Monday, January 30, 2006

I'll get around to it

But before I actually talk on what this blog is supposed to be about, I thought I'd share my, "Well DUH!" moment.

Your results:
You are Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman
The Flash
Iron Man
Green Lantern
You are a beautiful princess
with great strength of character.
Click here to take the "Which Superhero are you?" quiz...

Of course I am Wonder Woman. I love that Supergirl was also ranked high on the list of superheroes I am like. I don't understand the Hulk at all. I have to come out of the closet here am say I am a total comic book fan. Please don't hate me. I used to love Marvel comics and especially the X-Men, but then the storylines got all convoluted and they came up with these heroes and villains with complete unexplainable powers. Now I love DC comics since they actually care about things like continuity (well until they have some overarching crossover event where continuity gets thrown out the window).

Anyway, onto the food part of this post. I am still blown away by J's post about his history with food. I would hate to try and go on a diet in Texas because 95% of the recipes contains mayonnaise in huge proportions, cream cheese, or a block of velveeta. And they taste incredible.

While we were in Texas, we went to this bistro-type restaurant called Hannah's. A good mix of fine dining (seared tuna) and soups and sandwiches. And they had waffle cut fries - MMMMMMM. A real stand-out was their shrimp and grits. It was fried grits covered in shrimp with an ettoufee-like sauce. Sooooo tasty. I loved that the flavors were pronounced but subtle. No one taste overpowered any other one.

Because J and I have made etoufee at home, I vowed to recreate this dish in Washington. With a little planning it happen on a night where we had guests. Perfect!

Shrimp and Grits
1 cup grits
3 1/2 cups water, stock (vegetable or chicken), or milk or any combination thereof
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 medium onion finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 tablespoon cajun seasoning (like Tony Cachere's)
2 tablespoons of Bac-Os or two slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
3/4 cup of stock
1 pound of shrimp peeled and deveined
1 green onion finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

The first thing to do is make your grits. Make according to directions for one cup of dry grits. Because you want your grits to solidify, use half a cup less liquid than the box tell you to. For the liquid, you can use any proportion of milk, stock (chicken or vegetable), or water. I recommend equal portions of stock and water. Because I was cooking for a fish (but not meat) eater, I used vegetable stock. Taste the grits to make sure they are well flavored because underseasoned grits taste vile. Pour into a greased 13" x 9" x 2" inch baking dish. Let cool overnight.

Once cooled, cut the solidified grits into 4" x 2" strips and roll in flour. Pan fry in a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil until all sides have a nice light brown color and are slightly crisp on the outside. Put the strips into a baking dish and keep warm in a 300 degree oven.

In the meantime, prepare the etouffee. Saute the onion, garlic, and cajun seasoning in the butter. Add the flour and saute for a minute to get the raw flour taste out of the roux. Add the bacon-like pork product and maple syrup. Saute another minute or so. Add the stock and stir to avoid lumps and add salt and pepper. Add the shrimp and cook until the shrimp are a nice pink color. DON'T OVERCOOK! Pour shrimp mixture over the grits. Garnish with green onion.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Food Friendly

T's post below (two down), besides just being a fabulous kick in the ass of my head makes me think about my own weird, wonderful, and painful relationship with food. I come from a family of cooks, entertainers, and social chowhounds. And they each did too. Did I have a shot in hell of not being toally enamored with and excited about food? No way.

My mother's mother was known all over the neighborhood, the church, and elsewhere for her fried chicken. For her killer garlic cheese grits. For her pies with crusts so flaky people would roll their eyes back in their head and die the tiniest little death upon tasting them. They could be revived by her cookie tray; full of elaborate delicacies and simple butter cookies made even better by their presentation surrounded by friends like peanut butter or rum balls, mini-fruitcakes and more.

Her barbecues were popular not just because she knew her way around a brisket and a chicken but because of my grandfather's astounding barbecue sauce. My grandfather, who wrote memoirs so direct and simple before his death, one might never know that his scrambled eggs were fluffy pillows of comfort because of his secret tablespoon of this-or-that; the beauty of his peach ice-cream that was terribly delicate and intensely fruity and well worth the astounding amount of labor it took to hand crank the wooden bucket ice cream maker.

