Sunday, October 30, 2011

the best part of waking up

Is this stuff in my cup. 
(from here)

Today, I am especially tired. On days like this, I think about how amazing it would be to have a lifetime supply of illy espresso. It is, hands down, my favorite way to caffeinate. In addition to its high quality, it plays to my obscenely nostalgic nature by reminding me of the good old days in Venice. Apparently the company offers an "illy a casa" program, which involves recurring delivery of the good stuff straight to your door. Some day when I win the lottery...

Since illy will suddenly seem cheap when I strike it rich, let's also throw in one of these guys, because they are shiny, beautiful, and make great espresso...

(from here)

Isn't he just so charming and Italian? In what is becoming a LKTC tradition, I'd name him Massimo. I'm such a sucker for shiny, pretty things. Never mind that I'd need extensive training just to learn how to use it without blowing my kitchen up...

Anyways, due to my exhaustion, I've spent most of the day watching football and getting my life in order, so I don't have any great cooking-related tales to relay. I'm optimistic about the roasted aparagus and red pepper I'm going to eat along side spinach couscous, but it's nothing particularly creative, so, I'll leave you instead to ogle illy in the first "kitchen covets" post in far too long. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011


I'm normally a spot-on embodiment of a type A person. I plan and organize the daylights out of things, much to the annoyance, I'm sure, of my more laid back friends. Somehow, though, that has fallen by the wayside in one very important area this week: the planning of a Halloween costume. 

By and large, I'm a little "eh" about Halloween. It's right up there with Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve in my book. They're "holidays" that make you feel compelled to do something cooler than anyone else is doing and/or to do something more amazing than any prior year, when really they're just average days.  I kinda resent them for that, and tend to participate halfheartedly, if at all. 

But this year, I'm going all in. A coworker of mine is throwing a party, and another colleague threw down the gauntlet, announcing that he would have the best costume ever. In a haze of competitiveness, I said something along the lines of "that's cute, but MINE is going to be the best ever." 

Now let's back up to the time (a few paragraphs ago) that I explained how I haven't given an iota of thought or planning to my costume this year. NOT ONE BIT, PEOPLE. This party is mere hours away, and I got nothing (other than a bold, unsupported statement). Well, that's not entirely true, as I have a crappy Forever 21 version of the Marilyn Monroe white dress, some red lipstick, and a curling iron, but, I'm just not sure that has what it takes to beat my coworker (whose costume, I should point out, is a mystery to all but him right now).

So, I'm going to finish my coffee and pray that the creative ideas suddenly flow in to my newly caffeinated brain, because I hate losing even more than I hate not having a plan. If you have any ideas, by all means, help a girl out. Past costumes include...

Unfortunate looking, but not half as bad as the clown outfit the parents put me in 
a few years prior. (Family, that picture stays in the albums when my future husband meets you for the first time, got it?)

Shout out to my Mom, who made this one happen after my crazy
ten year old self just had to have it

When I was living in Venice, a housemate and I found these hilariously large Santa
suits at the Italian version of Wal-Mart. We ditched the pants and went as twin Mrs. Claus

Last year's last-minute Pottery Barn Kids acquisition. Love it still, but don't think 
it's going to help me win today.

PS-I know, I know. I'm supposed to write about cooking. Maybe one of these days I'll actually come straight home from work and prepare a meal. Maybe. Until then, you're stuck with other random chatter. 


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

newton (not fig)

I was always particularly abysmal at physics, so I'm probably going to oversimplify this in a way that would make my high school science teacher shudder, but here goes. I am the perfect example of Newton's law. When at rest, this lazy little body is very likely to stay at rest. And that's on a good (read: easy) day.

Lately there've been some less than "good" days. Nothing tragic has happened (unless you count getting my favorite high heel stuck in a grate and then accidentally kicking said pump across a busy intersection during rush hour), I'm just much busier than normal. I'm trying to balance a two week draining audit seminar with finding a new place to buy or rent and popping around town to catch up with various friends (while trying to kick an on-coming cold). I really like staying busy and seeing friends, but there are some things I really need to take care of in front of a computer, and not at one of DC's many bars. 

So I rescheduled tonight's plans, and came straight home after training let out. Not nearly as interesting as my past two nights (which have involved sitting in the park looking at the White House (+protesters) for a few hours while trying to figure out what in the world I'm doing with my life before going to a rain-soaked happy hour, and watching the District's drag queens race down 17th Street in higher heels than even I aspire to own), but more conducive to answering three days worth of emails, eating real food for dinner, and figuring out how best to handle looming eviction. 

