Wednesday, August 22, 2012

houseguest prep

Like I said yesterday, a friend of mine from my second semester in Venice (when I was an RA) is staying with me this week, and I couldn't be more excited! That semester, I had to stay in the house while the kids were in class, which resulted in a plethora of baked goods for them (I couldn't ever sit still, not even in an awesome house in Italy). So, I figured baking something that could be snacked on while I'm stuck at work would be a good hostess-y thing to do and bring back good memories from Italy for both of us.  

The eggs had to come to room temperature and the butter had to be both melted and cooled, so, I lined up the bowls of ingredients, then cleaned my apartment a bit while the various temperature adjustments happened. Secret I recently learned: if you put cold eggs in a bowl of lukewarm water, that whole room temp thing happens a lot faster, which is awesome if you're in a hurry.

As usual, I got super distracted while baking/cleaning, so the only snapshot I have is the one above. BUT, this time the end product in my kitchen looked exactly like the photo from the glossy blog. A Tuesday afternoon miracle, really. 

photo from the recipe (but it looks like mine does!)

You bake the cake (or cakes, if you don't cut the recipe in half like I did), then you poke a bunch of holes in it and pour lemon/sugar syrup all over it. This requires patience and a bit of focus, which was a challenge given my easily distracted state yesterday. Anyways, I tried a tiny slice pre-syrup, and a tiny slice post-syrup, and both are good, just in very different ways. The pre-syrup sample is more like a pound cake with a hint of lemon. The post-syrup bites, no surprise here I'm sure, were all "hello LEMON." I did all of this about ten seconds after the cake came out of the oven, so I'm curious to try another post-syrup piece to see if the lemon and sugar concoction made it further down in to the cake itself. When I tried it you really tasted it at the top, and not so much at the bottom.  

It's not a particularly healthy recipe, but I think if you're going to welcome a long lost Venice friend in to your apartment, and you're going to be at work when they open your front door for the first time, you owe them something kind of ridiculously sinful.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

lately, part ii

Lately I haven't been inclined to write (you're welcome, although the Obama incident was an obvious exception). So, here's what's been going on recently in a few hasty iphone snapshots. A Venice friend of mine comes to town today, and is staying with me until Sunday, and I'm so excited. I've been in a serious mood rut, and I think this'll be just the thing to yank me out of it! But for now...

I finally hung a far-too-long curtain in my kitchen window using bobby pins to shorten it (note the crucial tool on the counter: a glass of wine)
Then I realized in the daylight that since the panel was over twice as long as I needed, and it was sheer, I'd have to bust out the scissors

I think this looks muchhhh better (albeit it's a crooked photo, which seems to be my trademark)

I've been consuming prolific afternoon espressos (I'm a quick addict to nespresso pods)

And finally, I've been watching lots of Nats games (it's a super-exciting season!)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

sunday with the obamas

So, two exciting things happened today. First, the Obamas showed up at the church I just recently started attending (read more here). Second, I cooked! Since I suspect you find the former far more interesting than the latter, let's start there? 

A coworker of mine started bringing me to church with her about a month ago, and as of this past Friday, I finally (much to her relief I'm sure) started doing things with other church folk than just her. The church has a really active young adult group, and I went to a Nats game with them, even though I basically knew no one going in. Turned out to be a great night, and I knew that I best show up to church today even though my coworker is currently on vacation, because all my newfound buddies were expecting to see me there. I almost decided not to go at the last minute (all the usual excuses), but bucked up and headed out the door in time to catch the bus. 

As the bus was driving down the street towards the church and the White House, I realized the street was closed at pretty much exactly the spot where the bus would normally drop me off for the service. There were cop cars blocking off about a two block stretch of road, and I saw a car kind of facing the wrong way at a weird angle, so I assumed it was an accident or something. I got off the bus and walked towards the church. When I got to the blocked off stretch of street, there were big crowds of tourists standing around, but some people were walking towards the cop cars, so I followed suit. One of the policemen stopped me and said "wait, where are you going?" and I pointed to the church and said (duh) "to church," and he let me go on. 

When I got closer to church, I realized it wasn't your average blocked street situation. Or your average Sunday. Unless you consider Secret Service agents wanding parishioners to check for weapons in advance of the President's arrival average. My life isn't super exciting, so...I don't. Of course today I planned to go to the pool after church, so I had not only my usual giant purse, but also a tote bag full of sunscreen, a towel, bathing suit, etc, which the agent really appreciated. The guy checked both bags then waved the metal detector thing all over, and let me go in. Naturally the entire congregation was abuzz when I got inside, and even more agents were standing around the inside of the church. 