My grandmother was a tough and strong woman who was both invested in her role as a wife, having a full on dinner on the table when my grandfather came home from work, and intensely devoted to her own life as a painter; so much so that my grandfather converted ninety percent of their two-car garage to become her studio (Texas hail be damned). Perhaps it was for all the delicious roasts she made, the vegetable soup made in the temperamental pressure-cooker that once shocked her, throwing her across the room as its contents exploded all over the kitchen and out into the living room and dining room thanks to pass through windows.

Or maybe it was the crab bisque, the chili cream, or one of the other intense dairy experiences she pulled together for one of the hundreds of parties they threw. One could also always look forward to the occasional surprise. A cajun chicken cooked in white wine, a rich bulgur-heavy tabouleh salad for a lighter day, the occasional German-inspired wurst and more dinner, a chilled bowl of tapioca pudding, a slim saucer of garden cucumbers thinly sliced and bathed in a sugared vinegar.

I grew up with my grandmother coming to my house each morning to make breakfast and take my siblings and I to school. Omelets were common with accompanying fruit, meat, and sometimes a biscuit or two. This food was sometimes accompanied by the "word of the day" exercise where she cracked open the dictionary and read us a new word to learn. After all her southern cooking, I wish she had opened it up to the entry for "lactose intolerant." Might have saved me some rough years.

My immediate family remains a food-friendly adventure. My mother's cooking is straight southern with an extra dash of Texas ladies' club and Paula Deen meets a hint of reason. And delicious. She can whip together a meal out of nothing, can mix groceries with ease, and has a treasure chest of recipes that have come from parents of students, great and old-standby cookbooks, fabulous teas, events with my sister and more.

Growing up we went out to explore the food of Dallas-Fort Worth quite regularly. I feel blessed and lucky that my parents would go anywhere, try anything and not keep us so stuck to the same-old same-old.

Mom was a teacher, a union leader, and an all-out supporter of the schools she taught at. This meant that as we got older and had a bit more money, we ate out more. And by more, I mean at least a few times a week. Plenty of Tex-Mex at some delicious restaurants serving piles of warm chips with complimentary tortillas and butter packets; Chinese from Chin's where they had a picture of Ruth Buzzi on the wall and where my sister would eat deliciously marinated moist chicken in tiny foil packets. I would laugh at the PuPu platter and order rumaki and shrimp subgum. Now we we find our way to the Vietnamese and Thai places we love, the Indian and the Ethiopian. The Middle Eastern and the occasional burger or barbecue joint.

Dad comes from a different culinary history but his mother was a talented cook as well. Decidedly more southern and possibly less adventurous, but I don't recall ever having a meal that wasn't just right. As kids, we craved her taller and fluffier-than-I-have-yet-to-make pancakes covered in our choice of light or dark Karo syrup. Together we would venture out to Crystal's Pizza on Camp Bowie Boulevard for a pizza with gargantuan discs of canadian bacon and sundaes drooling with thick marshmallow topping.

And so in seventh grade, with all these great food influences all around and somewhat to my chagrin, I was signed up for Weight Watchers. Very strange experience all around. I was surrounded by women. Seems no men want to lose weight? And I was the only young person short of a girl named Brandi who I realized went to my school after a few meetings. We semi-bonded over counting grams of this or that, eating packets of lean Carl Budding meats, ingesting more cottage cheese than is humanly advisable, and drinking more water than a Dr. Seuss-proportioned camel. We nodded at each other in the halls like two introverted engineers, immersed in their own projects, passing at an electonics company in Peoria. To acknowledge we really knew one another might have outed us as fatties or foodies.

I don't recall being particularly traumatized by my experience and lost the requisite weight, received more praise from the world than is sensible for changing one's physical appearance, and received my key as a Lifetime Member. A curse really.

Since then, I've gone back and forth. Sometimes consciously and sometimes less so. But always thinking about it. I've watched my folks gain and lose weight on various programs over the years and worry about the yo-yo. My situation is complicated a bit by the fact that I really work more than anything else. Not a lot of running around or exercise for me. I do feel like going to Weight Watchers may have been the beginning of my worrying about food and weight. There was something wrong enough with me that I needed to go be with a group of people much older who were dealing with the same issues. We were all on the same diet, but, um, I was 12. I weighed all my food and worried. I didn't have the skill to make it all taste good.