To accomplish at least 2/3 of those tasks, I couldn't let myself sit down on my couch, not even for a second, when I got home. I did dishes, I put my clothes away, I picked up the living room (I mean really, how many Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons can one girl accumulate??). I then made the terrible mistake of pausing on my couch, which led to the laziest dinner the LKTC has seen in a while: instant rice and some sort of Bengali lentil concoction that gets boiled in its bag for five minutes. Stupid Newton, and his stupid law. 

So now I'm comfily ensconced on my couch, and daydreaming of Halloween parties and other holiday adventures to come (Friendsgiving, anyone?) instead of getting intimate with and/or craigslist. Since I inhaled my (very un-photogenic) lentil-tastic dinner, I'll leave you instead with one of my favorite pictures from Halloween back in the little Jenny days (because nostalgia is never out of season). 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

case of the mondays

I know that really no one likes Mondays. I think we're all prepared for a little more blah-ness than usual on Mondays. And as much as I try to give myself a pep talk and buck up somewhere between the metro and my desk, Mondays at my office always start off on an especially sour note. 

See, all of the senior staff from the DC office and the overseas office meet at 8 am every Monday via video teleconference (VTC). It's my job to get to the conference room early and make sure everything is set up properly, which is a huge joke, because the VTC system never, ever works. And rarely is anyone from IT to be found, even though it's their job to also get there early to help. Even if the entire IT staff is there, I have yet to see them fix the various malfunctions that occur. Even though it's not my fault that the machine doesn't work, I always have several angry managers staring me down as I try to figure out some crackerjack back up solution. It's beyond frustrating, and just not a great way to kick off every single work week. 

Because I'm a notorious stress baker, instead of stomping my feet or punching the VTC machine or yelling at IT (ok, that one happens sometimes), I often go home on Mondays and fire up the oven. 

Last week, I was inspired by Allie to go on a pumpkin kick. Always having success with Pioneer Woman recipes, I decided to try her pumpkin spice muffin concoction. While I wish her devotion to sifting flour weren't so fervent, I otherwise find her recipes pretty approachable, and this was no exception. 

There was a moment where I was afraid I'd bought the wrong kind of pumpkin, and did some frantic googling ("is puree the same as solid pack?" is a surprisingly easy question to answer, apparently). In case you're also naive to such distinctions, I'll save you some fretting and tell you that they are, in fact, one in the same. 

Whew. So anyways, minor pumpkin semantics aside, the muffins came out beautifully (in appearance and taste). I burned the roof of my mouth to make the taste determination, but it was worth the sacrifice. I'm not a great photographer, so you'll have to take my word (and not the quality of these pictures) for the muffins' actual aesthetic success. 

I had about half of a can of pumpkin left over, and I didn't want to waste it. I had shortbread on the brain, so I thought pumpkin shortbread would be delicious. I used this recipe, and the shortest way to put it is that something went awry. I'm honestly not sure what, sadly, but they tasted like dry, bland cookies, not like shortbread. I'm starting to learn that I really just need to stop after one successful baked good. This is not the first time I've taken on one too many recipes in an attempt to banish stress, only to see the second (and third and...) fail. 

Not to be dissuaded by the shoddy shortbread, I just stocked up on flour, sugar, and other necessary sundries today. That said, I'll be away from the office in training for the next two weeks, so I'm hoping for a hiatus from my usual Monday morning stress fest... 

Monday, October 17, 2011

one week down

I've been doing the vegetarian thing for a week now, and so far, I'm actually surprised at how well it's gone. Aside from a meat-heavy diet on the road trip, I don't normally eat a whole lot of the stuff (now sugar...that will be an issue). It's expensive, I always forget to take it out of the freezer in a timely fashion, and I really hate touching raw meat. Pretty much the only time I've had food envy was Sunday, and I blame that entirely on the smell of bacon wafting from the many brunch spots in Dupont as I was wandering around looking for apartments. I have found that it can be tough to find something meat-free during happy hour at bars (my former go-to was chicken fingers). But I'm not giving up yet...

A lot of people ask me "but what do you EAT?" when I explain that I'm trying this whole no meat thing. (Seriously, I get less incredulous reactions when I mention my semi-serious intent to join a convent). I eat basically all the same stuff I did, minus the steak on the plate! See?


and now!

I'm eating a lot more fruits/veggies, which is never a bad thing, and I've tried to add more plant protein (a la edamame and the like). I'm still eating too much sugar (I'm sampling some pumpkin shortbread as we speak), but I'll tackle that later...

For now, it's a night of stress baking, and roasted green beans + baby potatoes!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

final stats & thoughts

Last road trip-related post for now, I promise. In case you're interested less in pictures and more in numbers, here are some road trip stats. (And a few thoughts, if you're considering undertaking one of your own)

  • Total miles driven: 2879
  • Miles/day: ~411
  • Gas stops/day: 1.5
  • Non-gas stops/day: 3
  • Cups of coffee/day: 3.5
  • Gallons of gas purchased:~111
  • Average MPG: 28.9
  • Traffic tickets: NONE!