Once the majority of parishioners got settled in, agents escorted the President and his family in from a side entrance and sat them down in pre-reserved rows. Although a row of regular folk were allowed to sit in front of the family, agents sat in the row behind them. Apparently the Obamas show up to this particular church every so often, so I think a lot of the regulars, and certainly the pastors, were prepared, but some people spent the entire time craning their necks to get a good look at the family. I was a mere five rows behind them, almost directly, so while I tried not to stare, if I wanted to take a peek, it was at least a subtle peek. The family was good sports about shaking hands during the exchanging of the peace and, a few times, if a little kid was passing by the President and stuck his or her hand out. Then, right before the pastors and choir left at the end, the agents escorted the family out. 

I realize this is perhaps a common occurrence in this city, but I honestly never expected to end up in the same place as a President, current or past, and certainly not five church pew rows away from one, and I was pretty excited. I mean just to set foot in the East Wing of the White House, where you will likely never set eyes on the President, you have to submit all your personal info so they can run a background check on you. And here I found myself practically within touching distance (not that I'd ever try), and all I had to do was let someone look in my purse and wave a metal detector around. I really tried to focus on the service, but every few minutes or so, I'd look up, see them a few rows up, and think "THE OBAMAS ARE HERE, THIS IS SO COOL," compose myself, listen for a little longer, and repeat.  

Side note: I can't imagine how tough it must be to have such an ordeal made over attending church. I get up and jump on a bus 20 minute before a service. Their extremely short trip across the White House lawn and one city street requires more coordination than I can even fathom. I go to church and maybe five people recognize me and say hello. They go to church and everyone is whispering and staring the entire time. I don't envy that at all! 

Anyways, after that exciting morning, I went and hung out with friends for a while, then forced myself to head towards the grocery and then the kitchen. I picked up a bunch of corn, cilantro, and a jalepeno at the store, and threw together something akin to this manchego lime corn that I make all the time. I'm going to use the extra cilantro to make some sort of pesto, I think. All this culinary energy! I think we have the Obama excitement to thank. (Kidding, sort of...)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

repeat offenders

I could have sworn I've made Williams-Sonoma's spring vegetable risotto recipe more than once, but the only evidence I can find is my first stab at it, which was nearly a year ago. Although I'm sure I've made it since then, the lack of substantive evidence to the contrary out here on the interwebs makes me feel at least a little better about not trying something new. Anyways...

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I'm back from my quick trip to the beach! A friend and I drove down to the Outer Banks Tuesday night after work (an adventure fueled by Good Stuff burgers and boy band CDs), and we came back yesterday. Our first and last day there (two out of the three, if you're counting) weren't the best weather-wise, but the middle day was the perfect beach day. I even managed to get a little bit of a tan, and no unfortunate burns. We ate a ton, watched a lot of Olympics coverage, read books and magazines endlessly, played a crazy game called slap cup, hit up a local putt putt course, took some hilarious wine-fueled pictures (which you've seen if we're Facebook friends) and made s'mores with nothing but the flame from taper candles. It was a great time, and while a part of me is happy to be back and settling in to a routine again, I already miss the whole sand between my toes, beer whenever you feel like it, sound of crashing waves stuff from vacation! 

late night road trip with Backstreet Boys, N'Sync, et al.

my last-minute sale bathing suit acquisitions (there are no "people on the beach" photos. you're welcome.) 

storms rolling in our last beach day

view from the porch of the house

"farewell beach!" shrimp boil

candlelight "bonfire" for s'mores

driving off the island...sad, but pretty!

I feel like I got a whole lot done today, including actually cooking dinner when my dinner plans feel through. Progress! Now I just have to remind myself to set an alarm for tomorrow...sigh. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

must get out, part ii

I thought I'd hit my crazy limit a couple of weeks ago before my trip home. Turns out DC had more crazy in store for me. At church on Sunday, a woman who was clearly not in her right mind took to clapping along with songs (note: this is a no clapping during the service kind of religion) and hysterically, loudly crying during one of the readings. Then, yesterday, near Union Station, a man sped past me on a bicycle and blasted a whistle in my ear. I looked up from the map on my phone to see what I'd done wrong (assuming this person was a cop), and saw him fly past another pedestrian using a phone and whistle at that guy, too (and so on and so forth). Add those weird things to some crazy metro delays lately, and I'm already more than ready for another little trip to somewhere outside the DC metro area. 

I can't, and shouldn't, complain too much, because I do get to get out soon, and to the beach, no less! And, bonus, I was walking through Union Station yesterday and was about to kill some time pre-appointment at the Barnes and Noble there, but turned towards the other shops instead, which led me to a 70% off sale at Accessorize. I only needed a crazy straw hat to protect my super-pale face (and recently spruced up hair), but I walked out with two bathing suits as well.  What should have cost me over $100 was less than $40! Never mind that all I needed was the hat...

