Wednesday, August 31, 2011

long on legs, but short on conscience

gravy vs. butter 1
gravy vs. butter 2
gravy vs. butter 3
gravy vs. butter 4
gravy vs. butter 5
gravy vs. butter 6
gravy vs. butter 7
gravy vs. butter 8

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

international meal | egypt

egyptian feast
A couple weeks ago we attended a Mediterranean dinner party. Larry and I made food from Lebanon and bought several specialty ingredients from our local Lebanese Butcher. We ended up with a big bottle of leftover pomegranate molasses. After our dinner party, I googled around to find some other uses for this ingredient and found a recipe for Dukkah-crusted lamb chops. Dukkah (or duqqa) is an Egyptian mixture of nuts and spices. Despite the fact that I know pretty much nothing about Egyptian food, I used this recipe as the inspiration for our next international meal.

This weekend, we were hunkered down at home awaiting a hurricane - which provided the perfect opportunity to cook up our Egyptian-inspired meal. I say inspired, because I don't know that the lamb chop recipe from Epicurious was really authentic Egyptian food, but the dukkah coating and drizzle of pomegranate molasses and honey gave it the flavor of Egypt. Regardless of the recipe's authenticity, it was absolutely delicious. I paired it with a traditional Egyptian dish called koshary (a stick-to-your-ribs mixture of rice, pasta, and noodles coated with a spicy tomato sauce) and a fantastic homemade hummus (which Larry refuses to eat because it gives him garlic breath!).

homemade hummus
On the menu:
I should mention, that until earlier this year, I felt the same way about lamb chops as I did about chicken wings - as in, I didn't eat them.

Reason #1: Lambs are cute.
Reason #2: I don't like gnawing meat off a bone.

Scratch all that, because between the Lamb Lollipops with Mustard Sauce that Larry made for New Year's Eve and these Dukkah-Crusted Lamb Chops, I am 100% converted. Lamb chops might be one of the most delicious meats out there!
egyptian feast

Monday, August 29, 2011

weekend adventures: hurricane!

hunkering down for the hurricane
Well, other than some crazy freaky wind, some downed branches, a shattered exterior light fixture, and about 24 hours of rain, Hurricane Irene pretty much left us alone. Whew. We didn't even lose power, which is strange since we live in an older neighborhood with overhead powerlines. As Larry said, after last year, we were due for a break. I know Mother Nature doesn't work that way, and my heart goes out to all the people along the east coast who are without power, have fallen trees, or worse, had their house or car crushed.

That being said, I love hunkering down with my family when bad weather is expected. Some of our best dates have been cozying up at home and cooking up a storm in anticipation of a blizzard, hurricane, etc. I'm not sure why this is, since we quite often spend our evenings staying in and cooking together - but the fact that we've stocked up on candles and food, and are forced to stay inside and wait for something to happen somehow makes it cozier.

On Saturday evening, we cooked up a fantastic Egyptian-inspired meal, and sat at the dining table drinking wine, listening to Larry's old Pearl Jam CDs, and playing Million! Dollar! Password! And I have to say the combination of Egyptian food, Pearl Jam, and Cab Sav made for a perfect evening.

Once the wine had effectively hindered our ability to play games that required effectively communicating in the English language, we set up a nest on the living room sofa (we were too afraid to sleep upstairs in our bedroom where a tree could smash through our roof/bed) and went to sleep.

Correction: Larry and the dogs went to sleep. I lay there listening to the whipping winds, shattering glass, and my boys snoring. Oh, insomnia.

after irene
Irene: The Aftermath.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

sweet july!

sweet july!
August is nearly's what we ate in July...

Fresh produce, but certainly not as much as last July. We missed out on blueberry season this year, but made up for it with strawberries (made into homemade gelato and ugly cake), and wineberries, picked in the woods during our vacation at Luminhaus. Rainier cherries. Mini cantaloupes from the Farmers' Market. Summer squash - transformed into grilled white pizza, and zucchini from Mom's garden - transformed into Chocolate Zucchini Bread and Mario Batali's fantastic Fried Zucchini-Ricotta Fritters.

