Friday, June 29, 2012

barney & friends

In case my persistent panic and other histrionics weren't memorable, may I remind you that I had this little midterm exam a couple days ago? The upside of the stress wrapped up in taking one's first exam a)in four plus years, b)with a new professor, is that when it's finally over, it feels like Christmas morning or the first day of vacation or something. I left that exam and it was like I was on speed. Or like I imagine I'd feel if I ever took speed. Mom and Dad, I have never taken speed. That one time I was awake for 24 hours straight thanks to Claratin D may've been like unintentionally taking speed, but big old emphasis on the UNintentional part. 

Point is, I was jazzed to be done. Sadly no one was up for celebrating with me at 8pm on a Wednesday, so I went home, grabbed a beer out of the fridge, and hit the roof deck with a magazine to enjoy the last pleasant night before the full on heat wave smacked DC in the face. I was frequently distracted, however, by the gorgeous sunset stretching out over northwest DC.   

Once the sun had set, and reading my magazine became impossible, I headed downstairs to take care of one of the many things I've been neglecting lately: my entryway. I ordered a new rug for the little hallway thanks to one of the thoughtful gift cards my parents gave me for my birthday. I'd been too busy to so much as pick it up from the front desk, not to mention unfurl it in its new home. Once I got around to it, the space went from looking like this (which you may remember from May's tour of the new digs): 

Pardon the poor quality iPhone snapshot, I was too tired to get my camera out and fire it up, but this is the "after." I just realized you can't really see the bench, which is now black, or much of the red door, but I promise, it makes for a great contrast, and I love that the runner fills up the space so much better than the tiny rug I originally had. Plus, it'll sort of tie the entryway in to the bathroom, which will have script stenciled on the bottom half of the long wall. 

After doing those two insanely simple things, I pretty much passed out, having set my alarm for an hour later than usual the next morning, giving myself a little reward for surviving the whole adventure. I officially celebrated yesterday with three separate happy hours (my social life, it seems, is perennially plagued by the feast or famine phenomenon). At some point I have to start thinking about school work again, but I'm giving myself today off, too. 

And finally, before I head off for a weekend peppered with more celebrating, some beach-going, and (sigh) a healthy dose of reading, here is a totally gratuitous photo of my colleague's adorable dog, Barney. The little guy came to visit Wednesday afternoon when his dog sitter fell ill, and I think I have him to thank for calming me down and convincing me that everything was going to go just fine. Chasing a puppy around a mostly-empty office full of hiding places has a way, I suppose, of distracting you. Thanks, Barney! 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Fail...small word, big implications. As in, if I fail the class I'm taking right now, I cannot continue taking courses towards a Certificate in International Studies (although believe me, right now, it seems like the last thing I'd like to do). It also happens to be a word that describes my attempt at making cookies this evening to "relax." (In quotation marks, because I'm convinced I have forgotten how to do just that). 

If that's not a sign I should get back to the books, I don't know what is. And yet here I sit... 

Anyways, unlike a few weeks ago, today, I decided to make my "know it from heart, everyone loves it" chocolate chip cookie recipe. I've been making it since I was, I don't know, 13?, and I've known it by heart for years and years. As one of my friends recently reminded me, I used to study much like I am now: by making extremely intricate study guides, then abandoning them and making cookies. In all those iterations, I've had bigger fails than cracking an egg straight on to my counter, but this was the first fail in a good long while. Let's just say it didn't do great things for that whole relaxing study break thing.  

So I guess I'll get back to it. If you want to stop by my place for a fresh cookie, the only requirement is that you quiz me in the theories of international relations. Deal? I'll even throw in a glass of cold milk.  

Sunday, June 24, 2012

avoiding the inevitable

For a weekend I was supposed to be doing nothing but studying, I've done quite a few things that haven't involved being wedded to my laptop. My coworkers talked me in to happy hour on Friday by promising to create a study guide (they're all huge international relations nerds). Saturday I escaped from my apartment for brunch with a friend on the patio of Begla Cafe in Barracks Row, where I paid far too much for this adorable little cappuccino. To be fair, it was one of the best I've had outside of Italy. And, it came in the most charming little illy espresso cup (note to self: check ebay!). 

