be a winter-long West Wing marathon. My same friend who gave me his many cans of  pumpkin also gave me his complete West Wing dvd collection to look after while he's overseas for a year.  

Although I blame the series in part for my total disillusion about what my life would be like when I moved to DC, I can't get enough of it. It's one of the smartest, wittiest shows I watch (which isn't exactly a feat, given my embarrassing reality tv habit, but we'll ignore that part). During that lovely nine months in which I was jobless, I would sit in bed and watch two hours of re-runs back when Bravo still aired them, then I'd force myself to get up and kick off the daily job search. 

It's been a busy weekend (I at least earned my extreme exhaustion), so I haven't done hardly any cooking. To distract you until I manage to cook something, I bring you the best brownies outside of a box mix ever. 

See, brownies used to be something I thought were not worth making from scratch. I genuinely believed that they were just as good out of a box as they were from scratch (if not better). And I'm someone who thinks it's borderline sacrilegious to serve or give a dessert. 

But I'd really been wanting to try Pioneer Woman's "knock you naked" brownies, and a charity bake-off at work seemed like the perfect opportunity. Until I couldn't find boxed German chocolate cake mix at any grocery store in the vicinity of my apartment. So I googled "caramel brownies," because I'd already spent a wince-inducing $7 on three bags of caramels, and I didn't want to relinquish the idea entirely. 

And I landed on this deliciousness:  

(picture from recipe)

It was amusingly easy to mix the batter up. It literally all happened in one saucepan (yes, saucepan!) in a matter of maybe 5 minutes. There was no sifting or chopping, just a little stirring and pouring. The brownies looked a little questionable in the oven, and I honestly thought they weren't going to turn out well. Naturally I had to take one for the team and sample one before the bake sale. 

Although the caramels I bought didn't melt quite like the ones in the picture from the recipe, the brownies still turned out sinfully amazingly fudge-ily delicious. I swear I gained a pound eating just one sliver, but it was totally worth it. I've absolutely found my new go-to brownie recipe (even if it didn't win me the bake-off). I'm currently contemplating whittling it down to a one-serving recipe, some how...

But for now, I'm going to spend some quality time with President Bartlett and company. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

an ode to pumpkin recipes

I'm awfully tired. There's "I just didn't get my full eight hours last night," and then there's how tired I am today. I looked so worn out this morning, in fact, that my usual 7am coffee buddy walked past my desk, and said "well I was going to ask if you wanted to get coffee, but you look like you NEED it."

Point is, my ability to articulate myself has been compromised, as it's taking all I've got right now to keep my head up at work. So, I'll be brief in my praises of pumpkin. 

Recently I've tried two new pumpkin recipes, one for bread, and one for gelato. A friend of mine is deploying, and gave me about a dozen cans of pumpkin that he won't be able to use while he's away. Hence the seasonally appropriate kick I seem to be on, here.

Anyways, the bread was light but full of spicy goodness (as in, lots of good spices, not lots of crushed red pepper, because that would just be disgusting). I read most of the notes attached to the recipe, and followed the common suggestions of cutting down the sugar to 1 cup (a mix of white and brown, too), and upping the spices. I made a normal size loaf, and a baby loaf, and tossed a handfull of chocolate chips into the latter. The baby loaf was far more popular than the plain one, so if/when I make the bread again, I'm including the chocolate chips, no question. Wild woman right here.

The gelato was something I originally tried a couple weeks ago before Thanksgiving. I not only had the excessive pumpkin supply on hand, but a lot of leftover milk and cream from Friendsgiving. So I gave the recipe a shot, adding the spices suggested at the end of the basic instructions. It was delicious! So rich and creamy, and just the right amount of pumpkin and spices. I made it again at our family Thanksgiving celebration, and it came out grainy, which was disappointing, but it's entirely my fault for being beyond impatient and not letting the cream/egg/sugar/pumpkin mix cook long enough on the stove (cooking on an electric stove is such an adjustment for me).

And in case you're wondering, somehow I haven't ballooned by 20 pounds this season. I think I have my coworkers, the ever-willing guinea pigs, to thank for that...

ps-I have no cloves on hand, so any recipe that includes those, just assume I've left that spice out, and that the world did not stop spinning, nor was the dish a failure.
pps-recipe page updated to include these beauties

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

nostalgia wednesdays: sisterhood thanksgiving dinner

When I was a junior in college, my sorority did a "sisterhood Thanksgiving dinner" of sorts. Myself and one of the other executive board members were volunteered to do the cooking. Don't ask me how that happened, as we were some of the least domestically inclined girls in the group. Also don't ask me where we bought a frozen solid, fully cooked turkey. I honestly didn't know those existed. Point is, the odds were stacked against us here.