July also began my obsession with anything Cookies & Cream and our foray into frying and fritters - in addition to the zuke fritters, I made some awesome ricotta fritters. This month's bread was Grilled Naan, to go along with an Indian-inspired meal and some delicious Tandoori Chicken Sandwiches with Mint Mayonnaise. We had a fantastic meal of Pork Tenderloin with Tomato-Peach Compote and Carmelized Onion and Goat Cheese Cornbread after a day in the sunflower fields. We also tried a recipe for Tomato Lemonade. This was not a winner. (I think I'll stick with Strawberry and Peach Lemonade from now on!) And we can't forget the microbrews at Blue Mountain Brewery!

What we were eating and cooking this month: Fruits, vegetables, sweets, fried food, and microbrews.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

shake, rattle, & roll


Like the rest of the East Coast, we experienced an earthquake today. And not just a little tremble, but a 5.8 magnitude whammy, with the epicenter a mere 90 miles away in Mineral, Virginia. News reports say it was felt from Massachusetts to South Carolina, but a friend of mine in Canada e-mailed to make sure I was ok, and said that he felt it in Ontario, too.

I hate to even pretend like a 5.8 earthquake on the East Coast of the United States is a big deal after the recent widespread tragedies that have occurred in countries like Haiti and Japan. I can't even imagine. In fact, I can't even imagine living on the West Coast where these things are more common and more dangerous. But as my cousin from California pointed out, "A 5.8 in an area not used to earthquakes, including buildings not being retrofitted to handle the shaking, is nothing to sneeze at!" Oh, I didn't sneeze at it. In fact, I nearly peed my pants.

Not only that, here in the mid-Atlantic, Mother Nature usually takes it pretty easy on us. For the most part, we don't have to worry about hurricanes like in Florida and the Gulf, tornados and flooding like in the Midwest, forest fires, earthquakes, and tsunamis like on the West Coast, or blizzards like in the North. The worst we have here are heat waves and the occasional Snowmageddon. (Which some members of my family think is fun.) Acts of God aren't even on the worry radar over here - being in the nation's capital we're much more concerned with acts of terrorism.
The other weird thing about experiencing an earthquake, is that they happen out of the blue - literally. Today was perhaps the most beautiful day of the year in Northern Virginia. Perfect blue sky, sun shining, a gorgeous 80 degrees, and then BAM, my house feels like it's being torn apart.

Thoughts that went through my head as my windows rattled:
  • The &#$*@!!! washing machine is off balance again!
  • Wait a minute, I'm not doing laundry!
  • Is this an...EARTHQUAKE?!
  • Oh shit, is this a nuke? A bomb?
  • The house is going to fall apart!
  • Should I stay upstairs and risk falling to my death?
  • Or should I go downstairs and risk getting crushed?
I was shaken up and bewildered. My heart raced for a good hour afterwards. Things fell off the shelves in the library, pantry, and laundry room. The dogs' water bowl spilled. The candles on our patio table were knocked over. My studio looks like it was hit by a natural disaster. Oh wait, it looked like that before the earthquake...

Fortunately, my wine was just fine. Whew! (Priorities, priorities!) Who would've guessed the wine rack was rated for seismic activity?
My wine survived the earthquake. Whew!
Afterwards, I still wasn't sure what happened. I couldn't reach anyone on the phone. I tried googling "DC earthquake" immediately afterwards, but nothing turned up. So I turned to the most valuable tool in an emergency...Facebook. Within seconds of it happening, nearly a dozen of my friends from New York to West Virginia had already posted "Earthquake!" Larry reached me via text message - he was unnerved after being in a swaying high-rise office building. Hours later, I finally reached my mother:

Me: Are you ok? Did you survive the earthquake?
Mom: Yes, I'm fine!
Me: Did anything break? Your china?
Mom: Nope, it all survived.
Me: Oh good, I just wanted to check up on you.