As I said, the weight came off, but it did creep back on over the next few years. I never recall not being teased or looked down at because of my weight. And I can look back at pictures and see that I was not nearly as big as it felt. Not that it mattered, but my distorted image of my self must have come from really feeling like I needed back up lights and special signs when I really was just a chubby kid (or husky if you prefer, like it says on Bobby Hill's jeans).

The weight came off a bit two other times. Once in high school when I went on Nutri/Systems. I ate 900 lbs of beef on that diet. There was a golden statue of me wearing a bib and standing next to a longhorn at the Fort Worth Stockyards for many years to follow. People would tell Clara Peller to come find me and there they would find the beef.

That came back as well. Flash forward to one more try a year or so after college. My friend Len and I would go to the gym, eat at the chain salad bar and support one another. It came off fast. I'm not sure how long it took to put back on. This was probably the most fun because there was no system, no list, no rules. I just was eating well and exercising.

So that was around ten years ago now. I fine it very challenging to do much more than work most of the time. I'm working on that haha. We love to cook and we love to eat and I have accepted fully that that just won't change. I'm not going to go into what I could be doing better or differently. I just have to get there when I can get there.

In the meantime, I think it is vital to do what we can to stop pathologizing food and its enjoyment. To accept and embrace people of all shapes and sizes and to continue to share the bounty in all its shades of meaning. Lose weight, gain weight, exercise, etc. It's all good. I just hope we are all gentle with ourselves and can find our way to enjoy food.

I really love T's post for that. It's freeing.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Cookie Time

This is from an old journal. Whenever Girl Scout Cookies are out and about, I revisit this story of my youth.

Girl Scout Cookie Time

I spent the majority of my childhood in the Girl Scouts. Yep, me, your favorite gay feminist southerner.

We were part of the Circle P Council. I went to Girl Scout camp, sold cookies, helped with craft bazaars, sang weird songs about silly frogs or watermelons, earned (but never received) badges, and spent a lot of time with a huge group of girls who wore the same outfit at least once a week topped by kicky little felt kelly green berets.

Mom was a troop leader and big sis was a Brownie, then a Junior, and then a full-fledged Girl Scout up until some time in Junior High when the girls mostly turned into petty fascist cliquedivas and my kind and generous sis was the odd girl out.

My memories:

1. The Girl with Obscenely Long Hair who won the Girl Scout cookie sales award each year. I think she got a stuffed raccoon or some polyester-filled skee-ball prize of a toy. Her mother evidently worked somewhere where her colleagues powered their lights, bodies, and Chevrolets on Thin Mints because she sold 4.2 billion boxes each year. I heard her Subaru has a license plate that says DoSiDo.

2. Some girl named Angela with too-feathered white white hair pinched me more than once. It hurt.

3. I got poisoned by a wildflower I was sucking on as part of my acting gig at Girl Scout Camp when me and two of the other siblings (girls from the "older sister" troop) were rehearsing a dance to "Ease on Down the Road" from that smash hit movie, The Wiz. At first I thought it was the heat of the costume or something from jumping off the huge stone fireplace in the lodge (I was the Cowardly Lion). Then I realized, that there was one taffy stretch of a perfumed sting from my lip to my gut. I wish I had puked on either the girl with obscenely long hair or Angela, but I did not.

4. Our neighbors were perplexed when they saw me at their door to sell them soap for the girl scouts. More because I was a boy than because I was selling soap. I lied and told them my sister was home sick. I couldn't explain she just didn't want to sell that day and I did. I remember the soaps being photographed like they were superclean bars of chocolate. They had thready white parts like Coast or a slab of bacon.

5. The best cookies, hands down were called "Hoedowns." Peanut butter on a cookie, covered in chocolate. Here they are called "Tagalongs," but of course I always accidentally see or speak the word as "Tagalogs." Maybe someday they will come out with a Filipina cookie and they can call it that?

So one of the kids at work sold me 10 boxes.