On top of all that, on the day of the Thanksgiving, she and I went in to the kitchen in the dorm, and realized the turkey was still frozen solid. We shared an "oh crap" look, and tried to attack the problem like the very analytical business majors that we both were. We came up blank. 

So we admitted defeat, and called the Butterball hotline. Yes, you read that right. Butterball has a hotline, and we called it. No shame here, people. The lady on the other end of the line laughed out loud at us, and informed us sympathetically that there wasn't much we could do at that point. So we cranked up the oven really high, wrapped the bird in foil, and cooked it for as long as we could before the dinner. Let's just say there wasn't a lot of turkey to eat...

I'm by no means making gourmet meals (or even regular meals sometimes...), but I've come so, so far since then. My diligence and skill still vary pretty wildly, but had you told me my junior year of college that I would recover from the sisterhood Thanksgiving disaster, and go on to serve Thanksgiving for several dozen in Italy, and prepare the entire meal for 25 friends here in DC, I'd have laughed at you while I was on hold with the Butterball hotline. 

I like looking back at those days, not just because they make me laugh at myself, but because they remind me that, for all the worrying I do about the future, I really have no idea what's to come. As much as I would've given you a skeptical look if you'd told me I would take up (and enjoy!) cooking, I'd have also never guessed I'd end up a) in DC, or b)in the line of work I'm in.  

And since that is far more cheeseball than I usually tolerate, I'm going to leave you with the promise of a couple good pumpkin recipes for the coming days!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

gratitude and glazed carrots

grateful for the countless lake house weekends when i was growing up
(slightly less grateful for these sunglasses...) 

I realize that both Friendsgiving and actual Thanksgiving have passed now, but it's still the season to be thankful if you ask me. Sometimes I forget just how good I have it, so I've been trying not to lose sight of that this year, even though things don't always go just as I'd like. 

I'm grateful for the big things, like my crazy family and their unyielding belief that I'm someone to be proud of, my amazing friends and their consistent grace in the face of my many quirks,  my childhood full of weekends at the lake house, my comfortable (if small) apartment, my (relatively) stable job, and the freedom and means to do what I please most of the time. 

I'm also thankful for silly little things, like the Bose noise cancelling headphones my Mom decided she didn't need, my bright pink rain boots, the holiday parties that give me an excuse to dress up this season, pictures of my sister and I from when we were younger that make me laugh, the Starbucks solo espresso macchiatos that remind me of Italy, the days I don't have to set an alarm clock, and the realization about a year ago that I can actually cook for myself if I put my mind to it. 

That last one is what brings us to the glazed carrots bit. A couple weeks ago, I was supposed to have plans with a friend, but bowed out last minute (see: their grace in the face of my quirks). I was so exhausted from one of the innumerable pre-7am meetings we have here at work, and just wanted to go home. I was headed for a night of cereal and soy milk, but my guilt complex kicked in, and instead I made garlic naan (from Trader Joe's, so good!), roasted potatoes tossed with this Moroccan spice mix and some olive oil, and these curried glazed carrots (both recipes from a favorite of mine, Dinner a Love Story). 

It involved only a tiny bit more effort than pouring myself cereal and milk, and was far more satisfying. I'm thankful that those sort of choices are becoming more normal in my life. It gives me hope that maybe some day I'll actually be capable of turning out edible dinners on a regular basis for my future family. Now I just need to work on more internet-worthy pictures...

ps-I've been adding any referenced recipes to the "LKTC-tested recipes" tab at the top of the main page, including those we used at Friendsgiving, even though I haven't detailed that adventure yet, so if you're looking for a comprehensive list, head over that way. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

nostalgia wednesdays: the OBKB lodge

one of my favorite pictures EVER from the early days at the lake
(no clue what we were doing!) 

Since I was incubating, my family has had a lake place, fondly referred to as the OBKB Lodge. My mom was about my age when she and my dad went in with her brother and their parents on a "weekend place" in south Georgia. Now that I am that age, it boggles my mind to think of being a)married, b)pregnant, and c)a dual homeowner. I can barely afford ONE place right now, not to mention two. And don't even get me started on the whole married/pregnant thing. Let's just say that's a heck of a long way off.

But I'm so glad that somehow my parents had it way more together than I do at this age, because the lake house has become the crux of our family gatherings for decades. When my sister and I were little, and our family still lived in Georgia, we'd be down here every weekend with our cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Now, it's become more of a compound than just a lake house, since my grandparents built their own place next door to the original lake house and retired here a few years ago, and my mom's second brother and his wife moved down here full time, too.