Well gee, Mom, only YOUR FIRSTBORN CHILD.

And because comic relief is always good in situations like these (and because I needed some rolling to go along with all the shaking and rattling!), this guy never fails to crack me up:

Rollin' from Funnelcloud Rachel on Vimeo.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some wine to drink...

Monday, August 22, 2011

life list #176: go to a cheese store. buy cheese.

shropshire - bleu cheese
Our favorite local business in Falls Church is a wine and cheese shop called Red, White, & Bleu. We love this place. They have wine tastings every weekend and all the wines in their shop are personally tasted and selected by the owners. Every time we go there we taste things that we never would've sought out on our own (Sparkling Malbec? Who knew!), learn something new about wine, and leave with several great bottles. They also have a cheese counter and when we went to taste wines on Friday they were having a cheese tasting!

The cheeses that were being sampled were bleu cheeses and we LOVE bleu cheese - the more moldy/stinky/pungent it is, the better!  We came home with a third pound of Shropshire - an orange bleu cheese with "rivulets of blue and green mold." Yum! And then we sat at our coffee table with a bottle of Petite Sirah, a bowl of kalamata olives, and the hunk of delicious moldy cheese (and the hope that the gullywasher/crazy lightning/thunderstorm outside wouldn't send any trees crashing into our yard like last year) and called that Friday night dinner.
shropshire - bleu cheese
Earlier this year, I wrote about Cheesetique, a fantastic cheese and wine shop in Alexandria, and another local place we love. Although, we've been there several times, we've always eaten in the cafe and bought wine, but due to varying circumstances we've never been able to patronize their cheese counter. So now that we bought that delicious Shropshire from Red, White, & Bleu, I can finally cross "Go to a cheese store. Buy cheese." off my Life List. Although, it certainly won't be the last time. I'm a little obsessed with buying expensive cheeses fact, since we polished off the Shropshire so quickly, it's taking a lot of restraint not to run back to Red, White, & Bleu and buy another tasty hunk of something from their cheese case. That place is dangerous!
shropshire - bleu cheese

Thursday, August 18, 2011

recent discoveries

cookies n cream
I couple weeks ago I had an insatiable craving for anything Cookies & Cream. It may not be fancy, but I nabbed one of these Hershey's Cookies N Creme Bars and it did the trick. Then I got another one. And another. Oink.

library card
Larry and I are recent e-book converts - me reading on my iPad and Larry on his Nook. However, the instant gratification of being able to buy a book with the click of a button is getting expensive. I had heard that you could check-out e-books from the library, so for the first time since I was a teenager, I now have a public library card. (That's pretty embarrassing to admit. But I have an Amazon Rewards credit card, so I've always redeemed the points for books on Amazon.)

After watching a series of confusing videos on how to check out e-books from the Fairfax County Public Library, I almost gave up on this - it required installing software on my computer, transferring the file to my iPad, blah blah blah, and I just didn't have the patience to deal with it. But then I discovered an iPad app (Overdrive Media Console) that allows me to check out library books and downloads them directly to my iPad with the click of a button. There's a waiting list for a lot of the popular books, but I was able to snag a book from my reading list immediately. Currently about halfway through Patti Smith's Just Kids.

There's been a soft-serve ice cream place in Fairfax since 1998, and I didn't know about it? Granted, I never go to Fairfax, but Woody's is a reason to make the trip.