Yep, that's right, 10 boxes for $30. (they have since gone up). I have a rule that I buy from the first scout that asks me. I did break it one year and bought some from a group tabling outside of Politics and Prose. They were singing a song they made up on-the-spot about the various cookies . . ."We have Trefoils, DoSiDos, Thin Mints, too . . ."

Do I have that kind of money? Ten boxes? No. But she's cool and damn, the Girl Scouts have been so good while the Boy Scouts were out there parading their homophobia like a badge of honor that I just had to give up some dough when I had the chance.

I for one was in a dysfunctional Boy Scout troop as a kid. I hated it. I was stuck with boys from school who did not like me and I did not like. I had to call people by animal names designating the badge rank they had achieved and I had to pretend I liked things like rope courses, visits to football stadiums and whittling.

Yes, me and my fabulous self whittling. "Look Dad -- A misshapen toothpick with a pompadour!" I swear that was the kind of thing I could pull off.

It should be no surprise that making a racing car out of wood for the "pine box derby" did not rock my world. Jesus Friggin Tickle Me Elmo the pressure was astounding. My dad was so damn patient as I did my best to make something about as aerodynamic as an early model Pinto that I insisted on painting a shimmery gold -- me in my baby blue Roller Disco shirt with the iron on rainbow glitter-covered red-wheeled skate.

It actually ended up being ok, and I am sure I scored some points with my super-engineer dad, but I was really happy when my foul mouth got me kicked out of some lady's car and the scouts and when the boys in junior high put me on the damn prayer list at their fascist right-wing church for being a dirty little toilet-mouth when I knew one of them had been doing it with a girl down the street since age 12 each afternoon before his paper route and that the other both snuck his dad's copies of Playboy and hid his Marlboro Reds in a cut out of the wall inside his closet.

Yeah, that's right -- I'm the bad kid.

I secretly hope that Angela girl from the Girl Scouts married one of their sorry asses and now pinches them whenever they are being jerks. I buy Girl Scout cookies in defiance of their hypocrisy and in celebration of an organization that, despite a few pinches, did a lot of good for me and a bunch of southern belles in training running about Texas under silly French hats.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Turn the World Around

So Kate Clinton in her first book talked about how she took insults from the right wing as compliments. Because when a nutjob calls you a ball-busting feminazi bitch, the best response is "why thank you!"

I think about this because Beth from Sothefishsaid posted a few pictures of her baby celebrating said baby's chubby little thighs. It made me sad that as an adult, those chubby little thighs would be deplored as signs of gluttony. They would be held against her and she would feel self conscious of them. I hate that. When I spent Thanksgiving with my little cousins, one of them giggled and said that my belly was big. I had this little clench in my stomach at being judged by an 8 year old. She finished her statement by saying, "I like putting my head on it." The assessment of the bigness of my belly wasn't an indictment. It wasn't a judgement. It was an observation. A compliment. But every other social signal I get from society tells me that big belly = shame.

I find this totally crazy I've internalized this, since the men that make me hot are men with some meat on their bones (i.e. J!). I had a boyfriend who was thin as a rail. We'd cuddle and I'd wake up with bruises because of his hipbones sticking out of his waist. Why would I feel bad about having a belly then?

Growing up I got (and still get) all types of crap for having a healthy appetite. My sister always used to damn me with the phrases "I eat to live. You live to eat." With that in mind, I was out to dinner with my brother and his girlfriend and she remarked "I love how you eat." This sent me into a tizzy and I had to defend myself by saying "Nooooo, I don't love to eat. Eating sucks. Blech. Boo food." How effing wrong is that? Someone went to the trouble of making me a meal, plating it, and serving it to me. I SHOULD enjoy it. It SHOULD register on my face that I enjoy it and I SHOULD eat the damn thing with gusto. Food isn't just about nourishment. It's about pleasure. It's about socializing. It's about family. If it WAS just about nourishment, then there's no need for restaurants. There would be no need for THANKSGIVING. But once again, what was a compliment about my enjoyment of food, was taken as an insult, because heaven forbid in this society you should enjoy food.