I spent the afternoon studying outside until a little mouse decide to scurry across my toes, and then I was totally over it. Which, on the bright side, is how I ended up cooking dinner for the first time in ages! I've had all the fixings for this recipe for gnocchi with spinach, pine nuts, and brown butter, and the instructions seemed super fast, so I figured I might as well crank up the stove since it wasn't prohibatively hot yesterday. 

Plus, I knew the leftovers would serve as studying fuel for lunch and/or dinner today. I only had frozen spinach, so I'm not sure I ended up with the taste the recipe was going for, but it totally acheived the one I was going for, which was "spinachy." I sprinkled some crushed red pepper into the skillet in the browning of the butter/pine nuts/garlic phase, but kept my touch light after the kung pao chicken disaster. Like many of the "dinner tonight" recipes, you aren't going to get crazy complex flavors from something that takes you 10 minutes to make, but, I thought it was pretty good, and I've been eating the leftovers without complaint, so, I deem it a relative success! 

To round out my weekend of procrastination, last night I met a coworker and his friends at a new beach-themed bar in DC (complete with several tons of sand "imported" from Ocean City, MD), which was actually a great, relaxing little diversion. Then today, I got caught up in a little Bravo marathon and met with another coworker for coffee (bless her very sweet self, she agreed to "tutor" me a bit). 

Living in my new neighborhood is to blame for all of this study-avoidance, I think. It's so easy to get pretty much anywhere now, and someone is always up to something that I want to join in on. The best compromise I've come up with at this point are these little study breaks coupled with studying outside as much as possible to at least feel like I'm also just out enjoying my weekend like a normal person.  

We'll see how successful this strategy has been come Wednesday...

Friday, June 22, 2012


Apparently in the four years since I was last in school, I have completely forgotten everything about how to study. Well, everything save procrastination, which is a skill I fear I'll never be able to shake. So I'm in a state of perma-stress about my upcoming exam, which I fear will kick my butt at best, and lead to me failing my first class ever (IN MY LIFE) at worst. 

At this point, life is clearly divided into two separate periods: life before midterm, and life after midterm. LAM cannot come soon enough, and will involve things like weekend beach trips, July 4th parties, and general denial that LAM still requires me to complete voluminous readings for upcoming classes, to write a paper (in teams), and to take a final exam, all within four weeks. (Note to self: YOU were the one who thought this was a good idea. Remember that). 

To dull the pain of all of the above, LAM is also going to involve a lot of these "adult popsicles," which I first saw on Endless Simmer

strawberry peach vodka popsicles, photo and recipe here

watermelon mojito popsicles, photo and recipe here

I'll let you know how they turn out (although honestly, how not-awesome could these possibly be?)! Also, if you happen to be a friend or family member I haven't called (back) in days, a meal I haven't cooked, a kitchen I haven't cleaned, an email I haven't answered, or a plan I haven't made, I promise, I'll be all over it once LAM commences. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

bad habits

I believe just yesterday, I told a huge lie, which was that I might do some cooking this week. It was easy to say that before DC turned into the equivalent of a massive steam room, and now that it's nearly 100 degrees, well, the only thing I'm getting from the kitchen is a beer. Or, more accurately, I'm meeting friends at the bar for a beer. See, I'm in the throes of wild, unrestrained procrastination (one of my many awesomely bad habits). My bedroom floor looks like this... 

...and in seven days, I have my first exam in, I don't know, four years, I then have to remember how to write a ten page paper, and things at work are a little crazy. Oof, life. Naturally the most responsible thing to do is squeeze multiple happy hours in to the same day, er, week. BUT, the point is not that I'm quickly learning more about what restaurants have the best offerings than about international relations theory (well, ok, I am...). It's that apparently I'm not alone in my propensity to flock to a watering hole instead of a store for booze.