Thrilled with my accidental sale finds and my upcoming vacation, I treated myself to a Bojangles biscuit for dinner (so much wrong with that statement, I know) and stopped by the wine shop in the station on my way home. I tend to buy wine solely based on label, and this wine was no exception, but what ended up selling me on this red versus many others with equally compelling labels was the awesome blend it was composed of. The (plentiful) leftovers will definitely be coming to the beach with me! For now, though, back to work, and back, unfortunately, to the crazy...

Sunday, August 5, 2012


...I've had pretty much no desire to write (or cook, but that part is to be expected by now). Not to say I haven't been keeping busy...

I passed my grad school class, which I didn't yet know when my mom, sister, and I saw this funny little window dressing at J.Crew when I was home last weekend

I've been celebrating by doing all the things I didn't have time to do while in class (and in the midst of the busy cycle at work): plenty of happy hours and lunches with friends, and, my personal favorite, Beer Olympics, at which I sported a hand-decorated royal blue and yellow leotard to represent Sweden. Unfortunately team Sweden didn't exactly take home the gold, but we had a great time competing in all sorts of hilarious beer-centric events, and while I'm probably biased, I think we had the best all-around costumes!

I've also been doing less fun things like deep-cleaning my apartment and packing, but, it's all in preparation for even more celebratory fun: an upcoming vacation to the Outer Banks with friends! 

For now, though, it's back to bathing suit-selection and work-week preparations. Soon enough I'll be digging my toes in the sand...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

long weekend at the lake

My sanity-restoring trip home started out not-so-sanity-tastic. The bus I took from DC to NC got caught in two separate traffic jams, one just a few miles from the final destination, featured a busted AC system, and was transporting myself as well as a family reunion and a gaggle of squealing teenage girls. By the time I got in Mom's car at the bus station, I was in desperate need of the wine she had stashed in a tote bag to take to the hair appointment for which I was now an hour late. By the time we got to the salon, I had calmed down a bit, but I had already decided that was the end of my MegaBus stint. At least for any trip in the eight hour time range. 

Torturous bus ride behind me, it was a whirlwind, but restorative trip. I picked up several things to further decorate my apartment (photos to come, if you're at all interested), squeezed in some shopping time with my mom and sister, helped my dad get his classroom ready, and enjoyed a perfect lazy Sunday afternoon on the lake with our Charlotte family. After several hours of zipping across the lake and putting down anchor to swim, we headed back to the house for a little cookout. 

In preparation for the cookout, mom and I planned to serve all sorts of things, some of which we decided to make ourselves, others we decided were best thrown together by the local Fresh Market. Because we were fitting food prep in with my ambitious "I only shop when I go home so we gotta make this trip count" mantra, we started the prep work Saturday evening after a long day of errands but before a late dinner at a locally famous Italian restaurant.   

I'm not sure if we were tired or distracted or what, but I made all sorts of disaster Saturday night. It all started when I looked away for a second, A SECOND, I tell you, and in that moment, the peach simple syrup (for boozey popsicles) that had been bubbling away boiled over and coated the stove top in a sickeningly burned mass of goo. Once the syrup finished its cooking process on the clean side of the stove, as we started cleaning the afflicted side, we managed to throw the grate off of the stove and into the little receptacle between the stove and the cabinet. Oops. 

Then, when it came time to mix tonic with the rest of the boozey popsicle ingredients, the tonic exploded all over me and the rest of the kitchen. Our feet stuck to the floor all weekend, despite our best efforts to wipe it all up. As I whipped up the layers for chocolate peanut butter squares, we had several near-disasters, and decided to shelve plans to make lemon bars from scratch, lest we burn the kitchen down at the rate we were going. 

Not one to be easily dissuaded from baking something from scratch, I woke up the next morning determined to make the lemon bars. Mom pitched in by juicing a billion lemons and grating their rinds. At which point her knuckles fell victim to the cheese grater we were using to get the zest. At that point we decided to just give up and buy everything else. Well, everything else except the fixings for my favorite summer corn dish: roasted corn with lime from Bon Appetit. But I've made that so often I can practically do it with my eyes closed (which I've realized is a good skill to have when dicing several jalapenos, mind you). Cooking disasters aside, everything turned out really well, from boozey boat snack popsicles to roasted corn to dessert. Here's the recipe roundup:
And no, I do not have a single photo other than the above evidence of my nearly ruining my parents' stove. Sometimes you're just enjoying yourself too much to bother taking pictures!