A few observations:
  • We were surprised by: how long it actually takes for landscapes to change across the country, the variety of reactions we got when we told people we were driving across the country, how well things went despite our general lack of pre-planning 
  • We were disappointed by: the lack of gas station variety in the Southwest, how difficult it can be to find scenic things right off of I-40, how bad our gambling luck was in Vegas

And finally, a few tips: 
  • unless you're trying to get somewhere quickly (which kind of defeats the purpose), aim for no more than 6 hours of driving a day, and split it evenly
  • make sure you have at least one buddy to split the driving with, and who can take pictures and hand over snacks while you're driving
  • speaking of buddies, pick one (or more) who you can stand spending several consecutive days with in a confined space {note, this is by far the most important part to get right!}
  • stay with family or friends along the way if you can--it breaks up the monotony of hotels and gives you something to look forward to
  • pack a case or two of water, and buy snacks at the grocery--we spent maybe $15/each at the grocery before we left, and probably saved twice that much by not buying stuff at gas stations (if you're driving through a mostly dry state like, say, Arkansas, pack a bottle of wine, too)
  • don't do too much research/planning in advance, it's more fun that way! 
  • embrace the role of cheesy tourist--go to the outlandish, ridiculous places, take a million pictures, and own it
  • pick a destination you're excited about, otherwise that much driving will feel like a job, not a vacation

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

day 7 - grand canyon to vegas

We woke up really early on Thursday to try and see a Grand Canyon sunrise, especially since the weather had been so poor on Wednesday. We made oatmeal with hot water from the in-room coffee pot, packed up the car, and headed for Yavapai Point. When we got there, it was pitch black, and there was only one other car. Allie said "let's get out and see what we can see!" Having watched one too many episodes of Criminal Minds, I wasn't too enthusiastic about that plan, but also didn't want to stay alone in the car. Unfortunately it was still pretty cloudy, but we did get to see glimmers of a sunrise. It looked like it was shaping up to be a beautiful day in the Canyon, but it was approximately 33 degrees, super windy, and a bit snowy, and we hadn't brought enough clothes to endure those conditions. So we set off for Vegas. 

I think I was most surprised at how amazing the scenery was between the Canyon and the Hoover Dam. Sadly we weren't able to see the Hoover Dam itself, because after September 11, they built a bypass bridge (you can no longer drive over the original). The bypass bridge has a huge concrete barrier blocking ANY view of the dam. If we weren't so excited to get to Vegas (and get OUT of the car), we probably wouldn't taken a detour to see it in person. 

Since we knew my family was waiting in Vegas, we headed in that direction, returning the car at the airport and jumping in my aunt and uncle's rental to be ferried back to the hotel. From then on, it was a whirlwind of amazing meals, gambling lessons from my aunt, and the best people watching I have ever experienced. 

Mom, Dad, Allie and I had never been to Vegas before, but my aunt and uncle live much closer, and go often enough that they were able to serve as great tour guides. Each day, they planned out a little route for us so we could see the inside/outside of many of the casinos on the strip. For someone as noise-sensitive as me, Vegas is an overwhelming place, but I'm still glad we ended the trip there. After I got over my initial aversion to gambling (and stopped wondering out loud "how do real people live in this town??"), I had a good time. We saw and met all sorts of characters, and some of us even had unusual luck on the casino floor. Unfortunately the weather wasn't quite warm enough to take advantage of the many pools at Mandalay Bay, but we managed to entertain ourselves nonetheless. The best part, though, was definitely celebrating my parents' 30th anniversary with an amazing Italian meal at Sirio, followed by the requisite Cirque du Soliel show. Congrats, parents...we loved celebrating with you!

day 7, 8, &9:
-stayed at: Mandalay Bay
-ate at: all sorts of incredible places

She won $500 on a slot machine!

view from our room at night

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

day 6 - albuquerque to grand canyon

We planned to kick off day six with an early morning wake up call to see the morning glow and mass ascension at Albuquerque’s (apparently) world-famous Balloon Fiesta. Sadly the rain (highly unusual for the city) caused a cancellation of all of the day’s events. So we slept in a bit longer, moped a bit, said our farewells to Allison, and hit the road. We made another good-faith effort to stop at scenic overlooks/sites, but weren’t super successful. We ended up in the Canyon in time to do some hiking before finding a good sunset-viewing spot. 