Every time we come to the lake, and turn in to the neighborhood where our house is, I remember how my sister and I would be SO EXCITED that we were finally allowed to take our seat belts off for the last mile to the house. The weekends were always a blur of my grandma's great cooking, endless hours swimming in the lake, and the cousins always getting in trouble for staying up late talking in the room where we shared a set of bunk beds. 

We've long since graduated from wearing swimmies and playing with American Girl dolls, but we still come back here at least a few times a year for the big holidays. Our already big family is slowly expanding, but it seems like yesterday that we would squeal as my (now-married) cousin Matt would grab mud off the floor of the lake and hurl it at the girls.  

Although our lives have all changed one way or another since the OBKB Lodge was first built, it is still a place of spotty (at best) cell phone service and minimal internet connectivity (aka a slow connection at my grandparents' house, next door to the lodge). When you come to the lodge, you eat, you sleep, and you talk. While that used to drive me a bit crazy, I've become so much more thankful for the chance to check out and relax since I moved to DC.

Anyways, I'm on dinner duty tonight, and I have meatballs and sauce to attend to back at the main lodge. So, Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Hope you're surrounded by as much love, good food, and nostalgia as I am right now.

Monday, November 21, 2011

introducing walter

I'm sitting here trying to muster the energy to recount the many amusing details of the first annual Friendsgiving (which was this past Saturday), but I am completely exhausted. 

See, to prepare for the feast, we cooked from about 3pm to 10pm Friday, and most of the day Saturday. Then I went to bed late Saturday, got up early Sunday, and walked six miles around the city since it was such a nice day. Today I had to be at work before 7 am, then came home and made mac & cheese and pumpkin spice gelato from the many Friendsgiving leftover ingredients. Add all of that to my crazy pre-flight anxiety, and I'm beat. 

So I'm going to finish packing for my Thanksgiving trip home, try to revive my Nook from whatever coma it seems to have entered, and hopefully catch up on some sleep before another early alarm. Until I have more time and energy (and the whole slew of photos from Saturday's party), here are a few pictures taken while we were prepping Walter the Friendsgiving turkey (yes, we named him. Have you MET me?)

we decided we needed both wine and some plastic gloves 
to undertake the whole dry brining adventure

I realize there isn't much to help you determine scale,
but Walter is (err, was?) a 20lb beast

buttering Walter was, well, not my favorite
part of the prep 

Check back soon for actual updates worth reading! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

nostalgia wednesdays: turkey-gate '08

Not everything I'm nostalgic about happened in Venice three years ago, but a whole lot did. Including "turkey-gate '08," which you can read about here and here.

Rewind to the week(s) leading up to Thanksgiving 2008. I was student assistant in a huge palazzo full of college kids, and collectively we were putting on a traditional American Thanksgiving for roughly 70 people. Our budget was more in line with half as many guests, and we weren't exactly living and shopping in a country that stocked canned pumpkin starting in October. On top of all of that, the Italian ladies who ran the program were not quite on board with buying enough bird to serve the entire guest list.

We only had two old, unreliable gas ovens to cook and bake with, but somehow we made it work. There was an excel spreadsheet to track ingredient quantities needed, a detailed oven schedule, and a last-minute covert trip or two to an American Army base for extra turkeys. 

Having never cooked a Thanksgiving meal (or hardly any meals for that matter), nor spent the holiday away from my family, it was an undertaking I secretly dreaded. Despite my trademark fretting, it turned out to be one of the best Thanksgivings of my life. 

Naturally I missed my family, but I got to do a handful of things that we never do at our family holidays, including dressing up for dinner, listening to a classical music recital after dinner, adjourning to a bar, and concluding the crazy day with a visit to the kabob shop and a spirited pumpkin pie fight. 

This year I'll be spending the holiday with our family in Georgia, but before I head south next week, my friend and I will be hostessing our first annual "Friendsgiving" this weekend. We're going to whip up all the traditional dishes, and have a whole mess of coworkers and friends over. Neither of us are exactly skilled when it comes to things like cranberry sauce (for example: "hmm, I guess that recipe looks good...I don't eat cranberry sauce..." silence... "me neither").  So if the meal falls flat, we're just going to pour generous glasses of wine and hope no one notices. 

Sadly I have basically zero pictures of the Venice Thanksgiving spread, which is a mistake I will not make at Friendsgiving this year. Because I have no evidence of the successful turnaround of Turkeygate '08, I'll leave you instead with some pretty Venice pictures.