Larry, being the bookworm that he is, has a very good vocabulary. He often uses words that I swear don't exist...and he's always right. Did you know that slugabed is a real word? And a great one at that:


 noun \ˈslə-gə-ˌbed\
               : a person who stays in bed after the usual or proper time to get up

None of my parents' siblings had children, so I don't have any first cousins. I have a lot of other cousins, though - my parents' cousins, their children, their grandchildren - but I've never known the correct term for the relationship. We've always just called them second cousins, because does anyone really understand that once removed business? Turns out it isn't that difficult. My parents' first cousins are actually my first cousins once removed because they are removed by one generation. Aha!

lamb sfeehas
Homemade Lamb Sfeehas
Lebanese Butcher is a Falls Church institution. When we moved to Falls Church, we looked forward to eating at the cafe and buying fresh meat from the butcher shop. But it burned down before we got the chance. A few months later, they reopened the butcher shop/grocery a few blocks away, but didn't have space for the restaurant.

Over the weekend, our friends hosted a Mediterranean cooking/dinner party. Larry and I chose to make several Lebanese dishes and needed some obscure ingredients, so we headed to Lebanese Butcher to stock up on pomegranate molasses and sumac. And the place is full of all sorts of ingredients that I previously had no idea where to buy. They also have lamb's brains and lamb's tongue if you're ever in the mood for that...

Don't worry, we didn't make lamb's brains or lamb's tongue! Not sure that would've been so popular at the dinner party. But we did make lamb sfeehas (Lebanese meat pies) and cheese borek/beoreg/boureki (a pastry common all over the Mediterranean, especially in Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans).

ugly fried pies
Fried Pies, ugly-style
Conquered my fear of frying and been on a bit of a frying kick lately. We've made ricotta fritters, fried chicken, steak fries, sweet potato fries, and some extremely ugly fried pies (made from the weekend's berry bounty) that looked more like fried tacos that had been run over by a trash truck. I have a few more things I want to make while I have my oil thermometer out, then I promise I'll repent in September and eat nothing but rutabagas.

buzz bakery
Yes, that is a BLACKBERRY PIE CUPCAKE. And a Red Velvet. Mmmm.

When I lived in Arlington, Larry and I would go to Buzz Bakery in Alexandria for a cupcake fix. Over the weekend we discovered there's a new one - in Ballston. It's even fancier than the original location, and it's open until midnight on the weekends. Oink oink.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

screen on the green

screen on the green
Yesterday evening we did something quintessentially DC.

Screen on the Green is a series of free movies shown on the National Mall on Monday nights during the summer. You sit in the grass with friends, picnic, and watch a classic movie projected on a big screen as the sun sets behind the Washington Monument and the moon rises over the Capitol.

Sounds great, right? It is. And they've been doing this since 1999. Twelve years later and it was our first time going. Way to take advantage of free fun in the nation's capital! I've been wanting to go for years and I think the biggest discouraging factor was that summer nights in DC can be brutally hot and humid. I spent most summer nights in my twenties drinking beer in air conditioned bars. Seeing free movies on the Mall would've been a lot cheaper!

Anyway, yesterday evening it was only 75 degrees and we made the last minute decision to check out that evening's SOTG. I grabbed a picnic blanket and hopped on the metro and met Larry, who had bought us sandwiches, lemonade, and brownies. We got there around 6:00 (the movie starts at 8:30), as I had heard that it gets quite crowded and people start claiming spots as early as 5:00. Within a few minutes we had scarfed our "picnic dinner" and had a few hours to kill...a few hours sitting on hard, hard ground that would end up killing our butts. I'd say it didn't really get crowded until around 7:00, so next time I'd get there a little later.
screen on the green
The U.S. Capitol is behind the screen.
screen on the green
I'd also plan ahead and pack a gourmet picnic and invite a group of friends. There were some large groups of experienced SOTGers who had huge tarps, groups of twenty or so people, wine, pizzas, streamers, comfy chairs, etc - looked like fun.
screen on the green

The view behind us:
screen on the green
As it got later though, I started getting annoyed with all the asshats who thought they could arrive late (some even during the movie) and try to find a spot to set up their blanket right up front where it was clearly packed with people. GO TO THE BACK, assholes! Argh! Experiences like this make me never want to go out in public again. There were people who would literally set up their blankets in the 18" of aisle space between the blankets of two other groups. What the...?! A group next to us actually spread their blanket ON TOP of someone else's blanket. It wasn't overlapping by a few inches, but by a good two feet. Again, GO TO THE BACK, assholes! You got here late!