So the next time someone decides to call me fat, my response with be THANK YOU.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Fun at the Cotillion

This past Saturday was The Other Rebecca's birthday party with a Southern Cotillion theme. You see, TOR is from Atlanta, land of Scarlett O'Hara, Blanche Devereaux, and all of the Designing Women. However, our friend missed out on the Southern tradition of a coming out party and treated herself to one for her birthday. Her and Rachawpo's house was adorned with copies of Southern Living, Junior League cookbooks and magnolia napkins. Mint juleps were the drink of choice and were staggeringly strong. TOR was resplendent in her tiara and crinolines.

Even more resplendent was the food she made. I have foodie envy has she has mastered and improved on dishes that I have struggled with. For example, her blondies - how did she cut them in such perfect squares with such clean edges? And how did she made them stay moist for the evening? My one attempt at a blondie ended us as a some very nice tan shingles after a couple of hours.

And then there were the spinach balls. So much better than the ones J and I have made. Much more spinachy with a stronger flavor of cayenne. How do you do it Miss Rebecca? They were divine.

Finally, the pecan cheese log. Must have that recipe. Served with Ritz crackers, they were the perfect centerpiece to a Southern living party.

All of that cooking gave me the vapors.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Not at all about food

I was inspired by a post in Grateful Dating about blogging.

I had a conversation with my friend Engaged Girl about my diaryland site and another site that J and I have for our friends. While someone posts quotes of funny things we say, noone actually WRITES anything except for me. Since Engaged Girl is a writer, I wonder why she never wrote anything on the blog. She said she was too scared to. I find that so weird since she has an MFA in creative writing and works as an editor. In the past I have encouraged other people to start their own blogs and all of them have said that they were too scared to have other people read their writing.

I heard it again and again. Scared. From people who were great writers. It makes me think, what we all do here in the blogverse is an act of bravery. I know we're not firefighters saving children but I think what we're doing is important.

Both of J's grandparents left writing for their children and grandchildren. His grandfather left a full on memoir and his grandmother wrote some very personal thoughts on books she read. Even cookbooks. I devoured both of these collections of thoughts. I was so grateful for this glimpse into their lives. And the thing was it wasn't enough. His grandfather mostly wrote about his life on the farm and the houses and jobs he had. And his grandmother's writings were so all over the place about grief, art, women, and men.

I think we are doing something so valuable by writing here. They say history is written by the winners and I wonder what if all people had access to share their own history. What would we think of history if the barriers towards being a part of history, gender, poverty, ethnicity, being on the wrong side of a conflict were removed and we heard that story. For example, my friends who grew up in Virginia joke about the Civil War being called the War of Northern Agression. They tell me it was taught that way in school. That's a whole other part of history that I never had access to.

I don't proclaim that our history here is complete either. I know I leave out a lot on my site. It's a very specific piece of who I am. But there are fewer holes for my grandchildren to fill in about me. There are fewer holes for historians to read about who were are.

That is an act of bravery. To risk scrutiny and criticism and spam and weirdos to share our stories. I applaud you all.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Fun with volunteering

So yesterday I had my first volunteer gig with Brain Food, a nonprofit whose mission is "Brainfood's mission is to use food as a tool to build life skills with youth in a fun and creative setting." As a professional community organizer and a self avowed foodie (well, obviously!), this was the perfect volunteer gig. I love the approach of using cooking as a tool for community organizing and empowerment. Two great tastes that taste great together!

I had a total blast. The students came from DC public high schools and had varying levels of skill of the kitchen. This group I am volunteering with was predominantly people of color. My job was just to help out, get to know the students, and support them where I could. It was fun standing back and just seeing where they needed me as opposed to being directive and telling them how to proceed. Each session, the students break up into three groups to make three different recipes. At the end everyone gets to taste the finished dishes. It being grain week, the dishes were cornbread, shrimp fried rice, and granola bars. I particularly loved how the two Chinese girls in the class immediately chose cornbread. One thing that I really enjoyed was that skills of cooperation and division of labor were really reinforced. I liked that these students were cleaning as they went and made sure that noone was stuck doing all the dishes. I was tickled pink when one of the Chinese girls was schooling the fried rice group on how it's done. There's an amazing cross cultural dialogue that was happening and I enjoyed being a part of that.