Unfortunately the bad weather followed us from New Mexico, because it was raining, really windy, and COLD. Even with two pairs of pants, two long sleeve shirts, a light sweatshirt, and a rain jacket on, I was miserable. I can't imagine how the people in shorts were still hanging in there. I invested in a wool hat at a gift shop near our lodge, which might be the best $20 I’ve spent this entire trip. We really gave hiking a college try, even taking a few different buses to the recommended Hopi Point, but ended up calling it a day a bit early on account of the weather.  
day 6:
stayed at: Yavapai Lodge on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
ate at: McDonald’s in Albuquerque for breakfast (I was crankily hungry), Cracker Barrel in Flagstaff for lunch, and The Bright Angel Lodge Restaurant on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for dinner

Monday, October 10, 2011

day 5 - amarillo to albuquerque

{Finally back in DC, and back to the snapshots of the road trip}

Tuesday ended up being our short day after our decision to push through to Amarillo on Monday. We “slept in” (maybe 7:30 am by our standards), and took our time watching GMA and eating breakfast. On the way out of town, we stopped at Cadillac Ranch, which is a collection of old Cadillac cars buried in a field off of I-40. It was pretty much as weird/cool as you can imagine. We made it to Albuquerque in time for a late lunch, and ate at a restaurant my friend Allison had recommended. Their pulled pork sandwich really gave Neely’s (from our day in Memphis) a run for its money. After lunch, Allie indulged my atypical urge to get a pedicure, and read while I did that. (We had some time to kill until Allison was off work)
Later, we met up with Allison at her house. Her family was in town, and had volunteered to cook dinner for all of us, so we helped with some light prep work, drank wine, and caught up. It was really nice to stay in a friend’s house and eat home cooked (delicious) food after four days on the road. We played with Allison’s dogs, met her pet turtle, and slept to the sound of rain falling all night long. It was just perfect. 
day 5:
-stayed at: Allison’s house
-ate at: Hampton Inn Amarillo for breakfast, CoolWater Fusion in Albuquerque for lunch, and Allison’s house in Albuquerque for dinner

Couldn't get over the beautiful Texas sky

Cadillac Ranch

One of my favorites

Stopped at a scenic overlook somewhere outside of Amarillo

Best state sign so far

Allison's pet turtle! 

Chester, Allison, & I -- reunited at last!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Viva Las Vegas

Not that anyone is particularly disappointed, but I'm woefully behind on the whole road trip update thing. And that isn't exactly going to change, because we've FINALLY made it to Vegas! We have a killer view of the Strip, and amazing tour guides in the form of my aunt and uncle, who come here from their home town of Denver often. It's pretty much the perfect set up. Vegas is crazy, expensive, overwhelming...definitely one of the weirder places I've ever been. I don't know how real, normal people live in a place like this, but I think I like visiting it. So that's all for now. I'll be back in action after we get back to DC Sunday!

View from our room!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

day 4 - clarksville to amarillo

Yesterday we did a little bit of a longer drive, and made it from Clarksville, Arkansas to Amarillo, Texas. We made a concerted effort to do sightseeing early in the drive, but we'd pull off to see some weird store or the like, and we'd find it....CLOSED. So finally we set our sights on the route 66 museum in Elk City, Oklahoma. Luckily it was open, and we wandered around the little mock-historic village. They have a farm museum, route 66 museum, and something else that I'm forgetting (we didn't go in it). When we wandered in to the little soda shop, we came across a few of the people who apparently take care of the restaurant and recruit volunteers who staff the shop in the summer (when it sells soda and ice cream). They chatted our ears off, and took our picture behind the counter. After lunch, we got back in the car to listen to the Amanda Knox chatter on the radio and to drive to Amarillo. 

Last night we had dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, which is at a total tourist trap, but we did it knowing full well what we were getting ourselves in to. They're famous for their 72oz steak challenge. Sadly we weren't up for the challenge, nor was anyone else, but we had much smaller versions. The restaurant was highly entertaining, complete with servers in ridiculous cowboy hats and a roving country band. After dinner, we found the local Dairy Queen to satiate a mini blizzard craving I've been having for hundreds of miles. 

Day 4: Clarksville to Amarillo
-stayed at: Hampton Inn Amarillo East 
-ate at: Hampton Inn Clarksville for breakfast, Subway in Elk City for lunch, and Big Texan Steak Ranch/Dairy Queen in Amarillo for dinner

And finally, just a few pictures for now: 

Oklahoma was full of road work, and short on scenery

Our daily present from Mom's road trip bag

Enjoyed some of it last night!

Outside the soda shop at the Route 66 museum

Oh yeah, this happened. 

We were disappointed in the lackluster "Welcome to Texas" sign

Less disappointed in the Texas scenery than the Texas sign

Touristy dinner!

This also totally happened

The entire meal that comprises the 72oz challenge

Today we head to Albuquerque, and I'm pretty excited because a) I get to see/stay with my good friend and former coworker, Allison, b) it's a short driving day, and c) I think the landscape is really going to change in the four hundred or so miles between here and New Mexico.