Seriously, I can't imagine having the balls to be a jerk to everyone else and think that I deserved to squeeze into a non-existent spot up front. Had I gotten there late and found the place packed, I would've rather watched the movie from across the river than inconvenience the other movie-goers. Evidently that's just me.

And don't even get me started on the guy with the laser pointer...

Clearly, I was getting a bit grouchy before the start of the movie, but once the movie started, I was amazed at how respectful everyone was. Everyone was quiet, very few people got up in the middle of the movie, the crowd clapped at the good parts in the movie, and it turned out to be a great experience (despite my sore butt).

Before the movie starts is a Bugs Bunny cartoon. As it came on, Larry exclaimed "This is my favorite one!" (It was Hair-Raising Hare - the one with the big orange monster.)
screen on the green
And then the HBO dance:
screen on the green
The movie was Cool Hand Luke. Helloooo, Mr. Newman!
screen on the green
screen on the green
screen on the green
Great movie, great evening.

And next time I'll sneak in a bottle of wine to so I get less annoyed at the dickheads invading my personal space.

Monday, August 15, 2011

weekend adventures: butler's orchard

berry picking at butlers orchard
One of the highlights of last summer was picking seven pounds of blueberries and spending the month of July baking up blueberry-filled desserts. I couldn't wait to do it again this year. Alas, we missed out on both strawberry season and blueberry season this summer. D'oh!

But luckily for me, August is raspberry and blackberry season. So my berry-picking boy (free manual labor!) and I headed back up to Butler's Orchard in Germantown and spent Sunday afternoon in the berry fields.

In addition to all the delicious fruits and veggies, and the farm market, Butler's Orchard is just a beautiful place to visit.

Lonely tree:
berry picking at butlers orchard
berry picking at butlers orchard
First up - raspberries. The raspberries were plentiful and easy to pick. Unfortunately, I learned that raspberries are loved by bees and STINKBUGS. I freaking hate stinkbugs and they were EVERYWHERE. Ewwwww! And they were always on the reddest and ripest berries. They didn't seem to be eating the berries, just hanging out and grossing me out. In fact, often there were two stinkbugs per berry. Maybe they were...uh...mating...on the berries. Stinkbug sex! So gross.
berry picking at butlers orchard
berry picking at butlers orchard
So anyway, Larry was once again able to pick about ten times more berries than I did because I had to visually inspect all sides of the berry for stinkbugs before putting my fingers on it. Larry's approach to the stinkbugs was "just flick them off and steal their berry!" Good thing I brought a boy along. He even proclaimed himself a "raspberry-pickin' fool!"

Raspberry-pickin' fool in action:
berry picking at butlers orchard
berry picking at butlers orchard
berry picking at butlers orchard

A common photo this summer:
berry picking at butlers orchard
Next up were blackberries. Luckily, bees and stinkbugs don't seem to care for blackberries. But they were really hard to pick. A lot of the berries weren't ripe yet, and the ones that were ripe were still impossible to pull off the vine. And you also end up covered in juice. We only picked a few of these before we called it quits.
berry picking at butlers orchard
berry picking at butlers orchard
berry picking at butlers orchard
berry picking at butlers orchard

Our bounty:
our bounty
Once home, I whipped up a raspberry clafoutis:
raspberry clafoutis
And I still have over three pounds of raspberries, some blackberries, and some peaches waiting to be transformed into delicious desserts.

(Fortunately, we seem to have made it home without any stowaway stinkbugs - mating or otherwise - in our bucket. However, I still have the heebeejeebees and the creepy-crawlies! Yuck yuck yuck.)