The other piece of the class that was remarkable is that the students were encouraged to think for themselves. They didn't have to LIKE what they made and were encourage to think about how they would have made those dishes differently for their own tastes.

I already know what the highlight of my year will be - the Brainfood graduation. The graduation is an Iron Chef style cooking competition in a hotel kitchen with "celebrity" judges and guest chef's helping the teams. I am so fricking there!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Obligatory Restaurant Week Review

so I went to the Oval Room on Wednesday with Auntie Em and Uncle Tim and the Engageds. J could come as he was fried from meeting famous bloggers the night before. Only because of availability that we decided to go to the Oval Room for Restaurant Week. It's a fairly good choice because it crazy ass expensive during any other part of the year. We went Wednesday at 8:30 where there was a very healthy crowd. Thank goodness for reservations as we were seated promptly. I will say that the atmosphere felt weird to me. The decor was just so minimalist and the lighting fairly dim. Overall the service was prompt and competent but nothing special. Really, that's not a problem considering they are slammed because of restaurant week.

I ordered the duck confit cassoulet to start. In ordering I finally found out that confit meant meat that was marinated in its own juices. It was a fairly small portion but this is three courses we're talking about. The cassoulet tasted like an upscale version of the humble pork and beans. It did not have the pork and beans jaw-aching sweetness but a welcome smoky barbecue flavor. Of the other four at the table, three had the butternut squash soup and one had the scallop. Scallop. Singular. Everyone love their soups but really, what can you do to butternut squash soup that is new and inventive? Auntie Em like her scallop but wasn't amazed by it.

For entrees, I had the codfish with braised savoy cabbage, Engaged Boy and Uncle Tim had the tagilatelle, Auntie Em had the steak au poivre, and Engaged Girl had the salmon. I loved loved loved my dish. The fish was moist, tender, and flaky with a light butter sauce that complimented the sweetness of the fish without competing with it. If it was socially acceptable, I would have licked my plate. The cabbage had a sweet nutty flavor, reminiscent of good brussel spouts (a favorite of everyone at the table). The tagliatelle and the salmon was deemed well made, if not revelatory while the sauce for the steak au poivre had a strong bitter taste. It made we want to take Auntie Em to Monmatre to taste their hangar steak.

For dessert, the ladies had the lemon tart, Uncle Tim had the choclate cake, and Engaged Boy and I had the rum cake with cola ice cream. I really did not like the cake at all. I supposed it was designed to be dry to soak up the rum syrup likea baba au rum. But the rum syrup was like your college rum and coke nightmare. It tasted so bitter and was so watery it didn't enhance the cake at all. The laides enjoyed the lemon tarts and Uncle Tim enjoyed his cake.

Overall, this place just felt so establishment. Competent, but not warm. For the most part we enjoyed the meal but it didn't feel like something out of this world. It was hard because my last fine dining experience was Monmartre, where the atmosphere was so much like a friendly French bistro tucked away in some little town. That's hard to compare to. But for $30 for three courses, I'm not complaining...much.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

By Request - Carrot Cake Recipe

Shout out to you Demetrius. Here's the carrot cake recipe. This came from River's Edge, the Bed and Breakfast where J proposed (on a mountaintop at sunset no less). Right on a stream with an organic garden River's Edge was a lovely and romantic respite from city life. When we went, Lee, the proprietor, served dinner. The food was incredible, not it's inventiveness, the but freshness of the ingredients. A cumcember and toamto salad was a revelation because it almost felt like you were tasting the vegetables for the first time. Lee only uses organic products. Most of the fruits and vegetables are grown on the premises without chemicals. I can tell you the WATER at the bed and breakfast was the best I had ever tasted. Because she is invested in the well-being of her guests, most of her recipes are low(but not non)fat. This is one of those and there really isn't any difference in flavor from this carrot cake and the ones that call for 2 cups of oil. Sadly, River Edge closed in October because Lee got married. Damn her for finding happiness.

Carrot Cake

2 cups unbleched flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup apple butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites (or 1 egg)
3 cups of grate carrot

Combine first 6 ingredients (flour through salt) and mix well.