Apparently, according to NPR, the amount Americans spend on alcohol hasn't changed much over the past three decades, but the locations at which they spend it have. The percentage of money spent at bars and restaurants has nearly doubled. Meanwhile the price of alcohol at bars and restaurants has skyrocketed while the price of it at stores has gone down. And yet to the bars we all go. (I'd like to think that's actually healthier behavior, but I'm no expert). 

Interesting stuff, at least to me. Then again I'm a sucker for a good infographic. And, it's all I've got until summer realizes it's being unreasonable and cools down a little so I can cook something. Now excuse me while I go freak out about the fact that our professor just informed us the aforementioned paper my class was assigned has to be written in teams. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"it's monday, man...

 ...'stuff' happens..." said the guy who happened to walk by me yesterday as I dropped my entire just-purchased solo espresso macchiato on the sidewalk. I think he felt compelled to say something because I was just standing there staring at the mess I'd made, lip trembling, I'm sure (which was more out of guilt for dirtying the sidewalk than out of annoyance for having just wasted something in the neighborhood of $2.50). At that point I kind of just had to smile, pick up the coffee cup that had jumped out of my hand, and agree with him. Then I had to trudge back to Starbucks, sheepishly hold up the sad little cup that was dirtied, emptied, and dented from the forceful fall from my apparently useless left hand. The saving grace of the whole clumsy debacle was that somehow my pristine white work dress, one of my favorites, was entirely spared every last drop of flying coffee. 

If only I'd had this view as I dropped my coffee...

So while I managed to preserve my dress, get to class on time, and actually participate in the discussion in some sort of intelligent fashion, I settled for a dinner of Cheetos and wine instead of cooking anything when I got home. Well, actually, in the spirit of sounding slightly less like a boozing 12 year old, I had a dinner of organic white cheddar cheese puffs and wine. 

I suppose there's really no glamorizing that, is there? 

I hope to do some cooking this week, as my kitchen misses me, and my wallet is getting a bit too light. Then again, it's supposed to be painfully hot, so, let's not set our expectations too high here. Either way, until I do try something new, here's the link to what is quickly becoming one of my favorite regular features on Food52, "Jenny's in the Kitchen."

While I obviously am immediately drawn to this blogger based on our shared possession of one of the most popular names from the 1980s and the fact that we both live in (and love/hate) DC, what I like most is her writing style. She nails the extremely difficult task of being clever but succinct. I generally aspire to be, but fail miserably at, both, which I think lends me special skill in appreciating the quality in others. The recipes she features are pretty awesome, too, but I'm mostly in it for the prose. Here's one of my favorites.

It's tough to single out just one part, but this little section might be my favorite, perhaps because I can completely relate to her bemoaning of trivial aspects of District life:

"A few hours later, chilled tart in hand, I trotted off to Bethesda for dinner at M & A’s house, during which I explained that I probably was going to have to relocate soon because there are no left turn lanes in DC and I’d recently seen a grown man carrying his MetroCard around his neck. They patiently pressed their case for DC, explaining we would have a good bakery in Farragut Square any day now."   

Until I have something new/clever/succinct of my own to say, I'll leave you with the first of what I trust will be many examples, from Jenny and others, of things I wish I'd written.    

Sunday, June 17, 2012

boozy bread

First of all, happiest  father's day to my awesome Dad, who is the most patient dude around. I wish I were home to celebrate with the family, but long distance calls and gifts will have to do this year (not quite as cool as attending the US Open together last father's day...!). 

love you, and your 80s aviators!

This weekend was the worst kind ever for productivity. After a couple of boiling hot, oppressively humid weekends, this weekend saw two straight days of highs topping off in the 80s and no noticeable humidity. That make for the kind of days when you just want to give your city a big hug and take a million cliche monument+blue sky photos. It's almost enough to make you forget that weekend track work on the metro made your 20 minute trip last for an hour, or that you just spent 50 bucks on one round at a pretentious bar. These are the good days, the days you don't quite worry so much about your dead end job and your mortgage.  

the only photo I snapped on this gorgeous weekend (but you totally get the idea)!