Combine apple butter and the next 5 ingredients (apple butter through egg whites) in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add apple butter mixture to flour mixture, sitrring just until moist. Fold in carrot.

Pour batter into 8 or 9 inch cake pans coated with cooking spray or muffin tins lined with liners (makes 18 muffins). If using cake pans bake at 350 degree for 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. If making cupcakes, bake for 20 minutes.

Cream cheese frosting (this is my own frosting recipe)

8 ounces of cream cheese at roo temperature (can use lowfat)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese and vanilla on high until fluffy and smooth. Add sugar a half a cup at a time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Adventures in Amateur Catering

So a dear friend of mine had an open house Sunday and I had volunteered to cater the event. As she usually throws small, intimate gatherings, I thought I had it in the bag, until I heard from her that over 60 people had RSVPed. YOWZA! Ok, deep breaths. I held to my firm rule that the day of the event you only assmeble you do not cook. That worked well for me in my menu planning. I made everything ahead of time and only needed to assemble the appetizers and make them pretty. Even so, there was a great deal of assemblage going on. Here's what I made:

Gruyere and caramelized onion crostini
Smoked salmon puffs
carrot cake cupcakes
Dan and Steve's truffle brownie (while it tasted good, it took thrree times as long to bake)
Spinach balls
Chicken salad tea sandwiches

The true hit of the evening was the smoke salmon puffs. This was my way of using the puff pastry sheets that were on sale at the (Un)Safeway in Capitol Hill.

Makes 48

2 sheets of puff pastry
8 oz of smoked salmon chopped (Whole Foods sells smoked salmon bits for cheap)
1 pint of sour cream
1 lemon
1 teaspoon dill (preferably fresh) or 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
Salt to taste

Roll out puff pastry to about half the thickness. Cut into 2 inch squares. Shove squares into mini muffin pans so they make little nests. Make sure that the puff pastry is around room temperature. Usually you want it cold to puff up but this time you don't. If it puffs up too much there won't be a nest for the filling. Bake for about 5 to 7 minutes until golden. Mix the sour cream, lemon, dill and salt together. Put about half a teaspoon of the sour cream into the puff pastry nest and then half a teaspoon of chopped salmon. Serve on a lovely platter.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Restaurant Week

Ok Internets. I need your advice. We're trying to find a place to go for restaurant week. Last year we went to Courdoroy and it was spectacular. This year we need to find a place with a vegetarian option.

Here's the possibilities:

DC Coast
Rosa Mexicano
Willow Restaurant
The Oval Room

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Christmas leftovers

Some things to follow up from Christmas. First, my mini-review of Monica's. Monica's is by far my favorite Mexican restaurant. Not only are the dishes inventive and interesting (with killer chips and salsa), but the prices are dirt cheap. You'd be hard pressed to find anything over $9 there and there are always these great specials where entrees are half off. So I had the brown rice risotto. This is the kind of dish that Monica's excels at (not that the other dishes are crap or anything). She takes stuff like lasagna or risotto and casts it in a Mexico City setting. The flavors are not compromised with the cross pollination, rather, they are given a new life with different contexts. My risotto was more pilaf than risotto but that's a plus in my book. It was swathed in a chipotle cream sauce and had roasted peppers, onions, corn and black beans throughout the dish. I loved with nutty flavor and texture of the rice and it paired well with the luxoriousness of the sauce.

Foodwise, I was on a high carb, high fat diet. And you know what? I lost 8 pounds during the trip. It helped that I was working out every day with my father-in-law (because he is now officially an active adult). But still, one would think the four dozen cookies, the chicken pot pie, the cheese grits, and the quiches would have at least prevented me from losing weight. Life is hard.