Anyways, naturally the long days with perfect weather make things like living at the pool and/or on a rooftop bar far more appealing than the 200 pages of international relations theory reading that needs to get done before work tomorrow.

So after two days in a row of (responsible) roasting in the sun, instead of coming home and reading, I came home and tried a new banana bread recipe. Normally this one is my go-to, but this one was introduced so convincingly on a blog I read that I wanted to see if it was better than mine. Like I said a few weeks ago, I need to be more conscious of trying new versions of recipes. May be a disaster, but I also may find my new go-to.

The whole adventure nearly was a disaster, as my little sun-fried brain full-on melted the butter instead of softening it. I decided "hmm, might as well see if you can cream melted butter and sugar." Ahem, I think the recipe says "soften" for a reason, because my experiment was a grainy, gritty failure. Into the trash it went, and out came another 1/2 cup of sugar and another 1/2 stick of butter (I was making a half batch). Then, my hand apparently had some butter left on it, because I nearly hurled the entire batch of batter into the sink instead of the prepared loaf pan. Somehow it all made it in to the oven, and not my garbage disposal. As it was baking, it smelled like the most amazing mix of bread and bourbon EVER. 

The loaf itself is still cooling, but I snuck a few crumbles, and it's pretty amazingly tasty. In a very admirable attempt to further delay reading for class tomorrow, I also penciled in some laundry time and decided to make the red wine risotto from a successful Monday dinner past (one new recipe a day is plenty, thanks!).      

mine never does end up looking like this snapshot from the recipe...

Maybe now I'll get on to that extremely compelling reading...after I sit on the roof deck for a while...

Friday, June 15, 2012

trying too hard

People, it's been an insane couple of weeks. I know, I know, I say that at least once a month. More, maybe. I haven't cooked anything other than plain pasta in, well, a really long time. For part of last week, I was living on saltines and graham crackers. It hasn't been pretty. But before the temperatures climbed above 90 and I subsequently swore off firing up my stove, I did try one of the daily recipes from the "dinner tonight" series. 

I had everything on hand for the Kung Pao chicken recipe, save some microwave rice, which I allow myself to buy even though a)the packaging probably leeches all sorts of savory chemicals into the rice in the 90 seconds the stuff spins around the microwave, and b)it's more expensive. I see it as a reward for deciding to make a meal mostly from scratch, and a way to avoid turning on any more burners than necessary in the LKTC (see aforementioned 90-degree rule).

I wanted to like the sauce. I really did. It was easy and quick. I didn't have to buy any fancy ingredients. It sounded good. The picture looked appetizing. So on. So forth. 

To be fair, the sauce didn't have the most fortuitous start. I whipped it up on a Thursday, intending to force myself to cook a real dinner for the first time in ages, despite the fact that I was doing 4 loads of laundry and was feeling queasy and overheated.  It was the same fateful day, in fact, that I turned down an invite to The Source.

Anyways, I decided to finally cook with the sauce on the Sunday following laundry/lame pants day, when I was also feeling queasy and overheated (hopefully this doesn't become the theme of my summer). I probably should've had something like ramen or chicken noodle soup for dinner, not something spicy. But, I was lured by the aforementioned pretty pictures, and the guilt of not cooking hardly at all lately. And, I'm kind of a glutton for punishment in all aspects of life, it seems. So even when I came to the line that suggested the harried weeknight chef use 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper, and thought "hmm, that sounds like a lot" (relative to the other ingredients), I just threw it in there.

It was (unsurprisingly) HOT. Really hot. Practically inedibly hot. And I love me some spicy food. So, I'm not sure if the sauce would be good with less red pepper (and/or on a day when I wasn't plagued with random nausea). I'm not sure I'll ever try it again, for now it'll always be associated with what turned out to be a God-awful Sunday. But, you should try it with oh, I don't know, a THIRD as much red pepper, and let me know how it tastes. Deal?     