This was one of the sanest Christmases I've ever had. The main Christmas festivities were on Christmas Eve with the Christmas brunch with J's extended family and then Christmas dinner with just the siblings parents and assorted spouses and children. J's mother allowed us to make dinner for Christmas day. Christmas day was a laid back affair where lunch was the previous day's leftovers and dinner was something of a mezze/tapas affair with a big salad. Knowing that the previous day was some hard core eating. We wanted food that you could just nibble. So Christmas day dinner menu was: satay chicken, shrimp won tons, a winter salad with apples, candied pecans, and bleu cheese and Dan and Steve's spinach parmesan balls. J was responsible for the spinach balls and did some creative cooking. Most of the comments about the balls said that they were too dry and dan and Steve themselves said that the balls didn't reheat well. To solve both of those problems J added and extra egg and all was well with the world. We snack on the balls the next day and they tasted great. This weekend, I am catering an open house for some friends of ours and the spinach parmesan balls are on the menu.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Group Food/Dining Experiences

After enjoying several recent get togethers loaded with tradition, I've decided to build a list of group dining/eating experiences from various cultures, religious traditions, etc. The key component is the centrality of food to the get together and the participation in the same meal by several to many people, etc.

Here is what I have thought of off the top of my head. Can folks weigh in with others?

Chinese banquet
Chinese steamboat
Beef Seven Ways
Crawfish/Crab boil
Dim Sum
The Feast of the Seven Fishes
Fish fry
Tea (Afternoon or High) (see comments for interesting info.)
Passover Seder
Pig roast

p.s. I'm not as concerned about whether something totally fits these parameters, fire away!

And thank you!


Obligatory New Year's Recap

Hey everyone. I hope 2006 is treating you all well. If it doesn't, I'll kick its ass. Our New Year was perfectly lovely. After the cavalcade of Mexican and Texan cusine (complete with garlic cheese grits), we decided we would have Chinese for New Year's Eve. We ended up going to China Garden in Rosslyn and ordered the lobster with ginger and scallions and the Boss fried rice with scallops and shitake mushrooms. These were perfectly good, but we saw there were some other larger parties that were having the hard core Chinese banquet. I've had those before and they rock. Course after course of seafood, meat, and fowl. Dishes in exotic taro bowls and fried whole fish. I had serious banquet envy and wanted to know what China Garden was holding out on us. One day I am going to China Garden with a gang of twenty and we are going to rock the Chinese banquet hard. I may have to ask my Chinese uncle about what to order. He might just fax me a list of dishes in Chinese and I'll just hand it to the waiter. Ah, my Chinese banquet fantasies.

After dinner, we went to Uncle Tim's and Auntie Em's for a night of games, conversation and nibbles. Foodwise, I brought over crackers and smoked cheddar along with a roasted pepper dip. This is so crazy easy with a food processor. Throw in a jar of roasted peppers (and a few peppadews if you have them) with a chopped clove of garlic, a tablespoon of olive oil, a block of cream cheese and 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise. Add salt and pepper to taste. The Em's provided some hard salami, ham, goat cheese, bread, pickles and olives, and various tapenades. It was a lovely little spread. Drinkwise, I brought over a celebratory bottle of limoncello to go along with the wines at the Ems and the champagne Thank Heaven for Little Girls brought. We drank the limncello in little cordial glasses. Thank god for that because limoncello is meant to be sipped slowly throughout the night. Heaven help those who pound the limoncello. Auntie em introduced us to telephone pictionary where we each came up with a phrase and the next person had to draw the phrase and then the next person had to guess what the phrase was until it finally reached the original writer of the phrase. I was extremely literal in my interpretations of the drawings I received as I came up with such witty phrases as African lip piercing sun god worship. It's the new Babyfishmouth. We rang in the New Year with some champagne and the most delectable chocolate meringes that the em's pick up at pastries by Randolph. The Ems we kind enough to let us sleep over and we talked late into the night.

The next morning the Ems were kinder enough to take us to our places so I could finish making scones for the New Year's Day brunch and Spyrogyra's. The Ems were rewarded with a car trip filled with the aroma of vanilla and cranberries. Spyrogyra was a great host and the food and champagne were plentiful. I myself had a few mimosas and kir royales and vowed never to have unadulterated champagne ever again. While Rootbeer made some incredible key lime cupcakes and capucinno cupcakes, the prize dish went to a friend of Spyrogyra's who made a corn pudding type of dish. It was moist, but solid that was comfort in a bowl. My lack of sleep caught up with me and we went home and went to be at 5:30pm and woke up at 11:30 pm. I will be taking benadryl tonight to get some sleep.

All in all it was exactly the New Year's I wanted to have, complete with great food, great covnersation, and great friends.