Oh, by the way, I took exactly zero photos of the offending sauce, so, here's a pretty picture I took yesterday while chaperoning a group of 15 interns on a Capitol Hill trip. Yes, I, who was mistaken for a sophomore in high school just a week ago, was in charge of a group of kids for an entire day. Horrifying, I know. Luckily last night, dinner and a bowl-sized glass of wine at my favorite Italian restaurant on this side of the Atlantic did excellent things for mostly wiping out my memory of the little field trip.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Hi friends, sorry for going radio silent this past week. Life got a little crazy to put it mildly. Plus, my family just got back from a trip out west for my cousin's wedding in Denver. Speaking of my cousin, this is maybe one of my favorite pictures ever of the two of us, snapped on the family farm in Michigan. 

Anyways, now that I've put that horrible flying business behind me (at least for now), we'll get back to my regularly scheduled rambling any day now.  Until then, here are some pretty pictures of mountains to distract you. 

And, bonus!, here's a shot of the 45 pound, 4 month old wild animal that some moron had on a leash (like it was a normal pet!) at the nail place where the ladies were getting dolled up on Friday before the rehearsal dinner. It looked both terrified and ready to pounce. So, so weird to see in suburban Denver. 

ps-I think it's so funny that when people find out I'm terrified of flying, their first instinct is to say "oh, you'd have hated this one flight I was on....," clearly gearing up to impart some horror story about landing gear failure or extreme turbulence. I always want to hold up my hand and say "was it on an airplane? then yep, you're right, I would've hated it. No details necessary, really." 

Friday, June 1, 2012

battling summer (school)

I'm not taking too well to this summer thing DC is doing right now. I really should go live in, I don't know, San Diego, or something, because I pretty much only enjoy the weather here for about four weeks of the year (the ones when we toy with the idea of spring and fall). The rest of the time, I'm either one giant goose bump, or about to stroke out from heat exhaustion. For some reason, it seems especially bad this summer (note: it's not even actually summer yet, Lord help us all). Yesterday I was so tired, hot, and accidentally dehydrated that I could not even conjure the energy to shower or leave the apartment after work, and had to turn down a family friend's invite to Wolfgang Puck's "The Source." I know.

On top of all the oppressive heat, I think another part of the problem is that I've been enjoying my new apartment a little too much. It's close to everything, which gives me the impression I can actually DO everything. Couple that invincible attitude with my recent birthday celebration that spanned, well, far too many days, and I'm beat.

So, I haven't been cooking hardly at all. Instead, I've been subsisting mostly on total crap food. In an attempt to reform my behavior, I went so far as to start mixing up some sauce for kung pao chicken last night, and realized I was so hot and tired that food seemed repulsive.

As much as I'd like to think I'll actually successfully get back in the LKTC some time soon, I know better. I'm headed to my cousin's wedding in Colorado next week, and Monday of this coming week, I start a grad school class! Yes, that's right, this slacker is going back to school (and she's terrified that her brain has totally atrophied since she last set foot in a classroom). I'm headed to Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies a couple nights a week, which is either going to be awesome, or a total disaster in terms of my work/life/happy hour balance. Either way, I suspect I'll be eating far fewer healthy, normal dinners than usual. 

Which brings me to this cool link I found on NPR's food blog not too long ago. It's a junk food tracker that shows eating habits around the world based on time of day. Green is healthy, red is junky. The later in the day it gets, America is coated in red. I suspect there's an extra large red dot over DC for which I'm to blame...

ps-that's a corner of my desk at work, decked out thanks to my sister, who got me not one, but two awesome birthday cards (please note that the one on the right says "i'm sorry, i just please need you to shut up for one minute...") and sent me that cute magnet and photo of us with our dad at Thanksgiving this past fall. Aside from a temperamental bamboo plant, these are really the only personal things I have since my team gets moved around so often. I love them!